I’ll always have Tulum.
It’s the one. You know, when they tell you to envision a happy place. A piece of paradise to be teleported to when your present is chaos. Which happens. To some more than others, granted, but inevitably to all.
I wrote about my yoga retreat to Tulum in the Whistler Pique here. It’s the vacay that keeps on giving, since I return to it in my head over and over.
Sometimes an hour of yoga just won’t cut it.
Never bite off more than you can chew, they say. ‘They’ are generally unnervingly conservative, however, so I tend to toss out those words of wisdom with the bathwater. Forget about the baby. Instead, I embrace the idiom ‘seize the day’. Spoiler alert: seizing the day is exhausting.
Being a tourist is hard work, and I made one key rookie mistake while visiting NYC. My plan to not sleep while visiting the city that never sleeps was more than a little daft. We arrived in Newark at 11 pm, and by midnight were seated comfortably in a bar in Soho. At 1 am we were seated for dinner. When 3 am rolled around, we rolled down the street to another bar. The story has it we arrived back at our hotel at 5 am, but I can’t verify that with any conviction.
The three-hour time change notwithstanding, this was a victory. This is the kind of stamina I haven’t seen since my university days. However, unlike those moments as a student when I would bounce back from those typical Tuesday nights, I spent the rest of our time in New York recovering from this initial binge; whereas that was supposedly only the beginning. Not the first time in my life my best laid plans have backfired like Lindsay Lohan’s attempts at rehab.
My nocturnal challenges aside, I feel like I grew because of this trip, and not just in waist size. Truthfully, big cities are not my thing; I am as uncool as I sound. Concrete jungles only make me long for the solitude of my North Shore mountains. However, eight million people live there for a reason, not just to check out the view from the Empire State Building. Amongst our fantastic dining experiences, we went to a rave and watched some incredible performance art that you didn’t need to be high on E to appreciate (just wine). We went to Cindy Sherman‘s exhibit at the Moma, a woman who has photographed herself in various forms of disarray over forty years and has the breadth of work to prove it – a brilliant satire of life as we know it, and more thought provoking than I can explain with mere words. We saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway – if I say uproariously funny will I sound like the pamphlet they handed me when I stepped into the theater? Truly hilarious, what else would you expect from the creators of South Park? The New York Public Library featured an exhibit on the letters and manuscripts of Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose real life played out like a soap opera well before its time. A little gallery of heaven right there.
These experiences, easily, were the highlights. The things I will hold close to my heart and take with me past New York and beyond. The rest was tourist play. Why I can run easily run ten miles, but have great trouble walking a couple of miles worth of city blocks is one of life’s great mysteries.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a vacation, but visiting New York was invigorating in a different way. You might say the Big Apple took a bite out of me, instead of the reverse. But I chewed as much as I could in my attempt to seize the day, and I was happy with the contents of my Granny Smith.
Many people have told me the best way to see New York is during the NYC Marathon. Mind you, these people were runners. And since I consider myself one, also, I have been holding off on a New York trip until I trained for that race. I wanted to see the five boroughs on foot, the arduous way, alongside the 50 000 other runners that make the trek out to Staten Island. I just had it in my head I would do this one day.
But sometimes life doesn’t play out perfectly on cue. Despite my best laid plans, a trip to New York has presented itself, but over the Mother’s Day weekend instead of race weekend. Far be it from me to decline, give or take the marathon. Marathon? What marathon?
Who cares? I’M GOING TO NEW YORK! This occasion absolutely calls for all capitals.
I am ecstatic to finally visit this iconic city that never sleeps, and experience it’s peculiar energy and buzz. I’m excited to browse through SoHo, drink a genuine Manhatten, visit the MoMA, Times Square, Top of the Rock, enter the New York Public Library, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and yes, run leisurely through Central Park. I’m going to a show on Broadway and will be eating in restaurants that are far too cool for me. We are going to an underground rave, and I’m told, will be conquering Century 21. We will do this, all of this, in three days. Of course no one ever sleeps in this city.
We are staying somewhere in Midtown; since someone fun and hip booked this trip, the hotel, I’m told, is fun and hip. Not that it matters. Sleeping isn’t on the itinerary.
I’m as excited to see New York as I am to get the monkey off my back of Not Having Been to New York. It is a conversation stopper, when people are musing about past trips to the Big Apple, to drop in the tidbit that I haven’t been before. Like blasphemy, or pant-wetting, it causes people to shift uncomfortably in their seats. They often mutter, “You should really go, you will love it.” Like I don’t know this.
So since I’m finally going, I’m going big, hitting as many highlights as possible. It will be exhausting, I know, but my children will totally permit me to sleep for a week upon my return. The more I see, the more I will be able to converse about. In my near future, when people say, “Don’t you just love the High Line?” I will say, emphatically, yes, I love the High Line; and the whole conversation will be much more comfortable without the slump in their shoulders on account of me never having been before.
What’s your favorite thing to do in New York City? I have loads of time to fill.
Flat Ella was packed to go on our Hawaiian vacation a week early. She stood on her tiptoes in my child’s coat locker (she was laminated, so sitting was impossible), waiting patiently for our departure date and her moment in the sun.
How Flat Ella missed the flight is anyone’s guess. Some might blame it on the mother. The mother might blame the father. The child might blame her older sisters. Suffice to say once our error was revealed, there were lots of fingers being pointed. But the reality was once we pulled away from our house, fashionably late for our flight, the checklist we ran through went something like: passports? wallet? flight information? bathing suits? oven off? alarm on? Flat Ella didn’t make the list, just like she didn’t make my child’s suitcase.
Catastrophe’s of this magnitude tend to be revealed at the moment she is least equipped to deal with them: the instant before her delirious head hits the pillow. And so it was, after a long day of line ups and airports and time zones, I lay down with her in her vacation bed, with visions of Mai-Tais dancing in my head, certain she will be asleep in a flash, only to have her bolt up into a sitting postion and wail, or should I say WAIL, that we forgot to bring Flat Ella. “Flat who?” I asked, so far was Flat Ella from my stream of hula-ing Mai-Tais.
Incidentally, Flat Ella is a project inspired by the book, Flat Stanley, whereby a hand-drawn, paper version of a child is photographed in adventurous situations. When I was a keen super-achiever parent, a Flat Stanley project once caused my friend to be stabbed by a potentially poisonous cacti in Phoenix. My, how the mighty have fallen.
A plan was concocted quickly lest we all lose an entire night of sleep: after spending a day on the beach, we would hightail it to a store to buy bristol board and markers, and a new (better! improved!) Flat Ella would be born. The lack of lamination was a stumbling point, but I assured her we would figure something out – at worst, no surfing for Flat Ella.
The next day dawned sunny and warm. We lounged on pristine beaches watching whales breach in the distance. We snorkeled with sea turtles and rainbow fish. We boogie-boarded and found sea cucumbers in tidal pools. But apparently nothing could be enjoyed, either in paradise or ever after, without Flat Ella. We packed up our loungers and headed for the mall.
After much input and erasing, a Flat Ella emerged that looked more like a brown-haired Tinkerbell in a strapless blue cocktail dress than Ella, but the most important among us was pleased with the result. Ingeniously we bought some clear tape and managed to create a water-resistent prototype. Flat Ella was alive and well, although another happy hour was lost to the cause. Our vacation was potentially saved: all we had to do was snap a few inventive pictures.
The next morning, we loaded Flat Ella, our beach chairs, snorkel gear, boogie-boards, towels, and yes, cooler, and trotted towards the beach. Passing the pool, the real Ella spotted her teammate from soccer, and promptly ditched Flat Ella to better accommodate her beach buckets and shovels. She was so intent on playing with her friend (and torturing sea cucumbers), she didn’t mention Flat Ella again, leaving us to pick up the slack.
Normally, I’m not one for completing my kids’ projects – but forfeiting happy hour had to amount to something.
We took our children to Paris this past summer. It was a highly anticipated event, to put it mildly. Topping their list of expectations was Disneyland Paris, but after we firmly crossed that off their list, the next item was, of course, the Eiffel Tower.
I would like to report they were most charmed by the second hand book peddlars that lined the Seine, the incredible food, or a work of art in the Louvre (preferably something other than the Mona Lisa). But if you ask them what the highlight of their Paris trip was, you will hear three voices in unison proclaim the Eiffel Tower. This is the only thing I have ever heard them proclaim in unison, incidentally.
At their first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, they were speechless – it was fulfilling to see them react this way about something besides Justin Bieber. As we neared the iconic structure, we saw a virtual carnival of life happening around its base.
There were people lounging everywhere. Some were having a picnic, others were playing soccer, musicians were strumming guitars, models were posing, and peddlars were selling everything under its grey skies, including umbrellas once they opened up. It was a world unto its own arrondisement.
Like crashing a birthday party, the people watching opportunities were vast and the party games varied. But it was my turn to be aghast when it was time for the birthday cake: hour long line-ups awaited us at each of the entrances for the trip up to the top of the tower. We seriously considered taking the stairs until we realized we could only walk up to the first platform.
Patience isn’t in my DNA, and so I had to be strong-armed by my children to join one such line. But I was glad I did; being in the line was simply another opportunity to watch the carnival and meet people from all over the world who had converged on Paris that day.
Besides the incredible vistas and thousands of tourists, there was an exhibition about the history of the Eiffel Tower on the first platform. We loved seeing the pictures of the tower under construction, when it loomed curiously half-built above Paris. You could understand the scorn city dwellers felt for this structure, widely thought to be an eyesore before its debut at the World Fair of 1889. It was a great teaching moment, talking about Gustav Eiffel’s perseverance in the face of this controversy.
I’d stupidly allotted an hour in our day for this visit, thinking we’d quickly check it off before lunching in a cafe and then hitting the Louvre. In fact we were there almost all day, which I now realize was the right thing to do.
I’ve talked to people who have been disappointed by their trips to the City of Lights; it simply didn’t live up to its hefty billing. Incredibly, there is an illness called Paris Syndrome, as is described in this month’s issue of Atlantic magazine. Some tourists are experiencing hallucinations, nausea and dizziness when their high expectations of Paris fall short. I know, it sounds more ludicrous than the thought of me joining the chorus line in the Moulin Rouge, but this is an actual documented illness.
Far from these poor afflicted tourists, my children could only stand awestruck at this world famous landmark, oblivious to the long lines with which I was obsessed. Whereas I saw chaos, they saw magic. (My reaction of impatience and frustration did fall short of hallucinations, I hasten to add.)
Oh, to see the world through the eyes of children.
I have a penchant for competition, but I would never dream of attempting to beat the French at their own game.
Their passion for eating, that is.
It would take a serious training regime of long lunches and longer dinners – over weeks, preferably months, perhaps years – before one could possibly achieve a similar metabolism, let alone the tolerance for wine that would render one a contender.
Food and drink are their game, and they play it extremely well.
Everywhere you look between the hours of 12 and 2, and then again from 7:30 – 10:30, people are enjoying sumptuous lunches and dinners, eyes closed and conversation hushed as they concentrate on the task at hand.
Rose is consumed like water. We stopped at a little cheese shop the other day and noticed the proprietor was also doing a booming business selling rose out of a vat, filling large glass jugs for his patrons for one and half euros per liter. (It was pretty good wine, I might add.) Bottled water costs more, so it is perfectly rational to drink wine instead.
So although I freely admit I will never beat the french at this game of eating, I would like to join them at playing their game, in my own miniscule way. And so to this end we ventured to Jardin d’Ivana the other night.
Jardin d’Ivana is exactly as it translates: Ivana’s garden, which also serves as a restaurant every night. Ivan is apparently the host, server, and busboy while his wife, Nadine, concocts miracles in her kitchen. It was a short walk down the hill from where we are staying, so we struck out on foot. We felt a little sheepish walking into our neighbor’s yard, but this is how it’s done here we reminded ourselves, and went in.
Ivan greeted us and ushered us in to our table. This night their tables were all set under their sheltered veranda – the mistral, high winds that blow down from Siberia, had arrived the day before, and were whipping up the tablecloths and making waves in their small swimming pool.
In the next fifteen minutes, twenty other people were ushered in to surrounding tables, reconciling our previous worries that this was, in fact, very normal here.
The feast began.
There of course were no menu’s, just Ivan telling us what the menu would be that evening. We didn’t understand all of what was to come, so it was a bit like getting a grab bag of of delicacies – each course a little present in its own right.
It was a slow but steady procession of dishes in various forms of pomp and circumstance. Slim aperatifs were served in tiny champagne flutes. Pureed carrots laced with parmesan and cardamon arrived in glass bowls. A long slice of eggplant spooned an equally long slice of zucchini on a salad plate. A pork stew with thick sauce came in round bowls. Slices of apricot sweetened with brown sugar and some other divine sauce were set down just as I started to see double. Wine glasses were replaced with tiny digestif glasses smaller than shot glasses. Espresso in tiny vessels with saucers.
As we rolled out of their garden, I humbly raised my white flag in defeat. I couldn’t eat like that every night, but it was fun trying.
And I hoped like hell that Ivana had an industrial sized dishwasher.
It wasn’t the best time to discover Google is shy on its travel time estimates. One would think such a great company would be bang on, in everything it does, estimates included.
Believing that was my first mistake.
A few months ago, I’d taken a cursory glance at a map of Europe. The distance between Tuscany and Provence did not look daunting. In fact, it was only a couple of inches.
Further scrutiny of possible routes looked even better. The roads that Google suggested hugged first the Italian coastline, and then the French. It held the promise of a beautiful, awe inspiring drive. I imagined us waving to the Europeans lounging on their yachts, bidding them either bon giorno or bonjour, whichever.
Google estimated it to be a six hour journey. A bit of a haul for the kids, but certainly doable, we would stop for a nice lunch en route, and would be eating foie gras and drinking a Luberon rose for dinner.
Emboldened by my research, we started off. We had water and bananas with us. The kids each had their iPods fully charged. We were ready.
The Italian countryside gave way to the Italian Alps, and the children started asking, how much longer it would be.
Not long now, only two hours to go, we replied.
We passed the Cinque Terra, and toyed with the idea of going for a hike. We’d hoped to have lunch in Portofino, so we pressed on.
The thing about driving on the auto route, we realized, was they never gave you distances. We finally started seeing signs for Genoa, and congratulated ourselves for being so speedy.
But the signs for Genoa continued for the next two hours.
It was around this time that the tunnels started.
Instead of gazing at the impossibly blue Mediterranean Sea, we looked into the mouths of one tunnel after another, many of which stretched for two kilometres at a time.
These tunnels were both a blessing and a curse. We couldn’t enjoy much of the landscape, but they kept our children busy for hours as they tried to hold their breath the entire length of the tunnel.
With iPod batteries long dead and no radio stations worth listening to, this was something.
How much longer, they asked. About two hours, we replied. You said that two hours ago, they pointed out.
The other thing we noticed was that Italy didn’t mention any other countries that you might be stumbling into momentarily. We saw no signs indicating France was imminent, until we were in France. We happened to glance a European Union blue sign saying France between tunnels. We had arrived.
Surely, we were really only two hours from here. It was dinnertime, and in lieu of our foie gras we had sandwiches au poulet at a reststop.
Monaco gave way to Nice, and then countless other french towns we hadn’t heard of. The sun was setting in front of us, glaring into our tired eyes. We made the turn up north towards Aix en Provence.
How much longer, the kids asked. Surely less than two hours, we replied.
If you happen to be making the journey anytime soon, the drive between Tuscany and Provence is actually eleven hours, not the six that Google promises. I say this with the utmost confidence, and a whole lot of exasperation.
There are, however, two bright sides to this tale.
The first is that our children, incredulously, saw the humor in this situation, and remained good-natured throughout this marathon car ride.
The second is that when we finally reached our destination, we opened the fridge to find one glorious item: a bottle of a Luberon rose.