Tag Archives: hostel

Gradtirement begins!

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My maternal side of the family is incredibly close knit, and I grew up surrounded by cousins who were as close as siblings. We are also incredibly Ukrainian, clinging fiercely and proudly to a culture that first Russians and then Germans attempted to wrench away from us. It wasn’t until Grade 2 that I realized “goomkah” wasn’t the English word for “elastic band,” and that other kids didn’t spend most holidays hanging out at their Ukrainian church until midnight.

I am literally “first generation and a half” Canadian, with a mom who was born in Canada but whose older siblings were born in German camps during the war. We knew the stories of the family in Ukraine and Belarus who had been lost during the war, and the miraculous reconnection thanks to the tireless work of the Red Cross with aunties and cousins presumed dead, but until the dawning of the age of easy internet access, we never dreamed of actually connecting with these faraway loved ones on a regular basis. But eventually connect we did, and now with an epic celebratory trip looming in need of a destination, I couldn’t imagine a more amazing destination than going ‘home’ with my mom.

However, there was no need to hurry straight there! While I have had the privilege of roaming throughout Europe before, my mom has never traveled in Europe outside Ukraine. So, while sitting in my apartment in China, I took the plunge and booked us flights arriving in Rome and leaving from Lviv three weeks later. Now we just had to plan all the fun things in between!

When you travel with the same someone as often as saratree tends to do, you inadvertently develop roles to expedite the planning process. I have definitely become the “things to do and eat” person, while Joshua is the “accommodations and public transit” expert. Realizing that I would need to step into the role of all of the above on this trip was, to put it mildly, freaking terrifying.

While I did have more travel experience than my mom, I felt woefully inadequate in the role of navigator (Josh seems to think my philosophy of “I always get to where I need to go…. eventually!” is amusing rather than functional, and let’s just say that my mother’s sense of direction is even more… ethereal than my own). Moreover, my mom was struggling with a chronic ankle injury that limited her mobility and caused her fairly constant pain. Was a cross-European backpacking trek really the smartest idea?

Maybe not smartest, but definitely most awesome.

A word about my mom. My mom is, as I alluded to above, a first generation refugee who grew up in the culturally and geographically challenging rural North of Canada. Her family didn’t speak English and she had never seen a city or running water until she was 14. She has faced unimaginable hardships in both her personal and extended family life, and worked for decades as a nurse where she was expected to cope with other people’s grief and pain on a daily basis. As a child, she suffered numerous health problems, including damaged veins in her legs that left her with constant and painful swelling in her left leg, and a ruptured eardrum that left her half deaf, caused by a drunken doctor attempting an ear exam.

I confess that because I’ve grown up with these things, I have taken them for granted for most of my life. Mom’s leg that was a different colour, or the fact that she wouldn’t hear you when you talked to her on a certain side, well… those were just normal parts of her, like her collection of matryoshka dolls or her hazel eyes. But living in very close quarters with her during this trip (and planning daily activities that pushed the physical limits of her normal relaxed retired life!), I saw the extent to which she is affected on an hourly basis by these things: whether it’s in the ankle swelling that causes sandal straps to not fit properly, or the careful selection of seats to ensure she can hear the waiter, or even something as simple yet tiringly constant as the quick glances towards and away from her “rainbow leg.”

And yet in spite of (or because of?) all this, my mom is the most gracious, compassionate, generous, and life-loving individual I have ever met. She has instilled me with a sense of joy in the everyday occurrences of life, as well as a sense of healthy respect towards suffering: it happens, it’s hard, so we need to support each other and learn from it.

Also, did I mention that she’s just super fun?

My mom seemed thrilled to have the chance to visit Italy (apparently she has been captivated by the idea of Pompeii since high school, of which I had no idea!), and I was equally thrilled to have the chance to play host in one of my favourite countries, despite all my worries about her well-being. I knew that if anything happened to her, not only would I feel horrible, but I would face the wrath of my three older siblings. It was one thing for ME to go irresponsibly gallivanting across the globe, but to drag along my respectable mother who was supposed to be relaxing in her much deserved retirement??

As it so often turns out, my fears were groundless. Every day, my mom astounded me with her strength, humour, and resilience. She was wonderfully encouraging to me in my newfound travel agent role, offering generous amounts of much appreciated reassurance and excitement. She appeared charmed by the vast assortment of accommodations I found for us, embracing the shared bathrooms and hostel breakfasts with aplomb. She bravely tackled Rome’s metro guarded by machine gun-toting militia, the scorching heat of the Foro Romano, the endless staircases of Venice. Most notably, she never complained. She would request to sit for a minute, or accept my offer to lug her suitcase for awhile, but she would never complain.

Our charming conglomeration of accommodations. I was VERY pleasantly surprised (read: relieved!) at how lovely they all turned out to be… I chose them mainly for price and location, and was keeping my fingers crossed for all the rest!

Our biggest hurdle… the infinite bridges & staircases of Venice (aka the city where my respect for my mom’s chutzpah quadrupled)
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Planes, trains, automobiles… and vaporettos

Life is hard. Challenges get thrown our way (sometimes more due to our choosing than other times!) But how different could our experience of challenges be if we simply stated what we needed, or what could be helpful, rather than resorting to ineffectual kvetching.

El Foro Romano: never fails to be utterly awe-inspiring

Hey Joshua… “[El Foro] is a good place to find a thumb.”
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My perennial favourite of the Foro – the Temple of Romulus (AD 307), with the original bronze door and the lock that STILL WORKS
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Mom taking her role as traveller-tourist seriously and not missing a thing!
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Views from Venezia

All life lessons aside, it was also just pure fun to play tour guide to my mom in bella Italia, a country I have now had the privilege of visiting for the third time and that still leaves so much to be discovered each time I arrive!

Amazing new discoveries with Mom, such as our blissful Santa Marinella beach day

First time in the Pacific!!!
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The rainbow puzzle box of Burano
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Late night strolls down to our favourite neighbourhood landmark
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And then, with coins thrown into Trevi to guarantee yet another return (it’s only had proven success thus far for me!), it was ciao! to the Romantics and hallo! to the Germanics as we boarded our Schlafwagen to Vienna…

(To be continued!)

Granja #4: Tourists no more!

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Situated about twenty minutes from the centre of town, La Casita is our host Esther’s home that she’s transformed into a hostel and campground. It’s a gorgeous area, sitting beside the Río Quemquemtreu and nestled at the feet of the Andes.

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Josh and I take care of any concerns the guests may have, look after the grounds (things such as fixing the fence so the neighbour’s chickens stop sneaking into our yard!), build fires to heat the water tanks so guests can have hot showers, and clean La Casita (the hostel guests share the indoor kitchen and bathroom with us), as well as the camping’s outdoor kitchen and bathroom. Changing bed linens while dancing to Argentine cumbia music is a very fun way to earn our keep!

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In the middle of a drought, even the outdoor kitchen needs watering! (A tried and true method to keeping the dust under control with cement floors)
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It’s been an amazing experience to be hosts instead of guests, to have the chance to make people feel as welcomed and at home as so many other people have done for us since we’ve been in Argentina. It’s also an incredible opportunity to practice our Spanish – our host, as well as the majority of the guests, speak no English, so we’re getting used to conversing in Spanish even when it’s just the two of us! I love the chance to truly feel at home somewhere, and to make a neighbourhood “our own.” It’s so fun to know the family who runs the corner store, and the old man who has the kiosco down the street, and to walk around el centro and run into a half-dozen people we know every time we go out.

Our corner store kiosco (many late night runs for chips and drinks!)
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However, it’s been a sobering experience to work with people in the tourism industry, and realize how dependent one’s livelihood is on so many events that are out of your control. Last May, there was a volcanic explosion in Chile, and the Argentine news reported that the entire Patagonian area was affected by volcanic ash. In reality, there are only tiny areas of the region touched by this catastrophe, and the vast majority is unaffected and beautiful. However, because of this misconception, tourism is down by over 50% compared to other years, and it’s individuals like Esther, or like our artist friends who work in the feria, who are suffering. Josh and I are doing our best to spread the word via other travelers, and to post on travel forums and different travel blogs the reality of what’s happening in Patagonia. Although it was the most we could do, we felt like these efforts weren’t actually going to amount to much… But then, two Canadians (woot!) called to reserve a place in La Casita, and when asked how they had found out about it, they said they had read a review on Lonely Planet – a review just posted by one saratreetravels! 😀

View of Los Tres Puntos from our backyard:
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Our long-awaited hike to Río Azul (we made sure to swim upstream of the wild pig):
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Asado and singalong with all the hostel guests:
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Our castle in the campground!
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