Friday, December 26, 2008

Making a list checking it twice


a peek into my obsessive compulsive planning mind 

No this isn't a post full of the Christmas spirit. Rather this post is a list of lists. No, wait! Come back! Actually, I'd like to run too. 

We've entered the home stretch. Less than 3 months to go and so much to do, hence the lists. Lots of lists. 

But you've already seen the first one. The "Where are we going?" list. And that only took a year to compile. And it's only rev.7. 

The second list is medical. There's the list of doctors to visit. Travel Doc. Family Doc. Eye Doc. Dentist. 

Then there's the list of shots to get. And their prices. Oy-vey.
Yellow Fever - $75 - already have 
Typhoid - $30 - right before we leave
Hepetitis A - $120 - already have
Hepetitis B - $90 - first shot done, second shot due now, and the last shot we'll have to get on the road (the Doctor reco'ed Costa Rica as a good country to seek medical attention in)
Menengitis - $130 - right before we leave 
Flu Shot - FREE 
Japanese encephalitis - $270 - yikes, but not until we're getting ready to head to Asia. 
Between this and all the blood I've had taken, no wonder I'm feeling like a pin cushion, a very poor pin cushion. 

And let's not forget Malaria. Oh Malaria, we've never met and I already hate you. For the first year we'll be travelling in and out of at risk areas for the first 6 months and then solidly at risk for the next 6. That's a whole lot of medication to carry around - and let me tell you, it's not cheap. Malarone, the one with the least side effects and the most effective, is also the most expensive. That's about $20 a day for 365 days which means for the first time in 30 years I've written to Santa.

Dear Santa, 
I have been moderately good this year. For Christmas,  Adrian and I would like a year supply of Malarone. And if you can't afford the whole $6000 we'll take half of that. 

Thank you,
Liz.
P.S. I'll leave beer and peanuts out for you. 

Rather that visions of sugar plums dancing through our heads, it was dreams of a sugar daddy to pay the way. Good news. There is a cheaper drug option. Bad news. It's been known to cause severe depression, violence and hallucinations in a very small amount of people who take it. So let's hope my insurance covers the other one. If not, I'll give you the heads up before we start taking the cheaper option so you can take the appropriate cover. 

And if I wasn't feeling poor already, there's the third list. Packing. 

Yes, I have discovered despite an apartment full of crap, we still need (or want) so much stuff for our trip. It's a reminder of how much our lifestyle is going to change once we're on the road. 

There's the techie stuff:
laptop - $600 on craigslist - so I can update this silly little blog 
camera gear - $2000 and counting - so I can take purdy pictures
hard drive - $250 - so I can store all those purdy pictures
iPod - FREE with airmiles - for music and movies on long bus rides to nowhere
PSP - FREE with christmas present - so Adrian can be amused on long bus rides to nowhere

There's the clothing: 
I'll spare you the list this time (although if you really are interested, I've added links to my lists over there on the right under Odds and Ends). Even unfashion plates like us are struggling to come up with a year's wardrobe that fits in a small back pack. The key appears to be multipurpose clothes, i.e. pants that turn into shorts, sweaters that turn into vests, bras that turn into emergency flotation device. okay, I made that last one up but you get the idea. 

To the manufacturers of these travel clothes, I have a couple of complaints. Must everything be made of fleece? And have you not received the colours of '09 from Pantone? Or any of the last 10 years.  I don't recall hunter green, plaid, or tropical prints appearing in any of the swatches. I wish Fluevog made some footwear appropriate for jungle treks. 

And finally there's the travel gear, the things I've never had a use for in the last 35 years but have been assured by every resource that we'll need on the road: 
multitool - 100 tools in one, for only $75 
headlamps - for midnight trips to the loo, outhouse, hole in the ground
silk sleep sheets - for avoiding bedbugs and bugs in general, 2 for $50
portable clothesline - $10
travel towels - remarkably like a sham-wow (without the creepy sales guy) 2 for $50
compass - hoping to find a dollar store keychain one with a thermometer
universal drain plug - ?
and... 

What am I doing here? What are you doing here? It's Christmas and there's turkey leftovers to pick at, sentimental movies to cry over, alcohol to drink, cakes to snack on, family to fight with and presents to return. 

See you in 2009 with (hopefully) less lists and more fun. I better put that promise down on my to do list before I forget.

Edit: Good news Malarone is covered by my insurance. New eyeglasses and contacts however are not. Oh well, you win some and you lose some. 

Monday, December 22, 2008

AC 993 now boarding, well, soon anyway.

A very quick update to say the first tickets have been bought. Woohoo! Yippee! Yay! No turning back now.  

And that's it really.

I was reminded that it had been a long time since I'd written anything. It may appear that way but behind this wall there are many entries waiting for me to hit spell check and publish. But all in good time, my friends. 

So where are we now?

Location: Toronto
Departure: March 17, 2009
Savings: $46,290

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"I love it when a plan comes together"

- Col. Hannibal Smith, The A Team.


View Larger Map

If people could be classified as one of the A Team, I would say I was Col. Hannibal Smith with a dash of BA Barcus. My friend Cheryl is a bit more like Murdoch, loveable but slightly, um, well how do you say it - insane. She's the delusional one who is convinced that Vancouver is a nice place. And she's also a crazy lady that demand I post more often even though I'm not convinced I have much to say at the moment.  See, told you she was crazy. 

The biggest news to report is the new map up above and to the right. It's all new complete with multi-coloured route markers - ooooo, aaaaahhhh - that show the new itinerary we've decided on. After my momentary panic of what to do and where to go I think I've figured it out (well for now at least). So here's what we've got so far.

Central America:
Southern Mexico: 3 weeks
Belize: 2 weeks
Guatemala: 3 weeks
Honduras: 3 weeks
Nicaragua: 3 weeks
Costa Rica: 2 weeks
Panama: 2 weeks

South America: 
Ecuador: 3 weeks
Peru: 3 weeks
Bolivia: 3 weeks
Chile: 3 weeks
Argentina: 5 weeks
Paraguay: 1 week
Brazil: 5 weeks

Africa: 
South Africa: 4 weeks
Lesotho: 1 week
Namibia: 3 weeks
Zambia: 2 weeks
Malawi: 3 weeks
Tanzania: 6 weeks
Rwanda: 2 weeks
Uganda: 2 weeks
and then
Ethiopia and beyond.

And that's where the dots on the map stop. Not because that will be the end of our travels. I hope not. But because that's as far as I'm allowing myself to plan at the moment. And by planning I mean, filling in an excel spreadsheet that looks a lot like a day planner. We still hope to carry on travelling on into Asia via Russia. But there's no need to get ahead of ourselves (that's a note more for me than you btw).

As it is, I've already been collecting tonnes of hostel, tour and adventure links in my del.icio.us profile. You can check them out there. Yes, I'm a bit of a freak when it comes to planning.

Another list I've started is things I'd like to do. This trip is completely selfish for me, in the sense that it's all about trying things I want to do. Here's a list of the top 10 in no particular order.
  1. Learning to scuba dive in Honduras
  2. Seeing the Galapagos
  3. Seeing Easter Island
  4. Getting competent in Spanish (and revive my French)
  5. Taking the slow boat through the glaciers of Chile and Argentina
  6. Cage diving for sharks in South Africa
  7. Searching for gorillas in Rwanda
  8. Climbing Kilimanjaro
  9. Seeing the big 5 on safari (although I'm sure I'd settle for 1 out of the 5)
  10. Experiencing the world with Adrian

Out of these 10, the closest to being ticked off is the language thing. I've been teaching myself Spanish off and on for about a year. And how's it going? You tell me.

Puedo hacer los phrases basicas. Y puedo leer despacio los libros sin el diccionario. Pero hablo muy malo. ¿Verdad? 

Well, I'm working on it, okay. I've finished my intro spanish tapes, I mean mp3s. I'll soon finish my beginner's book before I undertake the first year MIT spanish course. So hopefully I'll improve before I have to put it into practice.

As for the other things on the list, some of them are pretty crazy and I'm not even sure if I'll actually go through with them. But if I do, I hope Cheryl doesn't mind if I start classifying myself as crazy Murdoch. 

And with that it's time for an update ( I actually first posted this without it).

So where are we now?

location: Toronto, Canada
ETD: March 15, 2009
savings: $36,498

Friday, October 24, 2008

Read all about it


Thanks again to wiki for this photo

When I was about 7, my dad bought me two books that had lots of words and no pictures. Real grown up books called The Coral Island and King Soloman's Mines. And I still have the books. It took me forever to read these adventure stories. But they're probably the reason I have such a travel bug. Every description I read exposed me to exotic places, people and animals I wanted to see for myself. And I was lucky that although my parents weren't world travellers they sent me on every school trip they could so I could feed the bug.

Fast forward about 25 years when Adrian and I were planning our trip to Peru. Thanks to the wonders of google and the recommend of fellow ThornTree posters I discovered two blogs: Conor's Mildly Thrilling Tales and The Global Trip. Both followed the adventures of two guys travelling solo around the world. From the first entries, I was immediately hooked and gave up more than a few hours sleep to catch up and follow along with their entries as they made their way around the planet.

Although both of their blogs made me feel like I was there with them, I wasn't. So the next step was finding a way to visit all these places myself. Thankfully, Adrian was fully onboard. And 3 years later it's getting close to being a reality.

As we've been planning, we've read alot of other blogs and books. So I thought other's might appreciate some of the inspiring reads we've found.

Of course, I'm a huge fan of <Lonely Planet guidebooks - even when they've led me astray as they did in Vancouver. I've got the complete Shoestring guides set and have been using them to plot our adventure. They are already horribly out of date in terms of pricing and contact info but a little google magic fixes that. 

Rough Guides has a great book called First Time Around the World. A must have and read and study for anyone thinking of taking off. It's rather straight but that's what you want in a guide book. 

I suggest reading it in tandem with Vagabonding. If the Rough Guide is all about getting the your physical world in order, Vagabonding is all about the mental. It's rather philosophical but in a good way - and I don't know how many times i'd stumble across a passage and think "that's exactly what I was thinking but I never had the words to describe it. It's like he's in my head". 
Admittedly sometimes the philosophical can be too much. Thankfully there are some great websites inspired by this book where a bunch of author's contributing a wide variety of articles to help you in your quest to become a Vagabond. 

Here's an annotated list of of other resources in a loose chronological order of when I came across them.

Michael Palin's stuff: Seeing Michael Palin on TVO was always a little treasure when I was a teenager as he followed the footsteps Hemmingway and Jules Vernes.  I have a couple of his coffee table books (always picked up for pennies from the clearance section over the decades) and while I can now recognize that many of his journeys are unattainable to the average backpacker, they were one of my first inspirations. Plus, he was in Monty Python and A Fish Called Wanda - what's not to love?

Lonely Planet/Globe Trekker/Pilot Guides TV: Ian Wright is my hero. While Michael Palin was always the observer, Ian is the participant. The way he interacts with people he encounters reminds me that travelling is about getting involved and not watching stuff from the sidelines. Interaction over observation. And he certainly makes it look fun. Adrian and I saw him speak at Convocation Hall a few years back and I he was so... so... normal. Just a kinda geeky and awkward guy who happens to travel to some pretty awesome places. He knows he's lucky and doesn't forget it. No wonder I've been a fan for 20 years. 

Chasing Che: Retracing Che's motorcycle journey across South America for your dissertation - why didn't I think of something fun this when I was writing mine? Regardless, it's a great travelogue as the author shares the trials and tribulations of travelling solo through many different cultures and countries adding in a thin Che political filter (Latin American politics light). It began Adrian and I's own accidental retracing of Che's steps. Hopefully we won't end up dead in Bolivia too. 

The Beach: when I read this in the mid nineties I was blown away by the idea of an individual taking off to far away Thailand. It seemed so seedy yet so decadent - exactly what 20-something I was attracted to. I read it again this year and was struck by how immature and annoying the characters were. Interesting how time and experience can completely change one's perspective. Oh yeah and the movie sucked. 

Bill Bryson: any of his books. His humour is so spot on. My first introduction to him was in 1999 during a raucous Hogmanny (New Year's Eve) in Edinburgh crashing on the floor of a friend's flat with 8 Brits. Caught in the crossfire of competing regional accents, I ducked and picked up the copy of Notes from A Small Island that was lying around and quickly devoured it. I don't know if it was my outsider status at the time  but everyone of Bryson's North American observations about Britain was dead on and hilarious and timeless.

me-go.net: A girl. Travelling solo. Through really odd countries. I'll take Obscuri-Stan for 200,  Alex. Megan's site is a great travelogue from a unique perspective. She shows that no country is off limits (within reason) if you want to go there. It's also a great reference. She shares all her financials - something few people are willing to do for some strange reason. Oh and she responds to emails promptly and thoroughly. She's pretty awesome.

Holidays in Hell: 80s memoir of travelling to some whacky places courtesy of P.J. O'Rourke. I loved the spirit of this book. In a weird way it's the travelogue I related to the most. Although a little warning some of the terms he uses later in the book are a little irking for my PC addled brain. Amazing how appropriate the politics are 20 some years later. 

Adventures of a Continental Drifter: series of short travelogues by one guy. Interesting for the perspective of a former American flight attendant travelling after 9-11 but also because he's black. The outsider in many cultures and just another face in the crowd in others. A great read because he doesn't try to make sense of anything that happens he just experiences it and shares it with us.

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism: This one isn't an inspiration but I feel the need to include it because I take it as a cautionary tale. The author's attitude and adventures are exactly what I want to avoid while travelling. All selfish and self important "what's in it for me" mentality. The guy has an ego the size of Greenland and like to think he's living on the edge and writing like Hunter S. Thompson. But his actual adventures and experiences are pretty tame, and lame. Perfect contrast to P.J. O'Rourke who downplays the real craziness happening all around him.

I have another hundred books and movies set in certain countries that I could add to my list of inspiration. Don't worry I won't. Every time Adrian and I come back from a trip, the one constant on our customs declaration has been books. (yes it means we have a lot of books waiting to be packed up before we go, don't remind me). Reading them is a great way to revisit the places for free. And on one occasion buying a book was an adventure itself. 

In the Cusco, Peru airport as we were waiting for our flight to the Amazon, Adrian was at a newspaper stand looking for NFL news (I know, don't get me started). Out of luck he was flipping through the rack of books on Macchu Picchu when another customer started talking to him about Macchu Picchu. This gentleman happened to be an author and the book Adrian happened to be leafing through was his. Adrian had a great conversation with the quirky man in the panama hat and when Adrian bought his book, he signed it for him. 

Reading can't replace the real thing but sometimes it can be an adventure in itself.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Let's start at the very beginning - wherever that is.


Excuse me, do you know the way to... to... wait where are we going? Good question and one we thought we'd answered.

However, circumstances intervened - Adrian found himself without work for a few months, our anniversary trip required an expensive detour, pre-trip expenses are adding up - and our savings haven't accumulated as fast as we hoped. But we're not too far away. In fact we're only a couple of months behind. But all these hiccups made us realize that we should probably over save - justincase (justincase of natural disaster, justincase of a tough returning job market, justincase we need to pay ransom to our kidnappers, etc) .

Unfortunately, this means redoing our itinerary. Now understand, I'm a closeted control freak (okay, maybe not so closeted), so I need the security blanket of a planned route. But I know that these itineraries are never set in stone. And thankfully, when we've had to deviate from past travel plans, Adrian has stepped in to take care of stuff while I sit rocking in a corner clutching my itinerary.

So here I sit, once again looking at a map of the world and wondering where to go. And there are so many options it's a little dizzying. In fact I just starting typing out a list of options and when I got to number 11, I deleted the list for fear of losing the few readers I have. So this post is far less informative than I hoped it would be.

I posted to Lonely Planet's Thorntree looking for advice, and only got one response, from Donna, my virtual travel friend. (thanks Donna! lots of great tips and I halfheartedly blame you for introducing options 6-11 ). But I'm realizing that Adrian and I are the ones that have to make the decision.

Our requirements are complicated.
The only must do things on our trip are South America (Adrian) and Africa (Liz). So these our priorities.
I've been learning Spanish and would hate to lose it before we can use it.
We want to fly on as many StarAlliance carriers as possible to capitalize on Aeroplan points.
We don't want to spend more than $1000 on any airfare leg.
Our savings will probably cover 500 days (at $100/per day)

And this is where we've ended up (mentally): either Central American to South America to Africa to ?, OR South America to Africa to ?, OR Africa to South America to Asia to ?. Each have their pros and cons and each time we think one is in the lead, something makes us change our mind.

Feel free to add your two cents. Literally (if you visit any of the google links on the righthand side). And figuratively (by adding a comment).

Oh and slightly good news. Adrian's contract has been extended for another 4 weeks so we have a bit more cash to look forward to. And I finally got a retroactive raise (only 6 months late).

So where are we now?

location: confused in Toronto
ETD: March 15, 2009
savings: $30,998 (but hoping for a big jump in the next month)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I know this priceless antique says 25¢ but how about a nickel


(not our car boot sale but close enough, thank you wiki)

People are cheap. That's all you need to know about garage/yard/lawn/church/car boot sales.

Oh and that they're a helluvalotta work. We spent two weeks of scouring the apartment for things to sell then polishing, scrubbing and cleaning the crap to make it look good, pricing it way below the 30% what we paid for it, and packing it all up to survive the trip to the sale in one piece. Then loaded up the van the night before for the trip out to a park in the almost burbs.

And this was just for stuff we couldn't be bothered to list on ebay or craigslist: vases, vhs, books, junk jewelry, children's toys, kitchen crap, assorted small appliances, as well as a couple of things we just wanted to get rid of, like mismatched speakers, an air conditioner, our 100lb tv with reception issues, and a box or two of magazines and comics.

Oh and did I mention we're on the third floor of the walkup. My body aches just thinking about it.

But sell we did. Not a lot and not the things we expected. VHS tapes and ugly jewelry were a hot commodity. While books and and any nice looking or valuable knickknacks weren't. I sold a dirty table cloth but not Royal Daulton crystal wine glasses (2 for $15). So I give up.

And after 4 hours of the sale we had made $245.

More than the $150 I wanted just to make it worth while but less than the $350 I was hoping for. And after the van rental, gas and parking ticket, our net was more like $175.

We dropped off the worthless stuff at goodwill as well as the heavy tv that we almost killed us to carry. We kept about 4 boxes of stuff to try again at a later date or keep.

So where are we now?

location: Toronto
savings: $30,175
ETD: March 15, 2009 (or earlier)

(and it's time to start thinking happy thoughts for Adrian - his current contract finishes Oct 3 and he'll need a new one)

The Storm Watch

time for plan b

To keep people in the loop while we were in New Orleans I posted some updates on facebook. This entry is a reposting of these entries with a few more details and pictures. 

Friday, August 29, 2008 - New Orleans:
After a way too early flight via Philadelphia, we've arrived safe and sound in New Orleans on the 3rd anniversary of Katrina and our 10th. It's sunny and about a bazillion degrees outside even before the 90% humidity. You'd never guess that a Hurricane is on it's way. Except for the convoy of army and national guard we passed on the highway. 

Our cadillac-driving cab owner told us that they are expecting the evacuation orders tomorrow. Great. But other folks are a little more laissez-faire following any talk of mandatory evacuations with a "we'll just wait and see" or occasionally a "f*ck that shit"

The W Hotel is great. Our room has a balony that overlooks the Court House. To celebrate our anniversary they gave us a free dinner at their restaurant. Good thing since, a handful of the businesses and museums have closed or started boarding up their windows, but there are a lot less people than I remember from 10 years ago. 

We walked around taking in the sights of the French Quarter, making a stop at St. Louis Cathedral to pray for no hurricane - but being a non-believer I don't count on it having much of an effect. So we decided to drown our sorrows at the Napoleon House instead. 

The French Quarter feels a little less seedy and a bit more well scrubbed than our last visit here - even Bourbon Street seems almost civilized. Bourbon Street is still filling up with sweaty half naked-men celebrating gay mardi gras. We'll stay as long as they do. 

But I have started looking into a contingency plan.

Saturday, August 30, 2008 - New Orleans: 
Woke up this morning to an official hotel notice slipped under the door of our room. It brings back fond memories of our trip to Tunisia at the start of the Gulf War. The hotel has given us a heads up that a mandatory evacuation is expected sometime in the next 24 hours. 

Time for plan b. 

I spent 2 hours on the phone last night organizing our contingency plan. Being part of an Expedia package, our tickets are non-refundable or changeable even in a natural disaster, and the insurance I thought we had on our visa has to be applied for before a trip. Grr. Lessons learned. So since our original flight home has us changing planes in Charlotte NC, I purchased new tickets to Charlotte for Sunday. 

The only hiccups will be if the flight on Sunday is cancelled or if the hotel has to evacuate us today. Which all seems so surreal since it's 96 degrees with 86 percent humidity and not a cloud in the sky. 

However, from our balcony we can see a line-up of emergency vehicles around the Court House and the pink building across from us has closed its shutters, padlocked its doors and lined sandbags up in front of the door

Rather than countdown to evacuation in the hotel, we took another walk around the French Quarter over to Canal Street. It's really empty now with even more closures, boarded up windows as well as empty bank machines and palm trees tethered down. As much as I wish we didn't have to leave, if we stayed we wouldn't have much to do in the city (with or without a hurricane). People are taking this hurricane seriously. 

By the time we got back to the hotel, the evacuation order had been issued. While Adrian headed to the store to buy some food and water for our planned overnight camp out in the airport, I headed upstairs to finish our packing. 

The awesome staff who all knew us by our names and had been checking in with us hourly gave us all the info we needed to get out safely. We got the last tourist shuttle to the airport. And we weren't the only ones getting out. The highway was miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic of cars piled high with everything people could take with them. Our shuttle also passed the bus and train station where thousands of poor folks carrying garbage bags and suitcases were lined up for their free evacuation shuttles. And the airport was surrounded by heavily armed police. They were only letting in folks with tickets. 

The airport itself was fairly dead. Just as the hotel staff predicted, the airline changed our (new) tickets to Charlotte for free having added a special evacuation flight for 9 pm that night. 

Inside the terminal, there were at least 5 emergency personel to every passenger. Many of the passengers were coming back from the big college football game and had coolers of food and beer that they shared with those of us who had none. The mood was more party than emergency except that everyone with a laptop was using the free airport wifi to follow Gustav on the National Hurricane Service homepage. 

We boarded the full flight and landed in Charlotte ready for part two of our anniversary trip. 

which way to charlotte?
Monday, September 1, 2008 - Charlotte: 
After a day in North Carolina, I have only one thing to say.

Charlotte is lame. 

It's a ghost town just like evacuated New Orleans. Except there's no hurricane warning. New Orleans at least still had soul. Charlotte? None. We saw about 4 other people on the streets today. 

We walked from one end of the city to the other (excluding the vast suburbs) in about 30 minutes. It's all sparkly new skyscrapers with bank names on them. The hotel looks exactly like an office building from the outside and only markedly better on the inside. 

Finding something to do has been a challenge. After we spent a couple of hours in one of the few museums and then at a small gallery, one of the fewer other open places, there wasn't much left. 

Since we were staying downtown where everything was closed, I scoured chowhound to find a place to eat that was close but open. We still had to take a cab to get there. It was okay; our server at least appeared to be human and not another cookie cutter pageant queen. The tv over the bar was tuned into Gustav reminding us why we were in Charlotte in the first place. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2008 - Charlotte: 
Glad Gustav didn't kill New Orleans, I really would like to get back there so we can fully experience that city someday. 

Charlotte however, well, let's just leave it there. Because if you can't say anything nice, don't say it anything. 

We walked the length of the city again, looking for open stuff. Here are some highlights. 
  • The Afro-American Cultural Centre was closed on Monday. And shocked we wanted to take a tour there on Tuesday.
  • The McColl Center for the Art was closed on Monday. And then changing displays on Tuesday (i.e. essentially closed). Although they did allow us to poke around the stuff they were setting up and pointed us to us to another tiny gallery.
  • The free tourist trolley was empty of any tourists save us. 
  • All museums were closed on Monday. Almost all were closed on Sunday and then on Tuesday too. 
  • The tourist information office was closed all long weekend. 

So I spent 3 hours online researching the city and marking up a free hotel map to create our own walking tour which lasted only 30 minutes due to Charlotte's tradition of knocking down anything old. 

Thanks to a homeless guy who befriended us and joined us on our walking tour of the city, we found out why Charlotte was as devoid of life as it was. 

About 20 years ago, the downtown was rundown and "the hood" (his word not mine). Some banks decided to rejuvenate the city by building their headquarters there. And by rejuvenation they meant kick out all the black people and levelling the city. And yes, they literally levelled the city

So now it looks like a giant shopping mall, with public art pieces that reference the proud heritage of Charlotte but without any of that proud heritage left standing. 

He also confirmed the very quiet but very clear racist undercurrent that we were feeling in the city. Ick ick ick ick. 

As we parted ways with "Baltimore", he told us "they can flush the rats down the tunnel, but the rats will swim right back up it. I guess that means he and many others weren't leaving Charlotte just yet. 


southern power

Saturday, September 6, 2008

so much to do so little time and money


Before I post about our Storm Watch Tour 2008. I have a big change. 

I'm going to do this post backwards, starting with so where are we now?

location: Toronto
savings: $28,600
ETD: March 15, 2009 (although we may go earlier)

Yes, you'll notice a new date there. 
No, we're not getting cold feet.

Our trip to New Orleans and the resulting flight changes not only ate into the savings but also made me realize that emergencies can cost a lot more than you realize. And for The Big Trip™ that meant saving up for a bigger resettlement cushion and boosting the ever important just in case buffer.  

A later departure date also means a rejigging of our itinerary - either starting in South Africa and pushing South America to the end of the trip or adding Central America to the itinerary. But that's another post once we have a better idea of when we'll actually be leaving.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Storm Watch 2008


So in less than 12 hours we're taking off to New Orleans on Katrina's 3rd anniversary and our 10th. 

It also appears that soon-to-be Hurricane Gustav is on the way to NOLA as well. Oh dear. I have no idea what to do. It's not a hurricane yet, it's too soon to confirm the path and I'm never been in this situation before. We'll go and if things look bad we'll leave early. But in the meantime just keep wishing the Gustav west. Rain I can deal with. Hurricanes no.

Repeat after me...

West, West, West, West, 

Saturday, August 16, 2008

It was 10 years and they were still very much in love


So 10 years ago on August 29, 1998, Adrian and I got married. We were young and terrified (as you can tell by the expression on our faces) and all we knew was that we were miserable apart. So we took a giant leap of faith and got married. I was trying to finish up my degree and Adrian wasn't allowed to work in the country. We were also incredibly poor. 

For our honeymoon, we went as far as we could go which was New Orleans. But had no money to do much when we actually got there. We stayed at a bed and breakfast - the cost of which I had to split between a fist full of US dollars and the little balance available on my one student credit card. We went to a time share pitch just so we could get the free dinner vouchers. Yes we were really that poor. But we had a great time.

10 years later times aren't so tough for us. In the bank we've got more money than we ever saw the first few years we were married and we're getting ready to see the world. 

10 years later New Orleans is recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Katrina hit us not just because it was hit the city we first travelled to but also because it occurred on our anniversary. We followed the drama unfold on the news with horror and sadness. We'd been to the Superdome to see a football game. We'd walked those flooded streets. In fact Tropical Storm Earl hit while we were there in 1998 and we'd seen how quickly the streets filled with water. Although in our case the streets emptied just as quick. 

10 years later we've decided to go back to New Orleans for our anniversary. Not just to experience the city with a few bucks in our pocket. But also to put some of those bucks back into the city.

We'll arrive on August 29 - our 10th anniversary and the 3rd anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Happiness and sadness all at the same time. But I think it's only fitting that before the Big Trip™ we go back to the city where it all started. 

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Answering the question: So where are you going?


Recently, we've started telling people about the trip. Not just casually mentioning "ya, I'd like to travel the world someday" but "we're leaving in November and we're not coming back, are you going to miss us". After the slack-jawed shock wears off, invariably, the first question is where are you going?

If money weren't an issue, the answer would be where aren't we going. But this is real life. And time and money are an issue. 

Although we've always wanted to see the world, the Big Trip™ became a real goal just over a year ago. We were chatting about where to go for our next little trip, and I said it was time for us to hit Africa again. However, air fares for Tanzania were about $2500 each or $1700 if we flew to London and then hooked up with a charter of some sort. But with only two weeks vacation time available that was too much money or too little time to make the trip worthwhile. 

Doing a little more digging at Airtreks, I discovered that you could get a RTW ticket from $1600 (albeit with a generic route London, Bangkok, Sydney, New York). Wow around the world for $1000 less. And then I noticed their trip planner tool. 5 hours of playing out dream scenario after dream scenario and seeing a total that was only $5000 I was in love. I knew that we had to go RTW and we had to do it now. 

Of course, nothing is that simple. After figuring out the financial plan, we had to adjust the time frame. But once we were well on our way to getting the money together, we started the "where do we go" discussion. Actually negotiation is a better phrase. We both like to travel, but our lists don't always match. Previously, we alternated picking trips. Adrian's choices were Tunisia, Cuba, Peru, and most of the US destinations. I picked Gambia, Buenos Aires, Cambodia, and India. But now we'd have to combine dream destinations. 

We each made lists of must sees. 
Mine: Africa, Russia, and China
Adrian: Brazil, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, Italy and Egypt. 

Combine these lists and you'll see that this is 6 continents (including Canada) and a lot of miles. This makes it the most expensive RTW itinerary and not really feasible. So the first to go were Australia and New Zealand. Too far and too expensive and easy to do when you're older. The next to go Italy. Too expensive and easy to do when we're living in the UK. This left us with South America, Africa, Russia, Asia, which is slightly more manageable. 

The next step is how to go. I looked at Air Treks and then to stretch the airmiles I looked at Oneworld and Staralliance. Using Staralliance, was the best bet. They fly from South America to Africa and we already have 50,000 airmiles with them. Using their trip planner helped us establish a rough itinerary.
  • Toronto to Santiago 
  • Overland to Sao Paolo. (via Chile, Bolivia, Argentina Paraguay and Brazil) 
  • Sao Paolo to Johannesburg.
  • Overland Johannesburg to Egypt. (via South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Jordan) 
  • Egypt to the UK for a visit with Adrian's family. 
  • UK to St. Petersberg overland to Beijing via the Transmongolian. (stopping along the way in Russia and Mongolia) 
  • Overland to India. (taking in China, Tibet, Nepal and Northern India).
  • Calcutta to Bangkok
  • Overland South East Asia (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia - still not sure where)
  • Singapore to Tokyo
  • Tokyo to Toronto
Phew, that was a mouthful. Hope you're still with us. Of course this is all subject to change - so don't get married to anything (that was more a note to me than to you). Already we're looking at the finances and we may have to drop off everything after India. Or simplify Africa. But at this exact moment the map on the right there shows are desired route from Santiago to Calcutta. 

In order to catch good weather in all the locations (nothing that requires a winter coat) we have to leave by mid-November. Or change it completely. (the qualifiers come out once again)

This is the plan. But no tickets are booked yet. At the moment, we're planning to buy along the way. But that could change too. 

Now when you ask "So where are you going?" I think I have an answer. Although it comes with a huge asterisk. Because you can plan all you want but life can always throw you a real curve ball. 

Saturday, July 5, 2008

I know this city like the back of my hand. Hey what's that there?


I love Toronto. I really do. However, my heart is set on living in England once we've travelled around the world. 

But before we leave this city, we thought it was important to try and see as much of it as possible. Sure there's the philosophical reason: experience your own country before you experience others. But there's also the economic reason: it's cheap. 

Since we're saving for the Big Trip™ free has become our favourite word. And we've discovered that Toronto has a plethora of free stuff to do. 


There's lots of other stuff that we're looking at doing, like Frommer's self-guided tours, Afrofest, Masala Mendhi Masti, all the Taste of festivals, more walking tours. So we scour the listings in NOW for fun free things. Never mind, the pay what you can events like Shakespeare in the Park. 

The only downside is the more we see the more we realize that we'll miss this city when we're gone. 

In the words of Pepe Le Pew, le sigh.

I guess it's time for an update. Adrian did indeed find another contract and the savings continue. However, I've started purchasing gear for the trip (fancy camera, laptop, etc) so there's no big jump since the last update.

So where are we now?

location: Toronto
savings: $22,100
ETD: November 15, 2008


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Rain, rain go away, please! i'm begging you.


It's been 3 months since I returned from Vancouver and I still don't know what to say about it. Disappointed? Confused? Sad? Maybe all of the above. And then some. My lack of enthusiasm about the city could be the reason that I've not hurried to finish this post. 

I can't blame Vancouver wholy. I was there for work. I came straight from London - a city I love. And the weather was crap.

I left London at 3:30pm. I arrived in Toronto at 5:30pm. Adrian met me at the airport so I could hand over my dirty laundry, dry cleaning and trinkets that I wouldn't need in Vancouver. And so I could give him the black bin bag full of proper British goodies that had caused me so much grief to and at Gatwick. We had dinner at the Swiss Pigeon at the airport - ah romance. Then I boarded my 8:30pm WestJet flight to Vancouver com - 5 hours of a baby that didn't just cry it wailed, something seatback television can't fix. 

By the time I got to the Opus Hotel and checked in it was midnight and I had been awake for 24 hours. The room was lovely. The bathroom however was not for the faint of heart. It ran the width of the room overlooking the street and I do mean overlooking the street. One wall was floor to ceiling windows. Needless to say, I kept the shades down the entire stay. That wasn't the only odd thing about the Opus. On weekends, the lobby turned into a nightclub complete with bouncers who made us show our room keys to get into the hotel. But it wasn't a cool nightclub - instead it seemed full of suburbanites with too much money and not a lot of sense. And gang members. In fact one night while having a drink, my co-workers and I found ourselves surrounded by 7 police officers in windbreakers with "gang task force" written on the back. Soon they zeroed in on two guys and removed them from the bar. Weird, very weird.

Vancouver was full of oddities like that. Despite being surrounded by beautiful mountains and the sea, the city itself is downright ugly. Most of it seems to have popped up in the last 20 years. All concrete and glass condos devoid of any personality or redeeming features. When combined with the constant drizzle this did not make for a happy trip. 

I did some Lonely Planet walking tours that took me from Yaletown where I was staying to Chinatown and Gastown. Most of the downtown was more of the concrete and glass condos except for Granville with it's numerous neon theatre signs. And then I noticed that the streets went from retro to rundown. Dear old LP neglected to mention that they were taking me to Main & Hastings until I was at Main & Hastings. This is the poorest postal code in Canada and the New York City of heroin addicts. Although it was the weekend, the streets were heaving with junkies wandering aimlessly. Occasionally, men in a reflective vests would weave through the crowds sweeping up syringes from the sidewalk. I wish I could say I was exaggerating. Once I realized where I was I put the camera away - this wasn't a zoo and these people weren't attractions. 

I escaped from the blight in the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden  - a quiet classic garden and oasis downtown. I checked out Chinatown that seemed too orderly and not stinky enough to be real. I walked across Gastown in about two seconds and saw the steam clock that doesn't run on steam. 

Between the constant drizzle and the various disappointments on the tour, I was about to write Vancouver off when a co-worker texted me to meet up. When we met at the old train station, my sightseeing had put me in a foul mood leading the ever-cheerful Cheryl to dub me the crusty traveller. She'd spent the day driving around Stanley Park with a friend. She'd actually seen the mountains and some of the super-natural stuff that makes people think Vancouver is beautiful. When I told her where I'd been, she made it her mission to improve my impression of the city by taking me to Robson via the business district. Sure it was nicer than the boarded up east side but not enough to change my first impression. We walked to the Burrard Street Bridge and along the sea wall back to the hotel at which point our feet were numb. 

Unfortunately, the weather never improved while I was in Vancouver. Unfortunate not just because we were trying to shoot some sunny summer ads in the middle of daily downpours but also unfortunate because it thwarted Cheryl and I's plans to bike out around Stanley Park or go whale watching. Instead we settled for quick trips to Granville Market (meh, probably much cooler if you like shopping and aren't trying to save your money for The Big Trip™) and the Vancouver Art Gallery or what Cheryl insists I call the Vag. The Vag was actually my favourite site in the city. It's the perfect size for an afternoon and the exhibitions were really well thought out. Finally, something I could give thumbs up to in Vancouver.

Actually, there was something else I enjoyed about Vancouver. Thanks to an expense account and my production company, I did get to have some fantastic dinners. Vancouver is known for it's food. And while I wouldn't say it's a worth the flight, it was definitely a highlight.
One night we were taken to Zen - a chichi Chinese nouvelle cuisine restaurant in Richmond. It is supposedly the best Chinese restaurant outside of China. And our dinner consisted of a 9 course tasting menu - foie gras, curried whelk, shark's fin soup, lobster, shredded chicken, sea bass, pork cheek. Interesting and decadent but a little over the top. 

Another night we went to Glowbal. The food was good but the best part was the trick we played on our producer, Meghan, with the help of the great staff there. Producers are the accountants of a shoot (as well as den mothers, nurses, travel agents and all round asskickers) and this job was on a budget. And Meghan was feeling a bit of pressure to keep the spending low. When she called us just after we'd ordered to tell us she'd meet up with us, we decided to test her. With the help of a couple of waiters and a bus boy, we littered the table with empty champagne bottles, and carefully decorated the table cloth with wine glasses and water marks. So by the time we were done, it looked like Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan and the rest of Hollywood AA had just relapsed at our table.  When Meghan walked in, she eyed the debris took a deep breath but said nothing. The waiter handed her a wine list and we suggested more champagne. She cautiously said "okay" while she started counting the bottles and the bill. When she asked how much, the waiter casually threw out "It's just a buck fifty a bottle". It was about then that her mental tally finished totalling and the normally calm cool and collected and sweet Meghan lost it. The colour drained from her face before switching to a deep crimson. Screaming at the top of her lungs she let loose on us. "What the f*ck have you guys done?!? I told you, you had a budget! $100 per diem - that's it. What the f*ck have you done!?! Are you serious?!?!" She didn't notice the entire wait staff standing behind her doubled over in laughter and mistook the tears of laughter on our faces for drunkenness. It took a few minutes and a stiff drink to convince her it was a joke. The good sport even picked up the tab leaving a lovely tip for the awesome staff.

We had the biggest plates of Italian food ever at Cafe Luxy.
We had too much sangria at Lolita's
We enjoyed super service and japanese tapas at Guu
We went fancy for sea food at the Blue Water Cafe
We enjoyed doughnuts from Deep Cove.
And many other meals I didn't mean to forget. 

This almost made up for getting soaked to the bone while shooting in Lynn Valley - a park that quickly transitioned from beautiful to horror film when dense fog rolled in. The cast and crew were real troopers and made sure we got what we needed. But I wasn't sad when it was all over. Finally after 2.5 weeks, 8 time zones, 17,000 km, 10 days straight of rain and one lost umbrella, I was back home. 

Thursday, May 29, 2008

And the score is taxes 0, liz 1000.

I know, I know. I haven't posted the London or Vancouver trip reports. I'll do it this weekend, I promise but not if it's really beautiful out or I have to work again. Okay I promise nothing. Works been rather nutso lately and I haven't slept much. So how about a financial update instead. 

So where are we now?

location: Toronto
savings: $19,400
ETD: November 15, 2008

Adrian may have found a contract - nothing is signed yet so please cross your fingers. You're probably wondering, if Adrian hasn't been working and we haven't won the lottery how have we been able to save money? Actually, you most likely weren't wondering but I was. So I went and looked at the bank statement to figure out what we did. And then I remembered. 

Co-workers told me that I was able to write off some things as employment expenses. Curious, I did a little digging and found out they were right. My job requires me to have a mobile and internet access, so I can write them off. I went back and adjusted the last three years worth of tax returns and found $1000. Not bad. And that money went into the Big Trip™ fund. Moral of the story? Read every line of the tax return booklet; you might just find some money in it. 

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Serendipity and Umbrellas in London


It's been over two month since I was in UK so it's about time I filled you in on the details. So here goes.

When Adrian and I had decided to go on The Big Trip™ back in 2007 we also decided that we'd have to save some cash. That meant no Biggish Trips™ like we'd done in years past. It also meant that at the end of 2007 I had two weeks worth of vacation to take. Now we're not the sort to take time off and stay at home. But where to go that required the least amount of spending? Cuba. Prefect price and great time. 

But that left me with 5 days to use up before the end of March and no cash. I cashed in some air miles for $500 in travel vouchers. Then cashed those in for a ticket to London at the end of March. The plan was to stay with friends, just hang out and relax. Of course, about a month after I booked the el cheapo tickets I found out I'd be going to Vancouver immediately after London for work. So my short trip was suddenly became a Biggish Trip™.

The biggest challenge was what and how to pack. I'd essentially be away for 3 weeks and have no access to reasonably priced laundry. And I'd be going away at an iffy time of year - there was still a foot of snow on the ground in Toronto; probability of rain in both London and Vancouver was at least 100%; it could also be freakishly warm - thank you global warming. That means a lot of clothes. Oh and I had to carry a load of Canadian delicasies - kraft dinner, red licorice, sugar-free bubble gum and Tylenol - for my friends. 

The night before I left I spent three hours trying to cram things in a backpack, then in a supersize suitcase, before settling on a dufflebag with wheels. I dragged the bag to work, on the TTC, at rush hour. That made me popular; the number of stink eyes I received was a new world record I'm sure. But I didn't take much notice - I was more concerned with whether or not the pressure of so much stuff was going to cause the zipper to pop on the bag showering the bus, subway and streetcar with my dainties. 

Oh and I was also carrying my favourite full size pink camouflage umbrella.

As much as I loved this umbrella the moment I decided to bring it with me, I knew was the beginning of the end of our relationship. Between the 8 time zones I'd be travelling, the different modes of transport I be taking, and my horrible memory, I resigned myself to the fact that this beloved umbrella was never going to see Toronto again. 

The umbrella survived the el cheapo flight on Air Transat and my journey from Gatwick to Barnes via train and taxi. My duffle bag? Not so much. The over full bag dragged on the ground, rendering the wheels useless. As for me, I was tired but not too bad.  But after briefly chatting with my friend and host, the lovely Julie-Ann I put my head down for a brief nap.

At noon, I grabbed a shower and went online to figure out how to meet up with my friend Dave. He was in London for one day only for a job interview. Our plan was to have a drink and catch up. I found his mobile number and texted him then headed to the general area where I knew his interview was. As I was exiting Russell Square station I was suddenly face to face with Dave. 

"Yay you got my text." I screamed.
"What text? I just finished my interview and was wondering how was I going to get in touch with you."
"No text?"
"Nope, no text."
"Oh well, here we are. Let's go for a drink."

It appeared my knowledge of overseas texting was wrong and instead it was serendipity that caused two Canadian friends, coming from Toronto and Amsterdam, to bump into each other on the streets of London. We found a pub across from the British Museum and had some drinks and talked - Dave, about moving from Amsterdam to Barcelona and me, about the upcoming Big Trip™. While I went to the loo, Dave started chatting with the guy sitting next to him, another Canadian from Vancouver where I was soon headed. The world was getting smaller the longer we were in London. 

Soon it was time for Dave to catch his flight back to Amsterdam. He left me outside the Time Out building where I met up with my friend Catherine as well as JA. We all used to work together at the same ad agency 5 years ago so they took me to the mecca of after-work drinking for UK ad folks, Charlotte Street. Throngs of ad folk, were spilling out on to the road, drinks and smokes in hand. Just wanting to chat, we picked the least crowded pub/bar to catch up cau then headed to Busaba (a thai chain with communal seating but no website) for some food before calling it a night.

While my first day in London had been sunny and beautiful, the next morning I woke up to the sound of rain pounding on the window. I grabbed my umbrella and headed to Borough and Southbank with plans to meet Catherine at the Tate Modern later in the afternoon. Despite the rain, I took in the city hall, and funky retrofit architecture before stumbling across the Design Museum. Trying to escape a complete soaking, I spent a couple of hours in here. The British Design Awards were on display and there was so much cool stuff. I can't even begin to describe it: the coolest architectural model ever, a fun interactive video display, designer clothes inspired by vacuums and something called the Burble

When I finally left the museum, I was greeted by another amazing sight - the sun. I headed over to the Tate Modern. Catherine was running late so I enjoyed the sunny weather and wandered around outside. That's just one amazing thing about London - you don't have to go anywhere specific to see some really cool things. Just walk around. As it got a bit darker and colder I headed into the Tate. 

I'd been to the Tate not to long ago so I didn't feel like visiting the permanent collection this time. Instead I walked along the length of The Crack. The Crack is/was an art installation in the turbine hall of the Tate. A giant crack in the floor that runs the length of the Hall (here's what it looked like without the crack). It was much cooler in person than I expected and helped past the time until Catherine could escape work to join me.
 
Eventually, Catherine arrived and we checked out the exhaustive Man Ray, Duchamp and Picabia exhibit. Afterwards Catherine suggested that we head to the pub near her flat for a low-key dinner and drinks.  Well we thought it would be low-key. (Un)lucky for us the only seats were at the end of a table full of rather tipsy guys. Soon we were being entertained by one of them named Lee. He told us some very bad jokes and displayed his exhaustive repetoire of stupid parlour tricks. After a bit of forced conversation and we discovered Lee and his mates were all ad guys. So much for escaping work. They were soon bundled off in cabs, leaving us with their untouched 7th bottle of wine. Thank you very much Lee and co. Once again, serendipity strikes. 

Thanks to Lee's left over wine, the next morning was a rather lazy one. Until Catherine's flatmate returned home and we chatted, soon discovering that she knew Adrian - they used to work together in Toronto. Across the Atlantic, serendipity strikes again. 

In the afternoon, Catherine and I headed back to Julie-Ann's to experience the Boat Race. The Boat Race is the official name for the annual Cambridge Oxford rowing showdown on the Thames. And to a Canadian like me, it brings to mind all stereotypes of the UK. A lot of tradition and stuffy ceremony. I soon learned how far from the truth that was. 

The weather had turned to shit again by the time we arrived at JA's house. It was rainy and the wind had picked up. When we walked in the door JA greeted us.
"What would you like to drink?"
I quickly learned that this was the unofficial tagline of the Boat Race. In spite of or because of, 179 years of tradition, the Boat Race was not about boating or racing it was about drinking. Oh well when in Barnes...

We watched the full day of programming dedicated to the crews, the crews' families, the race, every past race, the current conditions and the past conditions. A few hours (and a few drinks) in and we were all hoping for a repeat of the 1978 boat sinking so we could be a part of the history. So we bundled up and headed down to the banks of the Thames. 

Catherine in her rubber boots, Julie-Ann with her umbrella and me in a hoodie, we slogged through the mud to an appropriate vantage point. Around us, people of all ages and all levels of drunkenness shouted out school cheers that got progressively louder as the helicopter accompanying the boats got closer and closer. Finally, we saw a dot on the horizon. It was Oxford. But where was Cambridge? Had they sunk like we hoped? 

The crowd went crazy as the Oxford crew rowed past in a blink of the eye. Minutes later Cambridge followed. And then the fleet of other boats of various size and vintage. It was soon official. Oxford had crushed Cambridge. 

video
As soon as the boats passed, the crowds surged towards a pub near Putney. It was packed and people were spilling over into the street. And we soon realized that we were relatively sober and pushed our way inside to remedy the situation. Inside, it was even worse. But infinitely more enjoyable. A DJ that looked like someone's Dad was spinning the worst hits of the 80s as people drunkenly danced and hit on each other like it was last call. It was only 6pm. We amused ourselves until hunger kicked in.
video 
We headed back to Julie-Ann's, ordered some Indian take-away and went to bed. 

The next day the three of us headed to Spitalfields to check out the Sunday market. I loved Spitalfields. I wanted to buy everything at every stall but I restrained myself and for that,  the Big Trip™ Fund is eternally thankful. I saw the infamous Brick Lane and Rough Trade records. But one of the coolest things was the Weiden + Kennedy office. Since I follow the W+K blog, it was fun to see the office in reality. As well as a lobby full of funky collectibles and odd art installations, their front window was set up like a miniature Tube map but the tubes were actual tubes where rats played, erm slept. They called it Rat Race. Clever buggers those W+K folk.  

My last full day in London, I was by myself. I watch the rain fall in the morning and as soon as it let up I grabbed my umbrella and headed into the city. I didn't really feel like sightseeing but Adrian had requested I bring him back a specific geeky comic book book for him. I remembered seeing a comic book shop my first day near the British Museum. So that's where I went. I found the comic store and found the book. And since I'd twice been standing across from the British Museum in the last 4 days, I thought maybe I should check it out. When I discovered it was free I was slightly more convinced. 

The first time I was in London in 1987, I stayed around the corner from the Museum but never ventured in. This time I almost didn't bother either except when I looked up the cost of admission in my handy dandy little guidebook, they reminded me of the Great Court. In 2000, a renovation and expansion to the British Museum included the addition of this new structure designed by Sir Norman Foster. Being a bit of an architecture junky I had to see it. And I was not disappointed. Despite the cloudy day, the Great Court seemed eerily bright. The asymmetrical roof played with perspective. And I loved the juxtaposition of the old structure against the new.  After an hour of snapping pictures of this area, I decided what the heck why not check out the museum. 

The British Museum was thankfully smaller than I thought it would be. Yet still huge and chockablock. I rushed through the exhibits: a room full of mummies, the Grenville Library, Roman statuary in the stairways, more Egyptian reliefs in the halls, and finally the Elgin marbles. I took a final few pictures of the Great Court before heading out to no where in particular. 

I really wasn't sure where I was heading. But I soon found myself walking past sharp dressed men in bespoke suits (men, if you splurge on one fashion item ever, please make it a bespoke suit. perfect tailoring will always get you laid.) and face to face with Bush House - home to the BBC world service. I turned down Fleet Street and almost smack dab into a scrum of reporters. Cameras were trained on some sad looking chap with the word Diana written on his face in blue paint - that's right today was some verdict in the Diana inquiry/inquest/trial and I was now standing outside of the Courts. I randomly turned down some side streets before walking through a narrow covered alleyway into the Inns of Court, home to the legal profession in England and the Knights' Templar Church. It was so quiet and pretty despite being a weekday that a puttered around for a bit before heading back to Barnes for a quiet final evening with Julie-Ann. 

I slept in as much as I could the next morning, knowing I had a full day of plane travel ahead of me. Packing was just as difficult thanks to the two grocery bags of crisps and chocolates I had picked up for Adrian at the local Tesco. I compacted the goodies into one plastic bag which I planned to carry on. Which meant I was carrying a large duffle bag with now broken wheels and no shoulder strap, a garbage bag of treats, my computer bag, purse and full size umbrella. That's right, I still had my umbrella. All this luggage was no big deal, I thought. I was taking a taxi to Clapham Junction and the train would take me directly to the airport. Easy peasy. But once I was out of the taxi I realized it wasn't going to be that easy. 

Navigating the thousands of stairs in the train station and airport while carrying all that stuff and wearing three layers of clothing under a suddenly hot spring sun, meant I was panting and sweating and I had left myself short on time. No worries, I now only had to make it to the Air Transat check in desk. But where was it? I walked from check-in A to check-in J but saw no Air Transat check in. So I walked from J-A and still no Air Transat desk. A river of sweat ran down my back. My muscles trembled under the strain of my luggage. The minute clock jumped forward another 15 minutes. Desperate, I asked someone at a random desk. They pointed over my shoulder. I turned around and saw a flight of stairs. 

"Down. the. stairs?" I asked, fearing the answer. 

The clerk nodded. I stumbled down the stairs with my flotilla of luggage. The hallways were dark but around a final corner I found the lonely Air Transat check in. Thankful, I dumped my busted duffle bag on the conveyor belt and picked up my boarding pass. I headed back up the stairs to the security lineup. By now the bag of goodies was coming apart. As I struggled to contain everything, I was directed to an xray machine. I stripped off my layers, took out my computer, and placed them along side my umbrella and bag of goodies on the conveyor belt. I watched it all disappear into the xray machine when an angry voice called out. 

"Who told you to come here?! We're closed!" It was one of the operators of the machine. 
"The man over there" I pointed to the empty stool where the man had been sitting.
"We're closed you can't come here! You must go to another line! Who told you to come here!?"
"The man... he... um... sorry I didn't know... um... I need my stuff. It's in the machine." 
The two security folks glared at me and then looked down at the xray machine; the handle of my pink umbrella was all I could see of the pile of stuff now inside the xray machine. Then they looked at me and I swear they shrugged. As if to say, sorry we can't give you your stuff. No I had to get it back.
"Can I have my things please?" Now the easiest option would have been to let me and my bags through the metal detector and xray machine respectively. But nothing was going to be easy today. 
"We're closed - it can't go through."
"I just want my stuff. Can you turn it back on?" The glare they gave me still burns so I added. "That's fine, I'll just reach in and take it out." 
They glared again and this time, the burn went right through me and marked the wall just behind me. They exhaled loudly, pressed a button and the belt lurched forward another few inches. Now none of my belongings were in view. We stared at each other for an eternity. Then the belt began to reverse and my three layers, umbrella, shoes, computer, computer bag purse and now completely unravelled bag of goodies came tumbling out. 

As I scooped them up in my arms and walked towards the next line, the xray zombies called out.  "You weren't supposed to be here we're closed." 

I finally got to the front of the right security line and began dumping my stuff on the conveyor belt, trying desperately to contain it's ever-growing size. 
"You're only supposed to have one carry-on bag." The new xray zombie called out.
"I know, I'll do it on the other side. My bag broke and..."
"You're supposed to do it before." 
"I'm so sorry, I'll..."
"You can't take that with you."
She held up my beloved umbrella. 
"But I brought it here." 
"Sorry." She started to take the umbrella and place it in the confiscated goods bin, along side corkscrews, nail clippers, butter knives and various pool cues. I had to stop her. 
"But it's my favourite umbrella."
"Fine, you'll have to check it though." She pointed back to where I came from. 

So I grabbed all my stuff, and headed out of the security area, down the stairs, through the dark halls in the bowels of Gatwick arriving again at the Air Transat check in desk. 
"I have to check this in" I blurted.
"Oh? That has to go in at over sized luggage." The rep replied in sing song. 
"What?" I whispered. My voice had gone eerily soft, like a pitch black sky before the first crack of lightening in a thunderstorm.
"Over-sized luggage. It's..."she pointed away from the check in desk. 
"Take it." I thrust the umbrella in her face. 
"No need really, it's just upstairs". 
Something inside of me snapped. 
"Take it! I don't want it any more! It's not worth it. I've been up and down this airport 5 times already. I don't want it. I just want out of this airport."

The stunned woman gingerly took the umbrella and stared at it like I had handed her a severed limb. 

I walked through the dark halls, back up the stairs, past a man who felt it necessary to tell me I looked like I was having a bad day, through the metal detector and onto the plane. Serendipity had come to a crashing halt, claiming my beloved umbrella on the way.