Tag Archives: travel blog

Inspiration, All Around

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It has been said many times that inspiration crops up in unexpected places; however, it also springs from places where one hopes it might, a place not unexpected but a place often taken for granted – like not seeing the forest for the trees.

I often read other blogs – either here on WordPress or when I’m trolling around on other sites – mostly about writing and the writing life.  On WordPress, Freshly Pressed gives me an opportunity to “window shop” – with titles and/or photos that intrigue, I often find gems worth reading.  When other bloggers take the time to read my posts and press the “like” button, I always try to return the favour.

Yesterday a fellow blogger , Lesley Carter liked one of my posts – by the way, thank you Lesley for reading and liking – so I promptly checked out her blog too.  What a bonanza!  I want to BE Lesley Carter when I grow up.  She made me want to hop on the next plane for anywhere and she inspired me to make improvements to blogs about my own travels.  Her blog is a treasure trove for anyone who loves travel and for those who just like to read about it.  Her enthusiasm shines on every word. 

When I read excellent posts from other bloggers – either like Lesley’s or my friend in France, who is sharing his expat adventures as a “trailing spouse” – I am inspired to write more and inspired to try to write better.  I don’t write just to exercise my fingers – I want people to read my posts, chuckle, cry, agree, disagree, think.  And keep reading.  Having said that, it’s also great fun to live vicariously through other bloggers.

You never know where inspiration will pop up but chances are it is all around you.

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End of the Odyssey

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Brilliance of the Seas crept into Barcelona’s Harbour in the grey light of dawn; an hour later, her passengers were rather unceremoniously evicted as she was due to sail again by 4:30 the same afternoon.  Bleary eyed and barely fed, we stumbled onshore and into a waiting taxi headed back to the same hotel we’d stayed in before, the Gruphotel Gravina in the Gothic Quarter.  We were grateful to have a place to store our 500 suitcases  which were now full to bursting with new souvenirs and dirty laundry.

My husband was on a mission. A holy mission.  A devout non-church goer, I’ve never seen anyone more dedicated  to peeking inside every church and cathedral in whatever city he visits.  However, I could forgive him (almost) his zeal when it came to La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s bizarre masterpiece in Barcelona.

When Senor Gaudi died in 1926, his vision wasn’t even one-quarter complete.  Construction is on target for completion by 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’s death.  Too bad cathedrals take so long.  Those whose vision they represent never  live to see their dreams become reality.  Staring up at the bizarre facade, I couldn’t help but wonder what Gaudi would think.

The exterior resembles a sand castle caught in a heavy downpour; the whole facade looks as though it’s melting.  The other side of the church is completely different – almost spartan with delicate curved support columns.  Above the whole thing are intricate towers that are accessible by elevator and tight winding stairs.  In some places,  whimsical colourful carved  fruits are plopped on like cherries atop a sundae.  I think Gaudi must have been fond of rasberries…

Looking at the exterior of the church, one might suppose the interior would be as heavy and molten as the famous facade.  At the very least, one could suppose that this European cathedral might be heavy and dark, dripping in gold leaf like so many other European cathedrals.  One would be wrong on both counts.  The overall impression upon entering is that of light.  Soaring, brilliant, giddy light.  There are scores of windows, ethereal and slender – stained glass appeared sparingly.  The interior soars not only with light but with light coloured stone.  Instead of dark and serious, the whole place feels light and joyful.

I am severely allergic to audio tours (or tours of any kind) but if I were to return, I would spring for one.  I want to know more.   Alternatively, I could just lie on the floor and gaze up for hours.  Security might object but I think Gaudi would understand.

All too soon, we had to leave.  It’s a hard church to leave – every time  we headed for the door, we saw something else.  Outside the exit, thousands of carvings held our gazes until our necks hurt.  I think every Bible story was carved into the side of the church.

We took a taxi from there to Parc Guell (more Gaudi!).  High above Barcelona, the large public park contained Gaudi-esque statues, buildings, and gardens as well as a house owened by Gaudi.  It was a whimsical, fairytale place that we were almost too exhausted to appreciate; in fact, we saw only a portion of it.  Feet hurt and stomachs growled with hunger.  Gazing out across the city, my husband spied his next destination:  Montjuic.  Groans of despair ensued.

During the 15 minute taxi ride across the city, one little man fell asleep, a young girl stared stonily ahead and my husband engaged in the most bizarre tri-lingual conversation I’ve ever heard.  Some English, some Spanish, and oddly, a few words of French thrown in – that’s what my husband does – he throws in whatever language comes to mind.  Oddly, he and the taxi driver seemed to be communicating just fine.

Crowning the top of Monjuic is the Catelonian National Museum of Art, housed in a former palace  – just what tired feet and empty tummies did not want.  Fueled by KitKats and Coke, we sped through this magnificent museum in record time.  Frankly, I enjoyed the outside views more than the inside but there were a couple of interesting Picassos to show the kids.  Cascading down the hillside from the museum are gardens, fountains, and lovely treed walkways.  Montjuic is also the home of several Olympic venues from the 1992 Summer Games.

We returned to our neighbourhood and sought a “non-touristy” place to eat. We failed miserably and endured yet another awful meal.  The idea of tapas appealed but we never found the right place.  It was the only disappointing thing about Barcelona.

The next morning we woke, hit the local Starbucks (I know, I’m sorry but I was desperate) and headed to the airport.  Ironically, the two best meals we had in Barcelona were at a shopping centre and at the airport.  As our plane lifted off, I wept as I often do when heading back to reality.  My husband, ever-perplexed at the storm of emotions his wife can conjure, looked at me worriedly.  “What’s the matter?  The plane is not crashing…”  “I miss Europe!” I wailed as the landing gear ka-thunked into it’s bay and we turned towards home.

When we landed in Toronto, I was glad to be home but seriously, everything looked too…new.  Too…mass produced.  The roads and the cars were too big.  Later that night, I sat on my front porch with a glass of wine and tried to settle, pondering where I could take Italian lessons and how much real estate might cost in Rome…

Running With the Donkeys

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Picture running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.  Masses of people voluntarily running as fast as possible, millimeters ahead of angry bulls through narrow streets.  Picture it with donkeys and people running pell-mell along a steep path with a sheer drop on one side.  Picture the panic.

Welcome to Santorini, Greece.

Santorini is a  beautiful island in the southern archipelago of other stunningly beautiful Greek islands.  Villages  sit atop cliffs overlooking the water-filled caldera of a slumbering volcano.  Buildings look as though they were sprinkled over the land by the gods, like sparkling white stones.  Although tourist destinations, getting up to these places is sometimes a challenge.

Our ship’s tender docked at a small pier where hundreds of tourists lined up for one of the three transport options to get up to the village of Thera:

  • Option 1:  cable car.  Long lines – sometimes over an hour at peak times and not for those afraid of wee contraptions hanging by a wire that go super high.
  • Option 2:  donkey.  Sure footed and strong, these beasts of burden do this for a living.
  • Option 3: feet.  Exercise is good! Burn some calories.

On the tender, I looked up at the island.  I didn’t fancy the cable car option.  I’m terrified of heights and get ornery waiting in lines.  So my daughter and I agreed on the donkey option; my husband and son opted to walk.

Skirting the huge line for the cable car, we bid the boys adieu and searched for donkeys.  The donkey line was long too and a tad chaotic.  I was cranky.  I was looking forward to a nice glass of ouzo or, at the very least, a heaping bowl of creamy Greek yoghurt drizzled with honey, sprinkled with chopped walnuts.  After 11 days of waiting in one line or another, I’d about had enough.

Telling my daughter to follow, I pushed forward.  Normally, I’m a docile sort who knows how to stand in a queue.  On this day, I got in touch with my inner bitch and pushed into every available free space as I went forward.  Rude?  Probably.  I was already having doubts about this donkey nonsense.  We could just walk.  My daughter’s an athlete and I’m in reasonably good shape – how hard could it be?

We emerged onto a courtyard of chaos: confused tourists, elderly Greek men waving their arms and yelling, and masses of donkeys.   All donkeys seemed to be relieving themselves spontaneously and turning in mindless circles.  I pulled my daughter aside a split second before a donkey backed over her (they don’t come with rear-view mirrors or sensors or those handy beeping alarms).

Terror struck.  The likelihood of me being smashed to bits on the cliff  after being flung from a donkey was probably fairly remote but still… I stood in Santorini having flashbacks to my last (nearly fatal) equestrian accident. Meanwhile my daughter pushed as hard as she could against a donkey’s ass to keep it from squashing her flat.

“Let’s walk!”

Ignoring the kind offers from the elderly Greek donkey wranglers to “take a donkey, ladies” we struck out on foot.  Barely five feet from the base of the hill, a rider lost control of her steed (can a donkey be called a steed?  My apologies to horses everywhere if they cannot).  From somewhere behind me, an elderly Greek donkey wrangler screeched as well as any banshee.  The lady’s donkey reconsidered its options and shot off like a…terrified donkey.  As he skittered over the stones, he spontaneously let loose a torrent of urine that could only be described as biblical.  As in, where was the Ark?  My daughter shot me the look that could shatter stone once more.

“Maybe running would be better,” I suggested.  She stalked off with me trotting behind.

The pathway was steep, paved with cobblestones; it rose in a series of hairpin turns all the way up to the village which was so far up we couldn’t see it.  On one side only a low stone wall separated us from a certain death off the cliff; on the other side, a high whitewashed wall with no doorways or crevices big enough to squeeze into offered little protection from anything.  Footing was treacherous; looking up was not an option.

Resigned to a long, hot, smelly hike, we suddenly heard bells.  Not the pleasant tolling of church bells on a beautiful sunny Greek morning but the high-pitched, tinny sound of cheap cowbells.  We stopped and looked up the path.  I heard my daughter’s scared voice.  “Mom!  Mommy?!”

Sure, stampedes happen.  But not on vacation.  Not on a sunny Greek isle.  But there we were, staring at a frenzied mass of legs, ears, and wild-eyes hurtling towards us.  There was nowhere to go.  I wondered how the headlines would read.  I didn’t have time to edit my obituary – all I could do was shove my daughter behind me and make small.

This manoeuvre was repeated countless times for approximately 1 million more steps.  I can now add “fear of Greek donkeys” to the ever-growing list of things I need therapy for.  The sound of bells now makes me jumpy.  I smacked a few donkeys.  By the time we reached the top, I was ready to smack anything or anyone that got between me and a very, very strong drink.  Oddly enough, the journey for those riding the donkeys was no picnic either; tears were shed.  Along with poop and urine, one could smell the stress.

We found the boys – unscathed – and began the shopping marathon that is Santorini.  What about that drink? I whimpered.  The shops were lovely but if we ever go back to Santorini (hello cable car!), I could skip shopping.  There are vineyards, beaches, and boat tours available but as always, we didn’t have time.  I wanted less donkeys, more time.

A delicious lunch of tiny brioche sandwiches with very tall glasses of ouzo restored me.  The creamy all-fat yoghurt was worth the hike…well, almost.  I looked out over the shimmering white terraces to the dark blue waters below – it was all impossibly beautiful.  Sitting on the breezy terrace, I let my mind wander.  I could live here, be a shop girl in Santorini.  I’d never leave my clifftop perch. I would start a rescue for over-worked donkeys.  Below us, the boat tenders lined up at the dock.  Already, it was time to go.

Another two days at sea and we’d be back in Barcelona.  The distance between me and reality was closing fast.  Sitting in the porthole again as we left Santorini,  I snapped endless pictures of the island’s cliffs, bays, and villages spread across the top of the island like royal icing gleaming against the rich blue sky.  A postcard, I thought.  Does anyone really live in a postcard?

The sun retired for the night, the cliffs darkened until they melted into the sky, lights twinkled atop them like strands of stars.  We headed for open water and Spain.