Travel Memories in 1000 Pieces

Someone gave us a jigsaw puzzle for Christmas.

Gifting jigsaw puzzles can be tricky.  They vary in difficulty. Not everyone is into spending hours fiddling with a game like that. And then the vast variety of images depicted in their giant tabletop chaos can evoke a feeling that is often a matter of taste, particularly for larger sets that sit there taunting you to build them for weeks and weeks.

Someone gave us a jigsaw puzzle for Christmas and hit the nail directly, squarely on the head.

See, back in November we spent five days in New York City. Specifically, we spent five days wandering around mostly near midtown Manhattan and Times Square.  We did a lot of fun stuff, but my own personal recollections of the time there were punctuated by three specific memories: Broadway, sketching, and people everywhere.

Someone gave us a jigsaw puzzle for Christmas and it depicts a bustling scene of Time Square rendered as a colourful urban sketch of a hundred memories of our recent New York vacation.

Tall colourful buildings.

Taxicabs and street vendors.

People and signs and shapes and shadows.

Lines and hatches and curves and squiggles.

A thousand pieces of a travel memory perfectly encapsulated in a jigsaw puzzle project.

…though it didn’t take us too long at all to get it assembled.

Travel Tuesday: Magic Kingdom-ish

I’ve been a terrible daily blogger, but if you read my previous post a little over a week ago you already know that I just spent the last two weeks in Florida.

We’re home.

Fifteen hours in transit yesterday. Two flights. Three airports. Two COVID-19 tests. Virtually no food (thanks to supply chain troubles at the airports.) And a couple hours of jet lag, to top it all off.

Ahhhh … remind me again why I missed travelling so much?

I joke.


Traveling during a pandemic was a choice we made late last month with very heavy hearts. I don’t want to appear cavalier about it. We didn’t know even up until the departure morning when we woke up at 4am and got on the plane southbound that we were still going. We had a bailout plan right until the Orlando flight boarded. Ultimately came down to balancing personal risk, losing a lot of money if we cancelled, and setting some lowered expectations around the trip activities overall.

But. I have just spent the last two weeks wearing a medical grade N95 mask every time (no, every time) I was in public … and oh boy, were we ever in public. My face is chapped. My hands are raw from sanitizer. My mind is blurry from cognitive dissonance of immersing myself in that for so long and then coming back to almost-lockdown locally at home. I’m not sure I want to turn this post or blog into a rant about the mixed narratives being woven in Florida (and Disney World itself to be honest) about the severity of the pandemic, personal accountability, a culture of individual liberty, and the politicization of health care, but I just Jungle Cruised through the epicenter of pandemic insanity and survived to tell the tale.

I feel like I could write a few things worth reading.

At the core of our vacation, however, was doing the right things in the middle of the big wrong one. In retrospect, knowing what I know now, even having tested negative and made it home sans COVID, I think we probably should have cancelled. But we made a hundred choices each day about masks, touching surfaces, where to eat, how to transport from hotel to park and back again, when to be around other people, and when to pull the ripcord and just go back to the isolation of the hotel no matter how much fun it seemed like we were missing.

I’m going to let it all settle in a bit first, and over the next days and weeks I’ll likely write a lot about the recent travel experiences and opinions before getting back into the food and cast iron posts.

I had these dreams of writing great missives about our adventures directly from Florida, but in the blur of everything else, the days filled with theme parks and food and sketching (I did do a lot of sketching) sitting down to blog about it all just … fell by the wayside.

Plus, announcing that I wasn’t at home online didn’t seem like the smartest choice for many reasons including both home security and seeming to flout restrictions.

Travel Advisory

It seems almost ironic that the day I set aside to sum up my year in travel, the government of my country leaked that they’ve decided to reinstitute yet another travel advisory sometime in the next day or so.

Here we go again.

Or, really, here we don’t go anywhere.

What is travel anyhow? Getting away from your house? Your city? Your country?

Did you travel in 2021?

I’ve been fortunate enough that despite multiple ebbs and flows of restrictions and limitations we’ve made our way around our beautiful province this past year.

In particular, a couple week-long trips to the mountains this past summer broke up the monotony of working from home and the never ending bad news cycle.

We packed up and spent a week exploring the world famous sights around Banff, hiking through day trips up mountains and through canyons and into cute little restaurants for elaborate lunches.

We spent another week in the mountain town of Jasper later in the summer, doing more hiking, meeting old friends for wild runs, and dabbling in the icy waters afloat in our new inflatable kayak.

For the last couple decades we’ve been fortunate enough to be travellers of a more worldly sort. The year before the pandemic we spent nearly three weeks between Scotland and Ireland. We tripped through some of America’s interesting cities like New York, Los Angeles, Maui, Las Vegas and Orlando. For a couple years we got into cruising and snorkeling off the back of a boat and from exotic island beaches. One summer we even donned our winter clothes and spent ten days touring Iceland. It has been a life spent on experience rather than things.

The past couple years have been tough and we tried to make up as best we could with local adventures, and made those adventures as satisfying as possible given the realities of a locked down world.

Tomorrow the news is either going to be bad or really bad. Either we’re spending the holidays worried, or we’re spending them locked down at home once again. It’s the right thing, I know. I believe. But it doesn’t make the yearning for distant adventures any easier to bear.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

Travel: Disney in the Time of COVID

My wife has been waking up at three thirty in the morning lately. Deliberately. Her alarm goes off, she activates her phone, logs into the Disneyworld website, and queues up her virtual reservation system trying to get us a dinner seating at a reasonable time and place … for some time next year.

I’m not a planner.

For example, when a couple years back I ditched the official tour group, our dance studio travelling companions, for a couple days to head off in advance to Ireland leaving them behind in Scotland, I arrived in Dublin, checked into my hotel and then, simply, went for a walk.

No real destination planned. No expectations. No reservations. Not even a proper bus ticket to get me back to the start. Just me and my feet, wandering.

I plan vacations, of course. But more often than not when I get there I like to explore, take things as they come, and see what the trip presents me.

It’s great.

But here’s the thing …

We’re planning a trip to Florida for the new year.

We’re even crossing an international border, no less.

And I assumed the planning part, including booking flights, hotels, and a car rental was complete. (In fact I assumed it was complete almost two years ago when we booked it the first time but then it got cancelled and we had all these travel credits and … deep breath!)

I was wrong. In 2022 a trip to the magical magic kingdom is rife with a less-than-cavalier planning problem. You can’t just show up. You can’t “wing it.” You can’t arrive without a charged phone with the Disney app, nor lacking a catalog of ride times, neither walking in out of the parking lot hoping for anything but a day of disappointment and disaster … which brings me back to three-thirty this morning, when my wife’s alarm went off.

See, between crowd limits and general popularity, it seems as though Disneyworld has its own planning problem: tens of thousands of people arrive each and every day into their parks and all those people want to enter, play, ride, shop, eat, and exit to go back to their hotels. Rinse. Repeat.

In order to get a meal that isn’t served at a kiosk from a paper plate, we need a reservation, and reservations open so many days in advance at six in the morning Florida time, fill up in literal minutes, and we’re not on Florida time. So, if she waits until the morning … hello quick serve pizza slices for supper.

See, guys like me throw off the flow.

Disney can’t just have everyone … or really anyone … showing up and wandering, no plans, no structure, lacking expectations or reservations.

In fact, those literal reservations need to be made months in advance, setting up plans about which rides you plan to be riding on which days and which meals you intend to eat at what time and when and where … and perhaps even why…

All that spontaneous family fun, it turns out, needs to be carefully orchestrated months before the suitcases come out of storage. I already know what days and times we’ll be standing in line for that Star Wars ride or It’s a Small World, or just Starbucks to keep my eyes open with a venti coffee to help keep me alert as I reach the point of exhaustion from the meticulously planned vacation.

Partly I blame COVID. The need to organize people flow around health rules has exacerbated the drive towards app-driven, technology-backed, ultra-planned everything.

Partly it is also a symptom of going somewhere nearly universally popular.

And partly, I take the blame as someone who doesn’t thrive in this type of vacation … and taking one for the “team” so that the family can have a long-planned trip.

Next time, though, I’m just going to leave my phone at home and go get lost in the woods.