Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hilperton to Bath (England)

Some people go RV'ing, others go House Boating, but in England you combine the two and you have Narrow Boating. Yes, some people live on these boats and traverse the hundreds of miles of canals in England. We decided to try it for a weekend.

Unlucky for us, the weekend that we decided to do it was when the flooding happened in England. We had a bad start to the weekend when all trains out to Hilperton were cancelled. So, what did we decide to do? Rent a car and drive it. We figured, we've been through flooding in Cayman, we'll show these English how its done!

Hmmmnnnn....this could be a problem if we flood the car! Do we dare try?

Well, we did and we succeeded and made it to the Hilperton Marina. Yeehaw! Hope that car is still working at the end of the weekend!

Down to brass tacks, food & booze has to be unpacked. Not an easy feat in a narrow boat. Two people max in the kitchen!

And while some people were unpacking, the other two were supposed to be learning how to drive the boat. Slight incident with a tree....these boats are hard to steer!

Yikes and some traffic congestion! A little hairy since our Captains still weren't 100% comfortable with driving the boat. But they did it, with only a couple of frantic push-offs from the nearby boats.

And as we learned, the traffic congestion was due to our approach to the first lock. Okay not the Panama Canal, but still we were all a bit frantic since we had to work the locks ourselves and there were too many witnesses around if something went wrong!

But all the worrying was for naught, as it turned out Wade and Casey were old pros at the locks! Well sort of.

So this is what narrow boating is all about. Stopping in the little canal side taverns for some English brew & grub.

Aaaah....they say English food is bad, but out here it is fab! Homemade meat pies and fish and chips. Yummy! And the boys were pretty happy about the Ale as well.

And after all the commotion earlier...finally some tranquility...

in the beautiful English countryside. Too bad the weather was so cold that we could see our breath. Not exactly a hot sunny July...but we made the best of it. At least the pubs were warm.

And finally we made it to Bath. Hilperton is only about 22 kms away, but when you can only putt along the canals at about 2 to 3 km an hour and we were a day delayed getting to Hilperton, it meant no time in Bath. Basically we got there and had to turn around. Ah, I guess it will have to be a future adventure.

Here is a look at Bath, even though we never made it into the city. It is pretty.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Amsterdam, Holland

A long weekend in Amsterdam is a long weekend indeed as Karen, Tanis, Casey and I discovered ...

Friday night was a late night of drinking and touring the redlight district. Before we knew it, it was 4 am and the city was still hopping! We almost felt guilty calling it quits.

Oddly enough the Redlight district was tastefully done, or at least way less seedy than Pat Pong in Bangkok! We didn't even feel uncomfortable doing a little window shopping.

I don't think we were mobile before noon on Saturday, but once we got going we covered a lot of territory. Walked, walked and walked. Probably would've been smarter to rent a bike, but we were worried we might never find them again. Seriously I have never seen so many bikes as I did in Amsterdam. Here is a picture of a bicycle parkade. How would you ever find your bike if you didn't have a flag?

...and when we were too tired to walk anymore, we opted for getting onto one of the many boats and drinking some Dutch beer.

Other people who had more energy than we did decided that they would get on the peddle bar! Not a bad idea if you could burn off as many calories as you were consuming...not to mention you might even see a few of the sights on the way.

So after a few hours on the canal boats, we decided to start the walking tour again. Here are a few pics. Notice that the houses look crooked? It's actually done on purpose. All of the houses have hoists at the top so that a pulley system can be hooked up to hoist furniture up and through the windows because the houses & staircases are too narrow to get furniture up and down. Some of the houses are built leaning forwards so that the building isn't damaged when items are hoisted up and down. This creates the illusion that the houses are crooked as some lean forward and others do not.

And somehow after all that walking we managed to find a bar that has existed from the 1700's and hasn't been dusted since then. It was an interesting atmosphere, although we were a bit worried that one of the large clumps of dust was going to fall from the chandelier and into our drinks! The bartender was a very friendly guy and even taught us how to drink the locals favourite...a shot of Gin (or as it is called in Holland, Genever) with a Beer. Apparently the first sip has to be done with no hands.

And after sampling the local's favourite drink we decided some local fast food was a good idea too. Strange ordering system...but Casey was game.

Sunday was our last day in Amsterdam. We learned from the night before that not all coffee shops are the same. Some sell coffee and other sell coffee & pot. I wonder if that's why its called a coffee pot????

So we opted for sidewalk cafe instead.

And then off to check out the famous floating tulip market. Wow, have you ever seen so many tulip bulbs?

And of course being tourists, we were suckered (no pun intended) into trying some marajuana suckers. Now that was a waste of money!

Wow, what a great weekend...I could sleep for weeks now!!!!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Nice/ Eze (France)

Having travelled to Monaco, we decided it would be irresponsible if we didn't take an extra couple of days in the South of France!!! So we spent a couple of days wondering the streets of Nice and made a day trip to the medieval village of Eze.

The scenery is breathtaking, the old streets are a labriynth of colourful buildings exploding with flower filled window boxes, and the food is a savoury fat filled mix of French and Italian cuisine. How could anyone say the French riviera isn't one of the most magical places on earth??? I guess if it inspired Picasso, Monet and Chagall, why wouldn't it take our breath away?

The pictures just don't do it justice, but here is a look down the beach around Nice and a look at the coastline heading from Monaco to Nice. The beach took a little getting used to, given that it is rock versus sand, but the picturesque background more than made up for it. Plus no pesky sand in your suit at the end of the day! Although, I have to say I still prefer the soft white Cayman sand to the rocks.

Wandering through the streets in Nice was a treat in itself. Looking at the buildings and alleyways, stopping off at a cafe for a glass of wine or a crepe, poking about in a chocolaterie or a gelato shop...this is how to live life. The French certainly don't seem to be in hurry and rather savour every moment. It would be pretty easy to lose yourself in this lifestyle.

A typical building in Nice.

...and a typical street in the "Old Town" of Nice.

We popped accross the flower market one morning. Much to our surprise the flower market didn't just sell flowers. Flowers, pottery, olives, candied fruit, were all a part of it. I've never seen so many different kinds of olives as when we were in Nice. I don't even like olives, but became absolutely addicted to them in France. I'm not sure what they do to them, but they don't taste like the ones in the jars from the grocery store at home. Lucky for me, I've found a specialist grocery store in London that carries Provencal Olives. Here is a look at these lovelies.

But even better than the olives is the gelato !!!!! I ate it at least once a day, but I only discovered the mother of all gelato shops on our last day. 96 flavours of gelato...I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I disovered that my new favourite flavour is Chile Chocolate...sounds gross but so yummmmmmy. There were some other weird ones like cactus, corona beer, tomato, olive...not the typical gelato/ ice cream fare.

And after all that food...pizza, ravioli (by the way ravioli was invented in Nice so you can imagine how good it is) crepes, chocolate, gelato, olives, wine...need I go on? Oh yes, right...we decided we needed to walk off some of those calories. So off it was on the train to Eze...a medieval village in the alps.

The hour hike up to Eze was part of the beauty. We hiked through the lower village which eventually gave way to a narrow stoney path with fabulous views of the Med below. Here are a few pictures of the village below....

and the first view of Eze looming from the side of a cliff after a hike through the forest.

Eze is a real medieval village, although it has been "Disneyfied" for all of us tourists. The village now includes an exclusive hotel and is full of boutique shops, but it is still fun to meander through and get lost in the maze of cobblestone streets. And when I say maze, I mean maze. That was apparently one of the defence tactics of this old city. If the attackers ever did find it, since it was tucked away in the alps, once they did they would get lost in the city streets and even worse while they would be confused and lost they would get pots of boiling oil poured over them from the windows above. Yikes, I think I would have left that village alone! Here is a picture of Wade (oil free).

France was short but sweet and we'll definitely be back. Au revoir!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Monaco Grand Prix

So yes, we decided to go to the Monaco Grand Prix, pretty much at the last minute. It's something Wade has always wanted to see and a group of our London friends were going so we thought why not? Only hitch is that Wade is still in Cayman until July and so it was a bit of trek for him for a long weekend. I think it was worth it though because we had a wicked time!

We knew the Monaco Grand Prix went through the city streets, but really how unbelievable is this. Can you imagine your city streets being turned into a racetrack?

Monaco is certainly posh (I'd hate to know what their roadworks budget is like) and we knew we were the rif raf when we couldn't afford seats in the stands. So we opted for the Rocher seats (which were still 80 Euro a pop) to squeeze in with the masses. And when I say squeeze, I mean squeeze. Europeans don't seem to have the same issues as we Canadians do with personal space. Pretty soon we were almost elbowed out of our spots....and there were 6 of us banded together!!! Anyways, here is a look at the ledge that we were crowded on to see the race below.

And here is a picture of the hillside that we couldn't even get onto. People camped out over night (gates opened at midnight the night before) to get these spots for the race at 2 p.m. Needless to say we didn't get the cream of the crop spots when we arrived in Monaco at 10 a.m.

The race was neat to see (well the little parts of it that we could see). Thank goodness there were massive tv screens up as well. The part that really shocked us was how loud it was. Our ears were ringing by the end and I think investing in some good quality ear plugs is a must if we ever try this again. Well earplugs and these ladder chairs!!!

Remember what I was saying about posh...check out the harbour below...oh and this is only 1 of the harbours where the larger boats are docked. This makes Cayman look like chump change...although over 50% of the boats in the harbour were sporting the Cayman Islands flag.

This is where the "small" boats hang out.

The day after Grand Prix we spent some more time in Monaco without the masses of people. Life as Princess Grace must have been pretty sweet, this is only a partial view of her abode.

The average citizen in Monaco has a pretty nice life as well. How quaint are these streets?

Don't get any ideas of moving here though as this tax haven is the play ground for the rich. You have to have a ridiculous amount of money to buy your way into citizenship in this country. Wade's recommended method? Turn your $400 into $40,000 to the tune of 'The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte-Carlo'. Yes we went to the Monte Carlo casino and no we didn't get rich or see James Bond. We do however have this picture. Oh seriously, who are we kidding...we didn't even take this picture.

And when you've lost all your money, there's nothing better to do than go to church and pray. They really do build into the sides of the hills here. I guess when space is at a premium, what can you do but adapt?

Monday, May 7, 2007

Edinburgh (Scotland)

Pictures and stories to come....

Monday, April 30, 2007

Random London Moments

With all the things to do in London, there are lots of random moments. Luckily in this day & age our cell phones (or as they say here mobiles) have cameras in them. Unfortunately, mine doesn't take the best pictures, but none the less it still does capture the moment.

Chinese New Year around Trafalgar Square.

Gez & Susie in the Absolut Ice Bar. Yes the entire bar is made of ice and is minus 5 degrees. The best vodka drinks I have ever had...our glasses were made of blocks of ice! Perhaps Saskatchewan should have one of these in the winter!

This scares me a bit...still working on convincing Casey to get his haircut here.

The Prime Meridian Meter (left) and a sit in Grenwich park overlooking Canary Wharf after.

Nicola & Shari enjoying a drink along the river as we try to catch a glimpse of the Cambridge vs. Oxford Rowing competition (right).