Posted by: Marco | July 1, 2011

Our trip – by the numbers

Well, we’re home. We got back to Canada on Monday, 27 June. First on the agenda was a swim in Hurds Lake. Just before diving in to the cool water, a loon popped to the surface. Ah, Canada! It’s nice to be home and to see friends and family and to feel completely at ease with our surroundings.

We’re now trying to figure the impact of this magnificent trip. We may never know the full effect on Anique and Owen…what inspiration they may draw, what fearlessness this may instill. Who knows? This trip has been life altering…we just don’t know what has been altered. What we have managed to do is to come up with some statistics about our trip. We compiled a bunch of numbers about this adventure of ours. So here is a synopsis of our trip…by the numbers:

23137 Number of kilometres driven
8526 Pictures taken (and saved) That’s 26 per day every day!
570 Meals eaten out-of-doors (That’s almost 60%)
320 Days away  from Canada
320 Number of times we thought about you  🙂
220 Number of hours of home-schooling
206 Days using public transport only
174 Days in France
155 Days with a rented car
130 Books read by the family including 14 books read aloud (Anique read 60!)
100 Different running routes
72 Nights in a tent
69 Days on a bike
61 Blog posts
58 Average cost of a night’s sleep (in C$)
51 Different locations where we slept
42 Restaurant meals
18 Train rides
15 Jars of Nutella eaten
15 Maps purchased
12 Countries visited
12 Number of pieces of toast eaten
11 Number of movies watched
7 Days with snow
5 Bad customer service experiences
5 Number plans changed due to weather
4 Flights
4 Number of flat tires (bike)
4 Ferry rides
3 Number of paraglide flights
3 Number of Skype calls from a tent
1.82 Average price paid for a litre of fuel (in C$)
1 degree Celsius … our coldest night in a tent
1 eReaders broken
0 Trips to the hospital


So, after 320 days away and as many adventures, our trip has come to an end. It will live on, of course, in photos, family stories, and our vivid memories. It was worth every penny, every anxious moment. Our hope is that our trip inspires you to go and do what you want to do. It’s possible. Make the choice and “live a life less ordinary”.

Carpe annum…mission accomplished,



Posted by: Marco | June 25, 2011

We’re coming home…soon!

Our trip is nearing its end. After so much planning and dreaming (and, let’s face it, saving), it’s hard to believe that it will all soon end. Tomorrow, we pack up our tent for the last time. Anique is really excited about sifting through her stuff to throw away the worn out clothes that have served her well for these past 320 days, but that she is thoroughly sick of wearing.  Our bags will be lighter going home, that is for sure.

Reality awaits in Canada. A new job for Shannon, or puttering around the garden? Lesson planning for me. Mowing lawns. Moving our stuff back into our home. The little fix-it DIY jobs that I have been thinking about. As soon as we get back, we have our car to collect and the hooking-up of the phone line, internet, our OHIP coverage, etc. After all the adventures and freedom, it all seems like such drudgery. But wait, the  Perth Kilt Run awaits. Apparently there are some free bibs waiting for us for the July 2nd race. Thanks Terry!!

Our UK leg of the adventure has been the wettest yet. The weather has been typically British. We actually heard a forecast that went somehting like this: “Sunny periods today followed by periods of rain, at times heavy. Mostly cloudy later, with periods of sun and occasional showers. Overall a fine day but watch out for those heavy showers!” Sometimes we had heavy showers and sunshine at the same time! Oh well. We had prepared the kids for rainy weather so it wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, it did force us to change our plans a few times.

We’ve tried to be very British while here. We’ve eaten steak & ale pie and fish & chips  in a pub. We’ve hiked Scottish mountains. We’ve drunk real ale. We’ve driven spectacular roads with antique Jaguars and Aston Martins in the Yorkshire Dales. We’ve visited castles and palaces. We’ve waited for sheep to cross the road in Scotland and wild ponies to cross the road in the New Forest in England. We’ve admired thatched-roof cottages. All in all, we’ve had a smashing good time.

We’ve only got a couple of days left, so tally-ho let’s make the most of it.

Carpe annum!











Posted by: Marco | June 14, 2011

We bagged a Munro

That’s what we did today. We bagged a Munro. Many of you are staring blankly at the screen right, now so I’ll explain. In Scotland, a Munro is any mountain over 3000 feet high. Bagging one means reaching the summit. It’s a national pastime and a gentle passion for many Scots. Today, the four of us reached the summit of Ben Lawers, which, at 3983 feet is the 10th tallest mountain in Scotland and the tallest in Perthshire. On the way up we reached the summit of a slightly shorter peak called Beinn Ghlas (3619 feet). So in fact, we bagged two Munros. All told there are 283 Munros in Scotland. I don’t think we have time to bag them all!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you try to keep up-to-date with our adventures on this blog, you’ll know that we haven’t been very good lately. Internet access has been pretty spotty or unavailable, so we haven’t been able to keep up our usual blogging pace. We haven’t been doing nothing, however. We’ve been busy. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • London: 3 days of crowded and expensive fun. London Eye, Shakespeare’s Globe, Tower of London, lots of walking around and riding the tube, etc. Worst campsite of the year. Our Pictures HERE!
  • England (Worcestershire): we hiked the Malvern Hills and had supper in the Unicorn Pub, one of the oldest pubs in England (1659), visited the Morgan factory and stayed in a great campsite. Our pictures HERE!
  • England (Liverpool): visited the “Beatles Story” Museum, poked around. Great waterfront! Didn’t stay the night. Our pictures HERE!
  • England (Lake District): this overcrowded but oh-so-lovely part of England is a jewel of bald hills, sheep, lakes, quaint towns and a million tourists. We camped in a lovely, but very crowded campground near Lake Windermere. Our pictures HERE!
  • Scotland (Galloway): in southern Scotland in the Borders area, we visited some old haunts of mine. My grandmother (my dad’s mum) lived in this part of Scotland, so I know it quite well. We toured around and showed the kids the places that mean a lot to me. Our pictures HERE!
  • Scotland (Highlands): we drove north along the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, through the stunning Glen Coe and into Fort William – most of it in rain. We camped along the shores of Loch Linhe in a wonderful campsite. We saw “The Hogwarts Express” steam train chug past our campsite and then hiked up to the viaduct that figures prominently in a couple of the Harry Potter movies. We hiked beside Ben Nevis and into Steall Falls, and spent a rainy day rock climbing in a fantastic climbing center (the Ice Factor in Kinlochleven).
  • Scotland (Perthshire): how could we visit Scotland without visiting our town’s namesake? This is where we are now. We’ve rented a “self-catering cottage” in the country about 20 minutes north of Perth and the River Tay. We really lucked out as the “cottage” includes a games room with a full-size snooker table and a dart board with electronic time, when in Britain….

A few impressions of our time in the UK:

I’m sure I’m not the first to notice, but….England sure is a populated place! London, especially, was ridiculously crowded. To give you an idea of just how populous England is, take the population of Canada, add the population of New York, then cram the whole bunch into Nova Scotia. Add some double-decker busses and some little sports cars and you get the idea.

The roads in Scotland are really fun to drive. They are windy, narrow (often single lane), lined with stone walls and hedges. Unfortunately, the Scots haven’t invested in them for some time. French roads are in pristine condition, Scots roads need a lot of TLC!

The people of England and Scotland are very friendly and informal folk. We are made to feel instantly at home wherever we go. But, they are out of shape. The Brits are like North-Americans, not Europeans. The French, and most other Europeans, are generally slim and trim. Here, I think the fish and chips and ales have taken their toll.  I think there are fewer smokers here, though.

Scotland is much more wild a place than anywhere else we’ve been. Maybe that’s why we like it so much. Although it is a grim comparison, we haven’t seen so much road-kill since we left Canada. I guess that means there are still animals left to kill here!

We are in our last two weeks of our mini-retirement adventure and we can barely believe it. We still have some adventures to go. We are here in Perthshire for the rest of the week and then we will camp our way south through England until we get to the airport in Gatwick to fly home. See you soon.

Carpe annum!


Posted by: Marco | June 2, 2011

Lovely old England

We are alive and well and camping in England.

This is a short post to update you on our whereabouts. On Saturday, 28 May, we drove to Paris, got stuck for about 2 hours in a traffic jam that almost caused us to miss our train. We sat down on the Eurostar high-speed train to London and three minutes later it departed Gare du Nord. Phewww. Blood pressure was sky-high. Ride under the English Channel was a bit of a non-event.

Arrived London in a very crowded St Pancras Station (saint pancreas to Owen and Anique). After a 45 minute ”tube” ride and short cab rided we settled into our new digs: The Elms Caravan Campground in the Epping Forest. This basic site was home for 4 nights while we investigated London.   We saw and did lots: London Eye, ”Much Ado About Nothing” at the Globe, parks, palaces, and stuff. Best: Shakespeare. Worst: Prices (34 pounds to walk through Westminster Abbey …we gave it a miss).

Rented a car and headed West to Great Missenden (home of Roald Dahl) and then north-west through the Cotswolds and into Worcestershire. We hiked some hills, visited the Morgan factory museum and have enjoyed lovely weather. Tomorrow, off again. This time north to Liverpool (the Beatles museum) and then into the Lake District for some walks.

Camera is on the fritz…so no pictures at the moment. Supper time: chichen korma awaits. Carpe annum!


Posted by: Shannon | May 26, 2011

Normandie en Famille

We are now nearing the end of our 2 weeks in Normandy and what a fantastic time we have had.  We were fortunate enough to have my parents visit us for 10 days of our two week stay here.  When we first told my parents that we were thinking about spending a year in France, my Mom said that she would love to visit Paris in springtime and if we were there then maybe she and my Dad would visit us.  Of course that all sounded great, but none of us really knew how or if our visit or theirs would become reality. After much planning, many Skype calls, and a lot of internet research, my parents embarked on their first ever trip overseas.  They landed in Amsterdam and spent 3 days exploring the gardens and canals and then took the train to Paris where they took in many of the famous sites and even some late night Metro rides! Manoeuvring through these two major cities is not always the easiest, but they overcame the language barriers and the navigating challenges and were still talking to each other when we went to pick them up in Paris last Monday.

Our Wheels and Digs (top floor)

We had decided to travel through Normandy together since they were both very interested to see the D-Day beaches and visit some of the Canadian memorials, and we had planned on spending some time here anyways. We rented an apartment with room for 6 in a small town just north of Caen and rented a car with 6 seats so we were ready to roll!  We have covered a great deal of ground since we picked them up in Paris.

We visited Sword, Gold, Juno and Omaha beaches, the Canadian centre at Juno beach, both of the Canadian cemeteries as well as American and German cemeteries, The Caen Memorial, Pointe du Hoc (where the American rangers had to scale very high cliffs) and saw many other remnants of the war, like bunkers and batteries.  Of course, it was very sobering to try and imagine what it was really like around here in June, July, and August 1944. It’s interesting to see that all the towns  have something that commemorates their liberation, be it a physical memorial or a street name or even the town name (the town of Coleville-Montgomery added the name of Montgomery in memory of the British general).

Mom & Dad at Juno Centre

It is a good feeling to know that our country was a major part of this effort and makes us very proud to say that we are Canadian. My Mom brought with her the article that was printed about my great uncle who died flying over the Mediterranean as part of the Italian campaign, and even though we were not able to visit his grave, it was nice to have a personal connection. When we go to England, we will visit the grave of another great-uncle who died in England during WWII.

Lunch in Bayeux

We mixed in some Norman history along with the WWII focus by visiting the Bayeux tapestry (a 70 m long, 1000 year old tapestry that recounts the story of William the Conqueror and how he became king of England).  It may seem strange to visit a tapestry, but it was very interesting and informative and even my Dad (retired farmer) enjoyed it! We also visited the castle in Falaise which is the town where William the Conqueror was born.  The climb up to the castle and then the many stairs within the castle proved to be a bit challenging for my Mom (she has an arthritic knee and a leg prosthesis) but she stuck it out, covered almost the entire tour and was still smiling at lunch time!

Farm visit with Lisieux cathedral in background

We also followed several tourist car routes through the very rural parts of Normandy (the Suisse Normande, the valley of the Vire and the Route du Cidre) where we tested Marco’s ability to twist and turn our Grand Scenic around the smallest 2-way roads we have driven. Around every curve and over every hill was another beautiful scene.  It gave us all a good idea of the varied landscape and the deep rural roots in Normandy.  It was nice to show my parents that there is much more to France than Paris.  My Dad was particularly interested in the farming and was quite surprised to see the John Deere tractors!

Cheers / Santé

Cheers / Santé

So after 10 memorable days together, we drove my parents back to Paris to catch their plane today.  We were all sad to part, but thankful to be able to share some of our European experience with them. It was a big undertaking for them considering they had never travelled so far before and we are so pleased that they were up for the challenges and thrills of travelling to Europe.  My Mom says that she would love to go to Ireland so maybe that will be next year’s trip!

We will leave France on Saturday by taking the train to Great Britain where we will spend our final month. It is very hard to believe that we have only 1 month left of our trip.  We are starting to think about our return to Perth and our friends and family, but there are still a few hills to climb in Scotland, and sites to see in England (like the “London Eye” monster ferris wheel  says Owen).

Posted by: Marco | May 21, 2011

Our invasion of Normandy

A week ago, we left our temporary home in Pontlevoy, in the Loire valley and headed north into Normandy. A minor traffic jam near the world-famous racetrack at Le Mans was all that slowed us down. The drive took us through gorgeous farm country and quaint little towns…just as we’ve come to expect. We drove around Caen and almost to the coast, to the sleepyl village of St. Aubin d’Arquenay. We settled into a lovely house on an apple orchard (there are pear and cherry trees, too!) belonging to M. and Mme Vaudron.

Reading tombstones at the Canadian cemetery

We spent Sunday getting oriented and then on Monday morning, we jumped into the car and headed for Paris to pick up Shannon’s parents who had spent the last week discovering Amsterdam and Paris. We narrowly survived driving around the Arc de Triomphe and, miraculously, found their hotel with only one accidental wrong turn. We are all pretty excited to see each other after 9 months of separation.

We drove back to our village which is located a few kilometers south of Ouistreham, the town at the mouth of the Orne river and the eastern most point of the Invasion Beaches of Normandy and began our assault on the sites of this historically significant area. Although the area today is peaceful, tranquil, bucolic, pastoral…it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, war shaped this area. In 911, Viking Norseman invaded this region and then founded Normandy, giving it its name. A couple of hundred years later, in 1066, William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, crossed the English Channel, conquered England, and changed his name. In 1431, during The Hundred Year’s War, Joan of Arc was infamously burned at the stake in Normandy. And then, in 1944, it was the site of the greatest sea-borne invasion in history and the battle that changed the course of history. So, between the war memorials, the William the Conqueror memorials, and the beautiful countryside, we have a an embarrassment of things to do and see.

First among them was the visit to Juno Beach, the strip of Normandy coast assigned to Canadian soldiers in June 1944, and the Juno Beach Centre in Courseulles-sur-Mer. The museum, partly financed through private donations, is run by Canadian students. It was nice to hear Canadian accents in French and English again. The beaches are over-developed beach towns now, so not much remains to remind visitors of what it must have been like. And that’s ok. Those soldiers died not to create memorials but to allow people to live in freedom. We also visited Sword beach (British) and Omaha beach (American), as well as the Canadian cemeteries, the US cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, and the German cemetery in La Cambe. Although dramatically different, these graveyards allow the magnitude of the battle to sink in. The Canadian cemeteries are the smallest with “only” 2000 or so graves each. The German one is the largest with over 21,000 dead. The US cemetery, spread majestically over 70 hectares, is the grandest.

21,000 German dead

The German cemetery was understandably subdued, nothing is written other than the names of the young men who fell defending the indefensible. The American approach was understandably patriotic. These brave young volunteers fought and died to rid Europe of Nazism.   The Americans chose to engrave the name, rank, serial number, unit name and day of death on each cross. There is nothing else. The Canadian approach, as with the rest of the Commonwealth, is more personal. Canadians engraved the essential: name, rank and serial number, but also their age and sometimes the unit badge. More touching, each family was given the option to add a personal message, and many did. Strolling through the graveyard, you read soldiers’ nicknames or who their mum and dad were. Somehow, this more personal approach to memorializing these fallen heroes made it all the more poignant.

After sobering visits to war sites, we headed for Bayeux to visit the  “Bayeux Tapestry”. You might wonder why we would pay good money to visit a chunk of wallpaper. Well, let me tell you, this is no ordinary wall covering. This 70 metre long tapestry retells the story of a different invasion: the invasion of England by the Normans led by William the Bastard. In early comic book style, the hand-embroidered tapestry recounts, with considerable humour and detail, the full account of the Duke of Normandy’s trip across the Channel and his victory over the Saxons and the Danes at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It was surprisingly entertaining and well worth the trip.

American soldiers lying on foreign soil

After our long days of sightseeing and driving the tiny country roads, the kids burn off any excess energy in the pool and all of us spend our evenings playing cards with Nana and Papa. It’s great to share this experience with family. Our invasion of Normandy will continue for another week and, then we too will cross the English Channel to conquer England.

Carpe annum,


Posted by: Anique | May 9, 2011

Joan of Arc and Knights in Shining Armour

You probably thought medieval festivals and jousting tournaments were a thing of the past; that they only occurred in the times of princesses and castles. You probably never thought that they existed in the twenty-first century…you would be wrong.

We visited one on the 1st of May, on Ile Charlemagne in Orleans. The reason for this festival was the Fêtes de Jeanne D’Arc (Joan of Arc festival) celebrating the 582ndanniversary of the day that the famous French heroine seized Orleans back from the English. They

Joan of Arc

are still celebrating the day after over half a millennium. That is some serious gratitude!

We were on our way through the downtown heading to the Ile Charlemagne, when we were moved to the side of the road by some police. Behind the police there was a Scottish pipes and drums band and then a seventeen year old girl on horseback who played the part of Joan of Arc. She was wearing armour and carried a flag; she looked like a real warrior. Behind her were a couple hundred scouts and girl guides (or the French equivalent, anyways). There were boys and girls and they ranged from about 8-14 years old. Once the parade passed us, we walked to the nearest bridge and crossed. We followed the signs for “Fête Médiéval” (medieval festival) and they brought us through a Sunday market. We bought some tortilla sandwiches, some baklava and some edible euro bills! The euro bills were tasteless but we ate them just for the sake of eating money.

About ten minutes later we arrived at the Festival and stopped dead in our tracks, this wasn’t just a few vendors and show ring; this was a full blown medieval camp. Most of the space, that was free of trees, was taken up with colourful tents. Some were vendors but most were just people hanging out for the week or weekend.  Nearly everyone was wearing medieval style clothing complete with shoes and hats. Their camps were very realistic too, they had straw bales for mattresses; open fires for cooking; real canvas tents; pewter, wood or stone cooking and eating utensils and big wooden tables to eat at. It was still early and there weren’t many tourists around, so if you looked in the right direction it looked completely real.

We wandered to the end of the island and sat down in the shade to have lunch. We were just finishing lunch when everyone started walking toward the road; we followed and found that Joan of Arc was here. This time, however, she was riding in a wagon pulled by a team of horses and she was followed by people dressed in medieval style, knights in shining armour and peasants, fair maidens and peasant’s wives, creepy creatures and funny buskers, and many others too.

The first show was set to happen at 12:15. It was a play with a sorceress, a knight and his horse. We got front row spots, right against the fence. The fight between the witch and the knight was kind of cool but the horse was the best part. It was amazingly well trained.It would rear, back up, roll on the ground, run away and come back all around some pretty creepy creatures and a roaring crowd. After the witch was “killed” a sort of circus troop came out. There were three people on stilts and three people who danced with fire. They were really flexible and one girl had two flaming whips. We stayed in our spot and watched the next performance.

Knight vs Sorceress

This one was the battle of Ripailles. Most of the men who were staying in the camp put on their chain mail picked up their swords and shields and went out to stage a war. It was the English versus the French and, surprisingly, the English won; the crowd didn’t like that too much. It was a real battle and it wasn’t staged to the last detail. There were real archers with pointless arrows, a big slingshot that fired water balloons and cannons that fired blanks.

The Battle

After that we checked out the vendors but didn’t buy anything because everything was expensive and we don’t have much space in our bags. On our back to the ring we stopped to watch two groups of troubadours. The first were silly jugglers. They were wearing medieval style leather clothing and had wooden juggling pins. They did a sort of comedy act about who the leader was and did some cool stunts.

Very cool Troubadours

The second was a group of buskers who were dressed up in creepy costumes. There was a guy who had his face painted blue and he jumped up and down on his 2 foot long stilts (see video here). The other people in his troupe did gymnastics and dances. One guy was carrying the speakers on his back!

We also saw a guy do a bunch of cool card tricks! He had a little booth with medieval board games, which Owen and I tried. He did absolutely amazing tricks that I just couldn’t figure out!

At 3:45 we went back to the ring for the show called “Excalibur and the Black Knight”. This one was a skill tournament between 6 knights on horseback. They all had different colours on their clothes and gear. First they stuck a lance through a small hoop that hung above the track. Then they knocked over two small shields that were sitting on the ground in a row. When they were done that, they used a sword to chop an apple off a pole that one of the helpers was holding. Then they hit a metal soldier’s shield.  The metal soldier was like a flat metal scarecrow that spun around a point. They did all this on horseback at a gallop. “King Arthur” won that section despite the best efforts of the “Black Knight”. The “Black Knight’s” efforts consisted of cheating and hurting people. After “Arthur’s” victory lap, they had a jousting tournament. Before they started the helpers set the division in the middle on fire (on purpose) and about half way through the flags caught on fire, too. They really raced hard and actually hit each other. Some of the knight jousting sticks were broken. Three guys fell of their horses, when I say fell I mean flew. The third guy got dragged for about 100 meters by the reins of his horse. “Arthur” won this part too!

Broken Lances

So, medieval festivals and jousting tournaments aren’t a thing on the past and they are still as exciting as ever!

Maiden Anique

For Dad’s pictures CLICK HERE

Posted by: Anique | May 3, 2011

Le sport de parapente

Le 14 Janvier 2011, j’ai fait du parapente pour la première fois. J’ai aimé l’expérience beaucoup! Le parapente m’intrigue et j’ai décidé d’écrire ce blog. Dans ce blog je vais expliquer : l’histoire, l’équipement, l’aile, la sécurité et  comment devenir pilote. Il y a aussi des interviews avec des pilotes de parapente.

On se prépare

L’histoire : NASA faisait des  recherches  sur les parachutes durant les années 50, avec  l’aide d’un fameux chercheur qui s’appelle David Barish. David Barish a inventé le premier modèle d’un parachute en forme d’aile. En 1978, trois parachutistes français, M. Bétemps, M. Bohn et M. Bosson, ont décollé d’une montagne près de Mieussy, Haute-Savoie en France, avec des parachutes. Ces ailes ne sont pas exactement comme les ailes qu’on voit aujourd’hui, mais semblable. Ils ont commencé le sport de Parapente!

L’équipement : Pour faire du parapente il faut avoir une aile, un casque, un harnais, un parachute de réserve, et un sac à dos (spécial pour l’aile)! Les harnais ne sont pas comme des harnais de parachute, ils sont comme de légères chaises en tissu. Une aile est bonne pour à peu près 300 heures de vol! On peut utiliser aussi des outils comme un GPS, un radio, et un variomètre, mais ceux-ci sont optionnels.

Comment l’aile fonctionne : L’aile est formé de deux grands morceaux de tissu, de la même taille, qui sont superposés et cousus ensemble.  Entre les deux morceaux de tissu, il y a des trous qui se gonflent d’air pour faire voler l’aile. Le pilote est tenu en place par des suspentes, de fines ficelles de Kevlar,  qui sont attachées à l’aile. Le mouvement avant de l’aile crée de la portance qui fait voler le pilote.  Un parachute ne crée pas de portance, il ralentit la chute.

terrain d'atterrissage

La sécurité : Le sport de parapente a des dangers…comme tous les sports. Quand on commence, on utilise seulement des pentes qui ne sont pas très raides et des champs d’atterrissages grands et ouverts. Le vent et les tempêtes sont de grands dangers pour les parapentistes.

J’ai interviewé une Canadienne qui est sur la Coupe du Monde. Elle est anglophone alors l’interview était en anglais. Voici un extrait :

Anique: Have you ever been injured while you were flying?

Ms. Mclearn: I’ve been injured several times.  Most times it’s minor like a sunburn from being too high, or tweaking an ankle after landing in a field and stepping in a gopher hole.  But I’ve been hurt significantly 3 times.

One time I had a collapse just after takeoff (like in an airplane, the most dangerous part of the flight is the takeoff and landing) and didn’t have enough altitude to fix it so I crashed into the rocks below (about 50′).  Broke my back (vertebrae T11, T12, and L1) and was in a back brace for 6 months, and didn’t paraglide for almost a year.  But it healed cleanly and I’m essentially 100%, except for being 1″ shorter 🙂

Other major injury was an after-landing injury.  I had landed and not yet disconnected from my paraglider when a gust of wind re-inflated my paraglider and jerked me off my feet and landed on my shoulder.  This dislocated my shoulder so had to go to the hospital to get it popped back in.  I was out of commission for about 3 months while it healed.

Third injury was top-landing related (when you land on the mountain next to where you took off).  It was a competition and I had launched with a tangle in my lines, so I was top-landing to fix it.  But I landed in some tall grass which was hiding a pile of rocks so I twisted my knee after my foot got stuck in the rocks and slightly tore my meniscus.  Needless to say that was the end of that particular comp and I was off flying for about 1 month while it “healed” (although menisci don’t heal per-se, it was a small-enough tear that surgery wasn’t warranted and I’ve since regained regular function).

Paragliding is dangerous and most pilots who stick with it know somebody who has been hurt.  It’s kind of like riding a motorcycle…you can mitigate the dangers but not 100%.

Pour voir tout l’interview allez à

Pour voir tous ses aventures allez à

Comment contrôler l’aile: Vous contrôlez la direction avec les freins. Les freins sont les suspentes qui contrôlent l’arrière de l’aile. Si vous tirez  sur la droite, vous tournez  vers la droite. Pour ralentir, le pilote tire les deux freins a la même temps.

Je vol

Comment devenir pilote : Pour être un pilote licencié, il faut prendre un (ou des) cours. Ces cours sont enseignés par un pilote licencié. « Débutant» est le premier niveau. Les cours  de« Débutant » durent 8-10 jours à peu près.  Après un cours « Débutant » tu es un pilot licencié.

Comment décoller : Il faut courir sur la pente de décollage.  L’aile va se remplir d’air. Si tout va bien,  quand tu gagnes la fin de la pente de décollage tu ne peux presque pas toucher le sol. Quand tes pieds ne touchent pas le sol tu peux t’asseoir dans le harnais. Pour voir un vidéo de mon décollage cliquez ICI!

Où se pratique le parapente : Le sport est super populaire en Europe, là tu peux  le faire partout où il y a des montagnes).  Apparemment, l’Afrique  du Sud est un très bon lieu aussi, car beaucoup de records mondiaux ont était fait là (voir les statistiques en bas). En Amérique du nord ces beaucoup moins  populaire mais il y a des lieux dans les montagnes où vous pouvez le faire!

J’ai  fait une petite interview avec le propriétaire de Azur Parapente, la compagnie avec laquelle Maman et moi avons volée en biplace. Voici l’interview :

              Anique (me) : Quand avez-vous commencé de faire du parapente?

M. Chritian Vidal  (un pilot licencié) : En 1986, et j’ai passé mon diplôme de moniteur de parapente en 1996.

Anique : Qu’est-ce qui vous a attirée au sport de parapente?

M. Christain Vidal : Je faisais beaucoup de randonnées en montagne et je voulais redescendre sans me fatiguer!

Anique : Quelle partie du vol préférez-vous?

M. Christain Vidal : J’aime tout dans le vol, mais j’ai une petite préférence pour l’atterrissage

Anique : Quel est votre site de parapente préféré?

M. Christain Vidal : Le site d’Achensee dans le Tyrol autrichien.

Anique : Avez-vous faites du parapente en pays étrangers?

M. Christain Vidal : Oui, l’Autriche, la Suisse et l’Italie.

Anique : Quels pays /sites aimeriez-vous visiter?

M. Christain Vidal : La Nouvelle Zélande

Anique : Avez-vous fait des compétitions de vol?

M. Christain Vidal : Oui, c’est obligatoire pour devenir moniteur de parapente. On apprend beaucoup en étant confronté aux autres pilotes, mais il faut faire attention à ne pas dépasser ces limites pour gagner à tout prix.

Anique : Aimez-vous faire les vols biplaces?

M. Christain Vidal : Oui, je rencontre des gens très intéressants avec qui je peux partager ma passion du parapente

Anique : Préférez-vous des vols avec acrobaties, des vols de longue durée, des vols en hauteur? Autres?

M. Christain Vidal : Je préfère les vols de distance (cross). Le but est d’aller le plus loin possible en partant d’un décollage fédéral. Les meilleurs pilotes peuvent parcourir plusieurs centaines de kilomètres avant de se poser. Mon record est de 86km.

Anique : Pourquoi continuez-vous de faire ce sport?

M. Christain Vidal : Il me permet d’être en contact avec la nature, d’évacuer tous les soucis de la vie courante. De plus, il ne nécessite pas une forme physique d’athlète. Il suffit de pouvoir porter son sac de parapente jusqu’au décollage

Anique : Combien d’heures de vol faites-vous par année, en moyenne?

M. Christain Vidal : C’est variable car cela dépend des conditions météo, 300h en moyenne.

Statistiques :

  • Les records mondiaux :

–        La plus longue distance sans arrêt est 503.9 km-par Nevil Huett (en Afrique du Sud)

–        Le plus haut sans arrêt est 4526m (au-dessus du niveau de la mer)-par Robbie Whittal (Afrique du Sud)

  • 25,000 parapentistes en France…4,000 en L’U.S. Je ne peux pas trouver le nombre de parapentistes au Canada.


Les coûts

  • $4,800 à $5,000 pour une nouvelle aile
  • $300-$500 pour un harnais
  • $2,000 environ pour un cours « Débutant »

Bibliographie (les sites internet que j’ai utilisés) :


Posted by: Marco | April 29, 2011

Troglos, Silk worms, and Kate

Here’s a quick post about today’s events. No complaining today, I promise.

The day started out in the usual way. Shannon went for a run, I shaved my head. We woke the kids, sent Owen to the bakery for our daily bread. We ate, did the dishes and then headed to our respective classrooms. Two hours of school later, we sat down and watched the Royal Wedding on French TV. To our amazement, it was live on 3 stations. We thought a country that did away with its royalty in spectacular fashion some time ago, and who have long-standing “issues” with the English, would not care much about the “Marriage Princier” as they called it. The ceremony was dubbed, of course, and much too long, but we watched more or less the whole thing.

Comfortable digs (pardon the pun)

Then we did the truly interesting thing.  A very “Loire” thing. We visited a troglodyte dwelling (a house carved into the stone) in a neighbouring village on the Cher River. All the famous châteaux of the Loire valley are made of a particular stone called tuffeau limestone, a beautiful white stone that is exceptionally easy to shape.  The village of Bourré, just a few kilometres to the south of our village is famous for the quality of its tuffeau. Here the rock is particularly white. All those castles needed lots of rock; therefore there are lots of quarries. The steep valleys of the Cher River are dotted with openings to former small quarries. After the major quarrying was finished, they were turned into wine cellars (les caves), livestock barns, granaries, and homes.  Still today, fully half of the inhabitants of Bourré live in “troglodyte dwellings”.  Our guide grew up in the dwelling we visited, had slept in the stable with his horse, and learned to make wine in the cave. The troglo home was large and comfortable, dry, and reasonably bright. Our guide showed us how the tuffeau was quarried and how it was shaped.

Sawing through tuffeau

As fascinating as it was to walk through this multi-level quarry/home/ barn, it was a real treat to discover the ancient art of silk making. In this part of France, in the late Middle Ages, local peasants produced raw silk by raising silk worms. Silk worms eat only the leaves of the white mulberry tree which grows in this part of the country. Since troglodyte dwellings offer large areas of constant temperature all year round, the locals cultivated this profitable product. Our guide raises a few thousand silk worms every year, to demonstrate the process to tourists. Each cocoon, created from the silk worm’s saliva in four days, produces 2 kilometres of silk thread! Each silk worm larvae eats about two mulberry leaves a day, so even our guide’s tiny “flock” requires him to cut 2000 leaves a day.  This “farming” activity didn’t interfere with other farm chores as it came before haying season and long before grape collection and wine making. It complemented perfectly the natural cycle of farm life. And as silk was literally worth its weight in gold, it was a lucrative activity for the residents of the Loire Valley.

As we biked home after our tour, we were tempted into a local bakery where we bought four almond-encrusted croissants…a nice end to a Loire day.

To see our pictures of the famous châteaux, our little town of Pontlevoy, or of our bike rides in the Loire Valley, click here.

Carpe annum,


P.S. In less than 2 months, we’ll be back on Canadian soil … under an NDP government?

Posted by: Marco | April 24, 2011

The cost of stubbornness

Sometimes it pays to be stubborn. You know, when you stick to your guns and you get the great deal or the great service. And sometimes, well, it makes life a little harder.

This story has to do with bad customer service again. And what happens when you stick to your guns.

3 hour wait for the bus in 30C heat!

On a recent Saturday morning, in Toulouse, after a 3 hour wait for a bus in 30C heat and a 2 hour bus ride the night before, a short night in a hotel, an early morning, and a four-hour train ride, I was ready to pick up the rental car I had reserved from Europcar. Previously, I had promised myself that I would not rent from Europcar again, and that I would patronize SixT. Europcar had caused us a few headaches already but they have a very extensive network of agents. This time SixT just didn’t have the agency where we wanted to return the car, namely Blois or Tours. So I bit the bullet and reserved a Peugeot 207 from Europcar to be picked up at 12:00pm. The train arrived on schedule (as all French trains do) at 12:05. After a few minutes, I walked into the Europcar office and was promptly told that they were closed until 1pm. Strange the door was open and there were two employees there. I said that I had a reservation for 12 noon. Then Mr. Europcar said, with attitude: “Look, we are closed. I’ve been working since 8am and I am taking my lunch break.” I am afraid I lost my cool for the third time in France. I said: “Your problems are not my concern. My family and I have been on a train for 4 hours and I have a reservation. If you won’t serve me, cancel my reservation. I will never use Europcar again. Your service stinks.” At which point, Mrs. Europcar said to Mr. Europcar: “Let’s just leave, he’ll go away.” I was so angry; I couldn’t believe how rude they had been. I realise that I probably got hot-under-the-collar too fast, but this type of service is all too common in France.

Our car-less camp with storage garage

This is the part about the stubbornness. I quickly visited the other five rental agencies at the station. Not one had a car to rent. It was a Saturday at the beginning of school break. We were marooned! When I told Shannon we were not going to wait until 1pm for Europcar to open to retrieve our reserved car, I could see that she thought I was overreacting and that we would all suffer because of my intransigence. We had to get to our campsite with our backpacks on our backs in 28C heat. It was a two-train metro trip to a bus station, then a 20 minute bus ride, and then a 1km walk. We made it. When we got to the campsite at 2pm, it was closed….until 5pm! Luckily, the owner interrupted his lunch with his daughter long enough to open the gate and show us where to pitch our tent.

Our problem wasn’t solved. Getting in and out of Toulouse was doable but I still had to rent a car for our next leg. I reserved with SixT and picked up a really fun Ford Fiesta on the Monday morning. We drove it out to the Airbus factory and the next day we headed north to the Bordeaux area. So far, so good.

After securing rental bikes for the duration of our stay in the Loire Valley, it was time to return the car. That was a bit tough. It required military-style planning and preparation. This was going to be a multi-modal mission. I had to return the car to Bourges, a large city in the Loire Valley, two hours away. I googlemapped the route. I memorized the highway numbers. I drove the two hours without getting lost or taking a wrong turn. Then it was 2km walk to the Bourges train station. I bought a ticket and waited the 90 minutes for my train (I killed the time walking through streets of half-timbered houses and checking out the magnificent St Etienne Cathedral). The train ride lasted 93 minutes. Right on schedule, I disembarked in Montrichard, the nearest town to ours with train service. I took my pants off revealing my running shorts. I put the pants in my small running backpack and ran the 45 minutes back to our little town of Pontlevoy.

When I got home…I was locked out.

Always stick to your guns ‘cause you never know what adventures it will lead to.

Carpe annum,


Check out our photos from the Bordeaux region and our road trip through Spain here:

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