Category Archives: vacation

Island Walking

Not being able to go with my sweetie to the Bay Area to celebrate her birthday due to getting a job, didn’t let me off the birthday present hook. Far from it. Picture this: Wile E. Coyote, wearing rocket powered roller skates manages to stop just inches from the edge of a cliff. He looks down and sees a pebble falling into oblivion. He heaves a sigh of relief, only to realise that he is on a projecting spur of rock, which then cracks at the base, dropping him into the abyss.That’s how I felt, although unlike the perpetually unfortunate Mr. Coyote, I managed to gain some traction and scramble my way to safety.

I began a desperate search to find a suitable way to celebrate: an expensive meal was NOT an option. Yikes. I settled on a weekend away and began my search. I won’t bore you with the details, but most places were either unsuitable or required a three night minimum. With much searching I managed to find a cabin in the woods with a hot tub and within three hours of home. I contacted the owner and waited. And waited. And waited. With only two days left before the weekend, I was most certainly in squeaky bum time. Thankfully, the owner contacted me and I was able to pay and let out a sigh of relief.

We set off on Friday as soon after work as possible, and managed to avoid most of the commute traffic. I hadn’t told my sweetie what the trip would entail, although the penny finally dropped as we approached the ferry terminal. Yes, you heard right. I live on an island, and my solution was to spend a weekend on a completely different island. After a late dinner, we turned in tired but glad to be in such a quiet spot.

Next day we went exploring. We spent some time, but not enough for me, in a sanctuary, several acres of woodland dotted with stone circles, a Dolmen and any number of small, impromptu shrines. There were no other visitors, and no sounds apart from the birds, and the wind in the trees, and I could have stayed there for hours. In fact, it would have been perfect for an alumni retreat, so reminiscent was it of both Grad School orientation and our intensive weekends.

There’s no point in going to an island known for wineries without sampling the local product, so we retired to a wine tasting room and I sampled the five wines on offer, leaving with two bottles each of a very nice Malbec and an equally delightful red blend. Now, as you all know, I’m not a wine drinker, but I’m always willing to extend my palate, and no doubt having some decent wine in the house will win me some bonus points.

Of course, we made a trip to a distillery, although not the one I had intended. No fear, I was able to track down the Bourbon, Vodka and Gin at the local store, and bought a bottle of incredible raspberry cordial and one of Rye  after the tasting session at the distillery.

The whole point of the weekend was to just get away for two nights with no agenda, no plans, no hurry. In fact, my instincts were proven right. Driving along the highway I spotted roads called Kramer and Newman, confirming that we were on an island about nothing. Over all, it was well worth the expense and worry about actually getting a confirmation. In fact, I’m sure we will go back to the same cottage some time in the not too distant future.

As you all know, I’m not exactly  the most romantic person in the world, or even my own Zip code, but I have to admit that it was just wonderful for the two of us to get away from our usual surroundings, even for such a short time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Old Man’s Back Again.

Back home, that is. You see, three days ago I put my Dad back on the plane to England after his five week stay. He comes over every year for a month or so in order to see the Grand kids, celebrate their birthdays and celebrate the fourth of July. When my Mum was alive, they would come for six to eight weeks, but since she passed, he has found that five weeks is about as much as he can handle. I can’t say I blame him, because for a man his age and so set in his routine, being away from home for so long is a little on the disruptive side.

As usual, I was waiting for him at the top of the escalator at the airport and we were soon on the way home, him regaling me with the story of his trip over, talking to a South African IT specialist and a Swiss cruise line employee. I had to endure this story about 12 times by the time he departed, but that is about the norm nowadays. Of course, brought me up to date on events back in the old country, such as who had died, who had moved, what had happened to individuals etc. Not vitally important news, but still, it was nice to hear the small stuff.

He is very conscious that his presence causes some domestic disruption: My previous house had three bedrooms, my last marital home had four, so a spare room for him ( and back in the day, my mother) was never an issue. Last year he had the kid’s room when they weren’t here, and mine when they were. That was a lot of shuffling around, so this year I made an executive decision and gave him my room for the duration of his stay. he wasn’t too happy about this, as he doesn’t like to “Put me out”, but I explained to him that I sleep on the Futon when the kids are here, so this was really no different. Heck, that’s why I spent quite a lot of money on a really comfortable Futon.

I must admit, however, that by the time he left, I was ready to sleep upstairs again. There would have been a time when not having slept in my own bed for over a month would be  a source of pride, but at my age, it just means waking up in the living room. Ah well.

He’s easy to please, and just as eager to help. He insisted on us eating out a lot, to avoid the need for me to cook, but I have to admit it got a bit much by the end, especially as I gained ten pounds during his stay. The daily drinking didn’t help, either, but seeing as we’re English, what do you expect?

One thing that stood out was his relationship with the kids. Last year, my daughter was often a bit distant, but this year she was all over him, being very affectionate and joking with him. It’s great to see them so close, especially as I know how much my Mum would have doted on her. One of my greatest regrets is that my Mum didn’t live to see what an incredible young woman my daughter has become.

My son seems to have developed a double act with Dad. The techno kid and the technophobe get on like a house on fire. Dad is full of daft jokes and comments, to which my son replies “Oh, just go away”, in a laughing affectionate way that shows how much he has matured, and how much he loves his Grandpa.

We didn’t really do much travelling, apart from a couple of long trips into the boonies to watch my daughter’s All Star softball team in the district finals. They lost two out of three, but at least Dad was at last able to see her play. Of course, he was very shaky on the rules, but soon picked it up and got into the swing of it. We took a couple of day trips, but by and large he was happy just to spend time at home with the kids.

Of course, as the trip drew to a close his conversation became more maudlin. He is nearly 30 years further down the conveyor belt than I am, so he spends quite a lot of time thinking about what will happen when he dies (See “My Death” for my take on this subject). He’s in good health, despite his diabetes, so he could easily live another 10 years, but how long he will be fit enough to fly over here remains to be seen.

I may well have said this before, but since I the kids arrived, I’ve developed a deeper understanding and respect for my Dad. I now understand just how much he put himself last when it came to providing for his family. My Mum too, of course, and now as adults on the downslope we get on much better than we used to. I was sad to see him go, of course, but in a way I’m glad to get my house back and to return to something approaching normality. as indeed is my poor liver. I can soon grow a new one, can’t I? I hope so.

As for my digestive system, it’s a diet of lettuce leaves and grated carrot for the next three months. Every meal. Dad’s next visit is only a year away, so I’d better start getting into shape now.

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I Knew The Bride ( When She Used To Rock And Roll)

There are many wonderful things about  being divorced, most of which are the subjects of prior posts, but having a social life has to be one of the top three, even ranking above not being treated like a mildly retarded houseboy.

This came to the fore when my best friend announced his impending nuptials.  I was fortunate that his bachelor weekend took place on one of my kid free weekends, although my sweetie was not exactly enamoured of eagerness to attend. This of course, was only the prelude to a beach wedding in Mexico. My first reaction to the location was one of mildly stunned disbelief because as a graduate of the same sustainability focused business school as the Bride and Groom I couldn’t help but comment on the huge carbon footprint generated by each attendee. Despite the fact that the resort espoused environmentally friendly values, each of us would have to plant a veritable forest  as a carbon offset. Much better for them to get married in a location convenient to the greatest number of guests and put some of the money saved into funding the free bar at the reception.   Indeed, for the amount I spent on airfare and accommodation I could have been as drunk as a touring Australian rugby team for a month and still have had enough cash left over to pay for a liver transplant.

Of the ten hour trip, including the three hour layover at LAX I will say naught, leaving your imagination to fill in the blanks. We arrived at 11 p.m. local time and turned in as quickly as possible as the rain beat against the windows. It rained for the next 48 hours without a break longer than five minutes as we seemed to have timed our arrival to coincide with a tropical storm. Not to worry, as we were on the upper floor of the building.  Little did we suspect that this was, in fact, the shallow end. We awoke on the second morning to find a substantial pool of water on the tiles and resorted to using beach towels to dry the floor. The mat at the end of the bed was a thick bathroom mat and when I hung it over the edge of the shower, water poured out of it like it was a bucket. Not a good sign, but seeing as the design of the room relied on natural ventilation, there was no way of stopping the deluge, so we just dealt with it and turned on the fan in the vain hope of inducing some evaporation.

This wasn’t the room’s only shortcoming. Apparently Mexican plumbing is unable to cope with paper, hence the lidded container in the bathroom about which I shall say no more, except to point out that my disquiet at this is that someone had to empty it every day, a job I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Not to go all Sex Pistols on you, but some of the living conditions I  saw on the trip really brought home to me how easy most of us have it. Squalor isn’t the word, and it made me wonder just how people manage to keep their sanity whilst living under such conditions. Take Valladolid for example. The center of the city is full of wonderful colonial era buildings, one of which housed the hotel at which we ate lunch, but in order to get there, we had to pass through what I can only describe as being an area just above the level of a Favella, yet there we were in our air conditioned bus heading for one of the best meals we will ever have.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch the foul weather abated in time for the wedding, almost as if someone had made a human sacrifice to the sun. I did find it rather strange to see the Groom standing in front of the Gazebo on the beach wearing a very tasteful tie and what I can only assume was his acquittal suit, yet barefoot. the Bride looked as stunning as only a  bride can, of course and the service was mercifully short.  it seemed a heck of a long way to travel for such a short ceremony, but I guess there’s no need to drag it out any longer than necessary.

Of course the evening ended with much eating and drinking. Especially the drinking. We left early as it was clear that the party would consist of nothing but dancing, and to coin a phrase, “Charlie don’t surf”.

Side trips to the truly stunning and awe inspiring runs at  Chichen Itza and Tulum as well as a stop at an incredible Cenote were highlights of the trip, as was my being able to upgrade to first class on the thankfully direct flight home. I had a horror show of a final day and was afraid I’d miss my flight, so the copious amounts of Vodka available made the trip home a darn sight more relaxing than it would have been had I been in Coach.

There were many lowlights, of which I won’t speak here, but will keep them for a later post, as they brought up a lot of emotions that I’d rather not expand upon right now.

It was funny to be present at a wedding for two people who obviously love each other deeply and are perfect for each other from the perspective of someone who found himself in a domestic arrangement devoid of almost all intimacy, respect or understanding. I found my self both jealous ( not in a bad way) and happy for my friends as they are both truly wonderful people who will no doubt enjoy a long, happy,fulfilling and supportive marriage. I couldn’t help but think “So that’s what it looks like”.

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Filed under friends, Mexico, vacation, Weddings

Une Ile.

As I’ve said recently (see Darkness On The Edge Of Gastown), I’ve never gone too long without a vacation of some sort, and much as I enjoy Vancouver, my most recent sojourn was of a different nature entirely. Some time ago my sweetie asked rather hesitantly if I’d be interested in a vacation on Kauai with her and a couple of her friends from the Bay Area. Of course, I agreed, wrote the cheque for my obligations and waited for the day to come. My sweetie is a light packer and so we both set off each carrying only a small backpack and rolling carry on bag for a week in the tropics, which is much less than I’m used to stuffing into the car for a weekend in Whistler, but considering the climate and the extortion involved in checking a bag it was worth it.

The flight was uneventful and I won’t bore you with the details, but I miss the old days when my ex and I were Gold Club members and traveled regularly to Vegas in First Class. Alas our favourite airline decided to alienate their most loyal passengers and try to establish a national presence instead of remaining the best carrier on the west coast. I also resent being nickeled and dimed at every point on the trip, but such is life.

We were met at the airport by my sweetie’s friends and despite our tiredness we engaged in the obligatory shopping trip to stock the kitchen of our rented condo. Culture shock: Hawaii is bloody expensive. I mean really, bloody expensive and so I fought hard to bite my tongue and not start every sentence with “How much?!” However, a short walk from the condo to the beach – less than 100 yards – a quick dip in the ocean and a good night’s sleep restored me to the happy, smiling, witty life and soul of the party you all know so well.

One thing I appreciate about vacations now is the lack of an agenda or timetable and the ability to change either, even if there is nothing on them, and the lack of urgency in getting anything done or getting out of the house by a certain time. I most certainly appreciated the opportunity to simply sit on the beach, book in hand and listen to the surf, and that would have been enough for me, but you can’t come all that way and not do something. This is  why I found myself introduced to snorkeling. My sweetie travels all over the south Pacific and spends most of that time in the water so I could hardly refuse. In fact, the decision was taken before we left:

Her: “Do you want to go snorkeling when we are in Hawaii?”

Me: Internal dialogue – ” I’m a poor swimmer, haven’t snorkeled before and hate putting my head underwater.”

External dialogue – ” Of course”.

Four days in the water made me into a convert, although I’m sure that the octopus, Moray eels, scores of tropical fish and the turtle we saw had a hell of a lot to do with it.  I”m not the most adventurous person in the world, so it may surprise you to learn that I also had my first taste of boogie boarding. Yes, you read that correctly. I only tried it on two occasions and managed to catch a couple of good waves. That, coupled with the fact that I didn’t end up a quadriplegic  smells like Napalm in the morning in my book.

One thing I couldn’t get over was the rain. On our first night we went out to dinner and whilst sat on the (thankfully covered)  verandah experienced some truly torrential downpours that ended as suddenly as they began, each being followed by absolute calm and a return in temperature to the mid 70s.

The trip also marked our first anniversary, and so it also included the ritual exchange of gifts – a pendant for my sweetie, and Aloha shirts for me. On seeing the price of the pendant she’d chosen I then understood why she’d offered to pay for the second shirt, although little did I know that she’d secretly bought me a third shirt I’d taken a fancy to but not bought a couple of days previously. Overall, it was a wonderful week away, a chance to bond with her closest friends and an opportunity to develop what for these parts is a healthy tan. Oh, and the kicker? when I finally unpacked, I found in the bottom of my case about a teaspoonful of sand from our favourite snorkeling beach that despite my best efforts had managed to cling to my clothes and smuggle itself through security. I guess that it’s only fair that having gone to visit the island, the island should come and visit me.

Mahalo!

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Darkness On The Edge Of Gastown

I consider myself lucky in that I’ve never gone too long without some kind of vacation, be it for a week or a long weekend. However, with kids, even a vacation doesn’t automatically mean much downtime. The kids still have to be organised, fed and entertained or at least taken to the ski school early in the morning, getting away for the evening is impossible and one always has  to figure in their ability to remain engaged in anything that the adults want to do.

Lest you think this is a major gripefest, I can honestly say I’ve had some great vacations whether they were in Whistler, the Bay Area or Disneyland, but still, there is much to be said for a trip sans offspring. My sweetie and I have had a couple of opportunities this summer – Portland for a school friends’ birthday, San Francisco so I could meet her friends and so she could meet some of mine, and while these were great, we had limited opportunities to spend time alone.

This changed recently when I decided to take her to Vancouver for her birthday. This was no surprise, but I decided that the schedule for the trip would be up to her.  Her main agenda items were a trip to the Museum of Anthropology and dinner on her birthday at her favourite Lebanese restaurant.  Of  course, things didn’t go as planned. Not long after arrival I explained that I saw the trip as being her present and there would be no big reveal later, should she be expecting some special gift at some point.  Picture Roald Amundsen looking out across the Antarctic wastes and you will get some idea of how this was received.  I guess there was some confusion over the phrase “For your birthday”. However not all was lost as my failure to pack socks and shorts as a result of my severe mental confusion resulting from my recent moving meant I needed to go on a mission of mercy      (  See “The Boxer”).  I found a charming if somewhat pricey First Nations art and jewelry store in Yaletown and all was saved. Phew! I will admit that I was sweating profusely during this dash although most of it can be accounted for by the 85 degree heat and 95 percent humidity. Oh, the joy of returning to a fully air conditioned room.

I hadn’t been in Vancouver since before my son was born, and boy, have things changed! Robson Street, which had been a rather charming collection of boutique stores and restaurants seemed to have gone decidedly downhill and  become hobo central in the intervening 12 years, which I found rather a shame, as seediness is not something I at least, associate with Canada. Whilst on the topic of our northern cousins, I have to ask one question: Are you really going out dressed like that? Maybe I missed an email about the fancy dress party taking place that weekend, but oh boy! What the hell did they think they looked like? I can’t honestly believe that some of the people I saw dressed the way they did without some extenuating circumstances.  Or maybe it was the result of them all having one  Molson too many.

That aside, the Museum of Anthropology was a true revelation. So much indigenous culture has been co-opted that it truly puts thing in perspective  to see objects displayed in a way that explains their true socio-cultural significance and treats them as art in their own right and not as a design on a tee shirt in a souvenir store window.

Of course, the birthday dinner was a big deal. We had some trouble finding the restaurant as it is in a basement in  Gastown  and the only signage is above the doorway and seen from the street is at approximately waist height. However, we found it on the second pass and found parking nearby, so we at least were able to enjoy a wonderful dinner in my sweeties’ favourite restaurant.

One thing that has always fascinated me about Vancouver is how it seems to want to be somewhere else. Let me explain: We took a trip to Granville Island as neither of us had ever been there, and what we found was a destination designed purely for tourists that felt like a cross between Fisherman’s Wharf and Pike Place Market but with the unique feel of neither. To be honest it felt a bit like Disneyland. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but it felt less than genuine, and in fact it could have been anywhere. I found this to be a real shame as Vancouver has a lot of history and a culture all its’ own, so why does it feel the need to manufacture something like this? I hope it is not just for the sake of revenue, but then again….

The one thing that stands out about this trip is that it was just for our benefit. We had no agenda, no schedule to keep, no need to do anything other than what struck our fancy at any particular moment, so I guess it was a true vacation.

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