Wander the Rainbow World Map


September 21st, 2014 by David Jedeikin

BritneySilhouetteCU Las Vegas and Britney Spears have a thing or two in common: both are massive pop-culture icons that draw huge crowds, toss out loads of glitz and flash… and get no love from the higher-brow set. Both have had their ups and downs, their huge successes, their implosions.

Interestingly, I’ve often had similar reactions to both city and pop superstar: I’ve gleaned unexpected resonance from both, but I’ve never felt too strongly one way or the other about either. Vegas is, I feel, underappreciated: taken on its terms as an oversized adult playground, it delivers handily. Ditto BritBrit: I’ve long held the notion that high culture and pop culture are inextricably intertwined. Shakespeare wrote for the masses; classical music often drew on folk melodies; Dickens was a popular serial writer. For me, therefore, a certain appreciation for pop culture has always been a mainstay.

Amp that up a couple thousand notches for Mathew, my boyfriend of over one year. His devotion to and obsession with madame Spears is the stuff of legend — heck, he got his career start as a tech marketer building (and publicizing) a Britney fan site when he was a young teen. Britney was good to him: he sold that site and some others for a tidy sum a few years later.


With those notions in mind, I boarded a Southwest flight on Thursday afternoon for Sin City.

FlyingHomeChalk this trip up to yet another with an inauspicious beginning: a flight delay leaving San Francisco and heading east, into the desert; that disorienting feeling when arriving at one of the big Vegas hotels (we were staying at Planet Hollywood) and wandering through the ever-humming casino, where it’s neither day nor night. Mathew and his friend Adrienne had arrived earlier in the day so there was the usual disconnect between not-quite-out-of-work mode me and everyone else, already in holiday frame of mind.

I slept fitfully through the night, wondering what the next day had in store. Mathew had paid a premium for up-close general admission seats that, he warned, would entail hours of waiting if we wanted a great view. Disclaimer: I don’t like standing in line for anythingThis is gonna be interesting, my mind wandered before finally nodding off.

RoomViewNext morning, I awoke to realize… I had positively nothing to wear for the evening’s festivities. My ho-hum daily work duds would simply not do for an up-close encounter with my partner’s Earthly deity. So off we went to some shopping up the street, the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace.

When I first visited Vegas a few years back, I was pleasantly surprised by the density and walkability of the Strip… but that was in April. Now, in early September, the desert blast furnace was running on high, and Mathew and Adrienne were wilting from the heat. After our bout of shopping and lunch we cabbed it the two-thirds-of-a-mile back to Britneyland.

It was only mid-afternoon, but no rest for the die-hards: we changed into our concert gear and planted our butts on the floor outside the theatre some five hours before the 90-minute show was set to begin. Other than one other fellow on his headphones on the ground nearby, we were the first ones there.

BritneyLineAdrienneMathewStartNot long after, a small clutter of others sat beside us in line. We soon struck up conversations, and I realized Mathew was not alone in his Britney fandom. Comparisons were made between the faithful: first album purchase; favorite concert moments; set lists for the upcoming show. Our cohorts hailed from everywhere: a drag queen from Alaska; a fellow and his galpal from Albany, NY; a gay couple from the Netherlands. A group behind us even briefed us on best-practices and etiquette for snagging the best viewing spot — though this latter group wasn’t so honorable as concert time approached: after cautioning us not to run to the theatre, one of their number did so and ended up in front of us at the next collection point, by the doors to the theatre. Mathew was not amused.

BritneyShow16Still, once the final doors opened and we reached the general admission spot, we found a stellar perch by the catwalk leading off the stage. Showtime drew closer. A countdown popped up on the screen. And then… BAM!! To the strains of “Work Bitch,” Britney and her dancers took the stage.

Confession: I’ve never been a huge fan of concerts. The notion of spending hours in a huge venue, surrounded by shrieking fans, waiting hours through opening acts and endless setups and sound checks only to endure loud, acousically mediocre renditions… no thanks.

BritneyShow4But this. This experience was something else.

Long known for her acrobatics and dazzling set design, Britney puts on a show few others can equal. Add the showmanship and production values Vegas spectaculars have long been known for (and a blessedly sweet 90-minute run time), and… wow. Britney emerging from a flame-ringed circle; Britney on the branch of a giant tree; Britney in angel wings; Britney leading some audience member (preselected in advance, I’m told) around on a leash — she called this one a “one-night stand” and managed to work in her recent breakup.

BritneyShowMathewAdrienne2But the most energizing, magical part of the show had to be the reactions of the faithful: Mathew’s face was pure bliss as Britney strode the stage and catwalk a couple of yards from where we stood. As a more intimate venue than a giant arena (Planet Hollywood’s Axis Theatre has a long history of hosting musical acts, and was specially remodeled for this show), and engulfed by loving members of “Britney’s Army,” I couldn’t help but be swept up in it all. By the time the finale, “Till the World Ends,” rang out, I was cheering and whooping it up like a true fan — and found the strains of the concert haunting me in the coming days.

I guess you could call me a Private in Britney’s Army now.

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Caribbean via Royal

June 1st, 2014 by David Jedeikin

NavigatorLifesaverI begin this in the middle of the ocean. Well, on the pool deck of the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Navigator of the Seas to be exact. Mexico’s Riviera Maya lies offshore in the hazy distance. Warm tropical winds blow around us as our 139,000-ton vessel exits the Gulf of Mexico into its firm’s namesake waters.

For those familiar with my indie/solo traveler ways, your first reaction is probably “what are you doing on a Caribbean cruise?”

There’s more to it than you’d think. For one thing, I’ve been a fan of great ships for ages — aided and abetted, no doubt, by a certain big-grossing epic from some fifteen years back. But, like so many travel dreams, this one languished — until last Christmas, when my partner Mathew’s family announced that our gift for the season would be this seven-day excursion. They’re experienced cruisers and a family of travel-and-transport fiends (like me). In fact, their plane ride out here included a fab flight on an all-new Boeing 787 aircraft.

As for us, I awoke at dawn on Saturday morning with a mantra on my lips: let this trip start out smoothly, dammit. My last two big voyages this year kicked off with flight delays, missing luggage (mine), food poisoning (Mathew), and the usual discombobulating jet-lag from crossing eight-plus time zones. As we bade our dog and cat farewell and checked in for our flight, everything looked like it was coming up aces.

GalvestonPortNavigatorSternIt was (predictably) a full flight, and being one of the last to board the plane meant I was keeping eyes open for scarce overhead bin space. As we approached our seat, I saw it: a near-virgin bin right above our row. I hurriedly hoisted the bag above our heads — and WHAM! I hit Mathew right in the arm. His still-full grande caramel latte flew out of his hands… and spilled all over the seat (and jacket) of a passenger right in front of us.

The crew were very nice about cleaning up the mess (with our help), and the passenger was quite understanding as well (we even offered to switch seats)… but we were both rattled by the event, and I felt that uneasy mixture of shame, embarrassment, and regret that inevitably bubbles up in situations like this. United Airlines has, in my eyes, partly redeemed itself for its own past bungling in my travel past for how pleasantly and efficiently they handled this (literally) sticky situation.


Next morning, we stuffed the car full of suitcases and the five of us, and crossed the Greater Houston area from north to south. Like many New South cities, Houston operates on a low-density sprawl model. Its downtown of gleaming new skyscrapers — product of its oil industry past and present — contrasted with pockets of poverty we saw throughout. Signs for subsidiaries of Halliburton were scattered around office parks everywhere we went.

Then, driving south along the causeway to Galveston, past steaming refineries and dun-colored freighters, we saw it, gleaming and white: our source of transport, accommodations, dining and entertainment for next week. At over one thousand feet in length, the Navigator and its three sister ships no longer hold the distinction as the largest passenger ships afloat (that now goes to Royal’s newer Oasis class). Still, the sight of one of these behemoths up close is dazzling, a veritable skyscraper turned on its side capable of traveling twenty-plus knots across the waters of the world. The ship towered over Galveston Island and its low-slung historic city core just blocks from the cruise port.

CarnivalShipDistantWe sailed out of Galveston earlier than expected, and I sat for many minutes, watching the dun-colored waters of the harbor give way to the blue of the Gulf of Mexico. Yep, I admit it: the strains of James Horner’s epic movie theme ran through my head as blue seas rushed past. As a boy reared on epic sci-fi novels and films, I could see where the inspiration for the huge spacecraft of those stories came from as well.

Shortly after came the first seating of one of ocean voyaging’s hallmark events: dinner. Although cruise ships of today have relaxed some of their formal night practices (typically only some nights are dress-up) it’s still a high-ceremony event, with jacketed waiters and personalized service.

MeMathewFormal1“It’s how I learned about fine dining,” said Mathew, who was inspired in part by elegant shipboard dining halls to learn to cook on his own. Malign it as some might, cruising has for many proved an entrée into the elegant ways of yesterday (and today).

The ship’s sailing schedule gave us two full nights and days at sea before arriving at our first port of call. I wasn’t sure what that entailed — but turns out I was in good hands. Mathew and his family have a well-oiled scheme for making the most of shipboard days and nights: I helped the family win at a couple of shipboard trivia games; saw an ice skating show and a Broadway-style revue; posed for formal (and informal) photos; and even had some fun (yes, really) in the shipboard casino. The ship’s staff are selected for their cheerful, fun demeanor, and work hard to ensure that days on the waves are as full and fun as possible.

RoatanShopsHiAngleDay Four of the cruise began with me peering out the large window of our ocean view cabin… and, after two days of seeing nothing but water, I beheld mountainous, forested tropical landscapes passing by our window. It was our first port of call, the island of Roatán, Honduras.

The port was a pretty blend of tidy, pastel-tinted colonial-style buildings with shops (natch) flanking the dock for our ship. Giant blue mooring lines connected the ship to sturdy concrete anchor posts squatting in blue waters. As we disembarked, a lively, loud Caribbean drum circle pulsed out rapid beats as natively-clad dancers jigged and jumped. OK, a bit touristy for my taste.

We were soon whisked away for our onshore excursion for the day. A tidy, air-conditioned 26-seat Hyundai minibus pulled away from the port; as we departed and pulled through the (unfortunately named) town of Coxen Hole, our guide gave us a little background on the place.

“It was named after the pirate Coxen,” he said in Spanish-accented English. While Honduras is nominally Spanish-speaking (one of our bus-mates asked if they ate Mexican food — oh, Americans and geography!) Roatán is something of a mix.

DaGangZipline“There is Spanish, which is the Catholic religion,” our guide explained. “But there is also black, who speak Creole English, and white English, who are Protestant.” The British set up shop here centuries ago during the era of piracy and privateering (one way to build an empire in the shadow of incumbent Spain of the day: steal their stuff); apparently the island’s riches are still controlled by a small number of white families. As if on cue, our guide pointed to a mansion, all white and curlicued columns, astride a hillside. The large homes I’d seen on the island’s western point are apparently of similar ilk. Meanwhile, just outside the port, machine-gunned guards flanked the entryway.

MathewOnZiplineWe drove up into the hills for the activity we’d booked for the day: I’d been meaning to go ziplining for years, and a hilly, tropical island seemed like the right place to do it. After a quick safety and maneuvering training session, our guides strapped on the bewildering array of harnesses and steel pulleys and hooks. The first line was short, more a training drill to get familiar with the vagaries of braking, foot positioning, and spin avoidance. But the second two lines were where it really got going: over 1,500 feet in length and flying dozens of feet over the tropical canopy, it offered a windy, exhilarating rush, couple with stellar views of green island and blue seas. We continued down, down, down through a series of shorter, connected ziplines, winding our way back to base camp. I may have even belted out my rendition of the Tarzan roar as we zipped across the canopy.

NavigatorPoolDeckHiAngleA change of pace for us the next day; we awoke to the ship anchored offshore from Belize City. Mathew and I decided to make this our “stay on the ship while it’s in port” day. It’s often a nice respite from the crowds on the vessel; as we chilled out at the deserted Cosmopolitan Lounge, the ship’s panoramic spot on Deck 14, we spied an equally empty pool deck where just two days ago Mathew had to (somewhat sternly) remind a fellow who’d abandoned his family’s set of deck chairs to go for a a swim that (per signs posted everywhere) deck chairs are not to be reserved on a limited-space pool area. Yeesh. I’m new to cruising but even I know that.

Next morning, we hit our last — and, for me, the most significant — port of call, a place where I’d already made quite a few memories: Cozumel, Mexico.

MeNavigatorCozumelPier2Compared to sleepy Roatán and distant, offshore Belize City, arriving in Cozumel felt like something of a return to civilization: in addition to a sizable vacation destination for both Mexicans and international visitors, it’s arguably the biggest cruise ship stopover point in the Western Caribbean. Outside our stateroom window loomed the biggest passenger ship afloat, the Allure of the Seas, where just over a year ago my sister and her family (including my ship-nut nephew Jackson, who I took to Europe this winter) embarked on a cruise adventure of their own.

After clawing our way through the crowds, shops, and touts at the cruise pier, we snagged transport for the day. This time we did it indie-travel-style: we set off on a 110cc Honda motor scooter out toward San Miguel (Cozumel’s main town), then straight across the island to its other side, Mezcalito’s Beach overlooking the Caribbean.

MezcalitosThatchedUmbrellasBeaches and oceans have long been a place of reflection and contemplation for me, a cathedral of sorts for we non-religionists. Last time I was here, I bade a tearful farewell to the man who helped give me life, taught me to love the sea. Now I’m here with a new job, a partner, more settled-ness in the city I now call home. A lot of changes since I last gazed upon these unending waves.

Some bodysurfing in the sea, a bit of shopping, then back to the ship for our remaining 36-hour cruise home.

Although I’m not quite the maritime buff as my nephew (who built a six-foot-long model of the Allure out of shirt cardboard), I’d been hoping to get on some sort of tour of the ship’s innards during our journey. Alas, since 9/11 such forays have been suspended, but our captain, a friendly Norwegian fellow who’s been sailing with Royal for some fifteen years, gave a talk that final afternoon that covered most of the bases. He even complimented my question to him in the Q&A, where I asked, in the wake of seeing the Allure (over 1,100 feet long and 200,000-plus tons) while now riding on a vessel that was once the world’s biggest (1,000-plus feet long and 130,000-plus tons)… “How big can they get?”

NavigatorPromenadeHiAngleThe answer proved fascinating: since the Titanic tragedy, an international maritime convention (SOLAS, Safety Of Life at Sea) has tightly regulated all minutiae of ship safety; one key determinant is lifeboat capacity — not only how many, but how many people they’re allowed to hold. Oasis and Allure are too massive for standard 150-person lifeboats… so those intrepids shipbuilders, working with safety regulators, fashioned new ones.

As for how much bigger ships could get? Captain Klaus noted that the biggest oil tanker clocks in at around double the total tonnage of either Oasis and Allure… so it’s anyone’s guess what the future has in store.

I’d mostly missed all the past sunsets on the ship — we were busy with dinner or post-dinner activities each night. So I was determined, with the timing now just right, to catch a glimpse of the setting orb on our final dusk at sea. I’ve long since known that the legendary scene in Titanic, where Rose and Jack kiss for the first time above the bow of that great ship, was not only fictive but in fact impossible: ocean liners and cruise ships normally store anchors and heavy machinery up front, and passengers are barred from such places. With that in mind, I dragged Mathew and his brother to the ship’s topmost deck, where I began this entry… only to spy a gaggle of other passengers some five decks below — right in front of the ship’s helipad at the very, very prow of the great vessel.

MeLastSunset1Oh yeah!

We scurried down to Deck Four, where, indeed, a semi-hidden stairway led to the triangular frontmost portion of the ship. A scattering of people were calmly taking in the orange fiery ball in front of us. I stood at the prow and felt myself go light, levitating as those James Cameron characters had done all those years ago before me on a silver screen. All that had been, all that was to be… it all came rushing to the fore of my psyche as I beheld the elemental passing of day into night.

Sometimes reality really does live up to our dreams, and life itself transforms into art.

Most cruises arrive back at home port early in the morning — sometimes hours before their scheduled arrival time. We were a model of punctuality — a treat for we newbie cruisers: I awoke to see our ship completing final maneuvers… not realizing one final surprise was in store.

It wasn’t at Customs  — no problems there — but instead somewhere a lot more prosaic. Mathew’s spider sense caught it first, as we left the cruise terminal and entered a slightly-worn minivan taxicab at the pier’s taxi stand. It was piloted by a heavyset, gabby woman with missing front teeth and a strictly “cash only” policy. As we rode north along the Gulf Freeway toward Houston, we saw multiple warning signs indicating a massive accident and total freeway closure up ahead. A scan of Google Maps confirmed it: thick red lines up and down the freeway a few miles from our position. I had half a mind to notify our driver (who had nary a GPS unit nor smartphone in sight), but figured Houston on a holiday weekend morning after a cruise was no time to be playing backseat driver. I later learned that Brenda, Mathew’s Mom, had also repeatedly pointed out the warnings to driver gal, only to have her wave them away as nothing.

We got to the congestion point — soon corroborated by the radio as a major fatality accident — and sure enough, traffic slowed to a standstill. Thirty minutes went by. Forty-five. An hour. I was already quite anxious, and by now so was the rest of the Guiver family. I tried to ask the driver if she knew what was up, if her dispatcher had any more information, and got a curt reply.

“I don’t have a dispatcher. I got ma keys. I got ma meter. That’s all!”

As Hour Two rolled on and we’d barely moved a few hundred feet, I began suggesting we perhaps exit the vehicle and haul ourselves and our luggage over to the next exit — now barely a quarter mile away but at the rate we were moving, probably well over an hour by car. We’re gonna miss our flight, said my mind. Mathew and I agreed to do a quick reconnoiter and hopped out of the car, to our driver’s irritation. Sure enough, we saw the exit just ahead through the apocalypse of frozen vehicles.

GuiversLuggageTaxiOrdealWe hurried back to the vehicle, where we later learned our cabbie had begun asking Mathew’s family if they were “good Christians,” and to join her in prayer. Whether it was that or simple exasperation, the gang of us decided we’d had enough, and in spite of our driver barking at us to “get back in NOW,” we threw a hundred bucks her way, grabbed our voluminous suitcases, and hauled ass down the freeway off-ramp, over the concrete divider to a nearby Shell station in the blazing, humid, Texas heat.

Houston, we have a problem indeed. With the freeway stil gridlocked, we found a (more competent) cabbie who got us to the airport on time. Another travel adventure complete. As we embraced farewell at the airport, I felt a bond had been cemented between us all… to say nothing of the fact that, after eons of wanting, waiting, wishing, I feel I’ve found my sea legs at last.

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Mediterranean Dream

May 3rd, 2014 by David Jedeikin


Since coming home from my big world journey in 2009, I’ve dreamed and contemplated the next big adventure. I keep coming back to the notion of a multi-monther around the Med, hitting up many spots on my still-long bucket list: Spain, Portugal (not quite the Med but close enough), Morocco (ditto), Turkey, Greece, Lebanon… I could go on.

With work and life keeping a longer trip at bay, however, I positively jumped at the chance to accompany Mathew, my boyfriend of almost a year, when he said he and a friend of his teaching in Egypt wanted to meet somewhere not too distant from Cairo. We looked on a map and found what looked to be a perfect meeting point for both the time of year and our tight springtime schedules.


The first leg of the journey revisited the familiar: a 747 British Airways Speedbird across North America and out over the far North Atlantic. Unlike my journey last month with my nephew, I actually got a respectable few hours sleep on the plane, awakening with the coast of Ireland on the moving map’s right-hand side. Mathew, alas, wasn’t so lucky: coming off a month-long raw food cleanse, and having had some rather cheesy pasta for dinner, he began feeling ill partway into the flight and spent much of it nauseous and worse. Given his normally hardy constitution, I was a bit concerned as we rode the Heathrow Express into the city and headed to our hotel in South Kensington. But he held his own, and after a short rest was ready to head to our one scheduled event on this overnight stopover.

MeMathewSimpsonsInt2My parents met for the first time in the British capital in 1968, and their 18-hour first date has become the stuff of family legend. They went for dinner at an old-fashioned English carvery that’s still around in all its old-world glory. When we discovered the place was still very much around, Mathew suggested we check it out… And so, dressed in our slightly-fabulous best, we took an incredibly-crowded Tube over to Simpson’s in the Strand and relived my family’s origin story.

And then, off to Malta. A reasonably quick, half-empty flight on the nation’s flag carrier, then a drive to our accommodations in St. Julian’s, a seafront district adjacent the Maltese tourist hub of Paceville. Malta’s distinctive architecture — white limestone buildings with square painted bay windows — was everywhere apparent. Mathew’s friend Jasmin met us at the tidy two-bedroom apartment we’d booked for the week for dinner and a catch-up on the past nine months.

“It’s been really different since the Revolution,” Jasmin said. The hope of the Arab Spring has faded in Egypt. Most of the big foreign universities and embassies located near Tahrir Square that I spotted (and occasionally tried to photograph) in my travels back in 2008 have relocated out of the city center.

JasminMathewWalk“I guess I was a bit naive going in,” she added, having only visited the country once before some five years back. While her safety has generally not been in question – well-to-do enclaves in even the most dangerous of places typically know how to keep themselves protected – the generalized stress of living in a land of protests and gunfire, of curfews and marginalized rights for women, inevitably takes its toll.

And yet… I know many who may judge, who may leap to say “I told you so,” but as a global trekker I disagree: it’s those experiences in foreign (and sometimes uncomfortable) locales that make the life of a traveler vital, interesting, precious. Mathew, ever the Internet marketer, seized upon her situation – doing work as beneficial yet prosaic as education amid a backdrop of historic turmoil and change – as a fantastic opportunity to document, to chronicle her experiences living history firsthand. Having had forebears who endured World Wars and national struggles for independence across the globe, I can attest to the importance of telling those stories.

Next day, with the weather humid but a bit cloudy, we crossed Paceville on foot in search of coffee and breakfast… and ran smack into the “we’re not in California  (or big-city Europe) anymore”. Mathew tried in vain to find a cafe with almond or soy milk. Abandoning that quest, we whiled away some of the afternoon at the charming little sandy beach nearby on St. George’s Bay.

Better beach luck tomorrow, we hoped… or maybe not. We again woke to cloudy skies, initially putting a damper on our plans to visit Golden Bay and Malta’s one fabled, secluded nude beach (unlike a lot of Europe, the island nation is a mite conservative on such matters). Still, we decided to go for it: we boarded one of the island’s efficient buses and rode through narrow medieval streets and across vineyards sprawling across rolling hillsides to the western shore.

GnejnaBayWaterOnce more, the weather deities cooperated: the cloud layer thinned, revealing dazzling blue waters splashing against bright limestone cliffs. Google Maps pointed us toward some narrow, steep hiking trails over one bay and into another. Over hill and dale, we finally reached an isolated tongue of land with a telltale marker that we’d reached Point Nude: carved into the soft rock was a big cock-and-balls.

The Mediterranean’s still pretty chilly in late-April, and my water princess self normally refuses to dunk in seas colder than 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, Mathew’s baseball cap had other plans: it flew off his head in the wind and landed in the seas below.

“It’s my favorite one!” He cried, with a pizza design he later discovered Beyonce wearing on a shirt. Suffice it to say we went in after it. The things we do for love.

BoatCruiseVallettaNext day, some stuff closer in: a bit of shopping in Sliema (note to self: do not bring clothes-aholic boyfriend to European Zara ever again). Then a bus around the bay to Valletta, Malta’s capital and the inner core of the urban area where we were based. Its narrow maze of streets — grid-style, a rarity in the old world — stretched out like medieval webbing across the tip of a narrow peninsula. After discovering the city’s cathedral was closed at the hour we visited, we nonetheless made it to the Sanctuary Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, taking in its glorious dome and vaguely eastern-style Christian iconography. We walked along the medieval ramparts, imagining ourselves as old-time knights or mythical characters from the Books and TV series Game of Thrones (the first season of which was filmed partly around here).

“Hey check it out,” Mathew said, pointing at a restaurant listing on his laptop. “This place has a vegetarian menu!”

We were hopeful that the upscale Thai joint he discovered would offer more options… but when we got to the establishment — a theme-y eatery in the Hilton with soft Asian music playing in the background — we got the sense they kinda didn’t want us there. After waiting and waiting and feeling more and more brushed off, we hoofed it out of there and went uber-casual for dinner instead. I’m still not quite sure what happened, but I get the sense that old-school notions still persist here, and our youthful appearance and casual (though not too casual) attire may have been to blame.

After all, it’s not everywhere that a hoodie-clad twentysomething could be a software billionaire.

BoatCruiseBeforeSomething else you should do on an island is get off it for a spell. So, next morning, we hopped on a vintage Turkish Gulet for a boat tour. Although both Jasmin and Mathew suffer occasional seasickness (I don’t, interestingly enough; bumpy cars and planes are my Achilles heel), they were confident they’d be alright to make this journey… that is, until it became apparent that this was no quick ferry trip but potentially a daylong odyssey on a boat with relatively choppy seas.

“Will we be getting off the boat?” I inquired to the fellows piloting the craft as I popped my head into the ship’s mini-bridge.

“Maybe, if we get lucky,” one replied. That didn’t seem like much of a response, so I inquired a bit further.

BoatCruiseBlueLagoonBeach“You say only one question, now you ask three!” snapped the skipper, a salty seadog with persona inspired by Robert Shaw‘s character in Jaws. I returned to my concerned (and slightly ill) party, who were starting to kick themselves for us not researching this further. As we cruised away from Malta Island and through the harbor in neighboring Gozo, I was starting to worry as well. Finally we turned and — yes — did make landfall at the Blue Lagoon, a suitably gorgeous, azure stretch of water between the island of Comino and a smaller neighboring islet. Blue, sandy seas gently enveloped rocky yet verdant hillsides. We ate a rather tasty buffet lunch onboard ship (vegetarian options included, to Mathew’s relief) and made Notes To Self: on future such excursions, investigate both off-ship and dining options. Yet another adjustment for us both; for Mathew, this is his first overseas trip not done en famille; for me, well, it’s my first such trip with a partner and friend.

One bit of interesting narration from the crew: Malta’s history as a Christian nation is almost as old as Christianity itself. St. Paul, the religion’s marketing genius, is said to have been shipwrecked here. To this day the islet where that happened (and the bay surrounding it) are named after him.

MathewScooterWe bade Jasmin farewell the next morning for her flight home, then on our last day did something that’s become almost old hat for me from Nice to Cape Town to Ko Phangan to Vancouver: we rented a scooter for the afternoon.

Although a similar 125cc number to the one I have back home, this one was had a finicky starter that took some finesse navigating Malta’s stop-and-go traffic. Nonetheless, we made it partway across the island to the country’s ancient capital, Mdina, a tiny walled city with armsbreadth-narrow laneways (no cars allowed, mostly), glorious ancient churches, and one of the most heavenly spots to enjoy lunch, alfresco overlooking the verdant plains and densely-populated seacoast.

MdinaStreetMeArmsOut2From the sublime to the prosaic: I was running low on clothes and figured I’d try my hand at  laundry. Our apartment came with one of those compact European-style wash-and-dry all-in-one units… and it was here that my fondness for new-Old World contraptions came undone. The thing possessed a bewildering array of knobs and meaningless pictograms – and, of course, the one-page set of instructions for the rental unit included nothing on how to work the dratted appliance. Through trial and error, I got my clothes to wash and (sort of) rinse and spin.

Fun times.

SpinolaBayLastNiteAfter a stellar, friendly dinner (unlike the previous night) at a nearby eatery later that evening, Mathew and I strolled the seafront promenade abutting Spinola Bay and pondered the journey and destination. Malta’s indeed a stellar spot, with millennia of history married to jaw-droppingly beautiful seafront locales. But its integration into Greater Europe still feels incomplete. A British expat on our boat ride the other day explained away some of it to the island nation’s past, of eons of subjugation and occupation by foreign overlords that (he felt) left a populace that’s a bit brusque and wary of outsiders. Fair enough. But I can only hope the Maltese adopt some of the vibe of the Thai, the Khmer, or the Jordanians of my travels, all of whom, in spite of having lived in lands of hardship and adversity, nonetheless put forth a warm, friendly welcome to we errant wanderers of the globe.

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Printemps a Paris

March 13th, 2014 by David Jedeikin

JaxPlatform9+3Qtrs2For many visitors from North America, London’s where their Europe experience begins and ends. Grand though London may be, however, I wanted to give my nephews and nieces a bit of a broader perspective. Throw in the fact that we all speak French (coming from Montreal) and the proximity of Europe’s two largest cities…and Paris starts to look like a no-brainer.

Getting there was equally simple: we rose bright and early last Friday morning, checked out of our London hotel…and two quick Tube trains later we arrived at the monumental St. Pancras sta74tion. But first – a hop across the way to neighboring Kings Cross station to get a picture in front of the famed Platform Nine and Three-Quarters of Harry Potter lore. When I last visited, there was a simple trolley stuck halfway into a brick wall; well, they’ve made a bigger show of it of late, with a clutter of Asian tourists lined up to have the photo professionally taken, House Gryffindor scarf and all. We opted to skip that and took our own photos, thank you very much.

JaxEurostarBoard1After that, a re-enactment of my own discovery of real-life wizardry: Jackson and I rode up the angled moving sidewalk to the long conveyance emblazoned with the “Eurostar” logo. We found our appointed seat, and – right on time – rolled out of St. Pancras and were soon racing along the English countryside before disappearing into the tunnel connecting England with France.

Suffice it to say, Jackson was as impressed as I was five years back.

LePainWe rolled into Paris a few minutes early, and a couple of hops on the Metro got us to our hotel near the Invalides on the Left Bank. Just as it did when I first laid eyes on this city’s streets, the beauty and majesty of the place overwhelmed us. So did the bread: we stopped in at a local boulanger to have our first taste of Paris baguettes. As good as I remember them.

As it got dark, we strolled to the Champs de Mars nearby. All atwinkle at the end of the park lay the city’s biggest, if not most famous, landmark: that bit of witchery in iron brought to us by Monsieur Eiffel.

As when I was last here, the lines to get into the place, even after dark, were long. This remained the case the next morning, when we strolled past after a breakfast of yummy crepes (banane et chocolat, thank you very much). Vowing to try again at a more off-peak hour, we crossed the Seine and strolled through the 16th Arrondissement to another of the big Paris landmarks: the Arc de Triomphe.

ArcSpiralStairs2Jackson’s an avid hockey player, and a goalie to boot, so his legs were in fine shape to make the climb along the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the Arc. Parts of it were closed for restoration (a never-ending battle in monument-saturated European capitals) but enough was open, and the day fine and clear, for us to behold the French capital all around us. 

We then had a most pressing appointment: in Japan a few years back, land of sushi-boat eateries and “maid cafés,” some enterprising restauranteurs had concocted something called a “cat café.” Partnering with local shelters, these establishments served a variety of snacky treats (to the humans) while an array of felines – specially selected for their social demeanor – roamed the place freely and interacted with the patrons. The concept has now spread to Europe, where one opened in Paris last fall and was instantly booked up for weeks. Suffice it to say, crazy cat lady that I have become, a visit to Le Café des Chats was a mandatory part of our agenda. Again, I’m not sure if Jackson obliged out of actual interest or merely to pacify his nutty Uncle David.

MeCafeDesChats4The place, occupying a couple of floors of an ancient building in the Marais, was a delight, serving tasty lunches amid the watchful eyes of the furry creatures (no feeding the animals permitted). The cats are indeed friendly – some curl up on people’s laps; others meander the place, brushing up against random chairs and human legs. Atop one cat tree dozed a small tabby – before another black cat jumped up and began eagerly grooming his mate before she decided she’d had enough and jumped off.

A splendid spectacle for all us humans, to be sure. 

“Can we rent a bike?”

Jackson had been asking me that since we got to Paris, the city that was one of the first to introduce bike sharing. The principle is simple: sign up online (one-day “memberships” are now available for less than the cost of a Metro ticket); proceed to a bike sharing station (they’re scattered throughout the city); punch in your membership code at the automated kiosk; select a bike, and voila! You have your own set of two wheels to ride about town. Rentals are by the half-hour, and the bike can be returned to any station with free space.

JaxVelibRideSeineWe rode along the Champs de Mars, passing the Eiffel Tower and its massive queues yet again. We then turned east and rode along the Seine, all the way to the Jardin des Tuileries. After a bit of a hunt of a free Velib station, we ditched the bikes and headed over to the next Paris landmark: The Louvre.

I wasn’t much of an arts/museum nut as a boy, so I made sure not to inflict Jackson with too much of the massive complex’s treasures. We once again snagged the multimedia audioguides I’d rented some five years back. Technology having changed so quickly, however, the then-high-tech guides felt dated and clumsy. We used them to navigate to the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, then pretty much abandoned them as we strolled through the medieval castle ruins and exhibits chronicling the centuries-long growth of the Louvre.

BatobusBoatA bite of lunch, then home via a different scenic route: although the Seine isn’t a much of a commuter river as the Thames in London, there is a river ferry service that (more languidly) makes several stops around the city. We hopped on the Batobus near Notre Dame, rounded the islands of the Seine where Paris began millennia ago, then headed back westward before getting off at the Pont Alexandre. We crossed the magnificent bridge and ambled over the great lawn in front of the Invalides. It was glorious out, and Parisians of all ages were sunning themselves or playing soccer (what else?).

EiffelTowerLine3The next morning, we willed ourselves to get up early to see the ever-crowded Paris icon that beckoned so close to our accommodations. Grabbing some juice from a local Carrefour market, some pain au chocolat from a local bakery, and some coffee to go from a nearby café, we marched up the Champs de Mars and planted ourselves in the blessedly short (but rapidly growing) line for la Tour Eiffel.

“Do you know how tall it is?” asked some Dutch visitors in line beside us. Surprisingly, I got the height (almost) right; the tower’s about a thousand feet tall (uhm, three hundred meters), a bit shorter than the John Hancock Center in Chicago. Only a moderately tall structure today, in the age of the Burj Khalifa and Shanghai Tower – but consider that it was built 125 years ago and remained the manmade-structure champ for over forty years after its construction, and its impact appears clear.

EiffelTowerViewTop1Our impulse to come early was right-on: as the place opened at 9:30 we had a very short wait to buy tickets and clamber aboard the inclined elevators that ascend smoothly to the first level.

The view was splendid from the mid-level platform, but things really kicked into high gear as we reached the top. The day was a bit hazy, but that only added to the magic of the scene: with no tall buildings nearby, Paris was laid out like a blanket before us, curving mansard roofs wrapping around buildings like giant gift boxes. In the hazy distance, the modern towers of La Defense stood like soldiers massed on the city’s perimeter. The hill of Montmartre crouched toylike in the distance. And the grounds of the Champs de Mars and the Trocadéro across the Seine bracketed the tower with jewel-like symmetry. As with so many so many spots dubbed “grand” or “breathtaking” around the world, photos can only capture a fragment of the true experience.

As I’ve said to Jackson many times, this is one reason why we must travel.

JaxStSulpiceRoseLineWhen in Europe, one must visit churches — if only for their sheer majesty, beauty, and architectural innovation. We were already blown away by Winchester Cathedral back in England, but Notre Dame still managed to hold its own in that no-doubnt Middle Ages my-church-is-bigger-than-yours competition. Not too far away, around the Latin Quarter, was a landmark made famous by the movie we’d seen last night: the Church of Saint-Sulpice, the spot alleged to contain part of the “Rose Line” that marked a onetime Prime Meridian running through Paris. Though much of the mythology depicted in the book and film have been debunked (and the Archdiocese of Paris apparently forbade filming in the church – the film scenes are sets and reconstructions), it was still fun to imagine this spot as part of some vast, shadowy conspiracy. No dramatic chase scenes with albino monks for us, though the shaft of sunlight filtering its way through church windows did add a bit of witchery to this neoclassical behemoth perched quietly in a Paris neighborhood.

SewerMuseum1Many friends and family have been impressed with my going-on-twelve nephew’s fascination with a myriad of subjects, from hockey (he is Canadian, after all) to subways to, shall we say, some other subterranean urban infrastructure. With that in mind, we headed back across town to an attraction Jackson had been curious to check out: les Egouts de Paris, the Paris sewer museum.

Rambling across some old (and thankfully disused) sewer tunnels astride some still-operational storm channels under the Pont de l’Alma, the exhibits were actually incredibly informative. Like urban rail and road networks, sewage is in fact a critical part of what makes modern cities function. Without proper mechanisms to efficiently remove and treat waste, cities in the Middle Ages had become breeding grounds for plagues and disease. It was only in the later 19th Century, care of engineer Eugène Belgrand in the Baron Haussmann era of urban rebuilding, that the mostly modern techniques of sewage and water were perfected.

Best of all, unlike most Paris attractions, the place was deserted. One tip from this humble visitor that might boost attendance: provide nose plugs. Even though the, shall we say, hardest-working parts of the system aren’t on view, the scent in some areas is still rather ripe.

I guess it’s no wonder we waited a bit to have lunch.

JaxA380A night’s sleep and a breakfast baguette later, and time to go home: we clambered aboard multiple RER commuter trains and airport connectors to Paris’s second airport, the aging but functional Orly. We got in to Heathrow a few minutes early and had a minor delay there – my first ever with British Airways. But boy, did they make up for it: in addition to favorable winds cutting our arrival delay to barely half an hour, they also, upon learning that it was Jackson’s birthday, gave him a business class meal, an announcement over the PA, a birthday cake with a card signed by the entire flight crew, and a tour of the cockpit after we landed.

JaxCockpit1Suffice it to say they’ve re-won my loyalty for all future such trips.

We were greeted by Jackson’s entire family at the airport in Montreal. It was an emotional reunion; he’s the eldest and the first family member to take such a voyage. After a bit of birthday cake, the usual parceling out of travel gifts, and much catching up, we collapsed into jetlag-induced slumber.



Okay, I can do this was the thought that went through my head as it hit the pillow.

Much as I’d felt after my first outing on my world trip, I’ve got that “moonshot feeling” — that it’s indeed possible to take a niece or nephew to London and Paris, show them a great time, and deliver them safely home. I aim to make this the first of many journeys across the pond (and possibly elsewhere) with my kin’s new generation of world travelers.

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A New Generation Takes Flight

March 8th, 2014 by David Jedeikin

MeJax“The explorer who will not come back or send back his ships to tell his tale is not an explorer, only an adventurer; and his sons are born in exile.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

Just about five and a half years ago, I strapped on a backpack and boarded a British Airways flight from Montreal to my first overseas destination. I hugged my little nieces and nephews farewell, showing them on a map my bewildering tangle of planned global destinations. Two years later, when I put out Wander the Rainbow, I dedicated the book to them.

And yet, somehow, that didn’t feel like enough.

Just as travel writing inspired my world journey, so too the next adventure: about three years back I caught an article about an uncle taking a tween-aged nephew on a trip to the UK; I surveyed my sisters, who enthusiastically endorsed the notion; with my frequent flyer balance growing once more, I matched award dates with school holidays…and am now sitting on another British Airways triple-seven with Jackson, my eleven-year-old nephew, on his first-ever voyage out of North America.

Of course, no journey of mine seems to start without some hitches: this time around, an almost three-hour delay on my transcontinental leg from San Francisco; an overnight delay of my round-the-world backpack — a first for it after roughly 80,000 miles on its odometer; not to mention the fact that I’ve never traveled — nay, been alone for more than an hour or two — with a child before. Was this voyage headed for disaster before we’d even left the Americas?

JaxOnPlane I didn’t manage to sleep at all on the plane, and arrived wrecked at Heathrow as we cleared Customs and hopped on the Heathrow Express. We headed out of Paddington Station’s bustle, dropped our bags at the hotel, and proceeded on what turned into an Indiana Jones-like quest to obtain a local SIM card. Finally we got one; with a local number I texted everyone far and near and headed on the Tube to see the folks partly responsible for my and Jackson’s entire existence, Sidney and Ray Lightman.

It’s been almost three decades since I met the Lightmans for the first time… And yet I’d be hard-pressed to see much of a difference in Sidney, who’s pushing ninety. He’s as sharp and witty as always, and regaled Jackson with stories of me and his grandmother in our respective youths. Ray, who’d been in up-and-down health through the years, was looking quite good. We didn’t stay long, as I was so out of it I think I was almost starting to hallucinate. So back we headed to our hotel — a cute little spot in a row of Georgian townhomes near Paddington — where I broke my cardinal jetlag-avoidance rule (not for the first time) and took a nap. Jackson, of course, was fine — he slept a bit on the plane and has boundless energy and enthusiasm greater than I’ve ever had, even at his age.

Looks like we may have a new world traveler on our hands.

JaxTrafalgarSqChickenWe didn’t want to leave Day One at that, though, so with umbrellas in tow we headed out for a preliminary reconnoiter. Walking east past Marble Arch we strolled down Oxford Street, bustling with shops and crowds and vendors selling Belgian waffles drizzled with chocolate (had to have those, of course). Turning down Regent Street, we ducked through the narrow muddle of Carnaby Street toward Trafalgar Square. The stone lions around Nelson’s Column greeted us in their solemnity, broken up somewhat by a giant blue chicken sculpture astride Canada House.

Continuing our meander, we reached the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

“It’s big!” Jackson remarked as we stared up at the huge clock face. Oh, that probably elicits an “obvi!” (As my California boyfriend would put it) but in my travels I’ve grown accustomed to landmarks seeming smaller than they appear in photos. Jackson marveled at the detail of the Gothic Revival stone carvings; he never fails to be fascinated with new things. Chalk another one up for his incipient traveler genes.

LondonEyeLoAngleComing back to London with a first-timer meant that doing the more conventional touristic sights was back on the agenda; as in all my travels, I had that question running in my head: is it worth it or just a tourist trap? I pondered that as we bought tickets to the London Eye and were ushered into their experiential “4-D” intro film (actually quite good). Lines were short to nonexistent as we entered one of the Eye’s capsules and began the slow, smooth roll up to the top.

It was dusk and the day’s clouds were clearing. The Eye was an even better experience than the Singapore Flyer (which I did visit on my big trip), being in the middle of one of Planet Earth’s biggest and busiest cities, with few skyscrapers to block the view (though more are going up every year). It was dusk during our spin, perfect for watching the lights come on across the breadth of the metropolis.

After a hop to Leicester Square for a bite of dinner, we headed back and tuckered out early; my afternoon nap in no way dissuaded my body from crashing and getting eleven hours of sleep. We awoke not too early the next morning and headed east — to explore London’s origins and bits of its present and future.

TowerLondonWideWe got off the Tube at Tower Hill (actually not a tube at all: we took the Circle Line, the much-maligned part-surface route that now sports new trains — golly, why do Londoners complain about their sprawling, efficient Underground?) Just up the way, that icon of Old England: William the Conqueror’s White Tower, part of the complex of edifices known as the Tower of London.

We arrived just in time for the 11:30 tour care of the Tower Wardens; it was just as gory, comedic, and delightful as I remember it from last time I was here, as a lad not much older than Jackson is now.

TowerLondonTour1“So this moat that you see,” said the colorfully-clad Warden, “was where all of London deposited their rubbish and wastes and other bits that came out of them.” He said with a wink. “It all got washed up in the Thames with the tides and got deposited over in France. Any French people here today?”

A smattering of tourists meekly raised their hands.

“Sorry ’bout that!” He said. The crowd guffaws.

The tour took us through early English history, replete with palace intrigues, imprisonments, and more than a few beheadings. Afterward, we stood on the moving sidewalks through a dimly-lit chamber to check out the Crown Jewels. Those Royals sure know their bling.

From Tower we headed to Bridge — Tower Bridge. Although it’s a masterwork of Victorian engineering, the bascule drawbridge is all Gothic-y styled, presumably to match the Tower next door. Looking at all those gears, pistons, and coal-fired boilers, it’s remarkable to consider that it was only the second bridge to span the Thames as late as 1894.

EmiratesAirlineWide1We continued our foray east on the Docklands Light Railway, all the way to the Emirates Air Line, a gondola built across the Thames to North Greenwich. The last time I was on one of these was with a snowboard in tow; it’s a bit out of the mix of things but judging by the pace of eastward construction, it wouldn’t surprise me if it becomes a commuter route in years to come.

Jackson’s a bit of a ship nut, having memorized facts about practically every ocean liner and cruise ship in existence. So Greenwich was a natural spot for him: we examined the Cutty Sark, the 19th Century clipper ship that’s been drydocked here for decades; back when I visited as a boy it was fully exposed to the elements, but in recent years it’s been partly enclosed in a steel-and-glass structure that affords entry to the underside of the ship. It manages to be most majestic and a bit fragile all at once, considering that it did global voyages back in the age of sail.

JaxPrimeMeridianSome of how that was accomplished was explained to us up the hill at the Royal Observatory, where an exhibit on longitude told the tale of how that bit of cartography was figured out. If you think about it, latitude is easy: angle of the sun tells all. But those imaginary lines running north to south along the globe aren’t parallel to each other, and in an age before airplanes and satellites, divining what was east or west of where was no mean feat.

No trip to the Observatory would be complete without a stop on the most famous longitude line of all, the Prime Meridian. Leave it to those beavering Brits and their maritime technological prowess (okay, coupled with a dash of arrogance) to set the zero marker right here in their nation’s capital. Jackson stood astride both hemispheres just as I had done decades ago.

ThamesFerry2A colleague of mine who’d traveled around Europe last year with his family recommended a pizza eatery overlooking the river on London’s South Bank. So…what better way to get from one aquatic spot to another than by boat? Back when I visited years ago, this was practically the only way to get to Greenwich from central London, and it was slow. Not anymore: a bunch of high-speed catamarans ply the Thames, carrying commuters across the sprawling city. As we reached Canary Wharf, crowds of people in business attire boarded the ship. We then cruised back under Tower Bridge, past Southwark and the Tate Modern. I still recall how my family friends in London years ago referred to the South Bank as “no-man’s land.” Here too, no more: both sides of the river, once a rotting pile of industrial buildings astride a stinking waterway, have been transformed in the wake of the river’s cleanup. Factories have been converted into elegant homes; new buildings have been erected bearing both housing and workspaces; a riverwalk promenade offers opportunities for an evening stroll. We sat at the Gourmet Pizza Company and, as we had the previous evening, watched the sun go down and the lights come on in this dazzling city.

“Can we go see the countryside?” Jackson asked at some point early in our voyage. I didn’t think we’d have the chance until one of my pals down in Winchester said he was free for the day. So, next morning, we hopped on a couple of crowded Tubes to Waterloo Station, where, after navigating the confusion of ticket machines and U.S. credit cards (my adopted homeland is, at long last, set to adopt the now-global EMV “chip & PIN” standard) we snagged our tickets and headed out of the city.

AdamJaxWinchesterCathedralAdam met us at the station and gave us a grand morning’s tour of this little town’s sights: Winchester was once an English capital city, and pieces of its castle remain intact. It’s also the final home and ultimate resting place of one of Britain’s literary luminaries (and my mother’s — Jackson’s grandmother’s — faves): Jane Austen. We passed by the home where she died before heading to her gravesite, the church with the longest nave in Europe, Winchester Cathedral.

Having spent a couple of months in Europe on my big world voyage (and after), I’d say I’ve seen more than my share of churches and cathedrals. But in spite of church overload, Winchester totally blew me away (and impressed Jackson as well). Stone carvings, vaulted ceilings, a glorious wooden screen, a medieval illuminated Bible…this place has it all. Adam confessed (pun sort-of intended) that he finds this spot even more impressive (and much quieter) than Westminster Abbey. I agree, and heartily recommend this little town with the big church for a wondrous, not-as-touristic experience.

WinchesterCathedralQuireAfter our meander through the cathedral, we met Adam’s dad for lunch in a local pub. A mellow Aussie sort, he and I had far too much to talk about once I found out what he did for a living — which also explained how he managed to pay his son a visit from halfway around the world on a lark: he’s a pilot for Virgin Australia. As our fish & chips, burgers, and Adam’s liquid lunch of Guinness arrived, we chatted endlessly about aircraft configurations, long-haul routes, and the perils of automated flying. I’m not sure if Adam and Jackson followed along or were secretly rolling their eyes.

We could have lingered in Winchester longer, but we had to get back for the next stop on the tour: a taste of West End theatre.

After a meal of Indian food (what’s a visit to London without that?) we headed to the Victoria Palace Theatre for Billy Elliot, the musical based on the 2000 movie that’s long been one of my favorites. I wasn’t sure how this gritty indie film (albeit one with a Hollywood-ish “boy triumphs over adversity” theme) would translate to the stage… but it did quite nicely, with some truly arresting visuals (the miner’s lamps shining in the dark in one number: chilling; the bit where young Billy dances with his future self to Swan Lake: magical), and a political subtext that took some explaining to Jackson — though he’s arguably now one of the more informed twelve-year-old Montrealers on the vagaries of Thatcherism and British coal strikes in the 1980s.

JaxAlbertMemorialFor our last full day in London, we mixed up sightseeing and socializing. We got up a bit late, and after a quick breakfast at Pret A Manger (my go-to lite-bite hangout in London, where they’re to be found everywhere), we crossed Hyde Park under surprisingly warm, sunny skies. Passing Kensington Palace (hello, Will, Kate & company) and the Royal Albert Hall (stopping for a photo in front of the Albert Memorial — I think Jackson’s managed to be in photos in front of every landmark I posed in front of in my time here decades ago), we headed toward Cromwell Road to our day’s destination: the London Science Museum.

Arguably one of the world’s oldest and most notable such institutions, the place has been greatly updated since I was here last: the classics — Foucault’s Pendulum, Stephenson’s Rocket locomotive — are still around, but they’ve been augmented by exhibits on 3-D printing, a motion-simulator 3-D theatre bearing an experiential CGI reenactment of an Apollo mission to the moon, and an IMAX theatre where we took in a gorgeous 3-D film (narrated by Jim Carrey) on undersea life that was achingly beautiful even for those who think they’ve seen it all.

SusanRichardJaxWe were joined on this outing by Susan & Richard Baruch, the second generation of the London clan whose ties with my family go back to the 1950s. They even hauled us to Covent Garden, to the gift shop of the London Transport Museum (a visit to which Jackson will have to do another time — such are the constraints of short-duration travel) for the all-important “Mind the Gap” T-shirts; after a few days riding the Tube in this city, it’s a mantra no less etched into one’s skull as that song on Disney theme parks’ “It’s a Small World” ride.

After another visit to Susan’s parents, another of their daughters, Joy, took us for a splendid meal of Thai food (with a stop for some uber-rich chocolate ice cream for dessert) in trendy Camden. London never ceases to amaze me with its bustle, its diversity, and the dynamism of its inhabitants. Our time here was brief but, as always, fabulously memorable.

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Rocky Mountain (Legal) High

January 24th, 2014 by David Jedeikin

MeMathewTubingLift1In 2013, my life changed in a number of very big ways.

The biggest shift, I’d say, was when a new man entered my life… which, course, begged the obvious question: what’ll it do to my status as Inveterate Solo Traveler?

Well, only one way to find out: as a Christmas gift, I booked Mathew on a trip with me to a well-trodden (for me) but mostly undiscovered (for him) place: the Colorado Rockies.

I hit on a way for both of us to enjoy our collective passions: I’d snowboard some of the time; he’d go in for more earthbound diversions – cooking/food blogging (baking at high-altitude was something he’d always been curious to try), plus some time at a local day spa where I’d snagged him a gift certificate.

Getting there involved the usual mix of efficiency and chaos: a daredevil car service driver in an SUV dodged traffic to SFO by mountaineering over a freeway exit on the 101 to get to the airport; our flight was packed with the usual range of vacationers taking to the Rockies; the rental-car place at the Denver airport was a morass of families milling about as uniformed agents ushered them into waiting vehicles. Driving to the mountains after a full day of work, a two-hour plane ride, and adjustment to elevations above 5,000 feet left us exhausted and headachy as we checked into our ski condo on Friday night. A part of me worried: will my first big vacation with a new partner be a disaster?

Well, a good night’s sleep cures much, and I arose the next morning (with the help of a triple-shot coffee drink) to experience something I never thought I’d see in the United States: the ability to purchase cannabis products legally for recreational use.

A number of episodes in Wander the Rainbow involved drug use — something that raised a few eyebrows, but had become (recreationally) routine to my formerly straight-edge self. All that doors of perception stuff actually rang true to me when I first experimented with various substances in years past. While I acknowledge addiction is a very real problem, I’ve failed to see the point of criminalizing such behavior.

It’s been remarkable to watch American society gradually come around to this point of view: Colorado — and, soon, Washington State — are the first places to actually legalize the sale of pot after almost 70 years of prohibition. Suffice it to say, that was part of my motivation for coming out here to check it out. And so, bright and early on Saturday morning, I headed over to the Breckenridge Cannabis Club right on Main Street to check it all out.

Legal weed isn’t cheap: substantial taxes levied on it, coupled with strong demand, has pushed the price to double that of the medicinal stuff. Still, it was so gratifying to walk in and purchase openly and legally, just as I had in Amsterdam some five years ago on my big world trip. I asked our “budtender” if there had been any negative fallout from this landmark change.

“Yeah, we had one guy with a fake ID a few days ago,” she said. Something my sisters used to do to get into clubs in their teens back home in Montreal, I thought.

With, uhm, necessities taken care of, I walked Mathew to his spa appointment, then headed up on the lift (our rental condo was walking distance to both) to explore Breckenridge.

BreckViewTreesThe Colorado Rockies, with sun-soaked, lower-latitude, high-elevation bases (Breck’s at 9,600 feet) don’t possess the same dizzying vertical drops or above-treeline acreage of the European Alps. However, they offer similar rugged terrain and some of the driest, fluffiest snow around. The peaks of Summit County were where I’d first learned to snowboard a decade back, and it had been awhile since my board had touched their slopes. Breckenridge specifically was a draw, as the resort had just opened up vast swatches of new terrain, including intermediate-level trails from peak to base. The experience, for me, was a satisfying blend of old and new, as I beheld the Tenmile Range that Breck sprawls across from new vantage points, while also reliving the first time I’d stumbled onto the Peak 9 chairlift strapped into my then-virgin board.

BreckTownNiteBreckenridge is one of a number of historic mountain towns that just happened to abut slopes offering a just-right combination of steepness and snow to make skiing ideal (Aspen, Telluride, and Zermatt are other examples). Like those other spots, Breck has an air of exclusivity about it… but unlike most of them, Breck’s also managed to retain something of a youthful, grungy, fun-loving vibe. My ride-mates on various lifts up the mountain discussed hopes for a “Stoner Bowl” (the Denver Broncos versus the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl); bedroom activities with girlfriends the night before (a bit TMI for me at two in the afternoon, but hey, why not?); and overt admiration for my youthful countenance (and somewhat younger boyfriend).

“The Coug!” shouted the two drunk guys with whom I’d just shared a gondola.

Oh, Breck, I smiled. How I’ve missed thee.

Saturday night we opted to hit up the town for a bit of dinner and shopping. Mathew’s a highly-creative vegetarian chef, which in a way facilitated our choice of restaurant: the fondue joint right on Main Street proved a good pick. Slightly slow, European-style service (the place is owned by some Belgians these days) but truly delectable melted cheese and (what else?) chocolate fondue for dessert.

A longer slope day for me on Sunday was punctuated by some home-cooked meals. Mathew had taken control of the condo kitchen and cooked breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a next-day’s breakfast to boot. His high-altitude experiments (all delicious) are to be found here on his food blog. The experience of coming home, after a day spent riding the slopes, to a boyfriend’s cooking was a new and marvelous experience I certainly hope to repeat.

MathewTubesOne goal on this trip was to include Mathew on winter adventures. It began even before we departed, when I helped him buy some winter apparel (“I need a jacket that’s this bulky?” he asked. Oh, native Californians). It reached a crescendo on Sunday night, when we scampered onto the gondola at Keystone (Breckenridge’s sister resort) to enjoy the latter-day variant of sledding: alpine tubing, basically riding down half-pipe-style trails in an oversized inner tube. With some pop dance music playing and the setting sun coloring the mountains and sky intense shades of orange, it was a fabulous blend of childlike fun and ethereal, Rocky Mountain magic.

I’ve often said that it’s the people that make a journey. One reason I’d continued coming to Colorado to snowboard was the cluster of friends I’d made out here over the years. Time and circumstances had caused a number of us to lose touch, so on Monday we beat the traffic and headed out of the mountains at midday to reconnect with a couple of them. It’s gratifying to see that everyone’s doing quite well in their various affairs – though as with my life, it seems that the only constant in everyone’s is change. My punk-rock friend Eric is making his longstanding dream happen and is recording music and touring with a band. Tony, a former colleague from my harrowing days in Michigan a decade back, is engaged to a new gal, and both are exploring possible new places to live and work. Even Mathew, on this trip, concluded a round of job-hunting and interviewing and received a job offer.

It just never stops.

BreckViewSummit1Heading down my final run of the weekend, I mused about it all as I often do while beholding Zarathustra-scale scenery. Our final day in the mountains would have been my father’s eighty-first birthday. He loved snowsports, loved the boreal wonder of the great peaks, loved the exhilaration of gliding down trails amid glades of evergreens. All the recent changes in life, changes this journey both affirmed and offered escape from, spoke to his sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. These are traits I’m proud to have adopted. And now, with my newfound partner, am able to share in a whole new way.

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Guest Post: Exploring Gorgeous Venice

December 26th, 2013 by David Jedeikin

Wander the Rainbow is proud to present this guest post by travel discounter FareBuzz.com.

Venice is one of Italy’s most popular destinations. It is not only famous for its waterways but also for its seafood, gondolas, architecture, wine, and many other attractions. If you’ve been waiting for the perfect time to get away… your wait is over! Right now, Fare Buzz is offering huge discounts on every booking — in addition to Venice, you’ll find Baltimore, New Orleans, New York City and many other destinations on sale. Book your tickets now and fly to Venice and beyond! This famed Italian city city has much to offer; here are a few highlights:

Piazza San Marco

Undoubtedly one of the focal points of the city, offering up unique aspects in one sweeping panorama. As a first-time visitor, just standing in the middle of the square and taking in St. Marks Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, and Torre dell’Orologio is an incomparable experience.

gondola ride

Experience a gondola ride

The city is a walker’s paradise, but for many, a visit to Venice would be incomplete without a leisurely ride through the city’s waterways. So hop in with a loved one and be serenaded by a gondolier for a truly romantic Venetian experience.

Campanile di San Marco

The Campanile is the tallest bell tower in the city. Climb up to the top, gaze down at the historic city, and feel on top of the world for a spell.

Tour the Grand Canal

There is no better way to befriend the city like taking a tour of the Grand Canal. A ride through this majestic waterway brings you a step closer to the city and its architecture, history, and culture.

Sample Venetian cuisine

Tickle your taste buds to the flavors of authentic Venetian cuisine. Apart from  traditional pizza, delicacies like oca in onto, and polpette will transport you deep into the flavors of the Veneto region. Be prepared to savor the unconventional.

Explore priceless artworks

The city’s waterways add charm and beauty, but impressive artworks by many masters also play a pivotal role in Venice’s aesthetic heritage. Visit one of the numerous art galleries in the city and be stunned by the superlative imagination and artistry of the great painters of old.

Say “salute” with a glass of wine

Venice features some of the best white wines in the region. No day in Venice is complete without sampling a glass or two.

Try some gelato

Try the popular gelato in one of the city’s many gelaterias. These can be found all over the city and are often worth a second (or third) repeat visit.

Indulge in seafood

Perched on the Adriatic, Venice is a hotbed of seafood, replete with foodies from across the globe descending on the city to sample its unique preparations.

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Coming Soon to an iDevice Near You…

September 11th, 2013 by David Jedeikin

CUPalaceBldg6Hard to believe tomorrow marks five years since I set out across the Atlantic on my round-the-world adventure.

A lot’s happened since then… not just to me or to the world, but to the world of travel as well: a few more destinations have popped onto indie travelers’ to-see lists (Burma); a few may have dropped off (Syria, Egypt, Russia for the LGBT set); a few faster trains (China, Netherlands, Russia) and more modern aircraft have come onstream.

But the single biggest travel innovation since 2008 isn’t a place or a way to get there.

Beginning as a high-end novelty, the iPhone (now in its newest incarnations for 2013) and related smartphone brethren have transformed the world, at least as much as the PC revolution did in the 1970s and 1980s, and as the Internet did in the 1990s and beyond. Well over a billion devices have been sold worldwide; a billion more are set to come onstream in the coming years. Whole nations and economies, for whom laptops and PCs were once unaffordable, are going straight to mobile — taking advantage of global cellular coverage, which is already better in many emerging economies than it is in North America (as I discovered during my trip).


Although Wander the Rainbow has been available as an e-book for all major devices since its release in 2010, I’d always felt that much of what I experienced and recorded was left on the table. Back then, e-books offered limited interactivity, and although a number of vendors are now working to enrich their capabilities, I’d always wanted to create something unique, a mobile experience that would augment travel memoir prose with videos, maps, and personally curated tips for traveling the world as I did, mid-range and long-haul.

Thanks to some changes in my day-job career direction, that’s now fast becoming a possibility. Debuting later this year will be WTR Mobile, an app for iOS (with other platforms to follow) that will not only contain the full text of the book, but will also feature fully up-to-date “How I Did It” content detailing travel to all the destinations I visited (and changes that have taken place since then).

IconSceenSnapBeyond that, many of those glorious photos that graced my original travel blog — plus a bunch of videos that never got to see the light of day — will be featured as well. No, it won’t be a guidebook, or a replacement for a guidebook. But it will turn this memoir into a worthwhile companion for anyone contemplating getting out there and wondering how to do it up economically and in style.

Wander on!

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Cape California

August 15th, 2013 by David Jedeikin

Okay, another first: I actually managed to sneak in a bit of time between the end of one job and the start of another… which for me translated into one thing: getting away!

MedanoBeachWideGreat… but where to go on (somewhat) short notice in mid-August? I wanted somewhere new yet restful, ideally a beach/sun vacation with a bit of flair. Hawaii was a possibility, but it was somewhat far and pricey for a shorter trip. I was initially a bit worried about another jaunt to Mexico (last thing I needed was a touch of Montezuma’s Revenge), but fares to a couple of Pacific destinations — Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta — seemed appealing. I picked Los Cabos — the drier (and slightly closer) of the two spots. And so began my second-ever jaunt to North America’s southern sibling in under a year.

As with all the Americas, Mexico’s Atlantic and Pacific sides offer varied geography, climate, and vegetation. Whereas Cozumel, where I’d been previously, lies solidly in the Atlantic/Caribbean zone — mostly flat and tropical — Los Cabos (literally “the Capes,” the designation for the towns of San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, some twenty miles apart) is decidedly Pacific: mountainous and arid. As our flight touched down, dramatic, craggy peaks not unlike those back home rose up to greet us. Driving in along the coastal road that runs along the base of Baja California, two things struck me: one, the ubiquity (and beauty) of Elephant Cacti, not unlike those immortalized by the Road Runner cartoons of old. Two, a thin yet striking coating of greenery over the craggy peaks.

Bungalows View“This is our rainy season,” remarked our friendly shuttle driver as he took us in along Mexico’s Highway 1. We passed San José (which I’d pledged to visit on my way home), then headed out along the “tourist corridor” between the two towns, replete with all-inclusive resorts not unlike those on the highway from Cancún to Playa del Carmen.

Not my scene, I mused, as we pulled up to one of these to drop off some fellow passengers. The lobby was grand and colonial-themed, while in a dirt road out front, white-painted school buses (no A/C, natch) ferried brown-skinned laborers around the complex. A couple more stops at similar such spots, and the driver dropped me off at my accommodations, the aptly-named Bungalows Hotel.

ValentinaAlthough it took a couple of minutes to find the front desk amid the jumble of structures fronting a small pool, I knew this was my kind of place when Beto, one of the innkeepers, greeted me with a gregarious hug and glass of watermelon juice. The inn’s adorable, big dog, Valentina, snoozed in a nearby corner. Out by the pool, a mix of English and Spanish was spoken. The inn lies at the base of the hillside above the main town center — walking distance from the center yet a bit apart from it.

OldTaqueriaI headed out on an evening reconnoiter after settling in; this confirmed the wisdom of my accommodation choice: more like Cancún than Cozumel, Cabo is an American tourist town. Señor Frogs, The Hard Rock Cafe, even an Applebee’s (!) can be found nearby. It’s known as a raucous party place, too, making me ever more thankful for a spot a bit off the beaten path. At the recommendation of my hotel I found a cute little Mexican place that didn’t scream “gringo”; clearly folks in the know must be onto it, as it had a lengthy reservation list for later in the evening.

Thus sated, I walked around the quieter back streets off the beachfront strip. As in Cozumel and in my world travels, it’s spots like these that interest me more than the overtly touristic (though I do enjoy a good bit of vacation-style fun as well): an older local hauling mangos in an ATV; a crumbling old Taquería; a bit of graffiti protesting mining operations. Although I’d come to Cabo for a bit of sun and escape, the backpacker in me remains drawn to the offbeat.

Jetski7Next day I further got the lay of the land here: the big all-inclusive resorts — though more architecturally tasteful than the walls of high-rises found in Cancun or Miami Beach — mostly wall off the beach from the main town; it took me a bit of trial and error to find the public beach access points. Medano Beach, the large crescent of sand beside Cabo’s center, does rank up there with some of the better beaches in my travels: expansive, deliciously just-right warm seas (at least now in August) with modest wave action (far rougher seas can be found on the Pacific side). Bunches of crowds and loud music were to be found throughout, but the beach is big enough to offer escape from that if desired.

No shortage of vendors here, mostly hawking boat tours and jet-ski rentals. I booked myself for an hour on the latter, and explored the area on my own as is my usual wont: I approached Land’s End, the arched rocky outcropping that gives the town its name. Like the other Capes in my world voyage, this one provided a suitably dramatic end to Baja California, the peninsula once thought to be an island comprising all of this land. Perhaps it’s appropriate that I come upon this place, the base of California, at this point in my life: during the time of my round-the-world journey I’d felt that no place was home. But the last few years — particularly the last twelve or so months — have seen a sea change in all that: the passing of my father, one of my anchors to my old life; the adoption of my first real pet; further remodeling of my home; learning a new specialty and new job to match; and, of course, a new boyfriend, the most promising candidate yet for the role of life partner. I’ve now lived in San Francisco for more than six years (eight, if you count the first go-round), making it the longest place I’ve lived aside from my birthplace. And I have no plans to leave. So far, I seem as rooted there (albeit a bit detached at times) as this piece of rock does to the peninsula jutting out from my current homeland.

MeJetski2But still, the touristic here holds sway: glass-bottomed boats waved me away from more choice scenic spots, and far’s I could tell (in spite of a sales pitch to the contrary) I wasn’t allowed to pull up on the fetching Lover’s Beach that squats in between the outcroppings of rock.

I’d picked my accommodations to allow on-foot access to Cabo’s town center and main beach, but also planned to spend my last afternoon over in San José del Cabo, doing a bit of shopping and strolling around the historic center. I’d planned to catch a bus there, then head to the airport; looking online, those looked like the best options for indie-traveler me.

Not so fast.

“You probably want to rent a car,” said Eric, the other of my extremely helpful innkeepers. “Taxi will cost you $40.” Herein lies another element of this area’s bit of tourist-trappery: most standard services are hiked up to “tourist prices.” I was a bit concerned with car rental, though, since last time I tried to do this in Mexico, with my family over in Playa del Carmen, it was a disaster: rental agencies’ websites and their local franchisees were not at all in sync.

RentalCarFortunately, not a problem this time: after booking online, I hoofed it on over to the Avis counter at one of the all-inclusive hotels. An extremely helpful rental car clerk had my reservation, and within a few minutes I was in a stick-shift Chevy Aveo — my first foray in a manual transmission since renting a car in Israel on my big world trip. Whee!

It was only mid-afternoon, so I figured I’d try to use the car to get to places inaccessible to me so far. Although the famed Land’s End Arch is supposedly only accessible via (tourist-priced) water taxi, I’d read that a bit of scrambling over rocks from a nearby beach is another option. Ever the adventurer, I pointed my vehicle in that direction to see if I could get to the adjacent beach, Solmar.

Again, not so fast.

As on the main beach, Medano, all the beachfront property near Land’s End has been co-opted by a clutter of all-inclusive resorts. An attempt to merely get a drink or a snack (so I could sneak onto their beach) was met by a nonplussed response by the guard at the front gate.

“No. No restauran’,” he uttered in broken English.

Okay, Plan B, one I’d first dismissed when I saw what it entailed: the Pacific side of Baja, like its continuation north of the frontera, boasts bigger (read: often unsafe) waves. But there was supposedly one swimmable beach, Cerritos, up the coast more than halfway to Todos Santos. So I turned around and headed north, out of Cabo’s mess of traffic, supermarkets and strip malls… and was promptly blown away.

CactiFlowersA vast sea of cacti hugged rolling, scrub-brush-filled plains. Craggy mountains — the ranges that form the spine of this vast peninsula — loomed in the distance. The highway was smooth, four lanes wide (two in each direction), and in immaculate shape — better than many Stateside highways. For large stretches, I was the only one for miles on the road. Although I worried a bit that I’d miss it, a small bunch of buildings surrounding a broad cove gave it away: I’d arrived at Cerritos Beach.

I parked at the end of a dirt road beside some almost-completed luxury condo project. Aside from that and a traditional-style structure at the top of the nearby cove, the beach was broad and mostly empty — a few surfer beach huts and beach bungalows; a mix of locals and tourists mostly huddled around the cove; and the odd surfer taking in the moderate-sized waves. I went for a couple of swims (I’m no surfer but I do like to bodysurf), gazed at the sun sinking (correctly, I say) over the water, and had a moment just like that one my Mom had all those months ago back on the beach in Tulúm.

CerritosBeachFootstepsOkay, this was worth it.

Next morning, as planned, I drove myself across the Baja peninsula to old San José. I still wasn’t sure what to expect; I’d almost opted to stay in this “other Cabo,” with its quieter, more laid-back feel and historic center. The things that gave me pause were its distance to beaches (not walkable), and, having done Cabo San Lucas, a sneaking suspicion that “authentic Mexican village” would have all the genuineness of Knott’s Berry Farm.

Boy, was I pleasantly surprised!

San José del Cabo’s “Arts District” aptly lives up to the name, with cute galleries tucked into colorful little edifices flanking narrow, cobblestoned streets. A mite Disneyesque, to be sure, but in all the right ways. I had lunch at a shaded eatery off the main square, then did a little shopping and reconnoitering on its quiet, colorful streets. Yep, I mused. Next time I come here this is where I’ll stay.

SanJoseStreet2That was that for this short but relaxing little journey. Just what the doctor ordered after a trepidatious, transition-filled summer and spring. I guess that’s what I garnered from this trip, staring off at the Arch of Cabo, the waves of the Pacific at Cerritos Beach, and the cobblestoned byways of old San José. Life is about taking chances, and for me it’s always been a battle between staying safe and just diving in.

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Mayan Beginnings, Part Two

January 1st, 2013 by David Jedeikin

With the number-two biggest reef system lying just offshore, it was inevitable some of us were going to go down and check it out.

There are lots of dive operators in Cozumel, but to find the best ones, the age-old adage rings true: ask a local. My sister and her husband had struck up a conversation at one of the eateries their condo-owning friend had recommended, and through this lady they’d been turned on to Blue Angel, a hotel on the island’s southern half aimed mainly at the diving set.

I got there in the morning for my orientation dive, where I met Matthew, our diver master, an amiable Albertan; and Kale, another intrepid world traveler (with a blog of his own to boot) from Vancouver. They ran me and another Alberta family (note about Cozumel: Canucks galore!) through safety and training drills. I’d already done this a year ago but it was remarkable how much I’d forgotten – from hand signals to buoyancy compensation.

Unlike Australia, where the reef can lie dozens to hundreds of miles from land, Cozumel’s reefs lie right offshore – heck, you could almost swim to them if determined enough. After lunch, my sister and her husband (who’d already done the intro a couple of days before) joined us on the boat out to the reef. We zipped past one of the island’s three cruise terminals, where two Royal Caribbean ships were docked; one of them, the Oasis of the Seas, is the world’s second largest. Passing under it is akin to walking the concrete canyons of New York: a wall of white steel and glass rises up a dozen stories in the sky.

Meanwhile, natural wonders waited down below. We rode south, to Palancar reef, just offshore from the beach we’d been at a few days prior. Donning our gear and splashing backward off the boat into warmish blue waters, we began our explorations.

Palancar is deep and vertical: towering columns of coral climb forty-plus feet off the sea floor. We spotted schools of colorful fish, the odd ray, a spotted eel. My sister found her Pilates training useful and took to diving like one of the aquatic species around her. I held my own, the reflexes and impulses I’d learned at the start of the year slowly coming back.

Another day, another adventure: next day, we opted to vote ourselves off the island and check out some Mayan ruins. Cozumel was a minor outpost in ancient times, but most of the lost civilization’s activities were concentrated on the mainland. The great pyramid of Chichen Itza was a bit more of a haul than we were seeking, but another, closer-in spot, seemed like a better choice with family and toddler in tow: the seafront ruins of Tulum.

The day started out more Marx Brothers than Mayan quest: we missed the earlier ferry and clambered aboard the totally-packed 10 o’clocker – almost missing that one too as we’d forgotten to retrieve our baby car seat. Then my mother and Miri began turning green on the eleven-mile ferry trip: both suffer from seasickness, and the channel can be choppy. Then on arrival in Playa del Carmen, we discovered the car rental place where we’d booked a car for the day no longer existed – and all other rental shops were sold out. In Mexico, the big international rental chains subcontract out to local outfits whose idea of “reservation” echoes a Seinfeld episode bit (though at least all the people we dealt with were affable).

On to Plan B: our taxi driver, originally hired to ferry us the seven or so blocks from the ferry pier to the rental shop, became our driver for the day. The price wasn’t a whole lot more than the rental, and he helpfully directed us to a nice little seafood spot for lunch a stone’s throw from the ruins. With motion sickness in retreat and baby happy from a hearty lunch, we were ready to take on Tulum.

The walled city overlooking the Caribbean was an important Mayan trading entrepot, and as we entered its stone walls we instantly understood why this is the number two most-visited Mayan site in the country: it’s an ethereal, mystical spot, rocky edifices perched on cliffs above carpeted jungle greenery and azure seas. It was moderately busy, though not overwhelmingly so, and we agreed that my observation, made on my travels, that places like these — intended to be cities — feel right with people in them.

But the real crowds were down below: Tulum has to be one of the very few archeological spots on Earth (Caesarea, in Israel, is another) that boasts a beach – and a gorgeous one at that – astride the ancient temples. The place was packed with a mix of locals and visitors, and a dip in the waters invigorated us all.

“Okay, it was worth it,” remarked my Mom about the hectic day, as she took in the glorious scene.

Next day was my last on the island; after inviting the family over to my hotel for its renowned breakfast, I headed out to do some solo exploring.

Most of Cozumel’s populace lives in San Miguel, the town hugging the western coast facing Playa del Carmen. But sitting astride a channel means calm, even boring seas. For the more oceanic, wave-soaked experience, one heads to Cozumel’s eastern shore, some nine miles away from town. So that’s what I did, traversing the island’s main east-west highway on my little scooter, dodging the odd rain squall mid-island care of a low-flying cloud.

By the time I reached Mezcalitos, however, the cloud had tucked itself into a corner of the sky, and the blue Caribbean – with waves, natch – presented itself under brilliant sunshine. I went for a dip – the surf was relatively calm for this spot – and, contemplated the year this has been.

Perhaps because it’s a sun destination, I’d found relatively little background information on Cozumel in my pre-trip read-ups on the place. I had my questions answered by the Museo de la Isla, a small but very comprehensive set of exhibits in a vintage yellow-hued building on the island’s main waterfront drag. Everything from the island’s formation over geologic epochs; to the creation of the region’s underwater cenote caverns; to Mayan days; Spanish conquests; and modern re-emergence, is covered. Heck, there’s even a reconstructed Mayan dwelling complete with statuary and circular stone calendar. Some factoids I didn’t know: Cozumel was one of the first spots visited by the Spaniards, and even Cortéz passed through here on his way to ultimately take down the neighboring Aztecs at Tenochtitlan (today’s Mexico City). Plague and horrible enslavement fully depopulated these lands, and it was only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that the place surged back.

After what was arguably the best dinner we’d had to date at a beach club on the island’s northern fringes, I bade farewell to family and headed for a meetup with a fellow I’d been chatting with online. I was feeling good about Beto, and in person he proved my supposition true: a friendly, talkative twentysomething (whose English was excellent) studying physiotherapy in Mérida. He and a large clutter of friends, all local Cozumeleños, met up at the re-opening of a really fab bar just off the main square. I think I’d just encountered the third layer of island society, after the cruise-ship tourists and the expat locals: these were true locals, mostly middle class but of all stripes (Beto’s parents were both doctors).

And with that, a fond farewell to Cozumel; the place ignited a fascination in me for Mexico that previous travels did for many other places — though unlike most, this country is far more accessible to me from where I live — and I have no doubt more visits await me in the years to come.

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