Vicarious Travel Log #7: Germany

This is the last installment of my mother’s travel journal, which I have been much less than prompt in posting.  In fact I’ve been sitting on it for over a month, while thing after thing came up to distract me.  My parents are now safely ensconced back in Canada, and no doubt planning their next escape…

Well, I have not been right on top of things. Here it is almost December and we will be home in a few days and I haven’t yet got us to Germany.

We are in Munich and have been for weeks now. We left Switzerland on October 22 and drove our rental car back to Germany. The trip was almost uneventful. Almost because who knew that you needed a permit to travel for fifteen minutes (the length of the time you are in Austria) on Austrian highways? You do and if you don’t have a permit a very severe young man will thrust an English translation of the rule you have broken under your nose and demand 120 euros in fine. (Luckily this was payable by credit card.) We did not enjoy Austria though the fifteen minutes we were on their highway were smooth and unencumbered.

Back in Munich we dropped off our car after Michael spent a good long time unloading it and settled in to the little apartment under the eaves on Amalienstrasse. I had forgotten how awkward this one is. We haven’t stayed in this particular apartment in 15 years. Mostly I forgot that it has no oven and just a very small two burner stovetop. So much for my plans to make and distribute Christmas cookies.

Munich was in the end of its beautiful Fall which it deserved after a cool and wet summer and we enjoyed many outdoor meals and libations before it turned colder.

Maureen beside Cologne cathedral

Soon after we arrived in Munich we set off with Ray Rees to Cologne (Köln). Michael was to give a seminar and Ray and Michael have a colleague there with whom they are writing a book so we stayed for several days.

The hotel we stayed in was also a spa and I was looking forward to swimming in their pool. The evening we arrived, guided by the ever helpful Gloria the GPS, we wandered into the spa area just to have a look. We were soon ushered out as having a look is deemed inappropriate when you are fully clothed and no one else has a stitch on. I had forgotten that the straight-laced Germans take the spa idea seriously and do it in the nude. I may as well have left my bathing suit at home since I am far more straight-laced than that and do not swim in the buff with a bunch of strangers. Oh well.

Castle on the Rhine

On Sunday, when Ray and Michael were not working, we took a little tour up the Rhine. It is a highway for boats. We ate lunch in a castle perched up above the river and watched the boats slip up and down. Many had cars parked on deck so the captain can whisk off when they reach their port of call. It was hard to tell what they were transporting. It seemed to be the same cargo in both directions.

Altes Haus in Bacharach 14th century

After lunch we continued along the Rhine to the Loreley which is a big rock/hill in the river just at the point where the river zigzags making navigation very difficult. Every hundred meters or so there was another castle overlooking the river. It seems that once upon a time every castle owner demanded a fee for passing his bit of the river making the trip very expensive indeed.

Us in Altes Haus

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Vicarious Travel Log #6: Switzerland

Sailboats on Lake Geneva from the lawn of the Brocher foundation

Sailboats on Lake Geneva from the lawn of the Brocher foundation

Well what can one say about this little jewel of a country? It is amazingly beautiful – mountains with peaks that are like children’s drawings of mountains – so satisfyingly mountainy – lakes full of sailboats – tiny flotillas of baby sails on weekends when the young are initiated into the yacht club life – hillsides ripe with grapes (who knew the Swiss made wine? 36% of what they consume, very little exported) and apples. The cities are pretty, clean and expensive. We do a lot of what the French refer to as << lèche vitrine >> that is literally licking the windows / window shopping. The merchants are complicit in this activity, neat little signs tell you that that dress is 649 chf (about $649 Canadian) and the lovely bag to go with it may be 1200 chf.

Ray and Denny

Denny and Ray

Last weekend (September 25) our friends Denny and Ray Rees who live in Munich came to visit. Their arrival coincided with the official opening of the villa which is the main building of La Fondation Brocher (www.brocher.ch). It is a 19th century villa that once housed Dr. And Mrs. Brocher. He was a doctor who specialized in problems of the spine (wish he were still around). She was a writer/socialite. Both were rich. With no heirs to leave their huge “domaine” and fortune, they decided to fund a foundation where researchers could come and, in this Eden on the lake, discuss and reflect (and hopefully write papers) on the life sciences in their legal, ethical, and social aspects. (How, you ask, does Michael fit in with his crass economics? Well, he also researches the insurance complications of genetic testing.)

Brocher House

Brocher House

Their house had been totally renovated before our arrival and was being officially opened to the public last Friday (September 25). It rained :( but we stood on the porch and listened to several (a whole lot of!) speeches by mayors, governors of Cantons, and University deans, etc. Then we ate canapés, drank champagne, and visited the house. (Michael had only one flute of champagne as he was on a panel with some bio-ethicists to discuss Obamacare as part of the “celebrations”. Michael didn’t know much about this previous to this “honour” being bestowed upon him, so he spent much of the week searching out details and forming an opinion about their merits.)  I have already picked out my room in the villa. It is huge with access to balconies on two sides. In future, visiting researchers will be housed and fed in the villa.

Our lodgings in Hermance

Our lodgings in Hermance

Now we are in a neat apartment over the garage. It was the chauffeur’s digs. It, too, has been renovated and has 3 bedrooms, living-dining room, modern kitchen and 2 bathrooms. Downside is that we may get a roommate next week. Hope he/she can fit in among all of our junk.

Water Jet Lake Geneva

Water Jet Lake Geneva

Back to Denny and Ray’s visit. On Saturday we set out to circle Lake Geneva / Lac Léman. Our first stop was a little “cave” (winery) where the proprietor took us on a tour of the vineyard, the squishing part and wine vats. Then on to the best bit … the tasting. (It was by then just after 12:00.) We sampled substantial quantities, we liked, we bought, then we filled the trunk and clinked happily on our way. (N.B. The hapless and ever responsible M. Hoy once again had to be prudent and took only 2 small sips as he was doing the driving.)

We stayed as close to the lake as possible and continued (through the rain) through Lausanne, Lutry, Cully, Rivaz, St. Saphorin, until hunger drove us out of the car in search of food. Strangely enough, restaurants in this part of the world stop serving lunch at 1:30 or 2:00. For those of us who got up and breakfasted rather late, 1:30 is too early for lunch. We were faced with finding a restaurant that was 1. Still serving and 2. Had somewhere to park. Luckily in Vevry just near Montreux, we found a large Italian resto that would give us some pasta but not pizza, the ovens being cold. Sounded good to us and we sat down. The big surprise came when I opened my menu. There in the long list of pastas was one called Shania Twain. Now you all know that Ms. Twain is Canada’s first lady of country music (although this fact escaped Ray and Denny to our horror) and that she and her ex (Mutt) have a chateau in Switzerland. Well guess what – we were at her local pizzeria. The waitress even explained that Ms. Twain was often there and she pointed out her favourite dishes. I chose not one of her favourites but a very good “Sicilian” with eggplant and basil and lots of cheese. I told the waitress that the next time Shania was there that she should let her know that I, a fellow Canadian, highly recommended the Sicilian.

Yvoire

Yvoire

We continued on our trip around the lake and, having lunched late and a lot, had cheese and our new wine for dinner. Sunday we set out for France, which is a very small undertaking since we could walk to France from Hermance in about 15 minutes or less. Farther down on the lake is the medieval town of Yvoire. It is a little bijou right on the lake. The local château is still occupied by the Yvoires but they have opened their kitchen garden to visitors and organized it into le Jardin des cinq sens (The Garden of the Five Senses). Birds and water features cater to hearing, various plants provide the fodder for the other senses. I had visited the garden during the week but Denny, who loves gardening, spent a happy hour letting her senses be assailed.

Next week we go to Fribourg where Michael is giving a talk at the University. It is supposed to be a beautiful city and we’ll go to another part of la Suisse. In just 3 weeks we will be on the way Munich. Tempus fugit!

P.S. We have been on our trip around La Suisse. We had a long what in Canada would have been Thanksgiving weekend and even ate turkey once. We visited galleries and museums and ate at great, medium and fair restaurants, saw more amazing mountains and lakes thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Now it is time to wrap up our last visits around here (keeping in mind that Michael spends most of his days glued to his computer) and pack up our growing stock of stuff and think about heading off to Munich.

Michael and the Matterhorn

Michael and the Matterhorn

Maureen and the Matterhorn

Maureen and the Matterhorn

Michael and wiessbier contemplating the Matterhorn

Michael and wiessbier contemplating the Matterhorn

Michael and wiessbier contemplating the Matterhorn

Maureen and wiessbier and Matterhorn

Editor’s note: If you missed the earlier installments of my mom’s travel journal, you can check them out here. My parents head for Munich at the end of this week, so look for one final Germany installment before they’re back province-side (does that work?).  As you can see from the above, they hung out by the Matterhorn and drank some beer, which is in my opinion probably the best way to see it.  It’s definitely the safest anyway.

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Vicarious Travel Log #5: France Part 2

This is the 5th installment of my mother’s travel journal that she’s sharing with me here on T-Lex.  They’ve moved on to Switzerland now, and there are some new pictures up in their Flickr stream (see below, and click to access entire photo stream).  If you’ve missed the other parts, you can check them out here.

Laurent's House in Croussac

August 21, 2010.   Croussac.

30 degrees and sunny.

Swallows:

Yesterday the baby swallows learned to fly. Up until now they were triangular yellow mouths demanding gratification from their tireless parents who swooped in and out of the barn window following a flight path out over the valley around and back. Perhaps every mission was successful though there is no evidence of fewer bugs. The parent swallows chose well for the first flight day. It was warm and very calm. Where before we had seen only two birds working tirelessly to feed their brood, now there was a flutter of them playing in the sky, flopping frantic wings and getting the hang of gliding. We watched as they made their re-entry into the barn. After the sky, the entrance through a half open window is like threading a needle. There were several close calls but all seemed to get the idea and the fact. What if raising our children were like that … an intense period of feeding demanding mouths, one flying lesson, and they’re away. Oops – I just heard the demanding chirps in the barn. The first lessons are just flying. Flying AND catching dinner comes later. Fair enough.

Pharmacies:

In Europe (at least in France and Germany) pharmacies are for drugs and perfume. All the other stuff we buy at drugstores – toothpaste, shampoo, hair gel, make-up – you buy at another store. Pharmacies are for drugs (herbal treatments as well) and for some bizarre reason, perfume. All over France you can easily spy, because there are so many of them, the green neon cross that indicates a pharmacy. We went into one in Tulle a couple of days ago. I may as well tell you what we wanted ‘cause half of France knows. We have reached an age where we like to keep some regular habits. To this end (oh dear) we take dietary fibre supplements. This sort of thing you locate in the aisles of Shopper’s Drug Mart, throw it into your shopping cart and you’re off. In the French pharmacy you are greeted by one of many white coated helpers who ask you in a loud voice what he/she can do to help you. You are not allowed to touch anything in the store (but the perfume) and most of the wares are secreted away behind shelves of (you got it) perfume. Since Beaudelaire never addressed the importance of regular evacuation of one’s bowels, the vocabulary for psyllium husks eluded me. (Turns out in French it is psyllium.) I was directed to the “one who spoke English”. She proceeded to say very loudly and in very broken English and mostly French what the solution is for constipation. By then everyone in the store was looking benignly at us and I, being the supportive wife I am, turned to Michael and asked which of the proffered options (none of which was really what we wanted) HE wanted. After that I asked for aspirin ‘cause I really needed one and was quickly offered a package of 10 extra strength which turned out to be the sort you dissolve in water. North America could certainly show Europe how to buy drugs.

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Vicarious Travel Log #4: France, Part 1

This is the 4th installment of my mother’s travel log.  You can find the previous parts here.  Free wifi being what it is in France, they’re having trouble providing pictures to illustrate their updates – so I continue to pull visual aids from the web.  That’s okay though because it makes me research the places they’ve visited and makes my vicarious experience that much more interesting.  As usual, feel free to leave comments – they enjoy hearing from you!

St. Gilles-Croix-de-Vie

St. Gilles-Croix-de-Vie

On August 1 we woke up in St. Gilles to cloudy skies so decided to head to our friend Laurent’s house. On the roads south it poured rain. August 1st is also coincidentally the beginning of the traditional French holiday time. The roads were full of trailors and vans full of food and pillows, kids and dogs, bikes and plastic sand toys. They were headed for their annual break on the sea side or in the mountains and even a deluge wasn’t going to dampen their spirits! We stopped at a service centre and although the lines were 30 people deep (and that was for the toilets) there were smiles everywhere.

We arrived at Laurent’s (our faithful Gloria GPS guiding us on narrow hilly roads) at mid afternoon. Laurent had e-mailed us that some cousins were visiting the house and they were Beatrice (cousine), Lorthaire (mari), Céleste (fille, 8 ans), Jean-Charles (cousin), Nathalie (femme), Louis (fils, 8 ans), Garance (fille, 2.5 mois), Bianca (chat siamois, 3 ans) eating apricot flan. We were immediately ushered in and given coffee and tart.

The house was built in 1874 and is built in a classic symmetrical shape; centre hall with rooms leading to the left and right, large windows evenly spaced. Unlike most of our centre hall plans, the stairs are in the back left corner and so wide they occupy the space of a room and lead up to the second floor and attic and down to the cellar. On the second floor there are six bedrooms – 3 large, 2 medium and 1 small as well as a large bathroom. We set up camp in an empty room and learned the idiosyncrasies of the house from Laurent’s cousins and their families who also took us out to dinner and fed us from their massive stores of food. The French have truly learned that armies travel on their stomachs.

We stayed a couple of days, repacked our stuff and set off back north to pick up my brother Pat and his wife Laura in Paris where that economical and reliable Air Transat had deposited them at Terminal 3 of Charles de Gaulle airport. (I wonder if I can get a product placement payment?)

North-Western Regions of France

North-Western Regions of France

By now the sun had returned and we set off to explore north/north western France (Normandy and Brittany) in the sunshine. Just as well the sun shone because we went first to Dieppe and the Canadian war cemetery there. It is a beautifully kept place planted with flowers, mostly rose bushes. The majority of the graves were of boys the ages of our sons (20 to 24) so it was particularly moving even though our own fathers were too young to be directly involved in the second world war.

Canadian War Cemetery at Dieppe

Canadian War Cemetery at Dieppe

Later, Pat and Laura jet lagged it to bed and Michael and I enjoyed a great meal at the little hotel where we were staying. We lucked out there. The hotel was supposedly a 2 star. As a hotel it was a reach for that second star but the dining room was another matter. Soon after we sat down it became clear that this place was a favourite in the neighbourhood. There were family special occasions being celebrated, a group of regulars as well as people like us, passing tourists. We enjoyed our meal immensely.

The next day, we set off for another war memorial at Juno beach where the Canadian troops landed on D-Day. There is a very good museum manned by Canadian university students who lead groups around the museum and onto the beach and through the remaining German bunker, explaining how and why things happened. We were left wondering how any of the soldiers managed to get ashore given the dangerous traps all along the beach.

Tank at Juno Beach

Tank at Juno Beach

From there we tried to see a bit of Mt. St. Michel but there were so many visitors that we couldn’t find a place to stay. Mt. St. Michel is a monastery built out in the water which was at high tide completely surrounded by the ocean. There is a causeway now and the State is reworking the parking somehow to facilitate the millions of tourists who visit annually. We weren’t among them. Instead we found a hotel and went to St. Malo the following day. St. Malo is particularly close to Joshua’s heart because when he was in school in France when he was ten, his favourite song was about the sailors from St. Malo. If I remember correctly, the fishermen from St. Malo used to fish for cod on the Grand Banks. A long way to go for fish and chips.

St. Malo

St. Malo

We walked all around the walls (St. Malo is a fortified city and often the best way to see this kind of city is to walk around their walls and look down and into the windows of the housing in the town.) We all, except Michael who apparently didn’t want to be on our team, bought striped shirts so we all look just like traditional French sailors.

Chateau de Chenonceaux

Chateau de Chenonceaux

After St. Malo, we went inland to the Loire valley to see my favourite chateau, Chenonceaux. It is built over the river Cher which is a tributary of the Loire. During the first world war it was a hospital and during the second it was at one point on the front line offering a unique way of crossing in and out of enemy territory. Barring all this war history, it is a lovely, graceful “summer house” designed by a woman (Katherine Briçonnet). I keep forgetting that we usually travel in the off season and the numbers of visitors amaze me.

By then it was time to stop driving and we set off for Laurent’s house in Croussac. (Don’t try to find this place on a map. It has several houses and a population of about 15 including us. It is near Orliac de Bar, which may be on the map.) We settled in and had a bit of down time especially for our marvellous driver, Michael. Laurent’s family had moved on for the next part of their holiday (coincidently at St. Gilles Croix de Vie where they had been vacationing for many years.) They generously left a crammed fridge and larder so we sat back for a bit and looked at the hills and watched the Migs practice flying from some airstrip that may have been many kilometres away. One morning two elderly jets flew by at almost level with the windows of the house.

Market at Tulle

Market at Tulle

We visited the market at Tulle (which we found inferior to our beloved market in Marseille) and ate at a local restaurant. We had an exciting middle of the night trip by ambulance to the local hospital after Laura fell in the night landing hard on the back of her head and her neck. Good thing we bought a phone for emergencies. It was our first call. It was quite the trick trying to tell the ambulance service where exactly we were but they got here and after an x-ray determined that nothing was broken we returned home and had breakfast and another calm day to recover.

Oradour sur Glane

Oradour sur Glane

Our other outing was to a village called Oradour sur Glane. It is a village where near the end of the war  Nazis locked the entire population of about 650 in the church and burnt the village. There were mostly women and children. The town has been left as it was, cars in the street, burnt shops and houses only the stone walls left standing. It too was a sobering visit.

Pat and Laura were looking forward to visiting the champagne district and had arranged a tour. We took them to Limoges to buy tickets to Paris then on to Epernay for the tour. The next few days they were to visit Paris and then head home on August 20. It is August 19 as I write this and we have heard that they had a good visit oiled with champagne and were in a nice hotel in Paris. (thanks to Hotwire…another product placement fee?)

And us? Well we have been making visits to towns and cities in the area and working (Michael) and knitting and reading and writing postcards (me) and some days looking out at the rain and trying to keep warm. The temperature here fluctuates dramatically even during one 24 hour period. We are eating croissants and good cheese and trying wines we know nothing about.

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The Decision to Help

In my Psych 101 text there was a brief out line of the story of the murder of Kitty Genovese in March, 1964.  The story was an illustration of a certain appalling phenomenon of group psychology – the assumption that, when you’re surrounded by others and something happens that demands a reaction, “someone else will handle it.”  It’s a mentality that persists today, disappointingly, but hardly surprisingly – if it was happening then, of course it’s happening now.

I felt so grown up when I went off to university the first year.  When I think back on the thoughts and feelings I had now, however, I seem to myself almost painfully naive.  That story in my first year textbook really stuck with my 19-year-old self – obviously, since I can still call it up today.  At the time, it seemed totally unbelievable to me that 38 individuals in this woman’s neighbourhood could hear her cries for help and nobody did anything.  In fact, no one so much as called the police, so that, when Ms. Genovese’s murderer was scared off the first time, he was able to come back 20 minutes later and finish what he started. I know, this is old news to most of you, but at the time I’d never heard the story before, and I was horrified.  (Actually, thinking about it now, I’m pretty glad I was horrified at 19 – I’m glad I still had that much innocence left for that long, and I hope I never lose the capacity to be horrified by other people, strange as that may sound.)

What the story did for me was galvanize a resolution that stays with me to this day.  I will not be one of those 38 people.  And this is a resolution that I have called myself to act upon in the past.  It has seen me hovering just inside my apartment door with my phone in hand, listening to the yelling going on across the hall, silently bearing witness just in case it became violent (which thankfully it didn’t).  It has seen me and my brother help a sobbing woman get home on the streets of Munich and 3AM, despite a language barrier, an angry waiting husband, a tag-along drug addict, and the police (yeah, that’s a pretty long story).  I can also happily say that I’ve been in situations where, while ready to help, other people had already stepped in – sometimes the best thing you can do is just stay out of the way and monitor, as long as others have it under control.

I learned First Aid when I was eleven, so that I could be an extra-responsible babysitter.  I haven’t revisited those skills since then, and it’s something I should have done long ago.  Thomas and I are finally taking a course this weekend, and doing all the pre-reading exercises in the evenings this week has got me thinking about my resolution again in a bit of different light.  Being ready to call the cops is one thing, being trained to help in an emergency is quite another.  I’m realizing that it’s a huge responsibility to prepare yourself in this way, and the more I read, the more I hope I’m never in a situation where I have to use it.  At the same time, I feel like my resolution to be a helper needs some real back up – if I’m going to talk this talk, I’d better know how to walk.  On the other hand, I can see where taking on this responsibility might not be for everyone.

What I do wish, though, is that more people would give some serious thought to how they would act in a crisis, and establish early on at least a minimum of help they’re willing to give.  After all, tips to police can be anonymous if you don’t want to be identified.  For myself, I feel like the resolution not to walk away from a potential crisis made it easier for me to decide what to do when I was faced with one.  And I’m pretty sure that in one case I prevented someone from getting hurt.  At the very least I proved to strangers and myself that sometimes the other people who surround us daily actually do give a shit.

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Vicarious Travel Log #3: Gloria

This is the 3rd installment of my mom’s travel journal.  If you missed the last part, you can find it here.  They’ve also since started a Flickr photo stream to track their journey visually.  Here’s the first slideshow:

I neglected to tell you that we are not alone on our wandering through Europe. We have with us our invaluable and frequently annoying Gloria the GPS. Most of you already use this technology and are unmoved by its behaviour. Unfortunately, I was one of those little girls who named all dolls and stuffed animals and addressed them as if they were human so having something in the car that actually talks to you about your progress in real time needed to be named. As well Gloria seems to have a personality. She speaks with a pseudo-Australian accent since we find that one to be clearest and if we do not follow her instructions to a T she is at first a bit huffy then resigned to our pigheadedness. Thanks to her though we have successfully negotiated tiny lanes in Holland that led us between sunken fields of onions and found our way through the centres of crowded cities. I don’t know how we managed all those years without her. ( We think that many cities in Europe are benefiting from stimulus grants and tearing up streets all over the place. Reminds us of Guelph.)

From Bruges, we wandered back into France and started a mini-route to see Cathedrals starting in Reims. The cathedrals, like the roads, are constantly under repair and covered in scaffolding on at least part of the facade. It is interesting to see the progress the sandblasters are making. Much like their predecessors, they may not be alive to see their work finished. There is a French song that I think is called “La route des cathedrales” that talks about the stone carvers who followed the work from cathedral to cathedral. I am reminded of it while we wander through these magnificent buildings.

After Reims, we headed to Chartres. Its spires are visible from miles (kilometres) away over yellow fields of ripe grain. I think we have driven through the breadbasket of France. (For the farmers among you, the crops look very good.)

Then we decided to head for the Atlantic coast and came to a town called St. Gilles-Croix-de-Vie. We came here 20 years ago with the children on a trip from England to Germany. We had stayed in a little hotel down the coast and asked the young hotel keeper where he took his family to swim. He told us there was a very nice quiet beach here in this little town. Well in the interim most of France discovered it and it is full of holiday makers. The party outside our hotel room lasted until midnight and early this morning the market set up on the parking lot around the church opposite the hotel. We are at the corner where there is a CD seller and his plying his wares consists of playing snippets of popular songs over and over. Poor Lady Gaga never gets to finish her song. The aroma coming from the market is of pleasantly fresh fish. Michael had some excellent mussels yesterday and we bought some basic provisions for our stay at Laurent’s house. This afternoon we are going on a little boat trip out onto the ocean. It is overcast and cool about 22 degrees.

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Vicarious Travel Log #2: July 19 – 25, 2010

This is the second installment of my mom’s Travel Log, which we are posting up on T-Lex while they wander around Europe.  If you missed part one, you can check it out here.  For now I’m pilfering the illustrative photographs from the interwebs (you can see the original source by clicking on them), but my parents have promised authentic visual documentation of their travels soon (nudge, hint).

July 19, 2010 (continued) San Servolo, Venice

San Servolo

San Servolo

This evening was the conference dinner. It was held in a small courtyard and you could see the sea through an archway and the sky above. As it got darker, the sky went through a gamut of blues until it was midnight blue which, not surprisingly, is exactly as it sounds. Even drunken economists can’t influence that kind of magic and they are amiable drunks. (Those Finns sure can put it away.)

July 20, 2010.  San Servolo & Venice

Venice

Venice

Michael went to sessions in the morning and I sat around in courtyards and wandered around the island taking pictures, some of which Alexis will attach to these missives when we get around to sending them.

We had to leave the island because our room was just for the two first nights so we packed up and set off for Venice proper. Luckily we had Arthur Robson with us to help lug suitcases across San Marco Square to our hotel where we were met with a surprise. Our room had been taken so we were being upgraded to a five star hotel a short distance away. What a shame! We didn’t see the first hotel room but the upgrade was beautiful offering a bathroom entirely clad in marble (Italian no doubt). One could get used to that kind of luxury. (Never mind, we have since made up for it.) With Arthur, we wandered around looking for Peggy Guggenheim’s house which is now a museum. When we finally found it, it was closed so we wandered some more. Really wandering is the best thing to do in Venice. Every time you turn a corner there is another little bridge and a pretty view. Venice in July is only spoiled by all those tourists. They were there from everywhere. Families with several children, lots of strollers and to my surprise and admiration, I saw quite a few visitors in wheelchairs. I really admire the kind of determination it takes to visit Venice in a wheelchair and with small children for that matter. The last time we were here, it was March and was cool and relatively empty. Our children and Mom were with us and I think they really enjoyed our visit. It was great this time but it was very hot and humid and FULL of tourists. It was such a pleasure to retire to our fancy hotel when we got too hot and overwhelmed. We returned to see Peggy’s house and the horse and rider did not disappoint. That is one happy rider. Our Venice stay lasted until July 23 and while it is so beautiful, we were ready to leave for cooler Munich to pick up the car and set off on the next leg of our journey.

24, 2010.  Munich, Germany.

Munich

Munich

Munich was indeed cooler and even more humid than Venice…..it was pouring rain. We did venture off armed with our umbrellas to the city centre. I must admit that it is summer sale time in Europe and I do have my favourite store in Munich that was having some great sales (no shoes which should surprise those of you who know me well…..just wait until we are back in Munich in the late fall.)

July 25, 2010.  Colmar, France.

Colmar

Colmar

In our Hyundai station wagon we set off through the rain toward France. We decided to visit Colmar in Alsace where I was a “jeune fille au pair” several decades ago. It is a fairytale place with half timbered houses and cobble streets. It has become more of a tourist destination since I lived there but it was Sunday evening as we re-found places that were once well known so it wasn’t too crowded. The city is keeping itself very tidy to encourage visitors and it was full of lush flower boxes. A good visit.

July 26, 2010.  Sluis, Netherlands.

Back in the car and off to Belgium, a country we have never visited even though Michael’s grandparents came from there. We wanted to see the North Sea so we veered north as far as possible. Who knew that half of Belgium vacations there and it was impossible to see the sea for all the fancy buildings built along the seafront. The traffic was horrific so we tried to escape. Soon I noticed that all the cars we were seeing had Dutch plates. We were in Holland! Two new countries in one day. Europe is great for that. Tired of one country, off to another. Too bad about the passport stamps though to help you remember where and when you have been somewhere. We saw no indication that we had changed countries.
So here we are in Holland staying in an old hotel that luckily has wireless internet. We even talked to Alexis on Skype yesterday.

Bruges

Bruges

Today we zipped back into Belgium to go to Bruges. It, too, is a picturesque city. It is also full of tourists. (There seems to be a theme in my tale. Tourists get in the way of my enjoying beautiful European cities. Why can’t they stay home and let me have an unhampered view of things? Oh well, we are here for a while and we will outstay the tourist season.)

Tomorrow we are off to wander Europe again. Not sure where just yet but I will let you know.

Check out the next installment of the Vicarious Travel Log here.

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Worth 90+ minutes of your life

I got a Measles-Mumps-Rubella booster shot today (fun!) to make sure all my immunizations are up to date, then came home, played stick-tug-of-war in the park with the dog (I won!), ate lunch, and skyped with my parents who have (inadvertently – according to them, their sat-nav doesn’t indicate European borders) wound up in the Netherlands.

Now it’s after 3 and I’m sitting down to write, but I’m feeling a little tired and hot – an after-effect of being injected with 3 super-fun diseases? Perhaps.  Either way, all I’m feeling up to right now is jotting some notes… and maybe making a quick list post.  Yeah list post!

Let’s talk about movies.  As a film major I am almost ridiculously well qualified to do this.  You are in good hands.

In the theatre:

Inception

Inception

We saw Inception on Saturday, and thought it was pretty well done.  We only had a couple of complaints that aren’t worth getting into, and Jason Kottke, of kottke.org, pointed out another one for me today – but over all I’d say worth the trek, and your $12.50.

Babies

Babies

You might have to go a little further afield than your local Galaxy to catch this one, but Babies is another good choice if you feel in the need of a reality check, but are tired of preachy docs – this catches the kids before they can even talk, so you’re golden.

How to Train your Dragon

How to Train your Dragon

If you can still find this in a theatre, also well worth it – especially in 3D because of the flying scenes.  Anything with flying + 3D will have me in the theatre, guaranteed.  Also, Jay Baruchel is just as adorable now as he was in My Hometown, not to date myself or anything.  Does anyone else miss Ready or Not?

In our living room

We get our DVD rentals in the mail from Zip.ca.  We’ve been doing this for a few years now and have nothing but good things to say about the service – especially now that they seem to have resolved their web server issues.  Some Zip missives we’ve received lately that we’ve enjoyed:

Paper Heart

Paper Heart

Paper Heart: This did not make me like Michael Cera any more than I do – I’m waiting for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to do that.  It did kind of make me want to be best friends with Charlyne Yi though, or at least hang out at the same house parties as her.

Saving Grace

Saving Grace

This one actually just arrived in the mail, but we’ve both seen it before, and just felt a need for a refresher.  Brilliant comedy, plus I’m a sucker for an elegant title…

Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday

I personally believe you shouldn’t go more than a few years without reintroducing a little Audrey into your life.  Roman Holiday is always just as charming as the first time you saw it.  Aren’t you all just so glad that they had the good sense to immortalize Gregory Peck on celluloid?  Did you know he also has an acting grandson?  Yeppers.  If the last name didn’t tip you off, the eyebrows would’ve.

The Answer Man

The Answer Man

The Answer Man: a bit trite? Perhaps. But all the same, exactly what it says on the box, and a strong enough cast to make it worth your while.  You know you love Jeff Daniels, and Olivia Thirlby dressed up as a giant spine doesn’t hurt either.

I think that’s about it for now don’t you?  Yes you do.

Have suggestions for our Zip List? Leave’em in comments!

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Vicarious Travel Log #1: July 17 – 19, 2010

Last Saturday, my parents closed up their house and got on a plane for EuropeThey won’t be back for 5 months.  I know – whoa! right?  Actually, relatively speaking 5 months is a short trip for them.  Most of the extensive traveling they‘ve done has been in 11 – 12 month periods.  Also, for most of it, I’ve gone with them.  The other big difference this time is that they left my brother and I at home.  Jerks.

Lex & Josh

I know, how could they leave all this cuteness behind? J/K parents.

My father, as a university prof, takes a sabbatical every 7 years, and my parents have always taken advantage of this opportunity to whisk us off to some foreign locale.  I think this was a pretty good plan on their part.  Or at least now I do.  I had a different opinion at the ages of 6 and 13, but I’ve grown to see the wisdom in the intervening years.

This time, Mom & Dad (Maureen & Michael for you non-offspring types) are making the rounds in Europe: Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, and this morning they emailed me to let me know they’re headed to Belgium tomorrow.  I tried to convince my mom to let me set her up with her very own travel-blog, but we compromised with this – she’ll be emailing me updates over the next several months, and I’ll be posting them here, in a T-Lex Vicarious Travel Log series.  I can’t pretend I’m not greedy for the content.  Also now you’ll all understand where I get my rapier wit.

So without further ado, I’m handing over the reigns to Mom/Maureen:

July 17, 2010. Guelph, Ontario.

Guelph

Our flight didn’t leave until 8:05 pm but Red Car insisted on picking us up at 3:30 pm. We spent the morning doing last minute things like garbage and draping the rest of the furniture in old sheets and tablecloths. The house looks as if it is inhabited by colourful ghosts. It will surely confuse any thieves who peek in the windows about our presence.

The Red Car driver was an Indy driver manqué (Sorry no accent, this keyboard has no number pad and that is the only way I do accents. Wait a minute, the accent has miraculously appeared on this new laptop!) and got us to the airport in record time. The wait was long but punctuated by an amusing AirCanada staff member who, in an East Indian accent modified by some Caribbean island, made the passengers on a flight to London, Heathrow respect the boarding by row process by yelling insults and threats at the people who tried to board out of turn. She was not really mean but she did get herself into an “if, then” statement that promised some kind of severe retribution for those who didn’t obey the rules. (After they had all boarded, in the right order, I went to the desk to tell her that I wanted her to board any flight I ever take. You could hear her laugh all over the airport and when she went off duty, she made a point of waving good bye to me. She was NOT on duty when we finally boarded.)

The flight to Munich was uneventful though the fact that a band from Paris, Ontario, was giddily boarded with us first gave me pause. They were in fact very well behaved and we even got some sleep over the Atlantic.

Munich’s airport is one we know quite well. It has some lovely outdoor space that is easily accessible so we went out for a coffee and some fresh quite cool air, stored our extra suitcases, strolled around, looked in the shops, ate some lunch then found a space where we took a little nap. The flight from Munich to Venice is just under an hour so we were very soon in much more hot and steamy conditions. We took a water bus into San Marco and transferred right away to the water bus for the island where the conference is being held. It was nice to see the trip out a window at ground/sea level but it was over an hour and it was quite hot lugging around the luggage that came with us.

July 18, 2010. San Servolo, Venice.

San Servolo

Though we hadn’t been to bed, it was by now the next day. Our room on the island is really a residence room but much nicer and cleaner than most residences I have seen AND it is airconditioned. We cooled down, showered and changed and went off in search of food. There is a cafeteria service for residents so the food is not great so far but it is OK. We sat by a semi-circular window that looked right out onto the water. This island is entirely the conference/university. Many of the buildings, like the restaurant, are right on the water. It may have been a monastery at some point. I should really look it up. After dinner we walked around the whole island (It isn’t very big.) It was very quiet. I am sure all the young people had taken off for Venice proper for a wilder time that we wanted. The light of the setting sun on the buildings of Lido which is directly opposite was magical. Tonight (That is tomorrow night which is what it is for the jet-lagged. ) I will be prepared with my camera.

July 19, 2010. San Servolo, Venice.

San Servolo

This morning we awoke to an even warmer sunny day. Though I am blaming my confusing time reference on jet-lag, we are really not too bad. We got up at 8:00 am local time and had breakfast and attended the morning sessions of the CES/IFO conference. I went too since our friend Arthur Robson was the keynote speaker and because I actually like this Economics stuff but the morning was sufficient for me. Michael has gone off to the afternoon session and I am sitting in air conditioned comfort writing about our trip. My next task is to figure out how to contact my brother to see if he can bring my laptop’s cord with him when he and Laura come on August 5. My laptop is unused to travelling so it carelessly forgot its cord when I packed it up. All our music is on my laptop so if Michael doesn’t want to listen to me sing for five months he had better help me work this little conundrum out.

That’s it for now! Stay tuned for the next installment.  Also feel free to leave comments here if you like – they will reach her, promise, and we luurrrve the traffic.

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Check out the next chapter of their European adventure here.

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And now it’s out there

I haven’t been writing for T-Lex very much lately.  Okay that’s obvious, but what I mean is, I haven’t been writing T-Lex in my head at all either.  There’s lots of stuff usually spinning around in my head that’s gearing up for a T-Lex post, but lately it’s been supplanted.  The reason is that I’m working on a different writing project.  It’s taking up most of my days lately.  I’ve been writing for hours and hours, and I’m determined not to stop until its finished.  Doesn’t that sound scary?  It does to me.  It’s bigger than anything I’ve ever written, and it’s consuming most of my thought processes.  A bit overwhelming actually.

And yet… it’s not like I haven’t felt like this before.  From the time I was about eight years old, all I wanted to do was write.  All through school, I wrote and wrote. Story after story.  I remember sitting in grade 10 history in the mornings and writing out a story, while my seat mate read the words over my shoulder as I put them down on paper.  As soon as I could stop paying attention in class, out came the notebook and the current story.

Then somewhere, during university I think, I stopped.  Of course I wrote papers, and presentations, and exams… and websites.  But I stopped writing stories, unless they were for an assignment in a creative writing class (and those I did write I didn’t like, nor did the teacher – in classes people liked my poetry better, believe it or not).  I stopped writing stories for myself.  There was always something in the way.  Life does that I guess.

Then last week, almost abruptly, there was nothing standing in the way anymore, and I began to write.  It was quite shocking actually, and I admit I may have had a bit of a panic attack on or around Thursday night.  There’s something terrifying and exhilarating in the thought that I could, if I chose, dedicate the next two months to writing.  Every day, just sitting down with my tiny ancient iBook and banging out page after page.  Again, overwhelming… I choke up a little bit just thinking about it.  Luckily for me, Thomas is always there to tell me that my choices are okay.  Everything is okay.

And truthfully it is.  Everything I’m doing right now – all these things that I used to do, the making, the writing, the sketching, that used to be such integral parts of how I defined myself, that I’m just now really getting back to – is making me feel more at peace than I can remember being.  I know, talking to me these days, reading what I put out there – it’s such an annoying love-in isn’t it?  I apologize.  But I know if I don’t stop from time to time, if I don’t put this stuff out there so that I can revisit it later, if I bury myself completely in these things that I love so much, that life will swoop in again without me noticing.  And this moment, these peaceful days, with my husband, my work (MY work), and of course our absolutely ridiculous dog, deserve recognition – no matter what other great things might come next.

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