Monthly Archives: June 2009

Scandinavian Rain – Oslo, Norway

When we arrived into Norway, it was raining. All I could think about was how cold it was and how surely it would warm up. Lucky, I was wearing a rain jacket but that alone didn’t protect me. It was the fact that I had to trawl my rolling suitcase up and around and through the cobblestone steep Olso streets. Kat said it was only a 10 minute walk but after about 22 minutes, I realized that maybe her sense of time has been skewed. Possibly her year here studying had dampened her internal clock. Who can know for sure. But if I may have been chilly that was quickly remedied by the sweat that was forming on my brow. Clackity clack clack rumbled my luggage as I tried my best to keep it from tipping over. Why don’t they put those giant wheels that so many baby hummers have these days? That would be sweet. And functional.

After snaking through a humongous graveyard shortcut, we finally arrived at Kats residence. It seemed to be at the very top of Norway and I was pretty proud of myself for climbing the mountain. It was neat to meet the many different cultures who surrounded her room. She described them all in very colorful terms except for the one guy who she didn’t even want to name. Apparently all her floormates were tolerable, even delightful at times, save for this unfine young man. Curiously, he was the one I craved to meet the most.

I ended up sleeping quite a bit now that I felt at “home” and comfortable. Even though it wasn’t my home, it was someone’s home and she had decorated it with her personal effects in a very charming way. It made it comfy and cozy inside even though the weather was gloomy out the window. I did spend some time perched by her window admiring her spectacular view of the town.

Later we took a trip to the grocery store, which is for me a definite highlight of any new place. I took in all the strange and fascinating choices including the bizarre selection of cheeses and cereals. Those are always a good indicator of how a country is run. If they value their variety, then they can be considered for a return visit, in my books.

Grateful for hominess.

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A laid back space and slower pace – Oslo, Norway

It was nice to be able to slow down and live a somewhat local life rather than be the traveling tourist. The sun ended up coming out periodically which made for some lovely walks. I was amazed at the vivid blooms gracing peoples gardens as I strolled down to the market. The parks and every green space was packed with Osloians taking in the sun and doing a whole lot of nothing. It was refreshing to visit a country where people know the importance of leisure.

After doing some shopping at the foreign markets, where Kat said I would find the best deals, I ventured further into the center. By chance I came upon a hippy peace type gathering from which some ear-catching tunes were wafting. I was drawn in by the music but was kept by the atmosphere of gentle acceptance. There were free trade organic treats for us to snack on as we watched the unique fashion show that was taking place before us. The stunning young and younger ladies sashayed by playfully in their flowing costumes. It was all I could do not to get up and dance along with them.

Grateful for freedom.

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Sculptorades – Vigeland Park, Oslo, Norway

One day I decided to go visit the Royal Palace where the king and queen (who are apparently quite personable and friendly) reside. I was just in time for the changing of the guards which was a lot less crowded than the one in England. It was pretty cool but not much unlike the whole process that happens in all the other countries. I think once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

One of my highlights of Olso was my visit to Vigeland Park. Covering 80 acres and featuring 212 bronze and granite sculptures, we certainly had our work cut out for us. The park is divided into six sections: The Main Gate, The Bridge, The Children’s Playground, The Fountain, The Monolith Plateau and the Wheel of Life. I personally liked best The Bridge which showcases nicely the “human condition”.

I took a million pictures here and I still don’t think I took enough. Kat told me it was a statue park but I was not prepared for the level of emotion conveyed by them. Who knew that a large hunk of rock or metal could evoke such depth of emotions in me?

A certain favorite is “Sinnataggen”, the little Angry Boy on the bridge. I could understand that…he was pretty cute and reminded me of that cheeky dancing baby in the Ally McBeal series.

But one of my personal favorites was the little old woman nestled between the two younger, more robust women. Though many may have thought her to look squished and frail, I experienced something quite different. In her sunken eyes and toothless grin, I felt pure happiness, something no one could touch. It came from within. I could almost hear her chuckle at finding the secret to life that the rest of us seem to be in endless search of.

Grateful for solid emotion.

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My London Home – Bulford, England

We made the hurried and frantic escape from Norway onto the cheap RyanAir flight to London. I admit, I began to feel the difference between traveling solo and having to consider another body in my plans. I suppose, looking back, I feel that this has grown me. Ultimately what may seem difficult on the surface, is usually designed to teach a lesson…or two.

I was both overjoyed and relieved to see Sonya and Ben saunter up to us at the airport. My longest friend in the world who I had lost to England years ago, remains a steady source of comfort to me. In the meantime, she had spawned a child who is arguably one of the cuter in his variety. Little Ben and Big Ben played in the backseat while we made the 3 hour drive back to Andover, where we would be staying for the next few days. What kind of friend would drive three hours each way with a two year old to fetch her girlfriend from the airport? Sonya, who I claimed was my sister all through high school. People still ask me how my sister is…I always have to ask, which one.

Something inside me felt warm and reaffirming as I watched the green countryside pass us by. Sonya and I chattered on non-stop, picking up as if not a moment had passed since our last meeting. In reality, it had been years. You’d never know it.

After a delicious and filling falafel feast, I was ready for an early night. As home as I had felt in Norway with Kat, I felt doubly as much now. Sonya is like family to me and I missed her terribly. I have to say though, when your best friend has a little baby, it is a strange admission. Suddenly, there is this little prototype of one of your favorite people in the world. I had an instant love for this little young man, who could capture the heart of anyone, I am sure. I generally don’t like kids as I find them somewhat distracting and tedious, but this one had me questioning that line of thought.

When I discovered the Welcome Home Auntie Carmella sign posted in my room, I realized that I had had this feeling before. My sisters kids, Nubian and Khaalid, induce such a deep level of protective adoration as now. Kids are cute. At least my sisters ones are.

Grateful for children.

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Like riding a bike – Edmonton, AB

I barely slept last night but I still can’t decide if it was from nerves or excitement. Though I have been taking all the proper steps to begin traveling again, it was a little scary. I have been systematically uprooting my life in Edmonton so that this fall, I am able to embark on some extended travels. But for some strange reason, I felt funny yesterday when I was trying to pack.

After I smushed all my clothes into my packing cube, I was surprised at how little space it took up. Wait a second, do I really pack this light? I checked if I had forgotten anything and sure enough, I have not lost my talent for minimalist living. It all fit snugly into my good ol’ black backpack, the one with flags sewn all over and around it.

After wrapping up some tenant stuff, I was able to comfortably put that “business” behind me for the time being. I had a fudgicle marathon with my Mom, who shared with me her knowledge of tree identification as we strolled home from the store. I now know the difference between spruce and pine trees as well as what parts are good to eat.

After Dad drove me to the airport this morning, I fell right back into the traveling groove. I loved that I didn’t have to worry about checking anything. Carefree carry on is where its at. I love that security and customs (and the lines that go with them) no longer intimidate or annoy me. I love that I don’t worry or visualize all the terrible things that could happen to the plane while waiting to take off. I love that for the first time in a long time, I am smiling for no apparent reason. I am aware of the river of confident excitement running faster and deeper that it has in a very long time.

Grateful for skills.

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Man in the Mirror — RIP Michael Jackson

Last night we were pretty much glued to the TV in our cruiseship stateroom watching and rewatching over and over again the horrible shocking news of Michael Jackson’s sudden death. It permeated all the stations which were playing clips from his revolutionary career moves that crowned him the eternal King of Pop.

He was unquestionably one of the most well known men on the face of this Earth. One would be hard pressed to find a single soul who does not know his name or music. Most know his story well enough to have an opinion on his bizarre and bold life choices.

Heck, even I shook my head at good ol’ Mike when he became a shadow of his former physical self. Not only did he render himself unrecognizable with endless bouts of plastic surgery, but he appeared to alter his skin color. He began to take on an odd shade of white and his features began to look more feminine than most women I know. There was no doubt about it, this icon was very confused.

That said, I don’t know many people who would turn down a free ticket to a Michael Jackson concert. Many would, in fact, pay top dollar for the privilege of watching the legend perform his infamous MoonWalk just one more time. His sold out shows and commitment to his fans were a testament to that fact.

Oh sure, we all sit around and judge this obviously troubled spirit, but his talent was unparalleled. Now he joins the ranks of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Princess Diana…all those who left us shattered by their sudden tragic deaths. I can’t help but feel a sense of abandonment and a heavy loss.

Of course I didn’t know this guy personally but there were times I felt he knew me. So many of his lyrics spoke to the depths of my soul. He had tapped into a stream of consciousness which connected all humanity and expressed it with creative genius.

They say things happen in threes. First it was Ed McMahon, then Farrah Fawcett and just hours later, Mr. Jackson. Events such as these cause us all to begin questioning our own mortality. I guess when it comes down to it, it doesn’t really matter how he died. The fact is that he is gone. But here was a man who definitely didn’t die with his music still in him. His legacy will live on as an inspiration and a tremendous example of human potential.

Grateful for greatness.

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Landing in New York – Queens, New York

After flying all day, with one stop in Minneapolis, I landed in La Guardia airport in New York. Just married and newly transplanted Canadian friends Moniquea and Colin were waiting for me with open arms. We rode a bus and a train to their flat in Queens, catching up all the while.

As we were all a little peckish, we wandered down the street to find a bite to eat. We finally settled on a little Thai place with quirky bright colored décor. We left with full bellies and padded our way back home as the sun went down. I loved checking out the vibrant fruit stands outside the markets and the various bakeries selling their flakey treats.

The next day, I made my way into Manhattan where I would spend time exploring. Since I have been to New York many times before, I bypassed the typical tourist traps. Instead I found my way into the giant New York Public Library thinking I would be in the presence of billions of books.

Down at the bottom of the stairs I found rooms full of genealogy reference materials and a small children’s library. I climbed up to the top of the stairs and found high ceilings painted with exquisite murals. The woodwork and marble created quite an elegant atmosphere. It was no wonder that Carrie from Sex and the City chose this venue for her wedding.

I made my way further into the large halls filled with long dark wooden tables and chairs. I admired the classy chandeliers complimenting the natural light streaming through the huge windows. The only thing missing from this library was the books! There were a few stacks lining the outer walls but not nearly enough to call this a proper lending institution.

One of the security guards informed me that this was a reference library and books were ordered from other floors and picked up from the wickets. People were not to take books away from this building. Well, now it all started to make sense.

Grateful for books.

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Donut Collecting – Union Square, New York

I was able to meet my long lost friend Sarah from Sudan who worked in the Chrysler Building. We attempted to compact 7 years of our lives into an hour while sipping on frozen coffees. Obviously, we ran out of time and vowed to meet up again the next day and have a proper visit.

I hurried along into the subway and made my way to Union Square where I was to meet Moniquea. I found the “man on the horse” but realized I must have just missed her. I caught up to her and her friend at the restaurant. I wasn’t able to finish my lunch but I did somehow find room for the donut that followed.

The air was hot and sticky as we ambled down the streets popping into the Donut Pub, the Pickle Guys, Economy Candy, and the Donut Plant. We explored a market that housed all sorts of interesting delights. We sampled what may well be the most disgusting cheese I have ever tasted. It was like a whole mouthful of farm. Gross.

I decided to test some commercially made kombucha which has a distinct vinagery flavor. It is supposed to have more than a billion live organisms inside and is touted as very healthy. I guess I hoped it offset the four donuts and muffins that had stolen away into my belly.

Grateful for donuts.

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Sea Trip Trial – St. John, NB

I met Marshan on my last Transatlantic cruise, and thought she was pretty brave, independent, and charismatic. I am always looking for good travel buddies so it seemed like a good idea to plan a trip. We both have a lot of freedom so we decided on a long term cruise over the Pacific.

As 30 days is a long time in small quarters, we thought it best to take a short “test” cruise from her hometown New York. A short four day dress rehearsal would reveal our level of compatibility and then we would decide if we could stand each other for a couple months in the fall. We boarded the Carnival Triumph and headed up to New Brunswick. Both of us had been on this ship before, though for me, the memories are quite foggy. As I reacquainted myself with the boat, I fondly (but vaguely) remembered the party cruise of 2000 with Sonya.

We were in a suite which was my first time with a balcony and I must admit, it was heavenly. In fact, I loved it so much I spent most of the four days lounging around taking baths in the Jacuzzi tub. It was a real treat to lay in bed at night watching the stars from the window. I can imagine how much more use one would get of the balcony on more southern itineraries. As it happened, the weather was not top notch, so I didn’t spend as much time out there as I would have liked.

It was my first time to the Maritimes, and St. John was a blast from the past. I took Marshan to Tim Horton’s for her first TimBits and coffee explaining to her the whole Canadian fascination Timmys. After the experience, she was reformed. Sounds like she will trade Dunkin’ Donuts for her new favorite “Yum Hortons”. As we perused the Antiques and Used bookstore, I was charmed by the odd little trinkets they sold.

I waited for Marshan to have a pedicure in the beauty school and then we wandered around the market then the waterfront. All in all, my impression of Eastern Canada was quiet, laidback and somewhat slower pace than the rest of the country. Some may call it boring but I thought it was quaint.

The rest of the cruise home was pretty foggy and chilly so there wasn’t a lot to do top deck. I did enjoy an impromptu session of Tai Chi that a few passengers gathered for in the room I happened to be reading in. I also had a good time watching the hypnotist who put on a few shows, one late night revue more racy than the rest. I was shocked into a fit of embarrassed giggles when a few of those volunteers in trance did unmentionable things to their chairs.

When we confronted one of the participants after the show, it was clear the whole thing was not staged. The shade of red his face turned once he realized his antics (he was instructed with the suggestion that he would remember ALL once he looked in the mirror, which we placed him in front of), was a telltale sign that this was the real deal.

Grateful for deep relaxation.

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A bite of the Big Apple

I made my way to the gym faithfully everyday to offset the Melted Chocolate Cake that I consumed religiously every evening. It was to die for and even as I write these words, I salivate wistfully remembering the sweet rich gooey dessert. I was glad to have televisions on the treadmills so I could distract myself from the miles and miles it would take to burn off the calories.

The main topic of conversation throughout the trip was that of the passing of Michael Jackson. They played his songs over the sound systems whenever music was appropriate. In the last show of the last night, a tear came to my eye as the dancers paid tribute to the pop icon during their performance.

After we disembarked from the ship, I met up with my friend Mike who I hadn’t seen for seven years since New Zealand. We caught up over fries and a turkey burger next the water alongside the financial district where he worked.

It was the first time I saw the World Trade Center remains and looked up at the adjacent hotel where I stayed just months before 9/11. I remember peering across through the glass window of my room deliberating with my ex-fiancee if we should go up to the lookout at the top of the Twin Towers. Then suddenly came the weirdest freak rainstorm pelted Manhattan…so we never did. It’s strange to me that there is still a huge gaping hole 8 years later. I heard that they are going to rebuild and I see all the construction chaos but it doesn’t seem like anything has been started yet.

I made my way back to Harlem and said goodbye to Marshan. Then I packed my bag and met up with Sarah who kept me company on the 45 min bus ride to the airport. After a long day of traveling from planes, trains, automobiles, I was relieved when we finally touched down in Edmonton. I was delighted when a motherly lady named Jennifer sitting next to me on the plane insisted she drive me home rather than having me SkyShuttle so late at night. After enduring a barrage of kitty kisses from a overjoyed Monster, I fell into my big comfy bed and was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

Grateful for different modes of transportation.

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