Thursday, June 6, 2013

The end of the road

All good things must come to an end. Including vacations.

I got that message all too loud and all too clear when I ventured back to work this week after 17 days away from the office. What a mad house!

Such a mad house that I still haven't had time to debrief on the last leg of my journey! Unacceptable!! Because this, I am sure, is the part that you have all been waiting for. This is the part about.....

...drumroll please.....


That's right, kids. I finished off my petit tour d'Europe in Winnipeg. 

It's okay if you are thinking WTF - really it is. My husband thought that too when I first suggested it to him. But I have a bunch of super good reasons for ending my trip in Winnipeg. And here they are!

Special birthdays:
Sixteen years and about 8 months ago, I got a phone call from my baby sister, who was less than 1 month into her first year of university, telling me that... oops... she was pregnant. Not exactly part of the plan. Nonetheless, about 8 or so months later, my beautiful niece was born. And on May 28, she turned 16. 

She's the one on the left. And yes, she is gorgeous. Just like her Auntie Jay (ahem).

(She is also taller than me but I don't want to talk about that).

At any rate, a girl doesn't turn 16 every day. And an Auntie who lives all the way in Ottawa doesn't get to see that girl very often. And so a trip to Winnipeg was definitely in order. But not just any visit. This time, M and I spent quality time together. At the spa. Where I took her for a mani, pedi, and facial. Just the two of us. I even took her out of school early. If that doesn't earn me the title of "Best auntie ever", I don't know what will. 

The other kid in that picture:
Then there is the boy in that picture, my badass nephew, A. He is quite possibly the funniest kid that I have ever met. From the time when he was two and he made me watch Finding Nemo 737 times in one visit, to the imitation he does of my father dancing, that kid has me in stitches every time. Plus, I forgot his birthday way back in February, and so frankly, I had some sucking up to do. Which is why Hubby and I spent a bunch of time with him. 

We went to watch his basketball game. They lost, but he got two baskets and two assists:

We played basketball with him in his back yard:

But most special of all, we took him to the first Bomber practice of the season at the brand new Investors Group Field, where we hung out watching our favourite team play our favourite game:

Other people's kids are so much fun!!

Football, football and more football:
Okay, there wasn't actually that much football. But my cousin, who was a star junior and university quarterback - and Vanier Cup champ - got married. And a lot of his friends at the wedding were clearly former football players (or else they were bouncers wearing very big rings). So I did get to chat about football with a good many people over the course of the evening. Which or course, made this football-lovin' girl pretty happy!

And of course, we got to see Winnipeg's new stadium. Which kicks some serious ass! And which got me all excited for my team this year! I mean, they are bound to have a great inaugural season in their new stadium. Right?!? Please someone, tell me that I am right?!?

I always post my best times when running in the prairies:
Probably because it is so flat. That's right - this is what passes for a hill in Manitoba:

Yep - a footbridge over the river is indeed the steepest incline that I came across. 

Quite apart from the flatness of the surroundings, when I go for a run back home, I am always reminded of two things:

1 - it may be flat, but holy gawd that wind really hits you, doesn't it? I mean, there are no buildings or trees to stop those 50km/hr gusts that hit you in the wide open prairie; and 

2 - damn it all if that view is not stunning. I know, I know. It's flat. There are no majestic mountains and no spectacular oceans. But there is nothing quite like that big prairie sky. 

It just goes on and on and on forever. And it takes my breath away. Every. Single. Time.

You can take the girl out of the prairies, but...

Some other views from my little treadmill on the plains:

Is it any wonder I ran every single day?

Gotta get back to that hamam:
Ah yes... The Turkish bath in the Ten Spa at the Hotel Fort Garry...

I've already blogged about my first impressions of this most glorious of spa experiences. And let's face it - I can't top that post. So I won't bother to even try.

But I will say two things.

1 - Hubby came with me. And I gotta admit, I was a little bit nervous about him being there. I mean, he doesn't even like to relax. Seriously - he is utterly and entirely incapable of doing nothing. He starts to twitch after about five minutes of being idle. So I kept thinking, "Oh god, he is going to hate this, and then he is going to be mad at me for spending so much money on this." But I guess there is something about being lathered up by a pretty hamam attendant that makes a man relax. Because I have never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever seen him so relaxed. True to his overly-logical-and-slightly-uncomfortable-expressing-emotions style, all he will tell me when I ask him what he thought of the whole experience is "It was very soothing." But when it was done, he happily lounged around the relaxation room in his white robe, flipping through a GQ magazine and sipping on his tea, in absolutely no rush to be anywhere else. Which is not the man that I have known for the past 11 years.

Of course, the jet lag might have had something to do with his lack of motivation to leave the comfort of that couch...

2 - Unlike the first time, I was utterly relaxed from start to finish. There was no breaking out into a cold sweat when I wrapped myself up in a barely-there peshtemal. There was no worrying about what others in the hamam thought about my muffin top. And there was no clenching my legs tight together so that the attendant could not get an inadvertent peak at my lady bits. And when you are less worried about safeguarding your modesty, you are more able to really experience the hamam. This time around, I noticed things. The scents. The feel of the warm tile on my skin. The way my heart rate sped up as the heat rose. The way that my breath caught in my throat when the attendant poured cold water over my entire body. The way that the cloth used to lather me felt like a giant feather gently tickling my skin. When you are able to fully and completely let go of all of your worries and inhibitions, every second of the experience is magnified by, like, a million.

Of course, it helps that this time, I shaved...

Catching up with old friends:
There is never enough time to see everyone that I want to see when I go home, but it is nice to connect with some of the old high school crew. And thanks to the magic of Facebook, and my incessant need to always post a status update, it is guaranteed that some old friend of mine will get wind that I am around and will take the opportunity to hook up. All it takes is a local watering hole and a pint of beer for those high school memories to flow. Which means endless giggling for at least a few hours. And who giggles enough these days, anyway?

Family, family and more family:
The last time I saw most of my family in one spot was my wedding day almost four years ago. So it's nice to take the opportunity to get a little tipsy with my aunts and uncles while we talk about running and Bruce Springsteen concerts. And it's entertaining to sit down and talk about current affairs with my more politically active family members. And it's fun to laugh at all the Toronto Maple Leaf fans in my family for the monster collapse that was Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs against Boston. And it's a blast to tear up the dance floor at a family wedding with the mother of the groom. Visits to Winnipeg always remind me that, while my family may be a little on the crazy side, we share an awful lot of good times together, and dammit if we aren't a really fun crowd. And is there really a better way to unwind?

Who says you can't go home... after visiting the cultural centre of Europe:
Yeah, it's not exactly an elegant place to visit. And country music is way less classy than the opera. And a grain elevator hardly compares to the baroque gardens and extravagant palaces of Hapsburg Austria.

But Winnipeg is home.

It's true that I don't live there anymore. And it's equally true that I'm quite likely to never move back there, having made a life that I am quite happy with in Ottawa. But there are so many things about Winnipeg that make me feel at peace: that big sky; my beautiful niece and my handsome nephew; my favourite football team; my oldest friends; my crazy family.

And of course, that hamam...

So yeah. We ended our European vacation with six days in Winnipeg.

And it was awesome.