Archive for the 'Travel' Category


Such an awesome lunch we had at the Squamish White Spot

Seriously awesome.

A friendly staff member showed us to our table and as we settled down to look at the menu, our early twenty-something waiter came by.

“Hi, can I get you anything to drink to start?”

“We’ll all have coffee,” my brother Bruce said, “and my younger brother here will have some water.  He’ll have his coffee after, because he told us the other day that having coffee before a meal other than breakfasts is SO American.”

“Awesome,” said our waiter.  “I’ll be right back.”

By the time their coffee and my water came, we were ready to order.

“So, can I take your order now?

“Sure,” said Bruce. “I’ll have the Fat-free Triple-O Leanburger with lettuce and tomato, no mayo, please.”

“Awesome.  And for you, Sir?”

“I’ll have the baked potato,” I said.


And so it went.  For every statement resulting in the slightest need for a response, the first thing out of his mouth was, “Awesome.”

By the time he was so awesomely fetching our bill I started to imagine what tired, overused, meaningless bit of oral fluff he would be coming out with had we been suddenly slung back to the late sixties, when the land upon which the clean, bright White Spot stood – and in which we were now able to enjoy such an awesome lunch – would still for another 20 years be nothing more than a poorly drained swamp.

“Hi, can I take your order?”

“I’ll have the Triple-O Fatburger with extra cheese, bacon and mayonnaise and a side order fries with gravy, please.”

“Groovy, man!  And for you, ma’am?”

The thing is, I’d always thought Awesome was already passé, flung onto the heap along with the rest of the Neats, the Keens, the Cools, the Far-out-solid-right-on Hippie-dippie Weatherman stuff that so dates the user, even the worst offender avoids the aforementioned and please-just-let-it-stay-dead forever Groovy.

Apparently not.  You have to plunge right back into your home country to find out what people are talking about and how they’re saying it, so that’s what I did.  I vowed from then on to keep my ears open and listen to every waiter, bank teller, kiosk vendor, fast-food order-taker and clerk, taking note of every Awesome I heard in the short two weeks I’d be there.  I thought it might be fun to do a final tally, plotting the utterances onto an Awesomes per Hour chart.

But it was like going on a car ride as a kid back in the day before backseat Blu-Ray players, Playstations and Smartphones, when passing the time meant counting the cars coming the other direction.  After a few hundred or so, you just got tired of it.


The Queen was right about my home town

I couldn’t agree more:


Edinburgh: finally seeing the home town of a grandfather I never knew

Sometime back before the turn of the century we had the vague idea of visiting Scotland to see where a chunk of my family’s history played out.  I’m a Canadian with Scottish roots on both sides of the family.  My great-grandfather on my father’s side was a fishmonger in Edinburgh before he emigrated to Canada with his children, my grandfather among them.  He died not long after the photo with me on his lap was taken.

Then when we were mulling over the idea of visiting back then a distant cousin, whose hobby was geneology, sent me a hand-written letter full  of details about my great-grandfather and his times back in the late 1800s in Edinburgh.  She had visited Scotland in the early 1970s and had tracked down many details of our Scottish roots going back a few generations.

One thing interrupted another as life happened to us in the meantime while we were making other plans, so we never did make it to Scotland.

I’d bought a guidebook we never used, but because we’re now definitely going to be there in one month, the other day took it off the shelf where it’s been sitting for the past dozen years.  I was thinking there must be some interesting stuff about Scottish history in it even if the practical information must be hopelessly out of date.

As I took it off the shelf it opened to the page where I’d stuffed a letter my cousin had written me so long ago, and quickly forgotten.  It’s better than any guidebook is going to be.  It’s got a little wander all laid out for us.   Here’s an excerpt:

Your great-great grandparents John and Isabella lived on Leith Street near Register House.  Your great-great grandfather John was a lithographer.  Your great-grandfather was a fishmonger and had three fish shops before coming to Canada.  Your grandfather James was a bank manager in Saskatchewan.  Your grandparents were married in the Tron Kirk, High Street and South Bridges.  (hmmm. they must have gone back to get married?  Must check this.)

Your Granddad and my mother lived as children in a house on Warrender Place (or Park) Edinburgh near Marchmont Road.  She and your grandfather were pals.  Most of her childhood memories were with him.  It is a lovely street, wish I had known the address.  Your great-granddad James (their father) had a fish shop on the corner of Warrender and Marchmont.  Mother and your grand-dad played on the Meadows nearby, and spoke of the huge jawbone they played under.  I found it, not so huge, must be a whale bone, would appear very big to a child.

Your grand-dad and my mother walked the Royal Mile every day because James had two other fish shops. They used to ride under Canongate Tollbooth, driver had to pay.  They lived in Duddingston for a while and attended school.  I have since been told that the school might have group pictures with them in it.  My mother always wondered what she looked like as a child.

Suggest you walk the Royal Mile.  Your great grand-dad sang in choir at St. Giles Cathedral.  It is beautiful.  Sundays the Pipers are there for church service.

(…) My mother’s memories of her fourteen years in Scotland made my visit to the homeland memorable.  I felt as though I belonged.

Another family detail gleaned from a photocopied Scottish newspaper clipping was their war record.  My grandfather had six brothers.   All seven of them fought in France during World War I.  They each fought in a different unit and never met the other during the whole conflict.  Astoundingly, all seven survived that most murderous of wars, which the clipping mentions must be a record for the whole country.

A clipping of my great-grandfather’s obituary was also among the papers stuffed in that guidebook.  Apparently I have another place to pore through: Carisbrooke cemetery.  Would the gravestone still be there?  It will take a visit to the Isle of Wight to find out for sure.


Paris views old and new

What I mean is: a couple on this short slideshow everyone has seen, others not.

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Paris day 2: watch the gang of thieves in action

I may just be one of tens of millions of tourists who’ll visit Paris this year, but maybe if enough of them complain about the gangs of thieves roving the popular spots of this great city, something will finally get done.

Day 2.

I went back to Montmartre by myself the morning of my second day to catch the views now that the sky had cleared to an impossible blue.  I also went there to try to film the gang of thieves that had harassed us the day before.  My camera doesn’t take the greatest video, but the clip below will give you a good impression about what tourists have to deal with here.  Not just at Montmartre, but in front of Notre Dame cathedral and the Tuileries gardens to name just two places my friend has been forced to yell at them this trip just to keep the herd at bay.

Watch how they swarm around these Asian tourists, who are forced to flee in fear:

They carry these clipboards they thrust under your nose to distract you while the rest of them – having failed the courses in the finer arts of pick-pocketing – start patting you down like some TSA officer on too much coffee.

I hung around a bit hoping to get a closer shot of them, but by that time three of Paris’ finest flics ambled past and the gang had disappeared.

As the police trio strolled toward the grand staircase leading up to Sacré-Coeur, I approached one of them and said, “Bonjour Messieurs, I’m sure you’re aware of that gang of young women accosting tourists up here.”

Ah, oui,” said the tallest one.  “You mean the Romanians.”

“Yeah, the Romanians,” I said.  “They are SO AGGRESSIVE!  Yesterday I had to yell at them in English to get their paws off me.”

“That’s what you have to do,” he replied.  “You have to get rid of them.”

“That’s what you have to do on the street,” I said, “but don’t you think that’s trying to take care of the problem at the wrong end?  It’s like drug trafficking.  Can’t something be done to stop them before they even get out here?”

He gave me a Gallic shrug, sighed, turned toward the stairs and said, “Yeah, well, you know….”


Dutch skating world on edge as 11-city tour may be announced

What the hell am I doing in Paris?

Talk about horrible timing.  Don’t make me wrong, I like being here, my old friend and I are having a great time and we’ve still got lots of  things lined up to do, BUT:

The famous Dutch 11-city skating tour might be announced this week!

There have been thousands of volunteers working to prepare the course.  All that remains is the go-ahead that the ice is safe enough with an overall thickness of at least 15cm.  If the race actually happens, 16,000 people will take part for the first time in 15 years.  The canals have frozen enough to skate a couple of times since then, but never enough to allow the Dutch to re-open this legendary race.

Not that I’d actually be foolish enough to punish myself with more than 200 km of skating in one go.  My  legs were rubber after about 70km three years ago, and that was just leisurely sliding all day.  These guys go flat out – the record is under seven hours!

I have to arrange time off to get over there.  It has to stay cold another few days after I get back.  Damn you, Paris.


A week in Paris: Day 1

I may be pining for the canals of Holland and hoping they freeze over again, but for now, a trip that’s been in the planning for quite a while before Europe turned hard and frosty is finally under way.

It’s great to be back in France.

Things have changed a lot since I was this blond kid of 22, faking a photo in front of a wall plastered with pissing forbidden.

I’ve come to Paris to meet up with an old, old friend, who’s so old he’s here because he just retired from 25 years of teaching and is on a celebratory tour of France and Morocco.

By the end of this week, we won’t have spent this much time together since we tramped through forests and across beaches far beyond the last reaches of Tofino, BC more than 10 years ago.

We met 26 years ago at university in a programme of professional teacher training.  My friend went on to have a fine, rewarding career in teaching for which over the years he won the respect of countless students and colleagues.  I found I hated teaching and failed the course miserably, starting what turned out to be a four-year downward spiral of failed attempts to get going in another direction that only really stopped when I left Vancouver for good.

We’ve remained good friends all this time, but don’t see each other that often.  In the last 10 years  I’d say we’ve hung out fewer than a half-dozen times.

But meeting him today at his short-term apartment in the 20th Arrondissement, it was like he – and the way we’ve always been hanging out together – had never changed.  We had breakfast together jabbering for what seemed like ages about our lives, wives, plans, and such before heading out in the cold.

Day 1.

We walked for miles through the streets of Paris, my friend as my guide.  We saw a few old men along the way, and I remarked that you don’t see many of them of that age in Germany.

We ended up inside Sacré Coeur at the summit of Montmontre after running the gauntlet of an extremely aggressive gang of Eastern European street thieves.  A tight pack of 20 or so girls between I’d say 16 and 22, they swarmed around us like hornets, thrusting petitions in front of our faces to get us to sign – and hopefully distract our attention – while accomplices threw their hands all over our clothes in a brazen attempt to figure out where our wallets were hidden.  Turning around and hissing DON’T TOUCH ME, GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME was the only thing I could do to get them to back off, but they only paused for a second or two before attacking a passing Japanese tourist with the same tactics.  As the poor woman tried to flee down the steps of Montmartre, we yelled at them to leave her alone or we’d call the police.

My friend said they’ve actually been hauled to Paris and are held in a type of slavery, forced to steal upward of €300 a day and if they fail to do so, they get the shit kicked out of them by their captors that evening.  Forget having police patrol the area so the tourists don’t get hassled, what about throwing in jail the mafia that organise it all?

With that happy thought in mind, we went down the hill to buy cinema tickets for a showing at 3pm.  It turned out to be one of the most horribly depressing movies I’ve seen in ages, highly inadvisable if you’re suicidal or have loose razor blades lying around.  It’s called Louise Wimmer and tells the story of a fiftyish woman who’s left her husband and is waiting endlessly for a place in social housing, sleeping in her car, working as a chambermaid and pawning off her few possessions in a slow, desperate attempt to stay afloat before she finally goes under.   I suppose if you’re in France anyway and haven’t had your daily dose of Albert Camus (everything is meaningless, the best thing you can say about any day is that you haven’t decided to kill yourself –  hah-hah, Gosh, don’t you just love the French…) Well, just go see this film.

After the film we parted.  He went home to bed, I went over to the Théâtre Antoine near to where I’m staying where I bought us two tickets to go see a play for tomorrow evening: Inconnu à cette Adresse.  (Address Unknown)

This time the choice was mine.  It’s a two-man play based on the book by Kressmann Taylor and tells the story of the relationship between a Jewish American and his German business partner during the early 30s as the Nazis were gaining power.  I’m sure it will be equally as uplifting.

The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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