Falling in Love with Hostels, Thanks to Freehand Miami!

After one terrible hostel experience in Banff during the Banff Television Festival, I made a judgement call on hostels … thinking they were all thin walled, with less than comfortable beds, intended for immature party obsessed late teen and early 20-somethings (I think I was a late 20-something at the time).  Now don’t shoot me for this judgement … in my first night at the hostel in question, my roommate and I did not sleep a wink, as we had people start partying outside our room at 2 am, got to listen to teen relationship drama outside our door half the night, followed by the police showing up due to breakins and stolen goods. All this, while the front desk staff at the hostel did nothing about the complaints. If you have ever been to the Banff Television Festival, you’ll know that whatever sleep you are able to get is vital to surviving and to your success, so we moved out at 8 am the next morning.

Thanks to Filmgate Miami, that was not my last hostel experience after all. Instead they made me fall in love with hostels, by booking me in to stay at the Freehand Hostel in Miami, over the course of their Festival.

 

Tikki Bar in Freehand Miami Courtyard

Fountains & Tikki Bars, Oh My!

 

What I was greeted with, upon arriving in Miami and at the Freehand Miami, was with a warm and friendly style of place, with a bohemian feel, and a mixture of travellers of all ages.  Yep!  This was definitely my style of space.

 

Hanging out in the Freehand Miami Lobby

“I don’t want to work! I want to beat on my drum all day!”

 

The sun filled lobby hosted an eclectic array of furniture and instruments, designed to make people feel at home and want to linger and chat.

 

Playing the piano in the Freehand Miami lobby.

Loved following the sound of music to find someone playing the piano in the lobby.

 

Painted map on the wall at Freehand Miami.

Gotta love a place thats not too afraid to paint their own map.

 

I studied the homemade map of the area, trying to get my bearings, and figure out where everything was, and where I’d be spending the next few days, over the course of the festival. While I waited my turn to checkin, I eyed up the activities board, mulling the Festival schedule in my head. Would I able to make the Sunday Beach Yoga or Backyard Barbecue?  I had heard from my Filmgate Miami hosts that the weekly Sunday night Barbecues were always a good time.

 

 

The Week, Freehand Miami style.

Hmm … what do I have the time to do???

 

So far so good! And then they showed me my room …

 

Freehand Miami Standard King

Home Sweet Home!

 

Wow!  This was a room in a hostel!?!  With the interior design by Roman & Williams, this was nicer than many 5 star hotels I’d stay in.

The room included a walk-in closet … my own bathroom with some rather divine toiletries

 

Dr. Broanner's Magic at Freehand Miami

My first experience with Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, and hopefully not my last, as they were rather divine!

 

… artwork by local Miami artists … a safe that fit both my laptops and camera gear …

 

Freehand Miami Laptop Size Safe

Brilliant! Surprised 5-star hotels are not in the habit of equipping rooms with laptop size safes.

 

… everything I needed to work (including complimentary wifi) and more (iPod docking station) …

 

Retro Freehand Miami ipod dock

Rather fancied this touch!

 

… and then there was the bed …

 

Roamancing Red Boots right at home at Freehand Miami

Yes, our Roamancing Red Boots were right at home!

 

… I still dream about that king size bed … so comfy!  The red boots were right at home here!

And to give you the full picture, here is what the shared rooms look like with their beds with their 10-inch mattresses!

 

Super 8 Room at Freehand Miami

The Super 8 Room

 

Sleep, however, would have to wait!  There was after all a backyard pool to check out!

 

Freehand Miami Backyard beckoning!

With an entrance like this, how could the backyard not beckon!

 

I certainly was not disappointed by the pool …

 

Freehand Miami Pool LOVE

‘LOVE’ is about right!

 

… the courtyard, where conversation with interesting travellers would spark up …

 

Cascading flowers over Freehand Miami Courtyard!

Love that flowers cascaded over this courtyard bordered with herbs!

 

… the backyard games area …

 

Backyard Games at Freehand Miami

Ping Pong, anyone?

 

A bit of bocci at Freehand Miami

Care for a game of bocci?

 

… the tiki bar …

 

Coconut Man at the Freehand Miami Tikki Bar

Not a bad fellow to make acquaintances with!

 

… and even bicycles …

 

Freehand Miami Bicycles

Ideal Miami transportation!

 

Forget the room, this would be my office for the next few days … as well it should be … under the Miami sun!

 

Our office at Freehand Miami

Must say, the office is looking rather delightful today!

 

And as soon as the sun went to sleep, that tiki bar – The Broken Shaker, came alive, giving this courtyard a rocking nightlife of it’s own, perfect for a nightcap … or in Emme‘s case, to experiment with filming her first ‘Art Film’!

 

Broken Shaker Cocktail at Freehand Miami

My first time trying a cocktail containing egg white. Was rather delicious!

 

But even with the buzzing backyard nightlife (and dare I say, cocktails – tasty things, that packed quite a punch), the design of the space, meant that by the time I’d found my way to bed, there was no noise to stop me from peacefully drifting off to sleep.

After all there was a beach beckoning before the Festival begun again the next day … both in wind …

 

Paragliders in Miami

Could easily have watched these paragliders sail all afternoon!

 

… and shine!

 

Miami sun and colour!

Got to love a blast of sand, sun, and colour in the dead of winter!

 

Can’t wait to return!

 

Freehand Miami Stone Alligator

I wonder if this fellow will be awaiting my return?

Lest We Forget

One of the things that we are constantly reminded of from travel, is how very lucky we are to enjoy the freedoms and safety that we take for granted as North Americans, and more specifically Canadians. Much of the reason that we, and many others in the World celebrate those freedoms is because of the brave men and women from around the World that fought to protect our freedoms in World War I and II.

 

 

It is so very important that we remember the sacrifice these women and men made for us, Lest We Forget.  So that hopefully we never see another World War and so that we never face the horrors they faced for our freedom.

 

 

On this 11th day of the 11th month, we remember and celebrate those men and women for their sacrifice and those that continue to sacrifice for Peace around the World, commemorating the end of World War I. Whether taking a moment of silence at the 11th hour or quiet reflection throughout the day, this is a day to Slow Down, to Say Thank You, and to Remember, Lest We Forget.  It is also a day to share with the younger generations the importance of Remembrance and those who sacrificed for so many future generations, Lest We Forget.

 

Singing for Egypt

I was driving my car yesterday when I heard on CBC Radio that Morsi had been ousted as President of Egypt.  I was stunned, in a state of disbelieve and felt like bursting into tears of relief for the Egyptian people … all of which the woman in the pet store heard, as I began a monologue, spewing my sense of relief to the first person I saw.

 

Streets of Cairo - July 3, 2013

Scenes from the streets of Cairo last night (July 3, 2013), courtesy of Moravsky Vrabec.

 

You see I was fortunate to have spent a fair bit of time in Egypt from December 2011 – April 2012. I was with and speaking to the Egyptian people as they were working through their first democratic elections and trying to build back industries, like Tourism, after the Arab Spring.  There was a tremendous amount of hope to the country and the people wanted to talk politics. It was an exciting time to be on the ground in Egypt.

During that time we were fortunate enough to connect on a personal level with many of the people in Egypt, excited to see visitors returning to their country and excited to have someone who wanted to talk politics with them, who came from a democratic country. Through this we made a number of Egyptian friends with both locals and expats in the country.

 

Kind Al-Qusayr Shopkeeper

A kind shopkeeper in Al-Qusayr that was so elated to see travellers that he gave each of us a hat!

 

When the ballot for the Presidential elections was announced, and the Egyptian people had to choose between two people that the majority of Egyptians did not want, I was concerned for the Egyptian people.  As the past year has gone by with Morsi as President, that concern for the Egyptian people has escalated in me.  From everything I was hearing first hand from the Egyptian people, things were not getting better, but worse. This was not a truly democratic government, but an elected dictatorship, created by having to choose between two individuals not wanted. It was safe and welcoming to tourists, but things were not good for the Egyptian people, and I was hearing that from locals and expats alike in Egypt.

Earlier this week, I started seeing posts mentioning the threat of Civil War in Egypt. Again, my fear grew, and I started checking in that all my Egyptian friends were safe.  So to hear that Morsi was ousted yesterday and the country was on the brink of a more promising future, filled with hope once again, I was relieved and elated to tears.

To the people that are questioning this as a military coup in Egypt: I beg your pardon, but I am afraid you simply do not understand the situation and the intricacies of what has been going on in Egypt. The military was working on behalf of the Egyptian people, and this is a good thing. This is a time for Egypt to celebrate and of hope to eventually attain a truly democratic country.

And with that my friends, I sing, travelling back to a bus ride, through the desert along the Red Sea in April 2012, surrounded by Egyptian friends:

 

 

I look forward to a future filled with hope and promise for you Egypt!

For the Love of Canada

While we have storytellers from around the World, we were conceived and call Canada home … a home we dearly love!

In honour of our Canadian birthday, it has become tradition here, that every Canada Day we share a few of our favourite images from the year gone by.  Hopefully this will give you a little glimpse of why we so dearly love and are proud of this magnificent home of ours.

We love Canada for it’s …

… easy access to nature, even within the cities …

 

Pacific Spirit Park at UBC

Grabbing a weekday evening walk at Pacific Spirit Park, on the UBC grounds.

 

… creatively eclectic minds …

 

Stage Coach 2.0

Just a typical evening at the Centre for Digital Media.

 

… sinful temptresses, like this perogy pizza …

 

Katrina German and one scrumptious perogy pizza.

Not sure which of these temptresses is more dangerous.

 

… wildlife in our backyards …

 

A seal at Belcarra.

A seal watching the homo sapiens at Belcarra.

 

… literally …

 

Ontario Deer

Well not in our backyard, but in the neighbour’s yard.

 

… healthy living …

 

Summer Yoga on Parliament Hill

Love that they do yoga on the lawn of Parliament Hill every Wednesday during the lunch hour throughout the summer.

 

Balderson’s cheddar

 

Flaming Balderson's Cheddar at the Chateau Laurier

Frickin’ Fantastic! Balderson’s Cheddar soaked in local honey & torched to melt in your mouth perfection, in the kitchen’s of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier! mmm … mmm … mmm

 

… a rich cultural history …

 

Lucy Duck on a First Nation's paddle.

Lucy Duck heading out for a paddle with a traditional First Nations canoe.

 

… traditional events from around the world, that all ethnicities are invited to partake in …

 

Bon Odori Festival in Steveston

Dancing away at the Bon Odori Festival in Steveston.

 

… microbrews …

 

Ottawa Microbrews at the Black Tomato with Paul Meek.

Sampling Ottawa microbrews at The Black Tomato with Kichesippi Beer Co’s Paul Meek.

 

… relaxing mornings …

 

Westcoast morning on the Fraser River.

Taking in a tranquil morning on the Fraser River.

 

… value in education …

 

Creating future travellers at the Toronto Zoo.

Creating one of our future travellers at the Toronto Zoo.

 

… local produce …

 

Farm fresh produce in the kitchens of the Chateau Laurier.

Local Ottawa farm fresh produce in the kitchens of Chateau Laurier.

 

… gorgeously homegrown women …

 

Saskatchewan Katrina German

Farm grown Saskatchewan hottie, Katrina German.

 

… fertile farmlands …

 

BC Cranberries

Autumn harvest of fresh BC cranberries.

 

… from Coast to Coast …

 

Ottawa fiddleheads.

Fresh, spring fiddleheads in Ottawa.

 

… water …

 

Ottawa's Rideau Canal

Enjoying a bike ride along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.

 

… freedom of speech …

 

Mayor Ford Street Art in Toronto

Street art freedom of speech towards Toronto’s Mayor Ford.

 

… access to our politicians …

 

Yoga and Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill

Certainly not dull on Parliament Hill during the Wednesday lunch hour, between yoga and Justin Trudeau

 

… trains …

 

VIA Rail to Ottawa

All Aboard! Next stop Ottawa!

 

… beautiful old Chateaus designed along side our railway …

 

Fairmont Chateau Laurier

Right at home at Ottawa’s Fairmont Chateau Laurier.

 

… an appreciation for the arts …

 

Taking a bite out of the Toronto Street Art.

Hard to resist the street art in Toronto.

 

… music that you can’t help but groove to …

 

2012 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival

Hard not to groove out to the Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival.

 

… and stomp your feet …

 

2012 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival

Toes a tapping at the 2012 Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival.

 

… maple syrup whiskey …

 

Maple Syrup Whiskey

Man, this was tasty. Now I just need to find a local dealer of it!

 

… cherry blossoms, need I say more …

 

Cherry Blossoms

*sigh* Love Spring on the west coast!

 

… Indian Summers …

 

Sunlit Autumn Grasses

Memories of beautiful Autumn days!

 

… affectionate neighbours …

 

Kissing Cow

*smooch*

 

… impressive skylines …

 

Toronto at Night

Can’t believe I grew up an hour from Toronto and am only seeing this view for the first time in my 30′s.

 

… beautiful sunsets …

 

Steveston Sunset

Can’t help but unwind with a Steveston sunset.

 

… quirky Canadian decor …

 

Murray Street Boar in Ottawa, Ontario

If you wander into the back courtyard of Murray Street in Ottawa, you just might make a new friend.

 

… independent bookstores (even if few and far between) …

 

Octopus Books in Ottawa's Glebe

With the independent bookstore becoming a rare commodity, I have to admit Octopus Books in Ottawa’s Glebe was an insanely exciting find for me.

 

… Canadian pride …

 

Canadian Cupcake

Canadian Cupcake pride at Ottawa’s Cupcake Lounge.

 

… and ridiculously loveable characters!

 

The Peanuts Gang at the Yorkton Film Festival

Some of the crazy kids living it up at North America’s oldest film festival, the Yorkton Film Festival.

 

But more than anything, we love the freedoms and equality that Canada shares with us, which Emme says best here: Strutting my Stuff! It’s Canada Day!

Happy (now belated) Canada Day everyone!

 

Enjoying the Friendly Skies with WestJet

I travel a fair bit, and for a variety of reasons – work, conferences, speaking engagements, adventure, to see family and friends, and occasionally to actually relax. Usually when I am departing somewhere, I am exhausted and running on battery power, with maybe 4 hours sleep, if I’m lucky, and a billion and one things to do. As a result I am not at my finest, and become uber aware of who makes my getting wherever it is I am going pleasant and easy, and who tests my limited patience, placing obstacles in front of me.  From over a decade of travelling such, I have learned that as far as air travel goes in Canada and the US, WestJet has become my comfy blanky reminding me that the skies are indeed friendly, and that getting places, even on limited sleep can be relaxing and stress-free.

 

The friendly skies with WestJet!

Not a bad day to be flying with WestJet!

 

The reason I love traveling with WestJet is because of how they treat people.  They are friendly, have a genuine smile, and do what they can to help you.  Unfortunately you can’t say that of all transport providers, something I was reminded of last week, when I was traveling elsewhere with another carrier, and had a particularly rude, unpleasant and unhelpful attendant.  The crazy part is, as I was on a work trip, I was in Business Class, and dealing with a most unpleasant attendant, who clearly did not want to be at work.  I don’t care if I get fed and watered in Business Class, the experience is awful if you are taking abuse from the attendant.  And that is exactly where travel with WestJet makes a difference. They are friendly and treat you with respect, no matter who you are or what you do.  That is how all travel should be, and in fact how we should all treat each other. Now while some might be scoffing right now at this utopian fantasy of mine.  It does exist for me when travelling with WestJet, and that my friends is why I keep coming back to them.

 

A warm welcome aboard WestJet!

This is the sort of flight attendant that one wants to spend a 4 1/2 hour flight with.

 

WestJet’s motto is that ‘WestJet Cares’ and I can honestly say from my experiences with them, they do. And they instill this culture in those they invite to be a part of the WestJet team, by caring about them, as well as clients (or as this is travel, fares). I discovered this when my sister-in-law did a contract with them a number of years ago.  At the end of her contract, she was pregnant and to be honest had told them as much, and as such didn’t expect to be hired on permanently.  To her surprise, they did hire her permanently, because she was friendly, hardworking and fit the WestJet culture, and because they honestly care.

 

WestJet motto ~ WestJet Cares!

Yes, they do!

 

Similarly, my Mom, recently flew with WestJet to one of their sun destinations. Upon her return I asked her how her trip was. She told me the best part was travelling with WestJet. No joke.  Now granted, my Mom is not a sun destination kind of traveller.  She just went to spend time with her grandkids, and knew the destination was unlikely to be one she’d be writing home about, but she could not say enough wonderful things about WestJet.  Specifically, she was impressed at how friendly and helpful they were, and how they treated everyone well.  And I should add in here that this treatment had nothing to do with my sister-in-law working for WestJet, as after having the kids, she decided to be stay-at-home mom, so hasn’t worked for them in over half a decade.

 

Welcome to WestJet with a smile!

Love how the WestJet staff always have a smile for you!

 

So WestJet, I don’t think I say this often enough, but thank you!  All that you do for us travellers does not go unnoticed. I for one very much appreciate all that you do. Thank you!