Posted by: Owen | April 20, 2011

Airbus Visit

On April 11 2011 something terrible happened… we went to the Airbus factory. You’re probably wondering why we (my family and I) went? Well, to see the A380. We took a tour of the factory. All the places we went were about the airbus A380. The biggest and only fully double decker plane in the world.

A380 Takeoff

The first place we went on the tour was the telemetry room where the flight engineers would watch the tests from. While we were in there we saw a video of the first flight of the A380. The video we saw was coming from cameras on the plane. Here is a list of the different tests we saw in the room on the video: Minimum take of speed, Hot 50°c, Cold -40°c, flooded runway, wing flex, stalling. After the telemetry room we took a bus to the biggest building in Europe. A hangar. It is 15 soccer fields or 10 hectares. When we got there we went up to a viewing platform overlooking the final assembly of the A380. We were 22m above the floor.

A380 inside

After that we took the bus to a full scale model of the fuselage of the A380. The different types of seating are premium economy, economy, business, first class. That’s all for the tour.

Here is some cool stuff I learned. The A380 is about 400 tons. It can hold about 120 tons of gas. Airbus makes about 25 A380’s a year. They (as in Airbus) made over 500 planes last year. The A380 can hold 800 people max. Normally it holds about 500 people. On each engine pylon there is 1 ton of titanium.

Here is a picture of the Airbus transportation plane the beluga. In the top of the plane it can hold two wings!!

Beluga transporter

On United Arab Emirates in first class in the A380 they have showers!! Even I would shower!

One bummer was that they would not let us take pictures.

That was an absolutely fantabulosley awesome day!!!


Posted by: Marco | April 9, 2011

Tapas, Paella, & Churros

Eighteen days ago, I wrote a blog sitting on a bus on our way to Spain. It was a wrap-up blog about our time in Portugal. We had spent a wonderful month in that beautiful country. This morning, I am writing on a train as we leave Spain and make our way back into southern France. This is a wrap-up blog of our time in Spain.

In a word, spectacular. The weather was stupendous: we had three days of cloud, and very little rain, and only one day where the temperature was below 20C. Our last few days, in the north of Spain, the mercury hit 31C! The scenery was stunning. We drove 2780 kms from Sevilla in the south to Bilbao in the north, so we saw a lot of Spain. We saw fertile rolling hills covered in orange groves from horizon to horizon. We drove through rocky mountains and quaint mountain top villages between Ronda and Gibraltar. We camped in the driest part of Europe and saw badlands and desert on the Cabo de Gata. We walked on magnificent fine sandy beaches on the Gulf of Valencia and we hiked in the breathtaking beauty of the Pyrenees. With a few exceptions, every drive and walk was a feast for the eyes.

The cities, too, were a delight. We only visited four cities in our time in Spain. We first visited Seville. This is a beautiful vibrant city with a truly charming old quarter. It has the largest cathedral in the world, bigger than St Peter’s in Rome or Saint Paul’s in London…who knew? Seville was an important Moorish city and the architectural influence remains. Of course, flamenco and bull-fighting are a big part of the character of the south of Spain and of Seville.

We camped outside the small town of the pretty town of Ronda, a few hours’ drive from Seville. The town is split in two by a very deep gorge. Three bridges span the gorge: the Arab Bridge which was built by the Moors, the Old Bridge from the 16th century and the New Bridge constructed in the 18th century.  On a day trip from Ronda, we visited Gibraltar, the tiny British enclave on the southern tip of Spain. Given to England in 1713 as part of the Treaty of Utrecht, this miniature colony remains staunchly English. Although everyone here speaks English and Spanish, you can buy a decent meal of fish and chips or chicken curry on any street corner. Gibraltar is an interesting place to visit. We paid for a guided tour of the mountain and got a lot of insight into the Gibraltarian mindset. We were “gobsmacked” by St Michael Cave. We think the word “cavernous” was coined to describe it. Inside, a large concert hall with tiered seating, was built to take advantage of the wonderful acoustics. We were entertained by the Gibraltar monkeys, a kind of macaque that the Moors brought with them from northern Africa. They are a charming and bold creature. We were amazed by the defensive tunnels built into the Rock to defend the colony. Unlike most canon placements, called embrasures, these do not face the sea to protect against seaborne invaders; these embrasures face inland to defend against Spanish invaders hoping to reclaim Gibraltar.  One of the most interesting features of Gibraltar is that to reach the colony you have to walk or drive across the runway of the Gibraltar airport before entering the city. It is a strange feeling to stroll across the centerline of an international airport. As you can imagine, vehicles have to stop for outgoing and incoming flights causing ridiculous traffic jams. They’re building a tunnel to alleviate the congestion. SEE THE PICTURES.

Ah, Barcelona. A jewel of a city. It may be our favourite city so far. It is a quirky, lively, beautiful place. From a tourist point of view, public transport is cheap, efficient and easy to navigate. The old city is a maze of tiny streets abuzz with shoppers and diners. The new part of the city, planned from start to finish, wide streets and boulevards are laid out in a grid pattern. La Rambla, the main pedestrian stroll that starts at the monument to Colombus at the port and ends at Plaça Catalunya, is a riot of colourful people, kiosks, and the ubiquitous “human statues”.  And of course, there is Gaudi. Antonin Gaudi was an architectural genius unlike any other. His work defies comparison. Every creation caused us to smile. His buildings are whimsical and fun. You could stare for hours at the enormous cathedral Segrada Familia and never get bored. The Güell Gardens are a wonder. And his apartment buildings in the new part of Barcelona are simply wacky inspiration. Of course, we visited the Olympic Ring and Stadium, the wonderful legacy of the 1992 Games. Barcelona should be on everyone’s bucket-list.

The last city we visited was Bilbao. We went to visit the Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art but were very impressed by this little city. It is a small town with big-city feel. It has a metro, trams, an airport, large pedestrian boulevards, a wonderful waterfront, all in a city that you can easily explore in a day. The Guggenheim Bilbao Museao, as it is called here, is a visual feast. Other than the floor, not one surface is straight. It is all curves and intersecting lines. The art was OK but the building was the real star. Frank Gehry, the architect, must have studied Gaudi.

Our favourite part was undoubtedly the Pyrenees. We camped on the edge of a mountain river, near the little town of Ainsa, 40 kms from the French border. To the east of us rose Pena Montesa and to the north snow-capped giants. We spent two days hiking on well-worn paths in breathtaking beauty. Our first hike, in the Canon Anisclo, led us up a spectacular gorge in which the turquoise water of the river cascaded almost continuously, forming waterfall after waterfall.  The following day we did two smaller hikes near isolated mountain villages. The remoteness of these villages was unbelievable. To reach them we drove impossibly narrow and twisty roads, sometimes in poor condition, for half an hour or more. The houses are beautiful stone dwellings built to last a millennium. The main inhabitants seemed to be sheep. If it isn’t on your “must-see-and-do list” pencil it in now: hike The Pyrenees in the Spanish province of Aragon.

Back to the title: Tapas, Paella, & Churros. Since we camped for much of our time, we didn’t indulge too often in restaurant food. But we did sample tapas, the supper time snack food found in all restaurants and bars. We ate paella mixta (seafood and chicken). And most important, we ate churros. These Spanish pastries are eaten for breakfast dipped in hot chocolate. But not the watery/milky hot chocolate found in Canada. This is hot chocolate as in “let’s melt a Hershey’s bar and pour it into a cup” kind of hot chocolate. Now that’s a breakfast! We also ate churros soaked in honey, a kind of Spanish baklava. Anique also splurged on a chocolate covered, custard-filled churro which must have contained 1000 calories. She was in heaven.

So, to wrap up. Spain was: great food, wonderful people, beautiful architecture, breathtaking natural beauty, and really fun roads. Gracias Espana y hasta luego.

Carpe annum, Marco

PS. Sorry for the long blog. It has been hard to get internet access…also, I have pictures galore which I will post next week when we have free and fast internet. Cheers….sent from a Therm-a-rest in a campground in Toulouse at 8pm and it is still 26C!!

Posted by: Marco | March 21, 2011

Adeus Portugal

I am writing this on the bus from Faro, Portugal to Seville, Spain. We spent our last night in Portugal holed up in a pensao near the bus station. It was clean and cheap. It was a bit of a return to reality after a glorious month in luxurious digs in Carvoiero. The sun is shining and there isn’t a cloud in sight…again.


A & O looking out over Lisbon

We spent our last few days in Portugal in Lisbon, the capital. We packed up our stuff, rented a car and drove the 260kms north to the big city on the coast. Lisboa, as it is called in Portuguese, sits astride the Tagus river (Tejo). Portugal, of course, was a great seafaring nation and it is obvious when visiting the capital. Monuments to the great explorers abound. The waterfront along the tidal Rio Tejo is a vibrant space, well used by citizens of this lively city. We watched hundreds of sailboats compete in a regatta in full view of the downtown.


To save money on accommodation, we camped within the city limits, in Campismo Lisboa. We are now officially winter campers, as it was March 18-19th. Of course, the mercury dipped to about 8C overnight and soared up to 24C in the daytime…so “winter camping” might be a stretch. The campsite, which cost 24€ per night, is located in the 900 hectare Parque Monsanto. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore this magnificent green space. We did check out a few other parks and squares (called praça), however.

In 1755, Lisbon was nearly levelled by a huge earthquake. The worst hit parts were razed and rebuilt in the style of other great European cities. In this part of the city, Baixa, long, straight boulevards and giant public praças are commonplace. The Avenida de Libedade rivals the Champs Elysées for grandeur and visual impact.  In the older parts, the roads remain narrow and twisty. Lisbon also boasts an iconic, but little known, tower: the Elevador de Santa Justa.

Monument to the Discoveries


Where Lisbon really shines is in its attitude. Just like in the Algarve, where we spent the previous four weeks, the people are easy-going and unpretentious. Everyone we dealt with was friendly, helpful, and cheerful. Small inexpensive restaurants line the streets. A filling and tasty supper costs 5.50€ and a medium-sized beer is a half-litre! Dogs are loose in Lisbon, as they are elsewhere in the country. Somehow, that small difference makes the place feel more friendly and laid-back. Sure, Lisboa is more rundown than many European capitals but it retains an unmistakable charm.

One curious incident happened on our first bus-ride into the city on Friday night. Our usual modus operandi is to park the car at the campground and leave it, taking public transport into the city. This forces us to live like locals, figure out schedules and really get a lay of the land. The ride from Campismo Lisboa to downtown took at least 45 minutes. And it was crowded. During that first ride, as we stood shoulder to shoulder reading the signs saying “Beware of pickpockets”, our bus was stopped by Lisboa Policia. Very quickly, one officer boarded at the centre doors and escorted two young women off. Another officer boarded the front of the bus and started shouting at another female passenger. He followed her as she made her way towards us. After taking a quick look at Anique to make sure she wasn’t a perpetrator too, he told us all to check our bags. Then he promptly escorted her off the bus and into the waiting police car which was jamming the insanely busy rush-hour street. It was an exciting welcome to Lisbon. Nothing else sinister happened….we felt completely safe everywhere else.

The only other event of note happened during supper on Friday night. We were sitting and eating in an outdoor patio of an inexpensive churrasqueira when what is now called “The Piri-piri Incident” occurred. Wanting to add a little zing to her fried chicken, Shannon picked up the bottle of Piri-piri, a Portuguese-style hot sauce. Little did she know that hot-pepper flakes were blocking the mouth of the little bottle, forcing her to squeeze…a little too hard. The bottle-top gave way under pressure. Shannon’s chicken drowned in piri-piri and, worse, so did her fleece. The waiter was quick to act. He came with hot water towels and a whole new meal. He was very apologetic. Shannon’s sweater has recovered with very little scarring, the chicken, however…

On our way back to Faro, we took the scenic route over the 14km long Ponte Vasco de Gama (the second longest bridge in Europe),through Setúbal, by ferry across the Rio Sado to the resort town of Troia, and down a sandy spit of land between the rio and the Atlantic, and south to Faro. We saw thousands of cork trees and almost as many storks. This bird is ubiquitous in Portugal, at least in the parts we’ve seen. These large birds build their immense nests on the tops of poles, chimneys and other tall man-made structures. This is nesting season, so every nest was occupied. These graceful flyers are a delight to watch.

So, as our bus nears the Spanish border marked by the Rio Guadiana, we say goodbye to Portugal and its many charms: the weather, the people, the wonderful oranges and lemons, the free dogs, the laid-back atmosphere and the gorgeous coastline.

Adeus e muito obrigado, Portugal.


Owen at the controls of the funicular tram!

For our pictures….click HERE!


Posted by: Marco | March 17, 2011

We “heart” Portugal

This is our last day in the Algarve, the southern province in Portugal. We head north from here to Lisbon for a couple of days and then we swing back south and head into Spain by bus. We have enjoyed the Algarve very much. It is a wonderful place that has seen some hard times recently due to the worldwide recession. It’s a place worthy of your tourist dollars. Here are some of the reasons why we love Portugal.

Owen and cousin Blake making orange juice


  1. Delicious oranges: For only 1€, we can buy a 3 kilo bag of the juiciest, most delicious oranges we have ever eaten. Freshly squeezed OJ every morning is a perfect start to the day! Lemonade, made from lemons picked on our property, is a good thing, too!
  2. Inexpensive (and delicious) bread: Bakeries aren’t as prevalent as in France, but the bread is delicious and really affordable (50% of the cost of French bread).
  3. Gorgeous coastline: if you have seen our pictures of the Algarve coast, you understand the breathtaking beauty of this rugged and highly eroded stretch of coast.
  4. Friendly people: Portuguese folk are good-natured, welcoming people who love to chat, even if they can’t speak English.
  5. Laid-back atmosphere: Portugal is a relaxed and easy-going place. The pace of life is slow.
  6. No dog poop on the sidewalks: dogs run free everywhere in Portugal. Consequently, they do their business privately and not on the sidewalks. It’s a nice change from the ubiquitous merde on French sidewalks.
  7. Perfect  beaches: the beaches of the Algarve are picture perfect. The sand, the surf, the sun are truly spectacular.
  8. Free (and clean) public bathrooms: no charge for clean WCs with toilet paper, paper towels, and no attendant waiting for 50₵. Also no graffiti or vandalism. Italy, are you listening?
  9. Portuguese roads: Like the people, Portuguese roads are unpretentious and fun. They’re sometimes narrow and twisty, never straight (the roads, that is). They aren’t in the best shape but they are always entertaining (the roads!!).
  10. Friendly Post Office workers! Even at the end of the work day, these public servants are cheerful and friendly.


Anique picking a lemon from lemonade

So, if you are hankering for a little cultural change of pace, beautiful coastline, a low-cost of living, friendly people and great fresh food, book the next Air Transat flight to Faro, Portugal. You won’t be disappointed.


Carpe annum,


P.S. For our photos of this lovely, and often overlooked, part of Europe….CLICK HERE.


Posted by: Marco | March 6, 2011

May I see your documents, please?

Today, I paid cash to a cop. He told me I could pay him 25€ now or pay 125€ later. He had a little smile when he said this.  There were four of them and one of me. I paid the 25€, cash.


A GNR patrol car

It was inevitable. After about 9000 kms of driving in Europe, we were bound to have a little encounter with the law. In strange lands, with strange signs, narrow one-way roads and round-abouts, eventually I was going to run afoul of the law. Today, I committed a crime and the Portuguese GNR, the Guarda Nacional Republicana, saw me do it.


The scene of the crime: the Town of Aljezur, a former Moorish town near the Atlantic coast in the Algarve region. Aljezur is a quaint, sleepy little town, with ruins of a 12th century Moorish castle, an historic medieval centre, a shallow meandering river, a few shops, and an overzealous police force.

My crime: Upon seeing an available spot, I turned left into the parking lot of the local farmers’ market, right in full view of an oncoming GNR police car. I parked, exited the car, and faced my accuser, Officer Bondeco of the GNR. He was impeccably dressed from head to toe in the GNR uniform: the distinctive GNR cap, a crisp bomber-style forest green jacket, a pistol belt (with handcuffs and a whistle), grey trousers, and knee-high leather boots. He addressed me in Portuguese, but we quickly established that my Portuguese, although getting better, isn’t up to the task of talking to the authorities. He wasn’t selling me a bag of oranges, so I was out of my league.

“May I see your documents, please?”

“Is there a problem?”

“Yes, this is a do-no-enter. You must go around the building to enter the parking lot.”

“Oh, I see. I’m from Canada and…”

“You have the same sign in Canada, no?”


“Thank you for the documents. I’ll be back to tell you how you can pay the fine.”

“You’re actually going to ticket me for that?”


GNR officers discussing my fate!

And so for the next 15 minutes, while his three colleagues paced, smoked, and chatted, the polite, multi-lingual GNR officer, filled out the notificacão in triplicado. Young officer Bondeco showed me the Portuguese Highway Traffic Act and the paragraph that states a fine of 24.94€ is to be paid immediately, in cash. He stated that if I wished not to pay, and dispute it, the fine would climb to 124.94€. That’s when I decided to pay cash on the spot. I had to pay in exact change, so a quick run over to the farmers’ market was needed to break the 50€ bill I had. With some hand waving, some mispronounced Portuguese and a little Spanish, I got my point across. I paid my fine and then Officer Bondeco explained the legal way of entering and exiting the Farmers’ Market parking lot. I thanked him and he wished me a good day. Thankfully, neither the handcuffs nor the whistle had to be used.


I did a little research on the mission of the GNR. I found three entries that could pertain to my particular crime:

  • To maintain and re-establish the security of the citizens and of the public, private and co-operative property, preventing or repressing illegal acts committed against them; (umm…nope)
  • To collaborate in the control of all entries and exists pertaining to national and foreign citizens and goods into and out of the national territory; (I don’t think that applies)
  • To veil for the execution of the laws and dispositions in general, namely those related to the terrestrial traffic and highway transportations; (hum, maybe)

I think it was just a slow day in Aljezur. As I walked back towards my grinning family, I thought: “I’m 25€ poorer, but I’m one blog richer.”

Carpe annum,


PICTURES of Aljezur can be found HERE.

For more PHOTOS of our Portugal trip CLICK HERE.

The culprit turned left into the busy parking lot!!


Posted by: Marco | March 2, 2011

Coasting in Portugal

Well, we’re in trouble now. All that hard-earned “character” (those cold nights in the tent, the cramped quarters, the shared bedrooms, the nightly ritual of doing dishes) is all for nothing. Here we are living in the lap of luxury in the south of Portugal. And we are getting spoiled. We are getting soft.

Not that we mind getting spoiled every now and again. It’s just that the next phase of our travels may seem more difficult by comparison.

The end of the World

You see, we are holed up in a large house near the Algarve coast on the outskirts of the beach town of Carvoeiro.  My parents rented the house, which is owned by a couple in England. It is part of a community of rental homes in this tourist area of Portugal. All the houses in this part of Portugal are named. This one is called Casa na Colina (House on the Hill). It is a lovely home, designed in the characteristic Algarve style. The roof is clay tile and the walls are all white stucco with flowing lines, covered porches, verandas, and walkways.  The large landscaped yard boasts a heated 10m pool and enough chaise lounges for a soccer team. Before supper, we pick ripe lemons from the lemon tree to squeeze on our fresh fish or giant local prawns. Inside Casa na Colina, everything has been provided: rooms with en-suite bathrooms for everyone, comfy beds (even if they are twins pushed together), and satellite TV from England. The icing on the cake (and the thing that makes Shannon really uncomfortable) is the cleaning lady that comes six days a week for five hours a day. Celeste makes the beds, cleans the bathrooms, and does the dishes, if we want her to. She is a lovely lady who speaks virtually no English but is keen to teach us Portuguese. She has been working here at Casa na Colina for 24 years. Every morning, she strides in and shouts “Bom dia! Muito sol!” and laughs.

Beach heaven in Algarve

The south coast of Portugal, the Algarve, is stunningly beautiful. All along the coast, tall imposing cliffs have eroded into perfect, and often secluded, sand beaches. The remaining cliffs are a maze of rocky outcroppings, natural bridges and arches, caves and grottos. It is a landscape which never gets boring. The weather, however, has been boring. Always the same: sunny and warm. Since our arrival it has been perfect: not a cloud in the sky and average temperatures of 20C. On the secluded and protected beaches, it feels more like 26-27C. Since this isn’t tourist season, the beaches are virtually empty and we have our choice of spots. The water is pretty cool still, but Anique and Owen brave it by playing in the surf.

The people we have met are friendly and often talkative even when they can’t speak English. The truth is, in this area of Portugal at least, most tourists are British or German or Dutch, so the second language of anyone wishing to make a living from the tourist trade is English. That makes it easy for us, of course. Portuguese is reasonably easy to read, if you know French or Spanish, but to the un-initiated it is impossible to understand when spoken. The sounds are very different from Spanish or Italian. Luckily, we aren’t often in a position to fend for ourselves in Portuguese.

Interested in seeing photos of the gorgeous beaches and coastline in the Algarve? CLICK HERE.

Keen to see some photos of day trips in this area? CLICK HERE.

Want to see photos of Casa na Colina, our house?  CLICK HERE.

Carpe annum,


Our little town of Carvoeiro

Posted by: Marco | February 21, 2011

Lemon Fest!

Every year in February, the town of Menton goes crazy for lemons. Sure, the town is famous for its citrus fruit. Its micro-climate is perfect for the cultivation of all kinds exotic and semi-tropical fruit, but the citrus is king. In one public garden alone, 150 varieties of «agrumes», as they are called in French, are on display. In the Jardin du Carnolès, everything from tiny mandarins to giant pomelos compete for attention. February however is time to go lemon crazy.

This year from 18 February to 9 March, Menton is celebrating «La fête du citron». This is a major tourist attraction for the region so the town goes all out. Months of work go into the planning and preparation of this celebration. In the centre of town, in the gardens situated on the median of the Menton’s busiest boulevard, organizers set up  a static display of lemons and oranges. At this point, you must be thinking: “A static display of lemons….sounds like a grocery store.” You would be wrong…so unbelievably wrong. You see, the displays have to adhere to a theme. This year the theme is Great Civilizations. Decorated with oranges are a Mayan temple, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Sphinx, Stonehenge and more. It is stunning. See below for photos of the displays. Click here to see the full album on Picasa.

During the festival, the town hosts three major parades, or corsos as they are called. This involve bands, dancers, and huge floats decorated with lemons and oranges. Unfortunately, we left Menton before the first corso, but we did get to watch the kids parade, Le défilé des enfants.

Of course, the best thing about the Lemon Festival (La fête du citron), is the lemon itself and all the lovely products made with it. In Menton, the lemon is the main ingredient in several liquors, aperitif wines, liqueurs, jams, candies, soaps, lotions, aromatic oils, and lemon flavoured olive oil.

The next time you find yourself on the Côte d’Azur near the Italian border in February be sure to check out Menton’s Fête du Citron!

Carpe annum!

Trojan horse and soldiers (they don't look Greek!)

Anique and citrus mammoth

Posted by: Marco | February 16, 2011

Top 10 Reasons to Take Off

Here are our top ten reasons why you should make plans to take a mini-retirement*!

  1. Au revoir rat-race
    • What would you do with more time?
    • Read more?
    • Sleep more?
    • Exercise more?
    • Paint? Take photos?
  2. Bonjour “bucket list”
    • Visit the Taj Mahal
    • Hike to Machu Picchu
    • Build a timber-frame cabin
    • Write a book
    • See “David” in Florence
  3. Here’s your chance to volunteer for a cause
  4. Hello focused savings
    Been putting money aside, but don’t really know why?
    Have a focus and a goal for your savings

  5. Leaving for a while?…then de-clutter your house
    • This is the perfect time to get rid of the junk that is cluttering up your basement storage
    • Sell unused kids toys and the $$ goes to the kids trip money
    • Thin out your wardrobe and donate the rest
    • Lighten your load and feel great
  6. Travel beyond the tourist areas
    • Really get to know an area by living there for a month or three
    • Do a long distance hike
    • Cycle across Canada
    • Do a round-the-world trip
    • Live in another country
  7. Come back refreshed and ready to work
    • Revitalize your career by coming back with a new perspective on life
    • Share your experiences….inspire others to take a mini-retirement
  8. Learn a new skill & travel to where they invented it:
    • Make curry in India
    • Paraglide in France
    • Tae Kwon Do in Korea
    • Surf in Hawaii
  9. Re-evaluate your priorities
    • Do you want to go back to the old ways?
    • Follow your dreams
  10. Experience another culture
    • Learn another language
    • Try new foods
    • Learn new sports or pastimes
    • Immerse yourself


For families, here are three bonus reasons for taking a year off:

  1. Spend quality time with your family
    • Eat together, read together, play together, laugh together
    • No constant chauffeuring, grabbing meals on the run…
  2. See the world through your kids’ eyes
  3. Kids learn by seeing and doing!
    • Let them see and do

Carpe annum,


* In The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss says “the mini-retirement entails relocating to one place for one to six months before going home or moving to another locale. It is the anti-vacation in the most positive sense.”

Posted by: Marco | February 8, 2011

Riviera Running


Shannon  ran the “Course du Soleil” Half-marathon on Sunday, 6 February. She wouldn’t toot her own horn so I’m doing this secretly. The race was a point-to-point run, our favourite kind. It started near the port of Nice and finished at the Louis II Stadium in Monaco.

Shannon and winnings

Okay. I know you want to know how she did. Shannon’s official time was 1:25:54. Fast! Fast enough for 5th woman overall and 1st in her age group! She finished 177th out of 1191 runners.

The race: At the last-minute, organizers shortened the route from the official 21.09km to 19.6km due to construction in one of the towns on the route. Race conditions were perfect. Sunny and cool. Almost too cool. You readers in Canada may laugh smugly but it was downright chilly to race in shorts and t-shirt. The mercury read 3C with a stiff breeze. The sun crept over the ridge just as the race started at 9am. Then the warmth of the Mediterranean sun got things going. It was soon a very comfortable 12C or more.
The run route was gorgeous, as you might imagine. The route followed the coastline, staying on roads (“la basse Corniche”) and wound its way from Nice through Villefranche-sur-mer, St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Beaulieu-sur-mer, Eze-bord-de-mer, Cap d’Ail, and finally into Monaco. Despite being on the coast, it was not a flat course. This part of the coastline is very rugged and hilly, so avoiding hills was impossible. Luckily, Shannon has been running hills almost daily since our arrival in Menton and before that in Alsace. She was well prepared.

Trophy, flowers and Monte Carlo Casino

The race was pretty low-key but well-organized. It was also very inexpensive. The entry fee was 15 Euros. We’re not sure how they keep race costs so low. My 10km race in Nice in January was equally cheap. We think they might not have insurance issues like we do back home. Here, to collect your race kit, you MUST provide a doctor’s certificate declaring you are fit to compete in running races. (The certificate cost us 22 Euros each. We all got one from the local doctor as Anique and Owen needed one to train with the local swim team.)

For her age group victory (veteran femmes), Shannon received “bisous” (the mandatory kiss on both cheeks), a gorgeous bouquet of flowers, a huge trophy, and a great “Monte-Carlo” beach towel. It was a pretty big haul. Now we have to figure out how to fit the trophy in Shannon’s backpack!!
Shannon ran so fast that the kids and I didn’t see her finish! After the start in Nice, we trudged off to the nearest train station. We only just made it before the train arrived. We had to run to catch it but we were able to jump on just as it pulled up to the platform for its minute and a half stop. We rode the train and disembarked at Cap d’Ail station, the town just west of Monaco. We thought it would be a shorter walk to the finish line from there than from the Monaco station. We were wrong. After a false start, we found ourselves back at the train station and then took the coastal path towards Monaco (you were right, Anique). Being a coastal path, it isn’t very straight, and therefore not very direct. We walked quickly and only stopped briefly, to warm up in the sun and eat a quick snack of chocolate croissants. As we walked longer and longer down the path, we realized that if Shannon ran well, we wouldn’t see her finish. Well, Shannon ran very well, we walked fast, but she was faster than us. We missed her big finish by about 10 minutes. Bummer.

Shannon and her biggest fans

Posted by: Owen | January 27, 2011

Sur le Pont d’Avignon

On the first Sunday in Paris, I bought a beautiful fedora hat in the Richard-Lenoir outdoor market.

My beautiful fedora

It was hard to decide because there where a million choices but I decided on the grey and black polka-dotted one. I paid the 5€ with my own money. My hat has been with me ever since Paris. I’ve worn it basically all the time.

I’ve had lots of good comments on my hat, mostly from older woman. I’ve gotten them in lots of different countries.

On January 23, 2011, in Avignon on the famous Pont d’Avignon over the well-known Rhône River, the infamous Mistral wind ripped my hat off my head and flung into the Rhône with no chance of retrieving it.

I was angry because my hat was taken from me by the Mistral and frustrated because there was no chance of getting it back and sad because I could never wear that hat again.

The wicked pont and river

That was the life and times of my beautiful fedora hat.


To see my photos of Avignon, Provence, and the Gorges du Verdon CLICK HERE.

Note: To see my Dad’s photos of Avignon, Provence, and the Grand Canyon de Verdon, CLICK HERE.

WATCH our YouTube video of the Pont d’Avignon HERE.

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