Twentieth Anniversary Trip to Mexico!

December 4th, 2012

Here’s the first real “travel” post in quite some time…

We popped down to Mexico for a very brief week on a shitload of points to celebrate our twentieth anniversary. Here’s a couple of pics from our snorkeling mask cameras on our first afternoon after flying all night across the continent:







Links to Christmas 2009 Newsletter and Video’s

December 16th, 2009

We’re really bummed because our annual Family Photo Christmas Card seems has been lost by Canada Post!!! It’s been over 2 weeks and no cards. Usually we have our Christmas Cards and Newsletter mailled out by now. So for all those who can’t wait we decided we should post them up on our family weblog!


As mentioned in the newsletter, during our holidays in Dawson City, we were filmed by the Canadian Tourism Commission, so here is the video we partly starred in.

Funny enough when we got back home to Fort Smith, the same film crew was here filming kayaking on the Slave River, so here is two video that show some local flavour and, our amazing world class rapids.

And here’s another couple videos from different groups, of the rapids. Really amazing…

Slave River 2009 from Jacqui Whitehead on Vimeo.


December 17th, 2008

Home at last! August 2008

We have yet to finish totalling how many km’s we covered or how much money we spent. I’ve been waiting to have some down time but we still haven’t finished hanging all the pictures back up on the walls.

However in the meantime I wanted to say that we are all happy to be home safe and sound, and have settle back into the routine of life in Fort Smith, NWT.

Take care for now, The James’


July 6th, 2008

While I had done some extensive catching up a few weeks ago (finally), I seem to have gotten quite behind again. The one main contribution I made in the last two weeks was a brief main page blurb about the very original inspiration for this trip in my mind. You can see that “Inspiration” link on the left near the top, or click to it from this link below:

Officially today we have rounded off our trip of eleven months around the world with our return to Edmonton. While we had left home on July 31, 2007 driving South, our first flight segment departed Edmonton on August 9. It’s been completely amazing and I will continue with finishing up a few posts (backdated of course) describing our experiences and visits throughout Western Canada. While we all breathed a little sigh of relief and satisfaction on returning to Oilberta, it is also not with just a little sadness that we conclude our Grand Adventure. Now it’s time to pay off some debts and start saving and planning for our next one.


Northern British Columbia

July 5th, 2008

While we were all a wee bit weary of road travel, we soldiered on. It was still very enjoyable to meet and reconnect with various friends along the way. From Vancouver Island we headed straight North to Kamloops. Originally we had planned on meeting up with my brother Jeff’s family camping at Barkerville in Northern B.C., but a more thorough look at the map quickly derailed those plans. Similar to getting to Cairns (or even our loftier goal of Bill & Linda’s in Darwin) in Australia, this thought proved to be just too many kilometers in too short a time period. I looked up a friend I had worked with at Diavik who lived in Kamloops. When I was first talking about the trip a few years ago, he extended the invite to stay a night or two. And so Rob and his family welcomed us all with huge open arms for supper and a swim at their neighbor’s pool. That was particularly refreshing and wonderful considering the extreme heat. We hadn’t encountered such conditions at all except for Egypt on pretty much the rest of the trip. Luckily we had planned to hit most other hot countries during their colder (+25ish) seasons.

The other terrible thing about the Kamloops area was the massive devastation of the pine beatle. Well over three quarters of the area forests were the stark burgundy of dead needles. Worse though, is that with global warming, these pests are moving steadily North and wiping out everything in their path. If that alone isn’t terrible enough, the extreme danger of forest fires sweeping through these heavily populated valleys is an even larger concern by all. I’d have nightmare’s if I lived there for sure! It was also about this time that we finally watched Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”. Even more ammunition for those afore-mentioned nightmares. It really does seem overwhelming! Until the politicians get out of the back pocket of utility companies and car manufacturers, there seems little hope of genuine development of reasonable alternatives. Sadly we just all need to choke it back, and take a hit to the economy before any sort of reasonable progress can be made. Time will tell…

After a great night in Kamloops we headed back South to Kelowna. We were staying at Jeff & Jo’s house while they were away, but managed to spend the afternoon and supper with my youngest Aunt, Reola. She had a great condo with a pool that the kids thoroughly enjoyed, and even better was the fact that her son was visiting. I hadn’t seen him since before we had moved North, so we all had a great visit catching up. I also finished showing her and Josh how to manage their domain registration and hosting accounts. She had designed most of her own web page for a commercial project and was getting supremely hosed by a local company who were maintaining it to the tune of about $1,200! That was the equivalent of about $90/year that I set her up with, and two hours (absolute tops) of work they had done setting up and transferring files. Crazy what people will stoop to get away with if the poor customer doesn’t know any better.

That night we went the Artiss’ home and marveled at the incredible garage they have. All the toys a guy could ever want, and then some. Wow! They showed up in the gas guzzling behemoth that is their cozy but older motorhome the next afternoon and we had a wonderful night visiting together. We even shared another bottle of the Strawberry chocolate wine in our cross Canada efforts of exposing everyone possible to Rush Creek Wines in Southern Ontario. This proved very “fruitful” (pun intended of course) for rush Creek as Jeff & Jo and another couple of friends later ordered a few dozen bottles. That’s pretty amazing, I figured, coming from residents of the Okanagan Valley.

The next day we headed back to Kamloops for another few nights, but this time with Uncle Steve and Aunt Helena, (my dad’s youngest brother). We had stayed with them our last time through the area several years previously and it was also great to catch up. They were empty nesters now, with a big house high in the hills and a very “sportly” equipped garage. We did even more relaxing and visiting while Auntie Helena cooked a great lasagna. It was naturally fabulous but Luke was particularly thrilled as he hadn’t had any in quite a while. Friends of ours from Smith, the Gauthiers, had planned on staying the same two nights in Kelowna on their way South to Vanc. Island for their family vacation. With a huge landslide on one highway, they were extensively delayed, but still showed up for some re-heated lasagna before heading to their hotel. I had booked a mine tour for the eight of us the next day at Highland Valley Copper pretty early so we crashed shortly after.

The hour drive out showed valley after valley of more dead coniferous forests. Still an incredibly sad sight. Speaking of raping and pillaging the earth, the mine was one of the largest open pit operations in Canada. Very incredible to see. There were a few good photo-ops and the eight of us were the only ones on the tour. After a great day wandering around Kelowna we headed East to Cowtown (and, sadly, even closer to home) the next morning.

Southern British Columbia

July 1st, 2008

After a refreshing but quick visit with Grandpa James & Grandma Dianne in Lethbridge for the night, we continued West into BC. Pete was a very welcome addition to our traveling party, and found some “spots” to lay claim to in the car. He rotated every so often among them, but didn’t seem to quite get the same captivated attention from watching Hogan’s Hero’s that the kids and I did. We were following the GPS through Trail and up the hill a little ways to Rossland. Mike & Michelle Tanguay had lived in Fort Smith for several years before we arrived, but moved South a few years back. Mike had long worked at the neighboring mine to Diavik, but now worked locally to Rossland while Michelle flew up to the Arctic for three week on, three week off shifts. Sadly, Michelle would be gone working during our single night stay there. We had a spectacular visit with Mike, Logan and Lilly though. With a few steaks cooking we all got caught up on things and shared computer ideas while the kids ran around outside and explored the neighborhood a bit.

While we had the option to stay two nights in Rossland, we decided to continue on to Vancouver Island and try and spend the night with parents of some other neighbors of ours from Fort Smith. The (only slightly) senior Keizers come up to Smith once a year it seems and we have come to know them fairly well. They have a spectacularly large house (for empty nester’s that is) just outside of Victoria in Esquimalt. Deer and all sorts of other wildlife frequent their backyard forest which backs on to the Canadian navy base. The next morning after wolfing down some huge homemade waffles, we hit the road for the couple hour trip to Ladysmith, just outside of Nanaimo.

While there were several possible tourist stops along the way, we were only up for one viewing point balcony overlooking the inside coast. It was higher up and gave a rather nice view of the coastline and all the stunningly green islands. We quickly concluded that the pine beetle can’t swim in salt water… There were fruit stands galore on the side of the highway, and we made it to Ladysmith in quick time without too many stops. We settled in for lunch with Dad & Janet after some hugs all around. It was nice to spend a few days relaxing, visiting and just generally catching up. We arranged an evening picnic in a Nanaimo park to visit with any James relatives on the Island who could join us. That was a blast, and after even more hugs all around we sat and ate, and even tossed the frisbee around a bit. It was wonderful seeing so many James relatives that we hadn’t talked to in several years (since the last time we came out to the island, now that I think about it; Hmmmm…) and swapping stories (all true!) about Grandpa James. We had originally planned on touring the island a bit and hoped to go to the West Coast of the Island and up North a ways past Campbell River a bit. Due to time these extra options went the way of the dodo, a visit to crazy Horse and a “leisurely trip across the country”. Perhaps next time, in a few years, once these bills are paid WAY down.

We departed after less than a week on Vancouver Island, heading North towards Kamloops & Kelowna. We didn’t even bother stopping in Vancouver at all, and just trucked on through. Vancouver traffic is CRAZY! But still not as bad as Montreal or Toronto I sadly have to admit, (Or Hanoi, Vietnam for that matter). Still, I have no idea how people can possibly live in such concrete jungle conditions…

Fulfilling a dream!

June 30th, 2008

Part of my expectations for our adventures was to drive across Canada, as I believe as Canadians we need to get to know our neighbours. I have always been amazed at how much Canadians (in general) will spend to visit other countries but have never been 2 provinces over from where they live. Therefore if we were going to drag our kids around the world, I thought it our duty to make sure they had been everywhere in Canada.

So I can now finally say that 9,600 KM later, we have crossed 9 provinces (we were in PEI 4 years ago, and lived in what is now Nunavut 96-99) and traveled from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Rick and the kids will still need to go to the Yukon, but I can now officially say I’ve been everywhere in Canada, fulfilling a life long dream.

Prairie Provinces

June 23rd, 2008

The drive across the prairies was nice. Well, it was OK; they’re pretty cool to see once, but a half an hour later… Ugh! We drove from the Cook’s in Thunder Bay and traveled to the other side of Winterpeg to get a hotel room on the side of the road in order to get a quick start the next morning. A little ways past Regina we stopped for the night at Dale & Brian’s home in Morse. Dale had lived in Taloyoak (a small Inuit community on the Arctic Ocean) during the same time we had before we left in 1998. Dale had run the craft co-op there and it was really great to see her again and catch up, as well as finally getting to meet her husband. We had purchased a few groceries to carry from one friend’s house to another. Mainly, we had a few boxes of cereal but I had also grabbed a large package (of several boxes) of microwavable KD. Luke brought this entire thing into their house to cook a couple of the small boxes up to go with the burgers for supper. They were good, but the next evening in Lethbridge I received an e-mail asking me to pass on a message to Luke from Brian. It was quite brief and simple, yet my poor son screamed in abject horror when I read it aloud to everyone, “Tell Luke that Brian says thanks for the rest of the Kraft Dinner he left behind”.

The next day (a Saturday, for those keeping track…) we continued on to Lethbridge for a surprise meeting with my Dad and his wife Dianne. They had scooped Pete (our pet Jack Russle Terrier) that morning from my Mom’s house and were going to stay the night before heading back home then next day while we continued Westward to Trail BC. It was unfortunate we weren’t able to meet up with them anywhere else in our year of travels, but it was still great finally meeting up with them now. We met in a park where unfortunately the kids recognized Grandpa’s well labeled “Truckers Toybox ” van before even seeing them. Pete was still a pretty good surprise though and their was much joy. After we caught up and enjoyed a good nights rest, it was time to ramble on.

Northwestern Ontario

June 19th, 2008

We finally arrived in Sault St. Marie and after crossing the border (with almost thirty bottles of wine and a one gallon jug of hooch) we arrived to the Waters’ home just in time for supper. They put on a great meal (man, we were really getting lucky that way with the generosity of friends along the way!) and we visited late while catching up on each others lives. Time and Emily went on a school field trip down into the States the next morning. With the school year almost finished Laura had no qualms about keeping Maggie home for the morning while we packed up and the three kids ran around and played outside. I was great to see the Water’s family again, and we visited and shared lotsa stories, many that only Northerners could understand.

To get to our next stop was an interesting drive all along the Lake Superior shore. Thunder Bay has always had a very Northern “feel” to it. Even though I’ve never been there before, just the way everyone talks about it gives that strong impression. The blackflys in the area also probably help out a bit too with such an allusion. I enjoy confirming these loose assumptions about Thunder Bay with people we meet. Most tend to agree that that is indeed their opinion of Thunder Bay. The interesting part is that Thunder Bay is below the forty-ninth parallel. This means that it is at a lesser latitude (or “height” up the globe from the equator) than all of Western Canada. That’s a pretty wild thought for most people.

The Canadian family we had met up with in Thailand recently moved here, and so we stayed with the Cook’s. We had rented an apartment next to them on Phuket Island with the shared swimming pool. It was pretty cool to to see Phil & Joy again, and our kids immediately set out to the trampoline to join Kyla & Josh working off some energy. Phil had a magnificent roast on the BBQ and we sat around and caught up for the rest of the evening. It turns out that as much as they enjoyed living and working in Thailand, the company there had proved unreliable and so they returned to Canada. The next morning, the kids stayed home from school to fool around with Alex and Luke for a couple of hours while we leisurely packed up. After a huge breakfast we said our goodbyes and departed on to Winterpeg.

Last Time Through the States

June 18th, 2008

The border crossing from Sarnia into the U.S was pretty uneventful. Well, except for Claudette being oblivious to the stop signs in the lineup. The guy gave her a pretty harsh-toned lecture on paying much better attention in the future. He also explained that all of the posts sticking out of the ground on the sides were a battery of sensors which could detect explosives and/or nuclear devices.

The road north through the U.S. was pretty decent and twinned most of the way. With a speed limit of seventy miles per hour, we made pretty good time. The two huge bridges across the Great Lakes Ship transportation routes offered a far reaching view of the vast surrounding area. It is funny to see many odd signs around the world. Twenty miles out of Flint was another good one. It said: PRISON AREA: DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS. Actually, there were no less than four of these signs along that three and a half hour stretch North to the Canadiann border. That sounds like a whole lot of prisons!

Our GPS has been nothing short of reliable. Same with the three previous models we had rented or used in Australia and throughout Europe. We started having problems with it half way up the State of Michigan though. The distance to go was quite a bit out on the GPS compared to the road signs… After scratching our heads for a couple hours and gave up. Then it hit Claudette when she saw a speed limit sign of 70 that everything here (including the distance signs) were labeled in imperial measurements. It turns out that we had forgotten that imperial distances on signs would be smaller numbers than the metric settings in our GPS.

This was our last time going into or through the States for this entire trip. This means that even though Claudette had assured me we could go to Crazy Horse, she never really wanted to. It would have been an extra couple of days, and we were having to cut stays and visits in many other areas so it was only fair for me to have to give this desire up, (along with a stay at my Aunt & Uncles on Vancouver Island and Claudette’s long awaited visit to Euclulet). I was also enormously tempted to try and go through Detroit so we could go to the Motown museum for a few hours. I didn’t even try and bring this up with Claudette, since we were so short on time to get across the country and she has only a passing interest in music. The profound impact of Motown and the many talented singers and bands it represented on modern music is something I would LOVE to have explored. Perhaps another time… Instead we stayed a little North of Windsor and crossed the border their on our way to Flint (Michael Moore’s hometown) and then North.

Southwestern Ontario

June 17th, 2008

We stayed at a friends parents house in the sweet little town of Aylmer. Actually it was a little in the Countryside near Aylmer. And it was a VERY nice, picturesque spot indeed. A little river ran adjacent to their property and Wayne had every conceivable “device” I would ever have expected to see on an acreage. Not only was there a nice floating dock and a few boats, but there was a large multi-story treehouse, various kids playground toys and most impressive of all there were several large wind down bird condo’s. These were on tall poles but had a hand winch at the base so that the condo complex could be brought down to open up the houses and see inside. Very impressive! Still not as impressive as the back room. There was an electrical and other “stuff” contraption that was very elaborate, but unfortunately must remain nameless.

Just a few hours to the Southwest was Point Pelee National Park. This is a long narrow marsh and sand point stretching out into Lake Erie. It is not only a beautiful spot, but is the most Southern Point in Canada. It is well below the latitude of the North border of the State of California. The most interesting part (to me) is that there used to be over 300 lots with cottages all down the point forty years ago, but Parks Canada bought and moved them all out. We were hoping to wade out on the point a little further South than friends from Smith had two years previously, but the Gods were not with us today. It was a pretty windy day, and the entire point of sand was blown under water, up to where large rocks were placed. It was still a pretty cool experience though and we went swimming a little ways North where the currents weren’t so dangerous.

In the area of Aylmer were tonnes and tonnes of crops. This was previously the area of Canada where about 75% of the tobacco crops were grown before all operations were moved to Mexico a decade ago. Being so far South, it is some of the best growing land available in Canada. Even pretty good for grapes and other fruits. Rush Creek Winery is just a kilometer away from Wayne an Jackie’s place. We had wanted to take a tour, but missed the closing time on our first two nights in the area. Instead we only had the chance to swing by at 9:00 AM on the day we were heading North to Sault St. Marie to continue our journey across Canada. The lady was a little surprised that we couldn’t go through the whole relaxing wine tasting routine, but just wanted to buy some and get going. Tim & Jo had shared a bottle of DECADENCE (an incredible Strawberry Chocolate concoction) with us at the very start of our trip in August when we met up. So we bought a case of that and then twelve assorted bottles of most of their other other types. We’ll slowly throughout the next several months open them and experiment with our taste buds. If any of you are ever within a couple hours drive of London, Ontario, then a visit to the winery is highly recommended. Check it out at:


June 15th, 2008

Back a few months ago we had arranged to meet with our MP in Ottawa and get a personal tour of the Parliament before getting to watch him in action during a question period. Unfortunately due to our car arrival screw-ups, Dennis had to leave Ottawa a couple of days before we were able to arrive. Luckily he arranged with his assistant Joy (also a former Smith resident) to sign us in and give us a quick tour. This included going up to Peace Tower, all alone up the elevator and then all by ourselves up top checking out the views in every direction. It was a great tour until we attended question period of course. The intensity and degree of heckling was questionable at best, and downright astounding and unacceptable at worst. Still, it was pretty interesting to see. The library was certainly the most beautiful and opulent room we saw in the House of Commons. The public are only allowed to enter and stay behind a roped off area to stare in awe at the splendor…

The McBride family wonderfully set us up here with a great place to stay with some friends of theirs for our three nights in Ottawa. The Mills family had a nice home near Carleton University and were awesome hosts. We spent our first full day in town at Parliament and then wandering around downtown a bit. We headed North that evening to visit some old friends from Smith who had moved to the bedroom community New Gower. Claude & Esther had a great property here with a swimming pool and a couple acres of grass for the boys to run around on. We had a great BBQ and caught up on each others lives. Before departing we agreed to meet up at the laser tag place in Ottawa the next day. None of us James’ had ever played laser tag before so we were looking forward to it. Only three quarters of us played with the three Doucette boys, but we all had a blast! At eight bucks per person for a twenty minute game, I thought that it was somewhat reasonable but not too often of course. When you hit a target that any other player is wearing, your information is transmitted so their pack registers who gets credit for the hit. Once you are hit, your weapon and pack powers down for five seconds. At the end of the game, everyone is scored and ranked according to how many hits they got and received. It was a pretty fun time!

Our next laser tag booking wasn’t for a couple of hours so we headed to the National Science and Technology Museum. This a HUGE building, with all sorts of incredible displays and some very impressive, (and large) historically significant machines for the viewing and touching fascination of the public. They even had four original steam trains and a couple of regular cars set up within the building! There was far too much to see before we were due back for our second laser tag games, but luckily our tickets would allow us back in to the museum after another round of laser tag. The Mills dropped off their daughter, Nicole, to join us for the afternoon of shooting as well. After the second game we resumed touring the Science museum until almost closing time, before heading back to the Mills for a scrumptious Turkey Dinner. After a last evening of visiting with the Mills, it was time to turn in and prepare for our drive the next day.

Situational Elitism

June 13th, 2008

I discovered here in Quebec City that the Act Of Quebec signed in 1774 seems to be the route of our slightly messed up country. This wonderful little piece of legislation gave the entire area (now “Province”) to France for their own settlers. This was after the French had been generally tossed out of governing or generally “owning” any portions of the country. Such a huge and valuable area was given up only because the English were afraid of an invasion (and rightly so it turned out) from the Americans to the South. Now, 135 years later we are still paying dearly for some bureaucrat’s generous decision to give up an enormous chunk of very valuable land and all of the “distinctness” that came with that.

If only that negotiating team could see today what they have done; transfer payments that are the most lopsided of any province, seperate “federal” laws from the rest of Canada, and a constant whining for formal recognition from every other citizen in Canada of their Society being “distinct” within our extensive and very diverse magnificent country. This smacks of such elitism when every other area of Canada is so uniquely distinct from almost every other region or area. Comparing a Cape Breton Fisherman to a Saskatchewan Farmer. Neither would compare to a Quebec provincial bureaucrat who is ingrained with the “gimme, gimme, screw everyone else who needs it more than me” philosophy of life.

I really can’t fathom how any single citizen or group of citizens is/are any more distinct than any other individual or group. We met many residents who were wonderful and friendly, but until the CANADIAN citizens of Quebec start thinking this way of themselves (and electing some party other than Bloq) the rest of us should remain uneasy and rather offended.


As a parting thought (and in all fairness) I should also add this little point about the three Northern Territories. While Quebec’s transfer payments are unbalanced and the whining rate excessive, the second largest federal budget is DIAND. Granted, we don’t whine “too” much, but if Southern Canadians really knew how their hard earned tax dollars were spent on “Indian & Northern Affairs” there would be mass riots in the streets. That would constitute a whole other post, (and probably not on this blog).

Quebec City

June 12th, 2008

When looking at hotels here Claudette didn’t even bother looking outside of the “Old City”. Since we were going to pay for a hotel anyways, we figured why not pay the extra $20/night (roughly) premium to stay within walking distance of everything we wanted to see and do. The only problem with this was that parking was about three blocks away in an underground parcade. We had transferred all of our clothes and “daily need” things into just one suitcase which made it handy in that we could just leave the other three bags in the car. The whole experience here quickly immersed us back into Europe where the roads are small, hotel rooms dingy and sidewalk restaurants plentiful.

On our free day we started with a citael guided tour and made plans for a City walking tour at 2:00 that afternoon. The citadel is a working Canadian Military base and home of the Van-Doos. It was a pretty interesting tour and the fort had a broad, commanding view of the St. Lawrence Seaway. After a bite to eat we lined up for our scheduled walking tour. This was officially put on by Canada Heritage, so we used our season pass yet again for a discount. We were together with a mid fifties Kiwi couple, and an older couple from Toronto. We were supposed to take around ninety minutes all total but after the first fifteen minutes it started raining. It looked like it would be a hard rain, but probably not too long. As the downpour started, we were asked by the guide if anyone wanted to continue in the rain. The older couple were incredulous that such a option would even be presente. Both of the New Zealanders said sure, and the James’ proclaimed a resounding “Yes!”. For those who weren’t sure, I announced that I’d heard that skin was waterproof. The Kiwi lady quickly changed her mind and dropped out. While the older couple were waiting for the guide to dig their ticket stubs out of his pocket, I had to ask nonchalantly “So where are you from again? Toronto is it?” in a quizzical yet innocent voice. They readily confirmed and I broke out in a broad grin before proclaiming, “Oh yeah, the place where the military gets called in with a little bit of adverse weather.” They sheepishly acknowledged that “yes, the rest of Canada will probably never let us live that down…”

The tour itself was very informative and interesting, if not more than a little damp. I kept the camera bag tucked under one arm as the five of us followed along with occasional questions or clarifications. The guide was a jolly young man who was very personable and knowledgeable. He also had a new staff member along who was observing and learning how to do the tour. We ended up at the local park office which was part of the old wall, and right beside one of two original powder storage bunkers. They had excellent displays including a large 3D relief model, with movable pieces showing the stages of development over different eras.

The one other notable thing about old Quebec City was the fact that it was jam packed with grade school field trips. Every age and both “official” heritage designations (Francophone & Anglophone) were well represented. The rain didn’t seem to bother the school kids as much as the “other” tourists either. Every doorstep and stoop was packed full of people who ”were” just wandering the roads a few minutes previously, but now were scrunched in tiny dry spaces like sardines to avoid the rain. Just too funny to watch… Still thoughm not as funny as the fact that the English had built most of Quebec city originally.


June 10th, 2008

We are currently formalizing our plans for travel across North America. We toyed with many different stops and routes and think we have finally come up with something that’s going to work best for us. As Claudette briefly mentioned previously, we’re looking to visit friends and family to visit along the way where possible. We’re also looking for living room floors or foldout couches when appropriate to allow us to stay up late and share a bottle of wine too. We’ve had several commented and e-mailed offers already, to which I heartily thank you all. Here’s roughly what we plan. I should emphasize that the dates are EXTREMELY flexible, and absolutely not set. Plus I’m unsure of the accuracy of my travel times in between locations. This current routing is also flexible and we are easily open to many deviations along the route. Just send us an e-mail! 🙂
We were quite delayed in getting our car shipped from Montreal, but are now on the road and seeing the rest of Canada!


——- ————- ——————–
2008-06-12 Ottawa Mills / Davis
2008-06-15 Alymer Cahil’s
2008-06-17 Saullt St. Marie Water’s
2008-06-18 Thunder Bay Phil & Joy’s
2008-06-19 Winnipeg hotel?
2008-06-20 Morse Potter’s
2008-06-21 Lethbrige secret visitor (hotel?)
2008-06-22 Trail Tanguay’s
2008-06-24 Ladysmith Edmundson’s, James’, Keizers?
2008-06-27 Vancouver hotel? (leave Isle early for long drive)
2008-06-28 Barkerville Artiss’
2008-07-01 Kelowna Artiss’
2008-07-02 Kamloops James’ & Gauthiers
2008-07-04 Airdrie Perpar’s & meet with McBride’s
2008-07-07 Edmonton Everyone Else!

So, that’s how things are “roughly” shaping up. Now, I just need to contact everyone written above that we’re presuming on staying with and confirm those dates are OK. 🙂

Looks like the nicely aligned columns of my typed in table are gonzo once I publish this. Bummer…

New Brunswick

June 9th, 2008

We booked a little B&B in a town called Alma, just outside of the Bay Of Fundy National Park. We had one night to spend in between Halifax and halfway up New Brunswick. While there are many parks in between those two towns, the Bay of Fundy really captures the imagination of us “Prairie People”. The largest tides in the world is really something worthwhile seeing. We had previously done the jet boat tour at the reversing falls (HIGHLY recommended!) in St. John, NB, but the kids didn’t really remember much about it. We stopped at the Park Office & Interpretive center. Sadly, the displays were about the most basic and pitiful that we’d seen in any park. This could normally be written off to budget cuts, or an apathetic staff & lack of guidance and interest from the Superintendent. Here though was different. Pitiful displays and explanations were coupled with the most thoroughly stocked and amazing gift store we had yet to encounter in a National Park Office. Complete with a uniformed staff member, we were left with little doubt of where the emphasis of staff resources were directed. The visitor services lady we spoke with as at least helpful and friendly in describing different areas on a map that we might be interested in visiting.

We picked a spot a little ways away that had a long inlet and would be pretty cool at low tide. After a brief walk through the trees from the parking lot, we were blown with a pretty strong and steady breeze coming up the inlet. There wasn’t any sand here, but we wandered around hunting interesting rocks and building rock bridges in the small stream of water running down towards the ocean still. It was pretty wild to look at the high water mark that covered everywhere we were walking. With tides of 10m at a 382 minute (6H22min) interval, the Bay of Fundy has the largest tide difference in the world. After a while of fooling around, we followed the small stream down to the open water. We were about 90 minutes past low tide, but still had to walk a ways down. When we finally got there things were changing fast; quietly lapping water was quickly climbing up the gently sloping beach to creep closer and closer to the high tide mark. We stood on a nice long gravel bar that was higher than the mud flats around it. As we watched the water creep up stealthily on both sides, Claudette and I were hypothesizing on how many minutes it would take to cut off a “dry” escape route for us. I guessed that within about fifteen minutes we’d have to retreat. Claudette studied the creep up the mud flats for an extra few seconds and guessed that it would be within ten minutes, or maybe even a little less. I stuck a 14cm tall stick in at the water line and watched it get quickly but quietly envelope within barely ninety seconds. After watching that, both Claudette and I revised our estimates to barely another three minutes! This proved to be accurate, and certainly much better than our initial, uninformed estimates. The kids and I then messed around by standing on a couple of big rocks while Claudette filmed the water surrounding us, and then she capture our last minute leaping to dry safety. Well, I should say “dry” for Alex and I only. Dryness seemed to just somehow elude Luke, as it does with most 10-12 year old boys (including me at that age I wholeheartedly admit) I’m sure. We had a pretty good time there retreating up the valley with the encroaching water several times for the camera before finding some awesome skipping rocks and throwing them on the way back to the car.

Five Summers ago we had flown out to New Brunswick for Claudette’s sisters wedding, (Monique & Greg). With a rented car we had a great opportunity to explore around the province as well as Prince Edward Island. Greg’s parents live in an incredible little spot near Blackville in the Mirimichi area. Our only purpose this this trip was to visit with Frank & Sylvia again for a couple of nights before continuing on West to Quebec City. They have a great place on a couple acres a little ways from the town of Blackville. Most importantly there is a little river (or large creek) running adjacent to their beautiful property

Bartholomew River can get up to 1-2 meters deep, but with little rain lately it was just covering our ankles and up to mid shin in some other spots. Perfect for a nice relaxing float on air mattresses downstream. Unfortunately we only had one (which Luke accidentally put a rip in that morning playing with it). So the kids and I drove off to Blackville to buy a couple of new ones to float down on. The fishing store, a boating store, the drugstore toy department, the grocery store an the hardware store staff all gave us a blank look when I inquired. The best answer I got was that the Home Hardware store at Mirimichi or Doakville would “probably” have them. The trouble with that was the fact that those two towns were almost thirty minutes in either direction from Blackville. That would be quite the waste of gas especially considering that I’d wasted some already traveling the ten minutes from the house to Blackville.

Instead, we drove back to the house and scrounged a couple of life jackets and a small (ten liter) jerry can to float down on. Claudette drove us up the river a little ways to a spot I’d found previously while hunting around on the gravel roads. It was a bit of a treacherous hillside in the dense bush from the road to the river’s edge, (especially for Luke’s bare feet!) but we managed. More intense, distracting, and indeed, OVERPOWERING were the bugs! After being away fromn the North for a year, I quickly came to the conclusion that we were absolute bug wimps! Missing was the nice toxin buildup in our systems that prevented the huge welts and scary looking reactions. As gorgeous as this little river valley was, the density of mosquitoes was rather alarming. Still we plunged in to the 20 cm deep water and waved Claudette a cheery wave goodbye before madly trying to get downriver a bit and away from the infestation of nasty, flying, blood sucking little things with unmarried parents. After getting underway, it was wonderful, exciting and relaxing all at the same time. We had about a half an hour float down the river until we came upon the big white rock inn the middle of the river indicating that we were at the Burns homestead.

After cleaning off and drying up, we settled in for our last evening here while Claudette took off with Sylvia to “take in” a Parish Council Meeting. Luke played for a few hours with Nick who had just finished a four day canoe trip with his Dad at the Burns’ house. His Dad had gone back to town to get their van, while the kids played outside in the bestest (and free) mosquito restaurant in town. We’d been good so far in Canada with NOT leaving things behind, especially after Luke’s precedent’s with clothing articles and mine with chargers. Unfortunately, Claudette and Alex BOTH left their PSP’s behind in the Mirimichi, and we had to ask Sylvia to mail them ahead to us.

CAPE BRETONN AND HALIFAX, (Part Two) Actually Doing Stuff.

June 7th, 2008

We drove a bit of the Cabot highway heading North to Sydney for the ferry last week, so on our way South we went through Louisebourg. This was a historic French fort and city which protected the entrance to the St. Laurence Seaway and thus the main Fort at Quebec City. There was also the governor’s residence for the New World in Quebec City that needed protecting. Louisebourg was a very impressive fort, but even more impressive was that it fell inn battle to the English. TWICE. After the first time, the English moved in themselves, but a couple years later the French and English signed a treaty which gave this fort back to the French as well as guaranteeing everlasting peace. Just a few short years later they were at war again, and the Brits launched another massive armada of ground troops and ships from Halifax. This time when the took the un-takeable fort, (again) the English blast every last stone building and wall to the ground. They wanted to ensure that the French would never control this strategic point again.

We enjoyed wandering around the fort and city. It is difficult to understand how the English could have taken the place with the extensive fortifications and armament. The land was swampy, crappy and muskegy; simply the worst possible stuff for battle. We were visiting there on June first, which was their first day of opening. This historic site also did things up real well with all kinds of staff in all types of period costumes and “living” the parts of characters from a few hundred years ago. When visitors talk to them, the period staff reply and act completely in character. In some places where there were no other visitors I would have an extended conversation and ask how long they’d been working there. Only one guy we encountered was five years (or “seasons” really). All of the rest were at least ten to twenty years, with several upwards of thirty and one at thirty-eight years! This is their life long careers for the most part. Some work other odd jobs for the remaining eight months of the year, but most just seem to go on pogie.

The remainder of our drive to Dartmouth was pretty uneventful. We had stopped at New Glasgow on both the way up and the way back for lunch. It was only after we got back to Halifax that I tracked down a number for a friend I had surveyed with at Diavik. When we finally got to chat on the phone it turned out he didn’t live just outside of Halifax as I had thought. Instead he lived in New Glasgow! That was quite the bummer, since we didn’t have the time available to go back there for a visit. Another great guy I worked with at Daivik who was in Dartmouth was difficult to meet up with due to his travel schedule and ours taking off to the Rock. He was in between shifts in Saskatchewan somewhere and going off to Montreal to buy a three year old Mercedes SUV. I can’t remember the price he was paying, but it wasn’t much more than the $25,000 we payed for the year old Ford Freestyle AWD. For an early twenties guy there’s probably no quicker way than that to get a girl who wants a ring and to settle down. I guess only time will tell on that one.

During our last few days in Halifax we managed to get around quite a bit. Id’ always wanted to go to the Maritime Museum of Atlantic Canada just to go through their famous displays on the Titanic and the Halifax Explosion. When we came around the last turn before the exit there was a HUGE bonus display as well. A large part of the cityscape set from Theodore Tugboat along with all of the boat characters were set up on display! This was also a long time wish of mine to see. I’d given up on the possibility though several years ago when the show was canceled. The ships we got to tour there were really interesting to crawl around on as well, especially for us land lubbers with no real experience in such matters of sea faring ships. The Acadia was a government survey ship for the duration of it’s almost fifty year working life. The interesting thing about this ship was the sumptuous cabin and office of the lead surveyor, who was officially inn charge of the ship. The captain could overrule him anytime he felt the surveyors directions would endanger the ship or crew, but for the most part the surveyor ran the show. The assistant surveyors cabins were also pretty nice by ship standards,a nd they had their own nicely appointed common room, where they made day plans and drafted as well as where their meals were served by waiters. This ship had completed extensive bathymetric surveying (measuring the sea floor) all up and down the East coast of Canada as well as large portions of the Arctic. This included not just the shipping lanes, but bays, inlets and off of all coastline just for any future reference.

Just a couple days before our Nova Scotian departure, we took an day trip up to Lunenberg. On the way there we passed though Mahone Bay which would seem to me to be the most picturesque little community we’d seen. Set in an incredibly beautiful and very well protected bay are large and colorful Victorian style houses and a quaintness that Westerners dream of. Lunneberg itself was enormously tourist-centric with correspondingly high prices. Still we had a great meal and then wandered down to the Fisheries Museum there. The displays and demonstrations were excellent, and it was obvious that they were used to many, many more tourists at this time of year. The high Canadian dollar is obviously discouraging a considerable amount of their American travelers. Still though, we enjoyed ourselves. They had a retired “long line” fishing ship and it was open for visitors to climb around on and try to envision what life was like for these guys.

Before leaving town I was hoping to get back to another used clothing store to get some more stuff, but never really got the opportunity. Nor did I get the chance to go and visit Ralph’s; a friendly looking little neighborhood bar a block from Marc & Wendy’s house. In the meantime Marc had finished the new Settlers board holders while we were away and I packed one up inn protective cardboard to take back to Wendy’s brother, Tim, in Fort Smith. We were all loaded up with a new SIM card for the cell phone and electronics to fill every last bit of space in our bags. While in the Rogers store I had also grabbed a portable high speed 3G data modem. This allowed us to hook up the computer to internet whenever we were in range of a Rogers 3G cell tower. Good for traveling where local phone companies offer WIFI in a sparse fashion and for way too much money. This rogers modem only costs $50/month for unlimited high speed bandwidth, a pretty decent deal I figured. The speed is ample, and easily handles big downloads and skype phone calls with ease. The other electronic purchase I had sorta “splurged” on was two more VERY cheap PSP’s at a pawn shop. They were the thick models and therefore easily hackable with the new Pandora’s Battery I had set up via instructions from the Net. Changing the operating system allows for greater consumer control on how to operate the device and what they can do with it. With a bit of further effort I could hack any slim PSP model as well, but so far have just kept it to the programming for the phat models.

The night before we left we went to Riverdance in Halifax thanks to Sylvia Burns (Claudette’s sister’s Mother-In-Law) who was taking a bus tour from New Brunswick to see the show. It was awesome to see and a very fitting end to our departure from the Maritimes. This was also the troupes farewell performing city after a five year (I think?) run throughout North America. It was a spectacular show though, and zooming inn on the face of the flamenco dancer gave us a startling revelation. While all the other dancers were between about eighteen and thirty years old, this VERY talented Latino was early to mid fifties. She had a smile, moves and a body (and especially a passion inn her dancing) that undoubtedly made all t6he younger girls very jealous. She was a pleasure to watch.


June 7th, 2008

The Ferryride was certainly longer than I expected. Obviously I hadn’t ever payed close attention to a regional map of the Maritimes. The foundation of my Ferry experiences were based on going from Vancouver to Naniamo to visit the James family with my Dad a few times when I was a kid.

There are two main routes for taking a ferry from cape Breton to Newfoundland. The shorter one leaves from Sydney almost directly North to Port Au bask, the closest town, and is about a 6-8 hour ride (depending upon the seas and darkness). The second route also leaves from Sydney, but heads Northeasterly across the ocean towards St. Johns. I’m unsure how long that route is, since it will not even begin running until mid-June when the traffic gets heavier. This thought was laughable since there was quite the huge line up of vehicles waiting to board, AND we had to pre-book our passage no less. The one cool space saving (but hugely time-wasting) thing they did was to load tractor trailers all along the sides of the lanes, then detach and drive back off of the ship. This allowed the trailers to be butted up to one another with nary a half meter to spare. Our scheduled arrival time was pretty late on the other side, so we had pre-booked a B&B just on the other side. We were delayed leaving a couple hours and when we arrived extra late on the other side, the B&B lady didn’t even bat an eyelash since altered schedules were absolutely the norm and not the exception.

The next morning we headed off North to Gross Mourne National Park, about half the height of the province to the North. All we’d heard about this park was absolutely true. It was glorious, and beautiful and really extraordinary. We visited the main park office and after a quick orientation on their offerings we quized them as per the instructions of our sacred quest. A good friend back home is the visitor services manager for our own national Park. He believes, and very sincerely I have to say, that all (or as many as possible) Parks staff should at least be vaguely familiar with some of the other National Parks across the country. As such, we have been tasked with broadening such knowledge of all Park staff that we encounter. The quickest (and friendliest) way we tend to accomplish this is by asking individuals or groups what the name of and where the largest National Park in Canada is. These guys did OK, and one of them came out with WBNP as a third guess (totally grasping at straws) after Banff and Elk Island. When I went to further explain that we have seasonal forest fires which are the same area as a third of their park, everyone’s eyes widened inn suitable astonishment and wonder.

Due to all of the salesman’s screw-ups with our car delivery, we were sadly short of time on the “Rock”. This meant that we just couldn’t even consider heading East much at all. I also wanted to make the long (four hours extra each way) drive to the North to see the Viking settlement which represented the first settlement of Europeans (or Caucasians) in North America. It was a long boring drive when we were short of time, but we were (well, I was anyways!) willing to invest the time for something so historically significant. Luckily for Claudette we discovered that the Viking historical site wasn’t open until June First! That was still a few days away, and we needed to be back on Nova Scotian soil by then. We had also prebooked our return passage on the ferry for the night of May 31.

After toying with a few different possible excursions, we decided on a few and headed to a town at the South end of the Park. There was more outstanding “things” to see and do inn this smaller section of the Park. Most famous of all were the “Tablelands”. These are flat topped mountains (large hills really) that were thrust up from the very depths of the earth’s crust. They contain keys to our planets makeup and Geologists consider the area an orgy of learning onn display. They were indeed VERY cool, and after a night at a little B&B in Woody Point, we all enjoyed walking along the paths and studying the rocks too. We also picked a nice little hilly path that led to the shoreline of the Ocean. It was only about 5km in, but there was a nice little campground at the top of the cliffs for those who might be so inclined. There were sea caves about 300-400 meters down one way that people can walk to at low tide. We had intended on checking them out but arrived about an hour too late to make it back to the stairs up before the incoming tide would cover the route. We still played around on the beach for awhile and enjoyed ourselves quite a bit before hitting the trail for the mostly all uphill trek back to the parking lot.

We ate our fill of seafood at a few different restaurants on the island, and checked out a few other small towns along the way South back to Port Au Basque. We had gotten word from one restaurant that one of the two ferry’s was down, and the remaining one was massively behind schedule. We checked on our booking and were told to show up anyways, which we did a couple of hours early. With an overcast drizzle and three hours to kill before our scheduled departure, we set in to watch a couple movies and some cheers episodes on the car’s DVD screen. Worse still though, our departure was delayed another two and a half hours. Since we were taking the overnight cruise to return to Cape Breton, we had pre-booked a cabin this time as well. That proved to be incredibly worthwhile. Once parked on the ship, we went directly to the cabin (with an ensuite head) and all immediately crashed. Everyone slept quite soundly and it was a loud and very rambunctious child in the cabin that finally woke us up a little after nine inn the morning. Not bad under normal circumstances, but we had only just gotten to our cabin at about three in the morning. Nonetheless, we splashed some water on our faces and waited for docking before returning to the car and driving off.

Ready to leave Halifax, again…

June 7th, 2008

Here’s a quick update for those that have been missing our blog, since Rick has been failing in his duties lately.

We had to wait almost 2 weeks for our car so we had a great time relaxing with Marc and Wendy. On one weekend, we visited Peggy’s Cove. After finally picking up our new car on May 26th, we drove to Newfoundland where we visited Gros Morne National Park for a few days. The pictures are spectacular and are already posted in the picture gallery. As well we visited Cape Breton on the way there and back. Louisbourg was great with the staff all dressed up and animating the daily tasks of what the fort would have been like.

Unfortunately we had to hurry back to Halifax as we had an appointment to get some things fixed on the car, although they ended up taking a few more days than we originally planned but luckily, we got to stay with Marc and Wendy for a few extra days. We’ve had a great few days where Wendy went all out for Luke’s 11th birthday hosting a party with family and friends and making a great cake. We also took a day trip to Mahone Bay and Lunenburg, which were both just beautiful little towns. On our last two days we’ve spent visiting downtown Halifax at the Discovery Centre and Museum of the Atlantic.

Today before we leave Halifax we are meeting up with Sylvia Burns (my sister’s mother-in-law) so we can go see an afternoon performance of the show “Riverdance”. After the performance we plan to hit the road and see what we can see of the Bay of Fundy.

Thanks for following our adventures, and we will try to get back to posting some regular messages. As the kids say that they have some entries but Dad just hasn’t posted them yet (although I know Rick will say I could have done it too). Take care!


May 28th, 2008

In my previous post I said we completely relaxed in our first week inn Halifax. That’s obviously not entirely true. While there was certainly some relaxing taking place Claudette and I were busy with many little administrative “tasks” as well. Arranging our new vehicle sticker, laundry, buying some new clothes at the Sally-Ann and another used clothes place, along with catching up on publishing my mostly written European posts were among our long lists of things to do. Granted, there was also some hot ‘n heavy scrabble games between the girls that took place in there as well. During our absence from North America there was a new phenomena sweeping our friends kitchen tables across Halifax, Edmonton & Fort Smith. It is called SETTLERS. Settlers is a dynamic game for 2-6 players that easily changes game play from one game to the next. This is due to small hexagonal board sections that can be moved around after each game to provide a unique board each time. Some of my (and Marc’s) spare time was taken up during our two weeks in Halifax with designing a board holder. Settlers comes with a cardboard outline which holds the loose pieces together, but he had scrolled some thin wooden pieces out to make for better containment. Unfortunately his thin wood pieces had warped and the puzzle style rounded links on the ends no longer locked together. After many discussions and a few prototypes we came up with a design that seemed to work quite well. Since we had a nice big piece of maple veneer we made three sets of game boards at the same time. One extra for a friend back home in Smith, and the third for a friend of Marc & Wendy’s in Halifax. I also made a few trips to the “Dollar” store, and made a complete game for us based on various colored pieces of foam stuck to flexible magnets and then all on a cookie sheet. The playing cards I designed on the computer and printed off to glue on to a cheap pack of regular playing cards. The retain game for $40 plus we needed an expansion pack for another $25+. Inn the end I think I spent under $20 for the equivalent.

We got tired of waiting around for our car to arrive one day and took a taxi to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography. This is a Federal Government set of research labs and coordinating offices for many experiments and projects. Even though it is a scientific research facility, they have the foresight to employ two four month Summer students each year and provide tours for advance bookings only. We arranged one an got in as just the four of us for almost two hours. She initially started us off with a description of the many types of things that they do and coordinate there. Next we visited the live tanks with running experiments of all varieties. Here we saw some huge and mutant lobsters. Some were blue or albino, and obviously represented some of the oddest specimens. We wrapped up the tour with a visit to a cool touch tank. The kids (and even Claudette!) had fun here while I was shooting pictures like crazy!

We did also manage to take in a few other sights before getting the car and heading off to newfoundland. Mainly the very impressive Citadel had a commanding view of the harbor and city, while showing off a nice little collection of 200 year old weapons and period costumes. Mostly, we “relaxed” and caught our break from the previous ten month mad rush (or so it sometimes seemed) around the world.

Waiting to move on…

May 24th, 2008

Well, we thought we were being smart! We purchased a used 2007 Ford Freestyle from Montreal about 2 weeks before arriving in Canada. The plan was that the vehicle would be shipped to Halifax so it would be waiting for us when we arrived on the 14th. Well it’s now 10 days later and we are still in Halifax waiting for our car to be delivered. So much for planning ahead…..

We are still planning to drive across Canada with a small detour into South Dakota as Rick wants to see Crazy Horse ( ). Hope to see a lot of you along the way, so we will try to keep you informed as soon as we know too. Bye for now, Claudette

Arrival in Canada!

May 20th, 2008

Landing on Canadian soil again was indeed refreshing. Especially after such a cramped coach ride on our super discount cheap tickets. Marc (a friend formerly from Fort Smith) met us at the airport with a big smile. After hugs all around we crammed our luggage into his car and proceeded to his house where Wendy had several huge homemade pizza’s waiting. Luckily, Marc works at the airport and merely went to the arrivals area with a good book after work to wait for us.

Before getting out of the secured customs area we went through the usual rigamarole (but for the last time EVER on this trip!) The agent we lined up at was an older guy who seemed friendly enough but was obviously tired after a long day. He clearly didn’t understand the significance of our four broad smiles and our barely containable excitement at being “home” again and getting our passports stamped in Canada! We politely and briefly explained the significance of our arrival and he gave us a tired yet very sincere “Welcome Home!”. The vacation charter airline we rode on was Condor Airlines. It had a handful of Canadians on board but most were German tourists landing in Halifax with plans to tour around the Maritimes a bit. Whatever they were doing, it seemed an impressive amount of Germans to be visiting the East coast.

After meeting up with Marc we trundled along quite a ways with our bags in tow to get to the public parking lot. The Halifax International Airport was under fairly extensive renovations, outside and inside. The most disappointing part was the severe lack of transportation options to get into the city. Not only was there no subway or train station out here (understandable considering that the city doesn’t even HAVE a subway or public train system) but there weren’t even public busses that ran out on any sort of schedule. There is only one lone guy that operates an extended van but his fees would be more than a $60 taxi ride for the four of us! With these pitiful options available, Marc was gracious enough to wait around for us after work instead. There was a little concern about fitting all our bags and bodies inside his little Suzuki AVERO (????), but with several months of experience under our belts we managed that too. Wendy greeted us all with huge hugs and lots of home made pizza, a great recept6ion on both counts. Marc’s mom was visiting from Fort Smith as well and filled us in on all the latest news from home.

After getting cozy and sorting out dirty laundry ect, we had the most wonderful time relaxing for the next week. We had bought a car through a broker in Montreal who got us exactly what we were looking for, (a Ford Freestyle) and for an excellent price. While we had tried to pre-arrange everything from Europe to have it waiting in Halifax for us, the brokers cronies messed everything up and we received the car about two weeks later than expected. We arranged with my Mom to mail our old car license plate, and had the motor vehicles in Yellowknife send us a new sticker. Shortly after buying the car we arranged from Europe to get full insurance and e-mail us the pink slip. All we needed was the actual vehicle… When we did finally get it we were all pretty happy (finally) but still made a list of deficiencies that needed warranty repairs. The Ford dealership down the street from Marc & Wendy’s house was swamped so we made an appointment to bring it in after spending a few days popping up to Newfoundland and back.

A long update

May 16th, 2008

This blog will have 3 sections section 1.Spain And section 2. More of France 3. London (We left the day after the castle to go to Spain). oh yeah ju st some news my fairytale is almost done. O.k here we go.
To those who have watched “My fair lady” know about the rhyme ‘the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plane”. Well I saw “the rain in Spain stays manly on….. US. Everyday we were in Spain it rained on… well us. We stayed in a hotel where the wall where so thin you could hear a fly buzz in the other room we think it was an old folks home before it was a hotel. On our second night there the people upstairs (who sounded as if there were downstairs) were making a ruckus. until (finally) my dear old dad (notice the old) went upstairs and gave them a warning. We went to see monastery. (not much happened in Spain.) The monastery was in the clouds so it was a long drive up with ears popping in all. When we got there we went to the church and I baptized myself in the rain (in the courtyard). As bill Cosby says “i once saw people being baptized in a swimming pool. My biggest worry is that the priest would leave me down there”.
We had a nice late sleep in today before We had our drive. The drive was about eighty minutes from the town we were staying at. then we got to a city called Barcelona it is home to the Gaudi’s House a church. It’s been under construction for over fifty years and it is only half done. Dad says It will be completed much sooner than Crazy Horse. We went to the tower it was really high. I did not like it (to high) the stair case down was a spiral stair case (creepy) we did not see the entire museum but it was cool.
Next we went to the Picasso Museum. This was also cool. Most of the first thing inside I did not like because they were not abstract. I did not know that Picasso drew stuff that were not abstract. when we got to the abstract stuff I looked at them side ways and I saw a person not abstract (just not right colors) i did not point this out to dad mom or Alex I think I should have.
My great granduncle was an 18 year old Private in the Canadian Army and was killed in battle just two weeks before his nineteenth birthday.
We first drove to the Vimy Canadian War Memorial we got a tour of the original tunnels and trenches used in world war 1. After tour we went to see a monument. on the walk up to the monument we saw maple trees the guard told us because of the climate they did not chance the same way they do in Canada. The monument had all the soldiers that were in world war one name one it. we looked for my great granduncle William James. it took a while so all i will say it We found him. After we found his name we headed to the Orchard Dump Cemetery that is where he was buried it took a while to find his grave but we did in the end. We took some pictures and video and departed back to our hotel.
Tomorrow morning we are going to try to go and see Monet’s Gardens before heading to Paris. I Took a million pic with my new camera (batteries were included) and met a guy named Tim we bumped in to him a few time so we did get time time to tell him about the trip. I loved the gardens and if I was to recommend anything inn Europe I would recommend that (plus the parking is good!! Paris was cool. the first sight we saw was the louve. We only saw two amazing things. One the Mona Lisa you were aloud to take pictures I took four. It wasn’t all that some of the other paintings were better. The other was Venus de Milo. We also saw the Eifle tower at night and the view was nice (to tell you the truth I did not get a good view I was to busy wishing I was on the ground.
We arrived in London from the chunnel and phoned George to asked for directions. George was waiting for us about 2 blocks away from the apartmenta. (sorry about the a at the end of apartment i was just thinking about Italy) We went on a day tour and I fell asleep when we got to the first stop I was awake. the stop was a picture stop for big Ben which is funny because big Ben is not the clock it is the bell. So I have never seen big Ben. Our second stop was the queen calvary museum they were practicing for the queens annual birthday party. you were not aloud to stop and watch you had to continue on to the museum in the museum (it was a small museum) there was a dress up place i dressed up in all the costume’s. We got pics of me in all of them. The next stop was Buckingham palace not much to see really just a palace that you could not enter and a road. After that was lunch it was good i liked it. After lunch was The tower of London in old London the town was pretty nice there was a few people walking around answering questions and giving free tours. The crown jewels were nice I think they were small for the largest diamonds in the world. Our final stop was the London eye pretty High. We saw the mystery machine when we were leaving. The next big thing we did was…..I HAVE TO PUSH THE SPAMALOT !!!!!!! (aka Spamalot) Spamalot is another version of the holy grail. they still had the classic parts like the French taunter, I’m not dead and the pigeon argument but they had different scenes also like the lady of the lake and his name is Lancelot he likes to dance a lot and king Arther gets married to the lady of the lake. it was nice.
P.S to any one how has the book wicked I would like to borrow it.


May 15th, 2008

The Chunnel ride, while very cool in concept, was remarkably uneventful. Almost disappointingly so i would say. The super fast Eurostar Train went through a few tunnels first , which gave us a false start of thinking we were under the Atlantic. While it was fairly obvious when we actually did go under, there were certainly no announcements or notifications. I’m guessing that they just didn’t want panicky people to freak right out at the thought of being under ba-zillions of Gigaliters of body-crushing, breath drowning, saltier than thou, SEAWATER. We had pre-searched subway info on the net and knew where to head once disembarking from the chunnel train. We gave George & Monica a call to verify our arrival. I was somewhat surprised to hear George answer Monica’s cell phone since I had expected both of them to be at work. It turned out to be a Saturday with both of them lounging around their apartment waiting for us. We had completely lost track of the days of the week, yet again. Absolutely not the first time in the last several months and very likely not the last. From the subway exit, it was only a short few blocks walk to their apartment. Awesomely located is a huge understatement. just a couple blocks from Picadilly circus, there was easy subway access for anywhere we wanted to visit that was not within walking distance. Their generosity of hosting us was made even more profound by the quaint, cute, smallness of their studio apartment. We threw the kids on the kitchen floor every night, while Claudette & I took the hide-a-bed in the barely hide-a-bed sized living room. Separated by a small shelf of DVD’s was their bedroom stuffed in every nook and cranny with assorted “stuff” required for day to day living. This was awesome for us considering the alternatives were a one hour each way train ride to a cheaper hotel outside the city, or well over $500/night for two scrunched & gungy double bed rooms inn central London. Yikes!

After a few days, we had covered most of the London sights that are standard fare. There were many highlights, but the Londonn eye, (a Gynormous Ferris wheel) could pretty much look over all of ’em! We didn’t plan any trips outside the city, since we were just so short on time. We were thinking of trying visit Claudette’s Aunt inn the North, but she just happened to be in Canada while we were there in the UK. We had some great eats, and found a very reasonable pub (reasonable for London that is…) that would typically cost us around $65 for dinner. We had purchased 3 day passes for the tube as well as the same all day “Total London Experience” that we had sent Grandma Vi on. When we added up all of the attraction entry costs the expensive day tour worked out to be really worthwhile. Especially since they included bus transportation around to all the different places. The only downside was the heavy canvasing for tips from the bus driver at the end of the day. Having already paid $500 plus, we certainly weren’t in any sort of mood for the gouging of tips. We had a pretty tainted view of tipping by now, and figured that the bus driver needed to find a new job if he couldn’t make a go of it on his current wages.

There were all kinds of shows playing in London, and all kinds of “super, ultra discount” ticket booths hawking seats. As badly as I wanted to see a few different ones, Claudette kept our bank balance in check by planning for only one. We really wanted to see Stomp!,n but the last night we had available they were not showing. We then had to suffice with “Spamalot”. It was really great, and the kids were relatively well versed many of their skits as well as having watched the “Holey Grail” on the portable media player since I recorded it at Jim’s place in China. The theater was old and wonderful and oozing character from every old piece of shined wood. The only disappointment was the stuffy crowd. Either they hadn’t seen the movie EVER, (or they hadn’t seen it in thirty years and had forgotten everything) or else they all had had their mouths sewn shut. Ok, perhaps not that bad. Their were many points of muffled and restrained laughter, but not as much as the kids and I. Naturally, cameras and videotaping were strictly forbidden, but I turned it on anyways and took some still pics (with the night vision switch on for the darkened room) of Alex and Luke laughing their butts off.

We had a fabulous time in London checking out all the sights over those four days. It was not with a little excitement that we boarded our (last ever of the trip) flight from London, through Germany to Halifax. Off we went trucking along the streets from the apartment, with our suitcases in tow to the subway station. There were lots of odd looks as we walked by the early morning commuters. But we were carefree and laughing and looking forward to our long and presumably cramped economy, discount flight to home soil. YIPEE!!!!!

In france we speak A. French B. Italian C. Eneglish D. all of the before.

May 10th, 2008

In France We speak D. Of course We haft to speak French. Dad forgets we are in France and speaks Italian and we all speak English Because it is our first language. So in France We speak them all.

We are somewhere in the south of France and we are staying in a nice hostel they have a dog and a cat who have made a truce. I was so happy when I found out that they had toys It was so much fun. I played with the dog for half an hour and he was very hyper.

We went to a castle on our second day there for some reason we felt more medieval at this castle than the last one. Me dad and Alex went and saw the torture device’s (I wish I did not it was creepy. Me and Grandpa saw the haunted house it was VERY Very VERY SCARY. Last but not least we saw the castle (we were walking around the town before.) It was o.k but I liked the haunted house better.

Really miss you Luke!!


May 10th, 2008

Stunning, Amazing, Phenomenal; these words still can’t even come close to describing Paris. Culture and art oozing from every pore and orifice starts to get close, but it was still more, dare I say, “magical” just being there and breathing inn the lush majesty of this remarkable city.

While we had quite enjoyed driving around Europe, we all looked forward to Paris, and exchanging the car for subway rides everywhere. Claudette had booked a nice little hotel directly across the street from the Eurostar station (the chunnel train). It was old, and quaint; and thankfully had an elevator to get our bags up to the fifth floor. There was no restaurant in the place, but they served breakfast inn a little sitting area in the lobby. A croissant bun, a bit of cream cheese and some jams with juice, coffee or tea for $12!!! Dropping off the car was a synch, and they didn’t even balk at the smashed up bumper with mangled side panels and backup sensors. We submerged into an adjacent subway station, bought three day passes and then found our way across the city pretty easily.

We had a wonderful three full days wandering around Paris. We also managed to meet up with Greg & Monique (Claudette’s sister) again and toured a few places with them. The Louvre was particularly interesting. Not just because of the shear vastness of it’s amazing galleries and their world renown contents; nor only the stunning beauty of the buildings and architecture. Almost just as amazing as these aspects, was the accessibility of everything! Well, everything but the Mona Lisa (cordoned off and behind bullet proof glass) and the Venus De Milo (viewable only from behind a setback roped cordon). All other paintings, carvings and tapestries one could actually walk right up to for an extreme close-up view, (or even touch, if one was a “bad” person). We also managed to meet up with Claudette’s Aunt, Uncle & cousin again in Paris. Walking around downtown between our hotels and seeing the sights and all kinds of neat things in the nooks and crannies was great fun. There were numerous street performers out with all kinds of acts that we stopped to enjoy as well. The weather for pretty much all of our time in France was mostly sunny and very little rain. Paris did not disappoint either as we had all sunshine for our three and two half days there.

I believe that some senior French government tourism bureaucrat must have watched “French Kiss” several years ago and then set about a complete reformation of the services industry attitudes. The aloofness and extravagant arrogance in dealing with English speaking tourists that I’d so often heard of seemed non-existent to me. We had fairly enjoyable dealings with everyone and the infamous reputed superior attitudes must be a thing of the past. The only hint of conflict that I encountered was actually from the English customs/immigration agent at the chunnel train station as we departed. He was making fun of the ridiculous overbearing guards near their desk and the unnecessary hassle they were giving passengers. He then went on to elaborate with some other discouraging comments about the French people in general. And while the comments were pretty accurate, they were still pretty unnecessary.

Reflections After Nine Months.

May 7th, 2008

We’re tired…. I’ve briefly mentioned this before, but thought I would try and explain better now. Partially at fault is the fact that Egypt (and a little bit India) really kicked the snot out of us, but mainly our brains are on information overload. We’ve met many other long term travelers on our route, and this seems to be incredibly common for any people NOT traveling alone. Singles seem to make a more relaxing experience for themselves, and seem to spend much of their time making friends and connections while seeing some of the sights. Couples, families or groups however seem to be more focussed on the sights since they’re not typically “lonely” and seeking excessive interaction with others. This is not to say that we didn’t strike up conversations with other strangers easily and often, because we absolutely did. In fact we made some exceptionally wonderful friends throughout the trip that way. It is simply that our primary goal is a little different than singles, and we wear ourselves (our brains really) out at a much faster rate.

Most people we’d spoken with who traveled long term in pairs or more had a breaking point of about nine to ten months. I was always surprised to hear this, and expressed time and time again that such a phenomena wouldn’t occur with my family. We were having the time of our lives! And there was no way we would consider cutting it short, or be “tired” of traveling after only three quarters of the way through such an amazing opportunity. In Egypt we met a great Aussie couple that we spent lots of time with at our eight and a half month mark. They had previously taken a year off to travel the world and had cut it short and went home at the nine month mark. He easily accepted my incredulous testimony that “that “ wouldn’t happen to us, with a knowing smile and the patience of Job. The fact is that the exact same thing has happened to us. We are enjoying ourselves, and are certainly prepared to finish up our last bit of planned itinerary, but we are museumed, churched and general monumented out. If the option to go home for a while (a month or a year, or whatever) and then finish the last three months later somehow presented itself, we would all jump at it.

Our itinerary was lucky to make this phenomena less of an impact. Our last foreign area is Europe, with the last month and a bit spent in our home country, reconnecting with friends, family and indeed, our own heritage and identities. This is the difference between winding up with good overall feelings or remembering our last portion (and thus a stronger impression embeded in our minds of the entire trip) as being not fun and a general pain in the backside. Anyone (families, pairs or groups that is) considering a similar trip would be wise to plan a route in a similar manner intentionally for the the emotional well being of yourselves. The weaning back to a “normal”, civil society (via Europe for us) might sound inflammatory, but is is a very useful step in rounding out the trip. I couldn’t possibly imagine going to South America now (near the end) and being able to give it a fair shake, and be as open minded and embracing of all it has to offer as I was when we traveled there much earlier in our trip.


We’ve been asked often about what we would do differently or what changes we would have made if we knew before what we knew now. I try to live life without regrets, and therefore tend to ignore most of those kinds of fruitless backtracking in my mind. The one and only thing I would change would be to have purchased an organized tour (GAP or Intrepid) for Egypt. That would have insulated us from much of the hassles and the less than desirable experiences we did have. There were many other little “bad” things that we could have done differently to our benefit, but I generally consider those to be part of the overall life (and learning) experience. Egypt was the only thing I would do differently. Oh, and as I was analyzing and reconciling these feelings, I gave the Aussie friend a call and joyfully proclaimed, “Yes Ron, I understand EXACTLY how you felt, and readily agree now too.” He was very gracious about my previous teasing behavior and we simply had a wonderful moment of shared enlightenment.

Just THE Two Cities, then Halifax!

May 6th, 2008

I’d uploaded the incorrect file previously thus missing out on descriptions of a couple things. The South of France posted is repaired to it’s full glory now at:


We previously posted the inscribed text description from the Orchard Dump Cemetery, near Vimy in France. It was very poignant to tie in such a traditionally distant concept (World War One OR World War Two) with a family member. My Dad’s oldest Uncle on his own Fathers side was an 18 year old Private in the Canadian Infantry, (Manitoba Regiment) and was killed in battle just two weeks before his nineteenth birthday.

It was a lovely day in France. We first drove to the Vimy Canadian War Memorial where they give tours of the original tunnels and trenches used at that location in WWI. The tour was excellent and the monument was as amazing as any other beautifully carved edifice we’d seen on the trip. It took a little time to track down the J’s on the wall, but we soon found my Great Uncle William James listed. While the visit to Dieppe showed the large gun bunkers, everything we saw or read here emphasized the brutal soldier to soldier combat that was prevalent on the WW1 battlefield, (or trenches as it was). Canadian Cemetery Number Two was in between the monument and the Canada Heritage Interpretive Center (Don’t call them Parks Canada!!, Geesh…) and we stopped there to look at the graves and read the story. After that we headed to the Orchard Dump Cemetery, about 15km away. It was along a stretch of two lane road with steady traffic. This one was fairly large as well, and it took some footwork finding Private William’s grave. My Uncle Steve had done a great deal of research and footwork about his uncle. He sent us his name and summary, directions to the cemetery and right down to the grave map coordinates. What a huge help that was! We finally figured out the sections and then went down the row to find Great Uncle’s grave. We sat in the grass for a bit and read the register and reflected on “things”. After a while Claudette and I went to transcribe the plaque description before we took some pictures and video and departed back to our hotel.

Tomorrow morning we are going to try (for the THIRD time!) to go and see Monet’s house and extraordinary gardens in Giverny in the morning before heading to Paris. The first time we passed through on our way North to Dieppe was near the end of the day, and it was only open for another hour, but had a 45 minute-ish long lineup just to get in! The second time we had planned to go back to it a half hour South from the hotel the morning we were going to visit Dieppe. That morning we slept in and changed our mind, and decided to see it the next morning (Monday) before heading about 150 minutes away to the Vimy region. As we pulled up, the main parking lot was almost dead empty. Rather than being excited, Claudette and I knew immediately that this was a bad sign. Sure enough it was closed on Mondays. Thus we agreed to try again in a few days on our way back to Paris from Vimy. This was a heck of a detour, but we inherently knew it would be worthwhile. We will drop the car off in Paris and then spend three days taking the subway around to the sights before taking the Chunnel to London. Luckily Claudette booked our Paris hotel across the street from the Eurostar train station where we catch the Chunnel train. After three days in London we are booked to fly out to Halifax. While we’ve all really enjoyed the trip so far, we are all REALLY looking forward to hitting home soil!

The War on the Western Front, 1914-1918

May 6th, 2008

Taken from a plaque inscription at the Orchard Dump Cemetery, Near Vimy, France.


In the First World War the Western Front – a battle line extending from the Channel coast to Switzerland along which, four years, millions of men fought and died – was the principal and vital theater. Against the German army were arrayed the armies of the British Commonwealth, France, Belgium and, latterly, the United States. The first two months, a war of movement, saw the containment and partial repulse of the initial German thrust. There then followed three and half years of static trench fighting – war of attrition – during which defensive power was paramount. Neither side could effect a breakthrough and great battles were fought for small territorial gains. The last seven months were again a war of movement culminating in the Allied offensive, starting in August, which finally achieved the breakthrough leading to the armistice of November 11, 1918.

the six divisions of the British Expeditiary force which went to France at the outset in 1914 were deployed amongst the French Armies and played their full part from August 23 in the battles of Mons, Le Cateau, the Marne and the Aisne. The next three weeks, during which the battle line moved every day, were a highly critical period in which the German plan for ending the war at a stroke was foiled and the issue deferred.

In the first two weeks of October the BEF was moved from the central sector of the front to Flanders. this move shortened it’s lines of communication, which ran through Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne, and enabled it to protect these ports which were vital both to its own supply and reinforcement and to the Royal Navy’s command of the Channel. Over the next four years, during which its strength rose to fifty British and twelve overseas Commonwealth divisions – Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Indian and troops from Newfoundland, the British West Indies and other Territories – the BEF progressively took over more of the Northern sector of the allied line and fought a series of battles of attrition of which the greatest was the First Battle of the Somme in 1916.

After the German offensives of late March to mid July 1918 had been contained the advance to victory began on August 8 with the battle of Amiens, continued on a broadening front with the Second Battle of the Somme and of Arras and, in September, extended to the Ypres Salient. The advance swiftly gathered momentum and by the day of the armistice the front line ran fifty miles or more Eastward of the starting points. Nearly 750,000 Commonwealth soldiers, sailors and airmen died on the Western front – 200,000 in Belgium and over 500,00 in France. They are commemorated upon headstones marking graves in over 1000 war cemeteries and 2000 civil cemeteries, or on one of the six memorials in Belgium and twenty in France which carry the names of more than 300,000 who have no known grave.

Orchard Dump Cemetery

The cemetery was started in April 1917 during the First Battle of Arras and was used until the following November. It was reopened after the armistice for reburials from the battlefields. It contains the graves of 2694 British, 326 Canadian and 1 South African soldiers and sailors.

The Dieppe Raid

May 4th, 2008


The Dieppe Raid on 19th of August 1942 was the only large-scale assault on the coast of German occupied France prior to the allied landings in Normandy in June 1944. Entrusted largely to Canadian troops, it’s objective, to be accomplished within one day was not to hold a bridgehead, but to test the feasibility of seizing a harbor intact, then considered a prerequisite to the landing of the vast allied force needed to liberate Europe.

Of the six thousand soldiers who embarked from the English South coast 5000 were Canadian and the remainder, British Commando troops with 50 American rangers and 20 free French. Eight destroyers (7 British, 1 Polish) escorted them.

Although complete surprise was not achieved on the Eastern flank owing to an encounter between the landing craft and a German convoy, the initial stages of the raid saw some success. Assault groups landed, mostly unopposed, on the Western flank to disarm as many as possible of the German batteries and machine guns posted on the cliffs in advance of the main landing on the beaches and seaway. From orange beaches I and II 250 men from No. 4 commando surrounded, stormed and blew up the six 6 inch guns at Varengeville. Because of the earlier encounter with German shipping, only seven out of the twenty-three landing craft carrying No. 3 commando touched down, but 20 men on yellow II beach scaled the cliff and for more than 2.5 hours prevented any effective fore from the seven gun battery at Berneval. There 120 comrades on Yellow Beach I, where the Germans were by now alerted, were overwhelmed. The landing of 550 Canadians on Blue Beach was delayed and the Germans were able to pin down the whole of this force except for 20 men who reached the cliff top. A larger Canadian force of over 1000 men which landed on Green beach, part of it also delayed and part on the wrong side of the River Scie, nevertheless had considerable success, some units penetrating as far as Petit-Appeville.

By 05:20 hours, when the main Canadian force, with supporting bombardment from both sea and air, had started to land on Red and White beaches below the sea wall and on the espanade of the main sea front of Dieppe town, the firing on the flanks had brought the German defenses in the central sector to full readiness. From batteries and machine gun and mortar posts concealed in and protected by the cliffs a concentrated fire was directed upon the landing craft and troops on the beaches below. Little could be done to support the infantry or stop the German fire. Twenty-seven tanks provided some covering fire from behind the seawall; but the destroyers’ 4 inch guns could not suppress the batteries which the flank attacks had failed to reach. Bombing and cannon fire in frequent air sorties, at heavy loss, gave only temporary relief and the infantry, apart from a few groups which got some way into the town, could make no headway despite the commitment at 06:40 hours of reserves which included part of the Royal Marine Commando.

At 09:00 hours the force commander ordered withdrawal. After some delay landing craft went in under air cover; but many were sunk. Few of the men awaiting evacuation could get to those crafts which reached the beaches and many were taken prisoner. Shortly before 14:00 hours the raid was over.

The royal air force and the Royal Canadian Air Force had been heavily engaged throughout in bombing and cannon fire attacks and on reconnaissance, all under constant attack by German aircraft; United states, New Zealand, Polish, Norwegian, Czech, French and Belgian squadrans also took part. 106 allied aircraft were lost and 167 air crew, including 67 pilots were killed. The Royal Navy had 550 casualties, many from the crews of landing craft of which 33 were lost. The destroyer HMS Berkly was sunk. the commandos had 247 casualties of whom 43 were killed, while the Canadians suffered over 900 dead and lost nearly 1900 prisoners. Nevertheless the lessons learned at Dieppe were of inestimable value when the time came in June 1944 for the successful allied landings in Normandy which were to lead to final victory within a year.

Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery.

The 955 burials in this cemetery comprise:
Canada 707
United Kingdom 232
New Zealand 4
Australia 2
India 1
Other Nationalities 6
Entirely unidentified 3

Of these 783 were killed in the Dieppe raid, the remaining 172 being casualties of other operations. Some of the dead from the raid are buried in Brookwood military cemetery in England; others who have no known grave are commemorated on the Brookwood memorial.

Daytrip to Dieppe

May 4th, 2008

While in Dieppe today we followed the well posted signs to The Canadian Cemetery. It’s so difficult to tie in the significance past wars, and particularly the two world wars, to our family, especially since it was over even before my mother was born. The cemetery was quite lovely, and adjacent to some sleepy houses on the edge of town on one side, and rolling pastures on the other three sides. While we reverently walked up and down all of the rows reading the headstones, I was especially pleased with two things. First was how well maintained the area was. All the grass recently cut and all of the headstones were rooted to long rows of weed free dirt with all sorts of flowers and perennials planted in it. Secondly were the other visitors. During our two plus hours there, about six other “groups” or families came by for a total of about 14 other people. Granted it was a Sunday afternoon, but it was still pleasing to see so many local French people come out and walk around for whatever their reasons were. We also found a full register and guest book which made for interesting reading. There were many visitors from Alberta in the past month which was pretty cool. After leaving we drove to the cliff tops for an ocean view. There the old German gun bunkers are bricked up, but it was a stark contrast to the stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean. Their thick, gray concrete impassiveness helped really sink home to Alex & Luke (indeed, all of us realistically) how formidable a task the soldiers had in taking back Europe.

We are heading in two days to Vimy where my Great Uncle is buried in a WWI cemetery. My Uncle Steve had done a good bit of research digging up his information and readily sent it to us. So we look forward to making that somewhat distant yet vastly important family connection there. At this cemetery today on a plaque was the story of the Dieppe attack, and the final chapter of the lives of over 900 men buried there. We grabbed the laptop and retyped that story to post here. Every November 11 we think or say to ourselves “LEST WE FORGET” and yet I know I do. Posting this brief story on our blog is our meager contribution for our own remembering, and hopefully that of our friends and family reading as well…

Realizations and Philosophies

May 4th, 2008

I’ve come to the realization after traveling around the world, that it really doesn’t matter where you go and who you meet; we are who we are! This reality stuck me as I gazed upon these beautiful house with their view of the Atlantic ocean and realized that I liked what I was doing and what I had done but there is no place like home!

Now that my philosophizing is done back to reality. We have been in Europe for just over a month, and the countdown (10 Days) to returning to Canada is on. Eventhough we’ve spent quite a bit of time in Europe with family (Rick’s mom, Vi and my dad, Ray) and then met my sister Monique and her husband Greg, and Aunty Viv, Uncle Chris and my cousin, Mik; I think we’ve hit the wall, and the four of us universally agree that we looking very forward to getting back home. Also I don’t think our credit cards can handle much more. Even though I know that we’ve been averaging about $100 Euro/night for a room, it’s the food which is outrageous, as an example in Euros (last time I checked the exchange was Can. $1.83for 1 Euro) it’s usually $25-40 for breakfast, $35-50 for lunch and $85-130 for supper. I’ve decided that my coping mechanism will be not to check my credit card balances until we’re back in Canada.

As some of you may have heard already we are now the proud owners of a 2007 Ford Freestyle Limited AWD in gold (Um, not sure if I’ll like the gold part). So we have finally decided that we are driving across Canada and into part of the US. (Rick HAS to see Crazy Horse in South Dakota and that was the only way he’d agree to drive across the continent.) So with that said, we are OPEN TO ANY INVITATIONS for free beds, couches, and/or floor space since we have no money.

Here’s the quick plan so far; land in Halifax (visit Marc & Wendy) visit Cape Breton on our way to Newfoundland (find someone to take us in there) it’s also the only province I’ve never been to. Visit Frank & Sylvia in the Miramichi in New Brunswick, then on to Quebec City, before visiting Ottawa. From there we will probably head into the states (returning to Canada in Manitoba or Saskatchewan) or possibly staying in the US all the way to Vancouver Island before returning through BC to Edmonton, where we will send a couple of weeks before returning home mid July.

Anyway hope you’ve enjoyed my little rant and catch up post! Take care and miss you all, Claudette

Happy (belated) Birthday to me!

May 2nd, 2008

And also happy belated birthday Reem! And also happy belated birthday to Jessica! we are out of Spain and back in France now. I had a good B-day, but we had to wait til 900 for the resturant too open to have supper, because every where else people were smoking or the prices were WAY out of our range. and that was in Madrid. We dropped Grandpa Ray and Grandma Vi off at different airports and different counrtys but now we are alone again. And we have left Spain. The other day we got to see more relatives though! We saw Aunty Viv, Uncle Chris, Mik, Aunty Monique and Uncle Greg. We got to catch up with each other half way aroud the world! I had lots of fun and we all had tons of cheese and Baguettes. We also went to a wine tasting place too.Today we went to le pont D’avignon (the Bridge of Avignon) from the song. We danced underneath it because it cost money too go on top to dance. Now we are heading to another little town somewhere. We might be able to meet Aunty Monique and Uncle greg in Paris. I found out that if I won a million dollars and had to sort of waste it on something in every country in Europe, In Italy I would buy lots of Masks and in France I would come and buy smelly soap.
S’all for now

More Relatives Than We Could Shake A Stick At

May 1st, 2008

After dropping off Grandma Vi in Toulon (near Nice), we headed North to Orange to meet up with Claudette’s Aunt, Uncle & cousin as well as her sister and hubby. It was really great to see more family again. Plus the town had a couple of pretty unique monuments. We visited and drank wine in the best French tradition at Chris’ sisters place and got caught up on all sorts of news every which way. The following day we then went to a winery for a tour. Those who were bilingual translated as best they could here and there for those of us who had blank faces at all the wrong places during the commentary. After the process description was the samplng. Extensive sampling I should say… They wasted a pretty penny in taste testing, but between the four “families who bought some bottles in the end, the family run winery pulled in about 400 euro’s. Not too bad for a 90 minute and 1.5 liter of sampling I should think. Some of us had more samples than others of us. Pictures will be posted in the next week or so once that camera disc is finalized… We had a great day and a bit all together and then everyone went off in different directions. We also made plans to meet up again in Paris since we are all there at the same time again.

We stuck around and found a hotel in Orange right across from the ancient Roman Amphitheater wall. The previous day we had met Chris & Viv and Mik at the arch in the center of town. This was pretty cool as arches go, but we didn’t really know any history to go with it. This was the only hotel we had booked thus far that didn’t have parking available. We were simply thrown to the wolves. We miraculously found one only a couple blocks away (easy rolling distance for the suitcases) and paid for as much as we could to suffice the next two nights. Very fortunately there was a holiday in the middle, and the ticket issuing computers take this into account (cool!) and so we would not have to come out and “plug the meter” every two hours for the duration of our stay.

With a little trepidation we embarked the next day on the amphitheater tour. This is one of only three remaining ancient Roman Aphm’s that have their backdrop wall intact. This monument was operated by a private company, and the entrance price was very reasonable. Even better was that fact that EVERYONE automatically got an audioguide. (see end of this post for a description). We were all pleasantly surprised and considered it a very worthwhile visit.If in the area, this is another very worthwhile site to visit. They even have performances there on a regular basis, which would be amazing to see and hear. The acoustics were beautiful, and while the stone seating was not great, the ambiance more than made up for it!


An AUDIOGUIDE is a simple little telephone handset shaped device which gives specific commentary. It has a handle section with a keypad in the middle and a speaker at one end. There are noted stations along the area of this programed guided tour. At station 1 the user need only enter “1” on the keypad and press play. An extensive narrative about that specific point on the tour plays while the user listens. While going along a tour, there are also tertiary explanations, such as a more vivid description of what society in general was like at the time, or a reading of an excerpt of a play. The best thing is that the tour will be self paced for the user. Also, many languages can be easily programmed into different handsets thus vastly increasing the audience potential. We had never before used them, because we often had a guide, and everywhere else we’d seen them, the audioguides were extra money to rent.

South France (again) & Bye to Vi

April 29th, 2008

We spent a few hours on the net in Tossa coordinating the remainder of ours and Grandma Vi’s individual European stays. With a flight booked from the South of France to London, we somehow convinced her to leave us a couple of days early and experience London & Paris on her own. We certainly suffered some flak for this (Auntie Florence & Cousin Bev!) but in the end we all (even Grandma Vi if asked independently) felt it was pretty worthwhile. Check out her post from the link below.

We leisurely toured around a bit waiting to meet up with some of Claudette’s family in a couple of days. We stayed one night in Montpellier, and the toilette in our room was the highest one up I’d ever sat on. It reminded me of the outhouse at Watch Lake where my short little Dad had to place some 2×6’s at the base on the floor for his feet to rest on. His brothers and friends all teased him about his poor wittle legs, but I was secretly appreciative of having something for the legs of my mere 5’10” frame to rest on. It just helps in allowing one to clench the “other” muscles just the right way… Nonetheless I was lamenting the lack of any handy 2×6’s here in the hotel washroom.

Having all missed lunch but waiting for another few hours for restaurants to open I was feeling rather peckish and went for a walk. I stopped and asked the desk clerk about ordering some bread or cheese or something. Looking down his long nose not a little disdainfully, I was casually informed that the dining room would not be serving (anything!) until 8:00 PM. We were in the center of a collection of big box stores and I expected to find some sort of little snack bar nearby. When I finally found someone who spoke a bit of English and asked, I was politely informed that the only place within 15 minutes walking distance was a Rotten Ronnie’s. Bummer… I trudged back to our hotel, but stopped in to another more basic and decidedly shabbier motel next to ours. They didn’t even have a restaurant here, but they had vending machine! Even better, they had mini, microwavable meals inside one machine and I found myself the proud new owner of a bag of Uncle Ben’s rice. After cooking it there I walked back to our hotel and the sophisticated sneer of the desk clerk as he knew exactly where I had gone for that cooked bag of rice. The funny thing about this generally scrumptious bag of rice was that it had beef looking kind of bits in it. When I finally gathered enough courage to tryu a few I was taken back over 25 years to a time of camping BEFORE dried meats were acceptable in the budget at St. John’s. Yes, for those “older” SJSA friends reading, it was beef Prognets! (I’m sure of it!) The other funny thing about SJSA training is that I have no qualms about taking packaged or wrapped cheese and keeping it for a few hours (or hell! even a day or two) to eat later when it’s warm and all mushy. Actually, I almost prefer it that way! (certainly cheddar at least).

I should also mention here that upon arrival at a new hotel the kids (mostly Luke of course) get a bunch of brochures from the reception area for all the local attractions. They’ve slowly learned no not to bother with some types, especially ones similar to something we had done previously in another country. The best example of this that I can think of is Aquariums. We had made sure to go to the Sydney Aquarium back in September when we passed through Australia. No there’s many an aquarium in all sizes of cities that we’ve seen since then, but surely none could possibly compare to Sydney’s and so we don’t even consider it. Zoo’s are another one that Luke still brings up sometimes. While we all like the animals, we’re hardly going to pay to see a couple of lazy zebras or giraffes in a tiny pen after gliding beside them across the vast Serengetti!

Luke did find a semi-exception though near Tulon. It was a climbing / zipline / ropework place. The price was right and since Claudette and Luke had missed out previously in Costa Rica, we decided to try it out. The appeal to assuage any fears Claudette’s fears was that they readily advertised a variety of courses for all skill levels. The fee was remarkably reasonable as well; only 23 euro’s for three hours of “play”. We were all gung-ho and excited; and promptly booked a reservation for tomorrow late morning. Even though it was a Saturday, it was still early enough in the season that they could fit us in. After equipping us all with harnesses & helmets off we went to the intro lecture and brief training course. Fortunately they had English instruction books with big, well labeled pictures for the kids and I while Claudette listened to the demonstration En Francais.

The training course consisted of a quick sideways shuffle walk around an outcropping about one meter off the ground with three seperate lateral safety long bars that we had to attach and detach our two safety caribiners to and from. Then, (while staying connected to the safety cables) we hooked up to our first zip line and let ‘er go! I chose to take the camera with me which was cool… UNTIL I hit the end of the zipline and forgot to grab on to the end ropes quick enough. Instead of climbing up the receiving netting a little ways and unhooking myself, I gently rolled backwards to the middle of the cable. Stranded like an imbecile, I had to ride out the waves of laughter from my family (mostly the kids!) and wait for the guide to grab my feet and push me back up to the netting for a second try. SCORE! Luckily, (since I was paying VERY attention at this point) I managed to snake my hand around the grab line this time.

We continued on after that to the beginner course (one step above novice where the others in our training session went) for another three quarters of an hour. Luke was right into it this time and was severely kicking himself for skipping out on the ziplines way back in Costa Rica. This was still a little more exciting since it combined ziplines with climbing and obstacle rope bridges. After that we were ready to tackle the next stage. An upper intermediate (violet color signs) typically takes about two hours and so we embarked on that. This was certainly a little more challenging and gave our fingers and arms much more of a workout while still tied in to all the appropriate safety lines. I slowed us down taking a bunch of video and numerous still pictures all through the route as well. Those precarious pics are posted in the 2008 gallery now. Once done that one our official three hours of time was 20 minutes overdue, and no one wanted to destroy their hands (and arm and leg muscles) any more so we had an ice cream and called it a day. The location was up in some foothills about forty minutes from most of the larger cities in a few different directions. I absolutely recommend that anyone coming to France anywhere South of Paris make an effort to try one of these places out. It is fantastic fun, nicely challenging and great exercise in the outdoors for a few hours. The one we went to was called Eden Adventure. Check out their website at:

Lastly before leaving the coastal area we popped across the bay to visit the Chateau De If. This old fort and later a prison gained international fame only because it was the location used in the fictional story, The Count Of Monte Christo. It was well restored and the visit gave a good realistic peak into the former French penal system. While it was an incredible tour, we all felt that the Museum seemed to emphasize their tie-in with Alexandre Dumas’ book. There was one cool feature where they spliced together 5 different versions of the movie (there are over 100 movies inspired by the book) to run continuously as a full movie. The cells were also dark & dingy, or with a fireplace and windows; depending upon how much money your family had, and your “station” in life. Once we climbed to the top it was easy to recognize the huge strategic advantage of this little island fort for protecting Marseilles, (apparently Frances second largest city). Viv suggested we check the place out, and it was well worth the visit. (But I certainly wouldn’t want to live there!)


April 24th, 2008

Only for a half day though cause we (and especially me) had a nice late sleep-in. We had about an eighty minute drive from the little sea-side resort town we were staying at. Once again the inadequate database of the GPS in Spain severely let us down, but we found our way via a paper map and reasonably abundant road signs, (and some good old fashioned surveyor know-how). Driving in the non-freeway streets here didn’t seem quite as bad as in Madrid, but was still much worse than we’d ever experienced in North America. Parkin, Whew! THAT’S really a whole nuther post! The parking problems in Europe are epidemically stupid, WAY beyond the unreason that comes after reason. We have typically looked for a massively expensive underground parkade just because it’s always the easiest option.

Sure enough we found one only a block away from Gaudi’s House of the Holy Family. Sureal doesn’t describe this puppy. It’s been under construction for over fifty years and is officially only 50% completed. It will likely be completed much sooner than Crazy Horse however due to the massive tourist crowds it draws. A few euro’s at the gate, and a few more to go up the elevator in one of the towers pays for some staff but mostly goes towards the construction budget. If you are withing 300km of Barcelona at any time a visit to this epic building is an absolute must. For those of you unfamiliar with this future “church” or Gaudi’s work, the pictures in our on-line gallery speak volumes.

Leaving the car there we snuck into the subway a few stops away to take in the Picasso Museum. This was also phenomenally worthwhile. Most of the works inside were lesser know due to having been in his private collection, or donated from family and friends. It was very well organized with some multilingual descriptions. I always knew he was quite the philanderer, but his erotic section was also impressive. Certainly not a promoted side of Picasso that I had ever seen or heard of before. There was one book of photographs of him and various friends by one of his girlfriend/muses. It had a shot of him and some friends who were a married couple that he was rumored to had seduced the woman of. When confronted by someone other than the husband on his shenanigans with his friend’s wife, his infamous reply went along the lines of; “I didn’t want to insult him by not seducing his wife”. It was a different time then… And that was only just recently in our history! (Just since Claudette had been born).

Tossa De Mar

April 23rd, 2008

Tossa is a little Mediterranean beach front resort town on the East coast of Spain. It is right down a valley, but has a beautiful section of sandy beach. It is only about 75 minutes North of Barcelona, and owes it’s prominence to being a Summer playground for the middle classes of that larger city. Indeed, the entire coast up from Barcelowna to pretty much the French border seemed to be seasonal resort towns for inlanders. We found a decent enough place for three nights for just the five of us now that Grandpa ray had returned home. It was 110 euros for both rooms combined (a triple and a double). It was still low season though and I would have hated to see the prices in high season. She told us that they were just about double of what we were paying when high season started in another month or so.

Even with what we were paying it was still cheaper to stay here and drive to Barcelona in day trips. The hotel rates in the big city were ridiculously high, and I wouldn’t even want to consider parking! Many hotels (a little more than half) were closed and actually boarded up for the off season. This was a bit of an odd sight to see. There were lots of restaurants open though. With lotsa high prices to go with the resort ambiance. A typical meal for the five of us was about $100, geesh! Even worse was there were only two internet places in town and no WIFI. There were usually lots around, but most all internet closed. There was actually lotsa private WIFI, but all were locked. The one exception was TELIFONICA that uses pre-pay cards. Instead we opted for a little British style pub with a big ugly cockney woman bartender that had two coin operated internet computers, since it was only a block from our hotel. When we needed something printed we had to go several blocks away to a larger net cafe though. This little town was ideally situated between Barcelona to the South and Gerona and Figueres to the North. There are supposed to be many more architectural works of art from Gaudí in both those towns not to mention the Salvador Dali museum in Figueres.

Montserrat, Spain

April 21st, 2008

We did a relaxed day trip from Madrid to this historic “community” in the weirdly shaped, rounded topped mountains. The entire place is a park, and no one lives there anymore (I think) except for a few resident priests. The peaks and scenery were pretty amazing. We arrived in a thick shroud of fog. This was probably really good since we later saw the amazing yet very precarious cliffs we’d been driving along (rarely with guardrails!) to get there. It certainly made difficult figuring out where we were and where the parking was. After lucking out and finding a stall for parking, we walked through the clouds up the hill a little ways, where others seemed to be walking. None us really knew what we were looking for, but Claudette had read us the short paragraph description from a guide book and it had sounded worthwhile. While it seemed moist in the air, the clouds that we were immersed in never really rained on us until a few hours later when they had lifted. While walking we saw a building (barely) off to the left side of the road we were walking on. Then, just before the building a parking lot with a few dozen tour buses all lined up. We went briefly inside the building to see what was what. It turned out to be a three story food services building, built into the side of the hill a bit. It was also perched at the top of a deep ravine with a (presumably) spectacular view through the huge floor to ceiling windows. We had just eaten a roadside “picnic snack” that resembled lunch (lotsa great cheese, but no meat) and so resolved to eat supper here after checking the rest of the place out. We still had no idea what we were going to see other than the fact that there was supposed to be a nice church up here somewhere to see. The many large tour coaches and this huge three level restaurant reassured us that there must certainly be something very significant to see though.

Grandma Vi later commented how absolutely cool and memorable this experience was for her being unable to see a dozen meters in front of us. Apparently she had never been “in” the clouds before, and this was a very novel experience. In retrospect, I suppose that my first time walking in the clouds on a hike was pretty special as well. Grandpa Ray or Claudette didn’t comment and so we walked on, ever upwards. The uphill side of the road (and sidewalk) had become a looming retaining wall without my noticing. Suddenly there was another large restaurant opening onto the sidewalk, but this time built into the uphill side, instead of overlooking the lush green valley below. This place was merely utilitarian since it didn’t offer three teirs of seating adjacent to large panel windows. Based on this, I was presuming the that the prices would be slightly less as well. Shortly after we walked past that cafeteria, there were stairs going up into the retaining wall, up into the hill. The mist was also starting to clear, and looking up we could catch glimpses of the mountain walls and rounded spires (is that a semi-oxymoron?) a short distance away. At the top of the 6m vertical stairs, there was a courtyard, and by the time we reached it the mists were really starting to clear up to about 30m elevation from us. Suddenly sprang out a beautiful shear cliff face all along one plane running parallel to the road below that was cut into the hillside. The church entrance was off to one side while the opposite had a road heading down to a gated wall entrance before a switchback u-turn to meet up with the road we had taken the stairs from. All the stonework was old and beautiful.

We headed off to the church courtyard entrance. This was through a large multi-arched building, which we later saw was a “C” shape facing the other way, and surrounding the church entrance courtyard. As the mist “lifted”, the rain naturally started. It was still a really nice site. Unfortunately, someone here had chosen a logo for the church with four rounded towers, one longer than the other three. This is unfortunate because it looks exactly like someone giving “the finger”! Of course Grandma Vi readily posed beside the sign with hers extended as well. I’m surprised she hasn’t heard all sorts of exclamations of shock and horror from her co-workers. Perhaps they hadn’t seen that shot yet, but they’ll be scrambling to look for it now!

The Church itself was quite nice and tall and majestic. Inside was really beautiful though with the ceiling covered in stunning paintings from masters of the brush. This church set in amongst the oddly shaped mini mountains was a pretty cool sight overall. We couldn’t see the museum there since it was mid afternoon and we were running out of time to go up the mountain. There had once been several dozen monks all throughout the hills here that lived in solitude. Apparently they only came down from their huts once a year or so. They didn’t even visit each other (supposedly?) at only one or two km apart from each other. Their was also a smaller stone chapel at the top of one of these hills a few km away. There were two trams that take tourists up and down from the main park area. There is also a gondola from the base of the valley below which brings people up from the town to the park. We took the “up” tram to the top of a hill. It was similar to the Hong Kong tram, but was still a new experience for Grandpa Ray & Grandma Vi. Sadly, half way up the cloud cover encased everything again and we didn’t get much of a view down. we knew this before buying the tickets though, and just enjoyed the displays up there and a bit of a walk around. By the time we got down the museum was closed, and the restaurants only had unappetizing scraps left. So we piled in to the Citroen mini van and headed back West to our room for the night.


April 21st, 2008

We didn’t really know where we were going to be in mid April when Ray needed to fly home (to look after (Greg & Monique’s poor, sweet, abandoned children). We figured maybe Southern Spain or Portugal, so we told him to book himself back from Madrid. It turns out that we barely made it West to Madrid just on time for him to catch his plane back early this morning. The city was pretty interesting Our hotel was called “Hi-Tek Castel Nova” and included free wireless throughout as well as a huge screen laptop in every room along with huge LCD TV’s and VOIP phones. Very cool indeed!

We only drove around in a seemingly fairly new area in the NE area of Madrid, closer (15 minutes) to the airport. It was still weird though, because no matter where we drove in about a four kilometer radius, there were no single family dwelling subdivisions. There were only apartments. Block after block after block of apartments with small basic little parks or “green areas” thrown in. To make things even weirder (to us North Americano’s at least) was that none of these apartments were more than seven or eight stories tall. Even the commercial buildings were seemingly restricted to this height. The roads here were wide with multiple lanes, with elaborate traffic control. The malls we saw were HUGE and plentiful. Just no houses…

The subway system here was fantastic. The stairways and walking tunnels were wide and well looked after. There were even three or four escalators at most stations we saw. We were riding around on the weekend and didn’t experience the workday crushing throngs of people. There were still one or two rides with people bumping each other and at one point a dark cloud fell over our happy family group. Ray realized that his wallet from the buttoned back pocket went missing on one ride. Luckily we had a smok’in net connection and he was able to use skype to cancel everything. It was still a huge disappointment to lose the $150 or so cash he had in there though, never mind the damper the experience put on our moods.

We didn’t do a whole lot of sight seeing in Madrid. In the two nights we stayed there was only time for a few spots including the Royal Palace. It was incredible, and opulent, and stunk so badly of excess that I quickly became sickened with the obnoxious display everywhere we looked. It was emphasized that the king had three meals a day in each of three seperate rooms. Each was more incredible and painted and furnished more extravagantly than the previous. There were marble floor and wall etchings done with craftsmanship just barely less grand than that of the Taj Mahal. One room housed several Stratovarious instruments of various sizes, and I didn’t even realize that he made anything but violins. The armory at the Palace was very cool. All kinds of different swords and fighting implements. There were a couple dozen suites of armor, all shined up nicely, and another several with armored dummy men on armored dummy horses. Ultra cool! All this came along with a few dozen security people also watching to ensure that no one attempted to take any pictures. Anyone raising a cell phone up received an immediate stern focus, never mind actually trying to whip out a camera from one’s pocket.

We had difficulty finding a place for supper on the 20th to celebrate Alex’s 14th birthday. The hotel restaurant where we were at was closed that night but there were a whole bunch of other options within a ten minute drive of the neighborhood. Or so we initially thought… It turned out that places were either a bar (packed full of smokers) or a basic hokey little bistro, (not worthy of a birthday celebration), or that they didn’t open until 9:00 PM! In the end we drove around for a couple of hours looking and came back to an awesome Asian place that opened at nine. The food and Spanish speaking Asian staff were worth the wait though, and we all enjoyed a scrumptious meal. Plus at the end, they brought Alex her cheesecake with a candle in it and we all boisterously sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to her.

Sadly the next morning Ray had to head off early to the airport. We all gave him big hugs goodbye, but not before loading the heck out of his huge (and half empty) and most importantly light suitcase. He still hasn’t told us if he had to pay any extra charges at the counter, but we temporarily divested ourselves of all sorts of heavy books, neat small rocks and ancient Roman pottery pieces from around Petra.

The rain in spain…

April 19th, 2008

Today we arrived in Madrid Spain at around 5pm from Lleido Spain where we were staying for the last two days.. Yesterday we drove approx.150 Miles to the Monterate National Park to visit an old Monk Monestory and church high up in the Mountains, we even took a trame to the top of the mountain to visit were .the monks use to live. To bad the clouds were real low and we had trouble seeing down in the valleys. It has been raining for the last three days. Luke and I are sharing a Hotel room for the next two nights.

Grandpa Ray

Carcasonne with Richard the Lionheart

April 17th, 2008

The first midievil town/castle we visited (St Paul-Vence) had nothing on this place. While the “streets” (walkways actually) were narrower in Vence, this place had a much stronger “old” feel to it. There were far more artist shops and galleries here as well. This town was also a little bit larger and included a range of restaurants and pricey accommodation inside the walls. The actual castle was extensively restored as well. Before we paid to see it though, we made a couple of pit stops.

One was at a torture devices “museum” with some original pieces and some replicas from the Spanish Inquisition and that general era. Only the two kids and I went in as Claudette and the two grandparents were not interested in that expenditure to be grossed out with ingenious methods of causing extreme discomfort, pain and death to humans. I was not even sure if Luke would be ready for it with his sweet young innocent mind. Oh well! There were all kinds of ugly, nasty devices and very elaborate descriptions in six languages. Surprisingly Luke didn’t wake up creaming from nightmares that night, even though I expected all three of us to. Pictures were not allowed, but I was compelled to sneak a few in anyways. The most notable to me was an actual woman’s chastity belt. I’d never seen one before and the short but sharp spikes sticking away from the hole would easily have been able to ward of any man without blood in his brain, no matter how crazed he thought he was. OUCH!! The genuine iron maiden was a close second. The story posted with it detailing the gruesome 80 hour death of the last person to have been sandwiched in between the spikes was horrific in detail. I’m pretty sure that all the old blood and guts had been cleaned out though…

At the second stop, Luke was the only one who wanted to go, so Grandpa joined him. Being a very scream-worthy haunted house, the rest of us were a little worried about Grandpa’s ticker. Luckily Luke & Ray came out unscathed a half hour later. I managed to time it and videotape their exit amid the wails of surprise from the teenaged girls right behind our boys. They thoroughly enjoyed it, but Luke was unable to convince anyone else to fork out the $14 so he could go again.

The castle fees were minimal at only about $8 each. We read that the restoration for tourism purposes had actually begun in the 1870’s, just a few years after Canada became a country! Once again it was incredibly well done with thorough explanations in six different languages. It also detailed the history of the location, and showed models of the buildings as they were slowly built up to protect a wealthy (but not well thought of) family in town. Eventually the place was sieged and then handed over to the French Royal Family to become beefed up even more. It was an excellent tour and gave me a better understanding of Age Of Empires. (What?! You don’t think that the purpose of traveling and gaining new experiences is only to help one better understand video games? Geesh, what were ya thinking?!?)

In my last Blog posts comments my friend Darin left a hilarious message detailing the inquisitive nature of his wonderful mother and her experience in Carcasonne. Very worthwhile to read. Check out the comments here:

Nice Along The Beach…

April 15th, 2008

After a bite and wandering around the sidewalked old town a bit, we headed to the beach. We later learned that this was the first major day of Sun after a pretty cool Spring. The wind was a bit cool and whipping around everyone, but it was still nicely warm in the sun. There were some people with parkas and heavy jackets on the beach, right beside others (male and female alike) who were stripped down to the skimpiest bathing suit. The beach itself was mostly all small rocks. there were a couple infrequent patches of sand here and there. The water’s edge was a fairly steep section, but we were unsure of how much the tide changed in this area of the Mediterranean. Every wave made a loud but cool sounding rumble of all the little rocks smacking against each other. The kids took off their socks and shoes to wade i the crashing waves, amid much squeals and running away from the high ones. Thus also began a rock hunt by everyone as we walked along the beach for interesting or peculiar specimens. Warren’s Geology background once again proved very useful for explanations and insights to everyone’s finds.

We had already been walking for five or ten minutes when Claudette pointed out a topless woman sunbathing to me. I then looked behind us and further in front and they were EVERYWHERE! (and they were all middle aged or more too…). It was quite a shock to see so many bared breasts on such a cool day, but I suppose that the cabin fever of a colder Spring does that to people. Heck, we were all (well, the James’ anyways) in shorts and t-shirts anyways, but many locals that were out for walks were very bundled up heavy sweaters and such. We ended up wandering back to the McBride’s rented apartment and visited a few more hours with some excellent cheese and stories. The kids ran around and played outside, enjoying the last bit of time together until the McBride’s come up to visit the NWT in the Summer of 2009. I think we had gotten a commitment on that one at least…

We had to wait around in Nice until Monday when I could pick up the rental van. It was really a lease buy-back Citroen mini-van that we had arranged a few weeks before while in Egypt. We had wanted to pick it up in Rome but they required three to four weeks of lead time to prepare the vehicle and get it to where we wanted it. That was a big bummer in our lack of planning since we had to rent the other van while in Tuscany. The longer we had the Citroen lease buy back for, the cheaper per day it became. There was a base price and then a little added on after that for each day you kept it, starting with a minimum of three weeks. Overall the lease buy back program offers a great deal over renting (for more than three weeks that is). You get a brand new vehicle, with no hassles, unlimited mileage, any immediate family member can drive, and they have a huge range of pick-up and drop off spots throughout Europe.

We spent our last full day in Nice driving up into the hills to the North to visit some quaint villages and the old midevel historic town of St. Paul Vence. It was fun and interesting, but we never made it to see Monaco a half hour away due to a vote. It would have been cool to at least see the Kingdom (other than from the train previously when we passed through) even though we were told that a lousy coffee would cost several to ten euro’s, never mind trying to eat lunch there! Tomorrow we were headed to Carcasonne, further West and a little North after hearing from the McBride’s on what an awesome place it was to visit.

Gisa…. not pisa…. Or pizza yum yum

April 14th, 2008

Today we went to Pisa. We were not there for very long. We just saw the main attractions like The Great pyram……. Oops I mean the Leaning Tower of Pisa. A church and the graveyard of priests. We saw the church first, that was when I found out Grandpa Ray had been there before. I found this out when mom said “is it like you remember” Dad said “has he been here before?” “yes” said grandpa Ray. The next thing we did was visit The Famous Leaning tower of…..

A. Giza
B. Pisa
C. Pizza
D. Fort Smith

It was pretty scary because the wall (the stair is going around the outside) was moving like this / | \ funny ay. We got to the top and me and dad started singing… (a Latin song) and so on. TTFN! Luke

Nice Was Ok; If One Likes Bared Breasts…

April 14th, 2008

I boarded a train in Florence with barely seconds to spare (well, OK it was about 400 seconds…) before it rolled out of the Firenza (Florence) station. I had difficulty with all kinds of one-ways and all kinds of road construction in the area while trying to return the rental car about four blocks away. Worse yet, after waiting around for the garage guy to inspect the car before giving me permission to leave. Even extra worse, someone had packed all kinds of very heavy junk in my backpack that I had to run with back to make our train. The other four (Alex, Luke, Grandpa Ray & Grandma Vi) were all snuggled in to their seats while Claudette was outside at the entrance to the station to lead me to the correct car. As I rounded the corner, running as fast as my forty year old knees would carry me and the eight hundred pound gorilla that must have been in my backpack, there was Claudette on the steps frantically pulling her arms in a repeated sweeping motion towards herself, all the time yelling at me to hurry up. At that point, with my legs burning and my lungs out of breath, I was thinking that perhaps we needed to arrange an eye appointment for my dear sweet wife. For, even though she saw me, and was looking directly at me, she surely must not have seen me running since she was screaming at me to hurry… I then stopped at the last intersection separating me from the train station. As cars were whizzing by precariously close to the curb, I still saw Claudette looking directly at me and still frantically (with seemingly even more desperation in each broad sweep now) waving at me to hurry the hell up. I pondered maybe jumping over these fast little sports cars in order to fulfill my wife’s orders in a more expedient fashion, but then I saw a bus. Not just a piddly little school bus of course, No… This was a brand new, sate of the art double decker, extra tall, extra wide bus with bullet proof windows that I was gonna against if I came anywhere close to it. Have no fear though, as soon as that bus went by I burned across the intersection against the pedestrian signs but during a small (oh, and I REALLY mean tiny here…) break in the traffic. The next lane was a breeze since the light was about to change and most cars were stopped already. That meant I had to navigate through the throngs of typically rude Europeans all in a hurry to cross. Having upset a few people there I whipped around the corner and panted up the steps to my ‘patiently’ waiting wife. She greeted me with a extra loud “HURRY UP!!! The train is almost ready to leave!” as though I was out for a leisurely Sunday stroll and this was completely new information to me. I wonder how much an optometrist appointment will cost in Europe???

Our ride into France took us to Genova where we had to switch trains. We were trying to arrange to meet up with the McBride’s again in Nice for a day or two. As some might have already guessed by the atrociously obvious lead-in, we accidentally met the McBride’s at the Geonva train station! While we had a two hour layover on the platform, Claudette met Warren at the bathrooms. Thus we were able to introduce this new Family of great friends to our Mom & Dad a few days earlier than planned.

Our place in Nice was described in a couple of guidebooks as being “The Bestest, Nicest hostel in the World!” And luckily the cheap but delicious food, staff, free computers, free WIFI, plus all sorts of diverse and interesting activities. The rooms had incredibly thin walls, but that seems to be standard in hostels everywhere it seems. The restaurant / internet room / bar was just a hopping all evening and night on Friday. Bottles of wine were a crazily cheap 4, euro’s each, while all highballs, glasses of wine and beer was 1 euro each! Part Hardy indeed. Some of us did, and some of us limited ourselves… (Nuff said.) Any single 17-25 year old guys reading; this is absolutely THE place to go to “meet” new friends, WOW! Let me tell you…. tonnes and tonnes… All sweet and innocent, and mostly North Americans traveling for the first time ever.

We (five sixths of us anyways) got up for a late leisurely breakfast about 9:30. This place has a great reputation for a wide variety of cereal available, and sure enough there were twelve shiny dispensers with all kinds of non-egg breakfast just waitig to be gobbeled up by road weary travelers. They also served a really nice grain bread and some excellent jams. We had made plans to meet with the McBride’s for lunch, and took the tram down the hill (fom our excellent viewpoint of the Mediterranean) to meet up in an old section of town. The semi-fast food at a sidewalk cafe’ was pretty good, and then a few of us had delicious ice cream (choosing from about three dozen flavors) and I had a Grand Marnier crepe. Nummy big time!

I’m out of time today and will have to continue with our walk down the beach tomorrow… Cheers!


April 13th, 2008

The GPS in the van led us close to the Miracle Square, but we still couldn’t see the tower. We knew it wasn’t very tall, but as we neared the destination without any sightings we were a little worried. Then we rounded one corner of the main road, and there was an old wall with a gate entrance and a large grassy area on the other side. This I only caught in a glimpse as we went by. The real proof that we were at the right spot were the vendors. All of a sudden after rounding that corner we had gone from bland city road to row upon row, upon row of crowded, tented vendor stalls. “Yes!” Claudette and I almost exclaimed aloud. With a bunch a shysters selling all kinds of crap, this must indeed be the right place. We drove another half block before finding a parking stall and headed back to the entrance.

Never mind the varied, semi-sorted past of the Bell Tower, it was beautiful! The Cathedral, the Cemetery, the tower, and a museum were all finished in gorgeous marble with intricate styles and carvings. It was VERY impressive, even though I was well prepared to be impressed. We’re not quite talking about the seamless craftsmanship of the Taj Mahal mind you, but it was still fairly incredible. Claudette and I philosophically debated on who had originated the art of delicately etching precious and semi-precious stonework into marble. Both India and Italy had similar styles and reputations for doing this type of work. Obviously one had traded with the other some of these works, and the second one had picked up the concept and began doing it themselves. We had heard stories of Italian stores buying finished marble etched tables, shipping them North, and then selling them as Italian made works of art. The price was naturally tripled to account for realistic Italian craftsman prices. Wow, the Indians sure do work for cheap, on account of their economy being at a much lesser scale than Western countries. If only they had much better infrastructure throughout the country, they really would completely take over manufacturing and service from North America.

Back to the tower though… The lean was pretty dramatic, especially when walking sideways into the lean. It reminded me of the slanted, very narrow staircase of the Dome Walk for St. Peter’s Basilica. The steps were really worn on the edges in the center, just like the Basilica as well. Both sets of stairs were worn down about 0.7cm to almost 3cm deep in a bunch of areas. Granted there’s quite a huge number of daily visitors here all day long, throughout the year. They only sell tickets in pre-arranged time blocks, and after that forty minutes or so, everyone is booted down. This is to let the next group finish climbing from a staging area three-quarters of the way up.

We took some pictures, but NOT the traditional holding up the tower ones. Before our scheduled time we had gone through the Cathedral which was pretty spectacular. It had all sorts of amazing paintings, mosaics and carvings, but we were hard to impress after seeing the majestic grand scale of art at St. Peter’s in Rome. After climbing the tower we toured the cemetery which was pretty interesting and very unique. It was in a long term state of restoration, but the graves were laid out in a large outer rectangle with an inner, “undead” courtyard of grass, small trees and benches for worshipers to relax in. On the way out we took our time going through the hawkers booths amidst some light rain falling.

Venice For A Few Hours

April 13th, 2008

We had heard and read about the extremely ridiculous rates for hotels (even compared to regular Europe) in Venice. Thus we planned to stay somewhere else and drive up just for the day. The vehicle was quite efficient on fuel and even the $20 in toll roads and $20 parking for five hours didn’t come close to the premium they were charging there. We popped in to a couple and got their rate sheets. Most likely dumply little double rooms were going for anywhere from 300 euro’s to 800 euro’s per night. The 800/night one had a really nice marble lobby mind you. The McBride’s had chanced upon a very nice apartment for a three night rental we found out afterwards. They got a much more reasonable rate of about 200 euro’s for several beds, (not just a double room like hotels offer).

On the 130KPH three lane toll road, it only took us about three hours to go a little over 400km at about 140-150 almost the entire way. The Ford Galaxy (mini-van with four regular doors) was pretty nice and handled remarkably well. It was a little larger than the newly introduced Ford freestyle back home. We rented a GPS unit (which after Australia, we now consider to be an absolute necessity when traveling anywhere we haven’t lived) which easily directed us right to a huge parking garage.

We walked a short distance and over a few bridges to get to the bus station. Adjacent was the main launching point into the canal city for that West side which was connected to the mainland by a long low combined bridge/causeway. Being just after noon, we had our minds on some fine Venician cuisine. The first place we encountered offered a variety of pasta or pizza dishes, all for the bargain price of 19.95 euros! That’s over $32 Canadian!!! This was heat-lamp slop probably made way back in the wee hours of that morning… Yeach! Needless to say, we continued on wandering the wonderful sidewalks further in to town.

For some crazy reason I had always thought that Venice was partially canals with roads in between most of the waterways. This is a now ridiculous possibility as I wander around and see that there is no opportunity for roads anywhere in the city. This was really hit home to me just on the other side of the bus station where the canals “started”. There was a standard “cargo” boat loading up suitcases. This included using a conveyor belt that was lowered and raised on hydraulics so that there was minimal hefting of bags around. This meant that there was no possible way for those bags to get to the hotel rooms by a hand cart as we had seen in Augas Calientes, Peru or in Phi Phi Don, Thailand. Sure enough, when we later took a boat ride there were many little hotel entrances (some very nice looking!) that opened directly to the water and had no sidewalk access. As much as I’d ever read read and seen about Venice, it was still incredibly magical to be walking alongside the canals. This place has character oozing out from between each cobblestone in the walkways and out of every crack in the slowly sinking buildings.

We had a very enjoyable time wandering the sidewalks, all the time heading towards San Marco Square. Alex was enthralled with the beautilly crafted masks in so many of the shops. Luke was just thrilled to run through so many large groups of pigeons when we got to the square. There were some bistros and small restaurants that offered slightly more reasonable prices than the originally gouging we’d seen at the first restaurant by the bus station. Around four in the afternoon we started working our way back to the car parkade on the opposite edge of town. This included the requisite gondola ride, which was stupidly expensive but also quite magical. “C’mon!” I kept accusing myself. “It’s just a simple boat ride with a guy at the back performing a constant and strenuous modified “J” stroke at the back using an elongated oar”. Still I had had a huge grin, and my head was bopping back and forth and every which way in between checking out all of the cool sights and taking in the ambiance from a perspective on the water. With another few hour drive home we ate some sandwiches on the way and then mostly just crashed when the headlights turned in to our adoptive driveway for the week.

Meeting up with the James’ (Vi in Italy)

April 13th, 2008

It was very exciting to surprise Alex and Luke when they arrived in Rome/Roma. Our first accommodation was a B&B in Roma – also within walking distance to the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. Needless to say, we explored that for two days; at the very least, it was fantastic. The most harrowing part was climbing the 430 odd steps up a very narrow spiral staircase to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica but the view was well worth the hike. The Sistine Chapel was again another sight well worth the visit. We also rode the Metro to the Spanish steps and took a tour around the Colosseum – a lot of history there. All in all, Roma is a great place to visit and I even bought a “tourist” type video.

Next, we stayed in a remote villa in Montalbino (Tuscany – County of Montespertoli – middle of Italy somewhere) – beautiful countryside but no cell phone or Internet service. On Wednesday we were off to Venice and yes, we did take a gondola ride – one of those “once in a lifetime” experiences – $100. Euros for 50 minutes or any part thereof – we only did 25 minutes because it was raining and it brought us 25 minutes closer to our parking garage.

On Friday we were off to Pisa and climbed another 300 or so steps up to the bell tower – again, well worth the hike. Saturday morning we checked out of our villa and made our way to Nice (south of France) by train. We’re staying in a very nice hostel – $25. Euro each per night – breakfast included and free 24 hour WI-FI and internet in each room as well as 10 computers in a common area. Rick has left to pick up our van rental and the rest is a mystery.

Note to Florence – we drove through/around Florence – did not do any shopping or sightseeing.

Once Again Our Path’s Cross ???

April 12th, 2008

Is it fate? Who knows??? All I know is We found the McBrices Again!!!! As we were waiting at the train station I had to go to the bathroom so I went with Grandpa Ray as We walked out I saw Warren. I rubbed my eye’s and said “Warren” he replied “hi Luke” as if we had seen each other yesterday. He told me that he had bumped into my mother and that was why he was not surprised to see me. We spent the entire train ride with them and now are meeting for lunch tomorrow. Could it be a coincidence Maybe not !?!?!?


FLORENCE, But Not my Auntie

April 11th, 2008

With an easy and on schedule train ride we arrived to Florence in Tuscany. Claudette and I walked around the neighborhood with the train station a bit looking for transportation options. This was one time where we had failed to adequately plan ahead, and we got bitten badly in the pocketbook for it. All eight of the car rental places we came across had closed a few hours before our arrival at 1:00 PM on this Sunny Sunday afternoon. The bus station was an additional two hour wait and then a two km walk after that. Hmmm… That left us with only the option of getting two taxis which cost 76 euros each… OUCH! We had heard so many stories of how easy it was to get around anywhere (well, ALMOST anywhere we now knew) in Italy really easily by train. The truth is that there are so many pocket towns and villages, that if you are not specifically staying on a train route, then the options quickly fly out the window. The literature we looked at during the online booking regarding “getting there” was sparse. It only offered vague driving references, but made no mention of bus or train connectivity. Unfortunately the price (of $800/week) was so cheap compared to everything we had looked at that I urged Claudette to jump at booking it before we had fully digested the possible transportation problems. We didn’t even consider that we were arriving on a Sunday and that the car rental places would be long closed. The landlords described the extreme lack of transportation options to us on the phone, but only on the morning of arrival. Big “Oooops” on that costly little oversight of planning. In the end we took a taxi through the gorgeous countryside to the apartment. The roads are narrow, twisty, and with steep ups and downs to accompany the windy, twisty narrow little roads. All drivers we “met” drove in the center of the road until they saw an oncoming vehicle and then they veered sharply to their edge only just before a spectacular crash! This continued on a constant basis after we got the rental van as well.

After another taxi ride of 70 euros just to get groceries we decided to get a rental car right away and off I went back to Florence via a 30 euro taxi ride to some other close by town and then a half hour train ride. Luckily I already knew where to the car rental places were and I was back home with a shiny new Ford mini van in barely a couple of hours. It is a “Galaxy” model and is really nice. Enough so that we’d Love to buy one in Canada if they were only available. It is similar to the new Ford Freestyle, but is a little roomier and handles way better.

I mentioned in a previous post about the good and bad of being in the surrounding beautiful country side of Tuscany just outside of Florence. It was good because a hotel room in or near Venice was cost prohibited beyond belief! Also, booking the same place for a week straight gave us a much better price. The bad part was that we were about a 30 minute drive to the Florence train station, and there was no local commuter train close to our “town” of Montelbano. (You will never find it on a map, so don’t bother to look. The surrounding area of gentle rolling hills with all sorts of house, small apartments and other buildings dotting the landscape really makes this province as beautiful and picturesque as we’d often heard. The roads were well thought out and pretty fast though, even with the switchback turns and narrowness. Those little local roads only last for about the last 10km of a journey though, with very decent two way or even six lane blacktop for all other major connections.

In all of the little towns and villages we passed through or saw in Tuscany there was a bit of a small (10-30 units) apartment building boom. Small scale construction was everywhere, and we couldn’t figure out why, or what type of economy supported all these small towns. After asking around, it seems as though these all all bedroom communities of Florence whose majority of the populace commutes to work in the big city every day. The place we had booked was a three story apartment built into the side of the hill with a swimming pool, (not open until May sadly). This place had two three bedroom suites on each of the top two floors and five single room suites on the bottom walkout floor. One of the top suites was rented by a German family whose husband worked in Florence. We were paying $900/week for our suite, but I’m not sure what kind of long term rate they had negotiated for theirs. In the middle of nowhere with well water and no phone lines (and sketchy cell service) and a 20 min bus ride to school for the kids I wouldn’t be paying much, (no matter how spectacular the view!). I chatted with the couple a bit one day though, and they repeatedly said that they considered themselves VERY fortunate to have found that place to live in. They were also trying to convince the landlord to sell them that suite. Their offer was 300,000 euro!!! ($500,000 !) and they considered that well worth it. Sheesh!

We did lots of relaxing and didn’t get back to Florence to see all of their churches and museums. Besides our two day trips to Venice and Pisa, we traveled around the back roads a bit just enjoying the countryside. We did go to a town about 20 minutes away with lightening fast internet. We checked mail and uploaded a bunch of old pics and some blog posts from the kids. The interesting thing was that he had two rooms full of about twenty computers each. The place was run by two Chinese guys and was almost three quarters full of Chinese people playing games or chatting. That was more Orientals than I’d seen anywhere outside of China since China. Not a single Italian though, and only one other Caucasian tourist came in as we were leaving. Very odd we thought for a town of around 10,00 or so.

Away from this thriving metropolis of around 10,000 and closer to our collection of barely two dozen buildings, (50 people at best I’d imagine) were some peculiar road signs. It was funny to see so many road signs before steeper hills indicating that tire chains were required in snowy or rain conditions. When we asked around, we were told that there hadn’t been snow here in many, many years. While this winter (and indeed, still the Spring) had been the coldest one in many years, my queries of any snow were apparently, quite laughable.

Rick in Rome

April 11th, 2008

We were told in advance (by Grandma Vi) that the offer of a 40 euro Mercedes pre-booked ride from the airport to our B&B apartment was entirely reasonable. It was noticeably cooler from Jordan, but still shorts weather by our reckoning. Luke was a little choked that we made him wear long pants and then it turned out to be +12. Luckily the surprise of seeing Grandma Vi and Grandpa Ray took his mind off of it. Don’t believe anything the kids said about not being surprised. There was no way Luke recognized Grandma’s voice, since even I didn’t know it was her behind the speaker. Alex had known about the original plans and might have been suspicious. I think we had her mostly convinced that they were only going to join us in Halifax, so she was still pleasantly surprised to see them hiding in the apartment. Unfortunately Alex was just not shocked and screaming like Luke was.

We took it fairly easy that first day, walking around the neighborhood quite a bit looking for a reasonable restaurant for a sit down meal that was open before 7:00 PM. The streets were littered with little pizzerias which looked OK, but only served take-out. There were a few of these that had seating outside, but after sundown that was an option that two thirds of us were not the slightest bit interested in. We found a small grocer and bought some cereal and sandwich lunch fixings. The B&B woman was almost psychotically insistent that we were NOT allowed to eat ANY food in her apartment other than breakfast. A few days later when we (mostly me) had clearly broken this rule a few times, I had a friendly chat with her about it. Apparently the real issue was one of licensing, so that while we officially weren’t allowed to bring cooked pizza back and eat it, we conceivably really could. This was only permissible in her mind I think because we had done a really good job so far of cleaning up any of our messes right away. Also the kids and I doted on her little Jack Russel Terrier, smothering it with attention, hugs and playtime whenever we were both at home together.

We were in downtown Rome, and only a couple of blocks from the Vatican. This was pretty convenient for us to walk around, but using the subway system was pretty easy too. Our apartment was halfway between two stations, but from there we could easily get to any other sights we needed to see. We also went to the train station to buy our future tickets to Florence and then on to Nice. Claudette and I booked an apartment “near” Florence for a week and figured on taking the train on short trips to see Venice, Florence and Pisa. This proved to be both a good and bad idea. I’ll list a full description on why in my Florence post.

The Vatican was very impressive. We spent our second day just waling around the neighborhood and getting a feel for the main drag. Down from the St. Peter’s Square a little ways was a municipal tourist office next to St. Angelo’s Castle on the river. We bought a “Roma Pass” which gave us free admission to any two and decent discounts at the remainder of almost two dozen museums in the city. Sadly the Vatican Museum did not apply. We also spent a couple of hours that second day exploring St. Peter’s Basilica. This being the largest church in the world was simply beyond amazing in size, stature and artistic expression. We were freely allowed to take pictures, but I couldn’t even begin to pictorially document all of the amazing carvings, paintings and exquisite mosaics. I’ve never really been much of a fan of bronze, but there were a few pieces inside that still impressed me enough for my jaw to gape a little. We left Claudette and Ray behind to attend mass while Vi, the kids and I went bookstore hunting. A few days later we returned explicitly to climb the dome of the basilica. Being the highest building in Rome, the Dome climb offers the best view in town! I hadn’t thought about this until it was pointed out, but Rome has no tall apartment buildings or skyscrapers. A city bylaw actually dictates that nothing can be taller than the basilica. The dome walk itself was long but pretty cool. It was via indoor stairs almost the entire way. First we rode an elevator to the roof of the main building. At this level we could go up a ramp and a few stairs to get inside the church again to an upper level of the dome and see down, which was another amazing perspective of all the stunning works of art and a view of the little ant people way below. From this point the staircase up was just inside the outer wall of the dome, but there was in inner wall beside us as well. The other side of this inner wall was where more of the incredible paintings were. Being sandwiched in between these two walls not only made the staircase (barely one meter wide, and only 0.5m wide at some points!) spiral up, but we had to walk at a slant for most of the top portion where the dome really starts to curve in. This is pretty neat to reflect on now, but rather troublesome at the time of walking…

The day before, when looking for travel agencies to buy train tickets we had gone to the Spanish Steps. They were nice and all, but none of knew the relevance. There was a huge amount of tourists mulling around though, and a Rotten Ronnie’s where we all went to use the toilette’s. Funny enough though, a book that Luke was reading a few days later made reference to the Spanish Stairs. It talked about some kids going in a time machine back to see the killings at the Spanish stairs. Oddly enough it was a British book too, so the reference was uncanny in it’s timing. Luke was only too happy to enlighten us somewhat of course.

Our second last day was spent at the coliseum. This also phenomenally cool. It certainly seemed much smaller than I always envisioned it to be in order to hold 70,000 to 90,000 (depending in which “authority” one pays attention to). If the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton can just squeeze in a little over 60,000 then ancient Romans were either an incredibly tiny people, or else they sat on top of each other with no elbow room. The sides were quite steep up as well. Much more so that I’m certainly used to seeing in modern day stadiums at least.