To The Mothers Of My Life

 

My mother-in-law

At 83 years old, she manages to play with and entertain her grand-daughter for hours in spite of her limited mobility.

With her, bedtime storytime is filled with giggles and wonderful tales. She never thinks twice to treat her grand-child to a pony ride or a cute piece of clothing although she never spends a dime on herself.

With her, every meal is a feast prepared with love from the wee hours to lunch time.

In spite of living a life of hard labour and privation – she experienced Second World War first hand – she never lost her positive attitude and love of life.

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Dear Maryse, Happy Mother’s Day!

 

My Stepmother

She has wanderlust and an appetite for adventure like very few women of her age.

Mother of 3 and grandmother of 6 – 7 counting my daughter – with a 94-year-old father still living, she cares for her clan with kindness and tenderness.

From preparing and cooking the best camping meals in the world to sewing the cutest little clothes for her grandkids and their dolls, she doesn’t fear to learn new skills and develop her talents.

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Dear Diane, Happy Mother’s Day!

 

My Mother

She is a strong, independent and elegant woman on the outside but sensitive and vulnerable inside.

She enjoys what is good in life – good food & wine – traveling – spending time outdoors. She fears not taking on new challenges – personal and professional –  and seldom gives up.

She is a wonderful friend, sister and aunt and she surrounds herself with wonderful people. She would be the best partner to the lucky man that could gain her love.

She flys half-way across the globe to hang out with her beloved grand-daughter who will tell you she plays “house” like no one else, gives the best foot rubs and is the most courageous at polar bear swims.

She is always there to listen to me and support me in the good and the bad and I know I can always count on her sound advice.

Diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago, she cruised through pre and post surgery with calm and resilience and is now as healthy, alive and well as ever.

 

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Dear Roselyne, dear MOM! Happy Mother’s Day !

I sure am grateful to have such special human beings as the mothers of my life …and to all the other mothers in my life, Happy Mother’s Day!

 

I LOVE YOU! xox

 

Emilie

 

 

 

 

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3 Generations On A Quest For Waves, Rock & Volcanos In Tenerife, Spain

This past winter has been the coldest and snowiest in years in Western Europe. By traveling over there to spend our six-month sabbatical holiday, we didn’t expect to face that much cold weather. In fact, we were quite looking forward to a shorter, milder winter. Since our trip didn’t quite go as planned with Hervé’s knee surgery and a missed 2-week trip to Spain in November, we were all feeling a little sun deprived.

Therefore, in December we started looking for a warm and sunny European destination to meet up with my mother who lives in Quebec for late January/early February where we could potentially climb, hike, enjoy nice walks on the beach, discover a new culture, eat well… and forego socks. 

“Being able to wear sandals” is an important factor in our decision-making process as it means that we are not particularly looking for 30-degree weather but rather a mild climate to enjoy some outdoor activities and have a drink on a patio without wearing a toque and a down jacket…or wool socks. While I personally enjoy a climate with four distinct seasons very much, living in flip-flops year-round would be my absolute bliss. 

In our research, we quickly stumbled upon the Canary Islands as an ideal destination both for the climate, the warmest of all Western Europe for this period, and the ease of access from the continent as well as from Canada. Tenerife also seemed like the best island for us to visit due to the concentration of points of interest AND climbing sites.

Once we made our choice, it wasn’t difficult to sell the destination to Mom who was eager to escape winter, to spend time with her granddaughter and be a player in our six-month lifetime memory-making family adventure. 

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Landing on Tenerife 100% Vida

It’s on a sunny 25 degree Celsius Thursday that we picked her up at the Reina Sofia International Airport in our Peugeot Partner minivan for a two-week  exploration of this fascinating island with the goal to find activities and attractions to suit every family member’s taste and fill our head, ears, eyes and taste buds with the Island’s wonders.

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from black sand beaches at sea level
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…to snowy 3700 m high peak

Here is a summary of our highlights!

Wind & Waves – Breathing the Atlantic Ocean

All five of us were unanimous on the best beach area of the whole Island: El Medano.

Located only a few kilometres from the South Airport, this small community is the absolute wind & wave sports Mecca and the one with the best vibe in Tenerife. 

On the beachfront, a wooden boardwalk leads from surf shops to cool cafés and bars. Small size hotels and apartment buildings, kilometres of fine sand beaches, warm water, a vibrant scene made out of small families, old surf bums, backpackers, retirees and friendly locals make up the landscape of El Medano, along with the Montana Roja, the omnipresent red volcanic hill separating El Medano from La Tejita, the also very nice neighbouring beach town.

our happy beach town!

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Cute stores & cafés
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Fine sandy beaches and warm water

In El Medano, one can rent a wind/kite surf, a SUP or a surfboard for cheap or take lessons in any of these sports. For 20 euros, we rented a surfboard for 4 hours with 3 wetsuits and spent a very fun afternoon in spite of the strong winds, while grandma took pictures, fed us ice cream and kept our little girl wrapped in a warm towel each time she got out of the water shivering.

Another beach that all five of us really enjoyed was La Playa de Las Teresitas, a few kilometres north of Santa Cruz for its super fine white sand and crystal clear water. We thought it was well worth a sunny picnic stop before heading to Anaga and its wetter and cooler climate.

Beware, however, that isn’t unusual to come across a bare naked German swimmer. Tenerife, like many islands, hosts its share of quirky, free-spirited souls!

Volcanic Rock – Climbing in Tenerife

While rock climbing wasn’t the main objective of our trip and neither did we expect a fantastic climbing destination, we were still happy to have brought the gear along. 

A keen crew of young climbers – locals and foreigners – are spending countless time and energy to bolt and equip new sectors on the unique volcanic rock. The main climbing areas are located near the village of Arico, up in the Teide National Park and on the south-west side of the Island near Guia de Isora. Trad climbing, bouldering and even deep water soloing can be found on the Island which benefits from a climate suitable for climbing year-round.

Climbers will find accommodation, gear, information and climbing lessons quite easily in Tenerife through the Tenerife Climbing House  and  Roxtar Climbing Shop.

My husband and I were able to leave grandma and daughter at the vacation rental a few half-days to check out some of the sectors; we also found one site suitable for young children.

In the hills behind Arico, a short hike down the trail leading to El Barranco del Tanque takes the climbers to Tamadaya, a canyon right out of the Flinstone movie in less than half hour. There, families will find plenty of routes in the 6th grade and a few in the 4th and 5th, flat grounds and solid rock to spend a fun day.

Near Guia de Isora, the sector of Guaria is located in a nesting area of importance for several species of birds and therefore, the number of climbers allowed to access the area is limited to 70 per day. A daily permit system is available online.

We appreciated the effort going into developing the climbing sectors but agreed that the consistency in the grading, availability of easy routes, the chossy nature of the rock in some areas and the sometimes spaced-out bolting (many routes are bolted from the top) made the destination not quite ready yet for masses of climbers to visit. 

Kamikaze-type stronger climbers will, however, enjoy discovering this new territory, especially the sectors in the Teide National Park for the unbelievable scenery and harder routes which we didn’t get to explore because it was completely snowed in at the time we visited.

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Climbing in Guaria

Mountains & Valleys – Tenerife’s Best Hiking 

Not too far from the coastal resort towns and quaint fishing villages lie hundred of kilometres of high-quality hiking trails. The rich and diverse biodiversity and landscapes of Tenerife make it a very interesting ground to explore by foot.

From the drier hills of the south coast to the lush rainforest of the Anaga Peninsula and the high alpine environment of Pico del Teide – the highest peak of Spain culminating at 3700m – one cannot get bored of walking.

Our crew enjoyed going on some shorter walks towards the pine forest up behind Granadilla before heading to the beach in the afternoons.

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hiking with grandma to some remote hamlets between peaks and ocean

We also were struck by the beauty and uniqueness of landscape which reminds us of the Peruvian Andes on more challenging hikes on the North-East end of the Island.

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The stunning Anaga Peninsula

 

Our favourite trail was the one linking Punta del Hidalgo to Cruz del Carmen, a 10km /900m vertical one-way hike. While our daughter had to be carried a large part of the way, we encountered a friendly Swiss family of five with whom we shared a few kilometres. 

The sight of a 7, a 10 and a 12-year old cute children enjoying their hike fully was very motivating for our daughter as much as the few chocolate cookies they kindly shared with her. 

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a landscape reminiscent of the Andes
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hiking on steep but good trails
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Peru-like lush vegetation

While we, unfortunately, weren’t able to pay a visit to the Teide National Park due to heavy snowfalls (we were escaping winter after all!), we did get talked into the very touristy but not less fascinating Masca Valley hike, 6km /- 600m vertical one-way,  which we didn’t regret at all.

We set off from the town of Los Gigantes early on a sunny but brisk Sunday morning by bus to Santiago del Teide, the local outdoor Mecca. Riding with us on the bus was an older Danish man retired on the Island and absolutely found of hiking. He told us this amazing story of the eruption of the Chinyero back in 1909 that was threatening the village and how few local men miraculously stopped the lava with their faith.

From Santiago, we took a taxi ride to the stunning village of Masca to avoid the herds of hikers coming on the first bus later in the morning. After a cafe con leche, all five of us started the descent toward the deep canyon in good spirits. Four hours of leapfrogging our way from rock to rock, we reached the ocean where we had just enough time to enjoy a refreshing dip before heading back to the town by taxi boat (reservation highly recommended).

The Masca Valley hike is not to be underestimated and requires a good physical condition and adequate shoes, plenty of food and water. The canyon, however, is stunning and in spite of the business of the trail, the itinerary is really unique and very worth spending a day.

Culture & Nature – Diverse Landscapes and a Rich Heritage

Tenerife is the island with over 3000 ecosystems. From high alpine to sub-alpine, temperate rainforest to desert with tropical areas in between, Tenerife boasts the most extreme climatic regions all squished into 2,000 sq km of land.

Geologically, the island is also fascinating in its diversity. We haven’t ceased to be amazed by the black volcanic rock along the coastline, the fine white, black or pink sand beaches dispersed around the island or the jagged peaks of Anaga.

Many zoos feature the various animal species from the island for the enjoyment of visitors young and old. The marketing of these zoos is also very present everywhere on the island and it’s difficult for a kid not to notice it and feel attracted.

After a short research, it appeared to us that Loro Parque was the one to visit, for it’s unique educational and conservational vocation. In spite of a fairly high entrance fee (35 euros per adults, kids 5 under are free), the day spent at Loro Parque was a great experience for the whole family and I can understand why it is rated in the world’s top visitors attractions on Trip Advisor.

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One happy little girl at Loro Parque

We enjoyed learning about the marine mammals and learning what to do if we encounter a whale stranded on the beach. We were delighted to observe and learn about the many parrot species of the park including the ones that were saved from extinction with the help of the Park’s foundation and scientific team. 

Our child’s environmental consciousness was reinforced by the evocative images on pollution caused by plastic, marine transportation, industrial activities and other human behaviours and the arm it can do to wildlife.

Due to its geographical location almost half-way across the Atlantic Ocean, the Canary Islands hold a very special place in the history of world’s exploration. It is so interesting to read about how key Tenerife was in providing food, supplies and staff on the first sailing expeditions around the globe, including Magellan’s very first circumnavigation. The island boasts a few interesting archeological sites and a great ethnological museum at the Guimar Pyramids, and the opportunities to find out more about history are plentiful.

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Residents of Guimar celebrating San Antonio

Very Spanish indeed, Tenerife also boasts a very sensible influence from Northern Africa and even Central and South America in its culture. Catholicism is also an important part of Tenerife’s culture and can be witnessed through the architecture, the local celebrations and way of life.

Tapas, Fish & All The Flavours from Las Canarias

With climatic zones and soils so diverse, everything can grow on Tenerife. Agriculture, namely the culture of banana, aloe and pineapple, is a major economic driver. One can find a variety of fruit and vegetable year-round and enjoy some good quality wines from the grape grown and vinified right there on the Island. Foodies like me will be glad to hear that food and drinks prices on the island are at least 30-40% cheaper than in continental Europe which really makes a Tenerife vacation more affordable especially with the hefty exchange rate with the Canadian dollar. 

We simply couldn’t get enough of those gigantic sweet red peppers, delicate-tasting avocados or sun riped bananas. 

Fresh fish of the day (expensive but so tasty!), tapas (we’re in Spain after all) can also be found everywhere as well as some very local specialties such as goat stew, papas canarias (wrinkly potatoes cooked in salt water), or mojo, tasty red or green sauces made out of oil, vinegar, herbs and spices.

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The cultural melting pot of the Island also brings an international diversity to the food scene including many English Pubs, Italian, Indian, Moroccan restaurants. Happy hour is popular in the many resort towns and one can get a pint of beer for as low as 1 euro. Hurray! The bars of Tenerife also serve excellent cafe con leche for 1-1,50 euro.

Our best dining experience on Tenerife was at Bea’s restaurant (the owner of the condo we rented) Tabaibarril in San Miguel de Tajao . Upon arriving, we were invited to pick our fresh fish and seafood right from the kitchen and had it prepared to perfection. We also enjoyed having a drink and a few tapas at Cafe Al Mar in Poris de Abona near our condo and watch the sun go down. We also sampled some very traditional cuisine of goat stews, local charcuteries, cod, tuna cakes and grilled pork chops at the impeccable Tasca del Horno in Granadilla. 

Like all busy tourist destinations, however, it can be difficult to pick a good and authentic restaurant that serves fresh local food. Wandering off the beaten tracks into lesser visited areas is always a good option to come across interesting flavours.

Cozy Beds & Sweet Dreams

Visitors benefit from loads of accommodation options everywhere. For 40-80 euros per night, we found modern and comfortable 2-bedroom condos to rent to house our extended family. Some areas of the Island namely Los Christianos/Playa de Las Americas/Los Gigantes and Puerto de la Cruz seemed more expensive and given the short distances, it’s better value to stay in quieter areas and drive for those who would really want to spend time there. 

Those areas are critically over-saturated and spoiled by mass tourism, unfortunately, which is a deep contrast with the pristine nature and unoccupied areas in the center and north of the island.

In order to limit further hotel/tourist accommodation development on the Island and foster a higher yield tourism type, the government now limits the building of new visitor accommodation to five-star resort-like establishments offering new attractions and activities through a strict moratory.

We preferred to stay in quieter communities such as El Poris and Juan’s apartment was our best accommodation by far and the best suited to our muli-generational travel party with it’s two bedrooms and large living areas.

We also check out the campground near Playa de La Tejita which seemed like an interesting option in the future. Free camping can also be found in some places. As mentioned earlier, Tenerife Climbing House can also be a great option for climbers in a hostel-type formula.

In the North, Punta del Hidalgo or Taganana seemed like quaint and authentic places to settle for a few days. 

Getting There & Getting Around

Flying into the South Airport is an inexpensive bliss from any major Western European city. The three of us flew direct on Easyjet from Geneva for 400 euros all in, including a checked bag. From Canada, flights are available starting at $1,100 from any major cities with one or two stop-overs.

Ferries from Cadiz are also a good option for travellers in a van/camper or the ones with lots of time on their side.

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Waiting for the bus after a long hike

A rental car is absolutely necessary for anyone planning on exploring the rock climbing sites. For hikers, foodies, surfers or cultural buffs, Tenerife has a very robust public transit system that will take you to/from any location for 1 euro per trip. The island also boasts beautifully paved winding roads that seem well suited for bike tourists/cyclists…but beware of the many, many hills!

 

Tenerife: An Exotic & Distinctive Winter Getaway

In conclusion, my mom, husband, daughter and myself all agree on the fact that Tenerife was an ideal destination for us to meet and spend quality time together in a warm location. We were struck by the beauty of the scenery and the ease to get around. We were pleased to discover how friendly and welcoming the people of Tenerife are and how proud they are of their island.

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Los Gigantes – High cliffs diving into the ocean

In two weeks time, we filled our bodies with vitamin D from the sun & vitamin C from the fresh fruit and filled our minds with stunning images. We filled our pockets with volcanic rocks and our shoes with fine sand and most of all, we created family memories that we are not close to forget.

P.S. A special thank you to my beloved mother for joining us on that trip and being our best adventure pal and your granddaughter’s best roommate ever. Je t’aime!

!Hasta Luego!

Finale Ligure: Pizza, Playa & Outdoors

The “Outdoor Capital”

Upon entering the town of Finale Ligure in the Province of Savona, Italy nothing tells it apart from the other resort towns on along the Riviera – a continuum of densely urbanized settlements squeezed between the coastline and the mountains. Nothing but maybe a sign with Capitale dell’ Outdoor written on it.

Then upon taking a closer look, it doesn’t take long to realize that Finale is a place where all the enthusiasts of the great outdoors collide. In the brisk temperature of this late afternoon in December, a few surfers are gathered near the coast catching the few waves reminiscent of the last storm. Up high on the cliffs at the entrance of the town, a few stainless steel bolts are shining in the last sun rays. On the street, two mountain bikers with full-face helmets pedal down from the hills somewhere.

Late in the fall, sunbather and swimmers have vacated the place and trail runners, cyclists of all types, long distance trekkers and rock climbers are replacing them.

Welcome to Finale Ligure where you can get your outdoor fix at any time of the year!

The layout of Finale is quite interesting in itself and seems to have three very different towns crammed into one: 1- a mediterranean seafront resort with a sandy beach, long boardwalk and seaside touristy restaurants and shops, 2- an authentic modern Italian downtown core with streets busy with vespas, piaggios – the mini three wheeled pick up trucks – as well as elegant Italian women pushing baby strollers and talking on their mobiles with their arms moving like windmills, 3- the old fortified town – Finalborgo – that boasts ancient buildings, cobbled streets AND at least a dozen outdoor and bike shops, which is more shops per square foot than Chamonix or Zermatt!!

 

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The beach after the storm

 

On the outskirt of town lie an endless playground, very mountainous in nature, olive tree orchards and other agricultural lands, quaint villages and many campgrounds.

Blame it on my tourism development background by I soon realized that Finale and its surroundings have done a tremendous effort to develop, protect but also brand and market its territory in a cohesive manner around a shared love for the outdoors and the local culture. I found this was quite innovative and forward thinking in an area where the warmth, sun and sea suffice to fill most businesses on the seafront several months of the year.

 

That means that the public and private stakeholders have decided to share the wealth in a more sustainable manner beyond the beach and main downtown core to the many surrounding villages and rural areas and foster a year-round visitor base and a viable economy, while ensuring that the development of new trails/areas/routes is done in a respectful manner with the residents, the other industries and the environment.

 

Some online research has proven the theory to be true:

“On October the 14th 2015 in Finale Ligure an Agreement between the 5 municipalities of Finale Ligure, Calice Ligure, Orco Feglino, Vezzi Portio, Rialto and the Association Finale Outdoor Resort was signed. It established  the starting point of the union called Finale Outdoor Resort, thanks to which  Finalese is not just a territory but becomes an identity brand that defines a district from the great historical and cultural richness, strongly connected to outdoor activities.” finaleoutdoorresort.com

While the main pillars of Finale’s tourism development are the hiking, climbing and mountain biking, every outdoor sport can be experienced in Finale and the territory is well laid out to provide a great deal of enjoyment and skills development.

 

The Outdoor Pursuits

Having heard many great things about Finale and with a full week ahead of us before the holidays, we decided to check the place out. We are eager to enjoy a bit of warmer, drier weather than what can be found in France at this time of year.

Hervé has only had his knee surgery three weeks earlier but he is feeling great and would like to slowly get into climbing again. Since there is just the three of us with no other adult partners to climb, we also arrive in Finale with the goal to climb a little, hike quite a bit and get into the Italian vibe (meaning eat lots of pizza and gelato!) and walks on the beach.

On our first morning, our first stop – after caffe latte obviously – is in a friendly little climbing store with the goal of foraging some beta on accessible, kid-friendly crags.

The salesman at is a great source of information and the gear and clothing in his store so very attractive that Hervé can’t refrain but purchase an Italian-made E9 pair of pants. Might as well dress like Cesar when in Rome after all!!

At the Rocca di Petri, we find a nice south facing crag with mellow routes and an easy 20-minute walk access to spend our first family climbing day. If at first, we find a bit odd to drive right below the autostrada to access the crag, the view and the peacefulness aren’t disturbed too much once at the crag. There is plenty of space for our daughter to play safely and the rock is solid as well as the routes well equipped. It feels so good to enjoy a day out without a down jacket on!

 

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Cragging at Rocca di Petri on a warm December afternoon

 

The next day we set off for a hike in the nearby town of Borgio Verrezi where we find a varied network of hiking trails, all of them very diverse in length, elevation and also very well signed. They take the hikers from gorgeous rural churches to ancient caves, geological wonders and stunning sea views. There is even a trail that links all the towns on the Riviera and provides a one-of-a-kind multi-day hike.

 

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The Riviera- between coastline and mountains

 

Way up on a road so steep and winding, we find the trailhead to a great 5 km loop with lots to entertain us along the way. This close to Christmas, there are many outdoor nativity scenes around the hamlet and even in the caves. Some steeper sections of the trail are even equipped with iron cables and steps like a via ferrata, to our daughter’s greatest delight.

 

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Italy’s Holiday vibes

 

The other crags we explore over the course of the week are Monte Cucco near the village of Orco that is simply the best for young kids as some easy top ropes routes are located less than a 5-minute walk from the parking area. The only downside on a colder winter day is that it’s in the shade.

 

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The area boasts many sporty hikes and scrambles to suit every taste

 

 

Finally, we also spend a very nice day at Pianmarino, a spot popular amongst the mountain bikers and also one of Finale’s most historical crag. The hike in is fairly easy and short (25- 30 minutes), south facing and benefits from a very flat area at the bottom. The routes are however fairly short, and just like in Finale’s older climbing areas, the bolts are quite far apart and the routes quite challenging.

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Fall is the prime season for Mountainbiking

 

The lodging

Every night, we retreat to our humble studio quite early as the temperature drops fairly quickly after the sun goes down. We have rented the apartment for the week with Residence Adelaide, a rental agency located downtown on booking.com for the unbeatable prices and convenience. The place is spotless and fairly well appointed, there is a reception open during regular office hours with friendly and helpful staff (some even speak French!) and the prices are reasonable (300 euros for a studio for 4 people for a week).

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Our vacation rental in the morning sunshine

Finale counts a large number of apartment rentals and hotels as well as many campgrounds and outdoor people hangouts where you can meet fellow travellers from all over the world and ask around for information.

One day on our way to Monte Cucco our daughter was asleep in the car and we were desperate for a ristretto. (tiny little cup of very strong and delicious espresso).

 In the village of Orco, we asked the first guy we saw where we could find a bar and he answered in Italian “Let me go inside and get the coffee machine on!”  Actually, I must say that the only thing we understood was “la mac&china” and then we saw him run inside a building with a sign written “ Bed & Climb” on it… We figured in astonishment HE was going to make us a cup of coffee! We learned a great deal about the area by talking to Mauro who is just so knowledgeable and adorable and enjoyed a pure moment a warm Italian hospitality…or perhaps is it that strong worldwide connection between climbers.

Anyhow, we thought that his bed & breakfast and adjacent associative bar would be a cool place to stay in the future for an affordable and friendly experience and to meet fellow climbers and route setters. Orco Bed & Climb also offers guiding services and social events in the community.

Him & his wife Paula, along with their local climbing society had been investing time, energy and money in training the new generation of young climbers and getting the locals to open up to this new clientele and source of income while encouraging a healthy way of living in the local youth, all of which is fitting greatly in with the “Finale Outdoor Resort” philosophy!

 

The pizza, the pasta, gelato & Vino!

Blame it on the exchange rate or our tight travel budget, we were struck by how expensive the cost of living is in this resort town and namely the cost of gas, food and drinks. In Finale, an ordinary croissant costs 1.20 euros and at least 3.50 euro for a kilo of mandarines (although they were in season). The most simple bottle of wine costs way over 5 euros and poor quality bread that becomes inedible the next day costs 3 euros, which is way more expensive than in France. Hence, we have dined in most nights and have done most our shopping at the Co-op, the Fruiteria and the bakery and have packed a picnic lunch every day.

 

Of course, we have indulged in a few gelati here and there (those are inexpensive!) and a few happy hours with (German!) beer and an antipasti platter for 3 people for around 20-25 euros. There seems to be a rule in Italy that one shall not serve alcoholic drinks without some food to sponge it up! To the greatest delight of us, hungry penniless travellers!

 

 

 

On the last night of our stay, we have also treated ourselves pizza and tiramisu at the nearby Trattoria…because one can’t spend a week in Italy without eating pizza, right!?

The bottom line of our Finale experience is that this area really is worth visiting and it can easily be accessed from any western European cities (4 hours from Lyon, Geneva or Milano; 1.5 hour from Nice or Genoa and their international airports). This means it’s the perfect spot for a quick getaway any time of year but that could also be a destination on a longer euro climbing road trip in a van.

The climate is quite pleasant and the culture vibrant; the opportunities for outdoor recreation are endless (although the snow sports are a little far away!)

I personally never get tired of discovering the Italian flavours and of hearing my four-year-old practicing the few words of Italian she has learned during our trip: “Grazie! Ciao Bella! Brava! Per Favor!”

 Arrivederci!

 

More info:

Hiking guidebook Trails of Finale

Climbing guidebook: Finale Climbing by Marco Thomas Tomassini – translated into several languages and to be purchased at a local store or online.

Official Visitor Website:  www.turismo.comunefinaleligure.it 

 

 

A Week in Pralognan-la-Vanoise

It’s hard to believe we are already half-way through our 6-month journey.

Our time in Europe has been truly amazing so far and packed with quality time with friends and relatives and lots of traveling in between and we feel it’s time to re-centre and get back to a quieter routine, unpack the suitcases and have some family time, just the three of us.

We have obviously spent lots of time with the in-laws so far and even a little more than anticipated, with Hervé’s torn meniscus and related surgery. We have visited Ardèche and the Italian Riviera. We have spent some time with our friends near Albertville and a full week in Val d’Anniviers, Switzerland.

 

Every day feels a bit like Christmas as everywhere we go we get to enjoy feasts and celebrations (along with the odd heartburn and overhang it brings), lots of time outdoors, a big share of adaptation and improvisation, of packing and unpacking, of searching through our bags and trying to keep some sort of order and tidiness and attempts to maintain a healthy routine for our 4-year old daughter.

 

After doing some research on the web for affordable accommodation in small family-oriented ski resorts, we settle on Pralognan-la-Vanoise. Around mid-January, we are outside of the busy school holiday periods and other major events that could disturb our peace and quiet AND our tight budget.

 

Our choice isn’t completely random, however. Pralognan, although I only have a vague memory of the village itself, is reminiscent of very sweet memories for Hervé and I. It was the starting point of my first ever overnight ski tour, some fifteen years ago. I remember the jagged peaks and impressive glaciers of la Vanoise range as well as the bright blue skies and the spring weather. I remember the warmth of the hut, how good the evening meal tasted after a day of skiing and the good times we shared with our companions.

 

I also remember and laugh at how much of a beginner skier I was, the tears I shed skiing back down to the valley and the huge blisters on my feet from the way-too-small ski boots I had borrowed. I remember the pride I felt and the endless admiration I had for my man who taught me everything about the mountains.

 

Since we have also climbed few classic routes in the Parc National de la Vanoise, one of France’s largest and most diverse mountain ecosystem protected through the National Park designation, but we have never really spent time in Pralognan.

 

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It keeps dumping!

 

I know that the ambiance of the village is exactly what we are looking for this time for our family stay: a pedestrian village, outdoor activities for kids and adults alike including some great options for backcountry skiing, a small kid-friendly ski hill with an affordable ski pass, some genuine mountain culture and a small alpine village feel and of course, SNOW!

 

Well, a few days in I can say that all our expectations were exceeded. More than that, I think am officially in love with this place.

 

Anne-Marie, the owner of the little flat we rented on AirBnB is just adorable and so thoughtful. Her place is sparkling clean and just right for the 3 of us and equipped with all we need, including a washing machine, thank goodness! The price for the week was more than fair and most of all, we have a little nest on a quiet street where we can settle in and most importantly feel at home. Upon our arrival, we find a hand-written greeting note, a bottle of local pear juice and a jar of local honey. God does Savoie ever produces good food!

 

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The lovely view from our balcony with fresh snow piling up on the railing

 

During our first day here, the snow started falling and it hasn’t really stopped since. Over a metre of snow has fallen upon Pralognan in 5 days.

 

On the second day, the whole ski resort was shut down because of the wind and heavy snowfalls.

 

On the third day, it was still snowing and we got to enjoy this one-in-a-season amazing day. We had the brilliant idea upon our arrival to sign our daughter up for some ski lessons and to the local “kids club” for afternoon child care, which she was ecstatic about. Hence, Hervé and I had the day to ourselves to ski fresh powder snow and explore the resort.

 

Pralognan in January has many pros one of them being that the very few vacationists around are mainly retirees and family with young children, most of them with limited skiing abilities if I may say so without any disrespect. For us, that meant that the competition for fresh tracks was non-existent and so were the lift lines. Pure bliss!

 

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the joy of skiing in knee-deep powder! Feels like BC…

 

The scene is quite a bit different in the spring when spandex-dressed ski mountaineers and herds of French Alpine Club adepts rush to the nearby peaks early in the morning and stop in for a beer and a tartiflette en masse after their tour and wander through the streets in their high tech gear and colourful clothing.

 

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Skiing right down to our doorstep

 

In very high avalanche risks conditions all week, we are staying very conservative and sticking to low angle off-piste itineraries well within the ski area. Hervé is also taking every opportunity he has to chat with local ski patrollers and mountain guides to learn about the conditions. Everyone is very friendly and generous with information. The current conditions are quite unusual and haven’t been observed by the locals for at least 20 years. All around us, roads are closed and mountain hamlets are being evacuated. We feel blessed that Pralognan is a relatively safe haven.

 

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Out on a tour with my love

 

Meanwhile, our daughter who is now entering her third ski season is taking her first ski lessons: 2 times 2 1/2 hours of skiing with other little French kids. Even though her ability to manage her speed with snowploughs and turns is improving highly when skiing with us, we feel that some lessons are going to help improve her autonomy and her ease in the transitions like putting her skis on, riding the t-bar on her own, going up small hills, walking around, getting back up after a fall, etc.

 

She is so proud of getting her “ourson” medal. She can now ski at the level of a bear cub, whatever this means!

In the French culture, everything is very standardized and there seems to be tests, levels and categories in every sport as I have learned over the years.

The ski instructors in their very French way don’t put on white gloves to tell your kid that he or she isn’t doing things the right way. If at first, it makes my teeth cringe as a firm believer in positive reinforcement, I acknowledge that life isn’t always easy and that my child will have to face her share of frustrations and failures… might as well start now.

At the end of our ski day we like to meander in the village to check out the lovely storefronts, have a drink and some appetizers or buy our loaf of bread or a bottle of wine to go with dinner before retreating to our cozy nest, tucked away at the dead end of a quiet street.

 

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Farmer’s market day

 

In my suitcase, although space is very limited, I will be bringing back a few bottles of locally made génépi and verveine liqueur, a piece of Beaufort, one of my favourite cheeses in the world and perhaps a picture to hang on the wall of our apartment in Kimberley and dream of this unique adventure we’re currently living. The village has no shortage of cute little artisan stores, bakeries and sports shops that we try to stay away from…

 

On the weekend we have our friends Fabrice and Magali and their three kids Zian, Liv and baby Dolma come over for the day to try out the Nordic trails. By the end of the day it’s snowing so hard they can barely make it back home to Albertville. Meteo France, the French weather office, has issued a special warning for heavy snowfalls in our area and urges travellers to stay home or plan alternative accommodation in case the roads close.

 

During our time here, we are also experiencing all the many amenities the village has to offer. It’s impressive to see a place of 700 souls residing year round with an indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, skating rink, indoor climbing wall and even a spa!

 

Savoie – Mont Blanc is definitely a wealthy district and the fact that Pralognan is located nearby the infamous resorts of the “3 Vallées” is certainly contributing to the wealth.

 

Skiers staying in Pralognan for the week can purchase a 6-day ski pass for a mere 170 euros and have a free entry to the pool, the skating rink, unlimited access to the Nordic loop and the ability to ski in La Plagne or Courchevel for a day with a free shuttle!!

 

For that amount, a skier in BC barely gets a 2-day ski pass at one resort like Fernie or Revelstoke. Now you get why Canada isn’t a competitive destination on the world scheme of ski holidays…but this is a story I save for later on how to ski for cheap in Europe. Stay tuned!

 

As the sun goes down on our last day in Pralognan, I know for certain that we will return to enjoy more of the high alpine, the magnificent meadows and the peaceful atmosphere of Pralognan.

 

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The Bouquetin or Ibex: Pralognan’s icon

 

We are now packing our winter gear and clothing away for a two-week hiatus as we take off for Tenerife and the Canary Islands on Tuesday to meet up with my mom.

 

We hope all this fresh snow settles a bit for when we return and pursue new adventures in the Southern Alps…

À bientôt Pralognan!

Ardèche in December: Castles, Cobbles & Chestnuts

La Coste: A Place with a Soul

The air is brisk and the almost full moon lights up the pebbled path to our cozy little apartment, a vacation rental or gite rural located on the floor above la mielerie – where the honey is extracted and stored.

 

Deep down in the valley, I can see the lights from the small settlements along la Volane, all the way to Vals-les-Bains and Aubenas, the nearest cities. I take a deep breath of pure mountain air and pause for a moment before making carrying on my way to bed.

 

We had arrived in La Coste a few hours earlier. This tiny hamlet part of the municipality of Genestelle is home to our dear friends Seb and Christine Martinez and their two boys,  Juneau (4) and Milo (2).

 

We have known the couple for as long as we have lived in Kimberley. From epic climbing adventures to family camping trips, a shared love for France, and several Christmas Eves spent together, we have woven a deep friendship.

 

After living in BC for over fifteen years, Seb, an Ardèche native, and his wife Christine,  a Saskatchewan girl, have made the decision to come home to take over the family apiary. Sad to see them leave our home-base but so excited for their new endeavour, we made the promise to come visit them here often.

 

This promise wasn’t hard to make for the ones acquainted with La Coste and its surroundings.

 

The location in itself is just stunning: a perfect steep south-facing slope perched at 650m of elevation, fertile soil and a mild and pleasant climate. Seb’s parents Didier and Sibylle have fallen for the place – remote, cheap land with a spring of fresh water. That’s not all however as the place also has a special feel to it – which they found out when scoping out the perfect spot to build their dream during the hippie era.

 

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The hamlet in the morning fog

 

Out of the ruins – piles of old stones reminiscent of a small settlement from the early 17th century – they created a home for their family, a roof for their apiary, and a massive garden -stone by stone.

 

Years later, they restored the adjacent ruins to their home into a few apartments, every one of them worthy of a feature in architectural and design magazine that the couple turned into vacation rentals.

 

Visitors to La Coste have been loyal over the years and mostly book their stays a year out. I sense that Didier and Sibylle’s passion for their area and warm sense of hospitality is just as important as the stunning location and unique accommodation units.

 

Completely sold out from June to October, the apartments can still be rented in April, May and from mid-October into November.

 

Vacationists in search of an authentic rural France experience and a large dose of peace and quiet, nature and sunshine won’t be disappointed. The breeze and spectacular swimming pool are sure to keep the visitors afraid of heat cool and happy. The fruit trees around the estate along with the fragrant and delicate-tasting honey to will keep their craving for sugar fulfilled.

La Coste in the fall
La Coste in the Fall. Photo by Seb Martinez

 

La Coste is the ideal base camp to explore Ardèche, a mostly rural département and so rich and diverse in its landscape and attractions. In the north, one will find a rugged hill and plateau landscape, harsh climate and the highest peaks around, le Gerbier-de-Jonc and Mont Mezenc; mountains made out of granite and volcanic stone. This is also home to la Loire river headwaters.

 

 In the middle, the volcanic hills of Centre Ardèche are softer and the climate milder. Snow seldom falls in this area, which makes it perfect to visit anytime and any season. Chestnut, oak and acacia trees are plentiful and on the adret the south-facing slope one won’t be surprised to find orchards of apricot, peach and kiwi trees. Quaint villages are all walking distance from each other and have the most interesting stories to tell and characters to meet. The area is home to some of the country’s most beautiful rivers that attract paddlers and canyoneers from all over the world.

 

In the south, lies a more open landscape, limestone cliffs, karst structures and massive caves – pre-historic sites of importance. The south has more of a well, southern or Provencal feel to it and farmers find the perfect soil and climate to grow grapes and fragrant lavender. Herds of Dutch tourists have made the area their destination of choice for its rivers, beaches, warm sunshine and the infamous canoe route of les Gorges de l’Ardèche. The heat there in the summer is suffocating and so is the crowd…which is why La Coste and the Centre Ardèche are so attractive in many ways.

 

To find out more about le gîte rural de La Coste and to make a reservation for your next vacation, click here.

Castles, medieval villages and Roman paths

 

From La Coste, a myriad of scenic hiking trails lead the visitors to the many nearby hamlets and viewpoints. One of my favourite paths is the one going to Antraigues, a medieval village among the most picturesque in the country. This village was made famous by Jean Ferrat, an iconic poet, songwriter and singer who made this place home.

 

This is the first outing we take our little crew on – a mere 2.7 km walk one way mostly downhill, to a well-deserved reward of hot chocolate and madeleines. On this ancient cobbled donkey path, we enjoy picking a few remaining chestnuts, walking in knee-deep beds of leaves and taking in the stunning views.

 

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In Antraigues, the townsite is quiet on this early December Monday. The kids can freely explore the cobbled streets and safely play on the Plaza. At this time of year, we’re happy to find out that a few restaurants, the bakery and a small grocery store remain open. We’re in France after all and there are real people living real lives in rural areas, no matter how small or remote they are.

 

It would take a lifetime to explore all the villages and stories that Ardèche boasts. I recall Seb telling us that he had himself only visited about sixty. I bet that now that he and his family have returned home, they will have plenty of inspiration for weekend outings and the boys will surely take great pleasure in adding a few to their papa’s list.

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Ardèche just like the Kootenays also boasts its share of illegal dwellings

Ardèche limestone: let’s climb some rock!

 

The region is known among climbers as a serious climbing destination. Many sites can be found in every corner of Ardèche with a large variety of rock types and routes. Le Cirque de Gens near Chauzon is definitely the most famous of all. Climbers beware however that the popular nature of the site combined to this type of limestone makes the routes in the lower grades (to 5.11) VERY polished and challenging.

 

We take the children to Balazuc for a quick afternoon session. In December, the periods of daylight are very short and temperature colder; Balazuc’s south-facing limestone towers offer a rapid and easy hike in and short routes that are ideal to set up a few easy top ropes.

 

While early spring and fall are the prime seasons for rock climbing in Ardèche, one can find locations throughout the winter in the spots sheltered from the wind. Some campgrounds remain opens and climbers can benefit from very low off-season deals on vacation rentals everywhere in Ardèche. If climbing isn’t our main purpose on this trip, it is still nice to touch some rock and enjoy a few hours of warmth.

Guidebook and more info on climbing here.

Fêtes de Village: Let’s meet the locals

 

In this land where tourism and agriculture are the main economic drivers, the locals literally work day in and day out from April to November. We are fortunate to be here at a time where Seb and Christine have a little downtime and are available to show us around and enjoy some quality time with friends. The boys normally in daycare and school are doing l’école buissonière – skipping school for a few days to our daughter’s greatest delight.

 

Late fall and winter are the time of year where the local social life picks up again and the many celebrations take place. Every village has a fête of some kind: fête de la Chataigne, fête de la Pomme, pre-holiday celebrations and craft fairs of all kinds. In those remote valleys, newcomers and young families are surprisingly quite numerous and they fear not going the extra mile to enhance the local social life.

 

Upon hearing that a nearby village is having a Fête de la Soupe, we make plans to spend our Saturday.

 

After a car dropoff, our little crew sets off by foot for the little village of Bise, which in French means “breeze” or “kiss”, whichever you prefer! Jérôme, Kelly and their two teenage girls Nea and Riley- a Swiss- American couple living in BC are joining us for the weekend and also take part in the fun outing that day.

 

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Our happy little crew
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Scenic trails, leaves and chestnuts

 

It has snowed last night and the day is sunny but chilly and windy. On the trail leading from Conchis to Bise, we meet several hunters in search of chestnut-fatted wild boars. In this country, it isn’t unusual for hikers and hunters to share the same trails and vigilance is key, as no one wants to end up with a bullet in the calf or a frightened boar running at them. Seb’s informs the hunters of our route and we carry along.

 

It feels strange to descend from the mountain and to arrive in the middle of the celebration. From a distance, we can smell the boiling soup and woodfire smoke and we can hear the laughter.

 

The Fête is well attended and the soups and crêpes are delicious. There is a bar -off course- and a craft fair, games for the kids and soup contest. After lunch, Christine and Hervé drive the children home for the nap and the rest of us head back to where we came from, on a different trail.

 

We hike to the valley’s end where we encounter a 93-year old sheepherding lady who’s eager to chat. Her strength and vitality are impressive.  She has sure lived a long healthy life although certainly not always pleasant and easy in this remote valley.

 

We take the scenic way home and follow the ridgeline for a long time so we can admire the unique landscape – hills spreading as far as the eye can see covered in scotch broom and dried fern with the odd stone hamlet and winding mountain road leading to it. In this faint winter light, everything looks still although on the ridge top the wind is quite strong.

 

Several hours later, we come home and all gather in Seb and Christine’s home. On the table we lay another delicious feast in which the chestnuts picked along our hikes were sautéed or roasted. The meal is obviously paired with local wines and liquor and some early Christmas treats. The conversation is lively, the belly full and the spirit’s high.

 

The following day we awaken to more snow on the ground – enough for the children to make snowmen. From climbing rock in a t-shirt to hiking with the goose down jacket on to making a snowball fight, winter time in Ardèche is definitely just as diverse as the region itself.

 

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snowball fight & snowmen…it’s beginning to look a lot like winter

 

Ardèche is full of surprises and delights that ought to be discovered in the offseason… and with good friends.

 

We are thankful to the Martinez family for their warm hospitality and pleasant company. One thing is sure, we will be back in Ardèche very soon!

 

For more trip-planning information about Ardèche click here.

Exploring Vancouver By Bike With Kids

As real country pumpkins, we don’t often spend time in big cities. When looking at a map and planning our next trip, we usually pick mountainous regions as our destinations of choice. However, sometimes we like to do brief immersion in the concrete jungles, as they really provide a break from the everyday and a quick culture fix for the outdoor adventurers that we are.

Lately, we chose to layover in Vancouver for 24 hours to see what the glass city was really about and get a preview taste of the West Coast.

A great traveling tip I discovered lately is that when booking a flight on points (we collect aeroplans), it usually doesn’t cost more to book a multi-city trip. This is exactly what we decided to do, on our way between Cranbrook and Quebec City.

Sleeping in and waking up in a high-rise hotel room really started our express stay on a good note. At age 4,  I don’t think my daughter had ever seen a building taller than 4 storeys. Watching cartoons in bed all curled up with too many pillows was definitely one of her personal highlights.

Soaking in the view from the 8th floor

 

Out on the street on this cool summer morning, which was a nice break from the intense heat we had experienced in the Interior all summer, we wandered to get some coffee and breakfast at a nearby café. If eating out is a treat we don’t indulge in often at home, in the city, it is one of our most decadent pleasure.

The good news was that we had three meals ahead of us to enjoy Vancouver’s food! We found some delicious breakfast sandwiches and good lattes (for $3.50!) at the Cafe Restaurant Mangez, Mangez on Melville St.

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Vancouver Harbour

 

After some window shopping and people watching on Robson St., we made our way towards the Burrard Bridge area to pick up two rental bikes and a bike trailer at Cycle City Tours. ($80 dollars for two bikes and the trailer for 5 hours)

All geared up with fancy townies, crossed the bridge and took a left toward Grandville Island and it’s enormous urban market. On a weekday in August, the place was packed with people and cars. We were glad to be on two-wheels as bike parking was much easier to find, and cheaper also.

On Grandville Island, there is so much to see, smell and taste! From the various artisans from all over British Columbia to craft beer, any type of food vendors one could dream of to seafood restaurants and garden shops, the place is buzzing with life, with reason.

For the shoppers at heart, the Kid’s Market is the place to hit for children clothing, shoes, toys & games, books and even specialized haircuts! A dangerous place to take a toddler in my opinion as you can’t go in without buying something for your little angels.

Lunch at Grandville with the pigeons

 

At the “adult” market, I didn’t have enough of my two eyes to take in all the beautiful jewelry, pottery, artisan bread and fresh produce, while my husband and daughter happily chased away the hungry pigeons out on the waterfront.

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We elbowed a few people to find a table to sit down and eat.

After our meal, we hopped back onto our bikes. By then our daughter was ready to doze off for a nap so we made her a cozy little bed in the bike trailer and we aimed toward the Seawall in the direction of Stanley Park.

The cycling path network in Vancouver is impressive. By riding along the ocean tucked between the beach and the skyscrapers is really when you get to feel how special Vancouver is. This big cosmopolitan city of 2.5M souls transpires a mix or urban, ocean and mountain cultures and lifestyles.

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the Marina

condos by Grandville Island

 

289 km of paved trails take the explorers looking for an easy, fresh, affordable and ecological way to explore the city from parks to beaches and from landmarks to attractions. The most scenic part, the Seawall is comprised of 28 km of seaside greenway for walking, biking and roller skating.

Within a half hour of pedaling, we reached the entrance of Stanley Park where we had to duck around a few fat geese feasting by a small pond. Named for 1888 Governor of Canada Lord Frederic Stanley, the park covers 405 hectares of green space almost entirely surrounded by water. Home to the gigantic douglas fir trees and to the Vancouver Aquarium, this park is my favourite attraction in Vancouver and was voted best park in the world by Tripadvisor in 2014!

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Vancouver’s Wildlife

Twenty minutes later, after a quick look at the Totem Poles, we reached the bridge and the entrance to the harbour. Fishermen were going about their business with their oversize net and large buckets filled with small fish.

Right around that time, my daughter woke up from her nap just in time to catch a glimpse of the Inukshuk beach. We set the bikes aside and added our own to the impressive number of small rock towers and watched the teeny-tiny crabs in the tide pools.

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Inukshuk Art Masterpiece in progress

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Cargo ship entering the harbour

One kilometre down the path, we stopped at Third Beach for a toe-dip just as the clouds cleared and the sun came out. Playing in the fine sand and watching the cargo ships isn’t something we get to enjoy often in our beloved Kootenays so we took full advantage of it.

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sand on our feet, waves licking our toes
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A first dip in the Pacific Ocean

 

A little further down, we came across the kids spay park and stopped for well-deserved ice cream and berries at the beach concession. A short stop at the playground and our way out the Park and we slowly made our way back to the bike shop.

All that pedaling had made us thirsty! We landed for happy hour, French-Riviera style near the Burrard Bridge marina at Ten Ten Tapas where we enjoyed a glass of craft beer from Stanley Park and a few appies while looking at the luxury yacht docked nearby.

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We couldn’t spend a day in Vancouver without tasting Asian food of some kind. In this multi-ethnic city, where approximately 36% of the population is from east and south Asia,  locals and visitors can enjoy the best selection of Asian cuisine east of the Pacific. One wouldn’t have enough of a full year of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner  out to nearly cover all the Asian restaurants there are in the city.

We gave our 4-year old the choice of what to eat for dinner…unsurprisingly, she picked sushi!

After our feast, it was time to head back to the Sheraton to pick up our bags and slowly make our way to YVR airport where the start of a new adventure awaited.

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Time to leave the big City

Those 24 hours spent in Vancouver had left us with the salt on our skin, sand in our shoes and plenty of West Coast images in our heads.

 

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Saint-Raymond-de-Portneuf: The Authentic Quebec Experience

Featured image by Philippe Jobin courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

Located fifty kilometres away from Quebec City, Saint-Raymond is the new outdoor recreation mecca in the Capitale-Nationale region.

The quaint town, home to roughly 10,000 souls, is surrounded by countless lakes, rivers, picturesque farmland, rolling hills and lush mixed forests where wildlife thrives. It boasts a long tradition of forestry, hunting, fishing and cottage culture.

Far enough from the city to benefit from many local amenities and not feel like a commuter town, yet close enough for thousands of recreationists to visit each weekend, the town is literally booming with a young and fresh energy. The vibe found there is reminiscent of the one found in the small hip mountain towns of Western Canada.

With the development of an award-winning sustainable tourism development model over the last fifteen years combined with a thorough downtown revitalization initiative, Saint-Raymond looks and feels better than ever.

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This place, so dear to my heart Photo credit: Pascal Cothet

 

Born and raised in the Portneuf region and descending from two local families of settlers, I have known Saint-Raymond forever and spent some of my best childhood moments there. I have always taken great pleasure in going back to visit my many relatives. This year’s visit was extra special as I got to take my husband and daughter for a two-week incursion into the awesomeness of this little town and its surrounding beauty. Wearing new sets of lenses – a blogger, traveller and mother always on the lookout for inspiration – I got to re-discover this beloved land and share the experience with my little family.

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Because the area looks pretty good in the fall as well.  Photo credit Pascal Cothet

I’d like to share the highlights of our stay and give some tips to anyone lucky enough to be planning a trip to Quebec and willing to experience this unique area’s authentic culture and way of life.

 

Lac Sept-Iles (Lake of Seven Islands) – For Lakelife and Relaxation #QuebecStyle

Along with my mother and sister, we rented a lovely cottage right on the water in this piece of heaven that screams “vacations” and “good times.” Cute cottages and manicured landscapes (also some very luxurious mansions!) surround this lake located a mere 10-minutes drive from town. The narrow winding 11km lake road, dotted with hand-painted address numbers and welcome signs and wrapped up in a dense canopy of ancient maple trees is worth exploring on two wheels or on a morning jog.

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Feeding the ducks, one of our daily activities

 

 

 

Connecting to the main lake is a natural haven, Lac aux Chiens (Dogs Lake). Part of the preserved land adjacent to the Station Touristique de Duchesnay, this protected area is ideal for a quiet paddle, a swim, and a picnic. Binoculars are in order as it’s quite frequent to observe a family of beavers at work, a hungry moose or some of the numerous bird species.  A good trail also wraps around this lake, which serves as the perfect destination for a trail run or family hike.

 

 

 

 

Lac Sept-Iles is popular amongst boaters, wakeboarders and waterskiers and can be busy on hot summer days. But by picking our stay later in August, and thanks to the cooler, wetter temperatures, we basically had the lake to ourselves.

Many cottages are available for rent for every budget and group size and usually include the use of kayaks, canoes, windsurf or paddle boats. The Camp Portneuf  also offers cottage rentals, serves as a watersport base, holds a summer camp and day camps for kids age 4-14 and even offers family camps.

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Camp Portneuf – Photo courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond
Camp Portneuf
Camp Portneuf – Photo Courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

 

The Vallée du Bras du Nord (North Arm Valley) – Outdoor Adventures for Everyone

 

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A valley where wilderness and agriculture happily coexist. Photo credit Pascal Cothet

 

The “Vallée Bras-du-Nord” or North-Arm Valley is certainly the major draw for many visitors traveling to Saint-Raymond, and with good reason. What used to be a hidden gem where locals would go backcountry camping and canoeing on the North-Arm of the Sainte-Anne river, is now an epic larger-than-nature outdoor resort. A full week wouldn’t be enough to check out all there is to do!

The topography of the place is perfectly suited to hiking, paddling and mountain biking, and a tremendous amount of work has gone into perfecting the trail network over the years.

The “En Marche” project, a youth workforce rehabilitation initiative, employs a dozen local youth each year who are dealing with personal challenges such as dropout, addictions, and violence, to build and maintain the trails.

This initiative, along with the social enterprise management model that applies best practices in local governance in relation to land use, funding, and development, truly contributes to making the resort even more remarkable.

 

 

 

 

Home to the best mountain biking trails in the vicinity of Québec City, riders can find a wide variety of itineraries for beginners and experts alike, a full-service rental shop, amazing vistas, slick rock, tacky dirt and wooden features of all sorts. The trail network, which serves as the course for the infamous annual “Raid du Bras du Nord” – the premier MTB event in Québec –  has now been extended to the local ski hill and the edges of town, as the local rider base keeps growing and so does the demand from out-of-town.

During our stay, my husband, sister and I got to ride La Neilson Nord and la Neilson Sud , a fun 25 km black-diamond flow trail loop dotted with some very techy sections, berms and skinnies, and runs along the namesake river and its stunning rapids and waterfalls. La Neilson Est provides a newly-added 10km extension, but unfortunately, we ran out of time to ride the full loop.  I must also say that with very little riding under my belt this summer, I already felt quite humbled by the challenge presented by the two trails.

The Valley is also an incredible hiking destination. It boasts state-of-the-art mountain huts dispersed along the scenic and rewarding multi-day hiking routes that can be completed year-round (with snowshoes in winter). Easy day hikes, a larger than nature guided via ferrata course, guided canyoning outings down the spectacular waterfalls and single or multi-day paddling are also amongst the activities offered in the Vallée.

In the winter, fat-bikers and backcountry skiers now have a new and ever developing playground to explore.

With a full array of accommodation options right on site including yurts, campsites, and fully equipped cottages, and a Welcome Centre open year-round, the Vallée is a destination worth spending time in to enjoy the wonders in every season.

 

riding la Neilson- vallée bras du nord
slick rocks and fast moving waters. Photo credit Hervé Durand
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Anne appreciating the craftsmanship on the trail
waterfalls and mountain biking
Idyllic backdrop. Photo credit Hervé Durand.

 

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Flowy goodness riding the trails of Vallée Bras du Nord. Photo credit Olivier Lachance, courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

La Vallée Secrète – For Your Little Gnomes

A dwarf here and a gnome there. Proudly wearing the green dwarf’s hat, your little ones aged two and up get to embark on a fantastic scavenger hunt. Through the woods, they will follow a path and discover the world of wood fairies and other creatures. Equipped with keys, a map, and a magnifying glass, they move along an age-appropriate course. The goal is to find treasure boxes tied to trees, open them up with the right key, answer the questions and unleash the secret code. Kids must use their logic and observation skills to move along, complete the course and be granted access to the dwarf’s musical show.

 

 

An award-winning family attraction, the Secret Valley is a great way to spend a half-day with and for the little ones. Located only a 20-minute drive from Saint-Raymond’s downtown, the park is popular with day camps and school groups. It boasts a covered picnic area, kid-sized washrooms, and a gift shop. It also hosts turn-key birthday parties. www.valleesecrete.com

 

Jacques-Cartier Portneuf Cycling Path – For the Two-Wheel Travellers

Vélopiste Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf @Philippe Jobin
Vélopiste Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf. Photo credit Philippe Jobin, courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

Linking Québec City with Rivière-à-Pierre, the 75 km-long cycling path takes cyclists along rapidly moving rivers, calm lakes, colourful forests and quaint towns. With a very gentle incline, this rail trail offers a fun and meditative way to discover Québec’s authentic countryside, while burning the calories from the decadent food eaten along the trip. Quebec’s Route Verte network is often stated as a best practice case study for cyclo-tourism for the quality of the network, the signage, the services offered along the way and the ability to easily travel across the province on two wheels. The Jacques-Cartier Portneuf Trail is part of the Route Verte #6.

 

Roquemont Craft Brewery – For the Thirsty Explorers

When we first walked into the Restaurant and Brewpub, we were struck by the smell of hop and smoky ribs.  Our little group sat down and ordered a pint of la Singletrack, la Bois Rond, as well as a few other locally brewed cold pints, and appreciated the refined and complex tastes, a testament to the master brewer’s savoir-faire.

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Craft beer for the mountain bikers at heart. Photo credit Pascal Cothet

The menu holds a dozen brews including some seasonal features. On a Friday night, the place was lively and full. With a few of my childhood friends visiting that night, we couldn’t help but comment on how hip the place had become.

The Roquemont is also known to feature pub food with a twist, like house-made sausages and boudin noir (black pudding), a signature poutine with game meat and beer gravy, and divine tartars. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sample the food menu this time.

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Boudin Noir and other delicacies – Photo credit Pascal Cothet
Pascal Cothet - Le Roquemont
A sleek-looking timber frame facade- Photo credit Pascal Cothet

In the parking lot, SUV’s of all sorts boast bike racks well equipped with the latest mountain bikes. Next door, Frenette Bicyclette has set up shop right at the trailhead closest to town and provides a full retail, repair and rental shop.

The Roquemont is also an affordable place to stay and offers 40 newly renovated rooms and all sorts of stay and play packages, which makes the hotel the perfect base-camp for weekend warriors.

Capitalizing on good vibes, good beer, good food and live music, the new management of the Roquemont definitely seems to have found the recipe for success. www.roquemont.com

 

Cheese & French Fries – Saint-Raymond’s Culinary Delights

Saint-Raymond’s very special cheese has already been the subject of its own full blogpost, and I could go on and on about how wonderful it is.

This year I felt so honoured to take my daughter to my grandparents’ old house to check out Alexis de Portneuf‘s boutique store. It was quite unique to see my mom showing my daughter where her bedroom was growing up in the home.

A stone’s throw away from the Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf Rail trail, it is the ideal location to grab some cheese, fresh bread, cold cuts and a craft ice cream cone to make up the best picnic. This place is also perfect for grabbing some edible and non-edible souvenirs from your trip.

The best tip for cheese lovers, the store has a selection of cheeses on special for $1, $2 and $3 daily…Heaven!

 

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My grandparents’ house is now the boutique store
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Sandwiches and cheese boards to go, yes please!
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Vive la crème glacée!

 

Obviously, my post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the other food institution in Saint-Raymond, the infamous Ti-Oui Snack Bar. This place has been around for at least three decades and serves Québec’s absolute best poutine. With loads of squeaky fresh cheddar curds, served over fresh hand-cut fries and a secret recipe gravy (BBQ is my favorite type), a trip to the Portneuf region isn’t complete without a stop at Ti-Oui’s.

While I am cognizant that what made our stay in the Saint-Raymond area so exceptional is the family connections we have in this place and the quality time we spent with our friends, uncles, aunts, parents, and cousins. But as a world traveler, I know for a fact that this area has a lot to offer the explorer in search of an authentic off the beaten path Quebec experience.

I would recommend to anyone considering a trip to this region to hurry up, as it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a preferred travel destination with all the hassles that come with it!

For more information visit: www.saintraymond.ca

I would be happy to provide more trip planning tips to anyone, just fire me a quick email!

Salut, là!

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8 Great Tips for Easier Air Travel with Children

Many things can go wrong when traveling on a plane with young children…from painful delays to lost luggage, to diaper disasters and screeching tantrums…while there are many events that fall out of our control, we, parents, better be prepared!

As we are getting ready to hop on a plane once again as a family, I am remembering some anecdotes and situations that occurred to us on some of the many air trips we’ve taken since my daughter was born.

The first time my child ever flew was when she was just 3 months old. Her and I were flying across Canada to visit my family out east in December. I will pass on the amount of luggage I had for this first trip! I was thankful for my ergobaby to allow me free hands to handle all the bags. On the way home, things got a little complicated. After getting up before dawn to catch the first flight, we had a very long second flight into Vancouver where we landed early in the evening. My last flight had been canceled due to freezing fog and we had to overnight in the City. In the line up to the airline customer service, no one would let us pass. My daughter was getting restless and hungry. When my turn came, I was told that I had to check my luggage out, get in a taxi to a hotel 20 minutes away and come back the next morning, check my luggage back in and hop on my final flight.

Before insulting the agent, I took a deep breath and went to sit down to nurse my baby and calm my nerves. Sensing my distress, the agent finally came to me to let me know that she had finally gotten us into the Fairmont Hotel at the airport. Jackpot!

It was just before Christmas, there was a massive decorated three in the lobby. We checked into our king suite and enjoyed a bubble bath in the massive tub, room service for dinner and a good night’s sleep. It was all good after all.

There is also that other time where I was flying with my daughter, then a freshly potty trained two-year-old. As a proud mom, I had the brilliant idea to not put a diaper on my baby’s bum…we spent a lot of time in the washrooms and went through all our changes of clothes.

When my husband flew to Europe by himself with our daughter for the first time, I couldn’t have been more nervous. The night before, I had this dream about them getting separated at the airport and her being all alone with no ID nor any mean to connect her to us. On their departure day, I scribbled all her information with a sharpie on her little pudgy arm and tried to brief her on what to do if she was ever separated from papa during the trip…trying to ease my own mind.

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Plenty of leg room!

Going through security is a large airport can also be challenging. I recall my daughter not quite understanding that she had to hold her arms up, spread her legs apart and wait while in the big, intimidating scanner at the Frankfurt airport, or why a lady in a uniform and rubber gloves was patting her limbs (seriously!).  At the next security screening we went through, although it was just a regular metal detector, she finally registered that she had to stand sideways with her arms up and legs spread apart…We sure had a good laugh.

This has taught me that, no matter how prepared we think we are, flying with a child is always an adventure. I myself always have considered flying as “a necessary hassle” and hope it to be over as soon as possible. I always get nervous at security and customs, although I don’t have anything suspicious in my bags nor do I have “anything to declare”…

I have to remind myself, however, how much I loved flying as a child, and how much the thought of the air portion of the travel was just as exciting as the rest. Watching movies back to back on the tiny screen, eating weird food out of a tiny tray, colouring, chasing my sister down the aisle…

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It’s about time she carries her own suitcase

I don’t have any miraculous tips or toys to make air travel with children easier, but I do try to stick to a few key principles:

  1. Have your ID’s and paperwork in order
    A valid passport is required when traveling outside the country, even for an infant. My daughter had her first one done at 3 weeks old! If you’re traveling within Canada and your child is younger than 17 years old, no ID is required. But to be on the safe side, always carry a birth certificate and the medical care card (it doesn’t hurt to also take a birth certificate with you even if your child has a passport).If only one parent is traveling, make sure you carry a parental consent form and a copy of your spouse’s passport. More information on travel documents and a consent letter form can be found here: https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/children
  2. Travel fast
    When possible, choose the most direct and less painful route. Pick flights with enough layover to get to the next gate but avoid long layovers whenever possible, or if you do, pick an overnight layover and break the piggy bank or use points to book a hotel room. We always book all our segments with the same airline, this way if one flight is late or canceled, the airline will have your family taken care of. We always fly the nearest airport from home and from our destination possible. Who wants to drive 4-5 hours after a long-haul flight with a young child?
  3. Travel light
    Don’t bring your home, but know what you’re allowed to bring. It’s amazing all you can carry for free when traveling with an infant! Car seat, stroller or child carrier (some friendly agents will even let you take a jogging stroller Hello Chariot! right to your gate, but that’s not guaranteed), suitcase, carry-on and a diaper bag. They actually allow for more luggage than two persons can actually carry. When traveling overseas, we try to fit all our stuff in only one large bag that we check in. Within Canada, we only take carry-ons as it now costs fair a bit of money to check a bag in. Our country (and western countries) are pretty well equipped with washers and dryers these days…
  4. Choose comfort over style
    Wear comfortable clothes and bring a change or two with you on the plane. Bring your kid’s favorite pj’s.Kids get dirty, especially when it’s inconvenient. Pack a plastic bag to put filthy clothes. Kids spill things on you; a friend once told me she always travels with her quick-dry hiking pants, easy to wash up and dry in case of a mess. I always pack a small soft blanket for naps. Pack extra wipes…these things are wonderful!
  5. Ipad is okay
    It’s a nice distraction to have on hand. Download some educative game apps and a few cartoons prior to departure. Invest in good child-specific headsets. Colouring books, reading books, small toys and comfort stuffed animals are also very appreciated.
  6. Snacks are your friends
    Authorities will let you carry baby liquids and soft food (hooray for pouches!) when traveling with an infant on laps but unfortunately not for kids over 2 years old…go figure why?! Pack some trail mix, crackers and cheese, veggie sticks, whole fruit, and treats. In addition to being a good back up if your child doesn’t like the plane food, snacks will keep kids busy and keep them from being “hangry”.
  7. Raise patient kids(I know, this is an oxymoron, right?!)We’re pretty fortunate that our daughter is fairly calm and patient most of the time. Some of it certainly has to do with the fact that she’s used to traveling but lots of it is just personality. Overnight flights are the best as she sleeps well on the plane. Some parents use homeopathy or chamomile in case kids get restless. Why not?!
  8. Calm Down and Fly On……For it will be over in a few hours and in 18 years your kids won’t care about traveling with their old mom & dad. If my tips don’t work out and the fight is a disaster, remember that there’s always a full supply of mini wine bottles on board. Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight!

What are your great tips for travelling on an airplane with young kids?

The Countdown to a Long Journey

In exactly four months to this day, my family and I will take off on our next big adventure; six months of travelling, climbing, skiing and enjoying uninterrupted time with each other as well as with our French family and friends.

 

We have itchy feet. We need to move out of our routine and comfort zone as often as we can. It’s now been three years since the last time we took off for several months. It was back when I was on maternity leave; we had gone to Europe for four months with our then 7-month-old baby.

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The biggest little traveller

 

The time before that was when we packed all our belongings into my small Toyota Matrix and moved across Canada to be ski bums. That was seven years ago.

 

This need to break with our everyday life for an extended period of time is cyclical and tends to germinate in my head shortly after I have accomplished a project or lived a dream I had had for a while.

 

I am not one to be fooled with the promise of freedom retirement will bring. I don’t want to put my life on hold and suck up my urges to live freely and explore the world at my family’s own pace until I am 65 for many obvious reasons.

 

This time around, we are leaving lighthearted as we both negotiated a leave of absence with our respective employers, which takes a huge financial stress off of our shoulders. What also makes a huge difference is that now that we’re homeowners, we don’t have to worry about giving up our rental and fearing to be homeless upon our return. We get to decide the terms of the rental.

 

At D-4 months, the things we need get sorted out in order to be all ready to leave when  November rolls around are mostly administrative. We need to get my daughter’s French passport and a spouse visa for myself, which will allow us to stay for an extended period of time in the Schengen Space. We also need to sort out what we are going to do with our vehicles and try to find reliable tenants for our condo through word of mouth.

 

And of course, we need to save money. Without the option of a deferred leave, it’s up to us to put money away each month so we can live without an income for months. $20K is the amount we have set as our savings goal to live 6 months in Europe. With the exchange rate not quite in our favor, this will convert to a mere 13K Euros, which is a little over 2K per month. We are also securing a personal line of credit, just in case. We will have to be frugal but we know it’s possible.

 

$20,000 can seem like a lot of money to put aside…and at the same time not a lot of money for 3 indivudials to live of of for half a year. We already had some savings for rainy days that we decided to roll into our trip fund. We are saving the rest at a pace of approximately $1,200 a month.

 

We plan on spending as much time as possible visiting friends and relative and therefore saving on accommodation. We are so fortunate that our friends live in some of the most desirable places in Europe. The rest of the time we will rent vacation homes and apartments and will stay in the odd hostels, campgrounds and AirBnB’s.

 

We can also rely on my in-laws’ vehicle to come and go, which will also save us a huge amount of money. The bulk of our expenses will be on airfare, medical insurance, ferries, food, coffee, gas, ski lift tickets and vino and beer (which will be our exchange commodity for staying at our generous friends). oh, and we will also need new climbing shoes.

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Leaving on an airplane is always a source of great excitment…no matter how often we do it.

 

Our project is bringing a lot of excitement in our household and we love planning together and talking about what we are going to do. While we don’t have a clear plan and are hoping to go with the flow, there are some must-do things that we like to prioritize, like spending the holidays with my in-laws, which I can’t recall ever doing before. We also want to go back to Spain, visit Sicily, climb in Greece, ski in Chamonix, hang out in our beloved La Grave, ski in Queyras…

 

We obviously have some compromises to do this summer and need to keep our adventures a little more low key than usual. My husband’s desire for a new mountain bike will have to be put on hold as will our wish to replace the camper we miss so much.

 

We are also mindful about every purchase we are doing as anything that comes into our condo will have to be stored somewhere. But we know how much it’s worth it. So very worth it. Bring on the countdown!

 

What tips do you have to prepare for a long trip?

Purpose

“Your greatest contribution to the universe may not be something you do but someone your raise” Andy Staley

 

To all the mothers, who with dedication strive to accomplish the most natural yet the most complex of all tasks; bring up independent, intelligent and kind humans beings.

…And to all the fathers who embark upon the journey with them (of course!).

Happy Mother’s Day, with all my love and admiration.

E.