number fourteen: hello-ha*

We interrupt our Greek series to bring you a post from the lovely island of Oahu. That’s right. I spent Canadian Thanksgiving in Greece and American Thanksgiving in Hawaii.

We arrived here Sunday afternoon and as usual for me when I travel, it’s taken me a few days to get into the groove. I’m a homebody and even when I’m in a place like this – relaxing, easy and not very foreign – I feel misplaced at first. But today was great. We headed out fairly early and went to the Dole Plantation. I read a few reviews online and there were a few great ones and a few terrible ones. The terrible ones all said “don’t go, it’s a tourist trap”. But Greg and I have long since learned we are just fine with most tourist trips, provided they offer some entertainment for us and our children. The plantation had both a train and a maze. Good enough for us!

The drive there was beautiful. We are staying on the northeast side of the island, and we drove around the northern tip and then south through lush, rolling hills with equally lush mountains in the background. I love how green this island is.

The plantation itself was also beautiful, and surprisingly not too crowded given that its a national holiday. The train ride was a bit hokey, but my expectations were met and the kids had fun. We gave them one of our cameras and I just looked at the pictures they took. Very entertaining.

The maze was lots of fun. We were in it for an hour and we found all the “special spots” we were supposed to find. It was named the world’s largest maze in the 2008 Guiness Book of World Records. Amy was “done” about 15 minutes before we were actually done, but she persevered. Albeit loudly. Between the train ride and the maze we all partook in the “world-famous” Dole whip. Greg and I questioned it’s famous-ness, as neither of us had heard of it. It was basically pineapple flavoured soft ice cream. But it was good, and refreshing.

We left in the early afternoon and headed back the way we came, looking for a place to have lunch. We settled on a shrimp truck (Hono) that looked fairly well attended (but not as busy as the one we passed first, which had at least one tour bus load of people eating at it). I had the garlic butter shrimp, Greg had the sweet and sour shrimp, and the kids split the butter shrimp. It was delicious. I just checked out the reviews online and we weren’t the only ones who thought so. It was the best shrimp I’ve ever had.

We got back to the condo a bit hot and sticky, so we suited up and headed down to the beach for a bit. The condo we are staying in isn’t the greatest inside, but it’s right on a beautiful beach, which has been awesome. It just makes it so easy to take the kids down for a quick dip. Greg and I also managed a short snorkel (our first of the trip) while Gramma stayed with the kids. Then it was on to the freezing cold pool, at the kids’ request.

We finished up the evening with a home-cooked dinner of fajitas, baths for the kids, and as I sit and write this I’m sipping a cider and listening to the waves hit the beach. Hello-ha, indeed.

*Amy’s version of aloha

number thirteen: greece day three

This post was written on Sunday, October 13th.
Today started with a short workout in the ships gym with Jan. Can’t say it was enjoyable (I really don’t like working out in gyms) but a little exercise never hurts.

On a whim I booked a massage appointment for this morning. When we got on the ship they were giving out free chair massages and while I was getting one they showed me the special of the day — hot rock massage, foot massage and facial for $139. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to do a “vacation spa treatment”, so I booked it. Now that I’ve done it I know not to do it again. It was nice, but not $139+built-in-tip nice.

I ate breakfast alone in the dining room because I needed to make the appointment, and I ordered French toast with maple syrup (the menu actually said “maple”. I should know by now that unless I’m in Canada, maple syrup means Aunt Jemima. I was a bit unimpressed.

After the massage we had a burger on the Lido deck and then I went off to a cooking demo. Yes, this is supposed to be a Greek cruise and I haven’t spoken about Greece much, but we are at sea today! The cooking demo was entertaining and I got to sample the creme brûlée. Yummy (much better than last night’s)!

For dinner we ate in the dining room again and I had a good tenderloin. The main courses have in general been great, but the appies and desserts have just been okay. I was disappointed with my tiramisu at dinner tonight.

Tomorrow is our first stop — the island of Corfu, which is in the Ionian Sea, part of the Mediterranean.

Missing the kids tonight.

number twelve: greece day two

This post was written on Saturday, October 12th.
I slept very well and only woke up once when Mum turned on the light to read at 3:30 am, because she couldn’t sleep. A discussion between her and Jan ensued while I did my best to remain as close to sleep as I could. I was able to fall back asleep and slept solidly until 8.

We got up and went out to look for a coffee (tea for me of course) and a quick breakfast. There are pastries galore in Athens (well, within the three blocks we walked) and I had the most amazing apple Danish I’ve ever had. The experience of getting the coffee, tea and Danish reminded me of one of the reasons that Greg and I don’t travel — the language barrier. I feel very uncomfortable and vulnerable not being able to speak the local language. Not to mention ignorant. My sister is much more comfortable in the situation, but she’s had a lot more experience. Perhaps Greg and I will get out there and get the experience as well, but even it we don’t, there are plenty of English speaking places that I’d love to visit. It does bug me knowing that it holds me back, though.

After getting food and caffeine, we went back to our hotel room and packed up. We were due at the port at 1:00 to board the ship, and we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time. Turns out it was a good thing we did! We took public transit (the metro) down to Piraeus, which was very straightforward, but upon getting there we realized how huge the port is. There were at least six ferries, all humongous, and at least three cruise ships. We thankfully could see the Ryndham, our boat, but it was on the other side of the port. So we walked. A long way. In the heat. Trailing our suitcases. My poor 79-year-old mother! But we made it, and once there it took us all of five minutes to get on the ship. I was really surprised, as when Greg and I did our Mexican cruise it took FOREVER to get on the boat.

Once on, we found our room (bigger than we expected) and started exploring. The ship is much smaller than the Princess cruise Greg and I did, and older, but it’s got a very comfortable feeling. After our explorations we sat in the Lido Lounge and enjoyed a “fruity drink”, as my sister calls them. The drinks are surprisingly reasonably priced — about the same as I’d pay in a Victoria drinking establishment, and if my Fashionista is any indication, they are excellent.

We had dinner in the dining room, a very good roasted chicken with cornbread sausage stuffing (very Thanksgiving-y), and some adequate crème brûlée. But I’m a crème brûlée snob, so I know I have high expectations.

After dinner Jan and I got Mum settled (she was exhausted) and we went off to see the nightly movie – Man of Steel – which was surprisingly good. So odd to watch a Hollywood movie and then walk out of the theatre and remember that you are on a cruise ship sailing among the Greek Islands.

Tomorrow we spend the day at sea on our way to Corfu…good timing as it gives us a day to recover.

number eleven: greece day one (and a half!)

This is the first of my posts from my travels to Greece. This one was written on Friday, October 11th.

I am not sure what my wifi access is going to be this trip, so I may end up posting these when I get home. I wasn’t sure how I was going to actually write the posts — there was no way I was bringing a laptop, and my iPad would be missed by the kids. I considered pen and paper and transcribing later, but I truly can’t write for that long, I’m too out of shape for it! So here I am, blogging on my phone, but using my wireless keyboard. Greg kind of chuckled at me when I decided to bring the keyboard, but so far so good.

So…getting here. Mum and I left Victoria at about 1:30 pm on Thursday. Our flight was delayed but we were only going to Vancouver and we had plenty of time there, so it wasn’t a concern. We left Vancouver at about 4:30 (again delayed) and headed for Frankfurt. This was our longest leg — just over 9 hours, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I’ve done it before for my Saudi trips and it’s a long time to be on a plane. Especially when you don’t really enjoy flying.

But this time I had a good book (thank you salesperson at Chapters!). Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. It was light, it was funny, it was good and it totally made the day (night? whatever) go by quickly. I slept for about five hours of the trip (drug induced) and that helped as well. And I didn’t watch one minute of TV, which is totally unusual for me. Mum seemed to fair quite well too.

We arrived in Frankfurt if not refreshed, at least somewhat functional. Jan was planning on meeting us at our gate but texted me to let me know she couldn’t, due to the fact that we were in an entirely different terminal from her. But Mum and I figured out how to get to the right terminal, thanks to well-placed signs, and we found Jan wandering up the concourse. Easy peasy.

We had a bit of time before our next leg so we grabbed a quick bite to eat and a coffee/tea. Then on to Athens. This trip was just under three hours. I finished my book in the first half hour and then I slept for the rest of the flight. I was a bit surprised, but it was nice. I was even somewhat comfortable. I woke up early enough to watch our landing — always exciting for me when it’s in a new country.

We got our bags very quickly, found a cab and made our way to the hotel, which is in downtown Athens. This was the only negative of the trip for me — I feel very uncomfortable in a cab with a driver who doesn’t understand what I’m saying and who I don’t understand. My imagination goes crazy and I think about him driving us away to some
deserted area and murdering us. Even being there with my sister and mum didn’t help. But I warmed up to him a little bit as I realized he wasn’t a crazy killer, and he did point out a bunch of the sites for us as he drove. And we arrived safely (once he made a phone call to get someone to translate what Jan was saying).

We just went out for a light dinner — I wanted meat on a stick and I got it — and now we’re all in bed. I’ve drugged myself again in an effort to get on this timezone.

My first impressions of Athens are good. It’s a bit dirtier than I expected, but it was pretty darn cool seeing the Parthenon just smack dab in the middle of everything else. We just drove by — we’ll be taking a closer look after our cruise — but it was still pretty awesome. I haven’t done any research for this trip, and seeing Athens makes me now want to do some reading. If I could only find an internet connection…

Off to bed for me now.

number ten: greece

What follows is a series of posts I wrote during a recent trip to Greece with my mother and sister. This trip was born in February, when, during an Ottawa visit with my sister, she and I were sitting around the dinner table and she announced that she needed to ask me something. It was obviously (to her) a loaded question, and she was a bit anxious about it. She explained that she’d been thinking about taking Mum on a trip for a long time, and realized she’d better do it sooner rather than later, as Mum’s not getting any younger or any more mobile. Where do I come in? Well, she wanted me to join her…and not only that, she was going to foot a good portion of the bill. No destinations had been set yet, but Greece was thrown out there, as was the idea of a cruise, since it would be easy on my mother.

I immediately said yes. It was a no-brainer for me. My sister was concerned as traveling with family, especially elder family, can be stressful, but I didn’t hesitate. This was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Over the next few months the plan formed and we decided on a 7-day Mediterranean cruise in October, with five Greek ports and one Turkish port.

Read on to hear more about it…

number nine: tour de victoria

I’m a bit behind in my 52 posts…not surprising given my track record. I do have 9 or 10 posts from Greece that I intend to publish, but I’ve been waiting for Greg to take a look at the comments on this site to see if he can get them working again. Because really, what’s the point of posting if you can’t get comments?! We’ve also talked about changing blogging software (I have other issues besides the comments, namely I find it really hard to post pictures with Drupal), but porting all my content over seems to be an issue. So I’m also toying with switching to something else and starting fresh, while maintaining my old content online so I can link to it and read it.

So, just a bit of an administrative update. While I ponder my options, I’ll post by Tour de Victoria write-up here, and try to imagine all the comments I would have got if things were working.

UPDATE: Apparently you can comment if you log in…so if you’ve got the urge, please do!

The ride was on September 22. For those of you who weren’t out riding or cheering that day, you probably don’t remember what the weather was like. It rained. A lot. And it was windy in Sidney. Very windy.

Actually let me back up a bit. As I noted earlier, my knee had been giving me some grief during my training. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and had pretty much decided to start the 140 km and just see how far I got, but during my last training ride I realized that idea sucked, because in all likelihood I wasn’t going to be able to finish, and then I’d be quitting and I’d feel crappy. So instead I switched to the 100 km distance, feeling pretty confident that I would finish. I still felt disappointed that I wasn’t doing the longer distance, but 100 km isn’t half bad.

The forecast was looking grim all week, and sure enough we woke up to rain. But thankfully just a light rain, and as I drove to the start line in Langford it remained light. I debated whether to wear my booties, and when I got out there I took a look at what other people were wearing and decided to wear them since at least half of the other racers were. Very good decision.

We started on time, with Ryder Hesjedal leading the way. Still just light rain, but the roads were slick. As we made our way out to Munns it started raining harder, but I was going uphill and was actually quite hot. Hot enough to unzip my jacket all the way. But as I got nearer to the top I realized I was going to freeze my butt off if I kept it open for the downhill, and there was no way I was stopping at the top of Munns with the other 100+ riders who stop there, so I quickly pulled over and rezipped.

Munns didn’t seem too bad (although I have to admit that my recollection may be off, it was a few weeks ago!). I did a good portion of the climb with a woman who had a hernia, so even in my wet state I knew things could be much worse. I was also bolstered by the people who were from out of town complaining about (and walking up) the hills. At no point did I feel like I needed to walk.

Going down was a bit slower than usual for me because of the wet roads, and I got thoroughly soaked and muddy due to my lack of fenders. Ross Durrance Road was a bit tricky because it’s narrow and people were riding in the middle of the road, slowly, and I was getting frustrated. I finally was able to pass a few people and go at my own pace, and I continued on for quite a while fairly comfortably. My knee wasn’t hurting and I was warm enough. As I got closer to Sidney, though, it started raining harder, and as we moved from one side of the peninsula to the other, the wind hit. HARD. I actually started laughing because I’ve never ridden in such terrible conditions, and here I was paying money to do it.

At this point too I was worried about Greg. The previous year he had passed me on Munns, and here I was 50 km into the race and he still hadn’t passed me. I took my phone out a couple of times to see if he had texted me, but nothing. I was a bit too tired, wet and cold to put too much emotional energy into it, and I did figure if something terrible had happened they would have phoned me. So I plodded on. The stretch from Wain Road to the top of Ash was by far the worst weather-wise. I still can’t believe I rode through such a mess.

As I rode along Mt. Doug Parkway, one of Greg’s riding partners passed me and gave me an update: Greg was having a crappy ride and was 5 to 10 minutes back. He and I rode for a few minutes together which was a nice diversion, and the timing was good because it was right before Ash and it prevented my from dwelling on my least favourite hill. I felt terrible for Greg, but I also hoped he’d catch up with me so we could ride the rest of the race together. And I was relieved to know he hadn’t crashed.

I made it up Ash thanks to all the cheerleaders on the sidelines, and once at the top realized that the worst was over. I was also hanging on to the fact that a couple of friends might be waiting for me on King George Terrace. I wasn’t sure if the weather would keep them away, but they are pretty diehard so I was hoping for the best.

Getting through Uplands seemed long, and I had realized by then there was no way I was beating my time from last year, but I also realized that I was far enough along that I would finish, and given the awful conditions I felt pretty darn good about myself.

As I climbed the first hill on King George Terrace, I saw a cardboard sign referencing cowbells that made me pretty sure my friends would be waiting for me on the next hill. Sure enough, they were there with cowbells, loud voices and additional friends that I didn’t realized were coming out. I rode over to them and had a quick stop and a hug, and then headed downhill to the home stretch feeling encouraged. As I made my way to the inner harbour I kept hoping Greg would catch up to me, but I crossed the finish line on my own. Soaking wet, freezing cold, and grinning.

Greg came across about 15 minutes later, unfortunately feeling pretty down, and we ended up going home instead of taking part in any post-race festivities. This was fine by me because I was beyond cold and we still had to ride home. The shower that followed was the best part of my day! Greg and I ended up going out for a burger and beer together once we were warmed up, and even though Greg was feeling so discouraged he was good company and it was a really nice way to wrap up the ride.

As for what’s next…not sure yet! Stay tuned.