a peek inside the fishbowl

18 Aug, 2019

First days in Phuket

By andrea tomkins in travel talk

I don’t like admitting this, but I was afraid. Did we make a mistake coming here? Was I cut out for this? The trip was hard on me. Simply getting here was an enormous undertaking and I found myself constantly questioning whether or not I was cut out for this kind of travel. In fact, it seriously eroded my beliefs about myself and who I am.

I’ve always said I wanted to travel. Mark and I often talk about future vacations and retirement plans. So what does it say about me that I am such an anxious traveller? And that I was finding it so hard to Just Do It? Is it because I’m old or is it something else within me that’s changed? Either way, I  was disappointed in myself. OR, was it the exhaustion and jet lag talking? I didn’t know.

We spent the morning swimming and lounging by the pool. There were butterflies everywhere, probably because this place backed on to a jungle. They were pretty to watch. Each one looked like a child’s drawing of a butterfly. Every once in awhile they dropped into the pool water – just for a split second – to catch a sip of water.

By the early afternoon, all we had managed was (another) trip to the 7-11. One of the clerks made me the best iced coffee I’d had in forever. It was so good it was life-altering. I asked my daughter to hold it for me while I paid. As I was digging around in my wallet and trying to decipher one bill from another, the clerk motioned to my daughter. She wanted to take her photo with my coffee. Daughter agreed but then felt weird about it afterward.

We talked about why the clerk asked to take a photo. I thought it was funny and interesting. You see, I had considered asking a fellow at a nearby durian stand to pose for a photo as well. Why do we want to take photos of foreign people doing foreign things? Clearly the desire to do so goes both ways.

Later that afternoon we decided to take a stab at walking to Patong Beach. Here’s where I should mention the godsend that is Google Maps. Until now, I had no idea you could offload a map segment and use it offline. It was so helpful! We always knew where we were going without needing to tap into our roaming package (which was a daily rate but only if we turned it on). This eliminated a heap of anxiety for me.

It was still very hot but the worst of it was finally waning and the youngest seemed well enough to venture forth. We promised ourselves we wouldn’t overdo it, so we set out.

The beach was a 25-minute walk from our AirBnb but we spent at least 10 minutes of that trying to cross busy intersections between streams of traffic. There were no walk signals or no crosswalks. It was a hot walk, and er, quite pungent in parts. It was easy to lose focus on the path ahead – literally, a path, as there were no sidewalks for at least half of the walk to Patong Beach. There were distractions everywhere. If it wasn’t a pot hole, cracks and crumbling curbs, cars, motorbikes, it was the food vendors and shop keepers trying to get our attention (“Thai massage?” “Come and look at our menu!”). I saw a guy on a motorbike carrying a 40″ TV. I saw grandmothers pulling carts of fruit. I saw laughing school children in smart matching uniforms. I saw birds in cages. I saw glass bottles of gasoline lined up on thin wooden shelves. I saw stray cats and dogs, shrines with offerings of soda pop, children playing on hoverboards. I looked up and saw tangled spools of phone/cable/? wire on every pole.

Road to Patong Beach (look at those wires!)

Motorbikes along the road to Patong Beach

Finally! A sidewalk! (Patong Beach district)

Road to Patong Beach

The simple act of walking down the street was a multisensory assault. The cacophony of life blared at us from all sides, at a volume that was very hard to get used to. Add to that, of course, the discomforting feeling of the river of sweat pouring down my back.

Of course, that all didn’t matter very much when we finally saw the beach.

(Want to read the previous posts in the Thailand series? Click here.)


17 Aug, 2019

Weekend reading: August 17 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night: A Novel

I’m posting this today in case you are looking for something to do that includes a good drive, good food, good views, and a good hike. Spoiler alert: This outing covers all of those things!

Last weekend Mark and I drove to the Calabogie area to check out the trail to Eagle’s Nest Lookout. It’s been on my Ottawa bucket list forever and I’m happy to say we did it.

It takes about an hour to get there and it’s a pretty drive through the Ottawa Valley (anyone who ever went for Sunday drives as a kid will appreciate where I’m coming from.) There are a few restaurants in Calabogie and since we were arriving around lunch we opted for the Redneck Bistro. I knew we’d find something good on the menu – honestly, there is something for everyone here – and it had a ton of great reviews on Trip Advisor, so it was a pretty much a done deal.

There is an outdoor patio but we opted for indoor AC as it was a hot day.

Mark ordered a burger and fries (SO.MANY.FRIES.) and I chose the crispy spicy chicken sandwich in wrap format with a side salad. The sandwich was very good and the salad was surprisingly sophisticated for a place called the Redneck Bistro.

Lunch at the Redneck Bistro, Calabogie

It was exactly what I needed. It’s worth noting that there is a good beer menu here as well, but since we were heading out for a hike I didn’t think that a lunchtime pint was a very good idea.

I repointed our GPS to Eagle’s Nest lookout trail but we saw signs for it along the road before we got to our final destination point. There were other cars parked along the road so pulled over and took this route too. (I’m assuming there are multiple places to park and reach the lookout.)

There’s a large sign at the beginning of the trail. Eagle’s Nest Lookout is part of the Manitou Mountain Trail Network, which is 9 km long. Eagle’s Nest is a 1.5 km segment of the larger trail network and, according to the sign, takes 25 minutes to hike in one direction. (This estimate was fairly accurate.)

I would also like to mention the Eagle’s Nest trail is dog-friendly! Dogs are allowed here, and we saw quite a few. We also spotted some other creatures, including this guy, who was imitating a cobra, but not nearly so dangerous:

Garter snake!

Happily, the trail wasn’t as steep as I expected, which is great considering there was a massive plate of food in my belly. In fact, I thought we made a wrong turn because we were actually going downhill at one point. Overall, I’d say it’s a relatively easy hike although proper footwear is key since the path is rocky in parts. Bring water too!

The trail is clearly marked and if you stick to the main path, which is very obvious, you won’t get lost (this is always a fear of mine).

Eagle's Nest trail terrain

Hike to Eagle's Nest Lookout

You will be at the lookout before you know it!

It’s important to note that this is a sacred site, so please be respectful. When you reach the top, take a moment to take a few deep breaths and express your gratitude to the god of your choosing.

You made it. Isn’t it great to be alive?

Hike to Eagle's Nest Lookout

10 Aug, 2019

A failed excursion to find lunch

By andrea tomkins in travel talk

In my last installment, I wrote about finding solace at the 7-11 near our place in Phuket, Thailand. We grabbed dinner, ate, and conked out.

My daughter slept so hard it was almost as if she was in a coma. I woke up around midnight with a splitting headache. I groped around the darkness for Advils, chugged some water and somehow fell back asleep, waking up around 5 a.m. for good. She woke up about an hour later. We made toast and went to relax by the pool in our complex.

Bayshore Ocean View (Patong) pool

Our plan was to eat lunch in the restaurant there (the website promised a swim-up bar as well) and gather up our strength. By 1 p.m. we realized the restaurant wasn’t going to open so we set out on foot to find something to eat.

The main street here is narrow and busy, with lots of traffic. Unless you are closer to the beach and the main business area, sidewalks are practically non-existent. The streets are lined with shops and restaurants and there’s one right after another, crammed together, almost spilling right onto the road. It quickly became clear that staying focused and watching our step was a key point to our survival, but it was hard not to be distracted by the sights and sounds around us. Oh, and did I mention it was absolutely stinking hot?

Walking our street in Patong

Patong street view

Bird in a cage, Patong

Lunch was our goal but in truth, our appetites were put on hold and at the moment, I didn’t see when/if I’d ever be hungry again. But we had to eat, right? We found a restaurant nearby that had patio seating overlooking the street, sat down, and ordered. The youngest opted for a Coke (frankly, she needed it) and I chose hot tea. It was delicious. We both ordered Pad Thai.

Our first lunch in Patong

She took two bites and I noticed she was almost swallowed up by the sheer exhaustion of it all so we took it to go. I wasn’t feeling great either.

On the bright side, at least we had dinner.

We trudged back home in the steaming heat of the day and dropped back into bed. Possibly we had taken on too much too soon.

Later we sat on our balcony and watched as evening fell and the sounds of life unfolded below us in soft layers. Baby cries, a ringtone, a shout, the buzz of a moped, punctuated the steady hum of the jungle behind our building. A whiff of smoke on the breeze drifted up towards us as the heat of the day slowly slipped away.

Sunset over Patong


10 Aug, 2019

Weekend roundup: August 10 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand: Magic Hour, by Kristin Hannah


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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


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