Ciao, Au Revoir and Auf Wiedersehen; 10 things I know

It’s been great. We have loved it all. Here are some helpful travel tips for those of you making the journey in the future…

1. When in Italy, always weigh and price your own produce in a grocery store, so as not to annoy the cashier;
2. Dental floss is a rare commodity, and as a side note, DO NOT bring a Braun Oral B electric toothbrush with you – it will explode;
3. The moon never shone once the entire time we were at il lago, which makes me wonder where it was – no matter. The stars were incredible in it’s place;
4. In Italy really good pizza is really, really cheap; in Europe really good wine is really, really cheap; in France fois gras is really, really expensive;
5. Highway tolls in France are mysterious;
6. Italian markets rarely include food; French markets ALWAYS include food;
7. Coke is more expensive than gelato, and, unbelievably, proseco!!!
8. You will rarely find a gas station – or a toll booth – to take your credit card, so always carry lots of cash;
9. If you were to measure productivity by the number of trucks on the road, Germany would win hands down. Here, it’s almost palpable; in France and Italy, not so much.
10. ALWAYS greet a shop keeper upon entering and exiting. And don’t TOUCH ANYTHING – they really don’t like it;
And finally, as a bonus, perhaps the most pertinent piece of information I can bestow upon you:
11. MC hammer pants are back. You read that right. So take my advice and get yourself a pair.

It’s been great fun. I hope you have enjoyed our journey as much as we have. Caio! xoxo

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Just When We Though It Was Over…

The wake up call comes at 4:30. By 5:00 we are enroute to the airport. By 8:00 we are in the air. The flight is 10 hours. A little bit on the long side, but the kids are managing it beautifully. We are about 1.5 hours from Vancouver when the captain comes on to announce that there is a medical emergency and we need to set down, so we are turning around and landing in Iqauluit, BAFFIN ISLAND.

So the first thing in my mind is this: I don’t care how sick I am feeling – I think I’d rather hold out until Vancouver, but that’s just me. The second thing is this: if the medical emergency is the woman four rows ahead who is standing around talking and looking absolutley fine I’m going to be choked. The third thing in my mind is: COOL! we can check out the island – what a bonus!

As it turns out, it is the woman four rows ahead. She had complained of chest pains and alerted the staff, who in turn requested a doctor, who revealed himself, who in turn declared her fine. Then the bureaucracy sets in and the flight crew contact the doctor on call for the airline, who in turn does not want any liability like a misdiagnosis, who in turn advises the pilot to put down as quickly as possible, who in turn backtracks to BAFFIN ISLAND. So we land, and the paramedics eventually make their way to the plane and each and every one of them takes turns coming on board to examine her. And then they spend over an hour convincing her that she needs to get off the plane. She refuses. She has no intention of getting off on BAFFIN ISLAND. Eventually she does – she walks off quite capably by herself and the pilot prepares for take off.

It quickly seems like he has decided to drive the plane into town to fill up, because we are just cruising around the runway. He then comes on to inform us that the thruster gear is stuck, and in turn needs to leave the plane and go make a phone call, and in turn informs us that he has not been able to fix it with the help of the Montreal ground crew, and in turn needs to call in a local qualified mechanic, who in turn does eventually fix it, so we can be on our way. This is FIVE HOURS LATER. We have not been allowed to leave the plane because of customs issues, so we have been sitting ON THE RUNWAY FOR FIVE LONG HOURS. I notice that the heart burn woman is now quietly back in her seat. Crisis averted.

So we are airborne. The pilot comes on to tell us all about the problem and how the legal amount of a duty day is seventeen hours, and how they had exceeded that and how they had to call the FAA for approval for one extra hour so that they could fly us to MONTREAL and how we were almost grounded in Iqualuit by a matter of minutes. So the flight to Montreal is going to be 2 hours and 47 minutes – you do the math – that is more than one extra hour. He then informs us that they will refurbish the plane, because in the five hours that we sat on the runway, we almost turned into cannibals and ate everything on board. A good smaritan local airport employee got into his car and went to the grocery store to buy all the fruit they had for our flight to Montreal. We are allowed to leave the plane into a contained gate at the airport while they turn around the crew and contents and then we are airborne again for another 5 hours. We ultimately land in Vancouver after 23 hours straight on plane – just before midnight, local time.

We are finally home!

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Our last day on the Continent

Yesterday was spent driving the 600kms to Frankfurt – a relatively painless journey until the very end. The British Lady is tiring of us I fear. She just couldn’t quite seem to get us to our destination. We finally reached it, got settled and walked to dinner at the local Italian restaurant, where we were told the patrons spoke English. I can’t battle my way through the simplest of requests in German, I am so utterly unfamiliar with the language. We eat, we drink, we retire for the night.

So today is it. Our last day. To be honest, it seems like we’ve been waiting for this day for some time. The kids sorely miss their friends and are desperate to see them. I commented to Chris that even though we are all ready to be on that plane – and would have been happy to have been on it a week ago – isn’t it an absolute luxury to feel that way? I can’t really recall any vacation in the past when I have said to myself “OK – time to head back“. So this feels really special: like we have stayed away until we were absolutely, no question, ready to return.

This being our last day, we have no agenda: just a wander through Frankfurt. I have to say right off the bat that I am shocked that the sidewalks are not thick with obese people. The food here is a dream. Frankfurters (and I mean the people, not the weinies) must be the product of generations of metabolic tweeking, so that they can consume all of this incredible food and just vaporize it before it gets any ideas of attaching itself in unwanted places. I personally feel absolutely fat. It’s a good thing we are moving straight away – I’ll need the exercise as redemption for 7 weeks of gluttony.

No sooner have we left the train station, when we are confronted with this. How AWESOME is this? I strongly suggest you click on the photo to see an enlarged version of it. In case it isn’t clear, the huge tray of meat is set above a fire pit 🙂
The entire street across from the station is a pedestrian street and is lined with food vendors, selling the most delightful things.

If I had to put a positive spin on war, I would say this: the photo below is of a cathedral spared during the bombing. In front of it are the ruins of a Roman Bath that they discovered when they were removing the rubble from the bombings…

Of course, one of the unexpected amusements for me are all of the pumped up scooters marauding as vehicles all over Europe. They remind me of Richard Scary’s creations in his Busy Town books.

But enough of that. I’m not sure what I was expecting Frankfurt to be, but I really like it. It feels small and welcoming and really pretty. Most of Frankfurt was bombed during the war – very little of the old town survived, so we set off to see that bit first. There isn’t much of it.

As we wander through the city, we turn our minds to food and consider our endless options. Ultimately the decision is made for us – it starts to rain, then it starts to pour, then it begins to downpour. We need shelter. None of us thought to bring raincoats today. We stumble into the first sidewalk cafe we run past and settle into a booth for FRANKFURTERS!!! Actually, in the end Lucy orders those. The rest of us are tempted away from that intent by all of the other options on the menu. Cooper and Chris order schnitzle (sp??) and I order sausages – all legitimate German fare. It’s delicious.

With full bellies, we head out to walk it off. The rain has stopped and I want to see the Opera House. We find ourselves at a children’s festival and spend some time there, letting the kids burn off some energy. Most of it is free and is well organized. Thank God Cooper is wearing his cowboy hat – they have a bull ride!

Time to get back to the hotel. Our wake up call comes very early.

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Aaaahhhh, Paris

We are in Paris today for a whirlwind visit. The Tour de France ends here today, so we intend to see some of that if we can. We have also booked a “Paris by Night” tour, which will take us up the Eiffel Tower, for a cruise along the Seine and then on a sightseeing tour around the city.

When we arrive, the Champs D’Elysee is thick with people waiting to watch the finish of the Tour. This means that many of the other streets all along this corridor are deserted. I LOVE this city. I’m so glad we brought the kids here. I was having my doubts yesterday after the Playmobil fiasco, but five minutes in this town and I am in love all over again. Lucy is quick to pick up on the vibe.

Had we decided to try and catch a glimpse of the tour, this might have been our best bet:

As it was, it was relatively easy. Captain Australia and I waited for Cadel Evans to go past, but I didn’t manage to get him in my shots.

Paris for me is pure eye candy. It’s difficult to find things to not photograph.

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Playmobil Fun Park!!!!

We decided some time ago that we would bookend the trip with fun places for the kids. As you will recall we began our journey with a stop at LegoLand in Germany. So it was only right to stop at the Playmobil Fun Park in Paris as we wound down the trip. I had done some research before we left and the park looked really fun. It was very different from LegoLand in that there weren’t any rides, but you could scale a full sized castle and various other things and they had loads of stuff to play with. Most of you are aware that we own a serious cache of Playmobil, so this was a no brainer for us.

The drive into Paris was long and we were all road weary by the time we checked into our hotel. But the park was only two stops down the highway so we piled back into the car, instructed the British Lady as to our desires and set off.

I suppose in retrospect the first clue should have been the shopping mall. The second clue should have been the size. No matter – ever optimistic we trotted inside to discover that this particular Playmobil FunPark is really just a big store with a play area attached. Think MacDonalds with one of those play apparati on site and you’re heading in the right direction. It was utter chaos, with open bins of bits of Playmobil. You wander around until you find something you want to play with and then you begin and hope that some other child doesn’t wander up to your doll house and decide that they need the roof for theirs…

I am proud to say that Chris and I managed to last for over an hour.

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Meyssac and Collanges la Rouge

One last trip to the local towns. Meyssac market is on the books for today. The French markets are a blend of produce, artisanal foods, household products and gift wares. Pretty perfect in my estimation, although Chris cannot abide them for long.

This market is interesting in that here there is a vendor exclusively selling house dresses. I thought these fell by the wayside decades ago, but here they are in all their splendour!

Of course this market has fois gras on offer as everywhere else in The Lot. And produce and buckets of my favourite flower, Lisianthus.

The town of Collanges la Rouge is a little further afield (I was about to say north, but without a map at my elbow, I can’t say that for sure). The town name is roughly ‘the colour red’. It is unique in that the bricks of this town are all a very dark clay colour. Everywhere else that we have driven through in France has boasted homes the colour of a very pale yellow limetsone, sometimes tending toward grey, but that is about the range of the colour palette. This town, with it’s clay coloured houses has the aura of being on the verge of collapse. It looks like it is utterly crumbling. I only have a couple of lousy photos as I snapped them very quickly as we were leaving for Paris, but you’ll get the general idea. Had I had more time, I would have tried to capture it’s essence: to me the town looks like the “I Spy Hallowe’en” book.

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I am trying to validate my theory that the term ‘crossroads’ comes from these things, which are at virtually every cross road in The Lot. So far I am coming up blank, because all of my Google searches turn up references to the crosses that people place at the scene of a fatal accident along a roadside. I will keep searching for an answer and let you know what I find out….

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Our last days in the Lot

We have run out of days and it is just in time. We are all spent. The past week here has been stormy every day and we have had numerous rain showers throughout each day; some of them nothing more than an accumulation of mist, others considerably more intense.

So for the past two days we have been home bodies. Lucy has declared with her waking breath “I want to stay put today” for the past number of days, so we feel that we need to oblige. So this is what we are up to 🙂

No Chris did not make this quiche. You will note the Tour de France in the background – they are in the Alps at the moment and it’s been entertaining viewing, so my darling is quite content. The coat he is sporting is testament to the inclement weather.

You know a vacation is over when your son is happy to be sitting on the couch all day long, gazing at a computer screen…

Lucy is flexing her Montessori muscles (although she wasn’t in it for long) by showing off her house cleaning skills…

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Today we are going to see Cahors, the capital city of the Lot. We have blown through our kms that came with our rental – over 7,000. Stinky has served us well.

Among other things to see in Cahors is the 14th century Valentre Bridge, which is the symbol of the town and is a World Heritage Site.

Today it is perhaps best known as the centre of the famous AOC ‘black’ wine known since the Middle Ages and exported via Bordeaux, long before that region had developed its own viticulture industry. Below is a picture of a wine press that looks like something from a Flintstone’s movie set.

Cahors has in interesting history. It was prominent in the Middle Ages and saw considerable conflict during the Hundred Years War and the later Wars of Religion. It was also infamous at that time for having bankers that charged interest on their loans. WHAT????????The church in these times said that using money as an end in itself (usury) was a sin. Because of this Cahors became synonymous with this sin, and was mentioned in Dante’s Inferno (XI.50) alongside Sodom as wicked. Isn’t that a nice legacy?

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Rocamadour – not on our knees

We stop into Rocamadour on the way to Gouffre de Padirac. Sorry – I got this post mixed up.

Rocamadour is the second most visited pilgrimage site in France, next to Mont St. Michel. The buildings of Rocamadour (from ròca, cliff, and sant Amador) rise in stages up the side of a cliff on the right bank of the Alzou, which here runs between rocky walls 400 ft. in height. Flights of steps ascend from the lower town to the churches, a group of massive buildings half-way up the cliff. The chief of them is the pilgrimage church of Notre Dame (rebuilt in its present configuration from 1479), containing the cult image at the center of the site’s draw, a wooden Black Madonna reputed to have been carved by Saint Amator (Amadour) himself.

Devout pilgrims will crawl up these steps on their knees. Unfortunately for us, we are on a tight time line. Too bad, because I was wanting to do that… We eat lunch on the main street and then head out for our reservation at Gouffre de Padirac.

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