Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A series of articles for

This is the first in a series of articles I am writing for and posting as blog posts after they have been published.

A trip on my own

Sometime in March of this year, I began to think about taking a trip somewhere in May.  It was a nebulous plan at first but I knew I wanted to tie it into the need to drive my Jeep to the border before May 24, and a visit to my father in Toronto for his birthday on April 26th.  I also knew I should check in at Calgary, where Mike, my husband, was to take care of some business matters and perhaps get a little more work done on our condo.   How could I tie this all together?

I browsed the home-sitter site,, with no idea what I was looking for.  I like the idea of travelling to a place and staying put for a while to immerse myself in the local culture and surroundings.  I’m not the “tourist” type, who wants to see all the common sights, and check them off my list, all while staying at comfortable hotels.  Or going on organized group tours.  I don’t mind an organized day tour of a new place to get an overall feel for it – like a “hop on-hop off” open-top bus.  That to me is the best way to go the first day – it’s organized and informative but flexible.  I don’t like to be herded around in a group and forced to stand and listen to someone talk about something I may not be interested in.  I also enjoy solo travel – not all the time, but there is a special level of enjoyment to be had from travelling alone, especially for a woman.  It can be challenging to take on things like finding your way around, driving in a strange city or country, functioning in another language, dealing with the unexpected – but therein lies the deep satisfaction and building of confidence in oneself.  You come to feel that whatever happens, you can handle it.   It is freeing too.  You can do what you want, when you want, without having to consult and compromise with your spouse or travelling companions.  Not everyone would enjoy that, I know.  But I do.

A couple of listings caught my eye – both in Spain.  I had not thought to go to Spain before.  I am generally not that interested in Europe unless it’s something out of the ordinary.  And this certainly looked unique.  A tiny mountain village near the coast of Southern Spain.  Two weeks in a home with 3 cats and a dog to care for, but with plenty of other spots close by to explore on foot or by car.  I applied and got a response from the owner, a UK woman named Wendy.  I asked for more information on everything, and more pictures too.  She sent them and also said I would need to rent a car for myself to get around.  I was intrigued.  It looked rugged and remote but still only 20 minutes from the coast and beaches.  She said she often rented out the house as a holiday home and took care of other holiday homes for people.  It had to be comfortable and attractive if she was able to rent it out to people.

I looked at flights.  I knew if I could get to a point in Europe inexpensively, I could then take an inexpensive flight within Europe on the little discount airlines like Ryanair.  My favourite airline, Westjet, had limited European flights from Canada until later in May and I needed to be in Spain by May 6.

An overall plan began to formulate.  Starting with a drive from Mazatlan to Phoenix in April.  Then parking the Jeep in storage there and flying to Calgary.  After about 10 days, a flight from Calgary to Toronto with a 2 day stop to visit my dad and mom (both in care for Alzheimers).  Now I needed a flight from Toronto to Europe. 

I looked at Icelandair which had a reputation for inexpensive flights, and saw on their website that since all their flights stop in Reykjavik anyway, they offer a free stop-over for up to 7 days on your way to Europe.  Hmmmm.  Should I?  Seemed a shame not to take them up on that.  I researched hotels and possible Airbnb rentals – my other favourite way of staying somewhere when I travel – and made the decision to book and stay 3 nights there.  I really only had a vague idea of what it was like there – I knew there were geysers, volcanoes, glaciers and hot springs but it hadn’t really caught my interest to go there before.  Didn’t a volcano erupt there not long ago?  Well, I could at least say I had been to Iceland even if I didn’t like it, I figured.

1 by Jón Gunnar Árnason (1931 - 1989). Sun Voyager is a dreamboat, an ode to the sun. Intrinsically, it contains within itself the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.

Then, I looked at where to land in Europe.  I have been to a few places in Europe, and most recently to Paris, but that was 10 years ago or so.  I decided on Paris because the timing of the flights and cost looked good and the flight from Paris to Malaga, Spain was only 2 hours or so.  Now, I could have just had a layover in Paris and hopped on my next flight, but again I figured, well, since I’m going there anyway, I might as well take a couple of days to re-acquaint myself!  Ha!  Okay, let’s look at Airbnb and Expedia for a place to stay.

(You can start to see how I get enthusiastic and start extending and expanding my travel – sometimes to the point where I realize later I have committed to too much!  Travel from place to place can be exhausting – especially airports.  I forget all that when planning my trips.)

Nevertheless, I found a small hotel in Paris that was quite reasonable and got good reviews on Trip Advisor for location and, at the very least, cleanliness and internet in the room.  The reviews did all mention how small the rooms and bathrooms were but that, for the price, it was a good enough place to lay your head at night.  I had stayed at a small pension in Paris before so I knew about the small rooms and limited facilities – possibly even needing to bring your own soap. 

Then I researched online a possible guided day tour since I was only there 2 days, and found a unique-sounding “foodie” tour of an ethnic area in Paris for 4 hours.  It sounded really good and the size of the group was limited to 8, which appealed to me because I hate large groups.  So I booked that too.

2  Cheese Shop in Marais, Paris.

Whoo hoo! I’m only getting started!

Wendy had told me that the best airport to land in in Spain was Malaga.  Her home was an hour and a half east along the coast from there and I would need to drive.  Okay, so I am going to be in Malaga, and I’ve never been there, so why not arrive a couple of days early and explore Malaga?  Here we go again.

This time I found an Airbnb apartment right in Centro for 3 nights, on the recommendation of Wendy, who had a friend stay there before.  I left off renting the car until I needed it to drive to Rubite (pronounced Ruubeetaye.)  I booked a hop on/hop off open air bus city tour.  I knew next to nothing about Malaga but by reading up on it online, it certainly sounded very interesting and with a lot of history including Phoenicians, Romans, Moors….oh my.

Figure 3 The Cathedral of Málaga is a Renaissance church.

Once my son, Tim, heard about this house-sit in Spain, he was bitten by the travel bug too and told me to plan on him joining me there, at least for part of the time.  Yay!  What more could a mom ask for!  An adventure with her son!

So, it all began on April 11, when Mike flew down to Mazatlan and drove the Jeep with me to Phoenix.

Next article – Reykjavik!

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