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“O” is for On Your Feet

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“O” my goodness, I’m more than halfway through the A to Z Challenge. I will finish, I will, I will. Thanks for sticking with me!

We’ve talked about hats to hit the road in, now let’s talk about shoes. Of all the things you pack, regardless of where you’re off to next, shoes are oh so important. Sore, blistered, aching feet can ruin your mood, and leave you with memories of your trip you’d rather not have. “Oh, yes, Rome…no, we skipped the Trevi Fountain because I just couldn’t take one more step without screaming in agony.”

If you are going to be doing any kind of sightseeing on your trip, you MUST wear shoes that are going to feel just as good at the end of the day as they do at the beginning. Most of us are not accustomed to prolonged walking in our daily lives; after an hour or so on your feet, your feet are going to swell, and probably sweat too. Wearing an elevated heel changes the way you carry your entire body. The shoes you travel in should fit well, not pinch or shift, and offer the proper support to your foot and the rest of your body. Socks will absorb moisture and help your shoes fit properly. Your shoes should also offer the right amount of protection for the kind of terrain you’re covering, be it concrete, asphalt, cobblestones, gravel paths or sand.

It always amazes me the shoes that people, particularly women, will wear to theme parks, museums and historical sites. In fact, a couple of years ago, we turned it into a game, and started snapping secret pictures of people’s feet at Disney World. To point out our sightings to one another, we use the code word “Parcheesi.” I’ve seen women hobbling along in 4-inch heels struggling to navigate ramps, stairs and uneven ground. 

I’ve seen children whiny and miserable simply because the sandals they’re wearing, while adorable, have caused the Mother of all Heel Blisters. For children who spend much of the day in strollers, shoes are still important. If they’re not used to walking too far, stubbed toes can happen frequently with a sandal or open-toed shoe. And even in the stroller, a shoe that covers the foot will prevent sunburned tootsies!

We’ve found that the running shoes we wear on a daily basis are almost always the best shoes to wear away from home too. We tend to pack a pair of flip-flops to wear around resort pools or on the beach; and ugly though they may be, a Croc-type shoe is remarkably comfortable and versatile. When the kids were little, we always insisted they wear socks and running shoes on vacation, and tried to lead by example. Another benefit to opting out of the foot fashion parade is that only bringing one or two pairs of shoes leaves lots of room in your suitcase for other things.

You need to keep your eyes on your feet too; check them often throughout the day for “hot spots” that may turn into blisters. Also watch for skin changes that may indicate Athlete’s foot or another problem is developing. Don’t be afraid to change your socks a couple of times in a day, depending on how much you’re walking, to make sure your feet stay clean and dry. And check the kids feet too – often, they won’t say anything about a blister developing until it’s too late.

Check out this cute clip of an upcoming Modern Family episode on The Disney Blog that really sums things up, and made me smile – I couldn’t get the video to embed here!

What kind of shoes do you wear when you travel?

Up On The Hill

Parliament Hill, that is, home to Canada’s House of Commons and Senate. No trip to the nation’s capital would be complete without taking time to drop by and check up on your elected Member of Parliament. ( mine did not appear to be present – his seat was empty)

Visiting Canada’s Parliament Buildings is surprisingly easy, considering that this is the centre of the country’s government. You just hike up the long curving driveway (private vehicles are no longer allowed to drive right up to the door), present yourself to the incredibly polite doorkeeper and say you want to take a tour. She tells you what time the next tour begins, and you’re set!

Well, not quite. This was my first time taking the official tour – the last time I was inside was for a private tour (long story) in 1993. Things have changed a bit, the most obvious one being the level of security. Now, upon entrance, you go through a security check very similar to, yet slightly more thorough than, what you’d encounter at an airport. There’s an x-ray machine for your belongings – we were required to power up our cameras and Kindles to demonstrate their legitimacy – and a metal detector to pass through. We were allowed to keep everything with us but our ice skates, which they tagged and sent off somewhere for us to retrieve later.

And then you’re in! With 45 minutes until the next tour, we were encouraged to view the Peace Tower on our own, as well as the public gallery of the House of Commons. I was very excited about this gallery sitting- husband frequently watches Question Period on TV, and I figured it would be slightly more exciting in person.

Lots of stairs - at least the MPs are getting their exercise!

To sit in the gallery, you go through yet another level of security- xray, metal detector – and then they keep everything. Everything -coats, cameras, phones, bags. They even made me take off my scarf. (perhaps they thought I might fashion it into a lasso and hogtie an MP?) In the gallery, each seat is equipped with an earphone that allows you to clearly hear what is being said below, in French or English. The security guard posted at the entrance will hand you a map of the House, so that you can see who sits where.

Except on a Friday afternoon, there’s no need for a map – there’s no one there! Only five or six MPs were present; it was explained that after morning Question Period on Fridays, most MPs clear out for the weekend, heading home to their ridings. (or perhaps they were heading out to Winterlude) There was an MP reading something, and another responding, but they appeared to be as bored as the spectators. We were tickled to see that one of the Conservative backbenchers present appeared to be preparing the mailer that goes to her constituents. Poor thing has to do her own folding and stapling!

We didn’t stay long in the gallery, and retrieved our camera and coats before heading up the Peace Tower.

Peace Tower Clock

View from the Peace Tower

The view is certainly glorious – and it’s a fun diversion to play count the Canadian flags from each of the four windows. If you can twist and angle your body just right, you’ll see you’re just under the clock. You also catch a glimpse of the bells as you ride the elevator up or down – if you’re lucky, you even get to hear them ring.

Immediately below is the Memorial Chamber, housing Canada’s Books of Remembrance.  It’s a sobering reminder of the sacrifices made by thousands of Canadians in time of war.

Then it’s time for the tour – you wait for your guide in a hall containing lists of the members of each Parliament. The guide then arrives, and gets things started. A frequent mention throughout the tour is the Fire – coincidentally, we were visiting on the 96th anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Centre Block in 1916.

The Senate

Portrait of Queen Victoria. Notice the crown to the right. There's a story about that.

On this day, we were not allowed to take pictures in the Library, which is a shame; the place is so beautiful, I could have stayed there all day. Then it’s on to see the Senate Chamber. Just outside the Chamber are the portraits of Canada’s monarchs through the ages. The portrait of Queen Victoria has a neat story attached to it, which our guide did not share. However, Alex has taken the tour 4 times in the last two years, so she told me. Ask your guide while you’re there. Inside the Chamber, the murals depicting scenes from the First World War are breathtaking.

Two of the Famous Five - and me!

After your tour has concluded, you can wander the grounds outside and see the statues and monuments. The one I make sure never to miss is the one depicting the Famous Five. I’m not an art or statue kind of girl, but there’s something about this one that just speaks to me.

Like all good attractions, the Parliament Buildings do have a gift shop, which you can visit before going outside. It’s very small, and the merchandise is limited -I’m not sure who would be in the market for golf club covers that say Parliament Hill, Ottawa on them. There are some nice artistic prints available, and some interesting books about Canada’s government and history. Oddly enough, there are also action figures of past Prime Ministers, but only two – Sir John A MacDonald and Sir Wilfred Laurier. Each figure is dressed in the common style of their time, and has a small side table as an accessory. MacDonald does not come with a miniature bottle of whiskey, which I think would increase sales.

Oh, and by the way, admission is free. If you arrive outside of a tour time, or after the buildings have closed to the public for the day, you can still tour the grounds yourself. I did just that in 1993 – and bumped into my local MP in the rear parking lot!


Here comes the rain again

It’s raining again, which is, sadly, becoming more normal than snow during the winters in these parts. I see all these rom-coms and sob-fests of US Thanksgiving homecomings, yada yada, and there’s always this white fluffy blanket of snow. And I think, where do these people live? I’m in Canada and the marigolds and roses still have their blooms.

But rain’s got me thinking about a particular travel challenge. Everyone feels more enthusiastic and adventurous when the sun is shining, or the weather’s co-operating. But how do you cope with the rain? Let’s face it, walking, using public transportation, and especially any outdoor sightseeing, just suck in the rain.

I saw a Samantha Brown travel video a while ago, she was in Munich IIRC, and she mentioned remembering to bring along her umbrella. It was just your basic, collapsible, telescoping umbrella. Folded down to a size where she could fit it in her shoulder bag. I was surprised by how insubstantial it looked.

And there’s the problem. I purchased an umbrella this year that I’m happy with, as a public transit user. It’s lovely, black with red polka dots, makes a bit of a statement, and most importantly, keeps me relatively dry. But it’s not telescoping- folded, it’s still two feet long, and there’s no strap on the handle for hanging, so it’s a bit of a pain to put it somewhere when I arrive, wherever somewhere happens to be.

But those little collapsible “travel” umbrellas, the ones like Samantha Brown had in the video? I don’t get it. I’ve never had one last more than two rainfalls before it breaks – the wind gets under it, the flimsy little hinge on the rib breaks, you name it. It becomes useless faster than you can say “It’s supposed to clear after lunch.”

So, give me some hints here. How do you cope with the rain when you’re wandering the world? Imagine you aren’t driving, and your budget will only withstand so many taxi rides. And do you believe Samantha Brown really gets by with such a flimsy umbrella?