Currently traveling

Snowbirds Tackle Europe

December 2017 - October 2019
Currently traveling
  • Day89

    All Good Things Must Come to an End

    March 29, 2018 in Canada ⋅ ☀️ -10 °C

    We left Amsterdam at noon after going through the most security we have ever encountered and saw police officers with their assault weapons at the ready. You can tell when it’s the end of the trip as we had breakfast at McDonald’s in the Amsterdam airport and later had a quick dinner at A&W in the Toronto Airport. They were the cheapest airport restaurants we could find. The flights were a little late leaving but uneventful otherwise. On the Amsterdam flight I felt badly for the older man sitting beside me, because when I started coughing and sneezing he wrapped his woolen scarf around his face!

    We did a tally....20 different beds, 9 airplanes, 10 trains, 2 buses, 1 day rental car, and umpteen Metro rides. That was some journey! We reviewed the last 3 months and I felt there was some minor changes I would have made in the Portugal itinerary but other than that we were both pretty happy with our winter escape. Although this year we didn’t quite escape the bad weather, we just exchanged the snow for rain, except for the blizzard in Segovia, and -35 for +12 or so. The rain actually followed us all the way to Toronto! There was a bright blue sky to welcome us home in Winnipeg but I was disappointed to see so much snow in our backyard and to hear about the forecasted -20 tonight.

    This trip put a big dent in our kid’s inheritance but we have no regrets. Hopefully they will see things the same way! This was a one-time event so who knows where we will find ourselves next snowbird season!

    Adeu (Catalan)
    Adios (Spanish)
    Ciao (Portuguese )
    Auf Wiedersehen (German)
    Tot Ziens (Dutch)
    See ya later!
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  • Day87

    Too Many Photos to Chose From

    March 27, 2018 in the Netherlands ⋅ 🌧 7 °C

    It’s confirmed that I really do love flowers. At Keukenhof I felt like a kid in DisneyWorld. There were many photo props throughout the property but my photographer wasn’t cooperating.

  • Day87

    Finally.....FLOWERS!!!

    March 27, 2018 in the Netherlands ⋅ ⛅ 2 °C

    The main reason I added Amsterdam to our itinerary was because I have always wanted to see the tulips in Holland, particularly at Keukenhof Gardens. The easiest and cheapest way was to buy a combo package offered by Keukenhof that included a train ride, express bus to the garden entrance, and admission.....for €36 each. It took us about an hour to get there and we enjoyed lunch and the gardens for over 5 hours. It was money well spent and even John agreed. Unfortunately, it did start to drizzle shortly after we got there and continued on and off throughout the afternoon until we left. Also, the fields were not in bloom or even close to it. I was shown photos of last year’s crop at this time and the fields were in full bloom. Just my luck! Although I did feel for the farmers as they are predicting full bloom at the middle of April but admitted that it wasn’t looking good because of the long winter and cool, rainy days.

    Despite the barren fields, there is so much more to see at Keukenhof as other Spring flowers were in bloom.....daffodils, crocusses, and early tulips. The gardeners plant 7 million bulbs each year by hand and every year is different. There are 100 suppliers of bulbs which use this event as a living catalogue. At the end of the tulip season, the middle of May, the entire property is cleared back to the bare ground, including the grass, and it takes a full 10 months for the designers and groundskeepers to prepare next year’s tulip display. There were 4 large indoor pavilions, one for tulips, one for orchids, one with a variety of flowers, and one for special exhibits. There was a demonstration of flower arranging that I watched and master gardeners to speak to, while John rested nearby as he was starting to lose interest by the end of the day. On the way back to the city we noticed huge areas of daffodils growing wild along the roadway, similar to our dandelions in Spring.

    What a wonderful day, despite the rain. I think we are at the point where we expect to see rain every day, while a sunny day is a bonus. The only negative today is that I have yet another cold, or it could be a recurrence of the original one that never completely resolved. It started with 5 days of a sore throat so I’m hoping that I didn’t infect Cheryl and Ewe. Maybe the Netherlands virus will treat me more kindly than the Portuguese one!
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  • Day86

    The Other Amsterdam

    March 26, 2018 in the Netherlands ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    Prostitution has been legal here since 2000. The red light district surrounds what was once a church but is now used as a theatre. There were many window-shoppers! One woman tapped on her window as John passed by and he gave her a smile and a wave. The red neon light above the window indicates that the prostitute is available. There are more than 300 windows in 3 districts. Better working conditions and safety for the women seems to work well here.

    The smoke shops that sell marijuana are being reined in. In recent years the numbers have dropped from 350 to just 167 because the government has instituted proximity rules that forbid smoke shops near schools. Now some are concerned that this will force the drugs back to street dealers with loss of control over the industry and increased crime rates. We’ll soon see how effective Canada’s new laws will be.
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  • Day86

    A 12 km Stroll

    March 26, 2018 in the Netherlands ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    We set a record today as we wandered through the streets and along the canals of Amsterdam, another great European city. Again, there are so many tourists here, especially in the central area of the city. I had planned to get an apartment for our 4 night stay here but they were very expensive and the 3 and 4 storey buildings don’t have elevators, a deal-breaker with all our baggage. Our hotel is a 10 minute walk to the train station and the city centre. No big breakfast buffet included here so we picked up bagels across the street at a small bagel cafe. It was sunny and 10 degrees so we took full advantage of the nice weather, walking over 15,000 steps or 12 km. At 5 o’clock we hopped on a one hour canal cruise to end our very active day.

    This is what I learned about the canals. The houseboats dump their sewage directly into the canal so the city opens the canal gates 3 times a week to allow fresh water to flush the canals. Every year 15,000 - 20,000 bikes are fished out of the canals. And there are an average of 15 drownings a year....men found with their pant zipper down. Guys, this is not your personal toilet! After learning this, the canals seemed less romantic.
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  • Day85

    Travel Day - Cologne to Amsterdam

    March 25, 2018 in the Netherlands ⋅ ⛅ 8 °C

    We loaded our luggage into Uwe’s car and they took us to see Schloss Drachenburg Castle, about 40 minutes out of the city. It was a very steep uphill climb, about 2 km, to the castle with an interesting history. It was built in 1882 by a wealthy man who made his fortune in the stock exchange but he never lived there. Over the years it was a hotel and resort complex, a Christian boys boarding school, a Nazi elite school, and eventually in 1982 a national monument. It wasn’t renovated and opened to the public until 2010. All the signage was in German only so we just looked at all the rooms admiring the elegance. There were good views of the Rhine but it was a slightly hazy day.

    Time for another late lunch at a brewery so that John could enjoy some locally brewed beer served in the tiniest glasses. The server will continue to bring a new glass of beer until the customer puts a coaster on top of his glass, indicating that he doesn’t want a refill. Apparently it’s easy to lose track of how much beer you’ve consumed. This day, I set the limit at 3. There’s a reason Alyssa calls me the “party police”!

    The train terminal was a short walking distance away and Cheryl and Uwe stayed with us until our train arrived. I guess our travel stories had convinced them that we needed supervision to make sure we didn’t miss our train! We had a wonderful but short visit in Cologne and were very much impressed with Cheryl and Uwe’s hospitality and generosity. They are both coming to Canada in April so we’ll be seeing them again very soon in Winnipeg.
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  • Day84

    Remnants of WW II

    March 24, 2018 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    Cheryl had a commitment this morning so Uwe took us to the nearby tram station which we took to downtown Cologne. It was such a lively place with people, buskers, squares with monuments, and activities on the nearby Rhine River. Our first destination was the NS Documentation Building which was the headquarters of the Cologne Gestapo (secret police) from 1935-1945. It is a memorial to the victims of the Nazis as well as a research centre. Our moods changed from happy to sombre as we toured the basement level where the prisoners were kept, interrogated, tortured and sometimes executed. There were 10 small cells, about 6’ x 9’, that at times held up to 30 prisoners in each. The men and women prisoners were from European countries and had scratched messages into the concrete walls. It seemed that most of them were communists or part of the anti-nazi youth movement. The main floor had a display about the Warsaw uprising where Hitler had ordered the whole city and it’s people to be destroyed. The 2 upper floors were about WW II history but it was all in German, while the other exhibits did have English descriptions. It was a sad but enlightening visit.

    The Cologne Cathedral was a few blocks away so we also visited this enormous, elaborate Cathedral along with a few hundred other tourists (average is 20,000 per day!). During WW II the Cathedral was hit 14 times by aerial bombs and remained standing, despite the rest of the city being flattened. The allied aircraft used the twin spires as a navigational landmark.

    We met Cheryl and Uwe and after stopping at 2 shops on our to-do list, we settled on a Bavarian restaurant for a very late lunch. Afterwards we walked along the Rhine before heading to their home on the tram. It was a sunny, mild Spring day and after a long, cool and wet winter in Cologne, we all welcomed the pleasant weather.
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  • Day83

    Travel Day - Lisbon to Cologne

    March 23, 2018 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 7 °C

    The rain is back. We walked in the drizzle to the Metro station, a 1 km uphill walk and then down 2 flights of stairs. Despite the fact we are now quite experienced with this routine, it just never gets easier. The Metro took us directly to the Lisbon Airport. John was pleased that we arrived 3 hours before our flight. There were no snags; the 3 hour Air Portugal flight was smooth; and we arrived in Cologne on schedule at 6:00. It sure was nice to see the smiling faces of Cheryl and Uwe (pronounced “Ooo-ver”) welcoming us to Cologne.

    They have a large, bright apartment just outside of Cologne with a spare room for guests. It was perfect. We shared our travel stories and got updates on their lives. Dinner was at a nearby Turkish restaurant with very good chicken shish-kebabs. We’re both enjoying having someone new to talk to.
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  • Day82

    Reflections of Portugal

    March 22, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    After travelling for 42 days in Portugal, we shared our thoughts on the experience. It was inevitable that we would make some comparisons to Spain.

    People - The Portuguese people are similar to “Friendly Manitobans” and eagerly welcome you to their country. They proudly speak favourably about their town, city or island. The younger generations all speak English. It was explained to us that Portuguese TV has many English channels with sub-titles and this is how many learned to speak English. They pointed out that in Spain the English voices on TV are dubbed over, which we found disappointing, so they don’t have the same advantage to learn English this way.

    Food - The Portuguese diet is based on meat and seafood. This presented many problems when dining out, especially for me. I tried a vege burger twice and the “burger” had the consistency of refried beans....mushy. Next I tried a real hamburger, which was pre-made with patty, lettuce and tomato in a bun. They just put the whole thing from the fridge into the microwave to reheat it. The meat turned to rubber and the lettuce and tomato became a soggy mess. Into the garbage it went. I tried fish twice....the cod turned out to be salted cod and was tough and chewy, while the other unknown fish was likely frozen and undercooked. John’s opinion was that “there was nothing great or special about the food” but the bread and pastries were “excellent”. The oranges were outstanding but they had a very poor selection of other fruits and what they did have was costly.

    Wine & Port - The red wines were far superior to the whites. We consumed far less wine and beer than in Spain, partially because of illness and antibiotics, but also because the rainy weather diminished our need for a cold beverage. I think our drink of choice was hot tea! In Porto, John discovered port and was as zealous about it as he is with Scotch. Unfortunately, he has expensive taste and favoured the 20 year old port.

    Weather - The locals often reassured us that this was an unusual winter for them. They had 9 months of drought followed by the weeks of rain that we experienced. It either rained heavily all day, or it rained overnight and in the morning, or it rained off and on all day. We had a few sunny days in Lisbon and Porto that really uplifted our spirits. Day time highs were 10-16, with lows of 4-8. We just dressed for the weather.

    Transportation - Although we had a couple of bumps in the road which were our own doing, the Portuguese train system is very efficient between populated areas but less so in the Algarve. I enjoyed the train rides and found that it’s a great way to travel. The convenience of a car rental would have been nice but they are expensive, as is the fuel.

    Tourism - There are all kinds of tourist opportunities that we didn’t partake in because they were very expensive. We had wanted to do a tour of the Douro Valley wine region but an 8 hour tour cost at least €100, that’s about $165 each. We had to give that a thumbs down.

    Smoking - It is a bigger problem here than in Spain. Sadly, young women seem to be the ones that are addicted. Smoking is allowed inside restaurants as well as patios. I saw workers smoking on the job, which included a tourist office advisor, train employees, and a police officer. I didn’t see any anti-smoking campaigns and cigarettes are readily sold in machines located in bars and restaurants.

    Homelessness & Beggars - Both are quite prevalent here. The beggars are aggressive and in Porto we were approached by Roma’s (gypsies) for the first time. In Coimbra I saw homeless camps. The economy must be weak.

    The Language - Portuguese is a difficult language to learn and pronounce. It has a harshness to it, similar to German, that at times was difficult to listen to. When watching Portuguese TV channels because there was no other option, I would mute the sound on the TV. It took a few days to get John to stop saying “Gracias” and replace it with “Abrigado” (thank you).

    Although this sounds like a mostly negative picture of Portugal, the beauty of the country and the friendliness of the people far outweighed any shortcomings.
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  • Day82

    Travel Day - Porto to Lisbon

    March 22, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ☀️ 14 °C

    It was once again time to move on down the road. Today we travelled by Metro to the Porto Campanhã train station where we caught the train back to Lisbon in preparation for our flight to Cologne tomorrow. It was much cheaper to do it this way but less convenient of course. We got to the Metro and as I approached the ticket machine a man stepped in front of me to assist. Naive John handed him €10 and the man quickly started entering information into the ticket dispenser. Initially I thought he was a Metro employee that sometimes do offer assistance to tourists but then I remembered Rick Steve’s warning about this. We did get our tickets but I think there was some sleight of hand as the change didn’t add up. Oh well, he looked like a needy old gentleman and it was only a couple of euros. He moved on to his next victims, a group of 3 young, English speaking women so I gave them a heads up.

    We were at the train station early so no missed trains this time around. We stayed at a different Lisbon hotel that was cheaper and had a more direct route to the Metro that would take us to the airport. Google Maps doesn’t always work well in Europe. It directed us up a hill but when we got to where the hotel was supposed to be, we could see over a railing and there it was on a small street below us. Grrrr! There were 2 ways to get down to the hotel. I chose to take the route that involved going down 6 flights of stairs; whereas John decided to go the long route around the block and down. Either way, we were both exhausted when we got to the hotel reception.

    It was 5 pm and all that exercise revved up our appetites so I did a Google search for restaurants that were near us that were open. We picked an Italian restaurant that was open according to their website. After a 15 minute uphill walk we were told that they were closed until 7 pm. Why is it always so difficult to find a meal at this time of day, especially in an International city like Lisbon? I realize it’s the European way but it is still frustrating. John insisted we eat at Pizza Hut and there is no sense arguing with him when he’s hungry. Another bad Portuguese meal....our last.
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