Monday, June 11, 2012

I Am a Daycare Provider

Inspired by the "I Am Canadian!" rant of yesteryear, I created my own little rant about what I do.  If there is another one out there in the interwebs, I'm not aware of it so, for all my home daycare peeps, this is for you.

I'm not a teacher
or a medical professional.
I don't live in a drop in centre,
Eat twinkies,
Or own a school bus.
And I don't know Sally, Johnny or Yazir from the neighborhood, although I'm certain they're really nice kids.

I have a house, not a motel.
I speak Toddler and Sandbox-English, not Gibberish, 
and I pronounce it "communication" not "*crickets".

I can proudly navigate a quad stroller through narrow store aisles.

I believe in sharing, not selfishness.
Being seen AND heard,
and that dirt washes off with a little soap and water.

Happy juice is chocolate milk!
Playtime is Learning time!
And it is pronounced "PLEASE", not "Gimme"; PLEASE!

Home Daycare is your child's second home, 
the first to fix boo boos in your absence, 
and the next best thing to being there yourself.  

My name is Skye and I am a Home Daycare Provider.

Thank you.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Around the World: Conclusion

May 18, 2012

When I first decided to blog about my travel journals, I had to decide how to handle a perplexing problem. I had no choice but to omit certain people that were present for various parts of my travels for different reasons. In some cases, names were changed, in others, the combined experience was absorbed as my own. I considered the impact this decision would have on retelling this story as one of fact while not disturbing sleeping dogs.

With all my heart, I thank my husband and children for their tireless support, for giving me the time required to put each entry together.  Without your encouragement, I would never have been able to complete this project that has haunted me for so long.  I also wish to thank you, loyal blog follower, for reading and sharing this adventure with me again.  

There is something liberating about living out of a backpack. Being reduced to basics and essentials for an extended period makes life uniquely simple. Exploring different countries and learning about different cultures is educational for everyone, but especially so from a female perspective. 

Especially valuable for a young woman are the life-skills one learns on a long term trip.  Not only did I learn a little self defense, I had daily lessons in budgeting, planning, communication, geography, history, language skills and math.  Finding your way around a strange city that doesn't speak a language you understand can be a very entertaining way to develop some useful problem solving and critical thinking skills.  In fact, many employers view a long term trip as time spent gathering useful skills and real world experience.  

In a way, I still travel, in the sense that I am on a great adventure.  In the two decades that have passed since my time abroad, my knapsack has gotten bigger. It's now a 3 bedroom house that permanently contains a husband and two children.  It's not quite as portable, but it exists on the same principle.  Things work best when they're somewhat organized, which means I know where things are.  It is, by no means, neat and tidy. The stairs are constantly covered with frequently used items that don't have a permanent home. Very much like a day pack that contains things I use on a daily basis.  Surfaces are magnets for clutter.  Notes, receipts, hair ties, school stuff, pieces of toys that young toddlers could ingest or need to be repaired.  Much like corners in the bottom of a backpack where souvenirs and other items tend to gather when they haven't been needed in a while.  I usually know where to find something. It's a lot like shoving a hand blindly into a pocket looking for my passport.  It's in here, somewhere.

Our little family lives in a daycare.  In its natural state, it has crafts in various states of completion that spread over tables and walls; art supplies that leak out of drawers; dismantled toys in a continuous state of reconstruction. Papers, crumbs, bits of Play-Doh and little hand-prints decorate almost everything; the result of the cyclonic destruction only a distracted four year old, two curious toddlers, three adventurous six year olds and a rambunctious nine year old can create.

This is my backpack now.  It anchors me in this safe haven, yet remains in constant motion.  Every day is a new adventure, filled with moments both chaotic and content, and mixed with a whole lot of curiosity.  I have searched the world over and discovered that where I am is where I have always wanted to be. 

Wife.  Mother.  Family.

• ¤ •

"I may not have gone everywhere I wanted to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be."
~Douglas Adams

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Around the World: Homecoming

May 17, 1992

I'm on my way back to Toronto.  I have stuffed my backpack to it's absolute maximum capacity, having carefully wrapped anything fragile in smelly socks and stinky shirts.  On the plane, I have a bag stuffed with  shoes and the coat I bought to keep me warm that I only wore once, and another bag of records stuffed into the overhead compartment.  Two bottles of duty free liquor are stowed under my seat.

The last flight of my journey touches down safely at Pearson.  After clunking my way through the narrow airplane aisle with my collection of carry-on baggage, I splurge on the first trolley I find.  I join the crowd of passengers waiting patiently for their luggage and watch for my backpack to appear on the luggage carousel.

Airports have become a common occurrence, and navigating them has become second nature.  After a brief stop at Immigration and a wave past Customs, this adventure of a lifetime will come to an end.

Immigration takes my passport, asks me a few questions about all the stamps and scribbles some mysterious code in red ink on the customs form I completed on the plane.   I join the line to exit the security area, expecting the usual wave to bypass customs when I notice that the people ahead of me all have cards with their mysterious code scribbled in black.  My turn comes to show the form and my homecoming is suddenly delayed.

"In here, miss," the official says, guiding me into a private room. 

My backpack is opened, and my carefully packed souvenirs are taken out one by one to be inspected, identified and explained.  For the next two hours, a pair of customs officials carefully inspect my backpack, suffering the stench of dirty socks and underwear.  Finally satisfied that the most offensive crime I have committed is being in desperate need of some soap, I am finally granted clearance.

My journey is complete.  I have come home.

• ¤ •

“Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.” 
~Cindy Ross

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Around the World: Turn Out The Lights

May 13, 1992

Drinking must not be done today.  I am soooo hungover, the hangover of all hangovers.  The final tally of beverages consumed doesn't help me feel better, although it does explain the pain.

8 kegs of Guinness and 1 keg of Harp shared between 7 people.  Oh dear lord.

A friend of David's has come to drive us back to Limerick.  Richard and I lay in the back of the hatchback, begging for relief in whatever form it comes.

Sleep would seem to be the best option, but it hurts to be unconscious.  It hurts to be conscious.  It hurts to move, breathe and groan. I'm going to be on a ferry tomorrow.  Don't think about ships.  Movement .... bad.  The agony.  The moving.... oh, stop moving.  I did this.  I did this to myself.  I am never drinking again.

Safely delivered to Limerick, David asks me if I would like a pint.  "Hair of the dog," he calls it.  If a dog's hair will cure me, sign me up.

Tomorrow, I'll meet Rich and his mom for for a farewell brunch and then make my way back to London to catch the final flight of this journey.  I've come full circle around the globe.  The next plane I board is taking me home.

• ¤ •

"You'll have to excuse me, I'm not at my best, I've been gone for a week,
I've been drunk since I left.
And these so-called vacations will soon be my death.
I'm so sick from the drink, I need home for a rest.
Take me home"
~Spirit of the West

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Around the World: Carrig's

A week in May, 1992

The Carrig's pub became a therapeutic haven of lighthearted discussion, song and friendship.  Terry's bottomless and embracing hospitality was the very thing this weary traveler needed after a lengthy wander. The regulars that gathered daily included two "local-ish" guys, David and Paul, Anne who lived in a trailer with her team of Whippets, Terry, Richard and myself.  Richard's mom, Josephine checked in on us regularly, being the only sober soul in attendance. 

Not only did Carrig's draw in a comfortable crowd, entertained by a steady stream of musicians, it was a place that begged you to stay for one more story, one more song, and one more round.  The disarming ambiance, an atmosphere dripping with frivolity and Terry's welcoming nature, convinced me one night that I could sing.  There are some things even a few pints of Guinness can't fix.

As much as I wanted to see more of Ireland, the music festival in Doolin, the Giant's Causeway in the North, Temple Bar in Dublin, then snake my way through Scotland's hills on the way back to London, I had no desire to leave the sanctuary of the pub.  The conversation never ended; there was always a story being told, someone to meet, music to enjoy.  Carrig's, in all its captivating glory, was a place to rest in the company of friends, both old and new, and never a moment short on laughter.

I, unfortunately, didn't scribble down any notes during this time.  I only have my hazy memories and stories from those who were there.  My good friend, Richard, was kind enough to share one:


"Irish traditional music lives wherever people fall under its spell.  But for a brief period each year, it thrives in Doolin, a town I've never been to, but to which I'd planned to drag my friend Skye.  We left Limerick on a Friday morning, planning to hitch the distance.  Unaware of the Irish lift-catching rules which included a straightforward first-in-first-out system and effective use of intersections, we wandered a fair way up the highway and wound up toasting a curious herd of cows with some fine whiskey.

Finally a car screeched to a halt, and the driver patiently explained the rules of catching a "lift" (never a "ride").  Shortly we found ourselves in Ennistymon, outside a pub that an old friend from Canada owned.  We didn't know it then, but the Carrig's drinking team had arrived. 

Terry was, and is, a whirling dervish of mirth and laughter and although we'd only stopped in for one drink, we set up in a booth and laughed and drank too late into the night to find lodgings.  I think we became a bit of a draw in the town as everyone seemed to drop in to meet the mad Canadians.  Certainly Saturday passed in a blur of Guiness and cigarette smoke.  I'm pretty sure I didn't hallucinate John King's arrival, former all-Ireland accordion master,  but the cast of characters couldn't really have included three Swedish banjo players.  

John King with Terry

By late Saturday night, the ladies had acquired admirers and the party was on.  If we didn't simply stay awake, we slept in the attic under heaps of costume clothing left behind by the building's former tenant.

One morning I woke with a panicked feeling that the Doolin festival was rapidly slipping out of our grasp.  Over 10 AM drinks,  I gently suggested a short hitch to at least spend one day at the festival.  Out of a pool of blank stares, a curt voice informed me that no mission more complicated than a change of socks and underwear was going to be undertaken.  I remember a pang of disappointment, but Terry pointed out that pretty much the whole cast of musicians from the festival seemed to be passing through Carrig's anyway.  

With no choice but to cave to the demands of the group, I drank another Guinness.

I still haven't been to Doolin."  


Once the idea that the rest of Ireland wasn't getting any closer, it was decided that we should at least make the short trip to the Cliffs of Moher.  Directions were offered, snacks were packed, a map, water and money were carefully gathered in a small pouch.  Richard and I boldly stepped away from the pub booth in search of the Cliffs.  We made it to the door of the pub when we realized there was something frighteningly horrible outside. 


Recoiling in pain from the blinding bright sun, we limped in agony back into the welcoming darkness of the pub and requested another pint. 

We did successfully made it to the Cliffs of Moher on the cloudy day that followed.  We also agreed that further discussion of activities beyond walking distance from Carrig's was just wishful thinking.

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare


Mornings blurred into afternoons.  Evenings blended together over the span of about a week.  Familiar faces passed by, stayed, left and returned as days rolled from one to another and time seemed to stand still.  

Paul, one of the nightly regulars, occasionally spent the night in the attic after the festivities paused briefly in the wee hours of the morning.  On this one occasion, he was supposed to meet his father at work by 7a.m.  It's possible that those asleep in the attic all awoke at the same time, although it's more likely that we were roused by Paul focusing on his watch.

"Shit!  It's almost noon!"

It was a more pleasant sound than the squawking siren noise that most alarm clocks make.  A few yawns and stretches and the realization that nothing would make Paul arrive on time, we descended the stairs to start another day with a pint of Guinness.

Paul opens the door that leads to the pub and darts back, wide-eyed, into the shadows of the stairwell, "My dad is standing at the bar!"  

Paul races back up the stairs to the floor between the pub and the attic and exits by the side door in the kitchen. The rest of us stumble into the pub, passing Paul's father, who inquires about his son's whereabouts.  "Um... I saw him last night,  he said something about work."  Meanwhile, Paul races down the steps on the side of the building and enters through the pub's front doors, greeting everyone with a friendly, "Top o' da mornin', lads!"

It's always nice to greet a friend you've not seen in a while, even if that while only amounts to a few minutes.


In Amsterdam, I discovered Potter's Original candies, little millimeter drops of licorice packaged in a black metal tin.  From a traveler's point of view, they were awesome for holding me over until I got a chance to brush my teeth.  Not knowing if I would ever find these magical little mouth cleansers in Canada, I stocked up on a supply before leaving Holland.

So, after a few days of Guinness drinking (and I vaguely recall the odd meal was eaten here and there), I dug out my tin of Potter's and passed a few little candies around.  Conversation turned to polite opinion on the flavour and the temporary sensation of a clean mouth.    

And then, I had a sip Guinness.

The combination of Potter's and Guinness creates this rich, vaguely sweet flavour, almost like a vanilla milkshake.  It's a good thing I had lots of tins with me because everyone soon wanted their own supply.  In addition to the collection of pint glasses and ashtrays on the table, Potter's mints became an essential staple of the Carrig's drinking team. 

• ¤ •

"We arrived in December and London was cold,
We stayed in the bars, along Charing Cross Road.
We never saw nothin' but brass taps and oak
Kept the shine on the bar with the sleeves of our coats..."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Around the World: Ennistymon

May 8, 1992

"You'll have to excuse me, I'm not at my best. I've been gone for ..." ... 5 months.


As Richard predicted, hitch hiking is a fairly reliable way to travel.  It would probably be a little more productive if there was more traffic, but we are making progress.  In the meantime, the walking isn't unfamiliar, or all that unwelcome.  Ireland is very pretty to look at.  What we believe is heather cascades over the rolling hills and into the distance like a blanket of violet.  There's a comforting scent on the breeze, like some vaguely soothing fragrance remembered from early childhood. It's like stepping into a grandparent's house, which is pretty much where I'm headed now.  The forks of my family tree lead straight back to County Clare.  

The Emerald Isle:  It's not easy being green.

Arrived in Ennistymon, thanks to the generosity of a cube van that dropped us off almost on the doorstep of the Carrig's pub. Richard opens the front doors and introduces me to his friend, the establishment's proprietor, Terry.

Terry invites us to sit at a bench in the small pub and welcomes us each with a pint of Guinness. 

I've tried Guinness at home and wasn't a fan.  I remember it had this distinctive flavour of nasty, much like the leftover beer that was used as an ashtray.  In its defense, I'm told Guinness doesn't travel well and tastes remarkably better the closer one is to the brewery, which, incidentally, is just up the road (across the island) in Dublin. Not wanting to be rude, I bravely take a sip.

It's different.  Not nearly the nasty flavour I was expecting.  Another sip.  Yes, this is definitely drinkable.  The third sip is the clincher.  While Terry searches for a book for us to compare family history on our shared surname, I find it very easy to empty my glass.

Which is promptly refilled.

Terry asks me how the trip was from Limerick.  I answer in my best traveler's English, which is breaking the sentence down into the simplest words, minus the superfluous prepositions and adjectives with lots of charades.  Richard pokes me on the arm and quietly says, "He speaks English."

I've been communicating this way for so long, I'm not sure that I still speak English.  Fortunately, the claims that Guinness is good for you are true.  Near the bottom of my third pint, I find my grade school grammar.

The plan is to leave in a day or two to see the rest of Ireland and continue on to Scotland before returning to London and then home.  That's not what happened.  Sometimes, the best adventures are the ones that are unplanned.   

• ¤ •

"... I need home for a rest."
~Spirit of the West

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Around the World: Friends in Limerick

May 6, 1992

Yesterday, I said goodbye to Jane at Heathrow, where she caught her flight back to Toronto.  I made my way back into London to make arrangements to travel to Ireland to meet my friend Richard in Limerick.

The journey began last night by bus to the west coast of England, another many long hours overnight at sea, and more hours this morning on another bus across Ireland to Limerick.  A hostel bed never looked so good.    

King John's Castle on the River Shannon, Limerick, Ireland

Richard tells me of a family friend who owns a pub on the west shores of Clare, in a little town called Ennistymon.  When I ask how we get there, he says its no bother to hitchhike.  We make plans to meet this evening with his mom, Jo, for drinks and make our way west tomorrow.

• ¤ •

"A true friend is one who thinks you are a good egg even if you are half-cracked."
~Author Unknown

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Around the World: The Best Cure

May 2, 1992

After a long hike, Jane and I found ourselves in Camden Town.  I bought a pair of Doc Martin boots to hopefully repair my raw-like-hamburger feet.

Happily snugged into my new boots, Jane and I wisely decide to take the Underground back to Paddington station.  Nearby is Hyde Park, a beautiful place to enjoy a beer and chips.  It's not long before we are joined by our hostel room mates who quickly spread the word that yesterday was my birthday.

As daytime turns to dusk, we pack up the picnic and head back to the hostel.  One of the guys demonstrates how to make free phone calls from a pay phone.

Back in the dorm, the party continues.  Three of the guys are blowing up condoms like balloons and participating in a dare to see who can pull one over their head.  It's all very hysterical, except for the blinding headache pounding on the inside of my skull. One of the guys nonchalantly pulls out a fairly large case for a backpack.  Inside are several divided compartments containing his pharmaceutical collection.  He gives me a blue pill, which knocks me out within minutes.  When I wake up a few hours later, the party is still in full swing and my headache is gone.

I wake up just in time to participate in a rowdy game of inflated condom, bunk-bed volleyball. 

• ¤ •

"A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book."
~Irish Proverb

Monday, April 30, 2012

Around the World: Returning to London

April 30, 1992

Yesterday evening began the journey by train and ferry from Paris, across the channel to Dover and on to London.

On the ferry, Jane discovered that she is not a fan of sea travel. She was a rather vivid shade of green when we arrived on England's shores this morning.  Finally on solid land, we slept soundly on the train to London and I wasn't at all unhappy when the announcement came that we would be late arriving in Victoria Station.

Once we arrived, I went off to change some money for us and while I was gone, Jane found us a deal on a hostel for tonight.  She showed me the flyer with a map and I couldn't believe our luck.  £9 is a steal for accommodations in London!

We took the Underground to Paddington Station and found the hostel.  Eager to get some air and familiar with the city, we explored London, walking past Trafalgar Square, St. Paul's Cathedral and London Bridge, which, for the record, is not falling down.

Back at the hostel, I realize my top bunk is on a serious tilt.  This could make for a very interesting, and possibly painful evening.

• ¤ •

"A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for."
~Grace Hopper

Friday, April 27, 2012

Around the World: La Tour Eiffel

April 27, 1992

Today, Jane and I walked from our hotel to the Eiffel Tower.  It's a long walk, but the vendors along the Seine all had something wonderful to look at, jewelry, paintings and trinkity knick knacks.  Whenever we tired of walking, we found a quiet spot to set up a little picnic and once contentedly fed and refreshed, we continued on again.

The Champs du Mars that lead to the Eiffel Tower makes a perfect picnic place to finish all the food and drink we were carrying with us. We climbed the stairs to the second tier to make the elevator ride less expensive and caught the elevator to the top.

The view is magnificent.  The Seine meanders through the city, and under bridges as it divides Paris. Streets create pie shaped wedges that meet at five point intersections.  Trees and parks pepper the grey stone of buildings.  Paris is so easy on the soul, as lovely to look at as it is to be in.

We took our time walking back to the hotel, stopping for a few bottles of wine and some easier-to-eat-than-a-can-of-beans snacks along the way.  Sitting by the window, we spend the evening savouring the tapestry of Paris with some food, music and wine.  Our last days in Paris will be spent visiting the nearby shops and markets as today's walk has pretty much finished our feet.

• ¤ •

"Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time."
~Steven Wright

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Around the World: Pere Lachaise

April 26, 1992

Jane and I are off to explore Pere Lachaise cemetery, where several famous people are buried.  I've heard many stories of people becoming lost amongst the tombstones.  In my head, I picture a typical graveyard, orderly plots, row on row, as it were.  I can't imagine how someone could get disoriented in a cemetery.

... and then I walked inside.

As we make our way toward the grave of Jim Morrison, I quickly realize how easy it is to get lost. Following the cobblestone streets between towering tombs is like walking through a city of the dead.

but the neighbours are really quiet.

Over 1 million bodies are buried in the 110 acre cemetery, among them, Oscar Wilde, Georges Bizet, and Frederic Chopin. Many of the tombs are several feet high and merge together like a wall.  Spray painted across the tombs are directions to the cemetery's most popular resident.

the directions are thoughtful, but the method is in poor taste.

When we finally find the grave of Jim Morrison, it is surrounded by a small crowd of people singing songs by The Doors and playing guitars, others light candles and the smell of pot is thick in the air.  Jane and I make ourselves comfortable on a nearby stone and share some of the wine we brought with us.

music and munchies

We continue to walk along the paths between the tombs and found the resting place of Oscar Wilde.  It is tradition to mark the monument over his grave with a red lip print. His tomb is covered in kisses.

We also found the graves of Chopin, and a small gravestone with the name Bugatti. It's a bit of a mystery which of the famous performance car designer family is buried here, as Ettore and his son Jean are both interred in Alsace.

After several hours of exploring, Jane and I come to the unanimous conclusion that we are hopelessly lost. Approaching us is a small group of older women, one of which has a map.  In my best french, I approach her and announce, "J'ai perdu."

In french, I understand her response as, "You poor girl," and she does her best to show me where we are and how to get to the entrance.

Jane and I make our way back to our hotel and enjoy the rest of our wine.  I have rigged the luggage rack to support a can of beans that Jane is heating up over a candle. 

• ¤ •

"No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn."
~Jim Morrison

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Around the World: Paris Encore

April 24, 1992

Neither Jane nor I felt safe staying in the hostel last night.  After speaking with the hostel staff about the theft, they were sympathetic, but unable to help.  This kind of thing, unfortunately, happens frequently.  When I asked to cancel our reservations for the night, they apologetically returned the fee for our beds.  Fate was also kind enough to have a train bound for Paris leaving just shortly after we arrived at the station.  We pulled into Gare du Nord in Paris just after 5a.m. this morning.

Gare du Nord, Paris
Photo courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons

As the train approached the border, there was no shortage of drug sniffing canines doing a thorough search of the train.  I'm not sure what the penalty is for trying to smuggle drugs out of the Netherlands, but I'm sure it's less than pleasant.  Much like Thailand, help yourself while you visit, but leave it behind when you go.

Exhausted, Jane sits with our bags at the station in Paris while I search the surrounding streets for a place to stay.  Just around the corner from the station is a small inn, l'Hotel du Champagne.  The guy at the front desk says the nightly rate for a double room is 300 francs ($60 CND). It's a little more than my budget allows, but I'm tired and in need of a little personal pampering.  I return to the station for Jane to show her our home for the next few days.

The lobby has a vending machine stocked with beer.  None of that juice, water or cola crap.  Just beer.  We drag our tired selves and the backpacks up the winding marble staircase to our third floor room.  The room has a shower, two very comfortable beds and french doors that open to a narrow balcony overlooking the station and the traffic jammed intersections of Paris.

Did I mention the beds?

• ¤ •

"No day is so bad it can't be fixed with a nap."
~Carrie Snow

Monday, April 23, 2012

Around the World: The Dark Side

April 23, 1992

Jane and I went to our favourite bar/cafe/restaurant this morning and had a delicious brunch.  After a long and slow wander through parks and along canals we end up back to the hostel.  My camera, some film, the photos of my trip so far and some money are packed in my day bag, ready for a late afternoon picnic. We plan to slowly make our way back to The Grasshopper for a late dinner.

I see Jane having trouble with the locker.  I put my day bag on my bed and go to help her cram her luggage into the locker.  While I'm pushing on the door, trying to get it closed so Jane can get the lock on it, I see someone walk past carrying a bag that looks very similar to mine. 

Lock in place, I return to my bed to find my day bag is missing.

I race down the stairs in hopes of finding the culprit either still in the hostel or out on the streets, but my search is in vain.  My bag, all my photos, my camera.  Gone.

tear by mebilia on deviantART

Jane didn't see the person walk past.  When she finally catches up to me, I am pacing in a panic outside the hostel.  Trying to explain what has happened is more than I can bear.  She hugs me comfortingly while I mourn the loss of a journey's worth of memories on her shoulder.

• ¤ •

“Have you ever lost someone you love and wanted one more conversation, one more chance to make up for the time when you thought they would be here forever? If so, then you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back.”
~Mitch Albom

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Around the World: Amsterdam

April 22, 1992

Amsterdam is a sight seeing dream.  I went through two rolls of film snapping photos of statues, boats on the canals, bicycles, buildings, trees and flowers.  Everything is so interesting.

Jane and I went on an exploring wander in no particular direction, stopping at the occasional coffee shop to rest and refuel.  We spent hours walking and enjoying the sights and smells of Spring in Amsterdam.

Febo kroquette.  Nom nom nom.

The discovery of the febo, we agree, is the greatest invention of fast food distribution.  Behind a wall of little windows are cooks preparing individual portions of tasty treats.  Customers can browse and purchase freshly made food that is replaced as the windows empty.  Brilliant!  I took a chance and picked a breaded, tube shaped snack, called kroquette.  It's stuffed with a minced filling that tastes like a turkey dinner.  Something this delicious can't possibly be good for you, but I'm going back for more anyway.

Photo by Helen Olney

Amsterdam takes personal and lifestyle choices to a new level of tolerance.  If it doesn't hurt anybody and no one is being a nuisance, it's generally not a problem.  The city has that easy going air about it. Nothing is worth losing your head over.

• ¤ •

"Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle."
~Hellen Keller

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Around the World: Sex, Drugs and Bicycles

April 21, 1992

I arrived in Amsterdam yesterday afternoon.  The hostel is busy, but still had a few beds available and I was able to get one for myself in the dorm and reserve another for Jane's arrival later today.  Yay!

Amsterdam, what a fantastical place!  Idyllic cobblestone paths that line a grid of canals mixed with the crowds of urban existing.  The liberal attitude toward sex and soft drugs makes for an interesting walk through the area.  Parents watch their children play in parks, tourists meander along the canals as they visit the many coffee shops offering a selection of marijuana that can be chosen from a menu, women pose in windows at all hours of the day and night waiting for interested men seeking their services.  It's all so orderly, socially acceptable and openly displayed.  Quite a difference from the "war on drugs" and street corner prostitution in the shadows of night that I'm used to.

Amsterdam.  Sex, drugs...

The attitude at home is that selling sex and using drugs is bad, a scourge of society that leads to crime and other terrible things.  Yet, as I get my bearings in a strange city, carrying a backpack and walking around with a map, I am an obvious target for anyone looking to take advantage.  I don't feel any less safe here than I would at home.   In fact, I feel safer here than I have felt in many of the other places I've been.

The people in the busy hostel keep to themselves.  Beyond civil pleasantries, it's hard to strike up a conversation with anyone.  I stuff my bag into a locker and head off to Schiphol, Amsterdam's International Airport to meet Jane.

... and bicycles

Jane is jet lagged and a little disoriented, trying to take in a new place on only a few hours sleep.  We return to the hostel to tuck her bags into a locker before planning a quiet day acclimatizing to a new place and a new time zone.  We pick up some picnic supplies for a relaxing day in a nearby park.

• ¤ •

“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”
~John Green

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Around the World: Namur

April 19, 1992

Today, I am being lazy.  No train trips, just exploring the area around the hostel with my hostel mates.  We followed a trail to a hill with a vertical face that begged to be climbed.  Two guys had ropes and proper climbing gear to scale the hillside.  We were content to watch those with more experience climb to the top, about 100 feet up until Hans, my South African hostel mate, removed his shoes and proceeded to climb the face unharnessed and barefoot.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons

Wendy, also from South Africa loudly quips, "You should change your name to Foots!"

Hans makes it look so simple, we all decide to conquer the mini mountain before us.  Hans is the only one able to climb to the top.  A few others discover a steep path to the side while I learn at an altitude too high to abandon my climb, a very important piece of information that should have been considered much earlier.

I'm afraid of heights.

I start to carefully climb down and find a crevice along my route.  Tucked inside, I discover Jill has made herself quite comfortable.  She is also frightened of high places and like me, often forgets that a love of climbing and a mild case of acrophobia don't mix well together.  After realizing she was stuck, afraid to continue up or go back down, she crawled into this small crack in the rock, hoping someone might send help.  My offer to descend together gives her enough courage to make an attempt and we manage save ourselves. 

• ¤ •

"Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others."
~Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Around the World: Leuven and Michilen

April 18, 1992

A long lie in this morning almost cost me breakfast.  I made it just in time to pick from what was left of the buns and some cold meat slices.

I would prefer to be lazy today, but decide to visit Leuven.  The town hall is opposite the train station, which makes it really easy to find without a map.  A crowd is gathering in anticipation of a multicultural parade.

Leuven Town Hall.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons

Another train ride brings me to Mechelen.  In the late 1600's, town residents rushed to fight the fire they thought was tearing through St. Rumbold's tower.  It was only a reflection of the moon, the clouds created a flickering illusion on the tower's windows.  Since then, residents of Mechelen have been known at "Maneblussers" or moon extinguishers.

St. Rumbold's cathedral.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons

Right beside the town hall, a street vendor has socks for sale, but when I open the package, I discover they are children's socks.  Half the sock for half the price.  Another vendor has army coats for sale.  I barter the price down to 900 Belgium francs ($30), the price of staying warm.

I was able to change some money into guilders.  I am so excited to see Jane!

• ¤ •

"The loveliest faces are to be seen by moonlight, when one sees half with the eye and half with the fancy"
~Persian Proverb

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Around the World: Belfrys and Boredom

April 17, 1992

I am on the train to Ghent.  To amuse myself, I am trying to see how long I can keep a small tuft of lint airborne over the vent.  Eventually, it catches a current of air and floats over the seats in front of me, landing in another passenger's hair.  My amusement is gone and I have officially become a nuisance.

The treaty that officially ended the war of 1812 between Britain and the United States was signed in Ghent.  The belfry, one of the city's notorious three towers, has been used since the late 1300's to warn residents of an approaching enemy or to announce victory.  The gilded dragon on the top was brought from Bruges.  The upper portion of the tower has been rebuilt several times over the years as bells were added.

The Belfry of Ghent.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons

Bruges is just a short trip west toward the coast. Referred to as "the Venice of the North", the small city has struggled for survival throughout it's 1000 year history.  After a storm in 1134 re-established access to the sea, Bruges became home to a thriving wool and cloth industry. It was here, in 1473 that William Caxton translated and published "Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye", the first book printed in English. In the early 1500's, the floor of the Zwin channel started to rise.  Without access to the sea, the population of Bruges dwindled until a new port was constructed in 1907.   Bruges is now one of Europe's busiest and most important ports. 

Belfry of Bruges.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons

One of the city's most famous landmarks, the 13th century Belfry of Bruges, employs a carillonneur who plays the tower's 48 bells at regularly scheduled performances.

On the train back to Namur, I find another amusing piece of fluff to entertain me for the trip, this time using extra care to not to lose my toy.  When I arrive at the hostel, I'm told that someone broke in last night and stole the VCR.  I didn't even know we had a VCR.  

• ¤ •

"The cure for boredom is curiosity.  There is no cure for curiosity."
~Dorothy Parker

Monday, April 16, 2012

Around the World: A Really Good Day

April 16, 1992

Bird song is my alarm clock this morning.  Breakfast is an all-you-can-eat buffet and I have the freedom to explore beautiful Luxembourg without a backpack to lug around.  What a gorgeous place. It's cold, but the sun is trying to poke it's way through the clouds.

Adolphe Bridge, Luxembourg

It starts to snow as I'm ready to leave and is coming down heavy by the time I reach the train station.  At the Belgium border, the snow has changed to rain.  The sun is out in Namur.  I can see it will be difficult dressing comfortably here, as each town seems to have it's own unique weather.

The hostel in Namur has a kitchen, but it's not functional.  The lady at the front desk offers to let me use the staff kitchen after 9pm, as long as I clean up after myself.  Dinner is a decadent arrangement of waffles and cheese.

Namur YHA, Belgium

I share my room with three other girls, Jill and Sharon from Australia and Wendy from South Africa.  The four of us meet up with two guys, Brent from Vancouver and Hans from South Africa in the common room.  It feels so good to laugh, and there is laughter in spades all evening.

There's a phone just outside the common room and I get some wonderful news from home.  My good friend, Jane, is planning to meet me in Amsterdam!  

• ¤ •

"A single rose can be my garden... a single friend, my world."
~Leo Buscaglia 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Around the World: Three Trains and a Bed

April 15, 1992

I opened my eyes just as the train was pulling into the station in Aachen, just on the border with Belgium.  This is where I must make the connection to continue on to Brussels.

I have no luck finding tourist information at the train station in Brussles.  Too tired to wander aimlessly around a big city, I decide to get on another train that brings me to a friendly looking town called Namur.  A very nice lady at the information booth gives me a map, even though I am obviously disturbing her lunch.  I follow the signs to the hostel, only to be told on arrival that the place is full of students and no beds are available.

Seeing my disappointment, the clerk reserves me a bed for tomorrow and offers to mind my bag for the night.  She also provides very simple directions to Luxembourg, two hours away.

The hostel, tucked into the valley

Luxembourg is as scenic as places come and the hostel is very comfortable.  Breakfast is included, there's a common room with a TV and a hot shower in the six bed dorm.  After cleaning up and snacking on the leftover nibbles I brought with me, I find a comfy spot on the sofa to stare at the television broadcasting CNN.  I'm not one to follow the news, but I am surprised to discover just how disconnected from current events I have become.  Exhausted from the day's travels, the most exciting attraction in Luxembourg at the moment is my bed.

• ¤ •

"Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths."
~Etty Hillesum 

Photos by iGoUgo

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Around the World: Berlin

April 14, 1992

Finding information at the little "i" at the train station in Berlin is a joke.  When I ask the lady at the desk for a map of the city, she hands me a subway map and says, "Alexander Platz."  Maybe people only come here to see one thing.  Hopefully it's the same thing I've come to see.

The wall.

The subway map doesn't help much, other than to tell me I've walked too far in the wrong direction.  I find another tourist information booth where I am handed yet another subway map.  When I show the clerk my subway map and explain that I want a street map, she hands it to me laughing and mutters, "Stupid tourist."

Friendly bunch, they are here in Berlin.

At a nearby park, I stop for a snack and to feed the sparrows, who incidentally, are much friendlier than the people, before walking the rest of the way to Checkpoint Charlie.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons

The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) to prevent Eastern Bloc citizens from defecting into West Germany and onto other Western European countries.  On November 9, 1989, the GDR announced that East Germans could visit West Berlin and West Germany.  Thousands of East Germans gathered at German checkpoints demanding to cross into the West.  Border guards were instructed to stamp East German passports with a mark that would deny them entry back into East Germany.  When the East German authorities would not accept responsibility for orders to use lethal force, the border guards opened the gates.  East Germans poured through the gates and were greeted by West Germans carrying flowers and champagne in celebration.  West and East Berliners climbed onto the wall rejoicing in their new freedom. 

Souvenir hunters chipped and chiseled away at the wall, and in the weeks that followed, several people brought sledgehammers to dismantle sections that created several unofficial crossing points.  Crowds cheered on bulldozers that removed large sections of the wall to reunite roads that had been separated since it's construction.

The physical dismantling of the wall continued until last year, leaving only a few small sections and watchtowers standing as memorials.  Checkpoint Charlie, once the most visible crossing point between West and East Berlin is now a museum that documents the wall's history.  There is a distinct difference in architecture from east to west.  Standing on Friedrichstra├če facing East Berlin, the buildings are practical, basic, unadorned structures.  Looking toward West Berlin, the buildings are artistic, decorated with ornate details and statues.

Architectural differences between East (L) & West (R) Berlin

Poster prints of the artwork and graffiti that covered the wall are for sale.  I buy one of a hand breaking through the wall offering a white rose to a hand bound in chains.

I follow the scarred ground where the wall used to stand on my way back to the train station.  Perhaps this is what makes the people so irritable, scars of a terribly disturbing past that have yet to heal.

Wall graffiti

The train to Aachen is attached to another long line of army green cars.  I discover this as the orange cars pass me, still standing on the platform as the train pulls out of the station.  When I inquire about another train at the reservations window, the clerk tells me I cannot make reservations here.  Fortunately, the train returns to the station and I have a chance to board.

After walking through two full cars, I finally find a couchette with an empty seat, quite possibly the last available seat on this train.

• ¤ •

"What happened in Berlin last week was a combination of the fall of the Bastille and a New Year's Eve blowout, of revolution and celebration. At the stroke of midnight on Nov. 9, a date that not only Germans would remember, thousands who had gathered on both sides of the Wall let out a roar and started going through it, as well as up and over. West Berliners pulled East Berliners to the top of the barrier along which in years past many an East German had been shot while trying to escape; at times the Wall almost disappeared beneath waves of humanity. They tooted trumpets and danced on the top. They brought out hammers and chisels and whacked away at the hated symbol of imprisonment, knocking loose chunks of concrete and waving them triumphantly before television cameras. They spilled out into the streets of West Berlin for a champagne-spraying, horn-honking bash that continued well past dawn, into the following day and then another dawn. As the daily BZ would headline: BERLIN IS BERLIN AGAIN."

Photo courtesy of PBS, November 10, 1989

 ~Freedom! The Berlin Wall by Time columnist George J. Church
Monday, November 20, 1989

Friday, April 13, 2012

Around the World: Oslo

April 13, 1992

Yesterday, I met Wolfgang at the ferry dock and we headed back to Stockholm.  Wolfgang let me borrow his Walkman and I listened to my fill of Pink Floyd and "Hotel California" while I cut his hair.  Wolfgang is going to Copenhagen to visit his sister and gave me all his travel snacks, including a large brick of very delicious cheese that has a pungent smell of old socks. It has a wonderful sharp, nutty flavour but holy crap, does it stink.

I arrived in Oslo, Norway this morning.  I spent the day in Gustav Vigelandpark admiring the many carved statues depicting milestones in the journey of life, from childhood experiences, falling in love, starting a family and growing old.

I have reserved a berth for the trip to Berlin.  I'm having a nice conversation with another girl on the train who is seeing Europe after returning from India and Australia.  Among the many topics our conversation covered, we spent quite a while discussing feminine hygiene hints and tips, lunar cycles and the like.  There is lots of laughter as we openly discuss the challenges of taking care of a girl's needs in the different places we've been.  A train employee arrives to convert the bench seating into bunks.  I make myself comfortable on the top berth and prepare to drift off to sleep as other passengers arrive.  When two passengers can't fit their suitcases under the lower berths, two very skinny guys are discovered hiding underneath.

If they understand English, both of them are now very well educated in menstrual cycles.

• ¤ •

"Life is a thing that mutates without warning, not always in enviable ways. All part of the improbable adventure of being alive, of being a brainy biped with giant dreams on a crazy blue planet."
~Diane Ackerman