17 Dec

Monday Moment: Frankfurt Rail Station

Frankfurt Rail Station

I love travelling hubs. Those points where travellers come together; the point being to fan out again reaching to the next destination.

Airports, bus depots, and train stations filled with coming and going. Big bags, small bags, suitcases and backpacks. Experienced and efficient, or first timer and unsure; all funnel through with a unified goal of catching that plane, train, bus, or ferry.

Watching people say their goodbyes is as heart wrenching as watching the hellos is heart warming. A constant ebb and flow of coming and going whose balance must be maintained.

13 Dec

Where In The World Are We? And What The Heck Is Our Plan Anyway?

Woodstock, Ontario

It may be the Next Giant Step but it has started rather unassumingly; relaxed and quiet, as if we haven’t realized yet that we don’t really know what we’re doing and don’t know that perhaps anxiety and stress are the more usual responses.

We left Calgary in a flurry of scrumpled packing paper and unanswered Kijiji ads, first heading north to Edmonton where we spent an inordinate amount of time by the fire in our PJ’s. Each day started with strong coffee and moved onward to ever stronger libations throughout the day as we caught up with old friends and put the last of our affairs together before leaving the province. Dressing was optional. I love that.

Things haven’t changed much since we left Edmonton. We’re in Ontario now staying with Jason’s mum; we’re still spending an inordinate amount of time in our PJ’s and have etched what look like permanent bum prints in the sofa.

We’ll have to get dressed tomorrow though as we head into Toronto for a weekend of finding Christmas Spirit (and spirits) before heading to the West Coast for the holidays where I predict more PJ wearing, coffee drinking, and general ‘imbibing’. You West Coasters have been warned!

And then?

And then we’ll head to THAILAND!

We have flights to Bangkok booked for January 21st. We’ll head to the beach for a couple of weeks (maybe Hua Hin…any recommendations?) and then head north to Chiang Mai were I hope to network and hang out with blogging colleagues while Jason continues to look for work.

Thailand. Not a bad place to go and wait for the next step. I’ll take it.

But what about the Grand Plan. What will that look like?

The Grand Plan is still the same; Jason will find short term consulting contracts (3, 6 or 12 months) and we will move wherever that is. The only criteria (at this point) is that the salary be enough to live in that country on. If we’re living in Spain his salary will need to be enough to live in Spain, if we’re living in Indonesia the same applies. In between contracts we’ll travel – where we are able to travel to will depend on what we can save during the contract. It’s a pretty simple formula…let’s hope it works.

No, we don’t have all the details worked out.

I don’t know anything about working visas, or taxes, or long term healthcare. I’m leaving that for Future Gillian and Jason to worry about. No point worrying about things that are bigger than us and that we don’t know enough detail about to manage now. As long as we have all the other stuff cleared up we should be able to research those things quickly as needed. Hopefully.

And me? I have a new project that I’m very excited about. The Global Bookshelf…Connecting Travellers To A World Of Stories. A place to find books and stories that will connect you to the trip you are already planning, or are dreaming about. Stories of inspiration. Of adventure. Of travel. I have a lot of work to do but I would love it if you would sign up for future updates either in the sidebar here at OneGiantStep or over at TheGlobalBookshelf.com

I also have A Travellers Christmas series coming up next week and a new weekly video feature that should start in the new year; 60 Second Travel Tips.

It’s an exciting time and we’re handling it the best way we know how; in our PJ’s, surrounded by those we love the most, with a big, fat, scotch in our hands.

Bring it on.

10 Dec

Monday Moment: Shobak Castle, Jordan

Shobak Castle, Jordan

There is plenty of old in Jordan. Old cities, old roads, old buildings, old religious sites, and old crusader castles.

Left almost untouched, Shobak Castle was my favorite. Without hoards of tourists around it was much easier to imagine this crusader outpost as it was in its heyday. We wandered and scrambled, explored nooks and crannies and ventured down some deep, dark passageways until we scared ourselves and beat a hasty retreat.

It was the enthusiastic stories of fellow travellers that convinced us to make a stop in Jordan. I’m so glad that we did and I hope that I can encourage others to visit also; it’s a worthy stop on any itinerary.

06 Dec

45 Years, 45 Things

Gillian @OneGiantStep

I turned 45 yesterday. I know, I can’t believe it either!

Here are 45 random things about me. Just because.

  1. I am an introvert except that I love large crowds and quiet, intimate, conversations terrify me.
  2. I am English born, Canadian bred.
  3. I just quit my job to do I’m-not-quite-sure-what I’m-not-quite-sure-where.
  4. I am excited by the possibility
  5. I love beer, and trying new beers.
  6. I like a good old fashioned, strong, cocktail. No girlie drinks here, thank you very much.
  7. Gin and Tonic is my favourite.
  8. I can juggle, although not very well.
  9. I love mountain biking and was pretty good at it until I sold my bike recently to live in the world.
  10. I have had both my knees reconstructed due to mountain biking accidents.
  11. I recently discovered hot yoga and no longer think it’s for sissy’s.
  12. I am proud of myself.
  13. I am divorced.
  14. I don’t believe in second marriages but am head over heels for my long time partner, Jason.
  15. I have no children; never wanted them.
  16. I don’t feel 45.
  17. I do not have an artistic bone in my body.
  18. I have one sister and one brother; they live in the same town we grew up in.
  19. I got my wanderlust from my parents; they came here from England with little more than I have right now. They did well, and so will we.
  20. I used to be afraid of flying; and then I talked myself out of it. True story.
  21. I love both cities and being way off the grid, but small towns bore me.
  22. My favourite travel memories are of really hard times or really simple times.
  23. I love traveling by bus and staring out the window for hours on end.
  24. Currently everything Jason and I own fits in four boxes, one large sack, two large backpacks, two daypacks, two satchel bags and a small suitcase. Everything.
  25. I am hard to get to know.
  26. I don’t cry easily, although that is changing as I get older.
  27. I don’t believe we should all ‘act our age’ but I also don’t think we should spend time chasing youth.
  28. I feel 32.
  29. I am a big time procrastinator.
  30. I don’t have any tattoos.
  31. I wish I could sing.
  32. I’m a Sagittarian.
  33. I used to think Virgin was also an astrological sign.
  34. I can’t do a chin up no matter how in-shape I am.
  35. The thought of scuba diving terrifies me. You can’t breathe down there!
  36. I believe we all want the same things in life; happiness, a sense of peace, and a feeling of having done what we want to do. We just all get there a different way.
  37. I hate doing laundry and vacuuming (Jason does it all).
  38. I don’t mind doing dishes (I do them all).
  39. I have a terrible memory.
  40. I have Crohn’s Disease; luckily it is controlled by medication.
  41. I also have Psoriasis. I think the two are related. But not related to #39.
  42. I have very neat handwriting.
  43. I speak only English.
  44. I wish I could speak another language. It is one of my goals.
  45. I don’t know what my future holds but I can’t wait to find out.

C’mon…share. Tell me one thing about you.

03 Dec

Monday Moment: Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

It’s hard to fathom the amount of water tumbling over the edge of Iguazu Falls in Argentina. As one of the largest waterfalls in the world it is an impressive sight on a normal day. The storms from the days before had saturated the earth and caused the falls to be even grander on this day. Coloured red from the soil, the water had started to take over the surrounding jungle.

Hard to believe that there was a time in 1978 when the falls were completely dry.

29 Nov

Using The Japanese Railway To Get Around

Japanese RailwayFor us the primary mode of transportation while in Japan was the Japanese railway system; a combination of trains and metros (subways). For people who aren’t train geeks, the differences can be subtle; I’ll just refer to them universally as trains going forward.

What is more important is the difference between the national Japan Rail (JR) system and private systems. The various companies of JR operate a vast network across the country including the wonderful high-speed Shinkansen. There are also many non-JR or private companies operating trains in popular areas. Why is this important you ask? The JR Pass!

Train travel is not cheap, but foreign nationals can purchase an unlimited JR travel pass voucher before they arrive in Japan and exchange these for JR Passes when they arrive. It is important to note that you cannot purchase these in Japan! The small catch is these are only valid on the JR system. For most travellers this won’t be a problem as JR services most popular destinations including a complete network of trains around Tokyo.

If you are heading off the beaten path, some planning with tell you if it is a private or JR service you need. Details about JR pass options and purchase can be found on the Japan Rail Pass website.  For train trip planning on either JR, or private, lines we used the Hyperdia online schedule tool.

One of the things that is awesome about Japan (there are many awesome things about Japan!) is that all train stations are uniquely named. If you know where you are and where you need to go, you just put those locations into the search and pick the date and arrival/departure time. Additional search filters include service type, and JR versus private companies. As expected, results focus on travel efficiency; this may not accommodate a break for lunch if you are a leisure traveller. Good news again – the full schedule for each train on a multi-train routing is accessible and you can pick an earlier or later train and add a break for yourself, which we often did on longer legs. Train stations offer up all kinds of dining options; from stand up noodle stands to full on restaurants and bento box options. It’s worth it to take a break and grab a meal, especially when you know that it’s more than just grotty sandwiches on offer!

Japan Railway Noodle Stall

Stand Up Noodle Stall in a Japan Railway Station

Old fashion paper maps or online maps will help to identify the name of closest train stations to you or your destination. All of the guesthouses, apartments, ryokans, and minshukus we stayed in provided information about closest train stations and often included information about surrounding attractions and temples and how to get to them using the trains.

Even if you opt for a JR pass you will still need to reserve a seat if you are taking Limited Express or Shinkansen trains as these can fill up more than the local service. Most train stations have staff that can sell you tickets or arrange reservations. The level of spoken English will vary significantly so help yourself and the agent by writing down the information before you get to the window. Important bits; date of travel, train name and number, departure station, departure time, destination station and destination time.

Of course, In the land of vending machines, you can bypass the person and go directly to ticket machines. Each one I encountered had an option for English instructions. Fares are based on the travel zone concept. Think of wider and wider circles on the map centred from where you standing. The fare is the same for all destinations in each circle and there are big boards with the likely stations and fare cost above the ticket machines. Buy a ticket for the fare value you require and you are good to go.

Japanese Railway Ticket Machine

Train ticket vending machine. Not as scary as they look!

Information about which platform your train will be arriving on is available past the gates on large signs posted overhead. The signs will flip between Kanji and English so be patient. On the platform, you will find signage to indicate where your car will stop if you have a reservation. The signage will either be on the ground with directions for lining (queuing) up or suspended overhead; find where your car will stop and line up with the locals.

Japanese Railway Destination BoardRemember the trains are incredible efficient. Some may only stop for less than a minute to allow passengers off and new people on. Be ready when the train arrives at the station; you’ll have to board quickly. If you are a rock star and want special treatment, you’ll have to hire a car.

Waiting for the Japanese Railway trainI love traveling by train. The Japanese railway system takes it to a whole new level; impeccably clean, efficient, and reliable. There is no better way to get around the country.

26 Nov

Monday Moment: Perfume Pagoda Pilgrimage , Vietnam

Perfume Pagoda, Vietnam

Hundreds of boats, loaded with thousands of pilgrims, make their way toward the Perfume Pagoda outside of Hanoi.

Families come to pray for luck and good fortune. Couples come to pray for fertility.

Men come to pray for prosperity and good luck.And test that faith by playing cards on the way back down. I wonder if they turn around and head back up if they don’t do so well in the game.

Perfume Pagoda, Vietnam

 

14 Nov

On Letting Go

It’s my last official day of W.O.R.K tomorrow. The last day, in my foreseeable future, that I will trek to the office to do a J.O.B.

I don’t think I’ll miss it, but I worry a little that I will. I think it’s about defining success; learning what that looks like in a new light when all the past success parameters don’t measure up any longer. I’ll have to develop a new scale…or…just stop trying to measure up.

What’s really been interesting the past few weeks is getting rid of all our stuff.

We started Kijiji-ing like mad as soon as we decided to leave and things have  been selling pretty well. We’re down to sleeping on the sofa bed in the living room with a filing cabinet as a coffee table/night stand/dining table. It’s almost like camping – only I’m warm.

As we go through things, deciding on the few items to keep and where to send the rest, a few patterns have emerged that re-enforce the underlying force behind all of this; things don’t matter, it’s the experiences that matter.

All the furniture, serving sets, wine glasses and things we purchased when we bought our first home were the absolute easiest to get rid of.

I didn’t blink an eye as the cabinets we so carefully chose walked out the door. The bedroom set I so coveted so I could be a ‘grown up’? Bye-bye.

That beautiful, perfect, dining room table I spent a fortune on is now mocking me in the corner as I am unable to sell it for even a fraction of what I paid for it. I had a niggling feeling when I bought it, obsessed over not scratching or marring it whenever we used it, and now it is making me pay. Making me learn the lesson that spending great amounts of money for something is not the way to happiness.

The pieces I struggle with letting go?

The first piece of furniture I ever bought once I graduated school; it reminds me of swelling with pride that I could afford something comfortable to sit in.

The candle stick wall sconce that Jason brought to my teeny tiny apartment when he moved in – we still try to dine by candle light as often as possible.

My bike. So many memories of so many years churning up trails with the Fat Bastards.

A cheap, French-inspired, poster bought from a hole-in-the-wall shop after a few beers on a rainy, fall afternoon many years ago. It was my first piece of ‘art’ and started a motley collection of which each piece reminds me of a time and place.

The things I am most connected to are those that remind me of times and experiences that are most important to me. I look back fondly on the early days of my relationship with Jason. We lived in a teeny tiny apartment, enjoyed ourselves immensely, and didn’t have many things. The things we are most easily getting rid of now remind me of following blindly down a path without checking in with myself.

It’s about looking back, letting go, and moving forward. Easier said than done. But. Done.

 

12 Nov

Monday Moment: Sari Salesman, Kathmandu, Nepal

Kathmandu, Nepal

Wandering the streets of Kathmandu my head swivelled constantly as I peered into shops, studios and restaurants. It was sensory overload.

I happened to look in this sari shop just as the shopkeeper was unfurling this beautiful turquoise sari for the ladies. Looking at all of all the material at their feet, and the looks on the men’s faces, I would guess they have been at it for some time!

07 Nov

Travel To Japan: What Does It Cost (Part Two)

**Click Here to see Travel To Japan: What Does It Cost (Part One)**

There is no doubt that Japan is an expensive country to travel in. Our travel to Japan was, in fact, the most expensive trip we’ve ever done.

It was also the best trip we’ve ever had. It changed our lives; it was here, during this trip, that we finally decided to take the next GiantStep to leave Canada. It was worth every single yen.

We broke our expenses down into five basic categories:

Accommodation

This wasn’t a backpacker trip so I wasn’t necessarily looking for the cheapest option but I was cognizant of price and wanted to get the best I could for the money I was willing to spend.

We stayed in a mix of accommodation styles; apartments,  Tokyo hotels, guesthouses, traditional ryokans, local minshukus and even a temple. I placed links in the spreadsheet next to each entry – I recommend every place we stayed. Some were very reasonably priced (an apartment in Tokyo for $100/night!) and some were very expensive ($300 for a ryokan stay…but it included an amazing dinner and breakfast).

On average we spent $123.80 per night. If I factor out the meal costs of the two most expensive stays (that included meals), the average drops to $112.88; we would be hard pressed to travel in our own country for this cost!

Transportation

Shinkansen, JapanFlights and trains were the big budget items here.

Our flights from Calgary to Tokyo (return ticket) cost $3128.24 – that’s quite the chunk of change out of a budget! I’m glad we were able to spend a month in Japan because I would be hard pressed to think that paying that kind of money for a two week holiday would be worth it.

The three week JR Rail passes were the next biggest transportation expense at $749 each – $1498 for the two of us! They turned out to be worth it – although just barely.

We spend just over $400 on other non-JR train tickets, subway rides, bicycle rentals, and the occasional taxi.

Food and Drink

Ramen There really is nothing Jason and I enjoy more than spending time over a meal, or whiling away an afternoon in a pub so it’s no surprise that our food and drink costs were high.

We stayed in apartments for half our trip so were able to self cater breakfast most of the time. We love spending our mornings lounging around, catching up on the interwebs, drinking coffee, and snacking on whatever we could find at the grocery store so apartments fit the bill nicely. It turns out that going out for coffee in Japan is an expensive affair, sometimes costing as much as $5 per cup for regular coffee so making it at ‘home’ was very budget friendly!

After a day of sightseeing we usually head back to our room to enjoy an early evening cocktail before dinner. Alcohol is fairly inexpensive and widely available in shops so we could just pick something up on our way. Going out for a drink, however, can be fairly pricey; probably no more expensive than the places we frequent here in Calgary, although Japanese beer is a little lacklustre and, at home, we don’t go out every night.

We really didn’t think too much about the budget when looking for a place to eat. We tend to enjoy middle-of-the-road establishments and knew there was room in our budget to accommodate what we like so we weren’t out to find the cheapest meal at any point. A few times, when in particular areas that were known for a certain meal, we would splurge but mostly we stuck to ramen houses, kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi shops, and izakayas (pubs). A few times we picked up some sushi from the grocery store but that was more about wanting to stay home than worrying about the budget.

We almost always had a drink (or two, or three) with a meal; these are not broken out in the budget sheet but you could probably half all the costs there to determine a non drinking budget – often our booze bill the same as the food bill. Definitely would be much cheaper to travel as a tee-totaller but it’s just not our style.

On average we spent $105.58 per day on food and drink.

Attractions/Activities

Golden Temple, Kyoto

We went to Japan to be in Japan. It was a tiny expat experiment whereby I wanted to really pretend that I lived there. Sure, we visited temples and shrines, took a tour and a cooking class, and revelled in the Sumo Grand Championship, but what I really enjoyed was just riding the trains, going for dinner, cruising the grocery store aisles, and wandering around the streets imagining that this neighbourhood was my neighbourhood.

I think our attractions/activities costs are fairly low at an average of $20/day.

Miscellaneous

Miscellaneous holds all the other stuff. We needed some toothpaste. We did laundry once. Luckily, we are not souvenir people so this category usually stays quite low. In fact most of this category is taken up by the pocket wifi device we rented to stay connected the whole time.

We traveled through Japan for 27 days. It cost us $11,965.52 – I had budgeted $12,000 so I’m happy to be under budget.

Here is the entire OneGiantStep Japan Budget should you care to see more of a breakdown.

Our trip to Japan was everything I wanted it to be, and more. It was worth every single penny.