Your passport could be wrong

Yes it could.  I must say that I honestly don’t understand how a passport can have a completely different name from what appears on your birth certificate.  Now before you jump down my throat … I am not talking about last names.  Yes, people get married and change their last name or even combine their maiden name with their spouse’s last name.  What amazes me are the number of people who don’t get the first part right on their passport.

Example – if you were born John Henry Smith and you apply for a  passport you can apply for a passport issued in the name of J. Henry Smith and then support your identity with your driver’s licence.  See extract from the application form –

passport application

So this means you can use your driver’s licence to support your identity – not your birth certificate.

I can’t tell you how many headaches this gives us travel agents.  Some airlines are really difficult to work with when it comes to name changes.  Some even insist that a completely new ticket is issued with the according penalties and cancellation charges.  Woe is you J. Henry Smith.

Then there is the problem of trying to get a passport after you have changed your name legally – yes really – read this story –

Laura Skywalker Matthews added the Jedi name “for a laugh” after joking with her friends about her love of the character from George Lucas’ seminal films.

But the stunt backfired when it took eight weeks for passport officials to refuse her application meaning she missed a summer holiday to Amsterdam.

The 29-year-old was told her signature of L Skywalker infringed a copyright despite it being accepted previously for her driving licence.

Miss Matthews said: “It’s absolutely ridiculous.

“They told me the issue was with my signature because L Skywalker is trademark.

“I have the same signature on my driving licence, bank cards and everything else.

“How can everybody else be happy with that signature, apart from the passport office?



My ship is bigger than your ship

I will be sailing on the inaugural cruise of Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas in November.  This is a MOTHER of a ship.  8000 human beings including guests and crew.  Wow!

It got me thinking about all the choices out there and what the differences are between cruising on a small ship of, say 300 guests, versus a big ship accommodating 5000 guests. I have cruised on big and small – some of the smaller ships like Paul Gauguin and Windstar with just 300 guests.  I have sailed on the in-betweeners like Celebrity, Azamara and Holland America and I have also sailed on the inaugural voyage of the Oasis of the Seas – sister ship to the Harmony.

So what to consider – do you go big or small.  (Go big or go home).

Big ships have more “stuff” – more restaurants, more entertainment, more choices.  For multi-generational families this might be a good thing.  The large ships are big enough to escape Cousin Maude or Uncle Henry on that family reunion.

Big ships have entertainment for all types – whether you want to sit in a quiet area and listen to some classical music or dance the night away.  The shows on the mega ships are world-class Broadway style and the kids’ entertainment is exceptional.   Children’s groups are divided according to age and with all the activities on board, a large cruise ship is especially ideal for those older teenagers as they can zipline, rock climb or learn to surf onboard.


So what about the small ships?
Well they don’t have climbing walls, mega Broadway shows or 22 restaurants but those features are not what small ship cruising people want.  Smaller ships are often more about the destination – so think of it as a floating boutique hotel taking you into hard to get to places and small ports.  Small ships will often have facilities such as a small marina at the back of the ship where you can go swimming or kayaking.  Oh the thrill of jumping off the back of the ship off the coast of Split, Croatia!  Fabulous!  I loved that!

Because small ships don’t have a host of singers, dancers, musicians and jugglers on board they will often bring on local entertainers and guest lecturers so the evenings are different and somewhat quieter.

For those who want a little bit of each, such as a wider choice of restaurants and some nightlife but still a touch of intimacy with smaller numbers, there are lots of choices.  New kid on the block Viking Ocean Cruises have launched their new ocean ship Viking Star hosting just 900 people.   As on their river cruises the Viking Star will offer complimentary wine and beer with lunch and dinner as well as speciality teas and coffees any time during the day.  I am looking forward to sailing with them next month.

So you see – there is a choice for everyone whether you prefer the BIG BIG ships or the eeny weeny ones.


I really don’t want to leave

I begged and pleaded but in the end they were very firm.  I had just spent an amazing week on Avalon River cruises and it was time to get off.  I tried every excuse under the sun

They wouldn’t accept any…. so I had to pack my bags and get off.

What a great vacation.  We flew into Amsterdam and had 3 nights in Leiden, a lovely little dormitory town filled with cobbled streets and canals.  While there we did a lot of sleeping (jet-lag) and went for some early morning runs (jet-lag).  We also had a wonderful private canal boat tour with beer, wine and snacks.  Now that’s the way.

Then on the train and into Paris for two nights.  Paris has had a bad rap lately and yes I did notice the heightened level of security which actually made me feel secure.   We must have walked 30 kms on the one day taking in the left bank, the Latin Quarter including a visit to Notre Dame to light a candle for my parents.  What a gorgeous church.

The river cruise on Avalon was exceptional and I loved my room – the new panorama style room with massive sliding doors.

But the best thing of all was the optional tour we took when back in Amsterdam from our cruise ship – a 20 km bike ride.  Now if you have been to Amsterdam you will know that everyone and his dog (literally) rides a bike.  In fact, the bike lanes are very crowded and the Dutch are proficient bike riders.  Ladies with skirts and high heels on their way to the office – really!

So here goes The Travel Lady – first of all I asked the cruise director to make sure they had bikes for short people.  At home here in Calgary I ride a kid’s dirt bike style – not that I want to become a stunt rider but one of our neighbours gave it away and I thought why not?  I have been dying to get into bike riding again.  After having taken a couple of good falls in Fish Creek Park I felt I was ready to go biking anywhere.

However, our cruise director on the Artistry II was no fool.  He gave us a lecture before we signed up for the bike tour.  “Now”, he said.  “You need to be sure you can actually ride a bike and spin classes don’t count.  In order to make sure there will be a short test ride along the canal in front of the ship.”   They are serious about this – in fact the City of Amsterdam even put together a rather funny video explaining to tourists the rules of the road –

Oh no!  Let’s not talk about pressure now.  You mean I have to get on a strange bike and ride in front of people.  Come on, Lesley, I said to myself.  You can do it.  Well it turns out that the Dutch bike was more of a town bike.  What some people would call a sit-up-and-beg bike compared to my squat lean-forward-and-grip bike.  I was a bit worried and very wobbly but somehow I passed the test and I am SO glad I did.  We cycled past the main train station and then took the ferry to the quieter Northern side of Amsterdam and spent a glorious few hours cycling past small villages, over wooden bridges, past sheep (which actually talked to us) and cows (one of which was woefully stuck in the small canal than ran adjacent to the field).  I have always thought that cows are some of the most intelligent creatures and this one’s mates were circled all around while she sat in the watery ditch up to her chest.  I could imagine them saying to her – “Come on Doris – how many times do you have to do this before you learn?”  And Doris would reply “Well I am not as bad as Bruce”


Get out of my sun lounger

Have you ever been on vacation and struggled to find a sun lounger around the pool?  Isn’t it annoying?  You get down there quite early and find all these sun loungers occupied by towels, books, suntan lotion bottles – but not a body in sight.  Yep – it’s those chair hoggers again. Many resorts have tried to cut down on this by confiscating belongings laid out to hold the chairs.  Others are imposing fines but nothing – absolutely nothing – beats this resort in Spain.

Watch the video – go on – it doesn’t take long to watch.  Do it while your boss is in a meeting.  You will see the holidaymakers lined up with towels and books while the pool staff sweep and clean.  Then at a signal from the Pool Staff Captain (or whatever) there is this massive rush.  Much grabbing of sun loungers, spreading of towels – and then everyone disappears leaving the pool surrounded by empty sun loungers.


This sort of resort behaviour is sure to get everyone up in arms.

It doesn’t just happen at resorts by the way.  Last year at the Calgary Folk Fest I was amazed to see the same behaviour with tarps.  People would arrive early in the morning and peg out their tarp in a prime position in front of the main stage and would then disappear to go off and watch other concerts – all the while taking up a space that they weren’t using.  No fair!

And honestly – they are no better than those people at the Flamingo Oasis – just look at this tarp dash at the opening

I guess it is just something about the human condition.  Here’s a definition :

“The human instinct to survive is our most powerful drive. Since animals climbed out of the primordial muck and as our early ancestors rose from all fours to walk upright, evolution has been guided by its ability to help us survive.”

So I guess that need for the best spot at the Folk Festival or the best position for your sun lounger next to the pool is all just down to our ancestors…. Thanks guys!

Funny vacations, shopping & swim up bars

Not funny ha ha…. but funny strange …. funny weird …. just funny.  Like what, you ask?

Like a temple in Northern India crawling with thousands of holy rats.  In fact latest estimates puts the number at around 20.000.  Does that sound awful?  It looks pretty awful.

This temple dates back to the 1400’s and the rats are said to be reincarnated story-tellers so they are revered and fed on treats.  Shoes have to be removed before entering the temple and it is said to be very lucky if one runs over your foot (as long as you don’t try to climb up the nearest gate).

Like the island of the dolls near Mexico City.  A local man had found a doll floating in one of the canals after a local child had drowned.  He was haunted by the sight and hung the doll from a tree as a memorial.  Well one thing leads to another and suddenly the whole island was covered in dolls – most of them broken.  The weirdest thing is that he drowned in the same canal.  Umm – major creepy – Here’s Chucky!

Like the dead and the bewitched tour in Scotland.  (reference Wikipedia) The Edinburgh Vaults or South Bridge Vaults are a series of chambers formed in the nineteen arches of the South Bridge in Edinburgh, Scotland, which was completed in 1788. For around 30 years, the vaults were used to house taverns, cobblers and other tradesmen, and as storage space for illicit material, reportedly including the bodies of people killed by serial killers Burke and Hare for medical experiments.

Well that sounds weird enough for me!  But the BBC took it even further –

The television show Ghost Adventures investigated the vaults and claimed to have numerous encounters with spirits there.

In 2009 a BBC TV production team filming a one-off TV special featuring Joe Swash recorded unexplained voices in the vaults during an overnight sleepover by Swash. Swash was the only person in the vaults and did not hear the voices himself at the time of recording, despite the sounds being audible on his own microphone. The voices continued to be heard on the recording for some 20 minutes before abruptly ceasing after what appears to be the sound of children yelling. BBC sound engineers initially thought the sounds may be explained by voices drifting into the tunnels from nightclubs nearby but this was found to be incorrect and no logical explanation could be found although they may well have been weak radio signals being picked up by the BBC microphones. The recordings were broadcast as part of the finished program Joe Swash Believes in Ghosts on BBC Three in January 2010.

Boy – you would need a wee dram after that experience!

Like Giants’ wine goblets – found only in Northern Laos.  It is said that giants made these massive stone goblets for their rice wine so that they could have a few celebratory drinks after defeating some other mythical enemy.  Whatever the truth might be if you do make it to this remote area of Laos odds are that you won’t find any other tourists there and not even one souvenir stand.
The jars: still standing (Credit: Credit: Jarryd Salem)
Fill those with rice wine and you would have one GIANT headache the next day – sorry that was really bad!

But remember – one man’s meat is another man’s poison so what you might think is weird others might think is perfectly normal.  What you might like to do on vacation may not be what your partner likes.  How many times have I been in a beautiful European city and have seen abandoned husbands fast asleep while their wives do a little Euro shopping?

Some love a swim up bar or hanging out at the pool all day – not my bag but each to his or her own.

Ouch – that’s going to hurt tomorrow.

It’s a dog’s life

Do you travel with your dog?  Many people do and it can be a hassle trying to find hotels that will accommodate them.  Fortunately in North America more hotels are becoming pet friendly.  However travelling around some parts in North America on public transit might be a problem.  The rules of riding on the NYC subway are that in order to bring your pet onto the subway it has to be in a bag.  One thinks of the little mini-dog accessory that many of the “stars” sport these day –

dog and paris
Every girl should have a pair – right????

So how do New York dog lovers get around this?  They just put the damn dog in a bag!
dog in bag

Like that

dog in bag 2

There you go – he’s in a bag.

Getting on a flight is a bit more problematic for dog owners.  The number of dogs allowed in the cabin is limited on each flight and of course you must be able to stow your dog away in a carrier underneath the seat in front of you.  Unless of course you are travelling with a support animal (or two).  Like the two large dogs that travelled in business class next to my husband a year or so ago.  Fair enough seats had been purchased for them (Wow) and the very attractive young lady (well that’s how my husband described her) who owned them indicated that it was an emotional support thing.  Whatever – everyone in the business class cabin made a fuss of them and they were very well-behaved despite a bit of snoring.  I just couldn’t help wondering what happens when they want to poop.

This thought came to me when I was out walking the dog we are suddenly babysitting.  I headed out with two large Safeway bags but a couple of times spotted very organised dog owners with small green bags (just the right size) clipped onto the leash.  In fact I even passed someone who cleverly tied the filled green bag to the leash too.  Poor Mutt!  It was like the equivalent of the Shame scene in Game of Thrones.  Bad enough that you have to be watched pooping – you then have to have it tied around your neck while you walk through the neighbourhood.

Shame!  Shame!

Game of Thrones

So you think you’re an adventure traveller?

Well before you say yes just think a little.  One person’s adventure might be another person’s ho hum day.  We all have different levels of what we consider to be adventure and this might be the activities on a vacation, the place we stay on vacation or even the destination itself.

Take India…a pretty ambitious destination.  Not everyone’s cup of tea.  Lots of poverty and muck and taking a trip to the toilet can be an adventure in itself.  But when you are staying somewhere like this ….

Taj Udaipur

Taj Lake Palace Hotel Udaipur

…. it doesn’t feel like an adventure – it feels like a dream.

Let’s take somewhere closer to home – Jasper National Park.  Beautiful area and I love staying at the Lodge but my first trip there was somewhat different –
Humble lodgings indeed – add to that a tremendous downpour so that it felt like a river running underneath the groundsheet.  Yep – I felt like an adventurer that night for sure.

What about Africa?  Many exciting adventures during my years living in South Africa and Swaziland.  Like the time we drove by car from Swaziland to Mozambique during the time of the civil war back in the ’80s.  Now that was exciting – going through the border post with very little Portuguese and dealing with roadblocks, “soldiers” with no uniforms but very big machine guns!  We got into Maputo safely (believe it or not) and stayed in the decaying grandeur of the old Polana Hotel along with half of the diplomatic personnel from Russia and Eastern Europe.  I still haven’t learned how to say poached eggs in Portuguese but I do like recalling this trip as one of my adventures.

Just riding a bike in the Netherlands was another adventure for me.  I hadn’t been on a bike in years and years and I have never been so scared in my life but at the end of the tour I was on Cloud Nine.  I had an adventure!

What sort of adventure would you like to do?  Here are some of the most popular adventure style trips –

Climbing Kilimanjaro – this is not mountain climbing but you do have to be aware that altitude sickness can slow you down.  I am told the feeling when you get to the top is incredible.  Maybe I will add that to my list.


Wow – what an achievement – now I want to do this!

The Inca Trail – here is another trail that is demanding because of the high altitude but with the right guide and the correct preparation you can do this too.  A unique and personally satisfying way of seeing Machu Picchu.

Diving with the sharks in Cape Town – this is very popular and sometimes hard to get a booking.  Would you do it?

Why is adventure travel so good for you?  Whether you adventure by day and sleep in six star comfort at night doesn’t really matter.  The important thing is that you get a little bit out of your comfort zone.

CANDICE GAUKEL ANDREWS sums it up very well with the top ten reasons you should participate in adventure travel –

When you get dirty, you improve your physical health.Scientists have recently reported that our modern obsession with cleanliness might be leading to a rise in allergies, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Outdoor activities can prevent (or treat) a wide range of health problems. Get off the couch and put down that iphone.

There are no age limits on adventure. Anyone can make nature a playground. Adventure travel is an activity you can stick with for life. Take a hike, get a bigger brain. Research indicates that hiking or walking grows brains. Typically, your hippocampus gets smaller once you hit your mid fifties, leading to memory loss. …. sorry what was I saying ????

Going on adventures raises your tolerance for uncertainty. Placing yourself in situations where things don’t always go as planned — such as on an adventure trip — helps you learn to cope with the uncertainties in life. And there is no shortage of those.

Adventure travel lets you safely “try on” alternate lives. One of the best things about embarking on an adventure is that you can shed your familiar skin for a while and pretend to be anything you want to be — before you take a drastic and permanent step. Who would you be if you lived there?

Going on adventures fosters reflectiveness, a mental skill often in short supply today. Adventures give us pleasant memories, which we often bring back to the forefront of our minds for reminiscing.

Adventure travel feeds your dreams and builds your confidence.  Adventures build your confidence; and with each successive one, you challenge yourself just a little bit more.

Adventure experiences remedy a societal ill: loss of adventurous children and the extinguishing of wanderlust.Today, the United States is facing what some have described as an epidemic: the loss of the adventurous childhood.

Adventure travellers may be more important than ever for saving the world. Adventure travellers are more likely to campaign against global warming because they are closer to nature.

So if in Italy hike the Pathway of the Gods – it is not hard ….
Pathway of the Gods - - more climbinin

But when you finish you will feel AMAZING!

Pathway of the Gods - I did it

I did it!