All posts by J.Levack

Homeward Bound

Well, our year’s adventure is now over.  After a long and tiring day of travel, and a short stop-over in Iceland (with not enough time to leave the airport), we are back on Canadian soil.

What an amazing year we’ve had.  I must take this opportunity to thank Greg for all his pushing to get me to leave my beloved Woodslee.  I left kicking and screaming (figuratively of course) and return home so very happy for all the many wonderful sights and experiences we have now in our memories! Thank you Greg for this priceless gift of our year abroad.

I’ve learned how big and beautiful our world is.  The places we were able to see, and hear, and smell were amazing, each spot unique in it’s own beauty.  And I know even with all the travel we’ve done, we’ve seen just a little, and my appetitte for travel has grown, and if this opportunity comes around again, I may not kick or scream next time.

Having said that, I must say we were all very excited to finally be coming home.  And as much as seeing the world was wonderful, and amazing in so many ways, returning home to friends and family is the best feeling.  No matter how beautiful the scenery, or how great the weather, or how yummy the food, nothing can compare to the love and security of a life with friends and family.  This is the biggest lesson learned for me this year.  Learning to appreciate all the people in my life.

To everyone who was so supportive this year, reading our blog and showing your interest in our experiences, thank you so much.  That feeling of connection made by your comments made all the difference in the world. Now that we are home I can’t wait to see you all.  And be prepared, I want to see you soon, and long, and often!

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Republic of Ireland

Wow, I am so far behind! When traveling just us we tend to have the kids in bed by nine or ten, and then a quiet time to blog on our day.  When traveling with others, that “quiet time” is much better spent together (not always quiet), and so blogging goes out the window. My thought was I would catch up once we got home, but with so little time before moving back, and only one computer to share, there hasn’t been the time.  But I do want to share a few pictures and just some random thoughts of this beautiful country…

The main difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for me (talking views from the car window) was that the fences between the many small pastures changed from hedges to dry stacked stone, although the rolling hills and greens remained.  It seemed the more southwest we went, the more dramatic the landscape became. And no matter where we were, whenever we saw a glimpse of the coastline, it was majestic!

I was super excited that we saw a field were they were cutting turf (logs for fires) and stacking them to dry.  And we got to see them (and smell their fire, a very unique smell) in use at the Bunratty Folk Park.

The Cliff’s of Moher were as spectacular as we were told.  I’ll always wonder how different our experience of them were, as we didn’t go to the official visitor centre and viewpoint because they didn’t have a place we could park.  My feeling is I liked where we ended up more as it had not so many people, which I find distracts from my enjoyment of a place.

We saw 2 or 3 beautiful rainbows during our stay, and they were exquisite.

The kids had their Irish ice cream at Murphy’s in Dingle, where everything was made from scratch.  The even had a Sea Salt flavour, and told us they made the salt themselves from the sea! My combination was a scoop of “brown bread” and a scoop of “black current sorbet”.  Which they suggested, and I loved.

There are almost as many abandoned ruins (Castles, towers, small stone cottages, barns, and churches of varying sizes) as there are sheep dotting the landscape.  It made such a romantic picture as we drove along. I wanted to capture the feeling I had when seeing these buildings covered in moss and Ivy, still standing looking both proud and forlorn at the same time, however the pictures were almost always fuzzy.

The hydrangeas were amazing, and everywhere.  Almost every house had a hydrangea bush or 3 and they were massive (often taller than me), with varying colours of white, pink, blue, and purple.   As well as those, there were many orange and yellow wild flowers by the roadside, and what I thought looked like purple and pink heather. So very pretty.

The night we stayed in Portmagee, on the Ring of Kerry, was one of my favourite nights out.  The town was very small and had 2 places to eat. We ate at O’Keeffe’s Restaurant (as you must when you are traveling with your friends the O’Keefes’), which was right on the water.  I had the seafood special which consisted of half a lobster, crab claws, prawns, and mussels.  When we ordered we were told it might be a bit as they may have to wait for it to come out of water.  While we waited I watched out the window, imagining that every boat that came in might have my dinner on it!

After supper, we went to the other bar in town which boasted live entertainment.  Well, everyone went because I was so excited to check out the Irish entertainment. It was everything I was hoping it would be, and I will remember enjoying it for a long time.  It was traditional Irish music, and dance.  But what I loved was it was simple and from the heart.  The dancers were girls about Brandon’s age.  They were dressed in jeans, and had on no make-up or wigs.  A young boy came up and sang a solo. And when the band played on their own, half the bar joined in the singing, and the small dance floor was packed with people of all ages enjoying themselves.  I could have stayed until closing!

We spent time at 2 different beaches, and that was a highlight for many of us (not just the kids).  It was so fun to watch the kids building forts, finding shells and fish and crabs, and skipping stones.  We definitely could have spent a lot more time at the seashore!

I thought a fourteen day trip would seem like forever, and was actually a little worried about how the two families would get on, as we have never spent any extended time together.  It went by in a flash, and we never had one problem with the kids (with the exception of the usual sibling stuff that never goes away). They were as happy together on our last day, as on our first.  And the good-bye’s were made so much easier when it was followed up with “see you in one week!”

Thank you for a wonderful last trip Shawn, Melissa, Sofia, Chiara, and Gemma!  Definitely a great way to end our year abroad.

Northern Ireland

Below is my blog written August 14:

This trip is going by very quickly, and without wifi, it has been difficult to set aside time to blog. I am writing my blog on my iPad and will upload when I get the chance.

The natural beauty of this country (and of the island as a whole) is undeniable. I love the rolling hills of varying greens, dotted with sheep and cows. Pastures are divided by hedge fences, and the countryside reminds me of a patchwork quilt all in shades of greens and golds.

We visited The Giant’s Causeway.  It is Northern Ireland’s only world heritage site, but it is a fantastic one.  We took a guided tour and learned all about the geology of the unique hexagonal stones, and the Irish legends of the site.  The legend’s were so much more appealing, and what I want to remember.  The Giant’s Causeway was home/is home to a Giant named Finn and his wife named Una.  Finn was challenged to a fight with the Scottish Giant Benandonner, who lives by the water in Scotland.  Finn takes up this challenge and builds the causeway to Scotland (as Giant’s cannot swim).  On arrival in Scotland, Finn  sees Benandonner for the first time and runs home as the Scottish Giant is much bigger than he is.  Una dresses Finn up as a baby, and when Benandonner comes looking for Finn she replied that Finn was away and her baby (aka Finn himself) is sleeping.  Benandonner is so surprised by the size of the baby, and fearful of the size of his father, he leaves for Scotland never to return.  Finn destroys the pathway between the countries and the Giant’s Causeway is all that remains of the path in Ireland, although the same hexagonal shaped rocks are also found somewhere on the coast of Scotland.

We spent the whole afternoon climbing the rocks of the Causeway and exploring all it had to offer.

Our next amazing stop was the Carrick-Rope-Bridge.  This is a rope bridge first built by the salmon fishermen over 350 years ago to connect the mainland to the “Rocky Island”.  It is 20 metres long, and sits about 30 metres above the water.  This was a real place of beauty.  The water here was extremely calm and clear, and the coastline is amazing.  (Not sure how the Cliff’s of Moher can compete).  Our views from the small Island of the shoreline were worth the bounce and sway of the bridge under our feet.

Our last site to explore was Dunluce Castle, a medieval castle perched on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic.  It is now in ruins, but I can only imagine what life was like for those who lived inside, high above the waves.

Our time in Northern Ireland has been full of days spent exploring, late dinners, and even later bedtimes!  Add in lots of good times and laughter, a hide-and-seek game that lasted 3 days, an ice-cream farm tour that wasn’t what we expected, and Nathan once again falling into a river.

Ireland Begins…

We are already two days into our Ireland trip, and I’m only finding time to write now.  That’s what happens when you add friends to a trip.  Too much fun and excitement to find a quiet time to blog.  We arrived on Saturday and met up with Joe Elliott and his fiancee who just happen to be in Dublin at exactly the same time!  We grabbed a bus to the city centre and had our first dinner with them at Madigan’s Pub.  The bartender was fun, although I didn’t always understand him as he talked so quickly!  Since then I’ve noticed it wasn’t just him, everyone speaks super fast.

Dinner for me was sausage and chips.  I found the sausage better than English sausage, but not as good as home, or Germany.  I decided to go with Cider and wait and share my inaugural Guinness experience with the O’Keefe’s at the brewery.  We waited to leave until after the music had started, so we could here some Irish music.  We stayed for four songs, and I knew three of them (although one was Simon and Garfunkel and not Irish).

Sunday morning we met the O’Keefe’s at the airport, and our Irish adventures began!  First stop was to a park, so the kids could let off steam and enjoy each other.  Amazing how it was immediately like they had never been apart.  This gave the adults time to catch up a little and not surprisingly, it was the same for us- like we’d never been apart.  True friends.

We took the tour bus around town, basically just as a means to get to the Guinness Storehouse tour.  There I sampled my first ever pint of Guinness.  It was creamy and delicious.  While sampling the stout, we listened to some great Irish music, saw a little Irish Dancing and even got up to try it ourselves.  This was the highlight of my day!  Good music, delicious drinks, fun dancing, and great friends- doesn’t get better than that!

Strasbourg

And we ended our week where we started- Strasbourg.  It is a French city right on the border with Germany, and in fact was back and forth as German and French land many times through the years.  Therefore it has a uniqueness which is French and German influences throughout.

It is a lovely place, with a gorgeous city centre that we spent pretty much all of our time in.  One of my highlights was the boat tour we took.  As “Centre-Ville” is surrounded by water, it was a perfect way to see the a lot of the sites at once.  It also took us out of city centre to show us the European Parliament Buildings, which were very modern, mostly glass, and very impressive.  My favourite part of the city they call “Petite France” which is full of half timber houses and is extremely timeless and picturesque!

My favourite meal was on our last night.  We found a restaurant fairly close to the cathedral where we ate on the patio.  I had “Aux Petite Croc” a dish named the same as the restaurant.  It was a typical dish to Alsace (the region in France Strasbourg is located) and consisted of lots of meat and choucroute (sauerkraut).  It came with a frankfurter, shoulder joint, smoked ham, peasant bacon (to die for- even better than Canadian bacon possibly), and duck breast.  Way too much food, but when in Alsace…you must try it all!

Strasbourg is a beautiful destination on it’s own.  You can spend hours walking around the cobbled streets looking at the old houses and many bridges (with lots of flowers on both).  We  often came upon musicians playing on a side street, which added so much to the charm of the place.  Like Paris, we found there was not enough park space, no place for the kids to play.

This year is the Cathedral de Notre Dame (yes Strasbourg has one too) is celebrating 1,000 years.  As part of their celebrations they have a nightly light show on the side of the Cathedral.  It was completely amazing, and I’m so glad we waited to see it.  The Cathedral is amazing all on it’s own.  I took pictures, but as it is right in the heart of the city, you can’t get far enough away from it to capture it in one shot.  It very much reminds me of the other Cathedral de Notre Dame in style. The stain glass windows were amazing from the inside, and the size was pretty incredible too!  I’m Glad I could convince Greg to come in with me!

We ended our trip with one last trip to a french bakery and I tried a macaroon for the first time.  I decided on a pistachio one and it was delicious.  A cookie and sweet candy all in one!  And also, since we were indulging, one last croissant!

Our last morning in Switzerland

Well, I’d thought I’d start my blog showing you where we stayed while in Switzerland.  I forgot to take pictures in Paris.  Just to know where we were coming from, we had a studio flat in Paris, with a double bed and a pull out couch.  There was supposed to be an extra bed, but it wasn’t there, so Nate, Clara, and I slept sideways on the pullout!  There was only enough room to walk around the beds, and kitchen was the smallest one yet! No complaints though as we were able to sleep right in the heart of Paris without breaking the bank!  Now that you know the background…

We had a top floor of a house in Courrendlin, a small village (bigger than Woodslee, but smaller than Belle River) that was mostly agricultural, but had 2 restaurant/bars, a couple of stores, etc.  Directly behind our house was a dairy farm (hence the beautiful sounds, remember?).

Here we had 2 bedrooms and a pull-out coach in the living room (which was windows on all sides to a beautiful view!), a separate kitchen with table large enough for us all to sit together, along with niceties like spices to cook with, all the cooking utensils and pots required, even a coffee/espresso machine that Brandon took advantage of.  The house itself was so nice, it was hard to leave after 2 days.

But leave we did.  We stopped at Saint-Usanne, a small village just a short drive from where we staying.  I picked it for a beautiful bridge I saw on line leading up to the village.  We ourselves took not one picture of it, as it was under construction and only half there!  Also, we found out that most things in the village are closed on Mondays!  No where to get souvenirs or Swiss ice-cream (we looked high and low).  Our compromise was getting a small tub in the grocery store and eating it on the patio of a nearby restaurant that was not opened.  The tub was labeled “the Art of Swiss Ice Cream” and it did not disappoint!   So rich and creamy!  It was also 13 Swiss Franc for 810g.  I wonder what individual cones would have come to?

From there it was back to Strasbourg to get the rental back, which we did with only 2 minutes to spare! Great driving Greg!

Switzerland

Once again, not enough time in a country to really enjoy it.  Although Europe is not big, and countries are close together, Greg still hasn’t learned that 2 days before country hopping is just not enough time to see more than the top 3 sites in one area, not to learn about their culture and ways, and to do it in a relaxed fashion!

But 2 days in Switzerland is much better than 0 days in Switzerland.  We are in the Jura region of Switzerland which has the Jura Mountains, rather than the Alps.  But they are big, and mostly tree covered.  We are staying in a real agricultural region, which means our rides have had beautiful views of quite hilly fields of corn, wheat, clover, as well as pastures with cows (complete with the beautiful sounds of the cow bells.  I make everyone roll down the windows to listen every time we pass some!).  The cows individual bells are different sizes, making the ringing different notes and so wonderful to listen to.  There is actually a pasture quite close to our house, so I awoke to the beautiful music they were making!  It was awesome.

We drove to Bern today, a beautiful European city about an hour from where we are staying.  It was quite unique to other cities we’ve seen.  Not as big and cosmopolitan as Paris or London, but also not the same as the medieval villages, like those in Bavaria or Italy either.  It had a beautiful bright blue river running through it, and flowers in almost every window box.

The highlight in Bern for me was our fondue experience.  We sat outside and tried cheese fondue!  It came with bread (which I expected) and boiled potatoes (which I did not).  The potatoes were delicious with the cheese!

We only have tomorrow morning left to explore, as we must have the car back to France in the afternoon.

My memories of Switzerland will be of the fresh air smell of pastures and turned earth (but so mild that it was a good smell), the sound of the cowbells, of the unique mix of old Swiss style architecture and ultra modern which somehow complement each other, and their yummy cheese.

Paris Day 2

Today we seemed to see a lot less.  Maybe as a result of how much walking we did yesterday, but I think today we just experienced more of Paris.  We started with a fun trip to “the local” bakery for breakfast.  I had “un chasson de pomme” which was like a mix between an apple turnover and a croissant.  Just perfect!  We stopped at a small park with a beautiful tower to admire while we ate.

Then it was on to the Louvre.  The Louvre is indescribable really.  It is so huge that I think you could spend a whole week inside and probably still not see everything.  We spent a couple of hours and only saw a very small portion of one wing (of which there are three).  The major galleries go on for ever (see a picture in Greg’s post) and then off of these galleries are smaller rooms on either side of the long galleries.  Unfortunately, Nathan and Clara found this very boring, and kids not having a good time can quickly spoil your own enjoyment of a place.

Lunch was a great experience outside a small bistro, and another delight of french cuisine.  Greg and Brandon had duck breast, which they both enjoyed.  I had a rabbit starter (cold rabbit and bread), unfortunately they forgot to bring it, so it came after my entree and I was so full, I couldn’t finish it.  My entree was fish in mashed potatoes with a simple green salad.  And although it doesn’t sound like much it tasted great and was super filling.  Nathan and Clara opted for tried and true lasagna.  Lunch was a long affair, but sitting in the beautiful weather, watching the people pass on the cobbled street just a few feet away, counting the number of people wearing blue and white stripped shirts (there were many) was enjoyable.

We walked back to the Louvre in the evening to try and see a little more, but again was not enough, and there is more for us to see there next time we come to Paris.

We viewed the lights on the Eiffel Tower from outside the Louvre, and that was a treat to end our day!  I knew the tower lit up, but I didn’t know it would sparkle! A great surprise.

One Full French Day

Wow, we walked and saw a lot today!  I’m the last one to blog.  It’s 11:30 and I’m so tired I’m having trouble recalling the day.  Our first stop of the day was a bakery, which we didn’t know at the time, would be the best bakery we found all day!  We have plans to start tomorrow there as well.  We tried a croissant, an eclair, and a brioche sugar bun. So amazing!

For lunch we found a tiny restaurant in between the Louvre and the Tour Eiffel to try some french cuisine not had before.  Firsts for me where French Onion Soup (which Greg said was slightly different then at home, and I say was so scrumptious), and escargot which came in the shell with a garlic pesto sauce on them (Greg said they normally come with cheese).  Also good, and lots of fun watching us all take turns trying to get the snail out of the shell!  I also picked the first white wine on the menu, and funny enough ended up being the kind of wine I’ve been buying most of the year at our local grocery store.  It was a perfect stop to give our legs and feet a rest.  I’m going to assume everyone else wrote of their new dishes they tried, and so won’t bore you by repeating.

After a long hike to the Arc de Triumphe, we treated the kids (and ourselves) to a street crepe.  I had a caramel one.  It was hot and sweet, and gave me the energy I needed to continue on to the Tour Eiffel!

After a few hours spent at the tower, we stopped to by groceries for dinner.  Here we did not stay French (I don’t know how to cook French food, and went for the fast and easy pasta), but we did get 2 different kind of baguette to try as well.

All in all, I’d say we did a good job of tasting Paris without breaking the bank.

As for the sites, Paris is so over the top in size (buildings go on for blocks and blocks), and pomp and circumstance (lots of statues and flags and gold leaf), with an abundance of ornateness (is this an actual word?). It often felt surreal.  We are definitely not in Woodslee ladies and gentlemen.

I took what seemed like a million pictures today, but I am so tired you will have to wait for tomorrow.  Please check back to this post, as I will add pictures here tomorrow when I have time.

Goodnight again.

Here’s those pictures I promised you:

Summer Adventures Begin

Summer holidays are finally here! Greg’s last day of work was last Wednesday, Nate and Clara’s was Thursday, and Brandon finished up on Friday. We spent the last 4 days taking it easy and sticking close to home, but we have started our adventures today!

A full day of travel. Left home at 10 am and got to our Paris apartment around 11 pm! We travelled the long way round as we flew from London to Strasbourg, then hoped a train to Paris. And yes, we could have taken a train from London to Paris in a couple hours, but it was triple the price- so for the difference we get to experience a lot more than just Paris! We only saw a bit of Strasbourg, which is fine as we have 2 days there at the end of our week vacation to explore it further.

The train from Strasbourg to Paris, although not cheap, was very comfortable, and the scenery (until it turned dark) was fantastic. Saw corn fields for the first time this year (and lots of them today), along with cows grazing in pastures that were all white (the cows were white, not the pastures)! We didn’t get into Paris until 10:30 and had a half hour walk to the apartment we are renting. But the kids were great, even though they were tired, and I enjoyed passing the cafe’s, restaurant’s, and small grocery stores, all still open. Also, the old churches and buildings we passed looked amazing in the street lights! Very gothic. Clara said haunted, and I could very easily imagine a gargoyle coming to life and looking down on us on the sidewalks! Can’t wait until tomorrow to see it in the daylight!

Goodnight all.