Maria goes into travel mode


(Reposted with Maria’s permission on 13th January 2017)

Maria and I have been friends for several years now, a friendship which grew fonder and closer while Maria’s husband was ill before he passed on in 2015.
Writing her own blog, mostly about travels and food, very similar to what I do, did some of her articles appear here in the runup to Brussels Airlines launching flights to Toronto. Those were about her home city and what one can do when visiting there, and visiting Toronto I was supposed to do on a media trip when the terrorist attack on Brussels Airport first caused the launch to postpone, then the early flights operated out of Frankfurt and Zurich and then my schedule no longer had an opening for the rescheduled trip.
I had planned a surprise in fact, for one to encourage her to resume traveling and writing and for the other to meet in person. The trip as said did not materialise but her travels resumed with perhaps the grandest trip of all her visit to her native Portugal and the Azores islands no less.
Today did Maria publish a review of her year 2016 travels and me being me wanted to share her story with my readers too.
There are several lessons to be drawn from her blog post. One, often forgotten when personal tragedy strikes, life does go on, as much as that sounds like a platitude. Second, with the help of family and friends can such adversity bring new determination and purpose into one’s life and I am glad to see that Maria has resumed travels and writing, the former with a renewed vigour and the latter at an albeit slower pace.
Read her story of 2016 and subscribe to her blog, or simply watch this space for more of her travel and food articles in 2017 and beyond.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

My Year Of Firsts

The start of a new year gives way to reflecting on the old, and frankly, I had a hell of a year!
2016 was a year of many "firsts" for me, including, taking the car in for service,
attending a theatre production alone and cooking for one.

In late 2015 my life took a turn. I became a widow, a title I despise by the way,
mostly because of the reaction I receive — mostly from customer service

“Marital status?”
“Widow,” I respond.

This is usually followed by a stare from someone whose face goes from smiley to
frown, faster than a Chevy at an Indy car race. It’s a look that says to me, this
wasn’t covered in my customer service training.

So just how did I manage my first year of widowhood? Frankly, a lot of it is a blur
right now. One day blended into the next, until 365 days had passed and presto,
before I realized it, a whole year was done.

I do recall travelling in 2016, each trip a step forward in my personal grief journey.
My husband, David, was an avid traveler. Prior to our meeting he had already
covered a great deal of the world. I, on the other hand, had barely driven out of the
Greater Toronto Area. When we were raising children, our trips remained close to
home. Once our children were gone, we ventured out. I had some catching up to
do, after all.

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

With my travel companion gone, the question became: do I stop travelling
because I no longer have a partner to travel with, or do I go on my own? The
answer was pretty clear to me. Off I went.

My first trip in 2016 was a mere three months after David’s death. I chose a
cruise. I knew it would be a difficult trip for many reasons. The obvious ones
Cruising had been our favourite type of vacation;
It’s mostly couples you find on a cruise ship;
I booked myself on the sister-ship to the last one David and I had sailed on.

First trip was on NCL Getaway — photo courtesy of

Still, I felt a cruise was a ‘safe’ option for a first trip. I knew what to expect.
There would be no language barriers, all meals would be taken care of, I was
familiar with the lay of the ship.

I took a cooking course

Did I have a great time? Contrary to what the photos might suggest, no.

I had a miserable time, spent mostly in my inside cabin, which was smaller than
today’s modern walk-in closets. But the single-supplement (another first) was
100% and I wasn’t prepared to pay the amount required for anything grander than
a closet.

At the end of my 7-day Caribbean cruise, the only thing I returned home with was
the satisfaction I had done it. I had pulled up my big-girl pants and taken my first
trip since widowhood was bestowed upon me. All on my own. That may not sound
like a big deal to many, but to me, it was an accomplishment.

In May, I set off to Halifax, Nova Scotia to visit my friend, Elaine, who herself had
become a widow two years earlier. Together we shared old memories, laughed and
cried. But that’s how it is with us widows, laughter and tears are intermingled and
flow easily from one to the other. Life moves on and you either shut the door on it,
or choose to live it. Elaine and I choose the latter.

Just chillin’
We visited museums, set off on coastal drives, visited old friends and made new
memories. That’s the joy of living.

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

In August, I was off to Granada with another girlfriend. I stress the girlfriend bit,
because she is a friend who happens to be a girl, and because we stayed at
Sandals Resorts.

photo courtesy of

If you know anything about Sandals, you’ll know it’s a ‘couples only’ resort and
we’re not that sort of ‘couple’ (not that there’s anything wrong with it).

Ingrid and I had great fun going along with the assumptions made when two
women are seen clinking glasses during dinner, entering the king-size-bed-furnished
room, or merely strolling along the beach together.

A very romantic room

One evening during dinner, when asked by a (heterosexual) couple on their
honeymoon, what had brought us to Sandals, Ingrid answered, “It’s our anniversary.”

Cocktails before dinner

On yet another evening, as we walked through pathways lined with flickering
candles and gently swaying palm trees (very romantic), I was complaining about
how the photographer in the dining room had taken a photo of every couple,
except us.

“But we don’t care to have photos taken,” said Ingrid.
“Yes, but I want to be asked,” I said.
As we continued this banter, another photographer, who perhaps had overheard
our comments, crossed our path.
“Would you like your photo taken?” she asked.
“Yes,” we answered in unison.

We didn’t buy any of the photos, so I can’t show you the grin on our faces as we
posed for the lens with arms wrapped around each other, like the amorous couple
we are not.

My final trip of 2016 came in November when I visited the Azores, nine Portuguese
autonomous islands in the north Atlantic. I spent three weeks exploring, meeting
new people, eating and reflecting.

Santa Cruz, Graciosa

My first week was spent in Graciosa, the second smallest island in the chain and
the island I was born in. I stayed with an aunt and uncle who live in Toronto but
return every year. Together we drove multiple times around the island (it’s really
small), taking in the pounding surf, the green hills and pastures dotted with herds
of cows.

The last two weeks of my Azorean adventure were spent on my own, flying and
taking ferries between five other islands. I rented a car in each island, planned a
route and hit the road. Along the way I met some wonderful people, took in
breathtaking landscapes, ate foods I can’t get in Canada.

Grilled limpets

I engaged in conversation often, with as many people as I could have, yet it was
not enough to shake the loneliness I often felt. Still, the experience did not deter
me from dreaming of future trips.

There are many reasons I chose to travel in 2016. I travelled for the love of it and
I travelled for the healing I was, and continue to seek. Grief is, afterall, a journey
of sorts. And travel through it, I must.

After each trip, I heard comments like:
Wow, that must have been fun. Really?
I’m so jealous. Really?
I wish I could travel like you. Really?

But the one comment that stands out the most is this one: You’re so brave. I
could never travel alone.

To that one I ask: what’s my option? Not to travel?
That is not an option for me.

So I welcome 2017 with an open heart and optimism for a future filled with warm
memories, laughter, love, and lots more travel.

Research destination Check
Finalize itinerary Check
Book it Check

Come on February!