Category: cultural adventures

We’ve had a lot of fun tasting chocolate here on Travel Diversions with Doreen, and enjoying the cultural and culinary adventures of the world. But this week, with the onset of September and a new season upon us, I’m feeling a bit more reflective and am asking you to dip back into your memory banks and  share 2 things with us:

1) What is YOUR most memorable travel moment and …

2) What valuable lesson did you learn from it?

I’ll start the ball rolling. My most memorable travel moment was back in 1996, during our week-long visit to the Greek island of Santorini. We’d taken a marathon 12-hour tour around the island on a particular day and ended up arriving by small boat to the island of Thirasia. Up above on the cliffs, we spotted the village of Manolas, and were told that there were only 2 ways to reach it. Walk up, or take a mule. We chose the mules.

Now, let me explain that there are/were no groomed trails to get you up to the top of the hill. And no guard rails to ensure you didn’t fall the considerable distance down the cliff to the sea. But there I was, purse in my lap and camera hanging from my shoulder (this was during the days of the much larger and heavier old DLS film cameras), and trying to hold onto the mule as we swayed side to side, slowly climbing the rocky cliff to the village at the top, where we were told we would be treated to amazing views and a nice lunch.

On arrival, Reg and I got comfortable and sat ourselves down for lunch and a couple of well-deserved beers in the late afternoon heat of the sun. We were truly exhausted, but over the course of an hour, were invigorated by the stunning vistas which provided amazing photographic opportunities, the terrific food and the refreshing libations.  But suddenly, we noticed the trail of mules making their ways down the cliff without any passengers! I ran screaming after them, only to be told by their keeper that the mules quit at 4 pm each day (they must have been unionized!) and we would have to walk back down to the boat. Thank goodness my knees were in much better shape back in 1996. I know some of my fellow travellers suffered considerably from that unexpected experience.

the unridden mule train makes its way back down as we look on

Lesson learned: NEVER take anything for granted when you are travelling. You may be told that the mules will take you up to the village, but be sure to find out how you will get down. And be sure you can deal with the challenge. Never assume that the conditions are good, or doable for your abilities. Make sure you confirm that BEFORE embarking on any side excursion, and if there is a language barrier (as there often is in travel), do not let yourself be rushed into making a decision that could have very serious repercussions.

On the other hand, sometimes we have amazing travel experiences by stretching ourselves and doing things we likely otherwise would not have done and that is great. I’ve done many of those myself, including parasailing, swimming with sharks and stingrays, a shopping diversion in Jamaica that literally caused us to miss the departure of our cruise ship, and many, many other priceless moments. If you’d like to read the complete story of our Greek adventure, you’ll find it here.

And then please share with us your most memorable travel moment, and the valuable travel lesson learned. I’m really looking forward to hearing your stories. The next new post will be uploaded here during the week of September 26th. Stay tuned to see what diversion we’ll take next!

Thanks to all for sharing the journey to London with us and our discovery of the Chocolate Revolution in the UK. I could go on about it, but will save that for the print version of Chocolatour, where your chocolate experience will be greatly enhanced.

It’s time to head back across the pond and I invite you to join me on a diversion in my own backyard. You won’t find fine chocolate at the Gimli Film Festival (GFF), but you will find an amazing array of more than 120 films to nurture your spirit, entertain, educate and challenge you.

Last year I was privileged to attend the Opening Reception in celebration of the festival’s 10th year of operation, and stayed for the beach screening of the Weakerthans documentary. I can’t believe it took me 10 years to get to this amazing event!

This year, I plan on attending the afternoon screening of a documentary on El Bulli, said by many to be the world’s best restaurant. I missed the opportunity to visit this landmark eating establishment last year when I was in Barcelona. It’s located 177 kilometres from Barcelona airport, but we just didn’t have the time to make the journey.

Now I hear that El Bulli is closing, and will reopen as a new entity. We’ll see what master 3-star chef, Ferran Adria will come up with! Either way, it will be fascinating to watch the documentary of how this culinary mastermind works. I’m sure all mouths in the room will be watering as we watch a film documenting his sources of inspiration.

the setting for beach screenings at the Gimli Film Fest includes an 11-metre movie screen suspended above the waters of Lake Winnipeg

I’m also looking forward to the beach screening of Barney’s Version on Friday, July 22nd. As I recently returned from Montreal, it will be lovely to watch this movie based on Mordecai Richler’s prize-winning comic novel of the same name. The film won 7 Genie Awards and is said to show off Montreal most beautifully.

Something new that has been added this year is live music on the red dock by the beach screen at 8:30 pm before the 10 pm movie screenings. Looking forward to that!

And the GFF also offers free transportation from Winnipeg for festival goers with an “All Access Pass.” The GFF shuttle service is available to all others for a fee of $10 return trip. You can’t beat that!

So please join us in Gimli from July 20-24th for the 11th Gimli Film Fest. You’ll be glad you did! There are 3 indoor venues in addition to the beach venue. And something to please the palate of absolutely any film buff.

We’d love to hear your best GFF memories, or any experiences you may have had at other film festivals around the world. Please share your thoughts, and join us back here the week of August 2nd, when we’ll talk Montreal.

I hope you’ve been enjoying our Chocolatour through Europe. Our next stop is Pisa, Italy.

I must say Pisa really surprised me. I expected only an old dilapidated  Leaning Tower. I didn’t know that the Leaning Tower is part of a large grouping of impressive historic buildings and that the Leaning Tower is far from being dilapidated. It has recently been cleaned and is almost sparkling white! Much restorative work has been done to many of Italy’s historic treasures and a trip to Pisa is sure to please.

there are a number of beautiful historic buildings nestled into the square where you'll find the Leaning Tower of Pisa

The food is amazing. What else is new?  Good food and libations is always top of my list. No wonder I love Italy!

So we were very grateful at the choice of hotel that Fabrizio Quochi, our friendly contact at the Pisa Tourist Board had made for us. The NH Cavalieri is literally across the street from the Centrale train station and is a surprisingly lovely place with a terrific restaurant. I liked the Tuscan pasta with olives so much I ordered it twice during our stay! It was excellent. The feather-light pasta was served with black olives and a delicious red sauce with plenty of fresh parmesan cheese.  Served of course, with a local hearty Chianti Classico. Magnifico!

the wonderful meal I had (twice!) at the NH Cavalieri Hotel

Later, we enjoyed the local specialty, Cecina, a chickpea pizza cooked in a wood oven. Have it with Spuma, a favourite Pisan soda (much like Mountain Dew) to really feel like you’re enjoying life like a lucky resident of Pisa. You can get both at Pizzeria Filippo, just a short walk from the NH Cavalieri.

The nice thing about Pisa is that is has a terrific location with easy accessibility  by air, train, bus or sea. Ryan Air has an increasing presence in Pisa, so you can fly directly there from a number of destinations. And just 45 minutes south of Pisa, we were able to gain access to a wonderful beach in Tirrenia, where we could stroll and swim. For just two Euros, we took a public bus from Pisa to the beach and spent the day just enjoying the sun and surf and watching the local fishermen.

enjoying a view of the beach in Tirrenia at a Tuscan restaurant

Please come back the week of March 1st for the next post on Pisa. And yes … there WILL be chocolate!

Since I’d rather be tasting (chocolate, wine, great cuisine …) than typing while overseas — and can you blame me? … I’m posting the end of the month entry now, and will post again after October 5th, on my return.

Quite a few of you have asked for details about our itinerary. There are a few small details still being ironed out, but here are the confirmed stops we’re looking forward to:

September 20: Fly via British Airways from Toronto to London, and on to Amsterdam. We’ll be staying at the Hotel King’s Villa, a Hampshire Classic Hotel, from Sept 21 until the morning of September 24th. Check out the hotel at: We’ll be meeting plenty of chocolate makers and discovering the sweet side of this fair city.

September 24th, we fly via Iberia Airlines from Amsterdam to Barcelona. I’ve flown Iberia before and had no complaints. In fact, their business class is awesome! And a 2-hour flight beats 16 hours on the train when you have limited time to play with. Barcelona will be a real treat.  We’re staying at the amazing W Barcelona, one of Starwood’s chic new hotels.  It doesn’t get any better than this. A couple of days in Barcelona will give us time to check out the Chocolate Museum, meet a prominent chocolate maker and have some fun.

September 26 will be a day of transition, as we make our way from Spain to Turin, Italy, the birthplace of  hot chocolate and the Italian city that most strongly identifies itself with chocolate. Take a look here and tell me it doesn’t look inviting:

On Sept 29 we head south to Tuscany. We’ll be staying in and around Florence for a couple of days, and then head to Pisa for a chocolate festival called Dolcemente. Looking forward to discovering Pisa and enjoying the hospitality at the NH Cavalieri, an “NH Hotel.” I’m not familiar with this chain, but it certainly looks welcoming and well-situated, as it’s close to the train station and also the site of the festival . Take a look at: If the rest of Pisa’s residents are as friendly as those I’ve met so far via e-mail, I know it will be an amazing visit.

Then on to Rome on October 3rd for a quick day of discovery before flying home to Canada. We’re looking forward to the convenience of the Rome Airport Hilton as our flight leaves at 8 am the next day and it will be great to have a short walk to the terminal instead of trying to fight traffic getting to the airport. There’s no doubt we’ll be sharing a “Goodbye Europe” toast in the hotel’s bar shown on this page:

Back to Toronto and on to Winnipeg on Oct 4th. We’ll be thinking about you, and wish that you could all be along with us as we take the next installment of the Chocolatour.

Have you ever been kissed by a camel? Well, I have. And let me tell you … those lips are big!

We were enroute from the busyness of Dubai to Al Ain, an Oasis city of green in the otherwise camel-coloured desert of the United Arab Emirates (UAE,) a Middle Eastern country just east of Saudi Arabia on the Persian Gulf. I was fortunate to have flown Pearl (business class) to the UAE from Toronto on Etihad Airlines, based out of the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi. Etihad provided impeccable service and was an absolutely wonderful introduction to my first experience in the Middle East.

The UAE was the farthest from my home in North America that I’d ever been – physically, and culturally. Here, you’re quite likely to see camels off in the distance, just as we see deer and antelope scattered about the countryside in Canada. And we did!

But then … all of a sudden … we saw a few camels close enough to get excited about! They were no longer just dots in my camera’s viewfinder. For a moment, the otherwise conservative natured, John, became a completely four-wheeling free spirit – despite the fact that we were in a Honda Civic – and left the safety of the pavement, making a short cross-country (or should I say “cross-desert”?) trek over the sand and onto a smaller road, where we could get close to the camels. (snip)

Welcome to Travel Diversion with Doreen, my new travel blog. Many of you will have already visited my other blog,

which I started in February, 2009 and for which I have now completed 100 posts. It’s time to celebrate, and to separate the milk from the curds (or in this case, take the travel posts and put them in a stand-alone blog.) The Blogger blog will continue to exist and be the resting place for my musings on the writing life and other lifestyle-related posts. I will post there during the first full week of every month and the third week of every month.

I will post travel news, thoughts, pictures and articles here during the second and fourth weeks of every month. It may take me awhile to master the art of WordPress, as I’ve spent the last 18 months learning Blogger — and I’m no techie. But I’ll try, and hopefully make this an attractive and interesting place for you to be amused or enlightened with my travel diversions.

Please visit my website at the link below to read how my date with the camel turned out …

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