Our Okanagan: Wine Tasting in Kelowna

If one is ever in search of a reason to visit the Okanagan I am happy to provide several. There are the beautiful hikes and amazing scenery, the hot and dry weather in the summer, and the coolness of the lake. There is the friendly and almost electrically cool atmosphere and the romantic evenings on the boardwalk in Kelowna.

Sunset on the beach in Penticton. Magic

Sunset on the beach in Penticton. Magic

And then there is the wine.

I have several wineries that are absolute musts whenever I visit the Okanagan and we always try many that aren’t on our list to truly experience the area. Our trip last August was no exception.

The View Winery was our first stop, located in West Kelowna and only a short drive away from the Myra Canyon (a must visit). We discovered The View two years ago and I instantly became obsessed. Each wine is memorable (though my absolute favourite is their Fossil Fuel) and the Bling Sparkling Wine Spritzers were a refreshing surprise. They do not have a single vintage that I don’t love.

After leaving The View we visited too many wineries to name on the drive to Penticton where we were to spend Saturday and Sunday. There are just so many to see and taste and it’s easy to get swept up in the experience. One of the more unique stops of the day was Meadow Vista, a pleasant new discovery for us with its delicious caramelized honey and blissful Bliss (described on their website as a sparkling melomel style honey wine).

Beaumont Winery warred with The View for my favourite of the day, their organic offerings the perfect afternoon refresher and the atmosphere lively and fun (a bridal shower made their way there at the same time as us and the owner performed a few musical numbers with the tour operator complete with costumes and a ukulele). We struck a deal with the owners agreeing to deliver a case of wine to one of their most loyal patrons in Victoria in exchange for a free bottle to go with the several we purchased.

Their trust in us was refreshing and an honour.

Exuding nothing but class on the grounds of Mission Hill Winery

Exuding nothing but class on the grounds of Mission Hill Winery

Mission Hill is a must see for those new to the area (though it’s a bit too pricey for our tastes). The grounds are huge and the gates at the front always make me think of Jurassic Park (though I am not sure that’s the image they are going for). The views from Mission Hill are stunning and the tasting room is one of a kind. Interesting art litters the grounds and there is a restaurant overlooking the lake.

The next day we visited a few more wineries, stopping at another one of my musts, 8th Generation to pick up a few bottles of our favourites. They were sold out of both their frizzantes which was disappointing, but their Pinot Noir and Riesling Classic were just as good as we had remembered. They also had a cheese tasting going on in the back room which was a delightful new experience for us and the pairings they chose were fantastic.

I never get tired of the Okanagan wines. They are refreshing and unique, just like the region itself.

photo

Wine? Wine Not!

 

Next Stop Portland

We went to Portland for the beer.

As far as I am concerned this is as good a reason as any to travel. Sure, there are a lot of other amazing and wonderful reasons to visit Portland: There are the many breathtaking hikes (both breathtaking because of their beauty and because they are damn hard).There is the shopping (no sales tax!), in particular the always worthwhile Saturday Market. There is the obligatory visit to Voodoo Donuts and the coffee shops as far as the eye can see. And there is Powell Books, my own personal heaven and quite possibly the coolest book store in North America.

But for us this visit was all about the beer.

Portland, or “Beervana” as it is sometimes called, with its nearly 60 breweries boasts more breweries than any other city on earth and is huge on the craft beer scene. You’d be hard pressed to find a true craft beer connoisseur that hasn’t tried at least one Portland brew (and if they haven’t I would question their authenticity as a beer lover).

We sadly did not have an opportunity to sample any of the unique touring options such as the Bicycle Brewery Tours or even the Brew and View theatre, but I am still thrilled with the breweries we did visit. During our two day jaunt we sampled 6 different locations which felt like a small (and delicious) victory.

First we randomly stopped at the Rock Bottom Brewery while looking for a place to eat dinner. While both the beer and food were good we had gone in expecting a unique brew pub for our first Portland dining experience rather than a chain restaurant and it wound up being a bit of a disappointment. If you’ve ever been to a brew pub you know that you form ideas in your head about what they should feel like and you truly come to expect a certain atmosphere even if you don’t know it. Rock Bottom Brewery didn’t fit my expectations of “Beervana”.

Next up it was Deschutes. I loved the beer at Deschutes! Heck, I loved the atmosphere at Deschutes with its long wooden tables, its high ceilings, the eclectic art on the walls and the friendly staff. It was a cool spot, very happening on a Friday night and the busyness somehow made it more appealing as we experienced the much coveted realization that you have stumbled upon something popular.

After Deschutes we called it a night as we were planning for an early start the next day. We had a few rough goals in mind for our Saturday in Portland but mostly we just didn’t want to waste a moment of our short adventure.

The next morning we ventured into downtown where we took a brief detour to a homeless shelter and accidentally lined up for free winter coats thinking we had found the famed Saturday Market. Luckily we realized the mistake before offending too many people. With that awkwardness over we each spent far too much time in line for coffee (Kevin) and donuts (me) before meeting up again to enjoy our role as tourists.

Not wanting to start drinking before at least noon we checked out the shopping and I found myself delightfully lost in Powell’s Books. It was everything I had dreamed about and I could happily spend days there browsing the shelves and breathing in the aroma of new and used books.

Alas, we had beer to try so I reluctantly pulled myself from between the shelves and we made our way to the next stop on our list.

We visited Rogue Brewery and it very quickly became my second favourite stop. We had heard about the brewery from a friend and were very happy we did. From the uniqueness of their “Beard Beer” (beer made using yeast from the brew master’s beard) to the joy of sampling both a free taster and our own handpicked flight of beers it was a great experience.

Next it was a jaunt to a McMenamins location which happens to be one of many unique restaurants located throughout Oregan. We wound up sitting upstairs alone with our taster trays and plotting our next stop while a group partied below us. It was very mellow.

After McMenamins we made our way to Old Town Brewing, home of Portland’s best pizza! We had dinner and fell in love with some new beers all the while enjoying the cozy brick walls with the candlelit mood lighting. The restaurant was filled with boisterous mini-crowds and I settled in to an hour of people watching while making my way through my flight.

Our final stop for both the night and the trip was PINTS Brewing which also happened to be my favourite stop. The flights came in a brilliant wooden carry case and snifters which thrilled us both. Their beers were amazing and there wasn’t a single taster I had that I didn’t love. I still carry a list of their best in my wallet in hopes that I will find them at my local liquor store one day. A girl can dream!

Sadly after PINTS it was time to head back to the hotel, our whirlwind weekend over in a flash.

We came to Portland for the beer but we found so much more than that. From the random yet sophisticated live music performances on street corners to the hip atmosphere of the crowds, Portland was everything I ever imagined it to be.

And I can’t wait to go back.

Adventures in Portland

Adventures in Portland

Read Between the Lines: Happy Endings in Fiji

Chapter 3: Happy Endings in Fiji (dirty massage-parlour style? … occasionally)

Our experience with Fiji was bittersweet before it even began. Arriving in Nadi meant we had only eight days left before the end of FANZ. Eight days until our trip of a lifetime was over. Eight days that had to count.

Fiji’s addition to FANZ was truly an example of whim. We had been at the Travel CUTS office in Victoria, preparing to book our flights and “Experience” bus tours in Australia and New Zealand. We waited our turn patiently, our mother making friends with other customers while my sister and I flipped through the “Experience” brochures making last minute decisions.

We both came across the page at the same time, FIJI EXPERIENCE (all caps). We skimmed quickly and then did a second read through just to be sure, each so in tune with what the other was thinking after years of perfecting telepathy.

Julia, “I want to go to Fiji!”

Me, “I want to go to Fiji!”

We paused, vibrating with excitement, smiles spreading across our faces.

Together, “Let’s go to Fiji!”

It didn’t take much to convince my Mother who was just as excited about our trip as we were. Our travel agent joined us in smiling, the ch’ching mantra adopted by all commission-based salesmen obviously running through her head.

After the initial booking, and the subsequent and deserved disapproval of our father, my sister and I didn’t talk much about Fiji. As our 8 day afterthought it didn’t really factor into our planning. We knew that we were going and that the bus tour would take us around Viti Levu, starting and ending in Nadi. We knew that we had three free days that were unaccounted for in the tour and that we would have to figure out accommodation and activities, but we were not concerned. (Something that is so out of line with the obsessive planning of the rest of the trip.)

Still, Fiji is the type of place that just begs to be explored on a whim. Island time, my friends.

 

Our Okanagan: Kelowna Adventures

Kelowna Adventures, Summer of 2014

We almost didn’t make it this year, the threat of the fires burning their way through the area and filling the air with black smoke causing us to hesitate. Still the draw of the Okanagan pulled us in as it always does with the promise of hot weather, great wine, and beautiful scenery impossible to deny.

Though I had driven through Kelowna a few times when I lived in Edmonton it wasn’t somewhere I had ever given a second thought. In fact it wasn’t until I met Kevin that I even thought of the Okanagan as a holiday spot at all, so eager was I to always use my vacation days on places I considered exotic and far from home. But Kevin had been going there for years and I was willing to give it a shot.

Now I can’t imagine a summer without a visit to the Okanagan Valley.

Though it is only four hours and a ferry ride away Kelowna feels different. It is the perfect summer destination, magical and inviting, hip and unique.

And full of adventure.

Last year it was hiking through Canyon Falls Park and braving butterflies and steep hills to see the spectacular falls still trickling despite the burning heat.

1This year we decided to try something new and early on Saturday morning we made our way to Myra Canyon to rent bikes. Myra Canyon is part of the Kettle Valley Railway and boasts eighteen trestle bridges and two rock carved tunnels. The actual Myra Canyon is 12km (24km return) though serious bikers have the option of bringing their own bikes and connecting to the rest of the Kettle Valley Railway for a considerably longer excursion and a historic ride.

The canyon is stunning and the trestles are perfect, repaired and restored both from the wear and tear of time and from the fires that have ravaged the Okanagan in the past so riders and walkers can feel safe as they trek on.

The gravel path kicks up dirt as you cycle through and the steep drops seem perilously close at times, a true test for anyone who is afraid of heights, but overall it is a tame experience. The heat is considerably more bearable high in the mountains in the early morning, almost too cool at points as you ride through shady paths and carved tunnels. 2

The views were spectacular and our ride was delayed constantly as I stopped to take picture after picture. I could do an entire album with just pictures from the Myra Canyon, every rock is photogenic, and every twist in the trees is one you will want to remember.

We finished our ride around 12:30pm, just as the heat started to thicken the air, coating and clinging to everything.

It was an unforgettable experience, and one I highly recommend to anyone and everyone. A real Kelowna Adventure.

34

 

Read Between the Lines: The Good, New Zealand Style

The Good: Fun? Yes. Memorable? Of course. Pious? … What do you think?

There were a few mornings that I woke up not wearing any underwear.

I will admit that it became far too regular an occurrence.

On this particular morning everything else was in order; I had my socks on, an oversize t-shirt (which upon closer inspection wasn’t even mine, but it did smell nice) and my trusty sweat pants.

But I was not alone. There was a boy lying next to me, lightly snoring – well, it was much more of a light wheezing, the kind you hear when a fat kid runs in gym class.

I was in Taupo and the night before had been a fun one. “Singled Out in Taupo”, the biggest bar event I had ever been to (not surprising considering that I was still underage). When you arrived at the bar you were given a name tag with a celebrity name and the idea was you were supposed to find the person with your celebrity match as their nametage and fall madly in love, get married, and make lots of babies. Or, you know, just hook up. Bits and pieces of the evening are still vivid in my mind ten years later: dancing on the bar table, Bundaberg Rum, and more free drinks than my liver has ever forgiven me for.

I even remember meeting my bedmate. Ben. Or, according to his name-tag from the evening which was still on the shirt I wore, Antonio Ben-deras.

I remember looking over at him, still asleep in bed. It had crossed my mind that morning that I could easily get out of the room without waking him up. It would be far less awkward if I did; morning after talks were always so …. Uncomfortable. Both from the awkwardness of hangovers and uneasy intimacy, and because everything in my life ends up awkward and uncomfortable.

It’s the price I pay for being hilarious.

That morning my body was tense. I knew that I needed to get up and get out if I was going to make it back to the my dorm room before Julia woke up (spoiler alert: I didn’t) or she was going to be furious (spoiler alert: she was) but I really didn’t want to leave behind my underwear.

Now this may, and probably will, sound extremely silly to those of you who’ve never backpacked and been strapped for cash before. But things such as underwear are very valuable. One less pair means that you have to either buy a new one (money I was not willing to spend) or suffer by doing your laundry one day earlier (which results in more money spent on laundry soap and washing machine rentals). Besides, it was a nice pair – black and lacy but not frilly.

I scanned the room hoping to notice it, but the room was dark and the panties were black.

It truly seemed hopeless and I was about to give up. I sighed my frustration, which seemed to make Ben stir, and when he shifted his body a bit I saw it. My underwear was lying half beneath him, pinned onto the bed by the solid body of a 22 year old male.

The safe thing to do would’ve been to slowly shift off the bed and make my way to the empty dorm bed across the room where my own shirt was unceremoniously flung, quickly change, and then bolt for my room a few floors up with high hopes that Ben here would remember me only as a good dream – at least I hoped it was a good dream, as long as my drool puddle on the pillow dried before he woke up.

But I didn’t do that.

Instead I slowly reached down and got a firm grip on my panties. Under my breathe I counted backwards from three, and then pulled with all my might.

Unfortunately for me, just as I was pulling Ben was rolling, and I – thanks to the effort of trying to pull out my underwear – did a backwards somersault off the bed. This woke Ben up.

Ben was just as confused as I was, starring down at my body sprawled out on the floor, hair tangled everywhere with one leg still on the bed. I thank his confusion and probably his hangover for his slow reaction time.

I hopped up to my feet ignoring the twinge up my right leg (backwards somersaults should never be attempted without proper stretching, and definitely not while sporting a wicked hangover). I don’t remember exactly what I said, just that I babbled nonsense at him as I grabbed my shirt, quickly switching out his t-shirt for my bar top (which I put on inside out in my haste), not bothering to slow down the stream of words coming out of my mouth the entire time.

A look of extreme discomfort and embarrassment crossed his face as he tried to reconcile my social ineptness with the siren he’d known the night before. (If you are having a hard time picturing his horror try re-reading my encounter with the Leprechaun. That should give you an idea.)

I practically ran out of the room that morning, but I wasn’t fast enough to salvage my dignity.  And it wasn’t until after I reached my dorm room that I made a very important discovery. I had left the blasted underwear behind, still lying on the floor right next to his bed.

Read Between the Lines: New Zealand, the Middle in Middle Earth

Chapter 2: Experiencing the Middle in Middle Earth

As long as I can remember I have always wanted to go to New Zealand. I’m not going to wax poetic on the how’s and why’s, just know that this has always been a dream of mine.

Let’s be honest here, who doesn’t want to go to Middle Earth?

New Zealand and Lord of the Rings are synonymous with mystery. The entire country is a real fantasy world come to life.

Having grown up in Beautiful British Columbia I am no stranger to the scenic allure of the coast. The weathered rock faces and the lush green of the woods are just as stunning back home but they lack a certain romance. (I am, admittedly, under appreciative of my home town.)

But despite the similarities, Vancouver Island doesn’t have Tolkien.

… Besides, I’d always wanted a hobbit friend.

(Spoiler Alert: I didn’t get one.)

Regardless of the reasons, the truth is I have never been more excited about anything in my life than I was about going to New Zealand. It was literally a dream come true and I spent the weeks up to leaving obsessing over our itinerary. We were booked with Kiwi Experience on a hop-on hop-off bus tour that travelled through the highlights of both North and South Island.  (The “Kea” Pass, starting in Christchurch and ending in Auckland.) Just like our time in Australia we were going to be rushing through the country. We had just over four weeks and I was determined to make every day count.

There is a spectacular fact about travelling that nobody ever believes until they have experienced it for themselves. No matter how much you plan, no matter how prepared you are or how great of an itinerary you have mapped out, things will always change.

I had refused to believe this before leaving.

Since all of our stops were already mapped out I planned every activity and sight that I wanted to see while gone. I knew exactly where my “candid photo ops” (candid, contrived, they both start with C …) were going to be, and what parks I was going to fall in love with. I knew everything.

Even with all of the spontaneity of Australia it never once occurred to me that our trip to New Zealand wouldn’t go exactly as I had planned.

Considering my chronic OCD I believe I handled the changes a lot better than I would have expected.

(I should note that my sister disagrees with the above statement. Or, as she puts it, “Strongly disagrees”.)

We missed far too many things to count, but we got to see so much more than I had ever imagined.

It’s the little things that stand out the most. Emergency visits to a hospital room in Queenstown. Stumbling home from a hole-in-the-wall pub in Paihia. Bearing witness to the butchering of Macbeth (the play, not the man) in Wellington. Face-breaking horseback rides in Nelson. These are the things you remember. These are the things that still make you smile after ten years.

It all comes back to candid versus contrived.

It always comes back to candid versus contrived.

(And in case you do not understand the bigger picture, candid wins. Hands down. Every time.)

One of the most distinct memories I have of New Zealand is of our arrival. We got into Christchurch in the early afternoon tired, stiff, and cranky from our night at the Sydney Airport. My excitement was overshadowed by sheer exhaustion and we still had no idea how we were going to get from the Airport to our hostel (rest easy, it turns out there was a shuttle).

I was sad to have left Australia, melancholy with the knowledge that there was still so much we hadn’t seen, and I barely (uncharacteristically) looked out the window the entire drive to downtown Christchurch.

Julia and I had long ago learned our lesson about taking naps when suffering from jet lag (the lesson? It’s never just a nap, it’s an actual black out and you will lose more time than it’s worth) so we forced ourselves to explore the town after we checking into the hostel.

I should tell you that it is easy to forget that the southern hemisphere is experiencing winter in July and August when one is traveling down the east coast of Australia. However, this is not a fact that can be easily overlooked in South Island New Zealand.

At first it was a novelty to see snow on the ground in August. Sure, the weather was a bit cold and we were completely underdressed, but here before us was snow! In August!

The novelty didn’t last.

Eventually the unpleasantness of walking through snow while wearing mesh shoes kicked in. With frozen toes and fingers, we continued “exploring” Christchurch. I was depressed. In all the times I had day dreamed about my first day in New Zealand I had never once pictured myself trudging through snow, cold and miserable, down a street where all the shops were closed for “winter holidays”.

After about two hours we finally made our way back to the hostel. I was irrationally angry with Julia (to be fair, her eternal optimism can be grating when one just wants to be miserable) and feeling guilty because of it.

I wanted to go back to Australia. New Zealand, my imagined land of mystery was not at all what I had expected.

A few hours of rest (and wallowing) later, Julia and I left the hostel so we could get dinner at a pub down the street. The pub wasn’t packed, but it certainly wasn’t deserted. We found a booth near the middle and settled in to people watch.

There is nothing quite like the atmosphere of a good pub to “turn that frown upside down”.

As it turns out, our waitress was Canadian (born and raised in Winnipeg). Her name was Melissa and she was “always happy to meet other Canucks”. She was doing SWAP (Student Work Abroad Program) and had made her way to Christchurch from Auckland, via Queenstown (not a direct route, but one worth taking). She introduced us to her roommates who were at the pub that evening, two native Kiwis who joined us at our table and told us all about the “hidden gems of Christchurch”.

After finding out we had just arrived from spending a month in Australia they explained to us Australia’s biggest problem (it’s filled with Aussies!)

(As an aside, if you’ve never heard that joke you’ve never traveled down under.)

That night turned out to be one of the best FANZ had to offer.

People travel to see the sights and get the Hallmark moments of a country. Travelers spend more time with other travelers than they do with the locals. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s always great to meet new people and you can learn so much from other travelers. But often you get so caught up in having the time of your life that you forget to actually have it.

It is far too easy to go to a country and never really see it.

Meeting the Kiwis at the pub and spending a few hours shooting the shit was a fantastic beginning to the middle.

It was this experience, this first day that had started out so terribly and ended so wonderfully that I carried with me for the rest of the trip.

We had many more days like this, evenings of new friends and pubs, but this is the one I always remember.

I honestly sobbed at the end when we boarded the plane for Fiji, leaving New Zealand behind. It was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life. I have never felt more at home in a place than I did there, and I often wonder if I will ever feel that way again.

FANZ was a fantastic trip and at this point in my life it has the honour of being the greatest summer I have ever had. When I look back on my life, and the moments that defined me, FANZ is the main entry. I had more fun in those two months than I have ever had before, and I would not change any of it for the world.

But while Australia and Fiji were fantastic, there is something about my time in New Zealand that stands out.

Love is not knowing the Good, the Bad or the Ugly about something.

Love is loving the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

And I love New Zealand.

 

Read Between the Lines: Lust

A Lust for Life? Sure, why not?

Dictionary.com (welcome to the digital age) has several different definitions for lust. The two definitions that I find are the most apt?

1) a passionate or overmastering desire or craving
2) ardent enthusiasm; zest; relish

Lust doesn’t always apply to sex. You can lust for many things: life, adventure, knowledge. I have an “ardent enthusiasm” for experience which makes me quite lustful. What better way to describe the way my sister and I approached international relations?

Then again, there are many cases where lust is really just lust …

On our second night in Perth, Julia and I were taken to a bar in Fremantle by a group of Australian men. It was my first experience in a bar, never mind that I was underage. It’s amazing the things you can get away with when you have an accent. I lost a lot of money that night by handing the wrong bills to bartenders. (In Canada, $5 bills are blue and $10 bills are pink. It’s the opposite in Australia. Can you understand my drunken confusion?)

As a seventeen year old, self-conscious Canadian, drunk in a bar for the very first time I politely had the time of my life. I suppose I was attractive, especially when one considers the accent (eh?). I certainly have never been as beautiful as my sister, who has the added advantage of being incredibly smart and charismatic.

We all spent the night dancing, drinking, and setting a precedent of debauchery and excess that would carry us through for the rest of the trip. I had my eye on an Australian soccer player (not FIFA style, just a small recreational league, but soccer is still soccer, and soccer players are still hot). His name was Troy and he was 6 feet tall, gorgeous, and self-deprecatingly referred to Aussies as “Brits who have been left in the desert too long”.

I am sorry to disappoint, but you won’t be reading any descriptions of “throbbing members” or “heaving bosoms” I don’t need to give you details, this isn’t a Harlequin novel. Besides, I was absolute rubbish that night … why would I want to relive the scary details?

The entire experience was awkward and exciting, and I had no idea what I was doing (add to that the handicap of being wasted and you’ve got yourself a Grade A failure). When we were finished, Troy awkwardly searched for his keys (left underneath the front wheel of his car, not in his pocket as suspected) and tried to avoid detection from my Aussie Mom as he left.

I saw him more than once after that in the two weeks we stayed in Perth. Our encounters were always awkward and made worse by my chronic SBS (snobby bitch syndrome).

The entire experience put an end to my rose coloured outlook on One Night Stands, though it didn’t deter me …

~

My second encounter with lust happened at Namoi Hills Cattle Station, an overnight stop in the small town of Dingo. This was also the closest we got to an Outback Experience. Red dirt, big skies, and open bush-land – just how I had always imagined Australia.

Before I get into the details about my “encounter”, I should tell you a bit about Dingo.

Dingo is Namoi Hills Cattle Station. There is nothing there but a few cabins, a large hall, cows and a bar. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, Dingo was my one of my favourite places. This is the only stop where the Southbound and Northbound buses of Oz Experience meet and with that many travelers between the age of 18 and 30 how can you not have a party?

The night started out with both busloads of travelers line dancing to Shania Twain (soon I will tell you who’s bed my boots were under) which was immediately followed by a full contact tug-of-war.

Drinks at the bar were rather expensive but my sister and I managed to befriend a group of English boys who had a few bottles of Bundaberg Rum. The five of us sat behind the cabin, doing shots and exchanging bus stories (they were on the Northbound bus while we were making our way south) before joining the rest of the crowd in the hall for club style dancing. Julia was then joined by our English friends from the southbound bus and had a great time being the token Canadian.

My memory of this night is a little hazy so I am not sure how I went from doing shots with the English lads and Julia to dancing on a table to the Hamster Dance. I do, however, distinctly remembering attempting a dosey-doe and nearly falling off the picnic table I was boogieing on.

So much for shaking what my Momma gave me.

I had lost my balance while trying to do one of the kicky things (that is the technical term, I believe) I had learned while line dancing and was frantically flailing when I was caught around the waist by a gorgeous, 6’3 Swedish man whose name I can only assume was Sven. (What other Swedish names are there?) Sven held me around my waist until he was sure I had regained my footing and then, with a boisterous laugh, he left one hand on my waist, took my hand and started to dance with me.

It was an absolutely brilliant moment.

Sven and I danced for several songs, the proper hand holding turning into grinding and near-inappropriate behaviour. We were interrupted when Julia caught my eye. With a quick kiss, I left Sven on the picnic table and jumped down to talk to my sister who was still with a few of the English boys.

To this day neither of us can agree on what was actually said though we have managed to figure out the gist of it.

There was a young man across from us who I thought should be dancing. Julia thought I meant that he should be dancing with me. (The Swede was, unfortunately, forgotten at this point). My sister went over and told the man to dance with me, before heading back to her English minions.

Josh was simply amazing. He was tall, dark, brooding and Irish (read: dreamy).

The two of us eventually made our way to a picnic table behind the hall and enjoyed ourselves with “ardent enthusiasm”.

I went to bed alone that night leaving Josh alone behind the hall, drunk and crawling into his cabin.

Finally, I had done it right. (Boy, had I done it right, if you know what I mean!)

It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized the truth.

I had been running late and was one of the last people to board the bus. Julia and our English friends were already seated near the middle of the bus, chatting. A cold feeling of dread tickled down my spine as I walked towards them. They had stopped talking in that way that people do when you just know they had been talking about you. Julia was horrified and the boys were laughing.

I held my head high, refusing to be embarrassed … at least until they showed me Josh through the window.

Gone was my 6 foot Irish man, in his place was the Lucky Charms Leprechaun, sans top hat and standing no higher than 5’7″. I would have thought they were joking if I hadn’t recognized his mannerisms. And the worst part? He wasn’t even Irish! Josh was from Rhode Island, he’d only been wearing an Ireland sweater.

Fuck the hearts, stars and horseshoes, clovers and blue moons. There was no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.

Strike two for one night stands.

~

My final lusty experience in Australia ended before it even really began.

It was our final stop before reaching Sydney; we were spending the night at Seal Rock (a group of cabins by the ocean). Everyone was gathered on the beach for a final hurrah and by midnight there were only a few of us left (the rest having gone to bed). Alan, my new (real) Irish friend, was cuddling with me on a bench around the fire.

(In my young mind, cuddling is apparently synonymous with keeping your arm around a drunken girl so she doesn’t fall off the bench.)

We were all inebriated at this point. Julia and I had drunk about two boxes of cheap red wine and were having a good time. In the spirit of alliteration you can just refer to us as those Classy Canadians from now on.

Julia and I had befriended Alan and a Dutch man named Bart a few days before and the four of us were just sitting around chatting. Bart had really taken a shine to Julia and Alan and I had bonded when he had asked me if I was American (rather than answering with a no I responded by asking him if he was British. It was a clever moment that you had to be there to really appreciate).

Eventually Julia and Bart left to take a walk on the beach. Alan and I were left alone.

Alan, a native Dubliner who loved Canadian girls and travel. Alan, who wrote poetry and loved Guy Ritchie films. Alan, who looked vaguely like Colin Farrell if you squinted in the dark. Alan, who had spent an entire evening listening to me whine about my past experiences with awful men and told me I was too pretty to waste my time on jerks.

How could I not be smitten?

We sat there on the bench for an hour, just talking. When he was finally sure I could hold myself up he leaned in to kiss me.

I’d been waiting for it for days. I leaned forward to kiss him back …

… and continued leaning forward until I fell off the bench, my face level with his shoes.

“You have nice shoes,” pause a beat, “because they’re brown”.

Smooth.

Alan didn’t kiss me that night. Being a true gentleman, he helped me up and walked me back to my room. Alone.

Sans sexy Irish man.

The silver lining? I managed to not vomit on his nice, brown shoes.

It’s the little things that put life into perspective.

Read Between the Lines: Gluttony

Gluttony and Vegemite as a Right of Passage

There are a lot of things about Australia that fit nicely into the bizarre category of life. The platypus and kangaroo are two of them. The Tasmanian Devil and, for that matter, Tasmanians to name two more.

Vegemite is another.

Vegemite is iconic, a salty spread for toast that is loved across the country. You can buy Vegemite in Canada though I have never had the desire to do so. It had never even crossed my mind to try it until I went to Australia. After all, how can you have a true Aussie experience without having a vegemite sandwich?

I suspect you could have one very easily.

My first (and last) experience with vegemite was very unpleasant. It was while we were still staying with my Aussie Mom and I decided to give it a go while helping myself to breakfast. Out popped the toast and on went the vegemite. Likely my biggest mistake (aside from trying it at all) was slathering it on my toast in the same way I do peanut butter: double thick and right to the corners.

It tasted like swallowing a clingy mouthful of sea water, only less pleasant.

I managed to choke down half the toast, trying to be a polite guest and not waste the several tablespoons of vegemite I had taken, but even politeness couldn’t force me to eat the rest of it.

It was vile.

And unlike my Newfie Right of Passage (A shot of Screech and a Kiss on a Puffins Arse) I didn’t feel at all like a local.

I just felt like an idiot with a mouthful of salt.

Boiled Rotten Eggs

This was an essay I wrote while I was attending Grant MacEwan College. 

At first glance Rotorua looked just like every other city on the North Island of New Zealand. The same cracked asphalt, the same tall trees looming in the background. The sky at dusk was still awash with the same pinks and oranges that streak the sky in every other city. It wasn’t until I looked closer that I could really see and feel the difference. The air was heavier in Rotorua with a thickness that clung to everything and made me long to fall asleep.  The accommodations were kept on the outskirts of town and left to cling to the fringes as though banished. The hostel employees didn’t recommend a single restaurant in the town. Rotorua was hiding something.

The town’s big secret is not a very well kept one. Rotorua stinks.

Rotorua seriously stinks, and not in the way the Oilers ‘stink’ at hockey, or the way it ‘stinks’ to miss your bus. Rotorua smells really bad. It is a smell that reaches out to grab hold of you once you approach the centre of town. A foul smell, so thick it chokes you, filling up the inside of your throat until you can’t breathe. The smell of rotten eggs, a by-product of the sulphur filled surroundings.  It soaks into your clothes so that not even a sweater pulled hastily up to your face to block out the smell can protect you. It made me sputter and heave as we walked the streets of town. Kiwis looked at us with a mixture of pity and amusement, they were used to it. But it wasn’t the foul smell that put Rotorua on our map; instead the thermal activity made it a hot spot.

Outside the town and past the assorted hostels is a gold mine of hot springs surrounded by tall trees and ferns. It is the most beautiful place on earth. On a tour, pool after pool of thermal water surrounded us.  In one large pool the size of a small lake the water was an electric blue, so blindingly beautiful it almost hurt the eyes to look at.  Its surface bubbled and boiled, the steam floated into the air like a majestic mist. Another smaller pool was sea foam green with a rippled surface, the red earth stretched along its fringes with leafy ferns reaching out across the edges. I stared at every pool in awe. It is a rush just being there, knowing that from time to time a geyser explodes shooting the scorching water high into the air and burning everything it touches.

The day was cold and stung the skin despite the heat surrounding us. Droplets of sweat gathered on our faces, condensation from the steamy waters surrounded us. The air was so moist and humid we felt like we were in the water. A thermometer was stuck 3 inches into the ground, it read 97.4 ͦ Celsius. I imagined so much barely contained energy beneath our feet. Further along on the tour the pools changed from boiling water to boiling mud. Thick grey bubbles grew bigger than a baseball before bursting in all directions. A popping sound followed every burst. Pop, another bubble. Pop, pop, two more burst.

I was more afraid of the boiling mud than the water, unable to help imagining the way mud clings to your skin upon first contact. Grey splatters cover the ground surrounding the pools of mud showing just how far those bubbles can burst. Every bursting bubble made me jump and I rushed past the last few pools. A serene boat ride across Lake Rotomahana took us to the Te Wairoa Village where my fears were validated.

The village, now known as the Buried Village was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886 which spewed boiling mud destroying the pink and white terraces and killing more than a hundred people. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled as we walked by a white piece of wood sticking up from the ground. A buried house lay five feet beneath us. Some of the old houses have been excavated, preserved in the mud after more than a hundred years. More ferns surround the area, thriving in the area because of the mud. I reached down to touch the ground near the buried house and felt the mud, now packed and dry but still malleable. I left the buried village and all I got was out alive.

Read Between the Lines: Australia, not Oz.

Chapter 1: Beginnings Start at the Beginning: A Land Down Under

What are the first things that come to mind when you think Australia? Come on, give it a try. Put this down, close your eyes and try to think of five things that are distinctly Australian.

… Well?

My five things?

1) The Platypus
2) Beer, Beer, Beer
3) Ayers Rock
4) Crocodiles
5) Poisonous and disgusting things: snakes, spiders, blue ring octopus … vegemite

I never thought about the people or the sheer amount of land in Australia. Granted, coming from Canada, large open spaces aren’t really that unusual.

I always had a very specific image of Australia before my trip. To me Australia was fantasy. Now, I don’t mean fantasy in the sense that I dreamed about it. No, what I mean is that, to me, Australia was more of a different earth (as opposed to Middle Earth, my second destination … ba-dum-ch!)

Considering the amount of thought I have put into trips since, it is appalling how little preparation I made before leaving for Oz. I researched my trip by listening to the Waltzing Matilda and watching Crocodile Dundee religiously. To prepare myself for the Outback I watched episodes of Crocodile Hunter and practiced saying “Crikey!”

I really knew nothing about the Land Down Under before leaving, beyond what I’d heard from popular culture (and I was very interested in trying a Vegemite sandwich … in retrospect, not one of my greater goals).

You see, originally I had wanted to go visit a friend of mine in Japan. I was planning on going to Tokyo for two weeks, ready to return home with the arrogance of a ‘seasoned’ traveler. Obviously this did not happen.

I will not bore you with the details of how this plan evolved into FANZ. It’s not an interesting story and there is no real way for me to make it sound interesting without lying outright. So, rather than perjure myself, I will just gloss over the entire “before” and get right to the “during”.

Julia, my sister, and I left Victoria two days after my last exam of grade 11, which really didn’t leave me much time to process the fear. It really wasn’t until the night before I left I realized I was leaving the country. Underage. Without any real supervision. And with a $20,000 limit credit card.

Do I really need to tell you how little sleep I got that night?

Panic doesn’t even come close to describing what I was feeling.

Every memory from my last exam to the moment I arrived in Sydney is a blur. The only distinct impressions I have from those days are more the feelings of sheer terror than actual memories. It took us two flights to get to LAX (one from Victoria to Vancouver and then one from Vancouver to LA). Julia was able to switch seats with a student traveler on the fourteen hour flight to Sydney so that we could stay together. Her name was Amanda (“but, like, everyone calls me Mandy!”) and she was oh so very excited! She was, in fact, so excited you could hear the exclamation points at the end of each sentence.

Luckily Mandy managed to knock herself out with gravol and a rum and coke pretty early on in the flight.

I remember thinking I was the only person on the plane unable to sleep. The charming woman in front of me spent the entire fourteen hours with her seat extended as far back as possible and at this point in my life I was far too timid to do the same to the person sitting behind me.

The only thing I really remember from that flight? Watching the SNL episode guest starring Britney Spears four times in a row. Each time, as the sleep deprivation set in, the episode became funnier. By the time we arrived in Sydney I was sure Britney was a comic genius.

I’ve managed to resist re-watching that episode in the ten years since my trip. Why mess with a good thing?

The real adventure began when we arrived in Sydney. We were both miserable. Julia was still groggy from her drug induced sleep on the flight and me? Well, I was running off zero sleep in what had now reached 30 hours. (30 hours you ask? 23 hours of transit time, and 7 hours of panicking before we left). I had literally flown past exhausted (about 6 hours over the pacific) and had now reached a degree of perky rarely seen outside of pep squad.

Sorry Canada, but we didn’t exactly give off the greatest first impression.

We had just over an hour to get our luggage, catch the shuttle bus, and to travel from the International Airport to the Domestic Airport. Easy, right?

No. No it was not.

Our luggage hadn’t arrived. It was not still at LAX. In fact, our luggage was not even in transit. Somehow one of the lovely ladies of airport employ had coded our luggage as YQY instead of SYD. Our luggage was safely set aside at an airport in Nova Scotia. How they managed to get the two mixed up is beyond me … the two Sydney’s aren’t even spelled the same: Sidney versus Sydney.

They say adversity builds character.

To those people, I say “$@*& off”.

Four drops of Rescue Remedy, a promise that our bags would arrive in Perth in two days, and two very irate Porter girls and we were on our way.

Next on our list? Engine trouble.

We made it to the gate with 15 minutes until boarding only to find out the flight was delayed. You’d think that 4 hours of Crazy Eights would make you sick of the card game but you would be wrong.

Crazy Eights Countdown (from Kings) is the only thing that got me through those 4 hours. Julia, who is terrified of flying, nearly had an aneurysm when they told us our flight was delayed due to an engine breakdown. Add 3 more drops of Rescue Remedy.

(As an aside, for those of you who have never heard of Rescue Remedy: Rescue Remedy is an herbal “calming agent” that has the same ingredients as Horse Tranquilizer.)

The plane was disgustingly hot by time we were finally able to board (the air conditioning had to be turned off while they had “performed routine maintenance” on the broken engine). While this created an incredibly uncomfortable environment, it also led to our first taste of Australian hospitality.

Free drinks for “mature” passengers!

Three XXXX Beer combined with the lack of sleep and the rescue remedy made for an extremely pleasant journey. Even my sister enjoyed the flight and we moved from crazy eights to Egyptian War and a few hands of Golf (the card game, no putters involved).

We arrived in Perth without further incident, meeting up with our Aussie Mom and her son and just generally and genuinely having a good time.

And so begins our two and a half month journey.

Now, rather than bore you with the details of our time in Australia sight-seeing (a park! a parrot! the ocean!) I will just continue on with the highlights and have you fill in the blanks however you want.

To fully understand where I am going with this you first need to know what makes a trip truly epic.

The Seven Features of a Successful Trip:

  • Wrath
  • Gluttony
  • Lust
  • Envy
  • Pride
  • Greed
  • Sloth

Recognize those? Than you must be a seasoned traveler (or a staunch Catholic).

Have I offended you? Then stop reading. I don’t mind, honest.

Are you curious? Good. Read on.