Category Archives: Travel

Discovering Ottawa – Part 2

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Alexandra Bridge

Across the Ottawa River via the Alexandra Bridge in Gatineau, Quebec is the best museum I have ever been to, the Canadian Museum of Civilization.  It charts Canadian history from the First Nations to modern times through out the provinces from East Coast to West. It is Canada’s most visited museum but it is often overlooked by tourists as it isn’t included in many Ottawa city guides due to it being in another Province even though it is actually only about 2 km from Parliament Hill.

 

View of Parliament Hill from the Alexandra bridge

View of Parliament Hill from the Alexandra bridge

We arrived as the museum opened and had the place to ourselves in the beginning and even though we walked around it all day long until our legs ached we didn’t get around all of it, the building is enormous!

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The First Peoples Exhibits take up the entire ground floor and was my favourite part of the museum and the display of totem poles in the Grand Hall was simply breathtaking.

 

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There was an interesting display on the first immigrants to Canada, this photo in particular made me smile.

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And a rather unnerving temporary exhibition on Vodou.

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I will not attempt to describe the whole museum as it was so vast but if you are ever in the area be sure to pay it a visit, take the whole day and wear comfy shoes!

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Travel Tuesday

Vodou (Voodoo) in Ottawa

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On our recent trip to Ottawa we visited the Canadian Museum of Civilization where they had a temporary exhibit of Haitian Vodou objects (also spelt Voodoo).  The idea of the exhibition was to dispel myths often portrayed by Hollywood that the religion is all about sticking pins in dolls.

Vodouists do use dolls and human remains in their practices however, they have a positive association because they represent their ancestors. They believe when ancestors are close by, the living can communicate with them and benefit from their help and experience.  Vodouists often believe they are being possessed by Lwa (Haitian spirits) or they call on Lwa to help them out of a particular imbalance caused by illness or a trauma for example.

 

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Regardless of the intention of the exhibition I found it really quite disturbing, there was an unsettling vibe in the room that made me shudder and unfortunately my shaky hand lead to some blurry photos!

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If you are in Ottawa, take a look and see what you think but whatever you do leave the little ones behind for this particular exhibit!

Discovering Ottawa – Part 1

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The classic shot of Ottawa- Parliament Hill of the left, Chateau Laurier on the right and the frozen Rideau Canal in the middle.

This year, 2014, is the year our family applies for Canadian Citizenship, as it will mark 3 years since we became Permanent Residents.  It seemed only right that our first trip to somewhere new was a visit to the Canadian capital, Ottawa.

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Although Toronto, which is right on our doorstep, is a far larger city I had a yearning to go to the capital to check out the Parliament buildings, the museums and the Rideau Canal. So just after New Year we packed the thermals and headed off in snow and -30C wind-chill to discover the delights of Ottawa!

Parliament Hill

For some strange reason on January 3rd at 10am and -35C Parliament Hill was mostly deserted and we pretty much had the place to ourselves! We managed to walk straight in and join a free tour of the Centre Block that took us around the House of Commons Chamber, the Senate and the Library of Parliament.  The library was the most stunning room with a beautiful statue of a young Queen Victoria in the middle.  Unfortunately they do not allow photos in there so I had to fight the urge to try to take a few candid shots with my Iphone! (being arrested in our nations Capital was NOT on my ‘to do’ list 😀 )

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House of Commons Chamber

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Senate

 

Originally built in the 1860’s Parliament Hill is among the oldest buildings in Canada, although much of it was rebuilt following a fire in 1916.  The building itself is in stark contrast to the very modern feel of the majority of Canada’s cities.

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Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II in stained glass

There is an unmistakable British presence in the building, Queen Elizabeth II is still our head of state after all and many of the paintings and carvings around the walls are of British Monarchy especially Queen Victoria who was on the reigning Monarch when the nation of Canada was created in 1867.

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If you ever go to Ottawa you should take a tour of Parliament Hill, the tour was interesting and informative, the building is quite spectacular and an added bonus is the tour is free of charge!

Check one on my Ottawa ‘to do’ list, next stop – The Museum of Civilisation.

Niagara on the Lake Candlelight Stroll 2013

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The historic town of Niagara on the Lake holds it’s annual Candlelight stroll on the first Friday in December every year.  I first heard about the event about 10 years ago but only this year did we finally manage to attend.

 

Locals and visitors congregate by the Clock tower at 6pm bundled up against the usually frigid temperatures where they purchase candles (the proceeds of which go to a charity or worthy cause) and sing along to festive songs and carols.  A couple of the Niagara on the Lake horse and carriages lead the way through the streets where a variety of performers entertain the crowds along the route.  This year the performers included various choirs, a bell choir made up of an amazing group of young girls, a bagpiper and ends with a very talented male acappella group called A Cappella Niagara.  Who were not only fabulous singers but also extremely funny and had the crowd chuckling at their humorous number.

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Many of the homes along the route are decorated for the festive season and the Romance Collection Gallery, showcase for local artist Trisha Romance, has an almost life size nativity scene in the front.

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All this creates a fabulous festive atmosphere and was every bit as lovely as I hoped it would be, it is a great way to kick off the Christmas season.

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I am so pleased that we finally got to go to this magical event and next years date is already marked on the Calendar!

 

If you are ever in the Niagara area in the beginning of December I highly recommend you go and check out this wonderful family evening.

Tips:

Make sure you arrive in plenty of time, many streets are closed to traffic and parking so you may have to park quite far away and walk in.

Dress appropriately, comfy shoes and winter coats, hats and gloves are essential, it’s usually a couple of degrees cooler by the lake.

Bring some money, most shops in the town remain open late and offer unusual and unique gifts.  A perfect opportunity to finish off your holiday shopping!

 

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Morocco – The Final Chapter

For this weeks ‘What’s The Story?’ Instead of sharing the story behind one photo, I thought I would share the last of the photos from our Morocco Adventure along with the lessons we learned while we were there, like lots of little ‘what’s the stories’ if you will.

Boys love to play with sand no matter how old they are, the only difference is that their toys become more expensive!

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Humans are amazingly resilient, whether it’s living in the harshest environment or finding an unconventional mode of transport

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Tuareg Settlement

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Can you see the men riding on the hay? And how can the driver see anything?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Oasis looks just like they do in the movies and camels wander around in the desert.

 

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There is nothing like the scale of mother nature to make human lives seem small.

 

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Sometimes traveling just a few feet can be a terrifying journey.

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And sometimes, when the road ahead looks perilous, you just need to suck it up and go for it.

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There is nothing like the desperation of kids to make you feel like the most privileged person on the whole world

 

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And finally, having young kids doesn’t mean you can’t travel

 

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Morocco Safari – The last Leg

After leaving the Sahara Desert (written about here) we were on the last leg of our Morocco Safari.

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A model of our car made by kids in Zagora

We had a stop in Zagora, where historically the camel trains would leave to travel to Timbuktu.  Luckily it was a hotel stop, which gave us a very welcome time to wash the Sahara sand out of our undies! Kids hang around outside the hotel, which was a regular stop for off-roaders like us leaving the desert and they asked if we would buy a model of our car the following day before we left. This is what we bought and you can’t help but admire the ingenuity of the kids, willing to use any old rubbish and turn it into a money making scheme.

 

Todra Gorge

Todra Gorge

After a ride through the spectacular Todra Gorge and a close encounter with a sand devil we entered the cedar forest.

 

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Sand Devil

Cedar Forest

Cedar Forest

It was really weird after the dry, hot, dusty desert to see such huge green trees.  We were climbing in altitude which meant falling temperatures especially at night.

 

Lak Tislit

Lac Tislit

Our stop on the shores of lake Tislit, the only body of water we had seen in 12 days, saw temperatures close to zero at night that had us all shivering in our tents.

Our roof tent

Our roof tent

 

When we left there we were back into a hot, dry atmosphere that lead us back to Tangier and eventually the ferry back to Spain.

In next week’s final chapter I will share some more of the photo’s from our amazing journey.

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Morocco Safari Day 6-9 – Into the Sahara

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Following on from last weeks instalment about our adventures in September 2004, this weeks sees us entering the Sahara Desert

After 6 days we had finally settled into a routine, over breakfast in our wild camp in the morning we would have a quick briefing of our journey for the day.  Our leader would give us a series of map co-ordinates ending in a rendezvous point in the evening, it was up to us to decide when we left and how long we took.

 

There was one occasion when he made me highlight one particular co-ordinate and told me he couldn’t guarantee our safety if we missed this turn off from the track, the village beyond it was basically dangerous and we should not be going through it.  At that very moment my navigation skills went from adequate to expert.

 

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crumbling road ahead

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The ‘roads’, if you could call them that, were at times barely passable and were literally crumbling as we drove across them.  We learned to drive dead slow through the tiny villages as kids would run alongside the road calling for pens or sweets and would throw stones if we drove to fast.

If you drove too slowly though you ran the risk of getting an uninvited hitchhiker jumping on the roof to catch a ride or check out what you had in the boxes on the roof rack! Everything, even our water tap, had a padlock on it.

Entering the Sahara at the end of day 6 was an experience that will stay with me forever it was so hot (50C) and so dry that it literally zapped every drop of moisture out of you, but it was breathtakingly stunning to look at and we needed to have one of those ‘pinch me’ moments when we start to doubt the reality of what we saw.  We spent two full days playing in the sands of the desert, learning off-roading skills getting stuck on the top of huge sand dunes and really putting our car through it’s paces.

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Camping in the dunes

Those few days in the Sahara was a once in a lifetime experience that will stay with me forever.

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Morocco Safari Day 5

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Our boys, our car and the High Atlas Mountains

Our Moroccan adventure continues this week when we leave the hotel in Ait Ourir and  civilisation behind us as we head off road into the high Atlas Mountains and our first wild camp of the trip.

The terrain, although spectacular was completely different from anything I had ever seen.  Dry, hot, rocky and harsh and the little plant life that could survive were covered in thorns.  It is hard to imagine day-to-day survival in such a hostile environment.

We travel through the High Atlas and had a brief stop in Talouine to get fuel and water before heading into the Anti Atlas for a wild camp that was actually a dry riverbed and provided the most spectacular back drop for our nights stay.

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We thought the medical dramas were behind us but little did we know we had one more to face…

As we left the city of Talouine we noticed one of the other cars in our group pulled over at the side of the road with the male driver standing a few feet to the side of it swaying precariously, his wife (who had mobility issues) sat seemingly oblivious in the front seat as he fell backwards in a dead faint.  Hubbie sped towards them and skidded our car to a halt behind them and without waiting for it to come to a full stop I threw open the door, jumped out and ran towards him, dropped to my knees to check his heart and noticed he wasn’t breathing. His tongue had slipped back across his airways and he was choking on it.  With every ounce of strength I could muster I rolled him onto his side to put him in the recovery position and it was a huge relief when he took a gasping breathe and came to almost immediately. After throwing water all over him to cool him off and sitting him in the shade for a while he recovered.  Only to have him tell me off because I had rolled him onto a bush of huge prickles and he was picking them out of his skin for the next couple of days! But hey, at least he was breathing!

The huge lesson I learned that day was that I am one of those people that runs towards a crisis, however much it shocks me now to think like that.  I didn’t hesitate to think for a second about what I should do, instinct took control and even to this day I am surprised at how I reacted. I honestly didn’t know I had it in me.

Coming next week… we are finally heading into the Sahara Dessert itself.

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Morocco Safari Day 4

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What dangers lurk in the car park…?

 

The first few days into our Moroccan Adventure proved to be a steep learning curve and none more important than the lesson we learned during our first hotel stop.

Hubbie and I were quite smug in the knowledge that we had the only vehicle with air conditioning  but what we thought was a blessing turned out to be a curse. While the rest of our party slowly acclimatized to the heat that intensified every day, we didn’t.  Consequently I was the first casualty of the holiday when I fainted at dinner that night suffering the effects of heat exhaustion. My ‘mum instinct’ made me overly cautious of the amount of water the boys were drinking but, like you do, I forgot about me. A stern talking to on the importance of hydration for all of us, absolutely NO air con and some rehydration salts courtesy of our group leader and within a few hours I was on the mend, lesson learned.

However, later that night I was woken by hubbie writhing around in pain and recognized his symptoms immediately, they were the same as mine.  The trouble was our rehydration salts were in the car at the other end of the hotel, which was basically a walled enclosure in the middle of nowhere.  So I grabbed my keys and headed outside into the pitch-black night to try to find the car and our first aid kit.  I was absolutely terrified and physically shaking I began to imagine the headlines “Dumb English girl goes missing after wandering around Moroccan dessert alone”.  So I poked my keys through my fingers like a knuckle-duster and preparing myself for a fight I carried on.  After what seemed like an age the cars came into view and still shaking with fear I began to frantically press the key fob to try and unlock the doors and turn the car lights on so I could see.

Eventually I was close enough and as the lights flashed the silhouette of a man standing at the back of my car came into sharp relief, as I began to scream I realized he was screaming too.  “Madame! Guardian! Guardian!” he yelled at me in broken French and suddenly realization dawned on me, far from being a serial killer he was in fact a parking guardian employed by the hotel to keep our vehicles safe during our stay.  Although relieved I couldn’t stop shaking as I grabbed the first aid kit and ran back to our room and with trembling fingers locked the door behind me, Phew!

The talk at breakfast the following morning was filled with the story of how someone gave the poor old parking guardian the fright of his life in the middle of the night!

More next week 😀

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Morocco Safari Day 1-3

Cascades D'Ouzoud

Cascades D’Ouzoud

 

After spending the summer of 2004 preparing ourselves and our vehicle for our trip by Mid September we were ready to go.

We left our home with our fully equipped car, all the water we could carry and our three week supply of food and made our way to Southampton to catch the overnight ferry to France.  It took us three days to drive through France, cross over into Spain by the Pyrennes and finally met up with the rest of our group in Estepona in southern Spain to enjoy a final night of luxury in a European standard hotel.

I don’t think any of us slept well that night as we began to get anxious about what the next leg of our journey had in store for us.  Early the next morning we drove down to Tarifa and caught the ferry across to Tangier, Morocco.  The border crossing itself was a bit of a performance but luckily the leader of our group took care of most of it for us. As we left the port we experienced culture shock for the first time as our senses were assaulted with the sights, sounds and smells of a completely difference continent.  The city was chaotic and the strange signs in Arabic and French looked so odd to our British eyes that it was a relief to leave the chaos behind and head out into the countryside.

We drove though dry, dusty, flat landscape for the rest of the day before reaching a ‘campsite’ which was a dusty walled yard that had a toilet that was too disgusting to use, a few stray emaciated dogs and goats, a friendly chameleon and that was it.  Welcome to Morocco!

The following day was a 300km drive to another ‘campsite’ at Cascades D’Ouzoud.  By this time we had been travelling without decent facilites for a couple of days and as we were driving almost due south the temperature was getting hotter and hotter.  On arrival at the site we took a brief stroll to the river upstream of the waterfall and I was so hot and dirty that I lay in the river, fully clothed, to cool off!

The waterfall itself was pretty spectacular and we took a hike to the bottom the following morning, the climb back up however was not so easy and I was offered a ‘herbal remedy’ that looked suspiciously like cannabis by a little old Moroccan lady to help me with the climb, we managed to decline graciously and got the hell out of there!

This was our last designated campsite for the following 12 days which consisted of wild camping with two hotel stops to break it up.  Quite frankly the wild camping would be better than the campsites and a great deal cleaner!

As we left Cascade D’Ouzoud and headed further into the rural parts we reflected on the lessons we had learned so far:

Firstly, Our vehicle and equipment, with the kids DVD player in the back, caused a bit of a stir with Moroccans, we must have looked like aliens to them especially in the rural parts where there main mode of transport was a donkey.

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Secondly, the blonde hair that youngest son and I had attracted attention where ever we went that was so intense we soon decided not to leave the safety of our car while we were in the towns, even when we found a petrol station or somewhere to get water hubbie would lock us in the car when he went to pay.

Thirdly, it was extremely important that we followed the GPS co-ordinates set by our group leader as some areas where known to be extremely dangerous, we rarely had a phone signal and if we got lost help wasn’t coming, we were on our own!

Lastly, that however much we were enjoying ‘roughing it’ we couldn’t wait to get the our first hotel that night to sleep in a bed, wash ourselves and our clothes, use their pool and use a flushing toilet for the first time in 3 days!

As it turned out the night would be quite an adventurous one and it was extremely fortunate that we were in a hotel… with a proper bathroom….

More next week 😀

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