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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter fun... among other things

Note: all photos in this post by me... except for the one I'm on. :-)

I've been wanting to write a post about winter. After all, January brings the coldest temperatures of the year!

But this winter has been weird, to say the least. We probably haven't kept snow on the ground for more than 8-10 days since the winter solstice, or more precisely one month ago. If this doesn't make you flinch, let me remind you that I'm writing this blog from the cold latitudes of Canada, a country that was described by the French writer Voltaire (whom I otherwise adore) as "a few acres of snow".

Nova Scotian backyard in the winter I

Unfortunately, this year, our acres of snow keep melting in between snowfalls. The big forts and the cute snowmen we had built have all turned into a lump of white slush within 48 hours.

I was quick enough to capture this picture in my backyard. Pretty, hey? But it didn't stay.

Nova Scotian backyard in the winter II

(If this weather anarchy is caused by global warming, please, everybody, let's take action for the safeguard of winter fun: for !"/$%?*'s sake, turn off your car engine when you stop somewhere! I still can't believe how many idling cars I see, all the time, everywhere. I'll agree it's sometimes necessary in temperatures below zero - and still, a few minutes of cooling down won't kill you. It's winter! Dress appropriately! Whether you do it for the snowmen or for the planet in general... shut off the engine!!! Rant over.)

Nova Scotian backyard in the winter III

I was planning, in order to cheer everybody up, to list a few advantages of the cold season. Examples included

- there's no bugs (between the black flies, the horse flies and the mosquitoes, we don't get much respite here during the nicer months)
- there's no need to cover yourself with sunscreen every 2 hours
- the bears are hibernating
- you don't suffer from the heat
- ice cream is suddenly less tempting
- the compost doesn't stink
- nobody notices you've gained 10 pounds in the last month
- etc.

But somehow in the process of writing about winter, I got distracted by another topic that I discovered on another blog. I've been working at reusing it in my own blog. It's a meme about traveling. How could I resist?

(If you really want to read more about the cold Canadian winters, though, I am going to redirect you to my friend S's blog at this address. S and her family moved to Yellowknife a few months ago, and from what I gather, the weather right now is pretty mild for the season: a mere MINUS 35 CELSIUS with the wind chill. You know. Cozy.)

Now with the traveling meme. It has been filled by fellow bloggers (and translators) Jill Sommers and Corinne McKay. Feel free to add your own answers!

Senegal and our unbeatable tennis instructor, Mamadou

Age you went on your first international trip: We travelled to the States when I was 5, but I don't really consider this international travelling. When I was 7, though, my father got a one-year contract with CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) in Senegal (Western Africa). We ended up renewing twice, and lived there for 3 years. In the summer, we would fly back to Canada to visit family and friends, and stop over in Europe for at least a few days each time, sometimes up to 2 weeks; we got to visit France, Belgium and Austria.

Best beer: Croatian beer has to be discovered! Which reminds me I have to go get some more; I have long used all the cans I had brought back from this beautiful country!

Cuisine (favorite): Tough one. Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Lebanese, French, Italian, Spanish, Mexican... even Swiss (cheese, potatoes, bread and chocolate! Sounds like a great diet, don't you think?). I've had great meals in both Afghan and Peruvian restaurants, too. And Senegalese dishes are excellent. I guess I'll have to write a separate post about food. Bottom line is, when it's the real thing, made with fresh ingredients by a dedicated chef, even the simplest dishes will be hard to beat. Ex.: tomato and cucumber salad in Greece is to die for.

Destinations-favorite, least favorite and why: Favorite would be Paris and Italy in general. I don't have any least favorite because every place has something unique to offer.

Amalfi Coast, Italy

Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: Discovering a restaurant way up high in the Swiss Alps, after an everlasting and exhausting hike! But seriously, entering a museum room (at The Uffizi in Florence, at The Louvre in Paris or at the Kunthistorische in Vienna, among others) and finding yourself right in front of one of the paintings you've been admiring in reproductions for years... that's a big wow. Other wows include music (listening to an impromptu organ concert in Glasgow Cathedral or suddenly hearing Never on Sunday at the foot of the Acropolis are two examples) and, of course, all kinds of panoramas and scenery, especially at sunrise or sunset.

Allegoria della Primavera, by Botticelli

Favorite mode of transportation: my feet. I love to get lost walking in a foreign city (and it's happened a lot, thanks to my still unexplained and recurrent refusal to use good maps! I once relied on the position of the sun in the sky and my own shadow on the ground to find my way in Rome - no joke!). Walking is the best way to make memorable discoveries, and to feel the pulse of the place. I also like the train, because you can admire the countryside, and stand up and walk around as much as you want. I love walking and transportation so much I am convinced I was a nomad in my previous life.

Greatest feeling while traveling: As I've mentioned in a previous post, my favourite feelings when I travel are feelings of freedom and discovery. Or adventure, if you will.

Hottest place you’ve ever been: Senegal. It could go up to the forties (Celsius) in the shade.

Incredible service you’ve experienced and where: I've had the whole prosciutto piece brought to the table and cut for me under my eyes in a Belgian restaurant. I was 8 or 9 years old. Around the same age, I was addressed as "Mademoiselle" and "Vous" (formal way of saying you in French) by a waiter in Monaco.

Journey that took the longest: Flight Halifax-New-York-Beijing.

Keepsake from your travels: My journal. I don't buy much, but I always write a journal, to keep all my memories and reread them later. I usually start scribbling about my impressions while waiting in the airport terminal or as soon as I am settled on the plane.

Let-down sight-why and where: I tend to be slightly disappointed by the places everybody raves about, like Venice, Pisa or Dubrovnik. They are beautiful, but so packed with tourists that it steals half of the charm from them.

Moment when you fell in love with travel: In utero. I think my parents transmitted the traveling gene to me before I was born. My paternal grandmother is a globetrotter herself, having visited close to 40 different countries in her life.

Obsession-what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling? Architecture and landscapes. I took the following picture, for example:

Isle of Skye, Scotland

Nicest hotel you've stayed in: Probably the Royal Windsor in Brussels, and there was another one (can't remember the name) in Paris. But those high-end hotels are not necessarily the ones that leave the most memorable trace. I have fallen in love with very basic and simple ones: a youth hostel in Florence because of the beautiful setting in the countryside. A 1-star hotel in Paris because our - small and unassuming - room had a desk in front of a window overlooking the Hotel de ville; I loved to sit there to write in the evening.

Passport stamps- how many and from where? Lots; I don’t keep track. In Europe I sometimes insist they put one when crossing the border between countries, because most of the time they won't.

Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: A Chinese hospital where they analyse your health by looking at your face only (skin, eyes) and then go on to prescribe all kinds of "herbal" remedies.

Recommended sight, event or experience: Sooo many! A tea-tasting session in China is a must-try experience, blissful for all 5 senses. Walking on the Great Wall was also a little surreal. Other examples include wine-tasting in France and hiking in Scotland. But really, anything that appeals to you in particular will "do the job".

Splurge-something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling: I don't buy much stuff, and I don't usually travel luxuriously, but I do travel often. I guess that's how I splurge.

Touristy thing you’ve done: Buy an unlimited train pass and visit 6 different countries in as many days (taking night trains). This was at the beginning of my 3-month Europe Grand Tour. I guess we got ourselves a little too excited about the fact that we could hop on any train to any of the 17 countries listed on the pass, any time we wanted. We basically would close our eyes and put our finger on the map of Europe to decide on the next destination... and we did that every day for almost a week. Needless to say, we only got a glance of the cities we picked: Nice, Barcelona, Milan, Venice, Munich, Hamburg. (Un)fortunately, this exhausted us, and we went back to a more reasonable pace (3 nights in each city at least).

Edinburgh, Scotland

Unforgettable travel memory: Birthdays spent abroad, like seeing the Phantom of the Opera in Her Majesty's Theater in London, or sailing the Kornati Island National Park in Croatia. Impromptu discoveries, a little off the beaten track, are nice too. I like going on a nowhere in the countryside and discovering beautiful spots away from the hordes of tourists. In Maiori (Amalfi Coast of Italy), D and I spotted a castle on top of the mountain and with no idea how to get there, began a hike through narrow alleys. When we finally got to the castle, the sights were incredible above the sea and the terrace cultivated citrus. There was nobody but an elderly guide, who took us on a private tour (in Italian).

Visas-how many and for where? 1, for China.

Wine-best glass of wine while traveling and where? That's a tough one too, so I'll say Gevrey-Chambertin because it was one of my first encounters with great wine.

eXcellent view and from where? From the wall of China. From any high point in Amalfi Coast. From the top of a mountain in Scotland. From a cliff side in Cape Breton. Anywhere the mountain meets the sea.

Years spent traveling: Every year I go some place or another!

Zealous sports fans and where: Watching a football (soccer) game on TV in a small Italian restaurant in is quite exciting. To be honest, hockey games are even better, but that's in my own country.

Nova Scotian beach and greenery

This meme is missing on something very important: the people you meet while traveling. We'll have to come back to that in another post.

Another point that would have been fun to include in this meme is The craziest thing you've done while traveling. One of those, in my case, would be taking my 2 daughters, then aged barely 3 and 5, up a narrow winding staircase all the way up a church's bell tower in Zurich. A few hundred slippery steps. Very minimal handrail, with huge gaps between the steps and the posts (not up to Code, that's for sure!) I don't fear heights, and yet I was trembling from looking down below. I'm a runner, and yet my legs were shaking from the effort. Needless to say, the kids were complaining. But up there, the view was quite something (if windy), and this is an adventure we've been excitedly retelling each other since then!

Zurich, Switzerland


  1. Now, idling cars in Yellowknife are, truly, a necessity. Don't forget!! (Though we don't take a car if it's close by... we carpool or bundle up and walk... it's worse on a car to drive a short distance in the car at Artic temperatures!)

  2. Let's agree for minus 10 and lower. Warmer than that, the car doesn't lose enough heat (and the body neither) to justify idling. :-) I'm not done ranting about the environment... just watch me! ;-)