Hands in the Air if You’ve Had Radiation

The last week of September I took advantage of a cheap flight and travelled to my home state of Michigan for a week of visiting with family, friends, my beloved home yoga studio, all the yummy food I miss and cooler fall weather.

I also decided to take this opportunity of proximity to drive to Toronto and visit my dear friend, Kevin. Those of you who read my blog regularly might recognize him as the main character from my days on the El Camino de Santiago. (Catch-up on those here)

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Kevin in his natural habitat

Toronto is only a few hours drive from Detroit. As I crossed over the border, I texted Kevin giving him my ETA and joking that I had successfully duped border agents because I won’t be coming back to the United States. I mean, how could I resist affordable healthcare, sane leadership and Tim Hortons? I’ll tell you how – snow and cold weather. Politics, healthcare, coffee and hypothermia aside, Kevin, I and his partner had a lovely evening catching up, followed by Kevin and I spending the next day eating and walking around his Toronto neighborhood (a la Camino style).

On the way home, I enjoyed the drive and opportunity to catch up on my podcasts. Thankful for only one car ahead of me in the US Customs line, I pulled up to the Border Agent window and handed him my passport, ignorantly thinking I’d be home soon for a nap before evening yoga.

“Ma’am, have you had any recent medical procedures?” How much time do you have? Was my first thought. Then I looked in my rearview mirror to see six Border Agents and two German Shepherds.

I explained that I had a radiation procedure three weeks ago and the group of agents asked me to pull over to Secondary Inspection. It was a little surprising to find I’m still emitting radiation even though I’m well out of the quarantine period of six days for pregnant women and children and two days for general public.

In Secondary Inspection I retrieved the card provided to me by Excel Diagnostics – Thank God I kept it. They asked me several questions about the procedure all the while scanning me with a radiation detector, which first indicated I was emitting “Plutonium”. The following several scans revealed an “Unknown” substance.

Since they couldn’t determine the isotope, Border Agents asked me to come into the US Border Customs & Immigration building while they “called it in”.

While I sat and waited in the lobby, the only other person who entered the building for Secondary Inspection was a man with a turban, who was held by Agents at his wrists and taken into a room. I have no idea why he was selected for additional questioning, but the skeptical liberal in me drew some conclusions. The Agents never doubted my story and were only following protocols when I was told they’d have to “call it in”. There was no holding of my wrists and I wasn’t taken into a room, even after testing positive for Plutonium. Instead the Agents offered me a bathroom, let me hold onto my passport, called me “Ma’am” and promised they would be quick. I’m not trying to make a moral of the story case here, but a large part of me felt for this man and others who endure this type of treatment throughout their lives.

For those of you who have travelled to other countries for PRRT or another radiation procedure, this story is not unique. Had this experience occurred while I was a cancer underclassman, it might have upset me, but as I enter my senior year as a survivor, I was able to call my husband laughing as Agents cleared me 30 minutes later.

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Cloudy with a high chance of affordable healthcare

Montreal: Canadians are Hard Core

My husband has been pining to go to Quebec for years, but because I am the travel planner, it has always gotten overruled by a more exotic destination. So, when he was asked to attend a two-week training in Montreal, I decided to ride his coat tails, once again, and take advantage of the company paid, downtown hotel room. Plus, it was Valentine’s weekend and what better place to spend it than in a city that is a perfect mélange of our two cultures and languages.

I know what your thinking. Who goes to Montreal in February? I spent 31 years in Detroit and could handle a weekend in Montreal. BUT I didn’t expect it to be the coldest damn winter in 20 years. Let this Buzzfeed article put things in perspective: 25 Truly Terrifying Photos of the Snow in Eastern Canada.

Not exactly motivating to get out of bed and "Carpe Diem".

Not exactly motivating to get out of bed and Carpe Diem.

We arrived late Friday night and quickly jumped in a warm taxi to our hotel. Saturday, we set out to have a hardy breakfast and do our normal marathon sightseeing. Within a block of the hotel, we realized our hats, gloves and shoes were not going to cut it if we wanted to keep our extremities. A few more blocks and the husband got desperate. I spotted a shop with more appropriate gear and we were like moths to a flame. $80 was spent on warmer hats, mittens and socks. A minor investment to protect this blogger’s typing fingers.

With a 20 degree increase in our core body temperature, we popped into a great little diner for breakfast and reevaluated our strategy for the day. I didn’t want to lose any toes so I suggested we throw in some indoor activities. The wait staff overheard us and chimed in with a couple great suggestions and detailed instructions on which bus to take. It’s true, Canadians really are so nice.

Normally, we are not museum people and would rather spend our time in a city walking around parks, districts and ports, but Montreal is the exception to the general rule. So off the Biodome and Planetarium we went.  The rest of Montreal had the same idea because the place was packed with other smart people who wanted to avoid hypothermia. Both venues were really well done, warm, indoors and worth every penny. Did I mention they were warm and indoors? We spent a few hours there and decided it would be a shame to let the jacuzzi at our hotel go to waste at a time like this. I can promise you, never has a hot tub been more appreciated.

Bundled up in Old Montreal

Bundled up in Old Montreal

We didn’t stay long because it was Valentine’s Day and we had dinner reservations at a 5-star Yelp reviewed restaurant called Santa Barbara. It did not disappoint. Situated in a quaint little residential neighborhood, the cozy restaurant had unique dishes that accommodated me (the plant eater) and my husband (the meat lover). Warm, happy and stuffed we must have forgotten the meteorological situation when we decided to take a walk through Old Montreal after dinner. The tiny streets and walkways were adorable and made us feel like we were in Europe. In about 30 seconds we were near frozen and stopped in a creperie for dessert. The price of the crepe was worth the heat, but let’s just say Montreal chefs should stick to poutine. Officially in a food coma and sick of not being able to feel my toes, we headed back to the hotel. It was one of the coldest walks of my life….until Sunday…and Monday, for that matter.

Prior to arriving in Montreal, we had read about the underground city and Sunday we set out in search of this elusive area. After several wrong turns and asking a few locals, we found what was a ginormous underground shopping mall. I was picturing Parisian catacombs and not the Mall of America, but whatever – it was indoors and warm, which was our only requirement at this time.

It was too cold to take pictures, but this one from Google captures Parc du Mont Royal perfectly.

It was too cold to take pictures, but this one from Google captures Parc du Mont Royal perfectly.

By lunch, the sun was deceiving shining and we decided when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So, cross-country skiing we went. Oh! My! Gawd! I have never been so cold in all my life. I nearly cried because the wind was so fierce and frigid. Normally, I break a nice sweat during cross-country, but I stayed frozen the whole time. However, what was most shocking was the all Canadians soaking up the snow. They were running, walking, playing, ice-skating, cross-country skiing and snow shoeing without so much as batting an eye. I will admit that the scenery was beautiful. On top of Parc du Mont Royal, we were surrounded with snow-covered trees, blue sky and views of the city below.  After a couple of hours, I had enough and wanted to teleport to the jacuzzi. Waiting for the bus was treacherous. My feet where officially white and my lips purple when we finally made it to the hotel.

Hey Girl, It's cold outside.

Hey Girl, It’s cold outside.

It’s hard to believe that Monday was supposed to be coldest day after the events of Sunday, but it was true. Preemptively, I decided we should go to the Warhol exhibit at the Fine Arts Museum. So, we waited for the bus, only to arrive and find it closed because it was a Monday. Therefore, we went to the more touristic Grevin Wax Museum. While less culturally stimulating, it was probably more fun than Warhol. With nothing indoor left to do on our list, we surrendered and spent the afternoon in the hotel jacuzzi. I was done with the cold and have no regrets.

I was ready to go home, but my Monday night flight back to Nashville was cancelled due to an ice storm in the south. One would think a travel warrior like myself might take advantage of the extra day and take in that Warhol exhibit. Nope. Slept in and went to the jacuzzi instead.

Yes, the cold was unbearable, but we still enjoyed the weekend. I loved speaking French with the Québécois and loved that when I got stuck, I could bounce back to English without missing a beat. Montreal is a beautiful North American city, but I don’t feel like I experienced it in all its glory, so I hope to return one day, preferably in July. Until then, Canadians, I salute you and your ability to endure these extreme conditions. You are hard core!

Vancouver Makes Me Sad

Vancouver makes me sad only because it was a everything I love about cities, rolled into one and I couldn’t stay. There were metros and beaches and runners and bikers and markets and fresh fish and blue skies and mountains and 70 weather with no humidity and boats and Tim Horton’s on every corner and bars and parks and kayakers and paddle boarding and dogs and dog beaches and shopping….shall I continue? I was not happy about leaving. Arriving in the city, we quickly made it to our hotel in the posh, yuppy district of Coal Harbour. A complete 180 from the roach motel we stayed in the night before. We immediately dropped our luggage and headed out for a walk along the harbor. City view on one side, Vancouver Bay and mountains on the other. Perfect. From there we stumbled into a quaint little area called Gastown where a bike race was going on. The neighborhood was packed with spectators and we parked ourselves at a bar for a while to watch. After boredom of watching bikes circle and circle, we ventured off to the most unimpressive Chinatown I’ve ever been into. Then, we ate at the worst restaurant we’ve ever ate in, something that’s become a bit of a first meal in a new city tradition. Disgusted, we walked back to the hotel through an area where I’m pretty sure I saw about 5 people who were completely high on bath salts. Strangely enough, it was just a couple blocks from our posh digs. I turned my engagement ring around and made a mental note to avoid this area.

Our backyard

Our backyard

Our neighborhood, Coal Harbour

Our neighborhood, Coal Harbour

Gastown

Gastown

The next day we used a Groupon for a Hop on Hop off bus or a HOHO, which is way more fun to say. I’ve never done on of those before and I think it’s a great thing for people who are old or have kids. We are totally fine taking the subway and paying a few dollars for the challenge of navigating a city. For $20, the HOHO is pretty pricey for able body people. We spent most of the day at Granville Island strolling the market and grazing on fruits, veggies, cheese, bread and desserts. Then we finished the HOHO tour and walked through the gay neighborhood of Davie and the cities most expensive neighborhood of West End. All of this was followed by an indulgent sushi dinner. I was falling hard for Vancouver. One of my favorite days was spent riding bikes through all the neighborhoods in the city and Stanley Park. We stopped to eat and drink often and I wondered if this is what it would be like if we lived here. Probably.

Stanley Park

Stanley Park

trailfactsThe last day was spent taking a boat and bus to Grouse Mountain to do the famous, Grouse Grind or as the locals call it, The Grind.  This is a 1.8 mile trail up the face of Grouse Mountain. The Grind’s website says, “This trail is very challenging. Keep in mind that there is a wide range of mountaintop trails that might better suit the average hiker.” Are we average hikers? I wanted to find out. So, I’m happy to report that based on the results of our hike, I’m a little more in shape than the average bear. As for Fabien, I’m having him tested for performance enhancing drugs.

The Grouse Grind is no joke!

The Grouse Grind is no joke!

A preview of the Grind

A preview of the Grind

I’m not gonna lie – it was hard. At some point, my legs were shaking so bad, I had to stop. Not to mention I was profusely sweating. However, I was doing a lot better than 90% of the people on the trail. I was pretty sure a few people were going to need a helicopter rescue. Then there were the super humans. Women and men who ran past me. One man I talked to for a while said he does it every day. You can actually get a chip that will keep your stats and compare you to the other climbers. If we lived in Vancouver, we would definitely be doing this regularly. It was an amazing workout. After a big, rewarding lunch and shower, we finished off our Vancouver adventure at a music festival followed by a yummy seafood dinner. We took the bus back to our neighborhood and it stopped in the sketchy area a few blocks from our hotel. Again, the druggies. Our flight home was at 7am and we woke up early to head to the airport. I flipped on the news and saw the report that Cory Monteith, one of the stars of Glee, over dosed on drugs in Vancouver, at the Pacific Rim hotel, which was on the very same block as our hotel. We walked passed the scene on the way to the metro and it was eerily quiet. Strangely, there were no reporters or fans yet. I’m not a fan of the show, but, of course, it’s really sad thing. Had we passed him getting off the bus when we walked through the sketchy area? Maybe. Moral of the story, say no to drugs, kids. I returned to Nashville bummed. I don’t want to hate on my city, but Vancouver is everything I love about big cities and traveling. <Insert sad face here> To check out all our photos of Canada, click here. And to read about our trip in the Rockies, click here.