Sunday, 11 August 2019

Norway ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ด & Iceland ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ธ

We hadn’t seen our friend Rob in years but he’s one of those people you can vibe with quickly. He and his partner Michael were amazing hosts, taking our family in for six nights in Oslo. They made us feel totally at home, and showed us around their city. 

Oslo is #goals for other cities. It’s a scenic city on the ocean, with a river and parks, designed thoughtfully and creatively. In front of one neighbourhood library there is a converted cargo container that acts as an outdoor room for the summer, stocked with children’s books and games. To top it off, they sell waffles, coffee, and lemonade. We must’ve eaten two jars of jam as a crew. Another library was « kids only » so we had to chill outside while the girls played for an hour or so - sitting in cable cars, exploring little reading nooks, making crafts. 

We also all enjoyed in The Kon-Tiki Museum, with the actual raft on display. It brought a lot of our travel experiences together with references to Rapa Nui, Raroia, and Ecuador. Thor Heyerdahl: what a paladin — the ambition, the hutzpah, the sticktoitiveness! The Kon-Tiki Expedition remains an inspiration. Available at a library near you. 

Our three day stopover in Iceland gave us enough time to drive around and see some of its otherworldly geography. Lava fields, dormant volcanos in the distance, sweeping fields, waterfalls, active geysers, and thermal springs — and that’s just the bit we saw. 

We spent a day at one of Reykjavik’s seventeen(!) pool complexes. The kids relished the water slide and we hopped from pool to pool as the temperature suited. Geothermal heat is a swimmer’s delight. Iceland was a calm, peaceful place to wrap up our trip. It would be nice to return there for hiking someday. 

In the last six months, we’ve done many wonderful things. It has been exciting, challenging, surreal, yet very real. Home is, of course, the last stop on our trip, and we are all ready to enjoy being back in Nova Scotia. 

Friday, 2 August 2019

Venice ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น & Paris ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท

We spent a few days in Venice, where we tried to stay cool during the heatwave days, and went exploring the labyrinth of streets in the evenings. We stayed in Cannaregio (the Jewish Ghetto), which was the perfect neighbourhood for calm walks far enough from the main roads. The architecture of Venice is eye candy, and the gelato is fantastic. Just like we did at DisneySea, we took a gondola ride. This time it was just us, and the gondolier told us about the community and its history. 

We went to Murano one day and spent time at a glass jewelry workshop. We also went to San Marco’s Square where the girls fed pigeons. 

From Venice it was actually quite a gruelling journey to Paris. We had booked an overnight train, which would have been very comfortable, but there was a landslide in France that made the track impassable. So the new deal was a train to Milan, then an overnight bus to Paris. Sadly it was one step up from a school bus and was stopped at the French border because it didn’t meet the environmental standards. We waited five hours for the replacement bus, then made our way to Paris, where there was a heat wave. 

Luckily our AirBnb was another great one, a whimsical apartment in Montmartre with loads of fun stuff to look at and toys for the kids. To beat the heat, we went to the Louvre to appreciate the air conditioning, and the art. The Egyptian section is my favourite. We also found a community pool and went there three times during the week. 

When the weekend came, we were lucky to get visitors! James and Naomi zipped over from London. What a pleasure to spend time with family, especially these two legends! We had a great time exploring the city: la Tour Eiffel, great lunch, Shakespeare & Co bookstore, an amusement park. It was fun to spend time together and we were sad to see them go. 

Monday, 22 July 2019

Greece ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ท: Elika, Kalamata, Olympia, Delphi, and Athens

Greece: Elika, Kalamata, Olympia, Delphi, and Athens ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ท

With two weeks in Greece, we decided to spend half our time on the Peloponnese, half in Delphi and Athens. We were lucky to spend the first few days with our friend Labi, whose family is from Elika, a small beautiful village on the coast. What a treat to hang out with a friend from home after five months on the road! He showed us around town, took us to the best beaches, and restaurants, and pointed us in the right direction for the next stops. 

Our favourite restaurant in Greece was in Elika where we enjoyed bread & olive oil, Greek salad, saganaki, slow roasted pork, eggplant tapenade, and tzatziki. Wow. The ingredients are fresh, local, and full of flavour. 

We also checked out nearby Monemvasia, a town carved into a mountain-island. We hiked up the mountain for the panoramic view of the gradient blues of the Mediterranean, and walked through ancient tunnels and buildings. 

We spent a couple of nights in Kalamata, a funky city with a lively waterfront, lots of beachfront restaurants, a fair, and a big gated play area for kids that serves drinks to the parents. (I could see this on the Dartmouth waterfront.) The downtown beach is stunning of course (that blue sea again), and the water is perfect for swimming. 

Next we went to Olympia and walked around the ruins of the ancient Olympics. We got there nice and early as to avoid a few thousand more tourists. After our tour, we splashed out in a hilltop hotel with an huge pool. 

We left the peninsula to go back towards Athens, stopping in Delphi for two nights to see the elaborate ruins at the site of the famous oracle. The mountaintop town itself is sleepy, quaint, and full of stray cats.

Finally, Athens. It’s quite surreal to get off the metro, stroll up a pedestrian street, round a corner and see The Acropolis. It’s thousands of years old and beautiful, especially when it’s illuminated at night. We walked around the neighbourhood, went to the archeological museum, toured the Agora, and on the last day toured The Acropolis itself. 

The rest of our time there we spent relaxing in our inspiringly decorated AirBnb. Our host had greeted us the first night with « the blessing », a shot of Greek grappa, and given us lots of information about the neighbourhood and sites. The next day he gave us a walking and snacking tour, where we sampled the best of the pastries, fetas, olives, etc. 

We loved Greece. It was easy to travel, and we were lucky to have great hosts along the way. My dad’s papou was from Greece, and I knew a bit about Greek culture from my American cousins, so I enjoyed the feeling of connecting to more roots. (I also have been a DHS Spartan since ancient times, and I had to stop myself from filling up a suitcase with Sparta merchandise.) 

Just a few more stops on the way home...๐Ÿ˜ฝ

Sunday, 7 July 2019

South Africa ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ: The Kruger, and Johannesburg

We spent a week in South Africa ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ, mainly to go to Kruger National Park, where we stayed for five nights in nice little huts similar to the yurts in Canadian National Parks, but with bathrooms and kitchenettes. There were also excellent restaurants at every site. The park is 20,000 square km (that’s about four Prince Edward Islands)! The campsites are connected by paved roads, so every day we’d get up early, pack up, and drive our rented SUV for hours to the next camp, and look for wildlife. 

We drove and drove through beautiful and sometimes harsh-looking landscapes, dry and hot, seeking the animals. It was totally exhilarating to see gigantic elephants up close, in the wild, and quite shocking to see herds of forty or fifty of them. ๐Ÿ˜We saw dazzles of zebras by the hundreds, flipping their tales incessantly, and many alert ungulates mingling — kudus, impalas, wildebeest.  ๐Ÿฆ“๐ŸฆŒBrooding buffalos will stare you down for a joke. ๐ŸƒThe big cats were definitely the most difficult to see, but we were lucky enough to see five cheetahs cross the road right in front of us, one leopard extremely well camouflaged in the grass, and four sleeping lions a few meters from the road. ๐Ÿ†๐ŸฆWe saw a few rhinos very close to the road, sadly still highly in danger of poaching. ๐ŸฆThere were also many hippos in the water and they’re quite daunting. ๐Ÿฆ›๐Ÿฆ›

Sometimes warthogs and hyenas get put on the park’s homely list, but they are adorable, especially the babies. ๐Ÿ—Baboons have an edgy silliness. Giraffes just seem like sweethearts, and we quoted the Teen Titans « Leg Day » episode whenever we saw them (Look-a-dem legs! Look at them legs — they’re amazing!). ๐Ÿฆ’๐Ÿฆต๐Ÿฝ๐Ÿฆต๐Ÿฝ

We were in and out of the city of Johannesburg quickly (2 nights at each end). Every South African we talked to was kind and helpful, and without fail, they wished us a great stay, and reminded us to keep our wits about us, lock everything, and be vigilant. Joburg is a vibrant, sophisticated city, but with a traumatic colonial history, vast economic disparity, and a dangerously high crime rate. We managed to go to Nelson Mandela Square, a plaza connected to a fancy mall. Accommodations and food were of high quality at very affordable prices by Canadian standards. I hope South Africa becomes more stable, that its living conditions improve, and that more people can visit this amazing place safely. ๐Ÿ–ค

Norway ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ด & Iceland ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ธ

We hadn’t seen our friend Rob in years but he’s one of those people you can vibe with quickly. He and his partner Michael were amazing host...