Showing posts with label international travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international travel. Show all posts

Monday, July 24, 2017

Montrealer For A Weekend; Birthday Weekend

I'm exhausted and the fat, obnoxious Augustus Gloop on my left in this puddle jumper must be American because it is my understanding those are tell take signs of my people.

I'm sad and feel empty.

I'm on my period, I'm turning 36 and I am alone. A weekend that should be celebratory. A weekend that should be a new adventure with old friends doesn't feel fun or exciting. It feels like escaping.

Maybe travel is my drug. Maybe instead of expanding my mind with drugs or distracting myself in a bar on Friday nights drinking cocktails and listening to brown eyed girl on repeat, I like to see new places, meet new people and try new things.

And you know what - that's ok. We all develop ways in which we cope to get through this thing called life and if mine is visiting far off lands to witness foreign culture and sample foreign fare - I accept that.

I accept me.

Strangely enough I was one of those kids who knew who I was from an early age.

My father loved to tell me how mere minutes after entering the world, that July day exactly 36 years ago I struck up a conversation immediately. Yammered on about what is seen and what I'd thought while gestating that near year.

I guess that never stopped.

He spent the last 32 years of his life listening to me yammer on about what I'd seen and what I thought.

I still wish he were here to listen to me. To be here with me because without him life has only become more lonely; more challenging and far far messier.

But enough of that. I'm on a plane. I have my passport and this weekend I will be experiencing a new place and, hopefully, having a chance encounter with Celine Dion.

My friend Francois had offered to pick me up, and that's what he did, but not before I navigated my way through the automatic customs machines at YUK which involved a lot of swearing, but absolutely no stamping.

With a 2 hour delay I landed just moments after my birthday began and I gotta say I was jonesing for the commemoration in my little blue book. But alas...

The Montreal night is cool and clean and my chariot awaits - by way of a station wagon. Francois is leaving for a kayaking trip in the morning and his boat is already shoved diagonally in the vehicle so I hop in the back and catch up with this stranger I feel fortunate enough to call a friend. That's how it happens though, right?

At one point Simone was just the girl who was assigned to room 220 in Mary Park Hall and, 17 years later she is my sister. Angie was just the hostess at the job I worked to get me through college and now she is family. Holly a fellow cougar and Sean a fellow Mustang and now their children are my nieces.

Hopefully 15 years from now I can reminisce on the way this stranger also became part of the inner circle I rely on to get the rough the day. To get through this life.

Francois is kind and very Canadian and before you know it we are back at his one bedroom abode in Villaney dropping my bags and, despite the hour, heading to a local bar.

At the time he does not know it but he buys me a local blonde micro-brew that is bitter, but as my first drink at 36, takes the edge off.

Despite my nerves to reconnect the conversation is easy and he is a bird of the same feather - though his level free spirit almost makes me look uptight. So just imagine.

It's late and we walk home with a chill in the air.

He makes up the futon for me and I put on my Aerosmith tshirt and before long we are both fast asleep and I am officially a year older.

I put an international plan on my phone but it doesn't seem willing to work with me so when I eventually connect to wifi in the morning there is a moment of relief.

Francois makes me two eggs and a pineapple smoothie and we chat at his kitchen table in our pajamas about the woman he is dating and the men I am not.

He offered to let me stay while he was out of town but I'd made other arrangements so I leave my bag to store while he packs up and I hit the rues of Montreal.

This is my third Canadian city and I find they all have a quiet peacefulness. Now this just may be me being out of the city or out of my life a bit - but I welcome the quiet solitude of the leafy pathways and breezy avenues.

Slowly making my way to Marche Jean Talon I decide to stop into Tea Shop and get a citrus blend ice tea that is cold and refreshing and allows me to sit in a wing backed chair and be alone. But not lonely.

Fortuitously enough whilst on wifi I got a FaceTime from my gorgeous friend and her gorgeous daughter and was delighted to see family today.

With nearly an hour spent in the cafe I knew I needed to get a move on if I wanted to see Jean Talon Marche and Parc Jarry before my ride arrived so I made moves.

But the making moves did not deter me from perusing dollar store blow outs and Indian jewelry stores tucked neatly below street level. Soon I realized there was no feasible way to make it to my destination on time and made an about face back toward the smell of curry, Christina Aguilera warbling words on empowerment in my ear.

Despite running short on time I did make a quick stop at the Tim Hortons on the corner of Jean-Talon and Hutchinson to partake in some local cuisine, make Robin Sherbatsky proud, and have a birthday donut.

My ride was for sure en route by now and I headed back to Francois', not to see him but to meet my housemate for the following two nights by way of another friend I met abroad with whom I have checked in with on occasion but whom I did not know terribly well.

Needless to say there were some nerves as I had committed to spending the weekend with two friends who were by and large strangers, but that nervousness dissipated when I saw Rubins huge smile as he watched me descend from the stairs to my previous night's abode. He was happy to see me. And that felt nice.

I dropped the keys in the mailbox, threw my camo over-sized tote in Rubins' trunk and a beautiful day in Montreal awaited me.

Seeing as I had evidently been walking in the exact opposite direction of Jean Talon, that was our first stop. We meandered the aisle ways offering locally sourced, organic and artisnal goods. With a brief respite for a cheers with Chinese egg rolls, as I revealed that today was, in fact, my birthday, we enjoyed our greasy treats and headed to the next point of interest.

With no particular destination in mind (I am not the type to do much research before a trip), I figured my guide for the day could show me the way. There were some twists and turns but we eventually made our way over the mountain and through the immaculately manicured lawns of Mont Parc Royal to Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal, Canada's largest church and a behemoth upon the hill. 

The church had an entire room to light candles, with stairways leading up to rows upon rows of red and green candles and I made sure to light my candles in silence and solitude. I truly love Cathedrals and no matter where in the world I am a quiet moment in one is always appreciated.

There is a vista upon your descent from the mountain where you get a decent view of the city - but more importantly a great view of the typically nocturnal raccoons who are all to happy to get all up in your grill for the opportunity to get a snack.

After spending several hours with this stranger friend, the stranger part seemed to fade away and our lengthy walk from downtown to the Old Port was comfortable, if not for my feet.

Old Port seems to be Fisherman's Wharf adjacent, but offers a plethora of galleries, amazing street art and souvenir shops with cobble stoned streets and a beautiful waterway. You can zip line or listen to live music. 

When it came to my attention that on summer evenings in Montreal there is a live fireworks show I felt like I had had a lovely, mellow birthday ignoring my degeneration with the distraction of exploring and the beauty of a new place.

Sidled up on cement steps for the show my Canadian compatriot insisted he had commissioned the fireworks show for my birthday, but I suspect he was pulling my leg...

The walk back to the car felt even longer than that down to the seaport, but it was still early.

It was still my birthday.

After what were many twists and turns and promises that the bar was on the next block, we finally reached La Distillerie. A cute little corner pub with delicious fancy cocktails and jovial waitresses that ushered out July 22nd and ushered in the undeniable fact that I was now 36. There was no turning back.

After a drive out of the city center I was greeted with my basement accommodation in the home Rubins shares with his family that was homey and had the comforting smell of grandparents.

After a restful evening it was up and at 'em - but not too early - to spend yet another day in this Parisian-inspired paradise.

My Converse had not properly supported my feet during my kilometers long walk the day previous, as a slab of rubber and tied on canvas tend to do, so I switched it up with some sandals - but little did I know of the walk that lay ahead of me and the regret I was certain to face.

With Montreal known for it's cuisine and my palette known for it's limitations we decided to feast at St. Viateru Bagel for breakfast - apparently a delicacy for which Montreal is proud. It is literally a hole in the wall with an exposed bakery and no option for egg and cheese on a roll, but the everything bagel was just delicious enough to enjoy naked and when paired with green tea from around the corner and the sunny breeze of a Sunday morning this foodie capitol suited me just fine.

Mile End, the neighborhood in which this eatery was located, reminded me of SOMA in San Francisco with it's mellow nouveau riche vibe. I meandered the streets looking for fun finds and quickly locating a used book store - one of my favorite places to visit when out of town. At this particular shop I picked up a book of antiquated euphemisms almost as old as me and far more offensive while listening to David Bowie - so I would consider it a success!

Deciding to leave the car where it was I literally walked the length of the city - in heels no less. Or at least it felt like it.

Wandering can be such a pleasant experience and with the perfect Bay Area weather and plenty at which to gaze this day proved that theory true. I managed to pick up a brightly colored African shirt, which of course sparked a cultural appropriation discussion, to pair with my Indian earrings as my regalos from Canada and, feeling so relaxed, opted for midday drinks along St. Laurent.

3 sips of a beer, a shot on the house and a pickle back were lazily consumed at Diablos as I chatted with a hippie couple and their well behaved dog from rural Massachusetts about being an artist and life. I may not be a journalist by trade, per se, but I do love talking to strangers and hearing their stories. 

With a relaxed buzz the wandering continued as we happened upon a haberdashery where I was tempted but could not bring myself to purchase a pricey head piece, yet my friend felt compelled to look at himself in the mirror wearing a variety of options for quite some time. Which was fine, it allowed me time to sit down and rest my barking dogs. 

Luckily this store was close to Schwartz's, which had been recommended to be my several people, as THE place to eat in Montreal, was close by. Hats in hand we went to this wait in line sort of place where I didn't realize smoked 'meat' was all they served. 

When option for the only poultry option, for which they are not known and for good reason, where I was promptly meat shamed and now vow never to visit again!

Then it was back to hoofing it again to the promenade of bugs, as the water and heat brought them out in droves.

Not yet having hung out down by the water properly it was time to sit in Old Town and consume one more drink - or at least attempt to. One more drink was partially had while seated next to a silent yet deadly couple comprised of a middle aged middle eastern man sporting a silver band and silly grin and a throw mamma from the train star look alike seated across from him, both silent as they drank their tea and are their crepes.I, of course was fascinated and dying to ask what this relationship was all about. 

This is sight seeing at it's best.

It was getting late, and cold and the hike back to the car was imminent.
Just as I suspected, the walk back was The Never-ending Story of walks and I was in need of my very own quicksand to envelop me. 

Rubins was like a personal trainer from hell always exclaiming just 2 more blocks when he and I both knew good and well the car was not 2 blocks away!

Eventually he went to fetch the car and I was left, cold, barefoot and alone on the corner of Fairmont and St. Laurent. I quickly realize that I could absolutely be left here naked and afraid in the great white north.

And for those of you who don't know me - most things white are terrifying or plain old repugnant.

I start work in 8 hours yet here I am dirty alone and in a foreign country - I certainly like to keep life interesting.

Luckily it wasn't too long before I was picked up and quickly showered, changed and repacked my bag with my new Canadian swag, as I had a crack of dawn flight to catch that would drop me in New York just in time to make it to work on time.

Merci beaucoup, Montreal. You were a great host for a birthday weekend.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The World Traveler

A little lightheaded from the tobacco I pretended I was able to puff on and we were taken over to the Mural de Prehistoria which, from afar looks like the gods came down and Pollack’d Tempura paint all over the side of a Jurassic Park rock wall but, upon further inspection one can see it is actually an enormous painting utilizing great skill and labor from the men-tee of Diego Rivera.

I exited through the gift shop and though tempted realized spending money for money's sake it not part of my personal mantra - regardless of the zip code or time zone.

Climbing up the hill we headed to our last destination - the vista. The beauty here is undeniable, majestic and indescribable - but more importantly there was a cow in the parking lot and I wanted to ride it.

Having to wait my turn, of course I allowed the 10 year-old girl on vacation to dismount before climbing up on that bad boy, Señor Miguel by my side. Nothing like riding an enormous cow around a parking lot like it’s a petting zoo on my 8th birthday. The adventure was brief but thrilling and my desire to own a cow, love a cow, know a cow remains strong.

Back down mountain we needed to re-up, finally finding a mulleted dealer offering one hour wifi cards on the corner, out of his nylon fanny pack, of course.

Starved for technology we devoured our minutes, not even leaving proper time for digestion before crossing the street from the main square to a dining establishment where we were really what was for dinner - as the rain brought out the mosquitoes and the cute waiter Frankie brought out gross food and drink.

Running low on energy we wandered the darkened streets of this second city, I picked up a regalo for one of my nephews and fingered a few disappointing pairs of earrings before calling it quits.

Back home I discover every clever word I'd written the last two days has been deleted from my cell phone and now I've been forced to rewrite this entry in, I am quite certain, inferior prose.


Up again with the sun, the roosters made sure there was no need for Steve Jobs and his pesky cell phone alarm clock devices.

Two things hit me once my head leaves the pillow - I am terribly upset I lost 2 days’ worth of what I believe to be terribly good writing, and I am terribly sick.

My glands are the size of mangos and every joint in my body hurts. 4 or 5 climate zones in a week will sometimes do this - but it's no matter - because I have my last full day in Cuba to enjoy.

I've said this before, and I'm sure I'll say it again - but I have lived in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles - major metropolises by anyone's standards - yet there is a comfort and beauty I find in a rural existence that tempts me more and more each time I engage.

Viñales has 26k people in 6k homes - so maybe this particular village isn't for me. But I have a feeling there is one out there that could suit me just fine. And I look forward to meeting it.

Joaquin Jr. arrived just in time, with a Dutchman riding shotgun, ensuring that my car sickness would join us today and Saturday would be spent mostly trying to recalibrate. The head rest was at my waist and the window was broken making the wind tunnel on my face a pleasant, consistent beating and my throat was basically swollen shut. I love to travel, I really do – but man transportation kicks my ass at least 3 times out of 5.

There was a brief 'restroom' break at which I climbed down into a ditch on the side of the Cuban highway and squatted, splashing my faithful Rainbow thongs with my own urine (sexy, I know).

JJ upped the price of our ride somewhere along the way and though it infuriated my partner I was far too ill to give a fuck. All I wanted to do was lay down.

Once back in Havana we were shown our adorable apartment for the night by it’s owner and my car sickness was overwhelming.

I barely made it through the presentation before I needed to lay down and take a moment. A long moment.
I had a good 30 minutes laying on the upholstered couch, French doors open to the life outside and the oscillating fan making sweet love to my kisser before I rallied and dragged myself up and down the 5 flights of stairs.
The walk was long, and slow. The heat was intense. I love the sounds and smells of a good third world stroll but I can now attest to the fact that these smells and sounds permeate the soul in a crushing way when you’re meandering them sick as a dog.
A friendly man who seemed to think Trump wasn’t so bad that we met on the street led us to a street side haberdashery to find my friend a replacement for the baseball cap lost somewhere along the way. I made myself at home here and haggled in Spanish which did lift my spirits.

Exhausted from the brief excursion I had to take a break and today that was an overpriced lemonade in the marble floored patio at some fancy hotel. The reprieve from the sun and the consumption of something that seemed vaguely vitamin c related offered siesta. We were enjoying our time when a man with a camera phone took it upon himself to try to take photos of us, namely up my dress interrupted our chat. Once again, too sick to care, my compatriot did not feel the same.
We were slated to meet our driver from 2 days prior, Raoul (way more fun to say than write) at 2pm so we went to the park to wait and keep an eye out for our homie. While waiting we got some real life Jerry Spring entertainment as a man and a woman got into a very heated argument that became vaguely physical, yet no one interceded. They calmed for reasons as unknown to me as theirs for being angry in the first place and then, shortly thereafter a young man seemed to take pleasure in taunting an older man carrying a big cloth bag until the older man pulled out a lead pipe which didn’t seem to scare the young man as much as encourage him to douche it up even more.
This sort of behavior, especially in public makes no sense to me in English either, but this was most certainly a confusing case.

Finally I spot Raoul’s fedora and after a bit of a bargain being struck (we were down to $50 and 24 hours) we devised a plan not to go to Hemingway’s home, which I wanted to see, or Che’s house, which I wanted to see, or the Christ on the hill, which I wanted to see, but the art neighborhood known as Fusterlandia.
It was a significant drive and we decided given our discount price is was an acceptable sight to see.
One again, proving one is never really in control of their own life, Mother Nature spanked us hard as flash flooding took place across the city with the major influx of perspiration. Though our view of the Parc Guell of Cuba was majorly impeded we did have an adventure of another . Sure, Fidel’s compound was pointed out and we got to see an entirely different part of town which is always fun. But the most fun was driving in a leaky convertible that’s brakes went out when submerged in the watery roadways.
Not one to panic easily we literally rode it out until Raoul deposited us safely back in front of our building and I, wanting to save my shoes more than my feet, padded barefoot across the surprisingly clean roadway and up the marble steps to our penthouse.

Needed to just shut my eye for a moment, I rose over an hour later to my starving sidekick who had been extraordinarily patient and understanding of my condition and who I agreed with when they said it was time to eat.

Out on the streets we are looking for the Lotus Flower. The eatery that offered us nourishment and air-conditioning our first night and the one we are hoping can do the same on our last. I am such a mess that a kind man to whom I request direction actually offers me water in his home because it is clear that I look like 40 miles of bad road and am in need of help.

He points out that the Lotus isn’t far and we make our way North, across the crowded avenue to China town where that illuminated neon sign once again beckons us in.
The waiter confirms it ain’t easy being green, for me or Kermit, as he repeatedly asks if I am ok. At this point I am feeling super beautiful! We know better by now to share most meals and do so happily in the table for two tucked back in the corner of the darkened restaurant.
I eat a bit and, compassionately my companion asks if I need to go back home.
I do.

We have come full circle with our visit to Lotus Flower and tonight had been our red lipstick night (I never travel with makeup), but first I need to just close my eyes a moment more.
My eyes close at 8pm and don’t open again until my fever breaks around 4.
I feel awful. I did not reunite with my graffiti artist friend Dennis, I did not bring it as I had promised to my crony and I did not get to experience another night of salsa dancing and stairwell secrets in Havana.

When I finally rise the sun is just peeking out from behind the horizon and my tonsils are literally touching one another.

The time is here, on Father’s Day 2017 for me to do what has become a travel tradition.
I grab my camera bag that now pretty much full time houses a tiny urn and I walk down to the water alone, Moro on my right, morning fisherman on my left.

I had been hoping for some privacy, but everyone seems to be wanting to have early morning moments on the sea this morning. I stop at a part of Malecon marked 180 where the rock formations are covered in trash and move slightly further down to clearer coasts.

I take a moment.

I drop a smattering of ashes into the blue Caribbean Sea just as a father and happy child walk by and it seems fitting.

It makes me sad, and a little angry, but seems appropriate none the less.

All of the places my father should have gone. Could have gone. Would have gone - words I am generally want to use.

But now, forever, he rests at the turtle sanctuary in Grand Cayman, a secluded river in Thailand, on top of an ancient temple in Burma, by the mermaid statue in Uruguay, in the cool crisp waters of the Nile in Egypt, at Angkor Wat in Cambodia and now, in the undulating Caribbean just outside of Habana Vieja in Cuba.

Now he is the world traveler he was always meant to be.

As I write these words a lone Cuban woman to my right does the station of the cross. And it's time to go back to the apartment and enjoy the last hours I have in Cuba.

Feeling just a smidge better we make our way back down to old town with, sadly no help from my directionally challenged colleague and look for a gift for my most difficult to buy for nephew.

After a little window shopping we stopped at Café La Luz for some people watching and some café for my crony. When the rain comes again we head inside and on their flat screen behind the bar Chris Brown is gyrating and singing the hell out of some song or another. Its nice to know that even at ALMOST 36 a pop star can illicit girl like giggle and lady like desires. Don’t judge!

At some point trying to wait out the rain was a clear impossibility so I wrapped up my camera and bathed in the midday downpour. A brief injection of confidence en espanol as a man at a shop at which we took cover part way continued to ask where I was from because I had a beautiful body… like a Cubana! It was hopeless and we were set to walk – all the way – in full drench mode.

Walking through the streets of Havana soaked to the bone and barefoot had it’s own poetry and I welcomed it.

At this point it was a race against time. We grabbed our bags and searched for a cab. We found luck with a lady cab driver who’s nail art was inspired by SWV and who’s attitude was inspired by Phyllis Diller.
We made it to Gate 2 just in time for a last TuKola, some wifi and enough ignorance to almost miss our flight while lounging at the gate.
And then, it was back to the USA.

Never before have I been so certain I will return to a place.

And soon.