Worst Washroom of the Week

How to go the bathroom while blindfolded or drunk:

Bloor Subway Station, Toronto

By |July 30th, 2010 |Categories: Toronto |24 Comments

Gypsy Wednesday – Cycling to the Ashes

Welcome to Gypsy Wednesday! Every Wednesday, I strive to highlight all the juicy morsels related to travel and beyond.

Sometimes a regular person is seized by an idea, a strong desire to accept a challenge. Could have been a tragedy or special dream that won’t stop whispering to you, even in sleep.

I use to be a skeptical person, scoffing at the ability to effect change. Meet this fella and watch me switch that negative tape to a rock anthem.

Q: Tell us who you are and what you are doing?

A: I am Oli Broom, a 30 year old Englishman from London. In October 2009, having barely cycled beyond the end of my road before, I left London on my bike with seventeen friends and cycled down to the south coast of England. When we reached the sea, all my friends turned around, I bid them a tearful farewell before jumping on a boat to France. I was at the beginning of a 14 month, 20,000 km cycle ride to Brisbane, Australia towatch a series of cricket matches between England and Australia. Along the way I have gone out of my way to play cricket in as many places as possible, and have given talks to a number of schools and youth projects on my route. I am aiming to raise £100,000 for charity during and after the ride.

So far I have cycled through Europe, Turkey and the Middle East, Africa as far as the Sudanese capital Khartoum, across India and Bangladesh, and I am pedaling through Thailand. The cricket series starts on November 25, 2010 and I have 6,000 km to cycle before then!

My website is www.cyclingtotheashes.com and I am blogging about my journey.

Q: Why choose British Neurological Research Trust (BNRT) and Lord Taverner’s as charities to support? Why not something international?

A: Both charities are close to my heart. I chose to support the British Neurological Research Trust because an old school friend suffered a freak accident 6 years ago and is now paralysed. The work being done by the BNRT will benefit James and millions worldwide.

The Lord’s Taverners is a larger charity that was founded in cricket, but now helps to give disabled and under-privileged children opportunities in the UK.

I chose two UK based charities because the UK is my home, and there are millions of people suffering in all sorts of ways there, despite it being a wealthy country. I have had to wrestle with guilt as I have pedaled through so many of the countries I have visited. The suffering I have seen in places like Sudan, India, Bangladesh and even Turkey, Syria and Thailand, would be unthinkable back home. Maybe on my next adventure I will opt for some overseas charities, but for now I am happy to be raising funds for two very worthwhile causes at home.

Q: And to pick cycling from London to Brisbane? Are you mad?

A: Maybe a little bit!

Before I left England I had never really cycled anywhere. I just fancied a bike ride because of the flexibility, peace and quiet, and independence. I thought it might lend to the traveling experience. I thought I could probably cope with a long journey, so went for it. I told all my friends my plans before I had given the idea much thought – once I had told them I knew I couldn’t back down.

The idea was to challenge myself, and I wasn’t going to do that unless I chose something really difficult. I have learnt that, like a lot of endurance tests, long distance cycling is 10% physical and 90% mental. It’s all in the head! If you are able to break the journey down into manageable chunks in your mind, you have a better chance of completing it. I finished my first day, and was happy. Then I crossed Belgium and gave myself a pat on the back. Before I knew it I had cycled across Europe and found myself in Istanbul. I barely even think about the end goal now. If I do, I begin to doubt myself, and, whisper it, get a bit emotional / soppy! Cycling a long way is really easy, and (almost) anyone I know could do it.

Q: How do you handle long days cycling and solitude?

A: I wanted my cycle expedition to be a solo adventure. I wasn’t sure how I would react to long periods on my own, because I have never been on an adventure like this. But I had an idea that I would cope. I am happiest in the company of friends and family, but I’m pretty good at being on my own too. I don’t get bored easily, and especially not on a bike because I am so in touch with people and places – there isn’t a windscreen dividing us so I always have villagers shouting at me to stop and have a cup of tea and a chat with them. I think most people in the world see a cyclist as poor and in need of help!

There is the world of difference between loneliness and solitude. I have learnt to cherish solitude without suffering too badly with loneliness. An MP3  player helps too!

Q: What was your occupation before deciding to do this 14 month journey?

A: I worked for 6 years in London as a Chartered Surveyor with an international real estate consultancy. Whenever I tell other travelers what I did before, they always tell me they’re not surprised I gave it up. But it was a good job and I enjoyed it. That said, I didn’t love it, and I want to be passionate about what I do in life. I could feel myself slipping into ‘averageness’ and I didn’t want to settle for that.

Q: What’s so damn attractive about travel in general? Instead of choosing something else?

A: It’s kind of obvious I suppose, but the attraction for me lies in the discovery of different cultures. Every minute of every day, if you immerse yourself in another culture, you see people doing things that you never see back home – or maybe just doing things a different way to the way it’s done at home. I spend hours wondering why some ideas and practices develop in one country and not in another.

I also believe travel is the best education you can get. Even without a bike, it teaches you to life lessons like tolerance (of other cultures and races), patience, independence and inquisitiveness. Those are all qualities that we could all do with developing.

An interesting aspect of my travel is that it makes me appreciate home more. Although I am having the time of my life on this adventure, I am also looking forward to going home and spending time with family and friends. This journey, I suppose, has made me appreciate them more. I am also excited about getting home because time travelling has given me so many ideas about what I want to do with the rest of my life, and I’m looking forward to putting at least a few of those ideas into practice.

Q: What is The Ashes Match in Australia and why is it so important to you?

A: Ha ha. Okay. In 1882 England were beaten at cricket by Australia for the first time on English soil. There followed a satirical article in an English newspaper stating that English cricket had died, and that the ashes would be cremated and the body sent to Australia. Two years later the English media dubbed the tour to Australia as a “quest to regain The Ashes.” During the tour, the England captain was presented with a small urn, said to contain the remains of an item of cricket equipment. Since that day, England and Australia have played each other for that little urn, and we call it The Ashes. The best thing about The Ashes is that it sits in a glass box in London and never leaves. Even if Australia win The Ashes, they only get to take home a replica!

And why do I care about it? Well, Australia vs. England in any sport is a grudge match, but the history and tradition that The Ashes brings means that cricket matches between the two sides are fierce encounters. England have been thrashed in The Ashes for the past 25 years, but the last 3 series have all gone to the home team (England twice and Australia once). I love cricket, England have a good chance of winning The Ashes again this time around, and Australia is not a bad place to go and watch cricket – that’s why I’m going!

Q: Tell us a typical travel day for you.

A: Wake up at sunrise in my tent. Struggle to get out of my sleeping bag for about an hour. Take another hour to pack up my tent and set off for a day on the bike. Cycle until lunchtime, stopping for the occasional chat with an eager villager. In India my thermometer read 56 degrees on several occasions, so I was often looking for shady roadside spots away from prying eyes – very tricky in India! In Thailand now it’s a bit cooler, but more hilly. Come lunch time I will eat a couple of meals to re-fuel and then I’ll cycle until sunset, when I will pitch my tent, or find a cheap guest house. Sounds fun right? Well, it is.

In reality, the day is broken up by amusing encounters with all sorts of people. For instance, the other day I was eating lunch in a tiny village when a well-dressed man introduced himself to me as a local landowner. He had a farm around the corner and said he would like to show me it. So I had a tour of a Thai rubber plantation, and a two hour rest on his sofa in front of BBC World during the heat of the day. Perfect! He is coming to London in a few months so I told him I would return the hospitality.

Q: Any tips for potential round-the-world cyclists?

A: I’ve just been chatting to an Israeli in a guest house in Thailand. He told me it was his dream to cycle around the world so I told him to do it. He replied, “But then it won’t be my dream anymore.”

If it’s your dream to travel the world by bicycle, and you have a passport that lets you travel relatively freely, then there isn’t a lot stopping you. Just go! Don’t wait and definitely don’t plan too much. There is so much expensive kit that you can buy, but that you don’t need. If you’ve got enough cash for a three month ride, set off now. A lot can happen in three months and you might not need to go home.

There is only one thing worth spending a decent amount on, and that’s the bike. I had a Santos Travelmaster built and fitted for me and I would go for the same bike again. Other than a bike, don’t go without a Leatherman Wave (penknife type tool), an MP3 player stuffed full of music and audio books, a digital dictaphone to record your thoughts during long hours in the saddle and a mosquito net so you can sleep anywhere, anytime!

Be ready to sleep in some strange places (under bridges, in mosques, temples, churches, in strangers’ houses and on beaches). Although I have slept in my tent most of the time, in India it was too hot so I opted for cheap guest houses and the occasional temple. When I reach big cities I generally use couchsurfing. I have also used the community section of that website to find independent film-makers in each country to help me with filming my journey. Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook can lend a different dimension to your ride, and I’m a big fan.

There are some informative websites and forums out there to help you plan your journey (try the cycling section of www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree or www.alastairhumphreys.com – Alastair did a 4 year bike ride the length of every continent, so he has some decent advice to lend. Or check my website to see what life is like on the road, of course! But really, I would encourage someone keen on a long bike ride to just do it their own way. Find your own path and ride it. You won’t regret it for a second.

If you missed it the first time, read Oli Broom’s adventures at Cycling to the Ashes.

Photos: courtesy of Oli Bloom.

Where Am I? Toronto!

What a month!

After laying low in Calgary, Toronto was strictly about urban vibe.

A 20 hour endurance test in bus travel deposited me at the Yorkdale Mall which runs along the northwest subway line. What I had landed in was a steam bath. Precious minutes during bus stops outside small town Ontario hinted at a heat wave, but actual Toronto soil pounded my frame, sweat soaking through my T-shirt dress. Snow storm or tropical rain? I’ll happily squeak and slosh in flip flops, not Sorels.

But damn, I was baking. It felt like Bangkok all over again.

TO skyline

Right now travel is a freshly cut lawn, unblemished from tramping feet or a jaded attitude. There will be many favorite lists, but number one is how a new city smells or sounds. That will always be pure in my mind.

I hopped off the bus despite creaky bones and bounced up the escalator towards the subway platform. Toronto crackled before me.

This city has a guttural scent, not necessarily pleasant, a mingling of sewage, sweaty humans, and car exhaust. What’s a stunner are the visual cues, this city is bursting with multi-cultural goodness, over 100 languages and dialects are spoken in wondrous chorus.

Bustling Chinatown

As a result, take a turn on Yonge, Queen Street or Bloor and at every corner a distinct neighborhood forms. Ripened fruit and bargains are laid to bare in Chinatown. The messy, glorious chaos of Kensington Market or the cool, crisp lines of Yorkville won’t disappoint.

My first week I attended a travel blogger picnic with Alicia Taggio of Life Behind the Lens and Lauren and Todd of Globetrooper at Center Island.

Lauren, Alicia, me, and Todd

Views from Center Island

A feast fit for ants was placed on a picnic table.


Next was St. Lawrence Market where I gobbled my share of seafood.

Fried smelt, anyone?

The delights of a busy market never grows old.

Markets make me tingle!

Yummy St. Lawrence

Sometimes solo travel isn’t concentrated on meeting people, but actually being solitary. I spent a quiet, but visually full day at historic Queen Street East.

Those aren’t tourists hanging around

Needless to say, Queen Street East is a depressed area, has been for years. I observed several hastily closed storefronts with dilapidated signs screaming “For Lease”.

Chaotic Queen Street East

No matter, I still discovered some striking architecture.

Metropolitan United Church circa 1870

Meeting of minds and communities seemed to be the theme.

I simply fell in love with Carol Perehudoff of Wandering Carol. We spent an afternoon noshing on dim sum and walking around the city.

Dim sum heaven

It kinda helped when after hugging the first sentence from her mouth was, “You are such a great writer.” Here’s your cue, boys. Say that to me over a candlelit dinner and I’m yours. I’m a really cheap date.

Besides that, Carol is a seasoned travel writer, with the sense of humor of Lenny Bruce. I had forgotten how connections can happen quickly in this weird microcosm that is traveling. I was left with the sensation that unsaid conversations were between us, but the beauty of life is you can pick up where you left off.

Travel hotties – Carol and I

Another fantastic highlight was the first Toronto Travel Tribe meet up at a swanky restaurant on King Street West, coyly named Spice Route.

Janice of Solo Traveler discussed Meet, Plan, Go – a nationwide event on September 14, 2010 to educate and encourage career breaks and unfurled travel.

Curly haired Janice on the right

I got giddy and groupie with the people who inspired me to start this blog.

Deb and Dave of The Planet D.

Hehe, giddy!

Daniel of Two Go Round-the-World.

More giddy!

Without these shining examples where would I be? Probably asking suburban dad through the window if he wants curly fries or onion rings with that.

Thanks to Mariellen Ward of Breathe Dream Go for assembling such a diverse group of travelers in one spot!

I did most of  my list except exploring the Distillery District. 4 out of 5 ain’t bad. Instead, I traded that for an excursion to The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).

Old lobby of Royal Ontario Museum

ROM exterior

This week is my last in Toronto. Next week is Ville-Marie or as you know it, Montreal.


I pledged to myself that slow travel is where it’s at, and it is. I found myself exploring, not venturing out at all, thinking about nothing or everything. Slow travel isn’t centred on dropping wads of cash or constantly going. It’s about considered absorption. I struggled to get here, actually have time to know thyself. And I’m taking it.

I’m discovering it’s easy to escape a place, but not yourself.

I’m really enjoying breaking bread with fellow travel bloggers or just travelers. I’ve never been included in a band of people who practice the intangible concept of community so dang well.

As for Toronto? Come, come! What many assume is a tangled, urban jungle is actually brimming with green parks and trees upon trees.

Call me silly, but the sweetest sound of Toronto is the subway hurling through a train tunnel. Who knows where you’ll end up on the other side?

By |July 27th, 2010 |Categories: Toronto |22 Comments

Worst Washroom of the Week

This week:

Calgary, Alberta – Esso gas station

Isn’t it illegal to poke fun at a handicap stall? Haha, poke! I made a pun.

By |July 23rd, 2010 |Categories: Calgary |19 Comments

Gypsy Wednesday – Why Travel and Being a Girl Rocks

Welcome to Gypsy Wednesday! Every Wednesday, I strive to highlight all the juicy morsels related to travel and beyond.

Travel and womanhood use to be a difficult task. Not only were women having babies during the pioneering days, but carrying rucksacks and cooking for the entire family in the sparse outdoors was commonplace. By the 1960’s, air travel for the post-war business man exploded. Women of wealth could partake in this luxury as well. Fashion and grooming solely occupied our sisters. Then the feminist movement sprung from the radical 60’s and 70’s, but so did commercial passenger travel, economy and business were spoken in tandem at an airline booking desk.

The post-modern woman travels for varied reasons. To remold societal roles, reinvent ourselves, or simply relax and enjoy. Our questions aren’t strictly gender or status oriented, but practicalities. How to deal with our cycles? What’s the best shampoo to bring? Birth control?

You could chop off all your hair like Kelsey Freeman or find yourself très unchic in Europe like Diana Edelman.

As for me? I’m somewhat of a hedonist and believe it’s more than acceptable to pack a few items that bring enjoyment. So, fair readers, I am opening up my toiletry bag.

1. Long or Short?

The debate rages on whether to go long or short on your round the world trip. I’m most happy with long hair. Can’t help it. It’s me. The solution? Lush shampoo bars.

I started using these shampoo bars prior to traveling. You can buy a durable tin to hold them in and Lush accommodates any hair type. Made from natural ingredients, you’ll never guess how long a bar lasts me: 6 to 8 months. Oh, and these also double as a bar of soap. The icing? Lush has stores in 39 countries (including India). Pssst.. they also sell conditioner bars. That’s my next purchase when my current conditioner runs out. www.lush.com.

2. Make-up

I always bombed at applying a full made up face, and firmly believe it’s useful for time and place. Don’t wear it during a jungle expedition, the mozzies will eat you alive. However, if you’re going out for dinner or clubbing, I always pack three essentials: MEL. Mascara. Eyeliner. Lash brush.

Eyeliner can bring a “wow” factor to tired eyes. Mascara brightens them drastically, and the brush can smooth out applied mascara or bushy eyebrows. Powders, foundations, eye shadows end up weighing down your pack and can shatter leaving a mess.

3.  Tampons, Ick

I gave up tampons years ago in favour of the Diva Cup. This is a dream come true for women travelers.

It only needs to be emptied twice a day or it can be pushed to every 12 hours. Use anti-bacterial camping soap and water to clean it, let it air dry, and put it back in the handy carrying case. Why do tampons suck? For one, disposal is challenging in some countries and tampons add to the landfill. A Diva Cup will last up to 2 years. Finally, the one time I brought tampons mosquitoes would not leave me alone. Like a nightmare stalker. The final score was 10 bites on my rear end! Not pretty. Important tip: make sure you’re using treated or bottled water to clean it, not straight tap water! www.divacup.com.

4. Don’t be a Backpacker Fashion Mistake

Especially important if Europe is part of your itinerary. If you want to parallel a Spanish or French dresser, be forewarned – they are always put together.

Readers gave me grief for the flats, but I’m keeping them. Once in a while it’s nice to walk around in something other than Keens or hikers.

They are comfy, but still have detail to give them flourish. Paired with leggings or jeans, Europe will be a breeze.

Other items worth having:

A scarf adds instant chic, and can be used for warmth or a head scarf to block out sun.

Controversial jeans.

Jeans are comfortable and a terrific way to fit in (dependant on the country). Look into quick dry jeans or don’t wash them on a travel day. And fashion hounds, one pair will do, not two. (I made that error!)

The ultimate rule here is ensure these pieces don’t interfere with pack weight. Items that can be rolled or take up minimal space is the key.

5.   Eau du Sweat

Rather than smell like a long-haul trucker, get this:

Patchouli essential oil treats acne and for my purposes – wards off mosquitoes. Yes, you are sensing a theme. My flesh is caviar to the mosquito world. I do everything possible to stop them. You’ll smell divine or reek of a rehashed hippie in a tie-dye American Apparel T-shirt. Either way, send mosquitoes to the grave!

6.  Desert Hands

So multi-purpose! It moisturizes, removes make-up, and soothes cracked skin. A major essential in my toiletry bag.

7.  Sex Education

I tend to select Trojan, a product with an upstanding record. A woman can’t be caught without proper contraception.

8. Diamonds Are Forever

Instead of wasting a travel budget on replenishing deodorant, choose The Crystal.

Composed of all-natural mineral salts, The Crystal neutralizes odor before it even begins. This baby never depletes or breaks off. A godsend! www.thecrystal.com.

What I love about travel is the menu of choices women have. Whatever you bring, or wherever you go – it’s truly up to you. And we can look fabulous doing it.

By |July 21st, 2010 |Categories: Travel Tips |54 Comments


“Oh, we won’t even see it.”


“No, a small town of probably 1,500. We just pass by.”

I sat mute, wondering what I had gotten myself into. Trish, a volunteer with Child Haven offered to pick me up and deposit me at the front door.

Giving time overseas is one of my goals, but to be led to a possibly creepy farmhouse in butthole, Ontario?

My mind swimmed with exhaustion. I hauled my pack through buttery heat at 5:30 am to board yet another Greyhound.

These buses are all beginning to look the same. Semi-stiff airplane seating and the familiar sounds of snoring from a passenger lulled by the motions of the bus. Budget travel is never boring, that much I can attest to.

5 hours later I stood outside the Ottawa Greyhound Station, noticing the heat had followed me. I wasn’t given a picture of Trish, so wandered aimlessly lingering on someone’s face a bit too long. They returned a quizzical expression. Shove off, you are weird.

From behind I heard a woman say to a passenger, “Are you Jeannie?”

She, too, was doing the blind date ritual, which was grossly out of place for a volunteer pick-up/drop-off scenario. I turned and began following her like a lost puppy. Finally our eyes met.

“Are you Trish?”

“Yes, you must be Jeannie.” Jackpot.

Trish looked about sixty, but exuded a youthful energy in ivory shorts and flip-flops. She greeted me warmly, admitting she was slightly flustered due to car problems. A sleek, white vehicle had easily replaced any car issues and off we went.

Maxville is about 1 hour from Ottawa. I felt slightly chipped on what Ottawa had to offer as the main landscape zipping by were freeways and other cars.

I had done some paltry research on Child Haven.

Trish filled me in.

“So, is Child Haven Bonnie and Fred?”

“Oh yes, Bonnie and Fred were the ones that started it.”

By “started it” she hinted at Fred and Bonnie Cappucino, married for 37 years. On the surface a typical, Canadian family with 2 kids, but Bonnie and Fred went the extra mile and adopted 19 boys and girls from 11 countries.

“My god, really?”

The Ontario landscape was dotted with towering trees and farming fields, I had stepped back into a Norman Rockwell painting. Or the English countryside 20 years ago.

The road to the farmhouse wasn’t really a road, but a narrow gravel path. We pulled up behind a smattering of parked vehicles. A burly man in an eggplant shirt emerged from a door, his pale skin piercing the blue canvas of sky.

“Oh Trish, you made it!”

I exited the air-conditioned car, realizing who he was.

“Hi Steve, Jeannie – so nice to finally meet you!”

We shook, sealing the beginning of the weekend.

Steve was the sole office administrator, unofficially adopted by Fred and Bonnie. Two part-time ladies usually help out, but one just accepted a posting with the government, this leaves Steve as THE source, everything.

The heat seemed to swell around the farmhouse, a building reminiscent of a lego city – a hodgepodge of shapes, sizes and colors squashed together.

When I entered, a quake hit me. The multi-coloured lego theme continued, the interior overloading my senses. India, Nepal and Tibet had vomited all over the place. Rugs, tapestries, drums, and paintings were littered in copious amounts. Rows and rows of books bursted every seam of the shelving units. The kitchen fared no better as several sets of dishes or utensils fought for counter space.

I was led to the top floor, an attic of oppressive heat. Rooms that defied structural logic appeared from nowhere. A railing meant to prevent a soul from tumbling to the lower floor was piled high with a rainbow of saris, shades and fabrics ripe to the eye and fingers. My bag was deposited in a large room with several beds. Some bunk style, some not. And damn if it wasn’t a concentration of heat with only two fans as cross-draft.

A change of scenery is expected during traveling, I told myself. Deal, woman. My future roommates would be a retired journalist from British Columbia and a former Child Haven intern, a sweet woman named Shelley.

I scrambled downstairs noticing the temperature drop significantly. What secret elixir of breeze did they have down here that had escaped my sleep space?

Is this the panic button? Had I walked into a cuckoo’s nest? That’s when Fred appeared.  A man of economy, but oozing with vitality.

We made introductions, and sat across from each other.

“You know, my first girlfriend was named Jeannie.”

I laughed. “Oh really? There aren’t many of us.”

“She was very religious, and the only way she would even look at me was if I became a minister, so I did.  Then she dumped me. But, being a minister stuck.”

He had me in stitches.

“I promise we’re not all like that.”

The other participants gathered in the living room, a couple from Cape Breton, the retired journalist, and three former interns, one of them was Trish, my ride. A projector was at the ready for presentations. Alright, this is shaping up.

Fred began regaling us with tales of the inception of Child Haven. He had my rapt attention telling a story about being present during the civil rights movement in Alabama. And how passive resistance ties to Gandhian principles. It was a window into strength of will. A will that can topple governments or feed a child.

Steve announced the entrance of Bonnie. A small woman, slightly stooped over, wrapped in a fuchsia sari, sparkling with segmented rows of gold bracelets on each arm walked in.

She covered the first few pages of our orientation package, on what to expect as an intern. She had a tiny voice, but vibrant eyes lined with kohl peeked out over spectacles.

It took me a few moments to process.

I had walked into an eccentrics parlour, but doesn’t it take a unique person to charge into a foreign country and open an orphanage? Let alone 8? With only the tip of the iceberg, I had come to learn about something special. Something larger than my petty concerns.

I braved the chilly living room (geo-thermal piping) and domestic chaos for one goal: make a kid smile.

Steve unrolled the projector and my education began.

Child Haven Crew 2010 (I’m 2nd from the right)