Matrimonial Blizzard: The Unabridged Story of our Wedding Day Snowstorm

Matrimonial Blizzard: The Unabridged Story of our Wedding Day Snowstorm

We got married.

It wasn’t certain it would happen. It wasn’t a question of our partnership. It was a question of a ‘Colorado Low’.

I’ve come to loathe this term. I first heard it with the Tuesday weather forecast. My father-in-law, Dennis, who is calm and has a lifetime of prairie storms under his belt said “Ohhhh. A Colorado Low. That’s not good.” I realized then that this snow could be a problem. But it wasn’t until Thursday evening that I came to realize how much this weather system would come to impact our wedding day.

That evening, my cousin called from Alberta to report that Air Canada had canceled his flight. For Friday evening, arriving in Winnipeg. On Thanksgiving weekend. And there wasn’t yet a flake of snow in the provincial sky. I understood then what Derek, ever the realist, had already come to terms with. This wasn’t your average October snow.

Friday: A Storm Approaches

The next 24 hours revealed that all the wedding planning we had done would be put on the backburner to support the emergency logistics planning that was now needed.

Snow begins to arrive en route to our wedding venue in Wasagaming, Riding Mountain National Park.
Snow begins to arrive en route to our wedding venue in Wasagaming, Riding Mountain National Park.

Derek and I convoyed with his parents, Joan and Dennis, to our wedding venue in Riding Mountain National Park as we watched the Colorado Low move west, covering the yellow leaves of the rising hills in a grey whirlwind.  We had 44 guests arriving from all parts of Manitoba, Canada, and the Pacific Northwest. The trouble with inviting your most precious friends and family to your wedding is when there’s a snowstorm, all your precious people are in varying levels of jeopardy. We arrived to the Lakehouse, the stylish and cozy 15-room guesthouse and lounge, hosting our loved ones and our wedding. We checked in, chatted excitedly with the staff, and unloaded our many boxes of decor and finery. Along with our wedding best, Joan had also lent me her fur coat, now mostly used for shoveling in the extreme cold, to add to our wedding provisions.

We settled into the couches snuggled up to the Lakehouse hearth. We were in the perfect place to ride out the storm with a well-stocked fireplace, a delicious kitchen, and all the games and craft beer needed to watch the snowfall through the big windows overlooking the townsite. All we needed was to help guide everyone else to this winter oasis. On Friday afternoon, we were joined by Derek’s aunt and uncle and my older sister, Rebecca, brother-in-law, Aaron, and niece who arrived early from the north and the west, reporting smooth travels but with stormy horizons.

On Friday morning, my parents, my younger sister, Carrie, and her fiance, Chris, left for Riding Mountain. They arrived at the Trans Canada Highway only to discover it had recently closed to all vehicles due to the weather conditions. The four diverted from the three-hour-route back to Winnipeg and were then guided by Derek through a rural, snow-covered-but-still-open road through The Narrows (isn’t that the aptest name for rural Canadian alternative route?). Eight hours later and at dusk, they came out the other end through a drive that “harrowing” doesn’t seem to capture. They arrived from the North into Wasagaming on a road that was closing as they drove – a road so snowcovered that it wouldn’t open again for nearly 3 days. When they finally pulled in, my sister Carrie raced to the door, as if to make sure they had truly arrived before Mother Nature could obscure the route again. My mother, always calm and even-keeled, arrived with a strong embrace and the statement [warning], “You two have better stay married for a good long time”. As the four weary travelers shrugged off snow in the Lakehouse foyer, my two-year-old niece Juniper strutted up with the confidence and joy only a toddler can achieve and shouted, “Gwamma! Gwampie!” As Juniper was picked up and hugged, the tension of a day-long drive through a prairie snowstorm melted away.

MacDonalds and Robinsons settling in upon arrival to the Lakehouse

There was a dispersed convey of our close ones following my parents’ route. Word and photos of current road conditions were passed from more northerly cars to those on the tracks behind via the command center – a.k.a. Derek’s phone. Of the four vehicles carrying thirteen people who left Winnipeg after my parents, no one else made into the Park that night. As twilight arrived, they were scattered between back-to-Winnipeg, my in-law’s house (where they had left a key, realizing the severity of the storm ahead), a motel in Derek’s hometown, and …the Narrows Motel.

We had many other guests who, thankfully, were safe and sound and off the road, sometimes with safe arrival in Winnipeg, though for many, they were at the airport or their home, or their family’s, with our national airlines cruelly but mercifully taking away the decision of whether or not to hit the road.

On Friday evening, we modified our supper reservation from 26 to the 13 who had safely arrived, and ate in a staggered fashion, based on arrivals and comfort. Between logistical calls and route planning updates, I chatted with the kind folks at the Lakehouse to go over the plan for our wedding day, as Juniper (who by then had determined, somewhat accurately, that she had the run of the place) created art on their office floor. We planned to meet at 11 am on Saturday morning to kick-off the big day.

As night fell and all our loved ones were safe under a roof, we began to relax in the comfort of the Lakehouse. The massive fireplace had a well-stoked fire, and the lounge was filled with our wedding party and locals, enjoying snacks and craft beer, and talking love and snow.

Saturday, October 12: Our Would-Be Wedding Day

View from our room on our would-be wedding day.

I opened the curtain on Saturday morning to a blanket of snow. In less than 24-hours, about two feet of snow had settled on Wasagaming with no sign of letting up. It was beautiful. As my friend Natalie described in a voicemail with updated, canceled travel plans, the falling snow was “biodegradable confetti.”

Before venturing from the warmth of our room, we communicated via text. Decorating plans were discussed, but my sisters, who were on the upper floor of rooms connected by a deck and open walkway to the stairs had to first be shoveled out. The snow and wind pushed feet of snow against their doors. They bravely ventured out to find shovels and carve a path to the stairs. On the main floor, their upper deck provided shelter as we bundled and bustled into the restaurant and lounge.

 

 

 

Wedding day conditions

*Note: the red on the highway indicates that it is closed to all vehicles.

I found Shonah, the events manager and our snow-day hero, whose 15-minute walk to the Lakehouse took her 45, battling through snow above her knees. No other staff had yet arrived, and with the road conditions, there would be very few who could. Valiantly, she had taken on the role of chef and was generously preparing a modified breakfast menu for our wedding party, something she might have whipped up if we were surprise guests at her own home. I chatted briefly with Shonah about our options for the day, given the current snowfall, the staff available, and the forecast (which, for the record, was 100% “snow and blowing snow” with 40 km/hr wind gusting to 60 km/hr a.k.a. 100% ideal wedding weather). Based on the staffing and the roads, her professional opinion was to delay the wedding, but earnestly offered to cook our entire wedding meal for us, if that’s what we wanted.  As Derek roused, we talked wedding day over coffee. He had been communicating weather conditions to all our family and getting updates from our photographers, David and Aralin of the Awaken Collective, who were sending photos from the closed TransCanada and talking about alternate routes to the alternate routes. For the third time that weekend we mulled our options, with the heavy question: should we cancel? Canceling, moving the whole shebang to Derek’s hometown (where the weather was seemingly better), postponing until Sunday, or trying for our original wedding day. With the hopes that more people could make it on safer roads, we decided to move our Saturday afternoon ceremony and dinner to a Sunday noontime ceremony.

Juniper assessing the current conditions and wedding viability. She voted SNOW DAY!

We shared the news with our storm-stayed family as they finished their eggs and toast that instead of going to get ready for a wedding, we were instead having a snow day. Derek and I then took to our phones to make the range of phonecalls to our guests who had landed or were stranded in various locations in the province and the country, as well as our florist and photographers who were still trying find a route into Riding Mountain. As we received updates on snow delays and cancellations, our thoughtfully crafted seating chart was deconstructed as we crossed names off of people who could not make it, and stars by the “maybes”. When I first scratched off names on Friday night, the action just seemed so sad, whereas by Saturday morning, it became a practical demonstration of Canadian weather reality.

It was a no-travel day, just as Mother Nature commanded. The two exceptions during the daylight were: Alyce, Shannon, and Nicole, who woke up in the Narrows Motel without power, and therefore heat. And with the highway towards the Park closed, they made the trek over unplowed highways and even over downed powerlines back to the warmth of Winnipeg. Our photographers, as well as trekking through roads no one should have been trekking down, and instead of a getaway post-wedding in a cozy Clear Lake suite, they safely made it back to Winnipeg. At the time, I had no idea how bad the roads were, and we are forever grateful that they, and all our guests, were safe and sound.

Once the news was disseminated and road conditions conferred, we settled into a full snow day. It’s a strange thing. To have the supposed most special day of your life transform into the quiet of a day stopped by snow. If you haven’t experienced a snow day, there’s some magical about it. It arrests the regular rhythm of any day, the rush of tasks and schedules. And on our wedding day, it was especially striking. I, being the planner I am, had scheduled the day out on my phone’s calendar. As Saturday stretched on, I would get a ‘bing’ and a reminder of when to leave the decorating to get dressed. When to head to the group photo. Even when the ice cream sundaes would be served for our wedding cake. The flurry of a wedding day was replaced with coffee by the fireplace. Chasing Juniper around the Lakehouse loop (a.k.a. racing through the Lounge, Shop, check-in desk and bar). Going for a walk to assess the extremes of the weather with my mother and sisters. Scouting the highway conditions with Carrie, all the while dodging and cheering on snowplows (who responded with a hearty honk). Walking to Clear Lake with my still-finance and finding the one other open shop in Wasagaming – the Boardwalk – and stopping in to stay hello (while also assessing their “supplies” … or candy). The welcoming staff gave us ice cream because “we always give ice cream to the bridge and groom!”. Not yet married, we still took them up on it, vanilla for me while Derek opted for a more blizzard-practical cinnamon bun. We returned from our expeditions to warm our rosy cheeks and snow boots by the Lakehouse fire, and when spirits were roused, they were challenged to a game of cribbage or crokinole. The MacDonald side of the family were new to this curling club lounge board game and quickly learned the ways and rules from the Robinsons, developing a fierce competition. People from the community wandered in for news or for shelter, including a German couple who ran out of propane, and therefore heat, in their camper van at a Parks Canada campsite. They quickly warmed up and became invested in the story of this matrimonial blizzard. It was the kind of day that everyone felt close and cozy, but still let our a communal cheer when the plow carved the one-lane path to the wider world.

A little bit of snowfall. Photo by the kind Boardwalk Staff.

As the day rolled on and more logs were added to the fire, we heard rumblings from friends assessing the roads. Our four friends traveling from Edmonton were holed up with Derek’s aunt Doreen, cousin, Anna, Brian and thier two girls at the Dauphin Emergency Center (a.k.a. my inlaw’s home). It must be strange meeting fellow wedding guests for the first time nowhere near the wedding venue and snacking on the pierogies and root veggies prepared for our Sunday post-wedding Thanksgiving dinner. The four friends went out on a fact-finding mission to assess the state of the still-officially-closed roads. With a couple of hours remaining before dark, they decided to make a run for it. More specifically, the text chain went:

Ellen: “Shovel off that hot tub! I think we’re gonna try and make a run for it.”

Hannah: “Oh my gosh! Are the roads open?”

Ellen: “….no”

Ellen: “But!”

Ellen: “We drove on them.”

Ellen proceeded to describe the highways. The direct route through Riding Mountain was “impassable”, but the longer route along the highways hugging the park boundaries seemed to have vehicles passing through. More time-stamped photos of road conditions were shared and a requirement to send frequent travel updates, they were off. But first, they stopped at our florist’s.

Yes, our florist’s. Barb, of the Lemontree, was set to deliver our flowers at 11 am on Saturday morning. But, with all the highways in and out of the Park closed, there was no way those flowers were arriving to the Lakehouse. She and I stayed in touch to see what our options were and alternate routes for the flower delivery. I had previously discussed the potential of flower collection with our Edmontonian crew, in the tone of: if you’re attempting the journey to Riding Mountain, be safe, don’t push it. And if you are driving down Main Street and past the Lemontree and it’s not dangerous to stop, our flowers are there, looking for a lift. Off the four went and we waited anxiously for updates.

The brave four from Edmonton, with our flowers. Photo by Ellen Whitman

Given our revised Sunday wedding, we realized we would cut a lot of the activities. The Cocktail Hour. The First Dance. The Wedding Ice Cream Sundaes. And, most clearly and most sadly, our Wedding Reception. We had a fantastic dance floor planned, with white lights hung on Friday, and a serious dance party playlist curated by us, our DJ and MC and bestie, Alyce, and my sisters. (It’s a seriously fun playlist – check it out here!). Derek, not one for the dance floor, wanted to ensure that the non-dancers would enjoy the party and collected cards, board games, and crokinole to foster cozy competitions and conversation. All of this supported by a host bar with each guest receiving a pile of drink tickets. None of this party would play out as we planned on Sunday afternoon. After we married and had lunch, many people need to drive or fly home, and we knew it would be a quick wrap to our Sunday wedding. So, we decided to have a bit of a snowstorm ‘reception’ instead. In discussions with Shonah and Carly, one of the owners and our exceptionally gracious host, we received the drink tickets for all the people present and en route. Craft beer and red wine was poured, increasing the cozy effect of the Lakehouse lounge. We resolved to a quieter version of the wedding party.

The MacDonalds learn crokinole from the Robinsons.

At 6:33 PM, just as my phone also reminded me that our wedding speeches would be beginning, the winter storm warning ended. While our Edmonton friends approached, we got word from our friends Tad and TJ that they were setting out. The Haligonian and Edmontonian had just met the previous day after our kind and welcoming marriage officiant and Derek’s childhood friend Ben, hosted them on storm-stayed Friday night. For Saturday night, they had Hotwire’d rooms in Winnipeg and were settling in when they also received the notification that the roads were officially open. The sun was setting, but the salt was out, and so they set out. En route, they collected my bestie Alyce who had only recently returned to Winnipeg from The Narrows and its frosty Motel. With great worry and great anticipation, we watched Alyce’s shared location and sweet face bop along a digital map of the freshly opened highways.

Ellen, Alex, Kyle, and Alyssa, our four Edmontonian friends trekking from Dauphin, had a hero’s welcome to the Lakehouse. Layered in snow and florals, they arrived with wild stories of motel parking snowdrifts and ice bucket shovels, all to get to Riding Mountain. We got them settled into their room (with the room assignment modified based on which doors were shoveled out) and got to hear about their journeys to arrive and their many life adventures since the last time we met.

Back in the Lounge, our weary friends pondered their supper order. And then. Darkness. The power went out. Because, of course, it would in this wild winter wedding weekend.  Checking online, there were 42,000 fellow Manitoba Hydro customers without electricity. The surprise storm had put a beating to the powerlines, infrastructure unfamiliar with this heavy, wet snow. The Lakehouse staff, being prepared, began lighting candles and stoked the fire. A generator roared to life, powering the kitchen fridges, stuffed with a full wedding’s food. Our weary friends made a revised order, ranging from cold plates and still-hot soup.

Despite the power outage, the warnings to keep the room doors closed to keep the heat in, and the questions about power-less wedding day logistics, the evening continued. The atmosphere was beautiful. Candlelight provides a special aura to an evening. Light is limited, so it creates focus. Here we were, with some of the most important people in our lives, collectively bonded over the blizzard still blowing outside.

Just before 11 PM, the trio from Winnipeg arrived. Derek and I rushed out in the snow to greet them, relieved to see they were alive and well and parked for the night. They entered the Lakehouse to another hearty hero’s welcome. Everyone in the Lakehouse had been following their journey, anxiously asking for updates; we were all in this together. With their arrival, all our guests traveling in any part of the country were settled for the night. We raised a glass together, to everyone’s journey, to those who were stormstayed, to everyone in our beautiful, loving community.

Safe and sound and in Wasagaming

The atmosphere was intimate and the conversations grew louder. Tad asked if I would like him to perform a  magic show. “That would be amazing!” I replied, and it was. Tad pulled his cards and everyone gathered round. Then, the lights came on! Beautiful, powerful, functional electricity flowed back into Clear Lake. I was so relieved. Tomorrow would be smoother. And then, we raced around the Lounge, turning out all the lights again to maintain the warm, quiet glow of candlelight. Magic is better by candlelight. Tad took us through a winding story filled with jokes and illusions, unexplainable and delightful. The collective awe at the slight-of-hand added to the whimsy of the would-be wedding day.

Magic by candlelight is magic.

Midnight arrived. Some drifted off to bed while DJ Fair Jeanne (a.k.a. Alyce) stepped in. With the power back on, we could upgrade from the wood acoustic speaker (provided in each room at the Lakehouse – a brilliant addition) to the far more powerful lounge speakers. Alyce, our DJ, took charge of my phone and modified the six-hour list into the purest of hits. After midnight, every song must be a jam, or you risk losing folks to their pillows. And it was nothing but. The songs we know and love and the ones we forgot we know but deeply love. My brothers-in-law, Chris and Aaron, were still facing off at the crokinole table, which we collectively moved further and further from the “dance floor.” We had a beautifully decorated space in the Lakehouse’s parlour, but the natural open space at the entrance to the Lounge became the very best dance floor. I had resigned myself to going without a reception, without a dance party. But, instead, we had on of  the heartiest. Instead of heels and chiffon, we had Bluntstones and denim. Each song elicited a ‘whoop’ or another person rising to their feet to dance. The playlist was supplemented by requests by my father, sprinkling our modern playlist with classics. Dad and I never did have an official father-daughter dance. But we did break it down to Flashdance’s Maniac, dancing like we’ve never danced before. 

Derek and I had no intention of wasting a moment of this brief time with our far-flung friends. The games and dancing continued until we were the last few standing; arm-in-arm and shouting the lyrics to Champagne Supernova. At 4 AM, we blew out the rest of the candles, attempted to tidy (keeping in mind the incredibly hard-working Lakehouse staff), and hugged before we shuffled through the freshly fallen snow and went off to bed.

Sunday: A Day of Love and Gratitude

Eight am came early on Sunday morning. Derek and I snuggled up, capturing another moment of calm before the day began. Neither of us being morning people, we chuckled at the fact that we had somehow ended up with an early wedding ceremony, something we previously aimed to avoid.

Wedding: Round II. Photo by Awaken Collective

Derek took to more cell-phone coordination with our friends and family looking to travel into the Park. We got word that Ben, our marriage commissioner, and his wife Lisa, were en route. With a commissioner, we could officially get married! I opened the curtain to piles of snow, but lighter, brighter snow. I left Derek to catch some extra moments of rest and headed into the Lounge to get ready for our big day. I was greeted by Shonah and Carly and we sat down to discuss the day’s logistics. Many modifications were already made, and we crafted a few more. Instead of a seated ceremony and cocktail hour before dinner, we prepared the dinner tables to allow an aisle for the ceremony and prepared to go directly from the ceremony into our wedding lunch. My mother and sisters and a few friends began to arrive and the buzz of excitement grew. Still hazy from my short sleep, I asked those nearby to please talk loudly elsewhere, and Shonah asked if I would like smoothie. How did she know!? Sipping on wild-berries, the plan of the day became clear and my energy grew. It was time to decorate.

Alyce, Rebecca, and my Mom, and many others, making decor magic happen.

One of the reasons we chose to get married at the Lakehouse is because of its aesthetic. The space has been beautifully renovated with gorgeous wood, modern lighting, and lovely decor. We could have done nothing and it would have looked great. (This thought was comforting when we weren’t sure if our flowers would arrive!). It was an all-hands-on-deck decorating committee. I provide fuzzy instruction and it was transformed into a gorgeous space. The tables were layers of fabric, cedar, ruscus, and eucalyptus. I explained the concept to Rebecca and Alyce and I felt as if I turned around and they had gathered troops to decorate the tables into floral glory. We decorated our welcome table, proudly displaying our welcome sign where none of the information, except our names, remained accurate. As no candles were allowed (prior to all-plans-are-off blizzard), we thought of having flowers floating in small bowls. Carrie asked me about the mini-carnations and I explained the idea but that it was a low priority given the busy morning of preparations. A few minutes later I saw Carrie and Ellen struggling through their early-morning fog to coerce mini-carnations to stay afloat in little glass dishes. Joan, my mother-in-law, pulled out beautiful collections of photos of Derek and I throughout our lives up to a portrait of us in Vancouver. These photos were arranged into our wedding activity – an idea spurred on by Natalie and Raph’s wedding – notes penned by guests to Derek and I on our first, fifth, tenth and twenty-fifth wedding anniversaries. I also placed out the beautiful table numbers that Derek created with photos from places we’ve traveled together. Now that we had just three tables and had long since ditched the seating plan, the table numbers were moot, but still worthy of display. The Lakehouse staff were moving with grace and speed to make our wedding day come together, while still adding touches throughout to make the space flow and add that something special. We rigged up the rented speaker, and graciously, Shonah offered to manage our walking up and down the aisle music, as I texted her song links and timing. In under two hours with many, many hands, the lounge was ready for a wedding.

Somehow, it still turned out just right. Photo by Awaken Collective.

I walked back to our room and passed the hot tub. It had been freshly shoveled off and Kyle was in for a dip. Our Edmontonian crew had missed the evening soak due to the power outage and were making up for it in the am. I arrived in our room and Derek has still exhausted. I stirred him with a sweet reminder of our wedding day. And that the hot tub was open and ready for him. With the hot tub temptation, he got out of bed and got the Big Day started. Derek headed out for the tub and my mother, my sisters, and Alyce all came into our room to start to get ready. Mimosas were poured, rollers heated, and dresses unfurled. However, in the midst of it all, the hot tub just looked so lovely. My sisters gave me wise warning that our 12:30 ceremony was quickly approaching and the bride does need time to get ready. But given that all best laid plans were lost in a snowstorm, I felt there was some wiggle room for a dunk. We negotiated that I would enjoy the hot tub but with rollers in my hair. So really, I was getting ready the entire time. Sinking into the hot water with friends who traveled from across the country and soon-to-be husband was a delight. There was a calm to the steam rising into the still-falling flakes as we sat surrounded by piles of snow and loved ones putting on their best.  I can highly recommend taking a dip in a hot tub to ease any wedding day anxieties.

Morning hot tub dip is an excellent way to start a wedding day. Photo by Awaken Collective.

Returning to our room-turned-bridal-suite, the getting ready started in earnest. Alyce corraled my locks into waves. Carrie guided me through my make-up. Rebecca and Mom steamed my dress. Dad prepared the boutonnieres. Sue and Shannon arrived from Winnipeg, reporting clear roads following wild winter stories. Our dear photographers and soon-to-be friends, David and Aralin, who arrived in the morning decorating flurry, moved gracefully through the Lakehouse, allowing us to feel at ease and in the moment, while also ensuring that all the key elements were captured. We raised our glasses again to being together and to looking so fine and to love. And Juniper lead us through a rousing rendition of “Baby Shark.” It’s a strange thing to bring all these important people together to get ready to walk down the aisle. There’s something so intimate and unique that made me want to hold on, to wait in our robes a little longer. This time felt like it had natural momentum though I know it was driven by thoughtful manoeuvering of the other women in the room. It culminated in Mom zipping me into my white dress, placing my Nana’s silver bracelet, picking up my bouquet and wrapping the stem with my Grandma’s scarf, and seeing that my family surrounded me, beautiful and dapper and ready.

My bouquet and hairpiece from Lemontree Florist, our handmade rings from Salty Rose’s, my shoes, almost-ready vows, my Nana’s bracelet, and my Grandma’s scarf. Photo by Awaken Collective.
At last, wedding ready. Photo by Awaken Collective.

The Ceremony

We got word that our guests awaited us. My parents, my sisters, and my niece walked from our room, brightly lit with the reflective snow into the parlour just before the ceremony. Juniper, our flower girl, and Rebecca led the way. Juniper practiced tossing a few flowers as she approached the Lounge, and then with the surprise of the guests standing and smiling down at her, she tossed the remainder of her basket. It was adorable and the aisle was ready. Carrie followed and then I walked arm-in-arm with my parents, to the tune of Song for the Mira. We walked between our friends and family, ending at the hearth in the warmest hugs.

Flower girl extraordinaire. Photo by Awaken Collective.
Ready. Photo by Awaken Collective.

Ben, Derek’s childhood friend, our marriage commissioner and shelter to storm-stayed, welcomed everyone to the extra-intimate ceremony. A great orator, he wove in the acknowledgment of the land we were on, Thanksgiving gratitude to our community taking part in this ceremony, gratitude to those who wanted to take part but the weather had other plans, stories of shared history, and love. With the fire glowing, Derek and I read our vows to each other, promises for a strong, lifelong partnership together. We signed the paperwork, after Carrie graciously and rapidly fetched it from its safe storage place inside my bookbag in the bridal suite. With our handmade rings exchange, a kiss, and Ben’s pronouncement, we were husband and wife! After a tumultuous weekend, a day delay, and all plans discarded, we were officially and lovingly married.

Ben, Derek’s childhood friend and our marriage commissioner, welcomes everyone to the ceremony. Photo by Awaken Collective.
Our beautiful friends and family. Photo by Awaken Collective.
We actually did it! Photo by Awaken Collective.

After we walked down the aisle, we had a quiet moment of delight to acknowledge the occasion. Then, we all headed into the winter wonderland to take a photo of all of us together. Back inside, we sat down to celebratory feast. Our meals were pleasing to multiple senses, which helped because after the soup, I could manage only a few bites of each plate as the whirlwind of the weekend settled and my body was not hungry but simply happy. A small tragedy because the food was so. good.

Dessert followed with speeches. Though we organized it, I still felt almost uneasy to have our parents and siblings speak so warmly about the two of us and our relationship. The words were filled with a deep understanding of us and a bright light of where are our marriage will go. With some very well-placed jabs keep us grounded.

Photo by Awaken Collective

The on-going snowfall, original Thanksgiving plans, and travel itineraries soon pulled people away. There was a flow of photos, and goodbyes, and then Derek and I were whisked off to capture the day with David and Aralin in the wintertide spots they had scouted.  They had come prepared with blankets and winter boots, allowing us to took full advantage of the white blanket on the fall colours. We took over Wasgaming’s quiet roads and the pier extending into Clear Lake. I could expound on how they made us feel handsome and special and excited and celebrated, but their photos do speak for themselves.

We returned to the Lakehouse to see that our families and our Lakehouse friends had efficiently returned the Lounge to its pre-wedding state. Decor back in boxes, greenery returned to containers, and luggage moved to the door. More tearful goodbyes as Rebecca, Aaron, and Juniper headed west. The Robinsons, the remainder of the MacDonalds, Alyce, and TJ all headed back to Dauphin (via the longer, but open, highway) to Thanksgiving dinner.

Lots to be grateful for over Thanksgiving dinner.

Joan had organized a 6 PM Thanksgiving dinner for us based on the post-wedding day schedule. We were very well fed at lunch, and by 9 PM, we were ready for another feast. We reflected on the adventures of the past 72 hours and savoured the feeling of being joined together as one large family. We heard the poem penned by Derek’s aunt Doreen who made the valiant effort to arrive. Unfortunately, the storm pulled them off the roads, but they were safe at the ‘Dauphin Emergency Shelter’ where the words were later read. We sat around the living room together talking until the long wedding day caught up with us.

Well-fed and well-loved, we were married. We weren’t sure it would happen. And it certainly didn’t go according to plan. But it was all the more special for it.

Weddings: A Lesson in Love

We’re now happily married, embarking on the next stage of our partnership. Our wedding was an incredibly special day, packed with far more memories and adventures than anticipated. Through the many changes, cancellations, and compromises with Mother Nature, this matrimonial experience provided some valuable lessons.

I learned how important it is to prioritize the key elements of the wedding that are valuable to you. We wanted an intimate wedding with close friends and family with the ability to really spend time together. We sought a venue that would be warm, welcoming, and would simplify the planning required (e.g. great aesthetic, delicious food, and kind staff). We wanted a talented photographer to capture the day. These pieces were most important to us. However, through the wedding planning process, there were times when we (I) got caught up in the details of floral selection, signage design, and wedding weekend logistics. These were details that were not vital to our enjoyment of our day, but still felt very important at the time. Then, when the wedding weekend came, all that stress was for naught. The flowers fussed over almost didn’t make it. The table number stands we crafted ended up staying in their boxes because we had half the guest we planned. There were many other details I spent time weighing and researching that, in the end, was unnecessary. The blizzard tossed out all those plans and we rebuilt our wedding day. We rebuilt it using those key pieces – our community, a special space, delicious food and drink, and time together. Having these key pieces to guide us, it made our tough decisions easier.  And I lament the time wasted stressing over little details that truly did not matter. You never know what can happen on your wedding day. One thing or another won’t go according to plan, and the day will stay special if you keep what’s important close and trust that the rest will be fine.

We were lucky to get to spend time together, particularly on our wedding snow day. Photo by Awaken Collective.

I learned that weddings both be a celebration and a test of your relationship. Derek and I had a rollercoaster of a wedding week. We cycled through excitement to fear to anxiety to anticipation. I experienced the week in highs and lows, and Derek at an even-keel. When we had to discuss potentially canceling our wedding, all of our knowledge of each other, how to communicate with each other made this difficult conversation easier. We consoled each other through the cancellations and celebrated the wins. Weddings are not a simple day to celebrate. Weddings, and the process leading up to them, are an experience that is created together, with as many challenging decisions as there are fun ones. Weddings are a surprising but valuable test. As Mother Nature tested us, it reconfirmed our partnership and why we were getting married in the first place.

Photographers: David and Aralin of the Awaken Collective

Flowers: Barb Tuzyk and the team at the Lemontree Florist, Dauphin, MB

Venue, menu, and snow day grace: Shonah, Carly, Jody, Julia, Kris, and the whole team at The Lakehouse, Wasagaming, MB

Wedding rings: handmade under the guidance of Caitlyn Purcell of Salty Rose’s and the Periwinkle Cafe, Ingonish, NS

Valiant effort to attend: all our guests, present in person and in spirit

Biodegradable snow and memorable adventures: Mother Nature

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Simple Travel Tips: 7 Ways to Prep Your Smart Phone for Travel

Simple Travel Tips: 7 Ways to Prep Your Smart Phone for Travel

Why does summer always evaporate? Right now, I’m reflecting on a full month of travel to Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herszignovia, Italy and Slovenia. I’ve been incredibly lucky to take the time to travel, and I will write about it all soon enough here, and the lessons in simplicity I’ve taken from these beautiful, fascinating and delicious places.

An obnoxiously beautiful beach on the Sorrentine Penninsula, with a view of Capri.

Through these trips, I’ve been refining my pre-travel preparation. In particular, I’ve been finding the most efficient uses of the greatest travel tool available: the smart phone. I am still amazed at the vast resources that my phone provides to me at my convenience.

I’m old enough to remember traveling before smart phones. In fact, I owned my first cell phone after I moved to France in 2009. It was smaller than a credit card and allowed me to master T-9 dialing (a lost skill?). Besides being able to text a friend for an address, the phone was useless as a travel resource.

Instead, I relied heavily on the paper map I picked up from the new city’s tourist information center. (This is a habit I still follow today, though I suppose it’s mostly sentimental.) On the map, I would carefully circle key landmarks, my hostel, and memorize intersection street names to be able to recognize them while walking the town.

It’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago, the little red book of Paris’ streets was the essential and the only tool for guidance. I remember standing on a tiny 5-way intersection as we oriented and reoriented the small pages of the Plan de Paris to find the correct street and direction to our night’s adventure.

The grey but beautiful meandering streets of Paris are far easier to navigate with a smart phone than a book.

While some people reading this might find it hard to imagine traveling by paper map, I’m grateful for the perspective it gives me. Every time I can easily follow the blue dot towards my starred accommodation on my phone’s map, I am thankful for the convenience. Every time I bring up a metro map to catch the right train, I appreciate how much time and brow-furrowing it saves me.

While paper maps harken of a simpler time, smart phone travel offers smoother travel with less waste. Catching the right airport bus can mean a last-minute taxi ride averted. Having good, reasonable priced restaurants (or grocers) marked on a map may mean a plastic-packed street food meal can be avoided. Used wisely, a smart phone can be a simple traveler’s best friend.

In appreciation of this handy travel tool, I want how I’ve made it useful for my travels. I’ve been repeating this process for each trip this summer, and I’ve compiled my list of the more valuable smart phone travel preparations. This combination of apps, notes and downloads has saved time and money, and allowed me to better experience the little things.

Disclaimer: I’ve linked to the apps I use on my iPhone SE, but you may find others equal or better (if so, please comment as I’ve love to hear them!).

Seven Ways to Prepare Your Smart Phone for Travel:

1. Download the Lonely Planet City Guide App

Lonely Planet Guide App screenshotWhen I first explored this app, I couldn’t believe it was free. The Lonely Planet Guides app has dozens of major travel cities available as an offline city map. It includes a brief city description, and long searchable, navigable, savable lists of where to see, eat, sleep, shop, drink and play. It’s been handy to find a nice glass of wine in a quiet Barcelona neighbourhood and to learn more about an intriguing statue inside Dubrovnik’s city walls. Most of the information can be found on their website, but it’s packaged into this wonderful little package. Before traveling, be sure to click on the ‘download the offline map’ option to ensure you have all the interesting facts without data. If your destination isn’t listed, you can also vote to have it be the next one added to the app.

2. Download a Currency App

While mental math is a key skill, there’s nothing more frustrating that miscalculating a currency by a factor of ten. When traveling, I check my math within just a couple clicks to make sure I know what I’m really paying. My go-to is XE Currency Exchange. Before traveling, I add the new currencies I may need, so when I arrive without data, the most recent exchange rate is already loaded.

3. Download the language pack on Google Translate

Google Translate still boggles my mind. When I first used the photo function to automatically translate text in place, I felt the future had truly arrived. (Was anyone else this impressed, or am I a bumpkin?)

This app has been useful for me to ask for directions to a monument or to offer a poorly pronounced but happy ‘Delicious!’ in tasty foreign restaurants. Yes, English is global. However, using the local language allows you to communicate with people outside the tourism industry and to communicate respect for their place and culture. It works offline with a basic vocabulary in many languages. Before traveling, search for the language(s) on the app and click the download arrow. When you arrive, you’ll

It works offline with a basic vocabulary in many languages. Before traveling, search for the language(s) on the app and click the download arrow. When you arrive, you’ll have a better voice.

4. Starting Language Learning with Duolingo

If you don’t have Duolingo on your phone, stop reading and download it right now. It’s the most useful (and cutest!) way to pass the time. Learning a new language is always a good idea, for the world and for your brain.

Plus, it’s a great, free way to learn the basics of a new language before arriving at your destination. The languages offered are limited, compared to Google Translate, especially depending on your native tongue. For English speakers, there are 29 options to choose from. You can learn Spanish, Turkish, Hungarian, German, Vietnamese, Ukranian, Swahili and more. (While preparing this post, I discovered you can learn Esperanto and Klingon on the app!)

5. Download Relevant Podcasts

Whether before your trip or on the train, listening to a travel podcast or a local podcast on the destination city or country fuels the excitement. A good podcast can offer essential background and thoughtful insight through storytelling.

I also am a huge fan of Rick Steve’s Travel Podcasts. I once thought he was a travel guide for my parent’s generation. However, his travel advice is valuable for all ages and budgets. His interviews pull interesting stories and tips from local guides. And as a lover of a walking tour, his audio tours are fantastic. I recently followed his tour and map through Pompeii. Not only did I save 8 Euro on the (admittedly more extensive) official audio-guide, it provided a curated tour that I could feel satisfied with or supplement as desired.

Google Maps screenshot
Each star is actually a group of useful locations I’ve previously marked in Maps before leaving.

6. Make Your Mark on Google Maps

Although I’m wary of Google’s all-encompassing and all-knowing abilities, I can’t help but acknowledge how darn useful it is. Without data, the little blue dot on Google Maps can still guide you to your destination.

Before departing, I save all key locations under the ‘Favourites’ or ‘Starred Places’ function either on my laptop or on my phone, ensuring they have all loaded on my phone. The locations include accommodation, museums, well-reviewed restaurants and bakeries, bus and train stops, and anywhere else that would be useful to have on a map.

7. Create a Local Note

Some information isn’t captured in emails or in apps. Each trip, I compile museum opening hours, screenshots of bus schedules, interesting local website links, a metro map, directions to (free walking) tour meeting spots, and other information that might be useful. It’s nothing fancy, it’s just a quick cut and paste of information to the basic notepad program that is both on my computer browser and phone (for me, Notes). A draft email can also serve this purpose. The idea is to simply save you from having to re-research the local information you found before leaving home.

Bonus: Password App

In the age of digital privacy, good and changing passwords are crucial. Most people set strong passwords, but don’t need to remember them as their personal devices have them saved. Then, there’s that moment when you need to print a ticket from your email from a hostel computer. Which brilliant combination did I use last time…? Then, to reset your password from an international, unrecognized computer can start a rabbit-hole of email access issues. It’s far better to avoid these scenarios by either properly memorizing those key passwords, or using a password app. I quite like LastPass as it has a great auto-add/update on browsers and its mobile app is very searchable and easy to use. This is a bonus one as I’m wary of advising on online security. But, no matter the solution, passwords are an important thing to remember while traveling.

Water lilies and Lake Bled, captured on a smart phone.
Water lilies and Lake Bled. For all its benefits, not to mention that most of my photos are captured on my smart phone.

I hope you find this list useful when you’re preparing for your next trip. Is there anything I missed? I’d love to hear your favourite travel apps and tips in the comments below.

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I Wish My Visit to Auschwitz was Irrelevant

I Wish My Visit to Auschwitz was Irrelevant

While traveling, I have visited magnificent monuments as well as sites of great tragedy. Travel offers an important opportunity to learn not only the good (the art! the architecture! the food!) but also the bad. Thoughtful memorials are built to preserve the memory and the lessons learned in humanity’s darkest moments.

Earlier this summer, I visited one monument that is all too relevant today: Auschwitz.

I read the news today, oh boy

On Saturday night, I sat and scrolled through the news and comments coming out of Charlottesville, Virginia. Yes, I know there are populist movements rising in all different parts of the Western world. There has been an increase in violent, racially-motivated attacks. There are all the racist and provoking statements Donald Trump has made. Yet, it didn’t seem that it could really be happening.

A white supremacy rally in 2017? Really?

In the morning, I woke up and saw the news that came out overnight. The death, the violence, the calls to ‘go home’. It seemed surreal. Haven’t we learned these lessons from hatred already?

On a day trip from Kraków, I set off for Oświęcim with four friends to see the largest concentration and extermination camps of World War II.

Visiting Auschwitz

As you might imagine, the whole experience was haunting. We started at the original camp, Auschwitz I before going to the purpose-built Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Our tour guide asked for quiet and respect as we approach the entryway. The crunch of gravel and our guide’s somber words were all we could hear; the whole complex causes a quiet even on bright summer’s day.

Auschwitz I Entry
From the International Auschwitz Committee website: “Today, and into the future, the inverted “B” will always symbolise the message from the prisoners to coming generations: “Remember: when injustices take place, when people are discriminated against and persecuted – never remain indifferent. Indifference kills.”

 

“Modern historians suggest that without the mass transportation of the railways, the scale of the “Final Solution” would not have been possible.” Holocaust Trains Wikipedia

The whole camp seemed impossible. Walking down the hallway of prisoner’s faces, the names and dates cry out a story of a continent swept into a frenzy of fear and hatred. The cruelty and precision seem inhuman. In June, I thought, ‘How could this be?’

How?

In August, I think to the rally in Charlottesville. That’s how. Casting broad strokes, blaming ethnic and religious groups, polarizing people to extremes that ultimately cause terror. Breaking the world into simplistic blocks that can be forcefully rearranged to better suit some. A leader who avoids using the strongest and most accurate words to condemn these movements. A leader gaining political capital on the back of hatred and violence. Words matter.

Auschwitz quote
Words matter.

From my place of privilege, I’m uncertain what my words can do. But it’s not a time to stay quiet. We need to talk about prejudice and inequality and terrorism. We must remember our history.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  — George Santayana

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Croatian Road Trip Tip: Follow the Sunshine

Croatian Road Trip Tip: Follow the Sunshine

Last month, I was lucky enough to have my parents and my younger sister visit me in Budapest. It was a busy trip, as I would say they wanted to fit an entire European summer vacation into two and a half weeks. As part of this vacation, we enjoyed a Croatian road trip.

Not a bad view from the passenger seat.

In North America, the road trip has a certain romantic appeal. It combines adventure, independence, landscape and opportunity. There’s the ability to add to and deviate from plans, to set your own pace, and the best ones have a great soundtrack. It’s been romanticized by writers, by musicians and now by Instagrammers. I’ve done road trips across Canada and France and can confirm it’s a fantastic way to explore. In fact, the road trip may be the one good thing our North American car culture has to offer.

 

Mom: I’m so happy to be on this road trip! Dad: How many Split decision puns can I make before the border?

In April in Croatia, our little rental car allowed us the flexibility to travel with one guiding principle: follow the sunshine. We had a rough schedule, some accommodation booked, and Dubrovnik as only must-do. Otherwise, our days were flexible. With the forecast for rain looming, we wanted to take advantage of the warm Adriatic weather as best we could.

By following the sunshine, it led us to a lunch and long walk through the capital, Zagreb. The forecast called for rain and 8°C in our planned destination of Plitvice National Park, so we skipped it and headed for the coast.

Zagrab Croatia

Waking up on the Adriatic, we enjoyed a leisurely morning walk by Zadar’s sea organ (perhaps one of the most clever urban designs) and Roman ruins. When the weather started to go south, so did we.

Children for scale.

An impromptu visit to the Krka National Park (pronounced Kirka, if you were wondering as we did) by boat then by foot to explore its seven cascading waterfalls.

Krka National Park, Croatia
A moment of calm before running to catch the last boat back to Skradin town.

An exciting rainstorm with thunder echoing against the Dubrovnik Old Town walls.

Dubrovnik Croatia
Well, it did look ominous on our walk down to the Old Town.

Followed by a quiet yet stunning golden hour as the Old Town.

Dubrovnik, Croatia
But after the storm, that light…. Also, that shrapnel!

A pit-stop in Makarska for snacks and coffee on the water.

Makarska Croatia
Mountains, coastline and palm trees in Makarska

And finally, a late-night but rain-free exploration of the Split Diocletian Palace after a delicious meal of pizza, pasta and Rakija.

The Iron Gate entering the Roman Diocletian Palace.

Our Croatian adventure was jam-packed but still flexible enough to make Split decisions. (You’re welcome.) We were able to do this by focusing on research rather than planning. We knew the options, and Croatia as many great ones, and were able to chose. Most importantly, we had a car-wide understanding that no route would be a bad one. With this agreement and a weather forecast, we finalized our plans on the highway.

Croatian Road Trip
On the road to through Bosnia onto Dubrovnik

 

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The Humble Beer Mat Gets Classy

The Humble Beer Mat Gets Classy

While I’m traveling, I am always interested in the simple things. I love discovering those items or spaces so thoughtfully designed or naturally occurring that they work well with less. Less waste, less energy, less effort. There’s plenty of examples to learn from within different cultures, histories, and landscapes.

Today, I’m beginning a catalog of these clever items that I think are worth remembering, worth considering, and worth taking back home, wherever home may be. I hope these act as an inspiration to see and seek simplicity in everyday objects.

Prague Old Town Square
Prague Old Town Square

Location: Prague, Czech Republic

Space:  Restaurace Kolonial, a sleek yet bicycle-themed bar near the Old Town Square

Simplified Item: the beer coaster

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A Free Art and Architecture Tour of Barcelona

A Free Art and Architecture Tour of Barcelona

Barcelona is beautiful. It’s lively, fresh, warm and welcoming. It’s the fiercely proud capital of Catalonia and the hip urban hangout for those who want to explore the Spanish Mediterranean. It’s delightfully affordable and down-to-earth for a Western European capital. However, I think the best things in life are free, so here are a few cultural activities to take in without spending a Euro.

Sagrada Familia’s Facades

Antoni Gaudí dominates the city. His architectural presence is revered and delightful to discover. The English term ‘gaudy’ stems from his extravagant, strange and intricate buildings. His masterpiece, of course, is the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s basilica, which is still under construction. (They’re working hard to have it finished for the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death in 2026, but it’s unlikely the deadline will be met.) I highly recommend entering the Basilica. The interior is awe-inspiring, melding natural form, function, and faith. However, if you’d like to save the entry fee, you can still enjoy the structure. Take in the nativity scene over the north-eastern entrance – overseen by Gaudí’ himself, the facade captures the entire biblical scene, crowned by the vibrant colourful Tree of Life.

Barcelona Sagrada Familia Nativity Facade

 

Meander around to the south-western entrance and take in the Passion facade. See how the architect defined his own style with angular interpretations of the scenes. But the natural feature can be seen in the columns overlaying the structure, reminiscent of the bones of human skeleton supporting the facade. Both sides have a park adjacent with sunlit benches for you sit and look. And look. And look.

Barcelona Sagrada Familia Passion Facade

If you tire of the architecture, you can also take in a fine example of bocce ball play as the north-eastern park, Plaça de Gaudí, has courts filled with local grey-haired gentlemen squaring off against each other.

Barcelona bocce ball at play

Antoni Llena’s Homage to the Castells

My favourite piece of public art had to be in the Homenatge als Castellers. In part because the form is playful, simple but imaginative. In part because I love how it plays tribute to one of the wildest activities I had ever heard of: the Castell. In Catalonia, people will build human castles at festivals. Yes, men will literally tower over one another, competing to be the highest castle. I only wish I could visit Barcelona in late summer to take in the festivals. For me, the creative, chicken-wire version was a small, but satisfying replacement.

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What I learned from 29 countries when turning 30

What I learned from 29 countries when turning 30

As I struggled with the idea of leaving my twenties behind, I scrambled to put together a list of accomplishments that allowed me to feel this youthful decade was valuable, fun, engaging, impactful, and overall worth it. I think it’s a common process that many 29 turning 30 year olds go through. And it’s disastrous.

There’s no grading scheme for a life well lived. There’s no meter to say “yep, you did alright, kiddo”, which I wish would be whispered in my ear by a wise old man with a southern drawl. It’s just life. Your decision, your stories, your relationships and that glimmering hope that you’re not screwing it all up.

In 29 years on the planet, one thing I have prioritized is travel. I was lucky enough to travel for work and for pleasure and for volunteering, and one of the reasons D and I decided to move to Budapest for his studies as it is a central point from which to explore. I believe travel is important to broaden your perspective, to understand the world and to try all the delicious things.

Barbeque lunch in the Wadi Rum desert, Jordan
Barbecue lunch in the Wadi Rum desert, Jordan
In my scramble to pull together what I’ve done in my twenties, I haphazardly had put together my list of countries I visited in my 30 years. Some I’ve explored thoroughly, and some I’ve visited only a city. It wasn’t planned, though that would have been clever (and I would have made 30!), but by adding in Canada (which I allow as I’ve traveled to every province and two of three territories) and remembering that afternoon in Monaco, my list totaled 29.

Midnight walk in Doha, Qatar
Midnight walk in Doha, Qatar
Here, I offer the distilled wisdom I’ve collected is from the from these twenty-nine countries, to be taken with many grains of salt.

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Ton Sai Teachings: How to Weather a Travel Storm with the Right Currency

Ton Sai Teachings: How to Weather a Travel Storm with the Right Currency

[This post is the fourth part in a four-part series on my recent trip to Southeast Asia]

Ton Sai and Railay are beautiful parts of the Krabi coastline on the southeast coast of Thailand. It’s that long gangly arm of Thailand that reaches out to hug the Gulf of Thailand.

The landscape was immediately striking. Peeking up at the lush hills, the rocky cliffs that rose beside the highway reveal the striking Karst landscape that the region is known for. The dark rocks held shapes that didn’t seem physically possible, while also being geologically beautiful.

We traveled there to see its rugged beauty. And we arrived on a different route than planned with lessons in planning, logistics and travel’s most important currency.

Landing at Ton Sai

Plan A: Arrive at the airport, take a shuttle to Ao Phra Nang, hop on a long-tail to Ton Sai, all before the boats stop running at dark. Although Ton Sai is part of the mainland, there are no roads, only boats, to the bay. Easy.

Plan B: Flight is delayed, leaving us with just enough time to reach the boat before sunset. I watched Google maps as we drove to Krabi Town onto Ao Nammao Bay en route to our stop Ao Phra Nang. I was following along Google Maps and the ol’ faithful blue dot and almost missed it. “Did he say Ton Sai?” Derek asked. We asked the driver confirmed that this was the stop to reach Ton Sai, two bays away from our planned pier.  Without being sure, we followed the drivers’ directions and hopped off the bus. The woman worked the boat ticket office confirmed: there’s a storm further up the coast and boats aren’t leaving Ao Phra Nang. The only way to arrive in Ton Sai is to take a long-tail from this more protected bay to Railay and then walk.

Signs of a storm from the shuttle.

The boat ride was beautiful, but it definitely sailed into a storm. We arrived in a torrent of rain. I was almost forgotten on the boat as I stuffed our valuables into plastic bags in the inside of my pack with the boatman was anxious to leave. Derek alerted the driver and I leaped onto the floating dock, and we ran for cover into the Railay trees.

The calm and the storm from Ao Nammao

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Stories and Silence in Phnom Penh: How I Learned about Cambodia’s Haunting History

Stories and Silence in Phnom Penh: How I Learned about Cambodia’s Haunting History

{Disclaimer: this post discusses difficult content and may not be appropriate for all readers.}

[This post is the third part in a four-part series on my recent trip to Southeast Asia]

The Cambodian people are a warm, smiling, welcoming people. The people we met in our travels were gracious and kind. The kind of people who wave and smile brightly as you stand confused trying to cross the toad with never-ending traffic with your obviously-tourist pack. A wave and smile that doesn’t judge but says “Welcome to Cambodia!”. The capital of Phnom Penh is developing so quickly that if you stand still long enough, you can watch the city grow. However, this shift in development comes after a horrific period in their history, followed by international misunderstanding and mishandling in the wake of a genocide.

Cambodian countryside

I knew little of the Cambodian genocide until watching Brother Number One at the then called Global Visions Festival in Edmonton. It told the story of the genocide through one man’s journey to understand what happened to his brother after he sailed into Cambodian waters in 1978. It was powerful and gruesome and heart-breaking.

During our stay in Phnom Penh, the travel-savvy Camille organized a van to tour for our group, a fantastic hodge-podge of six visiting Canadians who happened upon the city at the same time. The van would take us to two memorial sites dedicated to the victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide: the Killing Fields and S21.

Killing Fields
The uncovered Killing Fields.

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What will be our Angkor Wat?: Explorations in Angkor

What will be our Angkor Wat?: Explorations in Angkor

[This post is the second part in a four-part series on my recent trip to Southeast Asia]

Walking past the people hawking elephant pants and the fresh fruit stands, I approached my first temple within Angkor Wat – Pre Rup, a temple in tribute to the king’s mother. A Hindu temple, built in the 10th century before the Cambodian people converted to Buddhism. Our tour guide explained how a whole town would have lived surrounding the temple and where we stood was once covered in water. He drew in the sand to detail the layout and used the hand carved leather works for sale to illustrate the symbols of the ancient civilization.

Pre Rup carvings

The endurance of the structure became clear as I slowly climbed the steps of the central tower, the cremation tower. The steps rose more than a foot each time, ensuring a calmer, more solemn pace, especially as centuries of footsteps followed by modern-day tourism have rounded the edges of each stair. The restored ornate carvings marking each doorway add an otherworldly charm. The dancing and fighting figures intertwined with plants and animals tell stories I only begin to understand after sitting and reading my guidebook and looking and reading and looking.

Exploring Angkor

The Angkor Archeological Park Complex is immense. It is larger than life and has withstood centuries of life. From weather to rediscovery to theft to the Khmer Rouge, this immense center of worship that expands over 400 acres is the largest religious monument in the world, Lonely Planet’s number one site in the world, and is hard to truly comprehend.

Angkor Wat at sunrise

We explored it by van, by tuktuk, and by bicycle. By guide, by guidebook, and by gut.  The site is overwhelming and has a lifetime of exploration possibilities. After just three days and scratching the surface, I walked away with a feeling of awe and endurance.

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