Canada to Dalian, China

OK, flying from Canada should be fun right?
I flew on March 31st. I left -15º C and 8 cm of fresh snow.
Flight from Vancouver boarded on time. Went through a de-icing procedure, started to taxi to the runway and the plane stopped. No movement for 10 minutes, planes were taking off and landing. Seats were in the upright position with trays locked away, no electronic devices were being used. We waited and waited. Finally an announcement that we were headed back to the gate.

The announcement stated that one of the flaps wasn’t responding correctly. Last time I left Vancouver to Thailand I had a delay due to a mechanical issue as well.

Adventures can begin at home. 30 minutes later after they had reset the flap, we took off. Yee-Haw flying again.

I was fortunate enough to have 2 empty seats next to me. Great for a 14 hour spree of uncomfortable lie-down airplane napping. The new Bose in ear noise cancelling headphones worked great! Blocking out a lot of noise. It was an otherwise uneventful trip with Air Canada to Seoul, Korea.

London, Gatwick and Back to Canada

14 Nov.


Woke up tired. Boys grumbled and eventually got up. Had the same wonderful British breakfast as the beginning of the trip.


Last few hours in Europe, packed up and took the shuttle to the airport. Easy check-in at the Thomas Cook counter. Security check was thorough, Brendan beeped going through and was searched, his shoes probably set the machine off.


Flight to Toronto was very long. Customs and immigration were fine. Called the Carlingview Inn for a shuttle, checked in, went for a swim, a little Greek food, then bed and asleep by 20:30 Toronto time.


That is the end of the European trip with Carl and the Boys and we are presently flying to Calgary on WestJet.


I will post pictures and edit this Blog for a little while longer. I have forgotten a few things and the Boys entries will have to be added – they have used both written and verbal, via iPod, diaries.


Take care, have a peaceful and fulfilling life, and do not forget that adventures start from home and may occur at anytime and anyplace.


Carl and the Boys

Brussels and the Chunnel to London

13 Nov.


Woke up to rain in Brussels. Not much time to sea the nuclearium or the Little Boy Peeing sculpture. We found a café beside the hotel that had just opened at 9:00 and we had a basic breakfast.


Off to the train station to catch the train to London.


Great train, great ride, terrific service, food was wonderful, channel was dark and made our ears pop. Didn’t know that the train travelled at 185kph in the tunnel and the wind outside the train was 200kph.


The conductor gave the boys a great education, and me, on the speed, the wind, the depth- only 20-50m under the sea floor. We were 500m – 1.5km below sea level. There are three tunnels. The two outer ones for the trains are 40m apart, and the smaller centre one has cars that travel in it for emergencies. If a train has to stop, all trains stop in both directions.


We arrived at London St. Pancras station to find the Victoria line closed for engineering work. We had to find an alternate route to our Gatwick hotel. The line ups to get tickets were incredibly long, the ticket booths were closed. I chose to walk to another station with the boys.


The line ups were far shorter and in no time we were off on the tube to Gatwick Airport.


Shuttled to the Holiday Inn hotel. We were greeted by a man in a red tuxedo- something new I said to the fellow. He nodded but he was for a wedding reception. We were bushed (tired). Decided to take the boys to Tesco for a quick gant. Outside the hotel sat a new Black RangeRover with ribbons and a bow on it.


At Tesco I bought them another Lego toy figure. The sidewalk next to the road was odd, it was small, covered in branches from overhanging trees and shrubs, and almost no one was walking on it. Beyond the trees and shrubs lay open green pastures for the horses, covered in blankets.


We ate at the hotel and had a wonderful meal, for some reason they discounted the bill by %15.

Amsterdam and a Late Night Dash to Brussels in the Rain

12 Nov.


For breakfast we visited one of the oldest bakeries in Amsterdam, they still grind their flour- viewing it through a window. We picked up some buns, and apple???? Baked apple inside dough – num, nums – Then off to a café around the corner to have a morning coffee and our recently purchased nibbles.


We headed to the subway and noticed a chocolaterie on a side street. We went in to get letters for Liam and Brendan. The boys both wanted white chocolate, plain with no decorations or nuts. The fancy ones did not appeal to them. They had none made but agreed to make them for us later in the day.


We subwayed our way to Waterlooplein, which was closed due to the wind storm that shook the roof of the apartment the night before and during the early morning hours. I could feel the roof and house move during some of the gusts. Walked by the Rembrandt museum – boys did not want to go in. Walked by the crooked café- which is very, very crooked and served as an entry point into Amsterdam in the past. Boys were tired. We took a few back streets and ended up in a café opposite the Central Station. We had some tea and I went to pick up the custom white chocolate letters from the chocolaterie we had visited in the morning.


I split up from the boys leaving them in the care of my sister and we agreed to meet at the Brouwerie ???? A well known old brewery in an old windmill. I took the tram and arrived early, chocolate letters in tow.


After the boys arrived we head to the End of The World restaurant. This restaurant is on a boat in the harbour. You have to show at 18:00 or shortly thereafter. Otherwise they will not have food for you, they make only so many meals. The place is run by volunteers and when you enter you have your name written down and pay for your meal, then grab a seat and wait for the server to call your name. The boys and I had the chicken satay stir fry with noodles, my sister had the stir fry vegetarian meal. They were both tasty and for €7-8 a very good deal. The boat was filled to capacity with regular clients. The boat is only open 3-4 days a week.


Around 20:00 we were off in a car rental to Brussels.


The rain was torrential and driving difficult, however after a few hours we arrived in Brussels and checked into the Hôtel Paris, near the Gare midi train station.

Paris to Amsterdam and Excellent Spanish Cuisine

Remembrance Day 11 Nov.


Most of the shops are closed. It is a National Holiday.


We went to the train station in a slight drizzle and waited for our train to Amsterdam. People, people, people everywhere, whistles blowing, announcements blaring, click clack of the train schedule sign changing. Slow motion of the clocks turning, cold breeze flowing through the open doors of the station, lack of seating – or sitting on cold steel of barricades around pillars.


Click clack, then it happens, the platform number magically appears and off we go to our coach. On the way 3 undercover police, 2 women and 1 male, flash their badges to a couple of men and pull them aside under a sign, on the platform. Pickpockets? Thieves? Drugs? Innocents? We will never know, as we shuffle through the people to find our coach and seats. Ahhh our coach, tickets please. They are scrutinized by a pleasant French conductor. Entreé, we place our luggage and sit in our seats aboard Thalys railways.


Thalys gives you free wifi access on board their trains. Nice feature. We pull away from the station and almost immediately we are served food and drink. They seem to be in a rush- turns out they have no power to heat water for the coffee and are short handed. One fellow looking like he was called in quickly did not have a uniform on, but knew what he was doing, and was wearing his leather jacket.


Again more scenery, more empty buildings and factories – is the economy doing well here? Passing into Belgium the landscape changes, smaller homes, more industry- perhaps just along the rail lines.


The boys finally see windmills, the old style ones- not the electric wind generators, Jeeze we must be in Holland (Netherlands). Lots of greenhouses, miles of them it seems, littering the fields near the tracks. Then industry, more population, finally Amsterdam.


We got off the train and voilà standing on the platform was my sister and her son. We descended to the subway/metro and exited a few minutes later at Wiebautstraat???? Another light drizzly evening as we exited the station and walked to a nearby apartment overlooking the Amstel river. The house was a Kraak / squat from 30 years ago and the main tenant pays rent to the government. More like a rooming house and artist studio (a painter is the main tenant). We slept in a loft in the attic/ upper floor of the 3 story building.


Out into the on-again, off-again rain we followed the Amstel to a bridge and eventually caught a tram to downtown Amsterdam. We went into a department store that had The Black Petes climbing up and down ropes with Christmas gifts, in the atrium. The Dutch have Sinta Claus and The Black Petes. These Petes take away bad / naughty children and their gifts. Children also get chocolate initials of their names. (yummy)


On the way to dinner we heard a loud clap of thunder followed by lightning, then a torrential downpour. My little birdie had told me to bring umbrellas, which I did, and up they went. We still got soaked. The back of my legs were drenched when we got to the restaurant. The boys just wanted to play in the rain.


We visited the best Spanish restaurant in Amsterdam, according to my sister who had spent around 25 years in Amsterdam. Yes! The food was excellent, and filling. We took home a doggie bag for later. We had: calamari that were cripsy, tender, slightly spicy and not overcooked; garlic shrimp – tender and perfectly cooked; grilled shrimp; Spanish omellette that was massive, with chopped potato; seafood paella with large pieces of fish, potato, shrimp, squid rings, and more; and fried hake. A lot of food for the 5 of us.


After dinner we walked through the old parts of Amsterdam, found a small café and had tea and hot chocolate to warm up, before tramming and subwaying our way back to the apartment.

Paris, the Louvre and a Hamburger

10 Nov.


Again great breakfast at Hôtel Avalon Paris and off we went to the Louvre.


The boys wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa in Paris. Having covered the first item we entered the massive Louvre. Walked to the Mona Lisa, talked about it, trying to see it clearly behind the barrier and glass, and continued through the museum. I started to tell them about the various artists, paintings and sculptures, but they were selective at the pieces they wanted to look at. ( Fine by me)


Besides the Mona Lisa the only other things they were interested in were the big bannister railings on the staircases- they wanted to slide down them, and the Egyptian mummified pets. They liked the mummies of pet cats, birds, chickens, snakes, rats, mice, beetles, and other assorted pets.


Lunch time after nearly 4 hours at the Louvre was at H.A.N.D. food, beverages & bakery located at 39 Rue de Richelieu, Paris 1er. This place was packed, we were fortunate to find a table during the lunch rush. Great atmosphere, great music, hustle and bustle of Parisiens on lunch hour. A very American menu – we had onion rings, cheese burgers and a Farmer burger. The burgers are massive, and the fries are delicious. The onion rings were slightly crunchy and had a wonderful flavour – made us want to have more. I recommend this place for lunch.

Onwards up the street to the Paris Opera House, a drugstore to buy new toothbrushes and bandaids, and then to Galeries Lafayette. Galeries Lafayettes main store for women – second building for men- had their Christmas decorations up and a huge 40-50 foot tree up in the centre of the store. Beautiful interior and a very busy place.


When we were leaving the store we noticed the Christmas window displays. One had dancing bears dancing to ABBA music from the musical Mama Mia. Other window displays had dancing animals, and people were still setting up the displays as we walked by.


This evening we went back to Au Bout En Train on Blvd. Magenta, by the Gare du Nord. I had the last of the daily special Vin de Poulet – delicious, and the boys each had a pizza which they gobbled up. Liam was a little slower with his anchovy pizza and we had a little take home (take-out).

Paris, Eiffel Tower, and the Brass Ring Scam

09 Nov.


The breakfast was very good at the Hotel with ample supplies fro everyone.

My goal was the Eiffel Tower. Out of the hotel, umbrellas in tow, we turned right and headed for Blvd. Lafayette, looking at the sights, list’n to the sounds and taking in the scents of Paris. Went to a bank machine and it didn’t work – funny how the banks have the international logos on the machines and they sometimes do not work for you. Bought a fireman’s Pompieres calendar from the firemen selling them on the street, raising funds for something.


Took the Metro, changed trains twice and voilà we were at the Eiffel Tower station.


The street was packed with tourists, we lined up to by tickets in the snake like coil that those fences make, and it started to rain. Up with the brollies till we entered the elevator. Top level was closed and the level we ascended to was wet and cold. Great view, even with the misting from the sky. The boys loved that they could slide with their new shoes on the metal grates above the people on the ground. They made a great effort to see who could slide closest to the edge of the tower.


The line up going down seemed longer than the one going up, so , we decided to descend the slippery steel staircase in the light drizzle. Down, down, down, the boys trying to race each other and jumping down steps. Do not try the steps if you have vertigo, they start off steep and short and as the tower widens towards the base the steps become wider and longer. The last section is a spiral that is steep and then you are at ground level. The elevator goes by you and the view is quite nice, even if you are surrounded by steel girders. If you need a toillete there is a free one under the tower with access via Rue??? FIND.


The Tourist French Café: Avoid unless you want to have a fun experience ( pre-knowledge is a good thing). This is a story of a café not too far from the Eiffel Tower. Things start off well during the seating, menus, and serving of drinks. The Boys have to decipher the menu and ask questions of what is this and what is that. The waiter comes back fairly quickly, in my mind as I have not had time to look at the menu thoroughly, and I say please give us 3 minutes more. Around 15 minutes later, as the waiter constantly walks by avoiding looking at our table and ignoring my Garçon and Monsiours I start to wonder if they want us at the restaurant at all. Finally the waiter comes over, takes our order. The food comes quickly, but neither the soup of the day nor the correct meal I ordered. The server corrects the meal, I didn’t ask about the soup.  The food was not very good at all and the name of the Café is Le Royal Tour, on Ave. de la Bourdonnais.


After lunch were walking by the Seine and an older gentleman looks towards us then quickly down to the ground. He walks over and picks up a gold wedding band looks at it then offers it to me. ( I know something is not right, so I play along to see where it will go). I accept the ring and start walking away with the ring and the boys. The man walks ahead, nods his head, swings around, walks back towards us looking at the ground where we have been and asks us for money for a sandwich in broken English. My Spidey senses are really tingling now. He keeps shaking my right hand where I have a silver ring, and every time he shakes with both his hands he tries to remove my ring- a real pro, but my ring sits tight. I give him all the change in my pocket, which amounts to maybe €4 + . He then asks me for papier money, I explain that I have none and am going to a Banc machine. He wants to come along. I say no and leave with the boys and the, at this time I knew, brass ring. The brass ring has stamps on the inside – I’ll look at them when I get home to see what they actually say- However the ring, as polished and heavy as it is has sharp edges on the inside- no Jeweller would allow this, and the size of the ring seems too small for the width. Anyhoo we then witnessed this scam 3 more times on the same day. Usually the tourists throw the ring back on the ground. Brass tube and pipe cutter anyone? I think they get the unsuspecting tourist on the ‘What if!’ idea. I have never had my hand shaken in this way either, so that’s how they do it!, It was a cold and rainy day and peoples fingers do contract due to the cold making the rings slide off more easily.


So now I have an original ‘tourist scam’ brass ring, I think? More entertaining and cheaper than some of the other touristy products.


Onward to the Arc de Triomphe! Then the Champs de Elyseé. The boys were tired and did not want to go inside the Arc. Towards the Isle and into the Hunchback of Nôtre Dame territory. Great cathedral, boys liked it and Brendan had a good laugh at the beggar outside talking to her husband, taking his change, placing it into a Gucci bag, then sitting on top of the bag and covering it with her dress and continue to beg for change.


Behind Nôtre Dame there is a park with a great saucer spiny thing that the boys rode for quite a while, surrounded by history, art, culture, and the boys have more fun and get recharged on a playground!


Back towards the Metro and back to the Hôtel. Dinner tonight was at a little café on Blvd. Magenta called Au Bout En Train. Very well priced, run by the same family for 30 years, and the daily specials are great. Served with an excellent Bordeaux I had moussaka and the boys had beef shish kabob with roasted tomatoes. All very scrumptious and reasonably priced.

Geneva to Paris

Next morning 08 Nov.


Went downstairs for a croissant, cheese, and coffee. Boys followed a few minutes later. We checked out, left our luggage at the Hotel… Name… And wandered the streets of Geneve in search of adventure. Boy is this place ever a banking town, lots’o signs about watches as well. We walked by the water searching for the famous fountain. We walked out on a pier???  Jetty, breakwater… Saw a dead seagull and dead swan which had it’s head wedged between two rocks. We were at the point where the fountain is supposed to be. I told the boys that maybe it was turned off for the winter. The morning air was quite nippy, especially in the shade and the breeze off of the lake did not warm things up either. Off we went to find a mid-morning snack. We discovered a sandwich shop on a street corner. It was more of a patisserie. They had assorted sandwiches and the boys had tuna, I had curried chicken all on a 1/2 baguette, with assorted lettuces and tomatoes. We sat down on a window ledge to eat, and warm up.


Off we went after the snack and viewed a spray 400 – check height….. feet in the air, down a street, The Fountain!!! We walked back towards where we had been before our snack and there was the fountain at the end of the breakwater we had been on spraying high into the air, misting and soaking the place we had stood earlier. Boy that fountain shoots high into the air.


We meandered back towards the hotel stopping into a department store for a pee break and an electronics store to see what they had-boys found little Lego mini-figs.


Grabbed our suitcases and walked 3 minutes to the train station to head towards Paris.

Swiss francs are very colourful and the boys wanted to keep the bank notes.


Train trip to Paris was more countryside, little less mist and fog, more empty buildings and factories by the rail line, and travelling at 300kph is fun. One note is how one perceives level when you are traveling through the Alps by train. I would swear that the buildings are built with severe slants to the external and internal architecture – i.e really crooked floors when viewed from a train. But I believe that the visual illusion is created by the train not being on a level track, the track leans left and right and it is going up hill and down hill, and as a viewer from the train you use the train as a reference point for the horizon, thereby creating the illusion of crooked houses and buildings. CONFUSED?


Arrived at Gare de Lyon in the early evening, again greeted by light drizzle and darkness. We grabbed the Metro / subway to head towards the Gare de Nord where I had booked a hotel. Again after exiting the train station, the gps did not work -still using the Italian Wind mobile card – but the credit had run out, I became lost again. But we found Blvd. Magenta and found Hôtel Avalon Paris, checked into a nice room where the bathroom window did not fully close letting loud traffic noise from below blast into the room. We each had a bed in this room, with a view of Blvd. Magenta.


We went in search of a local restaurant through the back streets of Paris. I asked a beautiful lady where there was a good restaurant, with French food and good prices a la Français. She pointed one out on the corner and we had an excellent meal. Of course the wine in France is just as good as in Italy, and the waiter helped the boys with French  grammar and pronunciation. We sampled a duck patè, a fish patè, and had a delightful créme caramel, carrot cake with whipped cream, and a chocolate mousse – Brendan says it was yummy.

We had ????


We stopped at a grocery store (magasin) picked up some refreshments and went back to the hotel for sleep.

Rome to Geneva – Reflections on the Trip

07 Nov.


Leaving Rome 08:15.


Sitting in train reflecting on the past few days in Roma.


Café not recommended in Wien is… Café Restaurant WESTEND on Marianhilfer Straße 128


Brendan was grumpy when he woke up today.


We are on the train and tired. Passing through Italy, it is foggy outside in our way to Milano to change trains to Geneva.


Castles castles everywhere, little ones, big ones, broken ones and pretty ones.


Well we arrived at the Milan Central Station and caught our train to Geneva.


Boy is this train filled with people and luggage. 12:45.


Arrived in Geneva, cool, dark rainy evening, beautiful countryside in Switzerland.

Noticed that by the railway lines there are many empty warehouses and factories.


In the rain the countryside does look beautiful.


In Geneve we arrived in the early evening to cool weather and drizzle. I used the gps on the iPhone to find the hotel. Checked into a room with a double bed and pull out sofa. We had the largest room available (not very large) that was irregularly shaped with multiple single step levels throughout the room. Comfy though, and warm. Back to the drizzle we went, looking for the river and a restaurant. We crossed over a bridge to the old part of town, housing numerous banks. The city was basically closed except for a few restaurants. Light drizzle, colder weather than earlier, Brendan was cold ( I told him to bring a hoody and his coat, but he gets stubborn sometimes and did not think he needed it.). Ah well, youth and learning through experience, We saw, ducks with long necks, as Liam put it. They were Swans swimming in the darkness by the bridges and under the docks, looking like ghosts floating on the water disappearing into the mist.


We checked out several restaurants and settled with one that looked more Swiss traditional – they had fondue, frogs legs, and escargot on the menu. I started with the escargot, the boys tried it – not to their taste – I thought they were a little tough, but with the garlic butter they were ok. Au Petit Chalet on Rue Beane served us canette, Marguerite, paupiettes de boeuf, and a t-bone steak, all a little pricey, but comparable to the prices in the area. Wish we had more time to search for restaurants.

Rome – Liam’s New Violin, Trevi Fountain, and Great Mexican Food

06 Nov.


Explored the Trevi fountain and were kicked off a part of it while looking at the map.


Found a bookstore that had instruments in the window, went inside. I nearly bought a Mandolin for €45, then it happened.


We found a violin for €49. It is not a fancy or old one, but it is a violin. Liam is very happy. It came with a hard case and rosin. We rushed back to the apartment, Roman time- think 2 hours-, tried to put rosin on the bow, didn’t succeed very well and googles how to rosin a new bow. Then the music started after many minutes of rosining the bow.


We went to a fabulous Mexican Italian restaurant next to our apartment called Griglieria La Vaca, Via Urbana 29-30, Roma. Liam and Brendan had excellent burritos, and I had an Angus steak served with black beans and rice. Very, very good food. Clean, simple and very flavourful. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting Rome. for dessert Liam tried the brownie with ice cream, Brendan had a banana split with grilled bananas, and I tried the tequila sautéed fruit – which had banana, melons, kiwi, strawberries, orange and apple. The desserts were excellent.