Wandering On Purpose

For 147 days I’ve been a wanderer. To some that may seem like a small feat, too others it may seem unfathomable. To me it’s a bit of both. The culture I was raised in doesn’t take well to wanderers. We prefer that people have a plan: an education plan, a health care plan, a career plan, a dental plan, an insurance plan, a workout plan…Really we are just a lot better off if we know where we are going and how we are getting there.

So while wandering for a short time may be a component of a plan, it certainly isn’t a plan in itself. And it’s true. Even for me, this current phase of wandering isn’t going to last forever. But what things about wandering are worth incorporating into my otherwise planned life?

1. Relaxing amidst imperfection. Usually, I like for everything in my day to look and feel perfect before I invite others into it. There must be enough food for dinner before inviting guests. The house must be clean before family arrives. There must be a plan in place before going out with friends. While traveling, I noticed that abandoning perfection rapidly increases human bonding. On countless occasions, I found myself invited into less than perfect situations, and learned to embrace the discomfort. In Budapest, a host was adamant that eating alone was rude, so he didn’t hesitate to offer us a portion of his reheated leftovers. In Pamplona, we had gathered a group 20 or so pilgrim friends for dinner, but when we realized that none of us had an actual plan for the event we started a spontaneous fake free walking tour and eventually the laughter overwhelmed our grumbly stomachs and tired feet. In Muiden, a cake was baked with less than half of the required ingredients and both new friends and old took part in the experimental taste-test. Let’s cut the crap. None of us are perfect, none of us live in perfection, so let’s be imperfect together.
2. Reimagining personal space. Before this trip, I was someone who needed a lot of personal space. While growing up and going to university, I almost always had my own room. On occasions when I have had to share a bedroom I would sigh with relief when my roommate went out for a night of fun, just so that I could read or write in the comfort of my own company. While travelling these opportunities are even fewer. So I have redrawn my personal space criteria: a journal, a water bottle, a soft scarf, my phone, and some headphones. These are really the only things I need to create my own space whether in a bumpy bus, a crowded dorm, or a sub-standard Airbnb. I imagine that my inventory will change with each stage of life, but the truth is: I don’t need as much physical space as I once thought.

3. Rethinking introductions. In the comforts of planned life, one of the first questions that arises when we meet someone is: what do you do? As in for money. While traveling, this question is rarely relevant. Much more frequently I will find out where some one is from, how many siblings they have, what they like to do for fun, what sort of music they like, how they drink their coffee, and whether or not they snore, before I have any idea if they might work in an office or a kitchen. What a relief! My own career status isn’t exactly a conversation starter.

4.  Recognizing strangers. Before travelling I usually kept my interactions with passing strangers to a minimum. Of course, I would extended some social effort to the lucky person who occupied a plane seat beside me (and got to monopolize our shared arm rest), but I see no need to interact with every passerby. Until I learned to love the “bon appetite” and the “buen camino.” Both of these are simple phrases, they don’t take a lot of effort and they’re not intended to start a discussion. They are more like blessings than conversation starters. In France, it is considered rude to walk by someone who is eating without wishing them “bon appetite.” Until I learned this, I just thought that everyone was really friendly and happy to see me enjoying my baguette. On the camino in Spain, everyday was punctuated with dozens of “buen camino”s. On a particularly difficult day, one of our pilgrim friends exclaimed, “I don’t want to hear another f***ing ’buen camino’ I just want someone to say ‘I feel bad for you, you sorry bastard.’” But isn’t that what a blessing is? It’s a way to tell a stranger, even if you don’t speak the same language, that you see them, you recognize their experience, and you wish them well for their day, or their journey, or even just their lunch. I think I’d like to share more of these passing blessings, even though I’m not quite sure what that will look like in North American culture.


I can’t keep backpacking forever: my shoulders are tired, I’m sick of peeing in other people’s toilets, I miss having Q-tips, and I would love to wear shoes that actually match my outfit. But maybe in a few small ways, I can keep wandering, on purpose.



Camino Family

How often do you know the exact condition of your friends’ feet?

Well I do.
Louise has three blisters on one big toe and a few on the rest.
Dave has a couple of blisters that keep coming back because he always cuts the badges too small.
Marg is blister free (and we hate her for it).
Anita’s got a few sore spots, but she has magic foot wool that keeps the blisters at bay.
Jakob has cracks in his heels..

My feet are scarred too. The topmost layer of skin on my back left heel is replaced with silicone. My big left toe has erected a temporary wall in attempts to resolve recent conflicts with my second toe and my big right toe has seen more needle punctures than a puppy with a porcupine habit. So why the battered feet?

About a week ago, Jakob and I started a pilgrimage, so our feet are showing the natural wear and tear of about 163km of walking. We started our trek in the picturesque village of St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in the foothills of the French Pyrennes.

I have to admit, 163km ago I didn’t have the best attitude. I was pretty certain of 4 things: (1) the trail would be too busy, (2) I would make few genuine friends, (3) I would grow weary of touristy misrepresentations of medieval life, and (4) I would overall find the experience bearable, but certainly not life changing. Jakob would call me a pessimist. Of course, I know that I’m just a realist. Now after a week on the trail, I am reporting the very real fact that I was wrong on 3 of my 4 predictions. Let’s see if you can guess which ones.

No more than a few kms from the start, Jakob and I trekked past a group of three pilgrims. They were blaring music out of their compact speaker and struggling a bit with the steep incline. Just out of earshot we began a somewhat self-righteous critique of “those people.” “Why not just talk to each other?” “Who gives you the right to set the soundtrack for everyone?” “Why can’t you just wear headphones?” We quickly forgot their faces and remembered only the stereotype.

A few kms later, another group of three pilgrims passed us as we sipped water. We chatted briefly. Aussie? Kiwi? Jakob was sure they were from New Zealand. I shrugged my shoulders. A few more kms and they were snacking as we passed. A few more and we were waving at their familiar faces once more and commenting on the beautiful views over the valley bottom.
“Where are you staying tonight?”
“Us too!”
“See you at supper then.”
“Yes, see you at supper!”
And just like that, we had our first pilgrim date!

The end of our first day’s hike came quickly and before long, Jakob and I were huddled at a rough wooden table dealing cards and rehashing our day. A short woman with a purposeful walk entered the common space of our hostel/cabin.
“We need to build fire,” she stated sternly.
Jakob and I glanced at each other. Usually we are quick to claim that we are capable Canadians, but at the moment neither of us felt compelled to chop damp wood and kindle reluctant flames. We played dumb and continued our card game. The woman left, apparently deterred by our disinterest. To our surprise, she returned moments later with an armload of wood and explained that she found it under a shelter, protected from the rain. Dropping the logs on the floor, she looked expectantly at Jakob, the only man in the room. Jakob sighed and set down his cards.
“There’s no hatchet. No axe,” he gestured a swinging motion to add emphasis.
“We cut with knife,” the woman explain, hurrying to the kitchen.
I followed, surely she couldn’t be serious. The elderly woman examined the knife drawer with a practiced eye. She selected a large cleaver and handed it to Jakob. His face gave away only the briefest moment of confusion before he got to work peeling thin layers of wood fibres away from the log. The woman shook her head and demonstrated. Smaller strips. She got to work immediately emptying the ash from the fireplace while I hovered helplessly. An elderly German man entered the room, taking in the scene, he dropped his pack and offered his fireplace expertise. Half an hour later, Jakob and the German fellow were busy building an elaborate flammable structure. There were few words exchanged, but a clear master and apprentice hierarchy emerged instantly, with Jakob seeking a nod of approval before placing most of his pieces. I sat at the long wooden table with the project foreman, Lubmila from Latvia.
“I grew up under the Soviet Union,” she explained seriously, “I was taught that when you see an opportunity to improve your life, you must take it.”
I nodded gravely.
“Here I saw opportunity,” she cracked a smile and we both began to laugh.
A few long minutes later, the fire was roaring and we all cheered. The German gentlemen stood up, brushed of his hands, and summarized succinctly:
“Now women happy.”
Jakob nodded in agreement and the French pilgrims upstairs shuffled down towards the glowing common room, bringing all of their socks and laundry to dry by the flames.
That evening we walked the 1km up to the next hostel for dinner. After a quick scan of the dinning hall we spotted a few familiar faces and invited ourselves to join them. Marg, Dave, and Anita introduced themselves. Yes Jakob was right, they were from New Zealand. After some friendly interrogations we found out that Marg and Dave are on a year long trip around the world, celebrating a “significant birthday” and enjoying some empty-nester freedom. Anita is an Aussie turned Kiwi and a close friend of theirs with an equally bold sense of adventure.

That first night, we probably should have given them fair warning: you won’t be able to shake us off. We should have told them that we would likely interrupt our travel schedule if it meant staying on the same itinerary as them. We might even slow our pace or delay a departure. Upon arriving in a new village we might even ask anxiously if any other pilgrims have seen three Kiwis looking somewhat lost or lonely.
“Oh you’ve seen them?” we might say, “yes, they are looking so sad because they have misplaced their Canadians.”

On our second day on the trail we traversed the Pyrenees and rescued a damsel in distress or a jomfru i nød (a mermaid in need). We had just made the steep descent into Spain and were dusty and exhausted, waiting to check-in to the hostel. A lone pilgrim ahead of us seemed to be having some trouble. She had no cash and there was no ATM in town.
“This is going to be a problem,” she mumbled under her breath.
The clerk looked sympathetic, but remained resolute. He suggested that she begin the 4km walk to the next town.
Jakob leaned over and whispered, “we should pay for her.”
I gave him a skeptical look. Twelve euros is a lot to just throw around. Jakob ignored my hesitation and marched towards the counter.
“We’ll cover her stay,” he offered nonchalantly.
She spun around, surprise and gratitude written across her face.
“You need dinner too don’t you?”
She hesitated and looked down, “yah.”
“No worries! We got this.”

Her name is Louise, she is 24 years old, she is from Denmark, she’s got a crazy sense of humour, she’s served in Afghanistan, and she’s barely left our side for the last five days. For the first few kilometres there were some indentured servitude jokes, but even after the money was settled up, we still couldn’t seem to part ways. At this point we rarely make decisions around food, accommodation, foot care, or travel without consulting her. The deal works something like this: Louise makes sure we don’t starve, Jakob makes sure we don’t get lost, and I keep everyone well informed with useless facts and inspirational quotes from the guide book. Needless to say, we are all quite content with the arrangement.

A couple of days ago our camino family, Dave, Marg, Anita, Louise, Jakob, and I were inching past the 20km mark for the day when Dave pulled out a compact bluetooth stereo and offered to lift our spirits with a little country music and rock and roll. My eyes widened as I put it all together. Those hooligans blaring music the first day were our beloved Kiwis. We laughed awkwardly and admitted to our snobby prejudice that first day. The Kiwis seemed pleased to have rocked our boat a little. So we turned up the volume, picked up our tired feet, and sang along to George Ezra’s “Barcelona.”

The only prejudicial assumption we regretted more was the time we ran into our Latvian grandma again and she gave us another one of her classic bossy pieces of advice.
“You must skip down the hills,” she stepped one foot in front of the other and demonstrated an awkward lope.
We smiled and laughed, immediately dismissing her suggestion as the crazy ramblings of an exhausted pilgrim.
“No, no,” she insisted, “I am not joking. It is really better to skip. I fly down the hills. Passing everyone and they ask me how I do it. I tell them I skip down the hills.”
The next time our knees were straining and our shins were aching from a restrained downward descent, we heard Lubmila’s stern words in our heads and decided that if anyone knew how to ease suffering, it would be someone who survived the Soviet Union. So we gave it a shot. Louise tried it first. Then Jakob. Then I joined in. We’re now known as the crazy pilgrims who run down all the hills and I have no doubt everyone else secretly wishes we would fall flat on our faces. Still, at every opportunity we try to convince others to convert to our skipping ways. Dave and Marg are the most recent converts. Anita is next.

While our camino family is pretty tight (Jakob and Dave bought matching shirts and have been known to call each other “young bull” and “papa bull,” we do have room for a few extended family members including a couple of Britts, a few other Canadians, and some Aussies. We call it the Commonwealth plus Denmark. In a typical day we each leave at our own pace. Jakob, Louise, and I get up at the crack of dawn and usually stop for breakfast about 5km down the road. Just as we are finishing our café con leches and hot chocolate, a couple other Commonwealth pilgrims are bound to stumble in. Of course, we stay and chat and just as we are finally strapping our backpacks on a few more familiar pasty faces will likely find their way to our table. It is in this rhythm of ‘hello’s and ‘see you later’s that we pass most of our days. In the evening we track each other down in some sort of central square, bring out the wine, and munch on pinxos (basque version of tapas). Even the bustling city of Pamplona started to feel like a small town when we strolled past bars full of familiar looking pilgrims and eventually managed to gather the whole Commonwealth gang together.

Each morning when we head out there is a brief moment of tension. How far are we going? Where will we be stopping? What if we loose track of each other? But I have to believe that our paths crossed for a reason, and they are going to stay entangled for as long as they need to be. By the time we do say “good-bye” it will most certainly be a “see you later.”

Life at Vrede Rust

“We’re going to build a publicly accessible bike terrace.”
My mind immediately flipped to concrete and table saws and other things that I knew nothing about. Nice idea. But no way is this actually going to work. My doubts only increased when I heard that the plan was to build all the furniture ourselves from beat-up pallet wood. I kept my doubts to myself, picked up a shovel and started digging. That’s one tool I know how to use, even with my chicken arms.


Before the project

Task 1: Remove tree stumps. Amish style. Minus Clydesdales. That’s right. About an hour into digging and hacking at roots, Jakob and I started dropping hints about trucks and ropes. Our suggestions were laughed off, so we decided to laugh too.

Production was further slowed when Indi showed up, armed with a plastic shovel and steely determination. She considered the stubborn tree trunk thoughtfully and began attacking with her own strategy. A neighbouring farmer stopped his bike on the road and peered curiously at our slow going efforts.
“I can bring the tractor over,” he offered.
Alef smiled and declined. The four of us, two baffled Canadians, one strong-willed toddler, and an equally determined organic homesteader, continued to work away at the tree roots for another half an hour. Finally, Alef felt obliged to offer an explanation.
“I want Indi to know that things can’t always be solved quickly and easily in life. There may come a time when you can’t just grab a tractor to get the job done. Besides this place isn’t about efficiency or productivity, that’s what the rest of the wold is chasing. This is about teamwork and getting back to basics.”


When we finally pulled that tree stump out with our bear hands, we leapt to our feet in surprise and joy. And Alef’s words started to make a bit of sense.

That afternoon we celebrated the successful clearing of the terrace space with a trip into the village of Muiden for Vlaggetjesdag, which translates to “Little Flag Day.” Yes, the Dutch have a national holiday dedicated to honouring their flag and instead of focusing on the power and strength of their colours, they throw a diminutive on the end and celebrate with seniors’ choirs performing on sailboats. With dirt in our nails, a beer in our hands, and the spunky melodies of Dutch sailing songs all around, we decided we might be able to adapt to this crazy homesteading life.

Task 2: Landscape the area.

The task for day 2 was simple enough. I put my extensive background in landscape fabric to work and Jakob started hauling wheelbarrow loads of wood chips.

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Actually the real challenge of day two wasn’t work related at all. Before I explain, let me give you some context. I come from a family where snacks are frequent, every meal revolves around a meat dish, and food selection bordered on excessive. Just ask any of my childhood friends, they will laugh and tell you that it was a dark day in the Horlings house when there were fewer than five types of juice in the fridge. So I’m sure you can imagine that adapting to a porridge breakfast, cheese and bread lunch, and vegetarian dinner took some time.

So when it came time for dinner at Vrede Rust and I saw one pan on the table, I panicked. My first instinct was to compensate for variety with quantity. I’m sure Alef and Lin both made mental notes…no more hosting Canadians, every night they eat like hibernation starts tomorrow.

It took me a couple of days to realize that the simple spread before me was actually ladened with options. Sure the staple was bread, but no loaf was like another. Anise, sunflower seeds, cumin, apples, berries…you name it, Alef can make bread with it. Then came the cheeses: spiced, aged, and smoked; and the spreads: red berry, apple chutney, black berry, peanut butter, and tahini. By the end of the first week, I was looking forward to lunch and dinner, for the calories of course, but more and more for the surprising vegetables where I usually expected to find meat. By the end of the first week, I was delighted to discover that my body could function just as well meat-free as carnivorous. Of course, that doesn’t mean we didn’t jump at the first opportunity to munch on some roasted chicken dipped in peanut sauce and it was all the more delicious.

Task 3: Build patio furniture. This proved to be the most challenging (and rewarding) of our workaway tasks. The project took more-or-less eight days of work. On the “less” days drill bits broke, heads were bonked, screws were misaligned, tears were shed, and we decided to call it a day before noon. On the “more” days, table saws ran smoothly, stain dried quickly, every piece fit perfectly, and we laughed while we worked.
Let me give you a quick step-by-step:

  1. Pallet demolition

2. Measuring and cutting boards to size

3. Sanding

4. Staining

5. Assembly:

 6. Completion:
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It was a team effort and we even had the chance to meet some of the other workawayers who have lived at Vrede Rust in the past. Hannah and Hale (New Zealand), and Paula and Gabby (Brazil) all now live in Amsterdam.

On our last few days we added the finishing touches to the public terrace:


We turned the existing Vrede Rust sign into a rest-stop sign


Of course, I insisted on adding some flowers! A big pumpkin plant will eventually sprout in the big central pot.


And then I just kind of got carried away with the flowers.


Of course, Indi insisted on doing all of the planting, and I agreed to dig holes where I was told


Finally, the finished terrace space!

Other projects of the week included:

Painting a sign for the garden entrance

Adding soil to the hugel mound (it’s a German thing, so of course it’s brilliant, look it up)FullSizeRender 2

and dredging out the old rain-water cisternIMG_7376

By the time we said goodbye we could look out over the property and think, “it’s no longer quite the same as before.” I can’t imagine what it must be like for Lin and Alef to go about their days thinking of all of the busy hands and smiling faces that have worked hard to make their home what it is today. What a testament to the beauty of community and the power of teamwork. We can’t wait to visit in a few years and find out who else left a piece of their heart at Vrede Rust.


15 Things that Made Italy Unforgettable

March 2-12

  1. Trying to align my hunger with the late Italian dinner hour….well if I have one lunch at 11:30, and another lunch around 3, maybe a snack at 5:30, then by 8 I should be the right amount of hungry to eat my weight in pasta.

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    A strategic afternoon snack

  2. The pervasive national passion for houseplants.
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  3. The way the ticket machine at the railway station yells “PICK OUT YOUR CARD” once the transaction is over. Only about 30 seconds after an equally loud announcement to avoid pickpocketers…maybe if they didn’t announce that my card was available for the taking, it wouldn’t be a problem!
  4. Trying to choose a pizza.
  5. Air drying socks, no better way to start a day than slipping on some cardboard booties.
  6. The sound of Italian spoken quickly, which can only be described as staccato.
  7. The effort to make sure no two houses have exactly the same hue of peachy yellow.
  9. Wine that’s cheaper than beer and sangria that’s cheaper than both.FullSizeRender 20
  10. Pondering why anyone would say “arrivederci” when you can say “ciao”…Who has time for 5 syllables!?! I ran into so many doors craning my neck around trying to stutter out the last few consonants. Just say “ciao.” For your personal safety.
  11. The series of hand gestures I exchanged with a Pharmacist in attempts to get some sort of cream for Jakob’s chaffing.
  12. Seriously considering the necessary logistics to steal a little cash from the Trevi fountain.IMG_6220
  13. Adding “i,” “a,” or “o” to the ends of English words and hoping they come out Italian…ya I told someone “una momento” is that even Italian?
  14. Tomato Basil potato chips that answered the nagging question: What would happen if ketchup chips and all dressed chips made a baby?
  15. Cinque Terre (yes this post is really just a shameless excuse to throw all of these gorgeous pictures online, because Instagram couldn’t even handle them). After two months on the road, it’s the most beautiful sight we have seen.
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    First sight after stepping out of the train station in Monterosso


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    The hiking begins!

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    First glimpse of Vernazza



    sooo many stairs

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    An Australian couple on the trail told us about this great café. Jakob declared it the best dinner of the trip!



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    Jakob in his happy place



    I guess the stairs were worth it



    Catching the sunset in Riomaggiore


    Perfect end to what we both agreed was our favourite day of the trip. Yes, we missed one of the 5 villages…but we did that on purpose so that we would have to come back.

Rest Day(s)??

February 26-March 4

This is the story (more of a picture book really) of how one rest day turned into four.

After nearly two months of winter travel we were both craving some beach time. Our level of desperation for sunshine and surf only became fully apparent when we caught ourselves scoping the Airbnb map of Italy for any accommodation as long as it was cheap and close to a beach. Coliseum? Pompeii? Venice? We didn’t care, we just wanted to lay down and let the sun do all of the work. So yes, I would say we have reached some level of travel exhaustion.

Where did this moment of desperate trip planning take place? In Edipsou, Greece, a tiny resort town fed by piping hot streams of thermal water. So we gave our heads a shake, shut the laptop, pulled on our bathing suits, and began searching the deserted town for its famed thermal pools.

Only a few steps away from the beach and we could see billows of steam rising from the shore. In seconds, we had our shoes and clothes piled on a nearby rock and were tiptoeing over mineral encrusted rocks towards a scalding waterfall.


Usually, as a tourist, I am the one trying not to stare at people who are doing something unfamiliar to me, but this time the roles were reversed. As we relaxed in the algae covered volcanic rock pools, Edipsou locals, bundled up in parkas and scarves, took turns peering over the railings to inspect the crazy ‘Americans’ who had taken over their beach.


We were eventually joined by a Siberian woman on vacation and a Greek-Australian basketball player on his day off. It seemed we all needed some warmth and relaxation for our own reasons. We chatted off and on, but mainly spent the evening silently submerged in the ocean/spring water.

On our second day in Edipsou, we decided to put a bit more effort into our budget spa experience. At the risk of offending locals, we began hauling rocks of assorted sizes from the beach and redirecting the thermal water flow to create a new pool.

gopr7703-1 Our well intentioned efforts were mainly a failure, and we managed to overheat the one pool with a perfect temperature, while creating one fragile and leak prone new pool. Fearing retribution from the Edipsouians, we bid the village goodbye and headed south hoping for not only another beach, but also better beaching weather.

After a four hour drive and one goat herd sighting:


we arrived at the Peloponnesian seaside:

img_0943Where we took our beaching very seriously:


While we were happy to see some sun, my favourite part of the day was maybe not what you’d expect…unless you know me well then you might not be surprised.

Some sort of mystery citrus fruit was growing at our beach house Airbnb! It was almost the size of a cantaloupe with a thick spongy skin that, from the outside, made it seem rotten. If the neighbours had been home at the moment, they would have seen a pasty white blonde girl jumping around in the courtyard tossing a massive fruit in the air and begging her husband to get her a knife so she could hack it open and see if it was poisonous. It wasn’t poisonous, but it was impossible to eat because of its incredible size. I offered Jakob a hunk, but he likes to know the name of a fruit before he eats it.

Eventually we did meet the owner of the orchard. On our walk back from the beach later that evening, a deeply tanned Greek farmer stopped his tractor in front of us, climbed down and motioned for us to follow him. He reached over the fence and plucked two ripe fruits (which were recognizably oranges) and pushed them into our hands. What’s with people and giving us free produce? He then began to push open the orchard gate, motioning for Jakob to help. We set down our beach stuff and made a feeble effort to pay off our citrus samplers. He nodded in thanks and sent us on our way. For future reference, I will accept oranges in exchange for small favours.

This was not our last strange encounter with an elderly Greek man. On our second day at the beach house, we had run into problems with the washing machine. As in, we had put all our most essential clothes in, shut the door, discovered it didn’t rotate, and then couldn’t open it again. Our approach to the problem started with a frantic youtube search for “how to break into a washing machine” and ended with an apologetic text to our Airbnb hosts. They ensured us that a mechanic would come later that day, so don’t fault us for thinking that the hunched old man who wandered into our yard around 5:00 pm was the mechanic. He shook our hands and began a spirited one-way discussion in Greek. If “baba” is Greek for grandpa, then maybe he was the grandfather or our Airbnb host, or he wanted to be our grandpa. I’m still not sure. At this stage we still assumed he was the mechanic, so we led him into the kitchen. He followed, inspected the washing machine, and began explaining the issue… in Greek of course. Jakob and I repeated any words we could make out, adding a question mark and some hand signals. The conversation became even more vigorous. Until we realized that: one, he wasn’t the mechanic, and two, we had let a stranger into the house. We fell silent, shrugged our shoulders, guided him back to the yard, and waved good bye.

Eventually, the actual mechanic showed up and we hauled our liberated laundry over to a neighbouring beach house with a functioning washing machine. I spent the next few hours practicing my Greek letter recognition skills, which as an arts major, consisted of no more than π and Θ just five days ago. Painstakingly, I translated the words ‘Cotton,’ ‘door,’ and ‘end.’ Which is really all the words anyone needs to do laundry. Jakob endured my sporadic shouts of “TELOS! I get it, like teleological, like the study of the end times. Telos is the end of the laundry cycle!” Only the coolest kids use theology to do their laundry.

So in case you missed it, in the course of about three days, all we had accomplished was three beach visits, two discussions with Greek grandpas, and one load of laundry. We agreed that we would achieve more in the coming week.

Our first day in Rome was clearly a reactionary response to our recent laziness. Over the course of only about four hours we had:

Explored several narrow medieval streets:


Scarfed down some delicious gelato:


Tried to blend into a wall:


Walked over some bridges:


Sat in the middle of a square: fullsizeoutput_403

Climbed to the top of the Spanish Steps:


Stared up at the Pantheon:



The Pantheon is one of the most impressive buildings we have seen so far and, even better, entrance was FREE! It was built in the 2nd century and turned into a church about 500 years later. Today, it still holds the record for the largest unreinforced concrete dome.

and finally, watched the sun set over the Vatican:


a papal pigeon

We walked over 20km of Rome’s streets and plazas and counted it as practice for our planned pilgrimage in May. I can’t think of a better place to practice for a pilgrimage.

What are we doing today? Well the length of this blog post should tell you that we aren’t walking 20km. No, we are 50 days into this adventure and today is the first day that our bodies refused to cooperate. Jakob experienced a bad combo of poor underwear choice, friction, and 20km of walking and I was experiencing some sort of digestive rejection of Italian food. So we decided to listen to our bodies and take a real rest day. Not a beach day or a travel day, but a sleep in, eat breakfast at noon, read books, and go to bed early rest day.

While our Airbnb kitty may look sceptical:

fullsizerender-3I am quite confident that it was the right decision.


The Real Travel Tale

So that’s the last time I predict a day’s events before they actually take place. About three hours after writing my last blog post, we were eagerly awaiting the Alaska Airlines boarding announcement for the 1:25 flight to Seattle, when we heard an uncharacteristically panicked airline agent’s voice over the intercom. There seemed to be fluid leaking out of the plane. They weren’t sure where it was coming from. The wait would be at least an hour, maybe more, they weren’t sure. We were told to “hang tight.” Counter to that advice, a frenzy of travelers clutching boarding passes and dwindling hopes rushed the desk. I applauded my calm go-with-the-flow attitude. Then I recognized someone amoungst the anxious cue. Jakob? My eyes rolled. Didn’t he realize we just have to “hang tight” and wait for the plane to be fixed? As a (highly) experienced traveler I know that the airlines will sort out any missed connections as we go.

Fifteen minutes later we were gathering our backpacks and racing onto an Air Canada flight bound for Vancouver. My sweet-talking husband had somehow secured us an entirely new flight itinerary. One hour later we were sipping free drinks and munching on unlimited buffet food in the exclusive Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge at YVR. Score one for being proactive and 0 for ‘hanging tight.’

Seventeen hours later we had safely landed in Amsterdam, breezed through customs, and calmly selected the correct train ticket from the kiosk. With about an hour and 10 minutes to wait for our train to Groningen Jakob set off to find a coffee for himself and a smoothie for me. I found a bench and absent mindedly scrolled Facebook and Instagram…seems like a waste not to use free Wifi. Jakob returned ladened with delicious drinks and began scanning the train departures board. “See there’s our train!” He exclaimed. I glanced up briefly, but stayed focused on scrolling and sipping my smoothie. Jakob remained attentive to the board and a few seconds later there was a sense of urgency in his voice. “Wait! It’s leaving in 4 minutes! Not an hour and four minutes! Our phones are still on London time from the layover!” Backpacks were thrown over shoulders, drinks teetered precariously, and train tickets pulled hastily from pockets. We found the right platform, raced down the escalators, and hopped onto the train–the last one to Groningen for several hours. Score one for attentiveness and 0 for absentmindedness. Let’s be clear, the score is 2 for Jakob and 0 for me.

Ok that was the score until early on January 13th when Jakob emptied his stomach contents (including whatever was left of an amazing spiced Dutch liquor) into Oom Eilko’s toilet. I didn’t wake up until I had had 12 hours of blissful jet-lag free sleep and Jakob woke up with the flu. I spent the day exploring Assen and eating delicious Borrelnootjes (crunchy cocktail peanuts which happen to be a Kort family favourite) and Jakob spent the day in bed, trying to extinguish the second flu he has had in two week. I don’t know how many points I earned for that, but it feels like a win. Maybe tomorrow I will stop being so competitive.