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It’s been 20 years?

Do you ever sit back and wonder where the heck time went? You know, like one day you’re single, hanging out at the university bar and the next you’re 40 something years old with a wife, kids and a million adult responsibilities? It’s like you blink and a good chunk of your life flies by. I think it’s most evident in your job, your career if you choose to call it that. One day you’re a bright-eyed, eager rookie and then next you’re a grey-haired old guy teaching kids whose parents are younger than you.

Welcome to December kids! Speaking of time flying by, it’s hard to believe that Christmas is three weeks away. It’s already been a month since football season ended, which occurred on a disappointing note. We finished third yet again, but it was great to work with another awesome group of players. Unfortunately the boys weren’t successful either, both of their teams falling in the finals, Noah’s in quite dramatic fashion. I guess there’s always next year!

Since we’ve reached December, that means things are winding down as we approach the Christmas break. The Thanksgiving to Christmas period is a long stretch and it’s nice to have some time to recharge before the end of the semester. I found this fall really physically tiring, but that’s probably because I am getting old. Thankfully I’ve remained relatively healthy, that was until yesterday. I could just feel it coming on, and sure enough this morning I awoke stuffy and with sore throat. I guess better now than at Christmas.

So speaking of work, this past month marked a special milestone for me. I officially began my teaching career with the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board in November 1997, just over a year after graduating from university. That means I’ve been teaching for over 20 years! I really have a hard time fathoming that it’s been that long. which is why I feel like it’s all been a huge blur. I don’t feel like I’m old enough to have been teaching all those years, until I look at my grey facial hair and remember I’m turning 44 in a few weeks. It’s been an amazing experience though, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to teach some great students over the years. 

As you’re well aware, no blog post would be complete without some mention of the weather. Honestly though, I don’t have much to say. After a rather lousy summer and fall, including some early snow and cold, things have been okay of late. The forecasters are calling for a snowy and cold winter, but so far we have not seen much of that (fingers crossed). If we don’t get more snow, it will be a pretty brown Christmas. The past week has been unseasonably mild and I hope that trend continues. I know I am just fooling myself, but one can dream right?

Early snow, October 2017.

Frigid football practice, October 2017.

Snow at camp, November 2017.

A scattering of snow, November 2017.

Now that I have a bit more time on my hands, I have had more of an opportunity to resume my railway work. It’s been a combination of research, revising and editing. That probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, so I’ll explain.

As you may or may not be aware, depending on how regularly you read this blog, I am immersed in writing a book. I began researching material for this project more than 3 years ago and I started the writing process this past January. I really thought I was done most of the research, with just a few loose ends to tie up so I could finish writing. Being new to this whole book writing thing however, I’ve learned that you’re never really done research. As you write, there are always new leads that you uncover, or topics that require further elaboration or clarification, so you’re always looking into things. Just last week I received a book I purchased on forest railroads and it led me to a whole new source of information. It can all be exhausting!

Steam and Thunder in the Timber

Revising and editing are elements that are continually evolving as well. If you’re digging up new material, guaranteed you’re changing your plan of attack. The aforementioned book I received provided me with a ton of new information, which forced me to go back to reexamine the contents of my chapters and tweak the details. I don’t know what other authors do, so maybe it’s just me. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so I could be taking things too far. I don’t know; all I can do is what feel right for me.

Besides the research and revising, I plan to get back to full-scale writing, which will most likely occur during the Christmas break. If I can get another big chunk of writing done this winter, I will only have some minor details to fill in after the spring and fall season of field work. Well, that’s plan anyway; we all know that things don’t always work out the way intend them too in most cases. I’ll let you know how things are going in a few months.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I’ll try to get back before Christmas

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Posted by on December 1, 2017 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Next time remember the batteries!

Nietzsche once said, “Without forgetting it is quite impossible to live at all.” True, but he must have written that in reference to other people’s forgetfulness, for no one in their right mind would say that when they themselves have forgotten. Most people would have said something akin to “ah, for God sake,” maybe replacing “God” with a few more colourful adjectives for good measure. The reality is folks that forgetting sucks, especially when you think you’ve got it all planned out or you’re a long way from home. Maybe it’s just a sign that you’re getting old or possibly providence telling you to quit while you’re ahead. In any case, it can really dampen anyone’s day or party!

Hey, it’s October kids! I know I have not written in awhile, a long while, two months to be exact, but I’ve been busy. You know the routine already, right? Work, family, football…the usual craziness. It gets faster, busier and more exhausting every year; maybe I am getting too old for this crap. Thankfully some of it is winding down, but that’s a story for another paragraph. My classes are good, but I have larger numbers than I’ve seen in recent years. It makes marking a bit more onerous with all those extra assignments, but I guess that’s why they pay me those big bucks.

So what else is exciting Dave? Well, it wouldn’t be a proper blog post without some gripe about the weather. The weather…sucks! Is that to the point enough? It’s been a crappy year in the regard. It’s been a wet fall, at least in September, especially compared to previous falls. It has been reasonably warm though, until this week that is. It’s amazing how it can turn on a dime; 15C one day and then feeling like -4C the next. They are predicting a cold and snowy winter, so I guess we’ll have to see how that plays out. Hopefully it won’t be as bad as they say. Today was about as miserable as it comes; wet and cold. Areas west of the city got a lot of snow while it just rained here all day. Football practice was fantastic! It’s supposed to turn to snow tonight, so it might be a snowy Halloween for the kids.

Now speaking of football, as usual, it’s my biggest preoccupation of the fall. Things are going well, but I find myself more drained than normal. Probably that getting old thing again. Thankfully I have great coaches around me to ease the burden. Our high school team finished third and is gearing up to play in the semi-finals on Sunday. We are taking on our cross-town rivals, St. Ignatius, and we hope we can avenge a previous loss we suffered to them a few weeks ago. Both Ethan and Noah’s team are in the finals on Saturday, which is very exciting. Unfortunately Noah has not played all season due to a concussion he suffered in the summer so it’s been a tough time for him. But with all the new information out there regarding this issue, it was best to err on the side of caution and take our time getting him back into sports.

As football winds down, something else has jumped into the spotlight in recent weeks. Although it was not that long ago that we were in Europe for our last school excursion, we have already started planning the next one. We will be heading back during March break of 2019 on a tour similar to the ones we’ve done in the past. This one, called from Vimy to Juno, will take us to many of the same places we’ve been before, with the exception of Berlin. I’m very excited to visit a new place to experience some different culture and sights. We met with the students back in September and just had a meeting with parents yesterday. Within the next few weeks they will start enrolling and the real planning can begin. Only 498 days to go!

As has been the case in the last few months, it been pretty quiet on the railway front. I’ve been just so busy that there is, at times, barely enough time to eat and breathe, let alone do any railway work. The lone exception to this was my annual trip to Gunflint was the boys on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. I was very anxious for the opportunity to go, to get away from things for a few days, do some field work and maybe most importantly, spend some time with the boys. Fall is so crazy that I don’t see them as much as I should.

Our adventure started bright and early on Friday morning. As I have done in the past, I took a personal day to extend the weekend a bit and get as much time there as possible. We loaded up the truck and boat, and after a brief stop for some food in Grand Marais, we arrived at the Cross River Lodge by mid-morning. Our room was not ready yet, so we took the opportunity to get the boat in the water and do a little work on the east side of the lake.

It was a gorgeous day, warm with very little wind…probably one of the best fall days I’ve experienced on the lake. My plan was to shoot some video at the narrows between Gunflint and Little Gunflint Lake, something I had wanted to do in the summer but I forgot my wireless microphone. Even though it was a nice day, I had to wade through the water in the channel that separates the two lakes and man was it cold. Talk about waking you up! My oldest, Ethan, joked that he should have recorded me in the water as well, as it was quite hilarious.

While we were in the area, I decided to shoot a little video of the site of the US Customs houses on the US side of the channel. I did make a dumb decision to leave my crocs on while I did it, which was it retrospect a bad call. They were wet from being in the water and I nearly killed myself a half-dozen times while I walked around through the bush, video camera in hand. I guess it added a little excitement to the day!

Gunflint Little Gunflint Narrows, October 2017.

On our way back to the lodge we stopped along the north side of the lake where the PAD&W runs right beside the shore. The blue sky and fall colours made for some fantastic photos, even with my iPhone. I had no idea why I didn’t take out my real camera and take some shots. We spent some time near the spot I call the “Retaining Wall” which contains cribbing work done by the railway engineers 125 years ago. It’s still in amazing shape for its age and I am always fascinated each time I am there. I figured I’d record a bit while I had the camera out and add it to my collection for the day. You can view all the completed videos here, here and here.

Railway grade, Gunflint Lake, October 2017.

Retaining Wall, Gunflint Lake, October 2017.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2017.

Once we were back at the lodge and settled in, my next task was to prepare for the evenings events. If you recall, during my visit the previous year, I was asked to do an impromptu presentation on the railway. Afterwards, I told John and Rose that I would gladly do it again, but this time I would prepare myself a bit more. During my summer visit we discussed the idea and agreed it would be great to do it again. Since I had the opportunity to plan ahead, I decided to do a topic that I had not really spoken about before. A few of my presentations at Gunflint had alluded to John Paulson, the driving figure behind the mining efforts in the area in the early 1890s and the namesake of the Paulson Mine, but I had not elaborated much. With that in mind, I decided to dedicate my whole presentation to this somewhat mysterious man.  

I played to another packed house and the presentation was very well received. I also had a chance to meet some new people and connect with a number of familiar ones. I hope that this topic will form the basis of a lecture I plan to do at the Chik-Wauk Museum in a few years.

Our plan for Saturday morning involved some explorations of the Gunflint and Lake Superior in an area I had visited a few times before. We would ditch the boat for the day as our starting point was more readily accessible by road than by water. We would travel along the Crab Lake Extension of the Border Route Trail to where it intersects Crab and Whisker Lakes to look a few sites in that area. I was really apprehensive about how it would go, since it had been much wetter than in previous years and the ground could potentially be very soggy.

It’s about a 3 kilometre walk to the location, mostly along the south shore of Crab Lake. It was as I feared a bit wet, but better than I had expected. My first task was to trace a section of the railway grade along Whisker Lake, in an area I had missed on several previous visits. That was accomplished without much trouble, at which point I directed my attention to the grade along the east side of Crab Lake. In this case I was thwarted a bit by the water level on the lake, but I did make a few important discoveries. Our day was concluded by a nice meal at the Gunflint Lodge and a some down time back at Cross River.

Border Route Trail, October 2017.

Whisker Lake, October 2017.

Cylinder?, October 2017.

Pocket knife, October 2017.

Border Route Trail, October 2017.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2017.

Sunset, Gunflint Lake, October 2017.

Sunday took us back on the lake and to an area we had visited many times before. The calm waters of Friday were gone and it was quite a bumpy ride with the westerly wind blowing down the length of the lake. Having to reduce our speed made the journey a tad bit longer, but soon enough we were heading south on the trail toward Bridal Falls. The agenda for the day was to investigate a possible bridge spanning the Crab River where it is fed by the waters from Crab Lake. During my presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum in the summer, a local resident had mentioned the possibility to me and I was determined to see if it was in fact true.

Like the previous day, I was concerned about the water levels near the railway grade as it winds it way southward from the falls to Crab Lake. As it turns out, where I thought it would be wet was dry and vice versa. I had noticed last year that it appeared as though a beaver had constructed a dam where a portion of the river widens into a small lake about 200 metres north of Crab Lake. That turned out to be true and it was a bit challenging trying to make our way around the lake., but once past there it was fine and we proceeded to the mouth of the river.

It was a bit challenging trying to get across the river as a beaver had built yet another dam at the mouth, and that was my first clue that the “bridge” may not have been what it appeared. Walking across the dam and examining the area around it I found no evidence that there was a bridge spanning the river, just the dam and a number of fallen logs. On the west side of the river, I swept the shoreline for approximately 100 metres and found no traces of a railway line, just some old beer cans. I guess that put that idea to rest, but I should have taken a photo of the phantom “bridge.”

With that part of the day done and feeling somewhat deflated at not finding any bridge remains, I decided to lift my spirits by shooting some video at the site of the former corduroy trestle that ran alongside Bridal falls. When we arrived there I began to unpack my gear and set the camera up to prepare to record. It was at that point I realized that I had left the wireless microphone on during Friday’s shooting and the battery was now dead. After scouring my tactical vest for a spare battery (I have a number of AA batteries for the GPS, but not a single AAA battery needed for the microphone) I proceeded to verbally berate myself for a) leaving the microphone on and b) failing to bring a spare battery. I had contemplated it before we left the lodge, but I figured I would only need the system for a few minutes and therefore not need a spare. Dummy! I have since placed several extra AAA batteries in my vest beside those AA ones so it does not happen again. To ease yet another disappointment, I took some time to take photos of Bridal Falls.

Mystery object, October 2017.

Bridal Falls, October 2017.

Bridal Falls, October 2017.

Bridal Falls, October 2017.

It’s always sad when I have to leave Gunflint as I really enjoy visiting there. I guess I’ll have to wait until May to get back. Hopefully my next trip will be more productive from a railway standpoint, but I think any time I get there it’s good for my stress levels. Next year’s plans involve more exploration of the Gunflint and Lake Superior, and in particular Camp 8. In the meantime, I’ll have more time to do some writing on my book when football is over. Hopefully I can get most of it done and just work on some of the loose ends once I get more field work done.

Anyway, I’ve babbled on too long so it’s time to get moving. I’ll be back soon, hopefully sooner than these last two posts. I’m sure there will be a lot to talk about in the next little while. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2017 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research

 

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Vimy 2017-Reflections

The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present-David Thelen

Do you ever wonder how these quotes become famous quotes? Do people set out to generate them, or are there people sitting around waiting for them to be said? Is there a committee that decides what is or isn’t a good quote? Who votes on them…is there a quotes academy? Okay, okay, I’m obviously being very facetious. The whole point of the quote from Thelen, who is an American History professor (I had to Google it), is that teaching history is not easy. One of the best ways to do it, is to have people experience it firsthand.

Well, it’s hard to believe that it has already been a week and a half since we returned from the trip. But I guess time moves just as fast when you’re not on a trip as it does when you are. We were very busy on the trip and it’s been even crazier now trying to catch up on everything while we were away. I’ve never missed 7 days of work before and I sure paid for it. There was a whole stack of marking I needed to get through, especially since midterm marks were due. I’m mostly caught up now, but I’m glad I hopefully won’t be missing that much school again in the future.

My return to real life and work was made that much more challenging by how jet lagged and exhausted I felt when we returned. I know, I know, poor me! I did get the gears from a lot of people who read this blog during the trip and asked me about how tired I was. How tired were you Dave? Really tired? The reality is I was tired…that’s why I wrote it. Duh. I realize I was in Europe and not at work, but these excursions are not your run-of-the-mill let’s jump on a plane and see some stuff type of vacation. First, I am the group leader and ultimately responsible for the 23 students we had with us. That is a tad bit stressful; when you’re teaching, the kids go home to their parents at the end of the day and you’re not on duty 24/7. Secondly, these trips are very busy and they try to pack in as many things as they can. So ya, I was up some days at 0500 and getting to bed, albeit because I was working on this blog, after midnight. I did try to nap some on the bus, but I like to see some of the sights and don’t want to sleep it all away.

In any case, it was a great trip. The kids really enjoyed themselves and hopefully learned a lot more about the history and culture of the world. I can honestly say, even though this was my third trip, that I learned a lot too. Even though the three trips were relatively similar, and there were some repetitive things, you experience new stuff. Amsterdam and Paris are so big, that there is so much still to discover. Besides those two places, we’ve never stayed in the same city twice, which is amazing. I have now seen Rouen, Amiens, Valenciennes, Colombiers-sur-Seulles, Lille and Honfleur. Each has it’s unique features, architecture, history and culture. In my personal opinion, while Paris is an amazing city, I much prefer the those smaller cities for their distinct charm and character. Maybe someday I’ll be able to explore them at a much more leisurely pace.

The whole crew in Honfleur, April 2017.

One of the things people often ask me is what was my most memorable memory or moment from the trip. That is always a difficult question, as there are so many. If I have to pick something, I would have to say it’s not one thing in particular, but rather watching the reactions of the kids. I mentioned before it’s a huge step for many of them, and for most their first experience with European culture. It’s akin to what I’ve experienced with my own kids, just they’re not mine…that sense of awe and wonder. It’s heartening to hear them talk about coming back and exploring more of the great places we visited. I was also blessed to be able to travel with a great group of chaperones, who shared my excitement and my stresses. I’m already looking forward to our next adventure! Our EF Tour Director, Jason, was the icing on the cake. His professionalism, easy-going manner and silky-smooth commentary put everyone at ease. The kids loved him and still talk about how great he was.

St. Patrick crew, April 2017.

So what about the bad Dave? I guess I can say there was really only one bad experience that I had. I thought the whole Vimy commemoration was good, though as I already described, more festive than I anticipated, especially compared to the 95th anniversary. I guess that will happen when there’s 25,000 people and lots of VIPs there. I thought the early part of the day was well planned and went very smoothly, but not the second half. I don’t think they (they being Veterans Affairs Canada, who were in charge of the event) anticipated the impact of having so many people squished into such a small area would mean.

In retrospect, we did have it easier than some groups, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. It only took us about 1.5 hours to get through the line to the shuttle buses, but no one thought to put any facilities in the assembly areas (or at least ours in Lens) so people could go to the bathroom. The poor employees at the MacDonald’s beside the parking lot must have had a rough day. At the memorial, I thought there should have been people directing traffic and making sure some areas did not get too congested. The fenced in area on the front side of the monument became so packed you could not move, and there were nowhere enough toilets for all the people (I tried going at one point, but couldn’t find the end of the line). Many stopped drinking water, which was not a good thing on such a warm day, so they wouldn’t have to go (myself included).

The exfil (to use the military term for exfiltration) from the site was an absolute gong show. People near the front began streaming up and over the monument to get out, while those at the back, including us, were trapped because they would not open gate to the main entrance. It seems as though transporting some of the minor VIPs took precedence over the thousands of people who had been baking in the sun for hours. Someone or some people broke down a portion of the fence and there was a mad rush for the opening. It was utter pandemonium! It was fortunate no one was trampled, but it was a nightmare trying to keep the group together. The scary part was realizing, as we surged along with the crowd, that we were walking through a part of the site that is off-limits due to UXO. Yes, people (myself included) were walking through fields with unexploded munitions in them! They don’t even cut the grass in those areas, but rather use goats to keep the vegetation down due to their lower ground pressure.

Thankfully we had told the kids where to go to catch the shuttle back to the assembly areas. It was insane, but we managed to get most of the kids rounded up in one big group, with one chaperone and a few students slightly separated. Getting on the shuttle created a lot of anxiety and some tears, but by 2030 we were all on our bus, Big Green, and heading back to Lille. We didn’t find out until later that it took some groups until midnight to make it back to the assembly areas. That’s nuts! Anyway, we got everyone out and I don’t think we’ll be involved in an event like that again. But it will be something that we all remember for the rest of our lives. Alright, so that was only four paragraphs of ranting!

From a personal perspective, my only issue, as it always has been, is leaving my family behind. I know my boys missed me, and it does put a lot on my wife, especially since I was gone for 11 days. I certainly appreciate everything she did during that time. If there is one positive to my absence, it has generated a lot of interest in the boys to see these places as well. I have promised them I will take them on a tour when they get to St. Pats.

All griping aside, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. While the Vimy ceremony wasn’t as solemn as I anticipated, there were many opportunities for us to have an intimate view of history. The place that probably generated the most reflection and emotion was the Bretteville-sur-Laize Cemetery in Cintheaux, south of Caen. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we were relatively alone there, as opposed to the tens or even hundreds of people at the other places we visited. When it touches close and becomes personal, the impact of the history is much greater.

Newfoundland Memorial, Beaumont Hamel, April 2017.

Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery, April 2017.

Now speaking of which, we are planning to do it all again, hopefully in two years. We would like to change it up a bit, maybe see a few new places in the process. We’ve submitted our application to go during March break of 2019, but haven’t settled on an exact tour yet. One option would take us to Berlin, some different parts of the Netherlands and then Vimy, Normandy and Paris. The second is a complete break, focusing on the Italian battlefields. We’re leaning towards one, but we’ll make a final decision once the paperwork is (hopefully) approved. Wherever we go, it will be an amazing experience for the kids just like every other trip.

Anyway, it’s time to wrap this up. Now that things are getting back to normal, I’ll be back with my usual blog posts soon enough. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2017 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 11

Day 11 ladies and gentlemen. Time to go home. It’s amazing how fast times flies when you’re on a trip. I guess that’s why they pack so many things on to the agenda; if you did a tour like this at a leisurely pace, you’d never see anything. The only problem is now I need a vacation from the vacation. I’m obviously tired, there isn’t anyone who isn’t, but I’m sure I’d be better if my throat wasn’t so sore. Damn cold!

Alright, we’re in the air on our way back to Canada. I feel a bit better now that all of the kids and chaperones on are the plane. We had this morning, for lack of a better term, a gong show departure. Somehow we ended up with a bus for 49 people, but there 50 of us including Jason. On top of that, the luggage compartment wouldn’t hold all the bags, so not only did one person have to share a seat, we had to put about 10 bags in the aisle of the bus. When we arrived at CDG (Charles DeGaulle Airport), our bus driver couldn’t figure out how to get us to Terminal 2A. We, the tourists, had to point him in the right direction.

Inside terminal, it was a slow process getting checked in as the computers at Air Canada were glitchy. There were long lines at customs and security, so we made it to the gate just before boarding, albeit in groups or varying size. I’m trying to relax now as much as I can, since issues in Canada are much easier to deal with. Happy thoughts. I’m watching Rogue One (yay) and they are starting to serve lunch which will help. We’re approaching the coast of France…only 5800k to go!

Airport selfies, April 2017.

Airport selfies, April 2017.

Okay, lunch just came and went. It’s was much better than the last time; I’m in row 21, so I managed to snag some chicken. I didn’t care for the quinoa? salad, but the carrots and potatoes with it were good. We have six hours more flying time to Toronto, so I’m going to grab a nap when the movie is done. We’re on a 777-300, which seems fairly new and high tech, but steerage seems more cramped than the A330 we came on. I’m in a row with Stewart and Dawson, three bigger guys, and we’re shoulder to shoulder almost. I should be interesting try to get comfortable to sleep. Any case, I’m going to wrap it up so I can finish the movie.

Hey, I’m back, and guess what, we’re in Canada? Well, technically we’re in Canadian airspace, but I’ll take it. I don’t know how long I was asleep, but I do feel better. According to my nice little LED screen in front of me, we just passed over St. John’s, Newfoundland. We’ve flown over 4000km and have 2100km to go. We’ll land just after 1300, so that means we still have over 2.5 hours to go. I’ll be happy when we’re off the plane as I’m still feeling incredibly squished. In Toronto we have a 4 hour layover, so I’ll write more then; it’s hard to type on the screen (my Bluetooth keyboard won’t work on the plane) and I can’t move my arms properly.

Back over Canada, April 2017.

So we’re back in the air for the last leg of our journey back to Thunder Bay. It seems so surreal how fast one can move around; this morning we were in Paris and shortly we will be home. It certainly gives you a good idea of how small our world has become. In any case, it will be good to go back reality, even for the kids. Almost all that I talked, even though they are sad about the end of the trip, really want to see their families. And as great as they have been and as much as we have enjoyed travelling with them, the chaperones will be happy to be off 24/7 teaching duties. It’s rewarding, but very tiring.

On the way home, April 2017.

Speaking of the kids on the trip, I think that travelling like this has so many rewards beyond just seeing the sites of Europe. I already mentioned that for many, this was their first time away from their parents. All of them learned a lot about themselves, about being independent and responsible and that sometimes you need to take chances and try new things. Ya, riding the Metro is a bit scary and intimidating, but so is life. Trips like this not only teach academic things, but also life lessons.

One of the more interesting things that happen on these trips are the friendships that are formed. We have students from different backgrounds, different social groups and even different high schools, but after some initial hestitation, it’s neat to see them come together. Some may have even formed new long-term friendships. Even for us as teachers, we get to see the kids in a whole different light and it gives us a greater appreciation of who they are as individuals. I know that they are thankful for the time and energy it takes to plan a trip such as this and the fact we have to be away from our own families to do it. Being a stand in parent for a week and half is challenging, but dad, mom (Ms. Caza) and Uncle Marcon would it all again in a heartbeat.

It’s after 2100, we landed safe and sound and everyone is now at home with their families. It has been another long day; my body is still on Paris time and it is the middle of the night. I know it will take me a while to get back into the usual routine. On that note, I’m going to sign off. I’ll be back in a few days with some final thoughts on the trip after I have had some time to digest it all. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 10

Day 10 kids and guess what? You probably guessed wrong, so I’ll tell you…I’m sick. Ugh, I knew this would happen. You get rundown physically, your immune system can’t keep up and bam! My throat is a bit sore and I can feel it in my lungs. It’s okay, I’ll tough it out (really, what else am I going to do). It’s the Dadistel way right?

Today is our last full day on tour…it’s very fitting that it’s Good Friday, the most solemn day in the Christian calendar. I think there are a lot of mixed emotions; it’s sad to be on the last day of the tour, but I think for a lot of us maybe it’s time to start thinking about home. I know that I miss my wife and my kids and it would be nice to see them again. Our agenda this morning starts with a bus tour of the city of Paris, followed by a pizza lunch, the Louvre and then whatever we have time for.

The bus tour was great as always. Our tour guide was Stephanie, who was very knowledgable about the sites. After about an hour of driving, we stopped at Les Invalides for a break and a photo op. From there we drove to Place de Trocadero, which is “the” place to get photos of the Eiffel Tower. Back on the bus, our final stop was the Arc di Triomphe on the Champs-Élysées. Leaving Stephanie and the bus behind, we got an up-close view of this amazing landmark before leaving for lunch.

Les Invalides selfie, April 2017.

Eiffel Tower selfie, April 2017.

Arc de Triomphe, April 2017.

Lunch today was covered by EF and was at a place we had eaten on previous tours, Flamme’s. I didn’t realize it was a chain, and the location we ate at was not the one we’ve visited before. Flamme’s is short for Flammekueche, which is an Alascian style pizza. It has a very thin crust, and is topped with some form of white sauce and various meats and veggies (bacon, onions and mushrooms). It’s all you can eat, which I know the kids appreciated. It was finished off with caramel, chocolate and apple desert flammekueche, which was delicious.

Flammekueche, April 2017.

Flammekueche, April 2017.

After lunch we walked the two kilometres or so from the restaurant to the Louvre. It’s was very pretty in the warm temperatures and vibrant colours of spring through the Tuileries Garden. Unfortunately our visit to the Louvre was extremely brief; two hours is only enough time to see a few things in the enormous museum. Since I was there twice already, I followed Ms. Caza on her mandatory journey to see the Mona Lisa.

Louvre, April 2017.

Louvre, April 2017.

We’re on the bus heading away from Paris…it’s always sad on the last day leaving the city. It was a nice end to the day. From the Louvre, we walked a short distance to Notre Dame Basilica. It is such a beautiful church, which made a big impression on the kids. I’ve been there on two other occasions and I’m still struck every time. The only thing that has changed is the security around the basilica, with police checkpoints and armed military patrols in the square. It’s a sad reality of the times we live in.

Notre Dame Basilica, April 2017.

Charlemagne, April 2017.

From Notre Dame we hopped the Metro to our restaurant for dinner. This by far was our most stressful ride. It was packed, and more people kept coming on the car my group of 9 were in. When we got to our station, Gard du Nord, we had to push our way out of the car; the kids followed my instructions to a tee-polite and aggressive. Dinner tonight was at L’Orange Vert, a short distance from the Metro station. It was okay; salad, carrots and a type of Sheperd’s Pie. After dinner we walked to our pick up point for the bus transfer back to the hotel.

It was a long, but productive day. According to those wearing Fitbits, we did upwards of 23,000 steps. My legs, ankles and feet are killing me! I guess I’ll have lots of time to rest them on our flights back home tomorrow. On that note, I better turn in. I still feel crappy and it will be another long day. I’ll be blogging the whole way home so I’ll be back tomorrow night with all final news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 9

Day 9 Mes Amies. The engine turned over this morning but she’s running a little rough. I slept well, though I woke up at 0500 and couldn’t fall back asleep. I could certainly use more time in bed, but c’est la vie. Today is going to be a very busy day and I am going to need every ounce of energy I can scrape up. Hopefully breakfast is good; based on this hotel, I have my fingers crossed.

So today’s adventure is going to take us first to Versailles, which is southwest of Paris. A bus will take us into the city, and from there we will take the train, the RER, to Versailles. I’ve never been there before, so I am quite excited to see it. I have taught about it a lot both in Grade 10 history (Treaty or Versailles) and in Grade 12 history (Louis XIV). That visit should chew up most of our day.

We’re off on the first adventure of the day as we are on the RER train to Versailles. It was quite interesting purchasing the tickets and then trying to get on the train as it moved down the platform. I think it was very eye-opening for a lot of the kids who have never done it before. However I guess there’s a first time for everything and I’m sure it won’t be the last for a lot of them. It’s a nice little introduction to our later rides on the Metro.

Team Battistel, April 2017.

Now we’re in the queue to get into the Palace of Versailles. We’ve been waiting here for just over an hour and we’re almost at the gate. The lines here are enormous; fortunately the clouds have rolled in a bit and it’s not as hot and scorching as it was a little while ago. We should have approximately 2 1/2 hours to look through Versaillies and some of the grounds before we have to head back on the train to Les Invalides. It’s kind a neat the people that you meet while waiting in line. We had a lengthy conversation with a French couple who were curious to know why Canadians were here in France. Breaching the language barrier is always an interesting and fun part of the conversation.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

It’s 2130 and we’re on the bus heading back to our hotel outside of Paris. What a long but fruitful day. Myself and everyone else I’m sure is pretty tired. Versailles was amazing! I’ve seen many programs on Versailles and taught about it for many years but it’s something else to see it in person. The size of the structure and the grounds are simply amazing. The opulence of the inside is indescribable. One can understand why the masses revolted against excesses of the French royalty. The only negative from the visit was the number of people at the site. It took us more than an hour to get in and I felt like cattle being herded through the various buildings and attractions. I would definitely go back, but I’d try to go on a day with less people or maybe earlier in the morning.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

Royal Chapel, Versailles, April 2017.

Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, April 2017.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

Palace of Versailles, April 2017.

After we finished at Versailles, we had to jump back on the train and meet Jason at Les Invalides Station. From there we hopped on the Metro to our dinner location. This is something that many of the chaperones as well as the students were concerned about. It can be tricky to move such a large group of people on and off the subway cars. Dinner was at Le Beouf gros sel and consisted of penne with chicken, which I demolished since I didn’t have any lunch.

After eating, it was back on the Metro, with a transfer in between, to our next destination which was the Pont Neuf Bridge. There we would be taking a cruise along the Seine River at dusk to see the sites of Paris. It was 12€ well spent, as the kids really enjoyed this tour. Even though I had done it before, I found it interesting all over again. The only thing that didn’t go right was a few St. Ignatius girls getting drenched by a wave thrown up by a passing boat. They were able to laugh it off and so did we.

Eiffel Tower, April 2017.

Pont Neuf, April 2017.

Notre Dame Cathedral, April 2017.

Today was another day of firsts; first train ride for many, first Metro ride for many and first time the chaperones took the group out without the tour director. I’d say it was a pretty successful day. Jason even commended us on how, with a very large group, we were able to navigate the Metro with a fair amount of competence. Let’s hope it continues tomorrow.

I need to run. It’s almost midnight now and we have an even earlier day tomorrow. It’s sad that tomorrow is our last day here, but will make the most of it. I’ll be back tomorrow with all the details. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 8

Day 8 Les Enfants. Even though I am still tired and could have stayed in bed a whole lot longer, I am not a complete zombie and have some vague human semblance. Since we roll out at later time today, maybe that extra hour of sleep helped. Who knows. In any case, I feel better. Maybe it’s because with a better wifi connection, I was able to FaceTime my family last night. As much fun as we’re having gallivanting around Northern Europe, I do miss them.

Okay, we’re on the bus now, making our way to Juno Beach. The whole group was enchanted with the town of Honfleur. What a gorgeous place! It’s almost so picturesque and idyllic that it you can mistake it for fake; Ms. Caza thinks it’s a place you could fall in love in. We walked along the harbourfront to St. Catherine’s Church, which had such an amazing architecture. Except for the foundation, the whole church was made of wood, which is very unusual. It’s shaped like an inverted ship and the inside was breathtaking. I wish we had more time to take it in.

St. Catherine Church, Honfleur, April 2017.

St. Catherine Church, Honfleur, April 2017.

Afterwards we broke up for a little bit and gave the kids a chance to wander around. I did grab some local honey outside the church in the farmers market and then spent most of my time taking pictures. It is certainly a photographers delight. On our way back to the bus, Jason took us through the oldest part of the town and it was amazing. The authentic, narrow cobblestone streets with the gutter running down the middle was something to see. You could tell the buildings were original by their construction and the aging of the wood. I’m glad we went into the town and I would definitely go back some day.

Honfleur, April 2017.

Vimy group, Honfleur, April 2017.

So we are now on the road to the city of Paris…the kids are all excited! Our visit to Normandy was was fantastic, and filled with many new things. The first stop was at the Juno Beach Centre in Courselles-sur-Mer. It’s a neat place, but I’ve seen it twice before, so I went through as quickly as possible. I did spend some time in the gift shop, as I always get the boys a shirt. I was a little challenging trying to find them something, especially Noah, since they really didn’t have any kids sizes. From there it was outside to take a look at the German bunkers and the beach.

The area where the centre is located is at Mike Red Sector, which was assaulted by the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, with the support of tanks from the 1st Hussars. In the past there was one bunker, which you couldn’t see much of due to restricted access. In 2014, they began excavation on another bunker, which is now open to the public. It was really interesting to walk through. The beach was okay, though the tide was up and there was not much to see.

From the Juno Beach Centre we took a short bus ride 5 minutes to the east to Bernieres-sur-Mer. There we had a short walk along the sea wall on what was once Nan White Sector. Assaulted by troops from the Queen’s Own Rifles, this area saw the most intense fighting on June 6, with the QOR taking heavy casualties to capture the beach. The area features a German bunker on the east side of the sector and “Canada House” on the west. Canada House was the first structure captured by Allied troops on D-Day.

Nan White Sector, Bernieres, April 2017.

Canada House, Bernieres, April 2017.

St. Pats group, April 2017.

We jumped on the bus for another short ride east again to St. Aubin-sur-Mer, site of Nan Red Sector. On D-Day, troops from New Brunswick’s North Shore Regiment landed there. Our visit was primarily based on our need to satisfy our gastric desires. We did find some places to eat, but there was also history to see as well. Just like Bernieres, there is a German bunker on the beach, this one featuring a 50mm anti-tank gun. According to the plaque, it knocked out several tanks from the Fort Garry Horse before other tanks silenced it.

We had been to Bernieres on both previous trips, but never to St. Aubin. What a pretty little town! There were many picturesque buildings along the promenade and in the town. Before and after we ate, I spent a lot of time taking pictures and shooting video. The tide was going out, so there was a lot of room on the beach to wander. I would definitely go back in a heartbeat, maybe with more time to look around. That holds true for the whole Juno Beach area.

Nan Red Sector, St. Aubin, April 2017.

It’s almost 2300 and the end of a long day. Sometimes you forget how much of a whirlwind these EF Tours can be. This morning we were in Normandy, and now we’re in Paris. Our hotel is some 50km from downtown Paris, but it’s in a very nice area near Disneyland. After our arrival, we quickly went to our rooms and headed over to a nearby mall to try and grab a bite to eat. While the stores were closed, the restaurants were quite busy and there was a lot of options to chose from. It was a nice way to end the evening.

Anyway, I need to go check on the kids before turning in myself. We have a very busy day tomorrow; the commute, Versailles, dinner and a river cruise. I’m sure there will be a lot to talk about in the next post. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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