Whit Monday is a holiday in Berlin – Another surprise!

All the stores are closed – as are the banks, the post office, most offices – and I’m guessing government buildings. Good news for the tourists – at least most restaurants are open – and museums normally open on Monday are open today too. Whew – for a minute I thought I was back in Bali celebrating Nyepi – only with less preperation!

We’d planned to do the Berlin Basics today – Check-point Charlie and the Topography of Terror Exhibit being first and foremost on our list. Check-point Charlie is silly – 2 guys dressed up as soliders – posing with any tourist willing to tip them. I guess the good news is they are being nice about it – smiling or being serious as the tourist requests. But it’s really silly stuff.

More interesting – and well worth reading – are all the official signs talking about where the wall was – and tracing the route down Zimmerstrasse thru the carefully placed cobble stones. We walk the Wall to the Topography of Terror – a free exhibit that traces the history of Hilter and the SS from 1933 till the end of the war. Stunning, informative, horrifying, intriging, alarming – and unforgetable. The mood in the large space is somber – as befits the topic – and the timeline starts off like Hilter did – slow and careful – picking up speed and horror as time moved on. A must see exhibit.

We leave there to check out the Gropius House – but the special exhibits on this month don’t appeal to us. Next stop – a quick peak into Potsdammer Plaza – and then a stroll towards Brandenburg Gate.

A wildly unique building attracts our eyes – that plus a sign that says free Science Museum. Even better – it’s open. So we stroll on in. It’s a display put together by Otto Bock Inc. – famous for prosthetics. And it’s all about the human body and how our brain controls our legs and hands. It’s fascinating. I particularly found the beam walk simulaton intriguing. It’s really easy to walk a beam that appears to be flat on the ground – another story altogether to walk that beam when the visual tells you that you are high above a city scape.

Walking on – we admire the Brandenburg gate – and the crowds of tourists admiring the gate. Been there – seen it. We move on.

Our next stop is a fabulous mini art museum – The Guggeneim – Deuche Bank Museum. It’s a modern art exhibit space – free on Monday’s – that this time is featuring an artist who asks questions and then attempts to get the audience involved in his answers via video footage.

One stunner – he goes to a flea market and displays a collection of palm tree branches for sale. Full sized palm tree fronds. Eventually – after a lot of curious looks from the passers by – the organizers ask him nicely to leave. Granted the palm tree branches are used – but hardly the stuff of yard sales. He morfs this experience into a discussion on group definitions. What is – and What isn’t – a flea market appropriate item.

Another challenge has 5 people trying to play one piano at the same time. In another video – 4 potters try to make a single pot together – with strange results. I’m not going to describe the rest of his work – but you get the idea. Challenging questions – with probably no really good answers.

Moving on – we opt to collapse into “The Digital Eatery”, which kindly gives us hot water for free to go with our slice of cake. They have a virtual reality simulator – which of course I must try! The first program is a jet fighter in outerspace – Once I put on the glasses – I can see my body wearing a space suit, my arms manipulating the controls of the space ship – and of course my surroundings – a meteor shower with targets to hit.

I loved it – even if I couldn’t actually hit any of the targets – in fact – I never even found them! But it was still very very cool.

We continue our walk – ending the day at the Haut Banholf – and eat a surprising great dinner at the Tex-Mex Cantina. 6.90 Euro (about $8 Canadian) for a fried chicken dinner large enough to feed 2. But we didn’t know that – so I ordered Pork Chops – same price – same huge size. Well – it’s going to be left overs for dinner tomorrow.

We drag out tired bodies back to the metro and head home to the Cat’s Pajama’s. Tea, Blog and Bed for Bozo….

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Carnival Time in Berlin – Who Knew?

I couldn’t have planned the timing of our trip to Berlin better if I had tried – but I’m ahead of myself a bit. I’ll back-track and then move forward in time sequence.

Our landing in Berlin at the smaller airport of Schoenfield was uneventful – luggage arrived, bus to metro organized – no problems at all.

We opted to take the bus in all the way to Hermannplatz – we could have switched to the Metro – but riding the bus gave us time to get a feel for the outer limits of Berlin – probably the only time we’ll actually see where ‘real’ people live!

Once we arrived at Hermannplatz – finding the Cat’s Pajama’s hostel was also simple. And what a lovely hostel it is too. And yes – Pet very very friendly! But that doesn’t bother us a bit.

Our room is a small, but a very nicely located double -on the third floor with shower en-suite – Overall – it compares nicely to more expensive places – it even has a 27″ flat screen TV (not that we’ve even turned it on yet). First time I’ve seen that in a hostel. And at least every other day maid service. In a Hostel! Top that Marriot.

As expected – there’s a huge kitchen, 3 full fridges for people to store their food in – and there’s a party happening tonight. Free bratwurst and Free beer – all you can eat and drink.

Nice way to be welcomed to Berlin, eh?

Turns out that this is the start up to Whit Sunday – or Pentacost. The Intrepid Traveller knew this was a big deal in the Catholic Church – what we didn’t know is that it’s a big deal in the Hermannplatz area. Once a year – on this Sunday – there is a huge – huge – huge Parade! It starts at noon on Sunday – and lasts till 9:30 in the evening. Over a million people will be watching. And it all happens right outside the door to our hostel. It’s a diversity parade – if you have a group – you can join. The ‘floats’ and I use that term very generously – range from wagons pulled by the participants to highly decorated vans and trucks. The music is loud and raucous – the dancers in many cases barely clad. Head dresses and tail feathers with thongs of various sizes were the norm – not the exception. There were groups of drum core teams, there were lots and lots of folks representing various Native tribes – from all parts of the world. Africa, South America – you name it.

It was the Berlin version of Mardi Gras on a penny-wise budget – but playing to an audience of over a million. The Intrepid Traveller and I can’t think of anything in Montreal that would pull such a crowd.

Before the parade started – we had to go to church of course. I picked the Cathederal of Berlin – I mean – why not. And we picked High Mass. So we were treated to a full orchestra, a choir of about 30 young ladies and a male soloist, the church organ with it’s over 7000 pipes, the current arch-bishop of Berlin, 5 more priests, countless alter boys and girls, enough incense to full the huge church – and confirmation!

It dawned on me about 1/2 way thru that the only way to really enjoy church music is when it is played to an audience of devotees. And it is glorious. The building resonated with the music – the audience hung on every note. Magnificant.

So – Pentacost services, Carnival Parade – and for dinner – Doner and Pizza. Hey – it’s Berlin.

Signing off to plan tomorrow’s adventures.. The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveller.

Roissey en France – More than just a Transit Stop

I adore walking around small towns in France – the cobbled streets, the ever present gardens, the tiny shops selling interesting things – it’s just plain fun.

So the Intrepid Traveller and I decided to schedule our trip to Berlin so that we had almost a full day – plus a full night – in Roissey. It’s about 45 minutes by train from Paris – and seconds from Charles De Gaul Airport. Planes fly overhead morning, noon, and night – carrying people to and from just about everywhere in the world. In order to cater to their needs – Roissey en France grew from a tiny village occupied with farming to the Hotel packed destination it is today. But city planners have worked hard to keep the millions of tourists at bay.

The hotels that surround Roissey have clearly been zoned away from the traditional city center – you can see the ‘ring’ road on the map – and all modern development is prevented from corrupting the traditional city center.

The Roissey Department of Tourism has worked hard to make sure that visitors understand the age of the city – and there are wonderful old pictures – dating from 1905 and 1910 that show buildings that still exist – in all their former glory. We walked from huge plaque to huge plaque – identifying the pictured buildings – and admiring the elaborate dress of the country folk who posed so proudly next to their drug stores, post office, or the Marie. Even the original schools are still proudly in use – dating from before 1905. It’s easy to compare the pictures – with their stern looking teachers and stiff postured students – with the present buildings with their modern renovations.

Our wanderings included visits to the 2 local ‘depaneur’s’ or grocery stores. I needed a toothbrush, forgotten at home during the rush of last minute packing, and besides – these are fun to visit.

Tiny, cramped, with products stacked from the floor to the ceiling – they featured ‘Made in France’ products – a huge fridge full of French Cheeses – and an elaborate selection of French wine (starting price – 2 Euros or $2.65 Canadian). I loved the cookie isle, although fortunately the Intrepid Traveller was there to restrain me. You can’t eat what you don’t buy – so we settled on a fairly larger slice of Brie du Meaux and a Camenbert. We’ll visit the pastery store for bread tomorrow before flying out.

The wonderful thing about small towns in France are the attention paid to common spaces – and Roissey is filled with gardens that are supported by locals and open to the public. We toured the cemetary with it’s war memorial (Roissey was the site of much resistance fighting during World War I), checked out the local Sports facility – soccor field, Boules Courts (18 folks were playing in this area – without benefit of lines or boxes – how they kept from forgetting whose Boule was whose’s – I’ll never know), Play ground, Tennis field, Outdoor Swimming Pool, and community garden. The lilac’s were in bloom, the air fresh, and the walking lovely. Such a pleasure.

Naturally each hotel on the ring road made an effort to keep their clientele’s money safely in their hands – so each hotel offered a bar and a restaurant featuring pretty pedestrian fare – at very high prices. Not our thing – so we went looking for something more local. And not surprisingly – found plenty of options – running from outdoor pizza parlors to sushi and a surprisingly upscale place featuring foie gras and local game! We opted for the tiny, but charming Aux Trois Gourmounds.

Our Dinner at this local Creperie featured a jug of Red Cider (made from local Red Apples), a ‘dinner’ crepe stuffed with steamed potatoes, roasted onions, and lardons and served with a dollop of Creme Fresh, and dessert crepes – Nature with just Sugar. Oh it was delightful and in our price range – under 20 euro for 2.

Best of all – that night there was a free Schubert Festival – Piano, Full 50 people Choir, mini orchestra, Clarinet, etc. It was being held in the local Church d’Eloi – built in 1655 and a gem of that style even today, and we felt that was a must attend. It was delightful – particularly the Mass with a wonderfully full throated Soprano in the main role. Lovely. The church was packed – we suspect mostly friends and family of the performers. The effort was outstanding, the music delightful.

Tomorrow is a travel day – we need to get from Charles de Gaul to Orly – and from Orly to Berlin. Fortunately, both the hotel and the department of Tourism in Roissey agreed on the easiest way to do this.

Take the free shuttle back to Terminal 2E. Walk to Terminal 2F, exit 8. Find the correct bus stop – and board the Air France Airport Shuttle to Orly. Cost of the bus – 21 Euro per person. Travel time on the Bus 1 hour and 15 minutes. Piece of cake!

So up at 7:00 – Delicious breakfast (french croissants and all the coffee I could drink), then a quick walk to the village to buy bread and check out the 4 stall farmers market. There was a cheese truck with probably 100 different cheeses, a vegetable/fruit stand where we bought vine ripe Breton tomatoes that smelled of summer, a meat stand selling uncooked Chickens, Ducks and Foie Gras, and a Rotisserie Truck.

I found that truck the most interesting. There was a large rotisserie machine built into the truck – electric – with chicken’s roasting. In front was a display stand with the cooked chicken parts on sale. It really looked (and smelled) lovely.

Trip to Orly was uneventful, boarding Easy Jet almost boring in it’s predictablity – and now we’re on our way to Berlin.

Signing off for the landing at Schonnefield…. The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveller.

On the road again…

Travel is one way to discover who you are when you are not at home!

This time the Intrepid Traveller and I are doing a city tour. For those who have faithfully followed our adventures around the world – you will know that this is a tad unusual. Generally we are more ‘country’ centric – rather than ‘city’ centric. But I can easily explain the difference.

Reason for city tour #1 – we’re getting older. I hate to admit it – but it’s much harder to visit a country than a city. More short stays are hard on old backs and tired knees.

Reason for city tour #2 – we really, really wanted to see one city in particular – St. Petersburg. I know tons of people who’ve been there – and I’ve never heard one of them say – we stayed too long in St. Petersburg. So we figure – 2 weeks is just about a minimum for a city that large, that unique, that different! We shall see of course.

Reason for city tour #3 – I will never be the only driver of a rental car again. Never. I’m a bus, metro, train kinda gal – renting cars with the expense and responsibility involved – nope. So moving between cities is going to be public transit – and in this case – plane!

So – our city tour is centered on 4 cities.

City #1 – Roissey en France. Yes – lowly little Roissey – hard by the Charles De Gaul Airport, and primarily known for it’s zillions of cheap bedrooms for tourists in transit – it’s our first stop. Ok – it’s really a transit city for us too – but we’re taking a full day to explore it before we move on.

City #2 – Berlin. Ah – the sausages – the pretzels – the beer. Well – since the Intrepid Traveller doesn’t ‘do’ beer – perhaps we’ll have to work around that highlight. And of course the Berlin Wall. Our real reason for including Berlin this time – it was on the Intrepid Traveller’s Hit List – and who am I to not want to fulfill her wishes?

City #3 – St. Petersburg. The point of the trip – the highlight, the raison d’etre. 2 weeks here to savor the sights, visit the museums, and go to the Theatre.

City #4 – Brussels. Why Brussels – well, we needed a city that Air Transact flew from non-stop in order to get the Intrepid Traveller back to Montreal. And we needed a city worth visiting, and we really didn’t want Paris. Option – Brussels. Besides – I hear Napoleon might be massing his troups to the south – who am I to avoid good battle?

So that’s the plan – let’s see how it all plays out.

Signing out to fly to Roissey en France (aka Charles De Gaul Airport) – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveller.

9 Lessons on Feeding the Body – on the Cheap!

Ah restaurants! One of the intense joys, and most frightening aspects of extended travel in an unknown city is deciding where to eat. I’ve picked winners so good I was blown away – and losers so bad, I feared for my digestive system. But along my culinary journey into the unknown – I have learned some important lessons – which I happily share.

Lesson 1: Believe in the Impossible – I’m a budget traveler – which means I travel on under $50 a day – a seemingly impossible task actually. I’m definitely getting tired of reading how travel under $100 a day is impossible. Not true! I’ve done 8 big trips in the past 10 years – and trust me – budget travel is possible. You can try almost everything a country has to offer – aside from the seriously touristy junk – just by living more like locals – and less like accidental tourists. Just have faith.

Lesson 2: Grocery stores can be your Friends – Seriously – that’s where locals shop, right? And many grocery stores these days cater to locals who have no time to cook at home. Often you can score entire meals that just require a bit of re-heating – but are properly prepared, and come with friendly advice. In a grocery store in Thailand we happened on a clerk with time to spare – and she gleefully gave us a full guided taste tour of all the offerings! When she finished – we stuffed! Best Dinner, ever! Another advantage of grocery stores – price tags! So you know what things cost without having to bargain. That’s a lot easier on a poor language frustrated budget oriented foreigner. Yes you might get a bit better deal at the markets – but the advantage of knowing before you hit the cash that you’ve stayed on budget is a huge plus – particularly the first few days.

Lesson 3: NEVER eat in a restaurant with only tourists as guests. Consider – if all the restaurant is catering to are tourists – what does it say about their repeat clientele? If the locals are there – there must be a reason. My favorite places are filled with happy locals – I fondly remember a breakfast in Puerto Rico where the local police force were enjoying the Puerto Rico version of donuts and coffee. Hot food, quickly served, Delicious.

Lesson 4: Avoid Buffets like the Plague – I’ve never really understood Buffet eating. First off – I have a fairly tiny appetite – so I’ll never eat enough to make it worth the price. Second – who ever saw locals in a buffet? Even here in Montreal – I’m very picky about going to a buffet – and if I do – you can be sure it’s going to be amazing. Third – Hygene issues abound. People put their hands on the food – and then decide not to take it. Yuk. And they cough and sneeze and blow their noses right over what may become my dinner. Yuk again. Ordering from the kitchen doesn’t guarentee that hygene rules will be respected – but at least my food is only exposed to the kitchen staff and servers – and I can hope they have been well trained. Exceptions to this rule – I do like buffet breakfasts – particularly the ones included in my room rate. Why – because I love eating fruit and drinking unlimited cups of coffee!

Lesson 5: Never eat in an empty Restaurant. I mean – why would you want to go where no one else has gone. What does that say about food turn-over? Unless the kitchen is making the food literally to order – an empty restuarant means that the food is sitting, cooling down, increasing in bateria count – waiting for someone to enter. Nope – not for me. I want a restaurant with a good crowd – at least partly locals – and a positive vibe. I’ve traveled with people who feel sorry for the hostess of an empty restaurant – but not my style – and hardly my recommendation.

Lesson 6: Avoid Hostess out on the street trolling for customers. Come on – be serious – why do you think they are out there? Because business is great? I don’t think so. They are out there because business is bad, and they think this will improve matters. But I don’t want to eat where business is bad – nor do you!

Lesson 7: Share the meal. In Europe, at lunch time, restuarants will often have a 3 course special. The Intrepid Traveller and I have discovered that there is enough food in one 3 course lunch to serve us both. Problem – not all restaurants are willing to serve one ‘lunch’ for two people. So – we ask. I’m actually amazed when the host says – “No Problem” – but it happens more often than not. Result – Delicious food and on budget!

Lesson 8: Don’t be afraid to ‘eat in’. A bottle of wine (2 Euros in most of Italy), Sausage, cheese, bread… You are feeding the soul when you eat like this – and it’s easy on both the budget and the feet.

Lesson 9: Walk Out if you must. Oh – this is so hard for us to do. We try not to be trapped in places we can’t afford – but it has happened. And the trick is to realize that you are in the wrong place, appologize and leave. Yes – it’s embarassing – but at least you are being honest. Be sure to look a bit ashamed – I always imagine the other diners are feeling a bit sorry for you.

So – enough advice about feeding the body – although I can’t resist just reminding my loyal readers that the best advice ever is just to be curious – be willing to take chances, and follow the locals. Budget travel doesn’t have to be cheap travel – and you can eat really well if you find the right places!

Signing off – The Soup Lady

The Basics on Getting Out and About – Pre-Planning matters!

How do you start planning a trip? Do you decide when, pick a place – and then find out what’s going on there? Or do you do the reverse – decide what you want to do – find out when it’s happening – and then move foward?

I take a combo approach.

First step – Pick some place interesting to visit. That’s the most random part for me – because basically anywhere I’ve never been – and sometimes places I have been – are on the hot list. Budget matters too of course – we’re very restricted – $3000 for 4 to 5 weeks of travel – including air fare – doesn’t leave a lot of room for places to sleep and food to eat. So Cheap places tend to perk up to the top of our list – seriously expensive to visit places – like London – tend to perk down. But there are other concerns besides value for our Canadian bucks.

We love interesting places – historical places – places off the more beaten paths. While that may explain China in 2007 and Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam in 2005 – it doesn’t explain Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Brussels in 2015. Nope – this next trip is not off the beaten path – but it will deviate from the norm in terms of how long we’ll be staying in each city.

Unlike most of the folks I’ve chatted with – we’re spending 2 whole weeks in St. Petersburg. Our inital thought was to have enough time to do the Hermitage slowly – 4 days felt right to us based on our inital reading. This contrasts with the more normal visit of 1/2 day if you are off a cruise ship – or even 3 days as is described in many guide books – including Tripadvisor.com. Honestly – how can you possibly see anything in 3 days in a city as complex as St. Petersburg? On tripadvisor – the 3 day plan puts the Hermitage, the Faberge Museum, and the State Russian Museum – all in one day. Are you supposed to run thru the museums? Just find the greatest hits and go?

Not my style.

Berlin was a must do for the Intrepid Traveller – she’s never been – and historically it’s a really interesting place. Great museums too – so win win as far as we’re concerned. A week there is the minimum. But then – for us – a week in a city is pretty much a minimum regardless of the city!

And last but not least – Brussels. We’re cutting that one short – just 5 nights – but the Battle of Waterloo looms large – and I hear the trumpets calling me to battle! (More on Waterloo and fighting for the Emperor in another blog).

So on to inital planning.

Once The Intrepid Traveller and I had agreed on where – it was a question of when. I first check weather, and then check for when a place gets crowded. I want to avoid the worst weather, and I definitely want to avoid high season. Shoulder seasons work best for budget travellers – restaurants have better specials, theatre offerings are more geered towards locals, lower cost housing is easier to find.

High season is definitely to be avoided!

So – St. Petersburg in late spring sounded perfect. And we totally lucked out with that option – because low and behold – there’s the ‘White Night’ Festival. We here in Montreal know all about ‘Blanc Nuit’ – but for us – it’s held during our coldest month – an attempt to cheer us up during the doldrums of winter. In St. Petersburg – it’s about 24 hour long days! And even better – it’s all about theatre – the major ballet troops (at the Marlinsky and Mikhallovsky Theatres) are performing one outstanding ballet after another. By shopping early – I scored center seats in the 3rd tier – I could have paid a lot more and been on the partiere – but hey $20 to see ‘Sleeping Beauty’ – I’m so on it!

Even better – the opera troops are also performing almost nightly – for similar prices if you are willing to buy early and sit in the 3rd tier. Tickets to Aida and La Travaita – here I come.

So – take advantage of what’s happening when you are there – don’t berate yourself for not being in New Orleans for Mardi Gras – plan ahead.

Planning to Feed the Mind. The Intrepid traveler and I adore going to Museums. 42 museums in 5 weeks in Italy is probably our record – spurred on by free museum week in Florence. So before a trip – I research. What is happening in all the major muesums. How do I get tickets? Are there senior prices? Are they closed on specific days – are they super busy on other days? Knowing this information helps prevents standing forelornly in front of locked doors. And more importantly – when you hit the ground in your city of choice – read the signs, get the newspapers – even the touristy ones, and chat up your host. What happening this week that’s special? How do we get to see it? You never know until you look around and ask.

For St. Petersburg – I’ve already bought my passes to the Hermitage – and for Berlin, I’m pricing out the Berlin Museum Card. The options can be overwhelming – which feels frustrating – but the results are generally worth it.

Some more ‘beaten path’ options I tend to avoid include tour buses. I’ve had great experiences on tour buses – the trip in South Korea to the temples springs to mind – but more often than not – bus tours are about the common denominator. You rush past stuff so fast, you can barely read the signs, let alone see things. And too often your fellow tourists are – well – tourists! So generally we avoid the bus tours – considering them expensive and too fast paced. Instead we opt for the slower, more patient route of simply walking a city – or riding public transit! Never underestimate the joys of public transit. Bus routes in most cities are clearly explained in pictorial fashion, so our lack of language skills doesn’t kill us. And they are cheap. You can spot stuff that looks fun – and hop off if you feel like a visit. With no time contraints – and no herding into pricy lousy restaurants for mandatory rest stops.

Ok – enough for this blog – Next up – feeding the Body – so do follow me – I love followers! Signing off to create a blog on eating in strange and wonderful places… The Soup Lady

Planning to feed the body

Ah restaurants! One of the intense joys, and most frightening aspects of extended travel in an unknown city is deciding where to eat. I’ve picked winners so good I was blown away – and losers so bad, I feared for my digestive system. But along my culinary journey into the unknown – I have learned some important lessons – which I happily share.

Trial and Tribulations of getting a Canadian Passport

It shouldn’t be hard to get a passport – right? You know who you are – they know who you are – job done. Like getting a driver’s license renewal when you are under 60 – what’s the big deal.

But here I sit in amongst over 50 people – similarly on hold – for someone to say – yup – you can get a passport. Worst part – it’s my 2nd long long sit for this benefit.

It all started 5 years ago – when I applied for Canadian Citizenship. After waiting, being interviewed, and waiting and waiting – I went on with my life – and planned a trip in the Spring of 2015.

Low and Behold – literally 5 years from the date of my original application – the Canadian Government decided to offer me the privedge of citizenship – so Wednesday last – I became Canadian.

Why is that an issue – Well – I have a trip planned. And while I can use my US passport to leave – if I want to return to Canada – my home, my house, my job – I need to prove that I’m acceptable. And during the citizenship process – they took away my Permanent Resident Permit.

No problem – as per the people I asked – just apply for a Canadian Passport. You’re a citizen!

Right – so online to find the form, fill it in, go to the office, be told that you didn’t have your guarentor sign your photos (hey – can’t you tell they are me? They were taken yesterday for goodness sake), leave, get them signed, come back – take a number again. Wait. Wait. Wait. During my first attempt – there were about 30 people waiting, and one person serving. Slow.

Finally – my turn. But you need the passport soon. We don’t do passports quickly here – you have to go to another office.

So – another office, another number, another wait. I’m surrounded by the Canadian Mosaic – Diversity is Us! There are several different numbering systems – A for simple, one person, new passport, B for multiple passports, F for just a question, D for difficult – involving legal documents. The numbers flash up on a screen over our heads – and if we aren’t quick enough when our number is called – the greeter hustles us along.

I think the greeter here must have trained at Walmart – or maybe SouthWest Airlines. He’s jovial and friendly – and frequently gets a burst of laughter out of what has to be the most somber crowd – Ever! A042 – Come on Down! D346 – You are going to miss your flight….

Eventually – job done. Money changes hands – and my passport will be ready the day before I leave.

That’s a comfort. After my travels – I’m going to be welcomed home!

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Quick – What’s the most important Key to Planning a Budget Trip?

Doing the Research, Baby!

One can argue that Research is the answer to almost anything – but somehow people seem to forget research when they travel. Instead – too many people I know tend to choose one of two travel options – The unplanned, loosy goosy option – or the turn over everything over to someone else choice.

The later is the most expensive of course. If you love travel on the cheap and if someone else is doing the planning – unless it’s your BFF – they are going to be making some money somehow. Even cruises – which are seriously an economical choice – have to break-even at the end of the day. So somewhere, somehow – someone is making money off your desire not to plan!

How does the loosy goosy option work. Well – if you are flexible, willing to pay extra when the nicest inexpenive options are long gone – well – clearly – that’s the best. You have the most opportunities for making new friends who will put you up, and you can fall into fab happenings – things you wouldn’t know about if you had to be here or there on this or that date. But Loosy goosy can work against you when you are talking Opera Tickets – or getting into crowded museums or events. Sometimes they just plain sell out – and by making plans ahead – you can assure that you get to go.

In my wanderings – I’ve met lots of people that fit into these two groups – more of the former than the later given my penchant for cheap travel, but you get the idea. Most interesting I think was the doctor we bumped into in Buran, South Korea. His idea of travel – stay cheap, walk the city – and only work when you run out of funds.

Problem – I happen to love doing the planning – and I hate not knowing where I’m sleeping at night. Drives me nuts. Plus – I hate dragging my suitcase – tiny as it is – around all the time – so spending several nights in the same city is not just a preference – it’s almost a necessity.

So – how does research fit into this.People are always asking me how do I plan for 4 to 5 week trips on a serious budget. First off – it actually helps to have a budget. Yes – I have to make some hard choices – but at least I know where the choices are going to have to happen.

5 star hotels and restaurants – definitely out! As are 3 star and probably 1 star. Nope – I’m going to be looking out for hostels/BnB’s that have been for well reviewed by at least 50 reviewers. Only a few reviewers? I’m sorry – I”m suspecious that these represent friends and family. Not highly rated – I’m going to be checking out those negative comments. Great place but noisy – not going to work for me. A real party place – nope, not my kinda locations. Great place but a poor location – far from the city maybe – again – that’s a no. I’m fussy – I want it all – and I want it cheap.

So – Housing – my go to options are Hostelworld.com and Booking.com. I’ve checked out VRBO.com and Homeaway.com – but generally they seem to offer options for larger groups, and we are just 2. They also tend to be more expensive per night for the places with better reviews. Way the cookie crumbles, I’m guessing. Air BnB is sometimes of interest – but when you read my criteria – you’ll understand why it often doesn’t work out for me.

But it’s easier to explain my hot list of budget housing ‘must-haves’ then to just mention websites.

So – What are my must haves when budget travelling?

1. Location. I care a lot about how far you are from public transport. And while buses are great – if there’s a metro – I want to be able to use it without needing hiking boots! Another perfect location – down town of course. I adore being right in the heart of the action, but in a hostel that reviewers describe as quiet. My cup of hot cream tea!

2. Bathrooms. My preference is to have my own bathroom en-suite. And yes – you can get those in hostels. But you are going to have to look – and sometimes look very very hard. But I’ve spent my last night in a dorm – and while I’ll bend on the bathroom – the reviewers had better be talking about multiple bathrooms. There are pigs out there who think nothing of trashing a shared toilet – and compelely fog out on why I don’t want to share their mess!

3. Kitchen. I’ll trade off an en-suite bathroom for a kitchen if I absolutely must. It’s that important. You can’t budget travel pleasantly without a kitchen. I’ve had people tell me that I’m overly fussy here – that you can easily smuggle food into your room if you don’t feel like eating out that night. But the key here is ‘smuggle’. I don’t want to have to sneak around. I want to be able to sit at a table, open my bottle of wine, and relax with a view, a nice assortment of cheese – and maybe some sausage. You need a kitchen – and a shared place to eat to achieve that! Trust me there.

4. People. The Intrepid Traveller and I love meeting people – local people. other travelers – it doesn’t matter. So having a common area where you can easily rub shoulders with other people feeds our desire to chat. And sometimes – it turns out splendidly. We’ve picked up fellow travelers from all over the world – sometimes just for a night or two, sometimes for longer. So on our must have list – common space!

And how to I find these kinds of places? At reasonable prices? I start early! As soon as I know my travel dates – I start looking for where I’m going to be sleeping. My preference – have all these reservations in hand at least 2 months prior to the trip.

Yes – I hear you – cuts down on flexibility. But I’ve rarely picked wrong! For example – turns out that the 2 weeks we’re in St. Petersburg is their White Night’s festival. And nope, I didn’t know!

But – hey – take advanage to what comes your way I say.

Next blog – More advantages of planning ahead – including the joys of finding amazing Theatre options – but meanwhile I need to sign off.

Do the research takes time – lots of time! The Soup Lady

Today I became Canadian

I AM CANADIAN! – Today I stood with 295 other immigrants from 61 different countries to pledge ourselves to a country different from the one of our birth.

I’m actually kinda emotional. It’s a big decision, made more challenging by the hoops and loops and paper work one has to submit to of course, but still – at the end – it’s a decision to change (or in my case add to) my country of obligation.

This day is 5 years in the making – that’s how long it’s taken from the day I paid my fee – till today – sitting here among 294 other applicants that have been accepted and must now say our Oath.

I pointed out to my husband that we are looking at the sea of Canadian Diversity. All colors, shapes, and sizes of humanity are represented. And there are a sea of different outfits – ladies in their go to church finery, men in suits, men in t-shirts, ladies in dresses, ladies in jeans, ladies in sari’s, in sequins, wearing hats (that’s me!), wearing hajabs (maybe 5%), one lady in a Nijab (including her face covered), it’s a sea of differences, all joined together for this one very short period of time.

It’s a graduating class – and behind the carefully numbered rows of 301 seats are row upon row of family seating. There are parents, there are kids, there are friends, there are family members. Despite the clear insturctions to only bring one family member, no one is being refused – despite the obvious over abundance of participants. Cell phone cameras at the ready – everyone is taking pictures of themselves standing in front of the flags of every Canadian province that are proudly displayed on the stage, bracketed on the left and right by the Red and White Canadian flag.

Clearly not the first time they have done this (when asked they admit to 4 ‘big’ ceremonies a week – all summer!) – the staff uses the divide and conquer way of channelling people – We were all asigned a seat when our invitations were sent – I’m #16 – front row – far right – and by seat number we are greeted, our Permanent resident cards taken away – and our participation noted. I didn’t have my original papers – I came to Canada in 1974 – they are long gone – but this wasn’t even a problem. They just note that they are lost – and move on. The atmosphere in the relatively crowded room is respectful, albeit filled with the occasional cry of a child. New Canadians seem to arrive with kids – or at least their family that attend have kids. I’m not worried about our population growth – that’s for sure.

As new Canadians – we got a pampflet with pictures of all the Canadian Symbols – and a small lapel pin with the Maple Leaf. These pampflets are often part of the picture taking procession – clutched proudly, held firmly, pointed to when the camera flashes.

At the end of the ceremony – we’ll receive the grand prize – a certificate saying that we are now Canadians.

It’s a big day.

Signing off – The Soup Lady.