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Posts tagged ‘flirting’

the decadent trail to machu picchu

It is always a bit of a challenge trying to suss out the truth about travelling to an exotic foreign locale from an armchair, even in the age of google.  I wanted to make sure I walked away from Machu Picchu satiated, not ready to book the return trip to see it properly.

So I decided to add on some extra days on my own to my g adventures trip.  I figured I would know the ropes by then and travelling solo in a foreign country is always a small adventure.

my spot on the train

my spot on the train

I don’t have that much practice yet travelling solo in developing countries where I don’t speak the language so I go high end to reduce risk.  That’s how I ended up on the Hiram Bingham train bound for Machu Picchu and the Sanctuary Lodge.

Enrique had coached me on how much the taxi should cost and pointed out the train station on our drive back to the hotel the previous night.  The rainy season had washed out part of the track so the train was departing from a different station, which added complications.

If I missed that train, my whole plan unwound so I was really grateful when David offered to read the information from PeruRail to make sure I knew how the alternate plan worked.  Things are looser in Latin countries so I have learned to pay attention and ask questions.  It was a good idea I think as it ended up there were only 3 of us waiting at Wanchaq station for our bus ride to the alternate starting point for the train journey.

Just to be sure I was on the right minibus, I confirmed it with the handsome man who seemed to be in charge.  Yes, we had

sumptuous sacred valley

sumptuous sacred valley

a private minibus tour of the Sacred Valley!  I could bounce around the bus trying to get shots of the gorgeous landscape out of the window.  Not an easy task.  And the early morning light was not ideal.  But it made the journey fly by – and got me chatting with Javier.  It turned out that he was the manager of the train!  I hoped I hadn’t taken up too much of his time but he was exceptional at his job so he looked out for me on the train, making sure I got the full experience.

For someone who spent her early youth devouring everything Agatha Christie ever wrote, there is something about travel on Orient Express trains that just speaks to me.  The journey on the Hiram Bingham is shorter than on the Andean Explorer but it is more luxurious and the scenery possibly a little more spectacular (there is so much glorious scenery in Peru it is tough to rate without just giving it all 5 stars :)).


If you love trains, you will love the Hiram Bingham.  It’s one of those trains originating from the era when trains were the equivalent of air travel in first class.  As on the Andean Explorer, I had my own table, complete with white linen tablecloth, romantic lighting and plenty of space for all my camera equipment.


scenery from the train

scenery from the train

Of course we were called to the bar car for a free Pisco Sour well before lunch.  The Pisco Sour was excellent but I was again more intrigued by the chance to actually shoot the scenery without glass (and reflections) marring the shot.  We also had musicians and dancers entertaining us.  It seems like everyone in Peru likes to dance 🙂

Once that was over, it was time for brunch.  Brunch was really a sumptuous three course lunch.  More trucha!  Everything was delicious.  Since you pay a lot more for the Hiram Bingham train, the alcohol runs freely.  I tried to get my money’s worth but still preserve the ability to do some serious climbing once we got to Machu Picchu.  But it likely helped numb the pain in my damaged toes 🙂

I have only one regret re: my trip to Peru.  Next time I will try and pack more like a backpacker and bring a mostly empty suitcase!  Because I was a wimp and not doing the Inca Trail, I could afford to bring more luggage – but the train from Cuzco to Machu Picchu is ill-equipped to handle luggage so it was a challenge to figure out how to deal with it.  But if you take the Hiram Bingham train, you don’t have to worry about it!

The service is truly first class in every way so my luggage was whisked away in Cuzco and reappeared later in the day in my hotel room at the Sanctuary Lodge.  Decadent but oh so pleasant 🙂

If you take the Hiram Bingham train, you are also whisked from Aquas Calientes (where the train arrives) to Machu Picchu via private bus.  Once you arrive, you are assigned a guide who will tour you around Machu Picchu for an hour or two and then you will have time to explore on your own.  What I discovered by accident is that almost everyone books a tour to travel around Peru so if you book directly with PeruRail you may have the good fortune I had and have your “group” tour be comprised of 3 people!

This time I saw Machu Picchu in the afternoon and the guide was even better than the previous day.  As a reward for a tiny amount of exercise, we were then treated to an extravagant afternoon tea in the Sanctuary Lodge.  There was so much food (and choice) afternoon tea also served as my dinner that night.

you gotta have a tourist shot ;)

you gotta have a tourist shot 😉

Once afternoon tea was complete, most guests were whisked back to Aquas Calientes by private bus to take the Hiram Bingham train back to Cuzco.  It sounded like a lot of fun and I think I may have missed out but my armchair travel planning had me booked into the Sanctuary Lodge for the next two nights.


So I had to reluctantly say goodbye to Javier…  that’s when I found out he was the manager of the train.  So that gave me confidence my exceptional journey was likely just the norm.  I had watched him move around the train and schmooze with everyone during afternoon tea as part of my personal entertainment.  It’s always a delight to watch someone doing his job exceptionally well.

And there is something about Latin men… I don’t know how they learn it.  They seem to love their mothers – and I think that translates to women in general.  There is a sense of chivalry that runs deep.  And they know that not everything in life has to be logical and practical.  They understand the value of flirting to civilization.  As an incorrigible flirt, I like to think I inspire them a little 😉

You should go check it out for yourself.  Book a trip on the Hiram Bingham.  Check Machu Picchu off your bucket list.  And say “hola” to Javier 😉

a marriage proposal before noon

You may be thinking by now that you will be spared the stories 🙂  But I have just been too busy with marriage proposals, men who want to be my “free guide”(payment in kisses 😉 and all the new friends I am making hanging out in bars…

This post has been started a number of times now so will have to revise some of the earlier notes to get up to date.  We’ll see if I can actually get this posted today!  It’s now Friday morning and I am waiting for my flight to Berlin.  Managed to actually make it to the House Cafe’, as recommended in my guidebook.  And it is as good as promised!  My Eggs Benedict not quite standard issue – ciabatta, regular bacon, salad and a brown butter hollandaise – but it worked 🙂

It is obvious this is a Mediterranean country.  Food has been delicious and you can taste the sunshine, especially in the vegetables.  I have become addicted to Turkish olive oil but thanks to my carpet (it’s a good story ;), I don’t have any room in my suitcase sadly.

So much has happened since the last post, I have decided I will just have to go chronologically.  On Monday I just got my feet wet.  I love travelling on my own but I make sure I know my way around a place before I get too lost.  I put a lot of energy into deciding where to stay in Istanbul – and, as anticipated, it was a great launching pad to get to know the city.

I am staying in Beyoğlu.  This is the hip and happening section of Istanbul and the main shopping street was just one tiny lane over from the hotel.  Taksim Square is pretty ugly but a great reference point so I headed there first.

Monday was an absolutely glorious day and my guidebook said the view from Leb-i Derya on the top of the Richmond Hotel was possibly the best view in Istanbul.  So I had a long leisurely lunch, got to know my server and planned my assault on Constantinople over the next three days.  I also took the first set of what would become a crazy number of photos of this highly photogenic city.

Tuesday morning I got up early and it was time to leave my comfort zone and take a taxi to historical Istanbul.  The hotel staff are wonderful and there are countless taxis lingering about at any hour so getting into a taxi was a piece of cake.  Getting out of taxi proved to be a little more challenging…

The driver did not appear to speak English so I just had to hope I would arrive at the Blue Mosque.  The Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia are opposite each other so it’s easy to know you are in the right place!

What is not so clear are the dangers lurking when you step out of the taxi.  Especially as a newbie who has been spoiled by the laid-back ways of your now native Pera.

In Sultanahmet, life is a lot more stressful.  This is where all the big tourist attractions are – and where you are part of the game, whether you realize it or not.  I was busy focusing on whether the taxi had dropped me in the right spot instead of noticing the guy opening the taxi door for me.

Nïzam seemed like a pretty decent guy and he would be my guide for free – and I was not obligated to visit his family’s rug shop at the end of our tour.  It seemed easier to just say “yes” than to figure out how to get rid of him.  And the start was very promising…

He was charming and very knowledgeable about the buildings.  Apparently he was trained as an architect although his current profession seemed unclear.  He was a master at the protocols; that was certain.  He did not like queues so he just told me to put my scarf on (I had come prepared!) and we went through the local entrance leaving the hordes of tourists waiting on their own.

I was very appreciative of his efforts and have been accused of being an incorrigible flirt so we were getting on famously until the kissing started to get a little out of hand… but not everyone can claim to have been groped in a mosque 😉

I think being agreeable is always the best strategy in complicated situations so I kept tagging along with him, trying not to get caught in too much kissing crossfire.  It was a wonderful tour and I am really glad that I did it.  It was so much easier than navigating on my own and I learned a lot.

But then the marriage proposal came.  At least he allowed me to wait until after lunch to make a decision.  It was all getting a lot more complicated than I had planned on so I agreed to go and look at carpets so that I could kill some time and figure out how to graciously get out of the mess I had gotten into.  And he had insisted I didn’t HAVE to BUY a carpet, just drink some tea and look at some…

But then he introduced his cousin 🙂  I have no idea how much I was ripped off but the carpet is gorgeous and I would spend that much on dinner for two so it was well worth the money.  The show was spectacular!  The cousin was very smooth, with much better English.  They brought me Turkish coffee – which was a bit much but I thought I had to try it!  The rug whisperer started tossing rugs on the floor, flipping them around so you could see how they changed colour depending on how the light hit them.

I hadn’t planned on buying a Turkish rug so had no idea about them – except that they didn’t go so well with my purple and leopard print decor 🙂  But they come from different regions, there are traditional symbols, some are prayer rugs, some are prayer rugs but you can’t pray on them cause they have been jazzed up too much.  The spiel was well done and I think I learned a little bit.

I finally decided a rug would be cheaper than bringing home a live souvenir from Turkey and that would be my concession.  I also wasn’t quite sure how to get out of the room.  I decided I was also paying for the world’s best sales training 🙂  At least I didn’t end up spending over $2,000 I hadn’t planned on.  That was where we started!

It was all quite a show.  Both the carpet salesman and I were trying to be gracious and I left myself open to be sold to so finally just caved.  It IS really beautiful!  Not sure if he was trying to improve his deal at the end or if it was a genuine mistake but I know my exchange rates so the price didn’t get inflated over 50% when suddenly at the end, it got converted from US dollars into Turkish lira…

At that point I was still open to going for lunch with Nïzam and then he was supposed to take me to Süleymaniye Mosque but the courtship seemed to be progressing rather rapidly and his English was pretty good but when he seemed annoyed that I had already said “yes” to a question I was now answering with a “no”, I decided it was time to cut my losses and try to get a taxi to take me from Old Istanbul back to the Istanbul of the Republic where life seemed a lot easier!

Nïzam insisted he was a good guy and did graciously get me a taxi back to my hotel – and did not jump in the front seat – so I believe him.  Apparently he was just mesmerized by my green eyes and my smile…  I will never forget my first visit to the Blue Mosque – and will look at my carpet with fondness remembering the story of how I acquired it.  That night I met Ïlhan, who enjoyed the story.  He told me he was already married – and one wife was enough trouble 🙂  More on him coming up…

un carnet, s’il vous plait

Some of you may have noticed my radio silence the past few days.  It’s because the first draft of this post was composed at the airport in Toronto, waiting for my flight to Paris!!!

The year end financial reporting deadline was yesterday so it’s been a dramatic race to the finish and a big push to finish work in Vancouver rather than in Paris.  So, you poor people, I will have plenty of time over the next two weeks to harangue you with tales of my travel adventures, whether you want to hear them or not 🙂

For those of you who haven’t taken the Métro, the header refers to the very first words I uttered en français on my very first trip to Paris, way back in 1989.

We were travelling on $50/day and, like all the other backpackers, had a Eurorail Pass, so my first stop in Paris was Gare du Nord.  Back then, you could watch a drug deal go down practically inside the station and you had to be on high alert.  The main thing you wanted to do when you arrived in Gare du Nord was get the hell outta there as fast as possible!

Paris has – hands down – the best public transit system in the world.  So, if you had read your guidebook in advance like a smart girl, you just followed the signs to the Métro and asked for “un carnet, síl vous plait.”

If you got the accent right, the grumpy dude in the Métro ticket booth mumbled some price in French, you handed over some francs and walked away with 10 tickets for the Métro and whatever change you were due.

Now you can buy your carnet from a machine using your credit card.  It’s a lot easier but much less romantic.  And Parisians have become a lot nicer to tourists.  Some even speak a few words of English!

This was only the third time I arrived in Paris by airplane.  Normally I arrive on the train.  The train is far superior.  I love being able to sneak up on an iconic city.  Stretch out the pleasure.  When you arrive by train, you first see the banlieue.  You could be anywhere.  But as you get into the proper arrondissements, the movie Paris starts to emerge.

And, because you will arrive in the center of the city, you can afford to take a taxi to your final destination.  Depending on your route, you might catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre or one of the many iconic bridges that divide the Seine into the Left and Right Banks.  You will know you couldn’t be anywhere but Paris and it will be as magnificent as you have imagined.  Paris is what all North Americans imagine Europe to be – but only Paris really is…

Knowing what a carnet is – and that you take the RER from Charles de Gaulle, not the Métro – makes you feel like a local, not a tourist.  It’s like the Oyster card I keep at home in its blue pouch and reload at Heathrow every time I arrive in London.  It was Gavin and Justin who supervised me through the purchase of my first Oyster card after they explained to me it was a far cheaper way to navigate the Underground – and having one would secure my status as a “non-tourist”.  They just checked in again as part of my birthday celebrations.  I’ll have to catch up with them in person the next time I am in London.

How we met a great story.  My team around the world is slowly expanding.  Knowing people in the cities that I visit really enhances the experience. But every time I fall in love with a city, I start trying to understand it like I would a new lover.  Figure out what makes it tick.  Unearth its quirky charms.  Revel in the special qualities that seduce me.  It’s how you end up feeling like a local.

And get the best travel stories… you have been warned… only I would go out for a quiet, jet-lagged dinner my first night in Paris and end up running down Boulevard Montparnasse at 2am…


being a slut has its perks ;)

Sorry to disappoint – the headline was meant to be titillating – but a bit misleading…  I am only polyamorous  when it comes to professional food 🙂

It all started a couple of decades ago, in a strange twist because I was still friends with an ex-boyfriend so was taking him for a birthday dinner.  But he was an ex and I wasn’t terribly rich so took the advice of my roommate at the time and took him for dinner at Allegro, a restaurant in an obscure location only open for about four months.

It was the first restaurant Michael had owned instead of working at and the effort was obvious.  I enjoyed the meal so much I was back again a week later… and he asked my opinion on my entrée, on the general prices, etc.  AND he remembered where I had been sitting a week earlier, what I had ordered and that I had been with the guy with the backpack.  I was impressed!

I had never had a restaurant of my own before.  Michael added a layer to my life that I hadn’t even been aware I needed 🙂 It all started with Allegro.  I brought everyone I knew.  I became such a regular no one blinked an eye when I was behind the bar.  Once I got invited to the Christmas party in January and everyone was trying to figure out if I was staff.  And I learned the most important lesson: talk to the staff!  Bond!  Create a relationship.

It’s why my friends love to go for dinner with me.  Many of those bonds were revisited during my birthday celebrations.  And meals were extra special.  Morgan, the teenager previously mentioned, declared that Neil at boneta was the coolest person she had ever met!  Neil is pretty cool.  I would have to agree 🙂

And one of the really special rewards that I get these days, having spent many years following people I like from restaurant to restaurant… is that sometimes they pop up again in an unexpected places.  That’s what happened last night.

I went to the restaurant at the Opus just before all the birthday festivities started so that I wouldn’t have to cook – and more importantly – deal with dirty dishes, since I had cleaned the apartment for the entire day.  The meal was great so I went back last night.  It was just a break between work shifts and I hadn’t eaten all day so I was there really early.  Which is when you might get to meet the chef roaming around outside the kitchen!

And it was Paul, whom I’ve known from a couple of other restaurants.  He is a great chef.  And a super charming great guy.  He wanted to buy me dessert.  But sugar isn’t really my thing (I didn’t even eat my own birthday cake – and it was incredible cake!) so we negotiated for cheese… I got this stellar plate of Italian cheese and cause I was now a friend of the chef, a glass of incredible red wine not normally poured by the glass.

And what is the takeaway?  Proper flirting is one of the tenets of a great civilization.  Learn how to do it.  Tip well.  Talk to the staff.  Take a night out and make it memorable.  And then you, too, may have a photo of yourself in the kitchen at Gordon Ramsay… it all started with a conversation about the menu…

drinking like a pro ;)

If I didn’t like boys so much, I would know nothing about wine 🙂  One of my mother’s favourite stories is her recounting of my first day at school.  She was hoping I was there to learn something but when asked about my first impressions, I just listed the cute boys – in order.  The analytical skills obviously kick in early…

It was an Australian boy who said he would teach me about wine if I would date him.  It seemed a pretty decent exchange since at the time I knew approximately two wines and neither was especially memorable.  The wine education went well and I ended up in Oz circa 1990.

For wine aficionados there are few better places to stumble upon.  In those days, Monty Python made fun of Australian wine (they were WRONG!), the wineries were not owned by corporations and they made one of each and people made fun of you when you spent more than $7 on a 750 ml bottle of wine.

There are a lot of negative aspects to getting old but one of the sweet spots is taunting young Aussie wine drinkers with my introductory experience.  I would rock up to a winery and they would just pour me one of each… we started with Riesling and ended with Cabernet Sauvignon – or sometimes even Port.  It took me years to not pronounce Gewurtstraminer like an Aussie (i.e. wrong :)) because that was how I first heard the word.

When I moved back to Canada in 1992 with my 100 bottles of incredibly cheap Aussie wine (including my favourite, which was actually from New Zealand – the most expensive, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc for $11 a bottle because I found it before Wine Spectator did :), I couldn’t find any decent Australian wine in the market place so decided to explore Chile, starting at A…

This year Chile was the feature country at the Playhouse Wine Festival so it was a wonderful visit to my past.  Because I have been working so much in the past few months, I had no time to make a plan for my tasting so decided to just chill and revisit lots of old favourites, try a few new things and spend lots of time talking to the people pouring the wine.

It really helped me remember why we should all drink wine.  Long ago I went to this same event with a work colleague, back when I knew very little, and discovered he had worked in a wine shop to pay for university so I flitted around the room with him trying to absorb it all.

But the part I remember the most is his favourite wine – chosen for memories of those he had shared it with, not its terroir.  That is what I really love about wine.  Drinking it with friends.  The memories.  The stories.  Pros do not drink alone.  Wine geeks love my story about finishing a bottle of Catena Zapata Nicolas out of plastic cups in the Mendoza airport – but for me it’s really a story about travelling to Argentina with my friend Kerry shortly after my dad died.  There are so many bottles of wine that have been part of the narrative of my life.  Open a bottle and make a toast to someone important to you…

random encounters with strangers…

I know children are taught NOT to talk to strangers.  And talking to creepy strangers offering you candy when you are 7 not advisable… but eventually we all have to talk to strangers.  And learn how to figure out if they are creepy 🙂

At some point in this dialogue we will discuss how painfully shy I was as a child but at present we are just going to focus on how I overcame it – and became a pro at stranger talk… I talk to strangers all the time, more frequently when I travel.  I will provide my tips for hanging out in bars at some later point – and not in the way you might envision 😉

My three days at the wine festival offered countless opportunities to talk to strangers and we will continue to explore this theme for a little while.   But first I want to note a specific encounter, which really highlighted the delights of stranger talk…

On Friday night I was busy buying wine and got to the tasting lounge quite late so there was a gigantic line, which I joined.  I didn’t know anyone and am so exhausted from work right now not talking to strangers was OK too…

But I was surprised and impressed when the guy behind me reached for a plate and instead of just taking it, he handed it to me – and then handed me a fork.  Real manners.  Such a lost art in the age of twitter.  He got my attention so I checked him out.  He was also really well dressed.  It went with the manners.  I live in a city where manners and dressing up are pretty rare so I was intrigued.  I ended up sitting with his friends to eat my dinner and exchanging some interesting words.

But he was just a random stranger so I didn’t expect to see him again.  I was back on Saturday and he wasn’t there but shortly before I was due in the proper tasting room, he and one of his friends from the night before arrived.  And waved at me.  So I chatted with them a little.

And ended up spending my evening in the tasting room with them and some of their friends.  What really impressed me was how gracious they all were.  They had made friends with the people at the Riedel booth so we wandered the tasting room with gigantic glasses, which we carefully returned at the end of the night.  The two guys I had met in the Gold Pass Lounge ran wine samples to the staff trapped in the booth demonstrating to people the difference a glass made to the taste of a wine.  And the most fantastic unexpected pleasure for me was that one of their friends has Japanese parents and an impressive knowledge of sake.  I had always thought I wasn’t sure about sake but you just need the right guide.

These are the wonderful unexpected adventures you embark on by talking to cute strangers 😉  Talking to strangers can change your life.  Try to do it at least every couple of months.  It will add a spark to your everyday life – and once you get good at it, some of these strangers will become friends…

I’m with the band :)

Will Hoge popped up on my ipod today in the random mix.  “Rock n’ Roll Star” – about a young kid being lured by a recording contract.  Made me smile.

As previously noted, music will be a serious element of my birthday party and this song will be part of the soundtrack.  Will is famous in Tennessee but I expect it will be a pretty obscure choice for the Vancouver crowd.

It all started when my friend and I were pleasantly surprised that the opening band for Midnight Oil were so good.  We started seriously listening and bought their CD in the lobby at the end of the show.  I bought a couple extra to force on other people to support Will 🙂

At that point they were four young kids touring North America to promote their first CD.  I have this habit of engaging people in conversation so my effusive enthusiasm scored us a place on the guest list for the next evening’s concert.

It was the first time a band had put me on the guest list!  My friend had a bit of a crush on the bass player so I managed to convince her to leave the house for a second night in a row – on a Sunday.  To support my boy Will – and to see Midnight Oil for a second time (they have a whole story of their own…)

Just goes to show.  Channel my grandmother and engage young people.  Be supportive when they are starting out in their careers and they just might put you on the guest list!  And even if they don’t, you will have connected with someone and helped to give his career – and self-esteem – a boost.  It’s a reward in its own right.


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