January 24, 2007

Ahhh....to be back in the land of our ancestors...

It felt tremendous to be somewhere not so foreign. This feeling was compounded by visits with friends & food we can trust. A nice homey reprieve from life on the road for the past 4 months.

We staggered off the plane famished, our hunger having finally caught up with us after so much illness. Though people don't tend to rave about British fare, we felt ourselves in food heaven. We dined on homey gourmet sausages & mash (The Sausage & Mash Diner), inventive vegetarian (Mildred's), superb traditional pub, hearty Thai, and the fantastic and healthy M&S...and finally delish homemade caribbean. I even tried sushi! (hold your shock - it was the veggie kind!) We felt justified in all this consumption, as Simon discouvered he's melted away 25 lbs. over the past 4 months, & I lightened up by chopping off all of my hair.

For all this revelling in the familiarity of England we didn't do nearly the sight-seeing we would have liked to. What we did manage to do:
-visit with Kevin & Lucinda, gracious and generous hosts, in Oxford (& wash all our belongings - thanks guys!!!)...and Talk&talk&talk&talk!


-a marathon webcam date with sorely missed creators of the above friendship, Mario & Lauren, currently lonely in Toronto, but soon to meet up with us, if we have our say!!!



-Visit with Simon's friend from Haliburton, Blake and his wife Caroline, who kindly drove many hrs for a weekend in the city to see us. Merci Buckets, you two! (& thanks for the recommendation of the delicious Green & Blacks chocolate...mmmmm)


-took a 'flight' on the London Eye.





-huddled against the cold by the Thames, as we took in Tower Bridge, London Bridge and Milennium Bridge.



-visited some staple London shops - Magma Books - so designy & desirous! & Harrods - WOW! I don't know what to say about this shameless luxury...(Merci Trevor for the suggestions!)
-Spitalfield Market - Oh the money I could have spent (s.r. "and did")(Thanks for the suggestion Francis!!!) We loved this place

Thankfully by the end of the week I felt sufficiently bolstered to consider heading out into the unknown again. But the little wheels in our minds are already busy figuring out how we can get $ to come back here on the last leg of our RTW ticket (expires Jan 22, 2008!)...


Posted by psy2099 at 03:14 PM

January 04, 2007

¡Hablo Español en Barcelona!


Imagine that: all those spanish classes have finally paid off. Of course, my skills have lain rusting and unused for over a decade, but I finally got my chance to shine!


Well that may be a bit of an exageration. A more accurate description would be a slow massacre of the language. Still, English is not as widely spoken here as we have found it to be in other European countries, so even my pathetic level of Spanish is welcome.



Dear Barcelona. We were only with you for two short days, but you sure are intriguing. Not in the love-at-first-sight kind of way, but in the i-wish-we-could-get-to-know-each-other-better way. You may not have the obvious european beauty of many other fine cities, but I suspect that you have a depth of character, and creative heart instead. If we didn´t have such strong ties to our homeland we would think about settling down with you for a while.


Gaudi, Gaudi everywhere!
The city´s patron architect, this guy liked to dream big. In fact, most of his creations have you believing that you are living in a dream.

La Segrada Familia (Simon likes to demonstrate his spanish vocabulary by calling it the Sangria Familia. To be fair, it is a bit of a drunk take on the standard sacred family). Started in 1887...finished by 2087¿




Güell Park. Also unfinished. Gaudi´s vision for an idyllic community ran out of money. Not ideal. Very Dr. Seuss, though.






Posted by psy2099 at 12:00 PM

December 25, 2006


Merry Christmas from Nice! (picture from Venice...it's all sunny and warm here!) We miss everyone and wish we could give you all big holiday hugs. Have a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year!

Posted by psy2099 at 07:58 AM

December 05, 2006

Turkey Part VI: Tiring of Turkey? No, Just Lamb and Chicken.


I have always thought that France was universally regarded as the bread capital of the world. But now I know better. I have never seen a culture more deidcated to this food staple than the Turks. I am not exaggerating to say that every other person seen walking on the street had a bag of loaves with them--and not only one or two, but six or seven! These were purchased from any one of the many little market stores that have a glass display cabinet on the street just for bread. At 30 kruch/loaf (aprox. 20 cents CAD), such an appetite for the stuff is, thankfullly, sustainable. We quickly became bread snobs, whispering between ourselves that the soft chewy stuff on top of the basket was clearly hiding the day-old (gasp!) stuff at the bottom. (To use a terms we've enjoyed since reading Bulgakov's "The Master and Marguerite"--'Second-Grade fresh'!). The only downside to this bread is that it suffers from the same problem as the rest of Turkish food--lack of variety. The loaves are always the same crusty, white, football-shaped filler.
Initially delighted by the most amazing freshness of the food in Turkey (your tastebuds can really tell if produce has travelled, trust me), we are at the point in our stay in Turkey that we are feeling somewhat desperate for a large quantity of some other cuisine. In other words, not Köfte (spicy, flattenned meatballs), not kebabs (şiş or doner), no more chicken and lamb (mmm... how 'bout a little pork...), no more salty feta-like cheese, no more cucmber parsley and tomato salad!
So tantalizing and cheap to begin with, the charm wore thin after ten days of the same. But it's not all bad--there are even some regularities that I could get used to---the availability of fresh-squeezed OJ (soooo delicious!) and the obsession with çay (tea) or apple tea, served everywhere (even the bus stop!) in delicate tulip-shaped glasses, held byt their rims.
At least this Turkish lack of interest in the dining experience left us more time for other things...

Like visiting the ruins of Hierapolis (surprisingly extensive and captivating)...





...and the calcium-formed travertine pools and hot-springs of Pamukkale (slightly disappointing compared to advertising pics as they rotate the water flow in order to keep them looking lovely).




With our Turkish holiday winding to a close, we hopped a bus to the city of Marmaris where we could catch a ferry to Greece. We arrived to our hotel (booked online), to find...surprise, surprise...it was closed for the season! Fortunately, one of the oweners lives there, so kindly let us in and found a clean room for us.
Zeki, as it turns out, is running the hotel with his brother while waiting for his carreer in clinical research to take off. A doctor by training, with a master's degree in kinesiology from a Louisianna University, he has been unable to find work in his field in the States, Canada or Turkey. If you know of any foot-in-the-door positions, email us--we've seen his resume and it's a whole lot more impressive than either of ours!

(our hotel in Pamukkale--that was NOT closed!---boasted a year-round pool... but un-heated! brrrr!)

After a brief night's sleep it was boarding time on the small boat that called itself a ferry, destined for the Greek island of Rhodes.
Farewell, Turkey! Until we meet again...

(Goofy, friendly Turkish man presenting us with another lovely sunset)

Posted by psy2099 at 10:17 AM

December 03, 2006

Turkey Part V - Even the Pope Loves Turkey

Since our arrival in the country, we have been informed by every store owner, restaurant server and hotel staff about 'Papa's impending visit. You may have read the news reports about protests, and there may well be, but we've seen nothing of the sort. People's reactions have mainly been mild curiousity at why the Pope could be interested in visiting a muslim (though non-secular) country.
The answer seems clear enough to me: He's German! This is were "all" Deutchlanders come for holiday. Ok. Ok. It could have something to do with some important Catholic/Biblical historical sights. Like for instance the house Mary resided in in Selçuk, the town wejust visited. Thank goodness we cleared out the day before his arrival-by the looks of the news reports the Pope has the power to stop traffic dead!.


While we took a raincheck on Mary's house (reports suggest the authenticity of this claim are, not suprisingly, somewhat dubious), we did see the remarkably well preserved ancient city of Ephesus.



And don't forget one of the Ancient Wonders of the World - the Temple of Artemis. Somewhat less wonderous than it once was - all that remains is a column capped by a stork's nest.


While in Selçuk we enjoyed three other experiences:
1) Running into travellers we'd seen earier along the road. Pete (from Calgary) and Tracey (Australian)-previously met in Olympos-and shared a game of scrabble with us & even gave us some Eucalyptus oil to help with Simon's cough (we're both sick now).


2)Simon had a haircut and shave - a true Turkish experience. It was so thourough as to include a face wash, nose hair trim & even burning of his cheek and ear hairs! A well spent 10 Lira!


and 3) A chat with -who else - a carpet salesman! This one was different from the zillions of uncles, cousins, brothers, etc that try to sell their wares. Gokhan is in his early 20's and was clear that he was not trying to sell us anything, but rather looking for some conversation to spice up his, otherwise, boring day. In fact, when I inquired about buying a small decorative trinket, he insisted that it was not necessary to buy anything & I had to force the issue. Perhaps it was reverse psycology, I don't know, but whaever it was it is most unlike the tatics of the throngs of carpet sellers who nab you at every chance.


From Gokhan we learned that the wild honking and tiny parades we'd been witnessing all over were the young men going off for their required 15 months in the army. We also learned that the only way to avoid this duty was to a) be physically or mentally incapable b) run away and never come back or c) commit suicide. He had just returned from his tour of duty - embarked upon only 2 weeks after he was married. Still, he didn't regret the timing of his wedding, as he had married a distant well to do relative at the insistance of his grandmother, who died happily four days after the union. He had met his bride only a couple of times prior to this arrangement! Aieee!


Posted by psy2099 at 10:31 AM

December 02, 2006

Turkey Part IV - Koyceğiz, Cats and Dogs


On to the sleepy town of Koyceğiz. Not much is happening at this time of year, though the lake that the town borders is beautiful any month of the year, I suspect. I guess we're in scooter mode now. That & no public transportation goes to the tourist destinations at the moment.


Anyhow we got us a steed & headed around the lake, making stops at the waterfall - Beautiful, Thermal bath - Icky, & Kanos ruins - a miniature prelude of ruins to come. A pretty laid back day with lots of time logged on the bike (I forgot about how this can be a strain on the old muscles!) & only a minor worry that we would run out of gas along the winding mountain road.





You may start to notice a theme to the pictures. A Furry one. This is not because we lack beautiful scenery to photograph. It's more because there are so many stray cats and dogs in this country that they virtually become the scenery in places. What's more impressive, is that these are no mangy mongrels & anti social felines. They are clearly well fed by locals and tourists and are ready to adopt any friendly body as their owner-for-a-day. At times we've found ourselves sneaking around, trying to hide from an overly friendly fido, in order not to be followed all the way into our hotel room!


We can only suppose that these animals have learned their manners from the fine example set by the Turkish people. To say that Canadians have a reputation for friendliness is laughable in comparision to the welcome we've met with here. True, there is a small amount of smiling to disguise an ulterior motive, but it's best not to get your back up about it too much or you will miss out on the genuine thing.


Am I starting to sound like a tourism ad? Good. By the sounds of the year they've had they could use a little help. Statistics put this year's tourism revenue down by 60%. We've heard a variety of reasons for this - FIFA (Turkey has a huge proportion of German tourists), big guns in the tourism industry redirecting people to Spain in order to prop up their post aid-the-US-in-Iraq slump, semi annual bombings by the PKK (Kurdish peoples army) who want their own province in the south, etc, etc...
What ever the reason, you can imagine how devestating this will be if it keeps up. It is apparent to us, as we see all the tourist spots boarded up for winter, how much of this country must rely on tourism dollars...So come to Turkey!


Posted by psy2099 at 10:39 AM

November 30, 2006

Turkey III - Fete in Fethiye


We may not have had the luxury of celebrating with many friends and loved ones, but still it's hard to beat the day that Simon had to mark a new decade in his life.
Since we are often the only foreigners staying at the hotels at the moment (did I mention this is the off-season?), we have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves talking to locals. So it was with their help that we planned Simon's big day.


First, we rented a scooter. We crammed our four hundred combined pounds onto this poor vehicle and headed over the mountain to the abandonned greek town of Kayaköy.


A little history lesson here: Atatürk, the most beloved, revered founder of modern Turkey --there are posters, statues, silhouettes in lights atop hills, streets names in his honour etc etc EVERYWHERE here-- managed to pull together the Turkey of today from the tiny region that remained unoccupied at the end of the first world war. However, in this unification process, Greece and Turkey laid out some clearly defined borders and all residents belonging to the other country were sent packing. Thus, this whole greek village was unoccupied from the mid 20's until it was toppled by an earthquake in 1954.



The highlight of this place was the remains of the church floor--a mosaic made of different shades of rounded beach pebbles laid on their sides.
After a good little wander here, we headed over yet wnother mountain to the fabulous beaches and blue lagoon of Ölüdeniz. This is the gorgeous blue water that you will recognize from any Turkish tourism brochure. Here we managed a swim, despite it clouding over. Rain moved through part of the valley (luckily not on us), leaving behind a beautiful lucky rainbow.





Back on the bike and over the mountain again, we touched down in the village of Kaya for dinner at the Oba BBQ restaurant. Each table is pushed up againstg a ventilated cubby where a small grill with hot coals is brought in for each diner to cook their own meal. How happy we were to enjoy a different version of our cheirshed fondu dinner!


The only slight hiccup to the day was after dinner, our surroundings suddenly in complete darkness, we drove round and round the valley, unable to see our road over the mountain to home. (I guess this is where the seemingly Turkish way of giving directions-- 'it's easy. you go right and then right again after a bit'--breaks down.) Still, we did get home.

Clearly, I needn't have worried about making the big guy's big day special. I think that he'll remember this birthday for a while yet!

Posted by psy2099 at 01:26 PM

November 22, 2006

Turkey Part 1 - Antalya: Home Away From Home


Europe may seem like a small place, sometimes, but when you make your way from Cesky Krumlov to Vienna, to Antalya Turkey in a day it can seem far too large! We even whimped out by buying a relatively cheap flight rather than training it through Hungary Romania and Bulgaria. (airfare on this continent will make any Canadian drool...). The trip was not the smoothest- as the day started out by spending an 1 1/2 pre-dawn hours shivering at the frosty bus stop trying to figure out wht, despite what 5 different schedules said, no buses were showing up. Eventuall we made it, just before my brain seized up completely from the cold.


One bus, five trains, four hours at the airport & one flight later, we arrived in Turkey, where our hearts melted at the sight of palm trees and fountains. We made our way to the pension in the heart of the old town, where we haven't wanted to leave since. Upon waking at dawn to the broadcast call to prayer a haunting sound in the dark, all there was to say was "Welcome to Turkey".


This place has restored so many energy packs, that we stayed on for
three days rather than just one night. We finally feel absolutely too lazy to go on. This despite the guide book taunting us with so many sights to see in this country.


First of all there is the sun, that old forgotten buddy. Even though winter still comes to the south of Turkey & evenings still find me with a fleece on, day time is in the low 20's and so far we've had nothing but beautiful blue skies. Simon even managed a swim, though the water wouldn't be considered all that warm.


Second of all, is the relaxing pace and welcoming atmosphere. Our pension, Pension Dedekonak is run by a fantastically entertaining and helpful Austrailian guy named Mike and there has been an aussie woman staying here as well, both firecrackers in their own right. So we've had some company, a nice change from the isolation we went through in the Czech Republic. Both of these elements have been good in particular for me, as I've been dealing with a nasty cold. (It was only after two days and two million tissues that I discovered one is NOT to blow one's nose in public in Turkey. What bad timing!)



Finally, what we've really appriciated, is the change of scenery. Europe sure is fabulous to behold with it's gorgeous cities, etc., but I wouldn't recommend what we did, the all too common, often Eurail, DOING EUROPE. The scenery blends together after a while and it becomes easy not to notice all of the beauty as it is all around. But no more of that complacency here in Turkey.


The water and mountains, courtyards full of orange trees, windy old streets, and randomly found ruins all make us most obvious tourists with our mouths wide open.


This, of course, does make us the subject of the infamous Turkish tourist harrassment, but it really is done in such a friendly way that it's hard to resent it too much. We've even had tea in a rug shop, declining to purchase anything after enjoying a lovely conversation with a quintessential rug-seller, We're learning how to say no the local way - head back, eyebrows up and a "tsk" of the tongue in order to not have a chat with every single tour operator around the harbour!


No time for that or we'll never manage to move out. If we can get our acts together, Olympos is in the plans for tomorrow!

(spoiler alert!!!)

We got our acts together

Posted by psy2099 at 10:43 AM

November 12, 2006



First of all, Welcome to Bavaria! Please follow the following advice and you will be guaranteed a delightful stay:

DO come with the Bavarian Stereotype in mind. You really WILL find beer ordered with just that one word, and served mainly by the litre. You will also not be disapointed if you arrive with a longing for dry, salty bread, as pretzels are available on every corner.



DON'T be fooled by appearances. Munich may look like a historic, old city, but as 80% of it was destrozed in WWII, most buildings are less than fifty years old.


DO drink beer. Even on the street, and especially on the UBahn

DO plan on spending each night in the best restaurant imaginable: Prinz Myschkin. You will find an extensive menu, every item drool-worthy, offered up in a lovely atmosphere by handsome/beautiful German waiters/waitresses.

DO take the free walking tour (thanks, Val!). You will be well entertained, learn about the cradle of Naziism, and see the beer stein locker at the royal beer gardens...hard to say which speaks louder about the area you are visiting...

DO drink beer.

DO take advantage of the english cinema by going to see Marie Antoinette. You will especially appreciate this if you have just come from Versailles.

DON'T eat crappz tex-mex food thinking this will be a quick, cheap meal before racing to your movie. Instead,
DO take advantage of cheap Donair and Falafel on offer just about everywhere.

DO drink beer.

DON'T be surprised if you find yourself to be the only J walker on the street; not only is it illegal, but it is enforced!

DO visit Dachau concentration camp.
DO bring tissues, and
DO see the short movie presented on the site.
DON'T give yourself anything less than a full day to spend at Dachau...the museum is VERY extensive.


DON'T bother to brace yourself for the horric images you will see, or stories you will read. One cannot prepare for this depressing barbarism.
DO take in the beautiful sunset over this awful place.

DO drink beer.

DON'T forget the otherside of the pendulum: outrageous fun and oppulence at Neuschwanstein--King Ludwig II's palace on the mountain.




DON'T spend the exorbitant fee on the 5km bus ride from town to the castle. Instead,
DO enjoy a lovely morning walk through the woods.
DON'T let your visit to the castle be the end of your day.
DO walk to the bridge in the mountains for a breath-taking view of the castle, and
DO walk the path along the waterfall gorge.

DO solve the mysteries of whether king Ludwig II was a) gay, b) mad, and c) murdered and
DO let me know the answers.
DO enjoy another sunset over the alps on your train away from Fussen.
DO drink beer.
DO eat wurst in the market place.
DO climb the 300+ steps to St Paul's tower to admire the cityscape and watch paper airplane races.
DON'T forget to eat at Prinz Myschkin again.
and finally,
DO drink beer.


Posted by psy2099 at 01:11 PM



No matter how many accounts I read, or movies I see, I will never be able to imagine the awful scene that was Juno Beach sixty one years ago. I know that this is the way it should be, that peaceful, fulfilled existence is the reason that our country was fighting, but i tend to feel guilty, rather than purely lucky. This could have something to do with the sheer quantity of World War II terror that we've taken in in our short time over here...


The Juno Beach Centre, headed by and 87 Year old veteran, is well worth a visit, and can easily eat up hours of your day. We even learned stuff about Canada! (though you may want to skip the Nat Resources propaganda video on forestry in the Canada Now section!)




Posted by psy2099 at 12:41 PM

October 31, 2006


Wishing everyone out there a creepy and wonderful halloween from the Catacombs of Paris!

Posted by psy2099 at 04:20 PM

October 30, 2006

When in Holland...BIKE!


This is my bike heaven. Everywhere you go there is a swarm of bikes. In fact LOOK OUT! You almost got hit by yet another one as it whizzed by! Dutch biking prowess is truely something to behold. Weaving at a pace between meandering tourists, transorting your whole family and groceries, hopping on to the back of a friend's bike while moving at full speed - No Problem!


And best of all, no uncomfortable speed or mountain bikes here! Nothing but old school, funkified upright bikes. You'll find a fancy bright orange cycle, dating perhaps pre-war, with patterned oil cloth saddlebags and flowers decorating the huge basket on front. So naturally we had to join the throngs by renting our own chariots. It was a welcome change from walking!






After a couple of days in lovely amsterdam, being hypocritically driven crazy by the masses of tourists, we decided to head north to the idylic island of Texel.


If I could only tow this island into canadian waters, i woud have found my future home! We spent our too-short time here riding bikes, picnicking and walking on the beautiful beaches, and ad,iring the oh so quaint towns. i'm not sure if there is another side to this place (hello stepford), but to me it seemed perfect.




Alas! despite our insistance that we would take our time through areas we especially liked, come our first love-at-first-sight locale we had to move on all too quickly. Not only was there no room at the hostel for more than one night, but we had plans to meet up with Simon's relatives in Gouda the next day.
So off we went, only to enjoy ourselves equally well in the rest of the Netherlands. Wil and Truus and their son Maurice showed us what Dutch hospitality is all about. We greatfully accepted lots of informative conversation, fantastic personalized sight-seeing in the old town of Gouda, delicious oli bolen, stroop waffel cookies and chinese food, and finally, comfortable beds. We couldn't imagine more generous, kind hosts. Hopefully we'll see their faces again in the not-too-distant future on canadian soil!


(Simon was in 7th heaven when he found his favourite dutch breakfast/snack food: haggel slag (no idea on the spelling of that one)---chocolate sprinkles!)

After goodbyes to our newly found family, we headed off to Maastricht, the city of Toos's birth. And what a city it is! We could easily see ourselves living here, too; Beautiful houses, river, lookout, bicycles, even beautiful quarry!

ENCI Quarry.jpg


We stayed in our first botel. It was what you might expect for a boat turned into a hostel; kind of tiny and musty, but cool all the same!
We also walked for ages (time goes so slowly when abroad!), scoping out houses that ,might have been the square wite house we only vaguely remeber from pictures! We cale home with a lot of pictures of white houses and a lot of uncertainty.
Toos and siblings, is this it?

While on this eternal, but lovely walk, we happenned accross a lovely coutryside walking trail, a lookout tower, some underground tunnels (we were too late to explore), and even the most gigantic rosemary bush i have ever seen! yummmmmm!






Andrew and Trevor, another picture for you:

For anyone who hasn't heard it already, check out the following link of David Sadaris reading of his Dutch Christmas Story (St Nicholas and his six to eight black men). It is truly a hilarious story. 6 to 8 Black Men
BTW I checked with Maurice, and the threat of bad children being kidnapped by one of these black pseudo-elves really IS part of the official story!

And there we have it for the Netherlands, folks. The most whirlwind part to date, but also the most enjoyable. Someday we shall return...

Posted by psy2099 at 03:23 PM

October 23, 2006

Beautiful, Balmy Berlin (Updated)

Well it FEELS balmy after the coastal weather of St Petersburg! We have had some absolutely beautiful days here. See how realxed we are:

Berlin. What to say. We may have disapointed by our lack of partying, but still the city didn't disappoint us in the least. We´ve been guided on our trip so far, by a two inch thick copy of the lonely planet´s europe on a shoestring budget. We were aware that it would be somewhat lacking when it came to the finer points, but we failed to take really take shoestring budget at face value. Thus, we are finding that the daily budget allows for only one of the following: sight-seeing, sit-down dining, or a night on the town. If you know us at all, you´ll know where we spend all our money: door number two! We do still manage to squeeze in a sight or two per day, and our legs are already pretty close to walked out. All this to say Don´t expect any souvenirs from europe! heeheh.


While on one of these interminable walks, we came across a parade or demonstration or something (our german is limited to the stuff picked up through movies and whatever words sound like english). In any case, the mass of people was flanked by German riot police, which allowed me an observation on cops in this coutry; apparently you have to be really very good looking to join up. So Andrew and Trevor, here´s a picture for you (ok. for me, too.):
Hot Riot Police

A little language dilemma we´ve been having. As we are polite canadians, we have been trying to learn a few words of the local language. Just basic niceties, greetings, and numbers. The only problem is that apparently we rattle these off so convincingly that we are innevitably faced with a stream of incomprehensible german in response...to which we look sheepish and say "Actually that was all the german I know..."

Let me tell you about a very perplexing (and disturbing) tourist attraction we have witnessed in various european countries: North American Natives in full (I'm convinced faked) ceremonial regalia, playing cheesified 'native' music complete with wistful birdcalls. I'm really not sure why this seems to be so popular here of all places (there is ALWAYS a large group of tourists congregated for these spectacles), or how these people even stumbled on sucha random, out-of-place market. The only explanation that I can come up with is that if they attempted this IN North America they would be ridiculed and ostracized by their communities...

Mostly we've done a lot of wandering around this city. We did, however, hit some of the tourist hot-spots.
The Jewish Museum.
Jewish Museum 1

Simon was particularaly excited to come here as he had read descriptions of the intriguing building. The museum itself was huge and could easily have filled several days. We left feeling a little museumed out for a while. That said, it was one of the most interesting and interactive museums we've ever been to.
Holocaust Tower

We never did get around to doing the contemporary architecture walk that was detailed in our book (too much lazing around). Still, it's pretty hard to miss some of these buildings. There are fantastic new buildings everywhere (well, between the fantastic OLD buildings, of course...).


The Berlin Wall. No, we didn't steal a piece to bring back home.
Berlin Wall  1

Berlin Wall 2

I've not been feeling particularly well since we left Russia, and wouldn't you know it, just when I need them most, there ceases to be public toilets on the streets. After a long cold, rainy day of feeling crappy, we cozied in for a little booster latte at the starbucks. say what you will about the evil empire and it's crappy coffee, but at that moment i really understood it's place in the world. It was the soothing sameness, warmth, yumminess (and free toilet!!) that i really needed at that moment.

We're now in Amsterdam...The dutch boy has come back home. I am quite disapointed, however, that Simon never learned any of the language or family history here. We're headed to Gouda (sounds like a dream to Simon. He has it on toast every morning!) to meet up with some of Toos's cousins, who will hopefully tell us where the Simons' family house was so that we can check it out in Maastricht.

IN the meantime...wander Amsterdam. Fortunately, it is quite a compact, bustling city, perfect for wandering on foot. The only problem is that this place is completely over-run by tourists. Damn tourists!!! If i were an amsterdammer? amsterdamite? amsterdamian? i would want to kick all the foreigners out and have this place all to myself.

Today we watched a car park parallel to the canal. This may not sound like a very fun thing to do, but when there are no railings bordering the canal, nor even a curb, it suddenly makes parallel parking a spectator sport.

We also went to the Poezenboot; a boat dedicated to homeless kitties (you know, just the regular tourist stuff... ; ) ). Amsterdam has a real love for the furry feline. They are to be spotted everywhere, even in many cafes and restaurants. I am in petting heaven...

PS Check back on this post later. More pics will be added, just the usb connection doesn't work at this place. harumph.

Posted by psy2099 at 02:57 PM

October 17, 2006

Da Svidaniya to Russia

It's been five days in beautiful brimming with culture St. Petersburg. While our tast of Russia was lovely beyond belief, exceeded all of our expectations and rid us of of some misconceptions, there was, none-the-less, a tiny exhale to be leaving. It is vaguely unsettling to be somewhere so unsettled, and frustrating to see the beauty and potential constantly bogged down. Still,what a place!....


Whether or not the entire country welcomed us, our host, Peter, certainly did. He was house-sitting for the couple that we had rented a room from, and was a perfect ambassador for his city. For anyone travelling to St. P, he runs a group called Peter's Walking tours and employs young, knowledgable, personable, english speaking guides.


As you can see, the apartment itself was truly phenomenal. Right in the heart of downtown, with high ceilings and huge windows overlooking the Griboedova Canal. Sadly, we never me the owners who are on vacation--they seem to have a thing or two in common with us (he's a photographer and they renovate these old places themselves).


A few highlights from St. P:


The hermitage--finally a palace that we could roam in its entirety. Of course this did mean that we got lost a few times in the 1000+ rooms! I guess Laura got all the fine art genes int he family, though---I found it far more exciting to ogle the fantastic rooms than to gaze on the Matisse(s)!



Church of the saviour on spilled blood:


These picutres are a little dark to tell, but, believe it or not, the entire inside is done in mosaic. Apparently early Russiand were VERY patient!

Kazan Cathedral:

This is just one of the every-day landmarks in our neighbourhood. La dee da...

We may not have been in Moscow, but who could resist the Russian circus? Animals still A-OK.


Night Bridge (Mike and co., this one's for you!):

Luckily, we were not trapped on the wrong side of the river--Simon made a middle of the night excursion with Peter just to capture these shots and to see the panicked traffic as all of the bridges lift to let the ships through.
Afterwards, not contented until we'd met a 'true russian', Peter led Simon to a bar whgere they were approached by Alexander, who had a fight with his wife and was now quite drunk and friendly with one of Russia's many beautiful young women.


On the way home, Peter silenced Simon as they passed a police car and were looked up and down (we were advised to cary COPIES of our passport and visa at all times and that eve so, the police would often figure out some fine that we would owe). Fortunately, at that moment, some drunken Russians fell in front of the car and the police pounced on them instead. Phewph! Our budget was challenged enough without paying off the Russian Police!


St. P is lovely during the day, but stunning at night. They even have a ministry dedicated to artfully lighting up the buildings.
After a delicious dinner at the Idiot cafe with Neil, a Brit-cum-Aussie thate we befriended, we walked him to the metro to catch his train to Moscow. We were all treated to a serendipitous farewell firework display (being set-off from a boat on the narrow canal between 18th century buildings---aieeee!)


On to Berlin. En route we had a bit of time to kill in Riga, Latvia. So, led by my grumbly tummy, I convinced Simon to exit passport control and head to the restaurant. All I can say is that if airport cafeteria food is this good in Latvia, perhaps we ought to have stayed longer! Ah well...Next time!


A few shots we missed from Helsinki:

A VERY cool church built into and out of rock. A bit of a departure from the rest of the churches we#re seeing around Europe!

The Silbelius monument. A rather neat assembly of tubes...

Posted by psy2099 at 04:12 PM

October 14, 2006

Dobray Vecher From St. Petersburg

We are here in an awesome apartment with a fantastic host and we are so far enjoying ourselves. We have been dodging traffic, as pedistrians and drivers "spend their time ignoring each other", walking in the seaside rain and marvelling that the buildings stand and the trolley buses drive. They seriously look like they are held together by the 1000's of coats of paint that surrounds the outside. An English friend said he saw one that looked like it was made out of wood.
Until next time...

Posted by psy2099 at 11:38 AM

October 11, 2006

Hej Hej from Helsinki

What I did on my summer vacation:
This summer my husband and I went to Scandinavia. I have always wanted to go there ever since I saw a documentary on Stockholm. Also, my love for a little swedish furniture boutique, named IKEA, may have played a small part. In scandinavia, I learned that some things are very much like Canada, and some things are very different.
Sweden and Finland are often praised for their untouched natural scenery. Well, plug your ears to the rather different languages surrounding you, and you could certainly believe that those rocky outcrops and forests are right back home in North America.
Further in terms of comparisons to Canada, are many food words (ie kicklingfile--pronounced chicklingfilet). This proved to be quite useful, however, it did mean that we found ourselves eating a lot of the same thing as we couldn't understand the rest (waiters only have so much patience for explaining a menu, it seems)!
And this concludes the similarities of Sweden to my home country (unless you are in and IKEA in which case it is exactly the same).

While I was in Sweden, I visited the aforementioned furniture boutique. As was to be expected, it was just like I was in Canada. EXCEPT, I got to preview items yet to come to our country (a whole line of non-furniture products sucha s bike helmets, suitcases, toiletries... Just wait, Canada!). Still, I'm glad I visited the mothership; I would have felt rather disloyal had I skipped it.

Later, Simon and I visited some museums. One had rather impressive mounted Elephant, as well as the world's only mounted whale. Simon took the elephant as his stead and I took the blue whale. We raced. I won, of course

An interesting fact about Sweden is that there is an eerie uniformity to certain things. Signs, for instance are universal and sold through a special sign agency. Simon particularly liked this one, though I forbid him from buying one (he has enough of that going on already).
The other common strain was in bathrooms. All the tiles, door hardware, flooring, and even towel hooks were exactly the same. Oddly, the only variation was what consistantly remains the same in Canada, the toilet. At each stop we had to pause to figure out how this particular one flushed.

While on these travels, I learned some things about this part of Europe. First of all, I learned that Swedes dress VERY fancily. Despite having consciously packed to not look like grungy backpackers, Simon and I may as well have been wearing burlap sacks. These people have an impressive ability to wear high-heels EVERYWHERE (sight-seeing, cobblestone streets...). Happily, we are so far finding Finland to be a little more casual. And no offense to the Finns, but they do seem to be a little less intimidatingly beautiful. (simon is sad about this one.)

I've also learned that scandinavians, though not a small people, often drive VERY small cars. It is news to me that there is a vehicle that is even smaller than the smart car. Apparently they also have a good sense of humour about the size of their vehicles; though we failed to get it on film, we did come accross a truck no bigger than a station wagon that looked like somebody left a mack truck in the dryer too long. The best part is that it was called 'Mega'.

Other things we did in Sweden: visited a rainforest and a butterfly house. Visited a palace and cathedral, and took a boat tour of Stockholm. We saw lots but didnät learn much at these places because we donät speak swedish.

As I mentioned, though, we are now in Finland. We got here by boat. This experience taught me that even the fashion and design conscious scandinavians can succumb to tacky luxuries, the picture you see above is the main deck of the BOAT! There were dinner and acrobatic shows the likes of which you would not believe. heehee.

Finally, I've learned that I am happy Canada has passed laws banning smoking as I am now so nauseated that I must conclude this little essay.
And that is how I spent my summer holiday.

Posted by psy2099 at 09:46 AM

September 30, 2006

On the Rocks

DSC_1646 copy.jpg

Dear Armchair travelers;
Perhaps you think that it is unfair to make sweeping generalizations about a country, and that cliched statements about England and it's rain cannot possibly be true. Well, they are. It has rained here every day. Unfortunately, the sweeping generalization that our hosts told us---that it only every lightly drizzles in England--- did not prove to be true. The sky appears ominous in these pictures because it was.


To those of you who know us well, it will startle you to hear that we got up at 6am this morning. This was because the other visiting couple staying with Kevin and Lucinda had a rental car and we all decided to make the most of it before it had to be back at 11am. So off we went to Avebury and Stonehenge. Though the latter was more spectacular, the trip to Avebury was, never-the-less, quite rewarding in its own way.
A little history: when I was 13 I went to England with my choir. Daniele and I were billeted in private homes together, which was, for the most part, a good experience. The exception to this was a place in Wales where too many people wanted a canadian, so they split us up. I didn't like the girl I stayed with and, once I moved on to the next place of call, Avebury, decided I had even more reason to dislike my whole experience with her; I'd contracted the flu from her. My entire time in Avebury was spent feverishly in bed with a severe case of delirium. Luckily, I was staying with a very sweet, nurturing couple named Ducky and Ewart, who took very good care of me.
So upon my return to Avebury 17 years later, I decided that I really did owe them a thank-you. As the town is very small, and Ducky is an unusual name, it didn't seem like it would be too hard to find them. In fact, it wasn't--we went straight to her house and the first person we asked was Ducky's sister who was coming out of Ducky's house (OK, it was Simon who did the talking. I don't talk to strangers....). So we had a nice but quick visit, as she was preparing for the whole town to come to her 60th birthday party, and we had to move on to Stonehenge. Still, we hope to catch up with them in the south of France, where they now spend most of their time.



DSC_1639 copy.jpg

Posted by psy2099 at 04:28 PM

September 29, 2006

Our New Home


Simon and I have decided that we rather like it here in merry old England so we had a look at some property today. It didn't take long to settle on one place that seemed more fit for us than the others. There may be some red tape to take care of, but you should be able to forward mail to us soon at Blenheim Castle. Here's some pics. It'll need a bit of fixing up, but I think we can work with it.




A few interesting tid-bits from the day:

Queen Anne was four an a half feet tall and, at the time of her death, weighed almost three hundred pounds. She was burried in a square casket. We can't blame it on American super-sized portions, however; the poor woman suffered from gout and 17 pregnancies over 18 years. (Simon just tried to correct that last sentence, saying it sounded like I meant that she suffered from the pregnancies. well that IS what I meant. Not that i've been pregnant, but that sounds pretty awful to me.) She also suffered from extremely bad luck; of those pregnancies, she had not a single child that survived past 11 yrs and thus the throne went to her distant, German, non-english speaking cousin, George. So Anna Banana, you shouldn't raise your head too high when you call yourself Queen Anne.


Before parents had the ability to embarrass their adolescent children with naked infant photos on the sheepskin rug, those that could afford it made gold life-sized sculptures. One such sculpture was finally discovered five years ago, after decades hidden in a wardrobe within a wardrobe in one of the 189 rooms. The current duke promptly put his father's greatest embarrassment on display again. Nice kid.


Consuela Vanderbilt was convinced to marry the Duke of Marlborough sight-unseen after being locked in her room with no food or water for four days. By the way, does anyone know how the Vanderbilts made their fortune? And don't say building vanders...


This was my juice box from today's lunch. Yummy. Roald Dahl juice.

Though the palace had some lovely views and gardens, we decided that being a duke and duchess sounds too stuffy, and that Marlborough just makes us think of American cigarettes. So I guess we'll keep traveling for a while...Though it will be hard to leave our lovely hosts...


Posted by psy2099 at 05:34 PM

September 28, 2006

On the Road and in Oxford


Hello Everybody! Well we are on the road finally and wow what a difference from our life of the past six weeks! We were sooo busy leading up to our departure that travelling has so far felt like a wonderful breath of freash air--- and we've only been gone for 48 hours!

We flew across the Atlantic with AirTransat and it was everything that we were expecting and less...Claire and I were unable to sit together and both had middle seats, which were spaced exactly the length of my femur from the seat in front. There was not much sleep to be had that night.

We found that it was a bit cheaper and a whole lot easier to by-pass London (we'll be back in January) and head straight up to our friends, Kevin and Lucinda's place in Oxford. Despite already having guests (Wayne and Kathryn arrived from Toronto only hours before us, on their way to run an adventure travel company in Tajikistan!)they have been absolutely gracious, generous hosts.


Upon arrival in Oxford we were greeted by the wonderful sight of a culture focused on modes of transportation other than cars. This is the bike parking lot at the train station, something that is unfathomable to us, even coming from a large city like Toronto.
Unfortunately, it seems that bike theft exponentially increases in accordance with the demand for cycles. On our walk from the train station, just as we turned from a main street onto Kevin and Lucinda's street, we instantly ran into two guys hunched over a bike with some wire cutters. Having recently had two bicycles stolen, Lucinda kicked into vigilante mode, marching up to the offenders declaring 'ARE YOU STEALING THAT BIKE?? I THINK YOU"RE STEALING THAT BIKE!!!'. I stood by as the passive canadian that I am, while Simon finally piped up to back Lucinda up with a little size. With a few lousy excuses and 'calm down, luv's, the thieves retreated to their car, leaving us to pass on descriptions and license numbers to the police. It was only afterwards that we realized that Simon (of course) had his camera at the ready the whole time and could easily have got some more tangible evidence. I sure hope he's a little quicker when we run into as celebrity in a compromising situation, or when aliens land on our roof. I keep telling him this hobby had better start paying back soon!! heheh


Our morning in the Botanical Gardens

DSC_1263 copy.jpg


Claire and Lucinda on a bench

Lucinda, Kathryn and Claire listening to L tell the story of Phillip Pullman's bench in Oxford from the Dark Materials Trilogy.

J.R.R. Tolkien's inspiration for the Party Tree in the Shire...
DSC_1279 copy.jpg

and Lucinda in front of a Hobbit House

This afternoon, after a wee bite for lunch, we went to St Mary's University Church to climb the tower. The view was fantastic and it didn't take toooo long to get over the height queasiness. How can my brain think that it is possible to float up over a four foot high stone barrier? Cleerly im not smart enuff to go to oxford...
(A conundrum: Simon just pointed out that, while the barriers were four feet tall, the doorways were only about a foot higher. Perhaps people used to climb the narrow stairs with a stool in hand in order to take in the view???)
DSC_1333 copy.jpg
DSC_1365 copy.jpg
DSC_1370 copy.jpg
DSC_1352 copy.jpg
We've just returned from a lovely night at a university pub. We had to weave through narrow, dark, winding cobblestone alleys to get to it. Another charming trait; the headroom was only just five and a half feet---a small challenge for Simon. We did as the romans do and sampled the brews, while visiting with Michelle, known to us thanks to Anne and her housemates. She seems to be rather calm about her new life here, despite her prof. abandonning her for another job, her wallet being stolen and limited phone access to talk to her honey back at home. It was neat to see another familiar face again so soon, though admitedly, I don't really feel like we are full-fledged travelling yet as everything has been so relaxing and easy.
Russian is coming soon enough, though, I suppose...

Posted by psy2099 at 05:44 AM