Heading home

Well, at least two of the four of us are excited to be heading to Canada today:

  
We’re sitting at the airport in Amsterdam, enjoying a few last croissants and coffee before our flight to New Jersey/ Ottawa.    Happily, it’s not over yet! We’re heading to Ottawa for a few days, including a four day canoe trip with Jolanta, Brent and the cousins.  What a wonderfully Canadian homecoming.  And my parents happen to be in Ottawa, and will meet us at the airport tonight.  It’s making the return to real-life all a bit easier. Amos and Naeva are wound up with excitement of going back to Canada; Ian and I…well, not so much.   It is a strange feeling to know that the end of this trip is almost here. We’ve been living it for six months (to the day!), planning for it for almost three years, and dreaming of it for years before that.  So many places and people and great experiences over the last six months.  

Here’s a couple of them, from around our table in the coffee shop:

Amos’ favourite memories:  the HIKE up Doi Suthep; the kayak trip down the Susa River in Thailand; Taronga Zoo. 

Naeva: Getting tipped off her bike by a rollerblader on the busy Amsterdam streets (she was OK; he was kind of scratched up); the Olympic museum in Lausanne; boogie boarding in Toowoon Bay.

Ian: Bodyboarding in Australia. Australian Greek food and meeting the Bourii relatives. Footy games (especially Collinwood’s win, sorry Rabittohs and Roosters). Playing cricket at the farm. The Bike trip – the food, the views, the rhythm of it, the beer and wine and meeting new friends. Hiking in the Alps and Pyrenees. French cheese. Biking in Amsterdam. Snorkelling and swimming in Croatia. Water festival / fights on the streets of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai food and cooking class. Caving in Thailand. Our many super hosts – in Ottawa, Sydney, Woodenbong, The Oaks, Canberra, Budawang, Melbourne, Delft, Mainz, Erlangen, Sulzfeld, Vienna, Craponne Sur Arzon, Rheinfelden, Bern, Vers Chez les Blancs (Lausanne), Lourres-Barouse, Saint Aubin – so many good meals, comfy beds, adventures and great conversations. 

Kristina: Being outside everyday for the better part of six months. Visiting family in Australia. Visiting friends in Europe. Bike trip, especially along the Main and then with Adri/Maika in Austria. Biking into Budapest along the majestic Danube. Floating on the crystal blue Adriatic. Hiking, everywhere. Sooooooo much good food. Melbourne. Zagreb. Delft.

We’ve had a great last few days in Amsterdam. Spent yesterday following our stomachs, biking to find the best frites and then the best herring in town (Check out eatyourworld.com – how did we miss this earlier??!!).  The to the Van Gogh museum. Wandered around through the colours and swirls with our audio tours. Home for a drink on the local patio then dinner on another one. And more packing. A fitful few hours of sleep (less than four, diabetes alarms going off, high 20s in our bedroom, not so rested, 5 am wake up, why do we book flights that leave so early in the morning???!!)

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Amsterdam!

Sorry, not many photos for this post or the last. Something’s wrong with our camera. We think we can fix it, but not until Ottawa. So we’ll make do with words, and photos taken on the iPad until then. Stay tuned for a batch next week.

 Sitting on the wood floor in our beautiful apartment, evening sun streaming in through the huge windows.  So much light everywhere here – you can see where the Dutch painters drew their inspiration from! Here’s the view:

  
 Our sturdy Dutch bikes (rentals) are locked up on the cobblestone street outside.  OK, so they are clunkers but you can’t complain for 8 Euros for 24 hours. We spent the day rolling around the city. Saw the Museum District, with great plazas and gardens surrounding the buildings. Stopped for DELICOUS poffertjes, those fluffy pancakes that we fell in love with back at the ROtterdam market in May, slathered in hunks of butter and icing sugar. We biked past Anne Frank’s house, with a line-up at least 500 metres long (no exaggeration). Kept going to the Oude Kerk district, filled with tourists, and zig zagged along the canals towards home.  Had a picnic of Turkish take-out beside our neighbourhood canal for dinner.

BIking in Amsterdam is dizzying. So many cyclists, pedestrians, buses, trams. Bridges, canal boats and water everywhere. Amos declared the streets “even worse than Thailand”. I think of it more as organized chaos, inspiring, delightful, crazy and definitely a bit to get used to. Naeva has nearly been hit by at least two cyclists while she has been walking, as we keep forgetting to look for the cycle track once you cross the traffic lanes!

Our trip here by train yesterday was smooth. Said a fond and early morning “A la prochaine” to Flo and Marc and drove to the Bordeaux train station to return our car and fit in a last flaky French croissant. Took three TGVs (high-speed trains) to get to Amsterdam. Had to change train stations in Paris, which had us a bit nervous due to time and logistics. In the end, we ditched the idea of taking the metro (8 bags…too many!) and instead hopped a cab. The driver, a friendly guy from Côte d’Ivoire, gave us the drive-by tour: the Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, Tuilerie Gardens, Galeries Lafayette, Arc de Triomphe.  Magnifique! So good. So much cheaper than if we’d actually stayed. And we saw it all :). 

So here we are back in Holland, where we started the European leg of our trip four months ago. TOmorrow we return to Delft to pick up the two suitcases we’ve been storing at Joop’s house since May. It all feels a bit nostalgic, realizing that this is the last week to fit it all in: favourite meals to eat (still need to find herring and Dutch apple tarts); special promises to fulfill (Amos’ trip to Lego store); back to school/work shopping to do; a few treats still to buy for home (how much cheese can I smuggle in?).  We’ve had a few conversations about our “Top Lists” –  top meals, top campsites, top cities- which inevitably turn into Top 60 lists, as there has been so much that we’ve seen and done since May, let alone March, that it seems impossible to summarize.  We’ll work on digesting it a bit this week. 

Bordeaux

Two years ago, Naeva had a classmate from France in her class. She and Lisa become close friends, and her family invited us to come and visit. Here we are! We’ve had a great few days with parents Flo and Marc, and children Lisa (11), Constance (8) and Raphael (6).  Flo’s sister Carole (a teacher at our kids school in Victoria) and her two daughters were also visiting.    THe house is just outside Bordeaux.  We’ve been treated to long, lingering meals, dips in their backyard pools and late conversations en francais well into the evening (midnight bedtimes for les enfants, tres bien!).  Naeva and Lisa picked up where they left off two years ago and had a great few days together.

We took our two and Lisa on a trip to the Dunes du Pyla, a 110 m high sand dune on the Atlantic. I (Kristina) had visited when I was 11. We reenacted my childhood by scaling it and running/rolling/flipping down.  The kids had their first dip in the Atlantic. It didn’t last too long.

We were all invited to visit some cousins at their chateau in the middle of their winery outside Bordeaux on Saturday. Our three hosts Nicholas, Fred and Ben treated us to fantastic meal, a tour of the wine cellar and of course some of their own Sauternes, a sweet and soft white wine usually drunk at Christmas or other special holiday.  We bought a few to take home  for December. Lots of time out on the terrace in the sun, too.

Today Marc took us on a tour of Bordeaux. A beautiful city, on the Garonne River. Lots of plazas and restored buildings. It felt a bit like Vienna, lots of Baroque churches and ornate balconies. Delicious lunch on the Place du Parlement. We climbed up 233 stairs for a view of the city.

And then home for one last meal ensemble. Ian and Marc cooked the Merguez outside.  Our cheese platter had 13 cheeses on it. Love this country.

We have managed to squish the contents of our 4-week road trip into our bags tonight, for our train trip to Amsterdam tomorrow.  I’m not sure if I’m in denial or just happily exhausted from too many late nights, but not feeling like being about philosophical about what it means to be heading to Amsterdam, our final European destination…and how few days of this great trip there are left.  Just taking it day by day, and enjoying it all. Especially the cheese.

Le Lac Espingo

We were lucky to meet many like-minded families on our bike trip. The five Morissonneau, who we leap-frogged at campsites across Austria and Hungary, shared a love of the outdoors and family travel. We also discovered a shared love of mountains and hiking. On our last days in Budapest, they invited us to come and visit them in the Pyrenees and proposed an overnight hike up to a mountain hut. We jumped at the chance to see them again, and see this corner of France, just a few kilometres north of the Spain. This would be their first overnight hike with their three. Arthur, age 5, would set the pace.  

We started out early on Monday morning, a holiday MOnday, with a drive and then a hike up to the well-known Lac Oo (attention crossword fans- that is the correct spelling). We all loaded up with overnight packs, lots of water and fresh baguette. Love hiking in France…

    
 
 Lovely picnic by the lake for lunch. The crowds thinned out as we scaled up to a pass, which opened up to an enormous bowl, with lakes and 360 views on peaks in all directions.  We gained 1000 metres in 3.5 hours. Everyone, especially Authur, was a happy hiker. He especially loved hiking with Naeva. 

   
 
For the rest of the afternoon, we lazed by the mountain lake, watched the sheep on the hill across, caught baby frogs. The brave ones took an icy dip. Amos and Jules loved playing ball together. Delicious dinner at the hut and then to bed by sunset. The Morissoneaus had brought their tent. We opted for the refuge…no sleeping bags to keep us warm anymore (WHOOPS!)…and snuggled in our dorm room with some gentle and snoring Spaniards.

   
 One of the best things about the hut is being able to start early, high up, and have the mountains almost to yourself.  We had breakfast at 7:30 am and were out an hour later. The trail traversed across a mountain high above Lac Oo, then over a pass, then a second, then a third. The views were breathtaking, with Mont Aneto (highest peak in the Pyrenees) and a dozen of others pointing the way. Arthur was roped in with a homemade climbing harness, to make sure that he didn’t slip in the scree and steep slopes.

   
   
Amos, Jules and Zoe often ran ahead, and entertained themselves with many conversations en francais and races against the clock to the top of the next set of hairpins. We learned a whole new French vocabulary: hairpin = les lacets; hut= un refuge; goat = boucs; cime et sommet et pic = peak; pass = col.

   
   
After 8.5 hours of hiking, we made it to Super-Bagneres, a ski resort with a wonderful conclusion to our hike: a gondola, all the way down the mountain.  Great hike, great company.

   
  
Now having a lazy day, with soccer games, Ticket to Ride (see, we were meant to be friends!), an intense geography contest, bike ride to the next village and a long lunch. Virginie and Zoe have created a magical meringue cake for tonight’s dinner.  Onto Bordeaux tomorrow.

  
 

Made it to Les Pyrénées

Just a quick post to say that we survived our cross-country trip from Chamonix and made it to Lourbes-Barousse this afternoon. By “survived”, I mean that we didn’t wilt or kill each other in the ridiculous traffic jams all over France this weekend. we somehow missed that this was “le weekend NOIR” for traffic, a holiday weekend in August! MERDE. The whole country was headed for the south of France. It took 2 hours to go about 25 km. We abandoned the autoroute and plans for a visit to Carcassonne and went cross-country instead. The drive was steady, through beautiful country. We stopped overnight at a hotel to get our fill of Olympic watching. Arrived in Lourbes-Barousse this afternoon, for a reunion with two of families from our bike trip. A beautiful evening of good food and intense kid soccer games. Lots of reminiscing and laughs. Photos to follow.

We are staying with one of the families, Les Morissoneaults. Knowing of our love for hiking, they’ve planned an overnight hike into a hut tomorrow night. Just finished packing (it is after midnight) and leave tomorrow, early, to try and beat the 30+ heat. There is over a 1000 m climb before dinner tomorrow night!

 

Chamonix

We headed over the pass to the Mont Blanc region on Wednesday afternoon at sunset. We were sad to say goodbye to the beautiful Alps and great hospitality but happy to be able to afford a coffee and public toilets again ($2 USD for a pee!). We found one of the best campgrounds of the entire trip in Vallorcine and settled in for two nights. THe campground ticked all of the boxes – biergarten, wood-fired pizza to takeout, washing facilities, hot showers, great view, tons of tenters (mountaineers, climbers and hikers), gorgeous mountain sunset. In remembering this place, we will ignore the fact that it was also the COLDEST camp of our entire trip. Two months ago as we roasted for our second week of 30+ weather in Budapest, and thought we would bake alive in our tent, we thought it was a good idea to send our sleeping bags home to Canada. Dumb idea. In spite of our borrowed blankets from the campsite office (another plus for the site!) and our sleep sheets, we huddled together to relatively little sleep. Naeva announced this morning, with bags under her eyes: “I tried to snuggle with Daddy but he smelled like goat cheese and BO so I have up”. 

    
 THe morning erased the night before, and we set out for a gorgeous hike, walking towards MOnt Blanc in full sun. The kids needed a little bit of encouraging (bribing) after days of late nights with friends and the chilly night, but we still did four hours of fantastic trails and scenery, most of it downhill. Love it when you can start the hike with a gondola up the mountain, and get on the train down in the valley to take all the way back to where you started! 

    
 

Switzerland (III)- Lausanne and the Flying Cow

Our friends from home, Steph, Steve and their children Travis and Rita, have been in Lausanne for the summer while Steve does some research with an entomology lab here. They are house sitting a colleagues’ house In a cute Swiss village in the hills above lac leman. Happily there was room for four more, and we had a great few days together. Amos and Travis hit it off and kept the basement fussball table warm. We caught some Olympics, ate magnifique cheese and croissants, caught up and heard about each other’s European adventures. And had a dessert with seven different kinds of chocolate. HEAVEN.

 

Breakfast also included chocolate. Can you spot it?

  
 On wed we headed for the mountains – all on public transit!- and after a bus/ metro/ train/ mountain train extravaganza, arrived in the tiny village of Les Avants.  

  

 From there we hiked up, up, up to Col du Jaman, passing Swiss chalets And cows. I kept looking for Heidi. At the top, we found a fromagerie, and feasted fresh gruyere, raw goat milk cheese and beef salami. It was beautiful but not particularly warm, so we are quickly and didn’t linger. Brrr!  

 We walked down another way, to the village of Caux, past twisted avalanche gates and vertigo-inducing drop offs to the valley below.  Slight detour around the cows.

  

 At the bottom, there was a helicopter that kept flying back and forth, picking up a load. In one of the more memorable moments of our trip, we finally realized what was dangling from its rope: a dead cow. It had died high up in the mountain, and an unceremonious trip by air was the only way down.   We have neither a great photo of the cow, nor the stunned expressions on everyone’s faces. It is probably better that way. 

 Unlike the cow, we got a dignified trip down, and hopped a ride on the cog railway down to Montreux and then home. 

The next morning we all went to the olympic museum (minus Steve, hard at work in the lab). Lausanne is the home of the IOC. The Scott Bourises are hard core Olympic fans and we soaked it all up. The display on Rio was especially interesting, clelebrating the music and beach culture and soccer life of the city. We’re feeling a bit disconnected from the Games right now – not much wifi or TV – so we loved the big screen TV in the lobby where we stood with visitors from around the world cheering on the swimmers. Definitely worth another visit! 

    
 

Can you name the athlete who wore this outfit?

 We gave our excellent hosts a big hug in the Olympic gift shop, and headed out towards the mountains. Thanks so much, Steph and family – see you in Victoria!
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Sent from somewhere on the Rhine