Saturday, July 30, 2011

Duncan's report on the London Dungeon

The London Dungeon is a pretty good place. Only two of the 14 things really scared me. No. actually, three!

At the beginning were some rats, and they were cool and awesome and fuzzy. But they were pretty creepy when they were two or three centimeters from my face.

Another scary things was Sweeny Todd the barber. Instead of just giving a haircut, he killed people by dumping them through a trap door beneath his chair so they fell to their death in a cellar below. If they didn't die right away, he came down and slit their throat. Then Margorie Lovett made them into meat pies and sold them. They killed 160 people this way. We got to go into the barbershop and sit down. Alex and me went to sit in the back row since we thought he would be by the barber chair in the front. but we were mistaken. when we sat down, they turned out the lights. Alex grabbed my arm so hard he was suffocating it. then we hear Sweeney Todd talking to us in the pitch black. Well... his voice was just behind us. Then all the chairs got pulled backwards very fast so it felt like you were being tipped backwards into the room below his chair. It felt like a heart attack. That was scary!

Last but not least, Jack the Ripper. He only killed prostitutes, which is a little like feminists. Oops, I mean misogynists. sorry for the feminist thing......... I was just trying to remember the other name. After we saw one of the dead bodies (which was all cut up), we escaped into a bar where a bartender told us more scary stories. then the lights went flickery and suddenly Jack the Ripper jumped in through a door with a knife, and then escaped. totally scary!

Last, we got sentenced to death. We walked down a lane and you had a choice to go to "Freedom" or "The Gallows". We chose the gallows! We sat in this chair thing, and they lifted us up in the air, a judge sentenced us to hang, then they turned off the lights and dropped us. Fast! You should have seen my face. It was hilarious. Actually you SHOULD see my face and you CAN. We bought the picture of all three of us on the last right and you heard Alex doesn't want it on the blog,so i asked mom to take a picture of the picture with just my face and her face. Here it is.

Extremis: Drop of Doom!

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Visitor....

 So.... we had a visitor tonight!  Can you guess what it was from this photo?

 How about this one?  Can you see the little eyes and nose in the middle?   Yep.   A hedgehog!

Kiwi the wunderdog found it in our backyard around midnight.  I let her out (to do what dogs need to do), and she ran around the backyard, whining and sniffing around a board.  I assumed she had lost a ball there.  I lifted the board back from the fence, she darted in, grabbed what I assumed was a ball and let it go on the grass with a wierd tossing movement.  Then she crouched and barked a the thing. It was dark already, so I wasn't sure what was up.  At first I thought it was a clod of grass or turf..... but no....  i could sense some movement

Duncan grabbed a container, and we scooped it up for a closer look inside.  I was happy to watch it from a distance. Kiwi was interested in checking out the hedgehog...but she was torn.  It wasn't a squirrel, and she did not seem to want to put her mouth around it a second time!  

 Alex was braver than the rest of us (kiwi, duncan and I)...he was willing to pick it up and talk to it  ... though he did note that it was like holding a ball of pins!

I gotta say, the little thing was totally fun to watch!  it pulls itself into such a tight little ball that only a hint of its nose shows in the middle.  After we all got a chance to touch the quills, we took it back out to the garden to set it free.   it is not fast moving, but it is an amazing little animal nonetheless.   If you are interested in more on the mighty Hedgehog, you could check out "Steve C"'s blog.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The London Dungeon

Wednesday's adventure was a trip to the London Dungeon. I figured out that, if you book your ticket online, you can choose an 'off-peak' time at a cheaper rate.  So... armed with our discount tickets for the 5pm showing, off we went.  We decided to take a different route downtown this time.  We walked from our place, down the Highroad to Tallyho Corner (yes... that is its real name.... I still can't say it without a giggle), and took the 134 bus, which links North Finchley to the centre of town.  We managed to get the front seats on the top of the double-decker, and enjoyed ourselves from the precarious upperdeck, where you feel more of the sway of the bus.  As Duncan put it, it feels a bit like you are flying.  :-)  

We hopped off at Camden, so I could run them through a bit of the Camden market, which is apparently one of the top 4 most popular visitor attractions in London.  Alex is not quite sure what his Uncle Glen loves about it:  it is pretty much crowded with people and stuff.   Maybe that is exactly it?   Or maybe Glen can explain himself?  :-)  Alex seems to share his mother's aversion for shopping.  Odd.  And still, there was plenty there to be seen.  Both boys were intrigued by the t-shirts that seem to have some computerchip/neon stuff in them, so they flash in time with music.  I told them, "no purchases today"... we have a year of wandering through the market ahead of us.  This was just the sampler plate!

So, we hopped back on the Tube at Camden Station (both boys now the possessors of their own oyster cards, and being quite expert at using them), which took us to the London Bridge stop, where we happily joined the "priority queue" for our trip into the London Dungeons. Click here for a link to the website). Duncan had already read the tourist visitor pamphlet enough times to know that we should expect: crypts, plague, surgery, torture, firest, belam and more!

It was all we were led to expect and more.  One of the attendants let us touch the rats (let the rats walk over our hands and arms.  There were hands reaching out to grab us in the dark, disgusting plague and bloodied corpses, horrific implements of torture, and more.  The three of us were in a constant struggle to see who could be 'in the middle' (as being either first or last in the lineup left you at risk of greater shocks!).  After seeing heads on spikes, people being disemboweled, or boiled alive, or burned at the stake, Alex concluded that the Britons were a particularly inhumane lot of people.  :-)   The Jack the Ripper exhibit was particularly nasty.  The Judge was particularly funny.  Sitting in the dark in the chair of Sweeney Todd was particularly scary.  The "Extremis Drop of Doom" (where were were 'hanged' for being heretics and criminals) was a shocker.  It didn't look like much as we were being strapped in.  Indeed, as we were being lifted up, Alex said, "This is pathetic, it won't be scary at all". contraire!   It is one of those rides where, unbeknownst to you, they take a photo.  Ours tells the truth of our terror.  It was so great that we bought it.  but Alex refuses to have it posted on the web.  if you want to see our terrifed faces, you will have to skype us!  :-)  

Mysteries of Garbage Collection



There are always 'new' things to figure out when you are moving in.  One is, of course, waste removal. 

 I payed great attention to the recycling information they sent us, figuring out what goes in the small  blue and black recycling boxes. I also paid attention to the difference between the 'green' and 'black' garbage bins:  one is for compostables, the other for everything else. 

And so, religiously placing everything into the correct bins, I couldn't figure out why the recycling boxes were emptied, but the two big bins were not.  Indeed, I have had no garbage collection for 3 weeks.   I finally gave up and phoned to find out what the problem was.  Simple.  The garbage bins were incorrectly placed (see the left photo above)  Apparently, the waste collection guys are not allowed to step on the property (which means the place where the sidewalk touches the bricks of the driveway).  They must be able to reach in and grab the bins without moving their feet on to the bricks.   I learned something new, and the garbage bins are now correctly placed. 

I wonder how many days will contain equivalent 'learning experiences' before I become aclimatized to life in London?

Poundland.... everything you need, for only one pound! ...almost...

We had walked by a shop called "Poundland" several times before I finally ventured in with the boys.  I assumed it would be like the usual dollar store at home, that is, a dollar "or more".  But nope.... no matter what you picked up, it was just one pound. 

 I was looking for batteries for the camera, and there they were:  8 batteries for only 1 pound?   Great deal!  I couldn't imagine HOW they could sell them for so cheap! 

Now I know.  Or at least, I know that when there is an expiry date on a battery, it means something.

 Each of these sets of batteries lasted for exactly 3 photos each on my camera.  3 photos, then the camera told me to replace the batteries.  Hmmm.... doing the math, that means I can get 12 photos for 1 pound (not including the irriation of replacing batteries every three pictures).

 I think I will pay regular price for the next set I get. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fading Recollections from Paris....

Now that we are back in London, the memories of Paris are already starting to blur.... still....some memories linger.   For example, I remember that Day 2 started early.  Alex, having spent the evening throwing up everything in his stomach, woke up early (ie. 4:30am) and famished.  I kept telling him to go back to bed til something opened, but he was insistent.  I finally gave at at 6am, and went out with him looking for a bit to eat. It being July 14 (Bastille Day), I was a bit skeptical that we would have success. Still, off we went. The streets were not quite silent. Indeed, we walked past one of the nightclubs which was just closing down.  I had forgotten til that moment that the clubs close just when the metro starts running again in the morning.  So... we shared the streets with the nightclub crowd.  We were treated to an entertaining interaction between two women, both dressed to the nines, and both pretty inebriated.  They were in good form, and messing around.  The winner was the one who managed to pull the wig (a seriously "Tina Turner" edition!) off the other.  :-)  quite a sight......One of the boyfriends helped girl number 2 to reposition the thing, and then all wandered off in another direction, seemingly happy and content.

We continued on our own wanderings.  A few blocks further, and we finally found a boulangerie that was just opening. Yea! We picked up a baguette (a 'tradition') some pain raisin, pain au chocolat, and Alex asked for a piece of flan: his first one.  Yep... nothing better than a pain au chocolate on the balcony for breakfast.  To complete the picture, you do need to get the right sounds of Paris in your mind.  Well... the sounds in this case were of road construction taking place immediately beneath us!   A pretty good incentive to get out of the house for the day!  .

After that, we decided to take it a bit slower and headed off towards Montmartre.  We walked up Magenta, past the vendors selling roasted corn on the corners of the streets (which they were roasting over bins of open coals carried in shopping carts), and the seemingly thousands of hockers on the corners holding out bottles of channel perfume, or designer sunglasses (either 'hot' or knockoff) for sale. Then up the stairs to Sacre Couer, along with the other throngs of tourists out for the day. We walked into and through the cathedral. Steve showed the boys that you could buy a candle and light it for someone. Duncan said he wanted to light one for the red haired grandmother. the process of getting it lit did involve a bit of a burn, but nothing too catastrophic. alex got into the spirit of things too with his own candle, also involving a bit of a burn.

stairs or slide?
a hole in the shorts?!
Wandering around, we of course always ended up at stairs.  Here, Duncan noticed some kids who had figured out that the smoth stone on either side of the stairs could be used as a slide.  I put my parently protective instincts (which have always been rather minimal) to the side, and let Duncan try sliding down on his bum.  He loved it, and spent a goodly amount of time running up the stairs in order to slide down again.  After his 15th run down, he gave up the game.  But maybe you can see why?  :-)

We had lunch at Montmartre, at "Ma Mere Catherine" (given the choice, i like to eat in venues named after my siblings), and wandered home through the winding streets, taking a moment to pass by the Moulin Rouge (which is of course another of my favourite movies!).  Now... if it had been a different time or place, I would have tried to arrange for us to go to the midnight show of Harry Potter, but... age (or the early morning and lingering jet lag) was creeping up on me, and I was asleep by 7:30pm. 

the film about to begin...
Day 3 will be forever marked as  the day we saw the final Harry Potter film.  It shoulda been day as, as the boys and I have had a tradition of attending the midnight premieres.  But i was too tired!   Both boys were disappointed by that, but I figure there is still something impressive about seeing the last film in Paris.  In the morning, my ipad informed me that the closest cinama was Le Grand Rex.  We made it there in time to catch the 9:30am show, but then discovered that Le Grand Rex shows films ONLY in VF (dubbed).  oops.   The ipad neglected to explain this to me.  Dubbed into french was not going to work for Duncan (nor, I confess, for me... i wanted to hear the voices I love so much).  So instead, we worked our way to Forum des Halles, took some minutes to play on the giant head/hand sculpture, then headed off to the movie.  Sweet!  Here is us right before the film started, Steve wiped out from the 45 minute queue (in a stiffling hot line up).  :-)

investigating Duncan's feet
one rude parrot!
After yet another delicious cafe meal (yes, there was a whole lot of "cafe" going on!), we headed off in the direction of the Louvre.  Duncan was, at this point, insistent in his complaints that his feet hurt.  A bit of investigation revealed both a bad case of "turf toe" from runners that are now apparently too small (plus a rash between his toes).  Once again, we negotiated with a pharmacist for an appropriate salve, and then, rather than heading to the Louvre, headed for a store to get new shoes for Duncan.  :-)  That task out of the way, we decided to give the museum a rest, and instead wander past all the pet shops.  The parrots were the highlight (we think one of them told Duncan to "get lost"!)

Day 4 was dedicated to Montparnasse-Bienvenue, where steve used to live. We managed lunch at one of his old haunts, followed by crepes for dessert, then a wander down the streets, over to the Jardin du Luxombourgh. We spent a bit of time by the water, and then went over to the hear the band that was playing (they were doing primarily march music....though they did end with a lovely rendition of 'New York, New York". The wind was amazing, and at one point, blew the music off the stands of several of the musicians.

After the concert, we got up and headed out.  As we were leaving, a woman came running up to me, looking out of breath, to ask if "this" were my camera. It indeed was.  But it had apparently fallen out of Steve's pocket somewhere in the park.  She had turned it on, found the last picture (which had my red hair in it), and then had searched the park for a red headed woman.  One of those moments when I guess my hair was sufficiently distinctive (for while I am not the only person in Victoria with this colour of hair, I might well be the only one in Paris! hahaha)

We headed off to the Latin Quarter.... where we of course found another crepe stand:  the boys being of the view that Victoria is in desperate need of a good crepe stand. We headed off across the bridge, to steve's favorite icrecream shop. Again, the wind was amazing as we stood by the bridge, listening to the accordion player around the corner, while people ran in different directions, umbrellas being pulled backwards. We could see the rain coming in. or rather, we could tell rain was coming because of what we could NOT see coming in.  This time, we decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and headed to the metro for the return voyage home. Crowded like crazy, but still fun.

I am not really sure how to summarize a week in Paris... or what photo to attach.  I thought this one might help me remember the week: a sort of  "Still Life a la Rebecca".   So... what do we have here?  The dinner table in the Paris flat, with the following:

1.  The map of Paris... so I could track both where we were going and where we had been
2. My scarf... which i bought in front of Notre Dame in 2005, and which came back with me for the 2011 visit. Because the weather was so 'sporadic' during our visit, it got a good workout (duncan covering his head with it when it rained, me using it to wipe the water off bus seats so I could avoide the dreaded "wet bum" phenomenon).
3. My little green book (thanks Michelle Stimac!) in which were written the two sets of door codes we needed in order to get into the apartment (we memorized them only on the day we were leaving0 and the door keys.
4. a copy of the 'eurostar ticket' that got us to Paris in the first place
5. Nutella and crepes purchased from MonoPrix (not as good as the crepes off the street, but it was worth a try!) ... also a stack of grocery store receipts tucked under the map... from Monoprix, G20, and the funky Market at the end of the road....including a receipt for the infamous Thai Noodles (avec crevettes!)
6. The green headphones from the 'hop-on-hop-off" bus...and 4 of the chestnuts pulled from the branches that were constantly theatening to bean one of us tall Canadians in the head
7. A monster pain au chocolate from one of the two boulangeries that we frequented
8. a few euros, as a reminder of how fast our stock of them was depleted!  :-)
9.  Metro tickets.... in two colours.... the purple ones I had bought in 2005 (and left in a drawer til now) still worked fine.  But two metro trips (as packed and claustrophic as anything I have ever encountered) were enough to convince me that walking is ALWAYS prefereable!
10.  The "Abbey Vet" business card.... they hooked us up with the kennel that Kiwi the wonder dog spent her time at ... no visit to Paris for her!
11.  3-D glasses, and the theatre ticket from our trip to see Harry Potter on opening day (at the Forum des Halles... after our abortive visit to Le Grand Rex)
12.  Meds.... antihistamines for Alex, tinactin for duncan
13.  A deck of cards (purchased in St. Germain), and a chess set... both Alex and Duncan can whip their mom, but Steve still reigns supreme.

There you go....

Monday, July 25, 2011

London Adventures (Rebecca)

Haida Totem in London!
 Well.... with Steve off to Kansas for a week of orientation (the new job), I set off with the boys for a first day of exploring the downtown.  The plan was to see the British Museum, then do the Harry Potter walking tour.  Our first visit to the British Museum was astoninshingly short.  It was packed with people, and the sun was blazing in to the central area... within minutes, alex was saying "I have gotta get out of here" (too hot, and too many people).  I totally agreed... it was a claustrophobic sweat pit!   Knowing that we could come back many times, we decided to stay only so long enough to greet the huge Haida totem poles sitting in the centre of the museum (which seemed funny since my last act in Canada was to say goodby to "The Spirit of the Haida Gwaii"), wander past the Rosetta Stone,  admire a few sarcophagi, and giggle with the kids about the one Egyption statue bearing the name of Pansehy.  We thought it was close enough in spelling to Pansy, and (like the cretins we are) are calling him the whimpy Eygyptian.

Then, we headed off to do a walking tour.... I love London Walks...a cheap and fun way to wander around the city, learning things as you go.  So... we have now done the newest offering, a wander through Harry Potter Film locations (and other interesting locations where some connection -- even if sometimes tenuous -- could be made to the film.   fun, fun, fun!We started off at the Bank of England (and a discussion of 'goblins' and 'ingots' blending into a discussion of 'gringots'), and then wandered down the street with our fabulous guide, Lawrence. We wove into small back alleys, with distinctive Dickensian character, and past the site of the oldest coffee shop in London (from the 1600s).  Then it was off to "insurance company corner", where stand three Insurance Company towers, one of which is the Swiss Re Building (also known as 'The Bullet" and "The Gherkin").  It is from inside this building that muggles watch the approach of the Death Eaters through the sky in the beginning of The Half Blood Prince.   I love the mix of ancient and modern with the old cathedral right in front of the glass and steel of the other building!

 Then it was off to Leadenhall, which functions as part of Diagon Alley in film 1.  It is a still functioning market, and as you walk the cobbled streets, it is obvious why they chose it as a film scene.... it has a super vibe!  Here, Duncan is posing in front of the door that functioned as the entry to "The Leaky Cauldron". 

Because we were supposed to also 'learn' things, we headed off next to Pudding Lane, where the great London Fire of 1666 started in the shop of king's baker Thomas Farynor.  Even though 80% of old London burned to the ground, only 9 people died in the 5 days the fires burned.  Christopher Wren helped construct The Monument, which commemorates the fire... it has a lovely "goblet of fire" at the top.  Ironically, in the year after the construction of The Monument, it was implicated in 17 deaths (people throwing themselves off the top!)   

Then we walked to the middle of London Bridge, which is a pretty ordinary looking bridge, the version right before having been sold to a guy in Arizona.  Still, from the middle of the bridge, you get a pretty good view across to Tower Bridge, further down the river.  Alex was appalled by the colour of the water, wondering why they didn't put something in place to clean it up so it would look more like the lake or ocean closer to home.  :-)

We stopped on the other side, to see the border between London and "the City of London" with its Dragon Crest.  We were reminded that the City of London (as opposed to just London in general) is only about one square mile wide.  We also checked out the "Millenium Spike", a bit of modern art invoking the history of putting people's heads on the spikes of London Bridge.  We heard a great story about Sir Thomas Moore's daughter stealing her father's head from the bridge, leading to the King's direction that the heads on the spikes were to be counted twice a day to ensure that none went missing (leading to the phrase "doing a head count".  Apocryphal story or not, it was fun!   We then wandered past ...  Southwark Cathedral (the oldest Gothic cathedral in London), and through a fairly aromatic Market (ie smelling of Fish!), to the site of the Leaky Cauldron in Harry Potter movies 3 and forward.

The tour ended there, so we hunkered down in the pub on corner of the street of the Leaky Cauldron.  This corner is also used in "Bridget Jones' Diary", and in "Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrel". Fun!  The food was a hit with the boys: Bangers and Mash (Duncan), and Steak and Ale Pie (Alex).   I could get very fond of life in the Pub! Sitting there, we met up with some others from the tour, including an older guy from Houston Texas (have forgotten his name, of course!) who takes his granddaughter traveling with him for 3 weeks every year!   Lucky her!  We also chatted with our tour guide Lawrence, who had, as it turned out, just moved from one part of London into Finchley, a few blocks from us, and only 2 days after us!   All in all, a pleasant way to finish off the day....And thus ended Monday!

Duncan's reports on two days of Journeys in London

On Monday, we went to the British Museum. It was probably the most packed day of the year so we only stayed a short time. But in that time, we saw the Rosetta Stone, a sarcophogus, and a statue of a guy named "Pansy". Well.... it wasn't really 'pansy', but was PAN.....EHSY! I thought it was a typo, and that they meant to write "Ramses", but nope. that is his real name! He was a priest of Amenhotep. You can see him here.

After that, we went on a Harry Potter walking tour. I will tell more about that later.

On Tuesday, we got our very own Oyster cards for the train and bus. Mine is free because I am young, which is awesome. We found a street called Duncan street. It was a little wierd because I was standing on it.

We also went to Trafalgar Square. There is a ginormous statue in the middle of Lord Nelson, who has only one eye. Before they put the statue of Lord Nelson up there, the workers used to eat dinner up there. Who knew! lol :-0 While we were there, we watched a busker working in the square. He was a contortionist who wiggled out of chains. He was really funny.

After that, we went into the National Gallery. It has a wall of grass on the outside! We also saw a busker who did tricks and things. Inside the gallery, we found some paintings called "The Four Elements": there was fire, water, earth and air. If you click on this link, you can read about the paintings.

There is also a cool candy store down the street from us. We will take pictures next time we are there. See you then!

Paris Day 1, or "Paris makes me sick!"

waiting at St. Pancras Station
We arrived in London on Monday, July 11, and headed off two days later for a week long visit to Paris.  This meant getting up at dawn, walking 15 minutes to the tube station with our suitcases, and heading off to King's Cross/St. Pancras to catch the Eurostar to Paris.  Yes, the train goes something like 300 km/hour.  Which really only means that you get nauseous if you spend too much time trying to look out the window!  :-)  But it also means you are Paris in less than 2.5 hours....

the view from our balcony
We had rented a place not too far from the gare de nord (the home of a french academic who spend his summers in New York).  We hopped off the train, and bustled down the street to the apartment....The view from the balcony was nice... which was some form of compensation after getting there:  it was on the 5th floor (ie. 6 flights of stairs) in a place with no elevator.  Certainly made you think twice about how many groceries you want to buy (confronting the thought of lugging everything up all those stairs!)

After dropping off the suitcases at the apartment, we headed off for our first 'french cafe meal' (with Alex expertly negotiating the menu in french), where Duncan was introduced to a chocolate cake with creme anglaise.  The waiter, ever watchful, realized fairly soon that the cake held no allure, and that the attraction was the sauce on the plate.  He returned with a glass full of the stuff, which Duncan happily drunk (any thoughts of cardiac arrest apparently far from his mind).  What could be better?!

Bodies nourished, Steve lead us off towards his favourite haunts: Opera, Place Vendome, etc....   There was, of course, a ton of walking.  After a few hours of this, Duncan, bored and complaining that his feet hurt, pronounced that this vacation was the worst one in the history of time.  But, a few minutes later,  we arrived at le jardin des tuilleries.... where the summer fair was in full force, with rides and midway games aplenty.   Check it out here on "Emma's" blogspot!  At this point, Duncan proclaimed that Paris was awesome and this was the best vacation ever. The two boys, armed with euros, headed off in different directions to explore, and steve headed off to the beer gardens. Everyone was happy. Duncan headed for the flume ride (yes, getting soaked), and then spent his time at the shooting range blowing away balloons. He was actually not bad, and ended up winning the prize of his dreams: a small b-b-gun. sigh. Alex, on the other hand, was trying to win an ipod 4 in the tent with the games of skill (chance): you had to match the blocks up in ascending levels.... He could get all but the last row. :-) So close!
Near the Place de la Concorde

Arc de Triomphe
Then we headed off to the Place de la Concorde and Champs Elysee, where bleachers were being set up everywhere in preparation for the parade on Bastille Day (July 14th)...then,... off to the Place de la conchord, and up the Champs Elysee (where we stopped at the groovy 5 story motor shop to examine their display of hot sports cars), then to the Arc de Triomphe.  At that point, Steve gave in, and agreed we could take the metro back rather than walking home.  Talk about an insane press of people!   We were squashed in like sardines.... i thought the train would start with one man half in and half out the door.... he just kept shoving in til his derriere was no longer getting squashed between the closing doors!

Finally, we made it to the metro stop closest to home, and hit the market to buy provisions for dinner.  I just let everyone pick what they wanted most, and we headed off to our flat, and the  6 levels of floors to be climbed... a little less exciting at the end of a day, laden with groceries.  Ah well.... we settled in, each with their chosen meal.  Alex heated up his Thai Noodle Supreme, and started chowing down with pleasure, pronoucing them the most delicious ever. I was busy heating up soup.

Then Alex said, "Mom, does this have shrimp in it?" A look at the label confirmed it:  "crevettes" (aka 'shrimp')  The last few times Alex has shrimp, he complained that his mouth and throat hurt, and then he threw up.   Ah.... here we go again, thought I!  Within minutes, Alex was curled on his side on the couch.  Steve ran out to find a pharmacy, hoping to figure out how to ask for antihistamines with his elementary french.  I stayed back with Alex.   After a few minutes, Alex lept up and ran to the bathroom, making it just in time to empty the contents of his stomach into the tub.  Alex has his father's prodigious skill for projectile vomiting, so I was delighted that he chose the tub rather than the toilet!   ...easier to clean....   Steve returned with drugs 15 minutes later, Alex munched back the pills, and then drifted off to sleep, concluding that "Paris makes me sick".... literally.  :-) And all that was just Day 1.  .... yee hah to Paris!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Alex's post from paris

In Paris we saw a church called "La Magdalene". It looks like a greek temple. They were just starting the church service and there was an amazing organ in there. It looked like it must have cost a million bucks.

There was a sign saying "No pictures during the service", but mom said that i could probably still take a picture of the back of the church and the organ on my ipod. We totally got busted by the photography police. What a drag.You can't trust my mother.

Later on that day, after church was over, we went back. Then photos were allowed. Here is a photo of the front of the church.

They had different statues around the outside of the church, where you could pay a couple of euros to light a candle. Check out this statue of Joan of Arc. You gotta watch out when you are trying to light them or you burn your fingers.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Saying "Goodbye" to Canada....part 2

Did I mention that, as we were about to drive onto the ferry, Fania asked "Alex, where are your glasses?"  The moment she posed the question, I remembered seeing them on the counter in the bathroom and thinking to myself, "Oh... there are Alex's brand-new glasses... I should hand those to him in case he forgets to pick them up"   sigh.   ah well...  There is always the mail....

And so, short one pair of spectacles, we arrived at the Vancouver airport, checked in our luggage, and headed off to say hello-and-goodby to my very favourite sculpture, Bill Reid's "Spirit of the Haida Gwaii" (yes... the one that appears on the $20 bill!).  Jim Tully writes about the sculpture in his book "Strange Multiplicity" as a way of thinking about Canadian constitutionalism, and relations between first nation and settler peoples. I love the book, and love the sculpture!  You can read more about the sculpture on the Bill Reid Foundation's site.

I have my favourite parts of the sculpture.  I really love the back end, where you see mouse woman hiding beneath raven's wings.  According to the plaque positioned beside the sculpture, mouse woman "is the grandmother of Raven, and the perpetrator of many tricks for which her wily grandson is blamed."  Sounds a bit like my own mother!  :-) [or, more honestly, maybe a bit like the kind of grandmother I eventually hope to become!]

I am also fond of Frog, who is managing to lick Duncan's face in this shot!
Frog, licking Duncan!

Who could ask for a better farewell than that? 

And so, off through security, into our seats, settled in for a 9 hour flight.  Yikes.  That was a lot of in-flight movies to watch!  on the happiness front, I was expecting to take the tube from the airport to our place, but Steve showed up with a rental car (yea!)  and so... off to 11 Woodside Lane.  More adventures to follow!

Saying "Goodbye" to Canada....part 1

They say it is 'the journey', right? Not so much the destination, but the adventure of just 'getting there'? Because it does feel like most of the action so far has been in the process of getting this sabbatical year on the road! Our tickets had us flying out on Sunday. So, of course, me and the boys arranged to have one last party on Friday night! One last night of potluck, friends, and keroke! I loved having people over for one last party, and the Kareoke machine ran late into the night. On the food front, Duncan and I managed to make 4 batches of homemade mints for the last hurrah! And for those of you who want the recipe, here it is:

Classic Old Fashioned Mints
Take 1 package Knox unflavoured gelatin, and sprinkled over 1/3 cup of cold water (in a small saucepan).  Heat gently til gelatin dissolves (water will look clear again).  Add food colouring, and peppermint extract  (2 capfuls for medium minty... more or less to taste).  Then pour into a large bowl, and start stirring in icing sugar until you get a dough you can knead (it takes the better part of a bag of icing sugar).  Roll into 'snakes' (as if you were playing with playdough), and use scissors to cut into bite sizes (they look like little pillows).  Leave on a cookie sheet to dry.

But back to business....  After the party, we (which really means "I") spent the next 1.5 days trying to figure out how much we could fit into our "2 suitcases each" without going over the weight limitations.  I could say "2 suitcases" rather than "1suitcase" because we were flying with British Air rather than Air Canada.  But this also meant that we needed to fly from Vancouver rather than Victoria.  No problem.  One last ferry ride.  Fania agreed to drive us over.  Great.  plus... I really do love the ferry.  I thought about booking a place, but figured that the traffic was not going to be high on a Sunday afternoon (and was too cheap to pay another $20 bucks), so didn't bother.  I will admit that my panic level was shooting through the roof as we reached the ferry terminal with the sign above saying "possible one ferry wait".  ARGH!!!  Here is a photo of us in the line up for the ferry.  But we were in luck... the 8th from the last car to make it on the ferry.  Woohoo!

I do love the ferry.  And the last crossing this year was fun in all the usual ways.   It is so.... well.... 'westcoast'.  :-)   There was some naturalist on board giving a free lecture on the top deck.  Walking outside in the sun, on the way to hear the lecture, we walked past one guy sitting on a chair playing a Nirvana song on his guitar, another woman with a yoga mat spread out (and resting in some contorted position that did not look the least comfortable to me), and a group of people napping beside their coffee cups.  Just perfect.  And that naturalist was great! We learned about octopus, and glass coral, and rock fish.  I learned, for example, that they now know that rock fish can live over 200 years (compare this to 5 years for a Salmon).  They also now know that rock fish don't start laying eggs until after they are 40 years old (adding a whole new meaning to "The 40 Year Old Virgin).  This is relevant because they now know that for years, fishermen have been harvesting rock fish before they have had a chance to reproduce (which explains why the fish have been in decline).  There you go.  New piece of information to me!

My Trip to Paris - by Duncan

In Paris, all we basically did was walk around and look at stuff.

There were lots of tasty things. There were these things we found called crepes. they sound a little weird, but they are like a pancake only thinner and bigger. they make them insanely fast, and it is really cool to watch the people making them. we found stands all over the place that were selling crepes but with different toppings like nutella, banana, ham and cheese. I myself do not want to try ham and cheese, but I really like it when they put nutella and banana together. it makes a great taste: chocolaty and chewy. i never thought I would say this, but I found something that is even better than ice cream.

We also found this store called cyber gun. it had these great beebee and airsoft guns, but i was not allowed to get one, even though i really insanely wanted one. here are some pictures of all of the guns.

We also went on this bus tour. it was a double decker bus, but on the top there was no roof. Then, we were going underneath some trees. But some of them were really big, and almost smacked us on the face, so everyone on the top had to duck when the branches came too close. One of the chestnuts got caught in my hair.

We also went to the Eiffel tower, and climbed 669 stairs to get to the middle. Thank the gods that we could use the elevator to get back down! Here are some pictures of this event.

The bus tour took us to the Louvre. When were driving through the gate, we saw someone had painted a green ghost from Pac-Man on one of the walls. I didn't expect to see it there. The ghost is very small, and if you go there, you might see it. There is also a pyramid in the middle of the Louvre and you can see some greek statues. To all Egyptian fans, there is a ginormous pillar that had hieroglyphics on it. It looked like Cleopatra's needle from the book The Red Pyramid.... we will go see that in London next week.

We also saw a fountain that had a ton of cool stuff on it. there were hipocampi in the middle of it (that means, horses with the bottom half of a fish, created by Posidon... that is the god of the sea in the greek legends... you can read about him in the percy jackson books.