Tag Archives: travel writing

Time to rethink Colombia

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Quick! What pops into your head when I say “Colombia”?

Valley Col

Okay, now try to think of something else about Colombia besides coffee and, you know, drug cartels…. Stumped? So was I until I visited Colombia, and holy moly, if that isn’t the most misrepresented country in South America!

For starters, Colombia has some scenery that will knock your poncho off: pale green pineapple fields, rows of banana trees propped up with bamboo poles, towering cacti, and rivers meandering through lush valleys. Add to that some killer empanadas and local people who never hesitate with a smile, and you have yourself a surprisingly great place for a holiday.

Evening sun

Pineapple fields

Bananas

We traveled with friends, one of whom is Colombian, and that no doubt helped us get the very best first impression of the country. During our two week stay, we spent one week in the coffee zone – a 9.5 hour (ahem!) drive west from Bogota. (Around 5.5 hours, the alternative of air travel starts to look real good.)

Banana trees

But, get this, it is worth the journey! The route took us up and over mountains, through eucalyptus forests, past tiny homes clinging to the steep hillsides, and under palm leaves the size of surfboards. We stopped often to stretch little legs (and big legs!) and, more importantly, to drink coffee, fresh juices, and nibble on hot empanadas sprinkled with a squeeze of lime. Roadside vendors often looked like little more than a shack with a couple of plastic chairs in the dust out front, but they cranked out some awesome food. You just can’t over think it.

Ponchos

Ponchos hanging from the rafters of a cafe.

Juices Col

We ate lunch at one of these dubious looking establishments where the “chef” was tending to various cuts of meat over a roaring fire, stopping occasionally to wield an axe and chop more firewood. Fresh lemonade blissfully quenched our thirst as we sat sweating next to the fire, waiting for our meal. When it came, we tucked into tender pieces of salty meat with floury yucca (a starchy tuber also known as cassava) and creamy crescents of avocado on the side. Much better than any boxed sandwich I would normally grab from a petrol station on the highway.

Roadside meat

We stayed at a farm up on a hill in one of the valleys. At the bottom of the hill was a wide, shallow river and groves of tall bamboo. Peacocks wandered around the farm’s property, rattling their tail feathers at each other (and being startlingly loud at inconvenient hours, truth be told).

River valley

Farm face

Ants

Hardworking leaf cutter ants.

Col cafe

Our days started with coffee and arepas which are addictively delicious corn pancakes. They are fried until golden and eaten with butter, salt, and chili sauce. You can add an egg, avocado, cheese, or even crispy fried plantain on top, but I liked mine simple and spicy.

We explored the local area during the days with trips to coffee plantations, petting zoos, and even a coffee theme park. It was fascinating, but the times that secured Colombia a place in our hearts were the evenings at the farm with a barbecue, bottles of wine, sleepy children, three languages around the table, and frogs starting their nighttime chorus.

Sunset2

Sunset1

 

“It’s ludicrous this place exists

and everybody doesn’t want to live here.” 

Anthony Bourdain on Colombia

 

Taking the bronze

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Have you seen this? It’s The Economist’s list of the top 10 cities in which to live.

City chart

Whether your city is on there or not, I think we should all just take a moment to notice that Canada is represented 3 times. Yessiree. (Also, high five to Australia, but apparently The Economist forgot about all the creatures that can kill you in Australia. Just sayin’.)

The beautiful city of Vancouver is right up there in 3rd place, and I can confirm, after a trip there this July, that it wholly deserves that spot. We were there for 3 days, but our first remark about how we could live there happened in the first 4 hours. Do you do that? Walk around after a particularly satisfying lunch and say things like, “We could live here, right? I mean, couldn’t you? Right? That was amazing tabbouleh. And plus, look at this place. Yeah, we could live here.”

Granville

The glory of our trip to Vancouver was not only in visiting a great city, but in visiting a great city WITHOUT our kids. All the parents out there can pause now and savour that.

Van street

Our kidlets are superb travelers and they go everywhere with us, which is exactly why a few days without them is so very sweet. And we really reveled in that. We stayed at a boutique hotel downtown where I didn’t have to think about where to put the roll-away cot, we went out for dinner at 10pm (!) where I cut no one’s food but my own, and we even went to a performance of the incredible Vancouver Symphony Orchestra where I didn’t have to sneak out of the row to take anyone to the toilet. It was freeing, people.

Orpheum theatre

We borrowed bikes from our hotel and cycled a portion of the Sea Wall which is a 22 km path along the Vancouver waterfront. We joined up with the path and followed it around the stunning Stanley Park. With the fresh sea air, the views of the city skyline, and the sound of the water lapping at the shore, it is quite possibly the loveliest place to cycle. Plus, I did the whole thing using only 2 gears which is my kind of “active”.

Sea wall

Stanley Park is truly a treasure – a huge forest with ancient trees and peaceful trails right next to the bustling city centre. It felt like a refuge…a refuge with its own brewery. Actually, that sums up Vancouver in a nutshell: a healthy  balance of an active lifestyle and gourmet indulgence. Oh, Vancouver, thank you.

Stanley Park

Totems

Vancouver is an extremely walkable city. This is a blessing because you will want to balance out all of the food you are compelled to eat while you are there. One place to fill your belly is at Granville Island Market. Wowzer, this place is a sensory overload of fresh fruit, tubs of bright pesto, savoury breads, sweet pastries, wheels of cheese, hot mugs of french onion soup, and hissing espresso machines. We went there after a big breakfast – a mistake that I still regret  – so all we could do was walk around admiring the incredible food and the beautiful artwork until eventually we walked enough space into our appetites for a singular golden pecan pastry. Sigh.

Granville fruit

But I will be back for you, fresh fish and chips! And maple fudge!

Van boats

We also ate at Salt Tasting Room – a unique restaurant which pairs cheeses and cold meats with top notch wines; perfect for late night nibbles. However, with its exposed brick and naked light bulbs AND the fact that it is down a dark lane called Blood Alley (I was sure it was the end of me), Salt felt a bit too cool for me. Luckily the food and wine were outstanding. Triple cream brie with local honeycomb has a mysterious way of making me feel at ease.

Salt menu

Cordova street

Rooftops

Van vines

Vancouver, for us, was the ideal combination of nature, culture, beauty, great food, and friendly people. Way to overachieve, Vancouver! I loved it all. I might not ever get to live there (I have a little problem with a place where people use umbrellas when it snows – I am sure you understand), but I will most definitely visit again to soak up more of this city’s wonders.

Maybe I will even take the kids….nah, they’ll end up eating all the maple fudge.

Van buildings

Van downtown

 

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.” 
― Hans Christian Andersen

Long Time Gone

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Well, I am not sure how this happened, but I haven’t published a post around these parts since October 2013. I am not certain, but I believe that leaving nearly 11 months between posts is breaking some kind of blogging rule…the rule of actually writing stuff, for example.

You know how it gets, though – you have good intentions and plans, and yet somehow the days pass by and nothing has eventuated. Like you and that plan to eat more chia seeds or to get rid of that pair of jeans that you bought one size too small. Y’know, it just doesn’t happen.

Mind you, I wasn’t being completely lazy during those 10 months. I was taking a lot of photos and doing some incredible traveling (and, let’s be honest, watching Jimmy Fallon clips on YouTube). The trips I took were so eye-opening and wonderful that I think you will want to get your own glimpse of these places, too.

I will try to share the very best of it with you because we all love to know that special places exist, not so we can put them on some bucket list, but just to know that beautiful parts of our world abound even if they are not right outside our window.

Places like these…

NZ Beach

 

Argentinian lunch

 

Colombian hills

 

Brazil beach

 

Alberta rocks

Now, if these places ARE outside your window, then congratulations..and also, whaaaat?! Open those curtains for criminy’s sake!

I hope you are all still out there and willing to stop by for a blog visit from time to time. I do hope that these last 10 months have been good to you, or at least civil to you, or maybe just that you have survived them? I am not sure where our standards should be.

Okay, let’s do this! You go give away those jeans already and I will get writing! xx

Knock, knock. Who’s there?

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* Remember my grand plan? The one that was to bring structure to this blog? Well, turns out that I have to come to dread that structure, particularly the last bit: Story That Needs to be Told. NEEDS to be told? Talk about setting yourself up for failure.

What if I have a story that can’t live up to that? What if all I have is a few memories that are neither here nor there? It has started to feel like I always need to deliver a convocation speech when all I want is a bit of small talk sometimes.

My solution up to now has been to stop writing, to abandon posts half way through writing them, and to allow weeks to go by without posting because I can’t get every post perfectly written.

I’d like to change that. I’d like to slip into the blog equivalent of elasticized pants. I want to relax and share more even if it doesn’t conveniently fit into the structure I laid out at the beginning. We’ll all enjoy this a whole lot more, just like we enjoy Thanksgiving dinner more when we allow ourselves to pop that top button on our jeans.

Wait…you do that, right?

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Let’s talk about…Barcelona, Spain (I personally don’t pronounce it as “Barthelona” which in my opinion should be left to the guy in black socks and sandals who is lisping his way through his holiday photo slideshow.)

Barcelona street

It is not difficult to find good food in Barcelona. You need only to wander the narrow, meandering streets with laundry strung above them, following the smell of garlic and the warm glow of candlelight.

What IS difficult is being pregnant in Barcelona and unable to eat that good food.

The rules about what a pregnant woman can and cannot eat are as confounding as, say, the reasons why the Kardashians are famous.

Meat, but only if fully cooked. Cheese, but only if pasteurized. Eggs, but not undercooked. Fish, but no sushi. Vegetables, but only if washed.

I found it difficult to navigate Barcelona’s menus with these limitations swirling in my mind. Really tasty tapas include things like cured meats, marinated raw fish, pâté, farm-fresh cheese, and shellfish. As much as the logical part of my brain told me that Spanish mothers eat all of those things, all the time, it was nerve-wracking.

Yes, I probably played it safer than necessary (and may have even eaten at a bagel place once), but I knew that Barcelona would welcome me back another time to feast on ALL of the food with only my appetite as a limitation.

As if I need an excuse to go back.

Barcelona alley

There are numerous spots around Barcelona where you can see the fantastical creations of architect, Anton Gaudi, but the most famous is Sagrada Familia. This enormous church is still under construction, but it is already incredible to behold.

Church towers

I loved the soaring pillars and the colourful stained glass. I also loved that his designs were slightly wonky, dreamy, and playful. It seemed as though Gaudi was equally inspired by nature as by Dr. Seuss.

Sagrada Familia

This trip to Barcelona had many purposes: to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, to escape the Norwegian winter, and to stay in a swanky hotel in a big city before we had a baby and swapped swanky for swaddling.

To this end, we booked into a very posh hotel right downtown – a place that had fluffy robes and a shower head the size of a dinner plate.

Hotel

One night as we slept, cocooned in sheets with a high thread count (for the price of the room, I would hope they were), we were startled awake by someone knocking on our door. Before we could make sense of what was happening, the knocking turned to banging. Then the banging turned to shouting.

Matt checked the peephole and asked the guy what he wanted. (What could we offer, really? A shower cap?)

The guy started yelling at us to let him in, but not in a menacing way, just in a drunken-can’t-remember-his-room-number way. He clearly was convinced that his friend was inside our room, refusing to open the door for him. He kept on shouting until finally Matt was shouting back at him, “YOU’VE GOT THE WRONG ROOM”.

With all of this middle of the night hoopla my luxury hotel experience started to feel distinctly youth hostel-ish. We should’ve just sealed the deal and invited him in to share a beer, wash his clothes in the sink, and hand-stitch a Canadian flag on his backpack.

We didn’t, though.

Facade

“Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind…”

– Ernest Hemingway

Isn’t it 5 o’clock somewhere??

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Well, we have had stunner, my friends! We broke 1000 all-time views of this “little blog that could”! Thank you so much for visiting, for reading, for allowing me to share my stories.

We should celebrate, no? That usually means a drink (you must know this about me by now), but since it is early Monday morning that just feels like we would be on the verge of needing an intervention. Instead I am going to poach an egg, get the kidlets dressed, buy some shoes, and rely heavily on convenience foods for dinner. Man, that’s a buzzkill…let’s get back to where we were going to celebrate….

Thank you again. It’s 5 kinds of greatness traveling with you.

Fortunate me

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We need to talk.

But don’t worry! It’s not one of those talks. I just want to check in with you to see how you are doing. It’s been about 4 months since I started writing this blog and you started indulging me by reading it.

Thank you.

You’ve vicariously traveled to 19 different countries. Wow! That’s better than those package tours that strap you and your backpack into a bus for a 10 day blitz of Europe. And, 4 months in, you have no pile of laundry to deal with after your trips (except for that pile of laundry that you normally have to deal with. I can’t do anything about that), you have no overtime to work to pay off that extra week in a hotel, you have no sand to vacuum out of your suitcase (where, oh, where does it all come from?!), and you have no extra kilos to shift after overindulging on your travels (except for those extra kilos you normally…oh, never mind).

And me? I am delighted to be writing these travel tales. Truly delighted. I am even more delighted that someone is reading them and enjoying them. Thanks for all of the kind comments and the “Likes” on the blog. I love hearing from you, so please do drop me a note when you’ve read something that resonates. Comments make the web world feel less like a black hole!

This is how I feel about this blog! No, not like a fish out of water…

There have been 832 views of my blog so far which is very cool or it just means that my family are taking it in turns to visit the site and bump up the numbers (if that’s the case, guys, can you get me to 1000?)! I must’ve done something right back in April because on one day my blog had 30 views. It’s a personal best, people! And records are made to be broken so I’m now aiming for 31 for one day in June. Dream big.

In other interesting news, someone searched ‘sisterdom taboo stories’ and was directed to my post about Mexico. Uh, I guess I am sorry that you didn’t find what you were looking for (taboo? really?), but hope you enjoyed reading about tostadas! I only feel a little creepy.

So, what’s next? Well, I keep writing and striving to post 3 times a week (if only kids could feed/dress/drive themselves). If there’s anything you need, let me know. A specific country you are curious about? More photos? Less…something? We’re in this together, you know.

I’m so glad we talked. Let’s do this again in another 4 months!

I’m ready to travel. Are you?