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Posts Tagged ‘road trips’

A nine-hour drive

In behavior, cars, cities, life, travel, US on June 16, 2012 at 1:46 am
Nick Drake, c. 1969.

Nick Drake, c. 1969. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, that was an odyssey!

As some of you know, I could have crossed the width of Ireland three times in the time it took me to get from my Dad’s house in Canada to the house in Vermont where I’m now house-sitting til the 29th, responsible for a pool, a charming small dog and a huge garden.

I started at 8:45 a.m., dropping my Dad off at the car rental place to start his day. As it would turn out, I was driving in tandem with a convoy of tour buses filled with chattering, texting, flirting 13-year-olds…and every rest stop I made, they made as well.

The 401, which runs east-west in Ontario, might be one of the world’s most boring highways — a straight line of asphalt with farm fields on either side for hundreds of miles. (Kilometers, there.)

So, if you’re alone, as I was, tunes are key. My new radio wasn’t working (!?) so it was CDs that would keep me energized and awake for the next day.

Corelli. Martin Sexton. Some Indian instrumentals. That was enough to get me to the Quebec border, where a big blue flag said “Bienvenue” and I switched to the Indigo Girls.

Montreal traffic at 3pm was no pique-nique…especially when the first road sign telling me to look for Route 10 never re-appeared. Nope. Nowhere. And Montrealers, where I learned to drive in 1988, drive fast. At least I could read the road signs in French and knew which streets were which as the exits whizzed past.

Finally, I hit the Champlain Bridge…and was overpowered by a terrifying memory of a story I  covered as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette. There is a lane on the bridge that’s a dedicated bus lane during rush hours, the same one I was now using to head south to Vermont. A car filled with young people had smashed head-on into a bus heading the other way…and I had taken (and passed) my driver’s test the following day.

The minute you cross the bridge, you’re in flat, green farming country, surrounded on both sides by barns, silos, cows. Enormous churches whose steeples gleam in the sunshine. I stopped for a breather and flopped into a deep bend to stretch out my back. I stood and caught the eye of a man in a purple polo shirt driving a flatbed carrying a tractor.

It’s fun to be out on the road alone, a redhead in a Subaru packed to the rafters.

The perfect music as I passed through towns whose names would take longer to pronounce than to drive through, like this one,  St.-Pierre-de-Veronne-a-Pike-River, was Nick Drake’s album Pink Moon, (his third and final one, whose title track was used for a Volkswagen Cabriolet commercial.) I adore it — meditative, soft and quirky.

It’s barely a half-hour from Montreal to the U.S. border.

I offered my passport…which I had forgotten to sign after I got it two weeks ago. I showed my green card (which actually, now, is green, which allows me the legal right to work and live in the U.S.) in which I’m still a blond.

“Why do you have so much stuff in your car?” the officer asked. I stayed calm and perky and confident, the way Jose has taught me to be: “I’m away from home for a month.”

“Do you have receipts for all those things?”

I actually did. Even my auction goodies.

I figured for sure I was due for a complete shake-down, but was waved through.

It’s always an odd moment when I cross the border between my two homes, the one where I grew up to the age of 30 (Canada, and where my family still lives) and the U.S. (where I’ve married twice and re-built my career despite three recessions.) I treasure elements of both countries and find deeply irritating elements in both.

Toronto pals wonder why I’m “stuck there” and New York friends wonder about the appeal of that 10-hour drive north.

I end up trying to explain American political gridlock to my Canadian peeps and Canadian health-care to my bewildered American friends who desperately crave a better solution but many of whom loathe and distrust any solution involving government.

As I faced my final few miles, I turned the wrong direction and drove another half hour the wrong way, The Doors blasting loud to keep me awake.

I finally pulled into my friend’s driveway after nine hours, grateful for a huge glass of red wine and Chinese food for dinner.

What’s the longest drive you’ve ever done on your own?

Twelve Tips For Women Traveling Alone

In behavior, cities, Crime, Health, life, travel, urban life, women on May 24, 2011 at 11:35 am
Waikawau Bay in the Coromandel Peninsula

The Coromandel, in New Zealand...Heaven on earth! Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been alone in many places: D.C., Vancouver, Istanbul, Ko Phi Phi, Palermo, Key West, Tunis. I live to travel and, many times, there’s no one with the same budget, interests, schedule or passions with whom to share a journey.

So I happily go alone.

My mother traveled the world alone for many years — all throughout Latin America in her 40s, the South Pacific, overland from London to the Mideast, India. She taught me not only to be (safely) fearless, but to keep a current passport and a passion for using it.

Here are twelve tips for solo women travelers of all ages:

Know where you’re going. What are their underlying beliefs, customs, rituals, dress? The countryside of Portugal, for example, was even tougher than urban Istanbul for relentless male attention or harassment. Even catching someone’s gaze was unwise. Some cities have their own codes of dress: wear Easter egg pastels, baggy sweats, white athletic shoes or nude hose in downtown Manhattan (or Paris!) and, yes, you’ll be viewed as a tourist and treated accordingly.

Do your homework and decide how much you want to stand out or blend in; as a woman alone, blending in is usually the wiser, safer option. (Headscarves, long sleeves, a salwar kameez, etc.) It shows respect for where you are, which will often be returned with more welcoming treatment. Speaking some of the local language is also a key way to signal this.

Do your homework. There are many ways to determine which areas, streets or neighborhoods are more or less safe for a solo woman. One of my favorite resources is The Thorn Tree, an online bulletin board on the Lonely Planet website. When I and my then best friend, two blonds from NY (albeit savvy and well-traveled) were heading off to Venezuela for a week, we posted some specific questions there and found fantastic, detailed answers (even a local travel agent we used) from a British ex-pat then in Mexico.

Read the local newspaper. Find out what’s happening, and not just on-line. Read the editorials and op-eds; what are people talking about there and why? Read letters to the editor. What sort of fun events are listed for the weekend? Key: if you’re in a part of the world where men are relentlessly going to try to catch your eye and chat you up, hiding behind a spread-out broadsheet is a great choice. Worked for me in Spain and Portugal.

Unplug from technology. For several reasons. If you’re in a poorer, rural environment, be sensitive to the lives of people who may be living on $1 -2 per day. If you’re going somewhere to see, smell, taste and hear it, be there. Remain open to it in every way possible.

A set of earbuds shuts you off from potential conversation, advice — and warnings. I would never ever walk around plugged in, alone, in many parts of the world. You must remain aware of your surroundings to stay safe.

Pay attention. This will make your trip more social, fun and interesting, but will also keep you safe. Look around — are there other women there as well? Are they safe? What are they wearing? How are they behaving? In many more socially conservative parts of the world, women don’t leave their home without the officially sanctioned accompaniment of a child, husband or parent.

A woman alone there, to the larger culture, often reads: looking…sexual…naive. Even if you’re not.

Do some of your favorite activities. I took a ballet class in Paris, and mid back-bend, stared up into hand-painted 18th-century ceiling beams. In Coayacan, a suburb of Mexico City, I took a watercolor class and finally learned how to work more effectively on larger pieces. In Los Angeles, I galloped through the dusty hills of Griffiths Park at sunset, then danced to live blues at Harvelle’s, an 80-year-old nightclub in Santa Monica. Heaven!

Take a yoga, spinning or dance class. Attend service at a local church or synagogue.

Take a hike! Get into nature, wherever you end up: walk along the river or lakeside; rent a canoe or kayak or sailboat; go for a bike ride. Pack a pair of running shoes and some comfy workout clothes so you can take advantage of the great outdoors wherever you are. Great way to meet locals — and their dogs.

Plan your evenings. I admit it, evenings can be tougher when you’re alone and female. Do you really want to venture out alone, for a meal, a show, a concert? Yes! But use your hotel concierge — or even a youth hostel’s evening group events — to help you make safe, wise, fun choices. I always search for concerts and museum shows at every city I plan to visit, and build in time to enjoy what the locals love. Splurge on cabs when necessary.

Sit at the bar. That’s where people on their own are often happiest and most comfortable, not just boozers chatting up the bartender. I had a great conversation in a dive bar in Atlanta with a young man working in finance as we whiled away the early evening. Many of a city’s best restaurants serve meals at the bar, where you can feel less obvious and self-conscious as a woman out alone, and a good barkeep will keep an eye on you.

Plan for the beach. I always take a small plastic case I can tuck into my bathing suit, which will hold my credit card/debit card/cash, freeing me to swim or snorkel without worrying someone is nabbing my stuff. If you like to sail, kayak, canoe, snorkel, surf….check out local facilities and build them into your trip; always take a bathing suit, windbreaker and golf or baseball cap to protect your head.

Stay sober. Seriously. Only once in my life (boring, but true) have I gotten really drunk, at a bar in San Francisco (not on purpose  — long day, empty stomach) and was able to stagger safely the few blocks back to my hotel. Insanity. True insanity.

No matter how lonely, depressed or vacay-ish you’re feeling, getting drunk or stoned around strangers is a profoundly stupid and potentially life-threatening choice. You’re alone. Who’s going to offer your medical history to the EMTs or ER? Or the police?

Be open to meeting people. I’ve enjoyed meals and even overnight stays in the homes of strangers I’ve met along the way, from the Cote d’Azur to the Coromandel Peninsula. One of the greatest pleasures of traveling alone, as a woman, is how many people are happy to welcome you into their lives and homes. I met a flight attendant from Paraguay at Honolulu airport, shared a cab with her and, realizing how cheaply she got her hotel room, buddied up with her for the week. In New Zealand, four lovely kids in their 20s met me at the youth hostel, adopted me, took me to a beach house, then home to a hill-top mansion outside Auckland. When they all waved goodbye to me at the airport, it was terribly hard to leave!

Not every man is out to get you or jump you! Not every friendly conversation is some sort of trap.

But some are.

Learning to quickly and accurately suss out the good ‘uns will keep you safe and send you back home with indelible, amazing memories.(My very worst experiences, i.e. criminal ones, happened in my suburban New York town. Maybe because my guard was down?)

Here’s a great website with resources for solo female travelers and here’s a list with six other smart tips.

What tips have you found helpful in your journeys?

You're Driving Me Nuts! How Couples Co-Exist In Cars

In men, travel, women on June 1, 2010 at 11:50 am
AC

Who gets the driver's seat? Image by Hugo90 via Flickr

Anyone who’s spent time in a vehicle with a loved one knows the drill — the gasp, the shriek, the moan, the whine. These are not engine sounds. These are the sounds of your sweetie driving you mad.

Funny story in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Beverly Floyd will never forget the worst argument she ever had with her husband—a fight that saw the couple screaming at each other and hurling insults of “crazy” and “psycho.”

A spat about finances? The kids? Work? Nope. It was about which one of them should gas up the car.

The fireworks started when the couple pulled into a service station while on a return leg of a road trip. Already silently fuming that he hadn’t offered to do his share of the driving, Ms. Floyd was astounded when her then-boyfriend didn’t lift a finger to pump the gas. So she did it herself and paid for it. As she got back into the car, he handed her a $20 bill.

Bad idea. She threw it at him. He tossed it back at her. She ripped it up. He shredded the cash she kept in the ashtray. She ripped up the money in his wallet. All told, they destroyed about $200 in a matter of minutes. (They spent their evening trying to match serial numbers and tape the shredded pieces of money together.)

Then she married him?

The sweetie and I leave this weekend for a road trip to Vermont and Quebec, about six hours of driving each way. That’s nothing, for us, as we’ve made the drive to Toronto — about 10+ hours — several times and once drove from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada late at night in a rush to get to my sick mother. We’re actually pretty good in the car, an old Subaru Forester, as it’s one of our few chances to catch up with one another uninterrupted by phone or computer. He commutes to the city every day so he gets to do (happily) most of the driving because he misses it. When we cross into Canada he jokes with the border guards that he’s returning a national treasure. They’re OK with it.

He does tend to second-guess me sometimes, which irritates the hell out of me. My most egregious slip? Flipping the bird at a driver ahead of us while on a very long bridge. I’ve never seen him so angry, and it’s since verboten. (I still do it, just beneath the dashboard.)

What does your partner do that drives you nuts? Or vice versa?

Road Trip! A Top Ten List, Plus Mine — And Yours?

In travel on May 28, 2010 at 5:18 pm
Life Is A Highway

Image by Matt McGee via Flickr

I love road trips!

Here’s a fun list of America’s top 10, three of which — Arizona, Maine and The Blue Ridge Parkway — I’ve done.

I didn’t learn to drive until I was 30, growing up in Toronto and Montreal, where public transit was safe, cheap and plentiful and where the taxi drivers knew me by name I splurged so often. So I had some seriously pent-up consumer demand by the time I did get my license, after learning to drive in Montreal, en francais. It’s a city of aggressive drivers and many hills, so learning stick on a hill in the dark in French was good prep.

I didn’t have much of a jones to do road trips in my native Canada because the distances are so often exhaustingly enormous, certainly if you’re on your own. You can drive for 12 hours in Ontario and still be in…Ontario. After six or ten hours of pine trees, enough is enough.

Some of my favorite road trips have included:

Montreal to Charleston, S.C. with my then boyfriend, later husband, (then ex.) It’s a long, long way and I was still learning how to drive, so had an interesting moment trying to shift gears at 60 mph on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We camped some of the time, stayed in some hotels, ate a very good meal at Poogan’s Porch in Charleston, where I ended up covered in mosquito bites from eating on the (lovely) terrace. If you love architecture or design, Drayton Hall, near Charleston, is one of the nation’s most beautiful early homes, whose construction began in 1738.

Montreal to Savannah, Ga. with my Dad. We visited small coastal towns like New Bern and Oriental, N.C., winding down backroads fragrant with night jasmine and the Great Dismal Swamp. It is large and, on a rainy gray day when we drove across it, was dismal indeed. If you’ve never been to Savannah, it’s well worth a visit.

Santa Fe To Taos, aka The High Road, with the sweetie. We stopped in Truchas where the sweetie explored a Buddhist temple while I waited outside — where a dog bit me on the ass. Never before, never again. The drive is gorgeous.

New York to Charlottesville, Va. I did that trip in the spring of 1995 in my red convertible and spent a whole $500 for a week’s solo adventure. I loved historic spots like Harper’s Ferry and Shepherdstown, the oldest town in West Virginia, was intrigued by Monticello and often, as I drove through the hollows of West Virginia, felt as though I were lost in a Thomas Hart Benton painting.

Taxco to Acapulco, with my Dad. Driving in Mexico is its very own brand of adventure. We ran out of gas somewhere rural and my Dad, pointing to a hacienda down the dusty road, said “You speak Spanish. Ask where the nearest gas station is.” I remember getting a bad electrical shock in the pretty tiled bathroom in Taxco and loving the dirt-cheap pension in Acapulco Dad remembered from a trip 20 years earlier.

Perpignan, France to Istanbul, with Pierre, a professional truck driver I was writing about. Eight insane, amazing, scary, unforgettable days. Pierre didn’t speak a word of English and we slept in the truck in two narrow, tiny bunks. We didn’t shower once the whole time because hotels cost money and that was — then — the only place to get a shower. So we wore duty-free cologne and perfume we bought at truck stops in Bulgaria. Our gas was siphoned out of the truck while we slept in Yugoslavia, just as he had predicted it would be.

We were pulled over by an irate cop in Bulgaria who shouted at me inside the truck cab and demanded I roll out all my film to expose it. I was so grungy by the end I begged Pierre to let me wash my hair; on a windy day in a parking lot in Romania (maybe Bulgaria) he held a plastic jug full of water over my head while I lathered up. My skin still broke out from constant road dirt.

I’ve never seen a truck go by since without a thumbs-up of respect for their tough, important job. Best road trip ever.

What’s been your best — or worst — road trip?

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