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Thailand – Bangkok and Chiang Mai with the grandfathers

1 Feb

How lucky we are as a family to still have all four grandparents enriching our lives, able to enjoy Emile & Filou growing up. It goes without saying that the kids miss their grandparents very much during this year away and it was important for us that, where possible, they join us on our world tour.

So the idea came about that it would be a unique experience for all of us to have both grandfathers come at the same time! They were quickly game (my Dad ADORES Thailand and was dreaming of travelling there one more time, and Jichan just took his first trip to Japan which he LOVED, so was eager to travel to Asia again)…..and so Opa jumped on an aircraft in Düsseldorf and safely reached Bangkok via Abu Dhabi , and Jichan boarded a plane in Toronto and headed to Bangkok via Seoul. Here in the capital city, we were delighted to see our Dads and Granddad’s again!

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Reunion in Bangkok

It was an interesting time to be in Bangkok.  Demonstrations against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government and the upcoming elections in February, led opposition camps to block off the streets, and march to express their dismay about the current political situation.  The Sunday we were there, two explosions and some gunshots killed 1 and injured 28 people (which is rare for the very peaceful Thai people!).

We are not easily scared, and went about our way to enjoy the city. With Opa we took a nice boat tour of the Klongs (the waterways that snake through the city) during which Emile and Filou were thrilled to see a huge water monitor lizard.

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Demonstrations on the blocked streets of Bangkok.  Declared “State of Emergency”!

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This demonstrator was all over the news the day I took his picture. He was leading the pack and near the explosions that went off.  We were close to the action, for sure!

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With Opa through the “klongs” of Bangkok

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A huge “water monitor lizard” (komodo dragon family), on one of Bangkok’s riverbanks

And the next day, when Jichan had arrived – we all took the local mode of getting around – a transport boat that grazed the canals at high speeds (fun experience of boarding this busy vehicle that only stops several seconds to let people on and off – kudos to the granddads for joining into the jumping on and off madness!)…and went to Siam Ocean World (http://www.siamoceanworld.co.th). 

This stunning aquarium houses 30,000 different species and is located in the basement of the equally beautiful Siam Paragon shopping complex (http://www.siamparagon.co.th) The boys were super excited to see the many unique, aquatic species like the humongous octopus and giant crabs.  As well, the aquarium houses a 270-degree glass tunnel where the many, large sharks seemingly swim right towards you!

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Big sharks at Siam Ocean World, Bangkok

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After a fun night of exploring the Bangkok local night markets and eating delicious street food – we were all happy to leave the “troubled” city and head for the northern city of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai or “new city” is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. This “Rose of the North” has several hundred historic “wats” or temples, intriguing diversity among hill tribes, many cooking and massage schools, numerous elephant camps, a variety of cultural performances and fun shopping at its famous night bazaar.

So, we were excited to make this city our home base for 2 weeks and stay at the lovely Villa San Pee Seua (http://www.villasanpeeseua.com).  Our large, 3 bedroom, 2 level “hometown” bungalow with view over the river (at a calm location on the outskirts of the city), was the perfect place for us all.  Prae, the lovely owner certainly helped at making our stay as wonderful as could be!

Emile’s burning desire (he couldn’t talk about anything else for days….) was to have a fishing trip with both his grandfathers – as each one of them has taught him some angler tricks and ignited his passion for this sport!  So the three of them went off for a day of fishing with Big Game Fishing (http://biggame-fishingthailand.com) – expecting and hoping to catch some giant Mekong catfish.

The day, guided by Suvit and his capable team members, was beyond their wildest imagination – together the boys caught a total of 130 kilos of catfish – with Emile catching the biggest one of all – a 35 Kilo/77 pounder!  This fish was as big as he was… and so heavy, he could not hold it standing up.  From the smile on his face, you can tell – this is not an experience that can be topped easily!

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Emile’s all smiles; with the big one, a 35K/77 pounder (that he could only hold up sitting down!)

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Memories for a lifetime: Emile’s dream to have a fun fishing day with both his grandfathers! 

After some fun times walking the colourful streets of Chiang Mai, buying souvenirs for those back home at the lively Night Bazaar and enjoying some great, local Thai massages, we set off for a day of cultural sightseeing.

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Street vendor at Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

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Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a Theravada Buddhist temple that is still very sacred to many Thai people. The temple is located high up on a mountain called Doi Suthep, and although getting there was less fun (the ½ hour drive on sharp, curved roads combined with gas smell, made half of us feel like vomiting for a while), it was worth getting there.  At its base, we had the choice of climbing the 309 steps to reach the pagodas or take a tram (you can guess which one we chose!).

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Once inside the temple grounds, we took off our shoes and started to explore the site that has many pagodas, statues, bells and shrines. I think Emile was taken by the serenity and spiritual vibe of it all and joined the Thai women in prayer – perhaps a conversion to Buddhism is in the works?

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Emile converting to Buddhism?

The copper plated Chedi (the most holy area of the temple grounds) – together with the five-tiered golden umbrella, were truly impressive (and shiny!).

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The copper plated Chedi and five-tiered golden umbrella at Phra That Doi Suthep

The Wat draws many Buddhist that come to serve, bring food offerings and pray. Even though they are not of the Buddhist faith, Emile and Filou were welcome to receive a blessing from one of the monks, and receive a string tied around their wrist for good luck (together with the monks’ blessings from Angkor Wat, Cambodia, they are gathering quite the collection of blessing bracelets!).  Also, my Dad had a lovely chat with one of the monks, who came to pray and rub a large bell for good luck.

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Rubbing a bell for good luck, a monk is praying at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

After enjoying some graceful, dance performances by beautiful Thai girls, we headed further up into the mountains.

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Thai dance – starting at an early age

There are a number of different hill tribes living in Northern Thailand such as the Thins, Lawa, Karen and Meo for example.  They live about 4-6 hours north of Chiang Mai in the mountains although several hill tribe tours are offered in and around town.  Apparently those close by are Burmese refugees posing as tribal villagers so we weren’t going to engage in this kind of tourism– but the Meo Tribe Village happened to be close to the temple and the grandfathers thought it interesting, so we made a stop.

The Meo Tribe, also called Hmong come originally from Western China and claim their name from the word Mongol. Their village consisted of a large centre surrounded by several commercial areas, where they displayed their craftsmanship – mostly needlework and sewing, jewelry (fake diamonds and all) – and weaponry (bow and arrow).  The boys enjoyed some archery, learning from the local experts and we visited the small Tribal museum where we learned about the history of these people.

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Bow and Arrow shooting at Meo Hill Tribe Village

On top of the hill, in a large, beautiful garden – Thai tourists dressed up in Meo tribal costumes and took pictures of each other (and us with them!).  And little children in tribal costumes stole our hearts – especially the one in the bathroom that was trying to spray me with water as I was attempting to take a picture of him (who could blame him?). He was full of laughs till his mother came barging in and gave him heck!

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Little Meo tribal villager in the bathroom – having a ball trying to spray me as I was attempting to take a picture of him 

The boys also enjoyed some great times with the grandfathers at the Chiang Mai Zoo (http://www.chiangmaizoo.com), where they saw many colourful flamingos, hippos, giraffes as well as the amazingly beautiful white tiger and panda (we missed the pandas in China, so they were happy to have an opportunity to see one up close).

And Jichan was so nice to take the bus with the boys (45 minutes north-west of Chiang Mai), and go for a day of zip lining. With The Flying Squirrels (http://www.treetopflight.com), the boys had an absolute thrilling day of biking high in the sky, sliding down the trunk of a massive ancient tree and of course flying trough the tree tops.  The longest zip line was about 600 metres – so long that they had to put the boys together in one harness to have enough weight to reach the other side!  Of course, our daredevils loved every minute of this adventure!

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Jichan took the boys zip lining; a thrilling day with The Flying Squirrels

With Opa, Filou and I were happy to join in with an international group of backpackers and learn the unique style of Thai cooking. With Smart Cook (http://www.smartcookthailand.com) we learned to put together some delicious local dishes (as well as pick the ingredients from the nearby market) – from Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken to Pad Thai and Sticky Rice with Mango – it was all fun to make and scrumptious!   Ps: Mam, make some room in the kitchen as your hubby is coming back with lots of enthusiasm, some local spices and a Thai cookbook in hand!

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The two master chefs at work, learning to cook Thai style…

While the grandfathers were having some one-on-one bonding time with their grandsons, Anthony and I took advantage, rented a scooter and ventured out to drive the Samoeng or Strawberry Loop; a 100KM rollicking circuit through the mountains of Chiang Mai (well-known by motorcycle and bike enthusiasts as it claims to be the best ride in Northern Thailand – in a region, known for its delicious strawberries!).

Our first stop on this breathtaking ride through lush greenery was Doi Suthep-Pui National Park in which the well-known Mae Sa Waterfalls are located. Mae Sa are actually a series of 10 small waterfalls and cascades spaced anywhere from 100m to 500 m apart from each other. We hiked the winding road up the river and made it as far as level 5 – which was a great location for a rest, a chat and selfie on the bridge!

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From there, we stopped at the restaurant of the Pong Yang Ang Doi Resort (http://www.pongyangangdoi.com). This eating establishment is located high up, amidst lush greenery, overlooking the slopes of Pong Yang mountain. With a beautiful waterfall as our backdrop, this was a wonderful little find with incredible views! The food was pretty good too – I tried a banana flower salad that was really unique in taste.

The next day, we did it again! We took the whole family for a picnic lunch at the waterfalls and enjoyed the spectacular views at Pong Yang Ang Doi restaurant, while having a refreshing beverage.

Ps: We also quickly saw a crocodile show, both to please the grandfathers and to instill a teaching moment.  Emile was so taken by the animal cruelty (the animals looked like they were drugged and were pushed around and stepped on), he left crying within 5 minutes.  We are proud of how he’s developing his critical thinking skills.

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Good times at Mae Sa Waterfalls, Chiang Mai

So, after having enjoyed a multitude of great “adventures” with the grandfathers, it was time for one last Y.O.L.O experience.  I took my Dad on a motorcycle ride through the back roads of Chiang Mai.  Probably, not something he would ever do at home, but he LOVED it!

En route we stopped at a beautiful estate (we are nosy and wanted to explore a little!) and found out that a Thai princess was living there with her family. She had just given the rights to a British-Thai couple to open up an upscale restaurant on the property.  It was gorgeous and I am sure they will do well. The owner was happy to chat with us and we enjoyed a delicious, complimentary coffee.

It is these kinds of unique experiences that you have while touring around – and the exact reason why travelling and experiencing the world is so great!

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Cruising the back roads of Chiang Mai, with my 75-year old father on a motorbike. Y.O.L.O!

It was amazing to share some of the incredible experiences we are having on our Regeneration Tour (http://the-regeneration.com), with our Dads-Granddads!  Together we created some very dear memories! Thank you Opa and Jichan for your love, support, many laughs and great conversations. We had such a great time and will miss you both.  Safe travels back home!

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We will miss you Grandfathers….It was an incredible time of creating priceless memories together!

And now it is time for some poop and scoop as we are off to the Elephant Nature Park for a week of volunteering.

 

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A FUN TIME FOR KIDS; RECONNECTING WITH FRIENDS and FAMILY, NETHERLANDS – 3

9 Sep

Emile and Filou have had a blast in the Netherlands!  In our second week, we moved to the North-East province of Drenthe, and got treated by Opa and Oma to a fabulous week at Landal Green Parks “Hof van Saksen”.  This park is completely set-up for families, and provides children with the opportunity to experience something new and exciting every day.

The boys built huts out of discarded crates, did target practice with a bow and arrow, spent an afternoon wood crafting and made a beautiful wooden horse and seal for their Opa and Oma, raced across the lake on self-made rafts, had dinner by themselves in the children’s restaurant, cycled around the beautiful surroundings (paths that led them through gorgeous forests and farmlands), saw the inside of a working windmill, fished, and must have gone a 100 times down the amazing water slide this resort offers (http://www.hofvansaksen.com/gb-en/holiday-park/the-netherlands/drenthe/hof-van-saksen). What an amazing time to have spent with their grandparents, who enjoyed every minute of their time with the boys.

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Oma and Filou

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Opa and Oma with Emile

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Emile biking through the Dutch countryside and making friends!

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Beautiful early morning ride in a Dutch Forest

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Filou in the “BAKFIETS” (bucket bike)

As the resort is not too far from where my favorite cousin Marloeke lives, we met her, her husband Mark and her two adorable sons Coen and Ties at the Vlietland Climbing Park, a newly built nature & activity park with gorgeous surroundings, where our “monkies” could climb to their hearts content (and where cousins who had never met, nor speak the same language, could bond). It was a great success as the four boys instantly clicked and enjoyed spending time overcoming climbing challenges.  Not only are they very similar in age, they have somewhat similar looks (and were even wearing the same colour t-shirt!). http://www.wscvlietland.nl/land/klimpark

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Filou & Emile having fun with cousins Coen & Ties

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Filou being a monkey at the Vlietland Climbing Park

Then it was onto my BFF (best friend forever), Frédérique who lives, with her husband Frank and three children (Bregje, Ted and Huub) in a gorgeous bungalow with spectacular garden in Oisterwijk, in the province of Noord-Brabant – very close to where I grew up.  With good friends, you just pick up where you’ve left off, and so too in this case…It was “ouderwets gezellig” (this one is hard to translate! – but basically means that we had the same kind of fun like in the good old days).

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BFF’s reunited again

Our first full day together was Emile’s 10th birthday – so to celebrate his double-digit status in a big way, we headed to “The Efteling” – one of Holland’s most spectacular amusement parks.  When I was growing up, we went to the Efteling, for its amazing “sprookjespark” (fairytale park), but after all these years it has evolved into a real amusement paradise with shows and thrilling rides (with one ride – The Flying Dutchman – that Frederique encouraged me to try – although she knows rides are not my thing. And so, I hung on for dear life – as this ride went up-side-down and through the water at very high speeds– I had my eyes closed the whole time and it still has my knees shaking, just thinking about it!).

But the day ended well, as we sang happy birthday for Emile while enjoying a delicious Dutch “Pannekoek” (pancake) in a fabulous pancake house  (appropriately named the “Globetrotter Restaurant”)– a beautifully decorated place where Emile was invited into the kitchen to create his own birthday ice cream dessert – which was eaten with a chef’s hat on, and big smile on his face.

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The kids enjoying the fairytale park at the Efteling, seeing “Lange Jan” (Jan with its long neck).

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Emile on his 10th. Birthday with his self-made icecream, at the “Globetrotter Pancake house”

The next day was Friends’ Reunion Day and my dearest high school friends (Karen, Leteke, Anoek, Frédérique, Yvette, Ingeborgh, Dorien, Nathalie & Wim with partners and children) gathered for a wonderful afternoon of catching up and barbeque. It was kind of surreal seeing some of these friends again, as for some it had been over 20 years.

It was interesting to notice that personalities really don’t change much over time, and that they are still the same fun, outgoing people that I used to love hanging out with.  Moreover, they must have good Dutch genes because the aging process really hasn’t affected them much (judge for yourself but as you can see from the picture below– still a great looking bunch).  And although everyone came to see “the Canadians”, it was as much a nice re-connect for everyone present – and I am grateful that our family could be the instigator to gather such an amazing group of friends again. Thanks bunches to Frédérique and Frank for hosting this very memorable afternoon – you are fabulous hosts & friends!

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My high school buddies: Ingeborgh, Frédérique, Leteke, me, Karen, Yvette & Anoek

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My dear friend Dorien van de Ven, who left Canada and returned to Holland

The next day, Emile and Filou were invited to Ted’s class to share their world tour experience – Emile happily answered the many, interesting questions posed (with a bit of mom’s translating help) – and as a result, now has more Instagram followers and friends.

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Emile doing his “World Tour Presentation” in front of a class of Dutch, 12 year olds

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Emile with his new Dutch friends

It was great to see that youth activities in Holland have not changed much, and that our boys enjoyed doing the same kind of things with Frédérique’s children as I used to love doing as a child.  Filou was delighted to gather frogs in a pond by the house, with Huub and his friends. Emile loved seeing Bregje play a field hockey game (a sport I used to LOVE playing!!) – she even gave him a quick first lesson.  And at the schoolyard of Ted’s school, Filou was corralled into playing “touwtje springen” with the girls – a fun jumping rope game, I spent hours doing at his age.

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Bregje teaching Emile some field hockey moves

And even my old neigbourhood in Berkel-Enschot hasn’t changed much – the house I grew up in on the Panislaan – was the same I remembered it (although perhaps a bit smaller in reality then I had remembered it as a child).  Being in my old hood, a stop at Auntie Claar’s house was inevitable and fun (such a sweet lady; a best friend of my parents, I used to spent hours playing at her house).

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The four us with sweet “Tante Claar

Then, we made a quick stop to visit the “Golden Girls”; my sweet aunties Grietje, Jetty, Else & Anneke.  A delicious sandwich lunch was catered by Else and her husband Edwin in the backyard of their beautiful farmhouse in Biest-Houthakker. The kids loved the surroundings (picking fresh apples from the trees, and getting farm fresh eggs from the chickens). What a nice-catch up with these very fun ladies that despite their health and other challenges see life so beautifully and have a great deal of fun & laughs!

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Me with the “Golden Girls”, my aunties Grietje, Jetty, Else & Anneke

After a few more wonderful days in Maastricht with Opa and Oma, where Emile and Filou visited the very impressive American War Cemetry in Magraaten, enjoyed swimming in a new, local pool, and strolled around this beautiful walled city, it was onto s’Hertogenbosch to visit our good friends Anoek & Sjoerd and their wonderful, smiley daughters Jip and Cato. A fabulous weekend that consisted of nice country walks, field hockey, dance parties, lots of good food, drink and chats and reminiscing over old high school pictures.  A perfect ending to an amazing time in Holland! Thanks Anoek & Sjoerd for your wonderful hospitality!

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Best Buddies Cato, Emile, Filou & Jip 

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Anoek, Yvette & Me – having a great time sharing old memories

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Last evening with my parents

With some sadness, I say goodbye to “my country” and my trip down memory lane. To my dear parents – It was a wonderful occasion to celebrate your 75th birthday; a huge thank-you for this amazing vacation. It was priceless to see your laughs and interactions with Emile & Filou!  And to my dear Dutch friends & family – you have made this leg of our tour unforgettable and so fun!   We will miss you all.

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Our family goodbye’s at Maastricht Train Station

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And our final goodbye to Holland at Tilburg Train station – taking the Thalys to Paris

Tot de volgende keer dan maar weer!

Paris, here we come…..

Nova Scotia, Canada – 2, The Sights

3 Aug

Recommendations of locals is never to be underestimated, and instead of heading for the very touristy Peggy’s Cove, we headed on our first day in Nova Scotia to Coleman’s Cove – a gorgeous piece of uninhabited land on the Atlantic Ocean.  After a nice little hike uphill, we reached a gorgeous, wild cove–with no one and nothing in site except many beautiful, wild rock formations, surrounded by active ocean waves.  The boys were thrilled to climb the multitude of rocks, skinny-dip in a small body of water amidst them, and take photographs of the beautiful surroundings (Emile has found a new passion in photography and is learning from his Uncle Nuno to take good shots, so that he can frequently post them on Instagram – and hopefully get new followers). His address: EmiWata15

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Filou agreed with the owner of the The Shore Club, that Coleman’s Cove is the most beautiful part of Nova Scotia – and happily he still can talk about it as we had a small panic moment, when we did not see him for a few minutes when he so enthusiastically ran off to explore more natural beauty and climb rocks.  Not knowing where he was, even for a split second, is absolutely terrifying when you stand on a massive structure, surrounded by a very wild ocean – and one misstep and fall down will be without rescue possibility. Of course we found him back with the “what are you worried about, happy look” on his face – and after a few tight hugs – the glorious day of exploration continued.

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The next day, we followed another recommendation, and took the Ferry (45 minute return ride, for $5) to Big Tanook Island.  Following a lovely, brisk boat journey, during which we even spotted a seal, we reached this small island that is only inhabited by a few – a place that is great for hiking, bird watching and calm exploration.  After about an hour hike, we reached the island’s Wishing Stone Café – a lovely little place where you can take a break and pick up a complimentary, pretty “wishing stone” promising to make your wildest dreams come true….should you choose to throw it in the water at the adjacent beach. In return for this gift, you make the promise to the café owner to email her, should your wish indeed materialize!  And apparently she had already received several emails from visitors whose wishes came true (pregnancy after years of trying, full-time job etc.).

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Filou was quite enamored by the beautiful wishing stones…and Anthony took the opportunity to give him a lesson in entrepreneurship.  Together they created a concept to sell wishing stones on-line – Filou setting the price of $1.99 per stone, creating the logo and even describing the uniform they should wear – I won’t go into details but it involved black overalls with sparkles on the pockets, a big picture of a wishing stone on the chest and dark flat caps)!  I think with Filou’s creativity and Anthony’s sales techniques – they might have a winning idea and make dreams come true?!

The beach next to the café was a great place for collecting the “wishing stones”, colourful pieces of glass, as well as many beautiful shells. This was another place of tremendous natural beauty with nobody in sight. The shallow water, surrounded by the most beautiful, green & yellow algae made the kids feel that they could run on water (which they did!).   And after taking a nice family picture and leisurely stroll, we took the ferry and some wonderful memories back to the shore of Chester.

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The later part of the week included some wonderful visits with family, as we enjoyed the incredible hospitality of cousin Danielle, Sean and their two adorable sons, Oliver & Quinn (they were addictive – so cute as they were!). Also, we went to admire the new and absolutely stunning ocean property of Auntie Katie, cousin Derek and wife Sandy. There, the kids had an absolute ball playing with their cousins Hanson and Warner.

During the last few days, we made brief stops in Halifax, where we visited the Canadian Museum of Immigration (www.pier21.ca)–an interesting spot that depicts the location where YiaYia, the boys’ grandmother, and her siblings entered Canada from Greece. As well, we spent half a day in Lunenburg, a very quaint fishing town where in the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic (www.museum.gov.ns.ca/fma), Filou got to help re-enact the launch of the Blue Nose 2, a well-known local ship that celebrated its 50th anniversary the day we were there.  And although I absolutely adore coastal towns and everything naval, the stunning natural beauty of Nova Scotia is what will stay with me as the highlight of our time in this beautiful province.

Big thanks to Nuno for the awesome pictures he took of this leg of the trip, Ayako for inspiring Filou to draw and helping Emile decipher the Japanese words in his new favorite collection of Japanese stories, and to Jichan (grandfather) for treating us to this wonderful part of our tour!  This was our second week of family goodbye’s and with some tears we said our “au-revoir” for a year. We will miss you all but look forward to your visits during our time away!

Nova Scotia, Canada – 1, Lobster

3 Aug

NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA – LOBSTER

 So what do you eat on your first night in Hubbards, Nova Scotia? – a massive Lobster with lots of yummy butter of course!  Recommended by the owner of our cottage, we headed to The Shore Club (www.shoreclub.ca), right after our short flight on Porter Airlines and a half an hour drive from Halifax Airport.   The Shore Club, the original Lobster Supper & Dance Club did not disappoint; for $30 a person you get a small lobster (large by my standards!), all-you-can-eat salad & mussels and three copious desserts to choose from – all served of course with that wonderful Nova Scotia hospitality!

This dinner will of course beg for more…. as Emile & Filou have now developed the taste for this delicious local delicacy – they just LOVED it!  Jichan (grandpa) taught Filou to eat the head of the Lobster and all the yummy goodies, such as the liver, inside…And Emile was thrilled with the large pieces of lobster in the tail of this yummy water creature (that his godfather Nuno generously shared with him).  Anthony was also quite happy to leave his fashion sense behind for an evening, and strap on a lovely plastic Lobster Bib…to dig in!

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The lobsters at the Shore Club were cooked & prepared outside the restaurant in huge boiling pots, and when making friendly conversation with the chefs, the boys got a behind-the-scenes tour.  Quickly put to work, they got to pick out the next order of live lobster – swimming in a bucket full of ocean water.  The chef was impressed that the boys were not fearful at all of holding the animals, as the large claws can basically snap off a finger (these claws were of course held together with an elastic band – but even the small claws held a very strong grip on the boys’ fingers).  And after they learned some interesting facts about lobsters, such as how to distinguish a male from a female, they quickly made their way into the restaurant to eat.

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And eating we did. Following a week of scrumptious scallops, haddock and lobster rolls (even eggs with lobster for breakfast!) – what did we decide to eat on our last night in Nova Scotia? Another delicious lobster each at the Shore Club of course – as it was the perfect ending to a week of gourmet eating!

Departure and Week 1: Canada: Haliburton, Ontario

25 Jul

Departure & Week 1

On July 15, 2013 – after months of planning, de-cluttering, packing, sorting and dreaming – we were ready to start our adventure. Stuff (home & office) stored in a 10×20 storage unit and our house in the Beach rented for the year to a family from Washington, DC.

Although I consider myself a person that easily recycles, de-clutters or throws out things – I have gained a huge respect for those that are able to sell or get rid of ALL of their belongings to embark on a travelling lifestyle!  How attached we are to our stuff!  My goal and hope for this year-long trip is that our family can change our perspective on owning material things and will come back learning to live a much more de-cluttered and streamlined life, one that appreciates experiences, love and life over stuff.

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First stop; a week of family time at a cottage outside of Haliburton, Ontario – on Pickard Lake!

When thinking of our year away, many words come to mind: “Relaxation”, “Family & Connection Time” and “Excitement” are certainly some of them.

Relaxation: The cottage we stayed in was a gorgeous two-level vacation home, right on a private lake, on a remote piece of land with absolutely breathtaking surroundings.  It had been months since I last picked up a book, let alone finish one.  That week, I relished in finishing a book, sitting on a gorgeous deck overlooking a stunning Canadian Lake –while enjoying watching Emile and Filou have a fabulous time in the water (jumping, swimming, diving, snorkelling and fishing – even doing comedy shows, using a small floating deck as their stage – they were just on fire, cracking joke after joke – each one followed by a crazy jump in the water). What a joy!

Family Time: Among the many family games at the cottage was a nice big dartboard that served for many a friendly competition (especially between YiaYia (grandma) and Emile).  The outdoor fire pit also facilitated some nice family time, enjoying several campfires (nothing better than a burnt marsh mellow or hot dog in the fresh air, while listening to Papa’s guitar tunes?)!  And yes, if you are wondering, Anthony has brought a travelling guitar (not sure how long that item will last but very nice while it’s with us….)

The other important family aspect to this week certainly was the time with Yia Yia. As an incredible inspiration in the boys’ life, she sees them at least once a week.  The time together away in this beautiful setting was a perfect send-off and goodbye to her as we embark on our journey. We hope to have her join us in Latin America in 2014.

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Adventure: After a week of 30C, sunbathing, swimming, boating and relaxation – it was time for some adventure.  On our last day, while sitting on the deck, enjoying my book – a ferocious wind came out of nowhere.  The lake became wild and angry looking (but beautiful). While I looked up, I saw that a children’s water slide had been swept from the deck into the lake and was quickly taking speed, floating away.

Without hesitation, I took a dive and swam after it – although it took all my strength to quickly swim against the strong winds to reach this item. When I had covered about half the lake, I finally reached it.  My family was having mixed feelings of me “risking my life” and “admiration”.  Luckily, I feel pretty confident in the water (thanks mom & dad for all the swimming lessons when I was young) and with some “mind over matter” attitude, I swam back with the slide in my hand against very strong currents of water and wind.  The admiration of Emile was worth it alone. I truly was his “hero” for the day, and he was encouraging me tremendously from shore….talking  me so sweetly back to safety (never had so many spontaneous hugs in a row from him :).

Once back on shore, huffing and puffing, a few other items needed saving such as a Muskoka Chair (and for those of you that knows what a Muskoka Chair is – you know that it is a fairly heavy chair, not easily swept away by wind)!

Shortly after this lake rescue mission, we closed up the cottage –  that had now gone without power – and quickly departed.  We later heard that we just made it out in time, as the area had received several tornado warnings….we had no idea that we were in a tornado region but we did notice the fallen trees along the road, and the tremendous storm (incredible rain and wind) in which we had to drive back. Thankfully, we made it back safely to Toronto to catch our first flight. Destination: Halifax, Nova Scotia!

So, our first week did live up to expectations: a nice mix of relaxation, family time and adventure. Good start to the year!

Y.O.L.O! Mom on the Go…

23 Jul

Y.O.L.O!  Mom on the go….

Recently, my Dad turned 75 and told me that on his birthday, he reflected back on his 75 years of life and concluded that he was very satisfied with his life…that there were a few small things that he would have done differently….but that all in all, he looked back on a fulfilling life without regret.  This is a man who was very fortunate to travel the world for his work, to see and experience many wonderful things, and to this day still lives by the motto: Carpe Diem!

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He certainly passed the travel bug on to me, taking me all around Europe on wonderful family vacations, always with the mission to show my sister and me that the world was bigger than “Berkel-Enschot” (the small town in the Netherlands where I was raised). So, after high school, I went off to the South of France to learn another language and met my wonderful husband Anthony from Canada.  Together, we continue and  had some of our best times travelling and experiencing life together.  Our long-term goal: To one day travel the world.

So now, at our “midlife inspiration” point, that day has come! We are travelling the world for a year with our two sons: Emile who is almost 10 and Felix (Filou) who is 8. Our journey will start with some family time in Eastern Canada and Europe, then onto China, South-East Asia, New Zealand, Japan and Latin America. I have yet to really grasp what this year will hold for the four of us, but of one thing I am sure: When I am 75, I want to look back on a life well lived, without regret – and for me, this trip will certainly help accomplish that mission.

As I write this first blog, we haven’t even left yet, and already we seem to inspire others. How cool!  Friends are telling us that we are encouraging them to follow their dreams, such as opening up their own business; others are motivated to ponder how they might live life differently!  And then there are those who are motivating us to live “a life without regret”, such as the wonderfully jovial and entertaining court judge who was seated next to me at a restaurant bar, there to celebrate Father’s Day. He kept congratulating us for taking this bold step, and at the end of dinner, gave me the biggest hug and whispered in my ear:  “I was just diagnosed with MS and should have done this with my kids when I was younger. Go have a fabulous time and film everything!”

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So here it is – a life without regret: Carpe Diem. Or as one cool teenager recently taught me, Y.O.L.O!  You Only Live Once.  So, here I go: Y.O.L.O! Mom On The Go… with my three wonderful men – travelling the world. An absolute dream come true!