Here’s the thing. We’ve been in lockdown for over four weeks now. It’s not total lockdown. We’re allowed outside to get groceries, medicine, supplies. To go for walks and runs so long as we maintain the 2-metre distance rule. But to just “be” outside, to sit on a park bench and soak up the Toronto spring sun that’s finally starting to appear, to grab a coffee mid-way on your walk and sit in the café window watching the world go by, these are no longer. Things that I took for granted, that we all took for granted.
People are restless. They’re angry, they’re sad, they’re confused. They’re unemployed and waiting on government cheques so they can pay their rent. They’re baking banana bread and having virtual happy hours and crying themselves to sleep at night.
The centre of Crete’s Rethymno prefecture is shaped like a hand. The palm is Psiloritis, the mountain range that can be seen from every angle in this part of the island; the highest point of Mount Ida is your middle knuckle. From the mountains, ridges reach toward the north coast like fingers, narrow ledges with gaping gorges in between. The landscape means that two villages can be a mere 500 metres apart in space, but to actually reach the other, you need to drive up and down and around some five kilometres or more.
A few months ago, a friend and I were discussing how long you need to be in a place before it feels like you’ve really experienced it. She was in the midst of planning a year abroad, and I was about to leave for my six months overseas, and we were mulling over how long we’d be in our respective destinations. Could you feel like you belonged in just a few weeks? Was two months enough? Did you need a full year before you could say it felt like home?
The best way to describe Khanom isn’t by its scenery (as stunning as it is). You can’t describe it by what to do there (hint: there’s not much). You can’t even describe it by its location near the islands (a mere ferry ride away). No, the best way to describe Khanom — a town so small that often Thai locals in Bangkok and Chiang Mai don’t know where it is — is by its people.
I’m going there.
I wasn’t going to. You know, since it’s not like I have anything to say that hasn’t already been said. But it’s everywhere, even over here.
I subscribe to CNN and BBC news alerts on my phone. Those alerts used to be infrequent – only in cases of natural disasters and tragedies. I regularly would say that when an alert came through, you knew it wasn’t good news. Lately I’ve been waking up to three, four, five alerts and sometimes more every morning detailing the latest in the USA. They come in while I sleep, while North America is churning out news, and so my morning greeting is a tally of what I missed over the past eight hours. And no, it’s still not good news.
Once upon a time, I used to write long, sweeping emails about my trips for friends and family. This was in the days before social media (that’s right, kiddos, I’m old), so instead of posting daily commentaries and photos of my lunch whenever I was far from home, I would write out lengthy stories about, well, nothing really at all. The people I met. Something cool I had seen. A new cultural tidbit I had learned. It was those emails that led me into travel writing as a career, because the friends and family I wrote to told me they enjoyed seeing those long-winded emails land in their inboxes. I realized I actually had a skill for turning the inane moments of travel into something funny or sad or insightful.
I booked a flight to Bangkok last night.
That in itself is not very noteworthy. Flights are booked all the time, and I was just in BKK seven months ago. It’s noteworthy to me only in that there’s no return date on that ticket.
It’s impossible not to be a total tourist in Hoi An, Vietnam. The streets are so pretty that you’ll find yourself snapping pictures every few steps. The high-end restaurants are a far cry from the street stalls of Hanoi (but still affordable by western standards). And the bars that come alive at night along the Thu Bồn River, serving cheap beers and shisha, practically force you to behave like a drunken backpacker, at least once.
We were alone, deep within the woods, when we heard it: a rustling in the trees ahead. My heart jumped to my throat. Naively, we had left our bear spray back at camp, and now we were standing in the middle of a ripe berry patch. Shaking with fear, we waited for whatever it was to emerge.
“Hidden gem” is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot in the travel sphere. So much so that it’s become a cliché, its accuracy debatable. After all, what’s “hidden” to visitors may very well have celebrity-like status for those who live in or near the area.
You could say that’s the case with Canada’s Niagara wine region. Located on the border between Ontario and New York State, Niagara is, in many ways, Canada’s claim to wine fame. It may not be as commonly known as other grape-growing regions, like California’s Napa Valley, France’s Bordeaux, or even Australia’s Barossa Valley, but many Canadians, in particular those who reside in Ontario, know that the vineyards that line the Niagara River are as worthy of the world stage as their sisters around the globe.