November 15, 2015

I Say I Want a Revolution

wave I want to start a revolution. A non judgement revolution where people are free to define and live their own happiness.

North America is an extremely judgemental place to live. Who wore it better? Who has the best house? Who gained weight? Who looks younger? Who has the best job/partner/life? As a society we are consistently judging other people on how they live their lives. I am asking for your help, we have to make this stop.

Many of Hollywood’s top actresses have chosen not to have children and they fight a continuous battle of defending their choice. Oprah, Ellen, Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Kim Cattrall to name just a few. These are talented, driven women who have remained successful in an increasingly competitive and fickle industry. They have won awards, travelled the world, created empires, volunteered and donated millions of dollars yet continue to be asked if they feel incomplete for not having children. Why must they have children to be considered whole? It’s because it’s part of the recipe.

The recipethe North American ideal for success:

-go to post secondary

-get a ‘good’ job

-get married

-buy a house

-have children

-work hard

-retire

There you have it folks. Follow these simple steps and you too are guaranteed a life of happiness. While I do believe that this can be happiness for some, it is impossible to believe it is for EVERYONE. That is like saying there is only one recipe for dessert – vanilla cake. If you want dessert you must follow this recipe. That’s boring. People’s passions, dreams and interests are far to varied to be expected to fit into a one size fits all mold of happiness. Many are realizing this and are making their own adjustments to the recipe. The problem is when they deviate from the original they are judged by society.

A women in her mid thirties who did not go to post secondary, works as a server. She has been in the service industry for 15 years and is incredibly good at what she does. She has bought her own car, her own house and has an impressive financial portfolio. Despite all this people ask her when she is going to get a ‘real job.’ She loves her job, why is it not considered real?

Another women has her masters degree and a very successful career. She is exceedingly motivated and holds a position of someone at least ten years her senior. She owns her own house, her own luxury vehicle, and her own membership to a country club. She likes to travel for 2-20 weeks at a time. She is asked when she will ‘grow up’ and settle down and stop with the travelling. Why must she stop when it’s her greatest passion?

Another example, a twenty something, very successful young man works an incredibly challenging and thankless job with children and youth. He works hard and has forged ahead in his career with a rare combination of heart and determination. His job requires a level of giving that not many possess. He is scrutinized when he says he does not want to have children. He is called selfish and childish and told that he will change his mind someday. How is that fair?

A mother of two incredible girls, volunteers at her church, is extremely involved in her community and her children’s school as well as taking care of her house and large property. She is looked down upon when she answers stay at home home Mom to the question ‘what do you do?’ From six in the morning until ten at night she is working, investing everything she has into the future of her family. Sadly she is made to feel inferior to women with careers.

I am sure you have judged and have been judged. Neither one makes you feel good.

I am guilty of judgement. I used to question why anyone would get tired down to a 25 year mortgage, a life of debt for for some brinks and mortar? Why are they ruining their lives getting married so young? Why do you work so much? Why don’t you travel more? Judge. Judge. Judge. Judge. I finally realized that people do not want to live my life any more then I want to live theirs.

One way is not better than the other. That’s the thing about life, as long as you are happy living it, it’s the right choice. We have to respect and appreciate the diversity of life without judgement. Everyone has their own path to forge and while you do not have understand or even like another’s path you do not have the right to condemn it for not being like the one you choose.

We need to stop trying to compartmentalize life. No one should ever have to hear “Why don’t you….

get married

have kids

get a ‘real’ job,

travel more/less?”

Happiness is subjective and is unique as our fingerprint. Embrace the diversity.

Will you join me on the revolution or are you going to eat vanilla cake forever?

“WHEN YOU JUDGE ANOTHER, YOU DO NOT DEFINE THEM, YOU DEFINE YOURSELF.” ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

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February 9, 2016

Magical Milan

ShoesAll I knew about Milan was that it is the fashion capital of the world. I would be arriving with a well worn backpack hanging off my sweaty body and a travellers budget. Not exactly the cities target market. I was sure my fellow backpacker Rosie and I would not be welcome and I just wanted to get out as soon as possible.

We arrived in the city by train and walked to our hostel, Ostello Bello, with our giant packs on, in our running shoes, hoodies and leggings. As we walked I was sure that the people of Milan were plotting how to throw us out of their fashion forward city. I soon found that it was not like that at all. Ostello Bello felt like home. The people were not all dressed in Armani or Fendi and were very welcoming and helpful. And no one tried to kick us out for our running shoes.

On our first evening as we were walking through the streets of Milan on an unusually warm October night, it felt like we were in an old Italian movie. There were not many people out and the streets were lined with old iron street lamps that seemed to personally light our way. The small narrow street opened up to Duomo di Milano, Milan Cathedral, which is beautifully lit up at night. Many things have been described as breathtaking but I actually had to stop and take a breath. I physically could not move.

Duomo di Milano is the fourth largest cathedral in the world. I felt so small as I stood in front of the massive, white, illuminated church. The pure white of the church against the deep black of the sky accented by the brilliant glow of the full moon behind it. The same moon that had shone over the church for the six centuries it took to complete. How many people had worked on this masterpiece? How many people from all over the world had stood in this very spot, with the same amazement at the impressive beauty? Milan was starting to change in my mind, from being a place of fashion, to a

Duomo, Milan Italy

Duomo, Milan Italy

place of timeless beauty.

The next morning, we awoke with a mission to see Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper. Seeing The Last Supper is different from any other famous art work I have ever seen. For this, you have to book a time slot and only 25 people are allowed in to the room to view at a time. You are allowed to stay for 15 minutes before you are ushered out. I think this is brilliant. This way everyone has a real chance to see the piece, instead of pushing, shoving, not getting any closer than thirty feet and never getting to truly appreciate the work.

Every guide book we read and person we spoke to had told us to book our tickets in advance, but we didn’t. Our plan was to wake up early and get there just after it opened to see if there had been any cancellations for the day.

Both Rosie and I were slow getting up. The experience of carrying our lives on our backs, walking for eight hours a day, and enjoying the night life of the places we stayed was starting to take its toll. What if we got out of our comfortable, warm beds, walked all the way there and couldn’t get tickets? But what if we could? Common sense broke through the fog of sleep and we were off. As soon as we walked into the ticket office we were met by a huge sign declaring NO SAME DAY TICKETS, NO CANCELLATIONS TODAY. I was instantly deflated. I was really looking forward to this. I turned slowly on my heels and began to walk out of the office like a dog with my tail between my legs.

Rosie was not ready to give up as easy and marched over to the counter to ask if, by any chance there were some tickets left. She sountered back to me five minutes later with a huge smile and two tickets for 2:15pm.

Since we had time to kill we decided to go into Duomo di Milano and look around, what an experience. Inside, we rented audio guides to help us understand everything we were seeing. (FYI I ALWAYS recommend getting the audio guide when visiting a tourist attraction. It is much cheaper than a tour guide, you can experience the site at your own pace and it really helps put what you are experiencing into context.)

Saint Bar

Saint Bartholomew

There were two things that stood out the most to me. The first was the haunting statue of St. Bartholomew by Marco D’Agrate, arguably the most renowned work of art in the cathedral. St. Bartholomew is said to have been flayed alive and crucified for spreading Christianity. The statue of St. Bartholomew drapped in his own skin is so hauntingly life like, you can feel the pain in his eyes. Whether you are Christian or not, standing in front of this art work gives you goose bumps.

The second amazing moment in Duomo di Milano was when I was sitting alone in the pews looking up at a giant illuminated cross. It looked so out of place, like it belonged in Vegas rather than an ancient Italian cathedral. In that box with the small red light bulb was a nail from the crucifixion. Christians believe that Jesus, who was the Son of God was nailed to a cross through his hands and his feet. This Holy Nail is retrieved and exposed to the public every year in a celebration known as Rite of the Nivola. I was amazed for umpteenth time since my arrival in Milan.

Rosie and I then decided to walk the 919 steps to the roof of the cathedral. Ascending from the narrow spiral staircase onto the roof of Duomo di Milano is what I imagine walking into Heaven must be like. Pure white, everywhere. The roof is made of white marble and there are incredibly detailed statues and carvings everywhere you look. The sun glistens off the marble and you can almost hear the choir of angles singing. It is impossible to take it all in.

The fact that this was built so many years ago when everything had to be done by hand, left me speechless. Back when they didn’t have the machines we have today. It made me wonder why, with all of the technology now do we continue to build boring rectangular buildings with no beauty or character? Perhaps it’s because we’ve lost ourselves and have become ignorant to the beauty this world has to offer. Most of us are terrified to step out of the box society has created for us; terrified to do things differently from the rest. We worry about not fitting in or about what others may think of us; when really, do these things matter?

I was expecting to come to Milan and be met with snobbery, fashion obsession, and indifference. Instead, what I found was amazing art, epic architecture, a deep religious centre and a magical beauty unlike any I had ever seen. That’s thing about life, you should never judge a book by its cover or a city by its fashion.

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HCMCITYThe fear was almost paralysing. I really don’t think I can do this. I am just not brave enough to cross the street in Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho Chi Minh City, (formally Saigon) Vietnam is quickly becoming one of the more popular tourist destinations and it’s not hard to see why. A bustling mega city in the middle of Southeast Asia, it is not the picture of Vietnam I had in my mind. Far from the war torn scary jungles where the locals have a deep embedded hatred for all foreigners. The Vietnamese people are some of the kindest I have ever met. They welcome tourists with open arms and big grins and will go out of their way to make you feel special. In fact, the only thing scary about Ho Chi Minh City is trying to cross the street.

I was in Vietnam visiting a friend of mine who was teaching English and she had generously offered to take me on a walking tour. As we turned the corner from the side street of her apartment onto a main street I stood in frozen amazement. Never in my life had I seen so many motorbikes. Hundreds upon hundreds of them were zipping and darting in every imaginable direction with no noticeable rules. It was the picture of absolute pandemonium.

There are over 9 million people living in the city and 4 million of them have motorbikes. The city has a car tax so people will fit everything and anything on the back of their bikes. Family of five, small fridge, 50 roasted ducks, big fridge, children in a car seat, 25 packing boxes. Just when I thought that I had seen everything that could ever possibly go on a motorbike one drove by with 3 kids, 12 watermelons and a dead pig (I’m not making this up).

The only law regarding motorbikes that I saw was that they must wear a helmet. Other than that they seemed free to ride where and how they pleased. I actually held my breath watching them squeeze and manoeuvre through and around obstacles that would halt the most experienced stunt driver.

The blended cocktail of fuel, exhaust and heat engulfed and almost over loaded my senses, causing me to feel a touch light headed. Many of the motorbike riders wore surgical masks in an attempt to block this harsh odour.

Constant buzzing from the bikes sounded like thousands of angry bees on steroids. The near permanent sound of honking added to the melody of madness. The streets were a steadfast sea of motorbikes and I had to try to cross them.

I was staring wide eyed at the kaleidoscope of chaos when my friend informed me on the way you cross the street in Ho Chi Minh City.

You just go. But you must remember to walk slowly. The ‘penguin shuffle’ as she calls it, so the motorbikes can gage where you will be and swerve around you. If you walk too fast they will not be able to tell where you will end up and then they will hit you or another bike.

Going against every instinct in my body I stepped off the curb staring at the waves upon waves of speeding motorbikes heading straight for me. At this point my natural survival instinct kicked in and my body told me to run, just get to the other side as quickly as possible. But I knew I couldn’t do that. Instead I took a deep breath and began my penguin shuffle slowly across the street. I could feel the arm hair of the motorbike drivers as they weaved around me like desert snakes. My boisterous heart beat adding the base to the mad melody.

My mind repeated only one thought; I am going to die, I am going to die.

That’s the thing about life, it presents you with challenges that at first glance seem impossibly terrifing. You just have to take a breath, hurl yourself into the fear and do your best impression of being brave.

As I stepped onto the curb, I feel like a solider returning from enemy terrain back to the safety of home soil. I quietly thank God for getting me to the other side of the street and turned to make sure that against all odds my friend has also managed to make it unharmed. She informed me that it gets easier each time you do it and soon I wouldn’t even notice.

Won’t notice putting my life on the line each and every time I need to cross the street? Won’t notice hundreds of screaming motorbikes blazing right at me? I cannot believe that people do this every day. I knew the Vietnamese were a brave people given the amount of war they had to endure in their countries history, but I had no idea how brave.

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HCMCITY
Exiting the elevator, can you hear the beat?

Exiting the elevator, can you hear the beat?

The three of us were exhausted after driving through Central Mexico for the past 10 hours. Most of the roads are only two lanes and extremely windy, so the journey was taking mush longer then anticipated. We were on route driving donations from Ottawa, Canada to Nicaragua, Central America. Our bodies ached for a place to lie down for the night. We had to drive in land to Mexico City from our coastal route when a group of locals told us not to drive through Acapulco. Scott, Neil and I all agreed to stay in the first safe looking hotel we could find. Luck was on our side as there was a nice, clean and safe hotel directly off the highway.

The concierge met us in the parking garage and helped us with our bags. He smiled a huge smile when he saw me and I thought he was the friendliest concierge I had encountered. The rates were extremely reasonable and there was a bar off the lobby. We totally scored! We paid for the night as the concierge collected our bags into the elevator to show us to our room. I was already so relaxed by the fact that we had found such a nice place so easily that I was half asleep by the time the elevator doors opened. As I followed the concierge out, I wasn’t completely sure if I was dreaming or not. The hallway was very dim with the room doors being lit by florescent green, blue or orange lights. A 70’s disco house beat pulsed through the air and I found I began to walk to the beat. The concierge looked back and smiled at me again. He must like this song, I thought naively. I knew the Latin culture was vibrant in their colours and music and wondered why I hadn’t read how they brought this into their hotel design. The concierge unlocked out door and lead us in as he placed our bags down.

At first glance the room looked incredible. Hard wood floors, a large plasma T. V., two huge king size beds, but as I took a few steps deeper into the room I realized why my two friends were frozen in place. In the far left hand side of the room was a floor to ceiling silver pole with three large, brightly coloured leather dice on it. Each side of each of the dice depicting a different sexual act; life size sex dice. In the opposite corner was a long bright blue leather chair with a sign mounted to the wall behind it showing the 12 different positions a couple could preform on the chair. As I slowly kept spinning to survey the room, I saw the large marble shower, complete with bench. I could see the shower from the middle of the room, because the one whole side was a window facing into it like movie screen.

Scott and Neil waving from the shower.

Scott and Neil waving from the shower.

“Everything okay?” the concierge asked, clearly seeing the colour drain from my face. I was standing in the middle of a sex hotel!!! I didn’t even know these existed. My friend Scott looked at me.

“It’s your call Tara. If you don’t feel comfortable we don’t have to stay, but it’s 10:30 at night and we will have to drive around Mexico City looking for a new hotel.”

I took a deep breath and looked around the room again. At least it was clean and safe. I couldn’t speak so I just nodded. The concierge smiled at me for the last time and left. I could not believe where I was. Well, at the least they had room service, that may help take my mind off of the situation. I picked up the multicoloured menu and almost passed out. It was not for food, but every kind of

The ultimate 'room service' menu

The ultimate ‘room service’ menu

sex toy and accessory imaginable.

“I need a drink.” My first words since entering the room.

Scott then pointed out that we were going to have to take turns showering since the one side of the shower was a window. Two people could go to the bar while one showed and than we could switch. After we were all washed the three of us sat in the bar together enjoying our much needed beers. I was quiet as my brain was still trying to process where I would be spending the night.

“Oh my God!” I broke my silence and sat straight up.

“What’s wrong?” both of my friends asked with genuine concern.

“I ‘m staying in a sex hotel with two men!!!! That’s why the concierge kept smiling at me! What must he think of me?”

Both friends stated laughing.

“I think your okay Tara, I feel this is a judgement free kinda place.” Scott said taking a sip of his beer.

I had been searching my whole life for a place free of judgement and I finally found it in a sex hotel in Mexico City. That’s the thing about life you never know where it’s going to take you or what you’ll discover once you get there.

 

N.B. These hotels are usually called Auto Hotels as there is a place to hide your car so no one knows you are there. 

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Exiting the elevator, can you hear the beat?
January 25, 2016

Priceless

The School

The School

The young girls could hardly contain their excitement. They were standing side by side giggling and smiling, their two bodies vibrating with anticipation like wind up toys.

“You can give it to her” their teacher said to them in Spanish.

The two fourteen year old girls almost ran the six feet across the room to where I was sitting. They stood in front of me, brown eyes dancing, smiles beaming, hands held behind their backs. They looked at each other then back to me and said in English,

“ I love you Tara” as the presented me with the best gift I have ever received, a sling shot.

It was a cold, gray February morning when my friend Scott called me.

“I am hosting another fundraiser” he told me.

“For the school in Aserradores. They have nothing, no backpacks, not even paper to write on.”

Scott had become captivated with the town of Aserradores in Nicaragua ever since he had stumbled upon it on a surfing trip. The town was extremely poor yet was home to the most generous, happy and welcoming people Scott had ever encountered. The place had possession of his heart. He had been back many times in the two years since he had discovered the beauty of the people. Each time he held a fundraiser in order to help the village in some way. The goal this time was 250 backpacks filled with supplies and six laptops for the school in the village. Scott was calling me because he knew two of my biggest weaknesses; my overwhelming desire to want to save the world, and my inability to say no when asked to travel. So with that one phone call I was planning a fundraiser of my own, and a road trip with Scott and his truck to Nicaragua.

The road trip to deliver the donations from Ottawa to Aserradores, was hardly a smooth ride. Countless mind numbing hours spent at boarder crossings, convincing officials that we were not intending to sell the donations. Hundreds of dollars in ‘boarder fees’, a million hours spent in the truck (it felt like a million). One pit stop to rescue an ambulance, thousands of prayers I would see my family again while passing numerous men with machine guns, and the longest night of my life as the only female in holding at the Nicaraguan boarder while the guard catalogued ever single item in the truck. After all of the unexpected twists and turns, literally and figuratively we arrived safe and sound in Aserradores.

The village was extremely poor, dirt roads with pot holes that could swallow you whole. Tiny houses, with dirt floors and no walls made it so that it was not uncommon to have the local chickens and pigs crossing your kitchen at any given moment. There were no bedrooms, but hammocks for sleeping draped in each corner of the house. It was the poorest place I had ever been and I had never been so happy to be anywhere in all my life. Scott was right, the people of the village were the most welcoming open hearted people and showered me with a sense of comfort and a feeling of home.

While we were in Assaradores one of the teachers asked us if we would like to come to the high school to teach English. I was hesitant. I didn’t know much Spanish and felt I wouldn’t be able to relate to the students.

“Please, it would mean so much to them” the teacher pleaded.

After the journey I had just experienced to help children how could I say no now? So the next morning we hoped back into the truck and drove to the school. High school is a real privilege in this part of the world. Most children are sent to work after grade six. The ones who are able to continue must find a way to get to the school, with many of them walking two hours one way to get there. Upon hearing this I was over come with incredible waves of guilt for all of the times I had skipped class as a teenager.

The students I was blessed to meet

The students I was blessed to meet

I was paired up with two girls who were fourteen, they both had beautiful long dark hair and deep sparkling brown eyes. They helped me with my Spanish as much as I helped them with their English. Both the students and I soon realized the great importance of eye contact and hand gestures in communication. Over the next two weeks that I was in Aserradores. I went to the school every other day. There was a great deal of laughing, a large amount of learning (both the kids and myself) and a huge amount of love shared. I admired these students so much. They had to come through such adversity just to have the opportunity to learn. One of them wanted to be a bilingual veterinarian and one wanted to learn English and business in order to provide for her family. On my last day they presented me with a sling shot that they had made, a popular toy in the area. They were so proud to be able to give me a gift. Although the sling shot cost almost nothing to make, the gift was priceless to me. That’s the thing about life, it seems to be those who have the least that are will to give the most.

When I was back at home I had a serious case of reverse culture shock. I felt out of place in my own life. Like something wasn’t right, like I just didn’t fit it anymore. As I was walking my dog through my suburban neighbourhood I began to cry. Passing home after home with two and three cars, a plasma TV glowing from every room, thousands of dollars in landscaping draped across each lawn. I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing for the pure unfairness of it. I appreciate the fact that the people of my community worked hard for the things they had, but the playing field from which they started was hardly even with where I had just been. Why do so many have so little? Why did those with so little appear so much happier then the people I encountered everyday? Major life questions that I may never find the answers to, but while I search, I have my sling shot. I make sure it is where I can see it every day to remind myself how fortunate I am to have been born where I was. And to never, never stop giving to those who are not as fortunate, they certainly have never stopped giving to me.

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The School

TW’s Top Ten Things To Do In IRELAND!

Pair of green beer glasses making a toast. St. Patrick's Day beer splash

1. Try to go see a soccer (football) game ~ the fans are UNREAL. If not go golfing best scenery EVER.

2. Wander around and get lost, the Irish people are SO friendly they will help you find your way, but not before a good chat, they LOVE to talk.

3. Try to keep up drinking with an Irishman/women no matter how hardcore a drinker you think you are, you cannot out drink the Irish.

4. Drive, take a bus tour or rent a motorcycle to see the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry. Breathtakingly beautiful scenery. 

5. Go to the Jamison Distillery in Dublin, I am not a huge whiskey fan but still learned a lot and they have a really cool gift shop.

6. Listen to real Irish music in a pub, it is awesome and magical and you have the best time ever, as it puts everyone in a great mood. Temple Bar area in Dublin is a great place to do this. 

7. Drink Guinness ~ it actually tastes good there. The Guinness Factory is obviously a must due. Enjoying a pint at the top while over looking Dublin is just awesome. 

8. Talk to as many Irish people as possible, they love to talk and have great stories, just don’t be in a hurry .

9. Kiss the Blarney stone, it is touristy but fun and totally worth it.

10. My absolute favourite thing to do in Ireland is grab a coffee and let time slip away while breathing in the epic natural awesomeness of the Cliffs of Moher. It is as if time stands still here. 

and one for good luck (the Irish area all about luck you know) Enjoy the craic!!!! It is Irish for fun and good times. You are going to have a blast!!!

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January 20, 2016

World’s Best Place to Stay

Ostello BelloI have travelled to almost thirty countries, on four continents and stayed in everything from a hut in the jungle of Thailand to a five star hotel in L.A. So when I claim the Ostello Bello is one of the very best places I have EVER stayed, I mean it from the bottom of my suitcase.

The Ostello Bello is a hostel located in the magical city of Milan, Italy. It’s within walking distance of Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral), the hip and artsy Navigli area, Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper, La Scala Opera House, and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Situated on a quiet side street, it’s just steps away from via Torino, a boulevard lined with a diverse selection of shops. Having a great location is key when it comes to accommodation, but it is not the only thing and certainly not the best thing about Ostello Bello.

After having one too many sangrias in Barcelona then having to get up before the sun (something I find very unnatural) and enduring a tortuously long journey, my friend and I found ourselves lost in Milan. Neither one of us had an ounce of map reading skills which caused us to be walking around Milan, with what seemed like 400 pound backpacks not finding the street we needed. Our tired, hung-over brains could not handle the task of speaking, so we remained silent. By the time we got to the front doors of Ostello Bello we were tired, hungry, thirsty and cranky.

As I opened the door and walked into the lobby I couldn’t help but smile despite my current state. The lobby was open, yet cozy. Bookshelves full of every imaginable travel book lined two walls. On the right side of the room was a fireplace with three guitars and many bongo drums. There were brightly coloured tables with mismatched chairs in the centre of the room and maps scattered over the walls. At the very back was the reception, situated beside a small bar. It was extremely welcoming.

We walked up to the counter and were met by a friendly woman who shook our hands and introduced herself. This was something I had never experienced in a high end hotel never mind a hostel. We were then offered a welcome drink on the house; pop, juice, beer or wine, whatever our weary hearts desired! I perked up immediately. An ice cold beer was just what I needed. The bartender must have been able to read my facial expression because as he handed it to me he smiled and saidmilan

I understand.”

Once we were checked in we were given a tour, there were three floors which you could reach either by elevator or stairs. Due to my overwhelming fear of elevators, I took the stairs. The stairwell was decorated with the most beautiful and unusual cartoon artwork. It made me feel like I had fallen down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. We were brought to the big beautiful kitchen. It opened up onto a delightful wooden deck with hammocks, the entire thing was bordered by a garden containing fresh herbs and vegetables to use while cooking. There was also a large common room with ping pong, games and a television. The bedrooms were brightly coloured and crisp with a beautiful window and spacious ensuite bathroom.

I could not stop smiling and saying “wow.” A garden for cooking and hammocks for relaxing, instruments for playing and a free drink… could it get any better? It did. They have a delicious breakfast included in your stay, regardless of when you wake up. Slept in? No problem! Breakfast is ready when you are. This is unheard of and oh-so-appreciated as a tired traveler. The list does not stop there. They also offer a three course meal with a glass of wine and a shot of Limoncello ~ a traditional Italian liqueur, for only 15 euros. Extremely treasured by a travelers weary wallet.

Ostello Bello

Rosie and I having a blast at Ostello Bello

As I sat on my bed in amazement, I thought about how friendly all the people that worked here were. Genuinely friendly, not that fake, robotic friendly you get from so many hotels. These people would actually do anything to help make your stay the best it could be. It felt like I had friends instantly, almost like I was given a giant hug. As someone who usually travels alone, this was an indescribable feeling. Being in a strange city where you do not know anyone, and are not familiar with the language, streets or culture, a giant hug is the most comforting feeling in the world.

Later that night the owner of Ostello Bello sat down and had a drink with us. He told us how he and his partner had travelled around the world and stayed in countless hostels. They took what they liked about each one and what they wished had been done better in order to create Ostello Bello. He was very friendly and was a blast to talk to. The drinks and travel stories continued to flow into the night.

Suddenly it was very late.


Two young men from the USA walked in; they were only staying the night and were on

their way to a different city in the morning. The kitchen was closed at this point and one of the men asked the owner if there was anywhere they could go to eat. The owner frowned, knowing nothing would be open at this time. He told the two Americans that everything was closed but that he would make them the best sandwich they had ever had. With that statement he was up and into the back kitchen to make his guests some food. I could not believe this! They were staying for a matter of hours, checking out first thing in the morning. This place would be nothing but a blur to them and yet the owner took his own time (and food) to make them feel welcome. I was ready to move in. That’s the thing about life, the feeling of being valued, appreciated and cared for is truly priceless.

This place has something I have never before experienced while traveling, a sense of home. Their motto is “Your home in our town” and nothing could be closer to the truth.

Goodbye Four Seasons! Move over Hilton!! The very best place to stay in Milan is Ostello Bello. www.ostellobello.com

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milan

Fabric Bolts I blinked hard making sure I wasn’t in a dream. I was standing in the middle of the shopping capital of the world. Sprawled out before my was a veritable smorgasbord of design, style and fashion. Every type of garment, textile and designer showcased before my eyes, it was shopping paradise.

I wasn’t in New York, Paris, London or even Milan. Not L.A., Tokyo, Hong Kong or Sydney. The very best shopping I have found in all my travels is in the south central cost of Vietnam, in a city called Hoi An.

Being a major trading port from the 15th to 19th century, Hoi An has had a long, intense love affair with shopping. Edging on Thu Ban River, small yellow houses sit among quaint wooden shops, cafes and restaurants. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hoi An is managing to keep it’s quaint village vibe and fight the tacky tourist curse.

Walking down the dusty streets in Hoi An Old Town gives the feeling of an Asian old west. The shops are all open concept, meaning there are no doors, windows or walls separating the street from the store.

Tailor shops dominate most of the space. Garment makers who will make any piece of clothing tailored to you in 48hrs. If I was in any one of the previously mentioned cities and asked for a custom made suit in two days, I would be paying for it for years. In Hoi An it is extremely affordable, even on a backpacker’s budget.

Upon entering any one of the many tailor shops available, you are met with a warm smile and kind words. No pushy sales people here! If you know exactly what you want, you can point to one of the samples. If you are unsure of what you would like, you can have a seat and go through the towering stacks of books filled with pictures of suits, skirts and dresses until you find the one you like. It can be an overwhelming task.

Once you have decided on a style, you must then select your fabric from the waves upon waves of choices. Finally, they take your measurements before sending you on your way. Alternatively, you can hand them a picture, or a piece of clothing you have brought with you that you would like to have recreated They hand you a slip, telling you to come back in 48 hrs. When you come back to try on your garment you are allowed and are even encouraged to ask them to fix anything you do not like. Once you are completely happy you pay and leave feeling like movie star.

This whole process amazed me. You can literally take a picture of any designers work, hand it to the seamstress and it will be tailor-made for you in two days. Oh how hard it is to be a backpacker with limited room and an even more limited budget! And harder still is my constant internal battle between my hatred for North American consumerism and my unwavering love for fashion. That’s the thing about life, sometimes you have decide if your love is stronger than your hate.

Upon careful consideration, a great deal of thought and an evaluation of my already stuffedcoats backpack, I decided my purchase would be a coat (for the cold Canadian winters). I chose a style I had noticed in many of the store fronts and was something I had never seen back home. It was a black waist coat with red Asian accents and a black hood. For $5 more I could have the hood lined with red silk with a gold Asian pattern. Trying on a winter coat in 33 degree weather was not an easy task but my love for the coat over took my body’s desire to pass out. This beautiful, unique looking, silk-lined, tailor-made coat that I would cherish forever cost me the equivalent of $35 Canadian dollars. I almost squealed.

I promised myself the next time I came to Hoi An I would have an empty suitcase and a full wallet.

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Fabric Bolts
January 13, 2016

Blind Dates & Barney Beagle

Barney_As I sit in anxious anticipation, eyes darting around the funky decorated dive bar waiting for another blind date, I can’t help but feel like Barney Beagle. My favourite story as a child, I made my Mom read it to me a million times. Barney is a beagle puppy waiting at the pet store to be purchased and taken to his fur-ever home. Every time someone walks through the door he perks up with excited expectation and asks;

“Is it my boy, is it my boy?”

That is how I feel each time a blind date walks in to greet me for the first time. Wishing, hoping, praying that he will be the man of my dreams. The tall, dark handsome one who wants to buck convention and travel the world with me. Yet time after time, within the first 95 seconds I am saying the second line of the book in my head;

“No it’s not my boy, anyone can see that.”

My heart sinks again. It may sound like I am too quick to judge, but you can tell within the first few moments of meeting someone if they are the type of person you want to date or not. Each time I agree to meet a new guy for the first time, my hope and faith are renewed. I am full of optimism for an amazing connection filled with fireworks and butterflies, but my utopia state is drained faster then my pint as I listen to him tell me about his love for all inclusive packages and plasma T.V’s. I appreciate that I am looking for a very rare breed of man. One who does is not driven by his love for consumerism, but his love for helping making the world a better place. A man who wants to invest more in his memories and experiences then his stock portfolio. He has to have a passion for travel and be perfectly content not having roots in one corner of the world. He has to have faith, in himself, in the world and in something bigger. He has to care more about the other people in his life then in himself. That’s the thing about life, the really truly epic amazing things are worth waiting for. So I am holding out for Spectacular and until that comes along, I will sit waiting like Barney, ears perked, soul hopeful, asking;

“Is it my boy?”

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Barney_
January 9, 2016

Rollercoaster Rickshaw

RickshawIt was impossible. Yet another taxi zoomed past us without stopping.

It was Friday at 5:15pm and we were headed to the Waldorf Astoria for a fashion show. My Mom got me the tickets and the trip to New York for my birthday. It was unusually warm weather for February, 15 degrees celsius and the sun was shining brightly. If I had not just celebrated my birthday I would have sworn it was April.

I want to make an entrance, but I do not want to be late” I said looking rather concerned at the wave upon wave of taxis speeding by.

Taxi!” I yelled as I stepped off 5th Avenue with my hand stretched out.

Nothing.

As I was looking up the street trying to catch the eye of a taxi driver, a young man in a rickshaw peddled up before us and stopped.

Would you like a ride ladies?”

Oh, no thank you” I said trying to looking around the rickshaw for a taxi.

You will never get a cab at this time.” The rickshaw driver said

I can take you wherever you need to go.”

I forced a smile, he was in my way and I could not wave down a cab with his rickshaw parked in front of me.

We are fine, thank you.” I tried to move past him to a clear view of the street.

Ok, I will just wait over here if you change your mind” he said as he peddled a few feet farther and stopped with his back to us.

I continued my quest for a taxi, but as I looked up at the four lanes of 5thAvenue all full of taxis, I realized that not one had its light on, they were all occupied. I then noticed all of the other people along the street, performing the same dance as I was. Reaching as far onto the street as possible without getting run over, waving arms like a shipwrecked survivor desperately seeking a rescuer. All while screaming “TAXI!” as loud as possible.

After another five unsuccessful minutes of this ritual passed I took a deep breath and stepped back onto the curb. I looked at my Mom and we both shrugged. Like two badly behaved dogs with our tails between our legs we slowly walked over to the rickshaw driver. He smiled and jumped out onto the sidewalk.

Your chariot awaits, ladies” he said, bowing and smiling.

We are going to the Waldorf Astoria” I told him, sitting down.

No problem.”

Our driver (cyclists?) was young, in his early twenties, about 5’6 and very slim. As my Grandmother would say, you could spit through any part of him. I wondered if he would have the strength to get us to our destination. He has a slight accent so I ask him where he is from.

Turkey” he replies

OH MY GOD! WE LOVE TURKEY!” Mom and I squeal in unison.

We were there in October” Mom said quickly.

Your country is so beautiful” I add.

The people are so friendly.”

We just loved it” Mom and I were racing each other to talk, we were so excited to find our new Turkish friend.

What part are you from?” We finally gave him a chance to speak.

Istanbul. Did you go there?”

Oh yes we loved Istanbul” we were off again.

So beautiful”

We walked by the water and saw the fishermen.”

And ate at fantastic restaurants, such good food.”

Such history.”

How long have you been he…” I breathed in deeply and could not finish my sentence.


We were heading straight for a taxi that was stopped at a light, we were not slowing down and we were going to run right into the back of the car. At the very last second our driver swerved and went between the taxi and a bus.

I am doing my masters here, this is my last year” he said turning around and smiling while we were at the stop light.Manhatann Traffic

The excitement I had before had been replaced by fear and now I was quiet. I held on to the side of the rickshaw so tight my knuckles turned white. He turned back around as the light changed and wove through the Manhattan traffic, driving between lanes. He came so close to the car beside me that I had to pull my arm in so it didn’t brush against it.

I took in a big breath of New York air. It was a very unique smell of car exhaust, sewer and grilled hot dog. We accelerated as we went down a small hill on Madison Avenue, the wind washed over my face and tangled my hair. We were going much faster then I felt comfortable being pulled behind a bicycle. The light turned red, but our driver made no attempt to stop. The pedestrians began to cross the street in front of us and still we speed. We were going to run right into them, like human bowling pins. I closed my eyes and held my breath.

I heard the driver ring his bell. Really? With car and bus horns sounding every 15 seconds did he really think anyone will pay attention to his bike bell? I prayed that they did. I felt us cut across the street diagonally and opened my eyes. We made it. I turned around to see if there are any casualties. None. A miracle.

The driver started to peddle faster and it seemed as if we were going to run up onto the sidewalk, but at the last second he turned the handle bars sharply and we remained on the road. Swerving and weaving like a little needle sewing up a rip in Park Avenue. There was a symphony of honking as we cut off cars and buses. Our driver was the conductor as he gracefully dodged between them. It was like being on the latest amusement park ride, only without the guarantee that you will make it out alive. He sped up as we approached the Waldorf.

The Waldorf Astoria is one of the poshest hotels in New York City and is where the fashion show was being held. The driver jerked the handle bars and screeched up to the curb. There were two well dressed ladies leaving the hotel and standing right where we stopped.

Need a ride ladies?” Our driver asked, smiling, knowing full well the response.

The one lady put her hand to her chest and sighed

NO!” both of them turned away in disgust.

Most people arrive at the Grand Waldorf Astoria in a limo, or a chauffeured driven Lincoln. My mom and I arrived in rickshaw. That’s the thing about life, you don’t always arrive at a destination the way you had thought. The point is that you arrived.

A bit blury, but exactly how I was seeing after one crazy ride!

A bit blury, but exactly how I was seeing after one crazy ride!

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Manhatann Traffic
January 7, 2016

Top 10 Milan

milanThe Traveling Waitress’ Top Ten things to do in Milan, Italy

  1. See an opera or ballett at La Scala

  2. Visit Duomo di Milano (even if you are not religious you will appreciate the incredible beauty)

  3. Stand in the centre of Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II under the grand dome and stare at the four mosaics of America, Africa, Asia and Europe in each corner ~ take a breath and feel like you are in the centre of the world.

  4. Drink Italian wine whenever possible

  5. Go see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper ~ do not speak for the entire 15 mins

  6. Eat at small, local restaurants (eat cheese as much as possible)

  7. Dance at night in front of Duomo

  8. Get a latte and gelatto and walk through Navigli area

  9. Window shop at quadrilatero della moda

  10. Get lost walking around the city (just not with a giant backpack on)

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milan