Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Day Five

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to Edmonton, Alberta
Today's km: 655.4 Total km: 3597.7

I woke up feeling refreshed in Saskatoon, ate a shitty breakfast at Denny's and hit the road. I knew my two toughest days of driving were behind me, so I was in good spirits for about fifteen minutes, until I was back in the praries proper. I barely participated in the driving process for a few hours, with the cruise control on and touching the wheel only when the tire alignment threatened to bring my a little off course. After what seemed like forever, I hit the town of Lloydminster ("Canada's Border Town!"), stopped for gas and a cheeseburger, and popped out the other end into Alberta.


I've always loved Alberta, and it was a relief to see the rolling hills, again. There's just something about Alberta that makes you want to call it 'big sky country'. The weather was perfect, the view once again tolerable and I had defaulted to an old favourite audiobook (Fool, by Christopher Moore) to keep my company.

Having driven through the rocky Canadian shield in 'winter wonderland' mode, through the flat but beautiful prairies and knowing the rockies and west coast await me, I felt a deep, comfortable love for this country. After my six months living in Virginia and feeling for the first time that I would be able to forsake my home and native land and set down roots somewhere else, it felt good to remember just how wrong that is. This giant, insane, beautiful country is my home, no matter where I travel, I'll always end up here.

The trip was wholly uneventful and I arrived fairly quickly at the home of another good friend in Edmonton. They made me a lovely dinner, I played with their gorgeous son and went to sleep full, happy and comfortable. I'm a lucky girl.

One photogenic little dude

Day Four

Shilo, Manitoba to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Today's km: 639.9 Total km: 2942.3

My friend's lovely wife made us eggs benedict in the morning and I was taken for a tour of the base and a chance to catch up a little.

A little worse for wear after three days of driving

I received hugs from the kids and headed out to "the" gas station to fill up for the road. I felt like I was on the set of an old-timey western. There were wagon wheels nailed to the building and dust was everywhere. I set off through Brandon and before I realized it, I was in Saskatchewan. I was mad that I missed the "Welcome to Saskatchewan" sign, but I'm sure I'll survive. At least Saskatchewan had the decency to be interestingly flat. In Manitoba, it was flat enough to be boring but not so flat as to be kind of fascinating, which is how I found Saskatchewan. Flat, flat, flat. People aren't kidding when you ask them what the prairies are like and they reply with "flat". Because they're flat.

Seriously. Flat.

I was listening to the I Am Legend audiobook (the film was shit, the book is great), but it started to get really bleak and I actually had to turn it off for fear that it would, when coupled with the flatness of the prairies, sap my will to live. I passed through Regina and took a little Tim Horton's break, then carried on to Saskatoon. By the time I got to my hotel, I was full-blown talking to myself and very greatful to be out of the car.

The hotel was nice. I sat in the "tropical" lounge area and treated myself to a therapeutic glass of red with my dinner.


I wanted to do some writing and uploading, but instead, I caught up on Community (hilarious) and Justified (badass) and promptly passed out cold on the king-sized bed.

Still flat.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Day Three

Thunder Bay, Ontario to Shilo, Manitoba
Today's km: 798.4 Total km: 2302.4

As I suspected, breakfast was served PROMPTLY at seven. I dragged my sleepy ass out of bed and made my way down to the dining room where my host was dressed, I shit you not, in full chef's gear, complete with white, buttoned jacket and hilarious foot tall white paper hat. I was served my "fruit cocktail" complete with plastic carnation stuck in the side, followed by my previous night's order of french toast and glass of juice. When he finished serving, he asked the other guest and I if there was anything else we needed. I shook my head and my fellow guest started talking about how she already got her Tim Horton's coffee and she couldn't believe they changed the sized and she'd never get through this giant bucket of coffee and... The host interrupted her mid-sentence "Ladies, is there anything else you need?". We both said "no". "Then I'll excuse myself so you can enjoy your breakfast. I'll be back to collect the keys later." This little old English dude takes this bed and breakfast as serious as a heart attack. I loved it.

The other woman at the table made a pretty awesome point over breakfast. Here we were, two unaccompanied women, who had simply decided to get into their cars (that they each own themselves) and drive all the way across our vast and beautiful country, because it's what we wanted to do. It made me feel pretty fortunate to realize that that kind of freedom isn't even imagined in some other countries, let alone permitted. I really love Canada.

Now, they will know we were here.

I set off on the road again and had a mild panic attack when one of my warning lights on the dash switched on. I pulled off the road and calmed down a little when I realized that this little circle with dots could mean absolutely anything. According to my owner's manual, it was just a notice to service the front brake pads within the next 10 000 km, so I carried on, unphased. The terrain continued to be rocks and trees and lakes with winding and hilly road and winter was out in full force, making the landscape look just painfully Canadian.

I drove through a Group of Seven painting

As if someone hit a switch, the road flattened out, the rocks, trees and lakes disappeared and the snow stopped falling. I had hit Manitoba.


The road went on, more or less in exactly the same manner, until finally I could see Winnipeg in the distance. (The really far distance, this is the prairies, after all). I skirted the city on the ring road to the north and kept on trucking through to just before Brandon, where CFB Shilo sits. The directions my friend gave me neglected the fact that the road I was on changed into something else and I actually had to turn to stay on the road I wanted. I ended up on a dirt road surrounded by fields and thought it was entirely plausible that this is where I would find his house. He found this somewhat offensive and told me, several times throughout my stay, that he doesn't live in a field off a dirt road. He redirected me and I arrived at his house more or less unscathed. I hadn't seen him since my sister's wedding a bunch of years earlier, so it was great to catch up. They gave me hot food and a hot shower and it wasn't long before I had passed out cold on their futon. Just prior to my doing so, howerver, his oldest daughter (eleven) brought me a portrait she had drawn of me. It was awesome and will have a special place on my fridge.

I think she really captured my likeness.

(Note: Again, edited to add photos.)

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Day Two

Echo Bay, Ontario to Thunder Bay, Ontario
Today's km: 764.6 Total km: 1504

When I woke up this morning, Carol cooked me a fantastic breakfast and relayed the fact that the home I had slept in was, without a word of a lie, built on an ancient burial ground. She had some elders from the local reserve in to do a tobacco blessing, which she now does herself regularly.

After I signed her guest book (which was the "Gratitude Journal" by the makers of The Secret, I was off.

The Canadian Shield is a spectacularly pleasant backdrop for a long journey and between the view and the rest of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, it was another easy driving day. My GPS originally estimated the trip at just under eleven hours. I made it comfortably in eight, winding through the rocks and trees, covered with a light dusting of pure, white snow.


Not long after I was through the Sault, I started to see signs proclaiming "last fuel for 200km, up ahead". I was still at three quarters of a tank, but you can never be too careful, especially in the North. I pulled in a gravel drive and stopped next to a great big gas tank with old-fashioned pumps on either end. They were locked in place, so I waited for an employee to wander over to me. I knew I was very close to a number of native reserves, so I wasn't at all surprised when I was greeted by a gentleman wearing mukluks and a hunting jacket. What surprised me, however, was the raging cockney accent that spewed forth when he opened his mouth. He was good fun.

I think Hula was a little out of her element.

Two hundred kilometres later, as promised, I drove through the town of Wawa. Their thing is giant geese. I'm really not sure why.

Why not, I suppose?

The snow got a little thicker as I continued winding north, but I quickly made it to Thunder Bay and had no trouble finding my next B & B, conveniently located in downtown TBay. While last night's host was all dream journals and crystal healing, this little old English dude runs this place with military efficiency. He is not fucking around with the business of bed and breakfast. He welcomed me at the door, offered me some slippers and immediately had me "sign in", which meant providing contact info on a little pre-printed slip of paper. He gave me a brief but effective tour (including photos of his business partner beside various stars of Coronation Street throughout the ages), instructed me to bolt the door on my way in or our, turn off any lights I turn on and proceeded to take my breakfast order in an efficient manner. He then told me how to get a hold of him if I needed him and politely excused himself off to his quarters, wherever they may be.

Left to my own devices fairly early, I had a quick dinner in a properly old-people restaurant and spent the rest of the evening making friends with a native girl at a black jack table at the casino. At one point, I had turned my twenty into sixty-five dollars, and then spent another hour losing it all. I'm a terrible gambler.

I'm now tucked away comfortably in a bedroom that would not have been out of place in my Nan's old house in the eighties. I shut the orange velvet curtains (oh yes) and will try and get a decent night's sleep since tomorrow is my heaviest driving day, and I'm actually a little afraid of being late for breakfast.

You thought I was kidding about the orange velvet, didn't you?

(Note: Edited to include photos)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Day One

Burlington, Ontario to Echo Bay (Just outside Sault Ste. Marie), Ontario
Today's km: 739.4

When I drove home from Virginia last month, I listened to an audiobook and found it made the journey feel spectacularly easy, compared to just listening to music and talking to myself. I was worried, though, that it was some kind of fluke and I was going to end up driving myself into Lake Superior just to end the boredom.

As it turns out, it wasn't a fluke. Driving really is much easier with a good book to listen to along the way. For my first day's trip, I chose Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. By the time I arrived at my destination, I was two thirds of the way in and I didn't want to get out of my car, I was so engrossed.

The trip was smooth and easy, all the way through. I stopped and said goodbye to mum, who was surprisingly chill about my leaving, got myself a diet coke and started off north. By the time I hit cottage country, I was moving along at a comfortable pace, enjoying the scenery and the story. Really, I had nothing to complain about. The road was flat and straight, the weather was clear but not too sunny and the traffic was minimal. My destination, fortunately, turned out to be much more interesting.

The Big Nickel!

I pulled off the Trans Canada just before reaching the Sault and watched as the bars on my cell phone disappeared, one by one, until I reached the banks of The North Channel of Lake George (apparently, I had to look it up). I had arrived at a beautiful home, right on the water. My brain was vibrating slightly from listening to the hum of the car for so long, and I really just wanted to sit quietly and eat my hummus while the sun set. Carol, the proprietor of the B&B, however, seemed very, very glad for the company and invited me to sit and chat with her for a while. She told me about her travels, her guests, her kids, their families, their jobs, her house, her divorce, her bankruptcy and how she was putting good energy out into the universe and hoping to get the same back. She was very sweet.

Eventually, she must have seen that I was tired (and mildly frightened) because she gave me the tour and showed me to my room. After politely declining her offer for dinner, I managed to sneak away to my room, set myself up on the balcony and watch the sun set over the water.

Sort of self-explanatory, right?

March isn't the ideal time to sit outside for an hour in Northern Ontario, so after the sun set, I partook in the enormous whirlpool bath next to my room and soaked away the day. I watched two episodes of Justified and fell happily asleep on a very comfortable and well-appointed bed.

photo (3)
Not a bad way to end the first day.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In Case You're Interested

So, I'm no longer a flying nurse (at the moment), but that doesn't mean I'm stationary (gross). I'm driving across the continent this week and, hopefully, I'll be chronicling that journey as I go on this site. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Trip Number Ten: Newfoundland to Toronto

Finally, a trip that didn't start with the word 'weird'.

Not weird, but certainly intense, terrifying and uncomfortable.

That's right, I was back on the air ambulance for this one. With a proper sick person.

It had been a really enjoyable Friday night. I sent a quick email to let the company know I was going to a concert and they said they wouldn't need me so enjoy myself. I saw a couple of great bands at my first outdoor show of the summer with great company and met some lovely Much Music employees at a stranger's birthday party at a sausage bar on King West (yup, sausage bar). We meandered back to my apartment and made it in around 1:30am. At 1:40, I got the call that I was needed on the air ambulance.

"You're going on a quick trip to Newfoundland. Be at the hangar at three."

"Three o'clock tomorrow? No problem, I'll be there."

"No. As in now. Go there now."


So, frightened, and not a little sleepy, I made my way to the hangar. I met one of the pilots there and he told me that he hadn't slept either. This did not make me feel good. (I guess they're used to this kind of thing the way I am, but it still scared the shit out of me at the time.)

We flew to Newfoundland and went directly to the hospital where we were ushered into the ICU. Now, to clarify, I'm an ER nurse. I stabilize people and send them to the ICU. I am not as familiar as I'd like to be with the delicate intricacies of ICU nursing. Of all the other kinds of hospital nurses, they're the ones I have the most respect for. They have to be extremely knowledgeable and skilled, and their job isn't the kind of thing step in to from another department. Unless, of course, you're alone on a tiny plane high above the ground with no other option.

When you've been in the ER long enough, you develop a skill for keeping a straight face and appearing calm in situations that are actually pants-shittingly terrifying. It's a handy skill, and I employed the hell out of it when we arrived at the ICU. I'll skip all the details in the interest of patient confidentiality, but it was definitely way outside of my comfort zone.

With the exception of a few tense moments after take-off, the respiratory therapist and I kept the patient stable and got him safely to his destination. And I only threw up once. (It may be time to consider a better intervention for the air-sickness than ginger pills. Thankfully, the patient's spouse was fast asleep when I did it, and the RT didn't mock me too much.)

Despite it being a tense and sleepless trip, it gave me a massive amount of confidence in dealing with seriously ill patients while on the air ambulance. I also have to admit how hilarious I found it to be driving in an ambulance, lights and sirens blaring, up the shoulder of a packed Gardiner Expressway. It was more than a little badass. I'm almost looking forward to the next one, now.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Trip Number Nine: Vancouver Island to Edmonton

Itinerary: Toronto (YYZ) - Vancouver (YVR) - Campbell River (YBL) - Port McNeill - Port Hardy (YZT) - Edmonton (YEG) - Toronto (YYZ)

I got the call shortly after returning from Portugal. "OK, this one's weird."

"Yeah, I'm super surprised by that", I answered.

Although this was a nice, domestic trip, it still had a few snags. First, there were no flights into the TINY airport where I was picking up my patient. Also, the patient was well enough to drive himself the six hours home from Edmonton.

"So, why am I transporting this guy?" I asked.

"I really don't know", they answered.

Oh well, a trip is a trip and I've always wanted to see Vancouver Island. I found out about the flight late in the evening and had already made plans to see a late show with the girls, so getting to the office for six am was unpleasant. Fortunately, the flight was going on to Seoul, so it was one of those massive planes with proper beds in first class. I managed to snag an upgrade spot and, after my pancake breakfast, I flattened out my seat, pulled up my duvet and slept like a baby. I even managed to sleep through the fresh-baked cookies with vanilla ice cream they served before landing (I know, I know, now I'm just being a dick, but it's really fun up there!).

The airplane culture-shock set in when I went to board my next flight and asked why I didn't have a seat assigned.

"Oh, you just sit anywhere. There are only a few seats on the plane, anyway", the gate attendant told me, with a 'have fun, city girl' smile on her face. I think I might be getting used to the tiny planes, though, since I was completely distracted by the incredible view. It was like one of those chartered sight-seeing planes that treated me to a gorgeous view of the Straight and the islands.


The journey didn't end there, though. I had to get up to the Northern tip of the island and the only way I could do that was by taxi. A three and a half hour taxi. The view was gorgeous and the cab driver a self-professed 'red neck' who spouted such incredible wisdoms as "I don't need some new-fangled bit of plastic full of buttons to do my math, I use my noggin." It was interesting.

I made it to Port McNeill in one piece, worked out some kinks with my patient's rental car and had dinner in town with him and his wife. Usually, I would decline the offer to join a patient for dinner, preferring instead to go exploring on my own, but I was hungry, and there are two restaurants in Port McNeill, so the chances of an awkward run-in would have been very high.

IMG_0578Mountains, ocean and boats are always a winning combination, in my books.

After that, the whole thing was very uneventful. The flight out left from the next town over and being in the airport felt like we were going back in time. No security whatsoever. No actual baggage check (I held on to my medical kit and handed the rest up to a crew member kneeling in the cargo hold of the plane). Only two flights out that day.

IMG_0586Ours was the next flight, and only slightly bitter.

The company was kind enough to respond favourably to my request to spend a little extra time in Edmonton. I dropped the patient off, got some sleep and spent the better part of the next day hanging out with good friends I hadn't seen for a while and meeting an extremely cute baby.

IMG_0585Always good advice

While I really love the international travel aspect of this job, it's always nice to spend some time in my own, beautiful country. It reminds me how incredible Canada is and revives my appreciation this enormous and diverse chunk of land and its people. I particularly enjoyed the fact that, no matter where I was, be it Toronto, Edmonton or the tiny towns of Vancouver Island, there was one topic on everyone's minds: hockey. I swear, I had about twelve different conversations about hockey with as many different strangers while I travelled, and I only initiated two or three of them. It made the whole trip feel like home. It was nice.

Photo of the YVR control tower posted by user Midvale on the Canuck's web forum.

My favourite comedy moment of the trip, - chatting with my cab driver in Edmonton about what I do for a living, we had this little exchange:

"Oh, that's like that movie, you know, with George Clooney. He's always flying places and he wants to get a million airmiles? I think it's called Air Miles."
"Up In The Air?"
"Yeah, Air Miles. Good movie."

Click here for a few more photos from the island.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Trip Number Eight: Portugal to Ontario

Itinerary: Toronto (YYZ) - Porto (OPO) - Lisbon (LIS) - Faro (FAO) - Toronto (YYZ)

In stark contrast to my last trip, that promised to be simple and wasn't, this trip was meant to be "really fucking weird" (in the words of my ever-delicate boss) and, fortunately, wasn't.

When I asked him to explain what he meant by that, he responded with "well, there's about a forty-five percent chance that you'll get kicked off the flight with the patient. We've never flown with this airline and I think they're going to have a problem with you. Oh, and you're going to have to fight them to take your medical kit on board. So, you know, weird".


In addition, the family had booked my flight out themselves and decided I might enjoy a tour of the airports of Portugal prior to arriving at my destination.

I didn't.

It wasn't terrible, really. Just exhausting. I worked a night shift the previous night and took off for Porto after only a few hours of sleep. I figured I'd sleep happily on the plane. Instead, I stretched and twitched and repositioned and muttered expletives under my breath for six and a half hours. I slept for an hour on the floor by the gate at the airport and then, thankfully, had a row to myself on the hour journey to Lisbon, where I stretched out and slept through the entire flight. Still not quite satisfied, I had a fantastic nap on a couch like the hobo that I am, in the first class lounge at Lisbon airport (OK, maybe not exactly like a hobo). I woke up a few hours later and discovered something very, very exciting.

I was in Portugal.

Portugal has purple trees, which I enjoy.

It may not seem like a big deal, considering how often I've travelled in the past few months. It wasn't even a destination I've been desperate to see. But it was at that moment that I realized that I was in Portugal, and that meant Portuguese custard tarts (or, Pasteis de Nata). In the lounge, there was an entire tray of freshly baked tarts, just waiting there for me. I'm not ashamed to admit that I probably ate more than my fair share. They're my very favourite baked good.

In a far better mood than before, I hopped one more short flight down to Faro and met my patient and her family, who were some of the sweetest and friendliest people I've had the pleasure of meeting. At the ATM in the airport at Faro, I saw a very upset French woman (as evidenced by her indescriminate use of the word 'merde') and thought I might try and intervene. I had a brief conversation with her, in french no less, and managed to guide her to the cash exchange office. Following this, I mentally high-fived myself for being so bad-assedly international.

I love going to countries where I know at least a word or two of the native language. I thanked everyone I met profusely, since 'obrigado' is one of those words. I didn't realize before just how strange Portuguese sounds to my English ears. It's as though Spanish and German had an illegitimate love child that they sent away to be raised by Italian. Thankfully, they use the same word for nurse that the Spanish do (or at least they understood me when I said it, so customs was a breeze). I also played my favourite game with the cab driver from the airport, which is to point at things in turn and tell each other the names for them in our own languages. Unfortunately, you learn a lot of words like car and hobo, and not as many words that are useful in conversation.

The hotel, unfortunately, was in a sort of industrial area and since there wasn't a lot of sunlight left, I didn't make the forty-five minute walk to the beach like I should have. After poking around for a bit and having dinner, I went back to my hotel to discover that Faro has excellent surf and surfboards could be cheaply rented. I wish I had known this earlier since, you know, I can surf now.


It didn't take long for me to pass out, blissfully exhausted and full of custard. The following day, I picked up my patient from the spectacularly helpful staff at the hospital and we went back to the airport.

Rather than kick us off the plane, the airline had a representative meet us at the curb, guide us through the process of boarding and clearing customs and take us to the plane on some kind of hilarious enclosed fork-lift thing. During the flight, they were marvellously supportive, if a little overzealous in their attention to our needs. So much so, in fact, that rather than assume I had made arrangements for our continued transport, they called 911 from the air and an army of fire-fighters, paramedics, police, airport security and Canada customs agents met us on the tarmac upon landing. Although the whole thing was a little embarassing, I was pretty tired after another eight-hour sleepless flight, and glad for the help disembarking.

Once we were safely in the terminal and the misunderstanding had been resolved, we met up with one of our ground ambulances and made the uneventful journey out to small-town Ontario to transfer care of the patient. Her family were incredibly grateful for my services and her husband hugged me like family and shed a thankful tear while wishing me all the best and safe journey home. That's the kind of thing that makes me like this job, despite the uncomfortable flights, lost nights of sleep and airplane food.


As always, the rest of the photos are right here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Trip Number Seven: Nassau to Toronto

Itinerary: Toronto (YYZ) - Nassau (NAS) - Toronto (YYZ)

I should have known from the very beginning that the words "easy" and "straightforward" were going to amount to neither of those things. At least we got the "quick" part, right. Although, I would have happily spent a little more time in the warm sun with the ocean breeze.

I was meant to pick up a young woman with a few minor fractures. When I met her, she was in no condition to travel and dead-set on avoiding the plane trip the next day. So, essentially, I had an overnight trip to the Bahamas that involved very little work, but even less free time.

The insurance company actually put me up in a resort hotel, which was pretty sweet. The view from my balcony was lovely and the sound of the ocean never fails to make me happy.

The view.

I managed to spend a couple of hours laying on the beach reading my book, and another couple at the hotel's sketchy casino, where I won twenty bucks playing blackjack!

Both flights were uneventful, although the trip home brought me closer to vomiting in public than I have been in many years. I'm beginning to question the wisdom of a job that can make me feel so shitty, sometimes.

But then again:


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Trip Number Six: Belgrade to Illinois

Itinerary: Toronto (YYZ) - Munich (MUC) - Belgrade (BEG) - Frankfurt (FRA) - Chicago (ORD) - Paducah, Kentucky (PAH) - Chicago (ORD) - Toronto (YYZ)

I have to tell you, this trip was a little weird. Perhaps I should have thought twice about leaving for the the airport straight from a funeral, but I feel like it set the off-kilter tone for this whole gig. I liked it, obviously, because I'm comfortable with strange, but I'm still a little in awe of this one. Let me tell you why.

Right off the bat, I was cranky. My overnight to Munich was crowded and the beds in first class were already full, so I couldn't get the upgrade. Someone was kind enough to bump me to a bulkhead, but I was still sat next to a man who didn't respect the boundary implied by the armrest and spent nearly the whole nine hours wedged awkwardly up against my arm. Then, I nearly got trapped in Munich because my ticket to Belgrade was somehow not valid. They had actually closed the gate, but, again, someone was kind enough to sort it out for me. Honestly, that whole 'kindness of strangers' thing? I couldn't survive without it.

Not a bad view from the plane.

Finally, I arrived in Belgrade. The airport was considerably less creepy than the one in Honduras and I felt comfortable enough getting a taxi on my own. The first person that offered was wearing an official enough-looking ID badge, so off I went. My driver was born and raised in Belgrade and was more than happy to tell me about the city, its politics and its attractions. When I mentioned I was only there for one day, he said (in his comedically Balkan accent) "This is tragedy! You can see nothing in this time! I will show you my city!" My own personal tour-guide (and a non-threatening one, at that) seemed like the right way for me to see what I could of the city, so I took him up on his offer. After a lovely hot shower at my hotel, he picked me back up and took me to the 'old city'.

Leaving the hotel, we drove past the 'gypsy town' located in the middle of the city. It was a collection of thrown-together shacks laid out haphazardly in a village with hijacked electricity and no obvious means of obtaining fresh water. I saw a group of children cooking some kind of meat on an open fire. It was a pretty incredible sight.

Our first stop was Kalemegdan (Калемегдан), the Belgrade Fortress. It was a gorgeous day, so the area (now a park and tourist attraction) was packed with people. My driver nonchalantly bribed the parking attendant and we suddenly managed to find a very convenient spot near the entrance that was previously closed. Нэйша (pronounced 'NEY-shah'), my driver and tour guide, got out and walked with me through the ruins of the fotress.

Kalemegdan, parts of which were built as early as the 15th century.

It really was a beautiful day.

Afterwards, we went for a drive around the new city, while he gave a brief summary of the last 50 years or so in the area's history. Essentially, each big city in the world looks like most other ones, but I took pictures of the buildings because they were neat.

Hotel in New Belgrade.

He also drove me past the buildings that the US bombed back in the '90s that still stand as monuments to that moment in history. He asked if I wanted a picture there, but I didn't feel right making an attraction of destruction that killed civilians. He seemed oddly disappointed.

By that time, I was both hungry and tired. I asked him to show me a good restaurant with real local cuisine near the water. There is a line of boats on the shore of the Danube that house different restaurants. The parking is sort of central and then you walk along the docks to the various restaurants. He walked with me to a nice-looking Serbian restaurant and spoke to the host for me. At this point, I hesitated, expecting him to tell me what I owed him for his services. Before I could ask him, he simply sat down at the table the host showed us to and opened a menu. It was a bit awkward, but he was good company and told me about his family and his dreams of owning a cottage on the Danube. The food, however, was awful. I ordered a 'Serbian delicacy' which essentially equated to fishsticks wrapped in bacon covered with ranch dressing.

Exhausted (and still a little hungry), I returned to my hotel. I wish I had taken pictures in the lobby, but I try not to come off as too much of a tourist when I'm by myself. In any case, it felt like going back in time. There was a strange, '60s Eastern Bloc, cold war vibe that made me believe it had housed its fair share of KGB agents and international spies. I fell asleep quickly but woke up for a few hours in the night and had to pass the time with Serbian late-night television until I fell asleep again.

The next morning, I picked up my patient from a private hospital in an affluent neighbourhood in the new city. I had never seen anything quite like it. The hospital was housed in a four-story, converted apartment buildling. It was absolutely gorgeous, with lots of sunlight, wrought-iron chandeliers, a well-equipped kitchen with private chef on each floor of three rooms and classical music playing in the background. I was invited to sit for coffee with the hospital's owner and administrator prior to beginning our journey home. It was a wonderfully bizarre experience and I was almost sorry to leave. I'm sure my patient felt the same way.

The trip home was fairly uneventful. Our flight between Belgrade and Frankfurt on Lufthansa was staffed by a collection of Die Hard villians, but the service was excellent and the seats were comfortable. After about 26 hours of combined travel, I blissfully passed out in a hotel in the tiny town of Paducah, Kentucky.


Before heading back to Toronto, I walked to a Cracker Barrel restaurant for breakfast, where I was introduced to some impeccable Kentucky hospitality (and adorable accents). I specifically chose the Cracker Barrel because of fond memories of stopping there with my family on our way to Myrtle Beach for vacation every year, and it was exactly as I remembered it. The airport had a little viewing garden near the runway where I spent my last few hours on this trip out in the sunshine, enjoying the quiet calm of the small town.

I flew home via O'Hare (where I saw a nun in her habit on a netbook in the first class lounge) and made it home safely, if a little shocked by the strangeness of it all.

The rest of the photos can be found here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

An Addendum

Apparently, I wasn' t the only one that found the John Travolta Qantas Safety briefing to be ridiculous.

Follow the link to a Toronto Star article and you can watch the actual safety briefing. I audibly went 'what the?' when I first saw it.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Notes on Air Safety Briefings

Even before I started this job, I was a fairly regular air travelling. Anyone else that frequents flights can tell you that the flight safety briefing is generally a mind-numbing affair. One can usually quote the entire thing from start to finish on any airline, as they're pretty much the same wherever you go.

I'm starting to notice the subtle (and not so subtle) differences between airlines that show pre-recorded video safety briefings from a few key airlines around the world.

For example, from the people that brought you the naked flight attendant's in body paint safety briefing (which is hilarious for their facial expressions alone), I give you: Air New Zealand's 'Crazy About Rugby' Air Safety Briefing.

For some reason, the line "If you need to get up to stretch your hammies" had me giggling on my first Air New Zealand flight, and the poor flight attendant that's denied a kiss from his favourite rugby hero caused an audible "awww".

This was the first safety briefing video that caused me to take particular note of such videos on flights. It's clear they put a lot of effort into not only the concept, but the execution as well. For someone flying regularly, it's very much appreciated.

Some airlines haven't put quite that much thought into the process.

The following is Continental's video briefing which, at first glance, is perfectly average. But, listen closely, as we seem to be observing the safety points in an old-timey tavern.

TACA's video looks like a Power Point presentation. The passengers in Air Canada's flight safety briefing appear to be serene members of some kind of suicide cult. I just wish I could find a copy of the Qantas video so you could see guest pilot and airline ambassador John Travolta in all his cheesy, flight safety glory.

I'll keep an eye out for other good ones for you on my travels.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Trip Number Five: Honduras to Detroit

Itinerary: Toronto (YYZ) - Miami (MIA) - San Pedro Sula, Hondura (SAP) - Houston (IAH) - Detroit (DTW) - Toronto (YYZ)

I got a text while I was at work in the ER that just said, approximately, "Get rid of your shift on Monday, you're going to Central America in the morning". Naturally, I felt a bit sick. And very excited.

As it turned out, I was headed to Honduras. I think after flying to Syndey, no other flight is ever going to seem long again. After two short hops south, I landed in San Pedro Sula. It was one of those minuscule airports with two runways and a large room acting as the terminal. This is where I encountered my first problem. I had not yet been sent to a country where English was not the first language. I speak very little Spanish (poquito, in fact)and, with the airport being as small as it was, there was no tourist information booth in sight. I generally do a good job blending in when I travel, but I couldn't help but notice that, in my uniform and carrying my medical kit, I was being openly stared at by many of the locals. It also didn't help that I was unable to obtain any local currency from the cash machines and there were a number of people offering a 'taxi' who didn't appear to have any identification or markings indicating they were licensed taxi drivers. After an uncomfortable half hour of trying to figure out how to get to my hotel in one piece, I found a police officer and asked, with lots of hand gestures, where I could find a proper taxi. He pointed to a gentleman with an ID badge on and I happily followed him to his unmarked SUV.

Now, I have experienced some surreal moments in my life. Few of them, however, compare to the ride to my hotel. The driver started off in a very friendly way, pointing to things and telling me the spanish word for them. Then, he seemed to notice something in the distance and his mood became considerably more dark. As if in sympathy, the sky became more overcast and I noticed that the clouds seemed to be reaching down from the sky, with eerie tendrils laced around the green mountains beside us. The upbeat, '80s pop song on the radio ended and Hotel California began to play to a tense and silent cab. Finally, we were stopped by a convoy of cars loaded with people carrying giant red and black flags, screaming in spanish. My driver was obviously not sympathetic to their cause and honked his horn angrily while trying to push the front of his car into their convoy. When they finally passed, he remained silent, so I thought it best if I did the same and we rode the rest of the way to my hotel without another word. When I got to my room, I googled the letters I had seen on the flags and it turns out they were members of a resistance front party that doesn't recognize the current leadership's authority and promotes acts of civil disobedience. I would later see the name of their group spray-painted on numerous surfaces on my way back to the airport.

After that episode, I was glad to be comfortably in my hotel room. The sun was going down and, although it felt like a terrible wasted opportunity for exploring, I decided the best course of action would be to stick to the hotel overnight and forgo the adventure (and potential non-consensual sale of my organs).

It was much creepier at night, I assure you

From there, it was a quick and easy couple of flights home with a very nice patient who was medically quite well and I was back home before I knew it.

This trip served to remind me of a few things.
- I am spectacularly ignorant of what goes on in the rest of the world, having lead a relatively sheltered life here in Canada.
- I desperately wish I was fluent in more languages.
- Being able to at least say 'I'm a nurse' in other languages will continue to be invaluable at customs and security.
- I still wish I had a job like Anthony Bourdain's where I could just travel around the world and eat.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Trip Number Four: Hobart, Australia to Honolulu, Hawaii

Itinerary: Toronto (YYZ) - Vancouver (YVR) - Sydney (SYD) - Hobart, Tasmania (HBA) - Sydney (SYD) - Honolulu (HNL) - Vancouver (YVR) - Toronto (YYZ)

I'm fairly certain I've already told everyone I know about this trip, as it involved an extensive amount of awesomeness.  So that I remember them in my old age, here is a summary of the facts of my fourth trip out.

Flying to Syndey takes a really, really, really long time.  I mean, it's pretty mind-blowing.  And this is coming from someone who has no problem with 16-hour shifts at work and pulling all-nighters playing xbox.  This was like a waking nightmare.  In a middle seat.  With only an hour of respite at the Vancouver airport, so I couldn't even escape to see my sister and squishface (my nephew).  To make it worse, I then had to try and stay awake for about four hours at the Sydney airport before boarding another plane in order to arrive in Hobart, Tasmania (which I still barely believe actually exists).

Tasmania seemed very nice.  I was severely sleepfucked (sorry, Nan.  It's the medical term) and didn't really have much of an opportunity to enjoy it, though.  There was a very pretty mountain overlooking the city that I could see from my hotel window.  I had some very good sushi, but nearly fell asleep at the table, I was so tired.  I walked around the harbour and the little main street of shops before passing out cold and sleeping blissfully through the night.


Mount Wellington, I think

I picked up my patient in the morning and, along with her son, started the trip back to the States.  She was a sassy old lady and I liked her very much.  We sat in the lounge at Sydney airport and she told me stories about things like visiting the North Pole.  They were the kind of stories I hope to have some day.  The flight across the ocean was easily one of the worst I've ever experienced.  I would have given an arm to go back to my middle seat in coach.  The seats weren't the lay-flat beds in business class like on proper airlines, so I couldn't get the poor woman comfortable and, as a result, I couldn't rest either.  Add to that the fact that I picked up some kind of mutant cold virus while in Sydney and I was completely miserable for about nine hours.  The up side?  We eventually landed in Hawaii.

I dropped my patient off at her beautiful home on top of hill overlooking Honolulu.  I went down to my hotel, but check-in wasn't for several hours so I had some breakfast and wandered around for a bit. I had a Puka Dog, because I'm pretty sure I remembered seeing it on Bourdain's show. It was surprisingly tasty.  I was still way before the normal check-in time when I went back to the lobby, but I must have looked so awful that the desk clerk took pity on my and upgraded me to the only room currently available - their luxury suite.  After a short nap and a visit to the spa for the massage I promised myself for surviving the flight over, I was walking along the beach in Waikiki, dipping my toes in the warm ocean water.


Diamond Head, I think

From what I understand, Waikiki is generally considered the worst part of Hawaii.  It's the tourist mecca and it's very cheesy.  I have to admit, though, I fell in love with the Hawaiian-style kitsch of leis and luaus.  I'm sure I wouldn't want to spend a ton of time in Waikiki, but for my two days, it was perfect.  You can't look in any direction and not see something incredibly beautiful.  It just happened that my one night in the city coincided with the NFL Pro Bowl celebration and the main strip was closed down after dusk for a giant 'block party' with vendors, concerts and people packed as far in either direction as I could walk.  I figured that since I was again in very close proximity to the ocean, I couldn't pass up the sushi and I had what was easily the best meal of sushi I've ever tasted.  Glorious.

The next morning, I woke up early and paid a visit to the hotel's concierge to set myself up with some surfing lessons.  There's a very good chance that it was the most fun I've ever had.  They must have thought I was absolutely bonkers because the entire time I couldn't stop laughing.  I'd look at beach, Diamond Head, the sun, the surf and the city, and I'd laugh my ass off, thinking 'I'm getting paid right now'.   If you ever get the chance to try surfing, I highly recommend it.

High on Hawaii after my surfing adventure, I went out in search of another unlikely Hawaiian experience.  It wasn't long before I found it: a ukulele lesson.  I sat down with ten elderly female Japanese tourists and learned to play Happy Birthday and You Are My Sunshine on that iconic instrument.  Again, laughed my ass off through most of it.


Finally, after another glorious sunset on the beach, I asked the (is bell boy still an accepted term?  Bell man?  Bell person? Bell desk operator?) anyway, I asked that guy to call me a cab.  He flagged me over a few minutes later when one of his buddies pulled up in my ride: a massive, white, stretched limo.  It was the same price as a cab and he thought I'd like it.  Like much of my time in Hawaii, I found it hilarious.  In my sweet ride, I stretched my legs and breathed the ocean air on my way back to the airport and, eventually, back home.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Trip Number Three: St. John's, Newfoundland

Itinerary: Toronto (YYZ) - Calgary (YYC) - Fuel Stop: Thunder Bay (YQT)  - St. John's (YYT) - Toronto (YYZ)

     I got the call for this trip about 45 minutes before I needed to be at the hangar.  I was feeling a little more confident after my first commercial flight.  What I wasn't prepared for, however, was a trip in the Learjet.  In fact, I was out-of-my-mind terrified.
      Let me tell you a little about our planes.  They've very, very small.  So small, you can't stand up in them.  There is no washroom.  There is no in-flight movie to distract you from the unnatural act of flying in a metal tube. The cabin is just wide enough for one seat, a gap and a stretcher.  So, for someone who has just started to get over panic attacks in regular commercial planes, it is a waking nightmare.
      To add to my misery, I was paired with another brand new employee who had also never flown in the jet before.  We didn't really know how to set up the interior so we would have the necessary equipment close at hand.  We didn't really know much of anything.  This pissed the pilot off (understandably), which made for a moderately awkward day in the confines of the tiny plane.
      Fortunately, the patient was reasonably stable and didn't require much in the way of intervention en route.  If she had been unstable, I'm pretty sure I would have opted to take my chances jumping out of the plane and inflating the life raft, Indiana Jones-style.
      Once we had a decent night's sleep in St. John's and a good conversation with both pilots over brunch, however, I had calmed down a lot and even managed to see the badassness inherent in doing medevac work.  Landing our tiny plane at major international airports, being met by ambulances right on the flight line, hanging out in the ultra-fancy lounges made for people with their own private jets at fuel stops, it's actually kind of cool.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Trip Number Two: Auckland, New Zealand to New Jersey

Itinerary: Toronto (YYZ) – Los Angeles (LAX) – Auckland – Los Angeles (LAX)– New York (JFK) – New Jersey – Newark (EWR) – Toronto (YYZ)

           I won’t forget that phone call any time soon.  When the boss said “Have you ever been to New Zealand?”,  I nearly shit myself.  It was exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for when I took this job.  The very next evening, I was on my way.  The flight was overbooked from YYZ to LAX so they upgraded me to First Class.  That’s right, bitches, I flew first class.  It was something I had always wanted to do but was fairly certain (up until about two weeks ago) that I never would.  The boss called to check on my before boarding and I told him about the upgrade.  He thought it was hilarious and encouraged me to have a glass of wine or two and enjoy myself, provided I not show up to assess the patient in New Zealand while ‘plastered’.  I thought that was fair.  I was seriously spoiled, though, because from LA to New Zealand I was stuffed back into coach (where I belong), in a middle seat no less.  So I popped some Gravol and disappeared for a few hours and before I knew it, I had landed in gorgeous, warm and lovely-smelling Auckland. 

Auckland, through the trees

            I went and met my patient, a curmudgeonly but sweet old man, and made our arrangements for the next evening.  From there, I headed over to the swankest hotel I’ve ever seen in all my life.  I shit you not, there was a chandelier over the tea room (yes, tea room) that was bigger than my entire apartment.  It’s not a big apartment, but that’s one giant chandelier.  It turns out, the same hotel was home to the biggest wedding ever held in New Zealand.  It made the national news.  I wasn’t terribly interested in that, though.  I wanted to see Auckland.  After a shower and quick rest, I was off.  It took about ten minutes for me to realize that the sun down there was evil and I was going to burn, so I made sure I found shade periodically.  I walked down the main street to the water.  I was surprised to find the the city felt nearly abandoned.  I later discovered that most Aucklandites (Aucklandians? Aucklanders?) take three or four weeks of holidays and piss off to the South Island to sit on the beach over Christmas.  Lucky bastards.  It suited me fine, though.  The few New Zealanders I did come across sounded too much like Bret and Jermaine for me to be comfortable.  That’s probably a little racist, but Flight of the Chonchords is really the only other time I had been exposed to the accent, so I couldn’t really help myself.
 I found a little sushi shop tucked away on an adorably cobbled side-street.  It was the kind of place where the chef (a lady sushi chef, I should add, which I found impressive) yelled “Moshi Moshi” at everyone that walked in, and the patrons sit at a bar while the sushi whizzes around in front of you on a tiny conveyor belt.  Needless to say, I was a little bit in heaven.  I figured desert was necessary and so I found the restaurant that claimed to have the best view of the water (it certainly wasn’t a terrible one) and settled in for a slice of pie.  My waiter seemed to be Irish and he asked about my accent and what I was doing in Auckland.  When I told him, he said I was mental (we know) but that it was very cool (I agree).  He suggested a trip over to Devonport Island as a quick but enjoyable touristy thing to do with my one and only night in the city.  I walked around some more.  I found this insane, giant, kitschy record store that I wanted to just give a big hug to.  I went to a market that seemed to be full of the stuff you find at Chinese convenience stores as opposed to anything genuinely New Zealand-ish.  I did, however, discover that I love Maori art.  I found some honey for Nat.  I became tired from sushi and pie (and a million hours of travelling) so I went back to the hotel to regroup.
The hotel had a shuttle to take me back downtown and I found the ferry easily enough.  I couldn’t help but feel like I was in downtown Toronto and heading over to Ward’s Island.  The whole thing had a very similar vibe.  It was a short trip over to Devonport and I fell immediately in love with the place.  I dipped my toes into the warm pacific ocean.  I wandered around the artsy cottages, book stores and antique shops.  At the suggestion of the helpful Irish waiter, I found the road to Mount Victoria and began the steep and sweaty climb to the top of an inactive volcano where I was rewarded with the most incredible view of the island, of Auckland and of the pacific ocean.  It was glorious.  I made a video for Luke’s class, since they’re studying island in geography.  I took some pictures for myself and just sat and basked in the sunshine for a while.  I had one of those moments where I thought to myself: “How the hell do you end up in places like this?”.  Life was good.

The view from Mount Victoria

When I climbed back down from Mount Victoria, I figured I had earned a decent meal.  There were plenty of cute restaurants on the main street and I decided on an Italian place for some carbs and wine to counteract all the exercise I had just gotten.  Filled with garlic and slightly buzzed, I made my way back across to Auckland and walked to where the last shuttle of the day would take me back to my hotel.  At the interection before the shuttle stop, there was this adorable bicycle taxi driver chatting with people and eating an apple.  I remember it going something like this:
Driver: Anyone fancy a ride?  You can see from my apple that I’m strong and healthy.
Tourist: Thanks, I’d prefer to walk.
Driver: Yeah, walking’s good, isn’t it?  I prefer walking myself but, you know, I’ve got this job.  I’d say ‘anyone fancy a walk?’ but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t pay me to walk with you a few blocks.  That’s just a bad business model.  What about you, girl who’s giggling at me while I eat me apple? (Referring to me, obviously).  Fancy a ride anywhere?
Me:  (Giggling some more).
I don’t know why, but I found him hilarious.  Sat there on his bike, chomping away at the apple.  I should have said yes.  But, of course, my shuttle had just arrived and it was time for some serious sleep in my swank hotel.

As you can see, I was a little tired by this point

The next morning, I was too tired to wander back into the city and I only had a few hours to kill, so I relented to the advertising all over the hotel and went to their lunch buffet.  I don’t think I’m exaggertating when I saw that this was, at least, a life-altering experience.  It turns out that it wasn’t one kitchen, but eight of them.  An American grill that you could select a cut of meat as if from a butcher’s counter and then have it cooked the way you’d like.  An Australian one that did the same with the freshest fish I’d ever seen in my life, along with mussels, oysters and things I didn’t even recognize.  There was a salad bar, a french baked-goods and cheeses section, an Indian kiosk with two giant tandoori ovens and fresh-baked naan bread with mango lassis.  There was a desert bar with a chocolate fucking fountain!  And, of course, another sushi chef, who made me toro sashimi, for which I was so very grateful.
After brunch,  I picked up my patient and we headed back to the States.  Let me tell you, if I thought First Class on my flight from Toronto to LA was something to behold, then Air New Zealand’s Business Class was from another planet.  I had a bed.  A BED!  The food was incredible.  The staff even more so.  It was like something out of a fancy dream.  I was mildly disappointed with United’s First Class trip to JFK after that.  Hanging out in the First Class lounges at the airport is also far superior to the shitty, crowded seats next to the gates, as well.  I could get used to this sort of thing.
To summarize, a few things I will remember about Auckland: 

  • It really does sound like a Flight of the Conchords episode.
  • The fish is extraodinary.
  • The crosswalks sound like lasers.
  • Flying coach is for losers.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Trip Number One: Montreal

They wanted me to have a nice easy start.  It was either that, or, I was the only one available on that day, which is more likely.  My first assignment was to transport a patient in a ground ambulance out to Montreal.  The catch?  We would be accompanied by the Emergency Task Force (our version of what you'd probably know as the SWAT Team).

From the ICU, we packed up the patient, who not only couldn't speak, but could only understand French (the first challenge in a day that was full of them).  As we left, I heard one of the officers tell the other that it was time to 'rifle-up', and I knew this was going to be a good day.  We rolled the stretcher out of the hospital and into our ambulance, under the watchful eye of two ETF officers with very large guns, and off we went.

If you've ever driven anywhere with me as a passenger before, you'll know all too well that I have a touch of motion sickness sometimes.  Somehow, between the bumps in the road, the slightly uncomfortable feeling of being followed by ETF officers in an unmarked SUV, the terror of being responsible for a sick patient and the air-release valve in his moderately active rectal tube, I managed not to embarrass myself by chucking all over the back of the ambulance.  I did, however, probably manage to do so using my mad French skills to try and communicate with the man.

The highlight of this trip, of course, was stopping halfway to Montreal at a service station in order to coordinate our escort once we crossed the Quebec border.  We figured that since we had stopped, it was a good time for a quick pee.  I let the Respiratory Therapist go first.  When he came to relieve me, I hopped out the back of the ambulance and was met by my very own washroom escort.  I can tell you, there's nothing quite like the experience of having a wee knowing the door is being guarded by a well-trained man with an assault rifle.

All in all, it was a great day.  My new colleagues seem lovely, nothing went terribly wrong and I got to hang out with a few men in very hot uniforms.

An Introduction

I am a nurse.  I work in an Emergency Department.  Apparently, I didn't find that quite exciting enough,   so I've taken a second job as a Flight Nurse. Essentially, I fly around the world, transporting patients with varying degree of illness/injury.  I've only just started, but at the moment, it's pretty cool.

I've decided to start a blog to keep track of the places I go and the things I see.  I'll post a few stories and lots of pictures from my travels. It's mostly for my own amusement, but I hope my family and friends will enjoy it, as well. Sorry, Nan, if I swear a bit sometimes, but you know how I get excited about things!