Running and an opera

The air was brisk when I set out for my morning run. The sun had barely crested the horizon and the narrow lanes of Venice were shrouded in darkness. The occasional lamp cast shadows on the stone paths gliding beneath my feet. Italians are not early risers. The once vibrant shops were dark or shuttered as I wound my way surreptitiously through the city. I emerged in an empty St. Mark’s square save for a few birds and men sweeping up the litter of the night before. Past the bell tower I ran to the water’s edge and a view of a massive cruise ship lit with a thousand lights pulling slowly toward the ocean.I followed the water’s edge marvelling at the architecture of the city slowly being lit by the rising sun. A few other morning runners passed going in the other direction. The flat stone paths were broken every few hundred meters by stepped bridges spanning the canals leading into the city. Their banks lined with boats and skiffs. In a few short kilometres I entered a park; a thick bed of fallen leaves crunched beneath my feet though the towering trees still held enough leaves to form a wonderful canopy overhead. The island ended and I was forced to follow its course and turn back into its labyrinth. I left behind the Venice of tourism and entered the clean streets of Venezia’s residents. The occasional clothes line still held yesterday’s washing. Remarkably I found no dead ends but wound on and on to emerge at a canal here and enter a quaint courtyard there.
The streets slowly filled with merchants readying their shops or unloading their wares from the boats. A vegetable market was coming to life. Ahead of me a group of pigeons gathered frantically over the remains of something spilled. I thought to scatter them with my pounding feet but they would not stir at my approach and I passed by nearly unnoticed a few feet away. Suddenly a bird skimmed past my ear on the right then another and another and I found myself running in the midst of a flock of flying rats. I had visions of being pecked to death, a fitting end on a halloween morning, but gladly they simply continued on.
I soon found myself back in St. Marks Square and into the final stretch: left at the sandwich shop, right at the lingerie store, left at the bedding shop and I was sensing a pattern. Lost in that thought I missed the next few turns and required my GPS to find my way back the few hundred meters to the hotel.
Dad and I spent the day exploring Venice. We took the water bus back to the train station and picked up tickets to head back to Rome the next day and then back into the streets of Venice. We found a quaint shop for a bite of breakfast and bought a map. The map didn’t seem to help as we ended up on the wrong bus and in the completely wrong direction for the glass factories in Murano. By the time we’d finished exploring our unintended destination dad was out of energy to make it to Murano. I left him at the hotel for a nap while I ventured over the Rialto bridge and into a corner of Venice I had not seen yet. I peered into churches but avoided entering any that charged a fee. I found many that didn’t, however, and was amazed at the art work and history lying about. One church had the inner workings of a 16th century clock tick-tocking away in the corner.
On my way back to the hotel still peering in every nook and cranny and doing my best to get lost in Venice I stumbled into an Opera hall. The hall, Scuola Grande Di San Teodoro, was featuring an opera concerto comprised of many famous pieces from Mozart to Puccini and Verdi. Better yet the hall was a short walk from our hotel. I convinced dad to splurge with me and try out the opera. Its not like we are going to Venice every other day. The man that sold us the tickets literally looked down his nose at the riffraff in front of him. We just smiled and put on our best low born accents (not hard at all) and made him sell us tickets anyway… the cheap ones in the back.
The musicians dressed in period costume. Their white powdered wigs and lacey clothing had me reflecting on how idiotic we’ll likely look to our posterity in 500 years. The show was excellent and I was moved more than once by the skill of the musicians. A duet with the soprano and the baritone “La ci darem la mano” had me closing my eyes to better feel the music; though, i have no idea what they were singing.
Have you ever starred at a ceiling fan and focused on a single blade? Eventually you can track the blade and pick it out of the otherwise whirling colours above you. I like to do the same at concerts, focus on an instrument until I can hear its music through all the others. Everyone must do that I suppose. It was a wonderful concert in a lovely baroque period hall.
It was after 10pm when we returned to the hotel. As much as I like my dad I’m missing my wife and children. Lisa and I chatted via text for over two hours. Her in British Columbia and me all the way on the other side of the planet. It has me immensely grateful for the technology I’d otherwise take for granted.

 

A staircase of books in a used book store in Venice.

  

Random “fire exit” sign found in Venice during our explorations

  

A bookstore in Venice

  

Tickets to the opera.

  

Ceiling art in the opeea hall.

 

First Impressions of Venezia

A high speed train took us from Rome this morning through the Italian countryside. Rolling hills lined with trees and patched together with recently disced farmers fields sped by. The train travelled at 245 kilometres an hour much of the time. Soon the hills gave way to an immense flat land that remindedus of British Columbia’s lower mainland. Suddenly the train was surrounded by the Mediterranean and we were gliding into the Venezia S. Lucia Station. The moment we stepped out of the train terminal and into the plaza I fell in love with this city. 

The blueish green waters of the Grand Canal were spread out before me. Boats of varying sizes plied the water laden with passengers of all types. A blue sky could not restrict the sun from pouring itself out upon the mingling crowds. Across the canal blocky heavy buildings sat directly in the water seemingly resting immovable on the gently heaving water. In the middle of these sat a white stone building its Roman columns pushing up from its foundation to a high domed roof blueish green and strangely captivating.

Like a fool I had put little good use to my three hours of idle time on the train. I could not be bothered to take the time to register for the wifi on board. I should have been plotting our course to the hotel from the station. My kingdom for a wifi signal! Actually, I hardly cared. We made a left and started walking into Venice. The stone road we followed was lined with shops, restaurants, fruit stands, pizzerias, gelato stands… oh gelato. I convinced dad to stop for gelato! The atmosphere was carnival like but somehow different. For a moment it reminded me of Disney World but no this was real. Real people lived in those apartments overlooking our path and the shops below them. Real Venetians ply their wares, live, love and eventually die here. An old man, clearly a local, shuffled past me intent on some unknown destination. We walked a kilometre into the city until we spotted, of all things, a McDonalds. Certainly they’d have wifi. The place was beyond packed and I could not connect to the wifi. We must have passed 25 or more restaurants all moderately busy and McDonalds is over run. We decided to back track to a restaurant we’d seen along the way. Turns out they had free wifi too. Google really is awesome. I quickly learned that our hotel was a simple 2 kilometre walk away or we could cut that trip down to 450 meters with a ride, on what I’ll call, the water bus. Dad opted for the water bus. I don’t blame him. I’d already walked him a kilometre into the city and a kilometre back. The transit is far from cheap; it’s 7 euros for a single ride or 30 euros for a two day pass. We purchased two day passes.

As we motored slowly down the Grand Canal I marvelled at the ingenuity of this city. Its earliest inhabitants had fled here to escape the barbarian hordes that were the ruin of the Roman empire. It seems the most brilliant cities rise from most unlikely of places. There is a life lesson somewhere in these thoughts. Perhaps it is that what we perceive as our great flaw, terminal weakness or most painful setback may ultimately turn to good with a little effort?

Using my GPS we meandered through the venetian labyrinth to our hotel. Narrow stone pathways run in every direction caught in the gloom of brick building rising on either side. There are no crosswalks, no stop lights, no horns blaring in the distance, no motors tap tap tapping in idle impatience. The streets are too narrow for rickshaws and there are no fields to support beasts of burden. The occasional cat wanders past or a small dog leading its owners. This evening I saw a rat scurry down a dimly lit path seeking some morsel of food. This is a walking city! Men pull oversized dolly’s through the streets burdened with boxes and assorted cargo. These are the truckers of Venice. The sounds that fill the city are the idle talk of strangers and friends in the soft roll of Italian and a hundred other languages. I am entranced with its beauty.

I left my dad in the quaint hotel tucked down an obscure dead end lane. While he grabbed a shower and a nap I ventured out to find the Piazzo San Marco. You know this place. You’ve seen it in a thousand movies. The pigeons congregate here to be fed by countless tourists. A large rectangle surrounded on three sides by columned buildings and crowned on its east by the enormous Basilica di San Marco and to its right rises a brick bell tower. The bells are ringing as I walk through the plaza smiling at the birds as they land on the outstretched arms of tourists and the frightened shoulders of children. There are quartets playing classical music or jazz every 50 meters or so for the passersby and the patrons of restaurants that have spread their tables out into the square. It is all a little surreal. Later dad and I would walk through St. Marks and marvel at the 12th century byzantine floor and the mosaics painted far into the lofty domes above us.

Moving beyond the square I found myself along the waters edge where artists painted venetian scenes and offered them for sale. Kiosks sold knickknacks of the usual sort. It is then that I stumble upon a public park. The city is hardly green but for the potted plants that hang from the windows and balconies of towering residences. Here though in a patch no bigger than a football field is a treed square. The scent of roses greeted me at its gates and I was suddenly aware of the smells of the city I’d passed through already. The tight spaces trap the aromas of bakeries and pizzerias, of tobacco smoke and perfumes and less frequently than I would have thought the smell of the sea.

I got lost returning to the hotel. The GPS was confused by the rising concrete around me. I walked past hundreds of shops: glass works, exquisite masks, books, stylish fountain pens, fine clothes and shoes and everything else imaginable. I began to feel as though I’d been trapped in a condensed Mall of the Emirates. A tinge of sadness at this thought. Yet, a small price to pay to enjoy this city with its thousands of twisting lanes and its hundreds of stone bridges, its solid wooden doors that hide enumerable secrets. This is the setting for a thousand million stories. This is a city to set the imagination ablaze. How badly I wanted my family here with me. My children should be running these streets. I saw Kirsten in every artist and Lilli in every foreign conversation. I saw Jaron in every care free child feeding the birds or running through the plazas. I am already mentally planning the European bike trip that will some day bring Lisa and I to this gem in the Mediterranean.

 

Venezia railway station plaza.

  

A typical wide road in Venice.

  

Venitian trucker

  

One of a bjillion canals

    

Typical Venetian building

 

The Vatican

I don’t even no where to begin so I’m just going to go for it. The day started out much like yesterday but with blue skies. We got off the bus outside the Vatican and marched ourselves to the ticket office associated with the bus tour company we purchased our tickets from on day one. There are thousands of people milling about the street leading to St. Peter’s Basilica. The crowds are a little overwhelming. I’ve seen this courtyard in front of St. Peter’s dozens of times on television. It’s eerily familiar. I took a long look at the Basilica. Dad said he’d like to go in after the Vatican Museum but I knew better. I wondered just how much walking lay before us.
We fended off the up sell at the ticket office and began the walk to the Vatican. We walked down a long street enclosed with the enormous exterior brick wall of the Vatican on our left and to our right a long line of vendors selling knickknacks from a goo that made a farting noise to pictures of the Pope. At the end of the lane we came across the line to get in. I had been a little annoyed with the price of our “skip the line” tickets until I saw the line. Dad would have been done by the time we made it to the front of that torture chamber. 
The Vatican museum essentially consists of stairs and rooms in a never ending labyrinth of art. Lilli and I once visited the Vancouver Art Gallery together. If she is reading this post she might think I just described my own personal hell. I generally don’t get “art.” The Vancouver Art Gallery features things like a pile of broken couches as a central attraction. I don’t get it. At the Vatican we found what you might call real art. If that makes me sound like a snob so be it.

It was all a little much though. We probably walked through less than a third of what the Vatican has to offer in about 4 hours. It was overwhelming. By the end every painting looked the same. The lead up to the Sistine Chapel was so extraordinary that the chapel itself was nearly something of a let down. Of course, we shared the entire experience with 30,000 of our closest friends. Standing room only folks. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Vatican do it and I suggest bringing along a small pair of binoculars. A neck brace might help too.

The long walk with all the stairs was pretty hard on dad. I wondered a couple times if we’d have to get the Swiss Guard to carry him out. He powered through and I made sure to find him a bench to occupy every now and then. We put in about 15,000 steps today (according to my iPhone) I suspect that translates to somewhere between 12-14 kilometres.

We arrived back at the hotel a quarter past 3. Dad took a nap and like yesterday I set off on my own. I found a laundromat with the help of my good friend Google and took our clothes for a cleaning. In the hour they took to clean I walked a 6k loop through the streets of Rome. Turns out that suicide in Rome is only 28 euro. That’s the cost of renting a scooter for the day. I estimate it would take me less than half the day to kill myself on one of those things. If I had a different travelling companion yesterday’s post might be my obituary.

Tomorrow we board the train for Venice. I am extremely interested in experiencing a city without automobiles.

 

Michelangelo’s Pieta (Replica in the Vatican Museum)

  

St. Bernard trampling on the demon by Marcello Ventusi (1563-64)

  

Selfie with St. Peter’s in the background. Taken from a courtyard in the Vatican Museum.

 

Raining in Rome

We woke this morning to the sound of rain pattering off the tin rooves of the neighbouring buildings. I knew I should have packed that umbrella. I at least brought my rain jacket. Breakfast was a croissant, muffin, yogurt and a hot chocolate. Everyone here wants me to drink cappuccino or coffee. For the first time I feel like I am missing out on something good. People are generally shocked, borderline offended even, when we don’t order coffee. My hot chocolate was made with an espresso machine so it was all frothy. Thats practically the same thing, I’m sure.

We headed out into the rain a little after eight with a plan to purchase tickets for the “hop on hop off” bus. Turns out there are 4-5 companies to choose from. Seriously! Now I need to compare prices and routes and timing and… forget it, we picked the closest one. Along with the bus tickets we purchased “skip-the-line” tickets to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel for tomorrow. I am looking forward to tomorrow.

We boarded the two decker bus and climbed to the open air second floor. I generally enjoy these bus tours. I’ve had some memorable tour guides. A fellow in Chicago was especially entertaining but unfortunately this tour came with an automated voice that echoed through cheap earbuds. Between explanations of stellae and bascilica it ran poor renditions of Vivaldi. I suppose when you accomodate a dozen or so languages a recording is a necessity though I’m certain the Vivaldi is not.

We chose to ride the bus through its complete circuit once and then decide what to do from there. Watching the bus manouver through the busy streets, down cramped lanes and through the masses of unpredictable pedestrians was nearly as entertaining as the history. Actually, much more entertaining. Whoever wrote the script for the tour must have been trained by the same people that produce elevator music and 1970s sex education videos – let’s suck the fun out of  everything! The traffic was awesome though and I was anxiously awaiting Jackie Chan or some other ninja chasing a bad guy to come tearing through the bus at any moment. Dad suggested we sit in the very front of the bus for the thrill factor and joked that if mom was here she’d kill the bus driver.

I wanted to get off at every stop: “oh look Piazza Venezia!” “Whoa the Circo Massimo, remeber that scene from Ben Hur!” “St. Peter’s Bascillica, sweet!” “Hey, look at that sweet bike path along the Tiber… with absolutely no one on it.” How on earth do Romans out preform Americans in cardiac health when every second person has a cigarrette hanging out of their mouth and the only bike lane in the entire city is exceptionally empty? In the end we opted to hop off at the Coliseum. 

Now this is an impressive set of ruins. There is poetry in its construction. The Romans used the loot they stole from the sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple to build this monument of death and suffering. Some estimates put the number of lives lost in the Coliseum over a million. They could flood the ampitheater and stage mock sea battles where thousands could die for the enjoyment of others. It is a temple dedicated to all that is wrong with humanity. Naturally, we are preserving it with utmost care. It is impressive, no doubt. I can hardly imagine the colossal undertaking it must have been to construct. We circumnavigated its circumfrence but chose to avoid the crowds and long lines to get inside. We scaled the Palatine instead and to hear dad it might as well have been the Himilayas. Actually, he didn’t complain at all but he was breathing like a draft horse. We took our time and enjoyed our surroundings.

A small cafe overlooking the Coliseum entertained us for lunch. They had some amazing pizza.  The Italians know how to eat. After lunch and a little more sightseeing we climbed back on the bus. It began to rain. We were stuck on top of the bus. It was a miserable wet ride back through the majority of the route.

We disembarked at the Piazza Barberinni. There is a fabulous water fountain here by the artist Bernini. I need to look up the story behind it. Imagine a triton suspended by the fins of four dolphins. He kneels on scaly legs a conche shell pressed to his mouth, head drawn back to sound the instrument before him. The Triton’s body in similitude of the perfect man is shining with the life giving water pouring from the shell in his hands. I wish I could better describe it to you but words are failing me. I think I can now say that I have a favorite piece of art and understand just a little the passion some exhibit for great art. I’ll include a picture here but like all amazing things pictures are inadequate. 

Dad was beginning to fade quickly by this point so we headed back in the direction of the hotel. Along the way was the Basilica S. Maria Degli Angeli E Dei Martiri. It is a squat romanesque like structure with crumbling brick walls and the appearnce of antiquity. It looked open so I headed inside to escape the rain and was not prepared for what I would find. This was the Rome I was looking for. The domed ceiling was much loftier than I’d expected and the walls home to impressive depictions of early Christianity. John the Baptist’s marble head lay on a platter in a corner. God was being swept away on a cloud while Adam and Eve fled from the garden. A sign before a ropped off sanctuary invited those who wished to pray to enter and do so. It was dark inside the building and the little light that filtered through the stained glass was subdued. I could not restrain from taking a few pictures, as rude as that probably was. I kept the flash off at least.

We were back in the hotel by 3pm. Dad was spent. I took a moment to relax and then headed out on my own while he took a needed break. We are remarkably close to one of the main public libraries in Rome. I was keen to see it. Surely the Romans will have magnificent libraries? The exterior of the Biblioteca Nazionale is far from inspiring. It reminds me of ugly utilitarian soviet architecture. The inside, to my dismay, is a reflection of the outside. The librarians at the desk confiscated my driver’s license as payment for entry. A large open and commodious library full of arbrite desks, old CRT computer monitors, microfiche readers and row upon row of ancient card catalogs. In a city that has been the inspiration of the western world for centuries lies a library that is the antithesis of ispiration, institution. There were plenty of people studiously occupying the desks, bent over their laptops with piles of books scattered about them defying the sterility of their environment to rob them of their souls. I don’t want to talk about it any more; its too painful.

I wandered the streets of Rome after that to absorb all I could and let the rain rinse off what I’d just experienced. I found myself at the national museum. It was growing late so not worth the 13 euros to explore its interior but the courtyard alone was worth the visit. There are several dozen headless statues that I really wanted to stand behind and take a picture of my head on their marble bodies. Alas, I was alone. Another gorgeous fountain, this one complete with fish in its green ringed pool. Beautiful.

We ate dinner at a table on the bustling streets after a stroll through Rome’s famous shopping district. The food was okay but not up to the standard we have already come to expect. When eating a meal on the corniche in Muscat with the family I told the kids to take a deep breath and let the place sink in. “You are making a memory” I said. I hope that memory lasts for them and this one for me.

 

Dad stands in front of the Coliseum or Flavian Ampitheater

  

A painting in the Basilica S. Maria Degli Angeli E Dei Martiri.

  

The fountain at the entrance to the Rome National Museum

  

One of many public drinking fountains in Rome. At least I hope it is for drinking cause I drank some… not before seeing others do the same of course.

   

Fontana del Tritone, a 17th century fountain from the sculptor Bernini

 

Fabulous pizza at a cafe outside the Coliseum

First Impressions of Rome

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That was a long flight. The snow began to fall as we boarded the first plane in Prince George this morning and while I was looking forward to warmer climates my thoughts were with my family. Winter is not my favorite season. It is lovely here in the high teens but rain is threatening. A short flight from PG to Vancouver; then Vancouver to Toronto where we endured a 4 hour layover and a much too expensive airport meal until finally the long hop over the Atlantic to Rome. I was feeling the fatigue when we stepped off that final plane with a train ride and short walk ahead of us. Dad weathered things fairly well but he was looking a little pale when we stepped onto the train for the ride into Rome.

Rome smells of stale cigarretes. Home to the greatest of renissance artists the city has fallen to modern spray paint enthusiasts. Every sign, every train, every brick wall save the ruins is the canvas of the masses. The homeless are not friendless; often a dog or two accompanies them on the littered and broken sidewalks. The city is everywhere in disrepair. Broken concrete and fading paint blend with the ruins and the litter to tell the story of former greatness, of better times.

We walked a block or two past the hotel and had to back track. It was easy to miss. It is literally a hole in the wall. A small bronze plaque next to a nondescript wood door is all that announces the Independence Square Hotel. We had to ring the buzzer to the second floor for the proprietor to let us in. The doors are so narrow that even I must turn to squeeze myself in. The hotel is closer to a Bed and Breakfast but without the breakfast (correction the proprietor just knocked on my door to let me know he’d made a mistake and breakfast is included). The hotel is home to 4-5 rooms sharing two bathrooms. The room includes a sink and mirror though. A single bed and no prospect of a cot. Thank heaven it is a king bed. It made little difference to me as I was unconcious as soon as my head touched the pillow.

It was just after noon (Rome time) when we let our bags down in the hotel room. Our day started at 4:15am and it was now almost exactly 24 hours later. I planned to sleep for two hours and then get moving. I really don’t wish to be wide awake at 1am. The two hours became three before I could wrestle myself up let alone dad. We headed out on foot without any real plan.

We played the tourists. Walking through narrow streets lined with scooters and Smart cars we caught glimpses of the Coliseum in the distance while wandering past nameless brick ruins. In front of the Santa Maria Maggiore an African man selling baubles and trinkets had a “gift” in our hands in moments and was requesting a “donation.” He got his donation. It makes me wonder if we are prepared for India. Perhaps by the end of the week.

An oblisk stands in front of the Santa Maria, chipped and fading with an inscription so badly worn that I could never decipher it even if I knew Latin. We walked past the ristorantes and the pizzerias dodging traffic and weaving our way through the masses. The open doors of a church, St. Pauls’s, and the works of a local artist drew us off the streets for a moment. An Opera was scheduled for this ancient edifice but it was many hours away and we were already fading fast.

We stopped for dinner at a cafe a few streets from our hotel. The food was excellent and surely enhanced by the night air and the atmosphere of night traffic and passing strangers chatting in Italian. It was 6pm when we reached the hotel again and 6:20 when dad slipped into what I wish were a quiet sleep. His nose horn is playing an incongruous melody behind me as I type this out. He’ll be wide awake at 3am.

 

First Roman meal.

 

Dad infront of a random church

 

 

Turns out this hotel room is super tiny

 

Rebirth of a Clipper

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First look in the daylight.

At the end of May of this year I was online looking for jobs and wondering what I was going to do with my summer now that I was all caught up in my nursing courses.  Just before preparing to head to bed I decided to log into Facebook.  Here in our little city we have a Buy and Sell Facebook page for folks in the area wishing to hawk their wares.  While scrolling through the list of items for sale I came across a lady looking to sell an old, battered, blue canoe for $20.

The Librarian was already in bed reading a book, though when I mentioned to him that there was a canoe for sale for such a low price he exclaimed, and I quote, “I’d go get it right now!”.  I was a little shocked, “right now?” “Yes, right now” he replied.  So back to the computer to reply that we would be out to pick it up as soon as possible.  The Librarian, who moments before was eager to pick up this steal of deal, sang a entirely different tune when he learned we would need to drive to Mud River (at 9:30pm), a meagre 30 min drive from our door.

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Needs fixing…

It took longer than necessary to get out the door as the Librarian kicked and screamed about the late hour, and length of the needed drive.  It was dark when we arrived and we were only able to locate the canoe on the property by the porch light from the front of the house.  As we attempted to load the canoe onto the van it was difficult to see the true condition of the boat.

The next day a proper inspection proved that this $20 canoe was worth the money paid.  Large cracks, holes, and a completely broken thwart and yoke were tokens of the work I had ahead of me.  That’s right, ME.  From the moment I convinced the Librarian to drive to the “middle of nowhere” in the “middle of the night” he was not going to be involved anymore.

So I borrowed some sawhorses, thanks bro-in-law, and set to work sanding.  After 3 hours of sanding I had gone through 3-1/3 sheets of sandpaper, and killed my rotary sander.  The canoe was still very, very blue.  A little discouraged I put a call out for a sander and in no time had a replacement loaner, THANK YOU!  Long story short, I stopped counting sanding hours after 24, the canoe was significantly yellower, and I was ready to fix some holes.

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Only a few hours in and that paint is not budging! Oh, and my sander is dead 😦

This didn’t happen right away.  I had never worked with fibreglass before and was nervous about the process.  Many forums suggested the ease of the process, and to “just follow the instructions on the container”…my container didn’t come with instructions did it?  YouTube and some trial and error and I got things figured out.  You can learn how to do anything on YouTube!

By the beginning of August I was ready for some paint…I think.  I wasn’t sure how much preparation needed to be done and if I had done enough.  So again I held off until I had read, reread and reread many forums, as well as watching several different YouTube videos over and over until I felt comfortable.  Once I felt mentally prepared to paint I went searching.  I talked to several people at Home Hardware and Home Depot about what paint to use (since neither places carry any Marine Enamel), they weren’t very helpful and even contradicted what I had read in all my research.  I was told purchasing Marine Enamel was going to be VERY expensive, and I could easily end up paying close to $100 for a quart.  This left me with the impression that I did not want to buy paint from anyone up here in the woods, does anyone around here even own a boat they have to maintain themselves… apparently not 😉

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Clipper Explorer 17′ river tripper discontinued in early 1980s

We had a trip planned to Vancouver and so I made sure at some point we would detour to Western Canoe and Kayak, BC’s local Clipper retailer.  A few weeks earlier when I was finishing up the sanding, I had pulled an identifier plate off that canoe.  We wrote WC&K asking them for any info they could give us.  We received this response:

 

 

The Explorer was certainly a classic. Very stable and a nice river tripping canoe. Yes this model was discontinued in the mid 80’s. The canoe was originally produced by Goddu Manufacturing in Mission. We purchased the company, Clipper Canoes and all the molds in the late 70’s.

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Clipper decals from Western Canoe & Kayak.

When we went into the store I had some pointed questions that the sales clerk couldn’t answer.  So she introduced me to the shop Wiz (a grumpy, older fellow-probably irritated about being torn away from his work).  He explained that I should be able to get the paint I needed from Canadian Tire, and sold me a set of Clipper decals for $12 (but only after I showed him the identifier plate and made an oath that the decals would only go on a Clipper).

So off to Canadian Tire I pranced. Prince George Canadian Tire had 1 quart of white Marine Enamel for $35.  Not the colour I wanted but I thought I had better grab it while it was there.  The moment I left the store, I felt like I hadn’t really shopped around enough (a run-in with my sis-in-law also confirmed that feeling), so I returned the quart and drove around to some speciality paint shops.  General Paints was my first stop but they only had “Safety Yellow” available.  This was closer to the colour I wanted but maybe too bright?  Cloverdale paints ended up being the place to go.  Not only did they have the colour I wanted, they had a whole booklet of colours for a special Nursing Student price of $22/quart.  PERFECT!

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Way to go Cloverdale!

Some refreshers from YouTube and I was off painting.  Sanding, then painting, sanding, then painting, sanding, then painting, sanding, then painting, and finally wet sanding.  One would think my arms would be a whole lot bigger from all the sanding I have done in the last 4 months….

4 coats in total, and it looks WAY better than before.  Not perfect, but pretty darn great for my first time ever doing something like this.  I’m not sure how to really finish it, some more YouTube research is in my future.  The gunwales will be painted white, and the yoke still needs some attention at this point.  So I’ll post an update when that is complete.

I realize this isn’t a very technical post, for those who were looking for that sort of thing.  If you would like more detailed information I’ll do my best to respond.

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Paddles hanging on the wall.

In between sanding coats of marine enamel on the canoe I decided I clearly didn’t have enough sanding to do and ended up sanding my paddles down to the wood.  They were well used while we were out of the country and required some serious TLC.  Two out of three of the paddles were worn to the wood (likely from dragging along the gunwale of the canoe) and were heavily water damaged, discolouring the wood.  Once sanded down I decided I wanted to put a little extra flair and effort into their repair.  I had thought about pyrographing a design onto the paddles, but not feeling confident in my wood burning skills decided to paint a design onto the paddles with Acrylic paint instead.  The results turned out far better than I imagined.  I finished off the paddles with several coats of an oil-based polyurethane (sanding in between coats of course) and voila, brand new paddles.

 

 

 

The Canadian Death Race

The Canadian Death Race (CDR) was my second ultra marathon. At 125 kilometres it is nearly double the distance of the first ultra I ran back in September, 2014. At the time I thought that ultra was pretty tough with some significant elevation change. Here is a little perspective for you: my total time for the 63k Mad Moose Ultra was a little less than 7 and 1 half hours. So when I finished leg 2 of the 5 leg CDR having run only 46k with a time of 7 hours and 3 minutes I began to realize this was a different breed of race.

There were somewhere between 1000-1500 runners in the CDR. This made for a fun start with the music going and a charged atmosphere as runners tried desperately to find an appropriate pace. The first leg is rated the easiest at 19k with comparatively tame trails. I say comparatively because on its own a good chunk of the leg is fairly technical and a few poor souls took some hard falls early on.

Jeremy and I strolled into the leg 1 finish in a cool 2 hours 3 minutes. The crowd was thick in the transition and spectators cheered us on. Jeremy was good about hustling us through the pit stop. I tend to take too long at these places.

Leg 2 began to climb almost immediately. We ran some distance on a quad track before entering single track that proceeded nearly straight up the side of a mountain. We planned to share a single set of poles. This it turns out was foolish. Running the CDR would be exponentially more difficult without two good running poles.

Before reaching our first summit Jeremy began to take a turn for the worse. He soon had both poles and was struggling to keep up. He began suggesting I go on without him at about K25. I hoped he was just hitting an early wall and we could push through. We moved slowly down the mountain in a tight pack of runners. The downhill so steep that many runners had to slide down on their rears. In dips and valleys we found mud and muskeg which made for even slower going.

At k31 Jeremy looked pale and was insistent that I move on without him. He threatened to pull out of the race all together unless I took the poles and left him there. He planned to take an hour and try to recuperate. I figured a remote possibility of his completing was better than none so I did as I was told and moved on. I’ll be honest, I thought he was done at that point. This was a serious blow to my mental state. It helped that I quickly began overtaking many runners but thoughts of how Jeremy was likely out of the race made progress bitter sweet.

Up and up leg 2 continued, culminating with a spectacular view of the surrounding country side. Any thoughts of the worst of the leg being over were quickly dashed. The trail followed a power line nearly directly down the face of the mountain. It was so steep that I began longing for the uphill. The incline was taking a toll on my quads which were now nearly shredded. I pictured Jeremy coming down that trail without poles and tried not to complain.

Jeremy had drug himself into the aid station where the medics gave him a rundown. He was wrapped in a blanket to combat the chills he was experiencing and he learned that his resting pulse rate was in excess of 128 beats per minute! The medics considered pulling him from the race but decided to let him sit an hour and check his fitness to continue then. So as I was approaching the end of the power line from hell Jeremy had recuperated and set off to run me down.

I saw the most beautiful woman in the world wearing a fluorescent vest (Lisa) marshaling runners through an intersection just 800 meters from the end of leg 2 (which happens to be the start/finish line). I met Lilli and Kirsten at the line who were kind enough to crew for me. Meaning, they filled my water bottles and watched over my stuff. They were awesome having waited around for us to show up 2 hours longer than we anticipated arriving. And there was no “we.” Jeremy was still out there!

A blister had begun to form on my right heel. I took some time in transition to clean it and apply mole skin. For a month I debated buying new shoes but put it off until, in typical James fashion, I broke down and bought new trail shoes two days before the race! Do you really need to break shoes in nowadays? Turns out the shoes worked great, all things considered.

It was 3:00pm when I finished leg 2 well under the 5:30 cutoff but much longer than I’d planned to be. The girls wanted to know what to do with Jeremy’s gear. I refused to give up on him and asked they leave it where it was and have mom come down and crew for him (as the girls were scheduled to take over Lisa’s volunteer tasks at 3pm).

Leg 3 followed the river valley for 19k. Frankly, I think this was the easiest leg of the race (it was less technical than leg 1). The weather may have had something to do with its relative ease. I understand that generally this trail is fraught with bogs and mud. The dry weather left just enough room on the edges of the puddles to keep our feet dry. Realizing that this leg would have few hills I held back a little to give my legs a little time for recovery before the onslaught of leg 4.

I arrived at the end of leg 3 at about 6:20. The transitions between legs were great. There were plenty of people to cheer you on as you ran in. I love to get the crowd going so I always pick up the pace a little and shout something like: “I can’t feel my legs!” (That one always draws a cheer).

I must have looked a little out of sorts at the end of this leg as the nurse was grilling me hard or maybe it was the comment about my legs. This was the furthest I’d ever run! I’d just covered 65k and run for a little over 10 hours and I understood quite profoundly that I was only about half way. After a short rest long enough to refill my bottles and shove some food in me I would be off. I took a moment to pull out my phone and switch off airplane mode (airplane mode to conserve battery life). Rats, no cell service. There was no way to know for sure if Jeremy was out or if he managed to carry on.

So, unknown to me Jeremy was only 40 minutes behind me. He had come into the leg 2/3 transition about an hour after I’d left it. Unlike me he did not have the luxury of holding back on leg 3 and he had just descended leg 2’s quad crushing descent without poles. He made up over 20 minutes in leg 3. A look back at his splits put him in the top 30 soloist runners for that leg – he was moving!  As Jeremy approached the transition spectators rallied to let him know he was moments from the cutoff and to make it he’d have to sprint it in. I wish I had been there to watch as he dug in to race the clock. He timed in right at 7pm and then promptly threw up.

10 minutes later Jeremy was still at the aid station in recovery when another soloist came in to find she’d missed the cutoff. Runners can be the nicest folks. She was happy to lend Jeremy her poles for the remainder of the race. He would need them.

Starting out on leg 4 I was with a nice older lady who was completing the leg as a relay team. I managed to stay with her for about a kilometer and a half before she pulled away. I knew she had fresh legs and certainly was deceptively athletic but watching her pull away at the beginning of the steep climb up Mt. Hamel was quite the reality check.

I’ve heard other racers talk about this leg as the “assault” up Mt. Hamel. I’m not so sure who exactly is being assaulted… I have a feeling it’s the runner and not the mountain. It is an ascent of over 2000 feet on ever steeper switch backs. There is a bail out part way up the mountain (a couple stoic volunteers in a Jeep). I dug my poles in when I reached them and rested for a moment or two.

Leg 4 is 38 kilometers. I fell in with a group of runners part way up the mountain and it turned out that several had attempted to solo the run in the past. For some this was their 2nd or 3rd attempt. One able looking veteran in pink socks indicated that it was best to reach the end of the leg by 2am at the latest – 7 hours away! Another reality check!

Just short of the summit I realized I had not eaten anything in a couple hours. My stomach really didn’t want me putting anything in it. I was suffering from stomach cramps and even the thought of food threatened to have me expel all I had managed to ingest. I forced myself off the trail and sat down. Without exception every passing runner asked if I was alright (such nice people). I forced down an Eatmore bar refusing to stand until it was all gone.

The summit of Mt. Hamel provided some spectacular views. I arrived there just as the sun was setting. The bald mountain top looked down on Grand Cache and the stunning rolling Smoky River valley.

The wind was intense at the summit. I would only be up there for a short time (they make you run the length of the table top mountain and back – more than a kilometer). I resisted getting out my jacket, toque and gloves until I realized that I must be bleeding energy fast to keep myself warm.

So it was that a few kilometers later on the far side of Mt. Hamel I was sitting on a rock in what the race organizers called “Boulder Garden.” I was stowing my cold weather gear and the sun was setting fast. I had made a fatal mistake. Jeremy and I (more optimistic than prudent) had stowed our headlamps in our drop bags which were at Ambler Loop about 7-10 kilometres away.

Naturally, the first runner to come across me on that rock asked how I was doing and I mentioned my predicament. She didn’t hesitate to lend me her spare torch. Otherwise I may have had to follow a runner with a light and that had nothing but disaster written all over it. A few hours later I would learn that a runner tripped in the dark on Ambler Loop to cut her knees, elbows, bloody her nose and break a finger. (Thanks for the assistance Erin – if you are reading this).

It was a further blow to arrive at Ambler Loop to my drop bag which was clipped to Jeremy’s. Was he still out there? Was he without poles on that unforgiving ground? His headlamp was in the bag at my feet.

I believe it was about midnight when I arrived at Ambler Loop. The support staff here were fantastic. There was a fire burning and a chair seemed to be waiting just for me. After a quick rest and a forced feeding I set out on the loop. Here was a segment of trail I could wrap my head around. It was 5 kilometers. To this point with just a watch I was out of touch with my pace. I thought I must be taking as much as an hour to cover 5k and was beginning to worry about cutoff times. When I finished the loop I was rather pleased to see I’d made the distance in almost exactly 40 minutes. Another 10.5 kilometers would bring me to the end of leg 4 and the home stretch.

A steady downhill on a dirt road, fantastic. I can make up time here. I ran with a nice guy for a while until stomach cramps forced me off the road. If you think burpees are hard try squatting next to a tree after running 100k. Yeah, there is just nothing pleasant about that picture.

I pulled into the end of leg 4 pretty pleased with myself that it was only 2am. Another forced eating and I took 20 minutes here – I felt I deserved it. I checked my phone and found I had cell service. I texted Lisa to find out how Jeremy was doing. She hadn’t heard from him so that could mean only one thing – he was on the trail! He was still in this thing!

I toyed with the idea of waiting for Jeremy at the aid station but I had no idea if he’d make all the cutoff times. How long could I wait? If I sat too long would I be able to get going again? I had to push on and hope for the best.

Leg 5 was single track and some quad trails through fairly dense forest. There were reflective tacks pinned into trees along the route to help you find the way. It was a bit spooky at times running without another soul in sight through the shadowed canopy of the forest. To hear the patterned footfall of a runner far ahead or behind was actually a comfort.

It was a quick, though creepy, 7k of twisting trails to the next aid station. Again I forced down some food. It was a fruit source bar that tasted like dirty feet. After just a few minutes I left the aid station to make my way to the river just a few hundred meters away.

I rounded a corner to descend on the river bank and standing on the shore was Death. The river roiled black behind him and cast a mist upon the bank. He stood, motionless, in flowing black robes his face a skull. His right hand held a clear chalice filled with silver coins. The price of passage already paid by runners that had come before. At the start of the race every runner was given a coin to pay the ferryman. I’d stashed my coin in a gel pocket of my pack. With relief I paid the toll and climbed aboard the river boat leaving Death to collect the fairs of those that would come behind.

This was it. 15 kilometers and the race was over. I understood, however, that there were two rather aggressive hills between me and the finish line and I wasn’t sure how much I had left. It was 4:12 when I left the boat and I went straight at it. There was no way to know how fast I was traveling or how slow! After what felt like forever I saw a kilometer marker. It read 3k! “What! Are you serious,” I thought! I must be moving at 20 minutes per kilometer. I began to wonder about my ability to make the finish line by 8am. I pushed on as the sun broke the horizon and I caught glimpses of Grand Cache at what seemed an unreasonable distance away.

I eventually caught the group that had taken the boat before me. They were confident we were making good time but I couldn’t believe it. I broke away from them but one, Jeff, kept pace. He assured me we were fine but I was convinced we still had 10k to go and we’re moving too slowly. Then there was suddenly a spectator who congratulated us with the information that we had only 3 kilometres left.

Jeff and I sped walked along the now gravel road together and discussed how tired we were, how stupid this was and how we should stick to easier events like Tough Mudders or Spartan Races. Then we hit pavement and I knew we were less than a kilometre from the finish line.

I left Jeff then and like a horse that has caught the scent of home I broke out. It was a gradual climb I was making but I was doing it at a run and oh how smooth the pavement slid beneath my feet. I was breathing like a steam train but I didn’t care as I passed runner after runner on the final stretch. I thanked my pink socked friend as I passed him by and then was heading down hill and I was fighting tears of joy! Deep breaths. Deep breaths. I rounded the final corner and felt the grass beneath my trail shoes and bolted for the line like I had only been out for a 5k. My water bottles broke free from my pack on my chest and scattered across the field as I came through the line to time in at 6:24:37 am. I’d done it! I’d pushed myself through 125 kilometers. Someone had collected my water bottles and was giving them to me. I then laid down on the grass to take the weight off my feet.

I was only there a few moments when Lisa turned up with the kids. They’d missed me crossing the line by just minutes. I suppose I should have walked the end.

Lisa convinced me to take a shower. If Jeremy was still out there he was probably an hour behind me. The showers were close but it still took me nearly an hour to get the job done. Washing my legs was the most difficult… Try standing on one leg in a shower after running 125k. Yeah, I sat on my butt.

I was in the stands watching the runners come in at 7:20. Where was Jeremy? Every minute that passed seemed to spell disaster. Then there he was coming down the street with about 20 minutes left on the clock. I was shouting and moving (ever so slowly) to intercept him at the finish line. I couldn’t believe it! He had rallied from what seemed like the end. It was a reawakening, a resurrection. He had come back from the dead and he looked it.

Jeremy demonstrated incredible tenacity. He raced the clock to nearly every cutoff. That performance will be one I’ll never forget.

It has taken me a couple days to get my feet back under me. I was unable to eat anything solid for about 24 hours. My stomach took a far worse beating than my legs. The leg pain I can handle. In fact, at about kilometre 70 I truly could not feel my legs anymore. Now that I can eat again my mind is drawn to whether I couldn’t get that time down under 20 hours. If you’ve read this far you have something of the endurance gene in you too – maybe I’ll see you out there next year! I just need to work out how to train my stomach.

 

Exporting Dogs from the UAE

We started out talking to several local boarding kennels in Dubai and Sharjah who also deal with importing and exporting pets. They were very helpful and offered up lots of information and a HEFTY price tag. We paid about $1500 CAD to get them into the country (excluding the cost of vaccinations to avoid quarantine), there’s no way I’m paying more than that to get them out. What we were quoted was closer to $4000 CAD. How hard could it be though, right? It was a hellish experience bringing them in I don’t know why we thought it would be easier heading the other direction.

Okay, really it hasn’t been that bad so far. There aren’t a crazy amount of vaccinations and money rolling out, so far so good. It’s just been stressful and frustrating. The most frustrating part of exporting our dogs out on our own is that everyone expects you to know what to do. For example, when I first started asking questions about how to export our dogs no one really knew who I should talk to. So my communications have bounced around to nearly the entire cargo department of our airline. After several months of emails and phone calls, I think I’m finally talking to the right guy (whew, only 2 weeks before we ship out). So I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned incase you’re crazy enough to try this on you own as well.

For the sake of ease, I’m just going to list in order what you need to do.

1. Look up the Government Agriculture website of your local country. Search for something that says, “pet import” or something similar. Print of the list of requirements right from the webpage, including the government header and everything (just in case).

2. Contact the cargo department of your airline and request “AVI requirements” or the process for pet export.

3. Have your pet vaccinated according to the specifications you found steps 1&2.  We were also asked to send photos of our pets (to confirm they weren’t blunt nosed), dimensions and weight of the carriers we were using, and the weight of our dogs.

4. Apply for the required Ministry Health Certificate.  This is good for 30 days.  Some countries require this certificate for import no more than 10 days before arrival, so check that with your country of import.  You can put all your animals on one certificate, so don’t apply for this more than once (even though they’ll tell you on the phone that you need one for each pet).  On the website it says you only need to wait 15 minutes to be processed.  What this really means is that 15 minutes after you drive the application number down to your shipping company, whether you’re going through Emirates or Dnata, with your pet (but don’t bring them into the office!), they will scan your pets, print off your certificate, and stamp it (can’t forget the stamp).  Done.  Also, there isn’t a single, specific location for the Ministry OF Environment and Water (MOEW) in Cargo village.  We took our dogs to the Dnata warehouse in the Dubai Airport Freezone.

5. We also required a Transit Certificate to go through Hong Kong.  This really messed us up because the airline wanted everything taken care of well in advance.  They pushed us to get the Ministry Health Certificate as soon as possible even though Canada wouldn’t allow it to be older than 10 days.  Hong Kong needed the Health Certificate before they would allow a Transit Certificate to be issued, so make sure you look into that if you aren’t making a direct flight.

6. With your ducks all in a row (certificates certified), you’re ready to go – EASY PEASY.  Unless…you’re us.  I don’t know if the guys in the cargo office don’t get along with the guys in the warehouse or what the problem is.  We were told to arrive with the dogs several hours before our flight to check them in, “no problem, no problem”.  When we arrived the warehouse guys were not happy to see us.  We were told we should have been down at the warehouse at least the day before.  Now there is a mad rush to process the dogs, get our paperwork all stamped up, and put the dogs on the plane.  It took at least 90 minutes to get two dogs through customs, and then the other shoe dropped.  “That’ll be 12,000AED (~$4000CAD).”  Um no way.  We were quoted half of that based on dimensions I sent them back in step #3!!  Here’s why this was a HUGE problem, we were leaving the country.  We were getting on a plane in 2.5 hours, with no plans of returning any time soon.  We no longer had a bank account for crying out loud.  Their solution was for us to ask someone to loan us the money or they weren’t going to ship the dogs.  They weren’t even willing to except half a payment.  James was a wonderful, forceful (there may have been some yelling) advocate for these dogs and our family as a whole.  He put his foot down, and convinced these guys to put our dogs through to Vancouver on his word (there was actually a lot of yelling, maybe a threat of a lawsuit if the dogs didn’t make it).

All in all, we made it.  Every last one of us.  There was yelling, and tears, and if we ever do this again…the dogs will stay with an Aunty.

 

 

Top 10 things…I will miss about the UAE.

I will miss so much more of the UAE than these 10 things.

#10 – Round-A-Bouts

At first round-a-bouts were a little intimidating to understand.  I have a feeling there are quite a few people here trying to figure them out still.  Once you get it, they are actually pretty awesome, but not in consistently high traffic areas.  Traffic continues to flow, and if you’re not sure which way to go, just go around again.  Rules to remember with round-a-bouts or ‘squares’ as I’ve heard them referred to, is that “whoever is in front, wins”.  If you’re in front of the guy beside you, and you need to turn but he isn’t, you have right of way (don’t forget to use your blinker).  Also, squares aren’t much different than intersections.  If you want to take the 3rd exit, you get in the right lane to merge into the centre ring, and basically turn right.  If there are 3 lanes going into a square, left lane turns left (and straight if there are 3 lanes coming out of the square), centre lane goes straight, right lane goes straight or right.  When their are only 2 lanes going into a square, left lane goes left and straight, right lane goes straight and right.  See.  Simple.

#9 – Having a ‘Guy’

So this did make it on my list after all.  You want a shelf hung, you call a ‘guy’ to hang the shelf.  You need a light change, call a ‘guy’ to do it.  Water my grass, the ‘guy’ comes by everything other day to turn the water on for 15 min, then turn it off again.  Need your car washed in your parking spot, you can have a ‘guy’ do it at home, or while you’re at the mall shopping.  Back broke off your chair, no problem, call the ‘guy’ to come and fix it.  We’ve even had half a dozen mice, ant infestation, and a bed bug scare.  We just called a ‘guy’ and the problem was solved.  Think my ‘guy’ will move to Canada with me?

#8 – Full service…everything

Who wants to get out of their car…for anything.  Gas, all full service, at every station except after 12:00am at some stations.  Remember drive-in’s?  You drove into the parking lot and honked, and someone would come out and take your order?  I have never done this but I’ve seen it done and not only at fast food restaurants.  I’ve seen people do this at grocery stores, hardware stores and other smaller places of business.

#7 – Spontaneous Holidays

The holidays on the calendar are tentative at best.  Every once in a while an announcement is made that certain sectors will not be working on certain days.  I’m sure it’s a rare thing.  But we saw this happen twice within a week.  This could also fall on my things I won’t miss about the UAE, as it makes planning difficult.  But hey, a bonus day off is nothing to complain about.

#6 – Inexpensive Services

Our favourite service has been dry-cleaning.  I get everything dry-cleaned.  Quilts, pillows, James work shirts and pants, the girls dresses, carpets, sleeping bags.  First of all my washing machine barely handles daily laundry for 5 let alone one quilt.  Second, I don’t have to iron shirts when someone else does a better job for $1/shirt.

#5 – Security

We live in a large, gated community.  There is a fence that runs around the entire University City.  Inside that each separate University or College is surround by it’s own fence.  Emirate police are posted at each gate entrance, randomly screening people who enter into the ‘city’.  Faculty/Staff are separated from students by a fence as well.  Guards are setup at A/C booths, or on patrol all day and night all over campus.  It sounds like we’re really locked down, but for the most part you don’t ever see these guys though you know they’re there.

The community is also small enough that we look out for each other.  My neighbours are familiar with my kids, as I am with theirs.  When my kids go to the store, they know and talk to the people that work there.  We’ve been surrounded by many friendly, caring people who watch out for each other.

#4 – Rain days

Rain days are another rarity, but a welcome one.  It is quite the novelty when it rains here as the drainage system is poor to non-existent.  Rain waters quickly pool in cul-de-sacs and round-a-bouts making instant swimming pools for puddle jumping.  What’s more fun than swimming in dirty street water fully clothed?

#3 – 98% chance of good weather, every day

Planning a camping trip?  Want to go to the beach or waterpark? No need to check the weather network to plan in advance.  Even if it rains it’s going to be a good day for anything.  Pick a day, and pack your stuff.

#2 – Camping when and wherever you like

No need to book ahead with the local government (unless you plan on camping in Dubai).  If there isn’t enough space in your desired location just drive a little further and drop your tent.  Don’t want to go too far off the road, no problem.  I’ve seen tents set up just off the highway many times (not that I would want to camp there).

#1 – All-Inclusive Campus life

We’ve certainly been spoiled here at the American University of Sharjah.  From the on-call carpenters and fix-it guys, to the full free access to community events and amenities (gyms, indoor and outdoor pools, grocery store, pharmacy, hair saloons, soccer fields, baseball diamond, cricket pitch,  tennis courts, basketball courts) all with in walking distance.  You really can’t beat the package we got here.  Friends were easily made as we’re all in the same boat of being expats away from our families.  All this made our initial landing here easier to bear, and hard to leave.  I hope we are able to come back some day.

 

Top 10 things…I haven’t missed about Canada.

Things got a little crazy at the end of packing, and the computer was wrapped in a box before I knew it.  Here are some posts that I wrote before the move.

6 months ago this post would have been way easier to write.  Now that we’re weeks away, I honestly can’t withhold my excitement.  The more I try to think about what I haven’t missed, the more excited I get to go back blocking out all those negative thoughts.

#10 – Temperatures below 15C

The area we are from, this is the temperature the majority of the time.  It’s cold.  Sure after a winter of -30C anything above +10C is t-shirt weather, but come on.

#9 – Gas Prices

When I started driving in 1996 gas cost $.49/L.  I would complain about dishing out $25 to fill up BOTH of the gas tanks in my pickup.  Gas in the UAE currently costs $.50/L.  It’s been like going back in time 20 years!  Except instead of gradual, painful inflation over time, we get to have our organs torn from our body in rapid succession just so we can afford paying $1.72/L (or whatever ridiculous amount they are charging).

#8 – Taxes

It’s been a simple pleasure to go into a store, grab a few items, and know EXACTLY how much you would be forking over at the till.  No guesses on what qualifies to be taxed and what doesn’t, and how much tax you will actually have to pay.  I’m pretty sure Canada taxes you to breath their air.

#7 – Allergies

Over the first 10 years of my marriage my allergies were gradually getting worse.  Before we left Canada in Sept. 2012 I was at the point where I had to take Benadryl daily from May to September just to function.  My sinuses would clog, causing me to have headaches, and puffy eyes and itchy everything inside my face (nose, mouth, throat).  While in the UAE, I still have mild allergy symptoms in the summer, but I don’t have to take Benadryl to get through the day.

#6 – Frizzy, Staticky Hair

My hair is almost as long as it was for my wedding day (mid-lower back), and I wear it down.  Almost always (except lately with the humidity) I wear it down.  In Canada, my hair would be so staticky, flying all over the place in my mouth and eyes that I would have it up in a braid, ponytail or hat constantly.

#5 – Wet Snow

I like snow.  It’s pretty when everything looks white and clean.  I also look forward to when the snow first starts to melt and you know summer is on it’s way.  It’s the 6 inches of heavy, melting snow rivers I don’t miss.  Especially on our street where they don’t clear the snow during the winter.  They just let it build up, than drop some salt on it to get things melting.  Thanks city of PG.  I guess you know how much I hate dry socks.

#4 – Kids in Separate Schools

Here in the UAE, my 3 kids were all in the same school.  Easy peasy!  Heading back to Canada, we’re heading back to 3 different schools.  One in a French track school, one in English track school, and one in high school.  Let’s see how long we last without a car this winter shall we.

#3 – Paying for Amenities, and stuff

Like I mention in another post, we have access to everything we need here on AUS campus with in walking distance and free.  Back home we’ll be able to walk to the grocery store, and walk to church…and really I guess it will only take me 30 minutes to walk to one gym, and an hour to walk to the other.  Why am I talking about walking everywhere?  Haven’t I mentioned we don’t insure our car 6 months out of the year to avoid the craziness of everything entailed with driving in the snow?  On top of walking across town (or hoping I make the bus stop in time) we have to pay crazy amounts of money to have access to these facilities – yay.  Let’s not forget all the bills we will have to start keeping track of again.  It truly has been like a paid vacation here.

#2 – Prices

For the most part, big ticket items cost about the same here (even after currency conversation of $1 CA = 3.50 AED).  There are items though, that are a quarter of the price than they are at home.  For example, gas here is 1.72 AED/L in Canada it is currently $1.72/L.

#1 – Nursing School

When we left Canada I couldn’t talk about nursing school without breaking down into tears.  I was that stressed out about it.  My last semester of school (before we moved) I spontaneously broke into full body hives twice, and ended up in the hospital with a Morphine allergy after being treated for Kidney Stones.  It’s only been in the last few months that I have been able to regain control of my emotions when talking about nursing school.  I hope I can keep it together a few more years and complete the program.  BTW congrats to the UNBC BCN grad class of 2014!  Wish I could have been there with you guys!