Category Archives: June’s Posts

The End of the Journey

For those of you reading these blog posts for the last 11 months: thanks! All good things must end, though.

I suspect this will be the last travel-related blog from us. Starting in about September, I’ll refresh the look and feel of the site and turn it towards marketing and academic content. So, just to warn you: the cute pictures and kid blogs will end (although I will find a way to keep all the trip content tucked away somewhere on the site).

Speaking of cute pictures…

Even after 2 solid months of family time, they still cuddle!
Even after 2 solid months of family time, they still cuddle!

We ended our crazy, wonderful year with a few days in Bruges. If you’ve seen the movie “In Bruges” you know that some people may find it a little boring. We did not. We had a great stay there, just wandering the canal streets and cute alleys. We also went to a very interesting style of history museum, Historium, complete with a virtual reality trip back to the medieval times. Oh, and I did I mention that Belgium has great beer?

So many beer choices...
So many beer choices…

Bruges is a place I would love to return to: for the food, the atmosphere, the beer, the cycling opportunities, the beer…

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I’ve been delaying writing this final blog for several reasons. First, it’s hard to figure out how to sum up our year (more on that below). Second, the Semester at Sea students have done such an incredible job posting short videos of their experiences that a combination of old school words and still pictures just doesn’t seem sufficient. And finally, because I’ve been reading some of the travel blogs from some of the excellent writers that were on the ship with us, and again, I feel completely inadequate! But alas, I will try to describe the past year. I will try and avoid words such as “best,” “worst,” and “favourite,” as those words don’t do justice to any of the experiences. Here goes:

Our year can best be imagined as a series of waves that sometimes overlapped, and sometimes crashed into one another. When two positive waves, such as those created by new friends and fantastically interesting experiences, collided, it created almost pure joy. One example would be my very vivid memory of driving in the rain in Vietnam, having experienced Hanoi and Halong Bay, and watching Joe play a new “game” with his friend Summer Genovese. The game was who could do the best work in long division problems! As I said: pure joy.

When two negative waves, such as those created by extreme uncertainty and high stress, collided, it created misery. Mid-December, as we were temporarily homeless, terrified by the seeming indifference of the Indian visa authorities as they told us our visas wouldn’t be ready in time (they were), and leaving a bunch of my “trip clothes” behind in my sister’s (sold and about to be packed up) house, was a very bad time. But our friends and families came to the rescue; perhaps they don’t even realize how much. So thank you Nick and Lauren Teevan, Matt Thomson and Allison Johnson, and Doug and Joan Cotte. Your assistance last year got us through a very bad time.

The year itself came in three chunks, of course: Sedona Arizona, Semester at Sea, and Europe. For two thirds of those chunks, the kids were alone with Dan and I. That was a challenge for them, so we were thrilled that they connected with a great group of “ship kids” as we sailed around the world. In addition, Joe’s “big sisters” Ashleigh and Panache, and Jack’s “big brother” Jared, were an awesome addition to the family. And Jazmine, who we all adored. For all of us, I think Semester at Sea was the “main course” of the year, for many reasons. Europe presented challenges (constant movement, lots of planning, trying to find family rooms and food kids would eat) but also cultural touchstone moments, for all of us.

Travel is intimidating, humbling, and fantastic. I know the boys have imprinted experiences (good and bad) that won’t leave them, for better or worse, ever. Eleven months, 19 countries, many more cities. Planes, trains, buses, cars, ships, and some boats… When can we do it again?

Paris

This will be one of my last travel-related blogs, as we wrap up our incredible 11 month adventure.

Loving Paris.
Loving Paris.

We’ve just spent a week in Paris, living in an apartment in the 14th arrondissement, in the Montparnasse area. Nothing fancy about the neighbourhood, and not many tourist sites. Perfect. Yet we could walk to Luxembourg Gardens and lots of restaurants, and, of course bakeries…

Baguettes as big as your head!
Baguettes as big as your head!

We had a fantastic week, although unseasonably cold weather, and some rain, continued to plague us. We took advantage of the sunny days for long walks though. Although Jack isn’t much of an “art guy,” even he enjoyed the Louvre.

I couldn't stop giggling in front of every Titian picture in the Louvre.
I couldn’t stop giggling in front of every Titian picture in the Louvre.

When we first talked about the European leg of our journey, we asked the boys what they most wanted to see. Joe was quick and clear: I want to see the Eiffel Tower, and that lady painting with the smile. Done and done!

We agree: it's a smirk
We agree: it’s a smirk

We also got to climb the Arc de Triomphe, which offers a small museum inside and great views of the city from the top. And speaking of views, the Tour Montparnasse, near our apartment, offered a great view of the Eiffel Tower, and the city, from the top.

At the top of the Tour Montparnasse
At the top of the Tour Montparnasse

We had a great week. Yes, it was crowded, and yes, it was smoky. But it is such a fantastic city. Jack says Paris is his favourite place so far, and we’ve seen a lot of places! They both loved running along the Seine, touching the Eiffel Tower, and just generally wandering the city.

Joe and Jack are really very homesick, and are counting down the days until we go home. As I write, we’ve just finished a three day visit to Bruges, Belgium and we head to Amsterdam tomorrow, Joe’s 10th birthday. As the kids say “2 more sleeps until we leave for home.”

Brittany

Southern Breton coast
Southern Breton coast

Dan and I have travelled through a lot of France, but we’ve really fallen for Brittany (and we didn’t really see the main “tourist” sites). If people outside of France know Brittany, it may be for Brest or the St. Malo area. We stayed in southern Brittany, and toured around the coastal areas and the gorgeous old villages. The area has an interesting history, and is simply beautiful.

Our hosts told us some spots to explore, which meant we ended up hiking a trail that priests used to hide out during the French Revolution (the hidey hole is still there in the forest), and exploring a fort occupied by Germans in the Second World War. The fort now houses two museums, one on the French East India Company, and one on Maritime history.

Fort at L'Orient, occupied by Germany in WWII
Fort at L’Orient, occupied by Germany in WWII
Looking out from the fort walls.
Looking out from the fort walls.

The villages along the sea felt very Celtic, and the road signs in the area are in both French and Breton, which looks like Welsh to us. It was an intriguing area, and we would love to come back. Three nights just isn’t enough time to explore it all.

Our visit to the area was certainly enhanced by our B&B experience. We stayed at a place called Talvern, and our host Patrick first had a career as a chef in Paris before buying and renovating one of the outbuildings of a castle. We ate each night at his table d’hôte, and had incredible food and wine. Local food and cider, excellent wine…. maybe that’s why we loved it so much!

Here are some other assorted pictures from Brittany. It was hard to pick favourites, as there were so many gorgeous ones!

Joe and I pose in front of the "heart rock" on the Quiberon peninsula
Joe and I pose in front of the “heart rock” on the Quiberon peninsula
Southern Breton coast
Southern Breton coast
Joe is getting into making movies
Joe is getting into making movies
Jack's photo of Joe - Jack is starting to take some excellent shots.
Jack’s photo of Joe – Jack is starting to take some excellent shots.
Seaside chapel, southern Brittany
Seaside chapel, southern Brittany
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Jack the climber 

So many Chateaux!

Hill view of Langeais
Hill view of Langeais

Lately it has been far more difficult to find time to post blogs. We’ve been extensively sightseeing, and I’ve also been working on manuscripts. So I’ve completely missed reporting on our time in both Austria and Germany. To sum up: wonderful.

Now we’ve moved on to France. We picked up a car in Munich, and drove it here. We will have the car for two weeks, as we explore the Loire Valley (last week), Brittany (where we are currently) and Normany (our next stop). I thoroughly enjoyed legally driving very, very fast, particularly in Germany…

The picture above is the town of Langeais, on the Loire River. We spent a week based there and exploring the area. We explored Cheverny, Chamborg, Clos du Luce, and other wonderful castles and chateaux. It is hard to choose just a few pictures, as there are so many beautiful places here.

Cheverney
Cheverney

Jack was in his historical glory, and we realized just how much he knows, as he taught us facts we didn’t know about some of the locations we visited. While visiting one of the oldest castles in the area, which has been turned into sort of an medieval interactive location, Jack and Joe got to try on chain mail, see a trebuchet fire a water ball at the castle, and learn sword fighting techniques. (Actually, I think Jack used some of his karate skills, which surprised and winded the sword instructor…)

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One of my favourite places in this area, although it is hard to choose, was Clos du Luce, where Leonardo da Vinci lived for the last few years of his life. They have turned the park behind the chateau into a working demonstration area for many of his inventions/machines. The kids really enjoyed trying them out, and it’s a beautiful park as well.

Dan and I enjoyed the best meal of our lives in Langeais on my birthday. We just turned our choices for food and wine pairings to the chef. Escargot risotto with peas, goose, chicken live pate… five courses of delicious!

We are in Brittany now. Although only a few hours away, it’s a very different vibe here, and not only because it has turned rainy and cool. The seaside/marina feeling is very different. More on that in the next post…

Crowded, stressful Venice

Our hotel, Hotel Marconi, foot of the Rialto Bridge
Our hotel, Hotel Marconi, foot of the Rialto Bridge

Venice was a challenge. No other way to put it. I had fond memories of Venice from my last trip. However, that was in 1988, before mass tourism. It was crowded then, in the heart of the summer. This time, we were there “pre-season” and yet it was one of the most crowded places we’ve been (and we’ve been to some crowded places this past year). The water “buses” that I recall offering cheap and relaxing rides down the canal have become jam-packed, pushing and shoving matches. St. Mark’s Square, one of the world’s most beautiful man-made sights, is now filled with hawkers, aggressively approaching everyone with junk to sell, and throwing pigeon food in women’s hair so the pigeons land on them… sigh. It wasn’t a great visit, for any of us, frankly. It’s still gorgeous, it’s still very unusual, but it’s a challenge to visit. Watching out for the kids in crowds, and on and off boats, was stressful.

Joe and Jack loved pigeon-wrangling.
Joe and Jack loved pigeon-wrangling.

Now to the positives: when we did turn down little side streets, off the beaten track (sometimes intentionally, sometimes when we took the wrong boat) we relaxed a little. It seemed then the sun would come out even warmer, we could sit and enjoy some gelato, and just soak up the atmosphere. Here are some of my favorite images from this intriguing place.

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Classic Venice view
Classic Venice view

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Corniglia, Italy

This week we had far too short a stay in the Cinque Terre area of Italy. We spent a couple of nights in Corniglia, on the western coast of Italy. We absolutely loved it, and would have loved to stay longer, but that is what happens when you are trying to stay spontaneous in the summer…

The area is full of beautiful hiking trails, and we had a gorgeous apartment, with a beautiful view you can see here.

The view looking left.
The view looking left.
The view looking right.
The view looking right.

There are gorgeous hikes throughout, and although it was cool, it made me happy to get out a do a nice strenuous hike.

Me happy, hiking!
Me happy, hiking!

And although our time in Corniglia was too short, we still had time to smell the cacti!

Ouch!
Ouch!

Rome in Two Days

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Jack is loving it!

If someone should ask me, “Can you see Rome in two days?” I will answer most emphatically, “No, no you cannot.” But we tried…

The Coliseum
The Coliseum

We thought we weren’t being too aggressive with our plans: the Coliseum/Forum/Palantine Hill (which we could walk to easily from our hotel) on Day 1, and walking to Vatican City, sightseeing along the about 4.5 km walk along the way, on Day 2. What we didn’t count on: temperatures of about 33 C, and two boys who suffered horribly from seasonal allergies in Rome. (Well, in Greece too, the truth be told, but Rome was the zenith we think). Jack and Joe really enjoyed the Coliseum, which, while far more crowded than we expected, still seems alive with history once you get inside. (I’ve included a picture of Jack here. While taken in Siena, it demonstrates how excited he was in Rome).

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Looking into the animal and gladiator pits.

Day 1, which included far more walking than we anticipated, ended for the boys partway through the Forum, with so many sneezes the crowds were giving us a wide berth as a potential contagion group. We took them back to chill at the hotel while Dan and I did a dinner out and an evening walk up to the Trevi Fountain. After a lovely meal, we spent about 30 minutes dodging hawkers aggressively selling selfie sticks, then finally found some peaceful streets and enjoyed most of our walk. But it was longer than we anticipated (sensing a theme?) and we arrived to find 1) more hawkers, and 2) the fountain dry and under scaffolding. On the way home, we did pass by one of the city’s beautiful churches though, and it was lit gorgeously at night.

The light streaming into the ceiling in St. Peter's.
The light streaming into the ceiling in St. Peter’s.

Day 2 began well, with allergies somewhat under control, and a gorgeous walk to Vatican City, through simply beautiful small streets near the river. Disappointingly, the crowds were simply too big heading into the Vatican museum, so no Sistine Chapel on this visit. But St. Peter’s was simply incredible, as you can see from some of these pictures. We walked a different route back, right along the river, which was gorgeous, and empty of crowds. It was about a 10 mile day, in the end, in very hot weather, but still, gorgeous. Moral of the story: Rome is crazy, beautiful, crowded, anxiety-provoking, crowded, and worth the frustration. I think…

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Walking home along the Tiber.
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St. Peter’s – check the tiny heads for a sense of scale.

Now we are in Siena, in a beautiful hotel that is a (short) walking distance to everything. Temperatures have dropped to the mid-twenties, perfect for strolling. Time for some wine and pasta…

Jack and Joe, brothers and friends

We are currently in Santorini, Greece. How can it be colder and rainier here than in London, Ontario? Odd, but that’s the way it goes sometimes… we do hear it’s supposed to warm up, but the 5 days we spend here may be quite chilly. It’s a mountainous island, so cool weather is good for hiking, but it’s no longer beach weather. Add to that we all have either allergies or colds, and it may be a long stay here. Okay, enough whining…

Temple of Apollo, Naxos
Temple of Apollo, Naxos

However, last week we were in Naxos, another island. It was glorious. It’s just before the tourist season, so there aren’t many visitors. Not everything is open yet, but it was great to walk the streets with very few people. All the pictures today are from Naxos.

How cool is this beach?
How cool is this beach?

But I thought I’d write today about the boys, rather than the place. It’s been a couple of weeks now since we left the Semester at Sea program and began travelling “alone” as a family. The kids miss their friends from home, and their new friends from the ship. They have only themselves again, as in Sedona, except now they are stuck with Dan and I all in one hotel room. There is no escaping Mom and Dad; which really isn’t good for any of us! Okay, so it’s not that bad. But it is close quarters and we all have to get used to that. It’s going to be about 8 weeks on the road, so we better get used to it soon!

Laughing in the waves
Laughing in the waves
Deep thoughts on the city square
Deep thoughts on the city square

They enjoyed Naxos, as we all did. Glorious weather, beautiful beaches, and gorgeous small villages. Add in fantastic local wines, citron, all the lamb Joe can eat, and all the gyros Jack can eat, and it adds up to a fantastic experience.

Cold water? What cold water?
Cold water? What cold water?
Huggy
Huggy
Check me out!
Check me out!

Athens

This week we spent four days exploring Athens. Glorious weather, and we did it right: explore in the morning, rest in the afternoon, back out for late dinners. We focused on the ruins, as we stayed in Plaka, at the foot of the Acropolis. This was my first visit back to Athens since 1988, when I travelled with Lisa Penner. The city has changed a lot, but mainly it was a much better trip when I had a little bit more money! The wild cats are the same (Jack says “still great”) but there does seem to be less of them. And visiting when it’s maybe 25 degrees is much nicer than visiting when it is about 42 degrees, as it was when I was here in the summer. Much more civilized. Spent the afternoons in Athens catching up on some writing projects, with the ever patient team of co-authors I am currently working with. Thanks again for understanding: Aimee Huff, Miranda Goode, Jodie Whelan, Matt Thomson, and Jeff Rotman. On to Naxos, then Santorini, then Rome!

London

We had a very brief (two night stay) in London. If we thought the ship was crowded quarters, the hotel room in London was even smaller! I think the room we all slept in was about 150 square feet. You know it’s small when it is smaller than the room in Japan…

The very first night we arrived we took in Wicked, which was a highlight of the visit for all of us.

We also had great weather. Although cool, it was nice and sunny. We packed a ton of walking into two days, visiting the Tower of London and the British Museum, along with sites along the way such as Buckingham Palace. The kids were exhausted, so maybe we pushed them a little hard. For those of you who know London, this means walking from the Tower of London all the way back to the Pimlico neighbourhood we stayed in. Are we too tough?

Here are some pictures from the two day visit. Lots of great history!