Monday, January 31, 2011

A Short Sighted World

MY WORLD INVOLVED a trip to the Retina Surgical Clinic in New Westminster, BC. Rain spattered on the car windshield as my husband drove me into the city last Friday. My view would be murkier were it not for the invention of glasses and laser surgery to stop the progression of tears to my retina. Such tears can lead to a detachment.

I treasure techniques available to improve my vision as well as prevent disaster. But although I don’t like my personal light shows, floaters and tears, I do enjoy seeing ripples of rain cascade down glass, distorting the world into an impressionist painting. There were more sights to see along our way.

In the mid-1800s during colonial times, New Westminster was briefly the capital of British Columbia. It has struggled to maintain its significance and resources over the years and recover areas fallen in disrepair.

Many older houses have kept up their charm while some have not. I found this well maintained home and street very appealing.

New and old structures can be seen side by side in the hilly city that climbs upward from the fringes of the Fraser River. Heritage events and a dedicated community keep New Westminster alive and in touch with its important past.

My husband parked the car after getting to the clinic early.

I watched passersby huddle beneath their umbrellas.

Newspaper stands brimmed with information about local and world events.

Most people hurriedly walked by without a glance.

I spied a few birds on some branches. They didn't seem to mind the drops and were singing amid the showers.

Inside the building were more umbrellas. Nearby offices were packed with people needing eye care. The long wait for my laser surgery was an opportunity to chat with other patients and to hear their stories. I spoke with a young diabetic woman whose retina tears began in her early teens and a fifty-five year old woman who suddenly woke up at the age of 38 with a partial detached retina. Another woman in her 70s was blinded in one eye by an infection during childhood and now her “good eye” had holes and tears.

I had enlightening conversations with people struggling to keep their sight intact. Fortunately, my eyes are examined regularly to resolve new issues quickly. But as we drove home I realized BC’s deteriorating health care system (which no longer provides free eye examinations every two years) contributes to undetected problems that are more serious and expensive to treat over time.

Sadly, BC's health care is oddly short-sighted when it comes to visual issues.

Eyes are our windows, and much like houses, in need of constant care.

Explorers can find more sites from around the globe at My World.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

BCers Visit Italy, Switzerland & France; Pt 17: What I Did & Didn't Know On My Travels

MY WORLD is in BC as well as the places I travel. I needed a nudge to leave the comforts of home to visit Europe, particularly in these times of travel frustrations. My husband and I did our best to prepare for what awaited us in countries we never set foot in but felt we knew through books and media. There was much we didn’t know in hindsight, not only about the emotional experience but also about the small peculiarities.

There were a lot of firsts in Europe. We could not anticipate how seeing Venice for the first time would make us feel. As we sailed closer to the city seemingly suspended over water, we marveled at how ancient yet futuristic it appeared on the horizon. The crumbling magnificence of the Colosseum in Rome took our breath away. The perfection of David in Florence made history and art intertwine beautifully. Mona Lisa, a surprisingly “little” painting wrapped in mystery, almost brought me to tears. Perhaps it was the right mix of weather and mood, but it was surprisingly more heavenly on top of Mt. Pilatus in Switzerland than in any elaborate church we visited. This was totally unexpected since I thought I didn’t like heights. Picturing places didn't compare to soaking in the atmosphere with all five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

When traveling to unfamiliar destinations, practical matters needed attention. We planned some things right. My cap, vest and big purse turned out to be good things to take on our trip. Since I'm prone to earaches, the red cap came in handy on a breezy October evening during a boat ride on the river Seine in Paris. My vest with its upper pockets was handy for glasses and for the ear pieces we required during guided tours. Since it didn’t have pockets on the inside, I wore a passport/money purse around my neck under the vest and a "dummy" purse (suggested by the travel agent) containing small change over my shoulder. A woman on our tour had a significant amount of cash stolen from her purse when on public transit. This can happen in any country.

The large purse I brought turned out to be a good idea since knapsacks needed to be stored upon entering many museums. I think this was less about potential threats and more about bulky knapsacks accidentally knocking into exhibits in crowded places. It was a nuisance for some who had to collect their knapsacks after a tour rather than simply exit the building. I'm not sure if men's shoulder bags (or purses) avoid storage. But this might be a solution.

We were glad the hotels booked by our bus tour company provided breakfast. Most included eggs, fruit salad, yogurt, croissants, oatmeal and other cereal as well as fresh fruit. I took an apple with me one morning to snack on during a long bus ride to a new location. I probably should have done this every morning because it was sometimes a while between stops.

Unlike on a cruise, luggage must be transported from bus to hotel at each new location. We thought smaller would be better but noticed other tourists had relatively large suitcases. Our tour director explained bigger pieces of luggage are less likely to get snatched while waiting to be moved from hotel doorways, lobbies and streets where the tour buses park.

I packed comfortable footwear with good support. This is essential since walking is the major activity on tours. Despite my sensible footwear, I managed to have a serious fall.

This quickly made me realize I should also have packed a greater variety of over-the-counter drugs for different aliments. Although I did bring a few things, I didn’t bring the right thing for swelling. Luckily, a fellow passenger offered me an appropriate and familiar brand.

I was surprised to find NO facecloths in our hotels in Italy or Switzerland. I didn’t pack any because I assumed they were common as towels in hotels. Hand towels were too large and awkward to wash my face with and I would have appreciated a lightweight cool facecloth to nurse my wounds after I fell.

On a boat ride in Lucerne, it was nice to see one of these (pictured above) since our tour director discouraged us from using a similar facility on the bus. This REALLY surprised me and is probably because emptying lavatory contents doesn't occur until the completion of a bus tour. Although travel tips suggest drinking lots of bottled water, I felt compelled to limit the intake of fluids while on the bus. In most tourist locations the restrooms had incredibly long waiting lines for women and short to non-existent lines for men. So to the ladies ... it might be wise to bring liners for undergarments just in case.

My husband made a couple of excellent purchases prior to the trip: a battery operated shaver that worked on four AA batteries that lasted the entire two weeks. He also purchased an electric plug adapter for charging the camera battery in hotel rooms. As it turned out, we didn’t need to take the electric hairdryer as one was provided in each of our hotels.

I should have brought a strap for my camera. I missed several good shots not wanting to hold it over water or edges of things. In fact, the camera did escape from my hands once ... and just missed falling into the water in Venice.

Speaking of "shots", I probably should have gotten a flu shot before my travels. There was a very sick little boy near me on the flight home. Whether I got his bug or caught it elsewhere, I was sick for weeks after getting home.

As I said in an earlier post, I was glad my husband wore a brightly colored jacket. I often wore a red sweater under my black vest. It is incredibly easy to get lost in the crowd. One person on our tour did wander away and was eventually found by her husband after a long and worrying search.

I realize now that although we wanted to be prepared, it is the "not knowing" that made our trip an adventure.

New experiences, unexpected situations and different ways of doing even simple things like turning on a tap increases the fun. Bumbling through an unfamiliar language just to say “thank you” added humility, joy and laughter to our journey.

Monday, January 24, 2011

BCers Visit Italy, Switzerland & France; Pt 16: My World Of Ups & Downs In Lucerne

IN MY WORLD, the cloudy days in southwest BC are reminiscent of the climate we experienced on a recent visit to Switzerland. It was sunny when we toured the peeks of Mt. Pilatus in the Alps but dreary when we boarded the waiting bus below to nearby Lucerne where we would spend the night. Our exhilarating trip up the mountain was followed by a tour of the pretty town where I enjoyed a few sights before stumbling and falling on a church floor.

Surrounded by picturesque mountains, Lucerne rests along the northwest of Lake Lucerne where the Reuss River also flows. It was last October when we were there and geraniums were still in full bloom.

We strolled the waterfront along a mix of traditional and modern art.

I couldn't help notice a blazing red 1991 sculpture called Life by Rotraut.

The plane trees (a type of sycamore) on the path were turning from green ...

to a dull orange-brown shade ...

before falling to the ground.

The architecture seemed solidly built to withstand natural and other disasters. I believe the Swiss design (shown on flag top right of photo) depicting a white cross in a red background inspired the reversal of colors for the Red Cross emblem adopted at the first Geneva Convention in 1864.

Lucerne buildings (pictured above) were unmarked by the graffiti we noticed in neighboring Italy.

We visited the monument honoring Swiss Guards who died during the French Revolution. They mistakenly thought King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their children were at the Tuileries Palace. Over 700 guards died there, trying to save the royal family from a Parisian mod.

The lion with a broken spear in its shoulder was carved into a cliff in the early 1800s and is mirrored in the pond below it.

A perpetual fair seemed to be going on in modern Lucerne.

Balloons were sold from a cart. In a nearby restaurant, my husband had the most expensive hamburger he ever ate. He said it was delicious. The cost was 30 Canadian dollars.

Along the way, we spotted a brightly painted carousel.

The swans on the river were a picture of grace.

Some swans floated to folks who tossed them food purchased at the walkway.

The covered Chapel Bridge was built in the 1300s to protect the city from possible attacks. There were once historical paintings from the 17th century inside the bridge. Unfortunately, most were destroyed in a fire in 1993. The bridge was restored and many paintings recreated.

An abundance of impatiences flowed over the edge of the bridge railings.

A visit to Old Town was like driving through a movie set of medieval times.

The houses appeared homey and designed with simple charm.

Splashes of color filled some building walls.

Switzerland is historically neutral in armed conflicts but part of peacekeeping missions around the world. Most able young Swiss men must participate in months of basic military training.

The discipline of military training, hiking and boating all contribute to a fit society that enjoys the outdoors. It rained earlier and I noticed a puddle formed in the tarp of this waiting boat.

We stepped into the historic Jesuit church constructed in the late 1600s The decorative baroque features inside were added a century later. I was enthralled by the peaceful atmosphere. There were few people there so I took a moment to meditate (praying for good health) before taking more pictures.

An inconspicuous statue on a wall in the foyer caught my eye. Focusing on the figure, I missed a small step down and fell hard on the floor, clutching my camera. The fall caused major swelling and bruises on my foot, leg and hand.

I went ahead with dinner plans after applying several ice packs at our hotel and taking medication for the pain. The comical “cow” that came to our table later at a restaurant seemed about to lick my wounds.

The jovial talented entertainers on stage provided a much needed distraction.

I was relieved to return to our hotel where I applied more ice to the swelling. I also used hand towels dipped in cold water. I would have appreciated a small face cloth. But there was not ONE facecloth in our hotels in Rome, Venice or Lucerne. I was glad when a doctor who happened to be on our tour examined my wounds and concluded I probably did not have broken bones.

I tossed and turned all night in utter discomfort but was determined to carry on to France where we would spend two more days before returning to BC.

The next morning we drove out of Lucerne through a serene countryside. I was wondering how my sore foot would handle walking in Paris. I did NOT want to miss seeing Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum.

We passed by an ancient castle sitting on a knoll as if in a fairytale.

Ignorance is bliss. The sun came out as we traveled to France. I had no idea of the awful seating that would await us two days later on our long flight home from Frankfurt to BC. I also didn't know I would spend weeks recovering from flu-like symptoms added to the aches caused by my misstep.

As soon as I got home and before I could unpack, I discovered the swollen bruise on my thigh was pitch black and the size of a loaf of bread. Someone suggested Arnica gel. I don’t know if this would work for everyone but it helped me. Maybe it was luck but after a few days of applying the gel, the color mellowed completely. I no longer have the bruise but I still have some gel to remind me of my rise AND fall in Lucerne.

Explorers can find more sites from around the globe at My World.