One Night In Toronto

My thirteen day trip, including travel time, to Ontario was planned in Sep. This, of course meant I was reluctant to make any changes after all the back and forth emails, phone calls and building excitement. What I had not factored in was my being ill, and needing some minor surgery at my doctor’s office. However, come Hell or high water, I was determined to make the rendezvous with my daughters.

I started to feel unwell on Christmas Day. This was fine as I ended up staying home with yet another daughter where we had a very quiet day. I did manage to enjoy a turkey dinner – I even made the gravy. However, by evening I knew I was not at all well and left the cleaning up for my daughter to take care of while I went to bed. I had come down with the flu. I had twelve days to get well. No problem. Except for the small marble sized growth on the back of neck that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. The growth that definitely felt like it might be infected. Getting sick, and needing to see your doctor over the holidays is never good planning. Fortunately I was able to get in on Jan 2nd, having made sure to call at 9:00am on the dot. There were also two doctors in that day.

I had never met my GP’s student until that day. My first impression was just young she is – I later found out she is the same age as my youngest daughter, 26. She took one look, then did a more thorough assessment, then called in my GP for further consultation before the next step – basically lancing what turned out to be a sebaceous cyst. My GP never shows a lot of emotion, so his quiet exclamation of, ‘Oh my, that will need taking care of’ did rather worry me. Three absolutely horrid needles later, to freeze the area, and a lot of tugging and pushing meant the cyst had been emptied although it was not certain the actual cyst was fully removed. It was time to discuss after care.

Even before all that was done it was suggested I might want to rethink my travel plans in case of infection or complications. My response was absolutely not. I had sound reasoning for this, first I was not leaving the country. Second, I would be spending the first weekend of my trip that included two nurses, the second week with one. I felt I was well prepared and the doctors agreed so long as I went back the following day. Armed with instructions for care I assured everyone I would be fine. Which I basically was although there were a few days that had us a little worried. I went to a walk-in clinic while in Kingston for another assessment and was given the good news that everything was healing nicely. Canadian medical is absolutely fantastic!

It is now time to go back to the beginning of my actual trip. I like to think I am always well prepared for when I travel. I tend to arrive early to my departure point, carry as little baggage as possible, have all my necessary documents, and even empty personal water bottle. What I had not factored in was just how insane security would be on this last weekend of the holiday period. Despite arriving at the airport over an hour ahead of my flight, and having only carry on bags, I nearly missed my flight. The saving grace was the 50+ passengers still behind me who were also stuck at security. Once seated my first flight, to Calgary, was fairly uneventful.

Deicing in Calgary – it looks like so much fun!

I did have to nearly run from the Calgary international gate (rather random in my opinion for a domestic flight) to my next plane at the farthest domestic gate. While flying to Calgary it suddenly dawned on me that WestJet no longer provides meals – I was looking at about another four hours flying without a meal. (I had packed four healthy cookies and a couple of ‘emergency’ granola bars) Never a good idea when on certain medication. As I neared the gate I saw that the passengers were lined up next to a Starbucks. In my head I was calculating if I had enough time to grab something to eat and make it to the plane before the doors shut. Of course I had one lady hemming and hawing over her selection of food, and then her coffee. Fortunately I was able to have my yogurt scanned, tapped my bank card and dash off. I forgot I had Starbucks money on my phone. There were still passengers behind me when I had my boarding pass swiped. Phew! I made a mental note to prepare a proper lunch for my flight home.

As if my day had not already been riddled with inconveniences, upon arriving in Toronto, the plane ended up sitting on the tarmac for 1 1/4 hours plus another 15 minutes just metres from the gate. So many flights had been cancelled due to the frigid weather and snow storms on the East Coast that the gate had another plane where we were to deboard. (Later in the evening I heard about the planes at the same airport that were clipped resulting in an emergency evacuation due to fire – my problems became minuscule) While waiting to taxi in I sent some messages to my daughter who was to meet me at the train station – no response. I sent messages to her sister – strange responses. Seems the latter had already started to party with her friends and one of them was responding for her. I was not amused. While typing a message to my missing daughter’s husband her sister called me while I was still on the tarmac – technology is grand – to let me know her sister had been robbed! That explained why I could not reach her. I was beginning to worry about this trip.

The view from the condo. We could also see the CBC building, and I gather there is a baseball field next to the CN Tower that I had a vague memory of seeing in 2014.

Eventually it was agreed the three already in Toronto would meet me at Union Station (trains) with coffee and food. I was greeted with lots of cheers, they may have been only three but they made up for that with their somewhat inebriated enthusiasm. It was bloody freezing outside at -25c. (Chill factor made it a frostbite -32c) I was convinced I had temporarily lost my sanity. A quick update about my other daughter, she would not join us that evening although she did seriously consider it, but would in the morning. (Her phone had been snatched right out of her hand at the bus station. She did the one thing police say not to do, she ran after the guy yelling at the top of her lungs.) We made run to an Uber car ( fantastic idea) and we were off to the condo we had booked for the weekend before going out for a night on the town. I was ready to sleep. This was only day one! I was feeling a little like it was One Night In Bangkok.

My daughter on the right and her friends out of the cold.

We did go out dancing. One place had a 90s theme – not really anything I could really rock to. We then went to a club called the Rocking Horse (I think that is correct) which had me worried it would be too country. The saddles and cowboy hat decorations, plus several people wearing cowboy boots, jeans and plaid shirts did not convince me otherwise. The music proved to be a good mix though, I danced up a storm – some young women seemed quite taken that I was on the dance floor keeping pace – until my foot turned but my knee did not. My daughter even tried out the bucking bull and made it over 40 seconds! She beat out every other person we saw over the course of about 20 minutes. I have that on video.

It is difficult to catch a bucking bull in a still shot! This was from the video I took – just under 5 seconds

We were all ready to call it a night, arriving back at the condo around 1:00am. Plans were made to go dress shopping the next day once my daughter arrived from Kitchener. Did I mention the weather had not been that cold since 1959?

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COMPLAIN, COMPLAIN, COMPLAIN: and yes, it did rain

Or, Why I have not posted anything lately

I rarely get ill. When I have been sick it was usually fairly significant – bronchitis being high on my body’s favoured illnesses. So, I am usually knocked down flat when that occurs, as well as thrown on a heavy course of some form of penicillin. I was also always working – with young children. Need I say more. So when I first managed to get the flu, most likely directly from my daughter, I blamed it in part, as previously mentioned, on not having the flu shot. I was just happy it was over with and the cyst I had drained was finally on it’s way to healing. So I was rather alarmed when I came down with a nasty head cold. The type of cold that sneaks up on you. A slight scratchiness in the throat, a little cough, perhaps some sneezing. All fairly easy to laugh off as a sign of being tired, staying up too late, travel weary – in my case all reasonable assumptions. I did not have time to be sick let alone bothered with a cold.

Crave fireside seating. Always lovely to visit here.

Crave fireside seating, always a lovely spot for sipping coffee or tea and settling in for a visit or reading.

Except there I was, the end of day five (which also happened to be what would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday) of my visit and fading fast. By this time I had already seen the doctor, had coffee at Crave (my favourite cafe in Kingston) and checked out three more stores for dresses and I still had a couple of hours before I was to meet my daughter. Where does one go when staying a 30 minute drive away and your ride will not be available for two plus hours? For me the library is always an excellent choice. Except the Kingston Library was still closed while undergoing major renovations that started in April 2017. It is slated to re-open spring 2018 – I will visit when back. Meanwhile, I needed a place to hang out away from the burgeoning crowds on the streets of Kingston. Plus 5c. and sun seemed to have beckoned people outdoors.

As I was heading up Princess St. looking for stores I came across this otherwise empty space – those are my daughters! The middle one and the one on the left. (The short ones) They had not seen the display. This was for a fundraiser held sometime in 2017.

I headed to the university library, grabbing a sandwich and coffee at the snack bar before hunkering down to read my book without interruption or internet for about two hours. I had one commitment, meet my daughter at her work then head to Princess St. (Basically the main shopping street in Kingston) to show her the dress I thought would be suitable for me to wear to her wedding. We said yes to the dress – a little pricier than I had expected. I claimed I could accept the cost if I wore it to one or two events every year for the next ten years.

I then committed the ill traveller’s sin and went out for dinner. (Nothing like spreading a few germs for all to share) Although still in denial I was pretty sure I would not be able to taste anything the next night.Then it rained. A lot. By the next day, the only day I had left in Kingston, I knew I would not be leaving the house. I barely managed to do my laundry and pack everything. Thank goodness I travel light. I slept. I finished my book (Stones to Schools by Greg Mortenson) I highly recommend it. I napped.

Union Station construction has been ongoing for some years now. By the time they finish it will be necessary to start at the beginning again!

The small station is Brampton – the pounding rain and hail made it difficult to capture any of the fine workmanship.

My train to Toronto, then onto Kitchener, the next day was for 7:32am. A freezing blast was forecast, basically ice rain with a severe drop in temperature (it had gone up to plus 9c after the deep chill) that would cause dangerous, icy roads. School buses were cancelled. I was not about to tempt fate by changing my tickets so I could rest. Leaving Kingston I could see outlines of fog enshrouded roads, farms and tracks from inside my snug seat by the window. And here I am, in Kitchener. Where it was hailing when I arrived, then snowing. By morning all was bright, chilly looking and windy. I was still coughing and ready to scrounge about my daughter’s house for cold medicine. I was quite sure I would staying in again. So far I only had photos taken while on the train.

Behind that curtain of ice rain, up on a hill, is a beautiful church. All I know is that it is somewhere between Brampton and Kitchener.

Q (avid Star Trek fans) thought I needed some help as I got ready for bed.

Paradise Cave: Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Paradise Cave was discovered in 2005, and have now taken over in popularity the better known Phong Nha Caves that are announced by a huge sign on one of the hills outside the town of Phong Nha. The latter caves can only be reached by boat then walking to the caves so we opted for Paradise. Which was just as well as we discovered later, which also explained why Paradise seemed to be suddenly getting crowded at one point, the Phong Nha Caves were closed due to high water. It took four years for experts to fully explore over the next four years before opening to the public –  31 km long, the largest dry cave in the world, we only explored the ‘easier’, monstrously large, dry section. 100 metres at its highest point and up to 150 metres wide. The boardwalk inside this section of the cave, once down the steep, steep stairs, is an impressive one and 1/4km long that provides many wonderful views of the various formations one would expect in a cave. The more intrepid can choose to stop at – before or after – one of the more challenging sections for dark caving (no thank you), wading in water through a cave, rafting, (I think that is what they meant when our guides were telling us about the activities) and cave climbing. There is also the very carefully protected cave in which only 300, carefully vetted, visitors per year are allowed to explore. This particular cave, Hang Son Doong, could fit an entire Manhattan city block insid and takes a week to explore! Like I said, we chose paradise (need I suggest, over Hell?)


These reminded me of ancient blades melded together over time.


My only fear was having one of these fall on us!

Readers may note I say we versus me, I was on a four day motorcycle tour with my youngest daughter. She ended up not being a happy camper during the significantly long uphill, switchback trek to the mouth of the cave. (Rather than tell me she was hungover she just complained – most likely because I would not have felt a bit sorry for her. The blisters on her feet however were another issue) It took me 45 minutes to an hour to the mouth, she took longer.

There were maybe 3-4 places with coloured lights; my preference would be none. (In and around Guilin, China, also known for its caves, lighting is a garish art form

Once there we had to climb down a short set of steps, enter the somewhat narrow mouth to the cave, adjust our eyes, then be wowed by the spectacular, disorienting view, in the eerie darkness. Plus the stairs. The steep stairs. Wooden, vertigo inducing stairs. I had a few moments when I did not think my equilibrium would balance on time to go forward or back. Fortunately my brain and feet worked in unison and I sallied forth. My daughter was somewhere behind me taking pictures and finally enjoying herself despite the muttering of ‘I’ve seen caves, why am I here’ that were audible enough for me to hear until I was further away – I never did remind her that sound carries. I focussed on being awed by the natural, internal world. White walls, cathedral surmounting ceiling, a couple of degrees cooler than outside, naturally formed, marbled statues that outclass even the most perfect of all statues – which is of course up to debate. I was happy to note this cave is tastefully lit, just enough light to not trip over your feet. We were also there, until as noted, more visitors were arriving, when it was relatively quiet. At one point it felt as though we were the sole inhabitants of a lost underworld. 

Although called a dry cave there was water on many of the surfaces. I did wonder where it came from.
This was like time had suddenly stood still in mid bubble.

Photos cannot do justice to the magnificence of huge spaces unless taken from above, and, although I took a few pictures from the top of the stairs’ the feel for the space – I never felt I was literally under millions of tons of rock, well not until now – cannot be depicted unless perhaps a drone (heaven forbid) were to be used. I hope I managed, with help from my daughter who has a much better eye for photo ops than I, to find enough shots for others to enjoy. 

This was the end for us although my daughter thought the sleeping guard gave us the opportunity to slip over the guardrail. I did read later that it is possible to explore further with a guide. The fact a guide is necessary made me happy to turn back.

Pretty F***ing Useless

Perhaps it is important to stress at the outset that I had a rotten week and was ready to throw in the gloves. If it had not been for my eldest calling me after I sent out a stressed message, then her sister and I going over an edit, I might have turned tail in Vancouver to head home. So, the title is due to World Nomad travel insurance – or lack thereof.

It seems their site is down and the Canadian office (head office is in Australia) has not been given any information other than to say keep on trying. All very well except I had been trying since 24 hours earlier – prior to departure! I sent two emails, no response. To be told that once out of the country any insurance purchased has a two day hold before it is valid! Absolutely unacceptable in my opinion. I will be making a major stink about this once I can figure out how to do so on Twitter etc.

Other than that significant issue seems were smooth. The drive to the ferry was quick. I was so early the ticket booth was not even open. The ferry was fine until announcement there would be a “man overboard drill” that would possibly delay our arrival by 15 minutes. I was beginning to see this as a sign. We were on time. The bus was waiting for passengers – no use leaving empty. I nearly left on the wrong Sky Train – a security person called me (lady in green works when wearing a lime green rainshield on my pack) to say I had to wait for the next train, about 3 minutes. Then off to the airport. I still had not turned heel to run home.

I may have to rethink future packing – these are heavy!

Check-in was a breeze, as was security other than my leg brace that I had not even considered. So, day 1, still sad, not quite as stressed, and hanging out with my travel companions.

This is what I am leaving – sunrise. Going home is always easy.
Yes, taking pandas and a fan to China- sort of like coal to Newcastle.

Saying Farewell 

By the time this post is published I will be in Shanghai. By the time this post is published I will have had long enough to stop crying. By the time this post is published Mozzy, my 15+ year old kitty, born in Nanning, China will have had his last bits of candied salmon before meeting his ancestors. This is a safe enough place to write what I am going through emotionally before we say goodbye to Mozzy. The decision was not easy to make – even with the support of our veterinarian. The practical side of me – a word I think was voiced far too often because what else can be said – knows the decision to stop treatment and let Mozzy be pain free is for the best. We know the decision has not nothing to do with my looming departure. And loom it does. Like a monster of guilt. 

My favourite photo of Mozzy, from about three years ago when he was still healthy.
This is Mozzy’s, “You’re what?” look.

Guilt with wondering if I did enough. We did. Guilt with wondering if Mozzy could have lived longer. Yes, but in a deteriorating condition. Guilt wondering if he is happy on this, his last, day. I think so, he ate a little salmon. Guilt also, wondering if I waited too long. That thought alone is what will get me through the day. During a long talk with the vet we both voiced our amazement that Mozzy made it beyond the end of August. Did I prolong his life for him or for me? Perhaps a little of both. Until last night Mozzy was making every attempt to appear well despite the severe weight loss and pain. By morning he was not. I can only hope he understands and will still love me until the end. 

A screened, open window, a Tibetan pillow – life of a Mandarin cat.
My youngest daughter called Mozzy, ‘My Prince’. The chair became his favourite place to sit.

 My daughter threw a birthday party for my that Mozzy took control of. I think he thought it was for him – typical kitty. However, I needed to let loose some of my sadness before it swallows me up. I could not post anything to friends, not yet. So, by the time this is posted time and distance may have helped with the healing. Mozzy is just as much a family member as my children. They know.

Wasn’t that a party! (After everyone had left and Mozzy’s chair was in the wrong place)
Post Script: I did eventually write something on FB, there are people who would want to know. It dawned on me that some friends even knew Mozzy when my youngest daughter first brought him home at seven weeks old from the hole in the wall store outside the school I worked at in Nanning after seeing a child kick him. Mozzy had been promised to us but I was not ready for him at such a young age. He immediately squirmed his way into our hearts. Either my sister or the vet said perhaps Mozzy will be with me in spirit when I am in China. I like that. I miss him.