Random Observations


Having settled in for a week of camping and ‘relaxing’ I
thought I’d fire off some thoughts about life in Europe.  The two friends we’re hanging out with
have provided some interesting insights into their lives.  They are wonderful hosts who are
enriching our experience every day.

Heike and Herve live in a small one bedroom apartment in
Paris. Heike is a teacher originally from Germany and Herve is from France and
works for the auto company Peugeot.  

In no particular order….. 

Canada’s school system is held in high regard.  Both the French and German systems use
it as a comparison to how they are doing when it comes to education. 

German schools begin at 7:30am and go straight through until
1:30.  Kids get a ten minute break
but don’t eat.  (this is being

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reconsidered) French schools go from 8am-1pm, take a two hour break, and then
return from 3-5pm.  There’s always
homework.

Most French companies close down for most of August.  Herve doesn’t have a say when he takes
his holidays – he knows he’ll get a week at Christmas and 3 weeks in August.
Because so many people are ‘off’ at the same time, forget about bargains at the
resorts. Of course that also means the highways will be crowded.  (tell me about it!)

He works 7 hours a day/35 hours a week.  Overtime is frowned upon and should any
government dare to fiddle with the workweek—STRIKE! 

It’s against the law for any child under 16 to work.  That includes delivering papers!

Both could make up to three times as much money working in
Germany, but they love the lifestyle of France.   Heike says it’s very laid back. They live for the moment, enjoying
dinners and holidays and time off. 
Work is work.

Public areas of France will be smoke free next year.  THIS will be interesting as we can’t
believe how many people smoke here.

Most people in France are not thrilled with the U.S. …. But
Mcdonalds and Starbucks are among the most successful companies.

Half of the people who live in Paris do NOT have a
vehicle.  Diesel fuel is subsidized
by the government because it’s better for the environment.  We’ve paid 1.06 euro for diesel or
about $1.65 canadian per litre. 
Regular fuel goes for about $1.75 euro or roughly $2.40 canadian.

(in an earlier blog I said gas was $1.75 canadian—forgot we
were paying in euros) 

I’ve been reading several British papers….

The big story is how new Prime Minister Gordon Brown is
getting along with George Bush. 
Most papers say it’s a ‘much more formal’ relationship than Bush-Blair
and you get the feeling most people want it that way. 

There are hints of the Brits beginning a pullout of Iraq in
the fall.  British forces lost
their 68th soldier in Afghanistan this week.  Both the U.S. and Britain are demanding
‘other’ NATO countries provide more soldiers for the afghan mission.  No mention of Canada. 

British schools are considering mandatory attendance until
18 years old for all students, to cut back on an alarming dropout rate.  Critics say it won’t help.

The papers are filled with little ‘green tips’ to help the
environment.  Did you know you
should unplug your cell phone charger when it’s not being used?  It’s still drawing power.

At home the Calgary Herald is always running inserts and
special sections on recreational properties in AB and BC.  Same thing in Britain—but it’s all
about buying homes/villas and condos in Europe.  Hot destinations? 
Turkey and Croatia before they join the E-U.  You can get an ocean view 3 bedroom villa in Turkey for
about 70 thousand pounds or roughly 140 thousand loonies.

Big financial story? 
A huge refund for customers from the British banks for over billing user
fees, late charges and service charges. 
Refunds could be as much as a billion pounds, or roughly 2 billion
Canadian dollars.  Fed up customers
had enough and launched a revolt against those big banks! 

Sound familiar? Are you with me people?!!  Off with their heads!  Let’s storm the …..  

Maybe tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

off the beaten path

Taking the road less traveled is really paying some
dividends.  That’s the philosophy
of a Rick Steves’ tour:  enjoy what
Europe has to offer but do it through the back door.  Get out and meet the ‘real’ people and not just the tourist
traps. We’ve hit all of the major cities on this trip, but we usually stay
outside of town in smaller family-run hotels or bed and breakfasts.  It’s led to some memorable moments.

Yesterday we rolled into the Burgundy region for our latest
stop, a recently converted 18th century home.  The owners had tables set up on the
grass in front of their home for a dinner and planned musical performance.  Just before we sat down it started to rain
and it became a mad scramble to get everything inside.   We ended up crammed in their tiny
dining room, surrounded by a keyboard, drum set and an accordian player with
the stamina of Bruce Springsteen. 
He and his wife teamed up with a 79 year old drummer and proceeded to

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crank out French classics for two straight hours.  And they had a silly costume change for nearly every
song.  For the rest of my life the
‘chicken dance’ will whisk me away to France!

Crowded, loud, and an absolute scream.  

Of course, it can also lead to some bumps.  Two days earlier I was accused of being
a criminal for stealing a bike! (There’s nothing worse than being yelled at in
German)

Long story (not very) short….

Kandi and I got up early at our guest house for a morning
bike ride.  It was a departure day,
so it had to be a quick one.  We
headed out to a nearby lake which would give us a great camera angle on “Mad
King Ludwig’s” Castle.    

Sadly, we took the wrong fork in the road and wasted half an
hour in the wrong direction. (Uphill, of course)  Scrambling back we return to the fork, and my much wiser
wife says we should head back so we won’t be late.  Unwise Gord thinks he can whip down to the lake, snap the
photo, and return in time.   

Loser.

I whip down to the lake to discover the angle of the sunrise
eliminates any chance of a decent photo of Ludwig’s shack.  I jump on the bike to race back… and
the front end falls apart.  The
wheel is totally useless, and I’m 8 kilometers from our hotel.  Carrying a bike.  In Nike sandals.  On departure day.   

Big loser.

I am in full panic mode.  I try carrying the bike for 1 minute and realize it has to
go and dump it to the side of the trail. 
I start running as fast as I can carrying my pack.  15 minutes later I hit a hikers shack
with two cars and four bikes parked outside.  Nobody is home. 
 

Really big loser.

I look at the ‘unlocked’ bikes, pick the worst one, and jump
on.

Thieving Loser.

I arrive at the hotel as people are loading the bus for
departure, confess my dirty deed to Daniella our guide, and look for a hole to
crawl into.

The hotel owner flips out.  He’s yelling at me in German and the only word I understand
is ‘criminal’.  Daniella manages to
calm him down, we load the stolen bike in his van and head out to the
shack.  It was never missed.   His bike is on a trail not
accessible by car, so we head home. 
Daniella smoothes things over (it was a well used bike), I slip the
hotel owner 50 Euro for repairs, and we’re on our way.

Easy to write about now….. but not my proudest moment.

Moral of the story? 
Listen to your wife.

 

  

  

  

5 Star adventure


If you are ever traveling in west France near the Bordeaux
region this is an absolute ‘must’ to visit.  Dune du Pilat – deemed a National site (like our national
parks), it’s about an hour west of Bordeaux.  Picture any huge Sahara desert dune from the movies and drop
it beside the ocean.  But instead
of some poor sap stumbling along the top looking for an oasis, this dune is crawling with people out for some
fun.

You can climb the dune any place you want as it stretches
for about half a kilometer and is 350 meters high.  Some of the finest sand you’ll ever feel, sloped steeply up
one side and down the other.  Most
people take the stairs (about a thousand!) to reach the first level, and then
hike the rest of the way to the top. 
Others go straight up from the bottom, but it takes twice the time and

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ten times the effort. 

At the top you can look out across the ocean as far as the
eye can see.  Hundreds of people
relaxing, flying kites, paragliding, or heading down the other side.  It’s huge. After soaking up the view
for a few minutes it was time for some fun.  We ran straight down the other side ‘full out’ to the
ocean.  You really can do it
because even if you wipe out, you land in some of the softest sand in the
world.  It ends up becoming a
series of ‘super leaps’ flying down the dune.  An absolute hoot. 

Once you hit the ocean it’s like any other beach full of
swimmers, body surfers and lifeguards. 
Enjoy – but make sure you save some energy!  You still have to climb back up again without the help of
stairs.  At the end of the day
you’ve hit the beach, the ocean and taken part in a super cardio workout!  Top it off with another series of
‘super leaps’ down the ‘really’ steep side, and you’ve had a five star
experience.

Liam and Laura say it’s been the most fun day so far.  No argument from Mom and Dad. 

Writers Note: 
we have fantastic photos of everything I’ve blogged about so far
including the Dune du Pilat, but I’m having major issues adding the pix to the
blogs.  I’ll keep trying, but
suffice to say – my descriptions just don’t cut it for any of this stuff.  Sorry!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mother nature weighs in

After more than a week of being bombarded with some of the
greatest creations by human hand…. A reminder of another power today. 

We’ve moved north from Italy for a few days into Austria and
Switzerland.  The ‘canvas’ is no
longer a ceiling or marble, it’s the Alps.  Heading in I thought this would be an ‘okay’ time because
we’re so blessed with our Rocky mountains at home.  But it really is different.  We set up shop in the town of Wengen, Switzerland huddled in
the shadow of the famous “Eiger” peak. (Clint Eastwood fans know all about this
one!)

That’s the biggest difference from home.  Weaved throughout the base of literally
every mountain in the Alps are dozens of little towns, houses and chalets.  It’s amazing how they’ve all been built
so high up and frankly, what on earth people do there to pay the bills.  

We were enjoying a wonderful hike high up in the shadow of
the Eiger admiring the view, when Mother nature pulled out all the stops.

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1)   
A huge avalanche of snow broke off a peak and rumbled down the
mountain.  It spilled down sounding
like a thousand fireworks being set off.

2)   
All Swiss cows wear various sizes of cowbells.  Deep in the valley a chorus of  ‘clanging’ echoed right up to our
location.  A strangely beautiful
concert, kind of like a Grade 1 Christmas hand bell performance involving your
children.  (except the cows were a
teensy bit better!)

3)   
Half way down the mountain we came upon a dairy cow that had
just given birth to twins.  We
watched in amazement as ‘Mom” helped clean them both off and encouraged them to
take their first steps.

It was a day to remember that some of the most beautiful
things in the world can be found anywhere,  if you just take the time to notice.

kandi’s perspective

The Creature Comforts of Home: Eating, Sleeping and Exercise
by Kandi 

As Gord keeps you informed of our adventures and travels, I
thought I’d let you know how we are making out with the basics: eating,
sleeping and exercise. 

The first 4 or 5 nights we were on the road staying in
different places. Two of the places, fortunately, we were able to cook our own
meals. This was a treat since we had eaten several meals (breakfast, lunch and
dinner) on the road. The “supermarches” offer much of what we would find at
home and there are several little grocery stores that offer up much the same.
The patisseries and boloungeries have been a treat—offering baguettes, cheese,
and meat. We have also been to a couple of markets and bought fresh fruit and
vegetables, cheese, and yes, more baguettes. 

Restaurants have been a bit more challenging. For the most
part, we have been ordering from menus in a different language. We’ll have a
pretty good idea of what the main course is going to be “poulet” but the extras
have usually been a surprise. Pizza margarita has been a hit a couple of times.

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A staple we are all familiar with from “Earl’s”. At one restaurant, Laura
wanted pasta with an alfredo sauce. The closest item we could find was
spaghetti carbineau. It was creamy all right. Interestingly, when they served
it up, there was half an eggshell plopped in the middle of the pasta with a raw
egg in it. I suppose a delicacy. So much for my repeated warnings about eating
cookie dough because of the raw egg.

I was happy to have read before I left that bottled water
was becoming unpopular even in France. I remember when I last traveled in
Europe having to clearly state in restaurants “tap water s’il vous plait”. A
little embarrassed because I was too cheap to pay for bottled water. Now, we
are in vogue! A big jug of “tap water” is placed on the table as we sit down.
During our travels, we have been filling up our water bottles with tap water
any and everywhere along the way.

It took us about three days to get turned around with the
time change and jet lag. Sleeping is going well now with Gord and I adopting
the teenager’s hours, up late and sleeping in. The campground where we are
staying offers “cinema” night. The movie starts at 10 pm, our bedtime back
home. A big screen is erected in the main outdoor area and everyone pulls up a
lawn chair. Sort of like a drive in theatre without the cars. The choice of
movies has been good family fun: 
Hidalgo and the Horse Whisperer. We can even ask for “English
sub-titles” if we want to follow along!

Gord and I have enjoyed wonderful runs. In Zurich we scoped
out a Starbucks for the end of the run. In Caen, we ran along Canadienne
Boulevard and through Bomb Alley, and now at the campground we have a choice of
bike paths to run along, usually ending up in the “port” to pick up an English
newspaper. We have to be there early or they’ll all be sold. It costs only six to seven euros for two tabloid English papers.
Gord is in his glory for the rest of the morning! Some things never change.

Did I mention yet the campground where we are staying sells
fresh baguettes not once but twice a day? Oh yes, once in the morning for
“petit dejeuner” and again in the evening for “diner”. How do the French stay
thin?

Home on the range

 

Really, what are the chances?  The one campground in all of France we’ve decided to spend a
week at….. has a ‘wild west’ theme.

Welcome to La Rotunde campground in Hourtin.  

Wagon wheels and Winchesters.  Tex-Mex dining and pony rides.  Don’t forget the tomahawk tossing tomorrow at 10.

Having just survived another Stampede, my cowboy boots have
been safely tucked away for another year. 
Would I have been a hit if I’d brought them along! 

Our arrival here is a total fluke connected to a woman my
wife met while traveling Europe 20 years ago.  Kandi and Heike kept in touch.  Heike and Herve holiday here. 

So, it’s Heike and Herve and Kandi and Gord and Liam and
Laura in Tombstone.  All we need is

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Roy and Trigger to whip us up one rootin’ tootin’ good movie.  The adventure never stops.  No lie—we popped by the stables the
other day to see the horses and were chased by three sheep!  

Mutton aside, it’s a great campground.  A ten minute walk to a huge lake with
beautiful beaches and a twenty minute drive to the ocean.  Hey, the western stuff makes it feel
like home.  

Liam won the knife throw today—the only lad to make it stick
in the target.  Initially proud,
now somewhat worried.  Where did he
learn to do that?