Anything to declare?

So pot, weed, cannabis – whatever you want to call it – becomes legal in Canada on 17th October.  The law says that on that date ….

“The federal legislation will:

  • allow adults to possess up to 30 grams of legally-produced cannabis
  • allow adults to grow up to four cannabis plants per household
  • set the minimum age for purchase and use at 18 years of age, with the option for provinces to increase the age limit
  • enable a regulatory regime for the licensed production of cannabis, which would be controlled by the federal government
  • enable a regulatory regime for the distribution and sale of cannabis, which would be controlled by the provincial government
  • establish new provisions to address drug-impaired driving, as well as making several changes to the overall legal framework to address alcohol impaired driving”

So the one that jumps out to me above is the lawful ability to carry up to 30 grams of legally-produced cannabis.  But when they say “carry” where do they mean you can carry this cannabis?  Well – just within Canada and yes you can carry it on a flight – but only if it is for “medical” reasons.

Now I am sure you have chatted with friends or family who have been prescribed medical marijuana – in fact card-carrying marijuana patients have been around for a while – the difference being that from 17 October you can have it for fun – relaxation – whatever – and not necessarily for medical needs.

marijuana cartoon

But it has drawn a lot more attention to this issue and as travel agents we have been asked this question a few times now and frankly people seem confused.

So it’s OK to carry the stuff (as long as you have the prescription) on a flight within Canada – fine – but what happens if your flight is diverted (as they so often are) into a US airport.  Mmmm.

Edmonton Airport website makes no bones about what might happen in this situation –

“Important: If you are legally travelling within Canada with cannabis, and your flight is diverted into the United States, you may be required to disembark from the aircraft and go through the customs process. If this occurs, you must immediately contact the Canadian Embassy at 1-844-880-6519. You may be arrested and detained in the United States.”

Now if you have seen a few of those border patrol episodes you clearly don’t want to have to go through that scenario.  Sorry USA friends – but those USA immigration and customs people scare the hell out of me and always make me feel like I have done something wrong.  I just don’t need that hassle.

But – apart from those who like a little marijuana oil to sleep or calm “anxiety” let’s face it there are a lot of people out there with serious medical issues who really really need that marijuana to help with symptoms of multiple sclerosis, asthma and epilepsy to name but a few.

I guess this is just Chapter One in a long story still being written.


This is a special picture added for Gavin –

bill and ben

“As Bill & Ben the flower pot men use to say, “hello weed!”…”  – our British friends will know what we are talking about.



It’s what you eat

Are you an adventurous eater?  Do you try new foods all the time?  When I watch intrepid travellers like the amazing Anthony Bourdain tucking into strange foods I am constantly amazed by their bravery.  I have to admit I am a wuss when it comes to strange food.  I could never really get through that regular episode on the Amazing Race when they would have to eat weird stuff.

I am told that I am missing out and that I should be more adventurous.  What about you?  Here are some strange foods that you may come across on your travels – how do they rate?

PERU – could you eat a guinea pig?  Yes – those sweet little creatures that your kids keep in a little cage in their bedrooms.  In Peru they are a delicacy and you can even get them on a pizza.  Not sure what the Italians would think of that!

guinea pig

BRITAIN – could you eat a sausage made of blood?  Well hang on a minute now – this is one weird delicacy that I absolutely love – Black Pudding.  Maybe it is because I grew up in England and having no preconceived ideas about Black Pudding I ate it with relish.  I probably didn’t realise what it was at the time.  I was only little at the time.

CAMBODIA – scared of spiders?  How about a bowl of crispy tarantulas.  Gobble those down and it should put paid to your fears forever (or kill you!).  I have been to Cambodia – I have NOT tried this dish which apparently tastes like crab.  It came into use during the Khmer Rouge regime and you know, I get it. If I was starving I wouldn’t be too fussy.  Today it is a popular snack.

UKRAINE – just a piece of fat – that’s Salo.  Slabs of fat, smoked and stored for a year in the cool before being sliced off and eaten on rye bread.  Now before you turn your nose up – I can relate.  In England having lard from the roasting pan smeared onto a piece of bread was a treat second to none.

SCOTLAND – yes the noble haggis.  The ingredients are enough to turn your stomach (liver heart and lungs with oatmeal all trussed up in a sheep’s stomach)  but oh my goodness – the taste is to die for!  Yum.


FRANCE – yes snails.  I know, I know.  I don’t get it but many do.  In fact funny story.  Growing up in Cornwall England we noticed people combing the old stone walls of the fields for snails.  Our English snails were so plump and well nourished that they fetched a pretty penny in the fancy restaurants in France.

SOUTH AFRICA – crocodile pies.  Fresh from a bakery in Hout Bay, Cape Town.  Crispy pastry on the outside – a sinister greenish look on the inside – but very tasty nevertheless.  Rather like a fishy kind of chicken if that makes sense.

TAIWAN – grilled chicken buttholes.  Yes you read that correctly.  During my research I came across this entry ….

“I’ve eaten quite a few strange foods on my travels- all manner of bugs in SE Asia, a horse burger in Slovenia. In Iceland, I tried whale, puffin and reindeer in the same meal. On a walking food tour in Morocco I peeled back the face of a sheep to get to roasted meat underneath. But nothing to me was stranger than the time I ate grilled chicken buttholes on a stick in Taipei, Taiwan.”  Nathan from Foodie Flashpacker

CHINA – insect food and more things just defying description


What has been your bravest culinary moment?  Do tell….


When you miss your flight…

Have you ever missed a flight?  Not because of a delayed flight connection but just because … maybe you got the time wrong, maybe you were in a traffic jam, maybe you had to backtrack home for your passport.   There are a million different reasons you could get to the gate late for your flight but once you get there and the gate is closed, that is it buddy.  You are sunk!

Now there are tons of articles online you can read about the why’s and wherefore’s of being denied boarding because you are too late.  The European Union has very strict rules and work hard to protect the consumer.  BUT … how many times have you sat on a plane while waiting for someone to board whose luggage is already on the flight?  Frustrating isn’t it?

Now if they didn’t have checked luggage the flight could just go without them – and tough.  But because they have checked luggage it means that the luggage has to be offloaded while everyone else who was there on time has to sit and worry about their connecting flight

Of course we know that life happens.  People I booked flying into Gatwick had to take the bus to Heathrow.  I left them lots of time to make the connection – in fact I even thought maybe a bit too long of a connection.  But there was a traffic accident on the highway and of course everything was backed up to Kingdom Come.  They missed their flight but they did have travel insurance (smart people)!  So their additional costs were covered.

Today with more intense security checks at airports it is essential to plan ahead and give yourself hours … and hours …. to make sure you get to the gate in time.  In fact it has become so much of a pain that if I travel within Europe I prefer to go by train – it works out to the same by the time you factor in travelling to the airport, going through security and then having to travel from some outlying airport to the centre of town.

Unfortunately we can’t always do that – so you pack your ipad or your novel, get there early and hunker down.

Unlike Patrick Kehoe who was told the gate was closed for his flight from Dublin to Amsterdam.  No way Jose!  He was going to get on that flight no matter what.  He barged through the doors and ran out onto the tarmac waving at the slowly taxi-ing plane.  Of course the pilot didn’t stop to pick him up.  But airport security did.


He was really fed up.  Shame, he is only 23 and I guess he had a way to drive to get to his flight as it seems he comes from a little village south of Dublin called Raheenaskeagh, Gorey in County Wexford.  Now you try saying that!  I checked on the map and it is about one and a half hours from Dublin airport and I do think that the flight from Dublin to Amsterdam was an early morning flight.  So .. a certain amount of sympathy for Patrick (good Irish name).  He got really mad though when being questioned by reporters and finally lost it in this enduring image which I am sure he will want erased from the internet at some stage in the future.

Patrick Kehoe

There’s an old Irish saying that my mom taught me – póg mo thóin …. you look it up!


Too poor not to buy quality

An old saying… many variations some of which are “too poor to buy cheap”.  At first glance it almost didn’t make sense until I really thought about it.  If you are on a tight budget and you want to buy something you want to be sure that what you are buying is going to last or do what it is supposed to do.

Another variation is “cheap is expensive”.

So what has this got to do with travel you ask.  Well …. I prefer the first saying “too poor not to buy quality”  rather than “too poor to buy cheap” because let’s face it sometimes you can get really good quality at a cheaper price. Nothing wrong with that.  It is just a matter of checking the quality of what you are getting.

Let’s say you find a cheap deal on a hotel – OK – let’s do the due diligence.  What is the regular price of this hotel?  Maybe there is a sale on because it is out of season.  Or maybe dig a bit deeper and you find that the location is not in the centre of town but rather on the outskirts.  Now you have to factor in the cost of taxi fares to get into the places you have flown so far to see.  As you can see – it will end up being “cheap is expensive”.

Same with a cruise deal.  You see these amazing prices on the cruise line advertisements but note that the pricing is “from $xxxxx” which means that the price is based on the lowest possible stateroom on the ship – which generally means an interior stateroom.  Ummm – well how bad is that?  For some people it is no problem at all.  They regard the inside stateroom as just a place to sleep and shower and spend their time enjoying most of the facilities on the ship that everyone has access to – even the guy in the owner’s suite.

For a first time cruiser who has no idea what to expect it can come as a shock to find out that you are sleeping in a “cupboard”.  When you close that door you can get a little claustrophobic (I speak from experience).  It is amazing the difference one little window can make – even if you cannot open it.  When I cruised on Star Clippers we had two portholes in the room – great.


My first river cruise was in the lowest category – no french balcony but a nice large-ish window pretty much on water level.  Yep – we said hi to the swans each morning as they peered into our stateroom.  Both were fine but if you purchase a cruise on the basis of the promotional pictures you see online….

cruise ship couple

then you might be a bit disappointed to have spent your hard earned money on this

inside stateroom 2

if you really freak out about having no window at all.

It’s all relative.  For some the purchase of an inside stateroom is just fine – a great saving and I guess you can always sleep late because you don’t need black out drapes!  For those people they got value for their money.  For others however it could be a nightmare week and a total waste of their time and hard-earned cash.

You can see why I don’t like the word “cheap”.  It doesn’t really measure what you are buying and each individual situation and person is different.  What I do look for in any purchase – travel or otherwise – is quality and value for money.   What do you look for?



Pasta problems

After two weeks in Italy I have a problem.  A pasta problem to be exact.  I just got used to having pasta every single night.  Amazing pasta.  Oh my goodness, the food in Italy is so good.  It is surprising how many different ways you can have pasta and the skill it takes to cook this simple dish.

In Bellagio on Lake Como we took full advantage and tried it every which way.  One little restaurant on a tiny alley opened promptly every evening at 7 pm to a line up of people waiting to get in to grab one of the few tables in this little gem.  Thoughtfully the owners had a box full of cushions outside and people would grab a cushion and sit on the steps while they waited for their table.

bellagio trat

Even more thoughtfully the owners opened up a wine bar just across the steps (cannot call it a street) where you could sample some of the best Italian wines and when your table became available the cook would stroll across and summon you to your table.  Bliss.  How many ways can I eat pasta and drink Prosecco?

Aperitivo Bellagio

Now you might think that eating pasta every night (as well as drinking prosecco) might add to your waistline.  And you might be right.  YIKES.  However if you choose to stay in Bellagio you won’t want for exercise.  I am sure every hotel in this little town that may have an exercise room will find their treadmills and stairmaster machines unused.  Just getting around the town is a workout.  My hotel kept sending me warning emails that I would be required to walk up 38 stairs to gain access to the front door – and carry my own bag.  Fortunately I was travelling with carry on (I feel quite proud of that).

But here’s something they don’t tell you.  The cobbled stones on the streets of Bellagio are some serious cobblestones.  Boy, you will not need to go for reflexology after walking around the streets for an hour or so.

cobbled stones of bellagio

Strangely enough every restaurant we visited for pasta was excellent – except for one.  That was the one marked No 1 by Tripadvisor.  It didn’t feel like we were in Italy at all.  The manager was suave and smooth and while the food was good I don’t think there was a single local anywhere near the place.

After a week back in Calgary we just had to go out for some pasta – we were suffering withdrawal symptoms.  Well what can I say?


It’s not the same 😦

Are you able for Elba?

Able was I ere I saw Elba.  This is a palindrome – (a what?)

Definition –  a word, phrase, or sequence that reads the same backward as forward, e.g., madam or nurses run.

Ah so now we know …….  and this palindrome is attributed to Napoleon but he probably didn’t actually say it – I found this interesting article by historian Shannon Selin –  Her website

“Although attributed to him, Napoleon Bonaparte did not say, “Able was I ere I saw Elba.” This well-known palindrome – a word or phrase that reads the same backward and forward – first appeared in 1848, 27 years after Napoleon’s death. Someone named “J.T.R.” came up with the Elba line, along with “Snug & raw was I ere I saw war & guns.” (1)”

Napoleon had chosen Elba as his place of exile and in my opinion it was a pretty good choice.  This delightful island is not really on the radar for a lot of us travelling to Europe and the island has strict rules about development which has kept the authentic feel for the area.  It really is beautiful.

Elba-Island I always imagined that a place of exile would be somewhere miserable and hard to escape but it seems that Napoleon had a lucky break here although clearly he was restless to get back to France and back into action.    And he had to have developed a pretty thick skin because he was made fun of in Europe by all and sundry.



Actually his lucky break was not to last as he ended up on St Helena – which is another story.

But back to Elba – this really was a surprise to me – in fact their tourism tag is

Elba – an unexpected paradise.

All true!  Beautiful beaches, great hiking trails and lots of cycling groups.  Even golf!  Wine estates offering tours and tastings and the little fishing village of Porto Azzurro offers lovely harbour-front cafes and restaurants.

Still, Napoleon only stayed 300 days on Elba.  Only … wow – I could totally do 300 days on Elba!


Taking carry-on just got worse

I know – carry on is handy in a way but a big pain in the you-know-where at most times.  You end up hanging around airports with all your luggage and then worry about not getting space in the overhead bin.  Maybe the flight is really full so they offer to check your baggage and then you have to start rooting through your possessions to move stuff out.

Or else maybe your carry-on is a bit on the larger size and some bossy check in agent (sorry guys – I didn’t mean that – it was just for atmosphere) tells you to fit it into this ridiculously small metal frame.  Who invented that?  It doesn’t take into account zippers, luggage straps or labels.  So you squeeze and push and pant – my goodness – it’s like trying to get into a pair of Spanx.  You ladies out there will know what I mean.


Yes – you finally get the damn thing into the frame and get a caustic nod from the gate for you to carry on and board – and then you can’t get the frigging thing out.  Oh my …..

I could write books.

But the best story I read just recently was about a scam that is happening where an organised ring are robbing carry on bags – right in front of the other passengers and crew!

I first saw this in a story just a couple of days ago.  A business class passenger found that someone (also a passenger in business class) had opened up the overhead bin and had taken out his bag and removed some cash and valuables.  Read the full report and watch the video

I was really surprised to read this and then did a bit more googling (what did we do before Mr Google came along?).  It seems that this is a common occurrence and so various airlines and advisory groups recommend keeping an eye on your carry-on and not putting valuables in them.

Maybe this is why the fanny pack has come back into fashion.  (We called it a bum bag – fanny is a rude word in England).  This was a hot item during the 80’s – maybe some of you will remember.  After a podcast by Joe Rogan it suddenly became popular again – and it seems to make sense.  Kinda like a money belt but more. fanny pack

It’s not a new idea though – as per wiki –

“Bags attached to belts have been in use since antiquity in many cultures. One origin was the Native American buffalo pouch which was used instead of sewing pockets into clothing. Buffalo pouches may also be worn on the wrist or carried on the front of the chest via a neck strap or lanyard.  Ötzi had a belt pouch 5000 years ago. The European medieval belt-pouch is another antecedent which was superseded as clothing came to have pockets. The Scottish sporran is a similar belted pouch that survived because of the impracticality of pockets in a kilt.”

So maybe we will be seeing more of these bum bags (I know bum is not a nice word either – neither is fanny – could we call them waist bags?  But that might be confusing!)  Of course with anything coming back into fashion there is always going to be somebody who is going to come up with a twist ….. like this