Travel is a treasure hunt.

Well, I know I’ve disappeared for a bit… but it’s not because I haven’t been blogging! I have a new video, AND a new blog for you! It’s all about travel and treasure hunting in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia. I had a wonderful time making it, (despite the weather) and I challenged myself to film it entirely solo.  Thank goodness my subjects were good sports, because I made them scramble!

Everything is posted here, as an entry to a very exciting travel competition:

Zoe’s MyBBB Entry: The Annapolis Valley, NS. Click here!

The competition is called My Destination’s Biggest Baddest Bucket List. The prize is a six-month trip around the world and $50,000 when you get home. I desperately want to win it, but after the week I have had, I already feel like a winner. 

Please take a peek at my entry, and if you like it, vote for me! 🙂

Now, I’m packing for Montreal, where I’ll be filming with ProjectExplorer.org for the first stop of our 2013 TEN-Country series! There will be curling and maple syrup in my very near future. Yippee! 

Layover.

I look at January and February as the layover of my work year. Layovers can happen in beautiful destinations but ultimately they are to be endured. In my mind I am cheerfully standing in line at airport security right now, and I can’t wait to board the flight to the rest of my year.

It has been the coldest, slushiest, grimmest, most storm-filled winter so far, and as you may have noticed, I’ve been writing a lot about the past. My strolls down memory lane never tend to last long, however. The sun is peeking through the clouds, my cabin fever is breaking, and there are adventures on the horizon!

I will be going to ten different countries this year, presenting for the wonderful ProjectExplorer.org. It’s a non-profit organization that provides free multimedia content and lesson plans for students’ global awareness and cross cultural understanding. The team is resourceful, creative, and fun, and I can’t wait to get back to work with them!

I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and ready to fly- so I’ve put away my pictures from years ago (for the moment), and put together a video of my latest adventures with ProjectExplorer.org. If you are an educator, or if you have kids, you will really enjoy the website: http://www.ProjectExplorer.org

 

To Paris with love.

For me, Paris was love at first sight. In my private life, it has been the most romantic destination imagineable. More importantly however, it is the city where I got my guts.

I lived in Paris over the year 2000. New Year’s Eve, which I spent at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, will live in my memory forever. My friends and I were covered in mud, freezing cold, and overwhelmed by the crowd but it was magical anyway. I was finally experiencing my lifelong fantasy of living in Paris, and the sparkling tower that loomed was a perfect reflection of the fizzy joy inside me.

That year was an education in so many ways. Living with two men (my French boyfriend and his best friend) in a foreign country, operating in a second language, I grew so much. The boys could not sit still, not for one second. Every weekend we went on excursions and during the week, we’d meet up at bars, restaurants or friends’ houses after work, and eat and drink the night away. Just getting around, however, was the biggest adventure.

The boys insisted that we buy roller blades as soon as we found our apartment. It was a huge trend then, so like lots of other Parisians they wanted to “roll” everywhere. They also insisted, to my terror, that we remove the brakes on our rollerblades. Everybody else was doing it and, as my boyfriend argued, it was much more prudent for me to learn the ’emergency stop’ maneuver that I could control, rather than rely on an extraneous piece of plastic. I guess there was wisdom in that… but the trick to the emergency stop was that you had to be going fast to employ it. There was no in-between. It was just listen, practice the end position, and then go like hell and hope it all worked. The metaphor for traveling was not lost on me. Just like my journey to Paris, I could study my route from the comfort and safety of a standstill, but eventually I had to actually get on the plane.

On the sidewalk and through traffic we zoomed. There were no bike lanes. To get down hills, you had to do a low, skidding slalom, just like downhill skiing. It was reckless and fun. We rolled sober on our way to the bars, and drunk on the way home (until my boyfriend wrapped himself around a pole just hard enough to make us smarten up). Being intimidated was part of my personality, but I grew oblivious to angry drivers and insulting pedestrians. There was no official place for us rollers, so we had to make our own pathways. I adopted what I felt was an appropriately French disregard for strangers’ criticism, which I still find useful today. I learned how to do tricks on my blades and we made the five-hour marathon with twenty-thousand other brave souls from Paris to Versailles. I rolled in jeans with a guidebook in hand, and in dresses with heels in my handbag.

I’ve been back to Paris a few times since 2000, and when I push my way through the crowded streets at rush hour I cannot believe how I used to get around. It took more guts than I knew I had, and I’m ever grateful to those crazy Frenchman who made me literally take the brakes off my life. I didn’t fulfill the basic requirements of my childhood fantasy and just live in Paris. That would have been boring. Instead, thanks to them, I absolutely conquered those cobblestones.
Montmartre

A traveler’s perspective

As someone who hasn’t ever desired to sell all of her possessions and take to the road permanently, I fear I lack the right credentials to start a travel blog. The irony is amusing given my profession, but that seems to be the message out there – You have to give it all up to really be a traveler…no tourists allowed. I want to inspire people to see the world, am I a charlatan because I love home too? I know in my heart that it’s not true, but as I reflect, I am realizing that there is a more important question: Would I love home so much if I had never left?

I come from a tiny hamlet called Harmony, in Nova Scotia, Canada. It’s a stunningly beautiful place and it’s easy to understand why, back in the seventies, my parents decided to pack up all of their belongings and move from downtown Toronto to the fairytale hundred-acre parcel of land. It was their great journey and the stuff of a real adventurer’s dreams. They came by boxcar and lived consecutively in a tent, a chicken coop, a geodesic dome, and finally, a charming stone house. They put in the first telephone poles, worked the fields with their horses, and built their home with material from the land they owned. It was, and is still, a spring-fed, windmill-powered, wood-fueled paradise.

The dome.

Their adventure, however, was not always my adventure growing up. I spent much of my ‘tween years bored to tears, wishing that I could be hanging in the mall with my friends. Sure, we always had the best parties, with a big swimming pond, a treehouse and a zip line, ponies and costume cupboards and bonfires… but I often wished I could have a normal life, or at least normal parents. My mum used to think it was hilarious to pick me up at elementary school with my pet pig in the passenger seat. She’d circle the schoolyard in our orange Lada with red racing stripes, honking and cackling at the spectacle she created. I was not humorless, and I did enjoy the attention, but it was not the stuff of ‘fitting in’. Chaos (a teenager’s worst enemy) reigned and it was only with distance that I could fully embrace the mad bubble I was raised in.

Distance is key to understanding most things in life. The personal manifestation of distance is, of course, travel. I did not need any more adventure at that time in my life; I needed distance. I was very lucky to have both the instinct to flee and fearless parents. They didn’t cling to me, as some parents tend to do to their children. They knew that in getting out and seeing the world I’d likely come back a richer, more generous human (believe me, I could be horrible). They were right. Before I was even through airport security on that first trip I took alone to Germany, I was able to look back over my shoulder and appreciate everything I was leaving behind. I went on to seek other cultures lovingly armed with a unique culture of my own and a heart much fonder.

Travel ingrained.

Mum

I grew up listening to stories of my mother’s travels throughout Europe. She was, and still is, the most adventurous spirit I know. Mum is a tiny woman, most likely to be found at midnight in the woods near the chicken coop in rubber boots, a nightie and pearls, gazing up at the stars. She’s not senile. She’s full of wit and intelligence, and she positively vibrates with curiosity. We all used to say she should have been a surgeon like her father, but now we know that the town library would never have been the same without her. It’s not a quiet library, as she’s one of the loudest people I know. She shrieks with delight, surprise, dismay and simply when she thinks things are too calm. She knows all her patrons’ tastes in books, and being a voracious reader herself, can tell you what you want to read before you know yourself. She researches everything. She can tell you the personal history of everyone she knows… what their cousins do for a living, who their grandfather had a fling with, where they live, and what direction they like to vacuum their carpets. She can be exhausting, but she is amazing.

We’d be trapped in the car with Mum for days on end, driving from Nova Scotia to Montreal when we were kids, and she would tell us about her time in Europe. She lived in Venice for a year, and traveled all over. France, Austria, England, Turkey, Greece and other places. Today, when my sister and I deconstruct Mum’s accounts (she’s one of our favorite topics), we often are shocked by the flagrant disregard she had for what we consider safety. She was a twenty one year-old woman, on her own in Europe. She was not the type of female that would get ignored. She most memorably (and we loved this story as girls) wore a top that was completely sheer with no bra, such that you could see everything, on a lunch date in Rome. ‘It was the sixties,’ she always says. ‘It was nothing, you girls are prudes.’ She had long strawberry blond hair down to her waist. Blue eyes that angle up at the corners. We would think it was all lore, but we’ve seen the photographs. Mum sparkled. Glittered down the lens with vitality and disregard for the status quo. She had no inhibitions then, and she never grew them since. She still gardens topless sometimes and waves joyously to planes when they fly by low, on their way to a nearby landing strip.

She always had male traveling companions. Two, in particular that stood out, Daniel and Diego, with whom she traveled all over. They had no money, and Mum always pretended that she had none either. She stayed where they stayed, ate what they ate, and hitchhiked alongside them. I can only imagine that’s where her biggest value as a traveling companion came in, as she insists that they were never romantically involved. She probably caused traffic accidents, standing on the side of the highway in gauzy wisps of clothing, bouncing with freedom and fun. A favorite story of ours was when Mum landed tired, hungry and dirty in Istanbul with the boys. She told them that she had to go to the American Express office to check for mail, but instead checked into the nicest hotel in the city. Once there, she ordered a fancy meal, the biggest glass of milk they could bring her and had a hot bath. She’s such a passionate storyteller that we could always actually feel this part of the journey. Also, we love hot baths in our family because there was a time growing up when we frequently ran out of water on the farm, and had to go to the local military base for showers. (Where we often wondered… do the pilots recognize our mother?) I am ever grateful when I can just turn on a tap and fill up a tub.

Mum was, in fact, a well-to-do girl from Montreal, running away from her family and their expectations, looking for a place in the world where she fit in. She gained confidence in her travels, and I think that’s why those are the stories she liked to tell us when we were younger. She’s not the most traditionally motherly type but I think that was her most maternal message. Travel. Take chances. You will gain so much. The message sunk in, more for me than for anyone else in the family. The summer I graduated from high school, when I was seventeen, Mum handed me a plane ticket to Germany and some German language CDs. I was to stay for six weeks with the brother of my mother’s best friend and his seventeen year-old daughter. Neither spoke English, and to get there I was required to fly to Frankfurt, then take a bus to a train station, then take a train to the small town of Baden-Oos. I had an enormous suitcase, and felt like it was either the end, or the beginning of my life. I wore a long skirt, a tight striped sweater, and the nonchalance that only a teenager on her way to Europe alone for the first time could carry off. My mother’s last cryptic words to me as she squeezed me at the airport were ringing in my ears as I set off. ‘Just remember that wherever you are, you must always still be you.’ Those words got me through the next fifteen years of travel, romance, adventure, heartbreak and goodbyes. And eventually, they got me home  again.

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