What happens when you combine a hotel cat and cheap wine? Bed bugs, that's what. Here's what happened to me.
Venice in August is not the best time or place to get a great meal.
During this traditional month of Italian family vacations, many a restaurant shuts down for a week – or more. Despite my advanced planning, I still ended up at a tourist trap during our 2016 trip. The dour staff refused to serve free tap water. Only pricey bottled water was available, chafing against my frugal principles. Given the dire circumstances, I opted for a more economical choice: a bottle of cheap rosé. And thus my bed bug saga began.
Skipping merrily home to my clean but threadbare hotel, I encountered the property’s resident cat, Pierre, on the steps. I should pause and say I assumed it was the property’s cat, based on his cat-like claim of the courtyard space, but, as Ryan points out, it really could have belonged to anyone – or no one at all. But with the demon liquor in my veins, I considered it prudent to scoop Pierre up and bring him to my room in a brazen hope of enjoying a genuine cat nap with him.
Intoxicated with the love of a temporary pet (and bargain-basement wine) I didn’t perform my customary bed bug sheet check...
Some people explore via food tours or shoe shopping. It seems my destiny is to discover the world one optometrist at a time.
What do Paris (France), Portland (Maine), and Yarmouth (Nova Scotia) have in common? Not much, to be honest. But I’ve come to see them through a new lens – if you’ll pardon the pun – thanks to local optometrists.
Some people see the world through – here’s that pun again – a specific lens. They explore destinations via a particular filter or set of experiences, discovering cities via food tours or shoe stores. I hadn’t thought that approach applied to me until I realized I was getting to know the globe via eye health facilities, one city at a time.
Sometimes the best travel guides aren't guidebooks at all. These ten books will help you see travel, food, wine, life, and culture in a new way.
Do you remember the first book that inspired you to travel?
I have several. I vividly remember the details of Anne's voyage from Prince Edward Island to Nova Scotia to attend college in Anne Of The Island, the third instalment in Lucy Maud Montgomery's Green Gables series. I was enthralled by the packing scenes in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. What does one bring when you embark on a long carriage ride to see Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins? Early biographies of The Beatles made Liverpool's gritty streets and warm culture feel not that far away.
I bet you have some memorable novels and memoirs that helped inform your travels, too. And now I have some more to add to your list. I'm confident there's something among my list of ten non-travel travel books that will appeal to every reader. These texts will change the way you look at food, drink, towns, cities, forests, fears, and friendships forever. Tuck one into your suitcase for your next trip.
If you love a good old-fashioned murder mystery, the Thursday Murder (Book) Club is the free online book club for you! Everyone is welcome.
Welcome to the Thursday Murder (Book) Club!
For years I've been talking about how much I love to read and I'm excited to take my love of books to the next level - and I'm inviting you to all come along. I’m launching a free monthly online book club devoted to British-style murder mysteries.
Now, there’ll be a bit of flexibility here. Not all the mysteries will involve murder (I mean, there’s gotta be a few art heists here and there), nor will they all necessarily be set in Great Britain. But they’ll all be faithful to the genre of the British “cozy” - - a complex mystery, a compelling read, plenty of rich details about everyday life (oh, you better believe I’ll be suggesting complimentary teas and biscuits for each book) and not a whole lot of implicit gore and scariness.
I’m inspired by a couple of things. First is Richard Osman’s book, The Thursday Murder Club. Yep, I stole his title for our bookclub name and I figured if gangs of fictional friends can get together to solve mysteries, my gang of online friends can get together to discus them!
I was also inspired by my visit to Winnipeg’s legendary mystery bookstore, Whodunit. They have an in-person mystery book club, which reminded me just how popular this genre is.
Read on for more details!
When you visit the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, winter blues melt away.
There's magic in the air in Key West.
In the United State's southernmost city, you'll find a tropical paradise at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Inside this tropical greenhouse beautiful little birds, two sassy flamingos, gorgeous jungle plants, and butterflies - hundreds and hundreds of them, representing about 50 to 60 species from around the world - are just waiting to say hello. Once you step inside, I feel confident that you'll agree with my assessment. It's pure magic.
How hard could it be to find a tree-loving rodent in a city filled with parks?
The gardens of Paris' Rodin Museum are a fine setting for many a good thing. You can enjoy a tranquil oasis in the middle of the city. Great works of art are resplendent in a natural setting. Rodin's masterpiece, The Thinker, awaits your admiring gaze. What you can't do, however, is see a squirrel.
I wish I could tell you that "squirrel" is code for a kind of art or maybe even a pastry, but no. I'm talking about your everyday prosaic squirrel. Red, grey, black, flying, I was open to them all but in Paris, they eluded me.
I don't normally look for vermin when I travel and, if I did, I don't know if squirrels would top my agenda. As a dog owner, squirrels have long been on Oliver's list of enemies (along with the mop, highway rumble strips, and the doorbell). As such, while I have no personal animosity with squirrels, familial loyalty dictates that I hate them. But my hand was forced when I shared the story of seeing sheep grazing on public lands not far from my Paris apartment.
My tale of discovering the Eco-Mouton came in the middle of an online networking event with colleagues. My reference to actual animals somehow had its wagon hitched to a separate reference about animal-like energy (aka "feeling squirrel-y") and a comment was made that I should be on the lookout for squirrels as well as sheep. Challenge accepted! I'd find an adorable squirrel, take a quick snapshot as it delicately nibbled away on a gourmet nut like the true discerning Parisian it was, and gain the accolades of my friends. There was just one problem....
There are no squirrels in Paris.
So you want to go to Paris.... May I suggest some travel advice, recommendations, hints, tips, and unbreakable rules from someone with a life-long love affair with the City of Lights?
I've spent one month and half a lifetime in the City of Lights.
The part about one month is very true. From mid-October to mid-November, 2022, I lived in Paris. I found a wee apartment with sloped walls and wooden beams and made the city my home.
The reference to half a lifetime is a bit of hyperbole but, in its own way, equally true. I first visited the French capital in 2001 and I've made at least half a dozen visits in the years since. I'm never not wanting to be there.
I believe you could live in Paris your entire life and not discover all of its secrets. As such, I am far from an expert. On the other hand, I know Paris better than just about any travel destination and I've learned quite a lot in 20+ years of adventures. And that brings me here, in an effort to wrap up my very best Paris travel advice, suggestions, recommendations, tips, and tricks. For everyone who has said that they absolutely have to get my advice before planning their own big trip - here it is. This post is for you. I'll accept macarons in lieu of thanks.
In Giverny, France, Claude Monet's home and gardens are an absolute delight in autumn. Gorgeous colours and smaller crowds create a special seasonal magic.
Claude Monet's home, studio, and gardens in Giverny, just outside Paris, are one of the city's most popular attractions in summer and for good reason. The famous water lily pond, the Japanese-style bridge covered with lavender wisteria, and the flower beds studded with vibrant pastel blooms are the stuff of travel legend, the subjects of a million photos. But those who are truly lucky will bypass Giverny's famous summer scenes (and crowds) and discover a different kind of magic altogether if they visit in late October.
After more than twenty years of value-focused travel, I'm finally saying a fond farewell to hostels - for the most part. Here's why.
Even before I had my final hostel stay, I knew it would be my last.
The previous couple of hostels I stayed at brought roller coasters of emotion. One, set in a gorgeous historic location, was clean and friendly but offered bare-bones dorms with whisper-thin mattresses, a single stingy pillow, and squeaky wooden bunk beds. My bunk was positioned in the centre of the room, without a single wall at my disposal for leaning or privacy. The muggy, warm room and back-aching bed made sleep impossible and I cringed every time I moved, fearful my squeaky bed was keeping everyone awake. It was a rough night – and a rough morning as I tried to be as quiet as a mouse, packing up my computer to escape to a nearby cafe for a bleary and bright conference call. While I was waiting for my call to connect, I found clarity in my exhaustion. For the first time ever, I sacrificed my two remaining nights of prepaid bunk accommodations in favour of relocating to a private bed and breakfast room.
I spent an extra $300 I wasn’t expecting but when I finally got to my snug room and sunk into the plush, squeak-free mattress, I nearly wept with relief – and guilt. Who was I, giving up an otherwise great-on-paper hostel just because my bedding wasn’t as sumptuous as I would like?
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