Taking the Road Less Travelled

“Two woods diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled and that has made all the   difference.” –  Robert Frost

A brisk, Sunday morning walk in late November was all I needed to be inspired to write something for my blog which has been sorely neglected these past months. The inspiration to write often hits me on a Sunday especially when I am walking in the midst of nature. One of my favourite walks is the French Basin Trail located a few meters from my apartment in Annapolis Royal.

I had just begun my recent walk when Robert Frost’s quotation from “The Road Not Taken” popped into my head. Why this particular poem, I wondered? I had come to a fork in the trail. Before me lay two different paths meaning I would have to decide which one to take. This was easy because I was familiar with both, so what was the real reason for this poem’s appearance? Interesting how one thought or word can lead to another and another…For me this had to mean something deeper in my life at this time.

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Dealing With Climate Change on a Personal Level

Climate change is finally working its way up to the top of our list of concerns these days. How can we ignore it when our newspapers and other social media are bringing it to our attention every day? In fact, it’s no longer about climate change but about a climate crisis.

Young people around the world are worried  that there may not be a future for them and if there is , it won’t be anything like what we have now. Fear for their future is luring them to protest and camp out in the streets of large cities around the world in order to gain the attention of their governments to do something about it. If you dare to listen or read about what’s in store for us, it can be scary even for us older folk who will most probably escape it. We can’t help feeling frightened for our children and grandchildren who will have to deal with the brunt of it. Continue reading

Waking Up to the Effects of Climate Change

My final two weeks in Chaing Mai this April were horrible…one of the worst experiences of my life. This may come as a shock to you from a returning visitor for the past ten years who has never hesitated to put this beautiful historic city at the top of her list as the most desirable city in SE Asia to visit and possibly live year round. I can only blame this change of mind on climate change. This year Chiang Mai broke all their previous records for high pollution indices and even gained the dubious title of being the most polluted city in the world beating New Delhi and Shanghai, the usual winners. The PM2.5 ( fixed particulate matter) was hovering between 140 to 200+ the whole time I was there. I can’t imagine what effect that had on my all ready compromised lungs where some bronchitis had set in while in Bali.

Bangkok gets smoggy, too

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Ubud – Art and Culture, Monkeys, and Rice Paddies

How can I best sum up my one month stay in Ubud?  On one hand, the month seems to have passed by much too quickly failing to give me enough time to really explore as much as I would have liked. On the other hand, it seems likes eons ago that I first stepped onto Bali soil again after a nine-year hiatus. It’s been a month of changes in many ways for me as in the weather,  friends who have come and gone, my personal travel plans, but the most difficult has been getting to know the new Ubud which hardly resembles anything like the small village it was. It has, unfortunately, morphed into a far too  busy and noisy town adjusting to the over development  brought about by the influx of tourists, many coming from China.

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It’s Called Resilience

Over the years I have kept a collection of quotations by famous people down through the centuries. Their words of wisdom have been my inspiration for many of my actions and my writing. 

The following quote by Cecil DeMille* was my inspiration for this post which is long overdue:

Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what is next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”

This past year I have had to make some tough choices which have disrupted my comfort zone. I have discovered that it’s not easy to not know where you will be living or what you will be doing a year from now. However, what I have learned is that the ‘not knowing’ what the future holds has helped me to know what resilience truly means and how necessary it is in times of great change such as we are facing today. It requires great strength and creativity which in itself is good because I will have lived instead of dying even a little bit. Continue reading

First Stop – Melbourne, Australia

Australia is a traveller’s dream. It is a modern country with a fully functioning democracy, English-speaking, with a warm and sunny climate, beautiful, coastal beaches, out of this world scenery, rich in resources, and not too many people. What more could a traveller ask for?

There are many different ways to see this vast country but because it’s expensive it can be a daunting task for a solo traveller on a budget like me to decide how to do it. I realised that the only way to see as much as I wanted in just under a month would be to fly the cheapest ways possible.

My intention at first was to fly to Sydney using that as a base to start and finish. However, that plan flew out the window when in December, while researching cheap flights to Australia, a fantastic opportunity with Jet Star Airlines popped up out of nowhere. My take off point was Singapore and if you want to find out why, check out my post Travel in 2018: Fulfilling a Dream. Taking this opportunity to fly to Melbourne first made sense because from there I could easily fly up to Alice Springs, on to Cairns, and then to Sydney, my departure point. Seizing this opportunity would be a good start towards helping to keep me within my budget, knowing that other things such as accommodations and food would be double the price of travelling in SE Asia.

All was good now that I had a plan. After a stress free stay in Singapore (You can check out my post entitled Four Days in Singapore )I was looking forward to my upcoming trip to the Land of Oz. On the day before my departure, I received an e-mail from Jet Star that my 8:15 p.m. flight was delayed until 5:30 the following morning. This meant I had to find a place to sleep for a few hours at least. My hotel came to the rescue with an additional charge for the extra hours I would need. On top of that was the stress of dealing with the place I had booked in Melbourne which had a ‘no refund’ policy. They did promise to hold my room until I arrived. If I wanted compensation, I would have to get it from the airline. The trouble was I didn’t take out cancellation insurance because it’s costly. This is what budget travellers do. We take our chances and hope that the worst won’t happen, and if it does, we pay for it. It’s always a gamble.

I had only three full days to explore this cultural capital of Australia which has always competed for the number one spot with Sydney to be not just the cultural capital, but the capital of the country. The war on who should get the coveted title was finally settled by the decision to build a new city as the capital which is Canberra.

Federation Square – the cultural & meeting centre for Melbourne.

My accommodation choice while in Melbourne was a small, country-style inn of some character in St. Kilda, one of Melbourne’s precincts. St Kilda is a beach side resort, not far from the CBD (central business district). With this location and its apparent old world charm, I booked a room at Little St. Kilda with booking.com. I arrived tired and cranky after a long 11 hour trip with little to eat except the few snacks I brought with me. Discount airlines give you nothing except your seat. You pay for everything including earphones if you wish to listen to music. To add insult to injury, they then charge you for the music!

Gateway to Little St. Kilda.

When I finally found Little St. Kilda, two hours after my arrival, I couldn’t get in. The door was locked and the house was in darkness. “How could this be the place I booked?” I asked myself. This looked like a private home with no one in it. There was no sign or even a house number. I looked around for a doorbell in the dark and instead found a box with numbers on it. But wait, underneath it was a button which looked promising so I pressed it, to which a voice responded telling me to use my code number. “Code number, what code number,” I yelled. “The one we sent you,”  said the calm, slightly condescending voice. “I did not receive any messages from anyone about this!” I yelled back. Realising I am starting to come apart at the seams, the voice quickly gave me the four digit code to punch in. Barely able to see the numbers, I have to trust I am hitting the right ones. With my first attempt nothing happens so I try again. “Wait for the click and then push the door,” he barks. Finally, there is a faint click and I push. I’m in! I turn left as the voice directed and find before me a long, elegant hallway with an inviting living room at the end. Where is the check-in counter, I wonder? How naive of me. This is no ordinary hotel. There is not a human in sight to greet me or to show me to my room. Now what do I do? Is this some kind of joke? Then it dawns on me that this is one of those ‘do it yourself’ check-ins similar to what you might encounter when staying at an Airbnb. The only option was to make myself comfortable on the inviting sofa until someone came along. If no one came, I thought, I could stretch out on this comfy sofa for my first night’s sleep. Thank goodness I had the good sense to stop on my way to this place for a bite to eat. At least I wouldn’t have to go to bed hungry. While pondering this rather bizarre situation, I realised the voice over the intercom had to come from somewhere in the house so in that case he would come shortly to take me to my designated room. I would just have to be patient!

It seemed like an eternity before  a young chap appeared to ask if I was happily settled into my room.  “What room?” I asked in disbelief.  “The Marina Room noted in the e-mail you were sent,” he replied. By this time I was totally baffled and wondered if I was loosing my marbles. I had been checking my e-mails and found nothing from Little St. Kilda. It wasn’t until a few weeks later I found that much-needed e-mail with all the check-in instructions in my spam box.

Once I got into my charming room, I quickly forgot my woes of getting into it. I was just thankful for a comfortable bed to lay down on for a good night’s sleep. As well as the great bed and other amenities such as a fridge and a kettle for making tea, there was also a well-equipped kitchen nearby to prepare my breakfasts in the morning and dinners at night. Dining out in Australia is very expensive so this is the only way to go if you are on a budget.

Unfortunately, other unexpected problems popped up during my stay concerning  the final bill. An additional $40 for cleaning fees had been added and no allowance had been made as I had requested for my missed night. Never have I heard of a cleaning fee for a hotel or guest house on Booking.com. On Airbnb it is clearly visible as a part of the cost. Then I got it! The owners were cutting their costs by listing with Booking instead of Airbnb because it’s cheaper for them. I checked out their website again and found to my surprise that there was mention of a cleaning fee but for less than what I was charged.

Clearly I was not too happy with my stay at Little St. Kilda. My visit had already been cut short by a day, and once there all I seemed to get was grief. My only contact with the hosts was by intercom, phone and e-mail. The young chap, who gave me an orientation of the place, was seldom to be seen afterwards. He apparently was a long-term guest enlisted by the owners to deal with problem guests like me who had difficulties with their checking-in process. From then on I was on my own to find my way around. Fortunately, the Aussies I sought help from were more than happy to comply.

When the time came for me to give my review to Booking about my stay, I realised I didn’t have much to say that was good. I was all set to give them a bad review which I rarely do since I always pick places based on good testimonials which never have let me down . Yet this place which had a 9 out of 10 didn’t come close for me. The only way to handle it was to let them know of my discontent. I did and wasn’t too surprised that after “some consultation” they would give me a refund for my missed night. In the end, they got a decent review from me, however, I did suggest they try to improve their check-in procedure and make sure a light was on for those who were checking in after dark.

My lovely room.

My first day in Melbourne was spent just getting to know the area of St. Kilda which I read was once a seedy area of nightclubs, prostitutes, and crime. This is certainly not true now as it has morphed into an up and coming area of trendy homes and restaurants.

A stately home with lovely filigree. Reminded me of homes in southern US.

However, before I set out to explore, I needed to find a place for breakfast. It was at least a ten minute walk to the centre of St. Kilda. When I got to the busiest cross street, I decided this would be the best place to look. I guessed correctly because what I found almost blew me away. It was not just the proliferation of restaurants and cafes, but in the midst of all of them were at least a half-dozen cake shops strung out in a row one after the other. Never have I ever seen such a display of mouth-watering sweets. Most of them offered good coffee and breakfast so I decided to try one out. I was famished so opted for poached eggs on toast. No butter on the toast and a fairly middling cup of coffee didn’t make much of an impression especially at a price of $11. As I was leaving, I made a promise to get to the Woolworth’s or Woolie’s* as the Aussie say before they closed to buy some food to make my own breakfasts.

One of those cake shops.

And another one.

Melbourne can boast of having some of Australia’s nicest beaches and St. Kilda is lucky enough to have one of them.  With the first glimpse of that beach, all my stress from the past few days just melted away. Finally I had found one of the reasons for my coming to Australia. It was a sunny but windy day so not overly inviting for a swim, but I found the solitude I needed by sitting there on the sand watching the balloons and surfers. I was also able to walk along the beach via a boardwalk that gave me the feeling of being in the country even though in the distance I could see Melbourne’s skyscrapers.

It was a bit wild that day.

Part of the walkway.

My remaining two days were spent exploring the CBD ( Central Business District). With the help of a Miki card which is free pass that can be topped up for any amount depending on what you are planning to use it for, I managed to get around to see a few places of note. My first stopping place was the Melbourne Museum which you can read about in Exploring the Spiritual Heart of Australia.

No, he’s not a live one. Taken at the Melbourn Museum.

There was far too much to see in just two days and getting to these places wasn’t always easy to do. I have to admit their transit system was confusing, not just for me, a visitor, but even to some of the Aussies because I kept getting different stories of how to use the card. Some stops required you to tap for getting on and off, while for others you only needed to tap getting on. Then there were the free trams which would take you around the centre. Great idea but many of the people I asked weren’t sure just where to link on to them or even which buses qualified. Such conflicting stories I did not need so opted in the end to hoof it.

I love old buildings with outstanding architecture which Melbourne has in abundance. The State Library Victoria is one of them which I found the time to visit and was glad I did. The reading room with its magnificent dome and soaring glass was one of the largest in the world when it opened in 1913. It’s now one of the most photographed sites in Australia.

A close up of the dome.

Looking down on the Reading Room with its 3-tiered gallery.

However, putting aside the architectural splendor of this building, the second most interesting thing about this library is its abundance of art and memorabilia on the state of Victoria. Here I learned all about Australia’s infamous bushranger, Ned Kelly, an Irish man of poor background, who has become the stuff of legend to most of the country. His rogue life and the discrimination he endured turned him into the kind of criminal you could not hate no matter what he did. An articulate man despite no education, he left letters which were on display stating his concern for the under privileged. In addition, there was his suit of armour which he wore on some of his killing forays to reveal his bad boy side. He would do anything so long as he could get retribution for the poor at the expense of the rich gold diggers. Not surprising that he has become a symbol of all the things that were wrong in Australian at that time.

Ned Kelly’s armour.

One of his letters.

Another attraction in Melbourne is the lovely Yarra River where you can take a boat trip or walk along its meandering course lined with numerous parks and a huge Botanical Garden. I chose to do neither since my feet would not allow it. Taking the time to sit there with the ducks was enough for me. As I gazed out over the river, I recalled a similar scene many years ago in Cambridge, England where expert oarsmen plied their skiffs along that river. I realised that this was just one of the ways that Melbourne still reveals its British heritage.

An Australian magpie.

The following day I had to leave for my next stop…Alice Springs. By now I was beginning to get a better feel for this massive country and the people. Melbourne taught me a valuable lesson as I came to grips with my rough start at Little St. Kilda. Australians really are true pioneers in a sense. Their approach seems to be that everyone, including tourists, must step up to the plate. We’ll help you but you must help yourself, too. Ask us the questions and we will answer them the best we can, but don’t expect us to read your minds. That was my first impression but I knew there would be more.

Woolworth’s is one of the largest chain of supermarkets in the country and Woolies is what they fondly call it.

Some additional shots of Melbourne

Outside the State Library

Cafe scene in St. Kilda

There’s that Aussie sense of humour.

 

 

 

It’s Time For Us to Wake Up

I don’t know about you, but I am getting to the point where I simply don’t want to hear the news these days. All the negativity, the bickering, hate and narrow-mindedness going on all over the world is getting me down. Many of us knowingly or unknowingly are being affected by it for such negativity can be toxic. The question is, “What can we do about it?”

For starters, I have quit listening to any news on television and seldom go onto Facebook these days. About the only thing I do now is quickly scan our daily newspaper in order to give a pass to the recent crime stories, what our political leaders are saying, or Trump’s latest tweet, in my quest to find an uplifting story. Thankfully our own Chronicle Herald…one of the few independent papers left in Canada… has some excellent writers doing a great job of providing us with a flicker of hope that we will find solutions for some of the many problems facing us, not just here in Nova Scotia,but everywhere.

Once upon a time I read and listened to just about everything the media offered. Today we no longer know if the news is real or not, and with so much falling into the realm of ‘gloom and doom’ it all becomes overwhelming. It makes me want to get to Thailand fast to escape it all. However, I have a month before I can do this so I must endure the long, dark days of November and December by finding other diversions. Thus, I find myself looking in the cupboard or fridge for a snack, watching far too many British mysteries on PBS television, reading a good book, exercising my brain by tackling a cross word puzzle, or getting together with good friends. All of this is good and necessary, but I can’t help asking,”Is it enough?” I don’t know about you, but with the sorry state of our world and the lingering knowledge that if we don’t do something quick, our world as we now know it will eventually disappear, is a fact that I can’t ignore.

We know that escaping or ignoring our problems isn’t the answer because they will always come back to haunt us. However, the bottom line is that we want to feel useful…to feel like we are contributing something which will help our world. We feel better about ourselves when we give rather than take. Yet many of us still choose to either ignore the problems or perhaps simply give up in despair because we just don’t know where to start or what we can do. What’s the use in even trying? Let our politicians and other leaders sort it out. I already have enough to do just trying to live my life. These are unfortunate assumptions to make because there always solutions to every problem. We just have to open our eyes and hearts to find the answers.

My guess is it’s part of our human nature to react in this way because we simply are not inclined or possibly not wired to change our old way of doing things. We get too used to being in the comfort zones we have created for ourselves. Changes that take us away from that are scary so are best ignored. However, our world has had enough of this kind of thinking and is calling out for our help. It’s trying to tell us to change our attitude to how we have always treated it. We can’t just keep taking from it; we have to start giving back. So how we can do this is always the all important question.

Recently I’ve been bombarded with self – help techniques for keeping healthy, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually. Our modern-day sages are bringing back ideas that aren’t new and have been uttered down through the ages by other wise men and women. I find it interesting that the wisdom of old is not that different from that of today. There really is not much new under the sun. Their message is that if we truly want to save our world then we are going to have to change our thinking and, thus, our way of doing things. There are a myriad of enlightened individuals out there who are more than happy to have you sign up for their courses to teach you how. At one time we would buy their books if we wanted to change ourselves for the better. Now we can get more involved by meeting them personally on the Internet.

Just recently a familiar name whose books I read years ago appeared on a video interview announcing his upcoming course on this theme.  The man I am referring to is Neale Walsch, author of the best-selling trilogy of books entitled  Conversations with God”. His books, based on messages he claims came to him from God when he was at a low point in his life, were read by millions and became the impetus for us to consider the whole nature of who or what God is to us. Instead of something from above or external, the concept has become a personal one which we can find within us. This was the beginning of our awakening as to where we fit in to the whole scheme of things. Now he has come out with a fourth book where he says the time has come for each and every one of us to take the next step… to use our true calling in a way that will help our world. It’s now time to go beyond the looking inward and look outward. He doesn’t ask us to throw out all the good wisdom our various religions have given us, but to keep what works and discard what doesn’t. “I could be right but I could be wrong,” is his mantra. He goes on to say that we have been taking ourselves far too seriously by feeling we have to be right all the time.

Walsch’s new message really hit home for me, but instead of signing up for his expensive online course, I will look into buying his new book “Awaken the Species: A New Conversation With God”.

Returning to my realization that there are certain wise ideas that have been with us forever which come back to haunt or help us whenever they are needed, I remember one that has stuck with me throughout my life’s journey. It is something the mythical Greek hero, Ulysses, said: “I am a part of all that I have met.” This speaks volumes to me because in my travels I have learned so much about myself and this world I live in from all the different countries I have visited. I think if everyone could have the opportunity to travel, we would not be facing many of the problems we are facing today. Travel has taught me more than my family, my country or my teachers ever could have, and, yes, I should add any of the courses I’ve taken or books I’ve read. They have all been valuable but it’s the experience of travel that has been my greatest teacher. Think about it. With travel you have to use all your five senses not just your eyes to read about it. More importantly, you have to rely on that sixth sense… intuition. All the knowledge in the world won’t be of much help when faced with difficult circumstances or having to make tough decisions. This one is so important because it depends on faith and let me tell you much of what can happen when travelling depends on how strong your faith is. I would never have chosen to travel solo if I had not had the power of my 6th sense to keep me going. I just had to trust that no matter where I was or what predicament I had to work my way out of that faith in myself and my spiritual guides and God were there to help me.

Another wise saying that comes to mind and is so appropriate as we struggle to deal with the changes that are occurring in our world right now is this by Ghandi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Ghandi believed so strongly in the importance of his country to be free of British colonial rule that he sacrificed his family and all his worldly comforts to fight for this in a peaceful manner. He was admired by some but scorned by many at that time, but still he persevered. I am not suggesting that we all follow in the footsteps of Gandhi, but we can take some of his words and actions as a starting point by getting involved in what is going on in our own communities or neighbourhoods.

One final word….we can’t sit back and expect our political leaders to have all the answers to our problems. The system isn’t equipped to allow them to carry out all those wonderful promises they made to us before they were elected to office. We need to start with ourselves and begin the work of making changes within starting with our own thoughts and actions. We need to set an example to our families, friends, and neighbours. We need to banish the negative thinking….judging, blaming, hating… and operate at a higher level of accepting, sharing, and loving. If more of us can do that starting right now, then just maybe we will achieve a world with more peace and harmony.