Sunday, April 4, 2010


Here we are at out last holiday stops on our long journey. From this point we will make our way back home. A trip to Dublin tomorrow. The following day a flight to Seville and a train ride to Madrid. The next day a flight to Frankfurt, a final flight to Toronto and then a car ride back to Alliston, home at about 7 on Wednesday. Our last places visited included a quick three day visit to Belfast and from there decided to head for the north coast and ended up in Portstewart.

Belfast was an eye opener. It is interesting being in a city which has very recently ended years of violence, violence that goes back 300 years. The peace accord has been signed but it will take a generation for it to become part of the fabric of society. Our guide for the city tour says there is no black and white explanation for the long hostilities and trying to divide it down Catholic and Protestant lines is too simple and only reinforces the stereo typing that went on. Our guide pointed out the changes that the violence forced on the city, such as the streets blocked off and the the police stations that look like military compounds but at the same time told us stories of peace that ran against the violence there. My favourite story was of First Presbyterian Church in Belfast. This group of Christians Protestants heard that the Catholics were thinking about building a place of worship. The congregation believed that every person deserved a place of worship nor matter their denomination and went about raising money for this. In the end they donated half the funds required to complete the church. This was indeed a refreshing thing to hear about and see.

Portstewart was also refreshing. It is not unlike Wasaga Beach, it has the largest beach in Northern Ireland and is an area known for it's surfing. It has a long promenade that runs past the harbour with many shops and restaurants. You can choose a variety of coffee shops to sit and have a mug while looking out over the sea. It was cold here but the rain held off for the most part and we were able to walk half the length of the beach, travel to Portrush for some fun and make our way out to the Giants Causeway. We were told that you haven't visited Ireland until you have seen the Giants Causeway, well we have visited Ireland, it took about 20 minutes. Portstewart is know for more then its beach, the biggest in Northern Ireland, it is also known for the last motorcycle road race in Great Britian. I have always loved the way things are qualified as we have been on this trip.

Qualifying makes things that are not quite as important a little more important and it is a lot of fun. In Dublin we had the Connolley bridge that was as wide as it was long making it the heaviest bridge in Ireland, we assumed that was only in the Republic. Bushmill has the tallest 'rope' bridge in Norther Ireland. Dublin also has the tallest all metal statue in the Europe. Luang Pro Bang has the longest 'series' of falls in Asia. Madrid has the the largest 'pulpit' made from 'one' piece of wood. Munich has the tallest statue made of 'white' marble, and so on. Our favourite was the 'tallest', 'bronze', 'equestrian' statue in all of Germany, I can't remember where. We are assuming from this that there are taller statues in Germany but they would not be bronze nor would they be equestrian or maybe both. It is fun having the biggest and best of something, like being the 'potato' capital of 'Ontario.' Well, I am looking forward to being back in Alliston with the finest people in the world, no qualifications necessary!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ways to Go

Sorry for no pics on this blog the signal is too low.
Well, here we are on the last days of our journey, just 9 days to go and looking for the end. It is a very rainy day in Dublin, quite rainy and we are planning how we will get to Trinity College to meet Megan Proper and stay dry, my short rain jacket will manage to channel all the water onto my pants. We love Dublin though! The few days we have been here have been grand. We love Ireland and have decided to forgo our return to the south of Spain for some exploration here. We will travel to Belfast tomorrow and then right up to the north coast to stay by the sea for our last few days. We had a great stay in Edinburgh last week, exploring the city and enjoying the pubs there. Thanks to our friends Sean and Megan Adams we learned that we really like Haggis, Neeps and Mash and I found heather(the shrub) beer very tasty. We explored the many historic sights and learned from our "free" tour guide just how the Scots managed to include the Pics, the Romans, the Norse, the Vikings, the Saxons, the Anglos and anyone else who happened along, in their community. I was saying to Terry how this has been a history tour as much as a vacation and we have really enjoyed it.

We are to the point where we won't do anymore laundry until we come home and the clothes which we have been circulating through will be gradually discarded, dirty now equals garbage. We are really quite a sight sometimes as so many of our shirts and other things have warn out. They have lost their elasticity, become faded and developed random holes and are ready to be let go. You know, "If you love something, let it go and if it comes back to you it is beyond dirty and should be burned." We will be glad to get home and I think the two things I am looking forward to is having my own bed and not sharing a bathroom with strangers anymore! I don't think I will ever get used to coming out of a stall in a common bathroom and having to greet the young women who is also there. Just what do you say in a situation like that? I think I settled on the Australian phrase, "How ya goin?" but even that gets some funny looks.

I have actually become quite the expert on bathrooms over these last five months, toilets especially. I have seen every kind of toilet you can imagine, from squatties to real bowls and even ones that appear completely backwards to me. I think the most fun ones are squatties on trains. Mind you Terry does not show the same appreciation I have for these little times of adventures and prefers the elaborate one we saw at the Monte Carlo Casino. That one actually rotated the seat through a sanitary wash before the next person used it. You can just imagine how much that one got flushed just to see it work! Speaking of fun toilets, the ones on airplanes are always adventures. Did you know if you hold a long piece of toilet paper close to the spillway on this toilet it will virtually pull it from you hands when flushed and the paper will disappear down the spout with a snap. You should try it when you get the opportunity. The most annoying toilet I have used are the round ones. It is like sitting on a tall bowl or vase. They are very efficient in flushing but 'going' on one is like dropping stones into water, there will be a splash! The most interesting set up I saw was the, so called, by Jacob, Dutch toilet. This toilet seems to be completely reversed. There is a small reservoir of water but it is completely at the front of the toilet. When you have completed your task your work sits on a little platform waiting for you to flush to wash it off. Very disturbing to see unless you are into examining the efficiency of your digestive system. So you see why I will be so happy to be home and enjoying the 'comforts' I am used to there. Well that's all for now, I have to go!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Having a rest

Since I have last written we have left Berlin, visited Ghent or Gent in Belgium and landed in Amsterdam. We have been here for about 5 days and are staying in a great apartment we found on a house exchange site. It seems everywhere we go since we have landed in Germany we have encountered places that remind us of the holocaust that took place during the second world war. Amsterdam has been no exception. Here we visited the Anne Frank house and also traveled to Harleem to visit the Corrie Ten Boom house, which is also a museum. It again raises questions about what went on and why some people acted and others did not. We picked up a book at the Jewish Memorial in Berlin called, "The Righteous" which I have been reading. Part of the preface reads like this' " . . . the Germans could not have done what they did without the assistance of their Ukrainian, Polish, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Hungarian and Croatian "helpers". Furthermore, the roundup of Jews in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and even Norway, would not have been so "successful" without significant local "help"." It still makes me wonder how this could have taken place and how people have recovered from such racism. Again I don't have an answer. Terry and I have chatted about this quite a bit and it has left us with many wonders, wonders as to how people could be so cruel and how the people who have rescued Jews could have been so brave.

On a lighter note we have had a marvelous time over that past week or so. The stay in Gent was charming because of the accommodations, a converted river barge bought in France and sailed to Gent and made into a hostel. We were not just near the water but in it. Gent was originally a textile town and was the second largest city in Europe until the industry faltered and other cities grew larger faster. You can still find many quality products there made of cotton and flax. I would recommend a visit to anyone

Amsterdam has been most wonderful, made wonderful because we have connected with some old and new friends here. We have had a great visit with Heather Britton and her sister Rachael and husband, Jacob. Melisa Ytsma has been our tour guide and they all have been to our place as dinner guests. The nice part of this is it's not over yet. On Saturday we will see Jos Dekker and Heather and Melissa again, it's almost like being home. Being home is something we are thinking about. We have about 18 days left of our journey and although we are still having a great time and looking forward to the places we have yet to see, being home on April 17 will be just fine! By the way, this is our third visit to the fine city of Amsterdam and we would suggest it makes a great vacation destination. The buildings and the people are quite amazing and we will be sad to leave. From Amsterdam with love, we will be seeing most of you soon.

Monday, March 8, 2010

More Questions Then Answers

The trains seem to be the best place to write blogs as they are quite comfortable and usually have electrical outlets for the computer. So here we sit writing on another high speed train going from Munich to Berlin.

We have really enjoyed Munich and again regret that we have to leave a place before we are finished enjoying it. Munich, the city with a lot of capitals and yet not "the" capital. Munich is the capital of Bavaria, the heart of the German empire established in 1871, the heart of the the kingship, home of the Ludwig's mad or not. Munich is also the beer capital of Germany with some monks starting it all sometime around the 6th century. They are very proud of this and beer is very important to them. A traditional breakfast includes beer and most people only have a half liter of beer for lunch. I mean that's all they have, no food at all, yes men and women. So you can see how important beer is! It the home of 'the' Oktoberfest when no one can imagine how much beer is consumed and on one occasion a brewery actually went dry!

Munich has other capitals to tell of. It is the Catholic capital of Germany. The home of the current Pope, who is a lover of Augustiner beer. Any casual observation will tell you that Munich is the Catholic capital as churches can be seen from any vantage point and it was one of the rare places where I did not need to consult a map to get around. Church landmarks are everywhere and any confusion is resolved by looking for the nearest steeple. Munich is also very new despite looking old. Munich was nearly destroyed during the second world war, 87% of it's buildings were knocked down. They knew that this would happen and so a campaign was mounted to photograph the buildings, inside and out, so they could be restored to original after the destruction ended. This brings the question, "Why would this happen?" It's because Munich is also the capital of Nazism and the second home to the most infamous Austrian of all time, Adolf Hitler.

It was from Munich that Hitler started his movement to rule Germany. It was from Munich, the third story of the New Town hall, that Hitler ordered the opening of Dachau, the first and longest running concentration camp in Germany. It was from this same place, in 1938 he commenced "crystal nacht" (night of broken glass). When the Jewish population of Munich went from 12,000 to 1,000 and every Jewish business and Synagogue was burned to the ground. This same place, in 1941 launched Hitler's "Final Solution" which led to the death of 6 million Jews. All this has left me with many questions about Munich. How can it boast of being the capital of many good things and be the the capital of evil at the same time? I know that Munich is dealing openly with her past, which is why Dachau still stands and the third story of the old town hall is pointed out to tourists, but some questions still remain. I don't think this is a question just for Munich, it's one that needs to be asked by all of us because evil still exists amongst the good. It makes me want to be quick to speak out against injustice, unrighteousness and hate when I encounter it. My hope is that I do.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lost and found in Paris

We only had 3 days in Paris so we spent the 1st two at warp speed. There was so much to see and so little time. We bought a pass for museums and other attractions and lost ourselves in the rush of the city. On our first day we visited the Museum D'Orsey, an art gallery in a very interesting, modern building that reminded me of the Eaton Centre. It was full of sculptures and paintings, including Monet and Van Gogh. After that, we went to the Rodin museum. We didn't realize that Rodin was creator of the "Thinker" which we got to view first hand. Next was Hotel D'Invalid. This is the burial place of Napoleon Bonaparte and many others. Again, the building itself was magnificent, having been a church build by one of the Louis kings. Off to the Eiffel Tower just as the sun was setting. The view all over Paris was incredible as we watched the lights come on. We could see Notre Dame, the Hotel D'Invalides, the Seine River, and many other sights we had just learned to recognize.

We started the next day at the Louvre. We saw the Mona Lisa right off. We saw many different paintings from the 13th century up and sculptures. We barely scratched the surface and could easily have been lost there for a week. Off to Notre Dame. It is so huge and I loved it's simplicity of decoration compared to many churches we have visited. It was mostly stone without frescoes. As with many of the great cathedrals, I love the archways all over the church. The stain glass windows were magnificent, especially the Rose. We also went to the crypt in front of Notre Dame. It contains ruins from the old city of Paris from as early as 5th century AD. The city was re-build on top of older cities several times. Sometimes the old parts were torn down and the ruins used to rebuild. Next we went to the Cluny museum which was in an old Roman bath. I was more interested in the building then the 5th century artifacts which were around the 5th century. At the end of the day, we visited the Arch de Triumph. It is so much bigger then I expected. It was dark when we arrived so it was beautifully lit up. I didn't realize that you could go up inside of it to the top and as we looked out over the city we saw the Eiffel Tower suddenly light up like white flashing Christmas lights all over. Another spectacular site. Also, the city panned out in triangles from the Arch. We could see right down the Champs Elysee.

On our last day we decided to take it easy as we had been running for 2 days. We went to Basilique St. Denis. It is the crypt of most of the Kings and Queens of France and was full of burial statues. The history, monuments and building were very interesting. It also had some beautiful stain glass, including a rose window like Notre Dame. Our next stop was the Champs Elysee. We walked for a bit and saw the Grand and Petit Palaces. We stopped in a coffee shop on the Champs and watched all the people walking by. It was so fun, relaxing and fascinating just observing and chatting about the people in Paris. After 3 days, we finally found ourselves again.

Friday, February 26, 2010

On the French Riviera

We can see now why people come to the south of France for vacations and to live. While we were staying in Nice we took a few day trips to the different areas up the coast and saw some amazing sights. We took the tram from the hostel to the bus station and then caught a bus to Menton. Menton is about 50 minutes up the coast. Both the tram ride and the bus ride cost a total of 1 Euro each, an amazing bargain. The road to Menton follows right along the coast and the ride was stunning. You would not believe the numbers of houses you can cram on one cliff! We arrived just a few minutes before the Citrus festival parade and found a place amongst the enormous crowd. There were actually a number of festivals going on at the time and it was hard to choose which ones to get to but the Citrus festival was fantastic. The parade was something I've never seen before, the route was crowded and the people in the parade sometimes took to mixing it up with the crowd. People were shooting those sticky strings at each other and some floats had confetti cannons,to top it all off they went around twice. After the parade several of the bands found spots along the way and gave extra performances. The most interesting part of the festival was that all the floats and displays were made of oranges and lemons. Beside citrus fruit the Riviera is also famous for money and money we saw.

I'm sure not everyone who comes here is wealthy, we are a prime example that this is the case, but there sure is lots of money around. Our visit to Monaco and the Monte Carlo Casino brought us very close to some of that wealth. Here you could see valets parking very expensive cars such as Rolls Royce, Farrarie, Alfa Ramaro and a Bentley. I knew Bentleys existed but had never seen one in the 'wild' until now. We could not get over the number and size of the yachts here. Not just the motor ones but luxury sailing boats as well. Some were far bigger then our house and definitely had better furniture. We braved the stares and advanced into the lobby of the casino just to admire the decor but we refused to pay the 20 Euro fee to 'see' the gaming tables. We would have been refused the opportunity to participate because our clothes would not have passed inspection and there was an inspection. One of the fun things we did here was practice our French.

Now we have been trying our limited language skills in other countries and trying to learn some as we go but in France we have a better footing then in most countries so far. Terry especially has acquired a good skill at French and her recent studies have enabled her to formulate questions and sentences beyond how to order coffee. This has come in quite handy but has resulted in some funny situations as well. Terry, in her skill, has become quite convincing to most people here, this often brings the answer to her questions. The problem with that is if the answer is too much beyond a qui, non response it leaves us (her) somewhat left behind. It really is fun asking a question and getting a whole paragraph in rapid French back in response. It leaves her (us) in somewhat of a 'deer in the headlights' look. We keep trying and the people here are very understanding and very accommodating. We are looking forward to Paris and more challenges. Wes

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Always a Surprise

Here we are sitting on another train, this time bound for Nice, France. It will be our modis operendi for the next few weeks, the next six to be precise. Every three to four days back on a train until we fly back to Spain from Ireland. Today is another adventure in traveling which we don't always plan. We arrived for this train with about twenty seconds to spare, a mistake of timing and a little lack of knowledge, specifically the fact that the train station was 6 blocks from the nearest metro and had no connections, very unlike the station we arrived at. We have had a few of these experiences, running for planes, missing trains and once having a taxi chase down a bus we had missed, all good fun! This experience involved us being intentionally bypassed through security to make the train, an event that surprised me considering the bombing of the Madrid station in 2004. There seems to be no lack of surprises for us. Beside the connection surprises we have had some pleasant ones here in Barcelona.

Some pleasant surprises we had were two cathedrals and a museum, all discovered from a walking tour we took. The first was Sagrada Familia. This cathedral is currently under construction, having been started around 1874. It will be ready for worship this year and will be completed around 2030. The Cathedral was designed by Antonio Gaudy and overseen by him for forty-three years, the last 12 exclusively until his accidental death being struck by a tram. He had, at this point, become so obsessed he was mistaken for a homeless man and died in the "poor" hospital here. The Cathedral was nothing like we had ever seen, the art inside and out a spiritual experience. It was quite breathtaking and quite something to comprehend this undertaking in this age. Our visit was took place in the midst of 300 workers anticipating the deadline of the completion of the worship area. When the spire of "The Risen Christ" is completed it will be 71 meters high. All this modernity was followed by "La Cathedral" of 1375.

This place I cannot fairly describe. It seemed to fit a pattern we have recognized in Spain with much of the cathedral dedicated to the Spanish saints. The exception being that the naves for the saints were enormous and very elaborately decorated. The stain glass windows were immense and very beautiful but the central feature and the one that stood out was the choir section. The choir area, not a loft, was in the very centre of the church. It had only one entrance and the massive pipe organ was just off to one side and elevated. Each section of the area was marked out by family shield of the families that contributed to its construction. The sheer vastness of this complex is really beyond description and left us with mouths open. Finally came Picasso

In the centre of Barcelona is the Pablo Picasso Museum. This museum took us through the entire life of Picasso, from his first sketches, through his work in Paris and finally to his cubist stage. It was a complete and dedicated gathering of his works that spanned his entire life. It was utterly fascinating to go through all the development of his art and see works from this. It was like walking with him through all his life as an artist. It was particularly fascinating to see his copies on Velasquez, whom we saw in the Prado art gallery. We were actually captured but Velasquez's work with the royal family and then to how Picasso interpret this was wonderful. To end we have to say that Terry and I have loved Spain, Terry especially loving the architecture and cannot wait for our next visit, which may be as early as the first week of April, but we'll see.