Category Archives: Travel

Headed Down

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…Under That is!

Yesterday, in the middle of my day, my boss calls me into the boardroom for a private discussion. She tosses down a printed itinerary that I had put up onto our company website designed only for travel agents. Free trips that have agents view and tour the experiences they sell. They’re called “Familiars” or “Fams” for short.

The tour had AUSTRALIA pasted across the front.

“I got you on this Fam,” she says.

I stare. I blink. I look back up at her.

“Yes, free. No charge. Hotels and flights. You’ll probably buy 2 or three meals total for the nine days you’re gone.”

“Can I bring…”

“No sorry. Only one.”

“Does this go towards my vacation days?”

And with that, I’m signed in to spend 9 days downunder.

So now, for the next two weeks, I am running around like a drag queen who’s on stage in 5 minutes and has forgotten her lipstick at home. Amongst all the planning and packing, I have to remember to keep the excitement down because I know SharkBoy is a touch bit jealous. Or he’s happy he’s got the apartment to himself for 9 days. Or both. I worry that I’ll come home to empty Pizza boxes and a pile of laundry the size of Manhattan. Actually I think the challenge will be the dinners my mom wants to have with him while I’m gone: I jokingly said that SharkBoy can’t cook for himself and instantly my mom went into ITALIAN MOM MODE and insisted on a couple husband/in-law dinners. Ha!

In terms of actual travelling, the entire trip is less than business casual so I can skimp on luggage, but I am seriously not looking forward to the 14 hours on a plane. I’ve already had a flying nightmare, which means I have to book a short session with my doctor so I can get sleeping pills. I plan to be so sedated that B-List celebrities will look upon video of me sleeping and say “Damn…”

Don’t think I’ll be lounging by some pool the entire time, no. Nothing is for free. No I will have to sample wines and cheeses and hold koalas and sand ski and you know, sample some nightlife too. It will be hell. (Actually I will be taking a crapload of pictures for the company image library and posting a couple entries to the Facebook page). Here’s my itinerary:

Leave LAX Thursday night, lose a day over the ocean.
Land in Sydney, transfer to Adelaide and arrive Saturday morning. Instantly start touring the city from 10am to 5pm. Lots to see, like the North Terrace, Glenelg and a cathedral so keep up!
Sunday: Fly to Kangaroo Island. Big BBQ and a tour of Seal Bay. Hug a seal, a koala, get treated for chlamydia.
Monday: Something mysteriously called “Remarkably Wild Kangaroo Island Tour” and then back to Adelaide at the end of the day.
Tuesday: Fly into Sydney, board a bus and head up to Hunter Valley. Wine tours!
Wednesday: More wine tours and one chocolatiers. Weep for me. Then we head over to Port Stephens.
Thursday: We tour the dunes (40 metre dunes? Weee!) and then a “MoonShadow” cruise where we have an excellent chance of seeing dolphins. Then head back to Sydney
Friday: City and Beaches tour. A workshop that afternoon and then the rest of the day is mine to bugger.
Saturday: Get on a plane at 10am, come home. Gain my day back. Arrive in LAX at 6am the same day. Toronto some 6+ hours later. Ugh.

But I think it’s going to be worth it.

Checking data plans and I’m gobsmacked. 75M data on the Rogers network costs $225. Consider that a good sized photo is around 1.5M, I’d burn through that in seconds. Looks like I’m sniffing out Starbucks or I’m unlocking my phone for a SIM card…

God I have to calm down!!

Package from Home

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London, 1986, Earls Court

With the package in hand, I walk up the three flights to our one bedroom flat, shared between the 5 of us (three in the living room, the Sisters in the only room in the back). We’re thrown into this apartment by pure luck: all living here on a Working Holiday Visa, coming from various parts of Canada, with various “first time away from home” experiences. Some of us discovering that being away from home isn’t as glamorous as first envisioned when we held the pamphlets in our hands.

I mention that because I’m at the end of my patience with one of the girls I’m sharing the living room floor with. She’s been crying herself to sleep since she and her friend, Melanie, arrived at the apartment a week ago – their first time ever being away from Halifax. Each night Melanie holds her, rocking her to sleep, telling her that the next day will be fun and she’ll forget about her homesickness. She was my pull from the SWAP office and I feel angry for my poor choice in roommates, but also envious. I wish I had someone to rock me to sleep.

The flat is like an ever evolving germ, observed in a petri dish. Someone a million years ago stood at the front of the Student Work Abroad Program orientation day seminar and offered space to crash out on the floor, incredibly cheap. As people came and went, trips back to the SWAP orientation day were made to pull new roommates from the constant flow of arrivals. When you first land in London on the SWAP program you’re given two free nights in a hostel and then boom – you’re on your own. If you have the money, you can stick around in the hostel until you find a job and a flat and you start living in London. Or until that runs out. If you want to save your money, you find a flat share as fast as you can. At the end of the orientation one of The Sisters, her turn to pull someone, stood at the front of the room and asked if anyone was looking for a place to live. My hand shot up and we made eye contact. I got a corner of the living room floor that day.

I put the parcel down on the kitchen table. Melanie is with me, dancing in excitement, revealing to me that she’s terribly homesick. Not as homesick as her friend that she consoles to sleep every night, but the role of nursemaid seems to be taking it’s toll on her.

I knife the box open. Inside is a nice hand-written note from my father, saying how much he misses me, the dog misses me, the car misses me, his boyfriend … is ok. And beneath that: 6 pristine Kraft Dinner boxes.


Immediately Melanie has a £5 in my face asking for two. In 1986, £5 = $11.25. She was willing to pay over $5 for a $0.50 taste of home. I gladly sold her the two, now having drinking money for at least a night in my pocket.

Expats can get North American comfort food in London, easy. If you have the money. Harrods sells the “Family Value Box” of Kraft Dinner (the kind with the tin of cheese sauce, not the powder) in their “International” food court, but it runs about $16 a box. Eventually word got out via the Canadian Black Market and I made about £25 on the package.


Disney Day 5 and 6

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On our last two days at Disney, fellow Instagrammer @RhinoBear joined us as we visited EPCOT and Magic Kingdom for serious riding and wandering.

John works for Disney and it was like having a personal databank at our beck and call. We asked him a ton of questions about what it was like to work at Disney. He offered to take us to another park and get us in with his staff pass (we didn’t have Park Hopper tickets) we declined his generous offer because we felt that would be too much like taking advantage – we had already drained his brain with our constant questions. He really made the days interesting and fun.

Since these were repeat days, I didn’t take many pictures (more video than anything else). We rode all that we needed to ride, we saw all that we needed to see and we ate junk food as much as we could.

It was a nice vacation – but it felt too brief. Like we were only there for a couple days, not nearly a week. Every time we were stuck waiting for something or just had a few moments of thought I kept on thinking about having to go home. I didn’t get a good Disney buzz on, sort of like never achieving REM sleep – waking up unsatisfied.

Not to say the trip was unsatisfactory, far from it. We laughed, we ate, we took great shots, we met new friends… I just felt that with the trip being last minute and without the build up of anticipation, there was no equalizing payoff when we had the fun.

As well, the weather was ok – cloudy only one day, and only pleasant, not summery warm, during the day. Also the onset of a cold/flu/bronchitis didn’t help with my energy level. Again, I can’t complain, but my description of the weather sort of summed up the trip: “pleasant”.

In terms of WDW experience points, I think we now know to take the dining plan when we go back – eating in the World or driving to a local restaurant is pretty much the same cost: expensive. Might as well resign to the fact that you can get big portions with WDW dining, at least. Also we’ll stick with the rental car, despite the busses being so readily available. At the end of a long day of rides and walking, waiting on a bus is the suck.

Anywhoo… it was a pleasant trip. I’m already counting the days until December’s Cruise and Parks combo with Sylvie and Shawn!

Disney Day 4

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Our morning started with breakfast at the Polynesian Resort – my favorite fake Hawaiian spot on the planet. Many have tried to recreate Hawaii away from Hawaii but I think this hotel is probably the best because there is a 70s vibe locked into it somehow. Like it’s ingratiated into it’s DNA. Maybe because I use to see it on TV growing up in Disney specials.

Why there so early, you ask? For Tonga Toast Kona Cafe, of course! Imagine two really thick pieces of French toast, stuffed with fruit, slapped together and covered with slightly cinnamon infused sugar. It was about the size of a baby. And delicious. Don’t use the syrup, use the strawberry coulis – you will thank me for it.

After we roll ourselves down to the dock and take a jetty over to Magic Kingdom. Don’t forget to grab transport trivia cards from the captain!

Our day in the Kingdom was decadent. Since we were going to return and spend an entire day doing the rides on Monday, this day we reserved for wandering and photographs. I think we only rode 2 rides and visited one attraction during our visit that day. An entire day of no-stress wandering in a place where so many people feel like they need to get things done was almost like we were rubbing it in stressed out parents’ faces.

You’ll see a couple pictures of characters in the mid-day show – take notice in their faces. Disney is phasing in full-head animatronic characters for shows. You’ll note that some action shots make Donald look kind of stoned: eye lids half closed, mouth open in a breath. I like it!

We headed over to Downtown Disney for dinner and a walk through the shops. Over at the Lego Store, I think they were giving away free air or something – it was mad house packed in there. So busy I had an Apple Store flashback where all I could think about was how long it must take the staff at the end of the night to reset the store. It’s was about this point that I really noticed all the sick kids. Sure I noticed kids coughing in various other parks, but as I fiddled with a jar full of Lego heads, I saw a kid cough into his hand then dig his mitts into the jar next to me.

That night at the hotel, I could feel a tickle in my throat. I passed it off as too much A/C on my Canadian constitution…

Disney Day Three

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Sorry I’m late with the updates, I’ve been hit with bronchitis that some kid at DisneyWorld gave me. Little fucker…

Okay so Day Three: EPCOT. Which as you Disneyphiles know as the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. Sadly, it’s not so much experimental but it certainly can take an entire day to see all of it.

SharkBoy announces as we near the gates that he forgot the battery to his DSLR back at the hotel room. We press on regardless and wait for Rope Drop (or Drope Rop as SharkBoy has been calling it all week – adorable!). This time we do our usual run to Soarin’, grab a FastPass and ride the ride before the lines get crazy. Then over to Test Track for two runs and back to Soarin’. We even managed to stay awake for the entire Ellen’s Energy Adventure. Bam!

We didn’t do Captain Eo or Figment’s Imagination rides (one was down, the other was “meh”) and we spent the rest of the day wandering through World Showcase, slowly and with meticulous attention to all the details. Lunch was had at Via Napoli where the pizzas were extremely delish! Then back to The American pavilion to see the Voices of Liberty show which got SharkBoy all blubbery (he loves a good harmony acapella group).

We managed to stay late here, long enough to see the fireworks (even though we were freezing our butts off) and made a pact to return on our “Free Day” so that SharkBoy could have his share of pictures and meet up with fellow InstaGrammer, RhinoBear. Stay tuned!