Paris is Always a Good Idea

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 10.14.32 AM

I, like many people, had wanted to go to Paris for a long, long time. But I didn’t know what to expect of it. I, like many people, had heard rumors of rampant rudeness, of terrible service and a general disregard for any fumbling attempt to speak French. I was dying to see the Eiffel Tower, but I was nervous, too. This was my first trip to a country where the official language is not English. Yes, everything I read before leaving told me that English is spoken everywhere in Paris, but what if, right before we arrived, the entire city decided that they would stop speaking English as a funny joke? Or they were all afflicted with some sort of weird disease that rendered them incapable of English speech? Seriously, I was quite anxious.

For no good reason, thankfully.

I am happy to report that, like Ms Hepburn, I truly believe now that Paris is always a good idea.

I mean, yeah, there were some aspects of the trip that were stressful. Being a naturally anxious person, I often had to talk myself into leaving the apartment each day, knowing that at some point I would be misunderstood, or feel lost, or have to switch to English and hand gestures in order to hold a conversation. Sometimes, it got tiring. But for the most part, everyone in Paris treated us wonderfully. We only experienced two instances of that legendary Parisian rudeness, and many people went out of their way to help us. One young man in a coffee shop slowed down his French instead of switching to English, using simple words and phrases combined with hand gestures and miming to help us get through the entire interaction without having to change languages. It was amazing! The city is beautiful and ancient and bursting with fascinating people and places. I can very easily picture us living there at some point, or, at the very least, going back on the regular.

I kept a journal throughout the trip, and here are a few tidbits from it:

***

There are so many people making out. Everywhere. Young people, old people, middle-aged people. Everyone is just macking on everyone all over the place. PDA-phobia is not a thing, apparently. It is both wonderfully liberating and wildly uncomfortable.

Navigating the metro was only frustrating and confusing once, and only because I was exhausted and hungry: when we were making our way from the airport to our apartment rental. The train was carnival colors: brash yellow, dramatic purple, deep blue. We passed by a dump, a burnt out (literally) car, and more graffiti than I could count.

Sacre-Coeur was packed. And gorgeous. It was nice to not be allowed to take pictures; I focused on just seeing. It increased the sense of reverence. I also lit a prayer candle and said a silent prayer for I-don’t-know-who. Everyone, maybe. Then we ate quiche on the steps in the sunshine, product of a successful trip to a boulangerie where minimal English was exchanged.

We navigated the metro like a couple of pros, spilling out onto the Place de la Madeleine in the diffuse morning sunlight. A couple of turns brought us to Laduree, a gourmet macaron shop that hurt my eyes with all its bright lights and brighter colors. The macarons were to die for, the very best I’ve ever tasted, perfectly sweet and flaky and flavorful.

At our first distant view of the Eiffel Tower, I made a sound of excitement deep in my throat and danced on the spot with glee.

We chose to climb the stairs at the Eiffel Tower. The second floor was windy as hell, with lovely views. My feet were freezing, because I am the genius who wore sandals in Paris in October. The ticket office for the lift to the top closed because there were already too many people trying to make their way up there. In true French fashion, they simply closed their doors and walked away with no explanation, leaving us to wander around in confusion until we overheard a patisserie worker explaining the situation to an absolutely irate woman. We waited for nearly an hour before realizing there were better ways we could be spending our time in Paris and leaving the way we came.

Notre Dame was a bit disappointing. Too many people, not enough reverence. The stained glass game was totally on point though.

The line snaked around the corner and just kept going, neatly braceleting the park that abuts the entrance to the catacombs. We stood in line, in the cold, for nearly two hours. Then we made our way deep below Paris, beneath the metro and the sewers, to depths I could not think about if I wanted to keep the panic at bay. Still. Deep below the city, in the dim darkness, surrounded by piles of mouldering human bones? My chest was clenched like a fist the whole time.

We bought a brioche and a financier. I made the mistake of starting with the financier. After that orgasmic, almondy delight, the perfectly serviceable brioche didn’t stand a chance.

I spent the majority of my time in the sumptuous halls of Versailles trying to find somewhere to sit down, my whole body heavy and lethargic from the evil machinations of a flu bug that I’m sure I caught in the catacombs (from the miasma of the dead?). The floor was a bit of a different perspective on all that opulence.

I wore my crazy bright leggings today and stuck out like a sore thumb amidst all the black-clad Parisians. (Seriously, no one in this city wears color.)

Street crepes – the sizzle and hiss of batter hitting the scalding surface, steam billowing into the grey air. Nutella and hot dough, slightly crispy. Perfect in the cold afternoon.

Winged Victory of Samothrace. My favorite thing in the entirety of the Louvre. A gorgeous sculpture, full of movement and detail, commanding all attention at the top of a staircase and refusing to relinquish it. She doesn’t even have a head, and still she held us all in thrall.

I was homesick and headache-y, so we stayed in one afternoon and watched Moulin Rouge! I marvelled at how beautiful Ewan McGregor is and sang along to all the songs and cried when Satine died. Then we hauled ourselves out the front door and walked the fifteen minutes down the hill to the real Moulin Rouge, its blade sticking out over a busy street with a slightly degenerate air. Tourists thronged across from it, taking photos. Two girls stood in front of me: “What does moulin mean?” “I don’t know…” So I leaned forward, between them, and said, “It means windmill.” And they both glanced at me, startled. I wanted to go inside and see if there was a jewelled elephant, but I knew there was not. Just a ticket desk, and a souvenir shop around the corner. The commodification and degeneration of another thing that lives more vividly in my head than in reality.

We walked to a patisserie in Abbesses that was purported to have the best croissants in the city. At the counter, I held up two fingers (“Deux croissants, s’il vous plait”) and handed over 2 euros. We ducked to the right of the door and pulled them out immediately. They were buttery and flaky and just a little sweet and, yeah, probably the best croissants I’ve ever had. Flakes tumbled to the ground and pigeons darted around our feet, plucking at them. I didn’t even flinch.

We walked south to a flea market in a part of town that made my skin tight with discomfort. Hawkers lined the sidewalks, aggressively pushing iPhones and men’s shirts and counterfeit Louis Vuitton purses. It swarmed with people, except in the maze of the market, where I found a little peace in the warren of tiny cubes containing ancient treasure and junk alike. In the metro station, we moved off to the side to check where we needed to go. As I pulled out my phone, the scent of what I thought was acetone suddenly scorched my throat. Immediately, my eyes began to water, and I couldn’t stop coughing. Oh. This was a sensation I recognized: pepper spray. We escaped to the platform, but my nose stung for nearly an hour after. That’s the second time that we have been secondhand pepper-sprayed in a metro station.

We waited twenty minutes in the chill dark for the Eiffel Tower light show. It was our last evening, our last chance. I cupped a chocolat chaud and scarfed a mediocre, bland soft pretzel. Bryan sipped a mulled wine that smelled like Christmas. It was freezing cold. (I spent the entire trip freezing my ass off. Next time, check the weather forecast more thoroughly. And pack socks.) At nine o’clock, the tower began to twinkle in the darkness, and everyone oohed and aahed, and shutters clicked while vendors tried to push selfie sticks and replica towers and, more intelligently, bottles of wine.

The baguette was fresh, still warm. It broke apart easily and nearly melted in my mouth, the crust crunchy, the inside fluffy and steaming. I will miss that the most.

(Find my photos of Paris here.)

(Find the post that we used to plan a lot of our trip here.)

Paris is Always a Good Idea

the depression chronicles: radical self-care

wpid-2015-08-19-06.06.06-1.jpg.jpeg

I was doing all right. The day had been a little lighter than the ones that had come before it, but anxiety was knocking at the door again, a bit of darkness pressing its face against the windows, and I knew that I was going to have do something a bit bigger, a bit stronger, a bit more radical.

So I hauled myself out the door. First things first: get out of the house.

I didn’t have a plan. I headed to the mall, thinking I would run some errands, but as soon as I set foot in the cool, echoey interior, I knew it was a mistake. Malls are depressing places; I rarely ever see people smile there. I hustled out as fast as I could and headed to my go-to happy place: the library. But I knew that I had too many books at home to read, and the growing pile, far from giving me pleasure, was starting to feel like a chore. Instead of heading inside to peruse more chores, I stopped at the threshold and went into Second Cup instead. I bought myself a green tea lemonade and a croissant, plonked myself down at a window table, and enjoyed my snack. I didn’t pull out the book I had stowed in my purse, nor did I pull up the Feedly app on my phone. I answered a few texts, but mostly, I just sat, and ate, and drank.

wpid-2015-08-19-06.06.05-1.jpg.jpeg

When I was done, I headed back out into the sunshine, with the vague notion that I would head to the river valley and find somewhere shaded where I could sit and write for a while. The previous day, in my counselling session, my therapist and I had talked about grounding techniques: take your shoes off and walk in the grass, literally hug a tree, put your hands in the dirt and let it sift through your fingers. She laughed a little, and apologized if that sounded too hippy dippy for me, but it sounded exactly right, and I thought that now was the time to put those ideas into action.

Walking past the imposing Fairmont Macdonald, I noticed there were some flowers out front that I had never really noticed before. I cut back across the street I had just crossed to check it out, but the benches were all full in the sun, many of the flowers looked like they hadn’t been watered in weeks, and there were three or four people sitting around, smoking. I try to avoid secondhand smoke at the best of times, but now that I have someone else to worry about, I am militant about it. This was not where I was going to rest.

I continued on past the hotel, to a staircase I had never ventured down. It took me down into the river valley, to my favorite path, which I have not been on much over the summer. It is my running route, but I haven’t been running for the past three months because of my leg injury, and I hadn’t realized how deeply I missed it. Not only the act of running, but the location. A huge smile spread across my face as I meandered past the trees, occasionally stopping to press my hand against the rough bark of one.

wpid-2015-08-19-06.06.02-1.jpg.jpeg

wpid-2015-08-19-06.06.04-1.jpg.jpeg

Eventually, I slipped my shoes off and put them in my purse. The pavement was hot under my feet, almost unbearable, but the shock of it, the here-ness of it, brought a huge smile to my face. Sometimes, when I am very depressed, it feels like there is a wall between me and the world, a wall that I cannot break through or knock down, no matter how hard I try, and so I cannot feel anything. I can see the world, but I don’t feel part of it. I can objectively feel the air and smell the smells and see the sights, but there is no subjective experience attached to it. Here, curling my toes against the hot asphalt, feeling the roughness of the tiny pebbles against my skin, I came slamming back to reality with such force I am surprised I managed to remain standing.

wpid-2015-08-19-06.05.11-1.jpg.jpeg

I went on like this for nearly two and a half hours. Turning left when I usually turn right. Breaking into a near-run, skipping whenever I felt like it. Not only returning people’s smiles, but actively seeking them out. At one point, I wanted to go down to the river, so I found a little path that took me to the edge of an incline, which I slid down on my butt, and found myself just a few feet from the water. I sat on a tree branch, so knobbly that my derriere was asleep within minutes. But I sat there for nearly half an hour, taking pictures, drawing, and writing in my notebook. My shoes squealched in the mud, and I watched as four or five ducks swam in front of me, circling and quacking and completely oblivious to my presence.

After a while, I had to head home, because I was ill-prepared for my adventure and had neglected to bring either water or a snack. As well, I have to pee about every five seconds nowadays. But I went home with the biggest smile on my face, having immersed myself in pure joy for the afternoon, a kind of radical nowness, and it was exactly what my soul needed.

How do you practice radical self-care?

the depression chronicles: radical self-care

Vegas for Introverts

wpid-20150405_141605.jpg

Vegas is basically synonymous with debauchery: drinking, gambling, strippers, excessive consumerism, you name it. It’s a weird place, at once divorced from reality and yet somehow hyper-real as well. It is LOUD and BRIGHT and CROWDED at all hours of the day and night; it is the epitome of sensory overload.

For a textbook introvert like me, even the idea of Vegas is overwhelming. Our five day trip there earlier this month was good, but also exhausting. I was very happy to see my own bed again. While Vegas may not be my idea of a perfect vacation, though, it does have several things to offer that don’t involve jangling slot machines or topless girls. You just have to look a little closer.

Polaroid Museum and Fotobar

wpid-20150406_112752.jpg

Bryan and I stumbled upon this gem while exploring the Linq. Bryan happened to see the little Polaroid sign, so we went inside and discovered that there is also a museum upstairs. It is free and when we were there, it was just the two of us. It was so peaceful, and the exhibit is so interesting, it ended up being one of my favorite things that we did. There is a beautiful, colorful collage that I loved, as well as a timeline of the Polaroid company through all their cameras, and a few personal collections of Polaroids as well. I highly recommend this place, even if you aren’t super into photography.

Mob Museum

wpid-2015-04-17-01.08.31-1.jpg.jpeg

Everyone knows that Las Vegas used to be run almost exclusively by the mob (right? That’s not just a thing that I think everyone knows?). So it makes sense that the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement would be located in Sin City. Now, this place isn’t exactly off the beaten path. It was jam-packed when we were there. And I mean jam-packed. For a person who doesn’t like crowds, it was a little bit unsettling at times. But for a person who loves things like the history of the mafia, it was awesome.

The place is big. It took us three hours to get through the whole thing, and by the end of it, my brain was mush. Don’t go in there hungry. Don’t go in there tired. Don’t go in there cranky. There’s a ton of information, most of it fascinating, and you won’t want to miss it. I think the most interesting thing there was the St Valentine’s Day Massacre wall. It is the genuine wall against which seven gangsters were shot to death. Creepy creepy creepy.

This is definitely worth the visit, but be prepared for it to be crowded and to take a loooong time. Tickets are $21.95 USD but we found a coupon online that got us $3 off each ticket. Google around.

Get out of the city 

becomingjessicazionnationalpark-0048

Las Vegas is actually fairly close to a few cool things within driving distance. Part of the Grand Canyon is close by, as well as Fire Valley and Lake Mead (which Bryan visited last year with his brother and says was really cool). We chose to rent a car and drive the 2.5 hours through Nevada, Arizona, and Utah to get to Zion National Park.

The whole day ended up costing us about $150 USD including the car rental and the $25 fee to get into the park, and it was 100% worth it. It was the very best thing that we did.

Slotzilla – Zoomline/Zipline

wpid-20150406_224246.jpg

Slotzilla is a relatively new attraction on Fremont Street downtown. The minute we stepped off the bus, I looked up to see four people zooming across the sky above us. I watched their progress the whole way, utterly rapt, only looking away when Bryan said, “Do you want to do that?” Being terrified of heights, my stomach flip-flopped, but I nodded anyway. I really, really did.

We wandered down to the other end of the street where the ticket counter was located. $40 for a ride that would last less than a minute?! That seemed insane. We wandered back away, and I felt the disappointment clawing at my throat. No. I wanted to do this. I had to do this. We turned around, and I paid the $80 for the two of us to get tickets for the higher, longer Zoomline.

Then we had an hour to kill, during which I maintained a low level of anxiety but managed not to freak out entirely. We waited at the bottom of the ride for our ticket time to flash on the LED screen, then we walked up the stairs. We waited in line to show our tickets to the guy. Then we waited in line to get fitted for harnesses. Then we waited in line with a bunch of other beharnessed people for the elevator to show up. Then we waited in line while the people in front of us went.

Four people go on the ride at one time. The two women who would be joining us on our adventure were middle-aged, loud, and very Southern. One, with huge blond hair, kept complaining about how scared she was. The other one couldn’t contain how wild and young this whole adventure made her feel. I kind of loved both of them.

Finally, it was our turn. I laid down on the waist-high mat, and the guy hooked me up to another harness. The mat dropped away, so I was hanging in mid-air, belly down, arms hanging. To my left and right, the Vegas sky was black and speckled with neon lights. The wind whipped around me. In front of me was a nondescript, grey metal door that, any second, would slowly open to reveal Fremont Street stretched out in front of us. Tension mounted. More waiting. More waiting. Then, finally, the door began to move. My heart thundered wildly, I let out a whoop of excitement, and then we were flying.

I stretched my arms wide, a huge, silly grin on my face, watching all of the people below us as they craned their necks to watch our progress, just as I had done an hour earlier. My blood sang in my veins, and I felt free, wild, young. In less than 60 seconds, it was over. We were reeled in, and unharnessed, and the four of us hugged and shrieked with happy adrenaline. And then we went our separate ways. And I can still remember what it felt like to fly over Fremont Street, if only for a moment.

CSI Experience

We didn’t end up having enough time to do this but my friend Leah, who lives in Vegas, highly recommends it as well, especially if you are into things such as the Mob Museum (or the show CSI, I guess). You get to analyze a crime scene and solve the crime yourself, which sounds pretty cool. Tickets are $28 for general admission.

Have you ever done any of these? What is your favorite thing to do in Vegas?

Vegas for Introverts

Snapshots: Zion National Park

My favorite thing that we did in Vegas was actually the thing that took us furthest from the Strip and all its craziness: we rented a car and drove the 2.5 hours to Zion National Park. And it. was. amazing. I had no idea what to expect. Bryan was really gungho about the idea and orchestrated everything, including getting up early on the day and taking a cab to the airport to pick up our rental car, as well as returning it amidst the chaotic traffic on the Strip later on (my hero). I was basically tagging along because he was so into it.

But oh God, this place was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It reminded me of the mountains, but not. Everything was so red. Even the road. The asphalt throughout the park was stained red from all the rock dust, I guess, and I thought that was so cool. Every twist in the road brought some new thing to take our breath away.

We decided to do the Canyon Overlook hike, which is a really easy, one mile round-trip hike with incredible views at the end. It took us almost two hours because we stopped every five feet or so to take pictures, and I don’t regret a minute of it. We got a bit lost trying to find it, which is quite the feat, since there is literally only one road to follow, but we eventually made it there. I tried to cull these down but just couldn’t decide on any to cut, so here, you get to enjoy them all. 🙂

[FinalTilesGallery id=’6′]

 

Snapshots: Zion National Park

We Bought the Tickets

Moyan Brenn © 2010 under Creative Commons
Moyan Brenn © 2010 under Creative Commons

The blue line moved like a turtle across the screen. “Almost there!” it promised, then inched another millimetre forwards. “Just about!” I squeezed my eyes shut; I couldn’t take the tension. When I opened them again, the progress bar jumped the last gap and our ticket information popped up instead.

A rush of exultation. A squeal of delight. A high-five.

We are going to Paris.

This was not a well-thought out, carefully considered plan. This was not something that we had meticulously planned for, or planned for at all. We hadn’t perused our savings, trying to determine if we could afford the trip.

We found an amazing deal on flights ($1200 roundtrip FOR BOTH OF US, including a 2 day stop in Helsinki) and we took about twelve hours to decide that this was something that we needed to do.

We can’t afford the whole trip right now, but that’s okay, because it isn’t until the fall. We can afford the plane tickets. So we bought them. We bought the tickets, and the beautiful thing is that now? We have to make it work. Even though it is a steal of a deal (my flight to Ireland a couple of years ago was more than both our flights combined), it is still not chump change, and reneging on that commitment simply isn’t an option. Instead of waiting until everything was perfect, we decided to take the plunge instead. It’s something that I’m working on: putting things into action before they are flawless.

So we are going to Paris. And even if we have to stay in a hostel (which I am not a big fan of), and live off of baguettes and cheese for ten days, I don’t care. Because we are going to the City of Love. We are going to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and Montmartre and the Seine. We are going to the place where the Lost Generation lived and loved and created, a city that I have been dreaming of for most of my life.

So even though I look at my account balance and feel a bit of a twinge, I am mostly flush with anticipation. We are investing in our dreams over here. And eight months is plenty of time to squirrel away more cash to make it the best trip we can.

Have you ever taken the plunge and just bought the ticket? And, on a more practical note, if you’ve been to Paris, what do you recommend that we do, outside of the obvious?

We Bought the Tickets

Oneonta Gorge

untitled shoot-1813-low-resOneonta Gorge was my favorite thing that we did on our Portland/Vancouver road trip, bar none. It is located less than 30 minutes outside of Portland, on historic Highway 30, just a few minutes down the road from Multnomah Falls.

We stopped at the Falls for a little while. Viewed it from below, climbed up to the bridge that looks like it could be in Rivendell, where I promptly felt dizzy and wanted to get back down.

Then we headed down the road for the real adventure.

20140729-DSCF0886-low-res

There isn’t much to indicate to you that you are at the beginning of the gorge. There’s a bridge, and there were two girls sitting there, looking wet, basking in the sun. We walked through the tunnel on the far side of the bridge, unsure, before asking another group who was talking about their trip through the gorge for directions. They pointed us back to where we had come from, where the two girls still basked. One of them warned us that the water at one point had been up to her neck. I was glad then that I had made the decision not to bring my phone.

We made our way through some trees, over slippery rocks, and very quickly came upon the logjam that we had read about. It looked formidable in the morning sunshine, tree trunks sticking up in all directions, a tangled jumble of perilous angles and slippery bark. We looked at each other, braced ourselves, and up we went.

It wasn’t too bad, though there were definitely some sketchy spots. At one point, one log jutted over another at a ninety degree angle such that, to cross, I had to grip the top log with both hands, swing one foot out into space and grope for the tree on the other side, all the while extremely cognizant of the steep and deadly drop behind me. I made it over, but I don’t know how the dad in front of me, with his five year old on his back, managed it.

20140729-DSCF0875-low-res 20140729-DSCF0878-low-res

After traversing the logjam, we waded through some shallow water, before coming to a deep pool, completely in shadow. This was the spot: Bryan had read that sometimes it was ankle-deep and sometimes it was over a person’s head. We already knew what we were in for this time, but what we were not prepared for was the cold. The water we had already waded through was relatively chilly, but nothing compared to the bone-crunching cold of this pool. It was a mental challenge to force myself deeper into the water, and when it reached my ribs, I thought my lungs had stopped working entirely. They felt seized. I had to continually remind myself to breathe as I paddled desperately across the ten feet of water and emerged, gasping, on the other side, where the narrow pass opened up into a small, beautiful waterfall.

20140729-DSCF0860-low-res

Somehow, even though we were surrounded by other people, that waterfall felt like a secret. Like some sort of secret that we all shared because we were in the Oneonta Gorge Club or something. We watched delightedly as a young girl and her friend climbed up the wall next to the falls, held hands, and jumped into the raging water below. A dog careened into the water and paddled to a ledge on the other side, greeted its owner, then turned around and paddled back. I waded into the waterfall’s pool, bracing myself for another match with the agonizing cold, but it was warm. How they could be so vastly different when they were less than ten feet apart seemed like an awesome mystery.

20140729-DSCF0839-low-res 20140729-DSCF0826-low-res

By the time we made it back to the car, I was soaked and jittery with adrenaline. I turned to Bryan at one point and said, grinning from ear to ear, “That was the best thing we have ever done.” Thinking about it now, I still feel that way.

What is the greatest adventure you’ve ever had?

20140729-DSCF0869-low-res

(All photos courtesy of Bryan Cooper – my HUSBAND)

 

Oneonta Gorge

Cannon Beach

On our way from Portland to Vancouver, we drove 1.5 hours out of our way to Cannon Beach, Oregon. We didn’t know what to expect, besides “cool beach,” so when we walked down from our car to discover this magnificent beauty, we were blown away. The wind whipped fiercely, goosebumps rose on my arms, my hair and sweater flapped wildly. We walked barefoot in the water, watching in fascination as the tiny waves intersected with one another, washing over our feet, one deliciously warm, the next bone-achingly cold. There were at least 30 kites diving and dancing in the wind. I saw a starfish for the first time. We held hands and took photos and laughed, and I could have stayed there forever.

I love the mountains, deeply. They soothe me. But the ocean…the ocean is another story entirely. I love it more than I love the mountains. It touches something wild and primal in me, and I could stare at its fierce grace for the rest of my life.

We only stayed for about two hours, including lunch, but it was 100% worth the extra three hours it added to our trip. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
20140730_12293320140730_12280120140730_12232520140730_12231920140730_12060820140730_12015320140730_12013220140730_120048

Cannon Beach

Snapshots: Moraine Lake and Lake Louise

Canada Day found Bryan and I in the mood for a wander. Originally, we thought that we would head out to Canmore, but as we approached the town, something pinged in my head. My dad had mentioned going to Lake Louise, and I said, “Hey, I’ve never been to Lake Louise before, why don’t we just keep going?” Both of us had already been to Canmore on a number of occasions, whereas Lake Louise was a new adventure. Given that Lake Louise wasn’t much further along, we went for it.

There is something about the mountains that soothes me in a way that nothing else I have ever experienced. Any little hairline fracture in my soul seems to heal when I am surrounded by the beauty of the mountains, and as we drove through the towering peaks, I felt my whole body expanding into the immensity around me. We had lunch at the Lake Louise Station Restaurant, which was pretty pricey, but the food was yummy and they were kind enough to offer us vegetarian options from their dinner menu even though it was only lunch. From there, we decided to head up to Moraine Lake, which we had both seen pictures of and wanted to see in person. The road up there is about two minutes outside of Lake Louise, and it is windy and steep and lacks a guardrail – the exact kind of mountain roads that I set my heart to pounding and my anxiety into high alert. But we made it safely to the top, and were greeted with some of the most incredible mountain beauty I have ever experienced.

We wandered around the lake for more than two hours, laughing and snapping photos and breathing in the freedom of being surrounded by nature. It was pretty busy, it being Canada Day and all, but the crowds were never bothersome in the slightest. We all just seemed to peacefully coexist. Maybe it was the magic of the mountains. 🙂

After , we headed back to the town to actually make our way to the eponymous lake and the famous Chateau. It was beautiful there, too, but not nearly as impressive as the green-blue gorgeousness of Moraine Lake! On our way back, we stopped for dinner in Banff, at a little restaurant called Coyotes that we had eaten at the last time we were in town. I was so happy that we found it again, because the food is great. We had the most delicious wildberry crumble sour cream pie for dessert, then headed home, completely sated.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

What did you do for Canada Day?

Snapshots: Moraine Lake and Lake Louise

Florida in Instagram

Back in March, my family and I went on a trip to Orlando, Florida. It was our first vacation all together in something like ten years, and my first trip to the USA since my 21st birthday sojourn to Vegas four years ago.

image

 

A wingshot. I never take these! And I have no idea where we were flying over. I was too busy fighting off a panic attack in my non-aisle seat.imageOn our third day, we drove out to Merritt Island. We stopped at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge on our way to Playalinda Beach. There was a baby alligator, but I couldn’t get a decent picture of it. He was barely visible to the naked eye anyway, all tiny and black. We hung around for a bit, hoping to see a mama alligator, but no such luck. image

A man playing a tuba on the beach, because doesn’t everybody do that? It was SO windy that way, it was a bit hilarious watching him try to wrangle his sheet music. image

We could have frolicked in the waves for hours, laughing hysterically as they knocked us over and tried to suck us back out. There is nothing in the world like sisters. <3image

image

The first two days, we spent wandering around Universal Studios. The first day was rainy as f*ck, but the second day was beautiful and sunny. Two very different experiences, let me tell you. On the first day, we basically had the place all to ourselves, riding rollercoasters and immediately running back to the front of the line and riding again. The second day mostly consisted of walking around and eating, since the lines were much crazier. image

Frozen Butterbeer! I tried both varieties: cold and frozen. I liked them both, but I think the frozen one was a little bit better; it seemed to temper the tooth-aching sweetness a bit. For those wondering, it sort of tasted like butterscotch-y cream soda. image

image

See? RAINY AS F*CK.image

I somehow managed to convince everyone to stand in a circle so I could take a picture of our feet. I have a thing about foot photos. imageNot Instagram, but aren’t we the cutest?

Have you ever been to Florida? What did you do?

PS. You can find my Instagram account here.

 

Florida in Instagram

Travel Priorities

When we first started Creative Dwelling a couple of years ago, I did a post about my travel priorities: those things that were the most important to me in terms of seeing the world, so that I’d have something to go of off and work towards.

Well, I made a new one last night, and they’re practically identical. Not quite, but very nearly.

Let’s compare the two, shall we?

Cliffs of Moher © 2013 Jessica McGale
Cliffs of Moher © 2013 Jessica McGale

From June 12, 2012:

  1. Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
  2. Bike around Ireland.
  3. Surf in Hawaii and California.
  4. Visit all 50 states.
  5. Adventure trip to New Zealand.
  6. Scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef.
  7. Hike Machu Picchu.
  8. Go somewhere I never would have considered before.
  9. Live abroad for 3 months or more.
  10. Oktoberfest.

 

From April 1, 2014:

  1. Surf in California.
  2. Live in Melbourne, Australia.
  3. Do a bike tour of Vietnam.
  4. Go to a Christmas market in Prague, or Belgium.
  5. Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
  6. Experience autumn in New York City.
  7. WWOOF in Hawaii.
  8. Island hop in Greece.
  9. Float in the Dead Sea.
  10. Zipline in Costa Rica.

 

What strikes me about these two lists is that the spirit stays the same across both. The places are similar, and the reasons I want to go there are similar, but my thinking about them and my ideas about how to experience them have evolved. Which is pretty cool to see.

What are your travel priorities?

Travel Priorities