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…
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?
Bruges is a place I would love to return to: for the food, the atmosphere, the beer, the cycling opportunities, the beer…
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?
So: the last city in Europe. I don’t count Amsterdam because we stayed close to the airport and didn’t see the city. I am currently writing this on a plane listening to Taylor Swift. So that means I’m writing what I want to write even though I promised I’d write about the stuff after Rome to fill in space for a wanting audience. Well I don’t care.
So here’s our two-day trip in Bruges. I think we shouldn’t have gone to Normandy so long; Bruges was far better. My aunt Judy says some people say Bruges is boring and to them I say, “Boo you.” The first day we checked in to a hotel. Wow, really Jack, I did not see that coming, you live so dangerously (sarcastic comment of the day).
The first full day we went to a place called “Historium”. It is an interactive experience telling you a story of Bruges in the 15th century. Then after the main attraction they added a virtual reality experience. In it you sail to Bruges in a trader ship. The way you had to enter Bruges then was to stop at a large canal and hop on a bunch of small boats to deliver your goods.
Then we went to the market in the center square. There was a huge piece of modern art there. I usual hate modern art! I mean loath, hate, despise. I’m on a level where if I could rule the world I would outlaw modern art and any one who owned it would be sentenced to life in prison. So now that you now my view on modern art I have to say the guy that made this is awesome. It’s this massive glass thing that I don’t understand the meaning of. But the thing that makes it cool is that inside one of the glass panels is actually a one-way mirror. Joe and I went inside. So what we did is that every person that stopped to look at it got a magically knocking sound in his or her head.
The next day we just walked around. We stopped at this brewery that’s been working and run by the same family since 18XX. We ate lunch there. It was pretty good. Then we walked close to canals just exploring. We saw a bunch of swans and ducks. Then we took the train to Brussels to catch a train to Amsterdam. Then we got on a shuttle to the hotel. The next day we got up early to catch a flight back to Toronto. So now I’m writing my blog on a plane.
This will be one of my last travel-related blogs, as we wrap up our incredible 11 month adventure.
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…
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.
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 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.
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.”
Now I know you are all thinking the same thing; “Jack this delayed blogging was kind of funny the first time but now you’re pushing it”. And yes I am. But to be fair I’m in Paris, so be happy I’m not talking about Paris. Normandy was nice. That’s it, blog is over…………… well there were cats too…
Just kidding here it goes. We drove from Brittany to Caument L’Evente. This beautiful little town wasn’t beautiful. I actually think my parents went out of the way to find the only town in Normandy where every one wants to get rid of tourists (especially Bretons).
There was one bed and breakfast. I’ll give you a hint that’s where we stayed. They were really nice. The lady running the place also had three cats. My favorite was this old one that had one expression. Give me food or die!!!!
Then the second last day I was on Instagram and the cat said, “you will be a pillow”. So I was a cat pillow. It also ran away from Joe; so massive plus there.
The first day we went to Juno beach. The Juno beach exhibit is completely staffed by Canadians. I had honestly forgotten how much I loved Canadians. They are so friendly, and it’s not just because I’m Canadian there were staff everywhere else no one was as friendly as the nice lady from Ontario who gave me candy to say this. After that we went to Omaha. Which is what is what you see in movies. Unless there climbing hills then it’s the rangers. This is because: ‘Merica. Omaha was much bigger with twice as many troops landing there than Juno.
They have a massive graveyard of over nine thousand troops buried there.
The last day we went to Bayeux. They have a massive tapestry that’s 70 meters long. It had to wrap a corner of a massive hall. It was made in medieval times right after William the Conquerer took over England. Some history buffs may say: “but Jack he was originally William the Bastard”. And I say to you, yes (it is my favorite name for him, but oh well) but this is after he took over England making, him the Conquerer. Then we went to a WWII museum that took a look at the strategy of the taking of France from Nazi Germany and the equipment. They had tanks!!!
Then we left for Paris, the city of single 13 year olds and pizza (there is no truer love).
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.
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!
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.
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…)
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…
We are in Fussen, Germany. Our room is a good room.
We have great bird sounds, a cool balcony chandelier plus a neat balcony, kitchen, and sofa ben, a big bed, a radio TV, nice paintings.
This is a little town with hills all over, good pizza nearby and two castles nearby. And don’t forget that a cool fair is nearby with a luge slide like on the Great Wall of China: super cool.
There are also fake cars where you put money in so it goes, right? No, not any more. All you have to do is to put one foot on the car and use the other for pushing and a hand for steering. If you wanted to buy it, it would only be…
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.
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.