Canada. It’s another country.

As I write this, it’s a rainy morning in Vancouver, British Columbia. I am here as an alumni to take the Path portion of ORSC (team and individual coaching), created by CRR Global. It’s been several decades since I have been to Vancouver. I am blessed in that, as a child, we took family trips to Canada and I had visited all the southern provinces of Canada by the time I was nine. As a kid, if everyone spoke the same language as I, I didn’t realize there were cultural differences. I remember the beautiful Butchart Gardens of Victoria and the profound crevasses of Banff National Park. And the adventure of the stretch of highway where there wasn’t gas for some 200 hundred miles and just praying we would make it with our enormous trailer that we were lugging behind us. Thankfully, we did.

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As I order at a restaurant or check in at the hotel, I wonder if I am obviously from the United States. Do they hear an accent? Do I dress funny? Am I clumsy? I say this because it’s hard for me to tell who is a tourist and who is a native. I just went to Starbucks for a coffee and ordered my usual. I assume those working there are Canadians. Are most of their patrons tourists? I have no idea. The differences here are subtle but there are differences that weren’t apparent to my nine-year-old self.

Here they are:

Celsius. Temperature is temperature. Whether or not you relate to it as Celsius or Fahrenheit, it doesn’t really matter, right? The funny thing is that when I found the thermostat in my room, I saw it read 22 degrees. Wow. We could hang meat in here. So of course, I had to google to convert the temperature to Fahrenheit – like it mattered. Why not just sense whether it’s too warm or too cool? The funny thing is that in my class yesterday, which was largely Canadians, someone said, “It must be 25 degrees in here.” She meant that it was hot. I chuckled to myself. I’m glad I knew she was talking Celsius.

Taxis.  Luckily, I happened to research whether or not Lyft or Uber were available in Vancouver. They are not. I’m not sure about the rest of Canada, but in British Columbia, you must take public transit or a taxi. In the last year or so, I have realized that renting a car is an expensive encumbrance when traveling on business. Between parking, gassing up and tolls, it is just one more burden, kind of like an extra suitcase, that you have to take care of and keep track of. Luckily, there wasn’t a language barrier, which is the biggest plus to ridesharing apps. But if you aren’t in a well-populated location, it can be impossible to find a cab. In fact, I didn’t go to a museum I had planned on visiting because I wasn’t sure how I would get back to the hotel.

Currency. The last time I was in Canada, my daughter and I were in Quebec. I was trying not to have any Canadian currency. I try not to have any cash in any foreign country because it’s a mess to exchange back. In fact, like the euros I have from my trip to Paris, they are still clanging around in my wallet. Too minuscule to change and more of a remembrance of a great trip. The last time I was in Canada was a road trip with my daughter four years ago. We were in Montreal and visited the breathtaking Notre-Dame Basilica. I remember they only took cash for entrance and they did take US dollars. The exchange was pretty poor but I didn’t care. As I travel around Vancouver at restaurants and shops, I am careful that they take credit cards so I don’t have to mess with exchange of currency and I keep a few US dollars for tipping.

Language. So we speak the same language but as I said, my class is largely Canadian. I would guess that 95% of the words are exactly the same. It’s only the odd “PROOO-cess” or “Aboot” that crop up in conversation. The other difference, at least compared to Eastern North Carolina, is the diversity. The service jobs in Vancouver seemed to be staffed with people from all walks of life – from an Irish waiter, to a Korean busboy to a Nigerian desk clerk. It feels as cosmopolitan as Manhattan. As I walk down the street, there all sorts of languages being spoken. Again, I’m not sure if I’m in the middle of the tourist district (think Times Square) or if there is an international university nearby. But it feels as if everyone is welcome here, regardless of origin.

Pace.  This is a large city. The thing that strikes me that is vastly different from a city like New York is that the pace is much more relaxed. Considering the blend of diversity and the size, it seems very calm. None of that frenetic buzz that seems to increase your anxiety. There is no rushing to and fro. My walking pace is even slower. For such a large city, it’s very calm.

Hot sauce.  If there is a minus, it’s the hot sauce. No Tabasco. No Texas Pete. No Cholula. There is British Columbian grown-and-produced Verde and Salsa Diablo. I tried it out. It was acidic. I realized after I read the label that besides having Canola Oil in the top three ingredients (re. mayonnaise…yuck) there is lemon juice. I am not a fan. But this is a minor complaint compared to the rest of my experience.

Rain.  I recently traveled to Seattle for Thanksgiving. It rained a lot. It has rained or drizzled almost non-stop since my arrival in Vancouver. The difference it that this is an umbrella city versus a rain jacket city. Seattle is a rain jacket city. More people can fit on a sidewalk if they have a rain jacket on instead of an umbrella. In Vancouver, you have to maneuver down the street to make sure to not crash into someone else’s umbrella. Funny how different cities adapt to similar weather.

I wish I had more free time to investigate Vancouver but maybe next time. Our classroom was on the top floor of the building and was floor-to-ceiling glass facing out. We were suddenly interrupted by five flying bald eagles yesterday. We all stopped to gaze at their majestic flight with snow-capped mountains as a back drop. Uniquely awesome. I will be back.

7 Lessons from Reconnecting. No Regrets.

“Those Girls and The Blonde” sounds like a great name for an eighties girl band.  It wasn’t.  It’s the name of my two roommates and I from 1981 when our landlord (otherwise known as Dragon Lady) coined the phrase after “The Blonde” (Susannah) ripped up the carpeting in our basement, slummish apartment in College town.  Susannah is one of the few born and bred Manhattanites I know.  She takes charge.  She’s decisive.  The carpet was horrible and “there’s hard wood floors under there”.  So the other “Girl” Janine and I went along for the ride, ripping up the carpet.

We have remained friends for over 35 years.  We all had our first born children in 1993.  We’ve seen each other marry, sometimes divorce and move to various cities (Washington D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Croton-on-Hudson and Scottsdale).  We’ve never lived in the same city at the same time since Ithaca.  We’ve had a few reunions but since about 1983, TG&TB have not reunited at the same time sans kids and spouses.  So when I had an opportunity to go to Paris, I contacted them both and suggested we reunite in the City of Light.  Janine and I were both Paris Virgins and Susannah was fully versed in all things French.  We had a plan and TG&TB always execute a plan.  We spent 6 days reconnecting in a lovely apartment near the Eiffel Tower.

These are my lessons from reconnecting some 33 years later:

  1. Let someone lead. Several weeks before departing for Paris, I found some activities that we might want to try out. There were huge email trains between the three of us about costs, times, travel between arrondissements, etc.  It wasn’t working.  It would take several days to get confirmation.  So I finally suggested that Susannah take over the planning going forward.  Janine and I signed off on whatever Susannah wanted to cook up.  We had faith that she knew what we would like and what would work.  As they say, too many cooks spoil the broth.  Pick a leader, have faith and stick with it.

 

  1. Be willing to get lost. Ever since my daughter turned me on to Google Maps for walking directions in Manhattan, I’ve been pretty obsessed with not being lost. I realize now I am a “Direction Control Freak.”  I also hate to appear the tourist with the pocket map.  I had to let my judgment go.  For God’s sake Cathy, you are a tourist.  Who cares if someone else knows it?  They will the minute you try and say “Bon jour.”  So what if we walked the wrong direction for half a mile in the Marais. It’s Paris.  Every street is interesting and unique.  I believe it was Janine who said, “It’s all as intended. We are where we need to be. No regrets.” When we were lost, we stumbled on an out of the way café full of locals and sans tourists.  It was wonderful.  Get lost.

 

  1. Quality versus quantity. When you go into one of the largest museums in the world, focus on quality over quantity. We took a guided tour through the Louvre with an American expat who had phenomenal art and history knowledge.  We stood looking at a sculpture of Hercules for almost 20 minutes.  We discovered how his face change from docile to contemplative depending on the angle.  It was fascinating.  I’ve never spent that kind of time on one piece of art….ever.  I’m more of a fast food consumer of art.  Trying to check off each piece as fast as possible, Degas…check, Renoir….check, Mona Lisa…check.  This is not the way to appreciate art. This was a huge shift for me and I appreciate our guide’s contemplative example.  Don’t consume, appreciate.

 

  1. Make space for connection. I’m not positive but I think we ducked into at least three cafes a day. So if we had walked for an hour, let’s grab a table and a drink.  If we stumbled on an interesting café, let’s grab some café crème.   It was around one of these tables that we reconnected about career choices, our kids and reminiscing about our youth.  Those conversations may not have happened if we were too busy trying to make sure we went to every museum in Paris (which I’m not sure is possible but is certainly not practical).  I found fantastic advice and stories from two women I respect immensely.

 

  1. Utilize your strengths. We all were paying for different things. I figured, it would all wash out by the end.  I didn’t feel compelled to keep track.  Thank goodness Janine is incredibly organized and meticulous.  Between the exchange rate and dollars versus euros, she kept it all straight.  Susannah was our motivation.  She knew the best falafel place in Paris.  It might be a mile and a half away but her enthusiasm was contagious.  So what if we walk 8 miles in one day.  I was the compass.  Street crossing in Paris is pretty crazy.  There are cars and motorcycles come ricocheting in from all angles and walking at the cross walk is critical.  It became a chess match as to how to get to the street you wanted without losing life or limb.  Fall back on your strengths.

 

  1. Be realistic. We made sure that we were rarely rushed. So if we wanted to check out a park on the way to Notre Dame, we make sure it was doable at a slow pace with time to spare.  If it wasn’t?  Move on.  If the uber driver hasn’t been able to find you for twenty minutes, take a cab.  If the maître’d explains that the dish has raw duck in it, order something else.  Be realistic.

 

  1. Be open to adventure. Janine and I went up the Eiffel Tower together. It’s a pretty trippy adventure. The funicular is at an angle and with all the structure supports going by, it is a bit disorienting. When we got to the top, I wanted to stay inside.  I was as high as my acrophobia wanted to take me. Janine ran upstairs and ran back down.  “Cath.  You have to go to the top.  It’s not bad.”  I did and it was worth the flight of stairs up.  Susannah wanted to see the Saint-Chappelle.  From the outside, it’s not very impressive and we had just been through Notre Dame.  When we entered what I later found out was the first floor, it was some chipping paint with a low ceiling and trinket stands.  I thought, “What’s the big deal?”  Then we walked up a stone circular staircase (did I mention I’m claustrophobic?). At the top was, and is, the most beautiful chapel I have ever stood in.  My breath was taken away and tears were in my eyes.  I know that if I hadn’t gone with TG&TB to Paris, I would never have stood in that awe-inspiring spot.  Be an adventurer.

 

This was a trip of a lifetime with two of my favorite people in the world.  So think about it.  Who would you like to connect to again?  Break out of your normal agenda and take off on a reunion adventure of your own.  There will be no regrets.

5 Surprising Characteristics of Parisians

As I write this, I have finished my first two days in Paris on my own. Paris is beautiful and enchanting. I encountered many interesting surprises around almost every corner.  I had no idea it would take 45 minutes to get from Charles De Gaulle airport to my hotel. The traffic as you approach the city at 10 in the morning on a Thursday was just crazy. It felt like there was only one way into the city; kind of like everyone in New Jersey trying to get into Manhattan through the Holland tunnel. I was also taken aback by all the graffiti. I’ve thought that the French have it all figured out since Americans don’t seem to. But, alas, we all have our downfalls.

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The best part of the trip in was my taxi driver.   He kept calling me “My Lady”. We had a lovely conversation about his parents immigrating from Cambodia and how much he loves Paris. He explained the good neighborhoods from the bad and constantly complimented me on any French I attempted to speak. I was kind of hoping I could keep him for a few days as my guide. This young man was so polite and open, I had no idea what else was in store for me.  Can’t I just keep him? Is he the friendliest person I will meet in Paris? Who else is going to call me “My Lady”…. like ever?

 

Turns out that Paris revealed these surprises to me:

 

  1. Parisians are gracious. I had a friend advise me before I came to make sure I said “Bon jour” and “Merci.” Parisians are not a fan of the abrupt American. When I arrived at my hotel, two gentlemen opened the door saying “Beinvenue Madame, bon jour!”, with smiling faces. I think every employee in that lobby said “Bon jour, Madame!” You might be thinking, “Well, Cathy, isn’t this a hotel, shouldn’t they be that gracious?” The thing is every brasserie, cafe, shop and museum was the same tune. The sweet lyrical “Bon jour, Madame.” The Parisians graciousness made me feel welcome and humbled me.

 

  1. Parisians have a slower pace. One of my guides for a walking tour of Montmartre explained that if you purchase an espresso at a cafe, you had the right to the table for the entire day.  He wanted us to understand this in case some server tried to brush us off. This slower, you have all day, take a moment to be in the moment attitude was a big adjustment. I still ate my food too fast (especially when dining alone). I’m sure they thought I was an American Speedy Gonzales. This is in juxtaposition to say Manhattan or San Francisco when every minute counts in a race to get through the day. Savor the moment.

 

  1. Many Parisians are animated. On the drive in from the airport, there had been an accident and there in THE MIDDLE of the highway, the two men on opposites ends of the collision were boisterously yelling at each other waving their arms madly. Quite the theatrics. When the woman who was the concierge for the apartment we leased was showing us the place, she didn’t speak English. We didn’t speak French. The language barrier was crossed as she pantomimed how the locks worked, the door to the balcony, and all the various attributes of the apartment. It was hysterical. She bantered on in French stopping to ask “Oui?”…as we echoed back “Oui. Oui.” Enjoy the theatrics; they will often get you through what you need to know

 

  1. Parisians love their city. Parisian pride is even more fierce after the threat to Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Recent terrorist attacks on their own and their neighbor’s soil have fueled that fire.  This kind of pride, Parisian Pride, doesn’t develop overnight. Several guides and drivers I met were incredibly proud of their neighborhood whether it was Montmartre or Rive Gauche. I had the impression that every Parisian felt as if Paris was the center of the universe. It certainly is the center of theirs. The thing is, after 8 days in Paris, I was beginning to think the same thing.  Where else can you experience world class food, wine, art, history and music? ?  When I first arrived, I took pictures from every street corner because it was so beautiful and remarkable. Pretty soon I had WAY too many pictures of rambling cobblestone streets.  Every corner, every niche of Paris has something unique to offer. It’s okay to capture the moment even if you have to edit it later.

 

  1. Parisians are passionate. I’m talking the essence of passion, the pureness of passion. I mean passionate about their interests and what there is to love about life  I went on a walking tour of Montmartre and the guide was enlivened and passionate about Montmartre and the artists who lived there (i.e. Van Gough, Renoir, Monet, Picasso….).  I went on a cheese tasting in a cheese cave from the 1600’s and our guide was passionate about French cheese.  There are over 2,000 types of cheeses made in France, and this guy knew each one, the distinctions between them AND could combine a wine and cheese so that you thought you were eating cauliflower or grapefruit.  My friends and I took a cooking class and our instructor was almost beyond passionate about the food of Paris.  He knew the history of the dish, its origins, it’s modern adaptations and had sourced every product to identify organic and GMO free.  He orchestrated 8 novice cooks to create an amazing three course lunch in a matter of 4 hours. The passion of all these Parisians was contagious.

 

Paris has been on my bucket list for over 30 years.  Ever since my 7th grade French class.  It was an amazing vacation and the thing I learned is that it’s the residents I will remember most.  The Parisians themselves are the heart of the experience.

6 or 7 More Apps no Traveler Should be Without

I wrote a post a few months ago about apps for travel and received several more suggestions from some loyal readers! So I decided to road test a few and I have several to pass onto you. I don’t want to recommend what I haven’t tried out myself. Some of the apps I was already using and it took a nudge from a reader that it was an appropriate travel app. Actually, I kind of hit my forehead and said, duh, of course you have to have the Uber app.6 or 7 More Apps No Traveler should be without

Since my last post on travel, my husband has been using Waze and has been using it every day on his drive to and from work. They have updated the app to send ETAs to others on the app. I have to say it is fantastic to receive the ETA on my phone and know that he’ll be home in 22 minutes, shows the route he is on and will update the ETA when he stops as a gas station or is delayed in some other way. If I had a child in high school behind the wheel of a car, I would mandate the use of this app. No texting or calling while behind the wheel is necessary!

So here are my additional 6 (or 7) Must Have apps:

1. Uber. This is like a personal chauffeur service that is amazing and usually inexpensive. When you open the app it will get you a quote on how much it will cost to ride from your current location (say a hotel) to another location (perhaps a restaurant). If you decide the rate is acceptable, it gives you an ETA for the car to arrive, a description of the car and photo of the driver and follows the car as it comes to your location. The other amazing thing is that it automatically charges a credit card on file, so you don’t have to mess with swiping your credit card when you arrive at your destination. I love Uber but there has been some recent press and controversy over competition with taxis. I was recently in San Antonio and it was banned. So verify it’s available in the city you are traveling too.

2. GasBuddy. Have you ever been in the middle of eastern Georgia on Interstate 20 looking for a gas station? This is the app to have. It shows both by price and distance where the closest or cheapest gas station is. You can also update prices if you pass a gas station that has the incorrect price in the app and sort by type of gas you need such as diesel or premium. So if I’m low on gas I can check if I should wait and fill up in the next town and save 20 cents or stop at the next station. As a woman traveling alone in a car, this is a must have app.

3. Fly Delta. I’m not sure how long this app has been available but a passenger on a recent flight told me about it. Delta previously just had an app that showed flight status, arrival and departure gates. This new app is amazing. Now you can check in, have your boarding pass and find out your flight status. The minute you land it notifies you of your arrival gate and departure gate when making a connection. It also tracks your bag (you can rest easy that it’s on the same plane as you!) and lets you know the local weather. Phenomenal. That’s a lot of flight info packed into an app!

4. WebMD Allergy. I am allergic to dust, grass, and trees. I was suffering badly before a recent trip and found out this was going to be a really bad allergy season on the East coast because of the exceptionally cold winter. I searched for an allergy app and this one is terrific. It notifies me first thing in the morning if tree pollen is high and gives tips on what to do. You can search the city you are traveling to and find out whether there are any allergy issues there. I was relieved when I went to San Antonio because they had less allergens.

5. HHonors. This is Hiltons app which includes a whole host of hotels from Hampton Inns to Waldorf Astoria. This app has recently been improved because you can now check in using the app. You can even select which floor and room you want to have. In addition, at some hotels you can make requests for upgrades or items for your arrival. This app is invaluable if you ever get delayed beyond your control. I have booked a room after midnight on the DC beltway and used my honors points to pay for it.

6. Red Herring and 7 Little Words. These are just fun apps to play while on an airplane or at the airport. They start with 50 free games but you will have to pay for additional games eventually (because these games are addictive). Red Herring is about grouping 16 words into 3 groups while leaving aside 4 “Red Herring” words. It’s nice because you can set the difficulty. So if you are brain dead you can select “easy” and feel very superior by our grouping prowess. 7  Little Words is a cross between word find and crossword puzzles. The best part of this game is the smiley face when you put together all 7 little words.

Ok. So there you have it. 6 (actually 7) more apps to try out on your next trip across the country or across town. What apps do you travel with?

Cutting Loose. Lessons From Traveling With My 88 Year Old Father.

My dad’s 87 year old brother passed away suddenly several weeks ago in Florida. My dad wanted to attend the funeral and asked me to assist him. It turned out to be quite the adventure and gave me the opportunity to see my dad in a different light. My parents have traveled the world but in the last 15 years have remained “set” in their day to day routines. In retirement “auto-pilot” of doctor’s appointments, “Civilization” (a computer game), Food Network, checking for the newspaper and mail their rigid schedule is capped with dinner at 4:30…yes, 4:30. In the span of about 24 hours, we had made the arrangements and were prepared to venture beyond the envelope of about a 15 mile radius of our hometown. Ready or not, here we come.

This is my Dad's Thai lunch....ice cream.
This is my Dad’s Thai lunch….ice cream.

The amazing thing is that the trip opened my eyes to my dad’s resilience, adaptability and patience. One would think that one so set in his ways would have a difficult time adapting to modern technology, broken routines and uncertainty. Nope. Not a problem. It made me realized that a guy who traveled to Korea, hitch hiked across the US in his twenties and canoed in the wilderness of Canada…can handle just about anything you throw at him. Just because you usually live in a well honed routine, doesn’t mean you can’t break loose and venture out.

So this is what I learned:

1. Open. You need to be open; whether it’s Thai food, switching seats on the airplane or waiting to find the bathroom. My dad had no pre-set notions and was open to any change in course. I don’t think my dad ever had Thai food before but when my cousin suggested we eat there as a group, he was all in. Some folks sitting in his row on the airplane asked to switch seats…gladly. If we needed to find the gate at the airport before finding the men’s room; no sweat. Be open.

2. Trust. My dad trusted me completely. This was really gratifying. He had unfaltering faith in all the arrangements. I told him to check his bag (although he asked if it was free) he was willing to follow my direction and understood the rationale when everyone else came on the plane lugging a slew of carry-ons. Hotel, rental car, flights, parking, directions…he never questioned a single decision. If you want to break loose, go with someone you trust implicitly.

3. Patience. Pack some patience. My dad has this in spades. Anyone who taught 8th grade history for 30 years, has to have it in their DNA. We had two delayed flights and weren’t sure we were going to make a connection on the way home. He wasn’t anxious for a second. He would just open up his magazine and keep reading. Did I mention he is 88? If you aren’t blessed with the patience gene, try a little meditation.

4. Flexible. Anytime you want to break out of your routines, you need to be flexible. When we were connecting flights in Atlanta, we needed to find some lunch. “What do you want Dad?” Whichever line is shorter. Pizza it is. At a Thai restaurant for lunch but all you really want is dessert…ice cream it is. Three hours to kill? Head to the hotel for a nap. On the way back to Raleigh, we needed lunch again. Chinese food by gate A1 before getting on the plane. Be flexible.

5. Curiosity. When you venture out, make sure you have some curiosity. My dad can talk to anyone…I mean anyone. I remember when we were kids, if my dad was missing in action, he probably met someone in the check-out line. Upon his return, he would regale us with how interesting so and so was. He knew everyone in his row on the plane by the time we landed. You cannot talkto just anyone unless you have curiosity. Pack some curiosity when you break loose.

6. Habits. No matter where you venture to, you need to maintain some habits. Brushing your teeth, showering, and coffee in the morning. My dad has been telling me for years that he does 30 sit-ups in the morning…every morning. Sure enough, there he was at 7 AM in the bed next to me doing his sit-ups. Even amongst all of the travel and mayhem of unscheduled time, he managed to take his daily medications. Habits keep us on track and give us some normalcy amidst the chaos.

7. Prudence. Anyone from the depression era has a healthy dose of prudence. My dad wanted to know if the coffee on the plane was free…and the cookies as well. Was the coffee in the hotel lobby free? Was the breakfast free? It pays to double check. We didn’t realize some of the roads in the Orlando area were toll roads, but my co-pilot was ready with quarters by the second toll booth. It always pays to have a little prudence.

The experience of traveling with my dad was enlightening. I really admire him for his ability to roll with the punches (or plane delays) and his openness to constant schedule changes. Spending those three days with him was priceless. I’m glad we got to cut loose together.