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There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when I would have seized the opportunity an unexpected long weekend presents to travel. I’d fly out on the Friday night, fly back on the Monday afternoon. Easy.

When I was living in Ottawa, I was able to indulge my jet-setting urges fairly frequently. After all, Ottawa’s proximity (and direct flights) to so many fantastic destinations — Montreal, New York, DC, Chicago — made it relatively painless. Better still, I’d become expert at playing off my two travel rewards programs (Air Canada’s Aeroplan and RBC’s Avion) against each other to my maximum benefit.

But that was then.

Despite having just such a long weekend this weekend, I’ll be staying put. My jet-setting days are over.

Granted, for a brief moment earlier this fall, I was gearing up to make fairly regular trips to Toronto. Air Canada was even offering a student pass that allowed individuals to make six trips to a specific destination. It couldn’t have been more perfect. But things change. Sometimes in an instant. And so, I’m grounded. Indefinitely.

I suppose it’s for the best. As I revealed earlier this month, I’m a student again. I might as well start living like one.

Still, I’m comforted by my fond memories of those many weekend excursions. Each one was an adventure, a marvel, a treat; always to see friends, eat well, laugh lots and soak up the many delights of whatever city I happened to be visiting.

But of all the weekend excursions I made during my extravagant years in Ottawa, I’m proudest of the weekend I spent in London. (England, not Ontario.)

It was the May Long Weekend of 2009. A dear friend of mine was celebrating his birthday around that time and I thought it might be fun to wish him a happy one in person. So, on that fateful Friday morning, I went to work with my weekend duffel and then headed straight to the airport that afternoon. By the next morning, I was eating breakfast in my friend’s kitchen, steps from London’s Pimlico tube station. Amazing.

Anyway, as I said, that was then.

Will I have more amazing weekends in the years ahead? Will I ever again be able to pick up and fly away at a moment’s notice?

Fingers crossed…

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In a little over 48 hours, I’ll be saying sayonara to the snow banks, farewell to the frigid temperatures, adios to the Arctic cold.

No, I’m not heading south to some all-inclusive resort. Nope. I’ll be heading east. To the Middle East, in fact. Doha, Qatar, to be exact.

Qatar?

Yes. Qatar.

For a holiday?

Not quite.

I’ll be representing Canada as one of the country’s official adjudicators at the 22nd World Schools Debating Championships.

Since 1988, the World Schools Debating Championships have been held annually, hosting high school students from around the world in what is tantamount to the Olympics of High School Debating. I had the privilege of debating for Canada at the competition ten years ago – and instantly fell in love with the event, its ideals, and the people it brought together.

My involvement with debating and public speaking, however, started much, much earlier.

I delivered my first speech at the tender age of six and, frankly, never looked back. By junior high, I was routinely participating in local debating competitions; by senior high, competitions across Canada. (Editor’s note: Self-congratulatory statements to follow. Apologies in advance.) I enjoyed a fair bit of success, too: I was named the Canadian champion in 1999, won the World Public Speaking and Debating Championships held in Cyprus in 2000, and, as I’ve just mentioned, earned a place on the Canadian High School Debating Team representing Canada at the World Schools Debating Championships in Pittsburgh, USA that same year.

Pittsburgh. Not the most pleasant of places in February, I know. But the competition: it was extraordinary.

The caliber of my competitors and the depth of knowledge required to compete on an equal footing with them; the sense of camaraderie that came from living, working and debating amongst a 5-person team; the young people – just like me! – that had come from every conceivable corner of the planet to debate in an atmosphere of respect, understanding, friendship and in the spirit of healthy competition: I had never previously experienced anything like it in my life – and I was hooked.

So, when I graduated from high school and went on to university, rather than continuing my own debating career I chose instead to assist future Canadian teams and began my second career as an international judge. A decision I’ve never once regretted.

In the ensuing decade I’ve travelled to Singapore, Lima, Stuttgart, Cardiff, Seoul, Washington, Athens, and, in a few days time, Doha.

I’ve met a lot of wonderful people along the way. Judged many outstanding debates (and some less-than-outstanding ones, too). Toured ancient ruins, demilitarized zones and national parliaments. Seen the insides of scores of high school gymnasiums, libraries, lunch rooms and theatres. In short, I’ve had a blast.

But ten years is a long time. And, in this year of new chapters, new beginnings, it’s time to bring this volume of my life – Ade, Kris; Debating and Public Speaking, 2000-2010 – to a close.

Thankfully, I can’t think of a better way to go than with this forthcoming championship, the largest yet; surrounded by friends; in pursuit of such noble goals as free speech and international understanding.

The oysters.

I’ll miss those lowly bi-valves, lovingly shucked and plated at one of Ottawa’s best restaurants, The Whalesbone. And I’ll miss their food. And their service. And those LPs. And the Sailor Jerry — that sweet, spicy elixir.

In the years I’ve been in Ottawa, this unassuming resto-bar at the corner of Bank and Gladstone has become my watering hole of choice, my go-to destination for a good time, my satellite office.

My friend Rachelle has already heaped the praise on the Whalesbone and its annual Oyster Fest that the establishment deserves, so I won’t belabour the point; but, it cannot be said enough: Ottawa’s Whalesbone Oyster House is awesome.

And when I Ieave Ottawa, I know I’ll miss the place and its kick-ass staff, many of whom I consider friends.

I know what it seems like: guy befriends staff at drinking establishment: how sad.

Not so.

Ask any urban Ottawan with half a brain and an iota of taste what they’d say is the coolest, tastiest place in town and they’ll say, “the Whalesbone.”

So, yeah, one thing I’ll miss about Ottawa is its extraordinary oyster bar.

Of course, I’ll also miss the friends I’ve made. And the four distinct seasons in this part of the country. And being so close to Montreal, and New York City and Washington, DC. (I can live with being a little father away from Toronto.)

But distance won’t come between me and my friends; nor will it prevent me from visiting DC, NYC or Montreal. (Better still, I’ll be closer to my favourite US city, Chicago.)  Distance will, however, make it more difficult to enjoy a plate of oysters and a pint of Steamwhistle.

Sigh.