Time to Fly

13 11 2014

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Driving up to the festival grounds I had my eyes peeled.  We were running late and crawling through the traffic trying to get parked and onto the field where the balloons were launching and I didn’t want to miss seeing the balloons in full glow.  Is that one!  No – just a tower light.  That’s definitely one.  There it is – look at it!  No that’s just a tree lit up by a parking lot lamp.  I scoured the darkness around us because you would think that you’d be able to see hot air balloons glowing in the darkness.  Nothing.

And then we got parked and made our way to the ticket booth and gates.  Ahh.  There we are.  Tension was released, and it was like everything was right in the world now.  I found them.  And I just knew.

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Since this was our second time visiting the festival, it was slightly less overwhelming.  I felt like we kind of knew the rules – when you hear the zebras whistling….get back!  So I took time to really see what was happening on the field.

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It was a great opportunity to see the camaraderie and teamwork as balloon after balloon was sent on its way.

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Normally things in large numbers kind of freak me out (birds, ants, really bugs of any kind all in one place), but hot air balloons may be the only exception.   Watching all these balloons float up into the sky is kind of a zen experience.

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It was a privilege to be able to attend this great event for the second time and I don’t think it will ever get old.  But next time, we’ll have to go flying.

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Sister Slave & Task Master

15 07 2014

When I was at Newark Airport I received a call from my sister.

“Make sure you check out the bathrooms at the airport!”

Not the typical demand one would normally get from their sister while on their way for a visit.  Well, the true reason for my visit to Geneva this time was to help my sister, and her two cats, move from Geneva, Switzerland to Houston, Texas.

Now, somehow we didn’t take any photos of our day (or the craziness that led up to that day) but take a few minutes to think about this.

Imagine this:

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Moosh

And This:

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Oliver

Being stuffed into carriers, taken from their home of 2 years, bundled into a cab with 6 suitcases (one freaked out Mom and one calm and composed Aunt), and surviving 20 hours of International travel.  It’s enough to make a regular person a little crazy, much less two cats who have no idea what the hell is going on.  Plus, they don’t understand when you tell them to ‘plug your nose and blow’ to pop their ears!

Now let’s back up a few days.  After Nicki and I enjoyed pastries and pastas, bottles of champagne and pretty much eating and drinking everything that was left in their apartment we had to get down to the serious business of getting her and her 2 cats packed up and ready to travel.

I kept telling people that I was going to be a Cat Companion (what a sweet gig right?), well it turns out I was really there to be a Sister Slave and also Task Master.  I watched my sister pack and unpack and repack her suitcases, move things from one side of the room to the other, from one room to the other, and keep adding things to her list, but never crossing them off.  Pretty soon I had to put my foot down.  STOP.  You need to start crossing things off this list.  What’s next?  What do we have to do today?  We can’t keep putting that off until tomorrow, we’re running out of tomorrows!

Luckily, the apartment was being packed up by professional movers, so we didn’t have to deal with the 150+ boxes that ended up being packed up and sent off the balcony to the waiting moving truck on the street.  But because we had to be in the apartment while the movers were there, we ended up being cooped up in a single room with the cats so they couldn’t escape.  It wasn’t too bad when I hung out with the cats in the master bedroom, reading and lazing away the day.  But when we moved to an empty shell of a room, sitting on an air mattress next to a portable litter box….well, things started to become a little more real (and kind of depressing).

And then came the ‘Cat Chores’ and this is where the Sister Slave comes into play.  I didn’t realize that when I showed up it meant that I had to do all of the crappy jobs.  I had to clean and disinfect the litter locker, clean out the litter box (daily), chase the cats around the apartment spraying them with dry shampoo and anti-allergen cream.  ‘Make sure you massage it in everywhere Traci – especially their butt’ – what?? I didn’t sign up for this.

And then there was the silent screaming…  We had to take both cats to the vet a couple days before we flew out and although just 2 blocks away from the house, Moosh (the grey tabby) was so terrified he started shaking and silent screaming (panting) and Oliver (the orange tabby) wouldn’t stop meowing.  Needless to say, the vet prescribed some Xanax to calm their nerves – supposed to last 8 hours a dose.  Supposed to. 

Travel Day FINALLY arrives:

4:00AM: Wake Up Time

6:00AM: Corral the cats and force Xanax pills down their throats and then watch Moosh foam at the mouth and drool all over the floor, before stuffing them both in their carriers.  (Here’s hoping the foaming stops before TSA has to look at him).

6:15AM: Cab arrives and the driver looks concerned as he looks at us –  two people, two cats, two lap top bags and six suitcases – and then looks at his wagon.

7:00AM: We’ve managed to wrangle our suitcases onto 2 carts and each have a cat.  And then Nicki puts Moosh’s carrier on the top of her cart……and he falls off.  Whoops

8:00AM: We’re in the gate waiting to board the flight and Oliver sits quietly in his carrier.  The drugs have calmed Moosh enough that he isn’t terrified out of his mind and actually knows what is happening and so he’s turning in circles, meowing and trying to claw his way out – yep this is much better than a silent cat.

9:30AM: We are finally on the plane.  Cat carriers under the seat and settled in for a 9 hour flight to Newark.  And the drugs seem to be wearing off of Oliver and he starts meowing, and meowing and meowing.  And if you know orange cats you know how vocal they can be – good thing we brought a pillow case to muffle the sound.

10AM – 12PM EST/6PM (Geneva Time):  Cats are meowing.  The drugs wore off within the first hour of the flight.  There’s attempts to claw and chew out of the carriers.  Nicki keeps prodding me and telling me I have to watch the cats.  I keep telling her that they need to learn how to self-soothe.  And there are multiple times I’m asked to check and see if they peed, smell their butts, soothe them and take them to the lavatory to let them stretch their legs.

12:30PM (EST)/6:30PM (Geneva Time):  We made it off the plane and I made it through Customs.  Nicki and the cats have to be ushered downstairs to be processed back into the country so I leave her with her two cats and suitcase, to go collect our other 4 suitcases before they need to be rechecked into the next flight.

1:00PM/7:00PM:  The last 4 suitcases to come down the chute are ours. I have 5 suitcases stacked on 2 carts and sit down to wait.  And then I get a call from Nicki’s husband – apparently she got released outside of the baggage claim area and can’t come back through.  I’m on my own with two carts and the line up to exit through customs is growing by the second.  Picture me running down the line with one cart, parking it, then running back for the second cart and running it to the back of the line and leaving the first cart on the floor until the line catches up with it.  Trying to figure out how to push these two carts at the same time, I make a friend who offers to push one of my carts.  Low and behold, 1 person + 5 suitcases = Agricultural Check!  I’m about to move these carts over when my sister comes running out from nowhere, waving her hands, ‘that’s my sister, those are my bags!’ – no cats in sight…. Now we both get ushered to the Agricultural check and she says to the officer, ‘Remember me?  Remember me?  These are my bags, this is my sister!’  I looked at him doubtfully and asked, ‘Do you remember her?’  A couple of questions later he tells us to turn around and exit (and we hear grumbling from people behind us about how we managed to talk ourselves out of the X-ray).

1:30PM/7:30PM:  So we’re home free.  We take refuge in a family bathroom and release the cats from their carriers.  Moosh is starving and can barely wait for me to get some food out of my bag.  The drugs have made Oliver mean and he keeps hissing and swatting at Moosh.  Nicki lays out a pee pad and sprinkles cat litter on it, hoping to encourage potty time before our next flight.  No such luck – so she starts spraying this Feliway spray in and around the carriers to prevent territory marking.  All we need to do is go through security one more time, get on another flight and then 4 hours until we arrive in Houston.  No problem.

2:00PM/8:00PM:  Cats out of the carriers and carried through security.  No problem.  Hands swiped and tested since we’re traveling with animals.  No problem.  Oh wait, Nicki has a problem.  The cats and I are released and Nicki has to be patted down and analyzed.  So we set up camp on a bench, I do a little work, the cats get a little napping time in, and then a TSA officer comes up to me and says, ‘your sister wanted me to tell you that she’s tested positive twice for bomb making chemicals, so we have to call in a specialist.  It’s going to take a while.’  Ooookkayyy.   30 minutes later she’s released, and the culprit was most likely the Feliway Spray that she has been spraying everywhere for days.

3:00PM/9PM:  Another dose of Xanax forced down and on our way to board.  BEEEP.  What?  Your seats have been
changed, no animals allowed on that row, so you’re sitting in different rows now.  
Initial moment of panic is easily remedied and the man sitting next to me in the middle seat didn’t take too much convincing to move into an aisle seat.  Too bad the man sitting on the aisle looked at us and said, ‘I’m allergic to cats….’  ‘just kidding!’  Settled with both cats sleeping.  What?  Is this what it feels like not to be traveling with two needy cats (or kids?)  We made it until an hour before the flight ended before the meowing, clawing and biting started up again.

6:00PM CST/1AM:  We arrive in Houston and the humidity in the air is as thick as molasses as we leave the plane.  Yuck.  But this time, all we need to do is make a Family Bathroom pit stop, pick up our bags and we’re out of here!  The end is so close.  Perhaps we lost our focus a little bit.  Got a little cocky.  As I’m texting our terminal info, Nicki puts Oliver’s carrier on top of her rolley carry-on and goes to get carts.  And down goes Oliver.  Another cat dropped by their Mama.

7:30PM CST/2:30AM:  We made it home!!  The cats have been released from their carriers for good after 20 hours of travel. Oliver is still hissing at Moosh, but other than that they don’t seem to be too traumatized from the day’s events.

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Moosh finally getting the space he needs

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Oliver sleeping off the drugs

10PM CST/7AM:  Bed Time.  Finally.  After 27 hours of being awake and dealing with (and dropping) traumatized, meowing cats, feeling for wet pee pads, being covered in fur, tested (and stopped) for bomb chemicals, the day is finally over.  One Sister and Two Cats have been moved 5200+ miles.

Success!  Just one more 4 hour flight back to Seattle for me and we’ll call that Sister Favour Complete!

 

 





Just Another Day in the Neighbourhood

11 07 2014

It is crazy how things can become familiar so quickly.

A few months ago I hadn’t done any International travel in almost 10 years, and now four months later I’m jetting back off to Geneva, Switzerland.

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Newark Airport with NYC in the background

The all day/all night flights can’t faze me anymore and after leaving Seattle in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday and arriving in Geneva early Sunday morning, I arrived bright-eyed and bushy tailed.  Although I napped my way through a 6 hour flight to Newark, during my 8 hour flight to Geneva I’m not so sure there was a lot of sleeping done – more of a haze I think.  Well my haze must have been exactly what I needed because I was raring to go with a walk along Lac Leman, morning cappuccinos and pastries and a sunny afternoon into sunset into late night of eating and drinking champagne on the balcony.

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Quiet Sunday morning streets on Rue de Rive

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Sunday Sister Moment

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My first trip to Geneva I felt like I was in another world.  I dreamt of french phrases and so day and night I was swimming in a world that I couldn’t quite understand.  I struggled to keep my eyes open at night and I woke up at 3AM almost every morning.  It was a slight understatement that I wasn’t adjusting to the time change very well.

I don’t know if it’s because the streets, the restaurants, the apartment were all familiar to me now, but it felt like I was just in another neighborhood at home.  Crazily enough I didn’t experience any jet lag and could truly enjoy the day to its fullest – and stayed up way later than I would normally have at home (possibly because my sister and I discovered ‘Orange is the New Black’…).  The french didn’t phase me as much as before and most of the time I didn’t even really hear it around me – or at least take notice of it.  And all of that french dreaming from last time did me well and hammered those french phrases into my head so that when it was time to order ‘un boîte de huit macarons’ – it was right there at the tip of my tongue.

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Laduree Macarons

We allowed ourselves one full day of Geneva Sightseeing before we had to get down to work.  So we packed in a train ride along the Lac Leman lakefront, a trolley ride through Old Town Geneva, and a boat ride along the Lake to see Geneva from another perspective.

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Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) waterfront

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L’horloge Fleurie

As we rode through Old Townmy favourite part of Geneva, I came to realize that the last time I visited I did a fantastic job of sightseeing!  And also reminded myself how much I love old towns and window shutters.

 

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Our boat ride was a little breezy, but so great to be out on the water.  The asian tourists didn’t seem to have the same feeling as we did – they spent the first half of the boat ride taking selfies and the second half they all fell asleep!  Ok, well I can’t really complain about them taking selfies…..


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But to fall asleep??!!!  They missed out on a great hour (seriously it was only an hour and they couldn’t stay awake) on the water.

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Thanks for a great day of sightseeing Geneva!  If only you had had Jet d’Eau standing proud – it’s a good thing I took so many photos last time.

 

 





Just a little more pool time please

13 06 2014

There’s only so much sitting around the pool and soaking up the sun you can do……but I have to admit, I could have done just a little more.

We spent a long weekend in San Diego to celebrate our two year anniversary and it was fantastic!  We’ve done road trips and quick trips to Arizona and San Francisco this year, but it has been a really long time since we took a trip with the sole purpose of not doing anything.  We didn’t get a rental car because we didn’t want to feel forced to use it.  So that meant wandering from pool to hot tub, to room for a nap, to an onsite restaurant for dinner and back again.  Three days of heavenly, lazy bliss.

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There were plenty of water sports to partake in if we wanted to.  But, the pool seemed way too inviting.  And there was a fitness center, and I even brought my running shoes.  But did those shoes take one step outside of the room?  Actually, did they take one step out of the suitcase?  With mixed emotions, I say ‘no’!

It wasn’t until our last day when we had checked out of our room already and were looking to kill a little time, did we finally explore the resort other than the direct paths between the pools, restaurants and our bungalow.  And we found a tropical jungle.  There’s something very prehistoric feeling about some of this foliage.

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I Miss You Vancouver!

12 05 2014

When you catch it from its good side, it’s hard not to fall in love with Vancouver, and really hard not to reminisce on the great times you’ve had there and think about all the summer patio moments you’re going to miss.  But again, you have it catch it from its good side.  The previous times we’ve visited this year it’s been grey, rainy and made you want to get home and curl up under the blankets (even if those blankets are 3 hours away).  But Vancouver when it’s sunny?

Ohhhh…  It’s hard to drag yourself away.

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Lost Lagoon – Stanley Park

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Spring goslings

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Brother & Sister Time!

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Spring Buttercups

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Nesting Trumpeter Swan

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Balancing Turtles

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Lost Lagoon – Stanley Park

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Vancouver Skyline from Lost Lagoon

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Second Beach Views

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Nature’s Art Gallery

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Balancing Rocks





Sisters Reunite!

19 02 2014

After all of my practicing… ‘Je voudrais un boîte de douze macarons,’ I got to Laduree and I froze.  Strawberry marshmallow, salted caramel, rose petal, coconut passionfruit, pistachio, praline, lemon, chocolate coffee…..?  How am I supposed to choose only 12 with all of these flavors? Easy solution I guess….’quinze macarons s’il vous plait’.  I just couldn’t leave without a box of 15 macaroons.  And, they almost all made it home.

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During my time in Geneva, I spent a couple afternoons just wandering the streets and looking at the buildings.  If you’re in a place for too long, everything can start to look normal.  Trams and cable lines, futuristic light bulb-looking light posts, french signs, and hundred year old buildings.  So after 2 weeks I kind of had to tap back into my wide-eyed wonder of seeing Geneva (and Switzerland) for the very first time.

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This hundred year old building was my home for 2.5 weeks.

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My sister and her husband were my hospitable hosts and her cats kept me company at night.  Of course, I had my responsibilities while I was there: lift everything that was too heavy for my sister (a lot of things – I’m much stronger), care for the cats which consisted of entertaining them at 3am when they wanted to play, maneuver my body around theirs at night so as not to disturb their slumber, clean up after them when (not if) they were sick, groom them, clean their litter box…and play paparazzi and take hundreds of photos of them.

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Oliver

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Moosh

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And the most difficult of all tasks….keep my sister company = sit at outdoor patios and drink cappuccinos, eat truffle-topped cheesy delights and Chantilly cream and Nutella-laden desserts.

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Patelos: Cheesy, proscuitto-filled dough, topped with sliced truffle

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Mini beignets topped with powdered sugar and drizzled with warm Nutella and hazelnuts

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Baba: rum-soaked brioche, filled with Chantilly Cream and drizzled with Nutella and hazelnuts

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It was a tough couple weeks but we made it through the longest time we’ve spent together in 7 years.  At the end of the trip we both agreed that we had a better time than we both thought we would, and we were equally surprised that she didn’t make me cry (not even once)!

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The Lee Sisters in Geneva, Switzerland





Sometimes It Just Takes One

12 02 2014

It turns out that I had found the Cathedral in Old Town Geneva after all….I just didn’t know I had found it.  I’m not going to say that I was pacing around in front of the Cathedral last time, but I think that’s what was happening.  Maybe I expected a big sign saying, ‘this is the what you’re looking for – the Cathedral’ or maybe I was just too enamored by where all those narrow cobblestone streets would take me.

Nevertheless, I found Saint Peter’s Cathedral.

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Saint Peter’s Cathedral – Old Town Geneva

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As luck would have it, the organist was practicing, and I was treated to an almost empty cathedral full of the rich sounds of the organ.

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Built between approximately 1150 and 1230, Saint Peter’s Cathedral has Romanesque and Gothic features as well as a neoclassical monumental porch.  The Chapel of the Maccabees adjoins the cathedral and is the first example of flamboyant Gothicism in Geneva.

I almost left before I visited the Chapel of the Maccabees, but once I walked through the curtained doors, I knew I had to stay a while.  The room was full of color, from the light streaming through the artistic stained glass windows and the ornate ceiling and walls.  

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Saint Peter’s Cathedral has had a particular spiritual significance since 1536 when it became a major center of the Reformation under John Calvin.  It is now the most frequently visited building in Geneva.

I saw someone scan a barcode and gain entry into a door on the side and it peaked my curiosity.  What else could I see here?

For 5 francs I was able to walk up the narrow spiral staircases to climb to the North and South towers.  It was a workout and it definitely made me sweat and wheeze a little as I tried to climb the stairs faster than the group behind me.  For some reason I felt the need to gain a little distance so that I could take in the experience by myself.

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There is a passage leading from one tower to the other over the nave and under the structure of the metal steeple that houses the bells.

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I decided to head to the North Tower first and enjoy the panoramic view over Old Town, the harbor and (if they were visible that day) the mountains surrounding Geneva.

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The South Tower has a watch room at the top and I found myself at eye-level with the cathedral bells as they were chiming, along with great views of the water and the Jet d’Eau.  

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I spent almost three hours touring the Cathedral.  And I hear I had thought that I could just pass by and take a few photos and be satisfied.   It’s great to travel with company and share the experience with others, but it was a great opportunity to tour the Cathedral during the off-season, and tour it on my own, and to feel like I had it almost all to myself.








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