Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 18, 2021
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Winter getaway contest winners

In October, we asked readers to tell us what they like to do when bears hibernate. The first five doctors who submitted their stories won a $100 hotel voucher from The five winners covered everything from marriage proposals and family get-togethers to annual winter haunts.

Some things are impossible to recreate, like being in Paris for the first time at the age of 21.

In 1986 when I was working as a waiter at Hart House during the second year of medical school at the University of Toronto, I managed to scrape together enough money to get to France during Christmas vacation. My girlfriend, Nina, was studying abroad in the south of France as part of her Bachelor of Arts degree in French.

After surviving three months of recurring images of Frenchmen moving in on my girl, I landed at Charles de Gaulle airport. It was a Sunday afternoon, and it seemed like most of Paris had left for vacation. Walking the empty streets of the Latin Quarter, I remember trying to locate the Hotel de la Sorbonne where Nina was waiting, while not being distracted by the unique beauty of Paris.

We spent five great days seeing all the sights of the City of Lights. Walking down the streets and boulevards, my arm around Nina, we spent our time window-shopping, visiting museums and trying to find a decent meal on a student's budget. Luckily, there was always a prix fixe menu we could afford. The best meal, however, was an armload of sandwiches we bought from a Lebanese café near our hotel. We took the pita breads stuffed with spiced lamb back to our cosy room and had a feast while we kicked up our tired legs.

We left Paris on the TGV train to St-Gervais, heading towards the French Alps for a few days of skiing. From St-Gervais, we took a local train to Chamonix. In the bright sunshine, Mont-Blanc -- the highest peak in Europe -- was spectacular. We stayed at the Hotel Les Rhododendrons, whose rates included two delicious meals daily, and from which we could walk to the ski lift.

Before leaving Chamonix, we took a late-afternoon walk. Being so close to Switzerland, we actually reached the nearest Swiss village. On the way back to our hotel, the sky turned purple as the sun was setting on the Alps. The moment felt right: I proposed to Nina and she accepted.

After Chamonix, we spent some time in Aix-en-Provence where Nina was studying. The town experienced a rare snowfall while I was there, and we were able to enjoy a winter hike around the hills that Cézanne had painted. Later, we even managed to get away to Florence for three days.

As the end of the vacation drew near, Nina accompanied me back to Paris. The night before I left, we found a theatre playing an old American film, An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Anyone who has seen it will know how perfectly it suited our mood that night.

The remainder of the school year flew by, Nina came home and we kept the promise that we made to each other in Chamonix.

Tuscan Toss Up

Five years ago we rented the top half of a Tuscan farmhouse at Christmas. We flew to Rome for two days, then drove by rented car to our lodgings near Lucca, and somehow managed to find our digs after sunset on the hillside behind the very small, very dark town of Cerasomma.

We were staying at an ancient estate which produced wine and olive oil, mostly for the family's use. Having been welcomed and settled by our hostess Carlotta, we drove into Lucca for the best oven-baked pizza ever, then spent two hours trying to find our way back the three kilometres to Cerasomma. We made day trips to Florence, Siena, San Gimignano and Lucca, enjoying a sample of Italy's splendours.

Cesare, the 80-year-old owner of the estate, invited us to join his family for Christmas lunch, at which we were welcomed as if we had been friends for years. While family members arrived, we had drinks with Cesare and engaged in a conversation which consisted mostly of hand gestures. Then the four-hour feast commenced, starting with the lasagna that il padrone had made himself -- including the noodles -- over the previous day in his huge Tuscan kitchen.

In late afternoon, belts loosened, we walked up the hillside through the vineyard in search of wild mushrooms -- dinner that evening being, of course, out of the question. The following day as we were about to depart for Venice, Carlotta mentioned that we were welcome to stay longer at no charge, as she had nobody booked for that week. In the end, we departed as planned. But reluctantly.


The Family Favourite

Year after year, my family and I return to Mexico for the winter break. Last March, we chose the Mayan Riviera; there were plenty of flights to Cancún and lots of packages to be had. We booked our accommodation on the Internet through and chose to stay at the four-star Barcelo Maya resort, an absolute paradise for adults and kids.

An authentic mariachi band greeted us as we arrived in the hotel lobby. There was a beautiful free-form pool, an exercise room, tennis courts, miniature golf and all-day activities on the beach. I managed to win both the archery and shooting competitions during my stay! And we enjoyed fabulous stage shows in the evenings.

If you pick an all-inclusive, forget the diet. It's hard to resist the all-you-can-eat restaurants and the wonderful drinks -- our favourite was the frozen strawberry daiquiri -- included in the package.

If you love scuba diving or snorkeling, take the local bus to Playa del Carmen and catch the ferry to Cozumel. There are regular sailings all day and you can shop in the never-ending souvenir shops.

There are spectacular sites for anyone who loves Maya history. It's about an hour trip to reach Tulúm which boasts impressive ruins and the only Maya archeological site with a view of the ocean. My family took a day trip to the magnificent ruins at Chichén Itzá, a two-hour drive away. We saw the famous pyramid of Kukulkána a day before the vernal equinox and the shadows it cast were astonishing.

Mountains and Mishaps

I was delighted to discover that there was a medical conference taking place in the Denver area, since my sister Kashmira had just moved there. I thoroughly enjoy the love and caring that she showers on our family (and the free baby-sitting is a plus). I remember when a German medical student I was teaching had his accommodation plans fall through. I dropped him off at her home in Canada and she enjoyed feeding and entertaining him as much as I enjoyed teaching him!

So, with the kids packed, we flew off to Denver and rented a new car the next day to drive to Snowmass, Colorado. From the moment we arrived, my sister and I talked and laughed till we almost burned the house down. We were so busy chatting that we forgot the oil heating on the stove top.

The next day we drove through the Rockies on our way to Denver. I had chills up and down my spine just reading the "Falling Rocks" signs. But the fear definitely got worse when the car stalled at a hairpin turn. The truck behind me slowed down just in time, missing my car by only centimetres thanks to my teen's reflexes: we had turned the blinkers on just in time. That was enough of that! I lost my nerve to drive back to Denver, so we took the Colorado shuttle to the airport.

The conference was a treat as it was on wilderness medicine. I will never forget the slide shows every evening of different mountain ranges around the world. The local scenery alone was gorgeous; the view was certainly to die for. I learned many lessons from that seminar, one of which was that mountain roads are not for me!

Lost Islands

When bears hibernate, I begin to plan my winter week in the Bahamas. Not to the five-star hotels and busy casinos, but to the outer and remote islands that offer peace and solitude. At destinations such as Green Turtle Quay off Abaco, a seaside cabin for a week costs less than a night at Vancouver's Westin Bayshore Resort & Marina. The beachcombing is endless, the fishing in the shallows seems eternally abundant and warm breezes flow, guaranteeing a relaxing time away from the cold climate of Kamloops, BC.


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