Archive for April, 2008

South France (again) & Bye to Vi

Tuesday, 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!)


Thursday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Monday, 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.


Monday, 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…

Saturday, 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

Thursday, 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…

Tuesday, 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

Monday, 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…

Monday, 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!


Sunday, 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

Sunday, 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)

Sunday, 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 ???

Saturday, 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

Friday, 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

Friday, 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.


Friday, April 11th, 2008

Skype is awesome; it is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. I would like to get an account of my own. It has become an every time thing on the Internet. I have been chatting with Leesa on it. I have not chatted with her lately because there has not been much Internet and if there is dad or mom is on it.

From the canals of Venice

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Yesterday we drove to Venice in our rental (car). It was very cool! I think the first thing I noticed (that I liked, that wasn’t part of the scenery) was all the mask shops! I almost got one, but in the end I decided not too. I did get a picture of a mask though (not like the one I had chosen out, but still veeery nice) on Grandma Vi’s camera.
Basically We walked ¾ of Venice (the long part I think). We walked to a square place with tons (!!!) of pigeons. We but some pigeon food and fed them, which was so fun! At first I was just putting my hand down on the ground (with the bird food, which was dried corn) and just letting them eat of my hand. Sometimes I would touch hem, because they got so close! It was a very funny feeling them eating off my hand, like mini vacuum cleaners! But after a while, I got bored of that, and stood up so they would fly on my arm! That was even more fun! They would fight for my arm! Mom was the unlucky tenant of a tired pigeon, on her head. It was such a laugh, until Luke (who wasn’t with us while that was happening) came running at us and scared it away. >:(
Once we ran out of food, we had to leave. We walked back a little ways, then dad took a while, because he negotiated a ride on a gondola (because they normally go in a circle for 50 minutes) , and in the end we got 25 minutes closer to our destination, and had to pay for that and the 25 minutes for him to get back. Bit of a ripoff if you ask me. after that we walked back to the parking garage and drove back to our villa ( 😀 ) for 3 hours and fifteen minutes. Once we got back home we all went to bed (it was 9 ish)

The Romance City: Venice

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

I am sure most of you have heard of Venice The love city. Well we went there yesterday. It is not really the city of love. It is a big touist atraction. There is 2 restaurants every 100 meters on popular road’s. It is also a pigeon attraction there are many tourists (and pigeons) in a big square. There is 3 vendors selling dried corn for you to feed the pigeons. You can put the corn in your hands and the pigeon’s will sit on your arms and eat or you can bend down with the food in your hands and let them eat from your hands but they are not on you. Last but also least you can throw the corn and watch them swam around you. I liked tossing it and when they were surrounding (Sp) you jump. Well thats all for now t.t.f.n (you know what it means).

Good Bye to the Middle East, Hello Europe!

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted a new message, so here goes a quicky update.

We spent our last bit of time in Egypt in the desert and then the Sinai with the McBride Family from Ottawa. Our adventures in the desert were very fun and interesting. You’ll have to take a look at the pictures of us in the Black and then White Deserts. After the desert we spent about six days relaxing by the Red Sea in the town of Dahab. It was so nice to spend a few days with another Canadian family. (i.e. other adult conversation other than your spouse, and we generally all agreed at how we didn’t like been the “tourist” in India.)

After saying goodbye to our fellow travellers, (Thanks, Janice, Warren, Connor and Alannah we had a blast!!) we headed for Jordan. We spent the next few days in Petra, which was spectacular, to say the least. For sure it ranks up in the top 2 or 3 spot for places we have visited this year. I won’t go off in a big tirade of adjectives, I would just highly recommend visiting if you get the chance. Our last highlight of Jordan was realizing that this would probably be the last country in which we were awakened by the 4/5 AM Muslim prayer calls as it seemed like most of our hotels since Malyasia were right across the street from a mosque. (-;

We arrived in Rome on April 2nd, where Grandma Vi (Rick’s mom) and Grandpa Ray (my dad) surprised the kids at our B&B. They are spending the next few weeks travelling with us. After touring around some of the manditory sites such as the Vatican and Colloseum, then we took the train to Florence. We have a villa in the Tuscany countryside booked for a week. Yesterday we drove to Venice for the day where we walked around the city and took a small gondola ride down a few of the back canals. Tomorrow we are going to go to Pisa, before heading to Nice, France on Saturday.

Take care for now, Claudette


Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

Well, Rome is nice. On our first day here we had just arrived I looked at the side of the door and saw mail. The first thing that popped into my mind was – is this where Grandma Vi was sending us dad’s client card. I was right but not the way I thought I was right. As Dad knocked on the door a voice that sounded like Grandma Vi answered the door saying come in. As we walked in dad made me go first at the end of the hall (this is an apartment with 3 room’s) there was a sign that said James’ As I walked in to the room it was very dirty. (dirty with somone else’s stuff) I looked in the mirror. There was Grandma Vi’s head behind the door. I turned and screamed and ran to hug her – Dad got all this on camera. As we started chatting she told me you should go to the bathroom. My reply was, oh it is o.k I went at the airport. Then she said no you should go to the bathroom because you are about to puke. I was shocked when she said this but that is when I started expecting someone we knew to pop out but instead Grandpa Ray popped out as I screamed again and went to hug him dad was laughing but still filming.

Grandma Vi brought us some Purdy’s McNutty’s They were very good. It was some of the best chocolate I have had since home. She also brought us from Auntie Florence some easter chocolate with little basket’s and a sticker with the easter bunny on it. That was also very good. We went out for dinner shortly after.

We wandered off for a while looking at restaurants but in the end we bought store meat and some buns to eat the next day. Dad went back in as soon as we were done shopping. So he went and got his own sandwich from a bistro for dinner and the rest of us ate at the first place we saw that evening.

The next day we went to a temple; it was very cool. It had a slight view of the colleseum/collesso. It also had a good view of the Bascillica. On the way up I slipped on a step then twisted my ankle at the other step. It hurt a lot. We went to the Bascillica next and looked around. We did not do much there. The next day we took the metro to the spanish step’s/spanga We also went to a book store in the train station were I got a book called “The Secret Country” it was a very good book. When I was reading it, it said that if you took the wrong wild road you went back in time and that you could go to the killings at the Spanish steps/spanga. That is when I found out some Spaniard’s came and killed people on those steps. Cool. We also went to the colleseum/colesso. Where I got another book (i am done both) called “tiger tiger” It was not really about tiger’s – it was about a princess in old rome/roma with a pet tiger. and the pet tiger had a brother who was a colleseum/colesso tiger.

The next day (our final day) we only did one thing – that thing was going to the bascillica again. We climbed up to the dome it was a three flight elevator ride (very long flights) and than 347 steps to the top – it was fun. The next day we took a three hour train ride. I did not play the PSP, instead I finished reading my books. Then we took a 30 minute taxi ride to our hotel. The hotel is an apartment but I call it a hotel – it looks a lot like our cabin at Germain lake and I like it a lot. Well t.t.f.n (ta ta for now).

The Last of Jordan.

Monday, April 7th, 2008

There seemed to be many worthwhile sights in Jordan, but we just didn’t have the time to see much else. We had to arrange our own chartered van from Wadi Mousa (the modern day town adjacent to Petra) to Aman via the Dead Sea. Public buses only went direct to Aman, and didn’t make the detour West to the Dead Sea. On our way we drove through some harrowing canyons and along very precarious cliff edges before connecting up with the main highway. We had to pay almost $10 each at a picnic site that included a small park area, swimming pools (currently empty) and change rooms with freshwater showers. That was critical to rinse our bodies after floating in the mineral intensive “lake” waters separating that portion of Jordan and Israel. We only spent a half hour or so floating around in the Dead Sea. It was pretty cool and a little difficult maneuvering around without rolling accidentally and getting our faces wet, or trying to make sure not to splash the extra salty water into our eyes or mouth. Even our driver went in for a quick dip, before we dressed to leave. There was an expensive buffet on site so I loaded up a huge “to go” close-able three tray styro-carton for all of us to eat from. The rice, beef and salads were OK, but the roasted lamb were REALLY good. Even Claudette was smacking her lips and she traditionally doesn’t like mutton at all.

The remainder of our drive to Aman was uneventful. We were flying to Rome mid morning the next day and so just wanted to wander around a bit and relax. There were a few decent looking places to eat and even a movie theater. I stayed up late uploading pictures from McBride’s Egypt and our Petra shots to the gallery. The place was decent enough, but difficult to find and had lots of stairs. We look forward to Rome and Italy, and hopefully meeting up with the McBride Family again in France. We also REALLY look forward to our hotel rooms not being so close to Mosque’s and the requisite prayer call at 5:00 AM every morning, (not to mention again at 6:00 AM just in case you got back to sleep and several other times throughout the day). It’s a shame in this case that they have readily adopted the technology of using HUGE loudspeakers at the tops of the towers instead of a guy climbing up and shouting/singing which would have much less volume than the thousands of watts they crank out of the powered public address systems…

Goodbye Prayer Calls, Hello Pasta

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Sorry I am behinde here is what happened

Finally our curse is over. No more 5:00 in the morning until 7:00 in the morning and 6:00 at night until 8:00 at night prayer calls. You have no idea how tired I am. I am so tired my eyes are itchy and I feel like I am going to cry. I want to go to sleep but my eyes hurt so much I can’t.

The day so far was pretty Ruff. I mean R-u-f-f RUFF. First of all I went to bed at 8:45. Aex played the P.S.P until mom came in at 9:30, then when mom left she played the P.S.P until 10:30. I fell asleep then so I do not know how much longer she played. I woke up 7 times that night and each time I had to move the blankets. then at 6:00 I was fixing them when I was finally done and getting in the bed I heard ring ring and Alex got up thump thump Rin….. “Who is it” said Alex “Mom time to get up put on pants” she said so I stayed in bed. Alex was lying in bed telling me to get up and when I got up she stayed in. Then someone knocked on the door and Alex was like a rabbit being chased by a wolf Boing right out of the bed as I unlocked the door she was rushing to find her clothes. When mom and dad answered the door she was putting on her shorts. I was still in my underwear and my reply was I can not unlock my bag as Alex stopped for a split second and twitched. When I found out there was a heater and above the heater was a sign that said “turn on heater.” We went off to the airport just after (They did not have breakfast for another 15 mins.) we were dressed and started to check in then a problem occurred. My ticket had something wrong with it so we had to buy a new one. While mom and dad were doing this they put our bags on the plane and I was not checked in. So while this problem was happening dad found out he left his visa at the hotel so he phoned them up to come bring it no problemo Right? Wrong the hotel was 40 min”s away. So we went and got though immigration while dad stayed behind and waited for his visa. The next bad thing that happened was we got to the first immigration desk number 8 and he told us to go to immigration desk number 1. So we went there. He told us to go to Immigration desk number 2 so we went their. He told us to go to another desk because our tickets said we were a group. In the end we had to pay 10$ each to get past. To top that off we had to wait another 50 mins for dad to get back so we could tell him that he had to pay 10$ to get past 🙁

The flight went as planed but the airport did not the luguage was not there for an hour. I was panicking the first thought that oh no they put my luguage on before I was checked in and that our luguage was taken off the plain well I was wrong. When I was waiting for the luguage I started righting this post that is why it is very disceptive. Bye Luke.

Villa Life ;D

Monday, April 7th, 2008

We have left Rome, and now we are in a villa like place in Florence (Firenze in Italian). It very muchly reminds me of Germane Lake (in the winter)! It was freezing cold when we got in and it took a while to get the air warm and the floor (even though its the next day) is still cold (but it has a few warm spots. Luke and I built a fort (on the fold out couch, which I share with Grandma Vi) and it wasn’t folded out, and we both could lie down inside. We just used blankets, 3 couch pillows (they are smaller then pillows you would normally sleep with) and a chair. Inside, Luke watched me play on the PSP and it is much warmer than outside. The adults played crib, and dad lit a fire, it’s much homier for us, and gas (for the furnace) is 4 euros for a cubic meter of gas (home gas, not car gas), which we have to pay for once we leave. But we still are using the stove (which uses home gas, just not as much). We are only using it to heat up water for coffee (and hopefully hot chocolate later) so by the time we leave (in five daysish) we will probably only have to pay 4 euros total (for the home gas).

Rick’s Petra

Monday, April 7th, 2008

We barely knew what to expect going to Petra. We’d all only really seen pictures of the “Treasury”, an extraordinary building cut into a tall face of sandstone rock. We’d heard from others that the “city” and general site was far more expansive and even more impressive than just that one iconic representation. No words could prepare us for the vast amount of work that had obviously gone into creating such a “wonder” as Petra. After two days of walking around, constantly open jawed in abject shock and appreciation, I really believe that Petra should be reconsidered as the Eighth wonder of the ANCIENT world. It is every bit as remarkable an achievement as the original seven.

We booked a guided tour for our first half day, which was invaluable. Not only did he describe what everything was and how the society had lived, but he took us to some outstanding out of the way places. He not only showed us some great places off the main paths, but positioned us for many great pictures and unique photo frames of parts of the city and/or ourselves. His insights and little “side” stories were very worth the extra $75 for us four to join the 10 person tour.

After our tour we wandered around by ourselves for the latter half of the day. It was nice and relaxed, but still our feet all hurt by the end of the day. I know it’s a good day when our feet hurt… The entire city “site” is very extensive and clambers up and down and around a few valleys in the area. There are a huge amount of caves all over the place. The entrance of the city is called the “Siq” and is a long (1.5ish KM) twisty, narrow rift or canyon. The sandstone colors and swirls are absolutely spectacular, not to mention the carving of a water trough all the way down to supply the city. The Siq comes to a “T” intersection at another canyon right at the treasury. The Treasury “building” is most widely associated with Petra and was the final scenec of the third Indiana Jones movie. It’s use is still hotly debated today. Only two floors show, but the canyon floor is said to have about 7m of silt & sediment washed down the canyon by a breach in the dam at the start of the siq that was left unrepaired for about 100 years. Our guide from the morning had been a senior archiologist several years previously and detailed the lower excavations of a couple of tombs in front of but below the existing floor of the Treasury. This is one of the few large buildings that was carved into the cliff face with a large countersunk distance into the face to protect the facade from water runoff during the rainy season. It was shocking to see recent (in the last several years) photographs and videos showing huge rivers of flash flood water running down the wider canyon in front of the treasury. That wasn’t half as surprising as seeing pictures of snow in the city! This included in front of the Treasury and even all throughout the city.

The central area of the city is just a little past the exit point of the main canyon that houses the Treasury and several other equally tall and majestically carved buildings. From this sort of central point we could see cave holes littering all of the mountainsides in every direction. There seemed to be no end of them if we zoomed in with the camera or used the binoculars. Many more large carved buildings into cliff faces could be seen all up and down this valley, as well as into two adjacent valley’s. There was only one “built” building still standing due to centuries of earthquakes in the area. This was only because it had horizontal wood beam “buffers” built in to the walls every 4m or so up the stone block face. Most all of the caves and large rooms carved into the mountains were still in remarkably good condition though.

The Bedouin people were all moved out of the caves in the mid 80’s by the government. A whole new town was built for them only a few kilometers away to live in. Many still make the daily trek into ancient Petra to sell animal rides, or all sorts of trinkets, or to just beg.

We spent a few hours off the regular beaten track hiking around a small mountain and exploring the incredible sights. We used one 1.4GB disk in the camera each of the two days we were there. That fact alone speaks to the spectacularness of this ancient city, never mind the fact that I was really restraining myself. Many vendors and four ridiculously expensive restaurants lined the wider valley. Some locals were offering donkey and camel rides for outrageous prices as well. A two minute ride in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza near Cairo was only $2. In Petra a two minute ride was $15!!! I knocked them down to $7 each for the two kids, but still felt badly for missing out on the (shockingly) much more reasonable prices in Egypt. Additionally many local Bedouin kids were found along various trails with an interesting collection of rocks picked up around the area that they were only too happy to sell to any passing tourist. We also passed by a few Bedouins living there who offered us to sit down and have tea. This would probably necessitate a tip afterwards, but the offers were very friendly and genuine unlike in Egypt. One vendor was selling a book about his mother who was a New Zealand tourist in the 70’s who married a local Bedouin guy. She settled down into cave life, cooking all meals over an open fire and they had two children together over the years. He supported them by selling trinkets and souvineers to tourists. Claudette bought the book and is quite captivated by it so far. Alex will read it next and then we’ll send it home.

Quick update

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Yes, we are again behind a few posts… We met up with Claudette’s Dad & Rick’s Mom in Rome on April 2 as a surprise for the kids. We spent a few days seeing the local sights, (and uploading many Petra and some remaining Egypt photos). On Sunday April 6 we took a train to Tuscany, near Florence where we rented an apartment for a week to relax and see Venice & Piza from. As incredibly beautiful as the are is, it unfortunately, it has terrible public transportation and I came back to Florence today to rent a mini-van for the duration of our stay. We have all written some posts which we’ll upload in the next week when we get net access for a everyone for a few hours. The town we are in now barely has sketchy cell phone access, never mind internet. We are all well, and still don’t have a clue on how we’re gonna end the trip! (Either driving across Canada in two weeks or spending more time in Nova Scotia, The Rock, and BC and flying across the country…)

Bonjourno! (from Italee)

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

Hi everyone! Well I’ve learned since flying from Jordon to Italy, that Luke is not the best panic person! First off It was really only minor things, he just has no hope. When we got to the airport in Jordan, we realized that dad had left his Visa (credit card) at our previous hotel (the one we had just come from) and they would have to find it, then send it on a 40 minute taxi ride to the airport. Then Luke’s boarding pass, was non-existing. So, dad went out of the preliminary security and waited 50 minutes (the taxi driver had other Issues, that dad will tell you bout, one example, the security guards ((outside)) started wondering why he didn’t have any passengers, etc) then let out a big WHAHOO (which we heard from where we were, just past the check-in place. I forgot to mention, we had to go back and forth (between two counters for different things) a few times but, in the end, Luke’s ticket worked out ok. Also, they sent our luggage in (before) Luke ticket checked out ok. WHOOT WHOOT, HUGE disaster potential there! Anyways, fast forward a bit. We (om Luke and me) are sitting in a area after all the check in counters (basically you are separated only by a cubicle like wall, same goes for the preliminary security and everywhere) and we have been there for about half and hour (5 hours Luke time) and we are all just about to give up any hope on seeing Italy, (this is where the Luke is not a panic person part comes in) ESPECIALLY LUKE who is saying “I can’t believe we don’t get to see Italy and Europe!!!!” In the end, we heard dad’s Who hoo a minute later, and we got through Immigration. THEN when we got here (to Italy) We had to wait about (FOREVER!!!) 45 minutes, because our baggage was in the very back of the plane, and got lost or something! We were not the only people (on our plane) who had to wait for our luggage (thankfully). Luke was also telling me “I can’t believe I’ll have to just where this (we didn’t know how warm Italy was going to be, so mom got us to wear pants and long sleeves, instead of shorts), I’m really (too) hot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Like the past situation, we got our bags 5 minutes later. After that everything went totally smoothly (except grandma vi telling Luke he has to Puke 🙂 ).
I was very surprised (!!!) when we came to our apartment and found Grandma Vi and Grandpa Ray here! When we came in, we found Grandma Vi in the first bedroom. The following conversation sounded like this. Grandma Vi starts. “go to the bathroom, you probably have to go. I don’t, I went at the airport. Well you’re so suprised, you might puke!!!!” Luke went into the washroom, only to find grandpa Ray!
The next day we had settled and started to explore a bit. The girl who lives here has a Jack russel and she pretty much looks exactly like Pete! So far we have been to Saint Peter’s Basilica twice, The Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museum. And I think the very good Chinese place where we had supper the other night deserves to be on that list (just kidding).

Alex’s Petra Report

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Written for March 30th & 31st

We just left Egypt yesterday and we saw Petra today and are all very tuckered out! Petra was amazing! It has about 3000 visitors a day, but that hardly seems real, because the whole site is very spread out. To put it another way, You’d never know there was that many people. To describe Petra in one word, WOW! They have done amazing stuff there. Pretty much all the town was carved directly from the mountain, and majority of it is still connected to the mountains. The colours of the rock are amazing! There is blues, greens, reds and a few other colours. If you went exploring, and you weren’t careful, you could easily get lost and have your camera batterys empty, and your camera card totally full of pictures, never mind videos! Breaking news, boths cameras aren’t really working. In mine it still works, but the pictures button is stuck. So if I turn it on, it will take a picture, then get frozen on that picture, and you have to turn it off again. But I’m not sure whats wrong with dads. S’all for now!

Petra #2

Monday March 31 2008

Today we saw a bit more of Petra. We found out that the little sand bottles that they make is actually sand from Petra. I would love to buy one though. We got a very good video of me throwing a colored chalk rock on a real rock, and it looks very neat. We also met up with George and Monica again in one of the resturants. We went up quite higher then we did yesterday. I think we went up to the crusaders castle, which was quite high, and had no railings. Imagine how skakey mom was! Also we did a little circle on a camel, which was very scary, but fun! They don’t seem very tall, but once you get on one, you can see for miles and miles (sorry, kilometers and kilometers). And when you are going down it is quite a dramatic angle! I thought I was going to fall off of my camel! And once I got off, someone came up, gave my camel some water (it drank right from a bottle) and gave the man a kiss afterwords (it twas a tourist)! When we were leaving, my dad got a good price for some donkeys, and Luke and I rode one for a while (we both had our own donkey)! I think I cost 7 JD (about 10 canadain dollars). It was very fun and well worth the $10. Mine was dark brown and Luke had a white one. The owners were boys, probably not much younger then me. I think Luke’s donkey was partially blind, because he would sometimes get to close to the edge, and scrape Luke’s leg. Both the boys were steering my donkey, so Luke was kinda on his own.

Yay, other kids!

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

Written on March 20, 2008

We met up with the Mcbrides! We met in Cairo and took a bus too an oasis and spent 2 days in a hotel. It had a pool, but the water was from some kinda hot springs, so it was warm and can stain your cloths. On the second nigh, Alannah and me made a potion! It consisted of onions flower petals and water. We mushed everything together, then drained some of the water in an old water bottle. It stunk!!! We considered using it as a bug repellent, but it wasn’t that strong! So it is a potion that cures happiness and stuffed noses. Minor side effects include a runny nose, and tears, and awe of the colour made by the flower petals. Then we spent last night in the desert. It was very nice, we got to see a little fox with HUGE ears and a big beetle. We also had an almost full moon. We are in the white desert, it was very light outside all night, because the moon reflected off all the white chalk rocks. The camera couldn’t see anything but our eyes could see pretty much perfectly. Alannah and I stayed up until about 12:40 talking. We had lots of fun, although I still can’t find my bag for my sleeping bag. I think we only have 2 or 4 more days with them though. I really wish we could stay together longer. I think we go to Luxor tomorrow. Then maybe onto another oasis.

Petra: A lot like Machu Pichu

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

As I just said Petra is A lot like Machu Pichu. It was like being in peru again the site was a lot bigger than the machu pichu site but still had the same amount of people vist it per day but I felt safer at machu pichu because if you hit Machu Pichu it would not break but if you hit petra it would break because it is made of sand stone. Sand stone is sand grains stuck together to make a sand stone. pretty simple eh? The first stop was a temple in which I saw on the drive to wadi Mousa (the modern day town beside ancient Petra). As we were looking at the view I saw it and asked what it was. The driver said horse’s. I looked down and people on horse’s were passing by it. When I said “no, that” he said “yeah horses” so in the end I did not find out what it was until we saw it up close. As we neared it I saw it first and said “hey that is what I saw from the view in the car”. We got near the dam and our guide explained that about 9 years ago the dam broke and 13 French women and their guide died. So they made a new dam and that lasted a few years then they blocked of the water and the dam became a wall then a hill to get to the bottom. The path leads to a canyon and you walk a mile until you get to a treasury. The treasury is said to be the most amazing sight in Petra. Then you walk though a much smaller canyon until you get to Petra city. Petra city had a population of over 35,000 they built caves that were rectangular. What amazed me was that they could have saved a bit of carving by making the corners curved but no they had to make them at a 90 degree angle’s. We ate lunch at 1:30 and then traveled a bit on our own We went around a small mountain And met a mother and her son still living in a cave. We met the son first he was herding goats as we chatted (he knew good English) while walking up the road he asked if we wanted tea we replied no thank you sorry he nodded and continued chatting until we got to there cave his mother came out of the cave and asked us if we wanted tea we replied the same as before and then she asked if we wanted to buy souvenir’s we also replied no dad was thinking about giving them a bit of money until the mother pulled out

A. a whack load of money
B. a bottle of coke for her son
C. Cigarette’s

Please send your comments as your reply

When he saw this he thought if she can afford ( your answer here ) she doe’s not need my money.
That was that. We went on like that in the end It was as I said earlier Just like Machu Pichu.

Day 2

Today We did not get a guide instead we traveled around at our own pace. It went on the same as yesterday until we got to the treasury. We had a bit of negotiation and finally me and Alex got a camel ride. It was very Scary. S-c-a-r-y scary. They have triple joints so you get on them there front legs go up whoop. Then there back legs go up wooo. Then there front legs go up more waaaa. Finally there back legs go up more weeee. But faster So Whoop wooo waaaa weeee. pretty scary Ay. We ate lunch at a cliff and stayed there for an hour and a half. by now it was 1:03. then we explored a bit getting pics we did not get yesterday We went back to the mountain we walked around the day before and walked to the top where the crusaders castle was it was the highest we got at Petra. finally We started climbing down When We had no path We found a path of our own. That made us the first torist’s to go into the theater. it was blocked off so no tourist’s could get in but not blocked good enough. We were neaing the end so we dicied to get a donkey ride back once again me and alex were the luckey winner’s it was fun but sad the kid’s that owned them were whiping them and pulling there tails so they would go faster. My donkey was funney it took the path with it’s eyes close. When we got off I huged mine he was Sooooo cute. We walked the rest of the way And said goodbye to Machu Pichu….. I mean Petra

Alex’s Petra Summary

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

We just left Egypt yesterday and we saw Petra today and are all very tuckered out! Petra was amazing! It has about 3000 visitors a day, but that hardly seems real, because the whole site is very spread out. To put it another way, You’d never know there was that many people. To describe Petra in one word, WOW! They have done amazing stuff there. Pretty much all the town was carved directly from the mountain, and majority of it is still connected to the mountains. The colors of the rock are amazing! There is blues, greens, reds and a few other colors. If you went exploring, and you weren’t careful, you could easily get lost and have your camera battery’s empty, and your camera card totally full of pictures, never mind videos! Breaking news, both cameras aren’t really working. In mine it still works, but the pictures button is stuck. So if I turn it on, it will take a picture, then get frozen on that picture, and you have to turn it off again. On the family video camera, the lens cap was having problems opening sometimes. S’all for now!

Petra Day Two

Today we saw a bit more of Petra. We found out that the little sand bottles that they make is actually sand from Petra. I would love to buy one though. We got a very good video of me throwing a colored chalk rock on a real rock, and it looks very neat. We also met up with George and Monica again in one of the restaurants. We went up quite higher then we did yesterday. I think we went up to the crusaders castle, which was quite high, and had no railings. Imagine how shakey mom was! Also we did a little circle on a camel, which was very scary, but fun! They don’t seem very tall, but once you get on one, you can see for miles and miles (sorry, kilometers and kilometers). And when you are going down it is quite a dramatic angle! I thought I was going to fall off of my camel! And once I got off, someone came up, gave my camel some water (it drank right from a bottle) and gave the man a kiss afterwards (it twas a tourist)! When we were leaving, my dad got a good price for some donkeys, and Luke and I rode one for a while (we both had our own donkey)! I think I cost 7 JD (about 10 Canadain dollars). It was very fun and well worth the $10. Mine was dark brown and Luke had a white one. The owners were boys, probably not much younger then me. I think Luke’s donkey was partially blind, because he would sometimes get to close to the edge, and scrape Luke’s leg. Both the boys were steering my donkey, so Luke was kinda on his own.