The musings of a wanderer......

Month: May 2016

Pompeii Italy

Way, way back on August 24, 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered the surrounding villages in deep layers of ash, killing an estimated 11000 residents. It is believed that some 25 meters of ash fell on the city over some 6 hours. The town would remain covered under ash until it was rediscovered in the late 1500’s. Excavations in the area didn’t take place until the 1700’s. Artifacts from the time of eruption remain very well preserved due to the lack of air and moisture given that they were covered under so many meters of ash.

Today Pompeii Italy is a UNESCO site and a huge tourist attraction. It is an easy day trip from Rome. I booked into a tour group for the day and ended up part of a large bus tour- with some 50 other people. Normally this is a great way to meet other travelers, but not so much on this particular tour as myself and an older Asian man were the only solo travelers of the group. The bus drove south a little over 2 hours to the port of Naples. The countryside along the way was green with rolling hills in the distance. After a quick stop off and photo session at the port we carried on another 30 minutes to the town of Pompeii. Before touring the ruins we stopped off for lunch as it was included in the tour price. I was seated with a large family from California. They were a couple in their 50’s with their teenage daughter, their older son, his wife and their children and the wife’s father. And one thing was abundantly clear. This family was completely over traveling together. They were irritated with one another, and cranky, and lucky me was stuck in between it all. Thankfully, it was nothing a little mid-day wine couldn’t take care of!!

After lunch we started our walking tour of Pompeii. We broke into 2 groups of English and Spanish and set off with the many, many other tour groups. The tour started at the gymnasium of Pompeii where the gladiators slept in cell like rooms with views of Mount Vesuvius in the distance. Much of the site was under reconstruction during my visit, which meant that a lot of it was fenced off making it difficult to take photos. I was surprised that it didn’t look much different than other ruin sites I have visited. To be honest if I hadn’t of known I never would’ve thought the ruins had laid buried under so many feet of ash for nearly 2000 years.

There were intricately carved original fountains in the street, and because it would flood when it rained there were stepping stones built across the streets so pedestrians could hop their way across to avoid soaking their feet. Spaces were left in between these stepping stones to allow chariots to be able to cross. The forethought put into the design of Pompeii was impressive, and as you wandered the old street it was easy to imagine what it was like when the city was inhabited. We visited a 5 bedroom brothel with faded original erotic frescoes that had some people on our tour blushing. I took it more as a menu of the services one could order should one find themselves in a brothel. Nonetheless they were intriguing, and smartly the brothel was opposite the local watering hole. This only further confirms that residents of Pompeii past were geniuses. Also surprisingly they had running water back at that time, and we were shown some original lead pipes. Sadly, they were not aware that lead was poisonous back then, but honestly lead poisoning was the least of their worries!













Our tour wound thru the streets past a bakery, and past another brothel which was identifiable by the penis shaped carving in the street out front that pointed towards the  house. Sneaky sneaky. We visited the male bathhouse which had beautiful statue carvings and an enormous marble fountain. We toured a large house that was likely owned by a wealthy family as it was by far the largest home we saw- some 3000sq/ft with an upstairs level and a colourfully recreated mosaic floor. We then made our way to the Forum which is the main square where the ruins of the Temple of Apollo and Juniper are located with some of the pillars and arches still standing. Along the main square is a small exhibit of artifacts found during the excavations- mostly household items like jugs and jars. I hadn’t done much research before the tour but in my head I had expected to see the skeletons of some of the 11000 residents that died during the eruption. There was the skeleton of a dog that died, but apparently the other skeletons are on exhibit in Naples and in other museums abroad. Sometimes we get an idea in our head about how a place is going to be, and then it ends up being somewhat different. Pompeii was very much like that for me. After spending a couple hours walking around Pompeii it was time to get back on the bus to Rome.













Overall, it was a great day trip. Being one of the only solo travelers normally wouldn’t bother me, but there was an older gentleman on the tour who took an interest in my being solo, and not really in a positive way. He was very sweet and offered to take my photo a few times on the tour but he commented several times about how sorry he was that I was traveling on my own. At one point he even commented to one of his family members and said “poor thing is here alone.” As though I hadn’t actually chosen to take the trip alone. Truth be told, that was the only time during my entire trip in Italy that I felt self conscious of being alone. Normally people comment about how brave and empowering it is for a woman to travel solo as opposed to feeling sorry for me. Honestly it was a bit of a bummer for me. Thankfully I did another day trip when I was in Florence and had a totally different experience!!

Next up Florence…….

Rome Italy

Back in March I spent 11 days in Italy. Solo. And it was fantastic. When I was planning this trip I knew I was in need of some down time. Granted I wanted to see the sites, and eat delicious food, but I also wanted to do some writing, sip cappuccinos, read, and move more slowly. I wanted to explore, but equally so I wanted some down time. Instead of trying to pack as much in as I possibly could I decided to split my time between Rome and Florence, and allow for a couple day trips to Pompeii and to the Tuscan countryside. I knew I couldn’t fit everything that I want to see in Italy into 11 days, so I didn’t even try to. The older I get the more I appreciate slow travel. Allowing time to immerse myself into a place.

I flew from Riyadh to Rome with a quick stop-over in Athens. I had time in Rome both at the start and end of the trip. On my arrival I booked a cute hotel called the Nerva Boutique Hotel which was very close to many tourist attractions. I’ve found that I’d rather pay to stay somewhere more central (especially when I’m traveling solo) than to waste time on public transport to get to a city center. Also I love being able to walk wherever I want to go from my hotel, and being surrounded by shops and restaurants and cafes helps with gelato cravings. Which trust me you will have daily or several times a day when in Italy!!

My first afternoon in Rome was spent catching up with a girl I met 7 years earlier in Costa Rica and her husband who happened to be traveling in Rome at the same time. They share my love of travel, and it was great to ponder the age old question of “what should I do with my life?” with people who understand how difficult decisions are when literally everything is an option. Move to Mexico for 6 months? Go back to Seattle? Stay in Saudi another year? Try out Vancouver? The options are endless and all legit options which makes trying to choose one all the more difficult. Regardless, it was great to have that first afternoon flow so easily with great company.

My first full day in Rome started with an awesome breakfast at my hotel and a lovely conversation with an American girl who was eating next to me. We connected over my American/Canadian accent and fell into an easy conversation. She invited me to meet her for dinner as her parents were flying in later that afternoon. They would become my adopted family of sorts during my time in Rome. We parted ways and I headed towards the Vatican.

The Vatican Museums are enormous. I bought a ticket ahead of time thru my hotel- and I’m sure glad I did because the lines were insane. So. Many. People. Tour buses, and school trips, and a mix mash of languages compacted within the small lobby. I opted to do the audio-tour and started off. The highlights for me was the Museo Egizio which had a spectacular exhibit of Egyptian artifacts, and made me want to go back to Egypt. The Galleria Chiaramonti which had hundreds of busts and statues lining a long hallway. The Sala Rotonda was a beautifully painted room with a stunning mosaic floor surrounded by huge statues. Then of course there is the Sistine Chapel- which was packed with people and didn’t allow photos. The Vatican Museums are a great way to spent most of the day, but it’s overwhelming. I then headed to St Peter’s Basilica. I walked up to the Dome of St Peter’s which I would highly recommend. The view is breathtaking, as is the climb up which involves a spiraling narrow staircase. After making my way back down I spent some time exploring the Basilica itself which was built by Michelangelo and completed in 1626. It is impressive to say the least, but I would recommend doing the museums and the Basilica on separate days. It’s really quite overwhelming to pack it into one day like I did, and I don’t think I fully appreciated it as my eyes had seen so many beautiful things that day.

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I spent another day touring the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. The Colosseum was completed in 80 AD and was cool, but Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum blew my mind. Every direction was a picture perfect view. You could easily spend an entire morning or afternoon here. Wear good walking shoes because you will need them. I knew next to nothing about Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, which in hindsight it would’ve been helpful to have done some research. I would recommend going as part of a tour as you’ll get the full history of the site. I visited solo, and just referred to my Lonely Planet guide to fill in the blanks. The Roman Forum is a plaza surrounded by old shrines and temples dating back to the 7th century BC. Some of the temples you can go inside, and you can see the remains of pillars and statues dotting the grassy areas. There are some spectacular view points on the way to Palatine Hill looking back towards the Roman Forum. Palatine Hill was a residential area for the upper class. You can buy a combination ticket for all 3 sites. I would recommend bypassing the massive cue for tickets outside of the Colosseum and purchasing tickets further up the road where there are far less people (3 when I went as opposed to hundreds in front of the Colosseum.)

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Rome is littered with old ruins, churches and museums. I spent time stumbling across old ruins and visiting museums. And of course eating delicious food and getting my daily fix of gelato. A few of the standout things I stumbled on are the Largo di Torre Argentina a ruin site full of stray cats. Most of them were napping or sunning themselves. I read somewhere that there are some 250 of them. It makes for an entertaining stop-off. The Galleria Doria Pamphilj is an old Venetian palace that’s privately owned and showcases a bunch of art work and statues. The rooms are beautifully decorated and the audio guide gives a thorough history of the family and the building. The Church Chiesa di Sant Ignazio di Loyola is hands down my favourite church I’ve ever stepped foot in. There is a fake fresco painted dome on the roof giving it the appearance that it’s much larger than it actually was. There were 4 very unique paintings on the roof depicting Africa, Asia, America and Europe. The best part though was that there was an art exhibit inside the church. The art exhibit was called “To the Roots of Life” and consisted of different life sized copper sculpted trees lit from the floor in various parts of the sanctuary. They were beautiful to look at and the lighting cast shadows across the floors and walls. I found it mesmerizing and very calming. One afternoon I made my way to Trevi fountain which was packed with tourists and their selfie sticks. I loath selfie sticks.

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A few of the evenings I met up with my new adoptive family for dinner and shared some wine and many laughs. Upon my return to Rome from Florence I stayed 2 more nights in Rome. This time though I stayed near the Pantheon. When I say “near” the Pantheon I mean I used some hotel credits I had and booked a room that overlooked the Pantheon and the square below. It was awesome!!! My last 2 days in Rome were spent mostly relaxing. I walked over to the Vatican to mail some postcards. I visited the Castel Saint Angelo an old fortress castle with amazing city views. My last night was spent in the company of a lovely couple from Texas and 4 delicious bottles of Chianti. If that’s not a proper sent off from Italy I’m not sure what is.

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Changing Plans……

The past 2 weeks have been a whirlwind of ever changing plans, so I thought I would update you about my latest ones. I had been planning on leaving Saudi Arabia in August to come back to Canada and the U.S. before flying to Europe in early September to walk the Camino de Santiago with my pops for 5-6 weeks depending on how fast our legs move. Then I was going to hang out in Europe and meet my best friend in November to go to Iran. But alas, somethings never go as planned…….

A couple weeks ago I was working with a Pakistani nurse and it was pay day and this nurse said to me how she was excited because it was her “double salary month.” And I was like “double salary month?? What the heck is that?” And she informed me that apparently per our contract we get a months salary as a bonus when we re-contract. Naturally I was skeptical because I re-contracted last year and got no such thing. Upon further investigation I learned that I was due to get the extra months salary as a bonus upon my contract completion. But here’s the kicker……you have to work until your final contract date. Leave even one day early and you  forfeit the entire thing.

This presented a huge problem for my as my contract end date isn’t until mid September. I was planning on leaving early to head home to Canada to get in some proper hiking and get supplies for pops and my hike, and to drop off my belongings. The Camino de Santiago is an old pilgrimage route that starts on the French border and goes 800km to the Spanish city of Santiago. For obvious weather related issues, it’s better for us to walk it earlier  as opposed to later in September. I will have some unused leave, so at present my last working day in Saudi will be September 14, which means likely around the 16th of September I’ll fly to Europe to stow whatever belongings I haven’t shipped and meet my pops in France to start our pilgrimage. This will likely take me until the end of October/beginning of November which means Iran has been bumped until the spring. I’m planning on staying in Europe until around Christmastime and am looking into house sitting gigs, but if nothing turns up I’ll likely rent an apartment for 6-8 weeks. My Europe plans are very lose at the moment. I’m currently thinking about basing myself in Paris, but that could very well change!

Since I won’t have a chance to go home in between finishing in Saudi and starting our walk I’ve decided to fly home for a visit at the end of June. I’ll be spending a week in Warsaw Poland solo in early June, coming back to Saudi to work for a week and then flying to Canada for 5 nights and Seattle for 10 or so. That way I can get hiking supplies like shoes, a sleeping bag, and a long list of other necessities, and get some actual hiking in. Since the daytime temps here in Saudi are already above 40C/100F it’s going to make training outside of the gym rather difficult, but I’ll do the best I can! For those of you not familiar with the Camino de Santiago I’ll be blogging more about it soon, rest assured!!

So that’s the latest in my life. I do have some rather unpleasant news about expat life in Saudi. Last week Facebook calling and video calling was blocked, which is a real bummer because that was the primary way I spoke with my mom as I find Skype not great here, and she doesn’t have an iPhone. There are many rumors going around that as of the 26th of this month all internet based calling apps will be blocked. Whatsapp calling is already blocked, but the rumored list includes Skype and FaceTime as well. I’m not exactly sure why they would want to alienate the literally millions of expat workers here who rely on these apps to communicate with their loved ones in their home countries. If this is true I’m especially glad I’ll be leaving in a few months as having to rely on paying to make calls from my cell phone is super pricey. To give you an example if I call the U.S. to speak to my bank and I’m on the phone for 15min it will easily cost me 40riyals which is close to $10 U.S. Saudi Arabia is facing an economic crisis so I’m sure this is just a crafty way to recoup money but it’s going to be especially difficult for so many of the nurses I work with who rely on daily video calls back to the Philippines or India to be able to see their young children.  I really hope that it’s all just rumor, or we find the loophole around it. Fingers crossed.

Anyways, that’s all for now. More to come!!

Nursing Vent

I wrote this post a while ago, but wasn’t sure as to whether I should post it seeing as my blog mostly pertains to travel. I rarely talk about work, although many of my readers are, like me, nurses. This past week was Nurses Week, and so in light of that I’ve decided to post it. To shine a light on what nurses actually do. You’ve been warned- cause this is a bit of a nursing vent. A while back someone asked me if I had the day off and I said “yes. I’m off today and tomorrow.” To which they replied “must be nice.” Even though that week I was working 60hours. Apparently my two days off were considered something of a luxury and not an actual deserved two days off. For years I’ve put up with comments like this. Almost every guy I’ve ever dated and several of my non-nursing friends have made cracks or comments about my work hours. Comments like “must be nice to have so many days off.” Or “well really you only work part-time.” Most of the time I just laugh it off, because it is true we do get more days off than the average person. But don’t kid yourself, nurses also work much longer hours than the average person does.

Back home on average nurses in Canada and the US work around a 36hr week. That’s considered full-time. In the US that’s usually three 12hr shifts which normally are actually 12.5hrs with a 30min meal break and a couple 15 min coffee breaks if you have luck on your side. Typically from the time I left for work and returned home I was gone 14-14.5hrs. In Canada typically it’s a rotating shift of two 12hr day shifts and then two 12hr nights shifts with four to five days off. Four or five days off you say- sounds like a dream right?! Well trust me it’s far from a dream. That flip flopping from nights back to days wreaks havoc on your body. Those first couple days off are a waste of time, and when you’re in the middle of that four day stretch you have very little time for yourself, a life, or your family. I actually dread thinking of going back to Canada and having to work that schedule again.

Here in Saudi I work a 44hr week which consists of two or three 12.5hr shifts one week and five the next, usually with an hour break. Personally, I far prefer 12hr shifts to 8hr ones because I couldn’t emotionally rally to come to work five days a week, every week. Nursing is both physically and emotionally draining. If you can image I literally spend my entire day getting people stuff. Pain medications, ice, IV fluids, whatever the doctor needs, nausea medications, towels ect. Over and over again. At any time I can be juggling (depending on where I’m working) between 3-5 acutely ill patients. Coordinating with their families, the physicians and the numerous procedures that are scheduled that day. I’m fitting in multiple medications and routes of medications, assisting patients with meals, assisting them to bath, rounding with doctors, correcting critical lab results, monitoring potential problems, and sometimes very literally trying to prevent a patient from dying. I’m on my feet for long hours. Having to fight with the limited supplies and resources that come with the job. And since shit always rolls down hill most things that go wrong in a hospital are blamed on the nurse, or fall on the nurse to do.  Lab didn’t come to draw labs- get the nurse to do it. Physical therapy isn’t available to ambulate a post-op- the nurse can do it. The doctor didn’t come when they said they would- blame the nurse.  Because here’s the other thing. A nurses role overlaps with many other professions, meaning that nurses can do large parts of other professions jobs, but they can’t do large parts of our job. I can draw labs off my patient if the lab isn’t available, ambulate my patient if physical therapy is too busy, give respiratory treatments if a respiratory therapist can’t come. We depend on the support services to help us do our job, but sometimes have to get by on our own.

Often when I’m taking care of one patient I’m mentally planning out what needs to be done for the other ones down the hall. Making a mental list in my head about what I need to remind the doctors to order and the labs I need to follow-up on. That I need to call about Room 2’s MRI, and that I need to call infectious disease to see about getting Room 8 off isolation, that it’s time to start Room 68’s feeding, and that Room 2 is going to call for her pain medications. That it’s time to do Room 62’s dressing. That I told the care assistant I’d meet her in Room 8 to turn her. And so on and so forth, day in and day out. Juggling tasks, and trying not to forget things. (Obviously these are just patient examples and not indicative of actual patients.)

But here’s the thing….for the most part I love being a nurse. I love helping people when they’re at their worst. I love being that shoulder to lean on. I love that each day is different and challenging. I love teaching patients about their illness, mentoring new nurses, and teaching new doctors about the role that nurses play in the healthcare system. I love it, but some days I’m drained. Emotionally from carrying other peoples burdens. My fellow nurses know the toll it takes to sit with a patient as they’re told that treatment has failed, and that there are no other options. To hold the hand of a relative as their loved one passes away. To be present. To bear witness to both the high points and low points of our patients lives. Nursing can also be physically draining from being on my feet for hours on end, from walking back and forth getting people things, and from lifting heavy patients up and down in bed. The point of this post was to bring light to what a nurse actually does, because I think that people who make comments like this are actually pretty clueless about what I and my fellow nurses do. We don’t just give our patients sponge baths and then kick back with our feet on the desk waiting for a doctor to tell us what to do. Working night shift and weekends kinda sucks if I’m being honest, but it’s part of the gig and so we do it because people aren’t only sick during business hours. They get sick in the middle of the night on Christmas Day and we are there to take care of them. It’s part of the job. We aren’t just working a “part-time job.”

So to my fellow nurses. Happy Nurses Week. Crack open a bottle of wine, and make sure to have a glass for me. You deserve it!!!

End. Vent.

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