Archives for category: Travel
Sleek. I’ll happily travel on the bullet train again.

I recently got my first COVID vaccine – or rather the anti-COVID vaccine. Apart for the slight pinch in my left arm, I felt excitement. Excitement at the thought of being able to travel again…not just yet, but if feels like it’s coming relatively soon. At the moment my second vaccine is scheduled for August 1st. Between now and then, I know I’ll be doing a lot of dreaming about where I want to head to first. Actually, I already “know” where I’m headed first….but that could change. As my current morning meditation says: “I make plans, and I am open to the surprises that life and the universe have for me”. So yes, I am “making plans,” and I’m open to whatever comes my way.

This renewed excitement about traveling got me thinking about where I’ve been the past few years, and I realized I hadn’t yet written about Kyoto. The one overnight trip out of Tokyo I managed in my time there.

I love train travel, and was excited about the bullet train. I did ride it once before, many years ago, when I was in Japan touring a French artist around the country. So I knew it would be comfortable and efficient. And even though you are moving incredibly quickly, you still get to see the countryside.

I traveled with my co-worker and friend, L. As we left Tokyo we talked about getting a glimpse of Mount Fuji on our way to Kyoto. No luck that day though, as it was hidden under clouds, as is often the case. On our return to Tokyo we got extremely lucky. There she was!

After checking into our hotel, we dumped our bags and headed straight out. We wanted to see as much as we could during our weekend and that meant spending as little time as possible in the hotel. Our first destination was the old city. We walked through its small streets and made our way up to a couple of temples.

I realized quickly how wonderful it was to be away from Tokyo’s high-rises, to wander through streets lined with buildings that felt welcoming. To not feel so small in a jungle of concrete, steel and glass.

From the old city we walked up the hill, towards the first of our temple visits. Unfortunately clouds rolled in, however that didn’t dampen the joy of being surrounded by trees and flowers.

Kiomizu-dera Temple is designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, with historic monuments of ancient Kyoto. Here, visitors pay their respects to Kannon, a deity of mercy and compassion. Kannon is said to embody “grateful hearts”. A reminder to be grateful for this life and all that we have – family, friends, opportunities like this one. A reminder to express gratitude and practice compassion – daily. Plus, it’s just really beautiful.

Like many areas in Japan, there’s a famous buddha statue in Kyoto. It’s hard to write about these things without always using the same words….beautiful, calming, peaceful – even with tourists milling about.

It felt like Kyoto had an endless supply of temples. Our next one was Yasaka-Jinja Shrine. Here what struck me was the beautiful way wood, stone, water and greenery come together.

I see this and can still hear the water flowing.
It’s always in the details for me. The stone and wood. The natural colours. Time and mother nature adding its touch.

We decided to head out of Kyoto to Nara for a day. An easy train ride away, although not without it’s adventure given the lack of Japanese spoken on our part, and the scarcity of English on theirs. I do love traveling like that though.

Nara is known for its park, and the deer that roam free. Now, I’m told they are docile, but don’t you believe it! I made the mistake of buying some cookies, from one of the many vendors, to feed the deer. “That’ll be fun,” I thought. Let’s just say they are NOT shy. After having more than one nibble on my butt, those cookies flew onto the ground. Help yourselves, and leave my tush alone, thank you very much!

Sure they are cute. But the sign doesn’t make them sound overly friendly! Does “deer mating season” make them more aggressive?

The best part of our day in Nara was Todaiji Temple, built at the request of Emperor Shomu, who hoped to position it as the head temple and Vairocana Buddha (“Buddha that shines through the world like the sun”). Inaugurated in 752 A.D., it was burnt twice during war times, and eventually restored between 1185-1133. A broad range of religious ceremonies continue to be performed here, some going back as far as a thousand years.

My favourite part of the Kyoto weekend was discovering Nijo Castle. Thanks to my brother J for that tip! It’s the only time we decided on a guided tour, which was definitely a good idea. Our guide was funny and charming, and how else would we have known that the floors were intentionally built to squeak, so that Ninja’s wouldn’t be able to sneak in! I have no idea if it’s true, but it sure does make for some fun storytelling. This was our final discovery before heading back to the bullet train and Tokyo. The perfect way to end the weekend.

Ornate gates, sculpted trees, ponds, blue skies, spring blossoms – the perfect way to end a beautiful weekend get-away. As you can see, masks were being worn. It wasn’t long before our time in Tokyo would come to an end.

I can’t seem to help myself these days – I’m still thinking about travels past and future. Why not? So here are a few more fun and whacky moments that make me smile.

Photo by Mike on

1.Ever receive a call at a phone booth, that you weren’t expecting?

Okay, I promise there will be stories from places other than London – but this one, this one is something else. One of my best friends had come to visit, on her way to backpacking through Europe. Just before leaving Canada, A.M. had started dating T, but he was not on this trip. One evening we were hanging out at my apartment in St. John’s Wood. Allison’s brother C and my boyfriend R walked in, announcing there was a call for A.M. What???

Every day A.M. would call T from a payphone at the park right across the street. He would call her back so that she didn’t have to keep loading the phone with change. T was missing her, and his friends at work told him to call. He resisted at first, knowing she wouldn’t be at the phone booth waiting. Then he figured why not just call?

As the pay phone rang, C and R were walking by, and decided to answer. When they heard someone ask for A.M., they told him to hold on and came to get her.

Crazy. Funny. Awesome. We could barely believe it, and still laugh at the memory. FYI, A.M. and T are still together, happily married.

2.Dutch passport control.

I was in Belfort, France for work, and heading to Amsterdam for a quick visit before flying back to Vancouver. I left my little inn in the mountains at about 5am, which in and of itself felt strange. It was dark out, nobody was up but me, and feeling like a spy in a novel, I slipped out the door.

I decided to take the train from Belfort, as I love train travel. The journey took me from Belfort to Brussels, where I boarded the train to Amsterdam. In Antwerp the train would split into two separate trains, both going to Amsterdam, but by different routes. Before we got to that stop, the conductor looked at my ticket and told me I needed to change cars to be in the train that matched the route on my ticket. I did what I was told.

Once we crossed over into Holland, Dutch border patrol came on to check our passports and tickets (ah the days pre European Union!). The conversation that ensued when I showed them my passport and ticket was this:

Him: You are on the wrong train. You need to pay XXXX more (I can’t remember what the amount was, somewhere around $40 Canadian). Cash, of course.

Me: But my ticket is for Amsterdam, and this train is going to Amsterdam.

Him: But you should have been on the train going via the western Dutch border, and this train is going via the eastern Dutch border.

Me: But we are still going to Amsterdam, and my ticket is for Amsterdam.

Him: You are from Canada, right?

Me: Yes, I am.

Him: Sighing….It would be like if you bought a train ticket from Canada to Mexico to go along the western border, but got on the train that went down the eastern border. The price would be different.

How the heck was I going to argue that one? First of all, Holland is the size of a postage stamp – unlike Canada. Second, who takes a train from Canada to Mexico? Third, if there were trains from Canada to Mexico, would you have to board in Winnipeg…and decide if you wanted the east or west coast route? I had to bite my tongue not to laugh in his face.

I paid. The experience was well worth the cash. I hope he enjoyed a nice dinner…

3.Airport transfer in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

I have a full post on this little story, so I won’t go into great detail here. Suffice it to say that it remains one of my favourite experiences. Sometimes you just have to trust that the universe has your back and that all will be well – despite someone taking your passport and boarding pass because you apparently needed to have your luggage tags changed, even though they were checked into your final destination when leaving Bangkok.

It was a good reminder that in this day and age of technology, where travel is easy and you don’t have to stop and speak to locals, it is always better to actually do so. They might even buy you breakfast, just because.

4. Lufthansa special treatment.

It’s not often you are met at your plane and chauffeured to your next flight! We had left London an hour late, which meant I landed in Munich at the time I was to be boarding my flight to Rome. I asked the attendant if I would be put on a later flight. After looking into it, she told me a vehicle would meet us on the tarmac, I would be taken to border control so they could stamp my passport, then driven to my plane. I would make the flight. I asked her if my luggage would also have a car – she didn’t think it was as funny a question as I did.

It was something else. When we got to the plane for Rome, we arrived at the same time as the busses of people from the terminal. The busses would not unload until I got out of the vehicle and on the plane. Instead of not making my flight, I was the first one on. Mind blown.

My luggage did not get so lucky. It arrived the following day.

5. Columbian Adventure – my first military check point.

While in Bogotà, a friend and I were invited to a little island off the north coast called Isla Fuerte.

We flew from Bogotà to Montería, where we were picked up at the airport and driven through the countryside to the coastal town of La Rada. From there we would take a 30-minute boat ride to the island.

On our way to La Rada, we were stopped by Columbian military for a “routine check”. Andrés (our host) asked us to give him our passports, and get out of the jeep (we all had to). He assured us there was nothing to worry about. This is a man who worked in government and was involved in the sport/Olympic world, and has a house on the island. He was no stranger to this. To me, being out in jungle like countryside, with military officials and their machine guns checking our documentation felt surreal.

Thankfully, he was right. It was “business as usual” for them. And we were quickly back on the road. Phew!

6.That time I got to sit in the cockpit for landing.

Clearly this was pre-9/11. I was flying from Vancouver to Paris via London and couldn’t sleep, so asked to go speak with the pilots. The airplane was a Lockheed 10-11, and the cockpit had a crew of three – pilot, co-pilot and navigation guy. There was also a jumper seat behind the pilot, which I was invited to sit in while we chatted. Eventually a flight attendant came to get me as they were about to serve breakfast before landing. I said my goodbyes and thank you’s, and the pilot said “see you again on your way home.” I mentioned I would be flying back to Montreal, not Vancouver, and he said he flew that route as well. “Then I’ll see you, and maybe be in here for take-off and landing?” I figured it didn’t hurt to ask.

As breakfast ended, the flight attendant came to find me and asked if I wanted to go back into the cockpit. I nodded as my insides screamed HELL YES! I buckled myself into the jumper seat, which gave me a clear view out the window. Our pilot had asked the co-pilot which runway we were assigned. It was runway “5”. He requested a change to runway “1”, and I watched as the city approached. Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral all came into view. The crew was pointing everything out to me, and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I’d lived in London for a year and knew what I was looking at. The plane was on auto-pilot for much of the approach, and then the pilot took over and landed us safe and sound. As they did their post-flight communications and checks, I whispered a thank you and silently left, not believing my incredible luck.

As I look forward to the days where travel will be allowed again, I marvel and chuckle over some of the experiences I have had. Travel is truly a wonderful education.

Get out and see the world – if and when you can. There’s so much to experience. You don’t have to go far, and it doesn’t have to cost you much. You just need to open your eyes, ears and heart and see what’s out there for you.

Oh travel adventures, how I miss you and look forward to having new ones again.

This is the longest I have been in one place in over seven years. I’m grateful for the time to “nest” and be still. And yet, I miss the adventures – the excitement of experiencing something new, meeting new people, or going back to old favourites. So as I sit here waiting for the pandemic to end, and to be able to travel again, I can’t help but look back on some of the trips and times abroad. So many discoveries, adventures, beautiful moments, and experiences that were a little out of the ordinary – ones that still make me give my head a shake – and smile. I love these quirky moments.

Here are some of my favourites.

Me, just before my departure to London. This is the hat that came with me to the UK. Wish I still had it!

1.First trip abroad – London. Warm and fuzzy airport arrival (not so much!).

I was 19, and it was the first time I got onto an airplane. I was London bound. At the time the IRA was active and Thatcher was still in power. When we landed at Heathrow and the plane came to a stop, I got up out of my seat still half asleep (a quick overnight flight from Montreal) and made my way to door. I was surprised to see that we were still on the tarmac – close to the terminal, but not actually at the terminal. We had to walk down the mobile stairs and make our way in. And what was there to greet us? The British Army, lined up, with their machine guns in hand. Yikes! Not exactly a warm and fuzzy welcome – somewhat intimidating for this kid from Canada. I was suddenly, very much, wide awake.

2.Meeting my first friend in London.

After a short mini panic session, I got out my backpackers’ guide and figured out how to get to a youth hostel. You see, I got on the plane without any idea of what I would actually do and where I would go upon arrival. I knew I would head to a hostel, but hadn’t figured out which one, nor pre-booked anything. I found one that was fairly close, and accessible by Tube. It was too early to get into the room (they shut them during the day, and you had to be back in by 1:00am, if memory serves). So I sat on some chairs with my hat over my eyes trying to nap, until I could go in and get settled. The chairs were set up by a pay phone, in a quiet corner away from the desk.

Suddenly I could hear the following: “I’m fine, mum, just send money…… I’m fine. I’m fine mum, send money. I’ll see you next week.”

I opened my eyes, and was greeted by a smile and a “mums!” (said with a shrug and a laugh). My introduction to JB, who was in London on his way back to Detroit, having sailed across the Atlantic with a Polish tall ship. My first week in London was his final week of adventure before heading home. It was the perfect way to arrive – spending time with someone else who wanted to discover the city.

3.Bail money?

Still in my first week in London, I met two Irish guys and another Canadian girl at the youth hostel. One evening we headed to a small, posh pub in St. John’s Wood. Just before last call (which was 11:00pm), a crowd came in – so they could be seen to have been at the pub, though they could only afford one drink. All of a sudden there was a rush towards the door. I stepped onto the stairs that we were standing in front of, so I wouldn’t be swept away, and looked left. There was a fight starting – a “skinhead” and a “new wave”. Police were quick on the scene, and as they walked past us, one of the guys I was with said “We need to leave now. See the skinheads outside? Do not make eye contact, just walk past and keep going”. There were five skinheads standing by the pub entry with sticks and bats in their hands. They had sent one member of their little gang in to pick a fight, while they waited for the unlucky target to come out, at which point they all would gang up on him and beat him. The idea of this being a way to pass time still makes me feel sick. The two guys I was with would have been considered “new wave”, so no eye contact was key. Once we were far enough away, one of my Irish friends said that he had heard a police officer quietly mutter “anyone who doesn’t leave now, will be taken in.” Can you imagine? Me in my first week, calling my mum and saying “I’m fine, but can you send bail money?” Ha! Thankfully that did not happen.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on

4.More pub fun.

My second week in London. I was in another pub, this time near Piccadilly Circus. It was still afternoon and we had stopped for some food. A man came in and went to the bar, but was refused. He was already drunk so the barkeep decided not to serve him. The man didn’t say much, and left. A few minutes later….a brick came flying in through the window about three feet away from my head.

Seriously, all of the above in my first 10 or so days in London – my first time out of Canada! Was this a test? A challenge to see if I would stay? I did stay, and I didn’t see anything remotely like this again. If it was a test, I guess I passed.

5.Confusion over my accent when I speak French.

Well into my time in London now. I was living with four other people in a house in East Finchley. We decided to have a house party, as one does. While out the night before, one of my roommates and I met a rugby team from a Parisian economics school, who Alison invited to our party. They all showed up. I was surprised and somewhat impressed that they were able to find their way to our house. While talking with some of them, in French of course, this….this eventually happened:

Dude: It’s very odd…. (with an utterly confused look on his face).

Me: What?

Dude: You speak like a peasant……….but you do not look like one! (still a very confused look on his face).

Me: Um, yes, well….probably makes sense if you think about it. Who left France in search of a better life?

Seriously dude… So freakin’ funny! The look on his face was just something else.

6.Ferry ride to France.

Alison and I decided we wanted to go to Paris for a weekend. We took the train, which also involved an overnight ferry ride from England to France. At the time the ferries were run by a French company. As we tried to get settled on board, it was dark and cold out. Yet all the seating was partially outdoors. We made our way around the boat and eventually found an indoor room – a dining room all set up, but completely empty. The sign on the door said “No Entry”. Hmmm… I decided that wasn’t going to do, so I started chatting with some of the guys working on the ferry. I’m telling you, this is not the only time speaking French and being from Canada has helped me on my travels. We were soon invited into the dining room, and when one of the guys said he was worried they would get into trouble for letting us in, another said “It’s okay, we’ll just tell them she’s my cousin from Quebec.” Yes, yes we will! The next thing I new someone else showed up with a bottle of Malibu and juice. Not a great drink, by any means, but we emptied it, and spent the ferry trip chatting in the coziness of the “no entry”, indoor room. We arrived in France warm and happy, said thank you, and off we were.

I love to travel, and if I can help it, there’s no need to go without at least a little comfort, even if I don’t have any money 🙂

Friends, roommates, parties, travel around the UK, goofy times….lots of wonderful memories. Unfortunately the camera I had was crap. Fortunately the memories never fade.

I hadn’t intended on this being all about moments during my first time abroad, however the more I thought about it, the more I remembered. There are so many more fun, quirky stories from various trips. I’ll have to keep them for another day.

The things you experience, the people you meet, when you go beyond your day-to-day routine, comfort zones and country borders. No wonder this broad loves to go abroad!

London is still one of my favourite places to visit. I’m looking forward to being back there again.

If you have any favourite quirky travel experiences and feel like sharing them, please do so in the comments. I’d love to read about them.

About time I came back for part two of my time in Tokyo isn’t it? This woman’s been busy… 🙂

Everyone always talks about the “quirky” nature of Japan. I think that if you live in a society where everyone pretty much wears the same clothes throughout school and is then expected to fall in line with the ‘norms’ while working…it’s no wonder they get creative whenever and however they can. Friends and I marvelled over the fact that when you walk by a dry-cleaner what you see in the window is ALWAYS the same – white shirts, dark suits. ALWAYS. It was so exciting for me when one of the people I worked with wore bow ties instead of a regular tie. He found a way to show his creative side, even in serious meetings. Thank you bow-tie-guy!

Another thing you always hear about are Japanese gardens. And yes, they are beautiful.

I love how they find ways to ensure there are peaceful gardens and green spots in the middle of the towers. No matter where you live, you can find a little respite from all the crowds and the hubbub. They also build around old temples – they don’t destroy them.

Luckily for me Shiba Park is right beside where I lived. It provided me with a wonderful place to go run through, walk through, sit in, and just go to when I wanted to get away from my computer, work and apartment. It was a lovely way to start the day, take a breather, or end the day.

Speaking of work and home….That was pretty much all in the same, roughly 400-square-foot, apartment.

Small, yes. Super-functional, definitely. I actually quite loved this little space. I have to say they really know how to make the most of every square inch – no wasted space here at all. Even though I spent most of my work time here (except for meetings with the local agencies), it really was my little sanctuary.

For the last three months of my time in Tokyo, I had a co-worker (she lived in the apartment below mine). That’s right – two of us working at that little table-come-desk all day long! Thank goodness we are friends as well as co-workers.

I found this place through a company called In The Hood. They were amazing. Extremely helpful in finding the right apartment and ensuring that I had all I needed. As their name suggests, they want to create a neighbourhood of travellers – enabling those who have common interests to meet and exchange ideas, conversation, travel experiences and generally fun times. Having traveled a lot themselves, they understand what people are looking for. On top of all that, when I traveled away from Tokyo for more than a few weeks, they stored my luggage and rented out the space to someone else – saving me from paying rent while I wasn’t there. If you, or anyone you know, are looking for a furnished apartment in Tokyo, I highly recommend In The Hood.

I was in the Higashi-Azabu area. Very central, easy access to the metro system (which is simple to use and amazing), and a great mix of both local and international inhabitants. Everything I needed was close by, including three grocery stores and a multitude of restaurants. There was this little spot that always had a line-up around lunch time – and I mean little – two customers at a time at most. So one day we decided to go check it out. It ended up being a little bakery/dessert spot. We still have no idea why people lined up to get in though. Let’s just say that with all the great food in Tokyo…dessert is not their forté. At least not that I could find. When I did, it was a “French” bakery…

My favourite neighbourhood restaurant. Sushi rolls are not the norm in Japan, so the fact that this tasty little treat was in my neighbourhood was definitely a nice surprise, and perk.
And right around the corner was this place. The hairdresser was a very cool looking, long-haired, well-dressed man. So I decided to give it a try. Let me tell you….it is custom in Japan that when they wash your hair during your appointment they also give you a really lovely head massage. I could have gone every day…and when I told him that he laughed. Most people think it would have been really expensive, however my first trip to a hairdresser in Montreal cost me more….What’s up with that???

Up the hill from my place you will find a very busy tourist attraction….

As you saw in my Tokyo Times Part 1 post, I didn’t spend ALL of my time in my neighbourhood. I even had some guests come to town. One of the first places everyone wanted to see was Shibuya Crossing.

And this isn’t at a terribly busy time…at night there are even more people crossing every which way. You’d think there would be tons of people bumping into each other, but no. Somehow it all just works.

Once you are done having fun in the crazy crosswalk, there are a myriad of little streets and alleys to explore. It is very easy to get lost. Luckily it is also very easy to find fun spots and great food.

Shibuya Crossing at night. There’s definitely something about night time – an additional layer of energy provided by the dark skies and flashing neon lights.

Another popular spot was Team Lab. They have a few locations, and Borderless is my favourite. I first went with a friend who had lived in Tokyo for 12 years, and wanted to make sure I saw it while she was in town. Just about everyone who visited while I was there wanted to go, which means I went four times. I also saw their larger installation once, and didn’t enjoy it as much — too many different rooms, no real path to follow which meant you ended up in the same place more than once. I think it was just sensory overload as well.

If you want to calm your senses…I recommend Meiji Shrine and the surrounding parkland and woodland. There is just something about walking amongst tall, majestic trees, green space and flowers, that both calms and feeds the soul. Being a Shinto shrine, we are able to enjoy the pure, simple beauty of it all.

One really could go on and on and on about Tokyo. Wait…maybe I already have! 🙂

So, I will close again with some random fun photos to give you more of a feel for some of the experiences I have been lucky enough to have. #charmedlife for sure.

And if you have made it this far down the blog post – thank you! You deserve something extra-special for that. I present you with……The Robot Restaurant!

Thank you Tokyo. Such good times with some amazing people. As much as I wish I hadn’t been feeling like such crap most of the time I was there (I alluded to this in my Why I Run post), I really did enjoy discovering as much as I did. Thank you to LH for bringing a much-needed breath of fresh air to my last three months there, and to AK and SG for your constant support.

See you again Tokyo…one day….

A city of high-rises. The view from one of the office buildings I went to regularly.

I have been back in Canada for five months now…clearly about time I wrote about my Tokyo Times. I was in the city on and off between May 2019 – April 2020 for work, and although I wasn’t always feeling my best (I touched on this somewhat in my post on Why I Run), I did manage to have some pretty awesome experiences.

The question is … where do I start? I think it’s taken me so long to write because I was overwhelmed by this question. Tokyo offers so much that it’s hard to wrap my brain around it all. I think the best thing to do is start with a few of my favourite experiences and observations, including some of my favourite spots to take visitors.

When I first arrived, I spent my free time just walking around different areas of the cities – this wasn’t always easy and comfortable, given the almost 100-degree temperature with 100% humidity (or close to it!). I joked that everyone was just going to have to accept that from May to September 2020 I was going to be a walking ball of sweat… Obviously that’s not quite how 2020 turned out.

So as I sit here miles and miles away from Tokyo and think back on my time there, here’s what comes to mind.

The food! Clearly the best place to start is with the food. So much amazing food – even if you don’t eat fish (which I do). From sushi to ramen to pizza (yes, pizza) to tempura to steak to gyoza to soba noodles to sandwiches from the 7-Eleven (really very good, particularly the egg salad). One of my favourite things to do was visit the food level at a department store late afternoon as they markdown the sushi which needs to be sold quickly. Super fresh and well priced. Yummy! I wasn’t adventurous enough to try out the many strange looking “sweets” – to be honest, they just didn’t appeal to me, they didn’t look like they were meant to be eaten.

Nissan Crossing. One of the first places I took visitors to was Nissan Crossing – the Nissan feature store in Ginza. Sounds strange, I know…however, on the 2nd floor they have a café. Not just any old café though. Here you can have a photo printed onto the foam of your coffee or hot chocolate (or iced chocolate). Then you get to watch yourself melt away as you drink. I even saw teenagers asking for a photo of their K-pop idol on their drink! Just a fun thing to do while catching up and deciding where to go next. My friend B. introduced me to this place, and I took everyone who visited – whether they were in Tokyo for work or for play. I still think that if I had enough of these photos they’d make for a fun poster.

Going, going, gone!

Asakusa. This is another area that B introduced me to, and to which I kept going back (with or without visitors!). It was fortuitous that my friend B (who I met while doing my yoga teacher training) happened to be in Tokyo two weeks after I first landed. She and her husband lived in Tokyo for many years and it was wonderful to have her show me around. There were many gems in her tours, and one of them was Asakusa.

We went to Asakusa with some of B’s friends who still live in Japan on the weekend of its neighbourhood celebration. This is a three-day celebration where local residents parade items from the local temple through the streets to bless the area. All neighbourhoods do this. Asakusa’s was a real eye-opener!

I was quite surprised to see men walking around baring their butts. When I asked one of my new friends why they were doing this I was informed that it’s a tradition for areas by water to also take the temple items into the water to bless it and pray for good fishing. Okay, I get that, it’s amazing. However….nobody here was going into the water… It also cracks me up that this man looks so happy and proud of himself, all while getting a wedgie…

Asakusa is a very popular destination for locals as well as tourists, and was usually teaming with people there to see the temple, shop at the little kiosks, and eat lots of food. On weekends you see a good number locals wearing traditional kimonos which are so beautiful.

While walking around Asakusa I would head over to Kappabashidogugai street which is a very long street filled with kitchen supply stores. Here you will find everything from ceramics to glassware to pots and pans to restaurant uniforms to utensils and wonderfully sharp Japanese knives. A number of my friends bought some lovely ceramic bowls and I always meant to go back and do that eventually, but I never did.

I did, however, buy me some sharp Japanese knives! Luckily for me I have friends who love to do a lot of research before they travel somewhere and they did the leg work on finding the best knife store. Kama-Asa. They sell much more than knives, but that’s what I was there for and that’s what I brought a few people there for. Some bought gifts for others, some bought gifts for themselves.

And one of the cool things is they will engrave your name or whatever you want on the knives in Japanese and in English. All done free-hand. So impressive!

And that, my friends is only a little insight to Asakusa. A few other interesting tidbits:

  • I was told that the Yakuza (mafia) have their head office in the area. As far as I know I didn’t see it, however during the neighbourhood celebrations you did see people walking around showing their tattoos, which are traditionally representative of being part of the Yakuza. When you go to pools or spas you generally see signs saying tattoos are not permitted or have to be covered. This poses an interesting challenge for the Japanese tourism industry as more and more international visitors have tattoos – and aren’t part of a crime syndicate.
  • The first “western style” bar that opened in Japan is said to be in Asakusa as well. Kamiya bar – I nearly went in….but we opted for something else that day.

I feel like this is already a fair amount of information. And really, Tokyo deserves more than one blog post – being the big, beautiful, complex, interesting city that it is. So I’ll save some for Part 2 and leave you with a few random sitings.

Suntory Hall – I happened by it one day to see the announcement that doors were opening – pipes emerge from above the Suntory hall sign, playing music to let everyone know it is time to come in. Lovely.
One of the main streets in Ginza is shut down to traffic on weekends, opening it up for people who are wandering the area, shopping, and yes, showing off their dogs wearing lion wigs. They were certainly the stars of the show that day!
You had to know there would be a “Japanese toilet” image of some sort! The seats are warm, it’s a toilet and a bidet all in one, with various degrees of water pressure – basically everything has a control. Mine at home even flushed automatically as soon as you stood up. But this one, this one may have gone too far……”wand clean”???? Um, I’m not entirely sure what they mean – and I did NOT want to find out.
Riding the monorail. I may or may not have been pretending to drive..
Crazy tall buildings and blue skies.
What time is that first train? Clearly I am just supposed to know… 🙂

I finally started going through my photos of Japan in preparation for a long overdue post about my time there. As I went through the myriad of images, I found some that remind me of one of the things I love about travelling.

I can not express how much joy I have in discovering signs that make me scratch my head wondering “whaaaat???”, remind me that I am far from home, make me laugh, or at the very least put a smile on my face.

On my first walk around Doha – definitely a reminder that I was very far from home. And I really like the image.

Seeing the photos I took of signs in Japan made me think of some that I have come across in other parts of the world – like South Korea where a sandwich board outside a pub, shaped like a big frothy pint of beer, said “Live Beer”. Unfortunately that photo is deep in storage so I can not share it with you today – but I still remember it and it always makes me smile.

So I thought I would share some of my favourites from the past few years.

Some are “typos” or give you an idea of some of the local language challenges (like the letter ‘L’ in Japan).

I often saw the “L” replaced by an “R”.
“Frence” 🙂

There are some that I have difficulty understanding – or rather figuring out what they really mean.

In Istanbul I was introduced to “Birdshit’ ice-cream. What? What the heck is that??? Not sure I want some. But then, how do you not order it? Turns out it was pistachio….apparently the colour of pistachios is reminiscent of bird shit.
Ya…no clue here. What is “Hot water crack” or “Hot water crack of buckwheat”? For that matter, what is “Shochu”?
Okay…I can figure this one out – as long as they are not actually going to serve me a roasted vegetarian, that is.

Menus can be a fabulous source of smiles…or WTF’s… I mean, as much as I love wine, I’m not sure I want to “chug” it. I also don’t know that I want an “ice cream burger”. I can say that the pepper dressing is indeed “very delicious”, and I am not sure why their other dressings were not labeled as such. And then there’s my favourite Turkish breakfast egg dish – menemen. I have often said that I love “men-E-men” for breakfast, but this is the first time I saw it on the menu as “Men & Men”.

Every now and again I come across signs that are just really very clever. I always appreciate those and want to congratulate whoever thought them up.

Then there’s the time I was with friends in Amsterdam. We were walking around and wanting to find a little coffee shop to sit in and chat over coffee or tea.

But apparently a ‘coffee shop’ in Amsterdam isn’t necessarily serving you coffee. Oops…sometimes I really just do not have a clue. I finally asked why we were walking by all these coffee shops (thinking my friends were being super picky). Ha!

When you do touristy things you can be met with many signs designed to help you – some do and some don’t. While traveling in China with two of my brothers we went to the Great Wall (so beautiful). When we got there we had the choice of taking a little cable car up, or the ever popular “stair way of mounting the Great Wall”. Again, unfortunately that photo is in storage, but clearly the sign left it’s mark!

At the train station in Kyoto. I’m pretty sure they are saying that only adults can enter the smoking room – not that there is a separate smoking room for children….pretty sure…
Always nice to be reminded that I am “ordinary”. Hehehehe
Does the name engrave itself?

I do hope that these signs never get “fixed” or have their grammar corrected. For me it is definitely part of the charm of visiting and discovering new places and cultures. It can also give you an indication of how the local language is structured which comes in handy when trying to speak it. Part of the lure of travel is to experience something new, different from home. As much as it can be nice, and sometimes comforting, to see English (or French), let’s hope it doesn’t all become one consistent, sterile, grammatically correct world.

Finishing off with one of my faves. I always chuckle when I see this photo.


St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow city centre, and blue skies.

I must have been about 10 years old. And I can still see and feel this moment very clearly. I was in the living room by myself (which is unusual when you have 9 siblings…). I loved watching sport events on tv (still do) and was watching what must have been an IAAF World Championship taking place in Moscow. The TV cameras would go wide, showing spectacular views of gold onion domes against blue skies. This is the moment I first thought “I want to go to places like this”. My mum was in the kitchen and I asked her “mum, have you ever wanted to travel?”. Of course she had – but then 10 kids came along…

I have been supremely lucky and have traveled to a number of countries for both work and play. And last year I found myself in Moscow – the city that first inspired my desire to see the world. Seeing those onion domes in person for the first time. WOW! I was there on a work trip, and I know that afforded me access to places I would never have been able to go – a very privileged visit and experience of Moscow. Lucky me.


At times it felt so surreal –  rushing around for site visits and meetings, all the while being aware that I was seeing these iconic images in person. And the memory of my 10-year old self clearly stating “I want to see places like this in person, I want to travel” was present throughout my stay. It may have taken a while, but it certainly is true what they say about putting a thought/desire out there into the universe and then just sitting back and letting the universe bring it to you — in ways you could never have imaged.

No pre-conceived ideas, no expectations, just a desire voiced in my head and out loud at age 10. A good reminder to be clear about what my heart wants and to let the universe help it along.

Graced with a hostess who is generous, kind, clearly proud of her city and country, and connected meant an experience I would not have otherwise had. Places like Gorky Park and the Kremlin came to life.


My trip to Moscow coincided with their May 9th national day parade – a very seriously impressive parade of military might. More impressive to me, however, was the march that followed. Hours and hours of a 6-lane street filled with people marching in honour of family members and loved ones lost in war (many of whom perished during WW2), carrying photos of their dearly departed. Now that’s a “remembrance day” parade! Just outside my hotel room window was an old veteran with who I imagine to have been his grandson. People marching by thanked him for his service and saluted and you could see and feel the emotion on his face. I hate war. I hate people killing others in the name of whatever belief. I have never understood why some people believe it is okay to hurt or kill others just because they are different. And the emotion of this march…the emotion of people honouring lost loved ones…this…was inescapable. It took a while for me to process my experiences of that day – from military might to heart might.

Parade Veteran

And then there are the cultural and athletic sides to this country. I’ve spent many an Olympic Games and world championships watching Russian gymnasts and figure skaters and have seen countless clips of the Bolshoi Ballet on TV. So imagine my excitement at the thought of actually going to the Bolshoi! Incredibly beautiful – the theatre, the dancers, the entire experience. Definitely a “pinch me” moment.

We were told that no photos of the performance are allowed…and yet people around me were snapping shots on their phones. I wanted to…but I knew the “rule”, so I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The final bows were all I could manage. And that’s okay – the memory of the ballet remains vivid.

And there was dinner at the Zhivago Grand Café – just the name itself “Zhivago” inspires and evokes – and the food was pretty darn good too.

No trip to Moscow would be complete without a glass of champagne – I saw it flowing on a number of occasions. Apparently they love their champagne – just as much as they love their vodka! It may have been the middle of the afternoon on a busy day, however it would have been rude to let one of my hosts drink on his own…sacrifices….

Although my days were filled with work-related meetings and site visits, I did manage a quick walk one evening, delighting in watching Muscovites rush around, enjoying themselves on a warm spring evening.

All in all – what an amazing opportunity and trip. It was my second trip to Russia, and the first to Moscow. I love seeing the history of places all around the world – be it in the architecture, music, culture, cuisine, people. So very thankful to my hosts for this trip!

It would seem that mum was with me – I thought of her often and of our conversation so many years ago. She loved music – there was always music playing and she sang often. Seeing these larger than life music notes in day time, and then lit up at night, felt like a sign that she was watching from above with a great big smile on her face – which of course put an even bigger smile on mine, and filled my heart. Merci maman.



I have been very lucky when it comes to travel – seeing new countries, experiencing new cultures, meeting fabulous people all over the globe. Naturally this has meant logging quite a few hours on planes, through different airports, all over.

I recently flew from Bangkok to Istanbul, via Dhaka (Bangladesh). This routing was not my first choice, however I was flying on points and the direct flight on Turkish Airlines was not available…so this was the next best option. I initially thought the layover in Dhaka was 2 hours, but it was almost 6. It’s a small airport…with not much to do, and it was the middle of the night (I landed there at 1am, and my flight to Istanbul was due to leave at 6:25am). Staying awake so I did not miss my flight was my first priority.

I went off to find the lounge so I could at least get a marginally comfortable seat and wifi. The Thai Airways lounge wouldn’t let me in as I was not flying Thai Airways out of Dhaka (made no difference that I had flown to Dhaka on a Thai Airways flight). I was directed to the lounge that Turkish Airlines uses, and was told there that I should be at the Thai lounge – because I started my journey with Thai Airways, it was their branding on my boarding pass. I had to point out that despite the branding, I was flying Turkish Airlines and he finally let me in. I sat down and kept myself busy by doing few things on my computer, watching some Netflix, and shooing away mosquitos. Nope, it’s not an outdoor airport, there were just constantly mosquitoes on me…..constantly!!! At regular intervals I could hear the zapping sound of a mosquito meeting the electric bug-killing racquet the concierge was armed with. That is a very different airline lounge experience.

Eventually it was time to head to the gate. I was thankful and looking forward to getting into my seat and sleeping. Here’s where things got really interesting….

After taking my boarding pass and allowing me to pass through to the security check (which is right at each gate in this airport) I was called back. Seems they didn’t like the fact that my boarding pass had Thai Airways branding on it. In broken English they asked if I had checked luggage. Yup, 2 bags. They then proceeded to tell me that I needed to go to a transit desk to make sure that my luggage had been transferred to the Turkish Airlines flight. What? Look at my luggage tags – they clearly show my bags having been checked through to my final destination. Regardless, off we went to the Transit desk. Apparently in Dhaka you need to check into a Transit desk to make sure that your luggage has been transferred from one airline to another. It doesn’t matter that they were checked into their final destination in Bangkok.

To make things even more confusing, the one and only Transit desk is the Biman Airlines transit desk (Bangladesh’s official airline). Neither of my flights had anything to do with Biman Airlines, however they apparently take care of all travelers in transit.

Next thing I know there are 3 men discussing my “situation” in Bengali. One speaks enough English to tell me that they need to go have my boarding pass reprinted – so that it’s branded Turkish Airlines. And that they need to go find my luggage… They look at my current luggage tag receipts, my passport, my boarding pass (what’s left of it as it had been ripped with the larger piece retained by the team at the Gate), and one of them leaves with all my documents in hand to get my new boarding pass and luggage tags. It took me a few minutes to properly process the fact that I was now without my passport  and luggage tags. What can I say, it was now 6:15am and I hadn’t slept at all. I didn’t outright panic, but I was getting a little antsy about how long this would take, wanting to make sure I got on that flight. I started asking more questions to the man in charge of the transit desk, who assured me that this is “normal” procedure at all airports when connecting flights with two different airlines. Uhhh, nope. Not when it’s all on the same ticket and the airlines are affiliated and the luggage tags clearly show both flights. He conceded that I may  know better than him how things work in other airports, and assured me that all would be fine. He made a couple of phone calls – I could understand well enough that they were about me and my bags. And he told me that my flight had been delayed until 7:30, so lots of time. “Enough time to go for coffee” he said. I agreed that would be more fun than the present situation…

A few minutes later his co-worker arrived with my new boarding pass, luggage tags and passport. We walked towards the gate, and he had me wait for him at the top of the stairs leading to “arrivals” (where I’m guessing my luggage was still waiting for me…). He was back 2 minutes later – no more luggage tags in his hands (he had given me my receipts). And he started walking. I was a little confused as it was away from my gate, so I asked if I should still follow – he said yes.

A few steps later I understood – we were on our way to the restaurant. Aaaahhh, coffee/tea it is. We joined his 2 co-workers who were now having breakfast (this explained why one of them had been more than just a little annoyed by me and the fact that I hadn’t gone directly to the Transit desk upon arrival – “why did you wait so long before coming?” he asked…”why am I here at all? My luggage has been checked throughto Istanbul” I said). They were at the end of their night shift and having breakfast before going home. I was asked to sit, given some tea, and invited to join in their meal. What??? I wasn’t hungry, but felt it would just be rude to not eat anything, so I tore off a piece of flatbread with my right hand (well, I had momentarily touched it with my left when I realized I shouldn’t – and he didn’t touch his food with his left hand at all, as is custom here. Right hand for eating, left hand for bathroom…) and had that with a fried egg, and a yummy, warm lemon and honey drink. He looked at me and said “you see, I told you it would all be fine. And now we are sharing a meal.”

Indeed, all was fine and we were sharing a meal. Conversation was a little limited given my complete lack of Bengali and his somewhat limited English. But I did find out that he has a 7-year old daughter and likes to spend his vacations relaxing at home (while his wife and daughter go traveling).

So. Freaking. Awesome.

15 minutes later we left, I thanked them for their help and hospitality, and walked off to my gate with a big smile on my face. Now THAT was an experience!

It’s traveling to these smaller countries that reminds you that not everything everywhere is automated and automatic. Nor should it be. There is a lot to be said for random conversations with people you would never normaly meet, ,and so much to be gained by sharing experiences of all kinds. As much as it would have been nice to know beforehand that this was a necessary step at the Dhaka airport, thereby avoiding any last-minute stress for all of us, I smile at the thought of this little experience. Sit back and enjoy the ride, I say.



It was quite the month. Filled with challenges, learnings, new friendships, laughs, tears, ups and downs. So pretty much anything and everything you can think of! The desire to do a yoga teacher training intensive course is one I have had for a while now, and nearly did a couple of years ago. This does not necessarily mean I will end up teaching full-time, but you just never know. I simply wanted to get a deeper understanding of yoga – which is something that always helps ground me and makes me feel good.

I found Samahita Retreat two years ago. It was recommended to me by a friend who knew I was looking for a place to go in Thailand post a week-long conference in Bangkok. She mentioned that a mutual friend had done her yoga teacher training at Samahita. After viewing their website I signed up for a yoga retreat and Samahita’s Yoga-Core-Cycle programme. I loved it. So when I found myself with some time on my hands I was pleased to see that they had a YTT course within my “time off”. It was great to find myself back in this familiar place, with friends I made 2 years ago still here.

the room

The main yoga shala, where we spent much of our days. I love this room.

I’m not sure what I was expecting out of the month…but let me say that I got so much out of it. The first two weeks were crammed with anatomy classes, introduction to yogic philosophy, morning meditation, pranayama (breath work) and asana (physical yoga practice/postures), asana studies (where you break down each of the poses and talk about the right way to go into them, be in them [BE IN IT!!! – as Paul would say], come out of them, adjust people in them), and Sanskrit studies of the names of the poses and chants . There is soooo much information coming that at times I wondered how I would remember it all, let alone truly absorb it all , and then pass the anatomy exam!  I will admit that I also asked myself what the heck I had signed up for on a couple of occasions.

The third week is filled with yoga philosophy (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) – an introduction really as there is so much in the sutras that a lot more study is required to truly get a grasp of it all. This week saw discussions on “why are we here”, “who/what are we”, “what does it all mean”, “nothingness”, “non-reality”, “fear of losing all that we have/fear of death” and so much more. Oh ya, a few nights of calming the brain down was required for sure. And at the end of the week, exam #2 – Sanskrit chanting the pose names, kriyas, pranayamas and preparatory exercises. When I first saw the list I thought there was no way I would remember them all. And then as I was doing my self-practice (asana) just before the chanting oral exam, there was this energetic balancing to centre where it all just fell into place. Trust. That word came up many times – trust that this is exactly where I was meant to be; trust that those teaching the course know what they are doing and how to get us to the finish line; trust that it all comes into place and that I am more than capable of it all; trust that I was exactly where I wanted and was meant to be and just let go of any pre-conceived notions and desired outcomes; trust that it all will fall into place – just as it is meant to be. Now there’s a life lesson…don’t have to control it all? Don’t have to know exactly what happens when and how? Just let it all happen? Oh, OK, sure thing, that’s easy for this Scorpio born the year of the Dragon… Hahahaha…

The day after we took exam #3 – Philosophy. Thankfully I was calmer by this point.

Week 4 – teaching exams. I’ve lead some classes before, so this wasn’t the first time I did so. However – the environment of an ‘exam’ is so very different. Someone is watching you “teach” your fellow students. And we all know the sequences, so they know what pose is supposed to come next. Way more pressure than actually simply teaching a class. I stressed way more than I needed to going into the 2 exams, and was pretty pleased with my performance. As always there is room to grow and things to learn – and the beauty here is that this will never change. Always a student, never a teacher.

lise grad

Well…certified to teach, but there’s always more to learn, so forever a student. A student of life.

Through it all there are a myriad of emotions coming and going  – particularly in the morning contemplation around gratitude (where are you in your life, what are you grateful for – the good, the challenges, the lessons, the people), forgiveness (asking for forgiveness from those you have hurt, forgiving those that hurt you, self-forgiveness) and asking for help/guidance for whatever it is you need that with. Most of my tears came in the “gratitude” contemplation. I have said for years now that I lead a “charmed life”. I truly do. And I am grateful for all of it.

There is so much more to be said about this experience, however the words have not yet formed – the thoughts continue to evolve and ruminate. More contemplation required. More asana practice required. More breath work required. Not that any of it is “work” actually – for me it’s simply a glorious way to start the day. Then it’s the challenge of taking it all with me from my mat through my day.

One thing I can say is that the people I met here are amazing. An intense experience for all of us, and strong friendships made. People from all over gathered here and I am so lucky to have met them all. I miss you my beauties!

Samahita – thank you. All the wonderful people who shared in this experience with me, thank you. I have learned so much from all of you and could not have done this without your support, smiles, jokes and encouragement — special shout out to those attempting the tongue lock by using a chopstick…

#Charmed Life.    For damn sure!


I’m back. Back with a new adventure and a renewed commitment to writing regularly. Let’s see how that goes.

I flew to Doha on April 1st. That’s right, April Fools Day. I think it’s a pretty good day to start a new adventure in a far-away land. This “new” adventure has actually been 6 months in the making, so when it FINALLY happened it was a relief. And a little bit anti-climatic… I’m not sure if it’s just that I always knew it would happen, or if it had just been so long that it was a little deflated. No matter, once I got here the excitement followed.

The trip from Vancouver was both long, and fast – if that makes any sense. I opted for a Vancouver-London-Doha route with a 7-hour layover in London. Plenty of time for me to hop onto the tube and make my way to Covent Garden to meet friends for tea. It was also a welcome break from sitting on an airplane – the chance to walk around and get some fresh air and catch up with great friends.

Admittedly, I was pretty happy when my 2nd overnight flight was done and I had arrived in Doha. My customs agent reviewed my visa, stamped my passport and said “you now have a new home”. That was a lovely welcome, and one I had not anticipated.


When I am this far from home, I love “feeling” like I am this far from home. Seeing this cross-walk sign while out on one of my first walks made me smile. I am certainly a long way from home.

I’ve been here two months now, and I will also admit that it hasn’t been as “easy” to feel at home and grounded. A few weeks ago I was pretty much completely out of sorts. I don’t know if it was just the past year catching up to me on top of the pressures of figuring out a new job, new boss, new company in the middle of an extremely busy time – or if it’s just getting used to a new place, and the “energy” that it has (if you’ve read my posts about Istanbul,  you know I love the “energy” in that city, and I do believe every part of the planet has its own energy). Or maybe it’s the amount of pressure I put on myself regarding all of the above. Likely, it’s a combination of all of it 🙂 Fortunately, I found a reflexology/reiki practitioner, who was amazing. Unfortunately, she has now moved back to the UK. But the good news is, that things have started to settle down. I’ve found an apartment, and move into it mid-July. Settling in there will help as well.

A few of the highlights so are are:

1.The day I arrived I went to the grocery store close by and was greeted with:

I began to wonder if that lengthy trip over was a dream…and I was actually still in Canada !

2.Part of the process to get a residency permit includes some medical tests (blood tests and lung x-rays). I left the office with my guide for this appointment, a Qatari gentleman wearing the traditional Thobes. We walked out to the parking lot and the next thing I know I am hoisting myself up into a very large,  noisy, red truck. There was just something about the visual that made me smile. Next thing I know we are speeding along, and he’s telling me that I will have to get used to the fact that Doha has bad drivers and that I need to watch out for them – this while he is watching a video on his iPhone as he drives, and nearly crashes into a vehicle merging into our lane… Not his fault, of course…(um, if he’d been watching the road and not the iPhone he would have seen the car’s signal light, turned on well in advance of it moving over into our lane).

3.In my first week here we had an event featuring Tom Brady. Yup, that’s right. I grew up watching the Patriots and have always been a fan of the team. But I had to come to the Middle East to see Tom Brady in person!


Tom Brady in the house!!!

4.I’ve enjoyed walking home from the office at the end of the day. But last week it just became too hot for that. 40 degrees C in bright sunshine. I don’t mind being sweaty when I get home, but there was something about it that just felt oppressive. So its Uber for me now. And soon I won’t be living in walking distance anyway.

Evening Collage

On my way home from the office, at dusk.

5.One of the first nights out was spent at the Katara cultural area. It was lovely to spend an evening walking around the cultural centre, seaside, seeing the mosque, restaurants, and having dinner at an amazing Armenian/Lebanese restaurant. There were even a couple of surprises along the way.


6.I opened up my local bank account, and much to my surprise was sent this. It’s the first time I’ve ever been sent a gift for opening up an account! And there wasn’t even any money in it yet…


I don’t drink Arabic coffee (or coffee of any kind), but I will happily display this lovely coffee pot!

7..Souq Waqif. An evening spent walking around the various stalls, seeing what is on offer, feeling more of the Arabic culture, and ending up eating at a Turkish restaurant. I have to admit the Adana kebab and trimmings really felt good – felt like home away from home.

I haven’t done as much exploring as I’d like, but that will come. As will more posts.

As always, thanks for reading!