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Archive for the ‘Living in the Moment’ Category

Photo found at http://www.cagalogluhamami.com.tr/

I’ve run across two schools of thought with regards to visiting a bathhouse or hamam in Turkey: it’s either a must-do activity or something akin to torture. Or it’s both: I had a friend enthusiastically implore me to take the plunge while simultaneously describing the experience as being “scoured”. It left me curious but apprehensive. So on my last day in Istanbul, I tentatively made my way over to the Cagaloglu Hamami, fully intending to try something new, but knowing I could turn chicken and run at any moment. I am so glad I didn’t succumb to nerves!

The idea of the public bathhouse dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, and the practice continued to thrive throughout the Ottoman Empire. While it was primarily for hygienic purposes (at a time when household bathrooms were unheard of), it also served a social function: inevitably, you’d run across your boss, your cousin-in-law, your neighbour. Business deals would be made, and much gossiping spread.

The traditional bath has multiple stages. First, you undress and are given a pestemal, a thin cotton towel to wear. Bathing is usually done in the nude (go figure), but due to the influx of Western tourists and the opening of co-ed bathhouses, you have the option of wearing a bathing suit. You will also be given a pair of clogs to wear – a lot of bathhouses have marble floors and there is water everywhere – however, you can wear your own flip-flops instead (I did; I found them easier to walk around in). These are public hamami, so there will be others sharing the facilities with you, but if you can handle showering in a locker room, you can handle this.

You’ll be led (so you don’t slip) to an area full of extremely warm air and steam, where you’ll sit for about a half hour – anyone familiar with a sauna will be comfortable with the idea of sweating the toxins away and opening the pores of your skin. Once you’re good and sweaty, you’ll be lead over to a bench where an attendant will bathe you. Warm water will be poured over you and you’ll be scrubbed down – everywhere – with a kese, a rough cotton glove. Depending on how sensitive your skin is, you could find this part uncomfortable, but I didn’t think it was any worse than using a loofah or exfoliating gloves found in most drugstores at home. The next step is a massage, after which you are brought to another room to cool down and relax.

This was the best thing I could have done for myself on my last day in Turkey after an enjoyable but packed two-week tour. I would do it again in a heartbeat. It doesn’t hurt that the hamam I went to was over 350 years old and absolutely gorgeous (it’s on the list of 1000 places to see before you die). However much I want to encourage everyone to go, there are plenty who have gone and wish they hadn’t. You’ll be breathing in steamy air for a considerable time (at least an hour), and your attendent will get personal with parts of you that few others do.

As much as I love travelling, it can be exhausting and overwhelming at times. This was indulgent and relaxing, and I felt fantastic when it was all over. I need to remember to do more of these kinds of things when I’m away.

Photo from http://www.cagalogluhamami.com.tr/

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Have you noticed that colour always seems so much richer when you visit a new place? It’s as though all synapses are firing at full power and your senses come alive. Pop, pop, pop – eye candy everywhere.

It’s not just colour – everything feels so much more when I’m away. Foods burst with flavour and smells are sharper; my pillow could be soft as a cloud or hard as a rock  – either/or but never in between. All I want to do is see, touch and taste everything (though I have learned the hard way, some things are better left unsmelled).

One of my most distinct memories of Turkey is standing on the top of a hill with miles of Cappadocian countryside stretched before me as the noon call to prayer began warbling from the loudspeakers of a nearby mosque. These two, the awesome sight of the landscape and the incomprehensible (to me) prayer, are so linked in a sense memory that I can’t imagine one without the other.

It’s not as though we don’t have blue skies, green grass or purple flowers at home (though we don’t have bodies of water that are turquoise, which is why I took approximately 500 photos of various beaches, inlets, harbours etc. along the Mediterranean coast). Still, I find myself entranced by fields of poppies; ripe fruits and vegetables; and textiles, pottery and jewellery that never quite have the same impact as I’m unpacking them from my suitcase upon my return home.

And so I will pull out my trusty camera in the hopes that I can somehow capture how beautiful those bright blue glass “evil eyes” looked embedded in the white mortar of that one building I saw. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I can, but sometimes all I’m left with is a spectacular memory and that’ll do.

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It’s winter – cold, snowy, and grey – and I am longing for the return of patio season. After six months or more cooped up inside, nothing feels better than to spend time outdoors and restaurant patios here in town are packed full of people on warm summer nights. I love a good patio, and Dubrovnik was the ultimate place to hang out outdoors with a coffee or gelato and soak up the sun. But Dubrovnik at night is the main reason I hope with all my heart to go back and visit again.

We had spent almost a full day driving down the coast of Croatia and arrived in Dubrovnik in late afternoon. After settling into our rooms and cleaning up, we headed out towards the old walled city to find somewhere to eat. It had fallen dark at this point, and we could see a part of it, all lit up and looking gorgeous, out our window. It’s always very exciting to arrive at a new place and discover its charms, but I swear when we walked through the gates and into main square, I was blown away. I felt as if I had stepped into a fairytale world.

The city has a long and storied history, and between earthquakes and wars, it’s amazing that so much of it is still preserved. The stone streets are worn smooth from years of pedestrian traffic, and the architecture is typically Old Word, classic with ornate touches, all topped with those iconic red tile roofs. Hanging from every building are electric lamps shaped like lanterns that give off a bright warm glow.

For me, coming from a much newer city with not many buildings older than the 1930s and asphalt streets which are flooded with fluorescent lights, the effect was breathtaking. Great effort has obviously been made by the city’s caretakers not only to preserve this piece of history, but to ensure that it still has life. People still live and work and hang out within these walls, much as they did 500 years ago – some things have changed, of course, but the rhythm of life continues on in Dubrovnik. A modern city has sprouted and spread out around the walls, but the heart definitely still beats within.

And so we found a place to rest, drink a little wine, and have a bite to eat – the only soundtrack was the chatter around us. It was a perfect evening, and though we could not wait to explore the city the next day, nothing could quite top our first glance of the square, glowing and full of history and magic.

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When it comes to Christmas, I’ve always been a traditional girl, and the idea of spending the holidays anywhere but at home had never really appealed to me. And yet I was excited when, after a particularly trying year, my family decided to head west for Christmas. My brother lives in Calgary and had suggested renting a ski chalet in the resort town of Fernie, British Columbia.

Spending a week in December in the mountains required some preparation, and I headed to Mountain Equipment Co-op to outfit myself with some warm socks, long underwear, and the first pair of snow pants I’ve bought since I was nine (all of which has come in handy in the years since as supreme snow-shovelling gear).

The drive to Fernie from Calgary is a scenic one, along the Crowsnest Pass through the Rockies, and passing by the tragic curiosity that is the Frank Slide. The area is seriously windy and it was a bitingly cold day: I had barely left Calgary, and my long underwear had become my best friend.

The Fernie Alpine Resort, where our chalet was located, was a picture-perfect scene with the trees and the snow and cute little chalets dotting the roads, all surrounded by mountains. The view out our front window was like something out of a postcard. At home,  we’ve had more green Christmases in recent years than white ones; here, we were in the midst of a real winter wonderland. One of the first things we did was decorate the chalet with the Christmas decorations we had brought with us from my brother’s place and soon our (artificial) Christmas tree shone prettily with multi-coloured lights. We strung more lights along the snow-covered balcony where my brothers barbecued dinner one night. Later, we clomped out to the back deck in our winter boots, getting as close to the edge of the hot tub as we could before we absolutely had to peel down to our bathing suits and quickly pop into the hot water. We lounged in the tub, peering at each other through the steam rising from the water, sipping our drink of choice, and feeling the snow fall on our faces (it snowed every night).

Most days, we headed to the ski mountain and spent the better part skiing or snowshoeing, until we headed back in the afternoon, cheeks flushed and hungry for dinner (but not before soaking in the hot tub for our alpine version of Happy Hour).

Despite being away from home, we were able to indulge in our best-loved traditions in this homey chalet in B.C., including turkey dinner with all the trimmings and our annual post-dinner viewing of SCTV’s Christmas specials. It was noisy and cheery, filled with good food and drink, and pretty much all we could have hoped for. Not to mention, we all slept like babies after days of breathing in cold, fresh air while skiing and hiking through the snow.

I was amazed that a family of 10 was able to live there for five days without getting completely on each other’s nerves, but it was a success. So much so, we hope to do it again sometime soon. I will say, I’ll never worry about where we spend Christmas, as long as we do it together as a family.

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Often when I am looking for inspiration (either for this blog or for life in general), I’ll look over all of my photos and marvel over the many wonderful things I’ve been privileged to see. Sometimes, I’ll come across a photo that I’d particularly love to share, but words will often fail me – there is no interesting story attached, it’s just a photo I happened to take that has struck me later as something special.

I was on a hike at a beach somewhere in Iceland when I took this photo. I could retrace my steps and try to figure out which beach, but where this is exactly isn’t really the point. It’s not a place that this reminds me of so much as a feeling. I look at that photo, and I can hear the waves, feel the wind, and smell the salt and wet sand of that beach.

It’s completely by chance that the rock was created in that formation, and yet it belongs there. It’s just rock, but it’s ageless – the sea has washed up along these shores for countless years and will continue to after I’m gone. I can stand at a place like this and truly feel how ancient the Earth is. I can feel a connection to the history of this planet, the people that have come to this beach over hundreds of years and watched the waves flow in and out among those rocks just as I have, and I feel alive in a way I don’t as I go about my everyday life, working and paying bills and so on.

I may never go back to that beach, but I always have this photo.

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I think we can all agree – the best moments are never planned, they just happen.

A few years ago, I accompanied some friends on a trip to Croatia. The last few days were spent in Dubrovnik, and we had rented a three-bedroom flat for the eight of us about a ten-minute walk from the old walled city. Our landlord, a long-time resident of the city, graciously took us on a walking tour our first morning there. We bought him lunch to say thank you, and before we all split up, he offered to take us out on his sailboat the next day. What a treat!

We could not have been luckier: in addition to being an avid sailor, he was also a semi-regular tour guide. We toured around the Dubrovnik harbour, listening to all the stories and history he shared with us. Between the walking tour the day before and that morning’s sail, we had been spoiled: we booked a tour with a professional company for the “wall walk” along the walls of the city later that day, and all later agreed it could not compare to our time with Maro. He was blunt, colourful and knew so many interesting facts about the city, particularly with regard to the siege of the city that occurred about 15 years prior.

This was the colour of the water around the dock. This shot was taken from the edge of the dock, looking straight down.

After sailing for a while, he anchored the boat in a bay so we could go swimming. He took his snorkel and fins and went octopus hunting while we, one by one, jumped into the clear blue sea. As I bobbed around in the water and looked down, it seemed as though I could reach down and touch the sea floor, but after diving underwater, it became apparent how deep the water was where we were. As someone who grew up swimming in the cold, murky lakes of Ontario, I was mesmerized by the crystal-clear water in Croatia.

I lay on my back for a while, floating, drifting, soaking in the sunshine. It was an absolutely perfect moment: relaxing, peaceful, and one I could have lived in for a while. There were a few “sun-kissed” red cheeks and shoulders by the time we pulled anchor and sailed back to the docks, but it was so worth it!

The sail that morning stood out for many of us as a highlight, if not the highlight, of our trip – and to think, it happened all by chance.

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