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A long line, some donkeys, and a lot of steps.

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Ahhh… the villages of Santorini… built high on top of the island.  White washed buildings and blue domed churches. A romantic island jewel, you might say.

For those of you who’ve read previous posts, you know I’m not a fan of physical exertion, unless I’ve spent too much time at the MAC makeup counter conveniently located right in the terminal of the airport (thankyou Schipol airport) and am running for my gate before the agent decides to close the door. Then I run. But other than that, I’m pretty much taking the easy way of doing anything. According to the laws of physics and human biology, I should weigh 500 lbs and have the heart of a 2,000 year old mummy. (the heart comment could very well prove to be true, I’m not sure when the last time I felt it beat was, so who knows.)

Picture it… Santorini, in October. It’s an unbelievable day, sun is beating down on us in a cloudless sky. It’s a zillion degrees and my makeup is melting off my face faster than you can say Anbesol. We’ve finished our sightseeing tour, and opted to enjoy a couple happy beverages in one of the hilltop bars that overlook the incredible sights below. If it weren’t for the table’s umbrella providing some much-needed shade, I’m certain my thighs would still be stuck to the chair, after all, they were already stuck to each other.

Nice spot, me thinks.

White wine and beer, it doesn’t get better than this. (unless it’s more wine and beer)

We finished our drinks and decided to make our way down to the pier. Since my better half had never been on a cable car, he was somewhat eager to do it. It was an hour before we were due back on our ship so I knew we had plenty of time. That is, until we walked out onto the lane and discovered a lineup that extended down the hill from where we were standing and went all the way to what appeared to be the top of the hill.

Surely to god this wasn’t people waiting in line for the cable car. Was it?

It was.

Now I should point out that the village was seriously overcrowded because there were 3 cruise ships in when there was only supposed to be ours. One was diverted to Santorini because it couldn’t go to Israel as planned and the other was diverted from its scheduled arrival in Cairo. Go figure. Our tour guide told us there was an influx of over 6,000 people in a place usually reserved for 2,500.

We bypassed everyone in the line and went to the top of the hill just to see, if indeed, this was a line for something that perhaps, we didn’t want. We got to the top of the hill which opened up into a small square, dotted with shops and one heck of an angry group of people. The entire group of people would all start to shout when it looked like someone was butting in line. I scanned the group and saw a man who looked like he might be English speaking and by his outward appearances, he should have been jolly. I was wrong.

This guy was a near perfect cross between Shrek and Fat Bastard.

I asked him, “Excuse me, is this the lineup for the cable car or is everyone waiting for donkeys in order to go down the mountain?” He looked at me over his puffy cheeks and shouted, “The end of the line is down there.” I looked at him funny, “No, no, we don’t want to butt in, I just want to know if that’s what everyone here is waiting for.” He leaned in closer to me and shouted in my face, “THE END OF THE LINE IS THAT WAY.” Just then two other people looked to be butting in the line and suddenly the crowd became enraged. I looked at the fat man and said,”Do you know if the walkway down the hill is also this way?” He looked disapprovingly at me and said, “I don’t know, but even if it is, the end of the line is that way.” I wanted to punch him in the face. He sounded like a broken record and was shaped like a big fat donut. The crowd got even angrier at some other people and I looked at my better half and said, “Let’s get outta here before this gets really ugly.” I envisioned a mass riot breaking out at any minute and it was gonna start with me choking out the fat man with my shopping bag for being so rude. There was no need of that. None.

Two other english speaking couples were beside us as we started down the laneway. The man asked me if we knew if the “donkey trail” was this way. I told him that I’d hoped so because although our tour guide advised us against taking the donkeys down the hill, at this point I was willing to put a donkey on MY back if it was the only way down. Several restaurants and shops later we asked a local if this was the way to the trail and we were advised it was “just around the white building”. And that would have been helpful except they were all white. Lucky for us, you could soon follow your nose to the smell of barn animals which lead us directly to the rear end of several donkeys and the stairs down the side of the mountain on the other side of them.

Now, I should point out that while I love makeup, chocolate, gelato, and traveling, I also love high heeled shoes. Noooo, I wasn’t wearing them at this point, but I soon wished I was. Why, you ask? Because I was wearing flip flops and while they were certainly comfortable, I may as well have been wearing banana peels on my feet. The wide stairs that led down the mountain seemed to not only be constructed of extremely worn down and as a result, super shiny stones but were somewhat tilted on a downward grade. And what made this trek even more precarious was the fact that it was speckled every few metres with a fresh (or not so fresh) pile of donkey dung. All I needed was to slip on a rock and fall in donkey poop. That would have completed the trip for sure. I figured that with the tricky steps, a pair of high heels would have given me some traction at least.

Just a few steps…

Like my experience with the never-ending steps at the Eiffel Tower, these steps didn’t seem to end either. Mind you, with every step I was thankful that this was even an option to get to the bottom of the hill. Heaven forbid having to wait in that ridiculously long line up for the cable car amidst a sea of ornery people. No thanks. At least the people partaking in this mass exodus down the stairs were rather upbeat and found the experience humorous.

… and a few more…

By about the millionth step, I finally started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. (Actually, it wasn’t a light at all, but the sun reflecting off of one of the harnesses on a donkey, but hey, it felt spiritual at the time.) Alas, we’d reached the bottom. I gazed upward to the top of the hill, which made me dizzy, so I stopped. I wanted to kiss the ground, or kiss a donkey, or just kiss the side of the mountain for being so happy to have reached the pier before the ship had set sail, but I remembered all the poop I’d encountered and decided against that.

I was dripping with sweat, could feel my heart beating in my face and wondered if I was feeling the ill effects of sunstroke. Probably wasn’t sunstroke… it was what happens to people who don’t exercise and then overdo it every couple of years. Surely the temp outside was nearing 100 degrees, and I’d just completed enough exercise to last the rest of my life. My body must’ve been in shock from such a vigorous workout. (yessss, even though it was downhilllll… my body would still be in shock.) My legs felt rubbery as we made our way onto the tender to take us back to the ship.

I turned to my better half as our little tender left the dock headed for the ship. “I’m sooo glad we were able to walk down that mountain. I’d hate to be still in that lineup.” I said, enjoying the breeze off the water.

“Same here.” he replied. God he looked good… glistening from his trek down the hill… tiny beads of sweat on his neck… leg muscles all tight … wait, getting off topic here.

“I don’t want to see any more steps for a while.” I told him. And I was serious. No more steps. I was all for elevators, those moving sidewalks, escalators, or even being carried around – but no steps.

I spoke too soon…

….obviously someone in the cosmos is against me, because when we got back to the ship, the lineup for the elevators was seemingly just as long as the lineup for the darn cable cars back on the island.  Imagine my disgust at the very moment I realized we’d have to take the stairs to our cabin. That’s right, 8 whole decks of stairs.

Now that we’ve been home for two months and the weather is cold and I reflect back to that beautiful island, I’d gladly walk those steps every day just to be back there.  *sighhhhhh*  😀

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Admit it, it’s a purse.

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I like men. Actually, I love them. But in saying that, I like manly men. Rugged ones. Ones who get their hands dirty. Ones who know how to use a wrench, can do yard work, and can look dead sexy having a little dirt on their face. I don’t like when men have had manicures, get facials, or can identify any items at a cosmetic counter.

Gerard Butler… definite manly man.

As a result, the one thing that still makes me chuckle every time I’ve been to Europe is the number of men carrying purses. Yessss, they are purses. Call them what you want… carryalls, bags, satchels, whatever. They’re purses, okay? PURSES. Of the many men I’ve seen with them, not one of them looked manly even though I honestly think they were trying. And what was even funnier was the number of men giving it their best shot to act masculine even though they were toting a purse. Seeing a man with hearty tattoos, bulging muscles in a shirt that is two sizes too small gently flip through the contents of his purse looking for something nearly sends me into full belly laughs. Do any of these men necessarily care if they look manly? Probably not. But I care.  It hurts me to see a man look, well, dainty. Sorry, but it’s true.

It seemed to be a phenomenon on my recent Mediterranean cruise with my better half a few weeks ago. It was interesting to note not just how many men carried them, but how many men had more than one. I don’t mean, more than one at a time, but owned more than one. It was to the point where they were actually matching their purse to their outfit. If they were wearing yellow skinny jeans (this is a whole other story), they had a yellow purse. Fire engine red jeans, then a corresponding purse to match.

Excuse me sir, I love your purse.

I guess the plus side to dating a man who wears a purse is that you can borrow it whenever you want.

My theory is, if you are carrying something that isn’t a shopping bag, a briefcase or a backpack, then it’s a purse.

Suuuure, they might be “in style” right now, but so were parachute pants at one time (although they may be coming back which is beyond frightening), and they weren’t attractive either.  So there.

No one should be wearing these pants unless you’re in a Broadway revival of “Aladdin” and playing the Genie.

I’m just saying that man purses don’t exactly ooze masculinity. Unless you are Indiana Jones. He had to carry a man purse because a backpack would have been cumbersome and reduced the chances for his shirt to be open and would have made it nearly impossible for him to narrowly make it under those vertical sliding doors. Indy was a manly man. If you are not running through a jungle, a desert, or an ancient temple either chasing or being chased, then you don’t need a purse. Running through a crowded street in London, Paris, or Rome trying to catch a cab does not constitute needing a purse either.

I’d hold his purse anytime….

Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having one, I just find it funny looking, because no matter how you carry it, you aren’t emitting any testosterone while you are wearing it. You can’t make a purse any more manly than you can a tube of lipstick.

My boyfriend couldn’t help but shake his head at all the men wearing purses (he’s a manly man and found these “bags” feminine, as did I). He didn’t want to know what they carried in them. But as for me, I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth they even had in their purses… a wallet, and then what? A comb? Lotion? Lipbalm? Nail file? Gum? Mirror? Maps? hat was in there???

My man wouldn’t even put Chapstick on if his life depended on it. He says it’s only one shade away from being lipstick and well, then you have a whole other issue at hand. So there you go. No man purse for him, which might be too bad because sometimes I’d like a break from mine and I could have put my stuff in his purse for a while. Oh well!

:o)

9 reasons why I couldn’t be an Olympian…

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With all the hub-bub of the Olympics it got me thinking today whilst perfecting my laying-in-the-pool skills that I really couldn’t be an olympic athlete.

Here’s why:

1. I don’t like to exercise.

Yah, that’s right. I hate exercise and I don’t like sweating. That’s a problem if you spend copious amounts of time training. Ewww… no thanks. My idea of bicep curls is bringing food to my face. My idea of running is when I hastily jaunt to the toaster before my breakfast burns. And aside from all that, you can’t wear high-heeled shoes when exercising, so no, this is clearly not for me.

2. I don’t like sports.

I almost hate them. And I’m not sure I really even like people who play sports. I’d rather watch paint dry, or bugs drown in the pool, or a pooping dog than watch even a minute of sports (except hockey because that isn’t a sport, it’s a religion.)

3. Some of the olympic “sports” aren’t even “sports” – if you ask me (which you didn’t, but I’m saying it anyway.)

I’m not sure just how archery, sailing and any of the equestrian events (unless you are the horse) are even considered sports. They require skill – yes – but aren’t sports in my opinion. Archery? Isn’t that just a glorified version of shooting tin cans with a beebee gun?

And how is sailing a sport? Seems to me an olympic sport involving a sailboat would be more in the line of “sailboat tossing”, or “jumping over sailboats” maybe.

And with the equestrian events, they shouldn’t even BE olympic events unless the horse is in a saddle on the athlete’s back. Now that would be an olympic sport I would watch. It seems to me that jumping a fence with a thoroughbred on your back would take more effort than just riding one around and around an arena.  Seriously though, horses jumping fences – how in the hell is that an olympic sport? Is it because it takes skill to control a horse? Gimme a break. I’m thinking that if the horse is the only one on a calorie reduced diet prior to the event, it’s the horse who’s the athlete.

Many athletes train for years and years with grueling regimes, enduring injury and exhaustion in achieving extreme physical prowess… and then someone gets the same medals for pulling out an arrow and shooting it at a target, or steering a horse while it jumps a fence – yah, that seems fair.  I guess they should add dog show competitions to the 2016 olympics, right after “tv channel surfing” and “nose picking”. But whatever.

Seriously? If this is going to be an olympic event, shouldn’t the horse be the one on the podium when the medals are given out?

4. I’m a quitter.

While watching Good Morning America one day (yes, I watch GMA because Canadian morning news shows are lame-o and the stories are sooo boring… “Manitoba man finds litter on property”, or “It’s raining in the forest again”) I saw an interview with one of the American gymnasts who said she trains 8 hours a day. Say what? 8 hours? Every day? Pfftt… after a week of me doing something like that I’d have the attitude “yah, that should be good enough… I’m ready for the Olympics… call me when it’s time to go.”

5. I’m lazy.

The mere idea of having to train day in and day out doing the same thing over and over makes me too tired to even try. Sounds monotonous. Sounds like my job actually, except I’m not timed and required to beat my previous time. The only “marathon” event I’m interested in is a tv marathon of my favorite show.

6. I’d turn into the Incredible Hulk if I didn’t win a medal.

I know I already said I don’t want to train for  it, don’t want to exercise and hate sports… but I’m the kind of person who thinks that unless an athlete wins a gold medal, they failed. I know, I knowwwww, it’s an incredible achievement just to get to go to the Olympics, just like it’s an honor to be nominated for an Oscar, but unless there was a hunk of gold around my neck – it would be an epic fail for me. No gold medal – fail. Got a silver one – fail-you shoulda tried harder to get a gold. Bronze medal – puh-leeze – may as well have just finished last. It’s gold or bust for me. But that’s easy for me to say when I have no discipline, drive or desire for anything that requires effort.

7. I’m Canadian (well, I’m half American, but the Canadian side has won over)

Uh… hello. I think we have maybe 12 medals, maybe? I think Michael Phelps beat that in one swim. And I think even Cuba has more gold than us. Let’s face it, we are a country of olympic hopefuls, we’re just not medal-fuls. Although I’m quite certain we WOULD get a gold medal for the worst dressed at the opening ceremonies. I mean, beige pants and a red jacket with “Canada” emblazoned on it? That’s the best we could do? Did our olympic team just find out the night before that they were going to London and just grabbed whatever jackets the Roots store had on hand?

Who’s the genius that came up with this ensemble?

8. Makeup would be pointless.

I don’t even go to the mailbox without a full face of makeup on, so parading around in public and on international tv without makeup on would give me hives and make me cranky. No one wants a cranky athlete, no one.

9. I love chocolate, candy, and all things banned from a serious athletes diet.

It’s true. I do. I should be a member of CA – Chocoholics Anonymous, or heck even the group for Chocoholics who aren’t “anonymous”. So yah, I’m sure there aren’t any Olympians chowing down on a box of Mike n’ Ikes, a Mars bar, or a bag of Doritos during training (except for the archers, sailors, or horseback riders who could enter pie eating contests right before their events with no physical consequence to their “sport”). But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Doubt it, but maybe.

And that pretty much sums up some of the main reasons I wouldn’t be an Olympian.

I wish all athletes in all countries the absolute best because while I’m sarcastic in my blog about not liking the olympics, or making fun of the lack of skill in some sports, I do realize that they’ve trained for years to get there and that’s an amazing feat. However, with that in mind, I’m looking forward to the closing ceremonies, not because I’m planning to watch, but because it will mean they are over… at least for a few years.

So yah… I won’t be making any olympic team in this lifetime…. unless “tv channel surfing”, “floating in the pool”, or “ranting and raving” are debuted at the next olympics. In that case, I better get practicing.

A wedgie, some turtles, and a bad flotation device…

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Now that our house has a pool and I’ve done pretty much nothing but perfect the art of laying down on my floatie in it since my summer vacation started, it got me thinking that this would be a perfect time to hone my snorkelling skills. And believe me, they could use some honing.

Picture it, Southern Caribbean cruise…Barbados….2011.

Now, if you’ve read any of my other posts, you’re getting a sense of just how many phobias I have.  One of the biggest being water. Oceans, lakes, seas, you name it. I’m not a great swimmer, well, actually I am an excellent swimmer in the 4-foot-deep section of any pool… but I’ll almost always nearly drown in anything over my head. I can do all kinds of swirls, dips, tricks in the comfort of the shallow end, but as soon as I’m swimming along and realize I can’t stand up or touch the bottom, well, all hell breaks loose.

This entire phobia came from all the near drowning experiences I’ve had in my life…. being a skinny 10 year old at a hotel pool and having your friend’s younger, 200 lb little sister (yes, that’s right) jump on you while you are not expecting it and not getting off of you until your lungs are screaming for air, or being a 19 year old and getting caught in a bizarre undertow in Cuba only to be tossed around underwater before being vomited by the ocean onto the beach and realizing that in the whole saga that just occurred I managed to have lost my bikini in the ordeal. Yah, open water has never been a friend of mine.

Sooo… this whole idea of going snorkeling with sea turtles last year sounded like a good idea when I read it in the shore excursion booklet, that is, if we could do it in a children’s pool and the turtles didn’t come anywhere near me. That’s right, I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of swimming in water with other creatures… I don’t like fish unless they are served on a plate with a side of tartar sauce or swimming in a fish tank at the dentist office, and the mere thought of jellyfish, catfish, clownfish, swordfish, sharks, water snakes and pretty much anything else found in the ocean even approaching me would send me straight into cardiac arrest for sure. Suuuure, this whole snorkeling with turtles sounded like a stellar idea.

My kind of fish… on a plate. (courtesy of pinterest)

I’d never snorkelled before, and along with this fear of water is the refusal of getting my face wet. Snorkelling and not putting your face in the water is like fishing and not putting the line in the water – it would be pointless. Clearly, like everything else I do on a daily basis, I hadn’t thought this through.

The catamaran crew for this excursion was fantastic. The sail to the turtle spot was spectacular. The views of the coastline as we sailed along were incredible. It was when they started passing out the snorkel gear that I realized it was too late to turn back. I had to do this. Didn’t I? Good grief, I was going to have to do this. The germa-phobe in me cringed at the thought of putting this snorkel gear on. Ewwww. I was going to have to put this in my mouth? Seriously? Mental note: buy my own snorkel gear next time.

My heart was pounding just looking at this stuff. I had the sensation of impending doom. At least, by the grace of God, there was a mandatory floatation device we had to wear. The other passengers were laughing and having a great time, anticipating being the first in the water. I was wondering if I had time to fake a heart attack.

My boyfriend wasted no time in putting his gear on, in fact, he had everything on and was ready to go while I was still holding up the snorkel mask and making faces at the “icky” gear. I told my boyfriend to take full possession of the underwater camera – I knew I’d be too busy trying to stay alive to take any pictures.

One by one people starting disembarking our little catamaran and enjoying the warm water. I watched as each one got in. I was obviously the only one with her floatation device FULLY inflated. I felt like a five year old standing at the water’s edge with my water wings on and inflatable ducky around my waist.

Yep. Almost me here.

There was no way the ocean was going to take my life today. No way. I play it safe with water stuff, I tell ya.

It was my turn to descend the ladder. My heart was pounding, arms shaking, knees knocking. I could see to the bottom of the ocean (we were told the water was 20 feet deep), so that was neat, I just wasn’t liking the fact that I couldn’t touch the bottom. I also realized that once I got in the water I’d probably have to let go of the ladder and the thought of that made me queasy.

I got in the water and I should point out that the preserver thingie that I was wearing, was now wearing me. As soon as I got in the water, the life vest thingie pushed up and punched me in my chin and the strap between my legs shifted up and into the crack of my ass… chafing, cutting and burning like barbed wire. My full back bikini bottom was now transformed into a thong. I immediately located my boyfriend, which wasn’t easy considering that once everyone was swimming around all you saw were snorkels and the tops of everyone’s head. I put in the mouthpiece, adjusted my mask and put my face in the water which instantly made me panic. My breathing, in medical terms, would surely be considered hyperventilating. All I could hear were the distant conversations of others in the water, and the constant sound of my nervous breathing through the tube. Hufffff.. huf huf.. hufffffffffffffffffffff…huf… huffffffffffffffffffffff.

I kept my head out of the water for a few minutes in hopes of regaining my composure. Suddenly I was straining to keep my head above the water. I looked down and saw there was almost no air in my vest. I did some sort of frantic doggie paddle back to the boat ladder, flopped onto the first step and waved at one of the staff members. He came over and I told him I needed a new vest because this one had lost all the air. He looked at me quizzically and said, ” Try eet again sweetie and if no air stay in, you come riiight back to da boat for a new one.” For cryin’ out loud, just give me a new one. I sat on the ladder, thought about putting my face in the water which made me hyperventilate and I was able to blow up the vest in no time. I slipped back in the water, bobbed around a bit, and sure enough, the air came out again. Back to the boat I went, flopped on to the ladder again and this time padded my way up to the deck.

“I need a new vest.” I said to him.

“Oh sweet tinnnng, ” he said, “Take dat off before dee others start right laughin’, dee strap is all caught up bad on dah back end.”

I knew exactly what he meant. I was standing on a stage-like surface above the water, dripping like a near drowned rat, and had a wedgie the size of Texas because of the life vest strap between my legs. Grrrrreat.

I was equipped with a new vest in seconds and was back in the water. I knew I could do this, I just needed to relax. And I guess I had to let go of the rope holding the boat in place. I wondered then if I could just hold onto the boat itself… become like a barnacle maybe, and stick to the side of it.

I calmed my breathing, and put my face back in the water. Nice big and slow breaths. Thaaaat’s it. I’m okaaaaaayyyyyy. Huffffffffffffffffffff….. hufffffffffffffffffff… huffffffff… Got it. Yep, got it under control. Nature has a funny way of picking on the vulnerable because it was like one of the turtles knew I was uneasy and came right over to me. Our eyes met… I panicked… huffffff…huff…huff… hufff.. hufff… huf..huf..huf.. what did this thing want?  I may as well been staring into the face of a great white shark because my heart was thudding against my ribs and I was sure this turtle could feel the vibrations of it. He/she (whatever it was) paused and just stared at me, blinked its big eyes a couple of times really slowly, before swimming off.

oh. my. gawwwwd. (my boyfriend took this picture because as I said above, I was too busy trying to stay alive and couldn’t stay afloat, breathe, and take pictures all at the same time.)

Everything was under control. I was okay, and I’d be okay if all the water creatures just stayed away. I had joined some of the other people from the tour but it was too crowded and twice I’d gotten kicked from the excitement of people seeing these turtles. Or maybe it was me doing the kicking in trying to get the heck away from these turtles, I’m not sure. I’d managed to float off to an area not far from the rest of the group, spread my arms in a dead-man float and just bobbed on the surface, looking down at the wonders swimming around beneath me, hoping and praying that none of them came near.

I have to say that once I regained composure, it was incredibly peaceful. My mask was like a thick paned window revealing the underwater wonders beneath me. In some ways it felt magical as I began to see things I’d never seen before. I saw a school of sleek, silver and yellow tiny fish swim by, a bigger purple one glide by ever so beautifully, followed by a trio of orange fish that zig-zagged around in perfect formation – all of them paying no attention to me… as if I were invisible and secretly watching them. Talk about neat. This was almost surreal once I stopped panicking and enjoyed it. The motion of the water was very soothing. Suddenly, I saw something familiar to me… it was one of the tour staff … he’d come into my mask’s view of underwater things… he was swimming around underwater, no snorkel, no floatie, no flailing arms in panic. He was way down there looking at something in the sand, then he sat down on the bottom of the ocean and motioned to a turtle which came right over like it was a golden retriever coming to its owner, then the guy rubbed the turtle under its chin and then along its back, it slowly swam away and then I watched the guy stay there and pluck a star fish from the ocean floor. I watched him in silence, completely amazed. I was mesmerized… as if he were now some sort of rare fish or as if this was some sort of underwater circus just for me.  I was wide-eyed and remained completely still as if I were staring at a “mer-man” that no one else could see and no one would believe. He spotted me and brought the star fish over to show me.  That was cool. The last time I saw a starfish was in a tacky souvenir shop in Florida. It’s nicer when they are alive.  I gave him a thumbs up and he went off to show someone else before returning it to where he found it.

Within minutes I had three turtles come and swim beside me, obviously disappointed that I wasn’t the person holding the sack of bait. Maybe they were disappointed, but I sure wasn’t. I felt relaxed and enjoyed every second of their presence.

whoaaaaaa big fella…

Wowwwww…cooooool

Suddenly it was time to leave and I, the girl who didn’t want to get IN the water, was now refusing to get OUT of the water. I’d found my peace with mother nature’s finned and not-so-finned water creatures. Snorkeling with sea turtles in Barbados is amazing, even more so if you aren’t flailing around in panic and crying out to a higher power begging for the ocean not to take your life.

So on that note, I think I’ll hit the pool and get practicing my snorkelling skills… there aren’t any sea turtles in my pool, just the odd dead bee or two. I’ll tackle my fear of flying buzzing things another day.

An artist, of sorts.

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My travel bud, Erin, and I were reminiscing about some of our many adventures and one in particular got us laughing. Well, it was more so her laughing at it since it was at my expense and well, I’m still reeling from the whole experience.

Picture it… the Montmartre district of Paris where all the artists come out at night like crickets on a Mississippi river bank. One of the women in our group was looking forward to visiting this area as she’d been there before many years ago. Not having heard of this area, I asked her what it was all about. She told me it was where the famous Sacre Coeur church was and it was the area where all the local artists hung out and many sold their pieces. Big woop, I thought. At this point, if I saw another boring church I was going to scream. I didn’t want to see any more churches… seen one, seen ’em all, and I had zero interest in seeing starving artists peddling their wares. I was more interested in sipping hot chocolate somewhere in the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower, or hitting the shops on the Champs. Our group was heading to Montmartre and therefore, so was I.

Looky, looky, an artist doing a beautiful portrait of a girl. Imagine that. (courtesy of vigoenfotos.com)

We had wandered around the lovely cobblestone streets visiting the various little shops before coming across the “square” where many artists were roaming around with canvases in hand, offering to do sketches of random people. I sauntered around and watched several of the artists as they did sketches of various tourists who now dotted the area. Some weren’t bad, some were awful and some did pure magic.

I stood and watched one guy do beautiful portraits of a number of individual teenaged girls. I befriended the school group who turned out to be on a class trip from Alabama. I should point out at this moment that these kids were really outgoing and friendly, but certainly weren’t first in line when God was handing out good looks if you know what I mean. What amazed me was that the artist I’d been watching was turning out incredibly beautiful sketches of these not so great looking girls. Each one would see her finished product and just delight in the portrait. This guy was good! I stayed and spoke with several of the kids about their trip and where they’d been, and where they were going and school life back in Alabama compared to school in Eastern Canada. After the last girl was finished a number of the girls told me that I should get this guy to do my portrait. I didn’t want to. I saw that Erin had found a great table in front of one of the cafes and I was in the mood for hot chocolate, not a portrait. But then the artist started his selling technique and tried to talk me into getting my portrait done. I hesitated, but then finally gave in.

I’m stupid.

I stood still for about 10 minutes while this numskull sketched my portrait. I admit, I was actually starting to get excited and was looking forward to seeing the finished product. Several of the kids I’d spoken to were now watching the artist do my picture. They’d “ooh and ahh” as he finished one part, and they’d whisper to each other “it’s beautiful”, or “wow, he’s captured her eyes perfectly.” On and on it went. I watched him work under the stress of so many pairs of eyes watching his every move. The anticipation was killing me.

He finally announced it was finished, signed his name and ripped the sheet from his book. He turned it around for me to see.

This is what I was expecting….

I don’t look like this either, but at least he could have embellished a little!

This is similar to what I got….

This artwork itself is very good with great techniques/shadows/etc, however, no offense to the artist of this drawing, but if this were the finished product of my portrait I’d be screaming at this one too. (artist: Tom Richmond)

I nearly screamed.

It was awful.

Horrible.

My heart sank.

I was crushed.

I was hideous… like some sort of monster from a horror movie… some god-awful creature from the underworld. Okay, I’m getting carried away here, but it was a terrible drawing.

I knew it was awful when I went over to where Erin and some of the others were sitting. I rolled up the portrait like an old scroll. Erin was polishing off her creme brulee and said, “Oh, did you get one done? Let’s see it.”

I shifted my stance and decided to change the subject. “I think I’ll get a hot chocolate.”

“Let’s seeeeee it.” Erin urged.

I advised the others that it was awful and they sang out, “Ohhh commmmmme onnnn, it can’t be that bad.”

I opened the rolled up paper and showed them. They said nothing. Finally Erin, being as politically correct as she is, says “It’s… it’s really nice.”

“Its’ awful.” I said flatly.

“What’s wrong with it?” one of the women in our group said.

“If I look like this, I shouldn’t be allowed in public.” I advised. (Yes, I’m this vain.)  I was starting to get angry at the thought of the portrait. Afterall, why were all the other sketches of those other girls so beautiful? Why wasn’t mine as nice as theirs? I had no answers but I did have an awful portrait. This was terrible. What could have been a lovely moment to remember quickly turned into an event to forget. Ugh.

I was utterly disgusted and sour faced as we descended down the hill with the group…. wondering if I should take up residence as the Quasi Modo of the century at Notre Dame. (I wasn’t being serious, but hey, I was sour.)

Now, all this being said, I should mention that I shouldn’t really be criticizing anyone’s artwork because I cannot draw worth a lick. In fact, this is my own self-portrait….

’nuff said, right?

Once I got back home to Canada, I unpacked the hideous portrait and while contemplating keeping it, I just couldn’t bear the thought of seeing it again. I ripped it up… never to be seen again.

I should point out that two years after this incident, Erin and I visited Paris again, and even went to Montmartre.  Remembering the ordeal I suffered the last time, she smiled when we got to the artist area and said slyly, “Getting your portrait done again?”

I hate her.

Just kidding. We did have a good chuckle over it … although I think she was laughing slightly harder than I was.

All things Eiffel Tower…

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Anyone who knows me, has been to my house, or has spoken to me for even five minutes knows that I love Paris (the city, not the flaky, talentless hotel heiress) and I love pretty much anything with the Eiffel Tower on it…. coasters, mugs, frames, plates, art, keychains, pens, magnets, etc. I have numerous mini-Eiffel Towers around the house and if I could find a big enough one, I’d put one in my backyard. I’m not kidding. 

The Eiffel on my mantle…

France was the first place my bud, Erin, and I landed on our multi-city European trip a couple of years ago. As a result, seeing the Eiffel Tower was my first real feel of Paris and I instantly fell in love.

After landing at the airport, it seemed like an airport in any city… planes, customs, luggage. Even outside, it was like any city. The trip on the train to the outskirts where the hotel was, again, seemed like any big city. We didn’t see too much of anything that indicated we were in France.  We ditched our luggage at the hotel and our guide took us onto the subway. Even at this point, it didn’t seem like Paris, it was just another city.

Countless stops later, we emerged from the darkened subway station to the downtown of Paris. I was awestruck. So much to see and the architecture was just incredible. Our guide stopped us in front of a building and said, “Do you want to see something very beautiful?” We beamed with excitement. She led us around the corner of the building, and there, in all the early morning’s glory stood the Eiffel Tower.

Me and the Eiffel

It was truly a magical moment. I was standing in Paris, France. I was looking at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Like, holy cow. I couldn’t believe I was actually there. Now, that being said, some of you might be saying, “She got excited over a silly metal tower in the middle of the city??” And you’d be right, except it’s the freakin’ Eiffel Tower, not McDonalds… the Eiffel Tower has been a symbol of Paris to all of us earthlings for decades. When I envisioned Paris all my life, I’d pictured the Eiffel Tower immediately… nothing else. In fact, it was all I really cared to see when I got there. I didn’t give any thought about the Louvre, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Mont Martre.. pffft… I came to see the Eiffel Tower and here I was.

When talking to my sister one night before I went on the trip she said, “Oh wowww, you are going to be going to the Louvre when you are there.” I was like, “I sure am.” At this point I had no real idea what was in the Louvre, I mean I knew it was a museum and the Mona Lisa was there, but woop-dee-doo. Unless they sold makeup, I wasn’t too interested. “Oh the things you’ll get to see.” she said. My sister loves all things romantic, renaissance, victorian and historical. I like chocolate and makeup.

So anyway, back to standing looking at the Eiffel Tower I was speechless. Erin and I looked at each other and said, “NOW we know we are in Paris!!”

Suddenly it was like all the things I’d pictured about Paris had come to life. Everything was completely real and tangible. After numerous minutes of standing at Trocadero our guide told us we couldn’t come all this way and not go up the tower. We made our way to the base of the tower and were advised we could either take the elevator or the stairs. I was with my travel buddy, Erin, a.k.a “little-miss-fitness”.

“Come on, let’s take the stairs.” she said.

I looked up at this massive structure towering above us. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I said.

This thing is high!

“No.” she replied, smiling. (Erin is an amazing travel bud because she never ever gets cranky. Ever. EVER. We’ve gone on three separate Europe trips together, spanning some 30 days worth of travel and she’s never once, even for a split second been in a bad mood. She considers every moment when travelling an “experience”… whether it’s delayed flights, bad meals, bad weather, you name it, she’ll smile through it. So like I said, she’s amazing to travel with. And if you’ve ever experienced travelling with someone not-so-great , then you know how incredible it is when you get someone good.)

“You want us to walk up the stairs to the top? Are you freakin’ kidding me? Do you realize how high this thing is?” I said. There was no way I was walking up the stairs. No way.

“Yes, I know how high it is. Anyone can take the elevator, but isn’t it better to say that you took the stairs on the Eiffel Tower? You can say you actually walked up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower.”

She had a point. She won, and I hated it when she won. Before I knew it, we had started taking the stairs to the first level. I knew I wasn’t going to like this and I was right. Six or seven flights of stairs in and I was beat. My calve muscles were already strained, my back hurt, my hamstrings were burning with each step. At the top of each set of stairs you were greeted with yet another set of stairs. Erin hopped, jumped and danced up the stairs like this was a mere part in a broadway show. I really loathe her sometimes. (kidding)

As we ascended the tower, we met people on their way down. Jeez I wish I were them on the undoubtedly easier haul down the tower. They’d smile at Erin and give a thumbs up; they’d look sympathetically at me and ask if I needed first aid. I’d manage a breath and give them a forced smile, kinda like the smile you give someone when they ask you to try their cooking and you realize it’s absolutely disgusting as you take a mouthful but you can’t spit it out because they are staring at you in anticipation of rave reviews so you just smile and say “mmmm…it’s weeeally good and de-wi-cious” through the mass gunge in your mouth. Yah, well, that was my smile.

FINALLY, we reached the first level and boy was it worth it. The view was spectacular. Ahhh… I could get used to this place. Every angle was beautiful, from this side or that side. What a beautiful city!

View from tower… so pretty…

Erin circled the first floor snapping pictures from each side and finally came back around to where I was standing  gripping the side of the tower, too tired to move “Okay, time to hit the second floor now.” I looked at her like she was bonkers.

“You want to hit the 2nd floor today?” I asked. Now she looked at me like I was bonkers. “See, I was hoping we were going to camp out the night on this first level and then maybe hit the second one around mid-afternoon tomorrow.”

I was kidding of course, but thought I’d throw it out there. It didn’t work. I advised Erin that I’d just endured more exercise in the ascent to this floor than I’d had in the last 10 years and that I wasn’t even sure I was standing up because I couldn’t feel my legs except for the continuous Charlie Horse cramps that were going up and down my calves and thighs since the first flight of stairs. I don’t think Erin understands exercise related problems because well, she’s very active. She gets up at some rediculous time in the morning every day and goes jogging… even in the winter… in the dark. She doesn’t know the meaning of physical exhaustion. I had to think of a better excuse as to why I couldn’t do the ascent to the second floor. I know…. It’s against my religion to walk the stairs of foreign structures on Wednesdays in March. No that wouldn’t work. I know… I can’t walk up to the second floor of the tower because it reminds me of my beloved cat Fluffy who died while walking to the second floor of our house and it’s too painful to think about. Nah, not gonna work either. Erin may be an exercise-o-holic who doesn’t know pain, but she’s definitely sympathetic and knew I was serious about my super tired legs. She decided to go to the second floor by herself. What a trooper!

So even though the trek up the Eiffel Tower gave me sore muscles for the next three days, it was super worth it and is still my favorite thing in Paris, besides the food, the buildings, the hot chocolate and the people!

Me on the river boat cruise…. ahhhh….love this city.

Beating the rush in London…

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When taking my second trip to Paris, I decided to take the leap and hook in a couple days to jolly ole’ England and hit London. I hadn’t been there and with all the hype of the (then) Royal nuptuals taking place in only a few months, I thought it would be the perfect time to swindle a side trip to this great city.

With the itinerary already set in place for activities in Paris, it left me and Erin a short amount of time for London. After deciding our best option was to fly there we realized we’d be hitting the ground running since it worked out to be that we would have less than 48 hours in London. That’s not much time to see anything, but we were glad to take the option.

Now, not being familiar with European airlines, we booked Easy Jet, a discount airline with incredibly reasonable rates. And that’s just what we were looking for…  a cheap flight for a rediculously quick trip. This is where the motto “You get what you pay for” comes into play.

Yah, there’s a reason these people are running to the plane…

We hopped the train in Paris to the airport, checked in, and were seated in the lounge area waiting for the boarding call. The announcement comes, and immediately about 80 people started lining up. We thought they were nuts.

The people who line up for any flight as soon as the gate agent calls for pre-boarding always baffled me. Suuuure, get the in the lineup so you are the first one on the plane and you can sit down for 30 minutes while the rest of us get on. It’s not like the first ones on the plane get better food (or any food in most cases), a better seat or get to the destination any faster, right?

Erin looked at me and said, “What seat are you?”

I looked at my ticket, ” Hmmmm… oh… 35 I think. I guess each seat is numbered individually, not the row itself.”

The people in the line start moving and after the majority were gone, we joined the last of the passengers and went to the plane. Imagine the shock when we got there and realized it was sheer chaos. I wasn’t in seat number 35…. that must’ve been my ticket number. The seats on this plane had no numbers, they were on a first come, first served basis. It was a freakin’ free-for-all. People were pushing and shoving and getting angry with one another, it was like we were all kids and someone had broken a pinata full of airplane seats and everyone was scrambling trying to get one. It was nuts. No damn wonder people were lining up inside the airport. Erin and I somehow managed to find two seats together and sat down. My nerves were shot and I was frazzled. How on earth did this whole rediculous  no-assigned-seat idea come together? All my life we’ve heard how refined, how well mannered, how socially proper the English were, so what the hell was this???

We arrived to a foggy day in London, took another train and were on way to the city centre. We were smart enough to book the London Pass which gave us admittance to many London attractions for one low price – that is, for as many as we could squeeze in during our stay. We also bought tickets for the London double decker bus hop on – hop off tour. I couldn’t very well go to London and not get on the double decker bus.

I made it to London!

Travelling with Erin is like travelling with Rand McNally in human version. She maps out cities in her mind weeks, if not months, before we ever arrive. It helped that Erin had previously been to London once already and she never forgot a detail. Nope. Not one.

Imagine my delight when while strolling through Picadilly Circus I stumbled upon one of the greatest places on earth — Whittard of Chelsea. A freakin’ tea/coffee/hot chocolate store. I’d hit my hot-choco-holic shangrila. This place was too good to be true. Tins of hot chocolate in all sorts of heavenly flavours… cinnamon, rocky road, coconut, orange, and others. It was unreal. I loaded up with three cannisters, one each of Luxury Dark, Cinnamon and of course the Coconut. After all, I had no idea if the rest of our tour of the city would bring us to another one of these amazing stores. Turned out, Whittard of Chelsea is to London what Tim Horton’s is to Canada. They were just about on every street corner.

My Hot Chocolate Shangrila….

We made our way through the city on our double decker bus, wind in our hair, fog in our eyes, and we blew past famous landmarks and highlights…. Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the Parliament buildings.

We took a ride on the London Eye (that did wonders for my fear of heights anxiety), the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels, and of course Covent Garden. Erin waited all day to get to Covent Garden. While I was in heaven over my hot chocolate purchases, she was eagerly awaiting her arrival at the Thornton’s store – a popular chocolatier. No damn wonder. It was unreal. Somewhere around £45 later, we were armed with sufficient confectionaries for the night (yes, that’s right, she loves chocolate like I do…).

It was getting late and we still had to hit Harrod’s. There was no way I was going to London and not going to Harrod’s. It was just as I’d dreamed…. it was over the top in every way, but over the top in a really really good way. I loaded up on Harrod’s memoriabilia… loving every bit of it… bags, keychains, passport holders, chocolate bars, coasters, jams, mugs, etc.

We awoke in our hotel the next day and made our way back to the airport for the return flight on “cattle airlines”. It was then, as we stood in the line for boarding that we realized we could only take ONE carry-on onto the plane. One. We had three each. If we had more than one, we’d have to return to the check-in counter at the front of the aiport, pay the fee for checked baggage, then check the surplus bags, and potentially miss the entire flight. So we had a really big problem.

We’d already positioned ourselves to be near the head of the line when they opened the gates and allowed everyone out to the mad scramble to the plane, so now we just had to figure a way to combine our three bags into one each. It was no easy feat. I’d be prepared to leave behind clothes, but there was no way I was leaving behind my new London stuff. No way. I already felt a loyal committment to my purchases and if they couldn’t go, then neither could I. We could hear the gate agents as they approached people with more than one bag, advising them to return to check-in. They were getting closer to us… we were getting panicky… could we do it? Could we stuff things so much as to get down to the limit? The guy in front of us was told to go back to the check-in.

The lady looked at me and Erin. Then I too, looked at Erin. She looked “puffy”. Little wonder, she was wearing all her clothes, all at once. I wanted to laugh, but didn’t dare as we were being given the “once over” by the lady. I’d managed to stuff most of my contents into the large Harrod’s bag I’d bought the night before. It wasn’t easy to do. I was wearing everything else… my jacket pockets were stuffed with individually wrapped truffles and packets of fudge, I’d also managed to put on two sweaters, and if I had access to a couple of paperclips I would have transformed two of my big hot chocolate cannisters into a pair of earrings. I was desperate, what can I say. We passed the inspection and got ready for the “running of the bulls” to the plane. I wondered if the airport authority knew the charades that happened with this airline, I mean, people nearly being trampled to death to get a seat.. surely there must be liability issues here. And hey, I was willing to do the trampling if it was necessary… come hell or high water, we were getting seats together.

It’s surprising how quickly Erin and I moved despite being weighed down with clothes, Harrod’s items and chocolate. We managed to get two seats together…. and our third seat-mate appeared to be a young British businessman who sucked back quite a few drinks during the short flight. Hey, can’t blame him, if it was his first time on this airline his nerves were likely shot like mine were.

Regardless of the whole airline escapade, the trip to London was spectacular. Can’t wait to go back… and maybe have more than 48 hours the next time.

Okay fellow readers… my enquiring mind wants to know….What’s YOUR favorite thing about London?

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