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Don’t Buy Ivory

Stone Town streets

Stone Town streets (Photo credit: Berlotti)

Don’t buy ivory. Thats what we were told. None. Therefore, when I walked down the row of shop in Stone Town and entered one selling little souvenirs that were hopefully only made of Malachite. This hope, I was to find out, was ill founded. My young eyes wandered over the rows of items that included little hippos that you could hold in the palm of your hand and tiny cooking pots, hehe.

One could smell the malachite in these places, a wonderful sense. You could also duck into these buildings, made of cool stone, as the name of the city suggests, to escape the heat. Not that that was intolerable. In fact, it was no worse than you might find in the Mediterranean. They had the most lovely vibrant colours in their products as well. Its as though someone had splattered fifty different shades all over the walls and just let it dry.

Hanging in Stone Town

Hanging in Stone Town (Photo credit: Camera, Lights)

I wanted to buy one to bring home to my mother. I came back off that trip to Zanzibar with an entire carry-on bag just full of souvenirs. Everything from silk to kitchen utensils. I casually strode over, with the floor creaking below me, and, with my long reach, plucked one of the pots off the top shelf.

We asked all the time about the materials used to make them. “How much?” I asked the owner, showing him my prospective merchandise.

“18,000 shillings”. I nearly died! That was almost seven pounds. I was going to ask him what the base material was but that high price made me know inside. “Ivory?”, I again queried him. “Yes” was the answer. I promptly put the item back on the shelf.

A bedrock rule of the charity I was with, teaching English in a place called Jambiani on the east coast, was “Do not buy Ivory!”

The charity was African Impact.

The People Of Zanzibar

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If ever there was a truly tolerant and hard-working people, it would that of this pearl of beauty in the Indian Ocean. It lies approximately twenty miles off the coast of East Africa and fifty from Dar Es Salaam.  They work as hard as can be and the best way of thanking these people for providing me with such a rich, unforgettable and life-changing experience is to write this post and spread their wisdom, though, in truth, it should be kept a secret.

Coming up to two years ago in July of 2013, I embarked on a voluntary placement with African Impact; a project called the Zanzibar Rural Teaching and Community Project. The local people and other volunteers are some of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met. Take Dulla, one of the project managers.

Seaweed

Seaweed (Photo credit: Horatiu Curutiu)

He would arise at three a.m. to tend to his mother’s seaweed plantation. This was the main cash crop in Zanzibar when I was there. That was at least two hours work. Then he would return home to cook breakfast at five. Another hour. Time to get his son up.

It’s at least twenty minutes walk either way. Next is lesson planning. Afterwards, it’s now eight-thirty. Hop on the bike now and its up to the Jambiani Tourism Training Institute.

Arrive at nine. Teach the class. Good. Ten-fifteen now. Over to the primary school for ten-thirty. Teach at the primary school, actually there were three, till twelve. Go home. Eat lunch. One o’clock now and lesson planning for the football boys’ lessons in English.  Three o’clock.

The kids are home. Head out to set up and undertake football practice. That means it is now four o’clock. After that, you have to teach them English until 18:00.

Then, and only then, does he go home and help his wife to cook and the kids with homework. What a day!! If anyone was forced to do that in rich parts of the world, people would tell them to get help. The seaweed workers could be seen when we woke up and gazed onto the beach at 6 a.m.in the morning, the the eastern sky the colour of a blood orange.

Lets take the inhabitants of Stone Town. Extremely resourceful in making money. They do it any way they can think of. Some will try to sell nice souvenirs such as very fine arts and crafts, music CDs and Zanzibar football shirts. Others will helpfully give you directions. But perhaps the most interesting and educational of these entrepreneur are the tour guides.

English: A food seller displaying his items at...

English: A food seller displaying his items at Forodhani park in Zanzibar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, once we were given a tour without being asked and were expected to pay afterwards. Its always wise to carry a bit more money than usual around the town. Just in case. Now, you won’t see many beggars, during the day. They only come out of the woodwork at the night market. They are completely harmless and won’t usually ask for more than a thousand shillings, or forty British pence.

Considerate? They are very much so. There is a Red Colobus monkey reserve in the middle of the island and, when we drove through this area, the drivers always slowed down and I never saw one of the creatures lying dead by the roadside. They are an endangered species and this area, plus the rest of the island, is their only known habitat.

Red Colobus monkey in Jozani forest. Endemic t...

Red Colobus monkey in Jozani forest. Endemic to Zanzibar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Want to have some fun and games? Why not see Makunduchi festival. The occurrence of this party is at the end of every month.

The idea behind it is simple. At the end of every month, all the men-of-age in the community gather into groups and are issued banana sticks. Then they gather in a large field with the women cheering on their partner.

It is up to the mayor to then to basically say “Alright, chaps. Any bad blood between you, take it out in three-two-one…NOW!”, at which point he blows the whistle and the men start whacking one another. One shouldn’t be alarmed,though.

The sticks hurt a little, but not for long. Its no worse than a bee sting.  The fight will spread all over the field and you should be prepared to leg it, quickly, lol:)

The point about these people is not the cliche that they have less and are happier for it.  Nor is it the fact that they work hard or that they have a permanent smile upon their face. It is the combination of all three.

Their strength is that, despite the fact that they desire better healthcare and education, they know enough not to complain.

“Gallantry and wisdom without knowing it”. That is the way I would describe the inhabitants of the archipelago. Their plight is not that of other countries in the area. They have thriving tourism and crop industries.

It is that most common of foes, environmental destruction and, on the part of foreign tourists, carelessness. The main perpetrator of these crimes are the large, global hotel chains that set up shop on the island.

The swimming pool at Baraza Resort and Spa pip...

The swimming pool at Baraza Resort and Spa pipes music into the water so you can hear it while you are swimming. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was once a time when, on one of our week-end activities, we decided to attend a full-moon party in a place called Nungwi at the northernmost tip of Unguja, the main island of Zanzibar.

We came into the village in our minivan and I observed, in front of us, two children playing on either side of a brown puddle that straddled the road. I said “Look at those two kids playing in the mud”. It wasn’t mud.

Cute Young African Boy

Cute Young African Boy (Photo credit: terbeck)

The full-moon festival was great! Not for Manoel, a Swiss volunteer, though. He took one bite into his burger on the first evening and prudently chose not to eat the rest. However, that did not stop him from being violently sick.

It was also the weekend where I met Jennifer, my girlfriend of the time. She was a lovely person. She was from the mainland where her dad worked, or possibly still does, on the Serengeti as a park warden.

These people have resilience and humanity at every turn. They are quite happy on their little island. What a marvellous adventure!

Swimming With Dolphins In Zanzibar

A dolphin leaps out of the water in the Indian...

A dolphin leaps out of the water in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Would you like to swim with dolphins in the Indian Ocean? I can tell you that I certainly enjoyed it when I had the opportunity to do so in July of 2011. It was a truly wondrous feeling! We were taken out about a mile or so beyond the reef and were positioned so that the dolphin pods swam right through our group of small craft.

Its an amazing feeling! Once you’re out there, the boat skipper will say “get ready”. You all sit on one side of the boat. This sounds like a bad idea, and it is but, somehow, the boats manage to stay upright. As the groups appear on the horizon, he’ll yell “go!”. Thats exactly what you do. Into the water then.

What happens next, you’ll never forget. These lovely, intelligent creatures pass right between you and the next man, providing you with the most spiritual experience ever known to man. On their migration route too! I tell you, I came back with the biggest smile on my face. These happy souls show off as though they were in a fun park in the azure of the Indian Ocean.

 

Swimming with dolphins

Swimming with dolphins (Photo credit: Krister462)

 

It was a really special day. It is one that remains in your memory, not because you did something unique, but because you connect with mother nature in a way that is impossible to describe to anyone who hasn’t done it. They have the tamest natures and the happiest smiles on their faces. Smiles all around!

And you can buy a bracelet of a little wooden dolphin off the vendors that are around:)

Skansen, a guide to Stockholm’s 19th century exhibit

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A fully-functioning 19th-century village? Thats what you’ll find in Sweden’s oldest open air museum, formed in 1891. Truly magnificent in both content and scale, it is a must-see for anyone wishing to visit this Bastion of Scandinavia. The Post Office still operates and arts and crafts are taught all year round. 

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Its name is…Skansen!

If you like the smell of timber and architecture of the 19th century then this is the place for you. The sight of people in period costume  of the place and the architecture will leave you breath-taken. The staff are informative and there is an authentic Swedish chef. Ever seen the muppets? He’ll remind you of them. It is truly the heart of 19th century Sweden. The open air cafes are abundant. So is cycling…

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There are places like Helin and Voltaire that serve coffee tea and pastries, the smell of which you’ll never forget, plus more, or there is Skansen terrace, a wonderful open-air venue where you can sit and drink under the sky of a long summer evening. Want to have your own little glass moose? Why not go to the glass-blower and watch him make it before your very eyes?

All the fauna of Sweden are kept here. If you find seals cute and cuddly, a grey one is fed every day at his aquatic enclosure. He looks happy all -day long. The size of the enclosures is large. The animals have plenty of room and are loved by both staff and visitors.

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Its harmony with nature leads you to think of all the dream you dreamt as a child.

Cornwall

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It was a bright June day when we set out for Cornwall. I was excited. It was just my mother and I for the first time in ages! Not only that: I was also headed back to Cornwall again for the first time in six years! 2008 was the year.

We were to see sights that were both commonplace in modern English culture and those steeped in the ancient mysteries of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

We were headed to Mullion Cove, where we had spent some time in a holiday cottage after having moved from Canada in May of 2002. We set out early in the day and expected to camp for the whole time we were away. In actual fact, it was too cold and, on the second night, we opted for a travelodge.

However, the first night was spent in a campsite, us having packed a tent in the back of our Subaru. When we got to the cove on the first day, we spent some time wandering around, taking various photos. We got some absolute scorchers as well! It figures, though. My mums a photographer. What a lovely setting.

The rugged coastline and unique culture of this part of the world leaves you with the feeling that it is completely disconnected from the mainland of United KingdomWe spent the evening in a nice pub up on the hill behind the cove.

It was a pleasant place with an outside seating area/garden and there was a lovely breeze coming off the water. The tables were clean and the food was decent. It also had the most pleasant path leading up to it…

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We had a game of dice. Its very similar to Yahtzee, a North American game. We took a walk along the top of the cliffs and sampled the view as the sun set on the western horizon. At this time of day, it is a beautiful and truly spiritual place. 

Our campsite was on top of the hill above the hamlet and was therefore a little breezy. The sleeping in the tent was a little cold, although I didn’t feel this. I was snug a bug in a rug. Also, it was a three-man tent. Thats handy, given that I’m 6 feet 5 inches.

It was about five in the morning and a dull gun-metal sky presided over us. We packed the tent and set out across Cornwall for St Ives. My mum was very kind and gave up some of her day at Naval Air Station Culdrose‘s viewing area, complete with cafeteria. I remember taking a good shot of a Sea King helicopter based there. Good tea too!

Royal Navy Sea King

Royal Navy Sea King (Photo credit: fromthevalleys-)

When we got to St Ives, it was still grey. Not clear like our previous day. The town retained its appearance, however. A rare quality is that this county, and, moreover, St Ives will look good no matter what the weather. In fact, it is probably more beautiful in the mist and fog. It is also home to the Tate St Ives.

Tate St Ives, Cornwall

Tate St Ives, Cornwall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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What the town is Unique in is its peninsula-style harbour that has twin beaches, a feature that is not replicated anywhere else, to my knowledge. Although the sea gulls will try to steal your ice cream if you’re by the waterfront.

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The smell of the sea mixed with fish and chips…and I mean the authentic English style…would be out of place on any other shore, especially without the accompanying countryside. It really fills the nostrils. It really can not be copied successfully either, although some areas of the world try to sell them with authenticity. It doesn’t ring true!

In the afternoon, we headed for the small town of Mousehole. This is a quaint town typical of any Cornish fishing community. It boasts a lovely harbour area, filled with small boats for rent, and a line of postcard shops with cafes. There is, of course, no shortage of pubs either.

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That was day two over with. We spent that night in a Travelodge, given that my mother had to get some fitful sleep for the drive home the following day. She snored and I had a restless night, having to go for a couple of walks.  But that didn’t bother me because I love my mother very much.

It was on the way home that we stopped off at Port Isaac, where we strode along the cliffs and sampled the village. It is a small fishing village that was very prosperous from the middle ages to the 19th century and vital commodities such as stone, coal, timber and potteries were unloaded here.

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There are also good beaches around. If you want to surf, then the beaches at Perranporth and Newquay offer world-famous beaches and surf that will take your breath away.

I bought a little souvenir from the gift shop present at Tintagel castle. The prices were just about right there. Not too expensive, nor cheap. The item was a little Celtic treskil, or cross.

Legend has it that the castle is the birthplace of King Arthur. And so it slips into place as a site that is set in the most British of tales. And what better place to have it than this bleak and stormy isle!

A romantic, beautiful place, it is set amongst green cliffs and there is little left of the building itself. But that just adds to the scenario. It’s a bit like somebody just took an hourglass and made time stay till throughout the ages. To think of the legend that the place is immersed in just gives me goosebumps.

The castle itself is set amongst the steepest cliffs anywhere could possibly offer with green grass atop them. There is little left of the castle itself, but that only adds to its romantic and magical lore. It lies roughly equidistant between the towns of Padstow and Bude. Also very special places.

And so it came to pass that we plondered slowly home, a six-hour drive, under screaming blue skies and with happy contentment. We had had a joyous break!

Boxer dogs and chairs

English: Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower peninsu...

English: Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower peninsular of South Wales. Photograph taken by Jamie O’Shaughnessy September 5, 2003, released to the public domain. Category:Pictures of Swansea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The glorious summer of 2003 smiled greatly on the Welsh Gower peninsula when my mother and I decided to camp there with our precious boxer dog Molly, who had been a rescue dog and now awaits us at Rainbow Bridge.

We had recently got her and she was a delightful dog…except for the incident where she was almost drowned by a swan! That happened after she went into the water and chased one.

Anyway, we spent the night in a two-person-one-dog tent. Molly decided that she wasn’t going to lie down despite our asks and we eventually decided not to argue with her.

I can still remember her silhouette against the evening sky, sitting bolt upright with her ears perked. She looked like a vulture ready to swoop on its prey.

That same evening that we spent in the tent, I had been sitting in at an outside table belonging to a cafeteria when my mother said she was going to get our dinner.

O.k. I thought. Now, I’m not thick, but I thought that a chair, even it was just flimsy plastic, could hold down a boxer dog so I could have my drink.

Therefore, I put the chair leg through the loop-handle on her lead and sat down again. As I began to enjoy my drink, I found out I was wrong. One moment, I was upright and drinking away. The next, I was on my back lying on concrete.

She had seen a dog and destroyed my thin barrier instantly  The man with the dog, however, picked up her lead and, after greeting her new-found canine friend, she sat.

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As we were headed back to the tent that night, we saw a three-legged plastic chair lying on the scrap-heap.

Whatever you do, don’t shut up!

Snow in Calgary meant an hour and forty-five minute delay. The later the flight, the easier it would be for me to sleep. It would be at ten-fifteen p.m. now. I casually accepted my boarding pass and headed to the gate where I chatted to a nice English lady. I was headed home to the UK after a five-month stint in British Columbia.

Vancouver International Airport

Vancouver International Airport (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

And so our mount arrived. Air Transat still operate Airbus 310. Old crates. Still, there was plenty of legroom and the passenger next to me was pleasant. She had an English accent, was fluent in French and was a Canadian citizen. I spoke with her for the brief hoop to Calgary, a stop before setting out for London.

A we departed Calgary, I got a stark reminder of why the prairies are so avoided in Canadian lore. Because they are flat as a pancake. The aircraft seemed to roll on forever. Eventually, we got airborne. Supper wasn’t served at this late hour, just snacks.

Now it was time for that aforementioned sleep. Just one problem, the two guys in the aisle seats next to us. They wouldn’t shut up! Yak-yak-yak. Eventually, I drifted off. At least they were far enough away that I could do so. Not so for my companion.

I woke up when we were over Newfoundland and things were beginning to get light again. They were still yakking away. Four hours later? Still Yakkin’ over the Celtic Sea. Sigh. Well, at least we were almost home.

Coming in low over London now, I watched the traffic on the M4. To me, it reminded me of blood running through an artery, like some grand scientist co-relation theory.

After passing through customs, my fellow passenger spoke her thoughts about our two pests!

Foul-up in Turin

EasyJet A319 Tailfins

EasyJet A319 Tailfins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Early May. Gorgeous! Especially if you are travelling to the Italian Riviera when you are only seventeen years old. I was headed for San Remo, having just touched down in Turin. That went fairly smoothly. No trouble at customs.

I landed at 12:05 and had to catch a train to San Remo at 14:05 from the main station. Ample time, or so I thought.

I made my way, dutifully, to the airports rail link where I asked the station manager when the next train would come. He informed me that it would be only a few minutes.

It was now about 12:30 and I had to wait for another 30 minutes, I don’t recall exactly how long.

The point is that, when I caught the train, It was 13:00. Time was still sufficient. I got off the train around 13:20 and onto the bus, asking the driver, who had poor English, to drop me off at the main train station.

Torino Stazione Porta Nuova

Torino Stazione Porta Nuova (Photo credit: Michael Tinkler)

He forgot and, when he stopped at his terminus, it was 13:50. I was now alarmed.

After about 5 minutes of him chatting and me gesturing, he passed me some paper. I wrote “Treno 14:05 San Remo”.

Suddenly understanding, he asked any of the passengers, for some reason still loitering, if they could speak English.

Two young schoolgirls came forward and we rushed to the train station.

It was too late. I got there just in time to see my train leaving the platform. Now what? Call my father and ask him what to do.

So I bought a drink from a stall and used the change in a payphone. I called him and we agreed that the best thing for me to do was catch a train to Savona and, from there, to San Remo.

This happened, the Savona train leaving Turin at 16:05. Two hours behind schedule. I eventually caught the San Remo train, being delayed by two more hours. Lesson learned! Leave AT LEAST three hours between the plane landing and the train leaving the station!

British Columbia and the Prairies

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Late June. the time of sunshine, green grass, getting out of school…and…an attempt at crossing the nation. Imagine that. Us setting out from the southern tip of Vancouver Island and inching across the second-largest country on Earth.

From the fjords and inlets of British Columbia through the Rocky Mountains and their glaciers, across the great wide open spaces and golden wheat fields of the Prairies, through Ontario in early Autumn, the forests of Quebec and, finally, to the ruggedness of the eastern “Maritime” provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the great nation of Canada!

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This was a family experience to behold. We got as far as Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. My sister, my mum and dad, our dalmatian, Daphne, and our Volkswagen camper. But it was great fun, we had two weeks on the road and they were an eye-opener for a ten-year-old.

The first day covered the always-scenic ferry route between Swartz Bay near the town of Sidney, B.C., where we lived, and Tsawwassen, outside Vancouver. The hour-and-a-half sailing conjured up a romantic image.

There was Active Pass between Galiano and Maine Islands, where the west and east-bound ferries would pass within a few hundred metres. It was always entertaining to wave to the other ship.

English: BC Ferries' Queen of Saanich navigati...

English: BC Ferries’ Queen of Saanich navigating Active Pass enroute to Swartz Bay, British Columbia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By dusk we were in the interior of the province, a place called Osoyoos, home to Canada’s one and only desert. It was a pleasant, green site in evening sunshine where we camped, and toasted to our journey with plastic cups and apple juice.

They were fun nights too. We would listen to the crickets croak. Just of think of that. Us sleeping amongst the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. It gave me goosebumps.

We would chit-chat into the small hours and awake, groggy, to a bright sunshine overseeing the mountains overseeing the valleys in high summer. I’d never wanted to get up early before that. I’ve done it ever since.

As we crossed deep into the Interior of British Columbia, we came across its unspeakable beauty. We stopped in the small town of Nelson, often seen in movies. This hillside town overlooks a lake of the same name and was a pleasant addition to our trip. It is notable not only for its scenery, but for its character.

English: Mount Robson, Mount Robson Provincial...

English: Mount Robson, Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It conforms to a grid system for its streets but it seemed not to have a false atmosphere. The campsite was spent amongst a campsite full of greenery and trees, occupied, in turn, by cute, fuzzy creatures such as raccoons and squirrels. It also had exquisite Lake Nelson as its backdrop.

Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountains (Photo credit: The Brit_2)

Some pleasant memories lie in that campsite. My family were all together, my sister and I were able to run around unrestrained. As we walked our dalmatian on the gravel, dog-poo littered beach (I just ruined everyone’s pristine image of the my homeland), I felt the most joy I had done in many months…possibly even years.

The Fraser river! Many have chanced the rapids of this rushing torrent of water and lost. The whitewater rafting goes on all year and is not to be tackled by the faint-hearted.

There had been no deaths that year, to our knowledge, but we felt that we neither had the money nor time (bags of courage!) to brave the iciness and extreme, life-threatening cold that it had to offer.

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If you’ve never seen a glacier, then you should start with the Columbia Glacier. It is FANTASTIC!! One could see the thickness of it from our angle. It must have been a hundred feet thick at least! Wow, that took it out of me…Its too bad that we only saw it from the vehicle. But it will last with me forever.

Jasper was great, the national park where elk and man may co-exist. The park lies on the Albertan side of the provincial border. The creatures wander around freely and will even come up close and personal with your vehicle. They’re sweet mammals, too. Leave them alone and they won’t harm you. Here are some shots of the park…

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We spent two days here, swatting mosquitoes and other animals, namely elk and humans, before penetrating deep into Alberta true.

Alberta, as you may have presumed, is named after British royalty and has the amazing claim that one can sometimes drive for 10 miles with not even the slightest bend in the road, shuffle up to a closed train crossing and sit for several minutes while a train pulling more than a miles worth of wheat carriages goes by, and drive another ten miles with no bends again.

I scooped up  pile of dirt in a plastic cup labelled “Alberta”; a tradition that I followed through on in Saskatchewan.

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Canada is the world’s largest exporter of wheat and the fourth largest grower. It isn’t difficult to see why when you consider the distance between the Canadian Shield…a rocky, barren sub-tundra group of ice-age rocks…and the Rocky Mountains.

It is seven to eight hundred miles by road from Calgary to Winnipeg, depending on which road you take. As for the campsites in this part of the world, they’re o.k., except for when we stopped at a place called North Battleford, Saskatchewan.

It was run down, only offered a broken picnic table, stank of the brown stuff and had more mosquitoes than grass blades. It was around this time that we decided, due to our camper’s chronic engine trouble, that it was best to head as far as Moose Jaw.

We then witnessed an air show, and head home. This met with some disappointment, but we were running a little low on the ka-ching so it had to be done. Besides, this is what Saskatchewan looks like…

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As I recall, the show was pretty good for my dad and I, but purgatory for my mother and sister. I don’t blame them. I think of how much I used to hate clothe-shopping. Now it’s rather fun. We saw the famous Snowbirds there…just three passes, kinda dull.

Then there was the chance, which I took, to sit in the front cockpit of a “Tutor” trainer aircraft, the type used by the team, and flick switches! It’s a shame I have no photographs of this or the other two journeys, in the blog. We were glad, of course, to see our house again.

Once, we had an attempt, and failed again, at a four-day jaunt from our home on Vancouver Island to Calgary. Our little Honda Accord had ignition trouble. Great.

We did, however, get to drive through Hope, in Silver Lake Provincial Park, and other small communities such as Penticton and Revelstoke, where we aborted the attempt.

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Description unavailable (Photo credit: Magalie L’Abbé)

I remember us having to receive assistance from the ferry company when we docked to start our car again. Oh boy…they weren’t happy.

But it truly was a privilege to lose myself in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains.

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The French and Italian Riviera

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If the smell of strawberry ice cream turns you on, then you’ll easily be allured to the aroma of a gelateria in Portofino, San Remo or Menton. These are the towns of the Franco-Italian Riviera and they bask in sun for two-thirds of the year.

If that sounds good to you, then the Riviera is the place for you. Whether it is the sunny ice creams, pizzerias and cappuccino’s in Italy, or Arabic cafes, bakeries and beaches on the French side, this place is truly enchanting.

It is full of all the glories of life in this part of the world. I remember about eleven years ago now, when my dad flew into Nice to see us. However, this was only because this was the nearest point to us that he could fly to. One problem.

We lived in Brittany…northwest…and not southeast…France. Why were we living there? A story for another time.

So we piled into our Volvo Estate and set off for the long journey across France. It was one to remember too. After we had left, we passed through France’s equivalent of the Canadian prairies. It is the breadbasket of the country, with wheat being the chief product and fertile soil lying in the land.

The Pays De La Loire and Poitou-Charente regions stretch from St Nazaire in the north to Bordeaux in the south and from the Bay of Biscay in the west to Clermont-Ferrand in the east.

An overnight stop was spent in Clermont in an Etap hotel for a good rate, about forty Euros, as I recall. It was a clean and well-dressed city. We left the next morning and spent most of the day driving south to Narbonne, a fun little town in Provence. Green trees line the avenue of this sweet, beautiful town.

We had to travel this far south to reach the main road, the E15 to Montpellier and then the E80 Salon-de-Provence, outside Marseille. Then on to Aix-en-Provence where you’ll pass through Parc Jourdan and straight on to our destination.

Now, about Nice. After a night in a seaside hotel, we entered the city in order to pick up my dad from the airport. The city didn’t make a good impression with me. Aside from that, though, we had a decent stay, punctuated by the beaches, or, namely, the topless women on them.

I was fourteen years old and, for me, it was paradise. As we crossed the border into Italy, I felt a distinct sense of adventure. My first impression of San Remo on the Italian side was one of surrealism. It was January and the christmas lights were  still up.

This did not gel at all with the  temperate beaches and sunshine that the city glowed in. I passed through Monaco twice to get there by train. The view of the water was dazzling! It only cost 5 Euros and the station was clean. Not so in San Remo.

The longest tunnel-walk in the world between the train and the station front door is here. It takes a few minutes. Happy days were spent there, as my dad purchased a flat in Ceriana, a tiny hill village just a few miles north of San Remo.

Ceriana (IM), 2010.

Ceriana (IM), 2010. (Photo credit: Fiore S. Barbato)

It was a sweet place, as is shown below, but the flat was uninhabited and unprepared. My dad had rather unrealistic ideas about renting it out to tourists.

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We met up with a real estate agent in the village, called Martina, who ran a real estate business with her husband, Klaus. We spent a day overlooking the flat and discussing terms. It wasn’t very interesting for me and I didn’t like the property. I think my dad was the only one who did.

But that was the first time I went down. Over the next few years, I grew fond of the flat, having stayed in it twice in 2005 for a week’s stretch and a two-week stretch. The first time I went down, my dad picked me up from the airport.

We crossed into France again one day as we headed for the seaside town of Menton. I’ll remember that day forever. There was a festival of oranges on and it was bright screaming sunshine. And as for the bakeries, there were fruit-flavoured pastries abound!

Menton

Menton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We tried some oranges and they are probably the best I’ve ever had. I really appreciated my dad doing that for me. He was so impressed with the town. It was a really special week.

The bus trip…anyone who has been on the road between Ceriana on the bus  is either extremely brave, foolish or insane. A the bus veers close to the steep drop-off on one side, my heart leaps. My faith in the drivers is not well-founded either.

They gab on their cell-phones, talk to the passengers and throw their hands up in the air, completely oblivious to the concept that they might have to keep those things that have fingers on them gripped to the big wheel that steers the thing called a bus with loads of innocent people, whose life flashes before their eyes, in it.

Mine did. I was quite peaceful about that. Scared stiff about dying though.

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If you get there, though, this is what awaits. A calm, cosy square with cafes all around and a pleasant, gentle atmosphere to suit. I felt as though life could not be more contented. The marina was just adjacent to the square, leisure boats and the like.

Well I sure hope Mario enjoyed the English tea that I got for him and the strawberry jam, among with other items. It was only on later trips that I found out about all the eateries in the vicinity. The communities are tiny, but they have traditionally cooked, very palatable food.

One may dine at the pizzeria in Ceriana itself, run by Esmerelda and Dario. It has the finest Margherita’s around. Then there are, of course, numerous counterparts such as the Restaurant Vecchia Fattoria. Don’t be mistaken. Of the dozen or so items on the menu, you don’t get to choose one.

They’ll serve you the entire menu, one item after another. There was also a cafe in Bajardo, further north about two miles. I don’t recall the name. Portofino and the cove around the harbour are not to be forgotten. The colour of its sweet little cottages embedded on the hillside is an image that will last for decades in my memory.

It’s gaudy-painted boats only add to this glamorous retreat. You can spend hours by the waterfront there and getting to it by car is a fun adventure of relaxing, winding roads and sunshine. Along with car honks. someone may be around the bend in front of you, so you’d better warn them of your presence!

There was Turin too, of course. I flew in there once to catch a train to San Remo. Two remarkable things happened to me. One, the first time I went there, the bus driver forgot to tell me when I was at the station. This resulted in me missing my train and having to connect via Savona.

It added about four hours to my journey. The second experience was when I went back. My dad and I took the train, kipping in the station. We got about two hours of sleep and decided to wander round at three a.m. Bizarrely, all the cafes were buzzing.

That morning, we checked into a decent hotel, shadowed a monastery above the city. We ate in a cosmopolitan restaurant and flew out the next day.

It was with sadness, therefore, that my father had to sell his flat, never having rented it to so much as dormouse. They were lovely days…