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Saturday January 27th in Burlington is a FREE Event-Realize Awareness in Nations to Heal Mother Earth, Ontario, Canada and Croatia’s Inner Peace Sahaja Yoga Classes Begin Jan, 2018.

Rain to Heal Me - Penguins -Jan 27 2018(1)

On Saturday January 27th in Burlington, Ontario we celebrate the March of the Penguins in a FREE public program that is dynamic, invites the audience to participate in changing the world for the better by changing our consciousness to a collective state of Yoga, which means union or connection. The Burlington event includes a meditation for Mother Earth, some artistic, creative and scientific presentations and for the kids in all of us, music, dance and more!

Families and first-timers are welcome to enjoy the enlightening event which appeals to all walks of life. Join us from 3-5pm at the Brant Hills Community Centre (Mountain side room).  You can sit comfortably in a chair and still achieve the Yoga state, with no hard poses, or on the floor if you prefer. You’re sure to feel joy, peace and a sense that we have the power within to change ourselves and change the world for the better. Come with an open heart and bring your friends and family and feel the positive energy!

On that note, January being a traditional time of re-evaluating our life journey to improve our higher selves let me share even more Yoga Events in the world, this time, in Croatia. Sahaja Yoga helps us humans to achieve a higher awareness through the actualization of Yoga. It is an experience that works out really well in collectivity.

It will make our communities a better place to live in by celebrating our Oneness, come meditate with us, open your heart and have fun! Sahaja Yoga invites you to Croatia for a brand new course curriculum this month. The last two summers my family and I have visited this wonderful, warm bunch of Yoga enthusiasts for blissful meditations in class, and on the pristine beaches of Rijeka and famous cruise destination Pula. We also had meditation retreats in Selce-Crikvenica for the advanced class which were so relaxing and blissful.  Best of all, these instructors speak Croatian, English, Italian and German and even more languages…as does their global class. They adapt and keep communication lines open so everyone can feel the joy and peace within. Every change starts with a single step, at no cost to anyone, and is absolutely priceless. Look forward to meditating with the Croatia crew this coming summer 2018! Stay warm this winter, keep calm and meditate with us!

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The Burlington Sound of Music Free Festival Sunday June 11th, June 15th- 18th, 2017 and the Restorative Power of Meditation: Bridging Science and Spirituality June 14th, 2017 are Free to the Public, Drop in Events that are good for your Heart and Soul

Burlington Pier 2013 Debut, photo by Paula Erskine

Burlington Pier, Ontario, Canada, captured musical notes, uncoincidentally, during the Sound of Music Festival-Photo by Paula Erskine

The Burlington Sound of Music Festival 2017 draws over 200,000 music fans from every corner of the globe including our neighbors to the south. It is Canada’s largest outdoor music festival, and never disappoints. There are many ways to enjoy the many bands that play along Brant street, the Burlington City Hall and three stages in Spencer Smith Park on Lakeshore Road overlooking lake Ontario. Many people liken Burlington’s Lake Ontario to a feeling of being near the ocean somehow. So just what is there to discover in Burlington beginning June 14th, 2017? Let’s begin with the hypothesis…

Destiny is in your hands

Destiny is in your hands, photo by Paula Erskine, Spain.

Of course, this connection is interwoven with the truth found in Canada’s original inhabitants, which were aware of its power as far back as 10,000 years or so. Before 150 years of Canada, there was a land of ancient, wise people who lived sustainably, respectfully, passing down stories and traditions and living with gratitude.

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White Pine Dancers Family and Friends will perform at the Burlington Citizenship Ceremony at 1:45pm and Burlington Sound of Music Festival 2017

Sunday June 11th the White Pine Dancers perform as a group of First Nations Family and friends who share their gifts of story, dance and song at 1:45pm at the Sound of Music Festival 2017. Open your hearts and show your love for Canada’s aboriginal nations.

They have a story to tell, one that we can feel through our natural connection to mother earth. I had the privilege of capturing the images of the White Pine Dancers below from a Crawford Lake event.

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facebook.com/whitepinedancers

Before White Pine Dancers, Valley http://www.officialvalley.com/ will perform at 1:00pm and Killin’ Time Band at 3:15pm, http://www.killintimeband.com/,  on Sunday June 11th, 2017.In fact, a great way to enjoy the music festival is to go the website, listen to the lineup at https://soundofmusic.ca/

The website offers music samples from the artists, not all of which I have heard of, but that never stops me from checking out their videos, doing a bit of research and going with bands that inspire me to be a fan and supporting Canadian artists.

Who can forget Burlington’s prides and joys, The Spoons, http://www.spoonsmusic.com/  from the 80’s hitting the stage at 4:30pm, and Walk Off The Earth at 7:30pm. Who of my generation doesn’t remember their songs on the radio? Go Burlington, Go!

Incidentally, Walk Off The Earth made humble passengers on a wintry flight of mine last year, so I was able to express my fanship through trolley offerings aisle-side.20160621_220830 Their cover tune of Gotye “Somebody I used to know” seen here made headlines when actor and musician Russell Crowe tweeted about their video of the whole band playing one guitar right here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGIiYejABSQ which landed them a guest spot on TV show Ellen. Check out their cover of Adele and they have incredible original songs. Please support them and put Burlington on the map again and again! https://www.facebook.com/walkofftheearth.

Inbetween those Burlingtonians on Sunday June 11th is Tebey at 6:00pm and you can listen to him here, and rocks country with a great voice http://tebeymusic.com/jealous-of-the-sun-official/.20160619_174928

Stay tuned for some more great music and good vibrations as we explore Burlington Sound of Music 2017 and I formulate my playlist for this year. The only negative thing I can say is that, there are sometimes several great acts playing at the same time, so I do make a music plan and prioritize my free concert repertoire.

Here are some great moments I captured on film in recent years at the Burlington Sound of Music Festival..

Artwork in Burlington on Brant street…above…glorious birch trees…

Sean McCann formerly of Great Big Sea, performed last year at Burlington City Hall and was oozing talent and goodness. He is a champion of his own demons.

Sean McCann at Burlington Sound of Music Festival 2016. All photos and article by Paula Erskine

 

 

 

http://www.seanmccannsings.com/, photo Paula Erskine

The Sheepdogs at Burlington Sound of Music Festival 2014

The Sheepdogs played opening night and absolutely rocked it at the Sound of Music Festival 2014. One of the best of 100 free concerts held in Burlington, Ontario. Photo by Paula Erskine, http://www.thesheepdogs.com/

Jarvis Church

Jarvis Church soul singing at Burlington’s Sound of Music Festival 2014. Photographed by Alexis Lagos of http://www.lacedupimagery.com, http://jarvischurch.ca/

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http://www.jullyblack.com/ (Photo credit: Paula Erskine)

Burlington Pier Debut 2013, Sound of Music Festival 2013. Photo by Paula Erskine

The Burlington Pier 2013 Debut, photo by Paula Erskine

20160618_200032 (1)See you in Burlington, where we share borders with Hamilton via this bridge, Oakville, Milton and Halton proper. Let’s not forget our neighbors on the other side of the lake, in the good old U.S. of A. who are always welcome. And to all the tourists world-wide, plan your vacation around this Free Concert Extravaganza in Burlington. Stay tuned for more on this event this week 2017.

Countdown to Croatia Direct Flights 2017; Plus Must See, Do, Experiences of the Adriatic Coast-Selce-Crikvenica to Rijeka

It’s not too late to get a great deal flying direct to Zagreb with Air Transat airlines now servicing Croatia’s capital Zagreb twice per week in 2017. Visit http://www.airtransat.com to fly to Croatia for around $1000 direct! 20160621_221009(Above, image of Kava Tava, Zagreb, all images photographed by Paula Erskine)

(Smart travellers booked end of season last year, around September, October and took advantage of round trip fairs for around $800 for 2017, by booking in late 2016!) Book as soon as you can for prices that still are very decent for truly direct flights to Zagreb, averaging 8 and a half hours flight from Toronto to Zagreb (although the flights are blocked for 9 to 9 and a half, it is less than that.) The new Zagreb airport will be open in 2017 and many are looking forward to landing at an airport built to accommodate the volume of tourists that have just discovered Croatia, or are introducing their kids and grandkids to the mother land and keeping them connected to familial roots.

Let’s take a photographic journey through the Primorje Region (pronounced Preemor-yeh) of Croatia’s Adriatic coastline and discover great things to see, do, eat…starting with Selce and the Crikvenica villages, and later heading towards Rijeka for a dessert bakery with ancient evidence of a mill displayed from under the floor of the café. We will also enjoy the view of Selce has of Krk island and its treasures. Selce behind the scenes, behind Marsala (Marshala Tita) street has many unique alleys and vignettes that please the artist within.

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Inspired artworks can be found by Marijan Mavric, local Croat artist in this Art Laundry Gallery in the village of Selce. Just walk up the hill of Slavka Jelicica street (left, and behind the Tourist Agency on the Riviera) for a local Croatian artist with real talent. It is my mother’s childhood friend, and without prejudice, has many stories expressed in paint and canvas. A great place for contemplation away from the madding crowd of the Riviera. After doing and visiting Art Laundry, head further up the hill to Marsala Tita on your right (single file as the sidewalk is tiny), take a right then first left and get lost in the alleys of Selce. Find your way back to the sea by walking downhill towards the Adriatic sea and panoramic Riviera.20160926_10502920160926_105900Marijan Mavric, Croatian Artist can sometimes be found in the evenings in Selce, at Art Laundry, or his gallery in Grizane . His landscapes capture his surroundings, resembling in some paintings the island of Krk just across the way, where many Selce residents have simple farms with stony-stacked fences, fig trees, potatoes, tomatoes and many other crops. My mother asked him if he is in front of these places when he actually paints them…he said, “It comes from my head, my imagination, my memories…” Having visited many of these corners of Krk island and other Adriatic gems, I can affirm, these places exist, and they are beautiful.

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Selce has a variety of beaches, you can watch Mihuric Scuba Divers suit up and set out to explore a shipwreck. In the distance past the campground, is the beaches of Slane, Selce, and up the campground steps, follow the forested trail to one of Selce’s many pristine beaches.

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Selce’s beach in front of the Tunar Restaurant shaped like a boat is great for families who want to ease in to shallow waters with kids and eat at Tunar’s restaurant. I enjoyed the generous, protein packed salads grilled with salmon (lots of tasty options at Tunar) and along with Kava Anka (kava means coffee, café) on the other side of Selce, are two of the best places to eat locally home-made ice cream. Both places also do coffee very deliciously, and the combination of them both, is quite decadent. Café Bonino in Selce has delicious food and a beautiful view of the beach and the docked boats of locals, with generous sized pizzas and fried squid (ligne, or calimare in Italian) all on Selce’s Riviera.

Next, we peek at my mother’s childhood home in Selce, a place I got to know and love as a child enjoying home-made morsels cooked by my grandmother and my mother with love oozing straight from their hands to my satisfied belly.

Be sure to buy fresh figs while on the Adriatic coast or you can sneak a fig from many of the houses that enjoy their fruits. Then enjoy the home-made jam and bring it home. You can bring anything back into Canada that does not grow in Canada. But a fresh fig, is mouth watering. Below the fig jam beginnings, potatoes coated with spinach, garlic and lemon, grilled zucchinis, and chufte (breaded meat-burgers), any meat you like, with delectable garden spices and parsley. Don’t forget the sautéed garlic and onions!

Also my mom’s cabbage rolls (sarma, similar to the Romanian style) with slabs of pork juices on top melting into the flavours of mixed meats and rice. I always make my mom add extra water a little at a time to make it soupy for me. I just love that sour-savoury combination. And don’t forget that other than home-made, the best place to eat Croatia’s seafood delicacies such as lignje (leeg-nyeh) or calamari or squid, grilled or fried, is Venus on Selce’s Riviera which is always packed with locals and tourists. Their grilled squid is drizzled in olive oil, parsley, garlic and melt in your mouth. Café Bonino and Rokan across from Tunar have good squid too, but Venus is the best.

Krk island has at least 3 great places to eat fried squid in the village of Vrbnik, including Lucy’s up the hill (very generous portions), the port restaurant, and in the many restaurants for a lunch time trip across the Bay of Kvarner.

My grandmother’s home…also known as my baba…

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Selce’s artistic and quaint corners…

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Savoury cabbage rolls only mama can make…

Fried squid, or grilled, or both…worth a try…if they are too big or too chewy, you got “tultsi” which are cheaper, and not real squid. Many good restaurants do have pictures to explain the menu and accommodate the many world-wide travellers that enjoy the Croatian cuisine. 20160927_192733

Selce’s Riviera…just park that convertible and stroll, swim, eat, explore…

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On the border of Selce and Crikvenica (Selce being the beach town portion with superior beaches and atmosphere, a Zabavna (Fun/Arcade) Park and Crikvenica being a bit more of a city with more variety of shops), right next door, is Duga Mall which houses a café veranda view of a section of Krk Island’s rocky coastline that will take your breath away. You can park underground, go above ground level, and this photo does not do the view justice. The cappuccinos and drinks are good but the view is priceless. It was very hard to leave the serene vista, so we took our time. Duga Mall has a few shops and groceries, but in general, Croatia is very affordable.

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Around the corner from Duga Mall is Café Ognjisce (Ognishchyeh) which has the best, most tasty cevapcici (chevaps, or chevapchichi) I have ever had in the area. My local cousins took me here and we ate these barbecued meat morsels with Ajvar (mild red pepper chutney) with such pleasure. We took the rest, to go. We fed lots of relatives with this platter. It was heaven. Ask your Taxi driver to take you here, then go for coffee at Duga Mall upstairs on the veranda (write down the names, show the driver). Well worth it. Come hungry. You know it’s a good place when you see Construction employees and locals frequenting Croatia’s restaurants, it fits their budget too.

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Another wonderful place to enjoy is the bakery Cukerin in Rijeka (take a bus or get a ride from Selce to Reeyehkah. (also known as Fume, Foohmeh in Italian). Cukerin (comes from the word meaning “sugar”) and has wonderful pastries and coffee (kava). Unique to Cukerin, is that when they constructed it, they discovered evidence of ancient wheat stores below, so they gave the café a glass bottom to enjoy a history of a wheat mill in this very spot. The atmosphere is creative, colourful, and well worth navigating the tricky alleys behind Rijeka’s bustling shopping streets. There are very unique shops hidden behind the main promenade. I personally know the bakers at Cukerin, who bake with lots of love and care. You can taste it! We pre-ordered lemon cookies, cinnamon cookies and chocolate pie to bring to friends back in Canada. The chocolate pie is one of my favourites! And it kept very well.

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Beside Cukerin in the old town part of Rijeka is Konoba Volta, their fried squid was absolutely delicious. It has a very romantic atmosphere with outdoor dining and candlelight, and you can go to Cukerin for dessert afterwards. Then meander the alleys and cobblestone streets of Rijeka and soak up the historical architecture.

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Back in Selce, we explore the back alleys behind the smallest church in front of the tourist agency near Kava Anka (arguably the best coffee and icecream in all of Selce). Be sure to visit behind the church all the alleys of 13th division and beyond for surprisingly charming vignettes.

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Crikvenica (below) has more of a city vibe, but a small one, beware the one way streets when driving! Shopping and groceries and the Crikvenica aquarium as well as the promenade and famous “dog beach” and of course “people” beaches are here. Selce-Crikvenica are often paired together, as Selce is a simple, small town that swells in the summer, and reverts back to small village after October. (Selce also has a “dog beach” for those with pets, in a small area near the campground.)

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Selce sunset, a monument to the Tunar perch that honours the tuna fisherman of yore and is lit up at night, like a stairway to heaven. A great view from most of Selce, but Café Bonino has a nice vibe any time of day, as well as Tunar which is the “tuna boat” restaurant just 100 feet away.

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My mom, a “Selcanka” (Selchanka, person raised in the village of Selce, Croatia) enjoying the spectacular view of Krk’s rocky coast from the café veranda of Duga Mall, on the border of Selce-Crikvenica.

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Selce’s walking promenade is very long with a lively panorama of lights, music, fashion and people watching.

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Vrbnik village on Krk island, accessible by boat from Selce, a great day trip.

Croatia Day Trips

Selce’s kupaliste (Kupah-lishteh) beach, (below) great for families with fine rocks added to ease your way into the Adriatic with a larger shallow end. Tunar’s boat shaped Restaurant in the background.

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Mihuric Scuba diving outfit in Selce is a great place to participate in some interesting dive sites at least one of which is a shipwreck. Ahoy! Hope this gives you enough reasons to visit Selce, Crikvenica, Rijeka and Krk. Explore this blog for many more places to visit in Croatia such as Plitvice Park, Rastoke, Zagreb, Krk Island and more!

Don’t forget to leave yourself at least 24 hours after diving before you fly to decompress from the effects of the dives which can interfere with your body’s ability to adjust to flying’s extreme altitudes of 30 to 40,000 feet.

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Scuba diving was my first foray into meditation…a world of beauty, just beneath the surface. Hope this blog inspires you to visit Croatia, leave a comment, meditate or share.

Thoughtless Peace, Andaman Sea, Thailand

curb appeal

Vrbnik on Krk Island across from Selce, a great day trip

Croatia Direct Flights from Toronto and Montreal Continue into 2016-2017 with Air Transat

All photos and article by Paula Erskine

One can book an Air Transat ticket for a direct flight to Zagreb, Croatia right now for as early as next year, for example, May 30th, 2017 at a price of approximately $871 Canadian dollars and enjoy the comfort of Air Transat’s Airbus 330 fleet. Visit http://www.airtransat.com to book ahead and take advantage of cheap flights to Croatia flying directly out of Toronto, Canada and Montreal, Canada. Air Transat will likely add a second flight weekly to Zagreb, Croatia as of May 2016. Book early to get the deals! Here are some places to visit in Croatia that may delight your senses.

Below, Plitvicka National Park, known to visitors as “paradise,” is less than 2 hours away from Zagreb and enjoyed year round. Easy hiking, hundreds of waterfalls, 16 turquoise lakes.

Rastoke Village, in Slunj (above), is 1 and a half hours from Zagreb, Croatia on the way to Plitvice Park. Imagine opening your window shutters and overlooking a waterfall below your window, with the sound rushing through your veins and the fresh, cool mist rising up through the atmosphere. In this valley, one is surrounded by trees whose roots run deep, taking a drink from the rivers they call home. Eat at Petro, visit Unique Rastoke park (just that part is closed on tuesdays) and eat there too,  the food is fresh and authentic throughout the village…or stay at many of the apartments built on waterfalls in this fairy tale mill town on pristine waters. Simply unmissable and picturesque, any time of year. A peaceful place. Take advantage of the pleasant off season weather with more elbow room than mid-summer to enjoy Croatia even more.

If you are still on the fence, wondering if Croatia is the right destination for you, let me share with you some favorite places to visit that are off the beaten path. Even within the usual hot spots, there are great tips to be shared on how to get the maximum value and enjoyment from your Croatian vacation. For those who travel yearly to the motherland, direct flights to Croatia this summer of 2016 have been a dream come true. In addition, Zagreb has proven to be a great hub for native travelers of Serbia and Bosnia and bordering nations visiting their families. It is very moving to see people of all these nations “going home” to introduce their children and grandchildren to the beautiful lands, lakes, rivers, mountains and the crystal clear Adriatic Sea which were their playgrounds.

It was especially convenient for the older generations to travel “home” on direct flights, most of them wanting to look out the window or watch the air show rather than the individual movie screens at each seat. The atmosphere on board is one of gratitude, appreciation and social friendliness without borders. Although the blocked time of the flight is 9 and a half hours, depending on head and tail winds, the average flight to Zagreb, Croatia from Toronto on Air Transat’s Airbus 330 consistently took only around 8 hours!

Air Transat flights were packed all summer with added adventurers from Quebec and Greater Toronto Area as well as Americans enjoying the tour packages that were very reasonable and action-packed! Below, Ozujsko Pub in Zagreb, beside the Naive Art Gallery Egg in Upper Town serves tasty meats stuffed with cheese and prosciutto (pershuto), grilled vegetables and chicken shishkebabs wrapped in bacon. Tender, fresh, tasty and very reasonable!

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Vinodol Restaurant, lower town, superb eating, Zagreb Croatia

Vinodol Restaurant (lower town), Zagreb Croatia above was absolutely superb eating, with a wonderful indoor skylit atmosphere and outdoor seating too. Below, Kava Tava (upper town)…find an excuse to eat palacinke (palachinke) the Croatian stuffed crepes, dessert, cappucinos, breakfast or sandwiches. Then,  for all you airline buffs, Kava Tava’s decor boasts passenger seats and airplane tables. 20160621_192442

Zagreb’s Upper Town can be reached by Funicular or stairs and is full of incredible places to eat with no lack of creativity, history, architecture, naive and modern art, fountains museums, bird’s eye views, Lake Jarun, shoe shopping in particular in the lower town, and delicious food everywhere. To say Zagreb is hip would be an understatement.

A hidden gem in Zagreb is MS Grill run by Olga who will cook like only a mother can, and specializes in Bosnian dishes such as cevaps (barbecued chevaps are mixed meats, usually lamb, on home made grilled bread served with kajmak (k-eye-mahk) cream cheese, chicken paprikash, and many stews and famous crepes.The truth is, I ate most of the mouth watering meat before I remembered to take a picture. The secret to all the juicy meats, especially the grilled chicken, is the time they take to marinate it all…and I enjoyed it very much on my flight. The portions are too generous, and the prices are ridiculously cheap! You can find them around the corner from the Sheraton Hotel, Zagreb, with the orange canopy, simple. Olga is open from 7 or 8 am till midnight and serves fresh, home made food, her most evident ingredient, is love, warmth and enthusiasm. I do not leave the restaurant without my goodbye hug.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ms-Grill/1549760118614667 This is the facebook page.

Air Transat flights were packed all summer with added adventurers from Quebec and Greater Toronto Area as well as Americans enjoying the tour packages that were very reasonable and action-packed! See you in Zagreb! Check out my other posts for more great places to visit in Croatia! This is StrossMarte, at the top where the Funicular station stop is. Very artsy, great views, puppet shows, and very whimsical somehow.20160906_18551320160906_18555220160906_185448Sveti Marco Square, tiled roof, straight ahead from the Funicular. Many ways to see the city, including a vintage car ride. Fresh fritule, powdered mini doughnuts sometimes filled with jam at a window in upper town. We drop in on an orchestra practicing amid rows of fountains, it was lovely. The architecture, the old gate to the city, is so interesting. I hope to visit Lake Jarun where locals swim and bike in the near future. Until we meet again, Zagreb, I will enjoy my memories. See you in Croatia until early October of 2016 and May 2017 onward.20160906_18491320160823_18350320160823_19023920160906_18403120160906_18503220160817_19534320160906_19051620160906_18185320160906_21042620160817_191813

Day Trips From Dublin, Ireland…Hiking in Howth

Hiking in Howthe, Ireland

Hiking in Howth, Ireland

Priceless views

Priceless views

A Howthe point of View

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Not to be missed as you Hike Ireland's coast, Howthe

Not to be missed as you Hike Ireland’s coast, Howth

Irish Blooms

Irish Blooms

Yup, still Howthe

The Port of Howthe is 25 minutes by train from Dublin, Ireland. The hiking trails offer spectacular coastal views. All photos and article by Paula Erskine

The Port of Howth is 25 minutes by train from Dublin, Ireland. The hiking trails offer spectacular coastal views.
All photos and article by Paula Erskine

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Still Meandering the seaside trail and all it's preciousness

Still Meandering the seaside trail and all it’s preciousness

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Before or after your hike, grab a giant cup in the Port.

Before or after your hike, grab a giant cup in the Port.

Costa Rica’s Wild Beaches, Pura Vida, Liberia

Costa Rica indeed has it's version of a whitish sand beach, Playa Coco

Costa Rica’s Remote Beaches, Playa Coco
Photos and article by Paula Erskine
In the case of Costa Rica, pictures speak volumes of the remote or lightly populated nooky beaches. Although renting a car for just one day can be more expensive than longer periods of time, the roads are well signed and beaches easy to get to. Word to the wise and the wordpressians…do not speed and take note of the changing speed limits in Costa Rica. The police will gladly ticket you and are on the lookout for unlawful drivers. We split our truck rental 6 ways and if you have a credit card that covers car insurance on rentals, that will save you from taking insurance from the rental company. Even though we only had a day to spend at Play Flamingo and Playa Coco each, those few hours away from a hotel atmosphere felt like a week in relaxing chill land. Play coco is a place I would definatly return to. It had one main restaurant on the beach where we watched the sunset and listened to their local two piece band. There was also a small resort midway across the street with a pool, but 99% of them were at hotel pool. Which left the beach for just a few of us. As day turn to dusk, people filtered into the reggae bar to enjoy and marvel at this wild, and fairly undisturbed beach and it’s glorious sunset.

Costa Rica's sunset melts into the ocean at Playa Coco.

Costa Rica’s sunset melts into the ocean at Playa Coco.

All photos by Paula Erskine Loco Coco at Play Coco served up delicious food right down to it's coconut ice scream! on the beach dream.

All photos by Paula Erskine
Loco Coco at Play Coco served up delicious food right down to it’s coconut ice scream! on the beach dream.

The food was very innovative, adventurous and delicious at Loco Coco Restaurant in Playa Coco. Some of the best appetizers and meals I have ever had in Costa Rica. They had a two piece band that filled the background to the spectacular Costa Rican sunset. Great tables on the beach, which for some reason, has a whiter cast than other more volcanic brown beaches. Then again, I have never met a beach in Costa Rica I did not like.

The food was very innovative, adventurous and delicious at Loco Coco Restaurant in Playa Coco. Some of the best appetizers and meals I have ever had in Costa Rica. They had a two piece band that filled the background to the spectacular Costa Rican sunset. Great tables on the beach, which for some reason, has a whiter cast than other more volcanic brown beaches. Then again, I have never met a beach in Costa Rica I did not like.

Backlit by the Costa Rican Sunset, Playa Coco

Backlit by the Costa Rican Sunset, Playa Coco. Striped Navy and cream cotton maxi dress from BH department stores, England

Don't let the small waves fool you, they are tall enough to knock you over and spin you around. Be careful on all beaches, the currents are strong. Most of us chose to stay at knee or waist level and battle the waves, and refresh ourselves from the heat of the sun. Lots of fun, laughter and unexpected wave slaps. Just to keep us all in check. Playa Flamingo

Don’t let the small waves fool you, they are tall enough to knock you over and spin you around. Be careful on all beaches, the currents are strong. Most of us chose to stay at knee or waist level and battle the waves, and refresh ourselves from the heat of the sun. Lots of fun, laughter and unexpected wave slaps. Just to keep us all in check. Playa Flamingo

Why Costa Rica is One of My Favourite Places Costa Rica is the destination to rent a car and visit the many simple, unspoiled, nooky beaches all along the coast. It takes just a few hours away from a hotel to feel refreshed, energized, peaceful and gain the feeling that you alone have discovered these beaches with a handful of locals and very few outsiders. Playa Flamingo is very simple, feels very local and was not without it's own quirks. The beach sand had a thin film of water that was an incredible mirror to our own images and the sky. It is so great to be unplugged in paradise. Forget what you know about white sand beaches. Despite the volcanic brown sands, Costa Rica's beaches can really make you feel you have entered another world. The monkeys slept lazily in the trees above, the restaurant owner showcases his parrot pair, and the ocean's breaking waves can really throw you around, so be cautious with the current and stay close to the shore. I would say a picture says a thousand words in the case of Costa Rica, several pictures, a rented car, two wonderful beaches in two days, and keeping the great company of people who are not satisfied with cookie cutter vacations. Costa Rica is still wild, still unspoiled, and unpredictable. Go Wild and carefree, in Costa Rica.

Why Costa Rica is One of My Favourite Places
Costa Rica is the destination to rent a car and visit the many simple, unspoiled, nooky beaches all along the coast. It takes just a few hours away from a hotel to feel refreshed, energized, peaceful and gain the feeling that you alone have discovered these beaches with a handful of locals and very few outsiders. Playa Flamingo is very simple, feels very local and was not without it’s own quirks. The beach sand had a thin film of water that was an incredible mirror to our own images and the sky. It is so great to be unplugged in paradise. Forget what you know about white sand beaches. Despite the volcanic brown sands, Costa Rica’s beaches can really make you feel you have entered another world. The monkeys slept lazily in the trees above, the restaurant owner showcases his parrot pair, and the ocean’s breaking waves can really throw you around, so be cautious with the current and stay close to the shore. I would say a picture says a thousand words in the case of Costa Rica, several pictures, a rented car, two wonderful beaches in two days, and keeping the great company of people who are not satisfied with cookie cutter vacations. Costa Rica is still wild, still unspoiled, and unpredictable. Go Wild and carefree, in Costa Rica.

A simple beach restaurant on Playa Flamingo with it's owners perched to entertain us from above. (A couple of small hotels there, but not necessarily open to public.) Very local and spanish speaking atmosphere throughout, very unpopulated, they way we like it.)

A simple beach restaurant on Playa Flamingo with it’s owners perched to entertain us from above. (A couple of small hotels there, but not necessarily open to public.) Very local and spanish speaking atmosphere throughout, very unpopulated, they way we like it.)

Fascinating to watch these monkeys, some of which woke up long enough to trek along with their young from tree to tree. Playa Flamingo

Fascinating to watch these monkeys, some of which woke up long enough to trek along with their young from tree to tree. Playa Flamingo

Half way through my plate, I can say Playa Flamingo's simplest beach restaurant was tasty, but likely store bought fillets prepared with local, buttery goodness and again, store fries. Then again, some people prefer their fish filleted. We donated some clothes to one of the servers, used clean washrooms, and enjoyed their beachfront location, their pet parrots and onlooking monkey natives in the trees above all of which were keeping us entertained. My sunglasses hiding behind the water bottle would soon be swallowed in a fight with the waves at Playa Coco weeks later. The moment I survived several tumbles in the surf is the moment I said goodbye to my, ahem, "designer," prescription glasses. Several gulps of salt water cured my pining their loss for more than the hour that I searched for them to wash back up onto the beach.

Half way through my plate, I can say Playa Flamingo’s simplest beach restaurant was good, but likely store bought fillets prepared with local, buttery goodness and again, store fries. But we donated some clothes to one of the servers, used clean washrooms, and enjoyed their beachfront location, their pet parrots and onlooking monkey natives in the trees above all of which were keeping us entertained. My sunglasses hiding behind the water bottle would soon be swallowed in a fight with the waves at Playa Coco weeks later. The moment I survived several tumbles in the surf is the moment I said goodbye to my, ahem, “designer,” prescription glasses. Several gulps of salt water cured my pining their loss for more than the hour that I searched for them to wash back up onto the beach.

Other than the 2 hotels, which was lightly populated, we gladly visited this lone restaurant and it's humourous, rest station.

Other than the 2 hotels, which was lightly populated, we gladly visited this lone restaurant and it’s humourous, rest station.

Nature's Art Museum, the road to Playa Flamingo.

Nature’s Art Museum, the road to Playa Flamingo.

Of course, buses take local currency the equivalent of an American dollar. However, many buses later (and about 2 hours in the blazing sun across the road from Liberia's airport, and a spanish speaking qualified person interpreting our urgency to reach the beach the same day we set out, had us pondering the taxi alternative. Two hours in the blazing heat, we started to negotiate with several taxi drivers. Negotiating from in front of the airport is not in the least advantageous to getting a good price. But eventually, we came up with a $40 ride for 4. Time was ticking, and later we found out that the bus was in a major accident and had blocked traffic for miles. On the way back from Playa Flamingo, we saw these spectacular flower bushes. After visiting the local grocery store, we negotiated for a ride home with a Tina Turner type taxi driver. We pretended we only wanted to go to a certain stop half way and take the bus back to the airport from there. But in the darkness, and winding roads, our spanish qualified brother figure managed to negotiate a $25 direct to hotel rate. Which made us realize what a bad deal we got on the way to Playa Flamingo. Buses may be cheap in Costa Rica, but out of many buses that passed us, each one said it's "right behind this one" in vain. So if it the bus never comes, and you don't get to visit this quirky beach, then you can't afford not to take a taxi. Well worth visiting. Be prepared with american dollars and local currency and know the exchange before you set out. The hotel at Playa Flamingo had already sent their deposits to the bank and could not exchange  any money for us so we could eat in the simple beach restaurant. Upon leaving the beach area, we found a grocery store and one of us got it on good authority that there was a bank machine quite a bit down the road. The cabbie gave him a ride, quite a walk, to be nice. Nothing worse than facing a bank machine dispenses millions in local currency and not knowing the exchange. Enough said.

Of course, buses take local currency the equivalent of an American dollar. However, many buses later (and about 2 hours in the blazing sun across the road from Liberia’s airport, and a spanish speaking qualified person interpreting our urgency to reach the beach the same day we set out, had us pondering the taxi alternative. Two hours in the blazing heat, we started to negotiate with several taxi drivers. Negotiating from in front of the airport is not in the least advantageous to getting a good price. But eventually, we came up with a $40 ride for 4. Time was ticking, and later we found out that the bus was in a major accident and had blocked traffic for miles. On the way back from Playa Flamingo, we saw these spectacular flower bushes. After visiting the local grocery store, we negotiated for a ride home with a Tina Turner type taxi driver. We pretended we only wanted to go to a certain stop half way and take the bus back to the airport from there. But in the darkness, and winding roads, our spanish qualified brother figure managed to negotiate a $25 direct to hotel rate. Which made us realize what a bad deal we got on the way to Playa Flamingo. Buses may be cheap in Costa Rica, but out of many buses that passed us, each one said it’s “right behind this one” in vain. So if it the bus never comes, and you don’t get to visit this quirky beach, then you can’t afford not to take a taxi. Well worth visiting. Be prepared with american dollars and local currency and know the exchange before you set out. The hotel at Playa Flamingo had already sent their deposits to the bank and could not exchange any money for us so we could eat in the simple beach restaurant. Upon leaving the beach area, we found a grocery store and one of us got it on good authority that there was a bank machine quite a bit down the road. The cabbie gave him a ride, quite a walk, to be nice. Nothing worse than facing a bank machine dispenses millions in local currency and not knowing the exchange. Enough said.

Reflecting on the beautious Playa Flamingo beach... Seeing the sky mirrored across the glassy sand was magic.

Reflecting on the beautious Playa Flamingo beach… Seeing the sky mirrored across the glassy sand was magic.

all photos Paula Erskine Nothing better than a live sunset.

all photos Paula Erskine
Nothing better than a live sunset.

Single Travellers Can Avoid Single Supplement Fees in These All Inclusive Hotels

Your doing fine, Fidel...revolutionary guerilla fighter Camilo Cienfuegos overlooking Revolution Square, Cuba.

Your doing fine, Fidel…revolutionary guerilla fighter Camilo Cienfuegos overlooking Revolution Square, Cuba.

My father is retired and I am an active flight attendant and can share that trying to book a resort for a single person at an all-inclusive resort is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Most single people end up paying double or a hefty premium on their vacations just because they want to vacay solo. As far as avoiding the single supplement fee, Cuba is your best chance in the Caribbean to get non single supplement all inclusive hotels. Also Cuba has places that are not all inclusive called “Casas” (houses) where you sleep and perhaps walk or bus to the beach. They used to be about $25 a night, not including food.

The three resorts in all of Cuba that came up for my single dad that were minimal fee to none single supplement fee were the following major all inclusive resorts as if this spring 2014:

Husa Cayo Santa Maria
Iberstar Daiquiri Cayo Coco
Blau Costa Verde Holguin

Your welcome, single supplement people, to Cuba’s pristine white sand beaches. They actually value your patronage and realize that just because you are travelling alone, doesn’t mean you should pay double. 

Another tip is to stay at private condos, bed and breakfasts that don’t penalize you. Hotels and Casas can be found off the beaten path, but are sometimes much more rewarding vacations. You get a chance to walk through the town, interact with the locals,and sample local foods and local prices.

Who does he think He is?

Which reminds me of a story of a van full of crew members and a tour we took in a taxi van with a 300lb. driver for $70 U.S. each. Our Spanish speaking crew member translated what became hilarious interactions and observations by our driver. Some Cubans in general rely on “sages” to help them, for example one seemed to cure his son of a bronchial illness. It seems that, because of communism, alot had taken to imported African customs and rituals to put it nicely. As the group of us joked more and more, it seems that I was laughing the loudest to which the driver looked back through his rear view mirror, sweating, and remarked, (translated), “We have a saying in Cuba…that someone who laughs alone, is possessed by the devil.” To which the whole van roared with laughter, mine the loudest. I tried to get my colleague to explain, that everyone was in fact laughing in the van, it’s just that…mine was the hysterical sounding laugh. But I was not laughing alone! To no avail. I made him nervous. Then we proceeded to park and visit a viewpoint in which we could watch Che Guevera’s house from atop a cliff. We self guided ourselves to the hill and the back of an imposing, giant statue with long hair. I was thinking from the back, a bearded character, maybe it is a statue of Che overlooking the house he used to live in. Yet, our driver did not mention the statue, the 20 metre statue on a cliff overlooking a good portion of the city. As we rounded the base of the statue, we were all wondering why our driver had not mentioned it. We all thought it peculiar in proportion to the tiny house of Che which was clearly overshadowed. As we stared up, a few of us realized by our own deductions that this indeed was a statue of Jesus in a communist country. Immediately I tried to understand the driver’s perspective and I said, “Well then, who does he think He is?” Even when we got back to the van, there was clearly an absence of detail about the site. We don’t know what the driver was thinking, but this was an unoffical tour which also did not mention the military shooting ranges we passed on the way there.
The tour continued on to Havana, again self-guided, wandering the streets. Upon our return towards our hotel in Varadero, after a long day, our superstitious driver invited us back to his home. None of us wanted to go, but didn’t want him to pick up on that. So in case he in fact did understand any english whatsoever, we decided to communicate to each other in a language we deemed “non-latin derivatives.” Sure, we used the word “dwelling” instead to refer to his house, and other vocabularly challenging references to discuss excuses to get out of it. Our eastern block colleague, looked at all of us giggling, and said, “I don’t get it,” with a straight face. Maybe that’s because we weren’t playing the game right. In the end, we could not gracefully bow out, and we actually enjoyed the tour of his house the most. The van had a huge garage, with ceramic black and white tile, and a few cloves of garlic hanging randomly. The kitchen was very tiny, with his wife handing him his bag of prescriptions as we came in. The bathroom had no toilet seat, which seems to be a luxury anywhere. And The 1 bedroom had two beds, in which they slept with their kids. The driver mentioned he was so grateful for having a van that could provide an income for his family and took up most of his house. Considering that the average Cuban makes $30 per month, it was pretty humbling. But this taxi driver, just made a a year’s income in one day with a van full of flight attendants. We still talk about how much we laughed to this day.

Who does he think He is?


Money Matters

For your airplane ride, nearly all airlines now only deal with credit cards and absolutely do not accept cash, debit cards, credit/debit cards or gift/visa cards. So please do get a credit card for your airplane journey in case you want something that is not provided onboard. Do not assume your airline is obliged to feed you and accomodate any special food needs you may have. Do not assume you will get your first meal choice onboard if there is a meal at all, as an airplane is NOT a restaurant. DO travel with snacks for your plane ride and DO buy your water after passing through security. You will be cold or hot on the plane and there is nothing you can do about it except buy a blanket or don’t. So may I humbly suggest, layer your clothes, bring that pashmina, wear socks, long pants, closed toe shoes (or socks and sandals), or those nifty convertible pants that turn into shorts. On your return flight you will be dressed for the sun but it gets cold in the plane fast, so DO bring your coat over your arm through security, you will be glad you brought it onboard and can sling it over legs when you realize you are only wearing shorts. Fleece zip up tops work great.

The subject on money in Cuba and other destinations…

Keep in mind, tourists do not have access to Cuban “convertible pesos”, but you can buy and pay for everything in regular Cuban pesos. Be sure to get some pesos if possible before you go. If it’s not possible, try the airport exchange or bank machines when you land as your best bet. You will need cash to convert for emergency funds, in case the ATM or bank machine is acting up at your hotel. You can also convert money at exchange kiosks for example in hotels. The lineups are sometimes long, but don’t expect that you will get a fair price for your dollars. It’s been my experience that we asked what the rate was, went in with our calculator, and checked the math, and the girl was ripping people off by a few dollars each time. The posted exchange rate, which sometimes puts their pesos at par with Canadian currency, is the rate you will get. It is futile to argue the posted exchange rate. I am referring to their “calculations” of that rate, so go in with your calculator and show her the facts if their is a discrepancy. Be polite but firm. Rudeness will get you nowhere. I have seen many drunk people go in to kiosks looking for more cash, perfect victims.

When using a bank machine down south, or anywhere other than your own bank…

-Do not ask for your balance, even if the machine offers. The machine’s brain cannot give you a balance, and then will inexplicably refuses you funds.
-Try your checking and/or your savings account.
-Try another “brand” of bank machine or another bank
-Research the approximate exchange so you don’t take out too much or too little, it will likely ask you how much you want in local funds, I repeat, local funds.

American dollars in Cuba…

Cuba does NOT accept American dollars due to the embargo imposed against them. Bring your calculator and check them astutely for any money exchange, but you have to accept whatever rate they give you, and the commission charged. Don’t expect locals to take credit cards, sometimes hotels won’t either, or they will not be able to process it as everything is a bit outdated in Cuba. Having said that, keep in mind that the average Cuban makes about $30 a month across the country, and the food will be quite reasonable. Always remember to go with the flow, and not try to westernize the countries you are visiting. We are privileged guests, and Cuba is generally one of the safest places to go in the Caribbean.

Image

Stuff your suitcase with unwanted, gently used items, donate them to staff or if you get a chance to interact with locals who do not have access to such luxuries, do that. I once gave 7 dresses to seven ladies to the wait staff of the dining room. Shoes, clothes and any supplies are always appreciated.These make great tips, as do tips in local currency. I learned in Africa, that leaving a tip in local currency is good, but over tipping when a local is making $30 is not a good idea either. Some airlines will give baggage extra baggage allowances for which you must fill out an official form to donate goods. You may have to declare these goods when you come in to the country. The best way is just fill your regular suitcases and go home a little lighter in every way.

footnotes: Thank you to http://www.talkingcuba.wordpress.com/tag/havana/ for the image of Jesus.

Jully Black and More at Burlington’s Epic Sound of Music Festival 2013

Jully Black and more at Burlington's Epic Sound of Music Festival

Burlington’s Sound of Music 2013 reached epic proportions with incredible talents like Jully Black, 54 40, Dirty Radio being the acts we were able to catch. These were among the greatest musical talents this city graciously offered to hundreds of thousands of visitors.
Jully Black’s performance just blew us all away with her power, her ability to verbally frame her songs and sing to the heart and soul of every member of the audience. She kicked up her stillettos, ran, punched through “the glass ceiling” referring to pushing past the mind’s limitations. She cried at one point from happiness and then transformed herself into this mighty image of Jully Black I had the privilege of capturing. Fans of Jully Black can check out her wonderfulness at http://jullyblack.com/

Burlington Sound of Music Festival 2013, Night Crowd, photo by Paula Erskine

Burlington Sound of Music Festival 2013, Night Crowd, photo by Paula Erskine

On of the many notable acts included Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace singing with his wife singer/songwriter musician Chantal Kreviazuk playing piano. Check out Chantal at her official website http://www.chantalkreviazuk.com/ and Raine Maida at http://www.rainemaida.net/. My friend Alexis reported it was an inspiring performance. If I can say anything negative about the Sound of Music Festival, is that there were so many great acts playing at the same time, it was impossible to enjoy them all! Even the smaller bands featured along Brant street,(which was blocked off for pedestrians), were extremely talented but I was only able to get some musical snippets as we headed to Spencer Smith Park to the massive 3 stages.

Backtracking to the first night of free concerts offered on Thursday, it was not as insanely busy and we managed to get another great spot, near the stage and discovered the band Dirty Radio. My cousin and I marvelled at the singer Farshad Edalat’s ability to sound like Justin Timberlake’s falsetto but then bring it back down to a low, smooth groove. They managed to woo the crowd with their rock-funk-rap-edge with some middle eastern mysticism peppered in that was very easy on the ears and eyes. Even though we were not familiar with this Vancouver band’s music, it was completely danceable, heady, and I would buy their album in a heartbeat. For more info. you can become a facebook fan and listen for yourself to their unique vibe at https://www.facebook.com/DiRTYRADiOMUSIC. Following them we caught a glimpse of Down with Webster which boasts more fans and a similar vibe, loads of fans and lots of energy. You can find them at https://www.facebook.com/downwithwebster. If we may be so bold, Dirty Radio won us over, big time.

54 40 at Burlington Sound of Music Festival 2013. Photo by Paula Erskine

54 40 at Burlington Sound of Music Festival 2013. Photo by Paula Erskine

The Burlington Sound of Music concert series was bigger than ever with 3 main stages in Spencer Smith Park and Brant street had at least 4 bands and tons of patios to enjoy. Sundays final performances were fan filled with hip favourites 54 40. Singer Neil Osborne and indeed the entire band never cease to emanate cool as they confessed their fanship of playing on the stage following April Wine. “It just brought back our own memories of high school, pizza and listening to April Wine,” he confided to the crowd of thousands. “I love music,” he proclaimed which sent a ripple into the mounting excitement of the crowd.
Using the “excuse” of it being Sunday, and Neil feeling all spiritual, he asked the crowd if he could get an “AMEN!” Not only that, he initiated then conducted the crowd with his energy to sing the well known gospel hymn with a series of Amens which filled the air up with gratitude for sharing music with our favourite singers. There was not one audience member that was not singing this gospel with one of the coolest bands in Canada.

Sharing my love for music with my cousin Valentina and the Burlington Sound of Music Festival 2013 and Burlington's new pier.

Sharing my love for music with my cousin Valentina and the Burlington Sound of Music Festival 2013 and Burlington’s new pier.

Fireworks topped off each evening lighting up the sky after unforgettable concerts. Where in the world can you see so many headline, mainstream, underground and new acts and high school favourite acts all in one massive festival? Burlington’s unique music festival united hundreds of thousands of people in their love for the Sound of Music in 2013.

For links to all the music offered and samples just visit http://www.soundofmusic.ca/ before it gets taken down! Click on all the links to terrific music! And don’t forget to visit next year! It is not Burlington’s only music festival, as there is also a Jazz and Rib Festival that lures people in with their Best Ribs contests and Jazz Blues rifts. But Burlington’s Sound of Music is the hippest, coolest, free-ist concert series this side of the border!

Burlington Pier 2013 Debut at Sound of Music Festival. Photo by Paula Erskine

Burlington Pier 2013 Debut at Sound of Music Festival. Photo by Paula Erskine

To compliment the entire festival, it cannot go unsaid that Burlington’s long awaited pier was so spectacular that all the mistakes associated with the construction eyesore and its abandonment was forgiven. Burlington’s pier has an Amsterdam, modern-UFO vibe to it that makes for incredible photos especially at twilight and night. I can’t say enough good things about the Burlington pier as I was so proud to show off it’s rocket ship qualities. The ever-changing colours infiltrating the Burlington waterfront skies has an international, modern yet inviting feel. The pier photo I captured emanated the musical energy of the festival, depicting notes and bars streaming through the atmosphere. The magical pier at Burlington’s waterfront is a strollers paradise. I suspect it will become a tourist hub that inspires, unites Burlington and reaches out in its appeal to those that appreciate its long awaited debut. Congratulations to the organizers of the most successful, moving, heart opening, world-class music festival in Burlington’s history that easily rivals any music festival on this great earth!

The Burlington Pier 2013 Debut, photo by Paula Erskine

The Burlington Pier 2013 Debut, photo by Paula Erskine

Destination: The Space Between The Thoughts

Photo by my Scuba Diving  Instructor Gunner Eggers, I witnessed this beauty during a live-a-board excursion in the Similan Islands,  article and personal adventure by Paula Erskine

Photo by my Scuba Diving Instructor Gunner Eggers, I witnessed this beauty during a live-a-board excursion in the Similan Islands, article and personal adventure by Paula Erskine

“Buoyed by water, he can fly in any direction-up, down, sideways-by merily flipping his hand. Underwater, man becomes an archangel.” Jacques Yves Cousteau

I remember pestering my father as a child while he rested. I walked on his back with my light frame as I asked him to think of a colour or a number. I remember closing my eyes and trying to visualize the answer feeling that it would appear to me. I don’t recall what percent of the time I guessed correctly, but perhaps these were my first attempts to tap into my father’s thoughts. I remember trying to guess how many cars would come through the gate before our friends would arrive to play with us at the campground. In general, I felt that alot of things worked out for me and that what was happening seemed to be my fate in hindsight. I tried to connect all my experiences in my head, if this hadn’t happened, then would the rest of happened as it did? What control did we have on how we lived and what fate had in store for us? At 19, I found myself fascinated with my Philosophy class at York University. It was the first time I had ever heard of Dr. Carl Gustav Jung and his discovery of the collective consciousness. One example was when an Olympic champion had broken the record for running the fastest mile. Before him, nobody could do it. It was considered to be impossible. But after he broke the record, suddenly, collectively, runners all over the world, who had not communicated with each other, were able to surpass what was deemed impossible for so long. These people were not communicating via internet or phone. Just observing that there a was time when these were not common methods of communication is one example of how society has grown forward technologically at least, for better or for worse. It was as if there was something in the air that was, contagiously progressing mankind as a whole. So one can ask, was our limited mind, limiting us from surpassing what we thought we could achieve? Was there perhaps a possibility to access an unlimited realm? For years I have witnessed the evidence in favor of the fact that humans are all connected to a collective consciousness that pushes man to evolve together.

I found this to be the most profound discovery of my philosophical ponderings. Why was it when when a song popped into my head and I turned on the radio, the same song was playing? Not when I yearned to see someone, but when that person actually popped in my head (out of nowhere, or was it in fact the collective consciousness) did they seamlessly walk into the store I was working in? How many times have we picked up on the thoughts of others when the mind is still? Why do I continue to wake up 1 minute before my alarm sounds in the morning? Another example is why is it when someones pops in my head and the phone rings with their voice on the other line I can’t help but exclaim, “I was just thinking of you!” If you talk to anyone around you, everyone has experienced all of the above and so much more. I have never had any control over such happenings, but have always felt compelled to discover a way to uncover the “evolutionary force” and tune in to that intuition which seems to be based in every human being.

Was it naivety that made me feel protected from harm in my youth? As children, we are generally fearless, innocent and somehow, so wise. One has heard the expressions “out of the mouths of babes.” Perhaps it Means children seem to be directly connected to a truth untainted by positive or negative experiences gained later on. They see and observe in the “now” with “innocent” eyes. They are naive in the sense that they don’t understand what adults deem to have consequences or what we project to be potentially dangerous based on our experiences. But anyone who has heard children speak when observing adult hypocrisy, when literally doing as an adult does even though an adult wants them to do “what they say” can clearly see that there is an innate wisdom that we, who were once children, are endowed with, from birth. The pure words and thoughts of children can make us adults laugh out loud and declare, “how do they come up with this stuff?” If only there was a way to regain their/our enjoyment of the “now” and return, as William Blake has a song, “return to innocence.” In a way, like clearing a slate to live happy and now.

There are still so many proofs that we were all connected and I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. More than once I had a gut feeling about something which turned out to be true. I had perused several “seeking” books on this subject some that made me feel I was on the cusp of uncovering the secrets of maintaining a happy and purposeful life. Some of the books boiled down their vision boards to be filled with images of a mansion, a sports car or bicycle. Are accumulating objects in the material world the end-goal and can they lead to a sense of inner satisfaction? Haven’t we learned from the Egyptians that, we can’t take it with us? I love the line in the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” when they refer to the hope that a granite counter and a picket fence would fix the real life character’s marriage. I see the reflection in my own life. It’s not that I didn’t want things or success because I wanted that too. But “things” were not giving me that key to fully unlock what was missing in my life.

I was seeking some inner peace and answers. I went to doctors that treated symptoms, and naturopathic doctors who helped me give me a little more insight as to how to treat “symptoms” and possible causes. I learned that a by-product of low thyroid function could be depression. I still had no idea why some experiences or reading something would trigger a cluster of wonderfully intuitive moments, weeks or days. I still had no way of keeping that feeling alive in me that made me feel like life was conspiring to help me feel better and enjoy my life unobstructed. Through these negative experiences, I still believed these were just phases for my growth and still never doubted that everything in my life happened “for a reason.” I was always very positive and attracted to solutions to deal with the waves of emotional “sensitivity” labelled as depression, followed by waves of random panic. These “feelings” came and went on rare occasions but interfered with my goal to enjoy my life. I found travelling for a living helpful in hiding this shameful and uncharacteristic defect of my positive, fun personality. Sometimes I could delay telling friends I was home till I was fully rested and ready to face the world again.

More often than not, travelling to a new destination made me feel brand new again. Every step in a different country was a baby step. I tapped into my inner explorer, met and spoke to new and interesting people and had plenty of inspiring stories to share when I got home. Each new country gave me a chance to reinvent and improve myself. Travelling is an education in itself. I relish every privileged exploration as if by trekking new territories, that spark of wonder and spontaneity ignites again and again. Inadvertently I interviewed and interacted and recorded people through photography and journals from many different cultures and did not feel that we were all worlds apart. I have held so much admiration for the people I observe and am a bit of a fan of life lived elsewhere. I have always been attracted to the customs of other cultures and flying fulfilled this drive to globe trot. Starting over fresh in a new country made me forget what was bothering me from my past. But was forgetting the only way to move forward? With each trip I made new memories and embraced the happiness that comes from a renewed chance or lease on life.

“What is a scientist after all? It is a curious man looking through a key hole, the keyhole of nature, trying to know what’s going on.”
Jacques Yves Cousteau

Back in Canada, my enthusiasm to enjoy and improve the quality of my home life fueled an even more urgent exploration of several different types of therapies. I didn’t think something was wrong with my life, but something just wasn’t right. I didn’t feel quite right. I could not sustain a healthy mental attitude towards emotionally challenging subjects. I attended several different types of yoga classes seeking more help to cope with stress and managing my emotions. Although some had turned Yoga into fitness or a money making business, I craved the collective silence laying down on a mat at the end of class. Laying there, I was grateful for the silence around me, but it was just a temporary break from outside noise. In the heat of hot yoga classes, I was grateful the heat rose above where I lay, somehow making it less stifling.

Several other places I felt uneasy, unwelcomed, emotional, frustrated or disturbed from psychic activities. I didn’t want someone to predict who I was or sentence me to what would happen to me. I was not comfortable contacting dead spirits and didn’t feel that it would help me to find my own way of maintaining any kind of peace. I wanted to be the expert on how to be the “best” me. My friend went to a session with someone who was “taken over” by another entity and testified that they were all told they were from the lost city of Atlantis. I felt that it would be harmful, pointless and a little disturbing for me. The last few psychic readings I allowed someone to do had me reduced to sobbing tears.

An acquaintance in Thailand had said, never ever let anyone read Tarot cards are predict your future, they steal your energy. It was true. Any hope of a happy life was quashed by people claiming to see my future and placing their ideas into places in my brain which took years to remove. The incessant predictions kept influencing and having a hold on every decision I made, like a “pop up” reminder that I have no say and no control and the next move I make will ultimately end in a way I can’t seem to avoid because the psychic has said so. It was anti-intuitive, going against my zest for what was spontaneous, beautiful, marvelous and happy. I sought the purpose of life, not what may come according to people who don’t even know one thing about me. So I ended my journey with psychics and somehow deduced that inner intuition was a safe place I have always known. Everyday I was having life lessons taught to me through sincere conversations and observing how my actions affected my ability to enjoy everyone and everything.

One place invited me in and proceeded to massage my organs for free. Then I was encouraged to buy and wear a white karate outfit which, in his broken english,  was ” for atmosphere.”  I had an uneasy feeling in my gut that the teachings were incomplete or not rooted in pure knowledge. I felt a little violated and was less educated about this Asian therapy, and I just couldn’t bring myself to come back. I was open but could not stand to be uncomfortable. Another studio had no time to meet with me as they were filming a commercial, and yet another studio refused to let me enter the room because it was 5 minutes into the class. I bawled my eyes out in the lobby out of frustration from a long, tired journey of trying to feel normal. It was like trying to find the key to an unknown solution.

After many years of seeking one’s purpose for being in this life and uncertain of the path ahead, my conditionings were accumulating and bogging me down. This mental weight was preventing me from living a fully happy existence. My conditionings were built in messages that kept me in a limited mindset of what I could or could not achieve. These were formed long ago and although I had proved some of them to be false, I was powerless when it came to acknowledging and destroying negative thoughts that influenced me when I was overtired and getting into a powerless phase. Logically I knew that what was overwhelming in the present, would fade away in time. I thought the balance meant that the good times were fleeting, so enjoy it, before it’s gone. The bad times made me appreciate the good and balanced it out. Somehow when I got too judgemental, something negative would happen to “balance” the egotistical part of me where I did exactly as I pleased.

Not all, but some of these acts, had consequences it seemed, or benefits beyond what I could have conceived. One decade turned into the next, and I tried to uncover that fearlessness with which I had started my life. Many times I felt like everything was designed to go in my favor. Other times, my undiagnosed thyroid problem was putting me on a roller coaster of emotions. Even after finally getting medication to regulate my thyroid gland, it would be years before I felt normal. Rules, advice, conditionings, guilt, false ideas, other peoples’ plans or visions of who I was were like barricades to sustaining a joyful state. Besides carrying my own baggage, trying to carry other people’s burdens was my specialty. As a result, socializing could sometimes make me feel anxious. I wanted to fill myself up with something that was good for my growth. Instead I found myself sentenced to be a sounding board. My instinct has always been to pack my bags and run far, far away.

“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders.But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.”

Jacques Yves Cousteau

One day, I was walking with my friend Audrey in Munich, Germany on a 24 hour layover. She told me that she was planning to go to Thailand to attend a wedding in the autumn and I expressed that I would love to go there. Nearly four years of dating someone who didn’t own a passport was taking me in a direction that didn’t feel quite right. I spent the next two months preparing for my first backpacking trip and getting used to the idea of taking a sabbatical from my Canadian life.

The beaches in Thailand seemed to call out "calm, here." Kata Beach during the lingering trickles of the tropical rainy season 2005, less than one year after the Tsunami, Thailand. Photo and personal adventure by Paula Erskine

The beaches in Thailand seemed to call out “calm, here.” Kata Beach during the lingering trickles of the tropical rainy season 2005, less than one year after the Tsunami, Thailand. Photo and personal adventure by Paula Erskine

It was my greatest hope that Thailand would slow down my life to a manageable pace where I could re-invent me. I found two more colleagues willing to take the 18 hour flight to Thailand for an indefinite amount of time. It took three flight attendants at the stand-by mercy of Northwest Airlines six days to reach Thailand. One of us anxiously expressed her worst fears that we would not have seats on all of the six flights we attempted. We pep-talked her to reprogram herself to create “space” on the aircraft for us. Even though this six day twist put a dent in our plans, it taught me that nothing planned ever happens according to plan. Not exactly. But there is an even better plan out there if we just enjoy each moment in the present long enough to discover that fate is rooting for us. But I wasn’t there yet. I was about to experience the stress of travelling in threes and trying to catch up to the trip which Audrey had started 6 days prior.

First stop, Busy Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand, photo by Carmelina

First stop, Busy Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand, photo by Carmelina

Bangkok’s busy streets, standing Buddha and fresh fruit smoothies were exciting but we knew we had to waste afternoons in travel agencies making plans for the week ahead. Somehow the beaches were calling out “calm, here”. Ko Chang was one of the closest beach reprieves from Bangkok. We booked an advertised 3 and a half hour van ride which turned into a 5 hour reality bus followed by a short ferry over to the relaxing island. The sunsets were spectacular and our favourite place to eat was the “Treehouse” Restaurant which we climbed up to the platform and waited for our food to arrive while lounging in a hammock.

Ko Chang, one of the closest beaches outside of Bangkok.

Ko Chang, one of the closest beaches outside of Bangkok.

Thailand turned out to be the beginning of my seeking calm inside and out. But it would take a month before I felt my shoulders unshrug and I began to chillax. It would take an unplanned, four month sabbatical in Thailand with an unscheduled stop in Malaysia to change my life forever.After climbing the ladder to the Treehouse Restaurant in Koh Chang, we relaxed in hammocks and enjoyed the very best crispy spinach. A half day trip from Bangkok by bus and ferry. Photo by Carmelina

After Koh Chang, we headed back to the mainland and booked train tickets to the north and explored in the intermittent rain. Within a week, we flew south to Phuket to the much anticipated beaches that did not disappoint. October’s rainy season lingered longer than the Lonely Planet guide books had mentioned and we sometimes felt “stuck” because the other side of Thailand in the Janguat province of Surat Thani (southern Gulf of Thailand), the full moon party island of Ko Pha Ngan, was covered in rain and mud. But as soon as we stuck around long enough at Phuket’s Kata Beach, we discovered that getting qualified with scuba diving courses would help pass the time. What lay below the surface of the Andaman Sea, was a treasure trove of beauty. Within the first thirty seconds of delving beneath the sea and looking up at the sun streaming through the depths, I felt a shift happen that made me feel like the “new” refreshed me had returned. The gratitude was just pouring out of my every pore and changed my perspectve of my journey. Scuba Diving was the first time I was relieved of all thought in a very long time. It hadn’t taken years to reclaim who I was, it took seconds of thoughtlessness. I could have scuba-dived forever, just to get that feeling inside to spark up again. I felt that everything in that glorious sea was created just for my enjoyment. I felt one with the sea and a deep, grateful appreciation for being able to absorb fully the joy.

Scuba Diving in the Andaman Sea, Thailand with a school of fish that respectfully kept their distance, but mimicked our every move. Photo by Gunner Eggers

Scuba Diving in the Andaman Sea, Thailand with a school of fish that respectfully kept their distance, but mimicked our every move. Photo by Gunner Eggers

Obviously, I could not continue scuba diving indefinitely just to get that feeling. So again, I was faced with how to sustain that feeling of bliss and block any negativity that got in the way. Fighting the negativity was exhausting and did not make me feel positive. But I fought it plenty. I blamed others because in a room full of positivity, one negative person or thing could consume my feeling of well-being. I fought with myself too, trying to dispel feelings of life wasted, resentment, failure, time wasted, and feeling guilty for trying find my own selfish happiness formula. I was visiting Buddhist temples looking for a sign, serene beaches and conversing with people who were on their own seeking paths. Travelling for travelling sake and checking off destinations didn’t seem to be the overall goal. What everybody seemed to be seeking was happiness and collectivity in a mostly Buddhist country. Thailand was the hope trip that revealed to me that happiness was not a selfish act but actually my birthright.

Peace in the Andaman Sea, photo of Paula, article by Paula Erskine

Peace in the Andaman Sea, photo of Paula, article by Paula Erskine

Many of the challenges I have experienced were growth spurts in disguise. With every test, I drew on my philosophic tendencies to reflect on solutions to each segment of my life. Within a year of returning back to Canada from Thailand, I found myself searching again for a way to deal with people and life in a peaceful manner. I had experienced a shift of consciousness while scuba diving but still did not know how to maintain that feeling of wellness through every aspect of my life. I can only say that after 30 seconds, I felt like my “self” again. I was seeking to feel like I used to.  I felt like it was a hint of a gift that the feeling I am seeking is there and attainable. But I still did not know how to hang on to it. I had visited numerous Buddhist temples and have read many books with beautiful quotes and stories to learn from. I had tremendous admiration for Buddha and other cultures prophets that perhaps in combination could somehow form  the key to my happiness. Then I don’t know quite how I found it, but somewhere in my seeking the great search, I saw an ad for a free yoga class around the corner of my house and found out that there would be meditation also. I had nothing to lose. I packed my runners and yoga mat and was greeted very warmly. I was asked to remove my shoes and ended up sitting comfortably in a chair. It was a peaceful place that lead me through a guided meditation which felt very good and something I could handle. I brought a friend, and enjoyed learning about the chakras, or energy wheels in the body that govern different organs and parts of the body. I paid close attention and attended with pleasure. It felt like I was getting to the root of my problems and was about to find the solutions.

I have found the destination in the form of a sustainable, truthful, transformative meditation around the corner from my house. Nobody charged me money or told me what to feel. But three classes in, I returned home to tell my new Russian husband, (that I had met backpacking, but that’s another story), about how peaceful I felt. Suddenly, a charge of energy, like a waterfall, surged up through my torso up through my head and I stood up with excitement. When I stood up I felt my whole body energized to reveal that I had received the enlightenment, the connection that Buddha had sought his entire life.

Now this was an experience that I felt compelled to pursue. It gave me that feeling I found under the sea but a thousand times more powerful. It was portable and permeating because it happened following the meditation class. Since then, I have come to discover these sensations are known in Sahaja Yoga as vibrations and have helped me to feel that bliss when I am meditating, collective, listening to music, watching inspiring movies, socializing, spending time in nature and scuba diving of course! It was as I suspected the key to discovering how everything and everyone is connected! The key could be discovered spontaneously and with a simple moment where a gap in the thoughts allows one to feel the oneness and the flow happening inside. My thoughts pulled me back and forth from past to futuristic thinking and interfered with my enjoyment of the present. I was able to identify the root of my problems and was gifted the solution on how to not only cope with stress but to enjoy a path that is built on happiness.

I have since learned that timeless, inspired works of art or nature, including the underwater “art museum” I experienced, had the power to stop my thoughts long enough for me to experience a shift. I returned to feeling like myself again. I was very comfortable in water, so fear was not a factor when it came to scuba diving. I was innocently just interested in an adventure with my friends and trying something new. Which is why when I started watching Jacques Yves Cousteau’s documentaries with my husband, post-Thailand, a flood of vibrations filled me up with such enjoyment! Was Jacques Yves Cousteau perhaps, a realized soul? Was I connecting to the excitement of scuba diving through powerful, adventurous music and underwater images? Then I had an epiphany. Scuba diving was my first meditation.

A cleansing waterfall, Koh Chang  island, 4 hours away from Bangkok, Thailand, accessible by ferry.

A cleansing waterfall, Koh Chang island, 4 hours away from Bangkok, Thailand, accessible by ferry.

This bliss can be felt in the fourth dimension which is “ours” to discover in this lifetime. The space between the thoughts that battle for our attention between past conditionings and worrying about the future is the door to paradise that William Blake has described in his poetry. “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite.” The space of “thoughtlessness” occurs in the “present” and through the awakening of kundalini energy (the sacred energy within everyone) I was granted with the feeling of connection. My perspective was changed forever for the better. Conditionings don’t define me anymore, but I have to “sweep” my mind of them daily. The future does not exist, so when I get into planning or anxiety mode, I take a few seconds to clear the “I”-ness out of my system so I stay the course of just enjoying the present and maintaining a balanced state. I learned for the first time in this simple, spontaneous experience of meditating collectively, that Yoga actually means union, meaning union with the divine. In my personal experience living in the western world, I had never taken an exercise, or yoga or any other type of class that had ever alluded to this union. In one fell swoop of a cool breeze, I felt the union with others and nature. It made me feel the physical proof that I had just plugged in to to the infinite realm. I am the spirit, which is eternal and resides in the heart. At last, I had found the answers to all my questions and the source of unending happiness.

Photos and article by Paula Erskine

Searching for Enlightenment, Bangkok, photo of Paula Erskine and Fatima by Carmelina

A few things I learned in this spontaneous meditation method is to forgive my past, forgive everyone including myself so that I can start with a fresh slate. Guilt and fear are myths that we create in our minds. Reconnecting with the enlightened brain through the present is the source of truth and a “cleansed” perspective. If I collect anything in this life now, it is the tangible feeling of joy and happiness. I am not alone in this journey. This is the destination that evolved my personality to a whole new level. For me, it affirms Dr. Carl Gustav Jungs findings that we can tap into a collective consciousness that gives us a sense of oneness. A feeling that there is an organized love that has gifted this beautiful earth for our enjoyment is evident. I have access to the tools for coping with life when setbacks and mini-dramas try to suck me back in to my old, reactive and conditioned responses. Maintaining a healthy meditation practice helps me to grow within a proven happiness formula that is not limited by the mind. Now I know that the balance actually refers to an inward journey through the present. I don’t leave home without it for it is always within me and built to share. And by the way, you have it too.

Try your own “Experiment with Truth” by taking the meditation course for free online at http://www.freemeditation.com
I enjoy the “Meditation for Beginners” video as well. Since even more can be felt when meditating collectively
you can join a free class, anywhere in the world, just check the website for more locations. Try the classes for
two months and see how you feel.

Another great website is http://www.free-meditation.ca

Sahaja Yoga is now a UNESCO partner for peace.

Croatia’s Beaches on Krk Island can be “A Pound of Therapeutic Dirt”

Muddy Escape to Klimno

Add Klimno beach bay area in the Bay of Kvarner on the island of Krk in the Primorje (Preemorryeh) region of Croatia to your list of reasons to visit Croatia with direct flights from Toronto at http://www.airtransat.com.  This beach is unique to even to Krk’s pristine, rocky and crystal clear beaches because of it’s healing mud and you can expect the shallow waters to be much warmer than other bodies of water. In mid-summer, it can feel like a bathtub! If you are like some of my relatives that prefer warmer water and sun for their joints, this is the place to visit and makes a great day trip.

For those planning trips earlier than peak season, around June, or after the madding crowds have thinned in September and October,  guesthouses throughout Croatia are significantly cheaper. Even the beginning of July you can still get good prices on rentals at private residences. September and October, the prices for rooms or “apartmans” drop collectively according to the tourist rates set by the board. Even in mid-season, you generally don’t pay per person, so you can get an apartment for two couples for the equivalent of 75-100 Euros which is very reasonable.

The shallow waters of Klimno are also ideal for families playing a game of “Pitzigeen” with a tiny ball in a wide circle and diving and volleying to keep the ball in the air. The game is a cross between water polo and volleyball, passing on scoring, in lieu of splashing. You can pack a picnic with your taxi boat or load up the car and drive across the bridge near Rijeka and follow the well marked signs and roundabouts.

Klimno can be reached by taxi boat from Selce, boat tour, or by car by crossing the bridge where Rijeka airport is located on the island of Krk. Unlike other pristine rock beaches typical of Croatia’s coast and islands, this area boasts therapeutic mud to cure anything from sports injuries, to arthritic complaints. It is also has great detoxifying properties when applied topically and deep cleans your pores. The sea is a plethora of curing properties in itself, cradling us in it’s elemental salt and minerals and purifying our soul. The mud and sea draw out aches, pains, impurities, negativity, and fill us up with positivity.

I was told to let the black mud dry on the skin in the sun which is part of the healing process. Enter the Adriatic Sea which is quite shallow here, rinse and repeat 2 more times for maximum benefits. Luckily, I had my wonderful Uncle Zvonko take us there by fishing boat.  We laughed and smothered ourselves in mud pits. The mud pits are tricky, so be careful with children and just dip from the shallow puddles of mud to be on the safe side, rather than immersing yourself into the deep pools.

Easily accessible from Selce or Crikvenica with some tours offered which include this beach. Don’t want to do the mass tour thing? Hire your own taxi boat and make a half day of it. A word of warning, you will have a faint, peculiar smell coming off your pores for about 2-3 days.  So, don’t do what I do and go on a lengthy road trip with your cousin…unless you roll your windows down. All that cleansing smells like a pound of dirt!

After our day trip, we parked my Uncle Zvonko’s boat near the red posted pier and ate the best grilled calamari (squid in English, or lignje-Leegnyeh in Croatian) I have ever had. While waiting for our savoury soups, I tried to gently shoo 3 wasps from drinking from my bitter lemon soda pop bottle. The waiter assured me they were domestic wasps with a wink. So I poured bitter lemon into a small dish on the side and slowly lured them away from the table.

Dinner ended with a final dip in the water and the start of the big “Bura”, or big winds where we fought against waves in his teensy boat. Fortunately, halfway to Selce, the waves subsided and the wind picked up as we made our way back to Selce by night. My Uncle is a very experienced fisherman, and we waited a little too long to get back to the mainland. We lived to tell the tale, but there was a lot of praying going on.

It is very important to consult the locals, the fisherman on matters of the winds, the “Bura” and take the car when the occasional weather change happens. The wind can look harmless and be fine to swim in from the shore, but avoid taking kayaks, floating beds or inexperienced boat trips which can carry you away.

To enjoy earth’s gifts, we have to respect that we can never conquer it.  The panoramic view of the village of Selce, our mainland refuge, can be enjoyed incoming from Krk, usually a 45 minute-1 hour ride. We would have strolled the riviera, but headed straight for bed after a day in the healing mud, sea and sun.

There are many more places to visit on Krk Island, like Vrbnik (a village built on cliffs), with a pirate ship and glass bottom boat tour from the charming village of Selce. The town of Krk, Baska (Bashka), and many more villages on Krk are as unique as the changing landscapes shaped by the sea. For more great places to visit in Croatia and around the world, please explore this world loving blog and let me know where you have enjoyed travelling.