Cruising with Mickey Mouse

What could be better than sailing the high seas on a luxurious cruise with… your favorite cartoon mouse?

Last week, I enjoyed a dream  vacation aboard the Disney Wonder, cruising from Vancouver to San Francisco to Los Angeles.

This fantastic trip was completely unexpected. It all began a few weeks ago, when I got a phone call from my talented friend, Tiffany Sparks-Keeney. Tiffany and I are friends from way back, and her expert knowledge of kinesiology (and its impact on singing opera) will be the subject of many blog posts to come. But she wasn’t calling about work; she was asking me if I wanted to join her (and her adorable 9-month-old baby) on a 7-day cruise.  It took me about 3 seconds to say, “YES, PLEASE!”

This was my first cruise and I have to say that it was nothing short of amazing. There were three (yes, three!) swimming pools on the top deck. Because this was a Disney cruise, the entertainment was top notch. The cast and crew were fantastic, and we were treated like royalty the entire time. In seven short days, I got used to having delicious food and relaxing spa treatments. When it was finally time to disembark, I didn’t want to leave!

Sadly, there were no scheduled opera performances.  But on our final night, I got up on stage and sang “Vissi d’arte” to a very appreciative audience — I guess nobody expected Tosca to show up on a Disney cruise! 😉

I especially enjoyed the international flair of the cruise.  More than 50% of the guests were Canadian, but the crew came from all over the world. I had a chance to chat with new friends in German, Italian, French and Nepali. (I only remember a few phrases in Nepali, but I was able to use them all!)

Since I do a lot of my “globetrotting” for work, it was especially nice to have a relaxing vacation with a good friend.  Thank you, Tiffany! It was magical.

Running Home

Do you like to run? How would you feel about running from Canada to Mexico?

Meet Norma Bastidas, ultra-marathoner and mother of two, who is running 2600 miles to raise awareness about violence and domestic abuse.

Norma left Vancouver on April 21st, and she ran past my house in Los Angeles two weeks ago. Today, she’s running through the Sonora Desert and she plans to arrive in her hometown of Mazatlan, Mexico on the 8th of July! You can follow her journey at: Running Home, A Journey to End Violence.

I am always inspired by people who do “impossible” things, so I felt very privileged to meet Norma. Her athletic career is nothing short of amazing: she has run ultra-marathons on all 7 continents and she’s also an accomplished mountaineer. She has run on all kinds of terrain, from the sands of Namibia to the ice of Antarctica. (How do you top that?)

But this journey is special.  “I wanted to do something really hard,” she told me. “And I believe in what I’m doing.”  She wants to put an end to violence.  Does that seem impossible?  Remember that this woman is running all the way from Canada to Mexico. There isn’t much that seems impossible to Norma.

When I heard she was coming to my house, I made sure to get her some fuel: multi-vitamins, L-glutamines, and lots of pasta! She was grateful for the dinner, but she was almost too excited to eat. Instead of focusing on her own amazing story, Norma kept asking me about my projects. She wanted to hear about my festival in Nepal, and my dreams of singing in Africa. She asked how I was using my music to inspire people.

Sitting on my couch on the 9th of June, Norma was absolutely glowing with happiness. (No one should look that beautiful after running every day for two months!) She couldn’t wait to tell me about her mission.

“Every time you decide to push the limits of what you think is possible, they get a little further,” she said. “But you have to be smart about it.   You don’t want to put yourself in danger for no reason. So I always ask myself: am I afraid because it’s really dangerous, or am I just afraid to fail? If it’s just my ego talking, that’s not a good enough reason not to try.”

I think she’s right.  It’s important to take risks sometimes. It’s not about winning a trophy or “being the best.”  It’s about pouring your life into something that matters.

You might not be able to run sixty miles in a day like Norma Bastidas.  But isn’t there something you’ve been wanting to do? Some dream you have given up because it feels impossible?

Michelangelo wrote, “the greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

So where is your next “finish line?” Maybe you could go just a little bit farther? Re-think your own boundaries. Push the limits of possible.

O Air Canada!

It’s unusual to fly to Salzburg via Vancouver, but it’s not quite as crazy as it seems.

Air Canada is the new hot airline if you’re looking for affordable tickets to Europe from the West Coast of the U.S.  As a frequent flyer on a budget, I am constantly on the lookout for good deals. And this is already the second time this year that Air Canada has been able to offer me a better price from L.A. to London than any other airline.

(AC partners with Tyrolean Airways, but I have found the best deals to Austria by switching to Lufthansa when I reach London.)

The in-flight experience is quite pleasant, as all of the Air Canada planes I’ve flown have been in mint condition.  The food is nothing to blog home about, but the service is very efficient.  Individual entertainment screens offer a wide selection of films from Hollywood and Paris. There is also an extensive audio library; they do not have a dedicated opera radio channel, but they do include several classical albums, including a complete recording of Schubert’s Winterreise!  I wish other airlines would feature German Lieder. I’m not sure if “Der stürmische Morgen” is what you want to hear at 30,000 feet if you’re already experiencing turbulence, but it’s still nice to have the option.

What makes an airline “opera friendly?”  Its radio selections, or the fact that it offers affordable fares?  Air Canada scores well on both counts, making it a great choice for traveling singers on a budget.

* vancouver international airport

The international lounge at YVR is an oasis of blue and green.   They have done a nice job with the British Columbian theme: I enjoyed gazing at totem poles while I was on the people mover, and crossing a log bridge on my way to passport control.  I was pleasantly surprised to find an enormous fish tank near the Arrivals/Departures Monitor, and a pottery exhibit at my gate. These little details make a long layover a bit more fun.

The airport offers free public wi-fi and well-placed electrical outlets, so that you can check your email, recharge your phone or even update your blog!

Now if you’re sleep-deprived because you’ve been singing opera all weekend, and you didn’t actually start packing until shortly before midnight, you’re going to want to get some coffee. There’s a Starbucks if you’re craving that grande non-fat salted caramel mocha. But if you’re pinching your Canadian pennies, you can get caffeinated at Tim Hortons for a quarter of the price. French Vanilla Cappuccino: $1.61

Fast food is available, from Pizza Hut to Subway, and there’s Hanami for sushi-on-the-go.  But if you’re not in a big rush, I recommend Milestone’s — they have a flat bread plate with delicious goat cheese and cranberries and a short stack of fresh hot naan!

Duty free shoppers will enjoy the wide selection of perfume, makeup and gourmet chocolate. There are also some fun touristy shops to explore, even if you’re not in the market for a stuffed moose wearing a knit sweater.  And if you are, so much the better.