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YEAR IN REVIEW – Our Trip around the World

27 Jul

YEAR IN REVIEW – OUR TRIP AROUND THE WORLD

After:

* Visiting 14 countries, 52 cities and…

* 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

* Taking 30 flights

* Riding on 5 trains

* Bumping around on 26 different busses

* And….sleeping in 54 different beds The Watanabe-Swagemakers family is back in Canada.

To reflect, appreciate and let our world experiences settle in, I did a family interview to get everyone’s perspective on the past year. As this journey has ended, a new one is beginning: we are moving to Bangkok, Thailand in September! As a family, we are thoroughly thankful for this past year (an amazing dream come true), and super excited about our new, upcoming life in Asia. We can only wish (and encourage) everyone to pursue their dreams – it makes you come alive in ways you didn’t know were possible.

Thanks to you all for following our adventures on Facebook, and on our blog (http://yolomomonthgo.wordpress.com) – your enthusiasm (even when you despised us as we were posting sunny beach pictures of Thailand during one of the worst winters in Canada) has meant a great deal to us. So, dank je wel, muchas gracias, thank you and merci!

I will try to keep writing about living in Thailand but now we are signing off to spend some quality time with family & friends…Y.O.L.O everyone!

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1. BEST MEMORY OF THE COUNTRIES WE VISITED:

CANADA

Anthony: Driving around Newfoundland in an RV made me proud to be a Canadian. The natural landscape is absolutely stunning.

Rose: Lobster feasts in Nova Scotia with grandpa Jichan, James & Ayako. The kids skinny dipping in the ocean at “Happy Beach”.

Emile: Catching the big codfish with Captain Dave in Newfoundland.

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Felix: Very peaceful RV travel around Newfoundland; you can sleep anywhere you want.

 

HOLLAND

Anthony: Great weather with Oma and Opa in August, as opposed to our many visits during Christmas holidays over the years. The B&B in Maastricht where, without the kids, Rose and I awoke each morning to a breakfast of classical music, linen tablecloth and lekker Dutch treats.

Rose: Seeing my parents show Emile & Filou their country of heritage for the first time….Such joy! Eating herring up-side down, tasting delicious cheeses, climbing windmills, riding bikes in the beautiful countryside, going to the Aalsmeer Flower Market etc.

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EmileThe best was my 10th. birthday celebration with Opa and Oma. And I loved eating all the delicious food.

Felix: Spending amazing times with Opa & Oma. Eating kroketten and Dutch cheese.

 

FRANCE

Anthony: Emile heading off to the supermarket by himself (his independence was starting) and returning not only with a baguette but also a Parisian accent!

Rose: Strolling the local food markets and re-living France memories with the love of my life. This is where it all started!

Emile: Eating Japanese food while dancing in front of the Eiffel Tower.

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Felix: Playing in the beautiful parks of Paris, especially the play park in le Jardin du Luxembourg, one of papa’s favourites.

 

CHINA

Anthony: Walking the labyrinthine streets of the Dong Cheng area of Beijing where there were tons and tons of people walking and eating at all hours of the day. “Shuffling” was the only way to move through the crowds. And rock climbing, it all started in Yangshuo!

Rose: Hiking the wild and most preserved part of the Great Wall of China while taking in the stunning scenery (China & Mongolia). Such a privilege to walk on this incredible structure & piece of history!  And gliding down the beautiful Li river on a bamboo raft in Yangshuo – taking in the stunning Karst mountain scenery.

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Emile: First time rock climbing experience, great food & friends.

Felix: Running ahead of the family on the Great Wall and getting my head shaven.

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VIETNAM

Anthony: First morning in sweltering Ho Chi Minh City, the first taste of Vietnamese coffee knocked me over. By the end of our month, I was making my own and loving it! Pho soup on the streets of Hanoi with Emile and riding a motorcycle in crazy traffic!

Rose: Enjoying the peaceful beach life in Hoi An and riding a motorcycle on the Hai Van Pass – right into the clouds.

Emile: Living through the aftermath of Cyclone Hayan; one of the world’s biggest hurricanes every recorded (lots of rain and wind).

Felix: Everything, especially eating Pho Soup!

 

CAMBODIA

Anthony: Filou getting chased by a monkey at the Angkor Wat temples! Sleeping in a tree hut in the middle of the jungle at the incredible Jasmine Valley in Kep, and helping make a new roof for a family in need in Siem Reap.

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Rose: Seeing the sun come up over Angkor Wat. These temples are truly one-of-a-kind magnificent! And going by boat to gorgeous Rabbit Island in Kep.

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Emile: Tarzan jumping into a beautiful river in Kampot.

Felix: Driving around Phnom Penh with Mr. Key, our amazing tuk-tuk driver

 

THAILAND

Anthony: Booting around on motor scooters, on the left side of the road! The ocean water being almost too warm. Rock climbing with locals and visitors from around the world. Christmas day boating and snorkeling around the islands. New Year’s eve on the beach – kids stayed up until 1am – barely! Hanging with our dads in and around Chiang Mai.

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Rose: Too many great memories – can’t choose one: Christmas Day exploring the stunning islands around Krabi by boat. Riding the back roads of Chiang Mai on a scooter with my 75 year old Dad (and having both grandfathers spent 2.5 weeks with us), seeing the children’s commitment to the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) where we volunteered; an incredible love for animals (elephants, dogs, cats etc.) came to light and….Dancing my way into a new year: 2014 while lighting & lifting lanterns into the sky…projecting that one day soon we would come back to this amazing country. Our two months here were paradise!

Emile: Amazing people, fun on motorcycles, and the awesome experience of helping the elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Thank you Lek for the amazing work you do to save these beautiful animals. I am going to adopt one (or a dog at your shelter).

Felix: Swimming in the pool at the Best Western. Playing with Zack & Sara on the beach and eating the incredible foods, such as garlic chicken on rice.

 

MALAYSIA

Anthony: Penang and Fiji were tied for hottest places we visited. Fortunately, both had pools. Incredible vegetarian food right outside our apartment – ate lunch there every day after discovering it. Kids’ first music lessons with Nelson near Island Plaza, something which has given us a lot of joy and connection ever since.

Rose: Exploring the amazing street art of Georgetown.  And eating some incredible street food: what a wonderful mix of cultures and tastes, you can find in Penang!

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Emile: Going to the amazing ESCAPE climbing park to celebrate Ian Minton’s birthday (my new friend from the US).

Felix: Starting to take music lessons for the first time: now I love to play the piano!

 

NEW ZEALAND

Anthony: Filou playing non-stop piano in every hostel we visited. At that time, he only knew 2 songs: Mary Had a Little Lamb and Happy Birthday. Just imagine. Great mountain bike ride in Rotorua, stunning scenery and sparking my interest in trail riding.

Rose: Seeing the geothermal activity, geysers and hot mud pools at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and learning about the fascinating Maori aboriginal culture. For the first time eating lamb that I actually liked! 

Emile: Cool geysers!  Eating delicious lamb, and taking a nice walk around the Auckland Harbour.

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Felix: Incredible poi dance at the aboriginal Maori show.

 

FIJI ISLANDS

Anthony: Definitely the impromptu and incredible dinner with local Japanese eccentric, Taku Murai. In his self-designed house mixing both Fijian (think ventilation) and Japanese features (think sliding walls), he prepared us a feast. After dinner, he shared his philosophy of life with us, much of which was written in English and Japanese all over his wood, unpainted walls. These are the experiences you cannot find in guidebooks. 

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Rose: Being invited by a Japanese man to his house. He promised that he would prepare us a meal we wouldn’t forget. And so he did – scrumptious sushi dinner and interesting conversation with this eccentric, lovely man! And lots of fun pool time.

Emile: Funny Japanese guy and cooking with Seria, making a delicious parrot fish dish.

Felix: Building a fort on the beach and the Japanese man.

 

USA

Anthony: Airport reunion with mom and James, kids screaming and jumping for joy. Family bowling and everyone’s body gestures to help guide the bowling ball. After a delicious Mexican meal, singing Karaoke in the bar, complete with cowboys, line dancing and lots of twang! We sang the Bare Naked Ladies.

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Rose: Hiking the Santa Monica Mountains – enjoying a nice pic-nic lunch and seeing crazy YiaYia (grandmother) still climbing trees to make the kids happy!

Emile: Having fun jumping in the trampoline park and bowling with YiaYia and Nuno.

Felix: Playing in the park with YiaYia and Nuno.

 

PERU

Anthony: Great community in Cusco. Buying the kids their first musical instruments – game changer for their progress. The restaurant owner beside our apartment with gold stars on her teeth – fashion without function? Machu Picchu and other incredible Inca sites. Climbing La Rocca with other families and our guide, Tiffany. Oh, and altitude sickness at 3300 metres during the first week.

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Rose: Taking part in a traditional Depacho ceremony – giving thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth) for the abundance she provides us each and every day – surrounded by some amazing friends. Spending 3 days on the edge of the Amazon making a commercial for Scotia Bank …and of course, exploring the stunning archeological site of Machu Picchu.

Emile: Making great friends such as Kane Crawford and learning Spanish.

Felix: Having lots of fun with the many friends we made and hiking the hills around Cusco.

 

BOLIVIA

Anthony: Seeing Lake Titicaca as we arrived in Copacabana – reminded me of how much I love water. Our snail-shaped house at Las Olas Hostel. Oh, and the killer llama there – could tell by his gaze. Snow storm during our tour of the Salt Flats, French tourist falling through a hole during a snowball fight with the kids, sleeping in winter coat, gloves, etc.

Rose: Taking incredibly fun pictures on the Salar de Uyuni  (Salt Flats) and taking a boat ride on Lake Titicaca, Copacabana to a floating reef village.

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Emile: Long but beautiful hike on Isla del Sol.

Felix: Uyuni Salt Flat – we took fun pictures and I scooped up lots of salt.

 

ECUADOR

Anthony: Hanging with Filou in Quito while Emile suffered through chicken pox and Rose tended to him. The incredible lightness of being, after yoga sessions in Canoa. Getting into World Cup frenzy with Emile, talking schedules and stats and of course watching the Dutch win their first 4 games. Beautiful beach in Canoa and truly wonderful people there, locals, expats and travellers we met.

Rose: Yoga mornings on the beach with Leanne & bonfires with friends… Of course HUP HOLLAND, and let’s not forget PARAGLIDING!!!

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Emile: Cheering for the Dutch. World Cup frenzy!!!

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Felix: Learning to surf on some amazing waves.

           

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Anthony: Snorkelling through the incredible, glass-like water, being a guest in another world while holding Emile’s hand

Rose: Being the first person in the family to see a white-tip reef shark that was swimming right below me!  I screamed loudly so that everyone could swim back and see him too, but they were too late – it was a real big one too! And having a sea-lion play and swim all around me and the kids…so much fun!

Emile:  Snorkeling with the turtles and sharks

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Felix:  Playing with the sea-lions, and playing soccer with David and Martin.

 

2. WHAT WAS THE SINGLE BEST MEAL YOU ENJOYED, AND WHERE WAS THIS?

Anthony: Very difficult, but if I must: Pho Ga on the streets of Hanoi with Emile for $1.50. For each of our 2 nights there, we took a foot massage, followed by the best Pho we have ever tasted.

Rose: Ginger Crab in Kep, Cambodia overlooking the beautiful ocean.

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Emile: Morning Glory (green vegetable dish) in Thailand.

Felix: Noodles in China.

 

3. WHAT WAS YOUR WEIRDEST EXPERIENCE OR OBSERVATION DURING THIS YEAR?

Anthony: I saw anti-corruption messaging on billboards, TV, magazines and newspapers in virtually every country we visited. And at the same time, I was following news of scandal, misappropriation of public funds and dishonesty at every level of government in Canada. Corruption in government is, alas, universal. The difference is the degree and the level of transparency.

Rose: Seeing a skinned dog hanging up-side-down in a Chinese food market (during my cooking class market tour), and learning that many petdogs are killed each Fall as it’s a delicacy on menus during that time of year.  So sorry for the loss of all your dogs ahLong and Jessie!

Emile: Eating Guinea Pig in Peru.

Felix: A lady in a village in Hue, Vietnam grabbing my private part 3 times! Just to be friendly (bit of a crazy custom)!

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4. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITY COUNTRY TO VISIT AND WHY?

Anthony: Overall, Thailand had the most checkboxes. But really, every country created unique experiences and memories for us.

Rose: Thailand without a doubt! The amazing hospitality of the Thai people, the scrumptious food, the stunning beaches and mountains, the fun of getting around on motorbikes and the SUN, SUN, SUN!

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Emile: All of them: every country had something special.

Felix: Thailand – cause the food always has a little kick to it and you can swim around some beautiful islands.

 

5. WHAT WAS YOUR SINGLE MOST FUN, EXCITING/THRILLING ACTIVITY?

Anthony: Rosie, you’re killing me – boiling it down to one thing is tough. But I realized that Vietnam had a number of thrilling experiences. Driving through the huge, jam-packed roundabouts in Danang on a motorbike en route to the stunning Hai Van Pass was a nail-biter. Then there was the adventure Emile I took to get to Cat Ba Island from Hanoi, including early morning bus with Vietnamese Karaoke, getting swindled at least twice and seeing a motorcycle death along the way. And once there, we did deep water soloing – climbing rocks without a rope over water – that was also pretty thrilling. Then of course, we returned to you and Filou in central Vietnam only to be evacuated from the beach to an inland hotel because Typhoon Haiyan was coming towards us. So the most thrilling “activity” would have to be Vietnam.

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Rose: Riding a motorbike in Thailand in my bikini – and trying not to hit an elephant – and motoring on a motorbike in the absolute insane traffic of Vietnam where lights or traffic rules do not exist! Paragliding in Canoa, Ecuador and swimming with sharks, huge tortoises and sea lions on the Galapagos Islands.

Emile: Paragliding in Ecuador.

Felix: Climbing up on tall, funky looking climbing walls, playing laser tag, skating and going to the science lab at Kid’s World in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

 

6. BESIDES FAMILY AND FRIENDS: WHAT WAS THE ONE THING YOU MISSED MOST ABOUT HOME & THE ONE THING YOU COULD NOT HAVE DONE WITHOUT ON THE TRIP.

Anthony: Missed most: I didn’t realize how much I missed the clean and green spaces of Toronto until I got home. The world is not so proper and organized. Couldn’t have done without: Besides my co-travellers? My iPhone. Might sound trivial but it was my camera, my connection to locals and folks back home through phone, email and social media. I could have survived with half the clothes, my guitar and my iPhone alone.

Rose: Missed most: Fresh green salads with lots of yummy things in them. Couldn’t have done without: Earplugs; the world is an awfully loud place…and my I-phone for pictures.

Emile: Missed most: Sushi, Greek and Indian Food. Couldn’t have done without: I-Pod to read and contact friends.

Felix: Missed most: Canadian Summer Camp. Couldn’t have done without: My mom.

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7. WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT TRAVELLING THE WORLD?

Anthony: I learned that there are many, many different models for how people live and work and that around the world, some folks actually build their work around their lifestyle – foreign concept for us in the West. I consider myself a tolerant person but I tried even harder not to snap judge those who come at life from a different perspective and who have made choices different from mine.

Rose: Our “once-in-a-lifetime” travel experiences have made me live more in the moment.  They’ve also shown me to value friendships more and be more accepting of others – as people from all around the world have accepted our family this past year and showered us with their kindness. I have learned to have deeper compassion – as it is amazing to see how the rest of the world lives. How can you not care? I also hope that we as a family have lost our sense of “entitlement” and that from now on, we will appreciate that the truly important things in life are not material items, but the creation of unforgettable memories with those you love!   Also, I learned that world schooling is amazing (although I have a whole new respect for teachers) and that travel brings out enormous creativity in children. And finally I have learned to appreciate that there are many ways in which to achieve work-life balance and enjoy life!

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Emile: That I am very lucky to have what I have!

Felix: I never thought Asia would be so poor and that you can make nice friends all around the world.

 

8. WHAT NEW THINGS HAVE YOU TRIED DURING THIS TRIP

As the list would be very long, here is a family recap:

A = Anthony, R=Rose, E=Emile, F=Filou

Family: Paragliding, swimming with white-tipped fin sharks, huge turtles, sea lions, penguins, rays and other amazing marine creatures, eating guinea pig, sitting in a cave mud bath, swimming in a hot & cold geyser stream, floating on a bamboo raft down a beautiful river surrounded by Karst mountains, dancing on stage in front of the Eiffel Tower, going out on a night boat to see fire-flies, rock-climbing and deep-water soloing, eating cricket cookies, flying on a 6-seater plane, volunteering at an amazing Elephant Park.

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Plus for….

Anthony: Let’s just say that I am now a Spanish-speaking rock climber and yogi who has reconnected with his musical sensibilities and enjoys reading somewhat esoteric French novels. Oh, I have tried, and succeeded, in not wearing a tie for a year!

Rose: Blogging, learning to deep-sea dive, be an actress in a commercial, riding a motorcycle on the left side of the road, in insane traffic with no rules, with a child in the back, preparing to be evacuated for a hurricane, learning what world and un-schooling is all about, taking a Chinese and Vietnamese cooking class in the local countryside.

Emile & Filou: Learning to surf, zip-lining, fishing a 30LB lake fish (E), learning to play the guitar (E) and piano (F) and sing, performing music on stage, presenting world travel to a group of Dutch school kids (E), cheering on the Dutch soccer team like never before (E), standing up in the back of a pick-up truck that was driving fast, making a bon-fire by myself (E), learning Spanish, hand-weaving a bracelet, poi dancing (F), skinny dipping, holding a live lobster, taking a Vietnamese cooking class (made a delicious curry – F), riding on a FAST motorcycle with no helmet while being squeezed between mom & the driver (F), learning to compose my first original song (F), karaoke singing, volunteering in a dog shelter, collecting starfish out of the ocean, sleeping in a hotel completely made out of salt, being chased by a monkey (F) and getting our first massages in Cambodia and Thailand.

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9. DESCRIBE WHAT THIS PAST YEAR HAS BEEN LIKE FOR YOU. WAS IT WHAT YOU EXPECTED IT TO BE?

Anthony: On the surface, it was an unforgettable experience of new places, new friends and tons of discoveries, both geographic and gastronomic. But below that surface, I think we will realize gradually how the year has taught us to communicate better, to appreciate more and to contextualize our life through a broader perspective. As a parent, one of the profound takeaways was of course sharing these experiences with the boys, discussing their impressions and watching them learn and develop. Virtually everyone we met was excited about how such a trip would shape them as men. And while I, too, am eager to see how they develop following this year of privileged family time, there’s a part of me that just wants to hold on to those moments of holding their hand while walking on a beach in a far off country somewhere in the world.

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Rose: I only had one major goal for this year and that was to experience, learn and grow as a family: to create unforgettable memories for a lifetime. This year has given me all that and sooooooooo much more!

Emile: It was so much more exciting – and we made so many more friends than I expected!

Felix: Exactly what I expected. Very best year of my life!

 

10. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT STARTING A NEW ADVENTURE IN BANGKOK, THAILAND?

Anthony: I’m inspired and grateful that we have found a way to combine the adventure of travel and so-called normal life. Thailand holds new opportunities for growth for all of us: the kids in an international school (or any school, for that matter!) and Rose and I starting a business in the ASEAN region. We are also fortunate that all family members are unselfish and lovingly supportive of our decision.

Rose: Just thrilling…A new start which will once again bring many new learnings, challenges and incredible joys.  Thailand, here we come!

Emile: Can’t wait, it’s going to be awesome!

Felix: I am excited about going to Lycée Français International de Bangkok as this school has a science lab, track & field, pool etc. Here I will be meeting lots of new, international friends.

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11. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHERS ABOUT FOLLOWING THEIR DREAMS?

Anthony: I don’t have any advice. While I realize this year of travel was a big deal in many respects, for me it was just something we needed to do. The tour itself was truly amazing, but I don’t think that our decision to do it was amazing. It just felt right for our family at this time, and so we went with that feeling.

Rose: As one who LOVES to travel and enjoys being on the water, this quote sums it up for me: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Emile: Just do it. It’s awesome…make the most of it!

Felix: Following your dreams will make you HAPPY!

With incredible thanks and gratitude to Anthony, Emile and Filou for their exploratory and open minds. You guys have made this world travel experience for me what it was; a life-changing, incredible journey that I will carry in my heart forever. You are the loves of my life. Now and always!

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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…..

A trip down memory lane, Netherlands – 2

29 Aug

A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE, NETHERLANDS –2

Netherlands, or Holland as we “Dutchies” call our country, is an interesting place to observe through the eyes of my children.  Having lived here for the first 20 years of my life, it still feels “normal” to me, the way certain things are done – however now they make me ponder as Emile & Filou point things out.

For example, we rented some bikes to take a ride through the Dutch dunes (dunes are the hills that protect Holland against the water) – and when picking up our rental bikes, we were not offered a helmet (something that is unheard of in Canada – especially for children).  Nobody in Holland wears a helmet (except on a road bike maybe).

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Filou getting used to his multi-colour Dutch bike

As a child I would bike 45 minutes to school and back, each day amidst large groups of children – rain,  (lots of wind) or shine.  It was fun (I always had red cheeks – “appelwangen”) and I never felt unsafe. This is of course because the Dutch have this amazing network of bike paths that are completely separate from the roadways.  Emile also found it funny how you lock a Dutch bike – the bikes have a lock attached them, and once you pull a lever down and take out your key, it’s locked and you can leave your bike (Anthony was worried we didn’t have a strong cable to attach it to some solid structure).  But it all seems to work just fine here.

So, after a nice, 1 hour bike ride through the dunes and nature reserve surrounding Noordwijk (we saw a large group of deer and an incredibly large, white snail that caught Emile’s attention)– against, some typical, strong Dutch wind, we reached “het strand” (the beach), where we locked up our bikes, Dutch style, and hiked 5 minutes over a dune, to reach the North Sea.  Emile and Filou had a blast jumping in very high waves, and even Anthony braved the somewhat cold water.

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Walking through the dunes to the Noordwijk Beach

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Like in Canada, water is of course plentiful in Holland, and a trip down memory lane was a visit to the sailing school I frequented as a child. Similar to summer camps in Canada, Dutch kids often go to sailing camp for a week. “De Wijde Aa”, was the name of one of such sailing camps, a place where I hold fond memories.

This camp, located in Roelofarendsveen, has its own windmill where we slept at night, and a variety of small boats, used to teach us the intricacies of manoeuvering Dutch winds.  This sailing camp was educational but mostly very fun with its multitude of different games, activities and songs.

The sailing instructors (usually university students) knew how to make it a good time for all.  One of those instructors in particular left a big impression on this little Dutchie; he was very handsome and incredibly kind and fun with the kids (I remember him making a song about me and my blue hat – I was always wearing this bright blue hat at camp).  A little girl crush, on a guy that I thought had the most beautiful name: Emile.   So, ever since then, I told myself that if I had a son, I would call him Emile.  And so, here I was, with my handsome, firstborn Emile, at the sailing school that inspired his name – very sweet! (the only thing missing perhaps was the handsome instructor Emile – probably now in his 50’s or 60’s. J).

We continued our exploration on the water and took a nice boat ride through the canals of Amsterdam with the family.  The canal houses are so unique and intricate in their design, and boating through the extensive network of waterways in the capital city is a lovely way to explore this “Venice of the North”.  Our good friend Pieter Tol, who we had the pleasure of connecting with while there, lives in one of those beautiful canal houses overlooking the water.  These houses were built deep but very narrow with incredibly steep staircases (I was completely out of breath getting myself to his 3rd.floor apartment), as in the Golden Age, taxes were to be paid on the width of the houses. Now, they are protected and a precious commodity, where each floor is sold or rented separately.

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Emile admiring the “7 bridges” within the Amsterdam canals

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Loving the cool Amsterdam vibe

Also, fun in Amsterdam was the flower market where you can buy any kind of flower bulb (the kids were surprised at the many different colours of tulips – they produce any colour or mix of colour, you can imagine – even a totally black one!).

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Emile and Filou at the Amsterdam “Flower Market” where they admired the flowers and other Dutch products, such as wooden shoes

But the most interesting place to learn about the amazing flowers of Holland is the Aalsmeer Flower Auction or Flora Holland (http://www.floraholland.com/en/), in the city of Aalsmeer (for a few euros you can watch the auction, but be there at 7 am for the best show. At 9:00 am it is all over!). Every day, thousands of the most beautiful flowers and plants are auctioned off here to wholesalers and export companies – that for 80% will distribute and sell them worldwide.  It is amazing to see the incredible sea of coulours – one flower more beautiful than the other.

Once the flowers are auctioned off, and sold, they are transported on the floor, from one location to the next by hundreds of people on “stand up electronic bikes”.  Although the process at the auction is highly computerized, it is interesting to notice that it also still needs a lot of human intervention.  Of course, I knew Holland was a flower land and we always enjoyed a multitude of fresh flowers and plants at home, but I had never been to this auction which gave me a whole new appreciation for its scale  – and reason for which Holland is so famous.

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Some of the many colourful flowers at the Aalsmeer Flower Auction

So as we continue to enjoy more family time, and soon re-connection time with good friends, my trip down memory time continues…

GOODBYE NEWFOUNDLAND and HELLO “HOME”, NETHERLANDS –1

24 Aug

After Twillingate, our intention was to drive to Terra Nova National Park and onwards West to St. John’s, Newfoundland, and take the night ferry from Argentia back to North Sydney.  But as everyone knows, travel is unexpected and so too in this case.  The Marine Atlantic ferry, the one that had taken us to Newfoundland only two days before, crashed into a dock and was beyond repair for at least a month (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/story/2013/08/06/ns-ferry-delays.html), and so the ride back from Argentia was cancelled until Sept. 1.  This forced us to turn back west to our starting point – leaving out all of the eastern part of this gorgeous province.

So after spending a few more fabulous days in Gros Morne National Park, where we enjoyed more incredible views and hikes, and spent a fun afternoon taking in some local tunes (at the Merchant’s Warehouse café in Woody Point, multi-talented Mike Madigan delighted the audience with fun Newfoundland – cod liver oil and sailor – songs, while taking the kids on stage and teaching them to play with the “ugly stick” and spoons), we made our way back safely to Halifax, Nova Scotia where we caught an Iceland Air Flight to Europe – Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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Emile and Filou having a blast on stage with Mike Madigan, playing the “funny stick”

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At Halifax Airport, leaving for our first transatlantic flight to Europe

As thrilled as Emile & Filou were about their transatlantic flight (they watched movies all night, and never slept a minute although it was a night flight), my personal excitement started to build as well, as the next destination on our list was a visit to my “home country” or should I say, country of origin?  A country I hadn’t visited for 6 years.

To now have the opportunity to show Emile and Filou the many wonderful traditions, culture & sights this unique, little country has to offer, together with my parents (the boys’ Opa and Oma), who are both turning 75 this year, is something to be truly cherished.

After a warm and emotional welcome at award-winning Schiphol Airport, we made our way to Landal Green Parks in Noordwijkerhout (about ½ hour drive from Amsterdam), where we also met up with my sister Caroline, her daughter Amandine (my lovely goddaughter), and my sister’s boyfriend Antoine and his son Leopold (who all live in Angers, France). We took three lovely bungalows at this Landal Dunimar vacation park, located in the heart of the flower fields and close to the North Sea.

To quickly immerse ourselves into Dutch traditions, one of our first visits was a daytrip to Volendam, a fishing village where the older generation is still very proud to wear their traditional attire – and where a fun activity is to dress up in traditional costume and take a picture – something which of course we could not resist doing.  Emile and Filou loved this “dress-up” activity and their half Dutch roots certainly started to show (and for me – what can I say?  A real “Dutchie”!).

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Three Dutchies in Volendam costume

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Opa having a blast in his new outfit

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Opa and Oma with children and grandchildren

And you are not a real Dutchie until you have eaten a raw herring up side down, which Opa was eager to teach the boys to do.  They didn’t like the taste very much, but were a good sport in trying this Dutch delicacy.

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 Little taste of Dutch herring, which is to be eaten like this

On the other hand, there are many Dutch treats the boys LOVE, such as Dropjes (Dutch salty licorice), Vanilla Vla (custard drink the Dutch eat for breakfast – and come in many different flavours – the vanilla one being our favorite!), stroopwafels (syrup wafels), poffertjes (mini pancakes with icing sugar), krokketten & bitterballen (deep fried type meat balls) and fries with sweet mayonnaise (and now they understand why mom never eats ketchup, and chooses the white stuff whenever possible!).  And last, but certainly not least, of course the many kinds of delicious Dutch cheese.

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Fries with mayonnaise, so much better then ketchup!

So next, it was onto Edam, a beautiful, small historic town, known for its cheese production (one that is sold all over the world).  Emile tasted and chose two different kinds of cheese, of which we bought one piece each. We were all astonished at the cheap price of the product; about 7 dollars for these two large pieces of scrumptious cheese, which would easily cost 2 – 3 times as much in Canada!

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Filou in a lovely little cheese shop in Edam

So as we are very much enjoying our family time here, and eating up a wonderful storm – we look forward to another 2.5 weeks in this wonderful country – a place that very much feels like home again – and is interesting to observe through the eyes of my children.  More on that later….