Planes, trains or ferries - what next? A rubber dinghy?

Planes, trains and automobiles are all forms of transport that get you from point A to Z, oftentimes involving turbulent skies, subterranean tunnels and screeching brakes, so I was eagerly looking forward to crossing the Channel - no, not by swimming  - but by ferry.  My transit choices for journeying from Britain to France were limited - either crossing in a claustrophobic metal tube jetting through the blue skies, snaking underground in yet another form of enclosed tin can entrapment  or choosing instead to feel the wind on my cheeks, splish splashing along on a rubber dinghy.

Carrying my extra large circular life-preserver, inflatable boat and water wings, I was quite the sight indeed, as I made my way towards the ferry docks, eager to jump on board and sail away to the next leg of my journey.  Hey, I’m kidding now, as it wasn’t quite like that, but you get my drift, if you know what I mean?

The Kid and I were scheduled to take the ferry from Dover to Calais, roughly a 90 minute journey on P & O Ferries.  Sailing from the Eastern Docks in the white-cliffed town of Dover, the ferry accommodates both vehicles and foot passengers.  The price was reasonable enough, costing £59 for the two of us, with an extra £24 to upgrade to Club Lounge. The ferry terminal was located 1.5 miles from the railway station and is accessible via the shuttle bus service at an economical £2 per person.  Weighed down with enough baggage to outfit a small army and then some, we hopped on, grateful for the short 5 minute ride, thus spared the burden of schlepping over-stuffed luggage on a cumbersome trudge to the terminal.

A liberating release from the forced confinement of claustrophobic planes and trains, the ferry ride exceeded all expectations and was “the highlight of her trip” as Le Kid enthusiastically blabbered.  My impromptu decision to upgrade to luxurious Club Lounge was a brilliant move on my part, if I must say so myself – one that was perhaps somewhat inspired by the one too many Cabernet Sauvignons I had been intoxicatingly indulging in the previous evening whilst searching the P & O Ferry website, having foolishly waited until the very last minute to book our passage.  Who says that “don’t shop and Merlot” is not the wisest of ideas?

A complimentary glass of champagne was included in the cost of our first-class journey and as luck would have it, the Kid was not yet old enough to imbibe, forcing (seriously?) me to down (oops…meant to say elegantly sip) two flutes of bubbly, hers and mine.  Hic.

Ordering several more of the bubbling concoctions, staring at the mesmerizing views of the chalk white cliffs, and perched high above the water in what felt like my very own spacious quarters, I wondered whether this was how royalty traversed the seas.  Letting our imaginations soar and sail away on our magical ferry ride to Calais, the short one hour and a half sojourn came to an end far too soon, as both the Kid and I would have been content to spend the remainder of our lives aboard said ferry.

Come enjoy some bubbly and cliff-hanging National Geographic moments as you float along the deep blue seas….come sail away to adventures beyond…

Next week….where do my pink-sneakered footprints take us?  Stay tuned!!

The light at the end of the tunnel – my near-Chunnel “below the Thames” railway journey

Speeding through one of the pitch black tunnels connecting St. Pancras International railway station to ventures beyond, my inner claustrophobic was starting to panic, as the gap between the stops was beginning to feel more like an eternity than the short journey it in reality actually was.  Really uncertain of whether we were underground or in an above ground lengthy tunnel, all that I knew was that the walls were closing in on me and I was surrounded on all sides by an uncomfortable enveloping darkness.  No matter then, that the lights were brightly lit in the wagon car, jovial conversations taking place, the rational non-claustrophobic passengers oblivious to the mounting terror that was snaking its way throughout my entire body, unable to comprehend my irrational fear of entrapment in any type of enclosed space.  Where were the trees?  Where was the light? Absolutely nothing but the unsettling blackness which greeted me upon glancing out of the window panes! 

Seeking to appease my fraying nerves, I nonchalantly attempted to strike up random conversations with a few of the passengers, in my inquisitive intent to gather a bit of info about the excruciatingly long journey time between stations.  Sporting my Hudson’s Bay purchased 2012 Olympic jean jacket, emblazoned with a plethora of Maple Leafs and hockey badges, I was quite the sight indeed, a somewhat frazzled middle-aged crazy Canuck somewhat freaking out on a crowded train tearing along the “yet unseen” apparently lush English countryside.

Not knowing what to make of such a sight, a borderline freak-a-zoid trapped on an hour long rail journey to the white cliffs of Dover, the local Brits were beyond perplexed at having to appease the curious antics of a Canadian foreigner sequestered in a wagon car on a routinely scheduled railway sojourn to the outskirts of somewhere.

Eventually the murkiness gave way to light, the high speed bullet at long last emerging from the tunnel of darkness, the streaming rays of sunshine dancing on the glass panes, a welcoming beacon of hope to my now permanently jagged and frazzled nerves.

Vowing to remember NOT to travel by train the next time I traverse from London to Dover Priory, my mind was busily finagling other forms of non-claustrophobic transport that didn’t entail the remote possibilities of entrapment underground.  This is why the Kid and I were travelling by rail in the first place, as we were planning on taking the ferry across the Channel to Calais and continue by rail to Bruges and then onwards to Paris.  It would have been a lot quicker to cross the English Channel via the Chunnel, but there was no way that I would ever consider setting my pink-sneakered foot in such a confining space, enclosed in a speeding train, travelling at the sound of light several km below the water.  No matter then, that the entire journey underground would be a mere 20 minutes, enough time in which to completely unhinge my raw-edged nerves, sending my wildly over-active imagination into a downward tailspin of no-return.

 It’s a very good thing then that I hadn’t an inkling of a clue that the rail journey from St Pancras to Dover Priory, with stops at Ebbsfleet and Ashford International, would also involve several kilometres of deep underground tunnels, one of which snaked 1.5 miles under the river Thames!  Did I mention the 20 km long tunnel, which had me in quite the freaked out state indeed, resulting in my frenetic darting up and down the aisle, tapping each unsuspecting passenger on the shoulder, my quivering voice anxiously inquiring as to how much longer this subterranean portion of the journey would be?  Yes, sad but true.

No wonder then, that not one person on that excruciatingly elongated sub-terrestrial journey dared to inform me that, yes, we were indeed several kilometers deep, burrowing through the recesses of the English countryside at 140 miles per hour. Most likely they were petrified as to what that glint of knowledge would entail, unwilling to be witness to a middle-aged pink-sneaker clad Canadian screaming for the light, sobbing hysterically that she was trapped miles below the river Thames, counting down the minutes until the speeding “Javelin” emerged from the other end of the tunnel. No, just best to plead ignorance, placate the distraught and panic-stricken foreigner and change the subject by asking about life in Canada and whether or not they also have subterranean tunnels linking distant boroughs?  Yikes!!

The well-known phrase “the light at the end of the tunnel” thus took on new meaning, becoming my mantra for the remainder of the 65 minute journey, as we barreled through kilometres of underground paths, en route to the white cliffs of Dover.

Come discover an underground plethora of tunnels and subterranean paths kilometers below the city of London, linking far-away metropolises and towns.  Come discover the criss-crossing trails of train travel with me.

Next week – where do my pink-sneakered footprints find themselves?  Stay tuned!!


“If only these walls could talk” – Tales of intrigue at the Tower of London

Quite the history buff, I was unable to contain my glee at having the opportunity to amble amongst the footsteps of long-ago generations whilst gallivanting around the British capital.  Meandering along the cobblestoned pathways that Shakespeare himself trod upon, I was giddy at being able to finally immerse myself into the rich literary world of William Blake, Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens.  Virtually oozing hundreds of years of history, with sacred churches and gilded palaces regally scattered on every which corner, their crumbling and restored facades seeping with tales of intrigue, privilege and power.

Ever fascinated by the Tudor dynasty, especially with daily life at Hampton Court, the reign of King Henry Vlll and his six wives continued to pique my curiosity about what it was like to reside in the 16th century.  The scandals, the clandestine forbidden liaisons and, of course, the beheadings were topics that continued to enthrall my wildly over-active imagination and send it to places of no return.  I therefore could not wait until I firmly placed my pink-sneakered foot onto London’s famously arresting (literally!!) Tower of London and come face to face with history.  Ravenously poring over hundreds of books that documented the tragic and gruesome events that had transpired over the centuries in this medieval fortress, I was anxious to finally be witness to this unsavoury past.

The Tower of London has quite the ghastly and morbid history, imprisoning and executing a number of tragic souls, the majority of them undeserving of such a dreadful fate.  Locked up on trumped up charges of treason, adultery and espionage, neither paupers nor royals were exempt from imprisonment in the Tower.  Coups and plots of overthrow ruled supreme, as rival family members sought to usurp the other in their blood thirsty desire for prestige and power.  Depending upon the political allegiances of the day, one could literally be a court favourite today yet find himself on the chopping block the next.  From Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen for only 9 days, to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, a parade of Queens have been mercilessly executed at the infamous Tower, all upon royal orders.

“If only these walls could talk” took on an entirely new meaning, as I pondered what hopes, desires and secrets the cold stone slabs held, forever sealed in mystery behind those ancient padlocked prison gates. It is unfortunate then, that I didn’t have the chance to see for myself the inside of this massive medieval fortress, for alas, I had arrived at the World Heritage Site quite late in the afternoon, a couple of minutes before the questionably early 5:00pm closing time.  Yikes!!  Scheduled to depart London the following day for the next leg of my journey to the white cliffs of Dover, I had to content myself with merely traipsing around the grounds of this sprawling edifice and stock up on even more reading material in the Tower of London souvenir bookstore.

Vowing to return to London sometime within the next couple of months and spend a full two days visiting the Tower, I consoled my disappointment and indulged with a few pints of Guinness and jumped feet first into history, eagerly devouring page after page of my newly purchased Tudor history books.

Pink Sneaker Tidbits of Info about the Tower of London:

Legend has it that if the six ravens (there is one to spare) were to fly away from the Tower of London, the city as well as the fortress would ultimately fall.  Why take any chances then? Their wings are therefore clipped in order to prevent such a possibility from coming to fruition.

The black ravens are treated as minor celebrities and are catered to with an impressive menu of delicacies such as only ravens would dare to lunch on - raw meat, biscuits soaked in blood (yuck!!) and furry rabbits (double yuck!!).

The Crown Jewels were almost stolen in 1671 by an appropriately named “Thomas Blood” who brazenly attempted to walk out of the fortress with the priceless gems. Surprisingly though, he was pardoned by the King who must have admired the Colonel’s sheer gall and tenacity in attempting to pull off such an incredulous feat.  I read somewhere that he was also gifted a parcel of land by the monarch, but am unable to verify whether that is either fact or fiction.

Animals of all sorts were also “imprisoned” in the infamous Tower, its menagerie home to a lion, hyena, owls, monkeys and even an elephant! A polar bear gifted by the King of Norway in 1252, frequently swam in the river Thames and caught fish for his supper while tethered to an extremely long leash.

Come walk through the corridors of history as you listen in to the tales and whispers of royal intrigue, treason and drama, carefully guarded secrets of the walls of the Tower of London.

Next week – What adventures lie ahead for the Kid and Miss Pink Sneakers?? Stay tuned!!

It’s English in the UK – English/French/Spanish/Italian translation dictionary not required

Almost fluently conversant in several European languages, I pride myself in the ability to rattle off the French, Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish and Latvian translations for the only words that I know and will ever need to utilize when travelling in a foreign country – red wine, handbags, sale and final clearance.  The phrases “How much does that cost?”, “Do you ship to Canada?”, “Do you offer additional discounts for foreigners?” and my piece de resistance clincher “If I purchase all of the styles and colours, can you offer me a better deal?” are basically the only sentences worth uttering when travelling overseas with shopaholic handbag obsessed who know who.

It therefore threw me for quite the loop upon my arrival in London, where English is the official language of the country, as I was forced to speak in a tongue that is so familiar to me, yet strangely “foreign” when travelling overseas. Unaccustomed to utilizing my native language on my sojourns around the globe, eager to practice my newly memorized foreign words and phrases, I had consequently come to associate overseas travel with having to brush up on learning the basic vocabulary of whichever country I happened to be traipsing through.  So it was quite odd indeed that I found myself continually saying either “Mucho gracias”, “Merci beaucoup”, “Danke” or “Grazie” upon thanking strangers or shop-keepers for their random acts of kindnesses.  Upon entering the shops, the Italian word for “Buongiorno” or the Spanish “Hola” or “Buenos Dias” effortlessly rolled off my tongue, as I cheerfully greeted unsuspecting waiters and shopkeepers each and every day.

 It was therefore no wonder then that I endured countless puzzling and inquisitive glares and stares during my entire 10 day London stay, as I commenced each phrase with “Parlez-vous l’anglais?” (Do you speak English?)  Like, seriously?  Where did I think I was?  Well, to be perfectly honest, obviously not in merry old England, home to the sonnets of poets such as William Blake, Charlotte Bronte and William Shakespeare. 

 Ordering “une biere blanche” or a “vino tinto” in pubs and restaurants didn’t garner nearly as much attention as when I nonchalantly pointed to that “bella borsa” (Italian for beautiful handbag) that I was coveting or worse, “De que tamano son esos zapatos?” (Spanish for “what size are those shoes?”). Yikes!!  There was a serious language barrier and it was most definitely one that was unintentionally caused by me!

Note to self – perhaps spend a little bit more time travelling in English speaking countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, just to name a few, in order to practice and familiarize yourself with commonly used terms and phrases! Yikes!! Double yikes!!

Come practice English language translations whilst traipsing around the checkered streets of London, clutching an armful of foreign language dictionaries along the way.

Next week – where to my pink-sneakered footprints take me? Stay tuned!

It's cold in Canada, eh?? Celebrating Canada Day in London

There is nothing more exciting than celebrating your native land’s national holiday whilst gallivanting around the globe, traipsing across foreign soil, thousands of miles from home.  As much as I relish the anticipation of setting my pink-sneakered footprints upon the medieval cobble-stoned pathways of a quaint provincial town or scrambling about the perimeters of the crumbled ruins of the Colosseum, there is no place in the world dearer to me than my Canadian homeland. Whether gawking in appreciative wonder at the jutting and massive rock of Gibraltar or contemplating the mysteries of the twinkling heavens on a Florentine starry night, my heart nonetheless remains firmly rooted and forever connected to its home across the ocean.  Spotting a red and white Maple Leaf flag or serendipitously bumping into a fellow Canadian whilst wander-lusting around the world, sets my ticker ablaze, instantaneously bridging the 3,650 mile distance and magically transporting me back home.

It was therefore with a hop, skip and a major thump that my heart momentarily stalled and literally melted upon sight of the row of Canadian flags hung ceremoniously from the white-washed exterior of London’s Canada House.  Located within the vicinity of Trafalgar Square, this 19th century Greek Revival building is the home of the High Commission of Canada.  The High Commission is an oasis of refuge to Canadians living and travelling in the UK, should, perchance, one require the replacement of a lost passport or the services of their 24 hour emergency assistance hotline.

Beaming with a wealth of North American pride, anxious to shout from the rooftops that it’s Canada’s birthday on July 1st, the sight of the red and white billowing squares re-affirmed my identity as a Canadian and helped ease the tinge of home-sickness that I had been feeling ever since leaving on my overseas journey.

Sporting my slightly tattered and well-worn Hudson’s Bay designed Olympic jean jacket emblazoned with a mishmash of Maple Leafs, beavers, canoes and rugged outdoor adventure inspired patches, so fierce was my pride in proclaiming my Canadian status, that I unflinchingly  withstood the unseasonably rare and sweltering 30 degree heat, and stubbornly refused to discard said denim garment.  Melting, broiling and virtually drowning in an un-flattering pool of sweat, I nonetheless “kept calm and carried on”, hypnotically mesmerized by the row of Maple Leaf flags swaying elegantly in the wind.

It is no wonder then, that I endured the puzzled glances of curious passer-bys on that sizzling July afternoon, as I stoically stood on the steps of Canada House, grateful to have set foot upon a piece of Canada thousands of miles away from home.  I certainly must have done justice to the phrase “It’s cold in Canada, eh?” being the only person for miles around who was warmly bundled up in a long-sleeved heavy jacket on a scorching hot and humid day.

Come discover a little bit of Canada in the heart of London as I gleefully celebrate Canada Day in the UK…come traipse around the world and travel with me…

Next week – where do my pink-sneakered footprints take me next? Stay tuned!!