Thursday, October 8, 2009

Summary of our Trip aroud the WORLD

Travelling with children was an eye opening experience. Free from judgement, they brought playfulness, joy and excitement. On our travels we opened to the learning of culture, language, politics, social issues, history and geography. On a personal level we blossomed internally, spiritually and multi-consciously.

The kids were amazing travellers. They grew physically but more importantly they grew intellectually and spiritually. They have become confident independent thinkers with knowledge that would take years to acquire sitting in a classroom. We are so proud of their strength and courage this year as they freely opened themselves to incredible experiences.

Our family trip around the world for 11 months was something we will always cherish and remember. There were so many amazing experiences from day to day, it is difficult to even begin to explain the immense impact it has had upon all of our lives. It was a dream that came true, that we created and that we embarked upon, and that has become so far the most incredible adventure of our lives.

Our trip commenced in Japan. This was an ideal entry point of travel with the kids, as there was a continuity of westernization, at the same time exposing everyone to a very different culture and history. I had lived in Japan for a few years during my high school and university days and my ability to speak Japanese enabled easy communication. My connections in different parts of Japan, allowed me to introduce my family to the intimate lifestyles of the Japanese people. Attending a professional Sumo Wrestling tournament in Tokyo to engaging in the stories of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, we dove into many unique aspects of Japan. We were sad to leave the rekindled and new friendships, but we were also eager to continue to our next destination.

Entering China we all encountered our first steps into the real unknown. Although we had been surrounded by Chinese people, culture and food in Vancouver, there was nothing that could prepare us for China. The whirlwind started in Beijing, an immense city in size, culture, population and change. Walking along the Great Wall was a definite hi-light for all of us but wandering around the city through the hutongs (ancient city alley and living areas) and then to the 2008 Olympic site, we came to understand the power and speed of the metamorphosis taking place in China.

From Beijing we boarded a train to Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors (along with numerous souvenir stores selling cat and dog skins), then jumped on the worlds highest train (over 80% of the journey is at altitudes above 13,000 feet) for three days and two nights, finally arriving in the sacred home of the Dalai Lama, Lhasa, Tibet. An unforgettable journey through barren mountainsides to the top of the world, we endured physical difficulties from the high altitude but were fortunate to have experienced an isolated culture of deep religious spirituality and primal ways.

From Lhasa we drove to Kathmandu. Piled into an SUV, with a driver and guide, they escorted us across the wild Tibetan region of Himalayan vistas on the incredible Arniko Highway (Friendship Highway). Making our way for three days on a highway being simultaneously constructed, repaired and maintained, Mark and I silently chanted to ourselves that everything was going to be alright. We remained speechless on the switchback decent along a gravely roadway barely gripping the side of the mountain gorge. Thankfully, the driver (who wore white gloves), seemed unfazed by the mayhem on this narrow roadway and he was able to manoeuvre his way through construction, herds of sheep, honking Chinese officials trying to pass and precariously built canyon bridges. Reaching Kathmandu, Nepal, we were exhausted from the immediate journey and the 6 weeks already under our belts.

The first few months were adjustment periods. We all realized that we had embarked on a long trip around the world, but the change in lifestyle and the length of our absence had not really sunk in completely. At the beginning the adjustment was at times difficult, all of us reminiscing about the great house we left, the friends and the pets. We kept actively engaged to fill this gap.

The transition to travellers solidified once we reached Nepal. Our bags were packed tightly and efficiently. We could pick up everything and be off in less than 15 minutes, forgetting almost nothing (although my son did manage to leave a small trail of items along the way). We left our old lives behind and embraced the new lifestyle with open arms.

We spent a few incredible weeks in Nepal; riding elephants, jungle hikes, monkey temples, but somehow our state of health, which did not seem to improve quickly enough, prompted a unified decision to leave. We realized that we didn’t have to remain in Nepal; we could go anywhere we wanted!

Our chosen destination was to be Bangkok, Thailand. Within a few days after arriving and gorging on exquisite Thai food, we had all recuperated our health and were ready for more adventure.

Thailand was the perfect place to immerse in ocean activities. Mark’s childhood dream of being a marine biologist was partially fulfilled when Scuba Diving became a reality. After much discussion with other tourists around the hotel pool in Bangkok, we choose Koh Tao, a small island on the east coast of Thailand, as our destination and scuba diving learning grounds. Scuba diving and snorkelling took over and for the next few months as we flew to some of the most beautiful spots in the world – Bunaken in Silowasi, Indonesia, Gilli Trawanga located near Lombok in Indonesia, Bali and Sipidan, Borneo. The kids and Mark dove and dove without tiring or a feeling of boredom for a second. We soaked up the sunshine, met all sorts of world travellers and eccentric wanderers of the world. Our tans were gorgeous, our beings full of life.

Leaving Thailand, with certification in hand, and before heading to Indonesia, we hopped a bus to Siem Reep, Cambodia – a country that had been closed for tourists in our younger travel days. Knowing little about this area, except that Pol Pot was the reason for no admittance, we were exposed to one of the greatest historical sites, Angkor Watt, and one of the most tragic modern disasters, Paul Pot’s murder of 1/3 the population. Angkor Watt, a temple complex built in the early 12th Century, was abandoned for centuries, bombed by Pol Pot in the 80’s and finally resurrected in the last 20 years. Its magnificence and mystery captivated us and since it is still in the tourism early years, we were able to explore the ruins quite freely. Witnessing the lack of elderly in the city, we learned the truth of the catastrophe at the Killing Fields (they really do exist) and the history of events presented to visitors at the school that was converted to a torture chamber. A country of a very recent tragic past, the people forge ahead with smiles to offer and hope for the future.

We spent Christmas on Gilli Trawangan. A Moslem area, the island completely caters to local and international tourists who come for rest and relaxation. For Christmas celebrations, the locals rock the island for hours with loud music, dancing and partying. In the morning we exchanged a few gifts – not much you can buy on Gilli Trawangan – and continued with enjoying the beach, the sun and diving.

New Years we were in Bali, Indonesia on Sanur Beach. We created for ourselves the last two rooms in Sanur at the Swastika Hotel. It was a night to remember. The hotel rooms were luxurious, smelling of fresh frangipani flowers and the entire beachside area was alive with New Years celebrations.

Our last country to visit in Southeast Asia was the region of Sabah in Borneo, Malaysia. We had no knowledge of Borneo before departing on this voyage, which increased our enthusiasm heading somewhere remote and different. A road trip around the island brought with it many adventures. We spent hours viewing the Orang-utans at the rehabilitation centre, jungle cruises down narrow passages brought sites of crocodiles, snakes, numerous birds and many monkey species, and sleeping in remote jungle guest houses introduced us to some of the largest insects in the world. Driving from one end of Sabah to the other, we were amazed to see so much of the jungle clear-cut for the Palm Oil industry – something we could relate to coming from Canada. A few days of rest at a hotel in the Sabah’s state capital, Kota Kinabalu, prepared us for the one country we had been most trepidatious and thrilled about – India.

Our fears quickly diminished as we easily embraced the culture, the food and the people. Six weeks in India passed swiftly. Everyday was an eye opening experience full of laughter with locals and amazement at the living conditions of these peace loving people. Attending a retreat, at Sivananda Ashram in Southern India, we had anticipated this yoga ashram to be a place of rest, only to feel physically exhausted at the end. The rigorous organized schedule was new to us, after having spent the past 6 month moving at our own pace. Although Mark and the kids enjoyed their time, they were ready to leave after 5 days. I vowed to return to this oasis one day.

Our first visitor, Jessie a friend of our son Caleb, joined us for a week presenting fresh energy to the journey as we toured with him around Rajastan in the north. He was amazed at our spontaneity and with him in our midst we realized the strong bond we had created as a family. After Jessie departed we spent our final days in Jaiselmere in North West India near the Pakistani border. We were thrilled to watch the Academy Awards on our hotel TV only to witness Bombay Millionaire win awards, a movie we had also seen in India. The rest of the day we sang “Jai Ho” all around the town to the delight of the locals. We were saddened to depart India, but Mark’s mom and her husband were waiting for us in Israel.

Unbeknownst to us, Israel turned out to be one of the trips high-lights. The culture and history alone filled us with emotion. It is powerful, it is intense, it is love, it is hate, and it is the beginning of civilization and religion as we know it. We were all blown away. Travelling with Gissa and Steve was also a major part of our love for this part of our travels, as together we created unique adventures daily.

Once again coming from intense travel of two months, we were ready to pass out from exhaustion. We needed a serious recuperation destination and Dahab, Egypt on the coast of the Red Sea, fulfilled this for us. Dahab is a sleepy, chill-out town where we had little to do but eat and sleep. No plans, no movement. It was fabulous.

Two weeks at this Egyptian oasis pumped us back to our feet again. We headed to the capital Cairo in anticipation of travelling down the Nile. We visited the Pyramids, the Nile River and the museum of Cairo but our eagerness for something more lively and happy changed our decision about remaining in Egypt, and after only a few days we all spontaneously decided to head to Rome.

Tears fell from our eyes as we walked the streets of Rome on our first day. Rome was truly the centre of culture. Those Romans really know how to enjoy life excelling in everything creative – food, art, music, culture, fashion. Rome was one of our absolute favorite cities. We found a nice little apartment in a trendy restaurant area and we settled in for two weeks, soaking in everything we could.

We couldn’t leave Italy without further discovery, so after two glorious weeks in Rome, we rented a little villa in a quaint little town, Seciano, situated high on the hills of Tuscany. Here we were able to enjoy the rural Italian life where we shopped in the local supermarkets, we purchased and tested countless wines from wineries and local establishments and skirting around to the neighbouring medieval villages we soaked up the Italian culture. Our last stop in Italy was Venice. A unique city in the world, we meandered through the narrow walkways, enchanted by the history. Everyone must go to Venice at least once in their lives we thought.

With only a few months left of our journey and so many countries left to see, we narrowed our final days to one month in Spain and one month in France.

The fabulous modernista city of Barcelona was our first stop. Adjusting to a new time schedule, late to rise and late to bed, we enjoyed the rhythm of the city. From Barcelona we rented a little car and headed on a road trip taking us to the northwest coast, an enchanting village on the seaside, Cadaques. Continuing to the foothills of the stunning Pyrenees Mountains we fell upon gorgeous rural villas and ancient villages still inhabited and maintained. An amazing hike through the mountains adjacent to the village of Ainsa included views of 360 degrees, walking along the top ridge of the mountain, swimming in pristine river waters and running through acres of red poppy fields. Spain introduced us to the world of modern art – Picasso, Dali, Gaudy and Miro. We were all entranced by Dali’s art which exudes playfulness and an uninhibited nature that drew us all in.

Near the end of May we left Spain to meet my parents, Chester and Paula, in Paris. For a week, they fluttered us around Paris from one site to another, a city they had visited many times before and knew well. The weather was fabulous and we spent our days revelling in the beautiful and celebrated city.

Two weeks in Paris and then two weeks on a road trip of the Loire Valley. We bedded in camp sites which in France are fully equipped with modern designed trailer homes, swimming pools, restaurants, tennis courts, ping pong and bike rentals. We enjoyed all of these amenities along with exploring the countryside and the fine French cuisine.

Returning to Paris for the last few days brought our fantastic journey to an end. The evening before heading to Canada we choose to walk along the Champs Des Lycee where we feasted on Moule et Frite (Mussels and fries) as a celebration to our successful world travel. We toasted to the expanded exciting life we were about to embark upon knowing that the journey was only beginning.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Katrina's Castle in France

This is Duchess Katrina from Nantes, France wanting to show us her beautiful castle - seen in the background. She has just returned to her home after years of seclusion.

The grounds around the castle

View from a small portal on the West Wall, a place Katrina spent many evenings lost in thought

The long stairs down to the main courtyard of the Castle of Nantes

Full view of the castle from the upper courtyard

Katrina's good friends Artemis who saved her from a wretched shopkeeper who had held her hostage

Forever Grateful

Monday, July 6, 2009

France roadtrip and heading to Canada (June 2-18)

Caleb resting at the beach near Pornic, France on the west coast

“Camping” in France and heading home
(mom's comments included)

After being in the cosmopolitan city of Paris for two weeks we decided its time to see the countryside of France. We rent a car at the Gare de Lyon, which is the largest and most beatiful train station in France, and start our journey West. Our camping fetish began when Shawn our next door neighbour told us about the camping in France.

In Spain we needed somewhere to stay and on the highway on the way to Barcelona, we hit a campground. So Mark insists on looking at it. When we get inside and check it out I was so excited I had to do everything they had in four hours. They had tennis, ping pong, arcade, pool, pool table, restaurant, supermarket, mini golf, bowling (lawn bowling, which I didn’t know) and its dirt cheap. We stay there for one night because whe’re leaving to Paris tomorrow and we only get around to swimming, arcading and ping pong.

Castles all along the Loire Valley

Our first campground in France was the campground called Parc des Allais located southwest of Paris along the Loire River. Basically in the middle of nowhere. (mom says it was absolutely beautiful) They do have a really nice tennis court and a nice swimming pool. All I did there was watch the French open (Roland Garros) on our 9 inch TV, and play tennis in the brutal sun. I’d say I got a little colour.

Caleb working on his tennis

The first day I think I got a little bit of a heat stroke because we were playing at 2 o’clock and the sun was just smashing down on us. We played for 10 minutes and we had to go in the pool we were so hot.
(mom says they also went bike riding, wine tasting, touring to the gorgeous mideival villages around the area)

Parc Des Allais Campground trailor - Caleb watching tennis

Walking along the fields around the campground

Trailor at Parc Des Alais

Inside our lovely trailor

After 4 days of playing tennis we got pretty good. One day we made a trip to the Super U (which is the most popular super market in France - its like a Superstore, there is also the Hyper U, bigger than the Super U, and the Marche U, smaller than the Super U) to get some groceries and we heard there was also an internet place nearby. Me and Artemis asked the supermarket cashier where the nearest internet place is because we weren’t quite sure. She says it’s in Chinon which is about 15 kilometres away. We don’t really think that’s right so Mark asks a different cashier and she says she didn’t know where one was. Both the cashiers where about 19-20 ish and they didn’t know that there was an internet café right outside the door! It was basically right beside the Super U.

(mom says The Loire valley and the Atlantic coast were spectacular. As it was off season we were able to get accommodation for a great price.)

Sitting near the beach of French Western Atlantic coast

Mark and Lianna went for a ride on their own one lovely hot day

We book our flight home on June 26 and we book our flight to Montréal on June 18. We just can’t believe its almost over.

After a while at the Parc des Allais we decide its time to leave and head to our next campground. We decide to head to the coast to meet Marks french friend Claire and her Canadian husband Rowan and also she said there are lots of campgrounds on the coast. We end up in a little touristy seaside town called Pornic which is famous for moules frites (mussels and fries). We head to the tourist information to find out what campgrounds are around this area. She sends us to a campground about 15 minutes away. Its very nice but the place doesn’t have a tennis court. It is pouring rain so the tennis court wouldn’t be much fun. And also the French Open is on and the cottage with a TV is 100 euro (160$ extra then a normal mobile home. We decide to stay because it is 6 o’clock and all the other campgrounds’ reception are closing and we don’t have much choice.

Atlantic coast south of Pornic

Mark testing out the wine from the region

Caleb chilling on the deck

The next day we drive out to St. Luce where Clair and Rowan live.It’s a cute little town near Nantes. When we arrive Rowan, announces that Mark had demanded for a French feast and he was making one. They also just had a cute little baby called Elliot.

We start with a very nice sweet melon and sweet white wine with a brioche with tomato and melted goat cheese for appetizers.
And then we have mashed cucumber with crème fresh and boiled potatoes and an amazing butter, shallots and white wine fish which is delicious.
After the amazing fish we have a huge cheese plate with three sheep cheeses and three cow cheeses.
And then as if that wasn’t enough we have a great dessert of an assortment of French pastries including: mille feuille, strawberry tart, chocolate éclair, lemon cheese cake and chocolate tarts.
We finish off with a nice walk through the little town of St. Luce. We have a great time and return two days after because mom forgot her video camera.

Caleb and mom walking around Nantes

We return back to our campground and decide to keep going down the coast. We find a nice place with a tennis court but its still raining. It starts to clear up and we try to play tennis but my wrist hurt to much so we decided to hold it off. We play lots of ping pong and have a good time there. We go for a bike ride one day and end up on the gorgeous beach when the tide is out. We walk along in the sand and decide to check out the little town. The main part of the town is one road with an arcade, tons of stores, ice cream and crepes places, restaurants and bars. We sit down and have a beer and me and Artemis have an ice cream. My ice cream is just gross.

Beach jumping shot

Beach jumping shot

Beach jumping shot

Beach jumping shot

There is also a fresh food market at the town everyday at 8 until 12. By now I'm just counting down the days left until we go to Montréal. I try to just enjoy travelling.

We drive back and stay in a cute town called Montsoreau which we drove through on the way to the coast. We stay at a campground there and they have free tennis! Yay! I try to play with mom but she’s to tired. Finally at night I play a few games in my flip flops with Mark. He totally whips my ass. I still had a good time. We stay there a few days and don’t do much (mom says: we visited the Castle of Montsoreau, and the Oldest known abbey in the region as well as went for walks through the beautiful towns and ate amazing food).

Castle of Montsoreau (sorry didnt get a picture of the actual castle)

Part of the old Abbey in the background

Lunch break below a castle in the Loire Valley - heading back to Paris

Then we head back to Paris early in the morning and get a hotel a block away from the Gare de Lyon.

Gar du Lyon from our hotel window

Caleb going crazy in the little Paris hotel room

View from the Pompidu Gallery in Paris

Buying a final pair of shoes in Paris

The next night, our last night in Paris, we decide to eat on the Champ Elysee. We land on what we are convinced is the best restaurant. It’s a moule and frites (mussels and fries) restaurant. We wait for 40 minutes and finally get a seat at 11 o’clock. We sit down and order a feast. Its so delicious we are just blissed out. We find out later on the plane talking to a French woman that it actually is the best moules frites restaurant in Paris.

Last night walking along the Champ des Lysses

Last night walking along the Champ des Lysses

Walking along the Champ des Lysses on our last night in Paris

The next day we leave to the Orly airport and have a whole mix up and find out that the flight is actually at the Charls De Gauls and we have to pay an extra 60 Euros 100$) to taxi to the other side of Paris. At the airport check in they don't have our name on the sheet so they can’t let us in the line. They tell us to go to the ticket booth. We go there and Mark explains our situation and we wait a bit and he finds our name. He gives us a paper and we head to the check in counter. He doesn’t have our name either so he has to call the ticket office guy and he says its okay so we finally get rid of our bags. And now its 12:45 and the flight leaves at 1:25. By the time we’re in the gate people are already boarding. We also find out that they stop in Quebec and it’s a 45 minute stop there.

Outside the Paris hotel packed up and ready to head back to Canada

The plane doesn’t have a TV on the seats but there is a TV in the middle on the wall about every 5 rows. They play “Race to Which Mountain” which is absolute crap and then they play “Yes man” which I really like. They also give you two meals. When we get to Montréal, Bubs and Gramps are waiting for us with party sandwiches from our favorite place, Snoden Deli.