Nassau, Bahamas to Hilton Head, South Carolina

We easily obtain our rapid test. Atlantis provides free onsite testing for each guest. The process easy and shortly we obtain our negative results. The email makes us smile and some stress is lifted.

Our last day on the resort is a return to all the things we loved most. We wake early to have time to accomplish our large list.

The resort is much busier than when we first arrived. Restaurants now require reservations and we find ourselves standing in lines for water slides, and food. Out eldest grandson does not understand why we are cueing and is annoyed he has to wait.

Our preferred beach chairs require staking our claim early. The reason for the sudden influx is a US holiday, relaxed requirements for testing from Canada and a convention. We reflect how fortunate we were to have had the resort to ourselves.

Finding a place to eat proves challenging as we have not made reservations. We go to one of our favourite spots, Carmines and are turned away. Our next choice, Frankie gone bananas advises us to return in 90 minutes. We comply and return at the agreed time. The restaurant is half full though we know even a few guests creates havoc with their system. We are then advised to return again in one hour. After some discussion, we are directed to a bench outside where we are advised to wait until we are called. The live band is mere feet away and although the music is lovely, it’s too close and loud to enjoy. We chill for 20 minutes with no updates, then decide we could wait for a very long time. We decide to walk to the burger shack at the end of the village. It’s a surprising 50’s diner themed space and larger than the outside would suggest. We are served, find a picnic table, then wait forever until we finally receive our order. We sit at our picnic table, munch on our burgers and fries and listen to live calypso music. The music reminds me of a cruise to Nassau thirty years previous. How amazing is music that can transport one back in time. Occasionally, folks get up and dance. We smile as we watch young children and families dance impromptu.

We have an arduous travel day the next day and an early start. We take one final look at the yachts then begin the process of packing, checking and rechecking.

Our day begins early. We are awake at 0500, having barely slept for fear of sleeping in, only to finally fall asleep just before the alarm sounds. We have arranged for Germaine to take us to the airport. He is less chatty, likely due to the early hour. There is no traffic and soon we are at the airport.

JetBlue is our airline and is accommodating with our group. John receives free checked luggage for his service in the Navy. The hour flight to Orlando goes quickly and we are offered both food and drink.

We arrive in Orlando and it seems as though the pandemic is over, large crowds, nearly no masks and zero physical distancing. It’s a lot to take after two years of limited contact with people, we are soon overwhelmed. We get our rental car, load our bags and soon leave the busy airport behind to travel the busy highway for the 5 hour drive to Hilton head island.

We leave Florida behind and pass through Georgia, then leave Georgia to enter South Carolina. We are all eager to reach our destination, content to stay on the highway. The trees change from predominant palm trees to incredibly large trees with drooping grey hair attached to the branches. We learn these are live oak trees, a type of evergreen tree that can grow 80 feet tall and spread upwards of 100 feet at maturity. It is iconic of the old South. We learn the grey moss hanging from its branches is also alive. The moss dangles from the live oaks limbs and gulps moisture from the air. Clever, during hot weather the moss continues to provide moisture to the tree, ensuring its survival.

We find a Costco and excitedly shop with prices that seem such a bargain after the expense of the Bahamas. We are tired of dining out and buy what we need to enjoy meals at our home away from home.

We have rented a house close to the beach. The pictures on Airbnb are stunning, though we are tempering our enthusiasm as reality can sometimes be disappointing.

Our grandchildren are amazing for this long day of travel, they are quiet and only near the end do they wonder how much longer.

Our daughter tells them as we arrive in Hilton head that we will first explore the home and then bring in our bags. We arrive and soon we are all running through the house exploring and exclaiming about each space. The house sleeps 28 and our group of 7 is lost in the space. There is a playroom, a media room, beautiful kitchen, 6 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, two decks and an elevator. Outside, there is a pool, bar and several lounging spaces. This place is perfect and we applaud our daughter who found and booked this amazing space. The house is decorated with a beach theme and one room flows seamlessly into the next. Every bedroom has a tv, the living room has a karaoke machine. John and I are given the master bedroom, complete with walk in closet, large shower, deck, king size bed and dresser. The bed is soft and so comfy. It’s perfect.

Our daughter, son in law and grandchildren take over two bedrooms and the playroom. There are 4 floors and so much space that we cannot hear the kids on the top floor when we are on the main.

The kids unpack their swimsuits and race to the pool. They quickly make up for their quiet during the road trip to let off steam in the pool.

We are excited to begin this second part of our holiday and look forward to exploring tomorrow as we quickly fall asleep with the sweetest of dreams.

Charleston, South Carolina

We set our sights on downtown Charleston where we find historic buildings. We park and set out on foot to explore.

Very soon the architecture has me happily clicking photos, every building begs a picture and I happily comply. Even alleyways are beautiful.

On the corner of one broad street resides a beautiful building crafted in the Italianate style and built in 1853. It began its life as the state bank of South Carolina. The plaque advises us that this building has survived hurricanes, bombardment and an earthquake. It has undergone two extensive restorations, each one following the original plan. How different from Western Canada where a beautiful building is razed to make room for new, or a restoration has the inside arguing with the facade.

We notice how even trees wend their way into what is, adapting to the surroundings and challenges. There are no wrecking balls, nor a council of folks deciding on which holds more value. Each learns to live peacefully with the other, there is room for both and a beauty that cannot be created by man alone.

We find the Atlantic Ocean where a cruise ship is moored, it’s guests flooding the city for the day. There is a beautiful, tree lined cobblestone street. In the summer, typical Charleston temperatures of 30 Celsius combined with a typical relative humidity of 90% would make it feel like 41 Celsius. The homes flank one side and each have a peeking view of the ocean, while still protected from the heat and humidity of the summer. The shade more important than the view.

We find a pineapple shaped fountain where children play. There is a Southern legend that when a sea captain came home from a voyage he would impale a pineapple at the gate of his home. This would let his neighbours know that he had returned from sea and was welcoming guests into his home. In the South, the pineapple represents warm welcomes, celebration and hospitality. We can attest to this, from the exceptional customer service and the “how y’all doing?” we have enjoyed. The pineapple spirit is alive and well in South Carolina.

A short walk from the fountain we find a pub announcing it has the best fish and chips. We venture in to determine if there is truth in advertising and immediately our heads spin as we take in the gestalt. Everywhere we look are $1.00 bills stapled to the beams, walls, artwork. It’s a curious place. We look closer and see that folks have written messages for future patrons. It’s a quirky set up, though interesting as we gawk while awaiting our fish and chips. The fish so tender, it melts in our mouths, while the chips were perfectly crisp. We are not disappointed.

It’s getting late and we have barely scratched the surface of Charleston. We decide we will need to come back another year, though for today we are determined to see as much as possible. We see cobblestone driveways and imagine how horse and carriages instead of cars once graced these driveways. One or two horse power instead of an equivalent of 200 horsepower in todays average car.

We venture to Rainbow Row, a collection of houses painted in a variety of pastel colours. The homes, like everything in Charleston has a rich history, coupled with folklore. The houses were built in the architecture style of South Carolinian Georgian row house between 1740 and 1845. When these homes were constructed, docks came right up to the street, and ships carrying goods from all over the world were moored virtually at the buildings’ doorsteps. The bottom floors housed shops and the Merchants would live in the upper floors. After the Civil war, the buildings fell into disrepair, the homes and area became a slum. Easily, they could have been bulldozed, though here in Charleston there is no appetite for modern, ticky tacky boxes. Instead, beginning in the 1940’s, the homes on Rainbow Row were revitalized and restored to the original style, creating unique historical homes that rarely are for sale. The cheery colour palate began with the first house restored and continued with subsequent restored homes. Legends abound about the origins of the choice of palette, some claims say the distinctive shades were necessary to help drunken sailors choose the correct house to sleep.

As we take photos, a horse drawn buggy ambles along the cobblestone street. The guide provides folks with rich historical facts. John with his love of history, looks longingly, ready to jump onboard. Not for the first time today, we vow to return. There is so much to see, to experience, one day is clearly not enough.

The word of the day is foss

We wake without sleep, the snoring around us disturbing our slumber. I nudge John repeatedly throughout the night only to discover in the morning, the snoring was not him. My white noise works without respite. I eagerly pack to leave this place certain that the next place will be better.

We begin the familiar queuing for the bathroom then pack our belongings. I remember to keep my charging cord available. We board a new bus, our bus taken in the night for another group. This one lacks both the latte button and the USB ports, my cord rendered useless and my phone desperately needing a charge from last nights white noise serenade. I take a deep breath determined to have a great day.

Eric tells us the word of the day is foss and it means waterfall. We traverse the path covered just a few days before. We find a couple with a standard car trapped in the water and sinking with each spin of the tires. We implore Eric to stop and help. He does though there is nothing he can do. The car destroyed and the young couple face thousands of dollars in costs for abusing their rental car and the hubris of youth. We are thankful for our transport.

We stop at a familiar waterfall we visited with our friends just a few days prior. We cooled our heels waiting for them, then listened to what we missed in detail. We are thankful for a chance to see what was missed. It’s a good trek though we speed walk through, then take the photos one after another until satiated, then speed walk back.

We arrive back at the vehicle late the last to arrive, sheepishly we make our way to our seat and apologize for making everyone wait. We are determined to set our watches going forward though now understand why we waited the first time around. Our new found perspective provides compassion albeit late. We set off for the next fall as I scan the pictures taken.

Temper your Enthusiasm

We arrive at our lodging for the night, a motel type affair in the highlands. We are advised that we will be two to a room. We are fine with this as we always share a room.   We secure our key, find our room and take a deep breath. John opens the door to a dormitory type affair, two single beds and not much else.  Still, it will only be us tonight.  I’m giddy with the thought of finally getting some sleep.

Single showers and bathrooms are just down the hall though privacy is possible.  We have brought a pack towel, a washcloth sized affair which makes drying ourselves a lengthy venture. Perhaps if we were the size of a small cat this would be more effective?  John speaks to the front desk and learns that we can have towels, bedding and slippers for $50.00 USD each.  We ask if it is possible to get just the towels for a reduced rate.  We are told that this is not possible, it is all or nothing.  It seems extravagant and I tell John my thoughts.  He is adamant and draws his line in the sand, dying on the hill that includes a towel. I relent and we pay the fleecing rate of $100.00 for two thin towels, housecoats, scratchy duvets and nail salon slippers.  The slippers we are told are ours to keep. How exciting, I cattily whisper to John. Still, I decide I will take them home. Normally, I wouldn’t give slippers such as these a second thought, but they are likely the most expensive slippers I’ve ever owned and will serve as a reminder to this extravagance.

We treat ourselves to a hollywood shower and luxuriate in the hot spray.  It is a treat I decide. It is not worth the cost we paid, though at this moment while I dry off and slip into the robe and don the slippers, the experience is a bargain at twice the price. My frugal self tries to justify by deciding it will be our souvenir of Iceland and imagine peppering future conversations with this firm example of the expense of Iceland. The true gift is a reminder of how we take simple things such as these for granted at home and a reminder to be thankful. Money well spent I conclude.

We enter the dining room and discover that a special dinner has been prepared for our group tonight.  It is a sit down meal  and features wine and a variety of courses. The entree is lamb and I quietly advise the waitress that I will be happy with the soup, salad and bread.  She asks if I like fish, I state that I do and shortly a beautiful salmon dinner arrives for me.  This was so unexpected, though such a wonderful treat.

Kommi tells us that tomorrow we will be going deep into South Iceland to a very special place.  He advises us to lower our expectations. He tells us that Icelandic children are taught to have low expectations and are fed a diet of folklore stories passed from generation to generation. The stories reflect the harsh natural environment that Icelanders face and serve to teach their children how to live in an unforgiving wilderness. The children learn through the stories to respect both the spirits of the land, and the natural environment, where earthquakes, volcanos, and extreme weather conditions constantly pose a very real and tangible threat. 

This is so different from my childhood experience, where around every corner something wonderful was about to happen.  I still live like this, well most days, the eternal optimist.

I wonder about the accommodations tomorrow that would have Kommi telling us this tonight.  I decide that we will be surprised with something truly amazing and surely he must be kidding with his grim talk.

Kommi tells us a bedtime story to drive home his point of low expectations. Everyone dies, there is no Disney Prince swooping in at the last moment but rather the last bit of hope by the hero ends with him killing anyone left. Makes me wonder how the story could be told with no one left standing. Reminiscent of Grimms fairy tale we are left unsettled.

John and I enjoy our glass of wine and retire to our room.  It is nice to have privacy as we chat about our amazing day.  No sleeping bags for us tonight as we snuggle down deep. We decide sheets are a welcome change and we don’t miss the added exercise of getting into and out of the bag. Settled we listen to the quiet, though a few moments later, John begins to snore, making up for lost time when he was kept awake from everyone else snoring. My silence shattered, I sigh and turn on the white noise.

Human connection

Masks are no longer required in our province. The vaccination passport is also no longer required and ever so gradually we are returning to the life we led two years ago.

Our innocence is lost and likely it will take much time to go back to what we remember as carefree days and nights. Likely we will never go back completely, we are changed by the experience. The long haulers still struggle for breath, we gather data wondering about their trajectory, still unknown. Some folks can never go back, their lives lost and their family and friends continue to grieve. Some hospital workers have decided there is no back as they embark on a new path for their life. Some folks have to return to the office for the first time in two years amid the soaring gas prices that have tripled since their last commute.

The media has shifted from covid to the war in Ukraine. No longer do we wait with trepidation each day at 1500 to hear the latest numbers, how many cases, how many hospitalizations and how many deaths. The protests have quieted, the shift for some has turned to their new belief that its fake news about the war in Ukraine as their new conspiracy theory.

Yesterday I went to our local Costco. Nearly no one including myself had a mask. How wonderful to see faces. Folks were engaging with one another. Some folks forgetting they didn’t have a mask scowled at times, likely over the high prices of everything, then checked themselves as they realized everyone could see their emotion. They are no longer shielded by a mask. One woman spoke to herself, then when she noticed me, looked embarrassed. Just a few weeks ago her mumbling would have gone unnoticed. We will need to socialize ourselves again.

I rounded a corner and noticed a little one about 8 months old. I immediately made my funny face just as I used to do pre pandemic. His face exploded into a huge smile, his body moved in excitement as he chortled. How much have I missed this? I walked down the aisle after our encounter lighter.

As I moved to the checkouts no longer directed by staff telling me which till, I was stalled. The lady in front of me stood waiting for staff to tell her where to go until she realized choice was hers, then realization she moved and made her decision.

While I was unpacking my groceries onto the conveyor belt, I looked at the lady behind me and remarked how great it was to see faces. She agreed, and I told her,” look at how beautiful you are.” She smiled and said thank you, remarking that she had a bad day and how my words were so needed. She said we are social beings and how much me need to interact with each other. How very true.

For the past two years, I’ve not shopped alone, John has always come with me. The rules, surly staff who don’t engage, except to each other, arrows telling me which way to go and the wary faces on other shoppers made a trip to the grocery store something to endure. Today, I left Costco happy and light. The angst and attitude of the past two years fell away in that moment. Perhaps, we will be alright.

I don’t know the future and whether another new variant will have us masking and distancing again. For now I’m content to enjoy and to fill my heart with these happy moments that fill my bucket as protection against a future when the bucket might need to be drained again.

Shark Teeth

We learn it is rare to find sea glass on South Carolina beaches. We learn though that it is possible to find shark teeth. We begin our search. I ask my daughter what colour the teeth will be and she shrugs her shoulders and says, “white.” We search all day with no teeth found despite our effort.

I research that night and learn though it is possible to find white teeth, the vast majority will be fossilized and black. We begin searching early the next day and soon my daughter is rewarded, she finds one and then soon another. Our son in law finds the next one. I search and search with no luck. As the sun dips below the horizon, our son in law asks, “Can we do this tomorrow?”

We begin the next day. I wake determined to find a tooth of my own, I find four and John finds his first. When found, it’s so obvious. They are shiny triangles. Then not so obvious as I pick up seemingly hundreds of triangle shaped shells and rocks with no reward.

We learn that sharks predate trees. We shake our heads as we wrap our heads around this thought. The fossils we hold in our hands are at least 10,000 years old and some may be upwards of 450 million years old. We learn interesting facts about sharks. They lose 35,000 teeth in their lifetime, they have survived 4 mass extinctions and they are older than dinosaurs. Megladon the name meaning large tooth, existed 20 million years ago and dominated the oceans for the next 13 million years until they became extinct 3.6 million years ago. It is possible to find their teeth in South Carolina. Megladon teeth are as large as a human hand. The teeth we find belonged to tiger sharks or lemon sharks, much smaller than megladon and about one fifth the size of a dime. As I roam the beach looking I think of how lovely it would be to see a tooth easily. It’s the hunt that’s important I decide.

While wandering the beach, I meet a man who asks if I’m finding beautiful shells. I explain I’m searching for shark teeth. He smiles and then tilts his head back as he finds his memory and shares of when his boys were small and together they looked for shark teeth. He says they found Megladon teeth and that his youngest son had a special knack. He said the teeth were easy to pick out of the surf and he had many jars of teeth that he treasures from that time. I think of how the teeth I find will also be cherished by me for their memories of this time. How amazing to hold the tooth, still sharp, the surf unable to smooth its point. When we leave the beach with our treasure it is the first time the tooth has not been in water.

Our son in law says, “I don’t even care if I find one, it’s that I lose myself in the search, my mind quiets, I don’t worry about anything. The movies in my head temporarily stop and all there is to do is look.” I nod that yes this is my reason too, as I continue my search down the beach.

Saving sand dollars

We wake early to the pitter patter of tiny feet. We have slept deep in the cozy bed. The home is light and bright, the day promising to be memorable.

Our plan is the outlet stores, a short drive away. We browse the overpriced shops and see no bargains to snap up. Shopping in the USA has lost its lustre in recent years as all the shops on offer are identical to ones at home. Any difference in price, readily eaten up by the exchange rate.

We browse shops unique to South Carolina and see overpriced tchotchkes. It’s interesting to see, though the sticker shock has us moving along. Our granddaughter, Emma loves rocks and we find a shop, bearing her name and selling the item she cherishes. Our purchases made, we set our sites on the beach.

The beach access has a long boardwalk. A sign announces the rules of the beach. The list not onerous keeps the place free of glass and party seekers whose idea of fun usually includes rowdiness followed by vomiting. The dunes are also protected and folks are discouraged from walking on the dunes and beach grass. The dunes and grass act as a natural fence that keeps the areas behind them safe from erosion. A mat links the boardwalk to the beach, making the rule easy to follow.

The ocean is beautiful and the beach extends miles in either direction. There are people, though the numbers are not large. The water is cold, though we soon adjust to the temperature.

We stroll the beach. Soon we notice sand dollars. I’ve always loved sand dollars though have only seen them when they are dead and dry. Here they are very much alive and number in the thousands. Sand dollars are protected on this beach and folks are advised to only take the ones that are dead.

We soon learn much about the sand dollar. Sand dollars are a type of sea urchin. When alive they are brown to purple in colour. They bury themselves just beneath the sand to avoid predators. When they are in the sand they use their spines to slowly move and search for food. They filter debris from the sandy sea floor, providing a food source to many aquatic animals. Even after their death, the shells of sand dollars still provide a source of calcium carbonate for our oceans.

In many places in the world, it is illegal to remove live sand dollars from the beach. A good way to determine is by picking one up. If they are alive they secrete a harmless substance that will turn skin yellow.

Unfortunately for the sand dollar there is folklore that these were coins lost by mermaids or the people of mythical Atlantis, a city that is purported to have sank below the ocean 9,000 years previous. A legend was also written about the sand dollar linking it to Christianity. On the front are five slits said to represent Christ’s wounds when on the cross and the Easter lily with a star in the middle represents the star of Bethlehem. On the back is the outline of a Poinsettia, often called the Christmas flower. Once the Sand Dollar is broken open, the five “doves” are said to release good will and peace into the world. Likely the sand dollar doesn’t feel much peace and good will towards humans.

We learn that the sand dollar can not be out of water for long. The tides recede and they are exposed, sometimes they can burrow under the sand, though doing this over and over likely exhausts them. Still the average sand dollar lives for ten years. For the unfortunate ones who have lost the battle or are plucked out of the ocean, decor in a home is their fate, their skeletons sold for a dollar or more.

Our group is inspired by the story, “A single Starfish, “ whereby a man walks on the beach and sees many starfish struggling needing water. He avoids stepping on them. As he continues down the beach he comes across a small child frantically throwing the starfish back in the ocean. The man questions, “What are you doing?” “I’m saving the starfish,” the child replies. “Why waste your time?There are so many, you can’t save them all so what does is matter?” argued the man. Without hesitation, the child picks up another starfish and tosses the starfish back into the water. “It matters to this one,” the child explained. Likely the sand dollar can appreciate the peace and goodwill of this story.

We save many sand dollars during our walks on the beach and our recent understanding has us only wanting pictures, not skeletons as memories. No, we could not save them all, though for the ones we saved, it mattered to them.

Hunter and Evie’s trip to the Bahamas

Hunter and Evie were lucky. They got to go to the Bahamas. They were a little bit scared.

Hunter and Evie had never been on a plane before. Evie had some problems going through security. His insides had the airport people puzzled. Dad explained lizards to the Security people and luckily Evie was able to join Hudson without surgery.

Hunter and Evie ate at the restaurant and sat at the tall table. They looked out the window and saw the big planes. Emma and Hudson were excited. Soon it was time to get on the plane.

Emma was surprised when the plane did not blast into the sky and she wondered if the plane would drive to the Bahamas. Soon the plane was flying way up in the clouds and very soon a small tiger and a lizard were fast asleep.

When Hunter and Evie woke up, they were in the Bahamas. Emma told Hunter how much fun she had playing in the sand and building sand castles.

Hudson told Evie how much fun he had playing in the surf

Hunter and Evie were happy to hear about the Bahamas but they wanted their own adventure. Hunter talked to Evie and together they made a plan. Evie and Hunter knew Emma and Hudson would be surprised.

They waited one day until everyone left the room then magically they began their adventure.

Evie wanted money and luckily Dad left some behind.

Evie was thirsty and drank a coke all by himself. He grabbed Hayden’s switch and started to play.

Hunter reminded Evie the plan was to see what Emma and Hudson have been seeing rather than being wild. Hunter was excited about seeing everything!

Hunter had seen the boats from the balcony. He could not wait to see them up close!

Hunter and Evie went for ice cream first. Of course, Hunter had tiger tiger ice cream. Evie picked Rocky road ice cream because the name made him think of the hot rocks he loves to lay on. They sat at the ice cream table and ate their ice cream. It was so yummy! They went outside a found a fancy bench that made them think of ice cream all over again!

There were so many fun things to do, like sliding.

The boats were so big. Evie wondered if $3 was enough to buy a boat for Emma and Hudson.

Hunter and Evie tried out the scooters and zipped around the Marina. It was a cool way to see everything fast.

Hunter sat in the wall and looked at the resort. There was so much to do and see. Evie found a hot rock and soaked up the heat.

Hunter loved the rope bridge. Evie tied him up and pretended he was a lizard pirate.

Evie climbed the rope bridge.

Hunter and Evie played on the rocks.

They had their picture taken at the love swing just like Emma and Hudson.

They swam in the pools and even went down the slides. The serpent was their favourite.

They found some beach towels and a chair and wrapped up snuggly warm after the pool. They soaked in the hot tub too. Evie said it was warm but not as warm as a toasty rock.

They both went down the lazy river. It was super fun when they hit the rapids. They used a double tube so they could ride together.

They went to predator lagoon to see the sharks. They were scary but the Nurse sharks were too full to eat a lizard and a small tiger. Whew, thank goodness!

Hunter and Evie found the sea. They loved hearing the waves break against the shore. They relaxed on the beach chairs, ordered a drink and relaxed.

They walked along the beach. Well Hunter walked and Evie slithered. It was good they were low to the ground for collecting beautiful shells.

Evie and Hunter were so excited about their day out. Very soon Hudson and Emma would come back to the room, luckily they were back in the room before Emma and Hudson arrived. They could not wait to see Emma and Hudson’s surprised faces!

Lazy days

We opt for pizza for our first night. Marina pizza is
located a stones throw from the marina where
excessive yachts are moored. The village has a
variety of over priced shops selling a variety of
wares, including two jewellery stores selling diamonds and precious gems. John and I chuckle, as we cannot afford the yachts it’s unlikely we will be buying diamonds. We loved watching the yachts and the pretty people, munching on our pizza slices, we imagine that life.

All food and drink regardless of fast food,
self service or in person dining has an included tip
of 15% and a VAT of 10% adding 25% to everything.
We did prepay for food and beverage which
provided 30% to our money thus making the 25%
not as much a factor. Still, the prices were high. The
$6 water had us opting for the metallic tasting tap
water. Atlantis provided two lovely metal water
bottles and there were many water stations located around the resort where we could refill.
The water if heavily iced became tolerable.


We had stopped at both a liquor store and a grocery
store before arriving at the resort, buying some
food and drink to offset costs. The prices at the resort in some cases are insane, a small alcohol drink $17.50USD and large $30.00USD. It makes some sense as there are many children present. Folks aren’t getting drunk at these prices and the only folks that could afford the prices are chilling on their yachts, not sitting by the public pool or local restaurant.

We knew the place was pricey though the worst is the lack of any sort of service. A line of 2 or 3 people could take upwards of an hour, as the unknown, illogical system included one task being completed before another commenced. It was painful to watch. There was no urgency as the tip had already been collected.

Our days became predictable. Wake, have our
coffee on the deck overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
Dress, have breakfast, collect our green and white
striped towels and stake out our spot by the water.
We had our regular place for our belongings.

How much fun we have trying all the slides, some very steep, some with an audience where the race for the best time was the challenge, some required a tube. Exciting ones had us darting through a tube where sharks swam above us, adding to the excitement. There were no lines for any choice. We soon learn that the resort is at 30% occupancy due to covid. We have the huge resort to ourselves. It’s difficult to wrap our head around the fact that an area with no one visible is not closed or undesirable. The lazy river is a 30 minute ride through rapids and up and over conveyor belts. It’s another way around the resort without having to walk.

All the pools close at 1700, heralded by a whistle.
Within seconds the pools are empty, seemingly minutes later, discarded towels are picked up and the chairs are lined up perfectly, ready for tomorrow. We muse that this system should be shared with the food and drink service.


We make our way back to our room and sort out our plans for dinner. The options for dinner, pre pandemic require a reservation though no reservations are needed now. We have choice of what is open. Restaurants are on a rotating open schedule to funnel the business.


We venture away from the resort to see Bahamas
proper. We walk up a steep bridge and check out
the marina where we see many sunken boats. The
crystal clear water reveals all.
There is a collection of pop up restaurants under the bridge, serving a variety of seafoods. The locals gather at the small picnic tables and enjoy fresh seafood. There are many conch options and the beautiful pink shells dry by the establishments.
Overfishing in recent years has caused a shortage, though likely with the pandemic and lack of tourists, the conch have been able to make a comeback. Silver lining for the conch.

We find a local liquor store a stones throw from the resort where Radlers are $1.00, we stock up. Most of the small shops around the marina are closed and the buildings are gradually returning to the earth. Bahamas relies heavily on tourism and the pandemic has decimated livelihoods. Locals are happy to see us, opening doors for us. Perhaps like the conch they will recover too.

We return to the resort and find a sheltered cove and lounging chairs complete with a sun cover where we can sit back, relax and listen to the surf. How we have missed this! The sand between our toes, the heat of the sun in February, a cool drink and time stretching into oblivion where all we need to do is enjoy this moment and then the next.

Seashells, Seaglass and Snorkelling

Our favourite place is the natural beauty of the Caribbean Sea where we spend many lazy days watching the sea, snorkelling in the crystal clear warm water and searching for treasures on the beach.

I find my first piece of seaglass amid the beautiful tiny colourful shells and then spend countless hours scouring the beach for more. I soon enlist our travel companions to help in the search. Our 4 year old granddaughter has a special knack for finding unique shells and I enjoy walking with her and her Mom, three generations searching for glass and beach combing.

Generally, in life I move quickly from one thing to the next, though here on the beach I’m completely in the zone. I’m not obsessing over the state of the world, the pandemic, impending war or the protest in Ottawa. My jaw finally unclenched, migraine headaches a distant memory, I pick up seaglass and hold the power of the ocean in my hand. The glass hundreds of years old carries with it the wisdom of the ages, whispering, “just this moment.” Anxiety washes away just like the receding tide.

How incredible is the ocean that can take a sharp piece of broken glass and transform it into something beautiful.

Our eldest grandson purchased a mask and snorkel and practices in the pools. He learns like everyone that has ever snorkelled to keep the tube above water. That the same rules still apply, despite the apparatus, we cannot breathe underwater. He learns to clear the tube and to relax. His excitement is palatable as he sees the bottom of the pool clearly for the first time, comes to the surface vibrating with excitement, proclaiming all he saw so clearly. How exciting to be here for this moment.

Eventually he would venture to the sea with his Grandfather and I. How exciting that moment when we had the opportunity to introduce him to the underwater world. The sea proved more challenging for him with its rolling waves and salty water. Still, it remains the highlight of the trip for me and a memory I will cherish. I love looking at the brightly coloured fish or if there are no visible fish I’m mesmerized by the way the sun plays with the shifting sand.

We enjoyed spending time together and watching our daughter, and son in law excited when they could see fish in the clear water and sharing the moment with their children.

I close my eyes tight and commit this time to my memory. I imagine some time in the future when the frenetic pace returns and a pause is needed. I will play the home movies in my mind and remember this time when life slowed and we were together.

Exploring the lost city of Atlantis

We explore the resort. It is incredibly spacious with each hotel option connecting to the next. Entire hotels are closed. The route predictably funnels through the casino. There are beautiful sculptures, aquariums, ornate light fixtures and high priced shops. There is a wide assortment of restaurants and dining options. There are libraries where folks can curl up with a good book on a rare rainy day. There are spaces where families can gather to play games, watch tv or just lounge together.

Our favourite place is Sun and Ice where each evening ends with rum and raisin ice cream, the best we have tasted!

There are caves to explore with huge aquariums, outside pools where Nurse sharks swim in a circle. There is a nursery where we see baby rays and baby hammerhead sharks. We love watching them swim, everyone has a front row seat.

There is Dolphin cay where dolphins that were rescued from aquariums in New Orleans during hurricane Katrina live. There are pricey options for limited interactions with these amazing animals with their happy smiles and playful manner. We opt for the kayak trip where the curious dolphins surround our craft. We have whiplash turning and spinning to see them. We are not allowed to take any photos, though the photographer takes our pictures which we decline to buy at $150USD. We decide we do not need pricey pictures of us in a kayak and snap off the pictures in our mind to keep them forever.

Everywhere we go, we see nearly no one. Social distancing is not needed as we explore. How different this experience from typical where we would likely be jostling for position and where strangers would be a part of our vacation photos. We feel as though we are truly exploring the lost city of Atlantis.

Bahamas or bust!

The planning began 7 months previous during a time of relative covid calm. The daily cases slowing to a trickle and the open for summer plan declaring perhaps we can now go on a vacation? Perhaps it’s possible?

We set our sights on a plane trip to somewhere warm, content to delay gratification now for a payoff later. Our travel companions include our daughter, son in law, and 3 grandchildren. We plan on a trip to Disneyworld. Our granddaughter, now 4 will have her first haircut in the same place as her brothers’ years before. The happiest place on earth will surely take away some of the stress of the past two years. We plan on Hilton head for the second part of the vacation, providing a chance to live together as a family and enjoy lazy beach days, followed by family nights.

Our daughter in charge of the travel arrangements and our budget, planned, texted, emailed and searched. She found the best deals on flights with the best routes, the best room values, the best transportation options. We booked.

Delta raged in early fall, crippling the hospitals. Our daughter, a RRT worked countless overtime shifts caring for patients and witnessing their last breaths. The disease took their life and still they stayed stubborn to the end convinced they were right. Protestors gathered outside her hospital yelling and screaming while she trudged from her car to the hospital and then back again after her long shift. My job, to be on the other end of the phone. She called on her way to work and again on the way home, where I would try to share her pain and hopefully lessen her load. We would talk about our planned holiday as an escape.

Delta numbers decreased and a lull ensued. Omicron stepped up, changing travel rules overnight, PCR tests, Rapid tests and more. We contemplated cancelling and then calculated the money that would be lost, though more importantly knowing at some point in the future we would plan again and likely uncertainty would be a companion for travel. We decided to defer a decision until after Christmas.

Christmas passed and we discussed our plan. We scrapped Disneyworld for a few reasons. Likely it was our greatest chance of getting covid. We decided on Atlantis in the Bahamas. The water slides would appeal to the kids, the warm weather to everyone. Our granddaughter received her first haircut in Leduc. Our daughter spent countless more hours online, emailing, texting, cancelling, booking, changing flights for 7 people. We set our sights on the new plan. The excitement replaced with anxiety and worry about the many steps required.

Two weeks before our trip, our 3 grandchildren and son in law were infected with covid. Thankfully, they all had mild cases and there was enough time to recover, and receive a physician note for travel. It was a blessing, as now we only had 3 adults that would require ongoing testing before and during our trip.

Four days before our trip we booked our rapid test for the Bahamas. We paid our fee, did a rapid test previous just to know and then did another test because I was certain I saw a second line under certain lighting and at a certain angle. The official test so different from testing previously done, involved the qtip barely in the nare and a slight swirl. We did the test ourself, witnessed by the testing centre and were advised as to the steps. Our results were sent to our email 30 mins later, all 3 negative and now the trip seems real. Time to get excited!

We arrived at the airport with the extra steps of showing our vaccination status and our rapid test results. The airplane offers no food and beverage service citing covid as an excuse. It mattered little as we are travelling at night and are content to sleep with our n95 masks on.

We arrive in Toronto, find a coffee and made our way to the gate. The flight to the Bahamas uneventful though we are offered coffee and a snack. We lookout the window and see the unmistakable blue green of the Caribbean.

We deplane and our driver, Germaine meets us holding a sign with our names. We quickly zip through the city admiring the brightly coloured buildings. Germaine tells us that the majority of Bahamians are middle class and they enjoy a good standard of living. The majority are employed in service and banking. He advises the country is very safe.

We arrive at Atlantis , check in, find our rooms. I open our curtain and the Caribbean Sea welcomes me back. We learn that we will need to be tested for covid in two days. Covid continues to pester though we set out to explore this amazing space.

I set out while John unpacks. The resort soon overwhelms. There are so many spaces though people seem to be missing. I wonder, is it open? Are we allowed to go there? I go back to find John and we begin the search together, our destination, water. We walk through large areas with lounge chairs and pools. There are shuttered food and beverage huts. Not a soul in sight. It feels like the lost city of Atlantis.

We discover the ocean and the rest of our travelling companions. I smile as I watch my granddaughter build a sandcastle, my daughter talk to another Mom and my son in law and grandsons run in the surf. The light at its prettiest shines down on the scene and I’m secure in the knowledge that all the hassle was worth this one moment and the many moments to follow.

Happy New Year!

Christmas has passed, the decorations stored. It’s always a sad time of year where the house feels empty, the parties a distant memory. We stare out the frosted windows and the bleakness of winter stares back.

It’s been incredibly cold this winter, wind chills pushing the temperature to below -40 Celsius most days. The highlight of the day reduced to looking at the weather app and announcing the temperature of the day. We are forced inside, nothing out there seems worth the layering and bundling. The car is frozen and some of our day is spent trying valiantly to start it again. It is a change from huddling by the fire, reading our books.

Omicron is now the dominant strain. Our province battled the fourth wave just a few short months ago when Delta raged. Delta was the wave of the unvaccinated where individual choices crippled a public health system. Many fell, still others’ with mild cases continue to wonder when they might be able to climb to the second floor of their homes. Some were unscathed with mild illness, crowing about how it’s just a cold, blind to the suffering of others’ and, the 5.47 million lives lost.

Omicron while causing staggering numbers has not overwhelmed the healthcare system yet, though the system is in jeopardy as healthcare workers become infected leaving fewer people to work. The complete picture of our future is not available.

People continue to protest. It’s predictable and boring as we scroll on by on our news feed. We ignore the sensationalistic headlines designed to lure. We will not provide a second of the fame they crave.

Cruise ships are bobbing along the ocean unable to find a port to dock. Flights are cancelled, leaving folks stranded. Air travel already onerous since 911, taking off shoes, limiting gels to a small size and endless screening now include negative PCR tests, adding to the expense and shortening the holiday while folks fret, organize and scramble to comply. The rules a moving target.

The news reports advise that we will all likely get Covid at some point, though with vaccinations on board we will likely not die from the virus. The immunocompromised, babies, children, elderly and unvaccinated still at risk for worse outcomes.

In many places in the world access to vaccines is an issue. Developing countries without access, while wealthier countries administrate third and even forth doses, protecting their people somewhat while air travel brings everyone closer together allowing mutated strains to infect the masses. Inoculating everyone in the world is perhaps the better goal.

We are so very tired of this virus and it’s strains as it marches through the Greek alphabet, we wonder when Omega might arrive. Will we need to start another alphabet system or will we finally enter the endemic stage? Time will tell.

Rapid tests are available to test at home though these are difficult to find. The instructions on the package are difficult for many folks, leading to a high rate of false negative tests. We still witness the inability of most folks to wear a mask properly, a simple task. It then follows that testing accurately is out of reach for most.

The news reports are politicized pitting friends and neighbours against each other where a side seemingly must be chosen. I still shake my head when I hear opposition governments state their demands. How amazing would it be if they all worked together and supported one another instead of trying to make points for themselves with no accountability, which might translate into votes at some point in the future. It is divisive and blurs messages that need to get through.

N95 masks PCR tests and rapid tests are the toilet paper of today. It’s curious that despite nearly two years in we do not have a reliable supply chain of items required.

Our world has changed with folks working from home. The home workers seem content to put in a load of laundry, make dinner or any number of distractions, while we try to get service or at least their attention. There is no customer service anymore. There is much pushing of buttons to try to get to the right department only to be redirected to a website where we can fill out an endless form. At completion we are no further ahead and spin again in an endless loop. The wait times yawn into oblivion and complete days are spent on hold, though leave us no further ahead as the call is dropped and we begin the process anew. We can get a call back though many times we are offered a time slot days later. We hope we will be available to take the call when it comes.

I hope that we are nearing the end of the pandemic and perhaps sometime this year we will enter the endemic stage. The last few years, while trying were not the worst years of my life. Vaccinations arrived and with them hope. My husband, our families and our friends are all alive and well. We have been resilient and have made lemon aid when we needed and pivoted when required. We have helped where we could and not got in the way. This to shall pass and we shall be content in the fact that we were on the right side, the side that protects every life and not just our own.

Into every life some rain must fall.

The lazy days of summer begin as I finish the last painting project. It’s been a busy, productive summer. As I swipe the last paint on our new deck project I’m already planning my relaxing fall— reading books,lounging on the deck and enjoying walks with our dogs. just a few more pressure washing tasks, the car and the upper deck.

I attach the pressure washer and haul it up to the upstairs deck just off the bedrooms. I step on the deck. My first step reveals a spongy deck, odd. I look closer and notice a small tear. I phone John at work thinking it’s a quick fix though wanting him to have a heads up.

John arrives home and cuts away a small section revealing rot. He cuts away more revealing more rot, and a colony of carpenter ants who have burrowed into the joists creating paper where once there was sound wood. We cut away more to reveal joists that once were 2×8 reduced to less than 2×4’s with little integrity.

Just like a horror movie, each day we discover more involvement, rim joists and ledger boards lintels, studs and osb. The demolition easy as the nails that once held strong and the wood once sound crumbles in our hands. We discover mold that has snaked through the joists and moved on to other wood, the wall of our bedroom, the wall of our spare bedroom, our living room and kitchen wall.

We worked every night until dark, then fell into a fitful sleep, went to work, came home and repeated. On our good days we counted our blessings, that John is a Journeyman Carpenter and can do the work, that I’m not afraid of hard work, that we caught it when we did. Other days I sobbed, our beautiful home, no longer beautiful and unable to see the end. I looked at the worry and exhaustion etched on both our faces as the situation took its toll. We held each other tight.

We had no idea, though learn and piece the story together. When the house was built osb was put down for the deck, then plywood was put on top sealing its fate. The osb should never have been placed, the plywood only should have been placed directly over the joists. The moisture trapped, the deck never had a chance. Flashing was omitted at the beginning, adding more moisture, this was rectified but its addition created a tighter seal hiding the damage. We had no leaks in the 3 season porch beneath the deck. Our flooring looked rough by the doors to the deck easily explained by the cold North wind and snow piling up against the doors. Still, we saw nothing to give us a clue. Although we carry house insurance, we learn that nothing is covered and we are on our own.

The demolition complete, a good portion of our home lays on our driveway or in the landfill. The walls in the bedrooms removed and replaced, forcing us to the basement where we set up our bed. We begin the process of rebuilding, countless trips to the lumber yard buying lumber, insulation, typar, blue skin, railing, siding, doors and tiles at insane prices.

Still, We have been blessed with friends, family and strangers offering kindness. Our neighbor made us muffins for our coffee and a stew for our dinner the first weekend. Another neighbour helped to build one of many temporary walls needed as we tore out what was left of our supporting walls. Still another neighbor brought us a device so we would know whether an outlet was live—needed knowledge! He also offered to winterize our trailer taking this task off our to do list. A Home Depot clerk gave us a small discount. My sister brought us donut party donuts. Our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren arrive one Saturday when I was at my lowest with coffee, donuts and willing hands. Our youngest granddaughter filled bags with leaves and gave me a much needed makeover, complete with sparkly nail polish, a definite improvement. Our grandsons moved lumber, our son in law removed soffits, our daughter and myself loaded rotted wood on their toy hauler, then they took it to the dump. Our son in law’s brother worked here every day for three weeks. John’s work gave him two weeks off, as we raced against time to get it done before the snow arrives. John’s coworker also a Journeyman Carpenter came and worked refusing any pay. We are thankful and surrounded by generous souls.

Tomorrow the Insulators come followed by the Boarders, mudders, tapers and Electricians. We will continue with siding and outside trim, though will get some respite until it’s time to paint 5 rooms, install trim, doors and of course the mammoth task of cleaning. This too will pass.

Our dogs have brought us daily joy as they still need ear rubs, belly rubs and cuddles. Everyday we smile at their antics. They have adjusted to the few hundred square feet of home we have left and by example have taught us that together we are our home.

It’s not how we imagined our favourite time of the year. Still, everyday we have enjoyed the beauty of the changing colours, the transient ducks on the pond and the Geese nearly ready to fly south.

As our province is ravaged by covid and protests are seemingly everywhere, we have hunkered down at home where the din of the world is reduced to a whisper. We navigate our way through our own crisis, blessed to have skill, health, friends, family and love for each other. The memory I shall keep is the night we realized the scope of the project. My husband said to me, “you are the wife I always dreamed of, a true partner.” I know he is the husband I dreamed of marrying. He finds the joy, makes me laugh and holds me tight when I fall apart. Love always wins!

Cautiously optimistic

We are now nearly 16 months into the pandemic and finally the restrictions in our province will be lifted on Canada Day, July 1st. It seems like the perfect day, freedom and celebration from the long dark days of the pandemic.

The lifting restrictions came in three stages, that were all tied to vaccination rates. We reached the magic number of 70% vaccinated and two weeks post will herald the last and final stage. It is the only one that has mattered to me. The end of masks in most places, freedom to go into stores, to invite friends and family over for dinner, to hug. It’s exciting and yet just like the beginning a bit scary. Change is never fun even when it’s positive.

We have planned for a family gathering and everyone is excited. We have done our own risk analysis to determine our choices and booked this for two weeks after all eligible family members have had two vaccines. The children, 6 of them will not be vaccinated though they will not have been to school for over two weeks. We will finally meet our latest great niece, 7 months after her birth.

It’s encouraging that the majority of folks admitted to hospitals are not vaccinated. We know for certain that vaccines work as our daily numbers continue to drop. Not so long ago the numbers were four digits, now just two.

We are cautiously optimistic though have learned to temper our enthusiasm. We look to other countries to see what our future might look like. Still, we are no longer glued to our news feed in the morning. In the afternoon, there are no longer daily updates from the province. Our heart is lighter for the lack of news.

The other day I felt a bit of normal as I walked downtown, only a few folks wearing masks. How nice to see faces, how nice to feel the breeze on my face. The traffic is back, everyone has somewhere to go, something to do.

I think of the beginning of the pandemic bringing hand sanitizer wherever I went and now where hand sanitizer is everywhere. I use it more than previous. I think of how my last respiratory illness was December 2019 and hope that folks will continue to stay home when they are sick, wash their hands and that the numerous touch surfaces will continue to be cleaned. Perhaps the silver lining of the pandemic is that we have learned this?

My daughter, son in law, my husband and myself worked through the pandemic. My daughter and I both RRT’s made ourselves useful. I have to admit there were many sleepless nights as I worried about all of us, putting ourselves in harms way on a daily basis. We decided in those dark days that when the pandemic was over we would travel together to celebrate. We are now cautiously booking and planning this trip.

As we reflect on the 16 months, we have learned so much about ourselves, each other. My husband and I have relied on each other and grown closer. Our grandchildren have shown us resiliency as they transitioned between school, to home schooling and back again. Our daughter and son in law created a bubble for their children where the uncertainty of the world could not penetrate.

We have worked hard, this the one constant. We have become better at working longer, boundaries fluid as our home office calls to us after hours and we relent. We have forgotten how to socialize, how to have fun. We are learning this again as we set boundaries between our work and home life. We look to the future, though plans are generally spur of the moment as the future still feels too uncertain.

I’ve asked people what they are looking forward to most at the end of the pandemic and have received a multitude of answers as diverse as the people answering the question. Some are excited about travel, no longer wearing masks, no longer being worried for the health of their loved ones or themselves. For me, it’s opening our home to large gatherings, to see our friends and family, to laugh and hug. I look forward to friends and family’s pictures on Facebook of trips and gatherings and the joy in every post. How about you?

Vaccinations

We are now 15 months into the pandemic, the world totals for infected people and deaths continue to rise. In some parts of the world at an alarming rate, in other parts, slowing to a trickle. The news includes vaccinated persons, ticking upwards, each shot in the arm we move closer to reopening and resuming lives that have been paused.

The vaccinated numbers are encouraging, greater than 60% in our province. The second doses for many are scheduled and a plan in place for the remainder. I’ve been vaccinated since January waiting to resume my life until the masses are vaccinated. Hope is coming and I can see the light where once there was only dark.

Folks who spent the pandemic flouting restrictions, marching for freedom from masks, and against anything and everything have recently lost their soap box and with this their funding for clicks. It’s encouraging to see the rules do apply as fines and jail time have been imposed. We are thankfully leaving this behind.

The three stage plan from the government hinges on enough people being vaccinated. Each outlined step, detailing increasing freedoms and a return to normalcy. My eye is focused on the final step where masks are no longer required, lines are not necessary, gatherings are not restricted and finally we can open our home to vaccinated family and friends and hug and hold each other. What an epic gathering this will be, as we begin the process of healing and talk long into the night about all we have done to get to this day.

Our hospitals have just finished battling the third wave. I worry about the staff, morale and whether many will decide that there are easier ways to make a living when this is over. It has been such a long road. In hospitals now, the vast majority of patients have never been vaccinated. These patients, now are grappling with the consequences of their choices.

As I think of my daily tasks, the minor list seems daunting. We have adjusted to this new way of life and now the end to the pandemic that we have waited so long is overwhelming. We wonder how we ever did so much in a day? Will we ever be comfortable with a crammed schedule, endless errands and just getting dressed? We will adjust, the resiliency of the human race has proven this over millennia, of this I am certain.

There will be much time for reflection. How did this happen? What could we have done differently? Why did some people try to do all they could to help, while others’ used the time to protest? There will be books and movies on the subject. There will be much finger pointing. We will learn as we approach the days after tentatively knowing this could all happen again if we choose to ignore our own history. Having lived through this time I will be content to take a break from the news for awhile.

My husband and I have a bottle of champagne waiting until he is fully vaccinated. It has been chilling in the fridge since New Years Eve. It seems fitting that we celebrate this milestone together. John, my pandemic partner. We have relied so much on each other, reading the news together, listening to the daily updates, going to work, nervous we would bring the virus home to the person we care about so very much. We have propped each other when needed, and have hugged, danced, laughed and cried together. We are stronger as a couple and choose to be thankful for this gift we have received. The champagne will taste so sweet.

We are close, stand strong

My husband is a huge history buff and as such we have spent many hours watching shows, movies and documentaries. Our library is chock full of books on a multitude of historic subjects.

History is interesting because you know at the outset how it ends. Still, I will the ending to change. So many times I silently scream, “just hang on—the allies are coming—soon you will be free, don’t go on that ridge, into that village, don’t get on the boat—get in the life boat, get out of the country.” Though my silent screams do nothing, history unfolds.

We must always learn from history as it does repeat itself. The messages throughout history begin as a whisper and then become a roar we cannot silence

Today we are nearing the end of the pandemic. Many countries have vaccinated large numbers and while herd immunity has not been achieved in any country, the combination of vaccines and border closures have allowed countries who have walled themselves off from the world to return to a semblance of cautious normality.

Some countries prematurely announced the end, though it was not over as the virus ravaged and case numbers increased along with the body count.

We are tired of this virus, tired of restrictions, so very tired. We want our lives back and are angry that our chance to create an island of protection by halting all flights at the beginning or even in the middle were rules lacking teeth. The Swiss cheese loopholes clearly large enough to drive a truck or even a plane through.

I have realized I have a limited amount of energy and am using this energy to cheer my family members and friends who one by one have received the vaccine. I no longer devote any energy to folks who refuse to take the vaccine, refuse to follow rules and who change the narrative to suit, they are not my people. I’m happy to share any knowledge, though have learned that people who post provocatively do not want information, just a soap box to spew. The world will sort them out, through limitations that in many parts of the world are already being rolled out. Along with their minds, their world will become small.

Our tiredness has many thinking what difference does it make? We meet with our family, friends and justify our actions by any number of reasons and rationale. Unfortunately, the virus too finds the perceived loophole and with the end in sight, we stumble, some of us fall and never get up again.

Years from now when movies are made and books written about this time, people will read the words and watch the images and the story unfold, silently screaming, “stay home, stay safe, take the vaccine, don’t get on the plane, the holiday can wait, the gathering can wait. You are so close, just a little longer.” Stand strong.

Hope

We are now at 135 million cases and nearly 3 million deaths worldwide. The numbers may not be accurate, as in some parts of the world cases are under reported. Perhaps, in some cases over reported? Still the numbers are staggering. If we take into consideration, and we were able to see the world without covid and with covid simultaneously, the death numbers would be much higher with covid, as healthcare worldwide is slammed and many treatable illness in better times are not treated adding to the tally.

Mental illness is at an all time high. The isolation of the last year adds to the death toll. These are facts.

Mask debates, freedom, rights are constantly in the news as folks change the narrative to suit their own personal agenda. Provocative posts have us responding whether we use words to try to educate or not. Many times we scroll by though are upset as we muddle through our day. Do people really know the damage they cause or do they even care? When did we stop caring about each other?

Vaccine rollouts are in a race against covid, the variants taking hold and winning making all of us more vulnerable. How protected are we? Hopefully, we will be spared from more severe outcomes, hopefully we will not die.

Nursing homes are more protected now as the majority of seniors have been inoculated. We no longer have widespread outbreaks. It’s working. At the beginning of the pandemic, the residents not allowed or able to go anywhere were sitting ducks, while staff made excuses for their trips or gathering with friends bringing covid into the Senior’s home. The Residents with no escape were vessels for their selfish choices.

Our province has locked us down again, though the numbers soar and soon will overwhelm our hospitals. People will die, people will become infected, people will be long haulers. Still people make their case for their choices. It’s a conspiracy, it’s not real, masks don’t work. I wonder about those naysayers and what happens when they get sick, or someone they love. Do they apologize, change their tune, or just carry on as planned?

Money has been given from both the federal and provincial government. The amounts staggering. I wonder how many nay sayers refuse the money, take a stand on social media? I’ve never heard of one. It does appear as though their line in the sand is fluid. Their firm stance, not so firm at all.

We have learned that masks help. The last time I had a respiratory issue was December 2019. There was no seasonal flu last year. People washed their hands and for the majority their cough was covered. They stayed home when ill and didn’t spread their illness to others.’ Who knew we did not have to get sick every year?

We should all be wearing n95 masks and goggles for best protection, but there is not enough. Some folks get on that bandwagon and blame the government, though the reality is most can’t don and doff or wear a surgical mask appropriately. I do not have faith we could move people to the next level, given an unlimited supply of n95 and goggles.

Some folks say that they can’t isolate at home as they can’t afford to be off work. This has my head shaking. It’s okay to infect someone, have them die? How much is a human life worth? For some it would seem not much. I wonder when they look at themselves in the mirror do they like who they see?

There are many countries in the world where masks are not mandatory, where everything is open. There is no universal healthcare, where care is bought with cash. Where there is no financial net. Perhaps naysayers, freedom fighters would be better served in those countries, as those countries rules or lack thereof are more in line with their way of thinking? Yet, there is no mass exodus. The plan instead to bend the will of a developed country and to alter the rules to suit their own agenda.

Some of us have made hard choices this past year, given up things, though we are tired and losing hope. Will this ever end? What does the end look like. Many now have whittled their friend list, as it’s exhausting to have a daily dose of vitriol. When this is over we will need to recover both financially and emotionally as a country, as a people, as a world.

I wish that when folks spewed off their thoughts that they first qualified it with how they come to know what they do? For instance if they prefaced their words with their qualifications, “I have minimal education, no science background, but here is what I know.” Perhaps the weight of their words would flutter away?

I’m fortunate, I work with educated people , Respiratory Therapists, Respirologists, physicians, Nurses, folks with science degrees. I work in a hospital, physician offices and have a daily dose of what is true. I have my own education as a Respiratory Therapist and know how to read data, stats, peer reviewed papers. I see people with Covid, suffering from the long term effects of covid and counsel people separated from their family members who are in hospital. My information is real, this is real. Wake up people.

For some folks covid is only real when it is them. Some will extend to folks they know. If one person changes their mind to the reality, there is a ripple effect and maybe just maybe the life you save might be your own or if you care someone you love?

Since the beginning of the pandemic I’ve carried with me family, friends and patients who likely would have a worse outcome. They have been in my prayers, my thoughts. I’ve said goodbye to some of them. I have been there for the people they have left behind. The vaccine is rolling out and one by one I’ve been able to set them down as their turn arrived and they thankfully, gladly took the shot. They may still get covid though they are likely protected from the worse outcomes. My load is lighter.

Vaccines offer our only hope. Our one chance to end our current reality and go back to our lives before, changed for certain. A chance to travel, stop wearing masks, to hug one another. I look forward to that day. In my minds eye I see the party we will host for our friends and family, our home open, our arms open as we envelope them and rejoice that we made it. Each knowing individually and collectively we did what was necessary to get to this day.

121 Million

We are now over a year into the pandemic, the numbers continue to rise. 121 million infected and 2.68 million deaths. There are also 69 million recovered, though 10% or 6.9 million fall under the category of long haulers, those folks who continue to grapple with the effects of the virus, coughing, debilitating fatigue, body aches, joint pain, shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, difficulty sleeping, headaches and brain fog. I’ve met some of them, usually young, previously healthy individuals who were not hospitalized, and had a “mild case,” though wondering if their lives will ever return to normal. Their constellation of symptoms is being studied though there are no answers today. I wonder how many thought that they would be unscathed because of their age, their good health?


The vaccine roll out is now in full swing and hope is on the horizon as many roll up their sleeves to take the first dose available. Still others hedge their bets waiting for their preferred vaccine content with zero protection versus 62% now. There are still not enough vaccines for everyone. We wait, watching the variants take hold, now 11% of all cases in our province of Alberta and the numbers surge upwards. Everyday, I devour the news and planned rollout, hoping that soon my husband and family members will have their turn, though wondering if the virus will outsmart the vaccines as the variants take hold.


As I scroll through the news I’m angry how is it that the variants which began as one identified case have now swollen to 11% of all identified cases? It seems clear to me that many people continue to adjust the rules to suit their own agenda. In order to win the war against the pandemic we need to think in terms of “we” and “us.” Some folks are firmly in the world of “I” and “me,” speaking out about their “rights.” I shake my head as their choices impact all of us and our rights. Their quick stop into the store, their gathering of friends, their trip, their unwillingness to wear a mask puts many at risk. Some of the people they encounter will die, some will carry it home to their family or pass it on to people they have never met and yet there is no accountability. There is blood on their hands though they will never have to do a face time with a dying relative, counsel someone who struggles to breathe months after they are COVID free, or attend a pared down funeral.
We do live in a free country, as long as we are of sound mind we can make whatever choice we want; this holds true until our choices impact someone else. Some people just can’t wrap their heads around this fact.


We need 80% of people to choose to take the vaccination, less than this number we will not achieve herd immunity, all of our efforts will be for naught and we will continue with our current reality. Some people legitimately cannot take the vaccine, these are small numbers and we need to protect these people by taking the vaccine. There are folks who refuse, they don’t like needles, who believe it’s a conspiracy, their body, their choice. The news in different parts of the world have now refused entry of unvaccinated people into restaurants, sporting events. There is talk that in the future only vaccinated people will be permitted to fly. I applaud these tactics, as the establishments state firmly there are consequences to choice and they need to protect the health of the majority of their patrons instead of an individual’s perceived right.


Some folks board airplanes refusing to wear a mask properly. The Stewards and Stewardesses plead with them, carefully choosing their words and tone, delaying everyone else. Eventually, the plane returns to the terminal to return the patron. Many of these instances are stunts where a video is shared and goes viral, the “hits” more important than the safety and inconvenience of others.’ The airlines are on to this trend, not allowing the videos to be created, the happy settlement cheque does not materialize.

We have given up so much. Our annual Easter egg hunt is paused again. The tradition now seems to be the lack of the celebration. We don’t bother to book a vacation as the eventual cancelling of the trip leaves us sad. My husband has not seen his Mother who lives in a long term care facility for over a year. We rarely see our children, grandchildren, siblings and friends. The happy events of the past are blurred, the future remains uncertain. Still, we are relatively unscathed. There are many people who have given up and lost much more, graduations, weddings, funerals, their livelihood, their health or the ability to comfort a loved one during their final breaths. This was all preventable, if everyone just listened at the beginning and followed the real rules, not the ones they created to suit. There is still time.


I wonder if we all just did what we wanted, ignored the recommendations, refused to hold the line. If we were all individuals, every man or woman for themselves. I hope I never have to live in that world.

The road has been long. Please do your part, not just for yourself but for everyone.


The latest

100 million

We are now 10 months into the pandemic and the numbers continue to rise worldwide. In August we had 19 million cases, today we have over 100 million cases and just over 2 million deaths. The numbers are staggering and difficult to wrap our heads around. In perspective, the number of cases represent nearly three times the population of Canada. The death number, the entire population of both Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The vaccine has arrived though the roll out is slow. There is not enough to go around. The scarcity has each province prioritizing who gets the vaccine. There are two doses needed so more people are vaccinated leaving a shortage for the second dose which may not arrive in time. This is stressful for many and adds to anxiety that is at an all time high worldwide.

I’m fortunate having received both doses though feel guilty for the gift and wish everyone who wanted had the same opportunity. I have made myself available as a Respiratory Therapist to be useful, to give back for the gift I received.

I have been deployed and in a full circle moment find myself working in a hospital where I received my education over 30 years ago. Never did I imagine I would return to hospital work. I hope I can be helpful, not get in the way, be a burden. My new coworkers are a mix of people I’ve known forever and people I helped train. We share stories of back in the day. The first few shifts completed I am encouraged that perhaps I can be useful?

At the beginning of the pandemic our borders were closed. Canadians tried to find their way home and many waited for Canada to save them to bring them safely home. The borders have never fully opened and yet folks continue to travel for a variety of excuses. This is not the time for a holiday as many unwittingly bring the mutated strains of the virus home with them. We are not certain if the current vaccines will be able to cover the new strains. It is a full circle moment where the first cases were linked to air travel though soon became community spread. Have we learned nothing?

Our politicians enjoyed their warm destinations though they were not alone as the flights were full of Canadians who fled the winter and enjoyed sunning themselves on a beach. As we packed up our Christmas tree and decorations that only we enjoyed and that were up for over a month to bring some light into the dark, we became angry at the selfishness of people. Although we did not need the government to tell us the right thing to do, it appears as though many, including the government needed the government to tell them what is the right thing to do in a pandemic. The irony is not lost on us.

Christmas has come and gone. The weather has turned colder and we stare out the windows at the bleakness of winter. We have sacrificed so much, though it appears as though some people have sacrificed nothing as the numbers continue to rise. Our next family holiday, Easter though we have no joy in our hearts as nothing has changed and the cheerful events we have enjoyed in years past will likely be cancelled for the second year in a row.

The conspiracy theories continue though most are ignored. This approach is best as we scroll on by. It appears as though they have joined a cult as they tote out the same words and lines. My compassionate self feels sad for them and hope that they gain clarity and understanding someday. I hope that more are not dragged into their vortex causing more damage. Time will tell.

Our government may impose more stringent rules regarding air travel and perhaps people need the government to dictate their lives and tell them what to do. It will be predictable as this opens the opportunity for people to protest and march and vent their anger as they adjust to the rules that the majority of us have been following since the beginning. The simple truth remains, all we can do, is all we have been able to do since the beginning, do our part, help where we can, not be a burden, wash our hands, wear our masks and limit our contact with people. For the love of God, do your part, hold the line.

The Spirit of Christmas

We are now 9 months into the pandemic. Our former lives have faded. We have adjusted as best as we can to our new world. Our species is resilient and have proven this over millennia.  We will survive, of this I am certain.

New restrictions have been imposed twice in the last few weeks. The lockdowns heralded by speculation, causing panic buying, queuing at the stores. I stand in a long line, the panic palatable around me as we wait to pay for stuff. I look down at my cart and mentally go through my inventory at home. I don’t need to be here. Still,I remain, my rationale self a whisper.

I listen to the news on the way home waiting for the announcement from the province. The radio station fills the waiting time with fluff, no one listens. I wonder if anyone will listen to the new restrictions or will interpret to suit themselves.

The announcements come, restrictions predictable. The backlash from the public will follow.

What an impossible task for our leaders. I did not vote for all the current leaders, though this is not the time to bash them, to try to over throw the government. At their core, they are human beings trying to navigate us through a crisis, trying to keep us safe. They are balancing every aspect of our life, health, safety, wellness and the ability to support our families.   Not just for the day, but for all the days that will follow. The backlash is cruel at times and although Politicians and leaders are likely used to not everyone agreeing with their policies, the constant attacks on their personhood must chip away at the tough skin they wear. We need to get behind them or better yet do the right thing to help each other. We don’t like our medicine though it must be taken.  Years from now we will pick apart each decision with our 20/20 hindsight, but for now we do not have this in 2020.

The constant debates about everything is exhausting. The protests have me shaking my head. My compassionate self wonders how difficult it would have been living in the pandemic with no knowledge or any understanding of what science is or proper research. I think during the time of the great plagues how everyone must have felt frightened, trying to fight an unseen foe.  I cannot separate myself from what I know and understand, gleaned over a lifetime. clocking over 30 years as a Respiratory Therapist and growing up in a family of health care persons. There never was a before.

My Mom a Nurse told me about how her career began with the polio vaccination and how that vaccine offered Hope where there was none. My career began with the AIDS outbreak, how amazing when treatment arrived. I still see some of those young men in my mind and carry with me their frightened faces as they died, many without their friends and families and only healthcare people to witness, offering comfort where we could. Initially we did not know how Aids was spread, people were afraid. The world attacked the people who were infected.  There were many cruel things that were said in the media, to their faces. They needed us and we failed them.

We have been planning for this pandemic for most of my career. We knew it was coming, the when was the wild card. We prepared the best way we could. The proposed field hospitals, redeployment of staff, bringing back Retired healthcare personnel, cancelling surgeries was always part of the plan. It is not poorly thought nor is it grasping of straws or the fault of the present government. It is the harsh reality.

I am in awe of the vaccines that are providing an early Christmas present to many.  How incredible is science and how different is this pandemic than previous ones that tried to annihilate our species.  Every bright and brilliant mind has been working on  finding a vaccine and now we have several with likely more to follow.  This was the only thing that they worked on, this was their focus, they were given all the resources they needed, and were successful in their task.  We should be applauding their work.  I shake my heads when folks speak of how rushed this was and then how uneducated folks immediately jump to the conclusion that it is not safe.  I loved how the first person, a 90 year old lady inoculated in the UK said that she was doing this for England.  I will be happy to take this vaccine just like every other one I have received in my lifetime.  How fortunate are we to live in this country.

I worked in intensive care units and during my time only once were we not full. During y2k we cancelled surgeries and our normally full unit had only a few patients. Every other day it was full or bursting and always short staffed.

As the numbers of COVID patients increase in our Province, many are cared for in hospital and in Intensive Care units that were full and now are overflowing.  The staff test positive leaving dangerous levels of staffing left to do what must seem like a herculean task.  I think of my colleagues and my daughter, a Respiratory Therapist and worry for them.  How difficult it would be working in these high paced environments where there is not enough of everything, trying valiantly to do their best shouldering the responsibility of people’s lives,  while the public protests about anything and everything.  How nice to have the luxury to complain, point fingers and take no responsibility.

I think of people dying back in the early days of my career and how if their family wasn’t there, I would sit at their bedside while they died firmly believing no one should die alone. I know I’m not alone and many health care professionals share this belief. I do wonder now without family in many cases the toll this is taking on the staff, sharing a phone so a patient can call their family to say goodbye and then sitting by their bedside to witness their last breath, then moving on to the next patient. We are human. The vitriol surrounding health care is unnecessary though I understand the term essential worker is a hot topic. Financially we have weathered the pandemic better than most, our jobs reasonably secure though our souls are tattered, our anxiety at an all time high and we too worry about our families, friends and co workers daily. We try to educate the public, though learn no one is listening. Perhaps their education will come later with the lens of time?

Historically, we have always had protesters, nay sayers, conspiracy theorists, folks taking a germ of truth and twisting it to suit their own narrative. History largely makes no mention, it takes some digging to find out present society is not unique. What is unique today is social media and the internet where this information is stamped forever. I think about folks who spoke against masks during the Spanish flu, vaccines during the polio epidemic or the war effort particularly during WWII. They were wrong, though I suspect they sanitized their own history to their descendants Today this is not possible. I remember my parents often quoting , “Life is like a field of freshly fallen snow, be careful how you step because every step will show.” Today more than ever.

My life has not changed much since the beginning of the pandemic. I go to work, come home and buy groceries from time to time. I wear a mask and have done long before the government mandated. In the summer we saw some friends, a couple at a time. Since the rising cases my husband and I see only each other at the end of our day and breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the week.  We are content to be free from wearing masks for the weekend as we hunker down at home. Perhaps, we made it another week without being infected we hope.

I see patients who had “mild cases” who wonder when life will return to normal. Their shortness of breath, lack of smell and exhaustion persist. The virus lives in them and we do not know the trajectory. I hear of patients who died from this virus and send a prayer to the heavens for their soul and for the people they left behind.

Christmas is coming. I wait for this time each year. We will not be able to see our friends and family. The tree and house are decorated and have been for a month.  The outside Christmas lights are never turned off, they provide light and joy to us though perhaps they also provide light and joy to someone else?  I know that our neighbours lights have me smiling remembering Christmas’s past. I think into the future where there will be so much to celebrate.  My favourite part of Christmas is witnessing the miracle of the season. It is a time when for at least a short time, people stop caring only for themselves and instead look to help others’.  In my entire life I have never failed to witness this miracle. I send my wishes to the heavens that in this year of incredible change that this one thing will remain constant.

Finding Joy

We are seven months into the pandemic. At the beginning our losses were daily and difficult as we navigated the new world that changed overnight and then again and again until the world was not familiar. Today, nothing is as it was before, we have adjusted. There is nothing that is off limits anymore, though there are limits to everything we do. We can shop, but need to wear masks, we can travel if we are willing to have testing, isolate and then test again. There are some work places that insist on a longer isolation on our return, though this could change. There is no travel insurance, though we have heard that there is insurance and wonder about the cost. We fantasize about a warm country where we could lay on a beach and wonder whether it’s worth the hassle and risk. Our logical brain takes over. We think of how stupid we would feel sick in another country with our tan. The world is in the middle of a pandemic, safety is closer to home, not in some country that is grappling with their own struggles. There are no jumbo jets in my near future, though the jumbo sized hand sanitizer welcomes us into the shops, the shortage of hand sanitizer a distant memory.

In some stores we still need to follow arrows as the aisles are too narrow. I still find myself walking in circles, back tracking and getting annoyed. I prefer stores where I can walk freely. I wonder though about the viability of small stores as I’m likely not alone in my annoyance. I deal with the annoyance at times to support these stores hoping they do not have to shut their doors completely.

We do not have to line up outside at the majority of places as the restrictions to the number of people allowed is no longer small. I hope it remains this way as the cold north wind blows and waiting outside is no longer pleasant.

The mask use is universal. The mask debate is no longer news and everyone who needs to buy something or engage wears one or are denied entry. The masks are mostly properly worn with the face covered, though at times we still see them under the chin or with the nose hanging out. These are rarer instances and allow for something different as opposed to a sea of covered faces. Its interesting to see all the different colours and styles and in this manner, it shows personality, individuality and humanness.

My mind jumps from one thing to another, the difficulty is staying in the moment and concentrating. I think I’m waiting for the next change and bracing and preparing to avoid being blindsided as I was in the beginning. My fight, flight is still clicked firmly to the on position. I get irritated easier, loud noises cause me to jump. Deep breathing and relaxation help. I know I’m not alone. We watched the first few flakes of snow out our windows, the bleakness of winter stared back, our anxiety notched up.

Today after I completed my errands, I trudged back to the car, sadness blanketed me. I wondered why? It occurred to me that the very thing that is missing everywhere is smiles, interaction and children How many times did we smile at one another before the pandemic? How many times in a given day did we reach out to each other, chat about the weather, ask the age of a child, or about an item we were about to purchase. I used to make funny faces at little ones while they sat in their shopping carts. Some people have learned to smile with their eyes, though this is not universal. Most people don’t even look at one another and if they do it is wary rather than warm. We can do better.

At the local McDonalds drive through the lady serving me had a mask, I did not. I thought of how nice this must be for her to see faces and smiles everyday. The distance greater than 6 feet, the worry less, though the need for human contact fed with each customer.

At the off leash park, the parking lot is full mid day and mid week. There are no masks needed, the vastness of the park makes social distancing easy. Everyone is smiling, the dogs, the people, and I smile back, a grin pasted on my face easily making the transition to my eyes too and lightening my heart.

I passed a man and briefly we stopped and chatted. I said I think that this is the last happiest place on earth. He smiled and said he had not thought of it this way, but perhaps I was right.

As my dog and I were leaving the park we met up with another dog and her owner. We chatted about the things our dogs do that made us smile, how old they were, how much they enjoyed this place. Our pace slowed to allow her dog to catch up, though she was barely moving. The lady smiled and said that her dog always walks very slow as she nears the exit of the park, wanting to savour the moment, to have it last. I decide to find my joy where I can too, as I slow my pace to linger just a little longer today.

Silver linings

There are many ways to approach the pandemic. The news bombards us daily with divisive headlines, mask debate, school debate, political debate, riots and protests. It seems as though the world has lost its moral compass as everyone struggles to find center ground again. People blame the government, their neighbours, strangers, finger pointing is rampant and yet none of this changes the very simple fact. COVID-19 has hunkered down and will be with us for awhile. Of course there are debates on how long that will be, the headlines today suggest the “cure” is just around the corner, or that it is all a hoax, somewhere therein lies the truth, though the water is muddied by the volume of “news”, the message lost.

We watch the headlines as the numbers of people infected nears 19 million, the death toll remains high, people queue to be tested, still others are off on a holiday and a chance to feel normal again, though soon find that COVID-19 is everywhere and reminds us that the holiday we yearn for is not the same, the masks a constant reminder that we have changed nothing, just the locale.

People struggle with masks, some say that they cannot wear them for health reasons, though this seems at odds with the reality. Some wear them beneath their nose, under their chin, on top of their head and we shake our heads. I learned how to properly don and doff PPE over 30 years ago. I remember back to the beginning of my education and how many errors I made while learning. Compassion and education is needed, gentle reminders, perhaps even videos while we queue in line? There are so many opportunities beyond laughing and shaming. We laugh at folks who wear them in their cars and yet perhaps they have many errands to run and wearing the same mask helps to conserve? We must not judge especially when we do not have all the facts. The lesson is compassion for our fellow man if we choose to listen.

We have hunkered down at home and life has returned to my youth, a slower pace. We have less desire to keep up with the Jones’s and more need to find joy in simpler things. We finally get to the list of projects around the house. We build and develop our own yard to create our in house holiday destination. No masks, no social distancing needed and no reminders that the world is in turmoil. We have not distanced ourselves from the news, though spend less time reading the political spin. Our days consist of going to work and then coming home, no stops required. We buy what we need and no more. We no longer browse and buy for the sake of buying and are happier and richer for the change.

We have backyard BBQ’s though the guest list is limited to a couple at a time, the night rich with laughter, talking and listening and really spending time with each other. How different from previous parties where we scarcely had time to say hello to our guests before we were saying good-bye. The mountain of dishes waiting to remind ourselves that we had a good time.

We see facebook updates where people have chosen as their holiday destination remote areas where they hike, bike and swim. How different from previous where a drink on the beach was the preferred photo post. How amazing to see our own Alberta backyard and appreciate all we have without constantly striving for what we believe must be greener grass on the other side.

We read labels and try to buy local when we can. We no longer strive for exotic goods instead are content to support businesses who struggle under the mounting cost of PPE, cleaning supplies, reduced staff and reduced hours. We want them to remain viable and are loyal. We shop at farmers markets, the taste reminding us of our youth, when a raspberry tasted like a raspberry. We planted our garden and now enjoy pea pods, kale and spinach The sweet taste of a warm tomato just off the vine says summer to us. We sit on the porch with our popsicles and savor the simple pleasure of this iced treat.

We grow our own mint and perfect the mojito, the price much less than the cost at a restaurant without the risk.

We talk more with each other, our relationships key. We have learned to live in the moment and then the next. We look for the silver linings that this virus has forced us to learn and although we wish for the world we once had, we are cautiously optimistic for the future. The silver lining is always there if we choose to look and on this subject we still have choice.

7.8 Billion stories

At the beginning of the pandemic, glued to the news reports, stunned silent by the changing world.  We watched with horror as the number of cases and dead ticked upwards.  There was no time for the political spin, the data raw, truth, while the words not spoken shouted, “what next?”  Our answer, we don’t know and our anxiety notched up.

Stores shuttered, the world’s population on lock down, shaking our heads as we wrapped  around the reality that this was the entire world, the entire world.  We stand in lines yawning into oblivion, patiently learning the new way of the world, apart, though together in our quest for hand sanitizer, food, toilet paper, human contact.

As essential workers, we dressed, showered and went to our places of work constantly aware of touch surfaces. Was it yesterday that we touched seemingly everything without a care?  Our hands raw from sanitizer though wondering is it really enough to ward off our unseen foe?  We worried at ever turn that we were exposed, exposed someone else.  The virus, invisible, though lurking at every corner.  We longed to be home.  Outside my office window, the world had stopped.  The normally busy avenue reduced to a couple of cars.

We imagined the non essential workers at home, safe, though with more time to spend looking at the news, paralyzing themselves with fear. Every day the fear of the marketplace stronger, worried if they would have a job again one day and then trying to live on the government money offered and wondering when that money would end.

We watched with horror as our Prime Minister gave away daily our children’s children’s money and wondered how the future would look?  How we would pay it back?  How many generations would bear the burden?  We think about people in developing countries with no money from the government, their income stopped, how would they survive?

The news our lifeline, “What is happening in Italy?”  “USA?” “Europe?”  Blindsided as we were by the beginning, we didn’t want to be caught unaware and so devoured everything on the pandemic.  Would we ever travel again? We watched with terror our hard earned investments tumble, making us poorer, the future uncertain and the thought of any travel unlikely.  Our borders closed, our thoughts turned to Canadians trying to make it home without success, stranded on cruise ships bobbing along in the ocean without a safe port.

The stores we used to frequent not available, restaurants offering groceries for sale, we sometimes took the risk though were left with the fear that in our quest for normalcy we exposed ourselves, exposed others.

With every sneeze, cough, sore throat we wondered if we had the disease, if our affairs were in order.  We wondered if we did get the virus, would our life be spared, would the people we loved be spared?  How many of us would be alive at the end?  When was the end?

We baked and cooked more, bread, cookies, sweet treats and indulgent dinners laden with cheese, fat, and carbs, while our waistlines expanded.  Exercise videos and new gym equipment had us thinking we would emerge better, healthier people, then quickly tossed aside as our thoughts were crowded about whether we would ever have our lives back as they were, then wondering if we really wanted all the parts of our former lives, then eating more bread and comforting ourselves again.

Our hair grew, our roots exposed, we took to cutting and colouring our own hair sometimes with disastrous results.  Our best results we shared on social media.  The worst hidden for now in the cocoon of our homes.

We communicated online with photos of us in happier times, family photos, vacation photos, graduation photos from before and memes where we would find the humour in the situation.  Most days it was a reminder of what we had lost.

We imagined harried parents of school aged children, setting up zoom meetings for their kids, teaching without training and trying in the face of fear to shield their children from a world of no touch, uncertainty,  while wondering if they could pay their bills, would they lose their homes?

We thought about the young adults that would graduate this year without celebration.  Their friends so important at this time of their lives, reduced to face time and facebook updates while they sheltered with their parents, their planned summer jobs on hold, the future uncertain.  This was likely not how they imagined this milestone year.

We thought about couples who planned for a wedding in 2020 and how those dreams ended overnight, postponed until next year without a certainty that next year will be any different.  We think about couples that married anyway in small ceremonies without their grandparents, friends and families to witness.

We wondered about people who are homeless throughout the world and how sheltering in place is not an option.  People whose homes are abusive and staying home means more time for abuse without end.  We thought of marriages that were barely hanging by a thread unravel completely, the first order of business, divorce.

We imagined life in nursing homes, with no checks and balances, their occupants wondering if they truly had been forgotten. The disease ravaged through, the death toll ticked upwards.  People who had forgotten many things, and soon would forget the people that they loved, the window closing.  We brought flowers and chocolates and glimpsed them through a window, our heart full, our fears allayed, for a brief moment, though wanting more and leaving sadder wondering if we would ever hug them again? Would they know us if we did?

We thought about people admitted to hospitals alone, then dying alone all across the globe though especially where the disease had a stronghold, their final breaths not witnessed, their last moments fearful as they left this world unlike they came into it, alone.

We thought of the funerals, the loved ones left without comfort while they grieved, standing at the grave site and then going back home to be alone in their grief.

We thought of the many developing countries we had visited and with growing understanding realized their fate much worse than ours, bodies stacked in the street, healthcare non existent, dignity gone, while the disease devastated.

We watched movies and recoiled as we saw on the screen, groups of people and were fearful for them until we chided ourselves, its just a movie from before the virus, social distancing was not needed.  How quickly we had changed.

We hear, “the new normal,” though know that this is not normal.  We are unwilling to accept this as our way of life.  Normal will only be when this is over we decide, though we are unable to see through the labyrinth of possibilities as to how this will end or when.

We hear about how a vaccine is just around the corner and though we wish we had the naivety to believe just for a moment, we know that this is not the case.  The narrative created to provide us with false hope, though hope all the same.

We watch people using masks incorrectly, wear them in their cars, stores, and hate the masks and what they represent. The gloves drive us crazy as they and their mask counterparts are littered in parking lots. The rules in the stores change, the plexiglas screens go up, the arrows tell us which way to walk.  We forget something, try to back up, but its no use, we walk to the end of the aisle, then to the next aisle, then back again, where we again forget the item and abandon the idea completely.  The store shelves bare and we panic wondering if we too should be buying up the place, our rational selves take over and we walk on, though hesitate and wonder if we should walk back.

The lock down is lifting. I travel to work, my commute longer, the parking lot crowded.   I travel in the elevator with another passenger, the first in many weeks, we avoid conversation.  I expertly use my knuckle to press the button, avoid touching my face and then use hand sanitizer once I leave the elevator.  Outside my office window,  traffic accidents, sirens and the cacophony of sounds from a bustling world are heard.  Traffic snakes and slows through road construction, tempers flare.   The silence is missed.  My coworkers and I discuss our plans for the evening, the week-end, our options greater, something to look forward, to not take for granted. The myriad of choices yawn though we choose the safety of home.  The virus remains, our present normalcy could end abruptly just as it began, or it could change into something worse. Still,  I shall hang onto the words of a good friend who said at the beginning of the pandemic, “happy days will return.”  We can still hope.

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The Golden Circle, Iceland

We reluctantly leave paradise discovered for our return trek to Reykjavik.  John and I decide we would have liked several days in Landmannalauger to further explore this unique landscape. Sadly the decision is not ours and we reluctantly board the vehicle.

We bump along the lava highway and gradually return to civilization.  Today we will see the Golden circle.  It is what most people see when they layover in Iceland for a day or two.  It is easy to find and follows a predictable route. The roads are tame, though glutted with tourists.

Each stop is surrounded by gift shops selling their wares for prices that are not fathomable.  We browse, not to buy but to win the game of finding the most expensive/least valued item. The quality is excellent though the stickers leaves us shocked.

We stand in a circle around a large geyser then snap pictures along with the rest of the crowd.   Predictable oohs and awes surround.  We quickly bore of this and try to get away from the throngs in search of something unique, though everywhere we go, more people follow.  We see beautiful waterfalls, though the crowds make pictures difficult.

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We decide there isn’t much to see though we have a generous amount of time to kill.  We peruse the menu of offerings each more expensive than the other.  We decide to have a coffee and a cup of soup and pay $45.00 for this luxury.  The soup is good, the coffee good, though we shake our heads at the cost, savouring every bite and every sip.

We have signed up for a caving experience through a lava tube and have the opportunity to walk the way the lava once flowed.  Others in our group have opted for a snorkelling experience and still others decide to explore on their own.

We don our hard hats and turn our lights on, careful to not look directly at one another with our blinding beams. Kommi leads the way. I stay close behind to hear all the highlights. The footing is tricky and twisting an ankle is a real possibility.

We arrive at a spot and wait for the group to catch up. Kommi notices a boulder perched precariously and encourages quick movement through. The stragglers, oblivious to the danger continue their leisurely pace, taking photos and enjoying the experience without the knowledge.  At this moment it occurs to me that walking through a lava tube is quite dangerous and perhaps a foolish risk. I’m reminded that Iceland is an active volcano and begin to assess the danger,  a little late.  I conclude safety would have me on terra firma above.   There is only one way out and I don’t know the way.   I decide to put one foot in front of the other, and not think.  My feet are on their own as I cannot see them, though feel the uneven ground with the soles of my feet. Each step has careful consideration before its execution.  Kommi asks which way we should go, as we stand at a fork.  I point one way, though am wrong. I think of how terrifying it would be if I were alone searching for a way out.  Panic would reign supreme I decide. My main goal is to shadow Kommi for safety, slow my breathing and not make a spectacle of myself.

We stop and wait for the rest of our group. Kommi has us find a spot to sit. I look over at John and smile, he looks stressed and grimaces in response. I’m puzzled then it occurs to me I’m seeing fear in John for the first time. If John is scared then I’m panicked.   Kommi then has us shut off our lights and we plunge into darkness. I close my eyes slow my breathing and settle myself reminding myself that soon we will leave the earth and the feeling of being buried alive for light.

The exit eventually arrives and we crawl out of the earth and stand on solid ground. John is rattled. We discuss the experience and decide this lava tube is both our first and last and we mentally tick off the experience from our virtual list.

We arrive back in Reykjavik. Predictably, the place looks like different, though I know it is the same.  We have changed for the richness of our experience

28 in the bed and the little one said, roll over…

We awake early, enjoy breakfast and gather our stuff and find our seats on the bus.  The days have become routine, though the scenery constantly changes. We set off for Landmannalauger deep in the highlands.

We stop at waterfalls leaking from the hills surrounding.  The landscape in Iceland is unique.  It is a country that is constantly changing, its surfaces rough and wild with a beauty that continues to evolve. It is difficult to stop taking photos.  At every turn something demands attention, a closer look, a record.   At home, our landscapes have a more polished look, touched by man and decorated to suit, beautiful in a been there seen that sort of way.

The road quickly changes to a path where the curves have us trusting the process without seeing the whole picture.

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Soon the road deteriorates and we travel on a path where a volcano spewed itsIMG_3497.jpeg contents. The flow hardened and became the road. We off road over pot holed roads with boulders and rivers to cross at every turn. I look out the window straining to see where we are going though there is no discernible route. It is a rodeo ride that gets tiring as we bounce along. I sit up alert believing on some level my focus is helping Eric drive.

We arrive to sparse development.  We are away from the crowd and this place is the only place we have seen since our motel this morning. It would be impossible to have a typical hotel here as the logistics of bringing everything needed across the road we just drove is not possible. It is a minor miracle there are any structures here at all.

The mountain hut is new fitted and well built.  We are told we will stay here. The place is locked, and I take the time to walk around the building, looking in the windows to see what is available.  My expectations high, they begin to become more realistic. There are a few separate rooms, so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

We enter the structure and are instructed as in all Iceland dwellings to remove our footwear.  We oblige and are further directed to a room. We walk in and see group bunk beds on each side. There are 8 thin, narrow mattresses on each top and each bottom, making this a hopeful space for 32 people. I think about tents with their pie in the sky pronouncement–sleep 6, when 3 is more realistic. There are wooden hooks on the walls where we can hang our packs and small shelves above the mattress for gear that needs to be more accessible. We learn that all 28 of us will sleep in this room.  It is a lot to take in at once.  Now I understand why Kommi felt a need to advise us to lower our expectations.  I claim an upper bunk by the edge of the structure.  John takes the space next to me, so I will have a familiar body next to me. We all know each other through hiking and travelling, though sleeping together is not something we have done before. How fun something like this would have been when we were all several decades younger.  Still, our age has us knowing that we can survive this, it is one night and will add to the richness of the experience and memory.

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We share this mountain hut with several groups. There is a central cooking space complete with a long table for sharing. There is no washroom in this building though it’s a short walk away. There is a natural hot spring another short walk away. Behind the mountain hut, the hiking trails beckon.

There are a variety of trails to choose. It will all be new to us as we set off. The terrain is rough in places, at times narrow. Soon we arrive in another world. The hills are green, not covered in moss or foliage but rather the stone is green. Soon we spy a purple one and inspect. It seems other worldly. Eric tells us its obsidian or dragon’s glass. It seems as though we have walked through the pages of a fantasy book.

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I love looking at shapes in rock. Here, everywhere I see trolls. It is believed that Trolls only work at night and must hide before light. If they do not they become immortalized in stone. I can see several examples of dawdling by trolls.

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We climb to see hot springs and bubbling cauldrons, of rocks that beckon us forward. We summit to the top and I can not believe my eyes. Everywhere I look is beauty, the mountains appear painted, 360 degree body slamming beauty. I take photos, though also take time to imprint the memory and to see.

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We descend, the weather slightly colder, the ground wet. It is tricky getting down, we wait for everyone, no man left behind. We trudge along, the scenery pretty though the bar is raised considerably after what we just saw.

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We arrive and shiver as we pass people in tents, our warm hut beckons. We enjoy a dinner cooked by our guides, then a relaxing soak in the natural hot springs complete with natural jets as the water pulses through an opening just at the level of my lower back. I settle. John and I lean back and look at the night sky dotted with stars. We imagine Northern lights completing the picture, though the moment is perfect without this cherry on top.  Landmannalaugar

We dress for bed and brace ourselves for the night to come. A hopeful young girl in our group cheerfully says, “well as long as no one snores”. I decide she will find out soon enough and let her enjoy hope for a little longer.

Lights out and the next moment it seems I’m awake to the light of day. I’m surprisingly well rested. Around me people are stirring, some look like sleep passed them by last night. John tells me the snoring was a symphony, and that I joined in the fray. Perhaps this is the key?

 

South Iceland Hidden people

We are giddy with our day of trekking on the glacier.  Satisfied we look forward to our lodging for the night.

We off road and soon the road is not obvious as we lumber along in our top heavy vehicle.  It reminds us of the safari in Africa where we lurched along the bumpy roads.  This we decide more of a Disney ride, though we are glad we are not driving.  There are various streams that we cross with our fancy vehicle made for this terrain.  Eric gets out to check the stream before crossing and we are thankful that he also values his life.  We relax knowing we are in good hands.

We arrive and negotiations begin, though it is not clear what is being negotiated.  I read the body language just outside and try to determine what is happening.  Soon we learn that the majority of us will be in one lodge with two rooms to share between 16 of us.  We will sleep in bunk beds, eight to a room.The remainder of our group will share a cabin with 4 people each.  It is disappointing and our excitement of the day falls away while we try to process the logistics of sharing a washroom with 16 people.

We gather our gear and remain hopeful as we explore the space.  It will be dry we decide on the plus side, that side remains with its solo item as we list the many negatives of the arrangement.  We leave for dinner determined to make the best of a bad situation and decide it could always be worse.  That night we learn worse as the cacophony of snoring keeps us awake  all night.  I download a white noise app and decide that the cost is worth the few minutes of rest obtained.  Too soon it is time to wake and we queue for the bathroom and some privacy to get dressed and ready for the day.

Our friends on the opposite bunk begin their day with a coffee and sit cross legged on the bunks next to each other as they begin the day with a smile.  They are clearly better at making the best of a situation and there is much to be learned.

We eat breakfast and then begin our hike into the hills.  It is straight up with relatively few switchbacks, our breath pumping we climb.  I prefer the quick up even with the work of breathing as in no time we summit and marvel at the view.  I decide to stay very close to the front as it seems there is always time for a break.  If I travel closer to the rear, by the time I get to where the rest is, we are on the move again.  Eric has an easy gait and it is easy to follow close.  He points out vegetation, sites, and information on the area.  Kommi, our other guide brings up the rear.

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We arrive at a cave and we all crowd in to listen to stories of Huldufólk, the hidden people or Elves. It is interesting to hear and I think how nearly every culture has these types of stories to keep children in line or safe.  We are told how there was an area in the farm where Kommi grew up.  He was told it was a place for the Elves and he could not go there, so he did not.  I wonder as Iceland is a volcano if there was instability in that area of the farm.  My speculation matters little as generation after generation of his family never ventured to that area.  The small houses we saw earlier make sense now as they are the homes for the Elves and are throughout Iceland.  It is serious for the people of Iceland much like our superstitions are to us, black cats, ladders and cracks on the side walk come to mind.

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We leave the cave and trek back, wide open space abounds.  We are tired from our day and look forward to falling deep into sleep in our cramped quarters.  Perhaps it will be better we decide as we try hope on for size.

 

 

Hurry Hurry Wait

Our group of  28 wakes early to begin our trek to hunt the Northern Lights.  There is much excitement at the Foss hotel as we view our rides with their larger than life tires.  People pass by and gawk, at our too large carbon footprint.

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I still have not wrapped my head around what is expected of us for this leg of our journey.  The vehicles have me puzzling as I had thought we were trekking from place to place. Still this country is vast with not much in between places. We have been told to pare down our gear and over half is separated and will be placed in storage.  Now  begins the all too familiar game of trying to figure out where item A is and if its in the stuff to go or the stuff that is now in a warehouse.  I sigh, perhaps it won’t be needed? Our small backpack holds the essentials for the day, I hope, and we are off. Eric expertly navigates and soon we leave the big city of Reykjavik for vastness. I look behind at where we were, knowing we will be changed when we return.

The vehicle has plugs for our phones and I dig like a dog for my charger that I sadly discover is in one of two places, the warehouse where I will see it again in a week or piled at the back of the bus inaccessible for the foreseeable future.

Eric, our driver draws our attention to an odd button and says it is for lattes, then laughs, everyone else laughs too, though I remain hopeful waiting until no one is looking and press.  Nothing happens, I look out the window, wondering when our hike will begin and hoping I am up for the challenge.

We arrive at a waterfall. I hoist my pack, secure it to my back and sigh as I disembark.   John is close behind.  We are told we will have 30 minutes here. It should be enough to climb to the top, look around and come back. We are off, though not alone as we queue to ascend. Some folks are making a day of the climb, we scamper around them, the time tick ticking. We arrive to the top and are treated to view the top of a beautiful waterfall complete with rainbow. I happily snap pics though also take in the view. We quickly descend as my eye is on the picture prize of the waterfall from below.

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We scamper down the stairs and rush over to stand in queue. I breathe in and out loudly as the long queue snaps one selfie after another, the time tock tocking until finally our moment arrives. I snap a few pictures, then we rush back to the bus on time though we cool our heels while the stragglers catch up.

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We make a plan to stay in the moment and will see what is possible as opposed to everything available. This plan we believe will have us much more relaxed with chances to see and experience the scenery in real time instead of at home when we scan through the pictures, removed from the place, at our leisure.

 

Downtown Reykjavik

We wake early and collectively clean the Airbnb rental, our many hands make the work light.  The property looks better than found and we are pleased to leave this representation of who we are as people.

We venture to downtown Reykjavik, its a small area, though in comparison to the suburbs where we have been staying, its a busy, happening place.

Chaos reigns at the Foss hotel as we arrive en-mass with our too large luggage and too  many questions.  The hotel staff are patient and kind, calmly addressing our concerns and answering our questions.

We opt out of the city tour, culling ourselves from the herd and opt in for time together.  We are giddy with the knowledge that we can explore the city, lingering as desired or speed through the boring bits in favour of what is around the next bend.

We are drawn to the water and happen on the Reykjavik version of, “sealed.”  This is where lovers seal their love with a lock.  The scarcity of locks have it looking like twelve people lost access in stark contrast to Amsterdam where masses  of locks declare love abounds.

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We find a beautiful, octagonal building and join the crowd taking photos of this artistic building, from every angle.  We browse the high priced, tchotkes and the prices decide we are not in a buying mood.

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We amble in and out of shops, browsing.   I choose a too pricey Icelandic pony Christmas  ornament and hand  it quickly over to John to pay before I change my mind.  John is fascinated with the Christmas story of the Elves and we buy a copy for our grandchildren.  It is always fascinating how different cultures celebrate Christmas.  There does seem to exist a commonality in that the traditions all seem to be designed to keep children in line.

We decide to visit the Mariner Museum, John is excited to see ships and artifacts from long ago. We pay our fee, the self directed tour begins in the gift store, odd as it usually ends thus.  We set off.

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Quickly we learn the museum is dedicated to the fishing industry, interesting, though not interested we glance at the items in glass cases and try to get into the tour by listening to the audio.  We both put on a brave face, moving through the museum quickly.  We eye the fish skin shoes and boots, perhaps they have gone too far, I decide.

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The tour ends and we spill out into a restaurant.  We quickly  try to find another way out, we are trapped, the only way out is through. We decide the cost will  break our budget, though wait,   I hear only Icelandic voices and spy a buffet of fish, vegetables–a complete meal. We inquire as to the cost and are surprised by the reasonable price.  The food is excellent, made in small batches and features an array of fish cooked perfectly tender.  We high five our good fortune and pronounce the Mariner’s Museum a highlight of our self directed tour as we sit back and eat like locals.

Trekking Iceland

Our group of 28 wakes early to begin our 5 day trek.  We enjoy breakfast and most excellent coffee before returning to our rooms to stuff the remaining items that have spilled out into our too large bags.  We have needed to cull our gear, paring it down to a small bag and sleeping bag for each of us.  We are not clear on the type of accommodation, though have made certain to have everything on the list provided.  I think into the future and wonder which item I will wish I had and which items were not necessary.  There is always room for improvement in packing.

Our group has hired Arctic Adventures.  Our drivers and guides are Eric and Commi and have briefed us yesterday, answering the majority of questions. We are picked up in large Mercedes buses with huge tires.   The vehicles are impressive and create quite the spectacle as strangers snap pictures of our ride.  I’m concerned about where we are going that we will need such a ride, I kick myself mentally for not researching more.  I wonder if we will be trekking from point A to B, our luggage trailing behind us in these fancy buses.  This country feels vast and I wonder how many hours we will be walking daily.  I decide it’s a little too late to worry about it now.

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We board the bus.  Eric, our driver points out the latte button.  A chuckle ripples through the bus, though I test it anyway, wouldn’t want to miss a chance for a latte.  Sadly the pushing of the button is futile and it still is not clear what the button does.

We travel to Skogafoss waterfall and John and I sit back and enjoy the ride.  The bus is top heavy. We list across the road, crossing the centre line and then Eric regains control  and the vehicle sways as it sorts itself out in the proper lane, only to repeat the process again a few moments later.

We arrive and are provided with a time limit.  It is just enough time to climb to the top of the waterfall, take photos, climb back down, walk to the base of the fall and then back to the bus. We move quickly.   The waterfall is breathtaking complete with a rainbow.

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Our next stop is Gigjokull glacier.  We don crampons, are fitted with a harness and helmet  and grab an axe.  We walk a short distance, stop and attach our crampons.  We listen intently to our easy to listen New Zealand guide as he explains potential dangers.

Its tricky at first walking with crampons, though our Guide provides us with two visuals, “Walk like a gangster,” when walking down an incline and plant our feet like “a baby dinosaur stomp.”  Perfect visuals that easily are recalled when we start to lose our balance.  We remain upright.

There are many small and some larger crevices.  Our Guide explains that crevice is a French word that means, “Big bloody hole”  We are mindful of where we step though are mindful we lack the expertise to read the snow and ice correctly.   We rely on our Guides to keep us from falling into the abyss.

Our axes though super cool to carry are idle as other Guides chip stairs for us to ascend and descend.  We thank them as we pass, and walk on the stairs making our journey easier and safer.

The landscape is like walking into a black and white world after living in technicolor.  It looks like a charcoal drawing, complete with smudges.

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We climb to a high spot where our guide slams two axes into the snow traversing a small stream.  He demonstrates how to drink water like a Viking.  John gives it a try.  I wait, not wanting the audience and waiting for our group to lose interest.  I know that my plank will sport a swayed back, though I want the experience.  I drink the sweetest water I’ve ever tasted.  John and I look at each other then dump our water bottles in favor of this water.  I wish I could take more.  We are informed the water is approximately 500 years old.  I wonder if all water tasted this sweet all those years ago.  I know I will remember this taste for a long time.

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Our Guide has found some mud and John and I don this soft mud under our eyes, like the Warriors we are. We then dinosaur stomp and gangster walk our way back to the vehicle.  This experience has us feeling like children.  We arrive back to the beginning changed.  Our smiles and eyes bright, I wonder if there was something even more  special about the water.   We pronounce this day one of our very best days, a terrific beginning.

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South Iceland

We wake early with a plan. Our group of eight is a well oiled machine, eating, showering and tidying in shifts. I save time by not coaxing the finicky fancy coffee maker for a beverage. It mocks me, I avoid eye contact and drink out of the community carafe and enjoy my morning skyr.

We venture to a waterfall where we have the opportunity to walk behind the falls. The ground slick with rocks and mud, every step is calculated. It’s a busy, happening place where  long lines snake the route. We stop for photos, jumping out of line then continue nose to tail through the predetermined route.

We finish then patiently wait for our friends as we sip a $10 coffee. We troll the gift store, a kings ransom for nearly nothing. Our new game is to find the most overpriced item. A hat wins, $90.00, it’s nice though not worth the amount.

After a delay our friends arrive. They have ventured to two other falls while we cooled our heels. We are annoyed and I voice our displeasure. We decide on future time limits to keep us all on track.

We set off for the ocean and black sand beach with its amazing cliffs and caves flanking the sides. We have read about sneaker waves and John and I take photos solo while the other is charged with vigilantly watching . The ocean is powerful though some people didn’t get the memo as they climb the rock structures away from land. Its always interesting how people foolishly think there is always a net for them.

We listen to the pounding of the waves, mesmerized. The timing of the waves becomes predictable as we set up our next photo learning to watch the water and soon learning to notice the build of waves before they crash on land.

I look for seaglass though am not rewarded. I suspect it’s there though closer to where the waves break.  I would need to risk life and limb for pretty garbage and decide its not worth the risk, though I spend some time wondering if its possible.

We leave after our predetermined time to our next destination where our car navigates a twisty road. It has no shoulders and barely enough room for two complete with steep drops off on either side. At times we shift forward in our seats urging our little car that it can.

The view is worth the effort as we happily snap photos before beginning the journey down

We arrive in Vik, a small quaint town surrounded by jaw dropping landscapes and spy the sea just beyond. The restaurant, Sudur Vik is predicatably expensive like all food in Iceland. We have had several days to get used to the money we will spend on this lunch.

I open the menu and as always have sticker shock. I have the money, though can’t spend $45.00 for chicken opting instead for a couple appetizers a bargain when compared. John asks if I want wine. I point to the price, he orders me a glass anyway, perhaps I need it I decide. The food is fantastic, though I suspect the high price influences our taste buds.

We leave, tour the town and find a gift store where the prices shock us anew. I buy a small book on Icelandic horses telling myself I deserve this luxury due to my frugality at lunch

We begin the journey back to Reykjavík. Gilles keeps an eye out for Icelandic ponies and I’m touched. We pass many ponies, not enough, too far away. I’m disappointed though not destroyed as I scroll through the beautiful pics I already have on my phone and leaf through my beautiful pony book.

We round a bend and a field of ponies awaits complete with a rainbow, there is something for everyone. Our small group is patient while I snap pictures, pet and shake my head in disbelief as the light intensifies, the ponies appearing golden.  I feed them grass for their efforts.

We leave a crowd behind us who have stopped to spend time with the ponies and return to Reykjavík satiated with all we have seen.

Kayaking in Iceland

We booked a kayak tour. Our group splits into two groups, morning and afternoon. I’m happy to be part of the afternoon group and enjoy sleeping in a little longer. I begin my day fighting with the fancy coffee maker and enjoy a latte for my 30 minutes of effort. I sit at the table and enjoy my crime brûlée skyr, a cheese type product, its consistency similar to Greek yogurt.

Our group decides to tour a nearby lighthouse though arrive too early, the tide still out making the journey not possible. We salvage the moment by scavenging the beach and soon are rewarded with sea glass.

We journey to a nearby park and stop for a walk. We spy a beautiful waterfall and hear excited children’s voices as they enjoy a last day of summer. It’s raining, we bundle up against the cold and shake our heads at the Icelandic children, clad in bathing suits playing in the water. I wonder if it’s a hot spring? We check and find it cold. Little Viking children we declare.

We leave to arrive at the kayak site, a small bay where we will need to portage our kayaks a distance. Hordur, our guide is friendly and despite his years, stronger than all of us as he pulls our crafts into the water, one after another. The kayaks are narrow, able to track fast though tippy as a result. We mention this to Hordur who simply states you will get used to this fact. He is right as the alternative is getting wet in the frigid water.  We weigh our options, an Eskimo roll, beyond our capabilities or removing the spray skirt upside down if we upturn as we are wearing the boat.  Survival instinct takes over as we glide through the water, balancing the craft with our hips

We are off on this grey day hoping to see seals, or puffins or something else equally as cool. We paddle around easily and then fight a current to cross to the other side for no other good reason then to get to that side. There are many seabirds, flying above, leading the way to our obvious direction. We learn the puffins have left for the season and the seals that were here this morning have also left. I enjoy the paddle anyway, it’s cool to be kayaking in Iceland I tell myself. Soon there is excitement as Carol spies a seal. There are many such citing and I seem to miss them all. It is time to get back.  Reluctantly I leave, then look behind where a seal has decided to follow me, making certain my kayak experience is memorable. I decide to take no photos and instead snap off a few photos for my memory where when recalled is certain to make me smile.

Western Iceland

We wake early, the house already stirring with our friend’s morning activity.  The kitchen is cramped with its too large table.  We make it work eating in shifts.  I fight with the fancy coffee maker and am victorious for my efforts.  I try for a beverage for John, the coffee maker says no can do and I give John my hard won coffee and enjoy one from the community carafe.

We have rented two cars and today will travel to Western Iceland.  John and I are with Maxine and Gilles, the married couples, the other car with the 4 single girls, Carol, Coleen, Laura and Maureen.  We have wifi in each car and can communicate.  We set off to explore the magic of this country.

We follow each other, then a stop needs to be made and we twirl around, lose each other, frantically text one another and find one another again.  We still have not left Reykjavik, though finally  we find our way out of town, Gilles expertly navigating the traffic circles that come one after another.  Traffic calming devices that do little to calm.

John and I sit back, relax and allow Gilles and his co pilot, Maxine to expertly guide.  We have a large itinerary today, each vista more beautiful than the last.  I can’t stop taking pictures and even take pictures out of the car window, a practice I never do though the scenery begs for a photo and I happily snap away and comply.

We stop at Snaefellsbaer and I begin looking for sea glass.  John finds the first piece and the game is on as I search for more.  Maureen shows me her finds, more than me, now I have competition.  Soon, Carol and Maxine are hooked and now the small amounts of glass on the beach will need to be shared with the growing group of sea glass aficionados, eagle eyes necessary, I employ John’s sharp eyes for my team.

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We spy some pretty horses and stop to take photos.  They are lovely with their don’t care, long hair and remind me of friendly puppies as they amble to the fence for petting.  The Vikings brought this breed of horse to Iceland. They are the only horses that are permitted in Iceland, thus the breed remains pure.  Their pretty hair with their perpetual baby look at odds with their strength.  All the horses are owned, though they appear wild except for their friendly manner. I learn that every summer the horses are set free in the highlands where for several months they are free to be their own community.   In the fall, the owners band together to gather the horses, sort and return them to their owners.  In this manner they stay wild, though strangely relaxed.  I think about the horses at home, high strung, perhaps they could benefit from this practice?

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We stop for lunch in Arnarstapi and opt for a tailgate party of homemade sandwiches.   We huddle behind the car eating out of our kitchen trunk and save money not eating fast food fish for $25.00 each where we could huddle outside stand up tables in the rain.

The area is beautiful, scenery surreal, it appears as though we have walked into  a postcard. I spy a lion in the stone with his grassy mane. The scenery beckons and I comply. I no sooner take one photo thinking how beautiful when the next photo presents itself and wins the prize. We reluctantly leave the area, check the time and realize that our set itinerary was too ambitious. We negotiate between two sites, majority rules and we set off for Saxholl crater.

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We arrive and are greeted with stairs yawning towards the heavens and I’m thankful for the stair training I have done, happy to not shame myself. The rise and run is off though gradually sorts itself out. The view is stunning and we take in all 360 degrees, happily snapping photos. Soon we are satiated and decide everyone should count the stairs on the way down. It’s comical as we all come up with a different number.

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It’s late as we return to Reykjavik with its never ending traffic circles we twirl even certain of our destination. It has been a great day I decide as Maureen and I compare sea glass and I scroll through today’s cache of photos.

Iceland Roomates

We arrive in Iceland.  The view from the plane depicts a small village with not much going on, such a contrast from Amsterdam. Perhaps it has secrets to explore we muse?

Our friends have arrived early this morning from Canada and kindly wait in Keflavik to chauffeur us to Reykjavik and our rental where eight of us will share the space.

Soon we are zipping along the highway trusting the GPS navigation to lead us to the correct place.  We twirl around, get lost, found again and arrive.  We haul our too large bags in and settle into our spacious room where it appears we have won the bedroom lottery.

A few of us venture to a nearby grocery store to buy provisions.  We rely on the GPS unable to argue and blindly follow directions and turns that seem to come too soon.  “Turn now,” I implore as Gilles going straight has to make a hairpin turn to keep up with my directions.

The store is our first look at prices in Iceland.  Despite what is said about the high costs in Iceland, nothing prepares, a king’s ransom for nearly nothing.  We bite the bullet and buy less than we might have, had the prices been reasonable. We have to eat we decide. Coleen strokes the chocolate bar she has chosen for herself and I wonder if we will learn that less is more in Iceland.

We return to the rental.  John and I have brought cheese, meat, crackers and wine from Amsterdam to share with our friends, pricey though after the grocery store trip, much less than Iceland.  We sit back, relax with each other.  Our conversation begins where we left off,  the way it always is with great friends.

Carol has bought Brennivin, also known as black death, or burning wine. It is 40% proof,  a  unsweetened schnapps considered to be Iceland’s signature drink.  Generally it is served on special occasions and taken as a shot. Today is special as it marks the beginning of our newest adventure together.  Carol pours each of us a large tumbler.  A small glass of wine leaves me tipsy, so I decide to sip.    It is smooth and reminds me of the sipping gin John’s grandfather drank. I decide the sipping method works better for me as I would like to remember tonight.  John with his higher tolerance, drinks like a Viking all at once. “Skal,” we shout as we clink our glasses and announce the beginning of the adventure.

I smile, sit back, let the couch swallow me whole and relax while I think about how we met.  We  answered an email about an adventure to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and trained for a year, physically and mentally preparing ourselves for our assault on that great mountain.  We were victorious.  Although we thought we knew one another, the experience itself cemented our friendship in a way none of us could have imagined at the outset.  Since that time, we have included others’ into our group as I look over at Maureen who I’ve known for 19 years and Carol’s sister Coleen who sat out the Kilimanjaro climb and enjoyed the Safari that followed. Coleen has earned her Iceland stripes and our gratitude by researching the best places to see in Iceland in our relatively short amount of time.  We are blessed I decide, as I remember  countless evenings just like this one, drinking wine, eating great food, laughter talking about our shared experiences. Life is always sweeter when its shared I decide.  I wonder what we will experience in Iceland that will have us reminiscing years from now, on a cozy night just like this one.

Leaving Amsterdam, hello Iceland

We wake early and begin the process of packing.  I’m always surprised that eventually it all gets into the bags though at the outset it seems like a tall order.  I look over and see John sweating as he forces his kit bag shut, then point to my hiking boots and asks him if he has room.  He looks at me incredulous, smartly says nothing and begins the process anew.

Marieke and Nelda have prepared coffee and breakfast for our last morning and will drive us to the airport.  We are thankful for all that they have done to create a perfect trip to the Netherlands.  We hope that one day we will be able to create a memorable time for them in our country.  It was a leap of faith for them to open their home to us, not knowing much about us save for our wedding photo circulated through the family and a few anecdotal stories about John along with memories of his last visit 20 years previous.  From the first night our fears and hopefully theirs were put to rest as we were talking and laughing as if we had known one another forever.

We haul our too large bags to the elevator and then into their car.  An elderly gentleman rides the elevator with us, then hops on his bike and zips out of the parking lot.  John and I look at each other and shake our heads at a sight that we will likely not see for some time.

We arrive at the airport expecting to be dropped at the entrance, instead we are escorted to the correct airline.  We are touched at this extra effort to ensure that we will not waste time twirling around.  It is time to say good-bye.  Thank you at moments like this always seem inadequate, good-byes sad.  We will miss them a great deal.

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My bag is overweight, though the lovely girl says she does not notice as she slaps a heavy sticker on its side.  Security has me standing on a podium as I am searched for nothing.  John says its because I look shifty as he clears security without a second look.

Our next stop is Iceland and we are excited about this next experience. We will enjoy the first few days with 6 of our friends.  We sit back, relax and smile at the faux northern lights display on Icelandair.

Family Amsterdam

We leave the Van Gogh museum and are shocked to discover that we have spent nearly six hours. Our plans for a return to the Rijksmuseum dashed, we venture to the boats where we can enjoy a canal tour.

The tour is relaxing, we sit back to listen to a history of Amsterdam through our head phones.  The homes are stately, the ground shifting beneath them has my carpenter husband constantly tilting his head to make them square.

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We complete the tour, find the metro station, and wait for the wrong train.  We have learned as John questions our choice, asks a helpful young lady and soon we are on the right train zipping to Nelda and Marieke’s home.

We have been invited for dinner at Aunt Emmy’s home in Zaandam, just north of Amsterdam.  It is a perfect ending to our trip to the Netherlands.  Aunt Emmy visited us in Canada a few years previous and sparked our desire to visit the Netherlands, it is a full circle moment.  Marieke and Nelda have bought sunflowers as a hostess gift, fitting after our day at the Van Gogh museum.

We arrive to Emmy’s bright, cheerful home and are treated to a tour of her cozy home.  She has prepared a wonderful dinner for us.  We begin with avocado and tuna as a mousse and enjoy with lettuce.  The main course, “gourmetten”  has us interactively cooking our own fish and vegetables in small pans at the dinner table.  It is a sociable, relaxed experience.  The food is to our taste as we cook it ourselves adding condiments and spices as desired. This method of cooking is popular at Christmas in the Netherlands, a cozy, family experience  and we are touched that Aunt Emmy has gone to all this trouble for us.

After dinner we enjoy coffee and look at photo albums.  The photo albums have been lovingly created and are shared with all family members by a rotation schedule.  John enjoys seeing photos from the times that he visited the Netherlands as a child and young man and seeing photos of his Dad as a young man. We hear stories about John’s late father and learn more about him.  John finds it interesting to hear a different perspective  about the father he knew and loved and the people who loved him.

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The hours zip by, night has fallen as we begin the journey back to Amsterdam. We speak about the amazing trip that we have enjoyed, all the things that we did, our desire to come back, our hope that many family members will visit us in Canada.  We have been here for only 8 days, though it seems like months as each day filled with family, experiences and love.  We are truly blessed.

Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

Too soon it is our last full day in Amsterdam.  We have created a large agenda and set out  early.  We have booked a time slot at the Van Gogh museum, a trip back  to the Rijksmuseum, a canal tour and will finish as dinner guests at Aunt Emmy’s home.

We take the tram to the museum square, arrive early and use the time to chill.  There is no need to queue as we will all be gained entry at the same time.

The museum is dedicated to the work of  Vincent Van Gogh and his contemporaries.  We embark on a journey through his career, his unravelling and untimely death.

Van Gogh’s early work is quite dark and at odds with what is typically known as his style. “The Potato Eaters,” a darkly coloured painting depicts its subjects as caricatures.  Van Gogh received harsh criticism for this work, listened and changed his style dramatically.  His paintings became cheerful, colourful with sunny yellow prominent.  I can’t help but wonder if the darker pieces are what he truly felt, though was forced to give the world its cheery preference.

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Vincent was not a wealthy man and could not afford models, so he used himself to work on techniques.  Each self portrait depicts a sad man, lacking in confidence, telling in how he saw himself and at odds with the cheerful colour palette.

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Van Gogh dreamed in his later years of an artist colony at the yellow house in the south of France.  He was excited for Gaughin and other artists of the time to create their art together, a Utopia. Gaughin did come  to the yellow house and stayed for nine weeks. Initially all went according to Van Gogh’s plan, though it ended badly with an argument, Gaughin leaving and Van Gogh cutting off his own ear.

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It is unclear of Van Gogh’s malady, some speculate bipolar disease, others have thought epilepsy or poisoning.  In any case, his actions were not the workings of a sane man.

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He admitted himself to a mental institution after the “ear incident” where on good days he painted prolifically, on bad days he barely moved.  His paintings were bright, colourful, seemingly at odds with his state of mind.  One of his famous paintings, “Starry nights,” currently located at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City was painted from the view he saw outside of the asylum window.

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Van Gogh’ breakdowns became more frequent and he died several days after  a self inflicted gun shot wound.  I feel sad at the completion of the tour.  At the beginning of the tour, I knew his outcome, though his cheery paintings had me naively hoping for a different, better end.  I wished that somehow his dreams would be fulfilled and perhaps his hopeful paintings are telling,  Van Gogh did as well.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

We venture to the Rijksmuseum.  I’m excited to see the actual paintings that I studied in University, as opposed to photos in books.

We arrive to a stately building, with at odds architecture, Neo Gothic meets Renaissance that somehow works together to create a cohesive building.

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The most charming feature is a bike tube through the museum, the only one of its kind in the world.  Bicyclists can travel through the museum, there is no art on the walls of the tube, the bikes are the art and quintessential Netherlands. During the last major renovation, the architect wanted to change the space to a courtyard, the tube nearly lost.  Thankfully, there was much protest and the bike tube remained.

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The majority of the museum is dedicated to 17th century Dutch masters.  Notable paintings are, Vermeer’s “Milkmaid,” Rembrandt’s “Nightwatch” and Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait.”

John and I decide on a “highlights” tour where the major works will be seen.  We use the Rijksmuseum app that we downloaded at home and set off.  There is so much beauty everywhere that it is difficult to remain focused.  The building, stained glass, even the floor compete for my attention.  I focus, John is distracted and not moving through as quick.

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We decide to part ways as our museum strategy differs. This is John’s second trip to the Rijksmuseum, he wants to absorb. My approach is quantity over quality, wanting to see as much as possible. We both agree we would need months rather than the day allotted to do the place justice.  Our strategy, divide and conquer.

It is freeing to explore on my own at my own pace, I suspect that John too feels free without me breathing heavy and pacing. I miss him at times when I want to look at his expression or ask him what he thinks of a particular painting.

I smile when I see Vermeer’s, “The Milkmaid,” more vibrant than imagined.  The Threatened Swan by Jan Asselijn grabs my attention, such an odd perspective and the first acquisition by the museum, purchased for 100 guilders. The newly married couple and their relaxed stance and grins has me grinning back.  Van Gogh with two ears looks so very sad and of course this sadness is part of his story.

A queue is noticeable at the end of the hallway.  I know that it is the main event, “The Nightwatch.”  I can wait and enjoy all the paintings, some famous and some my new favourites as I amble along.

The Nightwatch, Rembrandt’s masterpiece is in a room of its own.  The painting is massive.  Its current size is 143” x 172,” though at one time it was larger, the original size 156” x 192.”  The painting was trimmed to fit a hall where it hung before moving to its present destination,   Its unimaginable to think that Rembrandt’s masterpiece would be trimmed, though this was the practice at the time.  I wonder what Rembrandt would think, I don’t think that he would be pleased. There is a trap door in the room to remove the painting in case of fire.  This was used during WWII to save the painting.  The Nightwatch was removed from its frame and rolled up where along with other major works was hidden until after the war.  I think about the brave souls who during such a dark time, saved the beauty.  They were successful as only a few minor works were lost. I cannot imagine if it was all lost.

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I find a room of doll houses.  These were not created for children but rather were a rich woman’s hobby.  The cost of the dollhouse was the same as a canal home at the same time. The attention to detail is extraordinary and I wonder about this woman and how little she had in her life that she spent such time and expense on this folly.  I think about my craft room and the thousands of dollars invested in supplies and decide to keep my thoughts to myself.

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John and I meet again and he is excited to show me the ship room where he has spent the majority of his time, his eyes are lit with enthusiasm. We see Michiel de Ruyter’s portrait and a beautiful model of a ship.  John says he could spend all day in this one room.

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img_1970We are meeting Nelda and Marieke for dinner and have to leave.  We vow to return one day.  Music catches our ear and we see a band in the bicycle tube with a growing audience forming.  The instruments are unusual, the music unique.  We enjoy the ambience as the bicyclists cycle by.

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We walk out of the tube, the garden catches our attention.  Everywhere we look we see beauty and art.  I wonder what it would have been like to grow up here with all this, would I have taken it for granted?  I think of our own museum with its dusty dinasours and our art gallery with its impressive architecture trying to make up for its lack of content.  I wonder if someday our museums in our relatively new country will be like this? Perhaps someday art currently hanging in our gallery will garner the crowds that surround the Swan and perhaps hundreds of years ago someone wondered if the Swan was worthy of a gallery and the cost?  We have to start somewhere I think.

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Anne Frank House

I am excited today.  We have purchased the 48 hour Amsterdam pass which allows us entry to museums, metro and a canal tour.  There are many museums to choose from, though with limited time we focus on the main events, Anne Frank house, Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum.

We have booked our time slot at Anne Frank house.  For the first time in Amsterdam we have a deadline.  We have allowed for an extra 30 minutes for getting lost and found and are prepared with a map, map app, and a rudimentary knowledge of the city.

We arrive at the train station, get on the correct train and soon are zipping towards downtown.  We are impressed with ourselves and marvel that just the other day we were  twirling around trying to figure out the right train, right platform and failing at this task.

We arrive at the main station and begin walking to our destination.  I am fascinated with doorways and burn through our time happily snapping one photo after another.  John, ever patient waits until I’m satiated.

We arrive with minimal effort and on time, a small queue has assembled.  It matters little as we hand over our time slot, we will all gain entry at the same time.  As we stand in line, the West church chimes the quarter hour.  During Anne Frank’s 25 months hiding in the attic she heard these same bells every 15 minutes signifying freedom gained.

I read the book as a young girl and related to her struggles as a young girl, her sister was bossy like mine, her parents didn’t understand. It is curious that I do not remember the war part, though likely it is because I had no frame of reference.  I read the book again as a young adult and was horrified for the injustice, the need to hide, though was happy that there were  people that helped to keep them hidden and provided necessities at great personal risk.  My faith was restored in humanity in the second read. I read it again as a young Mother, this time with a knowledge of that dark history and cried that they were so close to surviving and wondering who betrayed them.  I felt deep sadness for her father as the sole survivor, though awe at the resilience that had him create this place as a museum.  I hope that he found peace.  When reading WWII accounts, the sheer number of people murdered gets lost, though the story of this one girl provides an opportunity to understand the immense loss and extrapolate to all the lives that were lost.

The tour is difficult.  It is very emotional for both John and I.  We are not alone in our sadness.  We look around , many tears are shed.

There are no photos that are allowed for much of the tour and for this I am thankful.  This is a time for thought, absorption, and reflection.  This is not a time for distraction.  This happened, it is real and we must all be vigilant to make certain history does not repeat itself.

We complete the tour silent and stumble outside to sun and freedom.  The bells chime.  We feel heavy hearted as we walk around the neighbourhood and imagine the time, with the Nazi’s in power, not so very long ago. We talk  about the daily fear in the attic, the need to keep quiet.  We speak of how terrifying it would have been when they were found.  We think of how close they came to surviving.  We wonder how they were betrayed.  We talk about Anne’s hope during this dark time, the impact she might have made and the impact that she made.  Despite all her hardships, she still believed in the goodness in people and perhaps this is her greatest legacy.

Rotterdam

We venture today to my friend’s hometown, Rotterdam. Marianne immigrated to Canada many years previous though I’ve been interested in visiting her hometown.

Rotterdam has a sad history. On May 14, 1940 it was bombed, the fires devastated the town and after the war few buildings were standing. It has been recreated with fascinating architecture and interesting ideas. Resilience is strong in Rotterdam.

We take the train though we make this interesting by hopping between the two platforms trying to figure out which one is correct. Two tries later we are off. It is pouring rain today and through raindrops we look out the window at the scenery. The train ride will take one hour from where we are staying. This is nothing for us and we both wonder how great it would be if we could get around easily by train and metro.

The landscape quickly changes to rural and soon we see the familiar Dutch wooden windmills. We marvel at the work it would have taken to build these structures that are still in use today.

We arrive and need to change to station blaak as Marieke has told us. We twirl around march up the stairs so we can see a good view of the station and the lay of the land and figure out where we need to be. We get on the correct train and a few moments later we arrive.

I wonder how far to the cube houses as I walk out and look around. They are here with the market in front of us exactly as Marianne described.

The rain has stopped. We spend time looking at the cube houses and a curious sculpture. We marvel at the outside of the market, it beckons us inside.

The market is a busy, happening place with tons of shops and restaurants. It is curious as it’s inside of a courtyard or rather is the courtyard for a apartment building. The people in the building can look out their window at the hubbub of activity or choose to draw the drapes. It’s interesting, unusual and artistic.

It is difficult to choose a restaurant though we settle on poffertjes and strop waffle to start. The poffertjes are melt in the mouth goodness and calories do not count on holidays we remind ourselves

We walk outside and find retail shopping nearby. We browse though quickly abandon this pursuit as we are not in a buying mood. We instead decide on a ride on the Ferris wheel for another perspective.

We ride and snap pictures of the city. John spies the maritime museum and we decide to go there next. I notice an old church and wonder how it managed to survive the bombing. We are offered another perspective of the cube houses pencil building and bridge. The architecture is unique and beautiful though I can’t help but feel sad for what was lost.

John enjoys the maritime museum with its outside and inside options. The Harbor is protected and we muse that this would have been important for the Nazi’s during the war. How different today when there is a relative peace with water lapping the shore and workers carrying out their daily duties.

I find a bullseye that makes a sport of flicking butts into the receptacle. Only a few stray cigarette butts miss their mark so it appears to be working.

We find the statue representing the destruction of the heart of Rotterdam during WW II and marvel at the resilience that recreated the city from those ashes.

We venture back to the market in search of dinner. We are overwhelmed by choice though settle on a restaurant where we enjoy charcuterie and wine.

We wander a bit more to find coffee and dessert with a perch over the market providing yet another interesting perspective. We relax and enjoy the atmosphere.

It is late as we walk to the train station, only one misstep and soon we are zooming back to Amsterdam. We have learned much during our short visit about Rotterdam, and the resilience of its people.

Dutch food and family

We arrive back to Nelda and Marieke’s eager to share our day.

Marieke has made a traditional dish called boerenkool stampot (mashed kale and potatoes) served with sausage. This is typically served in colder months and is a comfort food. There are a few different ways to eat this either with vinegar or with stock. We try both and like Switzerland declare them both tasty. Nelda wonders if we should hand in our Smit card and it does cause a stir that we also like the vinegar way. We are touched that Marieke went to this trouble for us.

We decide on a walk around the Amstel river with Nelda. The river is so pretty at night with houseboats flanking the sides, warm, cozy lights aglow, outside lights reflecting. Boats amble down the river. On the shore a path circles with runners, bikers and walkers sharing the space, enjoying the last of summer. We enjoy a beverage with a view of the Amstel and take in the ambience.

Tomorrow we will spend some time with John’s Aunt Ann. Tinneke and Don have graciously offered to drive.

We wake early and prepare for the day. Tinneke and Don arrive and we are off. It is raining today though we cannot complain as the weather has been perfect. Whenever it rains we are indoors, when we venture out it stops.

We arrive at Aunt Ann’s and are surprised and pleased to discover Marjo and Eric will also join us. We hear Bach in the background creating an elegant atmosphere. The large window allows for maximum light despite the rain.

We enjoy a wonderful lunch of smoked eel, salted herring, cheese, bread, cold cuts, so many wonderful things to eat. We sample everything and I’m surprised to discover I like eel and herring.

After lunch we retreat to the lounge to chat. Ann has prepared a list of memories to share with John about his late father. We enjoy a cozy, rainy afternoon listening to stories and learning about John’s Dad as a young boy and man. Ann says that John looks like his Dad and it is both sad and happy at the same time for her.

We spend a lovely afternoon listening to stories from the past, sharing our present lives and plans for the future.

Amsterdam second look

Today is our first solo day since our arrival. We feel ready to conquer the city, having learned much from family.

Marieke showed us how to use the metro. Don and Tineke provided information on how the streets are named and Nelda marched us around the city high and low to obtain our bearings.

We begin the day the Dutch way with strong coffee, old Amsterdam cheese and bread. We tidy, pack our camera and set off for the train station.

We arrive, twirling around trying to remember how to buy a pass, though soon we are victorious.

Passes in hand we climb to the platform. Confusion reigns and we march down after deciding we are on the wrong one, then march up to the next platform, read the map and settle knowing we are correct. Good thing there were only two platforms, we muse.

We decide to get off one station early to experience something different. We exit pop our heads above ground and determine where we are. It is familiar though different. We start walking and soon we are in Chinatown. The shop windows are interesting with strange herbs in bottles and the lucky cat waves as we walk by, I wave back.

We continue to look at the objects in the windows and quickly they change to racier items with a large selection of male anatomy for sale in a variety of colours and sizes. I ask John for his thoughts as 15″ seems rather large. He adds nothing to the conversation, head down, blind and focused on a way out of the area.

Soon we are back in wonderland with fresh coffee, bakeries we tuck into a bright shop with a chandelier made of tea cups. The pastry delicious, the coffee strong and good we watch the world go by through bright sunny windows.

We discover a sculpture of a Volkswagen Beetle and wonder how it was created.

We set out again and decide to venture to Rembrandtplein for lunch. This is a tall order and we walk up and down the cobblestone streets searching for familiarity, stopping to consult the map or resetting the gps. We are always mindful of the bikes, looking both ways, then running like we are on fire across the street.

We pass the flower markets and I remember Marieke and I laughing as each is same same, selling identical products though somehow making a living. We are close I declare and soon we are victorious. Our rule, we cannot dine at the same place twice so choose an Italian restaurant. The food excellent, our chairs turned boldly facing the square for maximal people watching.

Our next plan is to find a flea market at Waterlooplein and we set out. Some twists and turns, wrong turns and we arrive. The market has much to sell though we are not in a buying mood. We continue wandering and stumble on Rembrandthuis, my favourite artist. We decide to pay for a tour.

The house is unique and bright compared to its neighbours. It is narrow with tight staircases where crawling is the safest way. I think that most staircases in Holland would not pass code in Canada.

We learn that Rembrandt painted here and purchased the house for 13,000 guilders, a princely sum. He was at the height of his game and the same year he received his contract to paint, “Nightwatch.” He was a talented artist, though poor businessman and went bankrupt forcing the sale of the house and most of its contents.

We learn how to mix paint as was done in Rembrandt’s time and how he made copies of his sketches. We marvel at the furniture and admire the paintings. We listen to descriptions and gain a deeper understanding as we walk through this beautiful home.

We leave to find the metro. Rush hour has arrived and a steady stream of bikes clog our route across. We time our bolt, state after the guy with the hat and run across. We find the metro and uneventfully find our way back to Nelda and Marieke’s.

We scan our passes to leave and are denied. We try again and again, insanity reigns with no exit gained. We read and understand there are two exits, one for the train, the other for the metro. We move to the metro exit and the doors swing gleefully open. We are victorious.

Family

Don and Tineke have offered to drive us back to Amsterdam to Nelda and Marieke’s home. This saves us much time and confusion to navigate our way by bus, ferry, bus and train. We are so very thankful.

They arrive and we bid Paul goodbye and thank him for his hospitality. It has been a memorable experience that we will both remember with fondness. In a lifetime of days,yesterday was the best.

We begin the journey to the ferry. As we drive onto the ferry, Els waves. She has ridden her bike to see us off. She will ride the ferry across and back, then bike home. We are so happy to have a chance to say goodbye.

We sip coffee and enjoy the short drive back. Don and Tineke invite us to their home and we happily say yes. It is nice not to have to say goodbye so soon.

Their home is warm and cozy with large windows. Their life in books, pictures and art surround. The room draws us in and immediately we are comfortable.

We chat about Canada and Tineke produces a scrapbook she made after her trip to Canada with her parents and brother, Hein. It’s interesting to see the pictures from that time. We welcome them to visit us in Canada and hope they will.

We learn about their other home in Portugal that we hope to visit one day. We learn they met each other when they were very young, they both lived a lifetime, then met and began another. How lucky they found one another, though life really does happen exactly as it should.

We enjoy cheese, crackers, wine and beer before venturing out for dinner. The neighbourhood is a vibrant community with interesting architecture and large, bright windows.

We arrive a short distance later to a round orange restaurant. It’s cozy inside with a central fireplace and bright windows for 360 degree viewing of people.

We share drinks and enjoy a wonderful meal of bread, fish, mussels and steak. Strong coffee and dessert round off a most excellent meal. Conversation is easy and relaxed.

Don and Tinneke drive us back to Nelda and Marieke’s. We pass through the museum district, see a large bathtub claiming to be art, along with The Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum. It’s good to be reacquainted with the lay of the land as tomorrow we are alone.

We thank Don and Tinneke for a wonderful dinner and day and make plans to meet again. We arrive at Nelda and Marieke’s assume our seats as the wine is poured and we pick up exactly where we left off.

Sheep Market, Texel

Reluctantly we pack to leave this beautiful island. We both agree to return, rent a beach house and explore the island’s secrets.

Today there is a sheep market. John’s father told us about this weekly event where the farmers would bring their sheep to Den Berg to be sold. It is no longer weekly, but rather annual and our timing is perfect, for today is the day. The sheep are auctioned, some fetching as much as $25,000 euro. The majority of the sheep have arrived for a chance to win a ribbon.

We bike the distance, my butt screams, though I discover third gear and share this information with Paul. We ride together when the path allows, Paul explains this is done so chatting is possible. It is very relaxing, like riding in a car, though better.

We arrive, expertly lock the bikes having learned the secret. We then remove the key with one try and walk to the market. Everyone has arrived, a busy, happening place. The sheep are in open pens, an auctioneer is shouting, food is available and a farmers market completes the scene.

John and I enjoy fried kibbeling, fish breaded and fried so tasty then finish with sweet poffertjes, tiny pancakes with butter and icing sugar, yum.

We meet Tinneke, Els and Don in the crowd and walk around admiring the sheep though unaware why one received a ribbon and another did not. We celebrate a random sheep with a picture so he doesn’t feel bad for not winning.

We ride back and I discover 4th gear. The ride is now easy. I excitedly tell Paul of my discovery. He says in response, now you can lead and I do.

Biking Texel

We wake early to help with clean up from the party. Family arrives and in no time the cleanup is complete. Els, Theo, Carla, Paul, John, Tinneke, Don, and myself make the many hands to create light work.

John’s cousin, Carla has brought a bike for me to enjoy while we are here. John’s Grandfather biked around this island well into his 90’s, though this practice is not unusual in the Netherlands. Still, I wanted to have this experience and today is the day. Paul, Karl, John and myself set off. The bikes are different, touring bikes as opposed to mountain bikes. It’s like biking as a child. I sit high on the bike though it’s comfortable and nice not to hunch over.

The paths are paved and mostly flat. We are not alone, there are many people biking young and old though considerably less volume than Amsterdam.

We work our way to the beach a short ride away. We arrive lock our bikes easily with a lock installed on the tires, the key remains in until used. How wonderful to not fuss with combinations and search for keys.

We walk the short distance to the beach and find the sand dunes John’s dad described. How amazing, so tall and majestic they flank the entrance. There is a restaurant, requisite supply store though my eyes are drawn to the water. I continue.

The water is cool though quickly I adjust and enjoy the soak. Children play on the sandbar, sea birds swoop playing with the wind. Seashells cover portions of the beach. There are beach houses that can be used for the season providing a more permanent structure to enjoy the summer at the beach.

We enjoy the space and begin to walk back. I just want to stay here. We opt for lunch at the restaurant to continue to enjoy the ambience. The food excellent, local beer cold, perfection.

We hop back on the bikes and continue. Paul shows us the Polder lands, new land reclaimed from the sea. When the industrious, clever Dutch run short of land, they just make more.

There is a lighthouse in the distance. Paul tells us about about an annual walk around the island.

We turn around though each time we get back on the bike it hurts a little more as our butts become accustomed to riding. Paul tells us he is getting us tough for our trek through Iceland so we don’t embarrass ourselves or the family name.

We arrive back and decide on dinner at a nearby beach restaurant. Tinneke, Don, Els, Theo will join Paul, John and myself. Paul explains if we bike he can enjoy a drink though if he takes the car he will be the designated driver. Reluctantly, we opt for the bike ride though our butts scream their protest.

The bike ride is beautiful, flanked on both sides by tall stands of trees. I discover second gear and marvel to Paul that I had no idea the bike had more than one. Paul casually smokes a cigarette while he rides, John and I focus on the task at hand.

We arrive and walk the short distance where we are greeted by the others’. The meal wonderful some have hake(fish), others’ have steak. The waiter errs our order despite its simplicity. The sunset beckons and demands its photo, I comply.

We enjoy each other’s company, the conversation switches between English and Dutch and John and I begin to follow the conversation using context and body language, coupled with a few words we have learned.

Too soon it’s time to leave, the sky dark. We figure out the lights on the bikes, the moon and stars light the sky and we begin the ride with Paul leading the way. How cool to ride a bike at night. Mentally, I decide to remember this moment, though my butt declares it will be sometime before I forget.

Texel, Netherlands

Today we travel to Texel for the family reunion. I’ve heard so much about this place, my expectation high. I attempt to curtail my enthusiasm to avoid disappointment.

The first time I met John’s parents they showed me pictures and a book about Texel. John’s dad spoke about the sheep market, dunes and the beauty of the beaches that he declared rivalled any beach in Hawaii. From that moment this was a place I needed to see and today was the day.

We travel a great distance to the ferry with Nelda and Marieke pointing out the sites. We pass small quaint towns even one whose name roughly translated means ditch, Slootdorp. Marieke and Nelda laugh stating some day when they retire they will live in this town. We pass a town where each house is decorated with flags as today is a celebration we don’t know what they are celebrating so speculate, perhaps it’s because we have arrived we joke.

Soon we arrive at the ferry. I learn the crossing will take 15 minutes, hardly enough time to collect our thoughts. Still we have a chance to come upstairs, look at the sites, peruse the souvenirs and take photos. I stand on the deck and the seabirds swoop and dip leading the way to Texel.

Too soon we arrive and begin the journey to John’s cousin, Pauls’ home, the scene of the family reunion. We first stop at the site of John’s Grandparents homestead, The home consisted of a house, a summer house and a carpentry shop. The summer house remains though the rest is gone making way for row homes. Still, I close my eyes and imagine them in their later years waiting for the bus to arrive and their children and grandchildren to visit.

We set off for Paul’s home and I prepare myself to meet the relations. A group is gathered, though we are given our space initially with a chance to take in their sheer volume before joining in the fray. John and I are touched as the reunion is every two years though they have added another this year because of our visit.

Gradually we meet them all, a lovely bunch, friendly and welcoming. They all speak English well, thankfully, as my Dutch is limited with only the ability to ask for salt and pepper and I have no need for either so it would be awkward.

We drink strong coffee and enjoy Gevulde Speculaas cookies. The almond taste is lovely, I enjoy two and a second cup of coffee.

We eat fried fish to remember John’s grandfather who would trade sausage for small flat fish. The fishermen would be tired of fish and happy for the sausage. The fish were small and not saleable. Win win all around. The fish is flash cooked in oil with no breading and is melt in the mouth goodness. I enjoy two and part of Johns’ too.

We look at the pictures that have been assembled, so much work. It depicts John’s grandparents followed by their 12 children and their children and grandchildren. I marvel at what is created because two people fell in love.

John’s remaining Uncles and Aunts chat with us. Ann, Jan, Nely, Emmy, Els and Tinneke. We hear stories about him, his youth and how difficult it was for him to be away from home when he arrived in Canada at the tender age of 18. We learn how his Mother would sit down once a week to write her eldest son. I think about how difficult it must have been for John’s grandparents to say goodbye to their oldest son when he journeyed to Canada. Travel so different then and the length between visits uncertain.

We continue visiting and meet everyone, learn about each other and enjoy the beautiful weather in Paul’s yard. John is reminded how he longed for a McDonalds during his last trip to the Netherlands. Chickens and a rooster weave in between creating a tranquil peace despite the crowd. Don plays piano and accordion and sings including a Canadian song for us. The song is not familiar in words though the music is east coast.

The family gathers for a picture, organized chaos ensues though like a well orchestrated system within minutes everyone assembles, the moment is forged. Day turns to night, Indonesian food arrives, we indulge.

At intervals family members leave to catch the ferry, some opt to not say goodbye as it’s likely to take too long to go through everyone and the ferry will be missed. There is a mad scramble to catch the last ferry, the frenzy ends.

The night quiets and all that remains are those who will stay the night on a Texel. A circle of chairs is assembled around a warm inviting fire and in a time honoured tradition we stare into the flames. Tineke strikes up the ukulele and Don harmonizes with the accordion. Together they sing. We listen to the conversations around us and pick up the gist.

The family disbands and soon we are three, John, Paul and me. We retreat to our room in his home, sink deep into bed and reminisce about the day. John states he can’t believe he’s related to all of them and marvels that not everyone is here. He wonders how different his life might have been had he been raised here. I think about my expectations that have been surpassed. We both agree we are very blessed.

Walking Amsterdam

We finish our beer and Nelda asks if we would like to walk back to her home. This seems like a tall order as we have been walking for hours and the prospect of walking to her home instead of riding the metro seems daunting. The plan is for Marieke to take the metro, arrive home to retrieve her bike, then shop and return home. It’s decided we will all arrive home at the same time. I stare longingly after Marieke wondering if she needs help with the shop then begin the walk home with John and Nelda.

Nelda is very familiar with Amsterdam as she has lived in this beautiful city for many years. She begins to expertly navigate us through a series of rabbit warrens, pointing out landmarks, historical homes and telling us the history of the area. We learn to watch for bikes, cars and move quickly across streets. We stop at beautiful canals the buildings reflected, their beauty doubles. Quickly the city falls away and communities take over

We walk through an area that was owned by a manufacturer of diamonds, a large building dominates surrounded by large and small buildings depending on the role in the company. We walk past a central bath house for the community. Nelda explains it was used until the 1980’s. I try to imagine this life, then say a silent prayer for my private bath.

The windows of the homes are large and brighten the spaces inside, even the smallest building appears spacious. Large courtyards provide a place for children to gather and play, creating a community.

We learn about building styles, Amsterdam school style of architecture where creative techniques are utilized to create beautiful homes. We learn about Dutch golden age architecture that flanks the majority of canals. I decide I could live in one, though shudder at the upkeep. The ground shifts and many are considerably less than square. My carpenter husband angles his head repeatedly trying to make it right.

In no time we arrive back at Nelda and Marieke’s the distance short from downtown and our expert guide, Nelda ensured our travels were not convoluted. I realize I had over estimated the distance initially as we had seen so much in a short span of time that the miles seemed great.

Marieke has beat us home but only just. We enjoy a glass of wine together and continue our conversation, laughter soon takes over. Dinner follows a delicious curry engages all our senses . We chat well into the early hours. Sleep takes time as my mind remains active for a time with all I have seen and experienced.

First look Amsterdam

We wake ready to tackle our first full day in Amsterdam.

Our breakfast is excellent bread, an amazing selection of cheese and cups of strong coffee. We indulge and both agree we could get used to this type of morning start.

Nelda and Marieke suggest a tour of Amsterdam and we happily agree. We walk to the train station and receive an in service on how to buy tickets and read the schedules. We are fortunate as we have 3 lines available to take us downtown. Within minutes a train arrives, spacious, bright and clean we settle ourselves for the short trip downtown

We arrive and expertly Marieke and Nelda lead us to the correct exit, good thing as my instinct was to go in the opposite direction. We see cheese wheels in a shop dedicated to this pursuit, flowers for sale and the smell of baked goods encourage us to stop, though we continue moving.

We begin to exit the station oblivious to a commotion behind us. The train station is being evacuated. Nelda is concerned as she has heard the announcement. John and I have no idea until we are safely outside and Nelda explains. We later learn a Belgium citizen in retaliation to a controversy involving a Politician’s statements randomly stabbed several people as he exited the train. He was later shot by Police. This would be a main news story for several days. John and I comfortable in tourist mode with only a few words of Dutch between us continued to ooh and awe at the sites.

We marvel at the bikes, bikes, bikes everywhere. People of all ages ride, owning the road, pedestrians beware. We watch for cars, though are focused looking for bikes as they weave in and out. We wonder how anyone finds their bike at the end of the day. There are huge garages dedicated to storing the bikes, bike theft is a problem which seems bizarre when there are so many. Still it is the best way to get around and the people are fit. I think about home where we bike until we get a car and then most Canadians never bike again. Nelda tells us that abandoned bikes are a problem and at times they are marked and picked up. We also learn 13,000 bikes are removed from the canals annually.

We take the ferry for a short trip to arrive on a small island with a large building. We ride to the top and are treated to a 360 degree view of the city. This allows us to really gain an understanding of the city. We point out landmarks of places we would like to see, Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, and Marieke points out their home. There is a chance for swinging from the edge of the building though we decline and opt for gawking instead.

We find a great spot for lunch before continuing our tour of the city. We take pictures of the canals with the beautiful homes on either side, the quintessential picture of Amsterdam and I learn there is more than one street with a canal. In fact at every turn beautiful architecture exists. There are hooks at the top of these narrow homes to haul furniture through the windows as this is the only method that would work. These homes were built during the Golden Age when Holland was enjoying a boom. No expense spared though narrow and tall to avoid tax which was based on the width of the building.