a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘international travel’

soaring like an eagle :)

The flight to Chicago had a lot of turbulence so when we landed safely on the ground it felt like more of an accomplishment.  It got me thinking about other flights.

I’ve been to over 50 countries so I have no idea how many flights I’ve taken.  I’ve definitely been in some interesting airports – from rustic and remote to high tech and glamorous.

I am definitely at the point where getting on a plane is no big deal but I always try not to take it for granted.  When I was in London in September I went to the Science Museum for possibly the first time.  It was a rushed visit and I will definitely be back.  But one of the fascinating exhibits was a history of air travel, complete with some actual aircraft parts.

It helped me to remember what an extraordinary feat, showcasing the ingenuity of mankind, every single flight really is.  I don’t remember all the history but, not only was the science of air travel impressive, so were the crazy guys who made it all possible, the intercontinental rivalry and the role of the military to do good (they invented the internet too!  Without them, google would not have become a verb).

My grandfather was one of the early crazy guys.  We know so little about him but some things seem clear – he was handsome, charismatic and prone to thrive on risk.  Supposedly, one of his “careers” was to have people pay him to ride in an air balloon while they watched.  I smiled in London when I saw the photos of the crazy dudes willing to go up into the sky in a potentially combustible air balloon to prove men could fly like birds.

This airbus 320 is a long way from an air balloon and feels a bit like sitting in a cramped living room in the sky.  Not too thrilling.  The bumpy flight reminded me of how much I enjoy actually feeling the flight.

That is best done via helicopter.  I’ve only been in one – and it was now over 30 years ago – but I can still remember almost every detail.

It was my first job, waitressing the summer before university in the only nice hotel in town in a remote community on the Canadian prairie.

That summer there were lots of forest fires so there was a steady stream of strangers in town staying at the hotel as part of the forest fighting team.

Two members of the various crews were young helicopter pilots.  Needless to say, they were very popular among the young servers.  I heard they were sometimes taking girls on a short trip to refuel the helicopter if the timing coincided with them coming off shift.  So I made sure they knew I was interested 🙂

I had developed a good rapport with – and a bit of a crush on – one of the pilots.  He would come down for coffee when the dinner shift was over and it was quiet so we would chat.  I can’t remember his real first name.  His given name didn’t matter as he was by then firmly established to the world as Bud Cave.  A very cinematic name for a pilot 😉

One day when I had just left the restaurant I got a call from Bud.  If I could get back there in 20 minutes he would take me up in the helicopter.  I didn’t have a car so pedalled furiously on my bike, arriving a little breathless.  But it was totally worth the effort!

All the other girls had gotten maybe a fifteen minute round trip.  Today Bud was going to pick up some guys in the bush – an hour each direction!

And, because I was the only girl in the helicopter, I got to sit in the front in the co-pilot seat and wear the headphones so I could communicate with the pilot.  So I had the bird’s eye view of the prairie and the forest as we flew over…. And got to experience the rush of landing a helicopter in the middle of the bush.

I had not appreciated the air velocity of a helicopter descending straight into the middle of the forest.  Things fly everywhere.  There is no landing strip and graduated descent to the ground.  It’s pure drama.  And, because I was a young girl, supposedly fearless, the pilot did some tricks for me as well.  It seemed like we were flipping upside down but I am not sure it’s even scientifically possible – but when there is an open door beside you and a glass bubble surrounding you, it’s pretty easy to feel like you are already on a roller coaster without the pilot doing tricks 🙂the view from the plane :)

A couple of years on, I became friends with a guy named Paul who was getting his pilot’s license.  We were both poor students so I had to pitch in for our time in the air but he took me up a couple of times in a small plane.  Some of the best money I ever spent in my early twenties 🙂

landing in the serengetiI’ve been in a few small planes since.  And have never lost the joy of seeing the world from only a few thousand feet.  Landing in the middle of the migration and trying not to descend directly onto a wildebeest lurking on the runway in the Serengeti has to be the most spectacular but a trip in a small plane trumps an Airbus any day.

I was just reading about some entrepreneur in Ecuador trying to develop a bicycle that would allow one to pedal like ET and fly like a toucan to check out the rainforest.  Maybe even cooler than a helicopter or a small plane?  But a prototype at this stage…  so, for now, I suggest you try the helicopter or the small plane.  I haven’t been up in a hot air balloon yet.  But it must be done.  And I will drink a toast to my mysterious grandfather as part of the experience…

p.s.  I am typing this in the mighty land of the eagle… the New York stories to come…

grizzly bears, geox and her majesty’s secret service…

OK, this is a little stale-dated now… but too much has been happening… so pretend it’s Thu, Sep 13th…  I am mostly over jet-lag so will see if I can start catching up with the storyline…

I have arrived in London!  Because I was travelling on airline points I had to arrive at Heathrow via Frankfurt.  Marcel suggested had I prepared better I could have just jumped out of the plane when we flew over London and saved a lot of time.  I suppose I could have even skipped the gigantic customs and immigration line 🙂

But sadly I am not on the same terms with 007 as the Queen and I told Marcel I would only feel comfortable in a parachute if we were doing a tandem jump (James Bond et moi :))

I’m not sure if Marcel has jumped from a plane.  But I doubt it would phase him.  It’s the first time I’ve even seen someone’s scar from a personal encounter with a grizzly bear (and it has claw marks so pretty authentic!)

I grew up with the bears so heard myriad advice in my childhood about what to do if you get too close to a bear.  Apparently you are supposed to “play dead” because grizzly bears are the connoisseurs of the bush and they won’t eat road kill.  If it’s not organic free-roaming prey they know is as fresh as sushi, they will go in search of alternative fresh meat.  If it’s running away, they know it will be fresh 🙂

You may not have had a children’s game where you pretend to “play dead” just in case you need to steel yourself for that tete-tete with the bear but, no matter how convincing we could be in an empty field, we all secretly knew we would likely just run if we actually SAW a bear.

So I had to ask… apparently Marcel passed out.  And the bear didn’t devour him.  So perhaps your body will just “play dead” without your consent.  Likely the best possible outcome.

I am a big fan of the “pod” and most of my recent business class treats on airline points have provided me with my private cocoon to drink champagne and catch up on movies.

But I love to travel.  And there is a higher probability you will meet an interesting person who likes to travel on an airplane.

We bonded when they took our champagne away before take-off because we weren’t drinking fast enough.  Conversations with strangers on airplanes are always mysterious encounters.  You can’t escape for ten hours.  But you aren’t required to converse at all.  So there is always this mutual dance between being friendly and making sure you aren’t crowding the other person’s space.

Marcel is Swiss.  He has travelled a lot.  He has lots of opinions.  And he wrestles grizzly bears for sport.  I didn’t catch up on any movies but we seemed to arrive in Frankfurt in no time.

Frankfurt airport is kind of like a second home for me but those stories are for another time.  The next few days will be all about London 2012.  I have this strange habit of arriving in cities just after the Olympics have ended.  The same thing happened in Beijing in 2008.  It’s a little like arriving at a party after all the guests have gone home.  But maybe I’ll hear some stories about the party while they are fresh.  It won’t really matter.

Beijing needed the Olympics to get the world’s attention.  London did not.  As I write this I am sitting in a Mediterranean restaurant being filled to bursting with Persian food.  It was just a random pick near the hotel but it is bringing back fond memories of Istanbul and Egypt from earlier this year.

I’m pretty thrifty so I took the Tube from Heathrow.  I’m staying in a new neighbourhood for me – at the cool CitizenM Bankside.


Because I don’t know my way around yet, I went the wrong way out of Southwark station so I got to tour the streets of London with my suitcase.  This isn’t a tourist neighbourhood so it was more striking.  And made me think of the commentary during the Olympics about how many different cultures and languages there are in the city of London.  That will happen when you  decide to create an Empire to rule the entire world…

Paris is more romantic.  Amsterdam is more freewheeling.  Istanbul is more entertaining.  But London feels like a city of the future – where the past and the future fuse.  Where, imperfectly, but with a very low level of violence by world standards, almost the entire world lives together.  I think they said 250 different countries are represented in the city of London.  It certainly looks that way is you walk in the non-tourist zones or ride the Tube all the way from Heathrow to the center of London.

I’ve been to London so many times I had an Oyster card when not all locals had one yet!  (My London friends explained it was the way to travel the Tube for those of us with thrifty Scottish genes).

In a couple of years it will be 25 years since my very first trip to London.  Many of my visits to London have been lost in the shuffle of memories and the exact details are blurry but I still have many memories of that very first trip.

At the time I had an Australian boyfriend and he was returning to Sydney and I was going with him.  But – in the interim – he was travelling through Europe as Australians are prone to do.  But I had just received my professional designation so had been living hand-to-mouth and had no funds to gallivant around Europe.

So we made a deal.  He would start on his own and I would save money like mad and join him for the last three months.

I know it’s likely hard to believe, kids, but back then there was no internet, no Skype, no mobile phones even, let alone smart phones.  So every week he would go to a European post office to make a short, wildly expensive transatlantic call.  I would wait by the land line and jump when it rang.  Not so functional but far more romantic 🙂

And I think that was part of it.   He wanted me to come for a quick, interim visit before I joined him later.  He was staying with friends in Earl’s Court so I just needed the plane fare – and a passport.  My first!

Having no experience with international travel, I thought it would be impossible.  But Toronto-London was a popular route and there was lots of competition.  So I quickly found myself on a Wardair flight to London with a tiny backpack, some travellers’cheques and a spirit of adventure.

In those days they didn’t mark the streets and it took some time to always look the wrong way for traffic – because everyone was driving on the left – but I didn’t sustain any injury.  The food was absolute crap.  But the people were lovely (yet again today some stranger helped me with my suitcase on the stairs and another gave me detailed directions without me even asking – I was just standing with my suitcase and a map looking confused :))

And then you start seeing the stuff.  St Paul’s.  The Tower of London.  The British Museum.  That is only the tip of the iceberg.  I still haven’t done everything there is to do in London as a tourist, let alone a local.  But that just gives you a reason to come back…

And so it begins!  We’ll do some tourist stuff.  And we’ll weave together pieces from my enormous memory bank of the City of London – one of the world’s most spectacular and important urban settings.  Just imagine you’ve pulled the ripcord on your parachute and you and James are about to head to the bar for a martini.  Claridges, maybe? 🙂

p.s. you may be wondering why Geox?  It’s in honour of my new travel shoes.  Because I am famous for my eye-catching collection of stilettos, it would come as a surprise to many that I am equally obsessed with loafers.  Some time ago, loafers fell out of fashion and finding a pair that were non-orthopedic was like searching for pork in Israel.  So when they opened a Geox store in Vancouver I bought four pairs!  I have discovered the ballerina flat is even more versatile, possibly the perfect travel shoe.  I road tested my new Geox leopard  print ballet flats for this trip – and they are winners!  I have now been wearing them for two days straight.  With pants on the plane.  With tights and a leather miniskirt as I type this.


leopard print ballerinas part of Piuma collection

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