January 6, 2020

2019: The Year To Thrive

For several years, now, I've chosen a word to guide me through the unwritten chapters of the new year.

Thrive was the theme for 2019. That's just what we did. It was a year of great successes, wonderful memories; and, of course, we traveled a bunch. Most of my yearly recaps also include best bites, but we did not try too many new places. We mostly frequented old haunts, but we had to say goodbye, to yet, another favorite; R.I.P. Cleo (SLS). Though, honorable mentions go to newcomers, Kame and Best Friend. However, the best meal of the year is awarded to Sparrow + Wolf. We dined with a group and ordered nearly the entire menu to split among us. No one left hungry or disappointed. It was outstanding. The bread alone is glorious!













Our travels took us to California multiple times (Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Sonoma). No year is complete without a trip to Tijuana, I mean... Tacos are life. We also gallivanted around our old stomping grounds in the Riviera Maya by playing tour guide to our friends and Frank's family. We also explored new cities like Mérida and Valladolid. We returned to London and Frankfurt, and we wandered Stockholm and Amsterdam. And I roamed Paris. We were warmly welcomed in Fort McMurray. Traversed cities that feel like going home because we have visited so often, such as Austin, Boston, Denver and Phoenix. Then, there is Chicago, our first home. Plus, I can't forget the trip with my family to Netarts on the Oregon Coast. For anyone keeping tally, my travels spanned eight countries, seven states and countless cities. Frank exceeded those numbers crisscrossing the Midwest and east coast. Needless to say we logged many miles. It's a big world, I'm determined to see it. We've only begun to scratch the surface.

Which leads to my word for 2020... Explore. It's time to turn dreams into plans.

How about you, do you choose a word to set the tone for the year to come?

December 31, 2019

Happy New Year!

Last I remember I was in Paris. Then, I blinked and I've been whisked away to the eve before 2020. How and the hell did that happen?! This year has been a whirlwind filled with adventure. I have followed my heart and it's led me to amazing places. I have set intentions some I stuck by, others fizzled out. At least there is next year to try to get right.

I had an incredible time exploring Paris. I came home seriously jet lagged. I slept a day, and then, I was called back to work. Life has been a blur since. I am consulting now. I share my expertise on my terms and my schedule. I might be really bad at quitting, but it has worked out for me. I'm still helping out my sister, watching the kiddos overnights so she can work and pull off doing it all. She's amazing. Those kids are growing like weeds. It's unreal. Soon, they'll all hover above me.

Days after Paris, I flew to Chicago for a benefit to support my aunt and uncle. The lost their home, belongings and a kitty to fire in October. They have had a tough go at it, it was nice to see so many friends and family come together in a time of need. I was reminded how generous the circle I am surrounded by truly is. My heart grew three sizes, at least.

On Thanksgiving, Frank and I set off for a two week adventure around Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. Friends and family joined us to celebrate Frank's 40th. It was not at all the trip we expected, but we did have an enjoyable time. I have that and so much else to share in 2020. Especially since I did such a bad job in 2019. Here's to the best of everything in the New Year!

November 29, 2019

A Rainy Day in Paris

I headed out for the day. My first stop was for coffee at a café around the corner from the hotel. This was my only encounter with staff that seemed annoyed I wasn't able to speak French. I had read that it was impolite to grab a table. So, I asked for a table for one despite being surrounded by empty seats. I was given an eye roll and wave - OK, then, I'll take my pick. There was no menu offered but I let a local lead the way and I followed suit with an espresso and bread. Aside from the awkward start, it was the perfect little pick me up before wandering Musée d'Orsay. That baguette was the best all week too. 

 

Once I knew it would be rainy all day, I figured a museum was in order. I opted to skip the line and buy my admission via tripadvisor ($17). It allowed me to enter at the C doors. The wait was just for baggage screening and metal detection. There were 5 floors, but only three were currently open with plenty to see. It was formerly an old railway station. It is really beautiful.



 

Prior to my trip, I learned of The Fork. Which is a free app great for booking reservations. I was able to reserve a table at Le Bistrot de Paris. It was a short walk. I was excited to try the escargot after reading reviews.

I was warmly greet at the door. My name was scratched off the list and I was led to my table. I was given a break from attempting to speak French, since my waiter spoke English. Though, he did seem to appreciate the effort. He offered to help with the menu (all in French), but I was able to navigate it and knew that I wanted the small order of escargot and the ravioli. He did assist in choosing a white wine. He recommended a sancerre. It was pleasant.  The snails were a bit tough and difficult to chew. Great flavor, though. The ravioli was extremely rich. While delicious, I was happy that it was a smaller portion. Dessert seems to be a given; I asked for whatever is best. Minutes later, an apple tart was placed in front of me. All in all, it was a nice find.

 


I walked back to the hotel to burn off some of the zillion calories I had just consumed. Like most cities, my favorite activity is to wander and discover. This walk did not disappoint.


 

 

I opted to nap before the 8:30 show at Crazy Horse Paris. I bought the show and champagne ticket from Tripadvisor since I was unable to complete the purchase on the Crazy Horse website. Getting to the venue took longer than expected. There was an issue with the train that delayed the trip. Then, the station was under construction and I had trouble finding my way. GPS wasn't connecting and I didn't realize I was headed in the wrong direction until after I had RAN three blocks. I arrived at the theater 5 minutes after showtime. Thankfully, I was still warmly welcomed and whisked to my seat in the first row. I thought the show was great. Plenty of eye candy. These ladies have buns of steel. Simply gorgeous.




I had no difficulty finding my way back, but trains were few and far between. So, it still took longer than expected. The first full day was done .

November 22, 2019

Arrival into Paris

Arrival into Orly could not have been easier. There was no paperwork to complete. We were shuttled to the airport terminal and led right to passport control. There was a line, but it went quickly. I greeted the agent with my first "bonjour"as I handed over my passport. I was cleared without having to answer any questions.

I only brought a carry on so there was no wait at baggage claim, and I had nothing to declare. The trains are accessed at the airport and signage is clear so no issues there. Once boarded I was able to sit. There was only one transfer from the Orly bus to RER B, it was pretty flawless.

There are two main multi passes sold for transport. The first is more expensive, it is a Paris Viste pass sold by your choice of days and zones. The other is Navigo which is a better value it is strictly valid Monday morning to Sunday midnight, regardless of what day of the week you buy the pass.



The right one depends on your length of stay. I actually bought both. First, the three day pass for zones 1-3 (26,65€) This covered Thursday-Sunday. It would have been slightly cheaper if I had purchased two weeks on Navigo (one pass is 22,80€ + 5€ for the card good for 10 years)... Lesson learned. Before purchasing a Navigo pass you need a passport size photo. The stations have photo booths. You get a sheet with 5 photos for 5€. You bring it to the window and the agent cuts and pastes and presents you a hard plastic smart card. Both passes cover RER, Metro and Bus. Only OrlyVal train from Antony is excluded.



I booked my hotel via Hotwire. I stayed at Hôtel Le petit Paris. It is only a couple blocks from the Luxembourg station. Again, the hotel was easy to find. Check in was painless. My room is small, but comfortable. It has a king bed made-up with two twins. I kept rolling into the crease no matter how much I tried to avoid it. The bathroom is adequate. It is worth noting there are no washcloths. I bought facial cleansing wipes, too, before the trip. But, of course, I forgot them. Washing my face with a giant hand towel feels awkward. That's my only real complaint. Though, I find it difficult to make the room a comfortable temperature. I've been leaving the window open, because it gets warm and stuffy otherwise.



My first dinner was Italian at Pizzeria Arrivederci. Go figure. But it was delicious. I enjoyed wine from Orvieto and pizza with speck, olives and truffle oil. After, I popped into a bar named Confessionnal. It was extremely crowded, but the bartender was friendly and juggled the crowd well. I had a pint of their "fucking last 1" and continued on my way. I strolled past the pantheon and was stunned to catch my first glimpse of the Eiffel tower as I turned the corner. It is much more impressive than the one in Vegas.







I found it difficult to sleep my first night, and now my second and every night since. I was only capable of napping. I could not string together more than three hours of shut eye. The sun does not rise til 8am. I was able to plan my day, exercise and dress bright and early. Then, I waited for the city to wake.

November 14, 2019

Level Airlines

I am two bottles deep. My drink of choice is Black Edition JP. Chenet Brut sparkling wine at 6 euros a pop, it feels like deal. I mean anything to pass a 10 hour flight, am I right?

Prior to my trip, I read all sorts of terrible reviews, but so far, I have no complaints. I packed my carry on to an appropriate 9.6 kg. I was rewarded with an approved carry on tag. Technically, my bag depth is over 2 cm for European flights, but I was able to cram it into the overhead space. Some compartments are larger than others. Mine was the smaller one. Good thing I've been working out. They take their size limits seriously.

I secured the last aisle center seat on the plane for minimal disruption. So far, it seems like I made the right play. My dining selections are promptly delivered, well, let's be honest... my drinks. The worst part is that the overhead lights have yet to dim. So, I'd advise anyone light sensitive to choose a seat more centrally located. Being in the rear of the plane is a decent option since traffic is low and it's rather quiet. The bathroom isn't too far away, either. I'm seated in row 43 and the restrooms are next to row 28, which is an exit row.

There is in-seat entertainment. We'll see if I get that desperate. I am pleasantly surprised that there is also in-seat charging. A welcome convenience on long haul flights. I will add, use caution with beverages on your drink tray; the person in front of me was eager to throw his seat back and I could have easily had a lap full of water, but thankfully the cap was tight.

Purchases are initially restricted, once those that paid for food and beverage are serviced, it seemed open to the rest of us. Items do sell out and have low quantity. You are instructed to pay via wifi, but despite several attempts, it did not work for me or my closest neighbors. Fortunately, there was an option to call the attendant to complete the order. I saved a euro going this route with each transaction.

The flight only had a few bumps. I was able to sleep a few hours and nap off and on. I passed the time listening to music and reading. I didn't get antsy. So, all in all, it was a good flight. I recommend Level economy. $151 (+$23 for seat) well spent.

November 13, 2019

Bon Voyage

 I'm on my way to Paris. Alone. The response has been wild. Some are envious, others are horrified. Either way, I'm excited for my adventure to begin.  Level airlines has just debuted in Las Vegas. This is the third week of service. I have booked economy on the way there and premium on my return for a complete experience. Airfare was too cheap to pass up.  I am excited to see the sights and enjoy all that Paris offers. I hope to share in real time. Stay tuned. 

November 5, 2019

#NotAirCanada

This summer, Frank and I took a Canadian adventure. There wasn't a moose, bison or bear in sight, but we did see a motorcycle riding German Shepherd.

In fact, that's just what brought me to Fort McMurray, AB. Some how I convinced Frank to join me and learn to ride a motorcycle so he could haul me in a sidecar to raise funds for Cancer in my mom's memory. Honestly, I did not do any convincing he willingly volunteered. I have no doubt that I am loved. Especially since we departed on this adventure on the 4th of July. Which happens to be his very favorite holiday, by a a long shot.



Allow me to back up a few years. Before my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer, she was actively seeking help for her German Shepherd, Kasey. Her sight was diminishing and my mom was worried she'd further damage her eyes and she ran through mesquite trees with large thorns and thick bushes of Salt Cedar. At some point this search led her to Winky and his human, a Harley loving best friend, Sandy. The duo started to build a fan base outside of their home in Fort McMurray so Sandy created a Facebook page to spread word of their adventures. My mom was their first friend on the fan page.

A friendship grew from my mom's curiosity about Winky's Goggles he'd wear on motorcycle rides. Her and Sandy kept in touch and they planned to meet on his next ride to the States. He often visits Las Vegas to attend boxing matches, and often rides his bike down in summer months. Meanwhile, the duo gained more followers and they used their fandom to support local charities like the SPCA. The following grew with an avid group of supporters. Winky Rides was a grand success!

My mom anxiously awaited their visit. She checked in on Winky and Sandy daily, their adventures brought her such joy. Unfortunately, a month before their visit she was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. Inpatient Chemotherapy was scheduled during their trip. The reality of missing this opportunity to meet them was a crushing disappointment.



A year had passed and it was time for Winky and Sandy's annual ride to Vegas. My mom was not missing this opportunity. Her and Sandy, made plans for him and Winky to ride to her house in Pahrump. My sister had just relocated the month before so she was thrilled Nick would also meet Winky the motorcycle riding dog, and Sandy offered to take Nick for a spin.



Days before the meeting, my mom's health declined. Whenever it did, I would keep her at my house. For extra care and to keep her within proximity to hospitals and her doctors. This time was no different. Instead of Pahrump, they rode to my house for the meeting.

My mom was beside herself for the days beforehand she was so excited. She told me if I saw the duo riding around town to let her know immediately. I never spotted them until they pulled in front of my house. My mom immediately had pep in her step and a smile from ear to ear.

She was utterly overjoyed. The visit exhausted her, but she thought it was simply the greatest to finally meet Winky and Sandy. They were quite the team, bonds like those are rare! They were definitely the ying to each others yang. Winky showed off his tricks, played with his football and my mom loved every minute of it. Sandy was incredibly kind, he brought down some t-shirts and took Nick for the promised ride. I quickly understood they spread joy everywhere they went. The world was a better place with them in it.



10 days later my mom passed away. And then, 13 months later, Winky passed away. We were all overcome with grief. From that grief more friendships blossomed.

In time, Sandy, found a new pup. He'd name him after another legendary boxer, Greb. He hoped Greb would love riding as much as Winky did, but only time would tell. A ride in memory of Winky Rides was the fundraiser that introduced Greb to all of Winky's fans. Thankfully, he took a liking to the sidecar and they continued to spread the joy that Winky ignited.

Much to my surprise, Sandy had asked for our blessing to raise funds for Cancer by hosting the first Ride for Patty. It was such an honor, my family and I were so deeply touched. The first ride was followed by a second a year later. Both were held in September and both rides were chilly and wet. The time of year was difficult for my siblings and I to travel so we were unable to be present other than in spirit.

This year, Sandy opted to move the Ride for Patty to the first weekend in July. Hoping the better weather would make for a more enjoyable ride. It also allowed a trip possible for me. My sister had every intention of going too, but her request for time off was denied. My brother's time off is limited due to health stuff monopolizing his paid time off. When there was no way for Amy to come, Frank committed to joining me.

So, on the 4th of July, We set off for the furthest North in Canada either of us had ever been. I was really ignorant just how far and remote Fort McMurray is. Initially, I thought we could fly to Calgary, and pair it with a trip to Banff. Then, I learned it was much too far of a drive. I thought we could fly into Edmonton, but I was shocked to learn that Fort McMurray was still 5 hours north. A connecting flight directly to Fort McMurray was the only option. I secured the best price on airfare with the help of the Hopper app. It meant flying WestJet there and Air Canada home, but with a few weeks to go we were fully booked.

I began searching things to do, places to stay and eat and I came up with the fewest search results I've ever encountered. We have traveled to several off the beaten path locales before, but nothing ever like this. Most that visit Fort McMurray is purely for work. The oil sands are the life blood of this community.



TripAdvisor is not alive and well in these parts. Yelp has old outdated info, while Google offered the most help, it was pretty slim pickings when it came to reviews or suggestions of things to do. I came to realization we'd just have to roll with it.

I had a difficult time pulling the trigger on a hotel. Usually, I weed through the options quickly by selecting 3+ stars, king bed and desired location. The trouble in Fort McMurray was that I had no idea which of the three locations would serve us best. I was torn between the Best Western, Clearwater Suites and the Radisson. All reviews agreed pointed to BW as the nicest option, but the price was quite a bit more and nothing seemed to be nearby. The Radisson was at the opposite end of town but it seemed to be a solid choice. The wild card was Clearwater right in the center of town, it had favorable reviews. The swaying factor was each suite had a balcony. I thought it might give Frank the opportunity to enjoy a cigar.



I learned about the boreal forest beforehand and devastation of the 2016 wildfires. Neither prepared me for extent of the damage. I thought I knew about wildfire, living in the desert, I mean the carpenter fire and California fires were devastating but this? This was catastrophic. I knew going in that a Northern Lights sighting would be difficult due to the long days, but I never imagined just how bright it was at 230am.



Spoiler alert! It never got dark. There were definitely no Northern Lights to be seen. There was little to pass the time. We did use our balcony quite a bit. Frank would enjoy a cigar, while I worked on my Molson Muscle.



Ketchup flavored chips were more popular than I ever knew. I'm not a fan, however, it just tastes like something was off with the BBQ recipe.



Fortunately, we did find good eats. We had lunch at Mitchell's Cafe to try sunshine bread. Poutine at the Canadian Brewhouse and surprisingly tasty mediterranean at Shawarma Palace. I also had Timmy Ho's for the first time.

Gregoire Lake was our favorite place to relax. It was so scenic and the locals really enjoyed themselves. It was fun people watching. We were a bit cool, but they were living their best hot girl summer. Soaking up the sun and playing in the water.









Giants of Mining is the big area attraction. It's definitely worth the drive. The sheer size of the equipment is so impressive. I mean, look how little Frank appears!



We also checked out the Oil Sands Discovery Centre. The museum is the closest to the Athabasca oil sands as you can get without a hardhat and boots. Again, look at Frank! 6' 3" has never looked so small.





The real attraction in Fort McMurray, though, is the people! The hospitality of this city is unlike anywhere else. I knew Sandy had an amazingly kind heart, but the entire town is special. We met so many new faces that became instant friends. The support for Greb's Third Ride for Patty's was truly touching.

The ride began at Follow the Son Tattoo to nearby Anzac. We had so many join us. The generosity was unreal. Even the Harley Davidson store hosted a barbecue a donated the proceeds to Alberta Cancer Foundation raising a combined total of more than $2600. We had a beautiful day too. We could not have asked for better weather.













Frank did so well. He had only just learned to ride the Harley Softail. Sandy gave him a lesson, lent his bike and let Frank practice several times around the block to get a feel for it.





It was a really special trip. The joy Greb and Sandy spread is truly remarkable. I am so fortunate to call them my friends.



As I mentioned before, we flew Air Canada home. Little did we know that the flight was on Rouge. I was unfamiliar with the airline, but quickly learned what turd it is. Our connection was in Calgary and the boarding process was the biggest cluster I've ever experienced. We fly quite a bit, especially Frank and it's never been so bad. Once finally, on the plane, we encountered the tightest seats. Frank's knees did not fit in the sitting position. It was so uncomfortable. The wing was taped and the interior call light panel was held up with masking tape. Fortunately, we did arrive safely. Though, we swear we'll never book Air Canada again.