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The Travel Advice Service Tailored for You

14 Apr

I’m getting ready to go to Argentina, and part of my mandatory travel routine is to call Ma Jaracz and let her know I’m heading away from home for a little while. As with most trips, she has some advice for me:

Don’t eat the meat!

Wait, what? One of the things I’m most excited about doing in Argentina is eating beef. Chorizo, bife de chorizo, vacio, entraña, bring it. Even better, bring it at 9:00 or 10:00 pm, because that’s when I normally eat! I’m going to be with my people–how can I not eat like them?

Turns out that when I was in Australia, the meat industry in Brazil had some upheaval, with a major scandal exposed where meat processors used chemicals to cover expired meat smells and they filled out sausages with flour and cardboard.

OK, I’m going to Argentina. While it does have a shared border with Brazil, it’s not that long. And Argentina produces its own beef, so why would they import it?

Tell that to Ma J, and she concedes, but still. I need to be careful.

This got me thinking that my mother could probably make some extra money giving her patented travel advice. Remember, this is the woman who told me last year before I went to Alaska:

Just be careful up there. They don’t solve their murders.

And before the Boy and I went to Japan, she told us:

You remember Pearl Harbor! You remember Pearl Harbor!

While Ma Jaracz’ advice might sound a little absurd, I think it serves a good purpose: It makes me forget the stressful and scary parts of traveling, namely getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing a different culture. In this case, it’s going to be my first time in South America, and I’m a little nervous. The second-world country factor is one–though cities in the US have parts that likely aren’t much different–so I’m a little concerned about wandering into the wrong place or getting taken for a ride. I’m also worried about the language barrier. I realize I just went to Dubai, where I was worried about that too, but once I got off the plane and saw that English was everywhere, that fear faded away. I’m not so sure I’ll have exactly the same experience here.

I have been preparing though. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been cramming in lessons on Duolino. According to it, I’m 17% fluent, which is a slight comfort because it’s better than the 0% fluent that I was before I started to learn, but then, I’m learning what they teach me, which tends to be a fair amount about owning a horse or cooking onions. Now that I think about it, I don’t think Duolingo has taught me anything about steak, but maybe Argentina’s a fair ways down on their cultural list when it comes to language learning.

Still, I’m nervous, and because I also have some pre-roller-derby-tournament anxiety, that’s really made me a mess this week. That’s when I think Ma Jaracz’ Travel Advice Hotline would come in handy. Give her a call before your trip. She’ll tell you something nonsensical that takes away your focus on whatever it is that’s worrying you.

Thanks to her advice, while I’m packing, I’m wondering if anybody noticed the cardboard taste in the Brazilian sausage, or if the original just tasted that bland. When I’m on the plane, I’m likely going to remember Pearl Harbor or wonder how the cold cases are going in Alaska. Her advice will get me through some take-offs, some turbulence and perhaps even over the nervousness until I get to a place that I’m actually really excited to experience. And perhaps she can do that for you too–care to find out her rates?

 

 

Postcard from Fremantle

31 Mar

Two words of advice: Always volunteer.

OK, maybe not in every situation–really, now that I think about it, there are plenty of times you wouldn’t want to volunteer, so let me qualify that: If you’re a tourist on a guided tour, and the tour guide asks for volunteers, do it.

That’s how I happened to get flogged while visiting Fremantle Prison.

My friend Connie took me to Freo on one of my off-days before the WFTDA Perth Officiating Clinic so we could go on a couple of the prison tours–the general Doing Time tour and Great Escapes, which focuses on the clever folks who tried their best to get out.

Fremantle Prison, when you really get to thinking about it, is a mind-blowing place. Unlike other Australian settlements, Fremantle itself wasn’t a convict town, but eventually the British started sending prisoners there. The prisoners even had to build their own prison, which they did in the 1850s. Fremantle Prison closed in 1991. During its existence, the original cell plan never got upgraded–i.e.–cells never had toilets. In the 1990s. Wrap your head around that one. Prisoners got two buckets: one with drinking water and one for personal waste. Heaven forbid you mix them up.

Anyway, during our tour, we stopped at the flogging station (or whatever the technical term for this was). Our enthusiastic tour guide (quick aside, but both of the tour guides we had were really informative and entertaining. If you like doing tours, go for the talent alone) asked for volunteers, and of course, I said yes. The last time I volunteered on a tour, I was at the Jameson Distillery and volunteering meant I got to taste a bunch of extra whisky.

Not so at Fremantle (had they had samples of some of the prisoner-made booze, I probably would’ve thought twice about my always-volunteer philosophy). Volunteers on this tour got to demonstrate prisoner punishment. So I was the brave prisoner who stepped up to endure the punishment, which was a set number of lashings, which my friend lightly “administered” (i.e.–barely touched me with the flogging whip).

The best part about being a volunteer is that you’re the unknown element for the tour guide. They’re in control of the tour–but not of what the volunteer does in the volunteer moment. As a volunteer, I know my job is to keep the show going in as entertaining a way as possible, so I committed to my role of punished prisoner and dutifully screamed with every tap of the whip and hung limply off the rack, to the delight of our tour guide.

But the flogging was only the first part. Prisoners have to come down off of the rack at some point, so I channeled what that would be like, which to me was basically collapsing down onto the ground like this:

To which, the tour guide responded (and these are the words you always want to hear), “No one’s ever done that on the tour before.”

I’ll admit I didn’t give a perfect performance. Our guide went on to explain the details of punishment by flogging. While a prisoner was getting the lashes, someone from the prison would monitor their condition and stop the process if it was getting too out of hand. So if you were sentenced to 97 lashes and you were nearing unconsciousness after 17, they’d take you down, clean you up and send you to the hospital part of the prison to heal.

Sounds OK in the grand scheme of things, right? Well, no. You still have 80 lashes left on your sentence, so when you’ve healed enough, they haul you back to the rig for more flogging. And the process repeats for as long as it takes to get through your sentence.

At that, I popped up and said, “You’re kidding me, right?!” (hopefully without swearing). Sure, it broke character, but I was truly dumbfounded–both at prison punishment and the notion of why anyone would commit a crime that would involve a prison sentence when this punishment–along with other horrible everyday occurrences–was a distinct possibility.

After that moment, my job was pretty much over. I hope my efforts were useful for the others on the tour. It was nice to know I raised the bar for other tour groups (our guide said the afternoon group was really going to have to step it up), but ultimately doing this also helped me remember the tour a bit better, and this was definitely an experience I want to remember.

Postcard from Dubai

24 Mar

Meet the abra. Riding one of these boats just might be the most fun thing you can do in Dubai–but take that with a grain of salt, as I haven’t spent more than 20 hours in a stretch in the city and am the farthest thing from an expert on the place. Still, for the short time I was there, this topped my list of things I did.

To be honest, Dubai wasn’t on my list of places to visit in 2017–or ever. I’d never really considered going to the Middle East, but when the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t resist.

I was fortunate enough to be selected to teach at the WFTDA Officiating Clinics in Australia this year. With a non-profit, we need to be pretty conscious of the money we spend on travel. Usually, I’d be flying some form of American/Qantas, which is generally pretty reasonable, but then I saw what Emirates had to offer: A much cheaper flight with long layovers in Dubai on each end of the trip. How much cheaper? A good $500, and that’s with adding a one-way ticket for intra-Australia travel. And I had one fewer flight on each end. And I didn’t have to travel through LAX, one of my least favorite airports spawning one of my least favorite flight paths, the coast-to-coast trip.

On top of that, getting to and from Australia took only two legs each way–two very long legs, but if you’re traveling six hours, you might as well be traveling 12. Both are long, but at least with a 12-hour flight, you’re in a huge plane, you definitely get fed, and you have a really good entertainment system.

While I did have 12+ hour flights, they were broken up by getting a day on either end to explore Dubai. Win-win!

Granted, I just scratched the surface of what Dubai has to offer, but I was seriously enchanted with the place. It’s like a conservative Las Vegas–massive architecture, some of which is gaudy;  obviously a lot of money in some places, but the old section of the city was less-than-opulent; and conservative attire, but everyone thought to follow those guidelines (guidebooks advised women to cover their shoulders and knees. I saw one woman wearing a top with cut-out shoulders. Really?).

Anyway, one of the things I did do–and could’ve done for hours–was to take an abra across the creek. The creeks separates Deira and Bur Dubai, both of which are old parts of the city, with tiny roads and souks. The easiest way to get across the creek is to hop on an abra, a small boat that holds maybe 15-20 people. There’s no set schedule for when they go–once one is full (which generally takes a few minutes), the driver collects everyone’s 1 dirham (about US 30 cents) and hops into a small pit in the middle of the boat and takes off.

Chugging down the creek in a tiny boat that’s spewing diesel fumes and pretty much has no safety measures might not sound relaxing, but I loved it. I liked casually hopping on board, sliding down the bench to make room for as many people as possible, and then taking off randomly. No fixed boat schedule? No worries! You’ll get there! Need to feel free? We don’t need rails on this boat!

For a city that offers a lot of manufactured swank, riding an abra felt really authentic. What a way to connect with a culture I hadn’t really experienced before. It’s interesting how a short boat ride really gave Dubai a heart that I hope to continue to explore some day.

 

 

Postcard from Victor Harbor

10 Mar

Ladies,

Let’s have a talk about childbirth. I’ve never been pregnant, so I don’t know what it’s like to put your body through pregnancy and childbirth. Nor do I have 24/7 hands-on knowledge of what it’s like to rear multiple children. So maybe I’m a little more wowed about what our kangaroo counterparts manage to do when it comes to reproducing, but perhaps you might be impressed as well.

The above picture is adorable, right? The classic roo with a joey in her pouch. So cute! Baby with mama, hanging out until it becomes an adult. But that’s only one-third of the story, as I learned from one of the keepers at Urimbirra Wildlife Park. Here’s the rest of the story:

When a female kangaroo is able to have children, she gets pregnant. She has the baby, and the baby (called a joey) hangs out in her pouch. It may leave and explore the greater world, but it’ll hop back in head-first, giving mom this lovely look:

 

For which joey won’t apologize until two decades later when on Kangaroo Mother’s Day, it sheepishly gives mom a “sorry I made you look like an alien” card.

Anyway, after it dives into the pouch, it’ll turn around at some point to be able to stick its head out and look cute (and make it easier to get out), even if it’s getting bigger and is more to lug around. While mom is carrying around joey #1, she gets pregnant with #2.

Joey #2 is born. Joey #1 gets pushed out of the pouch, and joey #2 takes up residence there. Joey #1 is still kind of a child though, so it’s also still feeding on mom. Meanwhile, mom gets pregnant again, so she’s got a bun in the oven, a joey in the pouch, and another on the teat.

When joey #3 comes along, it’s time for joey #1 to make its own way in the world, so no more teat for it. Joey #2 moves to the teat. Joey #3 gets the pouch. And mom becomes pregnant again.

This cycle continues for all of mom’s childbearing years. Yes, for the entire time you can bear children, you’re running this cycle of three at pretty much any given point in the year. [To be fair, I was so blown away by this that I didn’t even think to ask whether or not kangaroos can miscarry or if some are infertile, and believe you me, those questions are definitely on my mind now that I’ve processed the basics. If you have answers, I am all ears.]

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

The female kangaroo also possesses some magical superpowers that can determine whether or not its joey-in-the-oven is getting enough nutrients, and if there isn’t enough food or water around to allow for proper incubating, pregnancy will halt and remain in suspended animation until there’s food and water again. At that point, pregnancy resumes like nothing ever happened.

Did you get that? The female can put its pregnancy on hold. On hold! What if you were 20 weeks along, and suddenly there was a drought and you couldn’t get enough food or water? Would your body just turn off the pregnancy until it rained again? Would you want to have some suspended animation action all up in your uterus for who knows how long?

You let me know because right now, the kangaroo has earned my mother-of-the-year award for life.

Your pal,

Jill

 

Postcard from the Future

3 Mar

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“Shit! What day is it?” I’m panicked, thinking that it’s Friday and that I haven’t posted my weekly blog.

My buddy Seer informs me that it is Friday–at least here in Australia. I check my phone, and it tells me that back home, it’s still Thursday, so I’m safe. For what it’s worth, I’ve really been trying to stay on schedule with this blog, so keeping this Friday deadline is really important to me.

But it’s also kind of a relief to know that my deadline is safe. So hello from the future, dear Readers! I’m here to teach a couple of officiating clinics, and my Friday is consisting of finishing up lesson plans. Sure, I’m happy to be out of Boston’s weird winter weather and lounging next to a solar-heated pool at the end of an Australian summer while I’m doing it, but all the same, there’s a lot of PowerPoint in my day today.

And that makes me wish it was tomorrow, because I’d be finished with my lesson plans by then.

 

Road Tripping: We Did It All Wrong

20 Jan

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For about five years or so, the Boy and I have pointed the car south to spend Christmas with the family in Florida. Sure, it’s a long trip–two days at least–but we like having access to a car, and it’s fun to experience little bits of the country along the way. Driving south reminds me of how vast and different our country is–how interesting it is–and how those differences weave together to become one.

Over the years, we got pretty good at making this trip, finding great stops that we looked forward to making every drive. This year? Not so much. It’s as if we had never taken the car out of state before. How bad was it? Well, it made me feel like I needed to turn in my frequent traveler card.

It was a learning experience though, and if you’re not experienced with road-tripping, here are some of our biggest blunders. Learn from them so you can have a better time in the car!

  • The night before you leave, don’t go to bed so late that you oversleep the next day and are forced to make a late start.
  • Don’t start late enough to avoid Boston rush hour traffic, and then wonder why you’re in New York/Philadelphia smack dab in the middle of evening rush hour.
  • Know where you’re going to spend the night more than an hour before you decide to stop so that you’re not driving from hotel to hotel looking for a room.
  • If you don’t want to deal with full-service gas stations, don’t calculate your gas tank refill to be smack dab in the middle of New Jersey.
  • Stop at Wawa. Don’t bypass Wawa.
  • Find decent restaurants for meals. We actually did better on Day 2, when we found Molly MacPherson’s in Richmond Hill, GA, and had decent food (including excellent salads) and great service).
  • If you want to stop and see something along the way, figure that out early on in the day, not when you’re driving by and realize it’s closed for the day.
  • Pack good snacks.

We did make our traditional stop at South of the Border, but having spent far too long on the road, we were in and out as fast as possible.

Needless to say, we got to Florida in a less than optimal mood, and that’s not a great way to start holiday vacation. It got better, for sure–because sun and warmth really do make a difference–and we had a really fun trip. However, we also pledged to make sure our drive home was something we actually wanted to remember.

 

Postcard from 29,000′

13 Jan

gold-status-expiring

Near the end of 2016, I started to get this email, which, as a frequent flier, sent me into a bit of a panic. See, I’d had Gold status on American for four years, and I rather liked it. Oh, I know what some of you might say–Gold doesn’t have a ton of perks and you can get most of those with a credit card that only has a $95/year annual fee–but why should I pay that if I’m doing the travel anyway? And if I’m traveling at least 25,000 miles a year, getting a free checked bag, early boarding, better seats and the possibility of upgrades is pretty nice (and I can usually snag an upgrade on a shuttle flight to or from Boston, which is sweet).

Extending my status wasn’t supposed to be a problem this year, but due to some family circumstances, I had to drop out of officiating a roller derby tournament in Vancouver–and that trip would have given me the mileage/segments to put me over the top for one more year.

Instead, I started getting the “extend your status now!” emails, and I did what anyone who has decent status in anything does: I worried. It’s not fun to lose perks, but it really wasn’t worth $399 to keep my status (nor was it worth opening up another credit card either).

However, with all problems, there is a solution, and for me, that was the mileage run. I quickly realized that I could fly to Dallas before the holiday travel season started, hang out in the airport for a couple of hours, and fly back to Boston for a fraction of the status renewal price.

This idea did not go over well at home. “You want to do what? Why?” asked the Boy. The Boy doesn’t like flying because he is very tall and doesn’t fit on airplanes very well. He doesn’t understand why people willingly fold themselves up into a tiny seat with Deep Vein Thrombosis-inducing amounts of legroom in the first place, let alone do it just to get miles.

I don’t bother to tell him that people will spend full weekends taking several segments through multiple countries in order to get Executive Platinum status. Even I think that’s a little extreme. I get it, but it’s extreme.

Needless to say, the Boy wasn’t thrilled about my plan, but I decided to spin it by calling it my very own writer-in-residence program. I’d have a quiet space and several hours for nothing but creative writing. It would be fine, great even!

And it was. I wrote about 3,500 words each way, banging out whatever came into my head. I have some short-short pieces and some beginnings to longer pieces–and likely a lot of garbage that was floating around my imagination. However, the goal was to write, and I did–I put my nose to the grindstone and cranked out some material, and that alone felt great.

I also wandered around DFW for a couple of hours–I actually had the faint idea that I could take the train downtown and get back in time, but I soon realized that where I needed to catch the train was too far away from my terminal to make that particular journey. Instead, I gave the Boy a status update while standing in the middle of a parking garage; I stumbled upon DFW’s chapel; and then went back through security. Then I decided it would be a good day for office holiday lunch, so I had a lovely sandwich and bubbly flight at Vino Volo before checking in with a client and getting back on the plane home.

Not that long after, I got this email:

gold-status-achieved

Achievement unlocked! But really, I had a fun, productive day that made me feel professional rejuvenated. Except now, I need to go back to that work, see what’s actually worth saving (Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” comes to mind when I think of what gems this file of random writing might contain). Hopefully there’s work that’s worth exploring and expanding. But then I’m going to need more time for editing and sending out pieces, which I could do at home, but obviously, as I proved with this experience, when it comes to creative writing, I get more done when I’m on the move. Maybe it’s time to schedule some more writer-in-residence days. More air travel? Or should I see how well I work on the train next time?

Postcard from Portland

18 Nov

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If you’re flying to Portland, get the window seat that faces the mountains because if you’ve got decent weather, you’ll spend your descent looking at mountain majesty. In terms of going to Champs, it’s a pretty good way to start a weekend that’s all about majestic performances.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned I’d be leading a non-skating officiating crew at WFTDA Champs, my third time in this role at the top tournament in the roller derby calendar. One of the fun things about being a crew head is that each crew you lead is completely different, and in my experience, the tone of the crew has been completely perfect for that particular tournament.

In 2013 I had a “yes, and” crew, which was fantastic for the pre-tourney exercises I wanted my guinea pigs them to do. I’d been reading up on coaching and talent development and wanted to to prepare more than I ever had as a Champs official. They did me proud all month leading up to the tourney–mention a concept, and within two hours of group messages, you suddenly have a mascot and a t-shirt and a crew head who wonders what the hell is this awesomeness that is happening before her eyes.

Last year, my initial reaction to my crew list was “Champs! Champs! Awesome! Awesome!” which  played out all weekend. Getting to Champs takes work. Staying alive in Champs takes work. Being the Champ takes work. We experienced all of that over the weekend. After Day One, the crew needed focus, and it took one very long shower to figure out a potential fix: hot potato. Luckily, I had packed way more pairs of socks than I needed, and those became our hot potatoes for pre-game warmups. But when the crew found their focus, they insisted on continuing hot potato play before every game.

This year, with an all-female crew, our crew circle felt very nuturing, very welcoming and very caring. We wanted crew time together and were lucky enough to have assignments that gave us the opportunity to do that. Side note: Should you find yourself in Portland, have breakfast at Cheryl’s on 12th. Two words: complimentary beignets.

This crew was amazingly talented and came together nicely, which is impressive, considering we came from Europe and all points of the US. The teamwork we had was inspiring. We brought their best every game and then performed even better, which made me proud and a little bit wistful. This was a last tournament of sorts because change is coming: New rules and standard practices are around the corner, so this may have been the last weekend I officiated this way. There’s always a little sadness on closing the door on a rule set–another chapter in the history of roller derby is closing, and even though the coming changes are exciting, this moment of change as they all are, needs its moment of acknowledgement.

Rules may not be the only change. I recently started reffing, which is a whole different skill set that’s put me at the bottom of the reffing mountain in the range of officiating. Depending on the path I choose to take–and there are many officiating paths, so I need to map them out and find my optimal route–this could have been my last Champs for a while. Hopefully not forever though. The top of the mountain does have a nice view.

Postcard from Winnipeg

21 Oct

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You know those cities that just make you feel happy and delighted whenever you think about them? Winnipeg filled one of those slots in my heart this year.

I was in the unofficial Gateway to Churchill this August to teach at a WFTDA Officiating Clinic (more on officiating in a future Friday diversion). Churchill’s the Polar Bear Capital of Canada, and to get there (from the US at least), you’re likely flying through Winnipeg. But Winnipeg isn’t just a fly-through or flyover city, even though that’s the mantle it seems to wear.

I learned this from the minute I walked over the Hug Rug at the airport and met the clinic hosts, who took me on a driving tour of the city. Along the way, they apologized for the state it was in. “The city doesn’t spend much money,” said one. “Our roads are just horrible.”

I peered out the window. “You’ve never been to Boston, have you?” I said, noting the pretty dreamy condition of the roads we were currently driving on. I honestly never really saw what they were talking about the entire weekend. Sure, the roads weren’t brand-spanking-new, but they weren’t chock full of potholes either.

Perhaps it was their modesty–and it turned out to be the modesty of the city–that I found so charming, but after exploring for a little while, I wanted to scream, “Listen to that message on the garbage cans, Winnipeg! This place is great!”

Why? Perhaps it’s the idea that it’s this sizeable city smack dab in the middle of of the prairie, rising up out of the flat earth. Perhaps it’s the bustling Forks area by the rivers–and the really nice riverfront path. Maybe it’s the beautiful Legislative Building. Or the French Quarter with that chocolate shop that sells delicious Manitobars. Or the amazing collection of native statuary at the WAG. Or the delicious meal at Peasant Cookery that put the cap on a lovely weekend.

I had a day of exploration before the clinic, and during it I made the mistake of going to the tourist office and getting some brochures. This made me a little depressed about all of the places I couldn’t fit in on this trip (new polar bear exhibit at the zoo! The Exchange District! Baseball game!), but the bright side is that Winnipeg will just go higher up on my list of places to revisit.

Postcard from Montreal

14 Oct

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Over Labor Day weekend I was in Montreal for a couple of reasons: to officiate at the WFTDA D1 Playoffs and to visit the Olympic sites for my Olympics blog, The Feverr.

I hadn’t been to Montreal in over ten years, so suffice it to say, I didn’t remember much, although a few places jogged my memory, which was nice. But even though Montreal’s surely changed in the last decade, I’m not sure it’s changed so much.

Montreal’s one of those cities that doesn’t have a je ne sais quoi; it has a je ne sais meh. There’s definitely something special about Montreal, and you can see that in the way design matters. So many times I turned a corner or walked out of a Metro station (like the one above) and saw something surprising, cool and unique. They make the city exciting, you want to be a part of that creativity.

On the other hand, while design matters, other things clearly do not. Like clean streets. Or urgency. At the tournament, one of the skaters had a bad accident and needed an ambulance. The ambulance was on its way, tournament staff was told, and they’d get there soon, unless, of course, there was a stabbing or something that they needed to go to first. Maybe translation and Franglish comprehension was bad, but it sounded like there was only one ambulance on the island on Sundays.

Twenty, thirty or so minutes later, one shows up. No rush, no big deal.  One of the women on ambulance watch thought maybe the delay was a Canadian healthcare thing, but one of the locals set her straight: No, no, no. It’s Montreal. Why the rush? Meh, you’re not dying.

And maybe that’s the reason I waited so long between visits. Why the rush, Montreal? You’re lovely, but eh, there’s the rest of the world too.

 

 

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