Inspire Me! blog

Travel with a mixed bag

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February flowers in St. James’s Park, London – photo by E. Jurus

 I often get asked about travelling with other people, particularly with a parent. I was lucky to be able to travel with my mom twice to Europe, and my hubby Mike and I were able to take his mom with us on a combined London & Paris trip. Both women were in their 70s at the time. We also had good friends join us on a trip to England after my mom passed away. Each experience was unique, with its own dynamics. Travel with a senior is very possible – it just requires some planning to take into account their slower pace, need for more rest breaks and perhaps taking more public transport than you might yourself. Older travellers, particularly if they haven’t travelled abroad before or since they were young, are generally more apprehensive about the entire experience, but their worries can be allayed by: a) making sure their room is on the same floor as yours, even if you can’t get them next to each other in a smaller European B&B/hotel, b) outlining all the arrangements for them so that they have a good idea of where you’re going and when, c) keeping calm yourself and reassuring them when something unexpected occurs, and d) being patient with all the questions they may ask.

Both my mother and mother-in-law were terrific travellers, but sometimes things that Mike and I considered relatively minor could throw them off. For instance, my mother-in-law really wanted to see Paris but hadn’t really thought about the language barrier, so she was taken aback after we got off the Chunnel train at Gare du Nord and no one around her spoke any English. She holed up in her room at our lovely little hotel in the Latin Quarter and had a nap while Mike and I went for a walk up to Notre Dame. On our way back we picked up some quiche and a delicious apricot tart at a nearby bakery, along with some tea at a little shop across the street; after having some comforting food and stories about how fascinating the city was around our hotel, and then a good night’s sleep, her enthusiasm was restored and we set out next morning in unanimous high spirits.

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The Clarence, a great pub with bar lights in the shape of black bowler hats, or ‘derbys’, Whitehall, London – photo by E. Jurus
  • if staying in one spot, like a resort, and driving around, consider renting 2 cars — that way you’re not glued at the hip to go places and if one couple wants to see a particular sight but the other doesn’t, you can easily split up for a half-day or day
  • plan to spend some time apart: you’ll feel better after a bit of a breather — with our friends in England, we decided to split up to walk around the small city of York, then met up at a pre-designated pub for dinner, and spent the evening together on a ghost walk
  • plan a variety of activities that incorporate everyone’s tastes — everyone on the trip should be able to enjoy something they particularly like, and if you have to split up for a few hours to do it, that’s fine
  • make sure everyone has a guide book with a map, and a transportation map as well, so that everyone can find their way around
  • with other travellers in your group, you have a wonderful opportunity to take photos of each other, and these can form some of your best memories

To sum up, travelling as a group can be a great experience or a terrible one — it’s all in how you approach it. Keep a sense of humour, schedule rest and food breaks, check your fellow travellers for comfort regularly, and include something for everyone, and you’ll have a terrific time!

Post-shopping tea breaks

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Going out shopping, even just for groceries, can be such an exercise in frustration. A few of my pet peeves include: people who leave their shopping cart in the middle of the aisle while they wander off somewhere else to grab an item, blocking everyone else’s way; people who block the entire aisle at food-sampling booths; people in the parking lot who can see you backing out from 10 feet away and still think it’s a good idea to walk behind you…

On days like that, I restore my depleted energy and sorely-tested good nature with a mug of tea and something both yummy and easy to make. The tea I usually have is a heady mug of Assam, full-bodied and aromatic. The carb-supplier is a gluten-free English muffin by a company called Kinnikinnik, toasted to a golden brown and topped with a lovely dollop of crème fraiche (I use Liberty brand) and a really good jam (in this case, Greaves’ wonderful apricot jam). We’re very lucky in Niagara to have ready access to Greaves jams, produced locally and some of the best jam outside of homemade that I’ve ever had — not too much pectin, so their jams have a nice texture for spreading, and a perfect amount of sweetness without being cloying. They’re nicely balanced by the mild tartness of the crème fraiche, and toasting the English muffin provides a slightly crunchy base along with great flavour.

If you’re on a gluten-free diet, this is a great combo to have with tea, and even if you can eat wheat you may want to check out these English muffins, which are perfect for the purpose. The muffins can be found in the freezer compartments of health-food sections in grocery stores, and in health-food stores as well. I recommend putting them into the microwave first for about 15-30 seconds, depending on whether you’ve thawed them out or just pulled a frozen one from the bag; microwaving softens them up and produces a nice crumb texture when you split them with a serrated knife. You can put the whole thing together in about 10 minutes, leaving you lots of time to put your feet up and relax!

Stranger in a strange land?

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Dust devils on the Nazca plateau in Peru, October 2012 – photo: E Jurus

Ten years ago a tiny skeleton unlike anything that had been seen before was found in the Atacama Desert. It’s only six inches long, with a very elongated, alien-looking skull – shades of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skulls!

Recent DNA testing has indicated that it’s a human skeleton, but there are many issues: the skeleton appears to be of someone who was roughly 6-8 years old, and it has fewer ribs than would be normal in a human. The cone-shaped skull could have been the result of a birth defect, but not all the genes matched those found in humans.

There are theories that it was a primate, or a human with a number of birth defects, although in modern history there’s never been a medium-aged child that tiny. Unsurprisingly, there’s also been speculation that it could be an alien from another planet – if you look at the photo in the original article in the Live Science website, you’ll see why people might think that.

I was in Peru and Bolivia last fall, and the landscape in southern Peru, which is sometimes classed as part of the Atacama Desert, is very alien – it would make a great setting for a sci-fi movie! The Nazca Plateau in particular is a fantastic sight, layers of multi-coloured earth covered in the hundreds of strange shapes, both animalistic and geometric, sculpted by the Nazca peoples many hundreds of years ago.

Seeing the shapes from the air is an amazing experience – you can see why the gigantic animal shapes might be used for ritual purposes, but there are also straight lines running in a variety of directions for miles and miles, and huge trapezoids running across the plateau and into the mountains, that don’t seem to make any sense at all.

On the ground, we walked the burning sands around Chauchilla Cemetery, strewn with the house-like tombs of the Nazca dead, and churned by numerous towering dust devils. I’d never seen one in real life before, and they are eerie. In the photo above you can see three at the same time silently whirling around in the distance: one on the left, another in the centre and a fainter third on the right to the right side of the road.

The Atacama Desert is the driest place on our planet and has been compared to the planet Mars. The heat and aridity are forbidding; it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to live there. If you want to experience a truly other-worldly landscape, you don’t need to go into space — just head to the west coast of South America!

The world in a grain of sand

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I live in a small city that’s getting overbuilt. We moved here when I was eight, and I still remember how beautiful the drive was along the southern shores of Lake Ontario, when all you could see was the bright gleam of blue water amid the lush fruit trees that used to line the highway. At the time I thought that must be what Florida looked like. Now the drive is lined by concrete noise reduction walls to serve all the wealthy home owners who chose to build near the highway. There are a few spots where you can see the lake, but they’re getting fewer and fewer. The blight of land developers has spread throughout the Niagara Region, so when my husband and I travel I’m drawn to vistas of endless space, like this drive along the coastal highway in Peru. Peru has over 2400km of coastline along the Pacific, much of it almost barren and other-worldly in feel.

One of the best things about travel to foreign countries is the opportunity to truly ‘get away from it all’ — to leave everything about your daily home life behind and infuse your life with some fresh perspectives. The BBC website recently posted an interesting article about how the Tweets of travellers improve in mood the farther they are from home. Researchers at the University of Vermont set up criteria to measure the mood of Tweeters based on the language used in their messages. Although the sample size of the research only covered the relatively small percentage of travellers who currently use Twitter, it won’t be surprising for those of us who travel that the happiness-level of the Tweeters rose steadily as their distance increased. Travel is one of the most effective ways to blow the cobwebs out of your mind and see things differently, not to mention the beautiful views, fascinating history, great food, delightful encounters with the locals…the list goes on. Check out upcoming posts about how to get the most out of a travel experience. You can find the BBC article here.