Monthly Archives: March 2014

Europe 2014 Day 3

Alright, day three. After a pretty decent night of sleep, I am ready to go (I was out like a light at 10). Hopefully the kids are ready too, and that they got some sleep under their belts. It’s bright and sunny this morning, and the high is expected to get up to 14…and there’s no snow!

Wow, what a busy but exciting day. I’m sitting on a bench outside the Anne Frank House freezing my butt on the cold marble as I write this. I’m waiting for everyone to exit the building; we’re supposed to be done by 8:30, but it seems as though they will be a bit longer.

So our day started early, but not too early. Everyone got some rest and were very ready to go in the morning. The hotel had a nice buffet for breakfast with all kinds of meats, bread, cheeses, eggs, yogurt, etc. We were all on the bus by 9:00 so we could start the day’s adventure.

Our first agenda item was going to be a guided bus tour of the city. For this we were joined by local guide Gerwin, who did a fantastic job taking us around the city. He also tried to help us out with our Dutch, which has some interesting pronunciations.

We made our way outside the city and stopped at a local farm that made cheese, particularly gouda cheese. We got to see the process for making cheese, and even got to sample some. This farm also makes clogs, and is one of the few places that still manufactures them in the country. Of course on the way out there was a gift shop, and many of the kids bought clogs, souvenirs and even cheese!

Clogs at the cheese farm, March 2014.

Clogs at the cheese farm, March 2014.

After the bus tour, we took in a beautiful boat tour of the canals. It was an awesome way to see the city, especially all the little places you wouldn’t see when walking. Again it made me appreciate how magnificent this city is…I’d love to come back some day!

Boat tour, March 2014

Boat tour, March 2014

The boat dropped us off right at Waterloo Square (or Waterloo Plein) again, and everyone was given quite a bit of free time to shop and look around a bit. The kids left in their groups, so I got to spend some time with Jo-Anne. We had a bit of a mission, which was to find a Starbucks we had seen on the bus tour earlier that morning. After a bit of walking, we found it near Rembrandt Square (Rembrandt Plein). Jo-Anne got to have her tea fix, while I ate a sandwich and used their free wifi.

Our journey then took us around the square, past the sculptures of Rembrandt’s Night Watch. We grabbed some Hagen-Dazs ice cream, and continued our exploration of the area. We found a little shopping district a short ways away, which was packed with people…quite a claustrophobic experience. After that we slowly made our way back to the Waterloo Plein to rendezvous with the everyone and Felicity.

Amsterdam, March 2014.

Amsterdam, March 2014.

There was another epic march to go to our dinner place, which was an Asian resturant called “Wagamama.” It is very interesting trying to take 48 people through a busy city that is full of traffic and bikes. The bikes are actually an intriguing part of Amsterdam culture. I guess because of the lack of space, the expense of a car and gas, tons of people ride bikes. It’s also an environmental thing. There are set bike lanes everywhere, and you have to really watch out for them (I almost got hit today). Apparently Amsterdam has the highest bike theft rate in the world, which is probably the reason why most people ride those “old school” bikes.

Anyway, so dinner a Wagamama was good. We had four menu items to choose from, so I took the chicken fried rice. The portion was huge, so there was no way I could possibly finish all of it, even after walking for a good part of the day. It really filled me up! I did have room for the ice cream desert though 😉

From Wagamama we had a 1.5k jaunt to our final stop of the day, which was Anne Frank House. This visit was certainly going to make things a bit more sombre and really put a personal touch on the horrors of the Holocaust. I haven’t read her diary, but as a history teacher I am familiar with her story, but it was very eye-opening. It is quite something to see the area where 8 people lived in hiding for two years and how they could not move around during the day. I think I’ll have to get around to reading the book at some point in the future.

We are now back at the hotel, ready to call it a day soon. Tomorrow we leave Amsterdam for Belgium, stopping at Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery on our way to Ypres and then our hotel. I think that this first cemetery visit will be very emotional for many of them. In Ypres we will take in the Menin Gate ceremony at 8:00. It won’t be a lot of walking, but it will be a very long day.

So on that note, I should get rolling. Until then…

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Posted by on March 8, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing


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Europe 2014 Day 2

It’s day two kids! Thanks to the wonderful miracle of air travel, coupled with a few hours of back-wrenching contorted “sleep,” it is now Friday. My body still thinks it’s 10:30, but according to my watch it’s 4:30…can’t wait for the jet lag to set in. Not sure how the kids are doing it. Of the ones that I can see from my seat, only a few have attempted some sleep. Oh to be young and have energy!

So we’re nearly across the Atlantic; the in-flight map is showing us just about to pass over Ireland. I’ve been scanning the ground below us for signs of land, but I haven’t seen any yet. Twenty more miles apparently.

With less than two hours of flying time remaining, I would imagine that they will be bringing “breakfast” soon. Oops, I spoke too soon…cue the flight attendants! I wonder what’s for breakfast?

The next big anticipation, well other than our arrival in Frankfurt, is the breaking of dawn. It’s always kinda neat crossing the Atlantic and racing toward the rising sun. I remember it being quite breathtaking two years ago. I think it won’t be the same this time around though, as I am on the opposite side of the plane and it might not look the same. We’ll see soon enough I guess. Anyway, it time to eat.

Night over Europe, March 2014.

Night over Europe, March 2014.

Dawn over Europe, March 2014.

Dawn over Europe, March 2014.

Boy, they really had me going there. I thought for a minute that the one piece of banana bread they just gave us was going to be our entire breakfast. I mean, I’m pretty hungry, there’s no way that will fill me up. Wait, now they’re collecting the garbage and were landing in an hour. By the looks of things, my initial assumption was correct; breakfast was served. Ugh!

Well, we are now safely in Frankfurt, on time and at the gate, ready to go. Even better, we were able to get boarding passes for Tannor and Kellen, so everyone can now get on the flight to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, we now seem to be missing St. Ignatius.

Back in the air now. St. Ignatius did eventually show up and we’re now on our last leg to Amsterdam. I was hoping to post yesterday’s blog while in the airport, but unfortunately the wifi wasn’t cooperating. Oh well, I’ll have to do two posts tonight. I’m not sitting beside my wife for this short flight, which feels funny. Hopefully she’s okay beside Kim and not crushing her hand too bad!

I’m glad we’re on our way; now we just need all the bags to show up and were golden! I’m really starting to feel tired now. Maybe it is the lack of food. Other than our “big” breakfast on the plane, all I’ve had is a fruit bar. Thankfully the attendant just handed me a box with yogurt and some sort of cracker in it. Hold on a second…

Okay, much better now. The box had this cool little folding spoon; I’ve never seen anything like that. I’ll have to try to post a picture of it.

The spoon, March 2014.

The spoon, March 2014.

When we arrive in Amsterdam, we’ll grab our bags then straight to our bus. We can’t check into our hotel yet, so the bags will stay on the bus. I believe we are doing some sort of walking tour today, possibly. I really can’t remember what the plan is for today. Whatever it is, it will be fine. We’re in Europe…the kids are so excited! I guess I am too! The forecast is for 12C and sunny today…heat wave! Wait, I’m wearing convertible pants. Would I be crazy enough to consider shorts?

Wow, that was the shortest flight ever. As soon as they finished with our snack, we started descending. It felt about as long a trip to camp (it was only 350km). Anyway, we’re here and we’re just waiting to get to our gate and then we can get off the plane and out of airports. Look out Amsterdam!

What a busy day! After our pick up at the airport and meeting our Tour Director Felicity and bus driver Peter, we proceeded into Amsterdam and headed toward Waterloo Square. Everyone was given about two hours to look around the market and get some lunch. I never realized what a beautiful city Amsterdam is; the culture and architecture is awesome. We had a great lunch and then made our way to the Jewish Museum.

Amsterdam, March 2014.

Amsterdam, March 2014.

The museum was very interesting to see, a real insight into the history of the Jewish people in Amsterdam. After that, we walked to the Gassin Diamond store, where we saw diamonds being cut, polished and turned into jewelry. Quite a fascinating process!

Our next stop was dinner, which ended up taking us on a 45 minute walking odyssey through the city. It was quite the workout, but it was neat to see a lot of the city. All the canals make the city so interesting!

Dinner was at Cafe de Schutter and it was none too soon for a bunch of hungry, tired travellers. I think it was okay; tomato soup, sausage and mashed potatoes. Desert was apple streudle. There was a bunch of them literally falling asleep afterwards, myself included!

We’re all at our hotel now, exhausted and ready for bed. Tomorrow we have a sightseeing tour in the morning, a boat ride on the canals in the afternoon, then a visit to Anne Frank House and finally a later supper. Going to be a busy day, so I should turn in. Until then…

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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing


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Europe 2014 Day 1

Well, I guess you can say we’re on our way…sort of. Let the journey begin!

So we’re here waiting in the airport. We’ve all checked in, did a prayer service and passed through security. I even did an interview on the news…hopefully I sounded okay! Unfortunately, our flight is delayed; there is snow in Toronto and I’m sure the plane is behind schedule there. Hopefully we can get out of Toronto on time tonight and make our connection in Frankfurt okay.

The kids are beyond excited. You can see and feel their anticipation, which is awesome to see. I’m sure this hurry up and wait thing is driving them crazy. It’s driving me crazy. If I we can get to Europe without too many hiccups that would really be great. I’m going to say a little prayer 😉

Bombardier Q400, March 2014.

Bombardier Q400, March 2014.

In the air now; we’re roughly an hour or so behind schedule, but that’s okay. The only thing I just realized is that being on plane and having my iPad in airplane mode disables my Bluetooth keyboard that I just bought. Not the most ideal scenario, but one I can deal with.

One of the “interesting” things about this year’s trip is that I am travelling with my wife. I was frankly shocked when she agreed to come, especially since this is a history trip. The other part of it is that she doesn’t fly very well, especially on this flight which is a turboprop Q400. I’m glad that she’s here though; she doesn’t quite appreciate history like I do, but it will be fun to experience some of the things with her. She’s being a trooper!

The only issue we had was leaving the boys behind. You could see that they were quite sad to see us go. I’m sad too, but not as much as Jo-Anne. Things are always a little different with moms. There were some tears this morning, but I think we’re a little better now (as she crushes my hand reacting to some turbulence). I’ve already received one iMessage from Ethan and I’m sure there’ll be a lot more before we get home.

Well, we’re on the ground in Toronto. It was a bit of hectic process getting off the plane and making our way to our gate. Complicating things, I have a couple of kids who don’t have a boarding pass for our flight to Amsterdam. I want to try to clear that up before we leave. We stood in a line for a while, only to be told to go to our gate and see the customer service there. Typically, there is no one at that counter. So now I have to keep checking back and try to get those passes.

In any case, this is a good opportunity to relax and decompress a bit. The kids were able to get some food, which made them all happy (I guess I forget how hungry teenagers can get). My wife was able to get some tea, which made her happy. Unfortunately I think everyone got a reminder of how “reasonable” the prices for airport food can be. $20 for a salad and drink seems okay right? Anyway, I better go check on that customer service desk.

Okay, we’re back in the air and on time! Everyone is excited to get going…except my wife. There was a bit of hand crushing on the takeoff and I swear my fingers were turning blue. It’s all good now though, and after supper she’ll pop an Ativan and hopefully sleep the rest of the flight away.

Boeing 777, March 2014.

Boeing 777, March 2014.

Unfortunately I was not able to resolve our little boarding pass issue. I talked to the Air Canada service desk, as well as Luftansa. I talked to “Lorne” at EF a whole pile of times and although he was very helpful, there was nothing that could be done. Everyone has assured me that they will be able to print the boarding passes in Frankfurt. All we have to do is get there on time and get through customs fairly quickly. Fingers are crossed! Let’s hope that this is the only hiccup we have.

Dinner is going to be served shortly, so I should sign off. I’ll probably have a few more things to say before I wrap-up this day one entry.

So Dinner was okay; chicken Alfredoish with carrots, green beans and potatoes, some kind of corn coleslaw, bread and brownie. Still hungry though. I guess I should have ate more during the day than an energy bar and a fruit bar…too late now. I’ll survive and I’m sure it will help the diet!

In any case, I should sign off now. It is 1:26 in Frankfurt and we’ll be on the ground in 5 hours, so I need to try and get some sleep. Jo-Anne took her drugs and hopefully she’ll be out soon. Be back on day two!


Posted by on March 7, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing


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Big ol’ jet airliner, don’t carry me too far away!

Well, it depends on how far is too far. Does 6215 kilometres count?

If you don’t recognize this, they form part of the chorus of the Steve Miller Band’s iconic song “Jet Airliner.” This time tomorrow I’ll be on a plane across the big pond, but it’s a Boeing 777, not a 707! I cannot put into words how excited I am, even though I did a similar trip two years ago. There are a lot of nerves too; the weather is always a factor and this time there are 22 kids, not 7.

Speaking of the weather, it’s actually a bit of a reprieve getting out of Thunder Bay and the lousy weather we’ve been experiencing this winter. In my last post I spoke about a possible big dump of snow; well, we got that 30cm and more. It was actually enough to close the schools for the day! Cleaning it up wasn’t fun though and it’s hard to believe that with the big yard that I have, the banks were actually getting too high for the snowblower to reach over them. If that wasn’t enough, it got cold again. Last Thursday it was -45C with the wind; I think just about everyone has had enough with Old Man Winter!

After the storm, February 2014.

After the storm, February 2014.

Mountains of snow, February 2014.

Mountains of snow, February 2014.

March break is just around the corner, though it doesn’t feel much like it. The temperatures climbed a bit this week, but I’ve been too busy to notice. There has been a last minute rush of preparations for the trip. There are so many little things to take care of, on top of all the big things. I was burning up the email with my counterpart from St. Ignatius Alicyn Papich as we worked out the fine details before departure. I spent time today getting all of our travellers checked-in via the web, so it’s one less thing we have to worry about tomorrow. I need a vacation from the vacation and we haven’t even left!

In the last couple weeks Alicyn and I have been going back and forth via email with our Tour Director Felicity. The tour, Canada’s Battlefields, has a rough template of places we will be visiting, but all the details need to be worked out. Felicity has been fantastic so far, offering many ideas and potential places we can see on each day. Even though I saw some of these places in 2012, I’m excited to see them again. Good thing for it too, as it is helping to displace some of the nervousness I’m feeling…I’m such a worry wart!

There are a couple of places I’m very pumped to see. I’ve never been to Amsterdam, so that will be a whole new experience. We were at Vimy Ridge in 2012, but that was with 4000 other people during the 95th Anniversary celebrations and it was rather busy. I’m looking forward to a more relaxed visit. Felicity has also suggested that we take in the Wellington Quarry, which is located just south of Vimy in Arras.

When we travel to Normandy, we will be staying at a very neat “hotel.” We were supposed to stay in the city of Caen, but I guess this place had an opening and they moved us. The Chateau du Baffy dates from the 1700’s and was used as a headquarters by the Germans in WWII. It is located only 6km from Juno Beach and reminds me of a little rustic country inn. It will give us a good opportunity to thoroughly explore the Normandy area.

I guess part of the reason why I’m excited is the kids. I met with them yesterday at lunch and they were literally bouncing. It is great to see the exuberance of youth! For many this is their first trip across the ocean; for some it’s their first trip in a plane. Most of them will have never been away from home and their parents for so long. I’m sure there is a bit of apprehension mixed in too, but traveling with their friends on the trip of a lifetime will overcome that quickly enough.

So with the insanity that has been my life over the last couple of weeks, I have had zero time to devote to any railway work. I was very busy in the last week writing newsletter for the Silver Mountain and Area Historical Society, which went out yesterday. Our annual general meeting is coming up on March 22 and there was work to be done on that. I’m sure when I’m back from the trip and things settle down there will be time to get back on track.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I need to finish packing and I have a busy morning ahead of me. The forecast is calling for a bit of snow, but hopefully it doesn’t impede our flight to Toronto and then on that big ole’ 777 to Europe! My next post will be from the beautiful city of Amsterdam. Until then…

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Posted by on March 5, 2014 in History, Railway, Travel, Writing


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