Feeling Abundance, Appreciating Travel Experiences in Art, History, Food & Wine

In my first two blogs relating to me and Mister’s Grand Ramadan Adventure of 2017 I wrote about my experiences feeling love and connection with family and friends. I’m switching gears now, to share the explorations of our senses as we viewed, listened, felt, smelled and tasted our way from Winnipeg to Rome and along the Western Mediterranean.

529 Wellington, a posh and trendy restaurant in an up-scale water-front neighborhood of Winnipeg, Canada, was our first indulgence in fine cuisine, a belated birthday gift from Greg and Julie. I was impressed as soon as we drove up, the restaurant housed in a renovated turn-of-the-century mansion. From the luxurious draperies to the ornate chandeliers to the dark wood paneling throughout, the ambience was rich and inviting. Even on a Tuesday night it was packed and the noise was a bit jarring at first, but soon we settled into our cozy corner.

We ordered a bottle of bold, peppery shiraz from the Barossa Valley in Australia that paired smashingly with my prosciutto wrapped scallops, not to mention the melt-in-your-mouth beef tenderloin rated Canadian Prime distinction shipped in all the way from High River, Alberta. The four of us shared side dishes of asparagus and mushrooms and ate, sipped and talked our way to dessert. Mister and I shared the chocolate cheesecake which was divinely decadent; rich, creamy and dense. It was over-the-top and Mister and I felt grateful for his parent’s generosity.

 

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529 Wellington

 

We celebrated our dear friend Anne Marie’s birthday two-fold, beginning with a musical production, Strictly Ballroom, in the Princess of Wales Theatre located on King Street in the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district. Incorporating traditional and contemporary design, the theatre can seat 2000 guests and after collecting our tickets from the box office we took our seats in the centre orchestra section.

Strictly Ballroom originally opened in Australia and featured a cast that mostly hailed from London. It began with a rather cliché opening of ballroom dancers engaged in petty competitiveness. As the story progressed and featured elements of modern choreography I appreciated the talent even if the plot and characters felt flat and predictable. Only after the play, in conversation with Anne Marie, did I discover the subtle nuances that had originally eluded me. It was no Kinky Boots or Les Miserables, but a worthwhile performance nonetheless.

We took a cab back to Anne Marie’s and drank champagne and told stories and shared photos from her Breakfast at Tiffany’s themed birthday bash in February. We caught another cab to take us to George, located in an old red brick building on the corner of Queen and Church. We chose to be seated in the courtyard patio, nestled in a corner partitioned for privacy with green bushes twinkling with lights and a tranquil fountain.

Our sommelier arrived to inquire about our drink preferences and we ordered a bottle of sparkling prosecco from Nova Scotia that Anne Marie was familiar with. It was dry, crisp, light and refreshing, a perfect way to toast and begin the evenings festivities. We all decided to indulge in the five course wine pairings and over several hours we were served spectacular food and wine with impeccable timing and service.

Chef Lorenzo Loseto created a bold epicurean adventure for us featuring local food artisans and global wine producers. After an amuse bouche of crisp, bright pea shoots with citrus we were brought a selection of first course cold appetizers paired with barely pink rose. The second course featured a warm appetizer of sweetbreads with rich Foie Gras and a complex red pinot noir. Third course was lamb rib chop served with scalloped potato and asparagus and yet another smooth, bold red. A supreme selection of Quebec cheeses was served next with a dry ice wine. Last, but never least, was dessert, a gluten free chocolate torte with a layer of cheesecake and a smattering of raspberries paired with an outrageously thick and decadent port.

Throughout the meal the conversation was lively, with Anne Marie entertaining us with a multitude of stories about her adventures at home and abroad. It was an amazing experience and by the end we all agreed, we were stuffed, literally and metaphorically, with food, wine and connection.

 

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George

 

Rome was an explosion of art, history, architecture and ruins. As we drove along the freeway from the airport to the centre of town where we were renting a condo we noticed the shift. The streets turned to narrow and cobbled, lined with old brick and stone buildings and peppered with tall umbrella and thin cedar trees. The Italian flavour for romance and passion was palpable and my spirit was soaring as I took it all in.

The food and wine in Rome were an experience all on their own. From cheap wine and cheese selected at our local Coop market to upscale restaurants, we feasted on Caprese salads featuring creamy buffalo mozzarellas, sharp pecorinos, fresh pastas, and I even discovered an amazing gluten free pizza.

An unexpected delight was when we stumbled upon an elegant restaurant just a short three-minute walk from our apartment, adjacent to the French Embassy, called Camponeschi. The well-dressed waiter, a man of senior years and expertise, treated us to exceptional service, proclaiming as he pointed to include all of us, “Mama, Papa and the kids!” A talented guitarist strummed and sang soulfully in English, Italian and Portuguese. We drank luscious bold and smooth Italian red wine and ate delicate grilled seabass and robust cheese and a decadent soufflé smothered in dark chocolate sauce.

Our final night in Rome had us walking to the trendy Eitch Hotel on recommendation and it did not disappoint. A museum hotel, the rooftop patio where we enjoyed pre-dinner cocktails overlooked grand fountains in the square below and the sun dazzled in the early evening sky, lending a pristine quality to the white and glass elegance of the décor.

 

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Roof-top bar at Eitch Hotel

 

The restaurant featured private dining rooms with windows open to the beauty and bustle of the plaza below. We drank deep purple Amarone and toasted Susie’s graduation and dined on aromatic chef-inspired dishes.

 

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Kevin, me, Mister & Susie in the restaurant @ Eitch

 

The attractions in Rome were as plentiful and over-the-top as the food and wine. Our first day featured a whirl-wind tour of Vatican City, including the museum, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s  Square. The hall of maps was an eye-dropper for all four of us, dazzling in its contrasts of simplicity and complexity. Floor to ceiling paintings and tapestries were featured throughout the museum. It would be impossible to choose a favourite, although the deep colour and demonic expressions in the paintings by Botticelli captured my imagination. The Sistine Chapel was magnificent in all its glory and St. Peter’s was surely the most magnificent chapel I’ve ever seen.

 

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me & Mister outside Vatican City

 

Day two had the four of us venturing out for a walking tour of Rome that included the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Villa Borghese Gardens. Designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi, the Trevi Fountain is considered the most beautiful in the world and Mister and I agreed it impacted us with its pristine ivory baroque sculptures surrounded by turquoise waters.

 

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Mister & Me, Trevi Fountain

 

The Colosseum, Forum, Circus Maximus and Palazzo di Venezia were the subjects of our third day’s outing. We walked the ancient steps in the 35 Celsius heat and humidity, taking photos, refilling our water bottles and seeking shade whenever possible. The Colosseum was truly remarkable in it’s size and preservation and we all felt like we could feel the energy where spectators viewed gladiatorial contests, executions, animal hunt re-enactments and Christians being devoured by lions.

 

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Mister & Me; Colosseum

 

All I’d known previously of the magnificence of Rome I’d read in books like Colleen McCollough’s Caesar or Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. To experience in the flesh, with all my senses, was a gift I will treasure forever, and already my heart and spirit are calling me back.

Monday was check-out and after an hour-long transfer to the Port Terminal Mister and I boarded the Celebrity Reflection cruise ship destined for an eleven-day Western Mediterranean adventure. From the moment we were welcomed with a glass of sparkling prosecco, to the moment we left it was life-expanding and amazingly epic.

 

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Mister & Me on deck

 

When our ship docked in Ville Franche, the gateway to the French Riviera, we took a taxi to Monte Carlo, driving past medieval style villas, mansions and castles all nestled into the craggy rocks and rolling hillside that lined the road curving to follow the beautiful beaches along the coast. The infamous Grand Casino did not disappoint in its grandeur, the gold-gilded ceiling a spectacular architectural design. Intoxicatingly elegant, we were entranced as we entered the main gaming hall where no photos were allowed. There was only one black jack table, the minimum bet 25 EUR. We sat down to play, losing the small amount we’d allocated for entertainment quite quickly, but not before two high rollers joined us, cashing in a 10,000 EUR chip and proceeding to bet stacks of 600 a play without blinking an eye.

 

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Mister & Me in Monte Carlo

 

In Barcelona, we had booked a Wine and Tapas Tour, which was an interesting walk but short on the wine and tapas. We couldn’t complain, however, because the tour ended in an outstanding Flamenco Dance performance that blew both Mister and I away. The venue was an intimate theatre in the Gothic quarter, a work of art in its own right. We had front row seats and the performance featured an amazing spectacle of talent and passion. The singing, dancing and music had my soul ignited, tears on my face and goosebumps on my arms.

Gibraltar was an unexpected surprise. Valerie, a fantastic Brit from Manchester, was our tour guide for the Upper Rock Cable Car and Walking Tour. She had a fabulous sense of humour and was a natural story-teller. We rode up in the cable car, 412 metres in six minutes, to the top of the rock where we witnessed incredible views.

 

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Gibraltar

 

Macaque monkeys were in abundance, scrambling along the rocks, playfully engaging with one another, and I agreed with Valerie that you could fall in love with the adorable babies.

 

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Macaque baby monkey with her mother

 

We toured St. Michael’s Cave where ancient stalagmites and stalactites were wonders to behold. We walked through St. George’s tunnels, built during the Great Siege of the late 1700’s when France and Spain tried unsuccessfully to capture Gibraltar from the British.

 

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St. Michael’s Cave

 

Mister and I had a delightful time on-board as well. The food and wine were spectacular, especially at our favourite restaurant, Murano, which featured elegant French cuisine, including sharp and creamy cheeses and melt-in-your-mouth chateaubriand. We indulged in the delicious coffee and baked goods, including an impressive selection of gluten free offerings, at El Bacio. And we spent many hours in Cellar Masters tasting a variety of different wines, culminating in an Unforgettable Italian Reds tasting the last day when we were at sea.

 

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Mister in Cellar Masters

 

We worked out at the Fitness Centre, including a yoga studio, both with exceptional views from floor to ceiling windows. We spotted dolphins joyfully frolicking in the ships wake. We played our luck at the black jack tables in Fortunes Casino. We took in a theatre production called Broken Strings. Throughout it all, we were treated to exceptional service from everyone.

So yeah, I’m feeling abundance, appreciating travel experiences in art, history, food & wine.

 

Feeling Compassion About the Struggles Facing Humanity; Part I

Being an optimist, I tend to avoid the news. I try to focus on the positives, on the good things people are doing. But inevitably, my attention gets drawn towards the numerous struggles facing humanity. And since putting your head in the sand never makes your problems disappear, it seems prudent to address these challenges. We must identify the issues before we can work towards change. We all must do our part, in our own unique way.

 

Which all sounds reasonable, until I started to delve into it. I quickly realized I wasn’t going to be able to cover all, or even the top struggles, in one blog. I’ve decided to break it down into a two-part series. This post I will look at the issues of Food & Water, Sustainable Development & Climate Change, Peace & Conflict, Global Finance and the Sex Trafficking Industry.

 

Yesterday I was mindlessly scrolling through the television channels while eating my lunch when a broadcast on CNN caught my eye, and then my heart. The U.N. made a statement that the world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since 1945. 20 million people are at risk of starvation in Kenya, Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia. The devastation of a massive drought, combined with the Terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, blocking roads and stealing aid have combined to create this horrific situation.

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/11/africa/un-famine-starvation-aid/

The distribution of food and water globally is a challenge that many have already identified and are working towards changing. The problem is one that permeates many of the big issues facing humankind. There is a huge gap between the have’s and the have not’s. In the third world, approximately 36 million people starve to death every year, while in the first world, 66% of Americans are either obese or overweight.

Factory farming, particularly the inhuman treatment of factory farmed animals, is a blight on a supposedly civilized world. The facts are that 37% of CH4 (methane) emissions are caused by factory farming. 41 million metric tons of CO2 emissions are created from burning fossil fuels to produce fertilizers. And 2.4 billion tons of CO2 emissions are caused by deforestation for animal crop feed. I viewed a Ted Talk where the speaker identified that if every person in the world were to commit to a vegetarian diet, even only for two days of the week, the positive impact would be significant. You can read more in-depth commentaries on this issue in Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer or The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan. The efforts of a few folks on the fringe aren’t enough; there needs to be a global commitment.

 

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Access to clean water should be a basic human right. It’s outrageous to me that some people consume bottled water by the caseload while others are forced to drink from contaminated water supplies. I am inspired by the human ability to create solutions, like the invention of portable and inexpensive water purifying systems. But again, the challenge comes to distribution and economics.

Sustainable development projects are emerging. I watched an excellent Ted Talk by Josette Sheeran. She left her successful banking career to travel to Africa and work with the community to educate and facilitate change. Passionately, she explains how every 10 seconds we lose a child to hunger. She goes on to cite statistics proving we have the technologies and systems to end hunger now. It’s about transforming through knowledge. It’s about farming techniques like permaculture. It’s about availability and distribution of nutrition, such as the World Food Programme’s Wawa Mum, a complete meal produced for only 17 cents a packet. Despite these initiatives, there needs to be more support, time, money and education into creating community driven solutions to sustainable food production.

 

In the oil and gas industry there is a reluctance to embrace the need to develop sustainable energy resources. The current system is highly beneficial for the CEO’s of oil and gas companies and the sheer magnitude of effort that replacing it would require is likely daunting. However, scientists and researchers are hard at work exploring alternatives and there is a growing body of possibilities including biofuels, hydropower, electricity, solar, geothermal and nuclear.

Climate change and global warming are remarkably still debated as to the reality of their existence. Some claim that the climate changes we are witnessing are simply part of the natural range of conditions on the planet Earth over time. This black and white thinking is no more helpful in this situation than any other. The fact that the earth undergoes climate shifts that aren’t related to human interference is acknowledged by both sides. Al Gore explored the impact back in 2006 in the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. More recently, in 2012, environmental photographer James Balog illustrated the magnitude of the problem in Chasing Ice. Even if you don’t believe that global warming is an issue, it’s hard to deny that the way human beings are consuming resources, polluting the environment, and treating the Earth is destructive.

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Peace and Conflict have forever been a part of human existence, but that doesn’t mean the goal towards peace isn’t attainable or at least worth aiming for. Ken Robinson reasons that for peace to occur on a global scale, it must first begin with the individual. And yet it is a chicken and egg scenario, for how does a person born into war-torn regions such as Syria find peace within themselves?

In 2008 the United States spent over 1$Trillion on their military, which, by the way, is twice the amount spent by all the other countries on Earth combined. Yet Trump wants to spend more to protect Americans against all others, who are seen as the Enemy. It’s time to shift from the War on Drugs and the War on Terror to a Revolution against Greed and Corruption, Self-Advancement, Entitlement and Exclusionism.  To learn more about a real-life example of how to live “beyond politics, poverty and war,” check out The Venus Project.

https://www.thevenusproject.com/

Global Economy is yet another example of inequality. At present, 1% of the world elite controls half of the total world finances, while the richest 10% controls 90% of the global economy. The fair distribution of wealth is a difficult challenge to overcome. Those ten percent of people are very powerful and connected politically. While there are a few philanthropists like Oprah and Bill Gates, many of the world elite are driven by greed and corruption. They benefit from the status quo, and work to ensure that the current system continues.

While filming one of his documentaries Michael Moore interviewed the chairman of Nike, Phil Knight. He was trying to hold him accountable for using Indonesian teenage girls working in factories for 40 cents a day. Moore suggested that if he were to hire unemployed Americans, particularly those in Flint, Michigan, instead, Nike would still make a profit and he himself would perhaps be, instead of a billionaire, a half billionaire. The Nike chairman refused. After watching I wanted to burn my Nikes. Instead, I committed to never buying another Nike product again, and I haven’t.

The sex trafficking industry is another issue plaguing humanity. It is intolerable and quite frankly, appalling to me that it continues to exist. Clearly there is a market and demand.  Apparently abusive and demeaning practices are not limited to animals and the environment, but are considered appropriate towards human beings as well.  Particularly women and girls. Please open the links to Ashton’s Kutcher’s video from Facebook and Sunitha Krishnan’s Ted Talk, The Fight Against Sex Slavery to inform yourself of the reality of this horrific situation. You can also check out the movie Whistleblower, starring Rachel Weisz, for an emotionally impacting dramatization.

 

 

It can feel overwhelming, when you start to look at these challenges. But it is important not to let the fear or the immensity of the situation keep you from acting, from not taking responsibility. If we all do our part, with the gifts we have, in our little part of the world, we can be the change we want to see in the world. One small step at a time.

So yeah, I’m feeling compassion about the struggles facing humanity.

Feeling Reflective about the Year 2016

 

The end of the year that many are calling disastrous has arrived. True, there were natural, political and religious disasters of one kind or another. There were a lot of celebrity deaths. Life is an ebb and flow of contrasts, and Nature, left to her own devices, gravitates to balance. So, rather than focus on negativity, I feel optimistic.  What happens isn’t what matters, but how we, as a human collective, respond.

 

 

 

Looking back on my own little microcosm, there is a similar theme. I experienced many challenges this year. I blogged about my difficulties with my letting go journey. I hinted at some of my health problems. But I am proud of myself for behaving with integrity and character, for the most part. After all, it’s relatively easy to be a good person when life is proceeding smoothly and people are good to us. Suffering, on the other hand, forces us to find our inner strength.

 

 

 

I have been blessed this past week with one of those rare epiphanies when apparent random and separate events collide to create deep understanding. I achieved success on my letting go journey when I wasn’t searching for answers. In fact, I had few expectations of my brief holiday in Bahrain, other than an opportunity for adventure, relaxation and rejuvenation.

 

 

 

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me take you with me to the beginning, when Mister and I embarked on our road trip to Bahrain.

 

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As road trips go, I can’t honestly classify the drive from Riyadh to Bahrain as epic. I was excitedly anticipating what was to be my first drive through the desert and enthusiastically tucked my journal and pen in a handy spot to chronicle my observations. Heading east on a paved three lane highway, barreling along at the posted speed of 120 km/h, I asked if we had left the city of Riyadh to which Mr. Vocabulary replied, “the city limit is rather nebulous.”  We continued past miles and miles of sandy landscape, broken only by the frequent spotting of camels and sheep and oil refineries. I felt like a rebel in the rubble.

 

 

 

Mid-way, the beige sand morphed to a warm burnt orange hue with tufts of green here and there, but soon enough it was back to the endless sea of beige. The monotony of the landscape reminded me of drives across the Canadian prairies. We passed the odd car carcass, a solitary Caterpillar tractor and, strangely, an abandoned Ferris wheel. It was all rather uninspiring.

 

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Three and half hours later, we arrived at the Persian Gulf. I could smell the salty air before it came into view, and I found my heart skipping around in my ribcage with delight as my body absorbed the timeless peacefulness of the open air on the sea. I had an intuition that Bahrain was going to be an impacting experience and I wasn’t disappointed.

 

 

After forty five minutes of waiting in lines and going through tolls and customs booths, driving over the causeway, we arrived in beautiful Bahrain. One of the officials asked David if I was his only wife. He replied yes, to which the official answered, looking over at me, “She has a pretty face, one will do. Me, I have three wives. I sleep well on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.” I must admit it gave me pause to chuckle and I marveled at his cheekiness.

 

 

 

We got a little lost, but soon enough we were at our hotel, Le Meridian, with smiling, friendly porters offering to unload our luggage onto trolleys and park our car. I quickly stepped out of my abaya, tossing it with gleeful abandon onto the trolley and entered the hotel lobby with my Mister. The hotel was decked out in lavish Christmas decorations and the hotel receptionist, Martha, joyfully welcomed us. A feeling of freedom enveloped me and I couldn’t help but feel a wave of gratitude wash over me.

 

 

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Me & Mister by one of the Christmas Trees at Le Meridian

 

 

 

 

 

We made reservations for the hotel’s famous Friday brunch the next day. The experience impacted me on many levels. From the moment we entered the restaurant I felt like Cinderella, it was pure magic. The entryway served as the monument to all things sweet, baked and delicious. Chefs had prepared a sensational assortment of culinary decadence. There was Santa on his sleigh being pulled by cookie reindeer, cakes and puddings, gingerbread houses, an iced snowman and a Christmas tree with bon-bon ornaments. It was a chocolate lovers heaven with at least twenty different varieties of truffles, not to mention a chocolate fountain. My mouth was salivating already and our dining experience had not yet begun.

 

 

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Yes, the reindeer are cookies!

 

 

 

 

 

The smiling waiter with his elf hat perched merrily on his head led us past the live entertainment and seated us at our table with aplomb, plucking my napkin up and placing it politely across my lap. We were brought still water and ordered a glass of champagne.  As I clinked flutes with my Mister I felt more gratitude and tears filled me eyes. Composing myself, I ventured amongst the vast array of food stations, hand in hand with Mr. Charming.

 

 

 

For our first course, several delicious cheeses made their way to our shared plate, including a strong and savoury blue that packed a punch, made even more delectable with the addition of a tart cranberry jam. We also waxed eloquently over the piquant and buttery French cheese, of which variety I have now forgotten. My senses of sight, smell and taste were tantalized, but something much deeper occurred for me as I felt the gift of being in connection with my husband amid the Christmas spirit all around us, surrounded by people of all cultures and religions, gathered together. In that moment, my heart-felt light and a world where peace is king and people respect one another felt possible. I wasn’t the only one with such a vision, as the following video testifies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a short rest and engaging conversation we moved on from champagne to red wine and decided to serve up our second course. We started at the carving station where the chef sliced us thick slices of roast turkey and Wagyu beef. In the line we made eye contact and smiled in greeting to a lady ahead of us who ended up visiting our table later on, a delightful woman named Sophie originally from Germany. We dished up small portions of savoury zucchini, parsnips and potatoes that were spicy and crisp on the outside while an observant server kept discreetly filling up our wine glasses.

 

 

 

Before heading for dessert, Santa Claus arrived. It was quite a hoot, as his black hair peeked out from his thin white wig and obviously fake beard all askew. No one was bothered, least of all the children, who all clamoured about him excitedly and posed with their parents for photos to mark the occasion. Everyone was festive and it touched my heart when a Muslim woman I passed by on my way to the dessert station smiled broadly at me.

 

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Our third and final course was dessert. I did over-indulge (yes, Carol, your Oink was appropriate!) tasting at least six varieties of creamy, velvety, smooth and luscious truffles. Three hours later, stuffed, (not quite like a pig) our experience was complete and we left to explore the shops in the attached City Centre mall.

 

 

 

Skipping ahead, my next impactful experience was our tour of the Al-Fateh Grand Mosque. My good friend Carol, and her husband Raimo, had invited us to join them. Neither Mister nor I had ever stepped foot in a mosque before, and we weren’t certain what to expect. I pulled my scarf discreetly over my blonde hair and lifted my long abaya as we ascended the steps to the entrance. We were ushered into a reception area and asked our nationalities and then asked to wait for our guide outside the shoe cubicle area.

 

 

 

Within minutes our guide, an Imam born in Kenya before settling in Bahrain, joined us. He was a gentle man, the kind of spiritual person for whom all of Life’s questions and answers are simple, for they are placed at the foot of God. For him, his faith was easy and pure and the path to salvation was available to everyone, including us. We merely had to make an oath that there is only one God and that Mohammed was the true and final prophet. Carol and I peppered him with questions about the role of women, about the five daily prayers, and about fasting over Ramadan. He urged us to set our minds and accept the way to a prosperous and happy life. He tried his best to convert us to Islam, but there was no judgement or condemnation expressed, only a sincere desire to provide us with an opportunity for salvation.

 

 

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Me & Carol in the mosque

 

 

 

 

 

The mosque itself was a beautiful structure, designed in an intricate geometric configuration of shapes that exuded a peaceful quality. The walls were covered in a special local stone tile that kept them cool in the hot weather. The ceilings were so high they seemed to stretch to the very heavens themselves. The door to the main prayer area for men, which we were not permitted to enter, was a tall, ornate structure, the handle at the height of my head and almost the same circumference.

 

 

 

Our guide led us up the winding staircase to the gallery viewing area and place where women can pray. We engaged in further discussion about the origins of Islam and Christianity and he shared how both religions had as their common ancestor Abraham, from Israel. Somehow the story had me feeling the unity of humanity, not the division, and I was moved.

 

 

 

We walked around the balcony ledge, carved of ornate dark wood, and peered above at the stained glass windows and elaborate chandelier of imported lamps. The call to prayer began and we took it as our time to depart. We thanked the Imam for his time, David taking his hand in his as a sign of appreciation, and I motioned to do the same before realizing with embarrassment the inappropriateness of my action. I felt flustered and perhaps even a little angry for the first time since arriving in Bahrain with the restrictions of being a woman in patriarchal Muslim society. 

 

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My journey continued when we chose to go and see the movie Passengers. I was excited by the opportunity as there are no movie theatres in Riyadh. Even the message of the movie, which was about letting go of how we expect our lives to unfold to accept what manifests, seemed so appropriate. I could almost feel God whispering me to make the most of each and every moment.

 

 

 

Last, but not least, was our romantic Christmas Eve Dinner at the Cut restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel. Mister and I walked into an elegantly decorated hostess station and were shown to the elevator before being led to our intimate booth. Our seats boasted spectacular views of the bay through floor to ceiling windows and the red and white lights of Bahrain’s National Day twinkled in the moonlight. A duo of talented musicians provided us with the atmosphere, the young woman’s sultry voice reminding me of Dido, the man strumming proficiently on his guitar.

 

 

 

The waiter brought us two menus, one a la carte, the other the chef’s prix fixe with wine pairings. The four-course set menu was tantalizing, but I wasn’t sure if my food allergies could be accommodated. To my delight, our smiling server returned and assured me the chef was more than happy to make whatever revisions necessary for me to enjoy his creations.

 

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Mister & Me @ Cut

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The presentation did not disappoint. The first course was prosecco with smoked salmon. Crispy on the outside, buttery and flaky inside, it was melt in your mouth delicious. Pasta was served next, and the chef wowed me with a serving of gluten-free spinach fettucine in butter with fresh parmesan, paired with a luscious glass of Chateau de Neuf. The main was the feature and the filet mignon was a perfect cut, perfectly cooked and infused with complex but complementary flavours of earthy mushrooms, savoury mustard sauce and crispy onions. The pairing was a peppery shiraz blend that was our favourite wine selection of the evening. The finale was as impressive, with the chef preparing me from scratch a gluten free yule log of cake and cream that looked equally divine to David’s traditional fare. In addition, was an apple poached tart with two quenelles, one vanilla bean ice cream and one mascarpone cheese. Dessert was paired with a silky port that was not too sweet, pleasing even our picky palates. Yes, it was over the top and we both felt full of food and gratitude when we climbed into our taxi three hours later.

 

That night we were treated to a FaceTime conversation with our daughter and grandson. We were thrilled especially because our FaceTime has not been working since arriving back in Riyadh after Haj. It was so touching to see his cute little face, full of excitement with the magic that Santa Claus was coming to town. In the morning, we enjoyed more connection with my Mom and brother and then with our youngest daughter. I realized how far I’d come on my letting go journey, from last year when my heart was grieving our separation from family so heavily. I still missed them, but I was grateful that I had a family I loved so much to miss. I was grateful for all the Christmas celebrations I shared with them in the past. And I was present to the gift of this Christmas with my Mister in Bahrain.

 

 

 

The myriad of experiences I had in Bahrain combined to create feelings of such deep love, peace and joy. I left feeling full of hope for the future, enthusiastic to discover what new adventures were in store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling reflective about 2016 and wishing everyone a Happy New Year

 

Feeling jazzed about my trip to Panama, Summer of 2016

My last blog dealt with some deep spiritual content, so I decided to switch gears and write about something completely fun and frivolous; my recent trip to Panama, with a focus on food.

 

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view from our balcony

Flying into Panama City is quite a spectacular site. The modern city line reaches majestically into the blue sky. Built along the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean, the view is reminiscent of a miniature Miami and in fact has been described as such. The architectural grandeur was pleasantly surprising and I felt excited as I peered out of my Air Canada Rouge window.

Our arrival this year corresponded with the opening ceremony of the new locks and the police cars and motorcycles were out in full force. It added some extra time to the typical 45 -minute drive from the city to our destination of Coronado Bay. Our driver talked animatedly about the opportunities in Panama while I held my husband’s hand and took in the lush green countryside and the peaceful hills, a faded blue-gray in the distance.

We’d been to Coronado Bay the year before, on our first visit to Panama, and had such a fabulous experience we decided to return. Unfortunately, the suite we had rented previously wasn’t available. The unit we were shown to this time was spacious, colourfully painted with seaside blue walls and decorated with bright paintings. It had some wear and tear and lacked an oven or dishwasher. The balcony overlooking the pool and ocean was in similar lacklustre condition but made up for it with the spectacular view.

We decided to walk the short five minutes to our favourite local restaurant, Luna Rossa, for dinner. We were greeted by the owner, a delightful woman originally from Italy. The atmosphere was cozy, the service excellent and the menu featured both Italian fare and local specialties. The wine list was limited compared to what you might find in the more cosmopolitan city, but the selection was suitable to our tastes and the prices were reasonable. The barbequed lobster I indulged in was perhaps a little bit over-done, but tasty and decadent nonetheless.  Over the course of our 7 day stay in Coronado we dined here several times. I ate tangy tomato and seafood risotto, imported from Italy melt-in-your-mouth cheeses, thin strips of medium rare beef tenderloin and a rich dark chocolate torte. But my hands-down favourite was the smooth and creamy cappuccino, the best I’ve ever had anywhere in the world.

The possibility of purchasing an investment property was on our agenda and we’d contacted a realtor before our arrival. The first day out we viewed several properties, including two condos at Playa Blanca in Founders, three units in an older building in Playa Serena and one in Coronado Bay where we were staying. There was one unit in Playa Serena that was basically turn key and listed for the incredibly low price of $215,000 USD that we felt was a contender.

A few days later our realtor showed us some stunning condos that were under construction in a brand new community called Casamar. With ocean and mountain views and everything you needed on site, including a gym and a restaurant, they were enticing. There weren’t many already built that were for sale and even the ones that were ready didn’t include air-conditioning or appliances. Listed at $290,000 USD without the aforementioned items, the cost, effort and challenge of trying to oversee construction and furnishings in a foreign country from out of country seemed too daunting a task for us to consider.

We saw a few more units and talked with a Property Manager. Hearing his stories about short-term renters trashing the place and his opinion that we should consider long-term rentals was off-putting because I wanted to be able to use the property as a vacation rental for ourselves and our family. When he went on to describe dishonest property managers who claimed the rental was vacant when actually occupied in order to pocket the money for themselves it had us feeling even more deflated and discouraged.

Before throwing in the towel on the whole property investment idea we decided to go and view a house in a gated community near Coronado that we had looked at the year before. As we walked up the cobbled pathway to the pale yellow stuccoed and white-trimmed show home we recalled instantly why we had loved it so much. The magnificence of every detail was even greater than I’d remembered and it blew everything we’d seen out of the water. The skill and craftsmanship of the builder was apparent in every detail. The show home was selling with all of the high-end furnishings, appliances and a pool in the back yard for $360,000 USD and we both felt certain we had found our space.

After the emotional reaction settled, we realized that we loved that property as a space to make our home, not as a property to rent out to strangers. We started looking honestly at all of the decisions we would have to make, including financing and lawyers, not to mention finding renters we could trust, and concluded that it just wasn’t the right time.

With that decision made we were able to focus on relaxing and rejuvenating. We managed to exercise regularly at the rooftop gym of our building, which had the extra bonus of spectacular views. We spent a few hours dreaming and sunbathing by the pool but unfortunately the weather was frequently overcast with occasional thunderstorms and we didn’t get to lounge around as often as we would have liked.

One of the most impacting experiences during our stay in Coronado was the one day we made it down to the stretch of ocean just outside the gates of our building. We were the only people in sight as we went about laying out our towels on a beige patch of sand overlooking the craggy rocks where the ocean waves were crashing. I lit a candle and sat in silent meditation, letting the ebb and flow of the waves soothe my soul as my breath united in tandem with the oceans’ rhythm. Peacefulness enveloped me, feeling in flow with the universe and full of gratitude. I smiled when I opened my eyes, marvelling at the shift in my perception, where the black volcanic sand that had appeared to me as a dirty canopy of the earth’s crust now appeared like a sheet of midnight sky, the sand sparkling like a multitude of stars. 

When our beach vacation came to an end it was off to spend five days enjoying the culture and food of the city. We rented a casita in the district of Casco Viejo from Patty, the friendly and delightful owner. It was a very small studio, decorated artfully with attention to every detail and was impeccably clean. After dropping off our luggage and taking a quick peek around we left in search of a restaurant in the area that Patty had recommended.

Nazca was just a few blocks away, nestled in amongst a row of shops and eateries. We were treated with the attention of a skillful waiter which added to the experience. We ordered a bottle of Catena Malbec and a bottle of still water. I savoured the chef’s specialty, a local grouper in champagne sauce with crisp steamed vegetables that was absolutely delicious. Feeling particularly decadent, we decided to finish by sharing a caramel pudding the waiter suggested that was crazy sweet and likely not the best choice for a diabetic but so creamy-smooth and delicious the extra insulin requirement seemed worthwhile.

 

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Nazca

 

We walked through bustling markets with artisans selling their wares and music blaring from speakers in the alley. We took selfies with cityscape, ocean views, and local attractions in the background. We walked along the immaculately clean city-designed walking pathway that stretched along the ocean, through the bustling fish market, complete with gardens, tennis courts and fountains. We even took in a live jazz show at Danilo’s Jazz Club in the American Trade Hotel.

A highlight was the day our tour guide Rudy picked us up for a day of sightseeing. We began in the oldest section of the city, Panama Viejo, constructed in the 1500’s. It was the first European colony to be established in the area until the pirate Henry Morgan came along and ransacked it. We drove through various other neighborhoods while Rudy spoke with pride and enthusiasm about the history of his native country.

The tour culminated with a trip to the Miraflores Locks. We were directed into a theatre and shown a brief movie that explained the history of the canal. We toured the museum before beating the crowds to stand along the viewing area and await the arrival of two ships making the passage down the narrow, intricately designed canal. The spectacle as the massive ships were towed and lowered while the water drained and rose again in the containers was amazing and definitely a site worth seeing.

 

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Miraflores Locks

We shared many delightful culinary experiences in Casco Viejo, but our absolute favourite was the Veggie Moon restaurant. The designer of the space created a unique dining experience by featuring individually decorated tables and settings. It was whimsical and cozy and inviting. The waiter spoke little English and we spoke little Spanish but with a few eyebrow wags and hand gestures we were able to procure a Malbec that was bold and peppery on the palate. It was luscious, swirling and sipping the deeply purple-tinged red liquid.

Then there was the food. The chef prepared for us an appetizer that featured a sushi roll of delicately mashed sweet potato combined with quinoa, rolled in nori and served over a smear of avocado mousse, sprinkled with sparkling citrus mango salsa and garnished with fresh, crisp pea shoots. Slices of aromatic freshly baked bread were being served in a miniature doll-sized steel shopping cart. For our mains, my Mr. chose the pepper crusted tuna over garlic mashed potatoes. I picked the lentil risotto with beans. Listed as gluten free, I wasn’t expecting the explosion of flavours. It was without a doubt the most incredible vegetarian dish I have ever tasted, and Mr.  agreed upon tasting that it contended for the best dish ever, including those featuring meat!

 

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Veggie Moon

Feeling jazzed – and suddenly quite hungry – remembering our fabulous trip to Panama.