Dear North American Currencies

Dear North American Currencies,

I had forgotten how expensive it is just to be in Vancouver, and how annoying and heavy your Canadian coins are, especially all those loonies and twoonies. And now that the US dollar is falling, everything seems unreasonably priced, especially books with two prices on the back (ie. $10.99USD, $15.99 CDN) when you have to pay the Canadian one even though its not anywhere equal to the USD one.

And, whats up with taxes never being included in the price? I can’t calculate 6.5% of $3.87 to know how much my pumpkin latte from Starbucks will actually cost, and when I sit down at a restaurant to have a sandwich for $9.65, I have to pay 7% provicinal sales tax, and then Im not sure what the difference is between government  sales tax and harmonized sales tax or when I pay them, but they’re each another 6 or 7 %, AND then I have to tip 10 or 20 %, so my ten dollar sandwich winds up costing $14.79. It makes me feel cheated like false advertising does. And why can’t things just cost even dollar amounts? Coffee? $3. Sandiwch? $10. No more of this dimes and cents business.

I dont like pennies, since they make my fingers smell like sulphur, and whenever you need a penny, you dont have one, since when you have pennies, they’re easier to throw away than carry around. Pay phones dont even take pennies, parking metres dont count nickels, and a dime only buys you 1 minute and 36 seconds of parking. Quarters are weighted so sometimes a Canadian Quarter doesn’t even let you make a call in an American payphone.

I just wish we could get rid of pennies all together, sell things for the advertised price, all have the same coins, and bring back the dollar bill to Canada so the tipping culture wouldn’t be so embarassing – no one likes handing a valet parker $4 in loonies. Or we could just get rid of this expensive tipping culture all together, use less coins and make less change with more even prices.


the traveler who still uses payphones and doesn’t like heavy pockets

Dear World: Everything I like about you

If you’re ever down or bored, try writing a list like this. And if you do, I’d love to read it! Leave your your “like” list in a comment to share 🙂


I like painting my toes red or purple. I like tango dancing in red shoes.

I like sleeping with 3 pillows. I like candle lit rooms. I like meditating in old churches.

I like when butterflies land on me. I like when puppies attack me with love.

I like smoking cigars lit with cedarwood. I like fireplaces that burn real firewood.

I like eating before I go grocery shopping so I don’t buy too much. I like having exact change.

I like swimming naked. I like doing yoga in steam baths. I like hottubbing in the snow. I like towels that are actually bathrobes.

I like walking on the sunny side of the street. I like walking barefoot in sand that squeaks under my steps.

I like hosting parties of 3 or more. I like when awkward things happen but no one feels awkward about it.

I like riding crazy horses. I like feeling my heart pulse in my fingertips. I like listening to music that gives me goosebumps.

I like meeting people for the first time but feeling like Ive known them forever. I like smiling at strangers. I like people who have smile wrinkles around their eyes.

I like when my hair tickles my face from being blown around. I like watching the rain fall from under an umbrella, staying dry.

I like swinging in a hammock strung between two palm trees. I like balconies with a view of the sea.

I like spraying my scarf with 5 different perfumes at duty free shops so I smell really good, but not quite like anyone else. And that’s easy to do since I often find myself stuck in airports with huge duty-free shops where I can go wild experimenting with scent chemistry.


Dear Mr. DJ

Dear Mr. DJ,

In Miami, I heard the same 6 songs all day long. The same 6 songs played on all the radio stations, so you couldn’t even switch between them to get away from them. They got totally stuck in my head, and now the sound of Miami is a playlist of Saxobeat, Moves like Jagger, Rihanna and Pitbull. They’re all great songs, and I want to keep liking them, so maybe you can play a little something else once in a while so they don’t get overplayed.

In Vancouver, they play the same songs too, but a bigger variety of them, since they also keep playing songs that were big in 2006 which should not still be playing on todays “top 40” type stations. I can almost always find an Adele song playing on atleast one station, and the “Sexy and I know it” LMFAO song keeps plaguing my memory with visions of flabby guys shaking their jiggly junk in prickly speedos.

But most of all, I wish I could actually listen to songs on the radio, instead of flipping between stations and stations of unmelodious advertisements.


the driver who gets stuck in traffic and wants better radio entertainment

for your viewing enjoyment:


Dear World

In addition to my regular blog posts and Photo Highlight posts, Im going to start this new thing called “Dear World.” Its when I want to write the world a letter, just to speak my mind, complain, send love or make a point. Sometimes Ill address it to a specific part of the world, like Dear Canada or Dear Persians, and sometimes even a specific person, like Dear Gordon Brown.

Its kind of like a Dear Diary entry, that I want to make public. Its for those times when Im not traveling, and cant share any stories from new or exciting places, so instead, I’ll write anectodes from day to day life.

Miami, from the water

I flew from Italy, to Madrid, to Miami, which seemed like a natural transition, between languages, climate, culture, even food. Spain was close enough to Italy, only an hours flight, and the people and place not unsimilar. Then a slightly longer-haul flight to Miami, where the unofficial first language is still Spanish, but the culture a mix of Spanish colonial heritage and raging latin sexiness.

Sunset from the marina

I think Miami resembles Venice, but Venice on steroids – a bigger, shinier, newer city built on invisible islands, surrounded by much larger canals and super-bridges. The city is ten times taller and ten times wider, with probably a hundred times more people, but boats and bridges still connect everyone and everywhere. The boats are also on steroids – instead of romantic gondolas leisurely floating past, you have super-turbo yachts with 800 horsepower zooming by.

The boat

I was visiting five friends, who I suppose you could call sailors, and we had a 30-something foot speedboat to play with for 3 days. We circled around Key Biscayne and traversed the dirty rivers around downtown. I learned how to drive a boat, which was definitely not my idea – not because I didn’t want to, but trusting a female to competently drive a boat around 5 trained sailors can never make you feel like you know what you’re doing.

Captain Katrin, with downtown Miami ahead of us

We docked at the restaurants we wanted to have lunch at, which is probably the only form of free parking between 9-5 in downtown Miami, and lets you get service without shoes or a shirt. We unintentionally took the boat out to jelly-fish infested water, but luckily for everyone else only I was in the water then. I didn’t get stung since my friends inside the boat could see them and direct me where to swim around them and get back safely in the boat. But then moments later, they convinced me to get back in and try surfing behind the boat.

This is something I’ve never seen done before, but you take a regular short board (5’10” or so), sit on the back of the boat to one side, and put your feet on it to hold it steady. Then the boat speeds up to about 2500rpms, and you stand up on it while hanging on for dear life to the boat, mostly for balance. Then there’s a rope attached to the boat that you ease back on, and continue to get dragged behind. Eventually, you find your niche on the wake of the boat, and you can throw the rope away and continue to surf behind the boat as long as your legs can hold out. I think it’s the perfect type of surf – no need to paddle or battle any waves, and when you’re down, the luxurious speedboat comes back and picks you up out of the water, and in my case (I only got up once), congratulates you with a cold beer.

How I wish surfing could always be

It threatened to rain every day we were on the boat, but the grey skies stayed dry until my last day in Miami, when it all came down at once. It was Halloween night, and it poured and poured and poured. The fashion  scene is already quite scandalous, so seeing loud and colourful half naked girls wasn’t out of the norm, but no one could stay dry, so seeing everyone dressed up and soaked down gave an interesting spin to all the costumes. I was a party pooper and didn’t even have a costume, but I was just glad to be off the boat and in enough clothes to stay warm since I started to feel the inkling of a flu coming on – the first I’d had in almost a year. I just don’t understand how a body survives a whole summer, filthy in the frigid Icelandic mountains surrounded by horses and bad hygiene, but gets sick in the tropical heat of Miami beach.


Venice: the floating city (?)

canals and bridges between stone islands

growing out of water

I don’t get Venice. They call it an island, or rather, a series of islands, but where is the land? It just looked like houses were growing out of the water, stone and water separated only by some green algae. The water was pretty murky, so you just saw walls disappear under the surface, and one could almost be convinced the houses are ten stories deep underwater. There has to be land, or else what do the trees grow out of?But, I didn’t get it because it looked like the houses were floating. And I always thought the gondola drivers used long rods to push off the river bottom, but I noticed they were actually paddling them, unable to reach any sort of ground. Are the buildings floating? I remember watching a James bond movie where some air-balloon things exploded and the whole building crashed into the water. Does that mean you can swim under them? If they’re all floating, how do they keep them from floating away? If they’re anchored, they must be reaaaally big, heavy anchors.

And, how do the anchors adjust for rain fall? Because a floating city would raise with more water. Does the city’s GPS location adapt to metres above sea level when it rains a lot?  I noticed they sell boots with ‘cm’ measure markings on the side, and after seeing a picture of Julia Roberts walking on water, I realized that the city actually floods. So, maybe it rains and the heavy stone houses sink.

a quiet "Street" with ample parallel parking spots available

So, the city can’t be floating, or else it would never flood. If they’re not floating, then they did a really good job of covering every piece of possible land with a building, since the buildings literally go straight into the water – no shore or anything, just maybe a couple steps. Or maybe the island was really tiny or only a couple feet under water and they just did a lot of land reclamation, and from digging all the land they made so many deep canals. I can’t imagine the foundation for a city made of stone can be that deep… or floating.

The canals weave around the smaller islands, none in straight lines, connecting island to island with pedestrian bridges that are always over-arched to make a high enough midpoint for gondolas to pass under. Some canals are wide enough for taxi-boats and motorized ferries, and others only narrow enough to fit one gondola.

San Marco

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

They create a city-sized labyrinth, a maze you could easily get lost in, if it wasn’t for all the arrows pointing you to either the “Ferrovia” (train station), “San Marco” (the most famous piazza and basilica) or “Rialto” (the most famous bridge with shopping all around).

I think Venice, like Bavaria, should also be made into a Disneyland theme park. It would look like Las Vegas’ Venetian hotel park, and the pretty princesses signing autograph books would wear renaissance ball gowns and the princes would wear extravagant masks. All of Venice was an attraction, and it felt like I had arrived into one big theme park. Maybe Disneyland could even buy the city of Venice, privatize it, and just make it the Venetian Disneyland… but I guess noone would want that, even though it wasn’t far off from that already.

dizzying glitzy masks

None of the ways they direct you are the most direct, but instead loop you around through the main streets and past every store front in Venice. They all sell the same thing, mostly masks any Burning Man festival go-er would dream of having, or someone throwing a Renaissance-themed masquerade. If you wander off the main way, you find yourself in totally deserted, silent alleyways, like you’ve stepped into a scene from the movie “V for Vendetta.” It’s a pedestrian only city, and not even scooters or bicycles exist since the bridges would pose a serious barrier to their usefulness. Taking a water taxi is the only other option after walking, so I learned to always give myself 45 mins to get anywhere, and to keep following the signs even if I thought I new a quicker way, because I kept running into stone walls or canals without bridges and didn’t feel like swimming under any buildings.


Pompei Viva

I knew I couldn’t visit Naples without going to Pompei, but I had no idea how big or interesting it was. Showing up at 3 pm, an hour before the gates closed, then proved to be a bad choice, but then the guards told me that no one gets let in after 4, but people don’t get kicked out until 7. So I set off to get lost in the excavated city.

Mount Vesuvius as seen from the main square "Foro"

Pompei (sometimes spelled Pompeii) was a thriving Roman city until 79AD when the nearby volcano Vesuvius unexpectedly exploded. In only 2 days, the entire city was buried under 6 metres of ash and pumice. Up to 10 km away, people literally melted dead, dying from surges of hot air, but most suffocated to death before they could escape. The city was almost buried alive, keeping it perfectly preserved, so that walking around its ruins today seems like you’re eerily walking around a city that was deserted yesterday.

The main entrance, showing the bath halls outside the city wall

I battled through tour group after tour group. Each had a dozen or more tourists, with a tour guide holding an umbrella or a stick tied with a scarf to lead them. Some had identical hats or lanyards, even tshirts, so they wouldn’t lose eachother, and some had earphones in their ear which were connected to the tourguide talking constantly into a microphone. German, French, Spanish, English, Japanese and Chinese… but no Italian groups. I would get lost in the midst of group after group, struggling to escape, since overtaking them was hard but getting stuck behind one wasn’t an option – since I wanted to get around the whole city in 4 hours.

As I was wandering around, I passed a few other couples and backpackers, with handy guidebooks or talking headsets, and started regretting my choice not to join a group or hire a guide. There were so many things I didn’t understand, and hundreds of questions I wished I could ask a Pompeiian who was still alive.

At one junction, when I was trying to find Villa de Misteri, a tall, thin Italian with slicked back white hair jogged up beside me. He was wearing yellow short shorts and a matching tshirt, and asked me if he could help me find something. I lied and said no, that I wasn’t looking for anything, and looked lost since I was trying to get lost. He smiled, then said “Perfect. Let me show you something then.”

An immaculately preserved painting

He first started at the city boundary wall that we happened to be standing right beside. He explained the markings on the wall were from the first Roman invasion, when the city was still a Greek colony. The invasion came from the north, another enlightening discovery for historians.  To our left began the above-ground tombs, since dead people couldn’t be buried inside the city walls. He explained who was buried in each one, reading the legible Latin engravings on every stone, which told us who their father was, what their occupation was, and how much the burial cost.

My fascination and obvious ignorance probably began to bleed through my smile. “Well, I don’t really need to go for a jog today anyway. Im the head tour-guide of Pompei and have lived and worked here for 35 years, so why don’t I show you around a little?” He went on to give me a 3 hour personal tour guide, through all of Villa de Misteri and back into the city walls around the most interesting sights. We stayed in the park well past dark, and he told the guards to let us be until 7:30 when we had all of Pompei to ourselves. He got keys from another guard to sneak me into inaccessible rooms, and showed me the bathing hall and the only chariot they unearthed, perfectly intact.

A beautiful mosaic

We wandered around like kids, both partaking in a game of imagination that the city was thriving around us and I was a Roman princess courting Apollo. We walked into the Temple of Jupiter, which he refused to climb since he wasn’t Apollo’s love interest, and made sure I saw the brothel rooms which I never could have seen if I was really a Roman princess. He showed me the bodies of people, frozen in the position they were when they took their last choking breath. He pointed out the phallic engravings of penises in the weirdest places – on cobblestones on the ground, on the sides of pillars, in beautiful paintings – and assured me over and over they were signs of good luck, not perversion.

He read every bit of Latin he could see, translating it into English word by word, and explained in great detail all the contested meanings of paintings.

The urns for wine and fishsauce

He pointed out original graffiti on the walls, of Roman emperors with big noses, and picked leaves off the Laurel trees to make me sniff and imagine them as my headcrown. We walked over mosaic floors and looked at Egyptian decorations, as he got more and more excited about teaching me about the cultural complexity of the town and how much borrowing and trade there was between empires.

He could never walk and talk at the same time. So we’d walk a few steps, and then he’d have to stop and explain something, and then we’d walk until I asked another question, which he would have to stop and answer. It was hilarious, and everytime I laughed at him, he laughed louder and harder until he abruptly saw something else to talk about and became totally serious, starting another fascinating lecture.

The main street with chariot wheel tracks

He told me the population was probably 15,000, and explained which streets were the main streets, and even what they were called. During heavy rain fall, the streets flooded into small streams, and big stepping stones were used to get across the streets. The high traffic of horse-drawn chariots actually left wheel tracks in the massive stones, which were supposed to be fixed by taxes collected from the people living on each street. He knew who lived in what house, and what they did. Many made wine and fishsauce, and kept them in big ceramic pots, and others were artists or bakers. There were athletes too, and gymnasiums where they trained for Olympic events – which they always competed in naked.

The Temple of Jupiter after dark

The entire city came alive to me, and even as it became night, the cloak of darkness let me run wilder with what I thought I saw or heard. I felt like staying until the next morning to see the city return to life, since it seemed to real, so normal, for it to be exactly as I imagined it. I never did go back the next day, even though my guide invited me, but perhaps its best I didn’t, since I may not have turned out to be a real Roman princess in the living Pompei.


How to speak Italian

I didn’t manage to learn Italian in 2 weeks, but I did try and disguise my Spanish to sound Italian-ish. I learned quickly that Spanish does work somewhat, and works even better if you wave your arms and use your hands a lot. Italian is more body language than spoken language, especially in Naples, where I felt conversations could be muted and still completely understood if you just watched.

I had this image of loud Italian women yelling at eachother across the street, perched up in their balconies laden with clothes-lines full of colourful clothes. I first arrived in Milan, where they have a municipal by-law against clothes lines on your balcony, so I didn’t see it there. The streets were also full of loud traffic, and the city center had mostly business and commercial offices filling the buildings. But in Naples, the historical city center is mostly apartments, full of this scene – narrow streets that you look down and see balcony after balcony with clothes that must never dry. In the morning and the evening, bickering ladies come out and yell, waving their arms a lot, and it always sounds like they’re arguing, but I’ve been told they’re saying very affectionate things.

The little streets, which I would have gotten totally lost in if I wasn’t following my Napolitan host, ring with the sound of scooters, driving just a little too fast and taking every corner and overpass just a little too close. Noone wears a helmet, and sometimes 3 adults squeeze onto one seat, bottoming out on every big cobblestone. You yell in Italian, with your hands, while youre driving too, which made me slightly uncomfortable when I was the passenger. Luckily my friend Adriano didn’t have a scooter, but while driving his hatchback, would let go of the steering wheel and flail his arms around, yelling something at everyone that cut him off. Even though the windows were shut and no one could hear him, they could see him, and thus, message communicated.

I picked up some pointers on speaking Italian with your hands and figured this much out: always move your arms about, even if you’re talking on the phone and the other person cant see you; move your hands in straight lines, up and down, or left to right; switch between having your palm faced upward or downward, but keep you fingers frayed; roll your forearms around eachother alot. To make a point, pout your middle and index finger to your thumb and shake your hand infront of your chest. If your boasting, tilt your head back, jut your jaw out and puff your chest up pompously. Tilt your head up and jut your jaw out while nodding your head if you agree with someone. Tilt your head up and jut your jaw out and shake your head if you disagree with someone, and if you have something to say to correct them, shut them up by grabbing their hands – since they can’t keep talking if you stop their hands from moving. If you want to make them stop talking a little more politely, or make your point more poignant, put the back of your hand on their chest and push a little til they stop.

The most important thing was to smile and laugh a lot, touch eachothers hands and arms a lot, and never stop communicating with your hands since they wont hear you if youre just talking with your lips… atleast they’ll stop listening or understanding you, whether or not you’re actually speaking Italian.