Saturday, December 10, 2011

What is a travel writer?

This photo of the week was inspired by one of the writing prompts from November's 30 Day Indie Travel Project.  The prompt was about a favourite travel quote.  

I found a list of inspiring travel quotes on the Matador Network website, which has a department called MatadorU where I am currently doing a travel writing course.  (I am on Chapter 9 of 12!)  Here is the quote:

"Too often...I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen." by Louis L'Amour

Mr. L'Amour is not an author that I normally quote.  I haven't even read any of his work.  Western fiction is not my chosen genre - it's a guy thing I figure.  When I did a search, I found out that when he died in 1988, he had 105 published books.  He definitely had a lot to say, even delving into travel writing with his quote.  

Which brings me to the quote and how it relates to me.  As I have been moving through my travel writing course, I have been introduced to many ideas and people writing in the field.  People travelling in the field.  Some people have logged the number of countries where they have travelled.  Travelling to every country is one blogger's goal.  

I am in kindergarten compared to them.  The number of countries in the world is tricky to count because there is some discrepancy but it is between 193 and 196.  One blogger has been to 70.  

I have been to 3.  Unless I count the time the motor fell off the boat in the Usumacinta River.   We rowed to the closest shore while the helmsman tied the motor onto the back of the boat with a rope.  That shore belonged to Guatemala.  We were there for about 20 minutes.  I am thinking that when the travel blogger said he had been to 70 countries, he didn't mean stepping inside the border for less than half an hour.  So I don't count Guatemala. 

I don't count Belize either.  Technically I was there for one hour.  I didn't get off the plane.  And I can't remember why.  What I do remember is sitting on a tarmac in a Central American country is very uncomfortable.  

When I thought of the 70-country blogger and myself, I wondered what makes a travel writer.  Louis L'Amour helped.  So did my friend Katherine who said it isn't how many countries that you have been to but how those travels have changed you.  

This photo, taken at Kaslo's May Days, captured the sentiment:

What is a travel writer, really?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Photo of the Week - Sedona

Sedona, Arizona - February 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day 29 of the Indie Travel Project - One Word

 E X P A N S I V E

BootsnAll Travel Network invited bloggers from around the world to participate in a daily writing project for November.  Each day, BootsnAll sent out a prompt for that day's writing.  The above is from Day 29 - One Word.  The prompt was:   What does travel mean to you in one word?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day 26 of the Indie Travel Project - Photo

Kootenay Lake, BC

Six Mile Beach is a hidden treasure.  Not that it is a secret.  If you ask any local within the area, they will point to the roadway that leads down to the beach.  If they have time, they will tell you that it is a longer-than-you-might-think forested walkway or to be watchful of bears.  But unless you are told, you won't find Six Mile Beach except if you are on a boat and then it is more than obvious.  You might stumble over it. 

The narrow spit of sand juts into the west arm of the Kootenay Lake, a north-south lake carved by glaciers long ago and fed now by creeks that have a main line to glaciers.

The season for swimming is short, 3 months on a good year.  What I have found is that the heat in the air does not quickly translate into heat in the water so when I am sitting on the beach, the sun has heated up my shoulders and they feel on fire.  The lake beckons me.  But that first time each summer that I venture out, every body part under the water is paralyzed and every body part above the water is shivering.  Glacier water is like that. 

Locals call it refreshing.  Translated that means "you are really a wimp ass if you complain."

Since nobody, certainly not me, wants to look like a wimp ass, I traipse into the water, dunk my body so my shoulders are wet and skedaddle back to my beach chair.  Any memory of heat has been totally obliterated from my mind.  I watch a beach jock run into the water and dive in, head first.  A show off.  Probably a local.

By August the lake gets warmer and adults join the children who have been swimming in the lake for two months.  (Is there some biological reason why children don't have the same aversion to cold water as adults?)  

A few weeks into fall, I drive past the lake and see mist sitting on the surface.

"What is it?" I ask my friend.

"It's the lake cooling down."

Cooling down?  What is colder than cold?


Starting November 1, BootsnAll launched a project called 30 Days of Indie Travel. They have invited bloggers from around the world to join them in a daily blogging effort reflecting on our past travel experiences.  Each day, they post a new prompt on BootsnAll articles. Bloggers can follow the prompts as strictly or loosely as they like, interpreting them in various ways and responding via text, photos or video posted on their own blogs.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Day 24 of the Indie Travel Project - Giving Thanks

This year I have done a lot of exploring and pondering the life of a travel writer.  In that spirit, here are my thanks:

1.  My mobility

I spent two days of this week on crutches because of a hamstring strain.  On the day of the injury, all of my plans were kyboshed.  I was grounded.  What seemed so simple earlier in the day, like taking out the compost, was impossible. In an ordinary day, I don’t think about my mobility.  I realized how much I take this for granted.  My independence was swept away faster than I could even imagine.  Which brings me to point #2.

2.  The wonderful friends and family I have

Heather dropped her basement-cleaning chore as soon as I called.  Later she expressed her own gratitude for the distraction.  I am so lucky to have great friends and family who would come from far away if I needed them.  For my two days of being house-bound, friends brought me food, drugs and a lot of well wishes.  And the more I travel, I am blown away by the amazing people I meet.

3.  Choices

As I consider a winter vacation, the biggest dilemma I have right now is the possibilities.  Airlines, hotels, resorts, countries.  What a wealth of abundance!

4.  Being born at a time when round the world travel is a possibility

Not that long ago, RTW travel was available only to explorers who risked their lives to find out what was beyond the expanse of water.  From a bigger perspective, there is so much we are learning about the cosmos and our journey with other celestial bodies.  The more we learn about outer (and inner) space, the more we find out how precious we are.

5.  MatadorU

Through the MatadorU on-line travel writing course, my horizons have expanded more than if I pursued the career on my own.  The experience has helped me think about what it is that I want, introduced me to ideas that I knew nothing about, and connected me with a world-wide community of people who are passionate about seeing the world.

I am grateful. 

This prompt is from Day 24 of BootsnAll's 30 Day Indie Travel Project:
 Seeing what others have – and don’t have – around the world often helps us appreciate our own good fortune. What are you thankful for this year ?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day 22 of the Indie Travel Project - Transit

He measured the distance in miles and then converted them to kilometres for me. I imagine that if I asked him today, he would know those numbers, even though it has been well over 2 years since he traveled the road.

The 8-year relationship was always long distance, a good deal of that decision influenced by me.  I couldn’t imagine it differently.

Twice a month, one of us waited for the other on Friday night.  I left after work as people were organizing their dinners.  The roads were quiet.  Just how I liked them. 

By the time I got to the turnoff road to the border, there was no one else on the road except deer, moose or elk.  As I slowed down for the tight corners around the rock bluffs, I looked to my left for the small gravel road that hugged the side of the mountain and disappeared around the trees.  The road always caught my attention, like a what’s-wrong-with-this picture where our eyes are riveted to the odd article sitting in a cloud. 

A few minutes later I slowed for customs.  I turned off the music and put on my regular glasses.  Border guards don’t like shades.

“What is the purpose of your trip?” 

“I am visiting a friend.”  I knew that my friend answered it differently. 

As I passed through the border, I settled into my seat and turned up the music.  I chose the CDs for the journey, lively rock music full of energy. The trees hugged the road closer on this side of the border.   

Even in the height of summer when tourists retreated to these northern lakes, the roads begged for action.  Except for a few small towns, only cottages dotted the sides of the road.  No cell service here.  Once when I drove in the dark of winter, I was surprised to see so many lights pouring out of windows on the sides of the hills.  Not everything is as it appears.

As I edged the winding river, forests on my right, I watched the mountains lowering in the sky ahead of me and towering in the rear view mirror.  The final bend in the road and the sky opened in front of me.  My eyes peeled upwards at all that vastness.  A straight stretch with fields of grass on both sides.  This was my favourite part of the road.  My prairie roots. 

The road winded its way back into lakes and trees.  Watching for deer, this was wildlife country. 

When I merged onto the two-lane highway, city anticipation bolted through me.  New ideas of places to check out on the weekend popped into my head.  I tuned the radio to pre-programmed stations. I flicked buttons, the novelty of so many choices. 

At the outskirts of the city, I turned left down a back road that detoured the busy main street.  Several kilometres down the road, I turned right.  I was on a rise and ahead were farmer’s fields.

I was almost there.  I knew that the road would take me up over a hill and back into the city.  I knew I would be just as delighted to see him as he was to see me. 

But for now, I was immersed in sky, land, and trees. 

Day 22 of BootsnAll's Indie Travel Project was prompted by this:
The word travel comes from a French word meaning “work” and sometimes, getting there is work. Between crowded buses, long airline delays, overnight trains and crazy rickshaw rides, transportation can be stressful, but it can also be a rewarding part of the tip. Tell us about a time when the journey became more important than the destination. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Visitor at the Ashram

Today I am beginning a new feature of this blog - Photo of the Week, a picture from my travels whether near or far. 

The following photo was taken at the Yasodhara Ashram on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake.   

Visitor at the Yasodhara Ashram, August 28, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Day 20 of Indie Travel Project

Yesterday,  I jumped into the Indie Travel Project writing about the first 4 prompts with some funky notion that I would catch up.  If this day hadn't gone sideways, I would be feeling optimistic.   Instead, I was more inspired by today's topic - Drink - and I could really use one about now.

Day 20 - Drink:  Just as the cuisine of a place reveals clues about its culture and history, so does its signature local drink. What’s the best drink you had on the road, and did the drink have any connection to the place where you drank it or the people you drank with?

Years ago, a colleague and I drove to the West End of Vancouver after a day of workshops in nearby New Westminster.  The West End is a densely-populated, action-filled,  groovy part of the city bordered by Stanley Park and downtown Vancouver.  Denman Street, a short 8 blocks from Robson to Davie is a hub of activity with great restaurants and cosmopolitan shops.  This was our destination.

We decided to go for drinks before dinner.  My companion suggested Delilah's, a martini bar and restaurant.  We sat at the bar.

"What would like to drink?" asked the bartender.

"I have never had a martini before.  What would you suggest?"  I asked.

He asked me about my preferences for sweet or sour.  He recommended the Crantini, a blend of both.

As we sipped on our drinks, we watched him make martinis for the other patrons.  We asked him what made a good martini, what was the most popular, and remembering James Bond, we asked if he preferred shaken or stirred.

"If you want shaken, you can find that at A & W."

For some reason, that struck me as quite funny.  I laughed quite heartily.   He ignored us and went to the other end of the bar for ice.  When he came back, I said, "You are a pretty funny guy."

"What I have noticed is that the more my customers drink, the funnier I get."


Saturday, November 19, 2011

30 Days of Travel

In addition to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWrMo), November is also National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). The idea behind both of these projects is to write every day; in one you produce a draft of a novel and the second you increase your postings on your blog by 30.

In that spirit, an on-line travel network called BootsnAll has launched a daily blogging project reflecting on travel experiences. Each day, they post a new prompt and bloggers are encouraged to "follow the prompts as strictly or loosely as they like, interpreting them in various ways and responding via text, photos or video posted on their own blogs."

Seeing as today is November 19th, I have happened upon this a little late. Still, it all sounds intriguing. Here I go.

Day 1 Prompt - Goals: What were your travel goals last year? Did you accomplish them? What travel goals do you hope to accomplish this year? 

Setting goals is a bit of a challenge for me. I tend to follow inspiration or see what arises. That is how I found the biggest travel surprise of this year - I am fascinated with LA. It was largely an unplanned trip with my son and his girlfriend, where we let each day unfold as we were energized by the moment. I had a great time. I can also see how that approach may be problem.  My post-high school graduation was to go to Australia.  I still haven't been there. 

Exploring LA - Kodak Theatre in Hollywood

What I have learned is that many things in life happen because we plan for them. Australia needs planning.

My goals for this year are to travel in the winter (January 2012) to somewhere in the sun; I am currently checking out possibilities. Any ideas would be helpful. And I need to get on that Australia idea.

Day 2 Prompt - Embracing Change:
Change can be exciting and bring new joys into our lives. But it can present challenges that frustrate or annoy us. How has travel changed you in the last year? Did you welcome these changes or resist them at the time, and how do you feel about them now?

In 2010, I did my first solo trip outside of the country. What I found out through that process was travel can have plenty of challenges. From being stranded in Denver during a spring snowstorm, I learned that sometimes when it appears that there are no choices, all I can change is my attitude.

Day 3 Prompt - Music: Music and travel memories often go hand in hand. A song can inspire our explorations, or it can take us back to a specific place and time. Tell us about your travel playlist and what it means to you.

When I drive across Washington State, I always think of Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. A friend of mine gave me a four-CD set about NVC; I listened to it as I passed miles and miles of agricultural land. Looking back, I can see many seeds were being planted.

Day 4 Prompt - Mistakes: Everyone makes mistakes. We forget to ask for Coke without ice in Mexico and spend the rest of the trip in the bathroom. Or we arrive at the airport for a 7pm flight only to realize the flight left at 7am. Tell us the story of your worst travel mistake.

One of my first journeys I had as an adult was travelling to Mexico. My children were about 5 and 7 years old.  While I was gone, they had a great time with their grandmother, living by grandma's rules (read: spoil them). Not too long ago, I came across a photo from the airport departure as I was leaving on that journey.  They sat on a bench, both hunched over in their winter jackets, mouths drooping, and tears in their eyes.

There it is - four days in one. Will I catch up? Tune in tomorrow.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ymir Writing Retreat

Ymir Palace - Ymir, BC
What do you call a writer who isn’t writing? That sounds like a stand-up’s opening line.  Here I am hanging out with other writers at the Ymir Writing Retreat, an annual event devoted to encouraging the writer within.

And nothing is coming.  Writer’s block.  That term doesn’t adequately describe what happens.  What do writers DO when inspiration flees?  What I have found is that distractions move in with their toothbrushes and PJs, ready for the long haul. 

The hands-down best diversion for writers is the internet. Which is why writers like Barbara Kingsolver plant themselves in a room with no access. 

The internet is so handy.  You can be in the same room with other writers as I am doing at the writing retreat.  Laptops in front of us, none of us knows what the other is doing.  They may be thinking whatever I am writing is brilliant and it is just a matter of time until a publisher seeks me out.  They may be wishing they were so productive. 

But really they don’t know.  For those of you who are curious about what a writer does, here is a synopsis of my day.

 I bunked myself at the table, laptop in front of me.  My writing pals sat in the other chairs, quiet and focused. I decided on fiction, a tale of 3 people wound up in their 30-year histories.  Where to begin?  I stared at the screen. 

I remembered a word that had caught my attention earlier.  Iterative. I meant to look that up. A method used in computational mathematics.  Curious.  After a couple other links, I remembered my task.  Get back to work.  A plot.  That’s what I needed.  Something compelling like The Tudors.  (Where did that come from?)  That Henry the VIII was such a tyrant.  Who succeeded him?  Was it a boy? No, that was the problem – Henry beheaded his wives because they didn’t produce males.  Wikipedia will have the answer.

It was his son Edward but not for long.  Nine years.  There was a link to the list of Henry’s wives.  Six of them. How many were beheaded?  Only two.  Anne and Catherine.  There were 3 Catherines according to Wikipedia.  The last wife was the god daughter of the first wife.   This is getting complicated. 

Enough of that.  Back to work.  Where was I?  Forget the plot right now.  What about the angle?  It could be the view from the mother, her lover or the gardener.  But it doesn’t make sense from the lover’s perspective as he isn’t around for long. 

Has the sky clouded over?  I thought the snow might melt today after all it was so bright this morning.  Still snow on the ground.  Good thing I put on the hiking boots before I came out here.  I would never have expected to be walking on packed snow. 

I looked at the blank page on the screen in front of me.  The gardener’s name could be Julio.  I can see him being from Central America.  Is Julio a Central American name?  I am sure Google would know.   Origins of Julio.  The Internet was down.  I gave myself a mental note to check it out later.  Julio is a good gardener’s name.  What about a last name?  Rodriquez?  Is that how to spell it?  How about the lover?  How about Martin?  How about Martine? 

I looked at the top of my screen.  The internet was back up.  I immediately thought of my e-mail. You never know who might be trying to get a hold of me.  No new mail. Maybe someone was trying to call me.  The cell phone reception was a bit dicey out here in the forest.  No new messages.  The phone needed to be charged.  It seems to need to be charged a lot more frequently these days.  Is it time to get a new one?  There – plugged in.  What about the computer?   The battery had 13% remaining.  I found the plug in and the wall outlet. 

Back into my seat.  I switched to the word processing document.  Not one word on the page. 

Writer’s block.  Google had 12.5 million hits.  A popular condition.  I looked at the browser tab.  I had one new Tweet from Advice to Writers:

Work on a computer that is disconnected from the Internet. ZADIE SMITH

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Let's Meet in Phoenix

I wrote the following article for an travel writing course at MatadorU in the spring of 2011.  As I read it over, I thought of how fitting it is as we have been reflecting on Steve Jobs' life.

Let's Meet in Phoenix

I turn the bottle upside down, squeeze a dollop of hair control cream onto my hand and spread it evenly on my head.  I am thinking of the suitcase sitting on my bed and what is inside.  Will I need anything else?

My mind dashes ahead to the following week when I will be leaving again, next time to San Francisco to see my son. I remember a phone call from him the week before.

“Phoenix is hot.”

“Yes,” I said, “When were you in Phoenix?”

“Last week.”

“And what were you doing there?”

“Meeting my coworkers, playing poker, staying up late.”

Ryan described his trip to Phoenix.  He wanted me to look at the website of where he stayed.  He explained that he would probably be going to Phoenix once a month. He has just started a new job for another dot com company. He was excited; most of his jobs up to this point in his life he has had to stay put.   “Good for you,” I said.  I thought of how much he loved to see new places.

After I scrunch my hair, I walk into the kitchen.  I go to the fridge.  Leftovers this morning.  The last of the perishables.  I check my e-mail as I eat chicken salad.  It is late when I walk out to the car.  I grumble at the grey sky.   I am sure the sky is not grey in Phoenix.

The weather in Phoenix intrigued Ryan.  He did not think he would like the heat if he lived in Phoenix after living in San Francisco for over 2 years.  I had more to say about Sedona where I had gone two months before for a 4-day exploration.  Arizona was new to both of us.

The coffee is brewing when I get to work.  Andrea is setting up for the day’s workshop.

I go into the training room.  The tables are set up in a square.  I move the 10-foot wide white board to the back of the room.  The monstrosity’s redeeming feature is the rolling wheels.  It is after 9 when the participants arrive.  I am ready. At 1 o’clock, I play the video of Steve Jobs giving a commencement address.  Connecting the dots.  Love and loss.  Death.   Between his three stories, he explains that this gives us permission to love what we do.

I think of my son again.  What he shares with Steve Jobs is his love of computers.  His first job was working for Amazon in Seattle.  The day he moved to Seattle, I was there too, my first visit to the city.  My boyfriend and I had gone on a holiday together and it coincided with my son’s job start.  When he got off the plane, I met him by the luggage carousel.  “Welcome to your new home,” I said as if this was where I had always been.

The video ends.  The rest of the afternoon is a swirl of next plans and saying farewell.

When I get home at the end of the day, Cynthia is sitting on the couch with the cat. I change my clothes and we load the car.  Mary is ready when we pull up.  A bag of snacks and heavy bags.  The stuff of writers. When we pull up outside the Ymir Palace, a group has gathered around the entrance.  We hug our friends. Soon Randi arrives.  We finish our wine and walk down to the Ymir Hotel.  The Friday night jam session is in full swing.  We visit for an hour and a half until our food arrives.

I look at the table filled with skiers.  What would our lives have been like if my children never moved away?  Would they be with their friends drinking beer at the end of a snowy day in a pub in Ymir?  I think about Seattle, Phoenix and make a wish for other parallel experiences with my son.

The rain is falling when we go outside.  I walk up the hill to the former brothel with my 3 friends. Between us, we have 9 children who have gone off into the world.  All of them far away.  Leaving is a story that weaves its way around the globe. How many miles am I from where I was born?  And I wonder about this story that is repeated again and again.  What calls us out into the world?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Summer of 2012

Here is where I've been...
Birch Bay, Washington - July 9, 2011

The Gum Wall, Pike Place Market, Seattle, WA - July 11, 2011

The Gold River Follies and me - Rossland, BC - July 26, 2011

The Samba Band, Market Fest, Nelson BC - August 19, 2011

The Beatles (AKA Revolver), Balfour, BC - August 20, 2011

Visitor at the Yasodhara Ashram, Riondel, BC - August 28, 2011

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Space Travel

For years, I have joked about Kootenay astronomers having a hard time finding work.  The mountains hide a lot of the sky. Also during the winter in the mountains, there are a lot of clouds.  Between clouds and mountains, being a sky watcher is tricky.  What we can see is quite limited which I understood every time I ventured out into the flat lands.  The prairies have so much sky.  That is the place to view the stars.

The Big Dipper
The community event offered a view of the night sky with an amateur astronomer.  My friend BJ and I decided to check it out.  Wayne had set up two telescopes by the time we arrived. With a light laser, he pointed at the Big Dipper and singled out one of the stars in the “handle.”  Through the telescope, we could see that there were actually two stars, double stars.  The two stars are also called “horse and rider,” and can be seen with the naked eye; they have been used as a test for eyesight. Mizar is really a system of stars.

The sky was perfectly clear. While we waited for Jupiter to rise, Wayne showed us two kinds of nebula, a word that comes from Latin and meaning cloud.  Nebula consists of gases, dust and matter and is the place where stars are born.  This is also how stars die.  The nebula where stars were being formed was much larger than the dying one; the other distinction is their colour.  Astronomers like Wayne are able to detect whether stars are on their way in or out. 

Our next sighting was a globular cluster which is a spherical collection of stars that are bound together by gravity.  When I looked through the telescope, I saw thousands of dots of light.  I was blown away. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, has about 150 to 158 globular clusters.  The Milky Way, Wayne told us, has over 400 billion stars.  And our sun is one of them.  And it is only a medium-sized galaxy.  It is estimated that there are 170 billion galaxies. 

I can’t even imagine what that would look like.  The numbers are dizzying and the more I looked up into the sky, I felt simultaneously how expansive the universe is and then how small we are.   What BJ noticed was how much the Big Dipper moved in the sky, and then realized that it really was us moving.

Intrigued by figuring out how fast we are moving, I called Wayne.  Here is what he said:

  • we are spinning on our axis (which we see in the 24 hour clock);
  • we are revolving around the sun (which gives us the 365 or so days in a year);
  • our sun is spinning around the hub of the Milky Way Galaxy; and
  • our galaxy is also moving.

After some research, here’s what I found about our movement through space:

  • The speed of our axis spin can be easily calculated.  The Earth’s circumference is 40,075 kilometres and there are 23.93 hours in a day.  The result of the division is 1,675 kilometres per hour. 
  • In a day, the Earth travels 2.5 million kilometres around the sun. 
  • Our solar system revolves around the galaxy at about 220 kilometres per second. 
  • And our galaxy is cruising through space at about 1,000 kilometres per second. 

We are in a hurry!

Just as Wayne promised, by 11 pm, we saw Jupiter rising in the East; the planets are on the same elliptical path as the sun and moon so they rise in the East and set in the West.  Because of the Earth’s atmosphere the best viewing was when it was higher in the sky.  When I looked through the lens, I saw four of Jupiter’s moons and dark-coloured bands.  Spectacular!

A man and his young daughter alternated telescope time with us; he told us that he just moved from Israel where he could not see the stars because of the glow from city lights.  I looked up.  The sky was getting darker and the stars were increasing. 

My mountain home is a wonderful place for star watching!

A few days later, I found my copy of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.  This book published in 1980 follows the popular 13-part television series of the same name.  He explains the speed with which Earth is moving through the Universe.  He says, “we have always been space travelers.” 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Coffee Culture

“Where’s the best place to get a latte?”   Thanks to the Coffee Mania wave, I can even find a café in whistle-stop towns.  My vocabulary, spending habits and preferences has unfolded over the past 20 years as I have been swept along into the rise of coffee popularity.  Though my body has spurned coffee, I remain a wannabe, captivated by its aroma and sweet-bitterness. 

The quest for the best java has morphed over time.  Years ago, my father would drive his half ton to the local diner and park alongside other trucks.  Inside, the men sat in a line at the counter on swivel stools where they caught each other up on the news of the day.  As each one seated, a waitress flipped a cup over in front of the customer with one hand and poured the coffee from the pot she held in the other.  Cream was in metal containers and sugar was poured out of a glass jar with a metal lid.  It was rare that they ordered anything to eat.  Coffee cups were topped up, and once that was done, they all went off to do their chores.  The women who poured the coffee were called waitresses, and what came out of the pot was never questioned. 

Today, baristas serve up our drinks, a long list of possibilities centred on an espresso.  The customer is frequently conversed in the specific language, and the degree of strength of their cup. 

What is espresso?  People often think that it is about the type of coffee bean or grind, but it is about the preparation method.  Each cup begins by forcing hot water under pressure through a finely ground coffee.  Depending on different regional preferences, the coffee beans used may be dark or lighter, a result of beans chosen and the roasting process. The result is a thicker consistency than drip coffee, and a reddish-brown foam on the surface, called crema.  From this base, other variations are created such as cappuccinos, lattes, americanos and mochas.  Prepared by a barista, an Italian word for bartender, each cup is presented in an individual, “just-for-you” fashion.  And fashionable it has become, with recognizable logos on the sides of to-go cups, and the emergence of the word grande into everyday language.  Selecting what to drink at a coffee bar has also become stylish, and ever changing; for example, one new trend is a Canadiano which is an espresso with added drip coffee.  A Banff café calls this one a “caffeine avalanche.” 

Italy is the birthplace of espresso. It was there, in 1901, that the first espresso machine was patented. In North America, Seattle is perhaps the most well known city for its coffee, and perhaps because this is the birthplace of Starbucks, and other roasteries such as Seattle’s Best Coffee.  Starbucks opened in 1971 across from Seattle’s Pike Place Market, a popular visitors’ attraction.  By February 2008, they had 15,700 stores in 43 countries, and in 2006, they bought 32 million pounds of coffee.

Smaller coffee roasteries abound in Seattle.   Espresso Vivace in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district identifies itself as an Italian-style coffee house.  Vivace’s is a vibrant culinary delight with enthusiastic baristas who create spectacular coffee art on their lattes and cappuccinos.  The motto at Vivace is “una bella tazza di caffe,” – a beautiful cup of coffee.  They take their motto seriously.  One of the founders has created a book on professional espresso techniques and a video called “Caffe Latte Art.”

By the time, I stumbled upon Vivace on Broadway Avenue, I knew that the secret of a great cup of coffee was freshness, both in the preparation and in the roasting of the carefully chosen beans.  Vivace embodies both.

The pursuit of excellence in a divine cup of espresso stretches far beyond Seattle and Italy.  In my hometown of Nelson, BC, Oso Negro, coffee roastery and coffee bar, was immensely popular from the start.   In 1993, the roastery occupied a 200-square foot room and has now expanded to roasting 4 tons a month.  At Oso Negro, freshness is emphasized; employees advise that customers’ newly purchased coffees be used within 4 weeks.  The popularity of Oso Negro has locals bringing a bag when they go away on vacation, and former residents requesting it from afar.

For those who are insistent on the ultimate in freshness, the roasting of coffee beans can also be done at home.  For $89 plus shipping, a person can buy Freshroast Plus 8.

Roasting coffee beans is an acquired skill.   An Oso Negro video of the art of coffee roasting illustrates the miniscule time between a perfect roast, and one that is burnt.  The results are what make a coffee popular, or not.

Starbucks, for example, have been criticized for the bitterness of their coffee, and nicknamed Charbucks.  Bitterness is all in the taste of the beholder.

The growth of Starbucks and independent coffee houses have not gone unnoticed by the big companies who are vying for our coffee dollars.  McDonalds pounced into the lucrative coffee market in 2006 when they announced their Premium Roast Blend to increase their ailing sales.  Then, in May 2009, they launched a $100 million advertising campaign for the McCafe line of espresso drinks, which are aimed to be an affordable alternative to coffee houses.   Burger King’s entry is the BK Joe, which comes in either regular or “turbo strength,” which has 40% more caffeine.  Dunkin’ Donuts bills itself as  “America's largest retailer of coffee-by-the-cup” with their fair-trade offerings that now include espresso, cappuccino, and lattes.  Many places are battling for our coffee dollars including our financial advisors who plead us to consider the “latte factor” when thinking of investments. We are not giving up our coffees quickly.

Tim Hortons, the land of the “double double,” a coffee shop established by an ex-NHL hockey player .  Tim Hortons is also popular with a new generation of hurried morning commuters who take advantage of the drive-through and famous food such as the Hot Breakfast Sandwich.  Tim Hortons’ motto, “Always Fresh,” is illustrated through their commercials, which have servers marking the time on each fresh pot; after 18 minutes a new pot is brewed.  Like the espresso, freshness is essential.

Whether it is brewed or espresso, the phenomenon of coffee houses has exploded over the last few years.  Our local Safeway has a Starbucks installed so customers pass by on their way from the tellers.  On Robson Street in Vancouver, two Starbucks are on diagonal corners from each other; it is not unusual to see a line-up at both places.

Starbucks’ growth has much to do with their atmosphere, as well as their coffee.  The coffee movement, called Coffee Culture, has been called a “social lubricant,” and indeed Starbucks is a social gathering place. 
Coffee Culture is a social atmosphere centred around coffee, and in particular, espresso.  But it is also about the consumption of coffee, how it is prepared, and where it is served. Coffee Culture has infiltrated the modern world, changing the fundamental ways people lead their daily, busy lives.

A chain of stores called Coffee Culture, started in Woodstock, ON, is a 100% Canadian owned café and eatery with over 26 locations and 17 planned ones in Ontario.  On their website, Coffee Culture describes itself as a European-style coffee house, “Canada’s hottest coffee concept.”  Their motto is, “Come for the taste, stay for the visit.”

One of the ways that we know when a trend has become ingrained into our lives is when it is becomes part of the entertainment culture.  In the movie, Shrek 2, a building called Farbucks is destroyed and all the customers run out and go to another one across the street.  Humorist Andy Burowitz announced that Starbucks would be opening 11,000 cafés on the moon by 2021.  "Those astronauts are going to be working long and hard to build that moon base and we’re betting they’re going to want a latte or two," says a Starbucks spokeswoman. "Fortunately for them, there’ll be a Starbucks on the edge of every crater."

With such a prominence of specialty coffee cafés, imagining Starbucks on the moon doesn’t seem that farfetched.  Coffee Culture is clearly here to stay; the pursuit for more exquisite tastes will engage the aficionados and delight the rest of us.  

Where’s the best place to get a cup of coffee?  Like love, it is truly in the eye of the beholder.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Things to Do in Las Vegas

"I got the six pack," says the driver as he plunks himself in his seat. Indeed we occupy most of the seats on the small bus. My mother ends up in the front where the air conditioning is working. It has been hot since we arrived in Vegas, about 40 degrees Celsius. Later I find out that the weather just turned hot; the bus air conditioning systems are having their first workout of the season.

We have gathered to celebrate my mother's birthday. For such a lofty event, one of our chosen events is going to the Grand Canyon by plane. There are 6 of us in total, a family that plays together. And there is no better place to play than the "Entertainment Capital of the World."

When the cab driver asked me if this was my first time in Vegas, I told him that I had been there 29 years ago. "Then, yes, it is your first time." Looking out the car windows, I was captivated with how big everything was - the billboards, the streets, the buildings. That fascination threaded its way throughout the entire visit.

There is plenty to do, day or night.

1. Gambling

Gambling in Vegas is like sitting down for tea in London. This is what you do between all the other activities, as you are going in or out. To get to your hotel room, you always have to pass through a casino. I was amused by the more interactive slot machines such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Dirty Dancing. The chairs have speakers in the headrest, giving both a visual and auditory experience. The pinnacle is to get 3 bonuses in a turn. Then the display becomes a touch screen and you get to choose options that result in various payouts.

For table games such as Craps, Blackjack or Poker, the best advice is to take the free casino gaming lessons.

One of the tips I read about gambling was to choose the slot machines near the entrances to the casinos. Do they payout more often to entice passersby? My mother's thoughts: "If it's going payout, it's going to payout."

2. Grand Canyon

There is nothing like seeing the Grand Canyon from a bird's view. That way you can get to see the Grand part. It is huge - the Canyon is carved by the Colorado River which is a total distance of 277 miles. From Vegas there are bus or plane excursions to the Grand Canyon; the buses can take from 11 to 14 hours. From Boulder City, our plane took us to the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and the west rim of the Canyon.

3. The Shows

The live entertainment includes on-going (Celine Dion) and single events (headliners such as Britney Spears). The cab driver from the airport (also known as the tour guide) pointed out that there are 7 Cirque du Soleil shows happening in Vegas right now, including tributes to Elvis and the Beatles. We went to see Penn & Teller, "eccentric magicians with a psychotic twist." They are funny, wacky and highly entertaining - perfect for Vegas!

Every hotel on the strip has its own shows; there are places to get half price tickets - usually the day of the show.

4. Outdoor Shows

The most happening place for free live outdoor entertainment is downtown at the Fremont Street Experience, which is a pedestrian mall covering 5 blocks of Fremont Street and includes 2 sound stages. The light canopy which is called Viva Vision, features larger-than-life animations. Go to Fremont Street after dark and look up!

One of the favourite shows on the Strip is the Bellagio Fountains. An 8-acre lake in front of the hotel explodes in a show of music, light and water every half hour during the day and every 15 minutes after dark. There are several choreographed performances so hanging out in front of the fountains can keep you entertained for a long time.

Treasure Island features 5 performances each evening, called the Sirens of TI, in front of the hotel alongside the Strip. With special effects, special set that includes two ships and sexy dancers, the 18-minute show dazzles in the pyrotechnics department.

For more free shows in Vegas, check out the Official Vegas Travel Site.

5. Shopping

Who knew that shopping was such entertainment? In Vegas there are many choices for shoppers including two Premium Outlet Malls, a Fashion Mall, and shops in every hotel. Aimee, Julie and I went to the Las Vegas Premium Outlet - South via bus; there are over 140 stores offering deals. In one store, everything was on sale.

6. Eating in Vegas

Like most things in Vegas, the choices in dining are overwhelming and range from economy to extravagant. We ate at Caesar's Palace at one of the infamous Vegas buffets, that offer a wide variety of dishes including prime rib and the cutest desserts. There are deals around town that offer all-you-can-eat buffets for a full day (24 hours).

Each hotel has its own restaurants. At Caesar's Palace, there are 9 restaurants. The Flamingo has 5 not including cafes and fast food places. We stayed at Bally's which is next door to Paris; we ate twice in Paris. Our birthday celebration dinner was at Mon Ami Gabi a French bistro where I had to have the French Onion Soup (yum!).

For my last meal in Vegas, I ate at Sea Las Vegas, a Thai restaurant, where I had a Massaman Curry and a Pomegranate Mojito - both were the same price!

7. Photo Ops

You never know when you might be walking down the street and run into Jack Sparrow so the best advice is to keep a camera and tip money handy. There is a lot of tipping in Vegas. Capturing all the sights with a camera can be challenging especially when walking down the street at night with all of the dazzling lights.

The Eiffel Tower is a half-scale exact reproduction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I heard that when the idea for the tower in Vegas was conceived, they wanted to do an exact replica but because the airport was so close, it was not permitted. At over 46 stories above the Strip, you get to see a spectacular view of Vegas and the entire valley.

Below is a photo of Caesar's Palace from the Eiffel Tower:

8. Hanging out at the pool

The thing about Vegas, everyone says, is that "it's a dry heat." When my daughter and my sister went for a walk, they said that they didn't even sweat because the perspiration dried as soon as it appeared on their skin. July and August are the hottest months in Vegas but our June trip gave us a taste of what was coming. Each day was over 100 degrees (which is the way they talk in Vegas). We popped into the pools in between our many other activities. This is the day-time party place with drinking allowed in the water (beer in plastic bottles!!) and poolside events like limbo contests. Eight hotels in Vegas including Caesar's Palace, Bally's, Flamingo and Paris are a part of the Total Rewards/Caesars Entertainment program. What this means is that if you are staying at one hotel, you can go to the another pool - not that you would want to walk some of those distances between the hotels. The hotels may be side by side but they take up a lot of space. We tried the pools at the Flamingo and Bally's, each designed for socializing with ledges on the edges of the pool, cabanas and daybeds.

After 5 days in Las Vegas, I know that I got a smattering of the entertainment. Here are some tips I learned from going there:

1. Shoes! Shoes! Shoes! There is a lot of walking in Vegas. There should be a sign that says: "Objects are farther than they appear."

2. Bring your Vitamin B. Vitamin B is the elixir for consuming too many pina coladas - they go down pretty easy (and quick).

3. Leave the computer at home. Besides being occupied 24/7, there is no free Wi-Fi in hotels.

For more tips for your trip planning to Vegas, visit the site.

The shuttle bus driver from Bally's to Rio's offered us his advice for visiting Vegas: "Sleep when you can. Shower when you have to."

Sunday, May 08, 2011

City of Angels

"What do you thinking about taking a road trip?"

"Where would you like to go?"

"The television commercials tell me to discover California."

"How about Beverly Hills?"

"Sounds great to me."

What I knew about Beverly Hills was two things:
- It was somehow attached to LA.
- This is where the Beverly Hillbillies moved when they found "Texas tea."

Ryan and I picked up Julie at the end of her school day, mid afternoon on Good Friday. While most Canadians were out on the Easter break, life carried on in California. We stopped at Rubios. I had the Chicken Tortilla Soup, which far exceeded any of my expectations.

The GPS said 6 and a half hours from San Francisco to Los Angeles. We decided to take the scenic route. The GPS does not apparently need to change drivers, go to the washroom or stop for ice cream. We bolted out of the car in LA.

By the time we checked into the hotel and made our way into Santa Monica, most of the shops were closed on the Promenade. We found a pizza place called Joe's Pizza, that features New York-style specialties. The best thin pizza crust. I am hooked!

The Inn at Venice Beach, where we stayed, is a block away from the beach, a happening place full of shopping, dining, sports, recreation and entertainment. Our first morning, we went for a walk down the boardwalk.

The LA Fire Department were hanging out as they waited for calls.

We decided to have lunch in Hollywood. Hollywood Boulevard. After eating at the Pig 'n Whistle, we strolled the Walk of Stars.

Us and many, many others. What we saw was Buzz Lightyear, 2 Michael Jacksons and 3 Darth Vaders. From what I can gather, these actors make their money by posing with money-producing, camera-toting tourists.

Our next destination was the Hollywood sign. Thanks to iPhone and GSP technology, we had an entertaining excursion to our viewpoint. At the pullout, 3 girls were performing for a dance video - over and over again, we heard the same song. The life of glamour!

Next we found a lookout over the Hollywood Bowl and part of LA spread out before us.

The Hollywood Bowl is in the bottom right hand corner. A primarily music concert venue, it can seat 17,736 people.

Back in the car, we followed Mulholland Drive, a road that follows the ridgeline of the Santa Monica Mountains and Hollywood Hills. It is home to some of the most exclusive and expensive homes in the world. This is where the stars live.

By the time we had descended into Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, the sun was setting.

We headed back to the ocean.

This is what I learned from hanging out that day in LA:
  • LA is one huge city. LA has a land area of 498 square miles compared to SF whose land area is 46 square miles.
  • In the hills of Beverly Hills, there are lots of homes set back from the roads - an excellent place for famous people to retreat.
  • There is no need for boredom in LA. That is one happening place.
  • If you want to take part in a backlot tour of an entertainment studio, book ahead.
  • For spotting movie stars, don't hang out with the tourists.
  • Sun, warm temperatures - easy adaptation.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Staycation - Day 7

and 5 days past the vernal equinox. The good news is that the snow is disappearing fast; the harsh news is that I am contemplating a trip over the Kootenay Pass tomorrow and it is snow packed. It may sound that I am abandoning my staycation by getting away, but my understanding of staycations is that if you stay in the same province (couldn't be the same country given Canada is one BIG country), one has not ventured into the notion of vacation.

I don't know if I will head over the mountain tomorrow. I am getting into the notion of my new way of spending time off. And part of me feels like I have travelled. Five days ago, I went to the video store with a list of the best travel films; I found 7. So far I have been to Italy (Under the Tuscan Sun) and India (Outsourced), Belgium (In Bruges) and Mexico (Y tu Mama Tambien).

What I found out was:
- Bruges is known for its many swans that swim in the canals. This is one Venice-looking place.
- There is a condition in India that happens while you adjust to the food that is called Delhi Belly. Most of the cast of Outsourced got it; it looks uncomfortable.
- A movie about a Mexican road trip is not necessarily about a journey. But what are road trips about, really?

My out-and-about part of my staycation has taken me to the country to visit friends (with no time pressure - yahoo!), to restaurants (today I was introduced to a breakfast strata), the library (not the best place to hang out during spring break if you are looking for quiet), the shops (the novelty here is grocery shopping at different times). It also means staying up late (which of course means I am ready for a nap in the afternoon), doing what I want when I am inspired (today I am inspired to make soup!), watching the neighbours move (apparently I missed the skunk being shot in my backyard on Monday), wearing the same clothes day after day (I wash them!).

Modelling my staycation after a vacation suggests that the camera is involved. I did see some hints of spring...

And though the snow is on the mountain, some of the most inspiring pictures of mountains are when we can see the snow peaks next to the blue sky.

And that's it - the photography portion of my staycation is a bit pitiful. But I have 3 more days....

Sunday, March 20, 2011


My instructions were clear - take unused vacation before the end of March. I was faced with a quandary. Since I am focussing my travel this year on a family get-away, the budget is tapped. My usual scene since I moved to the Kootenays 16 years ago, is spending vacation time away from here, travelling, on the road. I couldn't even fathom taking vacation so close to home. Actually, at home. When I explained it to my son, he said, "Staycation." That sounded intriguing, more fanciful than staying at home.

When I Googled staycation, at the top of the list was Wikipedia. What I learned was that the idea came into vogue between 2007 and 2010 during the financial crisis. In Britain, they became popular in 2009; there it is called a stoliday. There is even a self-help guide book.

With more research, I found strong suggestions that staycations be organized in a way that gets one out of the routine, that they get a break from their regular life. This means paying all the bills and doing all the chores that you would if you went away. To minimize the chores, it was suggested that staycationers eat out. No dishes. Unless of course, you think of cooking as a vacation.

When I told my friends and family, they were excited on my behalf and had lots of ideas of how to spend my time. Do things that you wouldn't normally do. Go to the museum. Go to the hot springs, a definite bonus for someone who doesn't live near the hot springs. This last idea is not on the top of my list. A shame really. I don't particularly like being wet.

An artist's date was another suggestion. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, developed this tool for creative inspiration. The artist's date is a weekly commitment to nurturing one's creative unconscious. It is often in the form of an excursion - in nature, to an artists' supply store, etc.

An idea I found on the World Wide Web is to do a movie marathon, focussing on travel movies. I am not sure about the notion of conjuring up envy but then there might be getting new ideas for future travels.

Today is Day 2 (of 10) of my staycation. I have caught some snippets of movies on television but in the spirit of staycations in general, I am trying to stay away from that time-eater. This evening, Return of the Jedi was featured. I would consider that a travel movie, wouldn't you?

If you have any other ideas of how to spend my vacation, I could use a little help. This is all new to me.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Winter of 2011

When I was walking through the Co-op this evening, I heard the produce displayer tell a customer that winter was on its way out. I figure this fellow has one optimistic streak. When I look outside, I cannot imagine myself planting a garden. Each day it gets more buried under snow. Three days in a row now. And there is a good deal of grumbling. Except perhaps for the snow clearing crew who are getting plenty of time this year. A radical contrast from last year when I shovelled maybe 3 times.

In January, I was writing about my snow experiences and investment into the local economy in the form of snow clearing contractors. There has been a reprieve for most of the month of February but the snow is back.

I hope the skiers are happy. No one else seems to be.

So what have I been doing in the midst of the winter, besides cursing the Yak Trax? It sounds like I am an ingrate since one has to walk on ice, Yak Trax can save your life or keester. But the fact is that I don't really want to experience the day where I need to use Yak Trax. So I AM grateful for each day that I don't have to wear them. I am smart though; they are always in the trunk of the car.

So.... long winter days are best spent planning long summer days. This year, the family plans to spend my mother's birthday going on vacation together. She likes the idea of an Alaska cruise. Me too. In talking to people, they recommended that she go in June or July because the scenery is more outstanding. I called the travel agent. Indeed the most popular times to go are July and August.

Here's what I am thinking. We are planning on a trip to go and see the snow and ice. You would think that we would have had enough by now.

After my trip to Arizona and landing in the snow, and hiking on the ice, I figure I have some upside down ideas about vacation.

Here's what I am banking on - sun! There is nothing like the promise of sun to inspire us all. On Monday, February 28th, after the snow at the end of the day, here was our promise...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sedona - Day 4

The fourth morning when I awoke in Sedona, the sun had already warmed up enough for us to sit on the promenade deck for our breakfast. During our stay in Sedona we stayed at the Best Western Inn of Sedona, highly recommended for the views and the wonderful amenities. The outdoor pool is heated to 85 degrees year round which sounds like a rather novel idea until you realize that once you get out of that pool, you have to walk to your room - outdoors. I am not particularly fond of being wet and cold (they usually go hand in hand) and nothing could convince me otherwise. Besides I had already done the hot tub the previous evening. I had already defeated the "wuss" factor so there was nothing left to prove.

My breakfast was tapioca pudding, the fridge leftovers. After leaving the hotel, we did some shopping and then went to the fourth vortex on the way to the Sedona airport. There was a slight hike to an area between two hills where there are two spectacular views of Sedona.

The twisted juniper trees were easy to spot here.

Having visited 3 of the vortex sites before now, we wondered if juniper trees always grew twisted. I went on a walkabout to see if there were any straight ones. In retrospect, this was tricky since we were always looking for juniper trees at vortex sites, and they were... well, twisted. What I did notice was that there was definitely varying degrees of twisted. Having never taken that science class, I was quite impressed that I was starting to recognize a specific tree. And then I found a straight one! Here is the proof:

As for that vortex energy, I sat in the sun overlooking the valley, again quite taken by all the sunshine. Then I heard a sound of a horn, and then another. When I looked up, I saw two men with large horns, polished. They said they were trying not to alarm me. When I asked what the horns were, they said it was a Jewish tradition of sending out blessings to everyone. I took my blessings and headed down the path around one of the hills. I stopped to take a picture of yet-another twisted tree and found that I had vertigo. Hiking seemed like a bad idea. I haven't heard that vertigo is a vortex experience but if it was, it was hardly subtle. But all in all, after visits to 4 vortex sites, I can't say that I felt the energy.

But apparently it doesn't matter. We were told that vortex energy will travel with us, even if we didn't feel it while we were there.

My body is happy. Walking and hiking and sunshine are all good medicine.

More shopping in downtown Sedona. My treasure find was a tennis bracelet. Our last meal in Sedona was at New Frontiers Natural Marketplace, a definite hangout for us.

About 3 o'clock, we headed up the canyon to the Flagstaff airport. We stopped at the Native jewellery outdoor markets, two outdoor areas where brave-weather women display their beautiful wares. Another must see, especially if you want to have a hankering for jewellery.

The further we got from Sedona, the cooler the weather, and more snow on the sides of the road. It was definitely melting but one of the luggage handlers told me that they were expecting a week of snow in the following week. We arrived in Phoenix 45 minutes ahead of schedule. We had plenty of time for me to have Carvel ice cream and our dinner at a terminal pub. Nachos and quesadillas followed by papaya digestive enzymes. Life is perfect!

The flight from Phoenix to Spokane was very comfortable as we had seat with extra leg room (Row 4 of a Boeing 737 if you ever have a choice!), and though I lost the game of Scrabble, I played some clever moves. And then I got all wrapped up in my book - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

We got to Spokane 35 minutes early. I saw a woman from our home town while we were boarding the plane, returning from Mexico. She was wearing flip-flops and capris. I could see as we walked into the gusts outside the airport that we had an advantage. Our 4-day vacation had acclimatized us to any weather.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sedona - Day 3

We woke up to one bright sunny day. By 10 o'clock, there was lots of promise of a warm day. Since this is our last full day in Sedona, we decided spending our time outdoors was high on the agenda. We decided to visit the vortexes. What we have heard so far is that the vortexes are growth inspiring, often subtle but sometimes quite powerful energy that flows through a person. People often feel uplifted and positive after having experienced the vortex. Finding the vortexes can be a bit of an elusive venture much like a treasure hunt. Some people have told us that it doesn't really matter because the vortex energy is all over the entire valley. So we got it, no matter what. We had accumulated several maps and finally we used the one that we found when researching our trip. We were ready for our vortex encounter.

Our first stop was at the Red Rock Crossing where we get a close up view of Oak Creek and Cathedral Rock. We walked along the creek until we came to the point where the creek is closest to the Rock. This is where the vortex is its strongest. As I came through the trees opening to the creek, I heard a bell not unlike one I had heard in meditation. Could this be the sound of a vortex? When I looked across the creek, I saw 3 bicyclists on the path and realized that that sound was attached to a bike. I was definitely disappointed but figured that a bell is not subtle. I continued my quest.

The idea is to be quiet enough so that you can feel the energy. As we sat on the creek's edge, I found that I was bedazzled by the sun and the wondrous heat. I would say that my awe overpowered any subtle effects of a vortex. When I looked up, here is what I saw:

As we were walking out to our car, we met our medical intuitive. Considering that we had officially met only 3 people in Sedona, seeing one of them on the trail were pretty impressive odds.

Our next stop was Boynton Canyon Vortex which in its directions gives an impression that it is an easy hike. And it is, for the first 3/4 of a mile, and then it is up, up, up and around, around, around a knoll, which looks like this:

All around this knoll is where the vortex is its most noticeable. I sat on a red rock overlooking the valley and more red rocks, which are ever inspiring. What I noticed was that I was weary from my hike. Happy though.

Our third stop was at Bell Rock, which we had visited on Day 1, though briefly. Rose decided to take the Bell Rock Trail and I decided on the Bell Rock Path. The Trail goes up and around, and the path goes all around the circumference of the Rock.

Most people choose to take the Trail so I was mostly alone on the Path. The sun was beginning to slide over the mountain opposite. As I walked, I looked for the tell-tale signs of a vortex - twisted juniper trees. Here's one:

I continued up the red sand path, looking at cactus and trees and that immense red rock on my left. Suddenly in the middle of the path, I saw swirling red dirt, a perfect funnel shape - a vortex!

This is the first I have ever heard of SEEING a vortex, but one just has to be open to anything.

And that was the end of hiking for the day. Here's some other highlights of the day:

1. Hot tub (finally warm enough!)
2. Cold Stone ice cream - talked to a delightful couple from Sioux City.
3. There are 62 Cold Stone stores in Phoenix!
4. We met Nick from Nick's on the West Side, our dinner choice.
5. Another spectacular sunset.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sedona - Day 2

The first news of the day is that I sat outside for an hour reading the Kindle. This is noteworthy because first of all the weather is heating up and secondly, this is my first experience of reading outdoors with my new electronic gadget and it is as so many have told me - very easy to read outdoors. I am reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and I am hooked!

The terrain in Sedona is getting very familiar; each outing we need to rely on the maps less and less. Thanks to Trip Advisor, we have had two wonderful dinners two nights in a row. Yesterday was the India Palace, one of the best Indian restaurants I have experienced. Today we had Mexican at Cafe Elote, a very popular place to eat. We had a 20-minute wait but it was worth it. Both highly recommended and on the top 5 of restaurants to eat in Sedona. Each day is a new food adventure!

Today we spent experiencing other wonders of Sedona. First we visited a medical intuitive, trained by Caroline Myss. And then we had a hot stone massage. Both of these are a first for me; what a treat!

By the time we had finished our appointments, it was time for the sunset, definitely a must-do for sun-deprived Canadians. Each day has had totally sunny days, from one end to the other. This, I know, I will miss.

To me, the sunset is the most spectacular on the mountains opposite.

Interesting facts and trivia about Sedona...

1. We have the best view of the mountains from right outside our hotel door.
2. Sedona was named after a woman, the wife of the first postmaster.
3. Lucille Ball and Walt Disney used to live here.
4. The McDonald's in Sedona has teal arches, the only one in the world that does not have the golden arches. The city did not approve of the yellow arches because the colour didn't mesh with the red rocks.