Pink Sneakers on the Go Helpful Tidbits of Info

Why is it that no matter how far in advance you plan for your next adventure, something inevitably gets left off the list? Even if you’ve double, triple and quadruple-checked, made certain that your passport hasn’t expired, have booked all of the planes and trains, yet the week before you’re scheduled to depart the country, you realize that your hotel reservations are valid not for July 2013, but for July 2014. Yup, you read that correctly.  Yikes!! How does this happen? Well, actually, quite easily, as a matter of fact. You know the small calendar that pops up on the hotel booking websites, where you have to choose the month and date and the “helpful” arrows (<<July>> for example) allow you to click on the desired month and day, yet somehow, inadvertently, I just happened to click on the arrows that changed the current year to the following one – consequently ensuring my pink sneakered feet accommodation for next year but unfortunately, leaving me homeless for this year’s upcoming trip. My one saving grace was that I have made it a rule to always book hotels that have a cancellation policy in place, just on the off chance that I find a better, more ideal, economical and picturesque one in the meantime.  Luckily for me, that scenario worked out just fine in the end, allowing me to cancel my 2014 reservations and re-book for this year. Phew!!  Crisis averted.

On that note, I felt it necessary to share my pink-sneaker “travel planning” tidbits of worldly wisdom with you.

Pink Sneakers on the Go Helpful Tidbits of Info on planning, packing and organizing:

Always make a list and check it twice! List everything that you will need for your upcoming adventure, from bug spray to sunscreen to extra toilet paper. Hey, you never know.

Check with the hotels to make certain whether or not they accept either cash or credit card payments. You don’t want to have to traipse to the lone bancomat machine out in the boonies of nowhere, as I had to, when staying in my suburban Roman hotel.

Make certain that your passport has not expired. Not sure about other countries, but Canada customs will not let you go anywhere if your passport is expiring within 6 months. This recently happened to a friend of mine, whose passport had expired and he was leaving in 2 weeks. It’s quite the scramble to have to worry about yet something else in the midst of planning for your next adventure. You don’t want to have to end up spending your vacation on your sofa, crying hysterically, a river of tears spraying your picturesque travel books - kicking yourself that you have now foolishly forfeited your long anticipated holiday – all because you didn’t check your passport expiry date.

Contact your banking institution and advise them that you will be out of the country so that you don’t run into issues while attempting to withdraw cash at foreign ATMs.  Your pin number should be four digits, no more, no less.

Leave all of your valuable jewellery, designer outfits and handbags at home. You don’t want to be a “showy, conspicuous” traveller, a visible target for random thieves and pickpockets.

Wear comfortable (hey, they don’t necessarily have to be ugly) shoes or sandals. You have no idea how many times I’ve cursed my shoe-wear, wishing that I’d opted for that hideous “grandma” style of sandal instead, my bleeding feet almost permanently disfigured with open sores and blisters – hence, my chic pink sneakers. With age comes wisdom.

And last, but not least, pack light – especially if you’re globe-trotting around the world, dashing from airplane to train to ferry. If you’ve ever even remotely considered “kicking your luggage to the curb”, then you’ve packed too much.

Did I cover all of the necessary points? Hopefully I didn’t forget anything and if I did, all that I can say is Yikes!!!!

Come schlep all of your worldly belongings around the globe with me…as you contemplate the complete insanity of cramming your goods into just one lone backpack.  Like, seriously??

Next week – I’ll be traipsing around the world in search of new travel adventures and will return to weekly Wednesday blogging on July 17th.  If I happen to come across Internet along the way, then will try and post some pictures and entertaining tidbits of info.

New adventures on the horizon - from luxury camping to ?????

There comes a time in every traveller’s life when one takes a huge leap of faith and just plunges feet first into the next adventure.  With that being said, I had now inadvertently committed to traipsing around Europe with my 16 year old niece for part of the sweltering hot summer months.  Usually one to economize and travel on the off season, when flights and hotels are at least 35% cheaper, I was now forced to (egad!) pay full price for an airline ticket on a cheap over-crowded charter carrier that was crammed full of loud, obnoxious and care-free teenagers out to conquer the world.  Yikes!!  What had I gotten myself into?

Don’t get me wrong here.  There is nothing more entertaining than hanging out with the French Revolutionary kid, getting banned for life from stepping foot into the Palace of Versailles (kind of kidding, but not quite), eating pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and being called a “mean ol’ Auntie” at least once or twice a day, oftentimes on an hourly basis, as required in order to achieve the desired results.

So, the next couple of weeks are certainly going to indeed be interesting, if not challenging.  The kid has an upcoming summer European school trip and the plan is to meet up somewhere on the continent afterwards.  Busy reading up on her travel books, my niece had some far-out ideas about what constituted an ideal holiday.  Let me share a couple of the highlights of excursions that we are most definitely NOT undertaking this time around:  Camping out in the tropical rain forests of the Amazonian jungle is not the picnic “walk in the park” that the kid made it out to be and unless we’re going to go all out and jump on the “glamping” bandwagon, then this middle aged pink-sneakered Auntie will just go check herself into a luxurious spa hotel instead. Like, seriously - relieve my pre-historic girl-scout misery of desperately rubbing two sticks together in order to channel non-existent fire? You call that fun?  More like deliberately tormenting impressionable youngsters into believing that caveman Fred Flintstone mumbo jumbo.

This “glamping” thing, on the other hand, has me quite intrigued.  Apparently, it’s the “new and improved” upgraded luxury version of archaic old-fashioned “sludging around in the mud” camping.  Why cram yourself into a confining sleeping bag in an equally smelly claustrophobic tent, endure being eaten alive by swarming mosquitoes and allow yourself to become possible prey for wandering bears and coyotes – all in the desire to commune with nature?  Why not go “all the way” and hang out with the llamas, giraffes and crocodiles from a more chi chi and glamorous perspective instead? “Roughing it” in the wilderness from the comforts of your opulent “home away from home” is a far more pleasant experience when you are sleeping on designer bed-sheets, walking barefoot on luxurious Persian carpets and being catered to by on-site chefs.

Cropping up in the early 1990’s in Africa and Thailand, the phenomenon of “glamping” found a niche market in safari adventure seeking tourists anxious to enjoy the comforts of a five star hotel whilst hanging with the zebras and exotic jungle animals in their native habitats.  Willing to fork over hundreds, if not thousands of dollars per night, these “glampers” have brought boy-scout camping to an ultra glam level of “spare no expense” sophistication.

The origins of a more refined and dignified way of “roughing it” goes centuries back, to the time of the Ottoman Empire, where sultans languished the days away in sumptuously furnished tents, their every whim coddled to by their armies of chefs and servants.

And so my dilemma has unofficially begun…where oh where should my pink sneakers take me? The possibilities are endless – from magical carpet rides along the Sahara to house-boating on the river Seine – perhaps I’ll just close my eyes, spin the globe and see where my pink-sneakered feet land.  After all, life is an adventure, n’est-ce pas?

Next week – Stay tuned!!

Come traipse along the twisting, winding cobble-stoned paths with me....take a page out of your travel books and imagine the possibilities....

Arrivederci Roma - Packing, merlot and Signore Bancomat

It had started out badly from the get-go.  Hustling to catch a taxi to the airport, bags in tow, my pink-sneakered feet splish splashed their way along the pavement, hoping beyond hope to snag that lone speeding cab.

You know the type of day when anything and everything goes awry and nothing goes according to plan.  My, those mischievous travel gremlins were laughing it up at my expense, when they thought it amusing to disrupt my travel plans and cause a bit of havoc and excitement as I attempted to catapult myself to the tarmac on time.  Missing my transatlantic flight would most definitely suck, as I would then have to spend the night snoozing in the airport lounge, un-elegantly sprawled out on the rock hard plastic molds that doubled as chairs, counting out my last remaining coins, in my desperate attempt to score a cappuccino or better yet, a vino, and soak my misery away, as I would then have to figure out an alternate route home. It didn’t help that I had spent every single last bit of change on acquiring that limited edition “soft as butter” bronze hued wallet, the coveted ”to die for” companion to my priceless designer Italian satchel. Like, there was no way that I would even consider selling my “one of a kind” exclusive handbag in order to finance an airplane ticket home, so, being broke and penniless in a foreign airport thousands of miles from home, was not the most desirable situation to want to have to be in.

How did this happen and how did I manage to get myself into this predicament? After all, I had stuck to my age-old travel rules of retiring early the night before and more importantly, of being all packed and ready to go upon waking. Or had I?

Despondent that it was my last night in magnificent Roma, my pink-sneakered feet had reluctantly traipsed back to my slummy hotel (located so far out in the suburbs, it might as well have been situated in Australia -more on that later) “oh so late” as they had scurried about town, snapping photo after photo of anything and everything worthy of digital documentation, acquiring last-minute trinkets, as well as scouring bolted down shops for a couple of bottles of Italian vino, souvenirs for home and for my “packing party” that was to take place later that evening.  Pray tell, what exactly is a “packing party”?  Well, in pink-sneaker terms, it is just that – an event where you have a bit of vino and throw some clothing into your suitcase, have a bit more vino and continue packing until your belongings have been neatly lined up in your carry-on bag and suitcase.  

It’s remarkably amazing how incredibly well packing goes with the help of a glass or two of Italian red wine as it somehow takes the drudgery out of the dreaded task of trying to figure out how to transport all of your shoes, boots and handbags home in just one suitcase. Yup, just one mid-size orange piece of luggage, ready to be hauled half way across the world, preciously holding all of my meticulously searched for valuables. My plan of merlot indulging and suitcase cramming went along swimmingly well, as the usual hours it took to fill my valise ended up taking a lot less time than anticipated, permitting me the luxury of spending the remainder of my evening sipping vino, writing post-cards and day-dreaming about my Italian adventures.

It therefore baffles me that upon waking, my belongings were still strewn about the hotel room, my suitcase only half-packed and the hotel proprietor banging incessantly on the door, screaming (I kid you not) that the taxi had just left without me in it. Yikes!! To make matters worse, my “out in the Italian suburbs”  inn didn’t accept credit card payments, only cash and I was forced to march to the local bancomat – accompanied by the hotel manager - down the street to withdraw some money from a lone graffiti covered bank machine that looked like it had seen better days.  Still haunted by my bancomat escapades in Firenze, I cringed in horror at the possibility of being stranded in suburbia, forced to wash dishes and do laundry as live-in help, until I had earned enough Euros to pay the bill – all because Signore Bancomat refused to spit out a couple of colourful bank notes and grant me access to my cash.  For if the shiny new bank machines in Florence flat out declined my Canadian bank card, I can surely expect much of the same from a random hole in the wall scribble defaced bank machine located in the middle of nowhere.  It therefore both puzzled and shocked me that the banking Gods were in a favourable mood that rainy day, happily spewing out a handful of Euros, thus further perplexing me as I continued to ponder the intricacies of the very mysterious Italian banking system.  Go figure?

Needless to say, my pink-sneakered feet actually hoofed it to the airport in time, as the kind owner of our “random hole in the wall” B & B personally offered to drive me to the airport, so concerned was he that I might miss my flight due to his original miscommunication to me with regards to the hotel’s cash only policy.

Now that’s what made my Italian journey so memorable - random acts of kindness from complete strangers willing to help out a damsel in distress – thus ensuring that a foreign visitor feels welcome and at home in a strange land. In all of my years of travelling, despite having encountered a couple of blips and hurdles along the way, I’ve come to realize that despite our diverse customs, heritage and language, when push comes to shove, we are all united as one.

Arrivederci Roma!!  See you on my next visit!!

Come traipse around Roma with me…you never know what adventures await…

Next week – where do my pink-sneaker footprints end up??

Last evening in Roma as I philosophize about life in Piazza San Pietro

With less than 18 hours before I boarded my transatlantic flight back to my 9 to 5 daily routine of work, bills and laundry, I yearned to prolong my Italian adventure and soak in as much of “la dolce vita” as possible.  Even if that meant un-elegantly hanging out of the window of my speeding taxi, snapping pictures left, right and centre - of absolutely anything and everything worthy of digital documentation - as it wove its way along the roadway, racing me to the tarmac. Since it was now well past 6:00pm and the blush of dusk was soon to descend upon this golden hued metropolis, my pink-sneakered feet had to skedaddle and hop, skip and jump their way along the trodden cobblestoned paths en route to the Vatican and Piazza San Pietro.

Located within the grounds of Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica is an archeological gem, the site of the burial place of the apostle, Peter.  Originally commissioned by the first Christian Emperor Constantine, in 319, the Basilica is a symbolic representation of the beginning of Christendom.  It  somehow seemed fitting that my last evening in Roma would be spent traipsing along the sacred ground of St. Peter’s Square, musing and philosophizing about life (one of my absolutely favourite rainy day indulgences) - simultaneously in sync with the collective wisdom of long-gone generations. 

It’s not like I actually got to go inside the Basilica, or even view any of its hallowed magnificence, my pink-sneakered feet instead respectfully ambled around the sacred stonework that lined the perimeter of this famous edifice.  Meandering along the well-trodden stones, I couldn’t help but place myself into a different time zone, one that was not of this century - but one that I felt attuned and connected to – somehow inexplicably linking me to the past and especially to those whose footsteps had also traipsed upon these weather-worn passageways.

Possessing somewhat of an obsessive and reflective nature, I delight in spending hours upon hours in deep contemplative brooding, pensively ruminating on the unfinished goals, dreams and aspirations of those who lived and breathed in a different era than I. It is no wonder then that I so easily and gratefully lost myself to these meditative states, sinking deeper with each step upon a dusty pebbled path, setting off a flood of emotions and imagined memories.

My two days in Roma enlightened me to the fact that I didn’t have to mad dash around this spectacular city and see all of its “not to be missed” sights and that it was alright if I perhaps viewed only 1 or 2 of those “Top 10” venues, thus permitting myself to relax and indulge in the everyday ordinariness of life. Viewing the rituals and customs of everyday folk - from a hunched over grandmother protectively cradling her grandson’s hand as she helped guide him across a bustling street - to chain-smoking gringos speeding by on sputtering vespas – I was grateful to just meander and be witness to the organized “disorganized” Italian version of  the daily hurly-burly.

And so it was upon that golden twilight evening – en route to the square of St. Peter - that I stumbled upon my Julia Roberts moment, unintentionally re-creating that well-known scene in “Eat, Pray, Love”, where her character laps an ice-cream whilst resting on a concrete bench. Not a huge fan of the cold frozen treat, I nonetheless felt an urge to indulge, as I spotted a group of habit clad nuns grapple with the rapidly melting gelato, as they laughingly attempted to devour the now dripping concoction before it splattered all over their regal robes.

There was definitely something almost divinely extraordinary to it - the haphazard placement of sorbet loving black clad gals (aka – the nuns) deliciously savouring gelato that seemed to bring out the impish, fun-loving side of otherwise serious disciples.

Vanilla and chocolate laced sorbet firmly in hand, I spied an empty stone bench, upon which I could rest my weary pink-sneakered clad footsies, and just chill, and watch the world race on by.

It therefore both astonishes and delights me that the mischievous gremlins of travel felt it somehow necessary to delay my visit to this holy site until my last evening in Roma, spewing out a contrived melange of time constraints, haphazard delays and missed opportunities, all leading me to “being in the right place at the right time”, gifting me an almost spiritual and tranquil sojourn that took me quite by surprise.

Come traipse along ancient weather-worn stones and contemplate life with me…

Next week – Arrivederci Roma – Do my pink-sneakered feet get to the airport in time? Stay tuned!!