Sunday, January 12, 2014

Places to go, things to see, travelling in 2014!

The arrival of a new year typically makes the travel section of my brain crank up, particularly if I don't have any travel planned. Right now I have absolutely nothing planned that involves a boat, a plane, or crossing a bridge (i.e., the most common ways one departs PEI). Lately I have been hanging out on the internet reading some travel blogs and realized the world is extra large and I have no idea how I'm going to manage to go everywhere other than winning the lottery and not feeling hindered by the need to have a job. Mostly I'm concerned about "big" trips, involving other continents and often crossing multiple time zones. I have so much world left to see! I'm starting to feel pressure to go to these places now as multiple people living in the internet insist you must travel when you're young (they think I'm young!) as life and responsibilities make it more difficult as you age. As I'm thinking those responsibilities and financial investments will be happening at some point in the next half decade (such as obtaining a house with a yard and a donkey) I feel these adventures need to happen now.

This post isn't going to be very interesting to people who have no interest in travelling, and that's okay. Some people have no interest in exploring far away lands, much like I have no interest in watching Mad Men. For me, travel wakes my head up in a way I love. I'm not a very organized individual and don't really plan much, except when travelling. I love picking accommodations, figuring out public transit, how to get from the airport to where ever, potential activities, printing maps, etc. I even make itineraries to see as much as possible and to always have an option. Even if the itinerary is broken (it often is), I like to have a general idea of what I'd like to do and when it could be done prior to departure.

A terrible picture of my itinerary for 4-week Europe trip.
I think I changed my plans by day six or so. That book
on the bottom left was full of European train schedules
and I loved the book way too much in an extra geeky way.
Then there is the actual journey. I love planes, trains, and buses. You just sit there and can chill out, watch a movie, read a book, etc. No guilt of "I should be cleaning", "I should be outside", or "I should call someone".

Lastly, I love being somewhere new. Or even somewhere not new, but that holds a special place in my wee heart. I like seeing things I can't see at home, I like learning randoms tidbits of local history, I like trying new food and finding places to eat, I like the pride I feel at using my intermediate French or broken Spanish. I like so much!

At risk of sounding like an overly enthusiastic traveller who "Oh my God, loves everything!", I've had some non-rosey travelling experiences. Usually I don't mind getting lost and enjoy the challenge of re-finding my way, but sometimes getting lost one too many times when you are actually trying to get somewhere makes you feel like ripping your map up, throwing it to the ground, stomping on it, and then burning it just to really get your point across. If I'm travelling alone and don't have a lot of human contact, I also get a bit moody. If it rains for multiple days and I'm travelling alone, I struggle to maintain any sort of outlook on life and just eat a kilo of chocolate. (Note: sad rain and solo travels occurred in Switzerland, so the chocolate was actually a cultural experience, right? Right.)

And now, not so interesting to anyone but me, a listing of the whole world and some rambling travel commentary. North America has been conveniently broken down into three countries, as dictated by wars long completed and NAFTA.

Where is left to go? The north! I have never been. It's not top of my travel list, but if I ever win plane tickets for anywhere in Canada that's where I'll be heading. In the summer, because I can handle almost-day-long sun much better than I can handle almost-day-long darkness and cold.

Canada isn't a top travel priority this year. I tend to travel within Canada for very specific reasons: visiting friends/family, exciting events (Olympics! Comedians!), or just wanting to leave PEI for the weekend.

United States
Manhattan, obviously
(Central Park Zoo)

I feel like I'm obliged to like travelling in my own country best, particularly when competing with our dominant neighbour to the south... but... but... I really like travelling in the US. It's typically warmer, cheaper, and things are closer together. "Things" being clusters of cities/places I would like to visit. The last point isn't really fair though because some Canadian cities are close and blah blah blah, but I feel it's easier to make a big loop in a US region as opposed to Canada driving straight back and forth. Anyway, I've done lots of travelling in the United States and will do more, but it won't be a "major" trip again for awhile. Maybe. WHO KNOWS?

Places I would still like to go to in America-land: Chicago, Arizona, various National Parks, New Mexico (I don't even know why), Texas, a return to New Orleans, etc.

Exclamation mark for guacamole. I've been to Mexico for about 11 hours of my life. Approximately three hours (at most) in Tijuana, where I never want to go again, on a day trip from San Diego. It feels quite unfair to say that I never want to return as I was mostly in the gross "give me your money" tourist area, so we can say I wish to never return to that specific area. Tijuana highlight was the street food - extra delicious.

Other Mexico experience was about eight hours in Cozumel, travelling via cruise ship. It was, of course, a bit touristy as cruise ship ports often are, but it was our first port, it was sunny, there was happy music, and all things required to make for a good day. What makes a good day for Miss Mac in Mexico? Simple formula: delicious frozen beverage when sweating in 30C heat, guacamole and fajitas, blankets (for purchase to take home), grocery store, $1.00 Coronas, and reading Spanish signs.

Secret: I love grocery stores and markets in other lands.

So yes, I must return to Mexico one day, I suppose mostly to eat foods and buy blankets.

In Mexico, doing what I do best in Mexico (eat)

Central American/Caribbean 
Must go!
San Juan, Puerto Rico

I was in Belize on a cruise ship stop and enjoyed it, though it seems like an "excursion necessary" kind of port as I think most cruise ship type people would feel a bit uncomfortable strolling through Belize City on their own. Also via cruise ship, I have been to a few Caribbean islands and Roatan, an island of Honduras. Not via cruise ship was an awesome adventure to Puerto Rico, where I thought I was going to pass out from heat one day. When working at Epcot, I became good friends with a Puerto Rican man who was working there temporarily. A friend and I went to visit him and his family after he returned to Puerto Rico. We went in May and by that point I had been living in Florida for almost nine months so thought I had acclimatized decently to the heat. Apparently I wasn't quite ready for sitting in an un-air conditioned car in heat and high humidity. Meanwhile, our lovely hosts were wearing jeans where as I felt like Will Ferrell in the scene from Old School where he gets shot by a tranquilizer. (Important link to scene.)

Left to do: pretty much all of it. My first oral project in Spanish class was about Panama, so I should probably go there. I also still remember the capital of Honduras from geography class ever so long ago (Tegucigalpa) so I should probably go there too. Oh, and apparently Costa Rica is lovely. I will add it to the list.

As you can see, I still have much to see in this region.

South America
I haven't been there! Anywhere! I should go. But when? One needs a proper allotment of travel time. And within South America, where? Suriname has always held a special place in my heart, mostly due to constant threats of moving there in 2007 when it was snowing out/I felt cold. Other than Suriname, the list includes all of the other countries. Maybe not Colombia, not sure how travel friendly it is, would need to research.

I've been there! A few times, and for a long time (about a year and half in total). But I still love it and want to go back. So much still to see (MoreSpainMoreFranceIrelandGermanyCroatiaHungaryMoreEnglandItalyMoreOfEverything).

Fun JenFact about Germany: I've never really been to Germany, I have just been in an airport and a train station. However, both of these times coincided with the last opportunity to spend Euros in each respective trip. First trip was in the Hamburg train station in 2005 waiting for a connection to Copenhagen. I bought chocolate bars (which eventually melted in the Denmark heat - thanks heatwave), probably a beverage, pizza from Pizza Hut, and a hot dog. While travelling on my own was good for forcing to make decisions, I wasn't always making good decisions.

In 2011 I was six years smarter during my Frankfurt layover (flew in from Dubai, waiting to fly to Montreal) so spent my Euros that hadn't been stolen (sigh) on giant Milka chocolate bars that were delicious and didn't melt. I also bought, with plastic money, a huge bottle of Amaretto from duty free which was, I'm convinced, stolen/consumed by housemates (or their friends). I wasn't pleased.

(Image Source)

Aww, Africa. I need to go on a safari. It's not even a question. I get so excited at zoos that I will probably need to wear an adult diaper when I eventually go on a safari. I know Africa is more than giraffes, elephants, lions, and hippos, but that is what the trip will be based around. Other things are second priority and will be worked around the safari of my dreams.

Additional JenFact: I was in Africa a few years ago, in Morocco with an overnight in Egypt (a story for another blog). When we got off the plane in Marrakesh to walk into the airport (Charlottetown style) my travel mate said, "Welcome to Africa!" and I had momentarily forgotten that was where we were. Northern Africa is a lifetime away from the Africa stereotypes of television.

Middle East
Lowest on the list. Will perhaps return someday, but bigger things await. Sorry.

Middle East
(Desert Safari)
Middle East
(Grand Mosque)
My ultimate travel stress. I have not been, but I should. Actually, I should had went there long ago and now be working on a return trip. I need to find the most responsible elephant sanctuary type place and volunteer there. I need to go everywhere even though I don't even know that much about travel in many countries (Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, etc).

JenFact: In 2010 I turned down an internship in India. Saying no was the right decision, I think, but I still sometimes wonder what it would had been like and if saying no was the best choice.

As of right now the top trip contender for 2014 is a return jaunt to Europe. West Jet still has good fares to Dublin, Ireland, and I strongly gravitate to good airfare. And from Dublin - who knows? Obviously I will have to go to Germany last in tradition of spending all my leftover money there.

Middle East

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2013! It's over. Forever.

You know how some people do a year summary at the end of the year with lots of links to previous posts for reference? I can't do that because 2013 has pretty much been my worst blogging year since I commenced blogging in 2002.

Here we go: 2013 summarized.

I woke up hungover at 10:15, slightly convinced I could still make it downtown to participate in the Polar Bear Dip which started at 10:30. At 10:16, I fell back asleep. Ambition was not to be the theme of 2013.

That first day I scolded myself for drinking "too much" (I was still alive, hence the quotation marks) and told myself no more hangovers and now I'm slightly paranoid when I drink because, surprise, once you're thirty years old a serving of cough syrup is enough to give you a headache.

Most important part of January: began the process of deeply thinking about getting a cat. Also, looking after Boyfriend after knee surgery. Made him an omelette one day. Probably in the running for girlfriend of the year.

Tip of the Month: don't let a Frenchman pour your wine unless you are watching his serving size closely, drink water, and get up before 10:15 if you want to do the Polar Bear Dip. 

I woke up hungover at 10:15, how I choose to start all my months.

Kidding! February 1st was a Friday, so I probably woke up and went to work, arriving fifteen minutes later than my goal. However, something pretty awesome happened that day: I called the Humane Society to inquire about Butterscotch, the soft looking ginger kitty on their website. Here comes a spoiler alert: cat was acquired, and was pretty much the highlight of 2013. If I had to make a top ten list of the year and then time travel back to the beginning of 2013 and was only allowed to have one of those happen, the acquisition of Michu Butterkins would be the one to stay. And I'm not just saying that because he's watching me type this.

Tip of the Month: meow! (contributed by Michu Butterkins)

Work contact ended. Got re-signed for one more month (note: this happened almost every month. Sometimes we would get extended for two months).

Went snowshoeing. Stuff like that. A friend known from Edinburgh but actually from Winnipeg came to visit, which was awesome as I (and others) hadn't seen her in too many years. I un-earned Girlfriend of the Year Award by borrowing Boyfriend's Ireland jersey thingie to wear to the bar on the eve of St. Patrick's Day. It was comfortable and brought of the colour of my eyes; I dare say I may borrow it again someday.

Tip of the Month: when drinking the shot "Sex on an Elephant" or "Elephant Fun" or something like that, make sure the liqueurs are poured in the right order so the amarula doesn't curdle, thus preventing the desperate tears of your taste buds.

Work contract ended. Got re-signed for one more month. Things didn't look good for an overly long extension so I "spent" 75,000 Aeroplan points on plane tickets. Also didn't have much to do at work, which usually means I wind up daydreaming and booking travel. Coworker did the same.

Boyfriend and I spent too much money on a pillow this month. That I did blog about.

Tip of the Month: don't spend a lot of money on a pillow.

Work contract ended. Got re-signed for TWO months. Start to think I might have to work over the summer and not live out my EI dream. (For the un-Canadian, Employment Insurance, i.e., the money the government gives you when you lose your job.) Frisbee started. Hosted a Grilled Cheese Social and it was delicious.

Tip of the Month: hosting a Grilled Cheese Social will require more cheese and ingredients than you expect.

Went to Washington, DC with Boyfriend! Super trip, which I started blogging about but never finished. Let's finish it now:
Good food, good drink, good public transit, good hotels, good attractions, good weather, good museums, most EXCELLENT company. First vacation with Boyfriend that didn't involve begging other people to let us sleep in their spare bedroom, bath tub, shed, etc.

Tip of the Month: Priceline for DC is superb! Perhaps for other cities too, but it's the only place I used it for anything other than an airport hotel.

Work contract ended, got another month. You know what makes an organization really inefficient? When your staff think they are constantly on the verge of getting their two-weeks notice and you can't really do anything because you think you might be closing up shop in a few days.

July is always good: generally *knock on wood* pleasant weather, visitors from away, bike rides, frisbees, beaches, etc.

Tip of the Month: July!! Woo! Also, always make sure to have extra staff onsite at the Cavendish Beach Music Festival because heat exhaustion/stroke is real.

Vacation! Again! To a wedding in North Carolina. If one travels that far for a wedding, obviously it must become an adventurous journey to the unknown. General route was everyone's favourite capital to start: Columbia, South Carolina (one night). Haven't heard of it? Neither had I until I couldn't get an Aeroplan flight into Charleston, SC. Then drove to Charleston (two nights), then to Atlanta (two nights) with a pit stop in Athens, Georgia. Left Atlanta, drove to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (three nights) with a stop at a random outlet mall and Chattanooga (bicycle rental!). The draw in Pigeon Forge? Smoky Mountains National Park, and... *drumroll* DOLLYWOOD. SO. GOOD. Piegon Forge was a hybrid of Cavendish (PEI), International Drive (Orlando), and Niagara Falls (Ontario/New York). I lapped it up like a thirsty puppy. After Tennessee, we drove to Winston-Salem, North Carolina for the wedding. I was in the wedding (Bridesmaid of the Year? Probably), it was the most highest caliber of fun, and so worth the flying/driving. Much love to Sheena and Adam and Sheena's dress!

Worst part of the trip was when I convinced myself that 19 year old Friskey the Cat had died and my parents didn't tell me because they didn't want to ruin my trip. Spoiler: he's still alive.

Job was also extended until the end of August.

Tip of the Month: if you find yourself in Columbia, SC, go to Congaree National Park. You would be wise to wear bug spray. Also, Philadelphia Airport = one of my favourites.

Trip mentioned above extended into early September. Flew home from your favourite Virginian city: Roanoke. Also another place I hadn't heard of, but Aeroplan flights were a smidgen restrictive on Labour Day. While away, I learned my job had been extended for September.

Because I missed her, I booked a Thanksgiving weekend trip to visit lovely Charlene in Ottawa! Bonus: Brother also lives in Ottawa. He is lovely as well. I felt super guilty about leaving Boyfriend and Giant Kitty again so soon, but was convinced by Boyfriend that it would be okay.

I also did other stuff.

Tip of the Month: ride your bicycle lots, soon it will get dark early and the weather will be sad. Also, Mexican food in random highway exit town Roanoke is delicious.

Ottawa! Mini-Disney reunion! More Mexican food!

Twentieth birthday celebration for Friskey! Co-hosted a stag party!

Bought a bed and felt like a real live adult!

Held a baby! (Or maybe that was early November. Regardless, it had been years since I held a baby. Not much has changed about holding babies in the past decade except now I apparently pat babies on the head and call them "Kitty".)

Job extended for another month! Thank goodness that wasn't dragged out! (Note the sarcasm.)

Tip of the Month: Mexican food is one of the secrets to leading a happy, fulfilling life. And drink a spoonful of apple cider vinegar before you eat to help with digestive problems.

Oh, stuff. Celebrated Hallowe'en on November 1st. Tag teamed with Josh, cardboard Tom Selleck, and Cabbage Patch Kid to be "Three Men and a Baby".

Job got extended until *drumroll* next June. Whaaa? That was a weird, confusing moment.

Tip of the Month: maybe don't try to write a year summary in one sitting, your mind starts to stray and you lose focus towards the end of the year.

Ate too much and got sick! (It happens once every year. In 2012 it was on a cruise ship and my vomit clogged the sink in our cabin bathroom and I had to scoop it into the toilet with a crappy plastic cup. Sigh.)
Had a work related meeting in which we all introduced ourselves and I had to be careful not to introduce myself in an English accent because I kept thinking about this Friends scene and had to concentrate very hard to not burst out laughing. A very professional day indeed.
Started watching Once Upon A Time! (So good.)

Tip of the Month: do everything possible over Christmas break! Except for one day. Take at least one day to do absolutely nothing and make no plans, no commitments. Also, someone remind me of this next year because I clearly forget it every year and go back to work in January exhausted.

Sort of Goals for 2014
Be a better conversationalist.
Blog more.
Get to work earlier. (So hard when it's cold.)
Make my pants fit again (preferably by becoming smaller, and not just by not doing up the top button).
Cook more. Not because I want to, but because I feel like I should.
Find a new job, or way to make money. Maybe I shouldn't blog that, but it's not really a secret.
Get used to sitting at parties. Sitting for long periods of time completely drains my energy and then I can't really focus on any topic of conversation unless it's travel or, like, Survivor related.

The end. (Worst conclusion ever, but I got tired and realized I should be on the verge of sleeping.)