Saturday, June 26, 2010

Solo Travel for Inspiration

Posted on June 26, 2010 - by Janice
on Solo Traveler

Solo Travel for Inspiration – a new passion

The human eye is designed for distance. Unfortunately, I work on a computer many hours a day using a focal length that can be measured in inches. I live in a city where my view bumps up against buildings rather than enjoying the sweep of the landscape. And when I get outside Toronto into relatively flat Ontario, my vision is stopped short by trees.

That’s why I love to travel to mountains where I can stretch my eyes and really see the horizon. When I do, I’m inspired.  When I lived in western Canada, I knew the pleasure of mountains. But for the last 25 years I’ve lived in the east. I forgot how mountains enrich life.

In November, I rediscovered their wonder when I went to the Lake District and walked for four days. Climbing the fells was not just exercise for my legs, a work-out for my heart and fresh air for my lungs, it was also a relief for my eyes. And, as my eyes drank in the view, I could think differently. I was inspired.

The Fells of Cumbria - better known as the Lake District

In January, Utah was my mountain destination. I went and volunteered at the Sundance Film Festival but the best day of my trip was skiing at The Canyons.

At 10,000 feet, the views were stunning. The thin air may have contributed to the Rocky Mountain high that I felt for days afterward but the mountains served well to free my mind and inspire creativity.

It doesn’t surprise me that the famous poet, William Wordsworth, went to the Lake District of England and stayed. In the same way, it’s not surprising that the mountains of Utah are the backdrop to the Sundance Institute to support emerging and aspiring filmmakers. It’s simple; mountains are inspiring.

The view from the top of The Canyons ski resort in Utah.

When I plan my travels, I now try to include some time at a higher elevation with a view. It frees my eyes to do what they do best and, in the process, frees my mind to new inspiration. It has become a passion of mine.

My Almost-Daily 10 Mile Ride

Ventured back onto the Prairie Path today, Saturday, to resume my almost-daily route.  Not the best day for my after-crash ride.  It's quite busy on weekends.  A couple of times some cyclist was on my tail and left side before announcing ("Passing on your left"...c'mon riders....learn the rules of the bike path....announce as you're coming up not when you're right there.  Some didn't even announce.)  And since my collision with the woman who had no mirror on her bike nor looked over her shoulder before turning, I am very sensitive to that now.

Usually when they do that (after I jump out of my skin from the scare) I politely yell (can one "politely yell?") "Announce, please!"  Damn.  I mean someone has to teach them!

That aside, it was a pleasant ride.  Until the stretch of path with all the cracks and bumps.  Just when I was ready to let loose with some of my favorite frustration words, bam!  I'm on this section of path that is repaved and my bike is gliding like a skater on ice!   Whoa, I had no idea that in the time I was recuperating from my crash, Dundee had repaved its portion of the path!  Thank you, Dundee!

Now we just need to get Algonquin and Crystal Lake to follow suit.

Taking it easy, after 5 miles, I stopped at the Measuring Cup cafe in Dundee for breakfast.  This is a great little eatery, very popular with cyclists, especially on weekends.  They have the best scrambled egg and cheddar cheese panini!  I took my crossword book (gotta keep the mind sharp now that I'm not working), had a nice breakfast, and rode the 5 miles back.  All in all, a good morning.

(Click photos to enlarge)

Great Destinations

(Check it out:  Chicago is #2!  But I could've told you how great Chicago is!)

Posted on June 24, 2010 - by Janice

Women Traveling Alone Part II – Great Destinations

This is the second in a series of posts specifically for women solo travelers. The first post, Women Traveling Alone Part I – 10 tips offered ideas that make travel for a woman easier. They were based on personal experience. You’ll also find tips from others in the comments to the post. This time, the theme is great destinations for women solo travelers – especially first-timers.

I find it relatively easy to answer questions about how women can get the most out of the solo travel experience. I find it a bit more difficult to suggest where they should go. After all, I haven’t been everywhere.

So, in this post I share with you some of my favorite destinations that I also think would be great for solo travel novices. To broaden out the perspective and identify more great destinations for women, I also offer the results of a little crowdsourcing I did using Twitter.

Great destinations for women traveling alone – a few of my favorites:

Most of my recommendations for women traveling alone for the first time are places where English is spoken, or, it would not be surprising to find someone who speaks English. Being able to communicate in your own language is helpful – especially if you are a newbie.

Here’s my list:

The Lake District – if you are at all outdoorsy – or even if you’re not – the Lake District is a fabulous place to visit for it’s natural beauty and local charm. It’s easy to see why this area was the inspiration for much of Wordsworth’s poetry. Walking by day. A pint at the local pub by night. It’s a perfect solo travel destination.

•Chicago - I love New York City but it is almost too obvious for a list like this. I recommend Chicago for it’s fabulous downtown, waterfront, architecture, great use of the river, cycling, arts scene, blue/jazz scene, sports traditions… and they have a wonderful free greeters program to introduce you to the city as well.

•Amsterdam – Amsterdam is a city rich in history, fresh with pop culture and on the leading edge of social change. It is a place where women, pedestrians and cyclists are all respected. Yes there’s the red light district but it’s also very family friendly. Unlike Paris which is a city to look at, Amsterdam is a place to infiltrate – at least that’s how I felt when I was there.

•St. Remy & Arles, France – I absolutely love France and the part of France I love the most is the south near Arles and St. Remy de Provence (they are about 30km apart). Arles is the bigger city with a Roman arena. St. Remy has roman ruins as well though smaller. The area is famous for inspiring Vincent Van Gogh who lived there from 1889 to 1890, a year of intense productivity of master works. It’s beauty lies in the landscape, history and French countryside charm.

•Cross Canada by Train – Traveling coach across Canada is a fabulous experience for a woman traveling alone. On route, you make friends, pick up a card game, have cocktails at 5pm… In first class where people have bedrooms its not quite as social. Traveling coach is very communal. If you’re worried about sleeping upright for three nights well, it can be done. A carry-on is the same height as the seats so a perfect extension if you’re lucky enough to get a double. But, we can make do with what we have. Beside me a lovely couple from Newfoundland sat and slept side by side for four days.

Great destinations for women traveling alone – recommendations from Twitter.

•New Zealand – it’s safe, very friendly… simply spectacular all around. CarolineAttack.

•Japan, Thailand, Vietnam… – I think Buddhist countries in general are good bets for women traveling alone zoezolbrod

•Thailand and Malaysia were great for solo women travelers as well! cbrodzky

•Chile – I was mostly in cities, but it felt incredibly safe & ppl were helpful. That said, I’ve traveled to ~15 countries alone… I should add also that the hostel scene in Santiago is amazing (lots of women staffers at CheLagarto, where I stayed) jilliancyork

•Australia was a great place to start as a woman solo traveler. I went there for 4 months. Then 3 months in New Zealand. MissAlisa75

•Netherlands – Top pick 4 solo women travelers is Netherlands/small, English spoken,women there considered equal 4 a long time- most imp! Journeywoman

•Seoul – is my recommendation for you; this city is probably one of the safest places to stay and look around. Experience thousands of years walking around old palaces. And You should try temple foods. medicomm

•Singapore, Australia and Baguio in Philippines are perfect places for first time solo women travellers prime_sarmiento

Biking as Transportation

Been reading some interesting biking blogs lately, as it is fast becoming my passion.  Not racing, just biking.  Despite the fact that a woman crashed into me on the bike trail two weeks ago and I ended up with bloody and purple palms, a sprained left hand, and scrapes, bruises and swelling from my knee down to my ankle --- and this on the knee I've already had two surgeries!  Thank goodness, it appears nothing is damaged inside.

Since the bruises are gone, the swelling almost completely down, and my left hand partially healed, I've jumped on the bike again.  Have to ride kind of one-handed, as the injured hand can't really grasp the handlebar, just rest on it for balance.

But I decided to stay off of the trail yesterday and instead, inspired by one of the blogs, do my errands around town on my bike.

Off I went.  And I have to say, it was fun!  Being on my bike makes me feel like a kid again.  And I like it so much better than walking for exercise, because (1) you cover more ground and see more stuff and (2) no matter how hot it is, biking always generates a little breeze.

So now I'm thinking, "Hmmm, is there a cute little town somewhere like mine, on a lake like mine, but where everyone bikes for local transportation?  I'd like to live there!"  Yeah, probably somewhere in Europe.  Oh, well, it's fun to dream.

(Click to enlarge photos)

Breakfast in town

Little diner with mostly locals as patrons

A stop at the bank and the library to return some DVD's

And along the south end of the lake to the bike/walking path of the neighborhood I used to live in.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Stranger Danger - Pt. III

Posted on June 19, 2010 - by Janice

Solo Travel Stranger Danger Part III – Recognizing Danger

Parisian taxi drivers are known for overcharging. Watch the meter and ask questions if the price doesn't sound right.

This is the third post in the three part series on solo travel stranger danger. Part I emphasized the kindness of strangers. Part II told a cautionary tale of an experience I had in Paris that was very dangerous. Today, we delve into strategies for recognizing potential danger so that it can be avoided. .

Let me start by continuing on [a prior post], Caught in a Con Game.

After I phoned my friend’s friend in a panic and lost all my money, I hopped into a cab and made my way to her place – she said she would pay the fare. On route, the cab driver started flirting. In my limited French I explained that, no, I didn’t want to spend the next day with him. And I explained why. Oh, he wanted to show me that the men in Paris could be wonderful. I still refused. Then, when we reached my destination, he tried to charge me double what was on the meter. My friend came out to pay for me and tore a strip off him for trying to rip me off.

We really have to be careful. So, how can one recognize dangerous situations so that they can be avoided? Here are some ideas.

Take note of how you feel.

•Follow your gut. When your Spidey senses tingle, pay attention. Malcolm Gladwell studied the potential of an intuitive response in his book BLINK: the power of thinking without thinking. Here is a very good summary. It’s from a review by Barbara MacKoff on

The key is to rely on our “adaptive unconscious”–a 24/7 mental valet–that provides us with instant and sophisticated information to warn of danger, read a stranger, or react to a new idea. Gladwell includes caveats about leaping to conclusions: marketers can manipulate our first impressions, high arousal moments make us “mind blind,” focusing on the wrong cue leaves us vulnerable to “the Warren Harding Effect” (i.e., voting for a handsome but hapless president).

•Don’t be rushed into making a decision – whether its a purchase, transportation, accommodation…. If you feel rushed you won’t be thinking clearly. Rushing causes confusion and poor decision-making. Unsavory characters know this and use it to their advantage.

Read the obvious red flags

Being aware of your surroundings and how people are acting is critical to your safety.

•Recognize the signs of a bad area: poor quality buildings, poor lighting, closed stores, few people, no families wandering around just people of one gender or generation.

•Recognize the signs of an unsavory person: contradictions in their story, difficulty maintaining eye contact, making inappropriate demands

•Services that don’t look legitimate: as person on the street offering a great exchange rate for money, unofficial accommodation offers, gypsy taxis.

Know the common scams before your travel.

Watch out for people:

•Posing as police, showing fake ID and asking to see your wallet for counterfeit currency. Scam.

•Giving you something apparently free such as a bottle of water or a flower and then demanding payment. They can be very difficult to say no to but you have to. They’ll demand payment as soon as the item is in your hands.

•Taking your picture for you and then demanding a fee.

•Spilling ice cream on you or causing some other distraction so that their partner can pickpocket you.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fox and Obel

(Click photos to enlarge)

The gourmet grocery store down the block from my city place is one of my favorite places to have breakfast or just sit and people-watch.  There's a little cafe along the street to watch people passing by and another in the back on a canal that leads out to Lake Michigan.  Both are nice to spend time in.

 And now the new park is finished with benches, a water feature, a dog park, and some lawn expanse for kids to play frisbee.


Just a note posted to say I've been lax about blogging lately, because I've been fighting strep.  For the last few weeks, I've had days where I've been tired, taken two-hour naps (I don't nap!) and had a sore throat (all since the flu I had late May) yet I've had some days where I've felt energetic enough to bike 10-20 miles.  It has been very confusing.

I finally went to my doctor and was diagnosed with strep.  How odd.  Haven't felt that sick.  On meds now and hoping I'm up and running in no more than a week. 

Meanwhile, I'll try to find something to post about.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Caught in a Con Game -- Pt. II

Posted on June 12, 2010 - by Solo Traveler

Solo Travel: Stranger Danger Part II

Caught in a Con Game

(This is part II in the series on Stranger Danger. Please have a read of June 6th's post. It shows the wonderful, magical, positive side of strangers in five short stories.)

I was almost taken in Paris. If I had been, I would not have had a Liam Neeson to save me.

This is a story of firsts. My first time in Europe. My first really solo travel adventure. And my first – and last – time being caught in a con game. It was 1985, I was 27 and I really should have known better.

My trip began in Paris where I spent my first days tripping around the city with fellow hostellers – men and women. I felt safe and confident. On the day I was to leave for Salzburg, I felt the same way. I was to take an afternoon train so I stored my backpack in a locker at the Gare de L’est station around noon then went across the street to look over a menu outside a restaurant. A man approached and checked it out as well, we chatted and went in to spend lunch together. No big deal. Meeting and hanging out with people in Paris seemed pretty normal at this point.

While we were eating, a man at another table leaned over and asked for a light for his cigarette. The fellow I was with (let’s call him John) provided it and we all got chatting. It turned out that we were all heading to different cities in Austria.

The other man (I’ll call him Peter) got up to leave and casually mentioned that he had to pop into a bank to pick up the Austrian Schillings required to enter Austria. This was before Euros and was news to me. Assuming that this was a detail I missed, I joined the two men and went to get my money changed.

The bank we went to couldn’t change our money. It is only with hindsight that I realize that it was likely a commercial bank. I didn’t even know of their existence then. From this point on, my life took a very dangerous trajectory that fortunately ended well. My choices at each step may suggest that I am a stupid woman but I’m not. I was, however, very naïve. I reveal my failings here to save others as they travel.

A con game is all about gaining the confidence of the mark – in this case, me. The end objective is different with every con artist but the process is pretty well the same. Prey on a human frailty such as vanity, greed or naivety, gain the person’s confidence, then get what you want from them. The thrill of the con is often as important as the results.

After being unsuccessful at the bank, the three of us set out for an Austrian restaurant which John knew. He was sure that the owner would exchange our money so that we could continue our travels. We positioned ourselves at a café across the street from the restaurant. I went to the restroom and took money out of my money belt, went back to the table and gave it to him. Peter gave him cash as well.

As John entered the restaurant across the street, Peter asked how long we had been traveling together. To his apparent shock, I said we weren’t travel mates – that I had just met him.

- But you’re my insurance he said.

We both sat back and waited anxiously to see if he had taken off with our money. John returned and gave our money back saying that he had failed. Confidence earned.

We then went to another Austrian restaurant on the Champs Elysees and repeated the process. This time John returned with Peter’s money exchanged, but there had not been enough for both of us. He again, gave me back my money. Confidence confirmed.

Peter wished us luck and continued on his way. John and I then headed for the west bank where we would try once again. I know. You’re thinking how crazy I was, but it actually seemed pretty realistic. They were pros!

The day was getting on. This time when John went to get the money exchanged, he returned and said he had to leave it at the restaurant but that we could return in an hour to get it. Naturally this made me anxious. We went for dinner across the street to wait it out.

At dinner, he mentioned that we had missed the train and would have to stay overnight and that we could share a room. I refused and he got angry. When I moved to leave he settled down. After doing this dance a couple of times, I pulled out a photo of my two-year-old son. He looked at me, stunned.

- How old are you?

It was not a good scene. I left him and looked for phone booth to call a remote connection I had in the city. The booth was occupied. I knocked. I got the one minute hand signal and the person’s back. I looked and saw John watching me. I went to the other side of the booth and pounded on it furiously. The man eventually left in a huff and I called. Once it was clear that I was talking to someone, John took off – with my money of course.

Long story short, I grabbed a cab and went to my contact’s home. She said that had John been successful, I would have been on route for the white slave market. Is that the case? I’m not sure. But I certainly wasn’t going on any holiday.

The details of that day are indelibly marked in my memory. What saved me was the fact that I stayed in a public place. While I was significantly poorer in the end, I was left with my life – and a lifelong principle for solo travel:  Public is always safer than private.

That trip lasted another 7 days. I criss-crossed Europe by train, as far as Budapest in the east and Amsterdam to the north, and many points in between. As I did, I told the story to as many women as possible. Now, I write a blog on solo travel in which safety is a major theme.

My note:  Articles like these are why I love this blog, Solo Traveler, and repost them with full credit to the author, here.

And remember my post of February 11, Why I Travel Solo?  Go back and read at the end of that post my own personally naive story of my Paris incident I now suspect was more than an Algerian wanting a green card!  I was probably very lucky, too.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Women Traveling Alone

Posted on June 10, 2010 - by Solo Traveler

10 tips for Women Traveling Alone

I’ve written all sorts of posts on how to travel alone. Posts on solo travel safety, eating alone, how to spend evenings… This post could cover all those again because they all apply to women traveling alone. However, I’m not going to try to say everything. This time I am writing about things specific to women – serious issues and girly things.

1.  Have patience. Even as an experienced solo traveler, every time I start a new trip it takes me a day or two to get solo stable — to shed those initial nerves of being out there on my own managing all the details, logistics and documents. Be patient. You’ll find your strength.

2.  Be cautious. If you are a young woman you need to be far more careful about unsavory characters than us more mature women. At least, that certainly is my the Solo Travel Safety section [at Solo Traveler] for lots of tips on staying safe.

3.  Pack light. You’re going to save money and be more mobile if you pack light. It requires a bit more planning to have a wardrobe that stretches from hiking boots to high heels but it can be done. Choose a base color (black, brown, beige, navy), a contrast color (white, beige…) and a color or two to accessorize and pull it all together. Watch the videos in my post on packing light.

4.  Dress conservatively. Maybe revealing tops and short skirts should be fine but, in reality, they can get you into trouble in many countries, including North America and Europe. You are always more vulnerable when you’re off your home turf so compensate by dressing conservatively. Read 10 Tips to Survive Culture Shock for more on this topic.

5.  Don’t make your hair an issue. Before I left on my long term trip I had long hair that was colored blond. It took too long to dry and the roots showed every five weeks. It was going to be a hassle that I didn’t need so I had it cut less than an inch long and let it go gray. Your situation need not be this extreme but it is worth having easy hair options so your travel time is not consumed with such a mundane task as your hair.

6.  Plan your first night well. At minimum, have a place to rest your head on the first night and plan to arrive by mid afternoon. It’s important to have the time to find your hotel or hostel in daylight and time to change your accommodation if you determine that this is not the place for you.

7.  Other women are not necessarily safe. Women often feel safer with other women. And, when it comes to small time danger, we probably are. But there are also dangerous women who are just as capable of luring you into bad situations as men. Be cautious.

8.  Choose your purse carefully. While a day pack designed with security features is ideal for travel you may prefer to carry a purse. If you do I recommend purses that you wear across your shoulders. In Naples a few years back I was the victim of a “scooter bandit”. What’s that? Two guys on a scooter. The driver charges through a cross walk against the light and behind a woman. The passenger grabs her purse. In my case, all he got was the strap.

9.  Take care of your feet. Nothing will ruin a trip faster than sore feet. Women’s shoes are notoriously bad for feet. Choose comfort over fashion.

10.  Pamper yourself. Women traveling alone are, just that, alone. No kisses from family. No hugs from friends. A manicure, pedicure, massage… are all safe ways to get a little human touch. Everyone needs that once in a while.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Two Passions: Solo Travel and Cycling

Posted on June 8, 2010 - by Solo Traveler

Two Passions: Solo Travel and Cycling

I can’t remember where I first heard about cycling and hosteling but I do remember when. I was ten years old. It struck me as terribly romantic in the literary sense of the word. Maybe it was a character in a book that introduced me to the idea, I don’t know. But when I asked my Mom if it was still done she fueled the romance by describing her days as a teenager cycling and hosteling the Eastern Townships outside of Montreal.

Four years later I was on my first cycling tour. I saved my money carefully for 10 months to take a trip that my parents didn’t really think I’d manage to do. I spent one month in Wales and southern England cycling and hosteling. My bike was a white Peugeot.

I did a number of other tours after that. Some with a couple of friends, others on tours that I joined. While marriage and kids put hosteling off my agenda, I never gave up cycling at home and on vacation.

You can rent a bike at the McDonald's Cycle Center in Millennium Park, Chicago.

City Cycling and Solo Travel
When I plan to travel, I don’t choose my destination based on whether it’s good for cycling but, if it is, I make plans to make it happen.

Chicago is definitely a bike friendly city. Before going to Chicago I requested a guide from the Greeter program and specifically asked for someone who cycled. The result was a fabulous day. We picked up my bike at the McDonald’s Cycle Center in Millennium Park (just a few blocks from my hotel, the Hotel Monaco which was fabulous) and rode along the waterfront.

When I took my recent trip around Lake Ontario I brought my bike with me. I cycled in Kingston and Rochester. Neither city is really set up for bikes but each is small enough to make city cycling quite safe. It’s a great way to get around and see the many sights.

At home in Toronto, my bike is transportation April to October. The system of bike trails and lanes in Toronto is quite good. If you plan to visit Toronto you can get a free cycling map from the city. The best bike rental I’ve found in Toronto is Community Bicycling Network.

Country Cycling
If I had had more time on my trip around Lake Ontario, I would certainly have spent it cycling both Prince Edward County and around Niagara on the Lake. It would be the perfect mode of transportation for visiting the vineyards. But I was packing so much into that trip that it just wasn’t possible.

The one day I did get out of the city cycling was when I was in Kingston. A 15 minute ferry ride from downtown Kingston to Wolfe’s Island and you are in the country. The wind may be more of an issue than the island’s rolling hills.

Cycling is a wonderful way to explore a city and country. The pace is slower. It involves more of your senses. You breathe deeper. And, I’ve found that you meet more people just because you’re on a bike.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Stranger Danger -- Pt. I

Posted on June 5, 2010 - by Solo Traveler

Solo Travel: Stranger Danger Part I

New friends I made at Hogan's Hideaway in Rochester. Friday night Fish Fry - extra crispy as per Sandy (l to r, Tom, Darlene, Sandy, Mark)

As I travel solo, I am often the recipient of extraordinary kindness from strangers. But on one solo trip, I fell into an extraordinarily dangerous situation due to strangers. In this three part series, (three Saturdays in a row), I’ll share with you my experiences with strangers, good and bad, and then, a few things I’ve learned about telling the difference between the good ones and the bad ones. In this post, I begin with the goodness of strangers.

Solo Travel Enriched by Strangers
I suspect that we have all relied on the kindness of strangers from time to time. I certainly have. At times it’s been needed but on most occasions, these acts of kindness have simply enriched my travels.

Here are just a few of my favorite moments with strangers who, for a short while, became friends.

The Docent, the bouncer and a half day cultural exchange.
On my trip down the Blues Highway one of the big surprises was Jackson, Mississippi. As I traveled there on the train, I began to second guess my decision to go. People asked why I would stop into Jackson. To be honest, my reason was simply that it was the right distance between Memphis and New Orleans. But, once there, the people of Jackson made it clear that it is a place worth stopping at.

One morning I visited the Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History. I got chatting with the docent at the front desk and, before I knew it, I was invited on a personal tour of the city by this lovely woman who was born and bread there. We had lunch together and then she toured me through parts of the city that I would not have otherwise discovered providing information that can only come from locals.

Then, in the evening, I went out to the 930 Blues club where I met many friendly people, but the special act of kindness came at the end of the evening. I arranged for my taxi and waited for it on the front porch with the bouncer who had a broken leg. When the taxi arrived, the bouncer went down the stairs despite my objections, took me to the car, opened the door, helped me in and looked directly at the driver and said “you take good care of my friend here, ya’ hear?”. He was doing more than his job. He was taking care of a stranger.

On the morning I was to leave Jackson for New Orleans, I joined a family from Texas for breakfast at the Fairview Inn where I was staying. We chatted casually. They were a lovely family and, you may be surprised, but I accepted their offer of a drive to New Orleans. We each learned a lot about our respective countries in a half day cultural exchange.

Ten bikes and two pickup trucks in PEI
This example goes back quite a few years to a bike tour I was given as a high school graduation gift. I joined the tour as a solo traveler. We rode through Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and the Magdalen Islands. On the day we left Summerside, PEI we headed across the island and then up the coast to the ferry. Across the interior was fine but when we reached the coast we fought a strong headwind. We all became scattered. I was cycling alone when a pickup truck pulled up beside me. It wasn’t danger, it was PEI hospitality in action.

One of our group had alerted a farmer to the fact that ten of us were strewn over this stretch of roadway. The farmer got a friend and the two of them collected us in their pick-up trucks and took us to their respective farms where we fed a fabulous dinner. Later they drove us to our camp ground. Such kindness.

Hungarians, Cubans and a Canadian Go Dancing

In 2004, I was in Havana for a week by myself and really wanted to go Salsa dancing. I figured that the club recommended by the travel guide, Casa del Musica de Centro Habana, would be touristy enough but when I got there, there was a line up of hundreds of Cubans waiting to go dancing – and this was the afternoon.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into — I don’t go to clubs like this at home. I hesitated and then saw three people who were definitely tourists. I slid into line beside them, introduced myself and explained that I just wanted to join them until I was inside. As it turned out, they were Hungarian and understood very little of what I said. But they did let me join them.

When we got in side it was a huge, exciting club. I stayed close and soon, to my surprise, their tour guide arrived with three more Hungarians. When their guide discovered that I spoke English, he practically jumped over the table to join me. He taught me to Salsa and the eight of us had a fabulous night.

Raising a glass on Guy Fawkes Day
After a day walking in the Lake District, nothing tastes better than a pint at a local pub. I was in Ambleside, Cumbria last year and my pub of choice is the Unicorn Inn. I went there three nights in a row and all three nights I had a fine time with new friends. But, on the fourth night, I had a fantastic time. When I walked into The Unicorn on Guy Fawkes night I felt like Norm walking into Cheers! This small pub erupted in welcome. It was not possible for me to buy a pint. And songs were sung in honour (I just had to slip a Canadian spelling in at this point) of me being Canadian. Fantastic!

Sharing a Meal in Rochester
New friends made another evening memorable in Rochester, New York. It was more quiet than The Unicorn but equally convivial. I arrived at Hogan’s Hideaway for dinner planning to sit at the bar to eat. When I arrived, a couple moved a bit to make space and we got chatting. When their table was ready, they invited me to join them.

The conversation was great. As they were regulars, I asked them to order my meal (a common practice of mine in such situations). We all had the Friday night Fish Fry. It was fabulous. Friends of theirs arrived and our conversation circle got larger. And, at the end of the evening, I couldn’t pay for my dinner.

These are just a few stories that demonstrate how the vast majority of strangers are wonderful, kind and generous people. I feel truly fortunate to meet so many.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Fog Comes on Little Cat Feet

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Carl Sandburg, Chicago Poems (1916) "Fog"
US biographer & poet (1878 - 1967)

I awoke this morning to these incredible foggy views from my window in the city....Lake Michigan, Navy Pier, Ohio Street Beach and Olive Park.

(Click photos to enlarge...)


Bike the Drive

(Click photos to enlarge)

We have a yearly event over Memorial Day Weekend in Chicago called Bike the Drive.  Lake Shore Drive runs parallel to Lake Michigan from near Evanston up north, way down south, more than 30 miles.  Along all of this is, in addition, a lovely biking/walking paved path that I ride most days when I stay in my city condo.

But on this one special Sunday, cars are outlawed on Lake Shore Drive itself from 4:30AM until about 10:30AM, while volunteers set up, conduct and then dismantle Bike the Drive!  This year 20,000 bikers participated in the ride.  (The event is hosted by MB Financial Bank and the Active Transportation Alliance in the city, which advocates for cyclists throughout the city/state.) 

What a marvel to be biking down Lake Shore Drive (strains of the old tune in my mind) in absolute quiet, except for people's laughter and birds singing!  Couldn't we please have this every Sunday?!