nancy camino

Fulfilling a 40 year Camino de Santiago Dream

An interview with Nancy of WalkSit.com.

Nancy felt pretty unfit, and wondered if she could I actually walk nearly one thousand kilometres at the age of 56. Her Camino de Santiago dream began 40 years ago, but like many of us, life got in the way. She recently decided to wait no longer, bought her ticket to Spain and completed her first Camino! Nancy’s story caught my attention as completing a long-distance walk like the Camino is a goal of mine too, and I could relate to her age/fitness concerns. I’m delighted Nancy agreed to answer a few questions about her journey.

 

The Via de la Plata Camino Route

The Via de la Plata Camino Route

Q: What made you take the plunge and fulfill your 40-year dream?

Nancy: I’d gone through a bad workplace experience at the beginning of the year that sort of topped off an arduous 12 months the year before. So I decided to “retire” as I’d reached my Super’s preservation age [in Australia, early retirement – Ed.] and access most of my Super to renovate my house, take a sabbatical to recoup, and to fulfil my dream. Until I’d bought the ticket ($3K) I didn’t actually believe I was going to walk the Camino after all these years.

Q: Why did you choose the Via de la Plata Camino route (Seville to Santiago de Compostela) instead of the more popular Way of St. James route?

Nancy before the Camino, at the airport in Australia.

Nancy before the Camino, at the airport in Australia.

Nancy: My answer probably says more about me than anything else. OK – since I’d taken the plunge and accessed my Super, I thought I’ll do this Camino thing, then I thought I can’t be bothered with crowds of people (the Camino Frances is very populated) and I certainly didn’t want to be competing for beds every day SO I picked one of the hardest and least travelled routes. The Granada route sounded too hard (see Sinning Across Spain by Ms Piper) so the Via de la Plata was my first choice. Veteran pilgrims I met along the way said they’d rarely heard of any newbie tackling the Via de la Plata as their first Camino.

But my attitude was just to do it – I didn’t know what to expect really so I went in naïve and ready for anything.

Q: Did you do a lot of physical preparation for the walk?

Nancy: I thought I was “heroic” walking 8 kilometres every few days for about 4 weeks! Ha! When it came to practising with a loaded rucksack, as they suggest you do, I put that off for weeks as I didn’t want to find out that my back with its severe arthritis couldn’t manage it. Talk about avoidance and procrastination!

Q: Along the way, were your biggest challenges mental or physical? What did you learn about your body’s physical abilities?

Nancy: My biggest challenges, as a new pilgrim, included not being too clingy and dependent on more experienced peregrinos. I spent a lot of my first 2 weeks strongly doubting my own capabilities to get out of the village and manage the distance and get into the next village and find accommodation.

Once I figured out that I could do that, I stopped having expectations of other pilgrims. That eased the mental load.

Physically, the distances took their toll on the soles of my feet more than anything. I managed to inflict blisters on myself through stubbornness, but once they cleared up I was fine. Plus your pain threshold rises so you get to a place where you can cope with whatever your body is screaming and just keep walking. You know that you will get there in one piece!

What I learned about our ageing bodies is that we are actually designed to be work-horses. We/I spend so much time being sedentary it’s no wonder we are prone to disease and decay. We are meant to be out using our bodies to their optimum level each day. Mine thrived on walking 15 to 20 ks a day! And I learned that we don’t need all the food we eat in our sedentary lives. I was one of the youngest ones out there at age 56! The oldest I met was 86 and someone met another person aged 94.

Q: Gear – Is there any must-have item that made your walk easier or more enjoyable. Are there any items you wished you brought?

Towards the end of the Camino, Nancy is looking strong and energized.

Towards the end of the Camino, Nancy is looking strong and energized.

Nancy: I positively couldn’t have managed the walk without my walking sticks. I picked up a pair in the local sport shop and had never used sticks before. In fact I’d never walked more than maybe 10 ks in my whole life before! Walking sticks kept me balanced on muddy ground, through longish grass, on bitumen, up hills and mountains, down as well, through all sorts of terrain. They were a support and became my friends. You hear the pilgrims tap tapping out of any village from around 6am onwards on the cobbled roads.

I wish that I had not thrown out my Tiger Balm! And I strongly recommend buying a pair or two of those little shoe skirts that you can get in supermarkets – tradies buy them to keep dirt or sparks etc out of their shoes. Gravel and sand etc on the Camino can do your head in. Shaking out your boots on the Way involves finding somewhere to sit, unloading your rucksack, undoing your laces, etc etc. Those little shoe skirts would have been wonderful. I would take a pair next time.

Q: Food is usually a big part of travel. Was that still true on the Camino? Did you pack food for along the way or eat at restaurants?

Nancy: I was looking forward to what I thought was Spanish food – tortilla, chilli con carne, very spicy food, as I love heat, spice and more spice. But Spanish food in rural Spain is quite plain – after all they are farmers and crop growers. So the food was quite mundane but still very delicious. I did get sick of Menu del Dia but then I ate around 60 of them – grilled meat of some sort and chips.

A few times early on, I made up a big sandwich for the road – as I thought I might be starving to death with all this walking. But eventually, a couple of pieces of fruit were more than adequate for the walk with a light brekkie to start with and as much as you can eat that night in the next town.

I ate at restaurants each night or bar/cafes – but it’s easy to stock up at the supermarket in each village for supplies for the budget-conscious. Just finding out the opening hours is the thing – Spain closes from 1pm to around 5pm every afternoon. (and remember, due to my super money, this was an adventure of a lifetime – I treated myself to whatever I wanted for the first and only time in my life – money was not going to be an issue on this walk!)

Q: While traveling I’m much more active, and love the feeling of getting stronger. But somehow when I get home it’s too easy to slip into old habits. Have the Camino habits carried over into your post-Camino world?

Nancy arriving at the Cathedral of Santiago – triumphant!

Nancy arriving at the Cathedral of Santiago – triumphant!

Nancy: Funny you should ask that as just today I wrote a post about having become a couch potato. For the first couple of weeks since I got back, in October last year, I righteously walked every couple of days. I didn’t want to lose all my excellent muscle definition and tone and feelings of being in top condition. But then the extreme summer heat AND the Christmas season struck so I spent a lot of time indoors. Even now, nearing the end of March, I’m still sedentary.

When you’re out on the Camino, that’s like your job. That’s what you do each day – walk walk walk. There are no pressing issues of real life stressing you out and life is clean and simple and basic. Uncomplicated. Back home, it’s quite different. Same old streets, more of a chore, whatever.

But I’m happy to think that it’s a stage I’m going through and that with the onset of our southern hemisphere winter, I will get back out into walking mode. I believe walking is the best thing because it’s not stressful like jogging on our ageing bodies and it’s free and scenic and flexible.

Q: Any advice for fellow boomers considering this challenge?

Nancy: My biggest realisation is that ageing is made out to be a disease. A complete negative. The media and the culture we occupy are complicit in this. I learnt that we are ageing, yes, but we are strong and vital. No need to think about the nursing home at all ever! If some 94 year old pilgrim is out there walking the Via de la Plata then that says a lot more than I could ever write about how we are capable of a lot more than this culture/society gives us credit for.

My advice? Just do it! If it’s still nagging at you, then that’s a glorious part inside you that is telling you a dream is about to unfold. Make it come true!

Nancy is on a mission to show that we are all more capable of achieving our dreams than we think we are. Please check out her website Walk Sit for walking resources and stories about her Camino journey, and keep up to date with her on Twitter at @walkingsitting or Facebook at walksitcarrywater. Photos are courtesy of Walksit.com.

Are you up for a challenge?

 

sagrada familia cypress

La Sagrada Família

“My client is not in a hurry.”

~ Antoni Gaudi

The highlight of our Spanish road trip to Barcelona was our visit to Gaudi’s masterpiece, the Basilica De La Sagrada Família. Probably the world’s most famous construction site, the church was begun in 1882, and is expected to be completed for the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death in 2026.

Today it is unusual for even major buildings to take more than a few years to complete. Technology has sped up the building process, but fine craftsmanship and details take time, and that type of work is rarely found in modern buildings.

Seeing the church both inside and out was awe inspiring. It is unique among churches, cathedrals, and architecture in general. We were there for several hours and could have stayed longer to appreciate all the details and symbolism. If you go, the audio guide is excellent, and make sure to visit the on-site museum to learn more about Gaudi and his work.

The Nativity Façade celebrates the birth of Jesus the Messiah, and represents life and joy.

About La Sagrada Família

The Sagrada Família was begun on March 19, 1882, from a project by the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. At the end of 1883, Antonio Gaudí was commissioned to take on the project, which he continued until his death in 1926. Since then different architects have continued the work, following the guidelines set out by Antoni Gaudí. From its start, the church has been funded through donations and today also ticket sales from visitors.

When the church is finished it will have 18 towers: the highest adorned with a large cross representing Christ, one to Mary, 12 dedicated to the apostles, and 4 to the evangelists. It can hold 15,000 people, and a choir of 1000.

“Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator.”

~ Antoni Gaudi

Detail of the Nativity Façade

“Because of this, originality consists in returning to the origin.”

~ Antoni Gaudi

“Nothing is invented, for it’s written in nature first.”

~ Antoni Gaudi

“Color in certain places has the great value of making the outlines and structural planes seem more energetic.”

~ Antoni Gaudi

Ceiling detail.

“Glory is light, light gives joy and joy is the happiness of the spirit.”

~ Antoni Gaudi

“The amount of light should be just right, not too much, not too little, since having too much or too little light can both cause blindness.”

~ Antoni Gaudi

Part of the joy was watching other people’s reactions as they entered the church.

Its doors at the main entrance are printed with words from the Bible in various languages including Catalan.

The nearly completed Passion Façade, in contrast to the Nativity Façade, is stark with bone-like pillars. Fitting, as it represents the suffering and crucifixion of Christ.

The Glory Façade, which is the main façade, will be the last to be finished.

About Gaudi

Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) was a Catalan, born in Reus, a small town south of Barcelona. He went to Barcelona to study architecture, and upon completion of his studies, the director of the school commented “Today we have given an architecture degree to a madman or to a genius”.

Entrepreneur Eusebi Güell met Gaudi after seeing his work at the Spanish Pavilion at the 1878 World Fair’s in Paris. He became one of Gaudi’s best friends and clients, allowing him to develop his style on projects without interference, including Park Güell.   

Gaudi took on the Sagrada Família project at the age of 31. He was one of the world’s most outstanding architects and one of the Barcelona’s most well known residents. Seven properties built by Gaudí in or near Barcelona are on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and his work is one of the city’s main cultural attractions.

The workshop at La Sagrada Família

Gaudí’s work is exceptionally creative, and he furthered the development of architecture and building technology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gaudi was inspired first by nature, but also by art nouveau, gothicism, surrealism and modernist styles.

Gaudí was a devout man, attending church twice a day, and believed his architectural ability was a gift from God.

Gaudi’s room, in the house where he lived in Park Güell – today the Gaudí House Museum. Even though he created buildings and objects of beauty, he lived a simple life with few possessions.

On June 7, 1926, Gaudí was knocked down by a tram and seriously injured. He died three days later, and his body was buried on June 12 in the crypt of La Sagrada Família. His last words were “Amen. My God! My God!”

A view of the Sagrada Família from Parc Güell, over-looking the Mediterranean Sea.

The design of the Sagrada Família is challenging and still somewhat controversial. What’s your opinion?

Vero Bistro Moderne Calgary

I recently had a really great brunch at Vero Bistro Moderne, a Calgary restaurant on 10 St. NW, just off Kensington Rd. So last night we decided to give it a try for dinner.

Vero Bistro features modern interpretations of Italian & French cuisine, and executive chef Jenny believes in sourcing fresh, healthy food from local producers and suppliers. It has a cozy atmosphere, modern but romantic, with black & red decor.

A Wonderful Start

To start our server brought out fresh baked focaccia, served with olive oil and 25 year aged balsamic vinegar. The bread was delicious, with bits of roasted peppers, crusty on the outside and delicate on the inside. (For brunch their croissants are also fresh baked, so don’t skip the bread at Vero!)

Fresh baked focaccia with olive oil and a reduction of 25-year aged balsamic vinegar

Next we shared Vero’s signature hand rolled sweet potato gnocchi, with wild boar bacon, gorgonzola, walnuts, maple syrup, and 25 year aged balsamic vinegar. The dumplings were flavourful, and a generous portion, plenty to share for a first course. Although I would have been happy to have leftovers for breakfast this morning.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

The Main Course

For my main course I had pan roasted fresh wild halibut, as recommended by our server, being the freshest time for halibut (for Calgary). I love fish but hate it overcooked, so I was hoping for the best. It was cooked perfectly, and was fresh tasting and yummy, served with manilla clams, asparagus, carrots, mashed potatoes, and piccata sauce. There was a nice balance of fish to vegetables in the meal.

Pan Roasted Fresh Wild Halibut

Darrell had seafood risotto “paella”, with mussels, clams, prawns, scallops, calamari, fish and saffron. It was flavourful and the seafood well-cooked…more risotto than paella. For Darrell it was a little too rich, and the flavour overpowered the delicate taste of the seafood. It would have been more enjoyable with a lighter starter such as a salad.

Seafood Risotto “Paella”

Save Room for Dessert

Even though we were pretty full already, I couldn’t resist a little dessert to finish the meal. So we decided to share the chef’s dessert of the day, which was mango cheesecake, with white chocolate balls and raspberries. This balance of rich but light cheesecake and tart fruitiness was a perfect ending, and disappeared in a flash.

Mango Cheesecake

Overview of Vero Bistro

Overall I would easily recommend Vero Bistro for a special dinner, or their excellent brunch. Chef Jenny’s dishes are creative, with quality ingredients, and well-presented. The diners next to us really enjoyed the seafood for two, and it looked spectacular if you want something really special.

Dinner at Vero Bistro Moderne is not cheap, but in line with Calgary restaurant prices. A pet peeve of mine is paying for tap water–when asked if we preferred still or sparkling we requested tap ($1.50 each). However, the serving size is generous, and it looked like the chef often included fresh bread or a small appetizer to compliment the diner’s meal. Reservations are recommended, and available even for brunch, which is a welcome change from the usual long lineups for weekend brunch in Calgary.

Vero Bistro Moderne

209 10th street NW. Calgary, Alberta T2N 1V5 | (403) 283-8988

www.verobistro.ca

 

Vero Bistro Menu Sample

Letting Go of Our Inhibitions at a Historic Turkish Bath

We were enjoying our lunch at a small cafe near the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Looking up from my lunch I noticed across the narrow road was the Cagaloglu Hamami, with a sign announcing this was one of the “1,000 Places To See Before You Die”. So with some uncertainty we booked an appointment for later that evening.

A Turkish hammam or bath is an essential part of Turkish culture, involving a steam bath, exfoliation, relaxation and socializing with friends. Traditional hammams are segregated by sex, but there are some tourist ones that are coed.

Change booths surround a marble fountain at Cagalogu Hamami.

Cagaloglu Hamami was built in 1741 in order to provide revenue for both the library of Sultan Mahmut I, and for the Hagia Sophia Mosque. Little has changed here, so a visit is a step back in time. It’s believed that King Edward VII, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Franz Liszt and Florence Nightingale have all visited its marble steam rooms. More recent patrons include Tony Curtis, Cameron Diaz, Brian May and Harrison Ford.

Being scrubbed from head to toe

When we arrive I leave Darrell at the men’s side, and I’m directed to the women’s side. First I’m led to my changing booth, where I’m instructed to remove all of my clothes. Everything? Yes, everything. But I’m provided with a thin towel to wrap myself in and clogs for my feet. I’m a bit nervous walking in the clogs on the wet floor.

I’m led to the historic steam room dominated by a massive heated marble platform, large enough to accommodate several guests. There is a high domed ceiling, and marble sinks surround the main platform.

I notice nervously a guest lying naked on top of the marble slab. My host tells me to place my towel on the marble, lie on top of it and to relax. Okayyyyy.  Thankfully the room is steamy and the lighting is soft, so I throw my inhibitions to the wind and do as instructed.

I do manage to relax, and after about 20 minutes of steam bath my masseuse begins the exfoliating scrub. She is very thorough, and after she has finished one side she instructs me to flip over. I’m scrubbed from head to toe — no kidding, she scrubbed my face and my toes, and even washes my hair. After I’m scrubbed, I’m doused with buckets of warm water as my masseuse cheerfully exclaims “Opa!”. (Maybe she’s Greek)

“Opa!” I say back. After the scrubbing there is about a 10 minute body massage, then more relaxing in the steam room. Patrons will often linger here and socialize.

Letting go of our inhibitions at a historic Turkish bath was a bucket list experience, and we left feeling squeaky clean and relaxed. When you visit Turkey, it is something to try at least once.

Have you experienced a traditional Turkish bath?

If you go:

  • Ask at your hotel for recommendations for a historic hammam.
  • Cost: 50 Euros for the exfoliation and massage package we experienced. We both tipped, and I hear it is customary.
  • At most establishments customers on the women’s side are nude, but some I have heard provide disposable panties. Personally I would feel more comfortable with this. Check before you book your appointment. On the men’s side, customers always keep their towel wrap on during the treatment.

 

The White House

How to See Washington DC, Up Close and Personal

Our visit to Washington DC was going to be just a short side trip to our vacation in New York City. But there is so much to see and do that we stayed longer than originally planned. There are numerous world-class museums, monuments, and tours of Capitol Hill, and much of it is free! There are also great restaurants, theatre and arts. Here are a few ideas to make your Washington visit up close and personal.

Yes, that’s really President Obama waving at me!

I’m mostly a moderate (and anyway I’m Canadian), and not politically for or against Obama. But hey, he’s the President of the United States. I was waving as his motorcade drove by, and was so excited when he waved back. Who knows if you will see him when you visit, but we did see motorcades from the White House leave a couple of times.

President Obama leaving the White House.

President Obama leaving the White House.

The other side of the White House

The other side of the White House

We stayed at the Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square, which is only about a block away from the White House. So we saw it several times from all angles.

The White House is grand-looking, but it lacks the over-the-top opulence and scale seen in the residences of many world leaders…and I like that about it. I can imagine it being a home for a family, like the Obamas.

It would have been great to see the inside, but at this time it doesn’t seem to be possible for international visitors. If you are American, you can contact your Member of Congress to request a visit.

Michelle Obama’s garden at the White House

Michelle Obama’s garden at the White House

The Library of Congress – Thomas Jefferson Building

The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress

An American in Paris, hand-written score by George Gershwin.

An American in Paris, hand-written score by George Gershwin.

The Library of Congress’s Thomas Jefferson Building was completed in 1897. The design was based on the Paris Opera House, and is a feast of marble, granite, bronze, gold, and mahogany. It is of the Beaux Arts style, which is theatrical and ornamented, and the most beautiful of the official Washington government buildings.

Congress purchased Thomas Jefferson’s 6,487 volume library in 1814, and since then the congressional library has grown into the largest in the world. There are several interesting exhibits at the Library, including The Gershwin Room and the Bob Hope Gallery. But the highlight is the building itself.

Tour the United States Capitol Building

If you enjoy architecture, history or art, a tour of the Capitol Building is a must. These tours are free but you need a pass. It is highly recommended to reserve your tour in advance, either online  (local or international visitors) or by contacting your Representative or Senator.

The Capital Dome

In the rotunda of the Capitol Building, looking up at the dome. The fresco at the top is by Italian Constantino Brumidi.

The Baptism of Pocohontas, by John Gadsby Chapman.

The Baptism of Pocohontas, by John Gadsby Chapman.

Sit in on Congress…for a little while

Congress was in session during our visit, so we were able to watch from the upper gallery. Unless there is something really exciting happening, you probably don’t need to stay for long, but it is interesting to go beyond the tourist area and see the government in action.

This isn’t part of the Capitol tour. For non-residents, inquire about gallery passes at the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Center when you arrive.  Americans may also obtain gallery passes from the offices of their Senators or Representative.

The Capital Building

The Capital Building

See a Play at Ford’s Theatre

Ford’s Theatre

Ford’s Theatre

It is nearly 150 years since the tragic day when United States President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, while attending the play “Our American Cousin”. Ford’s Theatre has been restored and renovated, and today it is both a working theatre, and a museum about the Civil War and Lincoln’s presidency. We enjoyed a production there, and seeing the balcony where Lincoln sat watching the play, made it a thought-provoking visit. Click here for more information about Ford’s Theatre and tickets.

That Restaurant where the Obama’s went for Date Night

When the Obama’s went for dinner on one of their date nights, they went to Tosca. They made the reservations under another name, so imagine the surprise of the staff with their unexpected guests!

Since Barrack and Michelle enjoyed Tosca, Darrell and Shelley decided to try it too. It was great! Delicious food, nice atmosphere, and friendly service.

If you go

This is just the beginning of what Washington has to offer. Our visit to DC exceeded our expectations and we left wanting more.

The Lincoln Memorial is a must-see. Also, don’t miss a visit to historic Georgetown, with its quaint cobblestone streets and trendy shops and restaurants.

You will want to visit at least one of the Smithsonian Museums, and probably more. We visited the American History Museum, Air and Space Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. There is also the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Gallery. We could do a whole other trip just to visit more of the museums.

If you have visited Washington DC, which was your favorite museum?

 

Icefields Parkway Alberta

Our Epic Road Trip on the Icefield Parkway – Banff to Jasper, Alberta

If there is one road trip that is “bucket list” worthy, a summer drive on Alberta’s scenic Icefield Parkway from Banff to Jasper certainly qualifies.

We had a free weekend last June, and decided this was a great opportunity for us to do the famous Icefield Parkway road trip in the Canadian Rockies. The weather was great, spring flowers would be blooming, and we were just ahead of the summer high season. We live in Calgary, so we booked our accommodation in Jasper, and off we went.

“Drive of a Lifetime”

There is so much to enjoy in Banff and Lake Louise, and further west into British Columbia, that we hadn’t yet ventured north to Jasper. We had high expectations, as the highway had even been featured in National Geographic as a “Drive of a Lifetime”, and we were not disappointed. This is definitely a case where the journey is as great as the destination. Although the Icefield Parkway is only 230 km, we allowed a full day to enjoy the experience and stop along the way.
Banff National Park gate

Banff National Park Gate

The Icefields Parkway (or Highway 93) runs through Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, along the Continental Divide. If you are leaving from Calgary, take the TransCanada Highway west to Banff, and continue just past Lake Louise, where you will take the exit north to the Icefield Parkway. [How can you pass by Banff and Lake Louise without stopping? If you haven’t been, you can’t! You’ll just need to add a couple more days to your trip.]

Highway 93 – The Icefields Parkway begins

Epic Road Trip Highway 93

Highway 93 – The Icefields Parkway

You will see beautiful lakes, waterfalls and rivers…

Count on making lots of stops along the way to just take it in.

Beautiful mountain lakes that range from brilliant blue…

…to vibrant green.

wildlife…

Big horn sheep crossing the highway.

I think this is a young elk.

A black bear munching away on berries and other plants.

forests and flowers…

We visited in late June, a great time to see spring flowers. If you go, be sure to stop along the way, take a walk on one of the numerous trails, and experience nature for yourself.

Tiger Lily

A very determined alpine flower in the rocks.

Is this a black-eyed Susan?

…and spectacular mountain peaks and glaciers.

Allow plenty of extra time to stop along the way.

The Athabasca Glacier is the most visited glacier in North America. It has been receding for the last 125 years.

The Athabasca Glacier is part of the Columbia Icefield, which the Parkway is named for. To get a sense of scale in the photo above, look at the cars in the parking lot. The Columbia Icefield is about 100 square miles and hundreds of feet deep, making it the largest in the Rocky Mountains.

I would highly recommend walking up to the edge of the glacier.

You can easily walk right up to the edge of the glacier, but walking on the glacier is dangerous. People have died there by slipping into one of the deep crevasses.

Across from the glacier is the Columbia Icefield Interpretive Centre. The Centre sells food and tickets for the Ice Explorer, which are large vehicles specially-designed to drive onto the glacier, where you can also walk on it with a guide. You can also get tickets for the recently opened Glacier Skywalk.

The recently opened Glacier Skywalk

There are numerous trails along the Parkway, including this one where you can see the Sunwapta Falls.

There are numerous trails throughout the region.

Sunwapta Falls


The mountains along the Icefield Parkway are probably the most spectacular I have seen. Around each bend was a new vista, and we couldn’t resist stopping to take another photo.

Curvy Mountains

Jagged Mountains

Snowy Mountains

If you go…

  • Fill your tank with gas before you leave, as services are limited and expensive on the Parkway.
  • Watch the road for wildlife, and also for cars stopped to view wildlife.
  • Keep a safe distance from ALL wild animals, and be prepared for possible bear encounters.
  • Allow plenty of time to stop along the way for activities, hiking, or to take in the magnificent views.
  • If you plan to spend more than a day, book your accommodations in advance.
  • Bring a picnic and snacks to eat along the way.
  • A national parks permit is required to travel on the Icefields Parkway, and can be purchased at the park gates, information centres, and partner locations.
  • The Parkway can be cycled from Banff to Jasper over three to five days, and campgrounds are available along the parkway. (plan in advance)
  • The best time to go is June to September. Some facilities, including the Columbia Icefield Centre, are closed mid-October to mid-April.
  • If you go during the winter, check ahead for road closures.

For more information about the town of Jasper and it’s local attractions, click here.

You’ve arrived at the town of Jasper.

 

Ugly Food That We Love

Food sometimes looks so mouth-wateringly beautiful that we can’t resist sharing it on Instagram or Facebook. Other times…beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Especially food that we’ve grown up with, and had family gatherings around. Maybe it’s the appearance, or it’s stinky, or just strikes us as weird, but sometimes food can inspire enthusiasm in us that the uninitiated just don’t understand.

klube, or Kumla

klube, or kumla

This is Kumla, also known as Klube

…a humble potato dumpling that is very dense on the inside, with a wallpaper paste consistency coating on the outside. Both of my grandmothers were Norwegian, and that is the origin of this treat. My siblings and cousins referred the them as krub, or gunk balls, and growing up it was a challenge to see who could eat the most. Today my dad still emails photos of the greyish dumplings to fellow Kumla aficionados whenever he cooks up a batch.

There are no unusual ingredients in Kumla (potatoes, flour, baking powder and salt, boiled in a pork broth), and it doesn’t have a strong taste. It just isn’t pretty. I think it was an economical meal way back in the day, and I’m not sure if it is even common in modern Norway, or if it is viewed there as a treat.

Below it looks more appetizing fried in butter the next day for breakfast. I like to eat it with butter, pepper and syrup. This is the prime example I have of my “Norwegianness”, as my ancestors settled in North America generations ago.

Klube-fried

Klube-fried

Ugly Food That We Love on the Road

Our daughter lived in Korea for two years, and like Anthony Bourdain, will try almost any food once. She said the VERY fresh octopus dish in the video clip below is actually tasty, with a sesame dressing. But beware–occasionally the still-suctioning tentacles stick to the throat of a diner, making it the last meal for both of them.

For most people, food is a primary way of enjoying and passing down our ethnic traditions. It is also a great window into other cultures, especially when we’re traveling. But it’s sometimes harder to appreciate local delicacies that are unusual to us, especially when they don’t look or smell very appealing.

While my family might get excited over Kumla, for others it might be an especially stinky cheese, or in the Philippines balut, or even fruit such as Dorian. A few years ago most Westerners were too squeamish to eat sushi, but now it seems as popular as pizza or burgers. Who knows…if we are adventurous enough to sample local delicacies, one might become a new favorite.

Do you have a favorite “ugly food”? Have you sampled any while traveling?

Eight Walks in the “Wild”

I just finished reading “Wild”, Cheryl Strayed’s autobiographical account of her 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. I can imagine myself on an epic hike such as this…or maybe following in the footsteps of pilgrims on the 500-mile Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port, France to Santiago, Spain…

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“Wild” has been made into a movie, starring Reese Witherspoon, now playing in theaters.

Okay, okay, I will probably only experience this hike in my dreams. But Cheryl’s story of physical endurance and self-discovery is all the more inspiring to me because she was a relatively inexperienced hiker, but determined to reach her goal.

For the rest of us… hiking is an adventure you can scale to your ability and timetable, and is usually free. Public walking trails are available around the world, and they often get you out of the tourist crush and lead you to wonderful natural places you couldn’t access by car. Here are eight great walks for inspiration – some we’ve experienced and others are on our list.


1. The Pacific Crest Trail, USA

The Pacific Crest Trail runs from Mexico to Canada, along the peaks of the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade Mountain ranges. Cheryl Strayed hiked 1,100 miles, and a few determined hikers complete the whole trail. But like many epic hikes, there are points you can experience parts of the trail as a day-hike. The section that includes Crater Lake National Park sounds really interesting to me.


2. The Lake Louise Tea House Hike, Alberta, Canada

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Lake Agnes – Near the Tea House, 3.5 km from Lake Louise

A hike to the Tea House from Lake Louise is one of many that can be done as a day trip from our home in Calgary, Alberta. This forested hike up a mountain rewards you with spectacular views of Lake Louise, two more lakes and a waterfall. At the top of the hike, next to Lake Agnes and under the Beehive peaks, is the very popular Lake Agnes Tea House. It has been serving tea since 1905, and is a great spot to relax before the hike back down, or continuing your hike further.

  • When to go: June to October
  • Distance: 7 km (4.5 miles) return, about 1-2 hours each way
  • Elevation Gain: 400 m (1300 ft)
  • Altitude: 2135 m (7005 ft)
  • Difficultly: moderate (early June or fall may have snow)
  • Check here for more info.

3. Hadrian’s Wall Path, UK

Milecastle 39 on Hadrian's Wall, near Steel Rigg. Photo courtesy Adam Cuerden

Milecastle 39 on Hadrian’s Wall, near Steel Rigg. Photo courtesy Adam Cuerden

This path follows Hadrian’s Wall, which the Roman emperor Hadrian ordered constructed across the width of England in AD 122.

Today, most of the wall still exists, and it can be walked coast to coast, while enjoying spectacular views across the countryside. Highlights along the way include Roman forts, bridges, wildlife, pubs, cafés, and market towns. This is one I want to try!

  • When to go: May to October
  • Distance: 84 miles coast to coast (135 Km) There are also shorter circular walks based on the Trail.
  • Difficulty: Relatively easy but with rough and uneven ground. Some of it is steep, and there are a lot of stone and timber steps.
  • It is recommended to book accommodation along the trail in advance.
  • Baggage services are available along the Trail.
  • Check the The National Trails website for more information on the Hadrian’s Wall Path.

4. Hiking the Great Wall of China

Darrell on the Great Wall

Darrell on the Great Wall

The Great Wall was constructed to protect the vast Chinese empire and its vast lands, and is one of the world’s greatest feats of engineering. It was constructed and rebuilt over the centuries, but a majority of the existing wall is from the Ming Dynasty. Climbing the wall’s path up steep steps and down valleys is a bucket list experience, and you can choose from a range of areas to climb that suit your interest and ability.

We chose the Mutianyu section, which is good for a day trip from Beijing, but much less crowded and touristy than the nearer Badaling section. The day we went was cool and misty, and we almost had the wall to ourselves. Eventually the sun broke through and the views were spectacular. We spent a couple hours at Mutianyu hiking and taking in the scenery. If you want a bit longer hike there is the Jinshanling to Simatai route, which is about 10.5 kilometers.

  • When to go: year-round
  • Difficulty: Moderate. Some of it is steep and there are a lot of stairs. Some of the less-visited sections are in ruins or missing, so are more challenging.
  • The Badaling and Mutianyu sections are well maintained.

5. Meteora, Greece

A hike in Meteora includes amazing sights both natural and man-made.

About four hours northwest of Athens is Meteora, where unique geological peaks form a dramatic and beautiful natural landscape.  Upon these seemingly inaccessible peaks, monks in the 11th century began building monasteries. Eventually twenty-four of these amazing monasteries were built. Ancient paths weave throughout the area, and guided or independent hikes are possible. We were so glad we had the opportunity to visit this magical and off-the-beaten-track part of Greece.

  • When to go: year-round
  • Difficulty: There are options rated relatively easy to expert.
  • The trails are generally not sign-posted, so only experienced hikers should venture out on their own. To experience Meteora as we did, I would recommend contacting the friendly Visit Meteora office in Kalampaka. Visit Meteora offers guided tours and hikes, but will also assist you with maps and information if you wish to hike independently.
  • For more about our Meteora visit click here.

Our excellent hiking adventure in Meteora was facilitated by Visit Meteora. All opinions are our own.

A hiker consulting his map in Meteora.


6. Bryce Canyon, Utah

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Bryce Canyon, Utah / photo credit: jpstanley via photopin cc

Bryce Canyon is another geological wonder with spectacular colors and hoodoos. There are countless walking trails through the canyon, including the day-long Fairyland Loop, Wall Street trail, which laces its way through an alarmingly narrow gorge, and Navajo/Queens Garden Loop. Bryce Canyon is on my list to visit soon.

  • The trails are well laid out and maintained.
  • Spend a day or a week. Camping and lodging facilities are available.
  • To plan your trip check the National Parks Service website.

7. Yoshida Trail, Mount Fuji, Japan

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Mount Fuji / photo credit: Alpsdake (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Yoshida Trail starts at the Fuji-Subaru Line 5th Station and leads to the summit from the north side of Mt. Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture. There are mountain huts and pitstops en route, to rest your feet and bed down for the night.

Mount Fuji is apparently the most climbed mountain in the world, so is more of a community experience, than an alone-with-nature one. Viewing the sunrise from the summit is said to be unforgettable.

  • When to go: early July to early September, perhaps avoiding the busiest week (Obon Week) in mid-August.
  • 170,947 people climbed the Yoshida Trail in summer 2014.
  • It is recommended that climbers stay at mountain huts one night on the way to the summit to adjust to the altitude and temperature.
  • For more information about climbing Mount Fuji click here.

8. The Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, Spain

The symbol of the

The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino de Santiago

The epic Camino de Santiago is really any pilgrimage route that leads to the Cathedral of Satiago de Composela in Galicia, Spain. The most famous is the 500-mile route from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port, France. But there are many others including the Portuguese Way, which begins in either Lisbon or Porto in the north of Portugal. Some go for a religious experience, but people do the walk for many reasons. I would love to try even a portion of this hike some day.

  • When to go: spring and fall are recommended to avoid the heat of summer, and the cold and snow of winter.
  • Most hikers carry a pilgrim’s passport, or credencial, which is stamped with the official St. James stamp along the way.
  • Pilgrims hostels are available along the route.
  • Martin Sheen starred in an inspiring movie, “The Way”, about a father’s journey on the Camino de Santiago. The Way was produced and written by his son, Emilio Estevez.
  • For more about the Camino de Santiago click here.

“Go forth on your path, as it exists only through your walking.” ~ Saint Augustine (354-430).

Have you experienced an epic hike?

10 Things You Will Love About Istanbul

Istanbul is currently number one on TripAdvisor’s “Top 25 Destinations in the World”, so our expectations were high for our first visit to Turkey’s largest city. Sometimes it’s hard for a destination to live up to the hype but in Istanbul we weren’t disappointed. Modern and ancient, European and Asian—it is a completely unique place in the world.

Old meets new in Istanbul

Istanbul is exotic but we felt safe, and it has great tourist infrastructure. The sights and experience below are all within walking distance of each other, or easily accessible with public transit. There is such an abundance of things to see and do, that no matter how much time you have, it will not be enough. To get you started, here are 10 things you will love about Istanbul:

1. Turkish Hospitality

“Come in, sit down, have some tea…you are at home now.” said our host as we arrived at the Oba Hotel in the Sultanahmet District. Throughout our stay Turkish hospitality was outstanding…and often involved tea.

The Oba Hotel is a boutique hotel in a former mansion, walking distance to many of the major sites, yet in a calm historic neighbourhood. Our host was also able to book our Bosphorus cruise for us cheaper than we could on our own.

Oh, and if you want to remember how to say “thank you” in Turkish, just say “tea, sugar, a dream” (teşekkür ederim).

Apple Tea

2. The Hagia Sophia

A definite must-see—Hagia Sophia was completed in 537 AD, and is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. For nearly a thousand years it was the world’s largest cathedral, then was a mosque, and now is a museum. We spent hours inside and it was a highlight of our trip. See more about the Hagia Sophia here.

A street near the beautiful Hagia Sofia

3. The Blue Mosque

Also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, this is another must-see for it’s impressive domed interior, beautiful tiles and stained glass windows. It can be visited in about an hour as there is limited access to non-muslims. (dress modestly, bring socks as you must remove your shoes, women bring a scarf to cover hair)

Beautiful tiles and stained glass in the Blue Mosque

4. Take a Bosphorus Cruise

Istanbul occupies a unique place on the Bosphorus strait, which forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. I highly recommend taking one of the Bosphorus cruises to see beautiful views of the city from the water, and colourful mansions and summer cottages on the waterfront. We actually got a cheaper rate by booking through our hotel.

If you don’t take one of the tourist cruises, you can still view the city from the water by taking one of the frequent, inexpensive ferries from the European to the Asian side.

The Galata Bridge near sunset.

 

Mansions and summer residences along the Bosphorus

 

A woman with colorful scarf on the ferry between Asia and Europe.

5. Topkapi Palace

This fifteenth century palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years. There is much to see here with the palace itself, great views of the Bosphorus, and displays of Ottoman treasures and jewelry. There is an extra fee to visit the Harem, but worth seeing in my opinion.

Building detail of the Topkapi Palace

 

Ceiling detail in the Topkapi Palace

6. Basilica Cistern

For a unique experience, go see the Basilica Cistern, which is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul. Don’t miss the two Medusa heads. (How did they end up there?) It looks like a movie set, and in fact was a location for the James Bond film “From Russia with Love”.

It’s easy to imagine James Bond in the Basilica Cistern

7. Visit a Haman (Turkish bath)

I saw this on a list of “things to do before you die”, so we went way out of our comfort zone, and got scrubbed (and I mean scrubbed!) from head to toe (literally) at a historic haman. Definitely a unique and Turkish experience.

Individual change rooms surround a marble fountain. The Turkish bath takes place in an adjoining steamy marble-clad room.

8. Strolling through Taksim Square

This is modern Istanbul, where locals gather for both celebrations and demonstrations. Off the main square is a pedestrian street with numerous shops, restaurants, and street performers.

Taksim pedestrian street.

 

Young men singing Turkish ballads.

9. Bargaining in the Grand Bazaar

Touristy for sure, but still a must see for it’s size, colour and atmosphere. We found the merchants to be persuasive, but friendly and with a sense of humour. The area just outside the Grand Bazaar is also fascinating, with delivery men carrying heavy loads of merchandise to the shops on the steep streets, and others carrying trays of tea to seal the deal. Also be sure to check out the spice market near the New Mosque for Turkish delight, gold and jewelry, dried fruits and nuts, and of course, spices.

Wishing I bought some spice while I was there.

10. Eating Turkish Food

I loved the food in Turkey! There is great street food and fast food, including simit (a bagel-like chewy bread covered with sesame seeds), doner kebab, pide (Turkish pizza), and fresh squeezed pomegranate juice. The meals we ate were all delicious, well-presented and good value, with tasty meats, fish and vegetables including eggplant, peppers, and other local produce. For dessert there is heavenly pistachio baklava, and to bring home for gifts, Turkish Delight.

Chicken and vegetables enveloped in eggplant.

If you go

Istanbul is a very hilly city, so wear comfortable shoes. Consider the hotel location if walking steep hills are a problem. Hotels closer to the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque are at the top of the hill and won’t require quite as much hill walking as the hotels close to the water. However, you will be rewarded if you don’t mind the hills, as those areas have a more calm and authentic Istanbul neighbourhood feel.

Have you been to Istanbul?

I would love to hear your favorite Istanbul experience. Tea, sugar, a dream!

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Ten Things to do in Istanbul, Turkey

Paris January 2015 “Je Suis Charlie”

We had only two nights in Paris, and my daughter and I intended to pack as much sightseeing, shopping and eating as possible into our one full day in the City of Light. Our version of “Paris in 24 hours”.

The night we arrived however things changed, as this was January 7, the day of the terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo office. We watched TV at our hotel as events unfolded, and weren’t sure at first what we should do. Was it safe to be out sightseeing at the major landmarks? Text messages from home checked if we were okay, and we promised to be careful.

The next day we did venture out, and Paris was beautiful as always, although more subdued. Signs in windows expressed solidarity with “Je Suis Charlie”. The cloudy skies seemed appropriate given the terrible things that had taken place, but eventually the clouds broke and the sun shone through.

We walked everywhere, admired the Renoirs and Van Goghs at the Musee D’Orsay which was open late that night, and had a delicious meal at a cozy bistro.

Our flight left as scheduled the next day, but our hearts are still in Paris. Today, along with the rest of the world, we watched with hope and admiration as over a million people marched in Paris for unity and solidarity. Je Suis Charlie!

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ferris wheel

 

Paris bridge

Notre Dame Cathedral

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