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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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Newfoundland – 4, Twillingate

9 Aug

Upon leaving the beauty of Gros Morne Park, we drove over 400km in pouring rain to reach Twillingate – hoping it would be worth the long trek.  This picturesque fishing town is located at one of the most northern tips of Newfoundland and is known for being a whale watching & fishing haven.

One of the first attractions we saw when we a crossed the causeway to enter Twillingate was the Prime Berth Interpretative Fishing Centre & Craft Studio (www.primeberth.com). It was hard to miss as it boasts a real live skeleton of a whale on the outside – super cool!

Apparently, some years ago, a dead whale floated ashore some 30km from where Captain Dave & his family lived (the whale’s tail was cut off so the locals suspect it got hit by an oil tanker).  Dave called up the local government and asked what they were doing with the whale and subsequently received permission to transport it with his boat to a deserted island, where he and his friend Bill let it rot.  They then proceeded to take the bones and took months to clean and rebuild the skeleton.  They also used other items such as the baleen etc. to put on display at their outdoor fishing museum (a nice educational spot to learn about the fishing trade).

Upon entering the interpretative centre, Bill Cooze welcomed us with his stories, big smile and songs, using an “ugly stick”– a locally made, funny musical instrument – that Filou loved and learned to play a bit.

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Filou with a Newfoundland “ugly stick”

After speaking to the charismatic Captain Dave, we decided that he was the guy to provide our fishing enthusiast Emile with his “dream” trip, and so we booked our tour for 1:30 pm the next day (the locals in town recommended him too, as the go-to guy).  Dave suggested we park our RV at the old fishing wharf – a deserted, beautiful historic place by the water where we ended up having two wonderful nights of rest.

 

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The old Warf – our sleeping spot for 2 nights

The next morning, we first drove up the hill to see the Lighthouse and the famous “Iceberg Alley” – where we did spot an iceberg – although on the very distant coastline.  To fully take in the beauty of this location, we took another gorgeous hike alongside the water, taking in the splendour of the impressive, rocky coast.

That afternoon, the sunshine gods were with us for our boat tour and Captain Dave and his granddaughter escorted us on board for our fishing adventure – with the promise that Emile would catch the biggest fish he ever had.  Dave, quickly realized that our boys like a thrill, so he put the boat at full speed – bumping us over high waves towards our “prime berth” – or best fishing spot.  We flew so high that once we got completely thrown out of our seats, while splashed by fresh ocean water everywhere.  The boys were giddy with laughter and “water girl” had a blast too!

Dave, a very skilled fisherman, had all the appropriate tools on board to get us to the best place for a catch, such as a fish finder (little computer that showed us the “fishing hills” under water).  Once there, he told Emile and Filou to lower their lines (just a really long line with a massive hook and lure on it) and gently pull the line up and down to entice the fish.

Within less then a minute, Emile caught his first cod fish, and Filou quickly followed.  The fish were undoubtedly the biggest the boys ever caught (and might ever catch again!) – Emile’s second fish was close to 8 pounds and looked as big as he is.  The smile on his face was absolutely priceless!

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Emile with his “8 pounder”

Filou who is usually not as excited about having the sit patiently for a catch, thought that this was the right kind of angling: drop a line and immediately wheel in your fish. However, he had to use all of his strength to get the big fish up and once on deck, make sure that the fish tale didn’t flap him in the face!

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Filou trying to keep his heavy “catch” up, and not getting hit by its tale

We kept the two biggest fish for dinner that night and once back on shore, Captain Dave gave the boys a nice show of how the fish are cleaned.

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Everything was filet-ed, up to the fish cheeks, tongue (a delicacy) and even the eyeballs (that apparently have a little piece in them that the fishermen chew like gum!).  What a show!  Captain Dave’s wife was so kind to pack up the cleaned fish for us (even gave us some flower for cooking), and that night we drove to “Little Harbour” a beautiful spot by the ocean, where we chatted with the creative locals (many of whom make beautiful boat models & paint the most gorgeous naval sceneries) and ate the freshest, most delicious fish we ever tasted!

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In Little Harbour, people hanging their laundry and their cod fish

Twillingate was absolutely worth the drive and Captain Dave’s fishing tour was the highlight of our stay there…

Newfoundland – 3, Gros Morne National Park

8 Aug

Gros Morne Park – one of these places that should be on everyone’s “bucket list”!

Gros Morne Park is one of Canada’s national parks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is not hard to see why its distinction, given to the park in 1973, places it alongside such company as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia (which Anthony & I had the pleasure of visiting some 10 years ago – also stunning!), the Pyramids in Egypt or Yellowstone National Park in the United States.  It’s awe-inspiring. Beautiful like none of my words or pictures will come close to describing. Like I said, a bucket list item…. especially for my Canadian friends as Newfoundland is accessible and gorgeous all around, so this is a must!

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The park was designated a world heritage site for its “exceptional natural beauty” and its “outstanding example of representing major stages of the Earth’s history and development”.  The rocks of Gros Morne National Park tell the story of ancient oceans, and the collision of continents.  Many international scientists have already visited the park to study its rock formations.

Upon entering the park, you have two main routes to choose from, one that heads north on Hwy 430 or one that veers towards to west on Hwy 431.

We headed north, and our first stop was one of the lookout points along the highway where we stopped to have a little lunch and take in the incredible scenery. Anthony found the spot inspiring and picked up his travel guitar, while the boys did some crazy dancing and running around!

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Hiking is a must in Gros Morne, and the two hikes we did were completely different but equally spectacular.  The first one was a 10 km walk (which took us about 3 hours) to Bakers Brook Falls  – this path guided us through very lush and dense forests during which we enjoyed mountain views, encountered many a beautiful pond with frogs (which Emile was excited to photograph) and amazing wildflowers…plus at the end, an incredible waterfall (in my opinion, a rival to our Niagara Falls in beauty!).

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Bakers Brook Falls Hike 

We met a lovely retiree with his family at the waterfall – his son, a bit of a daredevil – started climbing the waterfall with his camera.  Filou, who is also a bit of a thrill seeker, was “encouraged” by him and quickly followed suit, taking Emile with him.  The boys actually found a spot on top of the waterfall where you could sit and have an incredible view of the water rushing down. They were delighted, and we took some nice pictures.

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Bakers Brook Waterfalls

Our second hike was a 6 km coastal trail hike (which took us about 2 hours). This walk took us along rugged shoreline and included landscapes of cobble stone beaches, marshy ponds, ocean breezes and many different kinds of shorebirds. Emile was really hoping to see a moose in one of the marshes, as it seemed the perfect place to spot them, but I think that the enthusiastic chatter of the boys probably kept them at bay.Image

Coastal Trail Hike (first part through forest)

Being a water girl at heart (I lOVE to be by, on or in the water), I wanted to take in the beautiful park scenery from the perspective of the water. So we drove to Norris Point and took the Bon Bay Discovery Tour, a delightful, children-focused boat excursion of the bay, plus a visit to the local aquarium.  On board, the boys enthusiastically partook in 3 different science experiments, and learned a lot about the local bay and marine life.  Emile even spotted a bold eagle soaring over the mountains (he has a fantastic eye for nature and often is the first one in the family to spot an animal or something else of interest)!

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Entrance point for our boat tour at Norris Point

In Norris Point, we enjoyed a nice meal out a little local restaurant (bit of an exception as we make most of our meals in the RV!), but the boys were tempted by the promotion of eating a MOOSE burger.  Anthony thought it was quite good, but Emile, who gave it a good try, did prefer his salmon.  Filou loved the local vegetable and turkey soup so much that we took 3 extra containers with us for lunch the next day (keeping up with the food intake for the boys remains a challenge especially now that they are so active and in fresh air all the time – non-stop eating machines!).

We ended up in a KOA campsite in Norris Point (which apparently is a large US chain of campgrounds), a location the boys really loved – mainly because they had a very large jumping cushion (big enough for 10 kids to jump on at once). This attraction provided for many hours of jumping fun – and facilitated the making of some buddies – such as Allen who thought that Filou was a nice “chatterbox” friend to hang out with.  Anthony & I also loved this location as it was a breathtaking spot for a quiet swim, overlooking spectacular mountains.

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Emile diving for the ball at Rocky Harbour

The KOA staff recommended us to go to Rocky Harbour for some children’s activities (again a stunning location!).  The local mothers of the area had organized a scavenger hunt on the beach – the kids were excited to look for anything from a curtain rod to pennies to mittens and goggles. Our team – Emile & Filou, me and 2 local girls put forward a nice effort and were awarded with a black t-shirt that said Rocky Harbour on it – little souvenir that the boys treasure – and can actually take with them (the moms had a variety of prizes such as backpacks, water bottles etc). 

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Filou & Emile in their newly acquired Rocky Harbour t-shirts

In chatting with the locals, we learned that no new developments are allowed in Gros Morne Park since becoming a heritage site, but that one can still build in existing communities that range from 50 to 1500 people.  Also, as work is limited for local women, some work for the Oil Sands – and get flown in from the park every 2 weeks, to work in Alberta.  Challenging for sure – but also incredibly blessed people that live in a place that provides such peace, serenity and incredible beauty!

Next: Twillingate; home of Iceberg Alley, whale watching and most importantly…a fishing paradise for Emile.

Newfoundland, Canada – 1, RV and Arrival

4 Aug

The province of Newfoundland, Canada has always drawn me, as I’d listen to the tails of immense natural beauty and incredibly friendly folks. So for our last stop in Canada, we have decided to rent a Canadream RV (www.canadream.ca) and tour this province by motorhome for close to 3 weeks.

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This “house on wheels” is incredibly well equipped and smartly designed. Making it our home for a little while is a big thrill for Emile & Filou who enjoy their sleeping arrangements – a cozy, private nest above the driver’s seat.  Also, for the first time, Emile gets to sit in the passenger’s seat and is both helpful and entertaining as Anthony is driving hundreds of kilometers to get us to the many beautiful sights of this gorgeous part of Canada.

After picking up our recreational vehicle in Halifax, and some basic operational instructions, (which were clearly needed as in the first 5 minutes we almost took out the top of a tree!)– we drove our ”beast“ to North Sydney to take the ferry.  The Marine Atlantic provided a comfortable 7-hour ride over to the island (we paid a little extra to have a room with 2 bunk beds which was well worth it!).

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The dinner on the ferry was “pas terrible” according to Anthony and indeed it was not very good at all.  I always assumed that the food in Newfoundland would be similar to that of Nova Scotia but indeed an assumption was all that it was. What Newfoundland might lack in food quality it makes up in absolutely stunning scenery everywhere.  The province is more gorgeous in every way than I could have imagined (with it rugged shore lines, gorgeous secluded coves & beaches, and stunning forestry).  A few days in and already, we feel thankful to have included this part of our country in our itinerary – as it will certainly give us a deeper appreciation of the beautiful nation we call home!

Our tour of Newfoundland: 17-day loop that includes:  North Sydney ->Port Aux Basques->Corner Brook->Gros Morne National Park ->Twillingate->Trinity->St. John’s ->St. Brides/St. Vincent->Argentia.