Daily Post prompt: Meander


Close to a farm’s track where the GPS (Satnav) led us. That road in the distance is where we wanted to go!

The Daily Post at WordPress encourages writers to blog and offers two ways to inspire a new post on your blog. They have a weekly photo challenge which I’ve taken up lots of times since my travel photography is one of the reasons I started this blog. They also suggest a word once a week that you might relate to in some way that might not even *be* about that word/prompt. But if it gets the creative juices flowing, it worked, didn’t it?

This week’s word is “meander”. To meander is to follow a winding road or curved path. To me, that meandering path is random, zigs and zags, unexpected turns. Traveling can be like that, too. I tend to be an organizer. Not to the minute or even necessarily to the day but I like to make sure I have a bed booked for the night and I like to know I’ll be getting from A to B on the day when the hotel in B is booked. Generally how I get there is predetermined as well. If we are driving the roads or walking through a city, then those streets and roads have meandering potential and we often take it. The end result is usually always been worth the veering off the beaten track.

My first ever big trip was in high school on a tour sponsored by the French department. We flew in and out of Rome, taking the train to Paris then to Nice on the French Riviera and the train again back to Rome. There wasn’t a lot of time for meandering. The tour did give us some free time and we headed out with specific destinations in mind but I don’t really recall any meandering, just looking for the best way to get where we wanted to go. To add meandering into the mix meant we knew we would get to destination B but didn’t really care how we got there or how long it took.

The next big trip was a bus tour of the UK when I was all grown up, divorced, and finally able to afford to travel to my first bucket list destination. London and the UK and I had been soul mates most of my life. The bus tour would hit the highlights of England, Scotland and Wales with a few days in London at either end. Of course the bus didn’t meander, it had a schedule to meet. But we had free time to do what we wanted, whether it was an extended lunch period or an afternoon. Most evenings were free as well. Plenty of chances to see new things while meandering and exploring.

Neil’s Yard from a later visit

My first visit to London in 1993 was mostly free time aside from a tour around the Tower of London and I found myself in the Covent Garden area one sunny afternoon in late August/early September. I spied a narrow alley and I wondered where that would lead. There were lots of people coming and going through it so I walked into the shade it provided, the tall buildings with small shops lining each side. I came to the other end, out into the open. It was a sunny courtyard. There were benches where you could sit. There were shops and a couple of cafes. There were brightly coloured flags hanging everywhere. It was Neil’s Yard and it was enchanting. I’ve been back once or twice but it’s never had the same effect as discovering it that first time.

Cornwall (St. Ives) 2011

Later on, when I was involved in a long distance relationship with a lovely man who lived in the UK, we would book a rental car for a week of my UK visit to him and plan road trips or day trips. We generally weren’t in a hurry so meandering was often involved. We’d see a sign for a museum we didn’t know existed. We’d notice a really great view to stop off and admire. We’d often have a GPS (“Sat Nav” in UK-speak) directing us to our destination but don’t think that took the meander out of the equation. Oh no. Sometimes I think the GPS had a meander chip of its own, judging by the spots it tended to direct us to. The little track across the back of someone’s farm comes to mind as does an impossibly narrow lane in the old centre of St. Ives. We laugh about it now.

I haven’t yet taken a trip where we have no accommodations booked ahead of time. We talk about it now and then. We may even do it someday. We’re looking at a potential road trip around Scotland this fall and maybe that might be a good time to take the leap of faith, head into the Highlands and see how long it takes and how difficult or easy it would be to find a bed for the night at the end of each new day. Maybe with the help of a hotel app on our phone and a decent signal in a town centre it’s doable. Or is that cheating?

I’m a Tourist

See the people in the yellow caps? That's a tour group! Piazza Rotunda (outside the Pantheon). Rome, 2012

See the people in the yellow caps? That’s a tour group! Piazza Rotunda (outside the Pantheon). Rome, 2012

“Tourist trap”
“Too many tourists”
“I’m a traveler, not a tourist”
The word “tourist” seems to have a lot of negative connotations. The definition of a tourist is one that travels for pleasure. Where did the negative come from? There’s a long tradition of people traveling from their homes to far off places. Maybe the religious pilgrimages could be considered early tourists. In the glory days of empires such as the Romans, Egyptians and Greeks, it’s likely people went to the major cities and centres to see the sights, perhaps get a glimpse of the ruler. These ancient sites continued to draw visitors all through the centuries. Explorers could be considered tourists, too, even if they didn’t know what they were going to find before they got where they were going.

The word “tourist” was first used in 1772. That’s just about the time that wealthy gentlemen began taking Grand Tours around Europe and some of the sites of the more ancient civilizations. They became tourists. Baedeker published guide books and maps to assist building an itinerary. At first, tourism was mainly something that you did if you had money or if you were poor and wanted to go on a pilgrimage. But soon, there were more means of transportation available which got cheaper and cheaper, chiefly train travel which linked widespread destinations. Organized tours companies sprung up. Local people made money guiding visitors. The industry flourished.

The crowds became thicker. And it seemed people in them started to be less inquisitive, more interested in the status of being able to say “I’ve been to…”. They were rude to the locals, didn’t try to speak even a few words of the local language or observe some of the customs. They complained because things weren’t the same as they were at home, as if they should be. That one always baffles me. Even today you hear people whine. If you want things to be the same as they are at home, stay home. The tourist gained a bad reputation even if it’s the case of a minority ruining the reputation for the whole because let’s face it, there are millions of tourists. They aren’t all rude and they don’t all complain. The crowds can be off putting. The attractions and the souvenirs become tacky, with too much corporate influence. But sometimes, corporate sponsorship is the only thing that helps keep them open. That’s not always a good thing but mostly, it is, especially in the case of historic sites. And “tacky” is often a personal opinion. Others might call it kitchy or fun. Everyone has different tastes.

Our tour group from the UK tour 1993

Our tour group from the UK tour 1993

People are becoming proud of bragging that they are a traveler, not a tourist, and they go to places that are less popular, more remote, and “live like the locals” as much as they can. That’s great if it’s what you want to do. If you want to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Wall of China, or the Pyramids of Giza and elbow your way through the crowds, that’s great, too. There’s always a way to avoid the more crowded times if crowds give you the heebie jeebies. You can still living like the locals and see the famous sites, visit the galleries and museums, shop and enjoy a wonderful meal with local wine. Locals do that, too.

As for me, I’m a tourist. I really enjoy historic sites, museums (especially quirky small ones, but any will do), galleries, cathedrals and other religious buildings (because the art is usually superb). I shop a little, take a huge amount of photos and like to try local beers and wines along with my food. As far as the major class “attractions”, I find a large majority of them are over-hyped, over-expensive and end up a disappointment. “Is that all there is?” I pick and choose, depending on the value that I perceive it to have for me.

The White Tower, Tower of London

The White Tower, Tower of London

The Tower of London is expensive, but it’s very historic. The Crown Jewels? I’ve seen them but I found the armoury and museum far more interesting. I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower but I haven’t gone up to see the view, which is a bit odd for me because I usually like going up high places like that. I do, however, think it looks amazing now that there’s a sparkly light show at night every hour. The Roman Colosseum was all the better because we booked a tour and heard about the history behind it. That really added to our experience.

It really does come down to personal taste as far as what you would enjoy, what you feel is worth the money and effort. Be polite, be curious, be open minded and be flexible. Go with the flow and be on your toes, too, because another down side to being a tourist is that you might be a target for petty crime, especially in crowds.

Whether you consider yourself a tourist or a traveler, you’ve journeyed away from home to experience new things, different cultures, or just a change of scenery. Whether it’s around the world or a day trip to a nearby location, being a tourist means new memories. That’s never a bad thing.

More views on being a tourist on WordPress’s daily challenge, here.



Travel journey of the week: Belgium

Grand Place, Brussels at night

Wahey, this is my 200th blog post!

Liberated Travel’s theme this week is Belgium. Their one experience was in Bruges. As it happens, I’ve only just mentioned my short visit to Brussels here  but there’s a bit more to fill out on that stay.

We stayed at the Ibis St. Catherine, near a large square with St. Catherine’s church in it. The square is filled with restaurants, primarily seafood oriented as this used to be the fish market apparently. This caused a bit of a problem as my partner is not all that keen on seafood so we wandered a bit away from the square and found a small Chinese restaurant which, it turned out, was cheap, cheerful and quite tasty. When looking for hotels in Brussels, we did find the prices a bit high for our usual budget and even the Ibis, at about $200 CAD a night without breakfast was on the steep side (that was before I started looking at hotel prices in New York City!!!)

We got to Brussels about 5 o’clock so we headed to Grand Place after settling in though stopped and had a meal at a restaurant on the main road first, before following the narrow cobbled lane in. As you would expect, there are lots of little souvenir shops, restaurants, and shops selling Belgian chocolate and beer and lace in this area. You come out of there into the square and your jaw drops. The Stadhuis (town hall) spire soared over us and the buildings all around the square had gilded touches and decoration. Many of them are from the 17th and 18th century. The large structure facing the Town Hall is the Maison du Roi and the stone work almost looks lacy!

There are a lot of restaurants on the square though they’ll be expensive. Our first view of the square was at night with all the buildings lit up. Very impressive! We went through again in daytime as well, the morning after our day trip to Bruges so we could see the buildings properly. That was the morning we went to the very interesting Musical Instrument Museum and took a bus tour around most of Brussels, getting a good view of the atomic looking Atomium, built for a World’s Fair. We did notice one thing in particular about Brussels. There is graffiti *everywhere*. There’s always graffiti anywhere you go but it seemed that here it was on absolutely everything, even the bases of statues were defaced and most of it wasn’t really what you’d consider artistic. It felt rather disrespectful.

From the canal in Bruges

On to Bruges:

It took us about an hour by train to get to Bruges from Brussels Centraal station. We did get all day bus tickets at the train station but really only used them to get into the centre and back to the station later. Bruges has a main market square similar to Brussels with a high spire dominating the area and lots of guildhouses and a law court building and lovely architecture to gawp at. It was quite busy with tourists. Bruges used to be the most important city in Flanders but as the canals were filled in and trade went elsewhere, it floundered. Now, tourism is the major source of income for the city and it shows. The streets have a lot of touristy shops, souvenirs as well as chocolate and lace which draw in the tourists as well.

We found a Dali exhibit in the Market building and had a half hour look in there. I’m not really a Dali fan though my partner is. There was also an exhibit there by an artist Amanda Lear who was one of Dali’s muses and I actually did like one or two of her paintings.

There’s a small street that leads through to the other large square, the Burg where the Stadhuis/Town Hall stands and a few other buildings including the Basilica of the Holy Blood in one corner. Lots of the usual souvenir shops and restaurants in the area. We wanted to go into the Basilica but it was closed until 2 so we went out of the square and searched for a restaurant with a menu that appealed to both of us. Again, there are lots for seafood lovers here (in addition to the traditional mussels that are so popular in Belgium). We found one across the canal nearby that looked good and indeed we were both quite happy with our meals. I did try the mussels which were excellent and we shared a Belgian waffle for dessert.

En route back to the other square, we spied the dock where the canal tour boats were loading. Hm…. Sounds like a good idea now that the sun has come out. It was cheap too, in a town or even country where prices are high, less than 7 euro per person. The tour took about a half hour and you got a great view of the lovely canalside houses and old, old bridges. It’s a very nice way to see the city.

We still had just enough time to see the Basilica which is absolutely gorgeous! (more history of the Basilica here)It’s very colourful and gilded inside with a dark and peaceful crypt. I did sneak a few stealthy photos though you aren’t supposed to. Some of the tourists were quite blatant about it, using flash as well. That’s something I don’t do and if the photos don’t turn out, c’est la vie. Buy a postcard. I always feel that’s often why they forbid photos because this church, at least, didn’t seem to have any light sensitive paintings or tapestries. It’s all marble, gold and silver and wood. It’s stunning.


We thought we would try to find the Chocolate Story, a museum about chocolate but by the time we got there they were just closing. Ah well. We walked back through the little streets and stopped in a chocolate shop that had a cafe in the back. The tea room was elegant and most of the patrons seemed to be older women, dressed very chicly, with snobby looks on their faces. One even had a posh little lapdog! We didn’t actually buy any chocolate here though, we later found Dumon, a chocolatier that I remembered seeing mentioned in Rick Steves’ show about Bruges. It’s a small brick building just off the Market square. The shop is on two levels with the showcase of all the really tempting chocolates on the entry level. I’d like a small assorted box, please. “Yesssss……” she answered, as if to say “and what else?” We were out of cash so had to buy 20 Euro worth to use the credit card. We succumbed to temptation. Not really a difficult decision!

We got the bus back to the station, found a bank machine and had about 20 minutes to wait for the train which was air conditioned, nice and cool after a day out in the sun. Brussels and Bruges city centres are full of cobblestones, both the streets, squares *and* sidewalks. Let me tell you, that’s a killer on your feet and legs even with good shoes! My legs just throbbed that night!

Bruges is very pretty. I’m sure it’s even nicer at night when all the tourists have left. Restaurants are a tad pricey in the centre but you can walk a little further afield. It was busy when we were there and that was only May. I imagine it must be heaving with people in the summer! Brussels is like any large city really. There are lovely buildings, some very good museums. If we’d been there longer, I think we’d have gone out to the Waterloo battlefield area and taken in one of the larger museums as well. I’ve got a friend who really likes Belgium though she and her husband tend to go outside of the cities. I’m not sure I’d make the trek again at this point but who knows? I’m never really sure where the wind or whim will end up taking us when we talk about where we want to go next.

Graffiti on a Belgian train

Travel Theme: Short

Grand Place, Brussels

Where’s My Backpack’s weekly travel theme this week is “Short”. Do I talk about short things? Do I talk about short visits? How about short as it applies to a short time period, such as, not a lot of time to connect terminals or catch a flight or train? Let’s pick short visits, shall we?

Some might say a short visit to somewhere is less than a week. In that case, most of my traveling is short visits. When on a bus tour, everywhere is a short visit since you’re stopping at several places through the day and usually only one or two nights at most overnight in any given spot.

No, let’s put bus tours aside as well as day tours while staying somewhere which are, by definition, short visits. Many of our jaunts out of Manchester or Halifax are three or four nights so consider that, for me, a short visit must be one or two nights or two full days somewhere. That narrows the field down considerably.

Brussels was definitely a short visit. We arrived there one afternoon from Amsterdam. We walked to Grand Place, had dinner and saw it again lit up at night. The next day we took the train to Bruges so didn’t see much of Brussels. The day after, we visited the Musical Instruments museum and  took part of a city bus tour in the morning but couldn’t finish it because we had the Eurostar to catch to London. Done and dusted.

We’ve visited London several times for just one or two nights, as have I on my own. But since I’ve been there so many times, I’m not entirely sure it counts! Sometimes, G.’s flights to Canada are through Toronto either arriving from or departing to the U.K. Once, I flew up to meet him there and we stayed over for two days, flying home here to Halifax on the third morning. We met up with friends and he got to see a bit of the city on a bus tour and took a trip up the CN Tower. I’ve also flown to Toronto on my own for a travel photography seminar, arriving on Friday night and coming back on Monday morning.

About 10 years ago, I spent a raucous weekend in Dublin with a group of friends whom I met online via the Coronation Street fandom. Each night we hung out, ate and drank into the night and in the daytime, spread ourselves across the city in groups of 2 and 3 to explore with stories to share when we met up later.

There have been many overnight or long weekend road trips, sometimes to visit friends or family, sometimes just seeing new things *with* friends or family. It’s all good. Short visits are sometimes just the right thing, sometimes they’re just not long enough but it’s better than not going at all!

Travel Journey of the week: Florence

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

The Liberated Travel’s weekly Travel Journey is Florence. This is another place that I’ve visited, albeit very briefly. Florence was the last stop on our nearly two week bus tour around Italy in 1996.

Because we were using a budget company (Cosmos, a subsidiary of Globus travel), our hotel was actually 30 minutes away by train, probably the worst location of any of the cities we stayed in. You don’t mind so much when it’s a small town overnight visit but if you are in a larger city like Florence, it would be nice to wander on your own and be able to easily make your way back to your hotel. “Easily” being the operative word here.  When we were in Rome, we were in the suburbs and there was a public bus nearby. We took that once, and took a taxi one other time. With Florence, we were not taking any chances. More on that later.

Florence!  Too bad in a way that it was the end of our trip because I know I didn’t appreciate it as much as I would have had we started there.  It was a case of information overload and homesick as well.  Three weeks away (this included nearly a week in London at the beginning before the tour) is a long time with so much to do and take in.  As a first impression, I liked the feel of Florence even though on our initial arrival we weren’t in the city centre.  We headed straight to the Piazza Michelangelo which is on a hill that affords an amazing view over the city. There is a reproduction of Michaelangelo’s David and we had a group picture taken.

Then to the center of town where we had a look in a leather factory first (one of those factory visits where they encourage you to buy and the tour guide most likely gets a kickback). We then met a local guide for a walking tour around the main squares of Florence, the political centre and the religious centre by the Duomo and saw the amazing bronze doors on the Baptistery which  are only reproductions as the originals are being restored.

Michaelangelo's David in the Accademia, Florence

Michaelangelo’s David in the Accademia, Florence

D. and I escaped before seeing the Duomo museums (where the walking tour ended anyway) so we could go to the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David which is so beautiful and so real looking you would think he would take a breath and step right down off the pedestal.  Very very large too!  We left there, found a bar and had a light lunch and made our way past the San Lorenzo market to the Uffizi Gallery about 1 p.m.  Good timing as we didn’t have to stand too long in line.  We bought our tickets and a lovely book on the gallery.

We went through the Uffizi Gallery although the best rooms are closed  for restoration.  The gallery was bombed 3 or 4 years before so maybe that section had more damage. This meant we didn’t get to see the paintings by Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens, among others.  We kept missing Rafael because the quick tour through the Vatican in Rome bypassed the Raphael rooms as well!  We did see Botticelli and one beautiful one by Leonardo da Vinci though his main room was closed.

There was a couple other art galleries I would have liked to see, the Bargello and the San Marco but we did go into the Santa Croce church which has a lot of tombs and memorials to Italy’s top geniuses like Leonardo, Rossini (composer), Michelangelo, Galileo and I also saw one small one to Marconi.  Santa Croce is quite old in its origins too.

D. was really getting tired and though I felt like I might have my second wind,  I didn’t want to leave her alone to go wandering and go across the Ponte Vecchio so we found our meeting point for the bus and waited for about an hour, resting our feet and chatting to the other tour members as they arrived back as well.  By the time the bus came, I was losing what was left of my energy too. And really, after two weeks of it, I really didn’t want to see another church, painting or statue. We had classic burnout and were tired of living out of a suitcase.

Most of us went back to the hotel tired that day.  The meals in that hotel were cafeteria style and we felt rushed.  There were several groups in the hotel and the staff in the restaurant seemed a bit cranky trying to move everyone along so the next group could get on with things.  We just wanted to go home by this time! We had a very early start the next morning to drive cross country and fly out of Treviso airport near Venice and the bus was very quiet with most of the tour group having a nap.

Florence is a city I’d like to see again with fresh eyes and more energy. We thought about going to Florence along with Rome last year but decided that we always try to do too much and never see enough of one place. I’d rather take my time and have more than a couple of days there, even if it’s just 3 or 4. It’s on the list.

Bell tower of the Duomo, Florence

Bell tower of the Duomo, Florence

Travel Journey of the Week: Venice


From the Liberated Traveler, this week’s “Travel journey of the week” is Venice.

As it happens, I just wrote a bit about Venice recently when I described completely failing to see the famed Rialto Bridge!   But to fill in the blanks for the rest of the trip….

We had signed up for a tour from the Cosmos company, a budget version of Globus tours. The main difference is that you don’t often stay in the city centres with Cosmos, but out in the suburbs or even in neighbouring towns. This was no different and we had a hotel on the mainland in Marghera with a public bus available if we wanted to go into Venice ourselves, which my friend and I did on arrival. It took us to the train and bus termini in Venice from where we could get a vaporetto, a public “bus” type transportation through Venice.

The sun had come out and it was warm for the middle of October. (this was 1996, by the way) We did a lot of walking that afternoon and managed to find the right bus back to the hotel. The organized tour started the next morning. In the pouring rain! We all arrived at San Marco where we all headed to take cover, buy umbrellas and rain ponchos. The local guide took us around St. Mark’s square under the porticos with all the other tour groups crowding in there as well. It was a bit of a zoo but unavoidable at the time.


St. Mark’s Square, flooded.


St. Mark’s Square in the sunshine

I never realized that Venice floods easily but it makes sense when you think about it. The buildings around St. Mark’s square are very heavy and Venice itself is at or just below sea level. When it rains heavily, the water bubbles up through the paving stones in the square. They put low knee high tables up all around the edges of the square and people can walk on those to get around and into St. Mark’s Basilica, which we did!  We couldn’t take pictures as the Basilica was fairly dark inside when we were in it though I heard that more lights were turned on later. It was stunning, with the frescos and the decoration. We weren’t in there all that long though because the walking tour had to continue.

It didn’t go too far, though. Just a few blocks away to an included visit to a glass blowing factory. You get a lot of this sort of thing with organized tours, as they hope you will buy the goods. That gives the tour guide a bit of a kick back, as well. They’re only paid minimally and get the rest of their money from percentages and tips. I don’t buy from these factories because I’ve always found that the prices are a lot higher than you will find in little souvenir shops elsewhere in the same city. It was interesting to see how it’s done but we were less than impressed over all. The demo was short and the sales pitch was long.

From there we were set free. The rain had stopped and we walked until we found a likely place to eat, a small cafeteria style place where we had our first real Italian pasta!

We met back at the pier at the lagoon because we booked an optional (i.e. you pay extra for it) excursion to the island of Burano across the lagoon. This is a fishing community but their claim to fame is the hand made lace. There’s a little church with a crooked steeple and the houses are all painted bright colours, apparently so the fishermen can see them from out on the water and not get lost finding their way back in bad weather. No pastels here like the rest of Italy (Italy’s buildings, if they aren’t brick or stone have a plaster coating that is painted or washed with a colour that reminds me of desert colours, shades of yellow, gold, tan, white, pink, green.  Not exactly pastels, but light warm shades to reflect the heat of the Mediterranean sun. )

Burano, Venice

Burano, Venice

The lace is still made in the traditional manner and we saw several people demonstrating it. The main street is lined with shops selling lace and things trimmed in lace so you are spoiled for choice.  The workmanship is exquisite and we did buy a few things before returning to Venice and back to the hotel for the evening. We could have stayed in Venice on our own but we were damp and tired and a bit wary of trying to get back on a bus after dark, figuring it would be easier to get lost or miss our stop. Looking back now, we probably could have got a taxi from the station but we didn’t think of it at the time.

Our tour group was mainly very nice people though most of them kept to themselves rather than socialize with the rest in the evenings. The tour guide was young and by comparison to a guide I had from another tour, lacking in skill. He’d apparently done it before and this wasn’ t his first tour season but it felt like it.

Tours are not always a bad way to go. The positive side is that you see the highlights, get expedited to the front of the lines, get lots of great information from the guides and local guides. Someone else does all the luggage handling, and all the arrangements for you. The downside is that you don’t really get to spend much time in places you want to and sometimes, more time in places you’d rather not. You do get an overall view and you can then decide where you’d want to go if you get a chance to come back again.

I’m not an adventurous traveler and if on my own, outside of large cities, I’d feel more comfortable with a tour group especially if I didn’t speak the language.  My friend and I did take Italian lessons the winter before so we managed to be able to communicate a bit though most people replied to us in English. I guess it was obvious!

Venice impressed me as a beautiful old city, faded and worn. not in the best repair, but it still has that grace and style about it. Obviously, My only visit to Venice was brief. I may get back there again someday. It would be nice to see more of it, visit some of the museums and get a better look at the things I only saw briefly. And see the Rialto Bridge!

Travel Journey of the week: Paris

I discovered yet another weekly challenge that a blog called Liberated Travel has started. Each week they will mention a particular place and you can blog your thoughts, photos, experiences from that location. It probably won’t be somewhere I have been each week but the first one is Paris!

The first time I saw Paris was in 1977 on a school trip. We started in Rome, then took the overnight train to Paris for three days. I’m ashamed to say that the first place we students headed once installed in the hotel was out to find food. At McDonald’s! Eek! It might have been a Sunday but surely there were other, more French places available for a casual lunch than that! And, I recall, it wasn’t very good even though, at the time, we all normally loved McD’s. We had a tour of the city including an inside visit to Notre Dame and the Louvre and a trip up the Eiffel Tower though I didn’t go. I stayed on the ground as it was mid-March, and was chilly and windy even without going up in the air on an open tower. I don’t know really why else I didn’t want to go, as I certainly don’t mind heights but there you are. We had a day on our own and a group of us traveled the Metro up to Montmartre.

I didn’t see Paris again until November 2007 when my fiance and I flew over from Manchester for three days. We got there around noon on a Monday and went out from our Left Bank hotel and found somewhere for lunch. Steak Frites! We even sat outside under a heat lamp just because we could and it was Paris and that’s what you do! We walked to the Seine, then over to see Notre Dame which was every bit as beautiful as you would expect. We walked over to Ile St. Louis and wandered around there after a coffee and cake stop. Eventually, as we’d had an early start that morning, we gathered some take out sandwiches and trudged back to the hotel which seemed like a very long walk away though I think we were just a bit disoriented as to which direction we were going. We didn’t get lost but we thought we were. Looking at the map we thought we were coming from one direction when we were atually headed from the opposite one.

Tuesday was a bit rainy and a number of museums are closed but we managed to find things to keep ourselves occupied. We had breakfast breakfast outdoors in another cafe, one with the outdoor tables surrounded by a plastic “wall” to keep the heat in. We knew the Louvre would be closed but we walked over there anyway to look at the building. It was a good idea, actually as there were not a lot of tourists around. Not like there would be if it had been open, anyway. We walked through the Tuilleries  where we experienced  the “Peekpocket” incident” and from there we went to the Musee D’Orsay. The queue was fairly long but before we got to the desk to pay, we discovered that the part of the gallery we particularly wanted to see was closed. There had been a transportation strike that week and today, apparently, some other unions were joining in sympathy and the museum workers were part of that. They must have had enough non-union workers to keep the museum open in general but not enough to staff all the galleries. I’m not really sure but we didn’t want to pay the entrance if we weren’t going to be able to see what we wanted to see.

From there, over to Place de la Concorde where I took a somewhat rainy ride on the Grande Boule (wheel). Good views. A bit damp. We window shopped our way over to the posh Place Vendome and stopped for lunch between there and the Opera house. We browsed, later, in Galleries Lafayettes which is a beautiful early 20th century department store with a centre court and enormous Christmas tree reaching up to a Deco dome.

It’s getting darker now and we hopped on a bus, (all the transport was free when you managed to get one because of the strike. Strangest strike I’ve ever seen!). First, we got off the bus by the Arc de Triomphe and later the Eiffel tower so we could watch it sparkle at the top of the hour! Beautiful! We hung around there awhile and again, didn’t go up. It was cold and there were a lot of people in the line ups even then. There’s probably no time when it isn’t crowded! It took us quite a wait when we found a Metro station but a train did finally come and we got back to the hotel. We ate in the restaurant below the hotel that night and it was very good! Better than we expected.

Our last full day turned out sunny! Finally! This was our excursion to Montmartre. The bus ride was a bit long but it was free and we could see lots of the city as we went along.  We didn’t find it as quaint as we expected, not at first but then the streets got narrower and cobbled and it felt more like the Montmartre you always hear about. We took the cable car up to Sacre Coeur for the view and walked behind to Place du Tertre where, even in November, there are still artists set up in the square though not nearly as many as in summer. Artists kept stopping us along the way, too, offering to draw our portraits (for a fee, of course). We resisted.

We found a really quaint little restaurant nearby called Le Poulbot which had an amusing little sign on the door and a tempting sounding price fixe menu. Sorted! It was a lovely little place with friendly staff and lots of atmosphere. Once done there, we went back around the corner to a Dali exhibit which we enjoyed. We then just started walking. We really weren’t sure where we were going because we were just off the top of the map we had but figured as long as we headed downhill we’d come to somewhere that was on the map! We actually did have to ask a passer by at one point if we  were more or less in the right direction to eventually arrive near the Moulin Rouge. He pointed us to a little staircase down to Rue Lepic, one of the oldest streets there lined with shops and bakeries and cafes. That came out near the big red windmill of the Moulin Rouge and we were back in a more modern Paris.

We weren’t done yet! We found our way to another bus and got off at the Louvre for the evening opening. In retrospect we probably did try to do too much in one day. I had blister on blister and was pretty worn out by now but we wanted to go in and in we went. It was about 5:00 or so by now and the queues weren’t that long. We did find the leaflet map of the museum confusing but found the famed Mona. That was a bit of a zoo but it’s a must see really. My favourite is actually the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a tall arm and headless statue that was probably a ship’s masthead. We saw a couple of galleries of paintings and the Venus as well but I had reached the end of my rope and needed a sit down and a drink. Even finding a cafe was a chore but we did manage. The Louvre really is somewhere you should tackle in the morning when you’re fresh, I think!

Gluttons for punishment as we were, though, we left there and I was determined to go on a night boat tour of the Seine, justifying it by reason that we would be sitting down and resting the whole way! The dock isn’t far from the Louvre so we trudged across Pont Neuf and down to the dock. Tickets were cash only at the gate so that used up our ready money and we had a 40 minute wait for the next boat but once on it, we spent a lovely hour looking at all the illuminated buildings along the river right around to the Eiffel Tower and back.

Whew! That was a long day. We passed a Chinese restaurant on the way back to the hotel and decided that would suit us very well. We were leaving the next morning via Eurostar to London. I’d like to go back to Paris again and at this point, a short visit is in the planning stage for next spring before also visiting Rouen.

More random photos posted on this blog post.


bridges power stacks

Halifax harbour bridges: The “Old” Bridge in the foreground, the “New” bridge behind.

The WordPress weekly writing challenge wants to know about local or regional slang. For those of you planning to visit Halifax or the Maritime provinces of Canada (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island…the Atlantic provinces are the same but include Newfoundland), here are a few expressions you may want to tuck away for future use.

Being Sociable

When drinking in the local pubs and listening to a band play on stage, you may hear one of the band members, while in between songs, call out to the crowd: “Sociable!!!!!!” You will probably sit and look around you, mystified, as the room full of assorted drinkers stops in mid-conversation, raises their glass and hollers back “Socialble!!!!!” and then takes a very sociable drink. I’m not sure if it’s to be found outside of Halifax though I suspect Cape Breton pubs are full of sociables.

Old vs New

In Halifax, the harbour is crossed by two suspension bridges, the Angus L. Macdonald bridge and the A. Murray MacKay bridge. Nobody local who has lived here a long time calls them that. the MacDonald bridge, opened in the mid 1950s is the “Old” bridge and the MacKay, opened in the early 1970s is the “New” bridge. So if someone gives you directions and suggests that the new bridge is the better route, you will know to go to the north end of the city and take that bridge rather than the one closer to the downtown core.

Which way was that?

There are a lot of people who were born and raised in Cape Breton Island who are now living and working in Halifax. Lots of them visit their home towns. They go “down home” to CB on the weekend but they are traveling “up” to Cape Breton. Hmmmm. We may travel “up” to Toronto or Ottawa or we can also go “out west”. Up seems to refer to the direction as looking on a map though Cape Breton is techincally east of Halifax and perhaps a little higher on the latitude grid. We also think of the south shore of the province of Nova Scotia as “down” as it does point a bit lower than the geographical point of Halifax on the map. The Annapolis Valley is “down” but you go “up” to Truro and Amherst, both north in the direction of New Brunswick and the rest of Canada.

And then Buddy said…

A common way to talk about someone you don’t know is to refer to them as “Buddy” but it’s always a man, never a woman. And you don’t call him Buddy to his face either, it’s only in the third person. You could be telling someone about “buddy driving the bus” or “and then buddy says (or does…)”. It’s all in how you use the word. If it isn’t used correctly, it sounds awkward. The narrative is generally in casual conversation, of course. You never ask “who’s Buddy” because, of course, we don’t know. That’s the point. It’s much nicer to call a stranger Buddy than to say “this guy”. This isn’t restricted to Halifax, you’ll hear this used all over the Maritimes and Newfoundland.

And the last thing that comes to mind is the Maritime reference to the province of Prince Edward Island. We almost never call it that. We nearly always go “over to the Island”. We *may* sometimes refer to it as PEI (pee-ee-eye). That’s as close to it’s proper name as we might get. Everyone knows what you mean and you don’t have to ask “which Island”?

Weekly writing challenge: Mind the gap – ereader or paper?

Bookstore Bounty

Bookstore Bounty

The WordPress challenge this week for writing is a discussion on ereaders vs “real” paper books.  Where this is a travel blog, I’m going to take a little different slant on it and gear it to travel resources. I do love my ereader, by the way and now read 95% or more of my books electronically.

When I go on a trip, I have a folder for things like ticket confirmations, printed pages of Google maps, reservations, etc. I also bring guide books and sometimes full size maps. In this electronic age, most of this is available electronically and you can get a lot of apps for smart phones, laptops and tablets as well. It only makes sense that taking a small electronic device instead of paper and books would take up far less room and weight.

I don’t have a smart phone or a tablet though I do have an iPod touch and a small laptop now. I still take the folder with itineraries and ticket/hotel confirmations printed out but I’m trying to bring guidebooks that are electronic. I used a city app for the iPod touch for Copenhagen and for Rome though didn’t find it overly helpful. My iPod is older now and many of the new apps I’ve tried to download won’t work on it. My other issue is that the screen is quite small. I imagine if I had a tablet, it would be far more efficient to use these apps and mapps.

But on the other hand, it’s more difficult to flip through a book electronically to find something than it is if it’s a paper book. I know they both have tables of contents and some of the ebooks may have an index which can take you to the page but I think it’s still easier to hand-flip the pages to find what you were looking for, or even put a sticky note on the exact location. You can’ t do that electronically.

I can carry things on my laptop for reference and that helps. I can check it in the hotel room prior to going out for the day. But you don’t generally carry that around with you all day. I have created eDocuments and put them on my eReader (itinerary, phone numbers, document of a list of bus numbers and destinations which is also useful) but overall, I’m still kind of betwixt and between the old and new.

I opted for a laptop over a tablet because i wanted to be able to upload my photos and type up my travelogues daily while on a trip, in addition to web surfing and email etc. to keep in touch with people. I’m glad went that route but I do realize for things like the guide books and maps, a tablet might work much better as far as readability for the colourful books and maps. But let’s not forget, using on-the-spot maps via an app  will cost you if you don’t have a free wifi connection. Then you have roaming charges or you’re paying for a 3 or 4G connection. Paper books and maps are free to use anywhere!

So what’s the best way? Electronic or paper? For me, it’s a combination of the two. As much as I love my ereader for reading, I do love to browse through the shiny pages of a guide book. Since I don’t have a smartphone, itinerary and reservation confirmations need to be printed. The pdf documents for these can be loaded electronically for backup on the laptop or cloud drive.

Weekly Writing Challenge – How do you feel about children in adult-oriented places?


I am childless by choice. I admit I don’t have as much tolerance for badly behaved children whatever the cause. I know sometimes kids are tired and hungry but I find it hard to tolerate their high pitched cries especially in small places like the bus or on an airplane. That’s not to say I think they should be banned from adult oriented places or from traveling with their parents on public transportation.

I know it must be difficult for parents when the child is upset and misbehaving in public. Some people immediately blame the parent but often you really can tell they are at the end of their ropes. You can’t leave the child home all the time and there is the argument that they need to learn to interact socially.

But here’s the thing. And it’s not going to be pretty. In my experience and observation, there are increasing numbers of parents that don’t deny a child anything and never say No to them. The child then feels entitled and throws a holy tantrum when denied or any attempts at discipline are applied. And it seems to occur more and more these days.

I’ve had people say to me that saying No to a child stifles their creativity. They have said it’s disrespectful to the child. No it’s not. It’s teaching them right from wrong. It’s teaching them that they can’t have anything they want, there has to be limits.

And then there are parents that just shouldn’t have children. That sounds hard, I know. But I think back to a flight I took between Heathrow and Toronto about 10 years ago maybe. Two women in their 20s or thereabouts were sitting in the bulkhead section, each of them with a child. One child was about 3 or 4 and the other was a little boy about 2 and a half. The two women took their shoes off, put their bare feet up on the wall of the bulkhead in front of them, slouched back and gossiped the whole way.

Meanwhile, the older of the two children wandered around the plane by herself, or tried to crawl up on her mother’s lap and was pushed away. The other younger one half heartedly wandered the aisle, but was cranky and fractious. He smacked people on the legs. He tried to get up to his mother’s lap but he was pushed away and told he was being annoying. It was clear to me that little boy was unhappy, and I later heard his mother mention to the flight attendant that the boy had an ear infection! No wonder he was fractious and that woman wouldn’t even pick up her sick child for a cuddle!


Luckily, that’s generally the exception. Even though there are usually some children on most overnight flights I’ve taken, my fears for a noisy night have always been soothed aside from once. Most of the time the children fall asleep quickly. One flight, I could hear a small child grizzling on and off all night and nobody in the general area slept. But it was also clear that little one wasn’t having a temper tantrum or misbehaving, he was probably unsettled due to the traveling and strange place he or she found themself in.

I still prefer to be in a place without children if possible and when around them, pray to the gods that they are well behaved. Most are, some are not and it’s hard to take even when it seems like the parent is doing their best. Harder to take when it seems like the parent is letting the child run rampant.

Traveling with a child on planes and trains must be very difficult. Getting them  used to it young is ideal if you can. The routine isn’t strange to them after awhile and they know what’s expected and what happens. In this blog post, there are some very good arguments for all sides, regarding kids in public places. Keeping kids from getting bored is probably paramount when traveling longer distances. Finding kid friendly places to eat means they’ll be more likely to find food on the menu they will like.