Category Archives: Travel

You Know It Was a Good Vacation When…

Isn’t it wonderful when you have enjoyed your vacation time to its fullest and completely immersed yourself in activities that were so far removed from your day-to-day routine… to the point of forgetting the details of your day-to-day routine?

That being the case, you know it was a good vacation when…

Ice Bar, Stockholm, 2005

You have a hard time falling asleep on cue, to wake up in time for the return to your regular morning routine.

You wake up with muscle or joint stiffness but no recollection of what could have caused it.

The prospect of wearing long pants again makes you cringe.

The prospect of preparing a lunch-to-go makes you cringe even more.

You overshoot your morning routine prep time by half an hour.

Even your pets are seemingly sad to see you go back to the regular routine.

You’re not freaked out by the guy who cuts you off in traffic on your first morning commute. Continue reading

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How I Became a Fan of the Eurovision Song Contest

The first time I heard about the Eurovision Song Contest was in the late 1970’s when I read an article about my favourite musical group, ABBA. The article credited ABBA’s meteoric rise to international stardom to the Eurovision Song Contest and their 1974 win with the song “Waterloo”.

For this young Canadian, even though I had no idea what Eurovision was, it sounded like a big event! I knew just enough about world geography to know that if a music competition involved a whole continent, it must have been something special.

In the years that followed, and the many hours spent listening to MuchMusic, Eurovision came up a few times, whether in the “Rock News” reports or when the VJ’s (“Video Jockeys”) were presenting a video and providing some background into the song and the artist. I remained intrigued.

In 2002, I was finding myself a little bored with mainstream radio here in North America and found myself searching for other musical options. At the same time, I had changed cable packages and was introduced to “BPM TV”, a new music video channel focused on dance tunes from around the globe.

Over the course of BPM’s programming, I was introduced to the Swedish pop band Alcazar. With their very catchy pop-dance tunes, bright upbeat tempo, and amazing sense of style, glamour and showmanship, they quickly became my favourite band! They still are today!

In the process of getting to know Alcazar better through online research, the theme of Eurovision popped up again. Alcazar competed in 2003 with a song called “Not a Sinner nor a Saint”, in a competition called Melodifestivalen, Sweden’s national competition to pick a song to represent the country at Eurovision. This was where the journey began! Continue reading

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How I Became a New Fan of Wine

wine-bottlesWhen it comes to wine, you could say I was a late bloomer… a very late bloomer. But better late than never, I guess.

My first few tries of wine involved painfully dry white wines that seemingly stung my taste buds. I don’t know whether it was my taste buds that weren’t used to wine yet and I couldn’t appreciate it, but because I did not have any other points of reference, I thought all wines were like that. As a result, I generally stayed away and explored other libations.

It was around age 35 that I had my first sip of a wine that made my eyes light up and brought a smile to my face. It was an epiphany in a stemmed glass!

I wish I could remember the name of the wine to thank the winery, but it turned out to be something a little more middle-of-the-road in terms of sweet-dry balance. It was a nice, light, fruity wine with floral and citrus notes that delicately danced across the taste buds, like a gentle cooling breeze on a warm summer day. It was a pivotal moment that put me back on the path of exploring the wonderful world of wines.

In those first months, I had no idea what I was looking for. Initially, I picked up wines from brands I had heard of through word of mouth. It did not take long for me to alter that strategy upon realizing that I must have been the oddball among a collective of dry wine aficionados.

Then I started reading recommendations from reviewers and picking a few that appealed by their descriptions, suggesting notes of “black cherry” and “chocolate”. If I liked these flavours on their own, why not in my wine? They were quite good, but along the way I discovered that robust red wines made me very sleepy. As Archie Bunker once said in “All in the Family”, they were like “a blanket in a bottle”. It’s hard to become a wine connoisseur when you’re yawning at 30 second intervals and stealing the toothpicks from the cheese cubes to prop your eyelids up. Continue reading

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The Rewards of Vending Machines

vending-machinesOn a recent visit to the mall, I noticed a little girl was carefully perusing the contents of the row of gum ball and toy vending machines, with the same intensity I demonstrated when I was shopping for new appliances. She was contorting herself around the machines, checking out all of the contents and trying to predict which items were to come out next.

I understood that this was a major purchase and she was looking for the best value for her hard earned allowance money. That was me 40+ years ago!

After much scrutiny and analysis, she pointed to a machine, put in her coin, turned the crank, opened the plastic bubble and voilà! Pure joy and a huge smile! I could only assume that she got what she was looking for as she was visibly delighted with her prize.

I was reminded of my own childhood and my borderline addiction to those machines. I remember my sock drawer was proudly filled with little gum-ball-machine toys I had collected from trips to the grocery store or the department store.

I don’t think my experience was all that unusual though. With those machines at eye level for a kid, it was so easy to beg parents and relatives for coins, to get something I “positively need, and promise I won’t ask for anything again”… until the next visit.

But what is it about those machines that ignites our curiosity? If common sense prevails, one would think that being able to hold, feel and inspect a product up close to make an informed decision would the more balanced way to go. However the separation of human and product by a plastic window seems to appeal to our sense of adventure.

Or is it because we have become the product of our own life-long Pavlovian experiment since a very young age: put in a coin, get a treat? Continue reading

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The Burger Race

hamburger-and-french-friesAs a sequel to my post “Ten Years Gluten Free“, as much as it took solid organization skills and a spirit of adventure to continuously try new recipes, I think I adapted pretty well with my gluten intolerance. Through batch cooking and chasing after sales on roast chickens, I have been able to keep my freezer well-stocked with home-made meals that I can enjoy at home and at the office.

Also, over that decade, restaurants have come a long way too, several of which are getting better and better at tasty gluten-free offerings and in ensuring safety in the careful preparation of meals.

I am surprised that with the prevalence of the gluten-free diet, even among people who are not intolerant, fast food outlets have not been in a race to see who can offer gluten-free bread or buns to welcome a new segment of the audience.

For me, fast food restaurants have been regarded as an occasional treat for a fast meal on the run. In the cases where I had an insatiable burger fix but was short on time, I have been known to buy burger and fries at a fast food outlet, come home, throw out the bun, toast a couple of slices of gluten free bread, and meticulously reassemble the ingredients with the same attention to detail as an IKEA furniture assembly project. Continue reading

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Would I Come Back As a Contractor?

Revolving DoorAs the countdown to retirement marches on, surprisingly, the question of whether I would consider coming back as a contract employee comes up at least once per month. The question always makes me smile.

Given that retirement for me is still a few years away, I find the best answer to the contracting question is something along the lines of “Thanks for the vote of confidence! We’ll see when the time comes.”

First and foremost, I take it as an amazing compliment. I know I worked very hard to build a solid career based on quality work, strong ethics, working well with colleagues and maintaining a positive attitude. To me, the contractor question is one that fills me with validation and gratitude.

Over the years I have seen many of my colleagues retire and then come back a few years later for short contracts, sharing their vast corporate knowledge and expertise. It is always a pleasant surprise to see their smiling faces and renewed energy at meetings. Parenthetically, I wish they would stop looking so darn refreshed after a few years away from the office. It makes me very envious!

However, I think it is very natural to dream and fantasize about a time when I can truly reap the rewards of a retirement that I worked a lifetime to build. I look forward to the sense of complete freedom where going to bed promptly, getting up with the alarm, dealing with traffic, and commuting in heavy snow or freezing rain become optional. I look forward to having choices I can make, purely in the moment.

To me, my first priority when I decide it is time to retire is to do just that: enjoy the fruits of my labour: Continue reading

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A Relaxing Getaway to Niagara-on-the-Lake

Oban Inn GardenWith the Canadian dollar in its weakened state against the American greenback, Canadians might be looking for travel options closer to home. In that same fluctuation, Canadian destinations become more affordable and more attractive to our American friends. A unique travel option for both to consider is Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Located in Southern Ontario, along the shores of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, Niagara-on-the-Lake was the original Capital of Upper Canada from 1792 to 1797 and the location of several battles in the War of 1812.

As Niagara-on-the-Lake had been on our bucket list for some time, John and I decided to check it out in August of last year, in time for the famous Shaw Festival. Regular readers of my blog know that we have a voracious appetite for theatre and we were absolutely delighted with Shaw, a theatre company that draws its inspiration from the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries.

Upon arrival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, we checked in at our new home-away-from-home, the Oban Inn. The staff at the front desk ran the operation like a finely oiled machine, always greeting guests as they were arriving or leaving, generously offering tourist information on the fly, while still maintaining the calm and serenity of the Oban Spa vibe. Our room was spotlessly clean, very comfortable and very quiet.

After our long drive from Ottawa, we were starved. Our first stop was the Oban Inn’s beautiful dining room for dinner. I had already called ahead to ensure that they were well equipped to handle a gluten sensitivity, and the serving staff was indeed well-prepared.

Our first Shaw festival theatre experience was a winner, right out of the gate, with the legendary musical, Sweet Charity at the Festival Theatre. We were charmed by Julie Martell’s sweet portrayal of Charity, and were mesmerized by the gorgeous costumes, sets, lights, songs and dance. The entire company was impressive in that performance and kept us wanting more.

Oban Breakfast

Our breakfast tray at the Oban Inn dining room

Our Tuesday evening concluded with a special treat at Il Gelato Di Carlotta. Their wide array of tasty gelato won us over immediately. Even though we could get a few different scoops in one cup, there were just too many flavours to try in one visit. We concluded we must return… and we did! (Note: gluten-free cones are available)

Wednesday morning we returned to the Oban Inn’s dining room to start our day with a simple yet elegant breakfast. The big picture window overlooking the garden offers a beautiful view and a lovely opportunity to slowly open one eye at a time as the caffeine kicks in and the brain cells engage, gently easing into the day rather than the hustle and bustle of the daily grind back home. We were starting to feel the vacation vibe setting in.

We decided to take a stroll down Queen Street and check out the shops. We were very impressed by Continue reading

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