Summer Travel and Tips for Your Future Trips!

The summer has just flown by! I am so grateful for the wonderful experiences I have had!

After the excitement of completing residency at the end of June, my family and I went on a much anticipated vacation from our home in Canada to Italy and Austria in July. We spent 18 days exploring Rome, Venice and Vienna, hopping from one Airbnb to another! We must have taken every form of transportation available and the kids loved it! The best things I enjoy about travelling are the planning and seeing the excitement and enjoyment on my family’s faces when they see what is in store for them!

Let’s start with Rome…wow! Mind blown! I knew it would be breathtaking but it was even better than we imagined! Despite the sweltering temperatures, the kids were great sports, enduring a 3 hour guided tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, wandering through the fascinating artifacts of the Vatican Museum and running happily on the cobble stones of St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City. We also enjoyed visiting the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Tiber River and exploring underground catacombs!

Our Airbnb was located in a charming area called Trastevere and the kids quickly adapted to the routine of running to the bus stop 2 minutes away to begin the day’s activities. Part of the fun was figuring out the public transport system and getting around (thank goodness for my husband’s great spatial awareness…I, on the other hand!)

After Rome had won our hearts for 5 days, we took a 4-hour high speed Trenitalia train to Venice. Wow again! We were blown away by the magnificent architecture surrounded by water as far as the eye could see. The kids absolutely loved taking the water bus! As we hopped off to make our way to our Airbnb, we were mesmerized by Venice! We spent most of the time doing unplanned activities, just exploring and walking around. We felt it was a nice contrast to the busyness of Rome where most days were planned. It was also quieter and more peaceful.

After a heartwarming stay in Venice for 4 days, we took the 1-hour Alilaguna ferry to Venice’s Marco Polo Airport where we took a 1-hour flight to Vienna. We had decided to add Vienna to our itinerary because my dear sweet mother who lives in Nairobi, Kenya (and who I had not seen in 5 years!) has always wanted to visit so we colluded with my brothers to bring her over to Vienna to join us! It was fantastic. Vienna has its own special charm, the architecture is magnificent! We visited the Vienna State Opera House, went on a tour in an electrovintage car, went to classical concerts with opera and ballet, took a cruise on the Danube River and made our own chocolate at a chocolate museum. We spent about a week in Vienna and it was lovely!

Travel tips that worked for us:

  1. Airbnb instead of hotel to bring down costs
  2. Check in online for your flights – saves time at the airport
  3. Travel with hand luggage only and avoid checking in luggage if possible – saves time at the airport and the hassle of lost luggage
  4. If staying at an airbnb for a prolonged vacation, carry about 5-7 days changes of clothes (or whatever can fit in hand luggage) and then just throw in laundry machine as you go along
  5. If kids are old enough, let them lug their own hand luggage (our kids were 8 and 10 years old at the time and were responsible for packing their suitcases and moving them around)
  6. Airbnb tips – check reviews (of course!), choose one that is close to grocery stores and public transport, has full kitchen (if you plan to cook and keep food in fridge), has AC and at least a washing machine. Cost of airbnb is cheaper, less noisy if away from downtown. For all our airbnbs, we could get to downtown within 10-15 minutes by public transport which worked well.
  7. We booked all our activities using GetYourGuide and Airbnb apps. You get a QR code which is scanned prior to entry to the activity. Most activities could be cancelled up until the day before for a full refund.
  8. Spend some days without planning anything, just walk around, people watch, find hidden less well known areas.
  9. Always carry snacks and water (especially if travelling with kids!)
  10. Carry some cash with you for those places that do not accept credit cards
  11. Acknowledge that things may not always go as planned and go with the flow!
  12. Document your trip by creating a photo-book that you can display in your home for guests and for you to walk down memory lane. I created one with MixBook that has 40-50% discounts for your first project!

We had such a wonderful time travelling that we think we may have been bitten by the travel bug! It has been such a great family bonding experience!

Summer Vacation Updates…and the Start of 4th year!

The summer is just flying by! I had a wonderful month of vacation in July.  The highlight was a trip to West Virginia to visit my cousin and his family. We were so touched by their hospitality. They totally spoiled us!

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12 hour road-trip to West Virginia

The 12-hour drive  from Quebec to West Virginia was spectacular. We took the scenic route through the Adirondack park in New York. I was impressed with how well the kids did on this long trip. They were excited to be the first to spot several deer as we drove by impressive rocks chiseled into the mountainside.

Our drive took us through Pennsylvania before we finally arrived in beautiful West Virginia. We spent most days poolside enjoying the beautiful weather with our nights perched on stools around the massive granite kitchen counter having hearty conversations covering all kinds of topics. I was especially happy to tinker on their beautiful grand piano majestically displayed near the fire place in the living room.

One particular evening, the adults had a night out on the town eating creole cuisine in a cobble-stoned square bubbling with vibrant music and laughter. The night ended with spectacular Tango music presented by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The exquisite skill with which the musicians displayed their talents gave me goose-bumps!

The kids had plenty of new experiences, trying out jet-skis for the first time and painting pottery. As we neared the end of our vacation, we hiked up to beautiful Cooper’s rock where massive green rolling hills outlined the horizon, with crystal blue waters snaking through the leafy backdrop. It was truly a fantastic, refreshing trip!

In early August, I had the wonderful opportunity to join 10 other musicians on stage at the Hudson Music Festival where we belted out a variety of Contemporary Christian tunes. My Yamaha keyboard (nicknamed “Mahaya” and given to me by one of my best friends 13 years ago) did not disappoint! It has been one of my dreams to perform with a band in this context and it was an awesome experience with an enthusiastic audience!

After a challenging year completing my third year of medical school, I feel so blessed to have spent such precious time with my family and friends! I am now 2 weeks into my fourth year of medical school, having an incredible experience on my Palliative Care elective rotation. More details to follow soon!

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Soaking up the sun in West Virginia

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Ready to conquer the world!

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More relaxation!

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Precious family time…beautiful Cooper’s rock, West Virginia

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Ready for a dip in Horseshoe Lake, St-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec

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Canoe-ride with daddy, Horseshoe Lake, Saint Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec

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Summer fun…and static electricity!

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Exploring the woods, Saint Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec

 

Clerkship Update: In-Patient Psychiatry

Happy 2019 dear readers! I hope you had a fantastic December holiday!

Clerkship Updates! I have just completed a month in In-Patient Psychiatry and I have to say that it was an extremely humbling and eye-opening experience! My rotation consisted of following patients in the psychiatric unit, doing consults and reassessments in the ER, reassessing medical patients with psychiatric symptoms on a number of different wards, as well as interviewing and assessing families in Child Psychiatry.

What I learned from this rotation

I went into this rotation with trepidation because I felt I did not have much experience managing mental illness but I learned so much from my patients about their life-stories, hardship and resilience. I was humbled by what they have been through and how far they have come. I was surprised by how attached I got to some of my patients and how much emotion I felt towards them. These were people from all walks of life. It could be me, it could be you. A very humbling experience. I also feel that this rotation really helped me improve my interviewing skills which will be very applicable to my interests in Family Medicine.

What I enjoyed most

Seeing my patients get better and discharged from the hospital, particularly after a long admission! I also really enjoyed the human side of medicine on this rotation. Many of my patient interviews were simply about getting to know the person in great detail, which was really a wonderful and sometimes emotional experience. The teaching and support during this rotation was also excellent, with plenty of opportunities to share our reactions and feelings about the rotation.

What I struggled with the most

The greatest challenge for me on this rotation was wondering if I was really helping my patients significantly. But I was amazed how many patients appreciated simply being listened to during their moments of crisis and how the hospital was actually a refuge and place of stability for them.

My take home message

My In-patient psychiatry rotation was really great. I learned so much from the staff and patients. I am realizing now more than ever that it is really important to reflect on each day and process the feelings you have about what you see. It is human nature to feel the pain others have and so I feel it’s important to process these feelings in a way that works for you. Some suggestions include reflection, art, music, talking about it or writing about it.

Next rotation….Urban Family Medicine! Thoroughly excited! Stay tuned for more updates. Wishing you all the best for 2019!

Featured image courtesy of medium.com

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Christmas morning!

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Christmas morning!

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Birthday girl!

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Family time in the Laurentians!

 

Med School Update…And a Trip to Kenya!

As I write this, I am sitting on a paving stone step, listening to the wind blow through the slender pointed leaves of majestic eucalyptus trees towering over me, forming a blanket of protection against the omnipresent African sunshine. My family and I are thrilled to be spending the Christmas holidays in my home land…Kenya, where I was born and raised.

It has been 7 years since my husband and I were last back. And this is the kids’ first trip to Africa. They have loved every moment of it, from the perfect weather, to the friendly people, to the delicious food, to getting to meet cousins, aunts and uncles for the very first time. Words cannot express the joy in seeing my own children embrace the culture of the country where I grew up and of which I have so many beautiful childhood memories. It feels like I have come full circle!

During our 2 weeks here, we have been staying at my mum’s house in Nairobi and the kids have already reignited the bond with their Gran who they hadn’t seen since 2014. We have been having a wonderful time and I am not sure the kids will ever want to leave at this rate!

And what about med school? The last block (Neurology) was fantastic. Without a doubt, one of my favourite blocks! The last month of school was quite intense with block and anatomy exams, presentations and standardized clinical exams. It is bittersweet to have come to the end of my “classroom” learning (already!) but also very exciting to be starting TCP (Transition to Clinical Practice) in January. My rotations will be in 3 main blocks:

  1. Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Neurology
  2. Internal Medicine
  3. Surgery, Anesthesia, Radiology, Ophthalmology

TCP will run from January to June and then, after a one month summer break, I will begin my 3rd year clerkship rotations at the end of July.

The next few months will be quite an adjustment for our family due to the long hospital hours. I will have to be strong being away from the kids so much but I know they are in good hands and we will work through this as a family!

In the meantime, we will enjoy our last week of vacation here in warm, sunshiny Nairobi before heading back to snowy Canada in the New Year. Merry Christmas to all my readers and thank you for reading! I hope to continue to hear from you in 2018! Whatever dreams you may have, continue working towards them and never give up! All the best!

Train Rides and Sandy Beaches

There’s something I just love about trains, particularly old trains. As a child, we used to take the train from Nairobi to Mombasa at the coast of Kenya during the school holidays. The trains were old and rickety with small cabins that could fit four people. We would congregate at the train station in the heart of downtown Nairobi in the late evening in anticipation of an all-night journey to the vibrant coast of Kenya, it’s white beaches drenched by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

Caleb at the Exporail train museum in Saint Constant, Québec

Our big boy Caleb at the Exporail train museum in Saint Constant, Québec

As we drifted off to sleep lulled by the chaka-chaka sound of the old train, the night was pitch black and the stars crystal clear. The morning greeted us with salty, humid coastal air. We would spend most days swimming or running along the beach, our feet entangled in dark green seaweed. Each night as we slept, I loved the rhythmic sound of the waves approaching and receding from the beach.

As we headed back to Nairobi on our favorite rickety train, we eagerly looked forward to the next year when we would be back to enjoy the lure of the majestic Indian Ocean.

My latest experience of trains was through the eyes of my 4 year old son who spent the afternoon with his daddy, uncle and cousin on a ‘boy’s day out’ at the Exporail train museum located south of Montréal. The museum has plenty of large trains to explore, model train set-ups with the finest level of detail and of course, train rides!

It’s been years since I have been back to the coast of Kenya. I will forever cherish the memories of the old train-rides shuttling back and forth between Nairobi and Mombasa in my homeland Kenya.

Turkey Tails, Luna Moths and Canoes…Family Time in the Laurentians

Weekend getaways with the kids usually involve a significant degree of preparation. There comes a moment when I must sit on our suitcase trying to squeeze in all the various kid paraphernalia one needs while away from home. Our car is a Toyota matrix (not very big) but somehow my husband manages to cram in our suitcase, car-seats, food, playpen, feeding chair, books, toys, stroller, diaper bag and let’s not forget our two children and massive dog (Great Dane-Boxer mix) who takes up the entire trunk of the car! Despite the usual drama of preparing for a trip with kids, we had a beautiful weekend in the Laurentians visiting some of my husband’s family.

Turkey Tail Mushrooms spotted by Granny and Caleb in the woods

Turkey Tail Mushrooms spotted by Granny and Caleb in the woods

The weather was perfect all weekend for outdoor activities. While Caleb, daddy and Granny veered off the road and tromped through the woods investigating various kinds of fungi and insects, I continued to walk along the road with Naomi, not wanting to push the stroller to its limits in the vast interior of the woods. It was so peaceful with tall, sturdy trees lining both sides of the road, the sun glistening in between the leaves and casting abstract shadows on the ground below. Every so often, the sparkling lake came into view as random birds called out to their companions.

It’s moments like these when I feel especially close to God. I  breathed in the fresh air and took the opportunity to pray and sing. There were no requests or complaints for God that day, just a simple prayer to thank Him for his goodness and to appreciate the beauty of nature. Just then, a small deer trotted quickly past us almost as if he waited for the opportune moment to cross right in front of us. I scrambled for my camera but he was too quick for me to catch him in action. Before I knew it, he had disappeared in the dense foliage of the woods. Granny later informed me that he was probably a young, excited “teenage” deer, exploring the woods for some adventure.

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Luna moth found by Granny in the woods

After the tromp in the woods, Caleb and Granny got to work making cheese puff pastries and they were delicious! Caleb and daddy then disappeared into the woods again, sneaking in a canoe-ride and swim in the lake. The water was tranquil, undisturbed and peaceful. The “boys” had dared to cross it at this moment of complete calm and solitude. As we said goodbye to the panoramic mountains, I couldn’t help feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be blessed with family both far and near. Sometimes I just gaze at my children and wonder, “Are they really mine? All mine? Amazing!”

Caleb and daddy canoeing on Horse-shoe Lake

Can you spot a little boy? Caleb and daddy canoeing on Horse-shoe Lake

Naomi getting a better view from daddy's shoulders

Naomi getting a good view from daddy’s shoulders

A picture of Northern Tooth Fungus courtesy of Granny

A picture of Northern Tooth Fungus courtesy of Granny