The Road Home: Same but Different

Bailey coloradoLast weekend I woke up in the town I had grown up in but haven’t slept in for over three decades. It was a bit jarring for when I woke up at 40, it looked the same as when I left it at 11.

I was born and raised in Bailey, Colorado, a small mountain town in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  Driving through it, you would think there were only a few restaurants and a corner gas. It’s in the winding back roads and isolating hills where the locals hang.

I took Mike to the 1/4 mile of “downtown” Bailey and showed him the Knotty Pine, which still features ice cream, hot dogs and souvenirs. We saw the Sasquatch Outpost, which used to be the Bailey General Store where I would blow my allowance on Jolly Ranchers. I drove him by my old schools and the handful of houses we rented or owned while we called Bailey home.

Bailey3Everything was the same . . . but different.

I meant up with some old friends of my parents who has kept in touch with me over the years, mostly birthday and Christmas cards. We met them for lunch and then went back to their place to watch the Kentucky Derby with some of their friends.

We sat around chatting and drinking mint juleps. We talked about what their kids are doing and their grand kids. Mike and I talked about our jobs and living in Canada.

It was the same . . . but different. We were all older and feeling the aches and pains of aging. We were all in different places of our lives — lives that haven’t involved each other in a long time, and yet it felt like talking to the neighbor you just saw yesterday.

Bailey2Most of the time we leave a toy in the front yard, never knowing that is the last time we may play with it. We get our favourite burger at the local stand, never knowing that it may be the last one.

I have left my friend’s house hundreds of times as a kid, always with the assumption that I will be back. I’ll see them at the next ballgame. But on this day, for the first time, it was different.

We hugged. Promised to write. Somewhere deep down, I think all of us knew that this was the last time.

It’s a rare moment when you can appreciate the now, know it is your last and spend seven hours soaking up everything you can. You want to remember the lunch, losing the Kentucky Derby and watching the sunset from the back yard of a Bailey friend.

It was the same. But different.

The different was the changes in the town. The people. My friends.

Me.

 

A French Classic, A New Experience & Living Life

Jambon-Beurre Sandwich - Anne is Cooking - Paris France

The food. If for no other reason, visit Paris for the food culture. 

The Paris lifestyle encourages connections while sharing a meal. Friends, family and strangers sitting hip to hip at a community table bring their own stories to flavour the eating experience.

And it can change your life . . . or at least your definition of living.

Before heading to Paris, and on a whim, I booked an experience through the popular AirBnB website. As part of an extended trial, the company that specializes in the YouEconomy, turning homeowners into hosts, have branched out into a new area. Now, local residents in select cities can offer their expertise and passion to people looking for a richer travel experience.  (AirBNB Experiences)

The experience I booked was with author Anne de la Forest to learn how to make the Jambon-Beurre (ham and butter) Sandwich — a French Classic. The only ingredients are in the name. There are no lettuce, tomato or mustard additions. Ham and butter. Simple. Classic.

I was intrigued.

Making Butter - Jambon Beurre Sandwiches - Paris - Anne is Cooking

I will admit that booking this experience was a bit out of my comfort zone. I was going to have to travel to a different part of Paris by myself while Mike was at work. I would have to meet a group of strangers and go to one of their houses. By myself. In a social situation. That involved sharing food (one of my quirks).

There was nothing in the experience description that screamed it would be a great choice for me to do on a Tuesday afternoon. In fact, everything about it said I should just stay home.

What was I doing?

Turns out, living life. It was a lesson the three other women I spent a lovely day wth on a rooftop in Paris with taught me.

Wendy, the first woman to arrive at the artisan bakery we were scheduled to meet at, walked up to me with a look of relief to see someone else lingering out front. Turns out, she got lost on the Metro and thought she missed us. Wendy was from Australia and this was her first time traveling solo. Until her husband died, she always had someone there to follow, to guide and to help. Left up to her own devices, she was learning that it was not easy to get from point A to B. She was getting lost and often found herself in problem-solving mode.

But, she said, you have to live life.

Herbed Butter and Ham Sandwiches  - Anne is CookingOur hostess showed up and was warm, gracious and chatty. She talked about what makes French breads amazing (super long proofing/holding time before baking) and that the classic Jambon-Beurre sammy’s secret is in the quality of the ingredients. 

Nothing distracts the nerves like the talk of food.

She sparked our curiousity in the baked goods and conversations with the butcher. She inquired about our vacations, cooking experience and poutine (one of her cookbooks is about fries!). She encouraged us to taste the store smoked meats and revealed tales about food in Paris.

Back at Anne’s home, we made butter from 40% French cream and a pickle sauce (relish) from her condiments recipe book. We constructed our sandwiches and climbed the stairs to her rooftop overlooking the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris (known as Sacre-Coeur Basilica or Sacre-Coeur).

Over the lavish and decadently simple fare, we shared stories of our journey to this moment. The death of a husband. The transfer of one’s career from a journalist to a French cook. A person who went to school for law but is seeking a different career with animals. And an American living in Canada who hopes to publish her first book.

Jambon Beurre AirBnB Experience“It’s why I love what I do. It’s not about running from one trend to another. It’s not about trying the lastest thing. It’s not about filling our time. It’s about the simple things in life. Simple meals. Simple atmospheres. Simple friendships. Simply living life.”

Living life.

When I booked the AirBnB experience with Anne, I knew I would leave her rooftop with a better appreciation for ham and butter sandwiches. I figured I would learn something about French food and culture in her kitchen. 

I didn’t realize I would leave her home with a better definition of the life I want to live. 

Step outside your comfort zone. It’s where life begins!

Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris - Sacre-Coeur Basilica

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Resources and Links:

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went Narrowboating

Fox Narrow Boats - UK England Canal VacationLooking for a unique adventure in England? Want to try something a bit out of your comfort zone? Narrowboating is the vacation for you.

A narrowboat or narrow boat is a long, slim boat designed to navigate the canals of England. There are companies that rent out these floating RVs for vacationers and locals seeking a break from their daily urban life.

Narrow boats, according to Wikipedia, “refers to the original working boats built in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries for carrying goods down the narrow canals.” The channels, locks and bridge holes may only be seven feet wide, hence the long, slim shape of the boat.

A narrowboat vacation may not be on the “top ten” list of things to do when visiting the UK, but it should be. It’s a slower lifestyle that takes you through the English countryside and connects you with unique, kind people.

If this appeals to you, I want to share five things I wish I had known before getting on the boat.

Narrow Boats Narrowboat England

1) The Amount of Planning and Preparation
My husband and I researched the canals we would be drifting down and the towns we would pass through. We researched what to do in the towns and the hot spot attractions.

However, there was a bit of planning we overlooked. Due to the nature of the experience, there are times you may moor in isolated areas without a grocery store within walking distance. Theres’ even a chance that the best place to moor for the evening is alongside a farm field. Making sure you have water for cooking and toilets for the next few days takes a bit of planning and forethought. Consult the waterway maps for water boxes and mooring sites. I also recommend looking up cities to see if there is a grocery store within walking distance of public moorings so that you can have enough food items on hand to have breakfast with the cows.

Salter's Lode Lock Denver Sluice
Salter’s Lode Lock – An Automated Lock to tidal waters & Denver Sluice

2) Locks Take Longer Than You Think
We used an app to chart out our course from March to Ely each day. By our request, we were only to “boat” three to four hours a day.

The app mentioned locks but it did not take into account the amount of time it takes to flood and empty the chamber.

A lock is a device used for raising and lowering boats, ships and other watercraft between stretches of water of different levels on river and canal waterways.

Locks take time to navigate and there may be a que of waiting boats. Plan for at least an hour (if not two) for EACH lock. Also, some of the locks have lockmasters that help you navigate the lock safely. Check the locks you plan to use and contact the lockmaster ahead of time for ideal time or suggested crossing time frame (such as Salter’s Lode/Denver Sluice).

3) Wash Your Hands.
The employees of Fox Narrowboats told us to wash our hands. Repeatedly. However, I think there were moments when I may have been a bit slack in the “touch a rope, wash your hands” rule. This came back to bite me in a HUGE way. I spent about eight hours within running distance of the onboard toilet. This “micro organism cleanse” cleaned me out and limited my consumption of steak and ale pies for days afterward. Wash your hands. Repeatedly.

Skipping the Narrowboat Steering4) It is Easier Than You Think
Fox Narrowboats, the company we rented our narrow boat from, went from bow to stern of the boat with us. They explained how the stove works, how to lock the boat and took us out for a test drive so we understood the steering. We left on our adventure feeling confident, but we also had their 24 hour emergency cell phone number. If anything happened, an engineer was a phone call away. Knowing how easy it is ahead of time would have saved me some anxious nights!

5) Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone is Empowering
From working through locks to navigating tidal canals to river sickness in a foreign city, the two of us found ourselves daily outside our comfort zone. We were given several opportunities to stretch our abilities, swallow our feel and say, “We will figure it out.”  At the end of each day, we high-fived each other and said “Way to go, Team Sachtjen.” Our steps outside of the comfort zone empowered us to take more. It gave us a chance to push through fear and find the gems of life on the other side.

My Narrowboat Adventure from March to ElyThe most popular question we were asked about our trip is whether or not we would do it again. Sure, there was anxiety. Yeah, I spent half a day the sickest I have ever been. However, this is still one of the coolest vacations I have ever taken. Both the hubster and I would do it again. In a heartbeat.

We are even considering a narrow boat trip through Scotland, where they have a rotating boat lift (like a giant ferris wheel) called the Falkirk Wheel.

I absolutely recommend it. Start planning it now!

Folklore, Legends & Ghosts on the English Canals

Misty mornings, creaking boats and turbulent history that goes back hundreds of years add to the mysterious allure of the English canals. 

It’s easy to get lulled into calm, relaxing beauty of the lush green counryside as you float by swans, cows and the occasional eel. But all that finery is a clevery disguise for the mystery and intrigue. 

One of the places we moored up at for the night during out narrowboat adventure from March to Ely was at the Ship Inn in Brandon Creek on the Great Ouse where it joins the Little Ouse. Built in the 1640s, the Inn has a violent history of rather macabre killings.

According to “The River Great Ouse and Tributaries” by Andrew Hunter Blair, soliders were left partly buried in the banks to drown at the mercy of the rising tide. Murderers were slowly strangled as the falling tide left them hanging in a noose.

The book goes on to say that the ghosts of the victims can be seen on misty mornings, wandering the banks.

While sitting outside of The Ship Inn, the two of us kept hearing what sounded like someon walking on the gravel behind us — yet there was nothing to be seen. No animals that we could see and I have my doubts that the wind could make the stones shift.

Luckily it rained the night we were moored outside The Ship Inn to mask the gravel footsteps. As for misty sightings, we stayed away from the windows that fine morning.

The next night, we popped into the Minster Tavern in Ely for their Wednesday night special of pies and pints only to be informed that there are several residential ghosts. The building, which was once a monk brewery, has an underground tunnel to the formidable Ely Cathedral. At night, a monk can be heard pacing upstairs and usually by 4am, he has had a pint of the bars bitters. 

Also rumoured, there are two ghosts who man the comfy chairs by the fireplace and a body in the wall of the tavern that appears over and over — no matter how many times they replace the wall.

While I believe that it is natural for our minds to create stories to explain the things we don’t understand and noises that are new to our environment, I also think there is something to be said about getting caught up in the “what if” situations. Letting the mind wonder and find alternate explainations that go beyond the creaks and thumps of a rented narrowboat. 

The Four Kilometre/Hour Life

The easiest way to get a new perspective on life involves a suitcase. Traveling has been proven to help break routines and can open the gates for creativity to flow.

Especially if your planned adventure drops the speed of life down to 4 kilometres per hour. 

As I stated in an earlier post, my husband came to me with an idea for our four-year anniversary – a trip down the England canals on a narrowboat. Narrowboats are like floating RVs, complete with kitchen and shower. They are self-contained 60 feet of house that happens to have a motor on the back.

While preparing for our trip, the two of us studied canal maps, read up on locks* and bookmarked canal-side pubs. These items helped to raise the anticipation of our upcoming adventure, preparing us for what we could expect.

What we didn’t prepare for was the boating lifestyle. 

Boating is a way of life that is unhurried and laidback. The speed in which one can get from one town to the next creeps into how you interact and react to the world around you. It is less about how much you can get done or see. It is about how you enjoyed the journey for it is a slow speed. 

When we pass a moored boat, we dropped our speed to a crawl. The general rule is to slow so that your wake doesn’t go over their “dirt line” (or the muck line made from water). You don’t want to rock their boat too much — they may be cooking.

As we “fly by”, the two of us would steal a peek at the narrowboat. More times than not, there was a friendly wave from the galley kitchen windows. It was a “good morning” and “thank you” at the same time from the secret society of channel cruisers. 

There were a few anxious moments involving lock operations for the hubster and I.  The lockmasters we encountered received the same tale of it being our first narrowboat adventure, and that we may need  a bit of guidance for the lock. Each of them told us not to worry. They asked us about our trip, where we were from and how long we were there while telling us to close the gates, open the paddle, tie up here and open the gates. 


Even the wildlife seems to have jumped on the laidback boat. The ducks and swans swim along the side of our narrowboat, as if they are racing us. They aren’t concerned with our path. If they swim too close, they simply dive underwater and pop out on the other side.


Canal side pubs offer overnight moorning to patrons. They open their doors, pour you a pint and let you crash in their backyard after a steak and ale pie or sticky toffee pudding. In addition to chatting up locals at the bar, connections are made with other boaters heading our way or coming from that direction that goes beyond a wave from the galley window.

From port to starboard, the boating life is one of respect, friendliness and connections at 4 kilometres an hour. 

I hope that when it comes time to pack my luggage and head home that some of the lifestyle comes with me.