Finding Santa

Originally published in Alternatives Journal blog, Think Global

It’s December 6, and we are on the island of Kos in Greece. The stores are closed for the celebration of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, but the sun is out and the cafes are doing a brisk trade. A band approaches and then a procession bearing the icon of St. Nicholas sweeps through the square on its way to the church where the service is being held. The procession passes, and the square is empty again, save for the Christmas tree and Santa Claus display. Continue reading

Guts over Fear

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The Canadian National Vimy Memorial

Originally posted in Alternatives Journal

Lest we forget: war is about power.

It’s mid September, 2014. We’ve been driving the North of France with Eminem’s new single, “Guts over Fear” in never ending rotation on French radio. Our theme over the past week has been the great wars, which makes it an appropriate anthem. Much better than “Gigo, gigo, gigotez”, the French version of one of the many songs reflecting pop culture’s newfound fascination with butt wiggling and which leave you wondering what all the sacrifice was for. Continue reading

From the Med to the Peaks

Enough of the history and culture of France, already. The kids need a break on the beach. What better place to go than the Mediterranean coast, a town just outside of Cannes to be exact. Images of opulence and movie stars were dancing in our heads as we rolled into La Napoule. Instead, we found ourselves on a small beach, the seaside equivalent of a Parisian park, tucked in between a marina and a castle. It mattered not, it was the swim that counted.

Testing the waters.

Testing the waters.

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Ah, Provence!

Class is in session...

Class is in session…

From Toulouse we made our way east towards the walled city of Carcasonne – a UNESCO World Heritage site. We have played the board game, Carcasonne, so the kids were familiar with the name, but I don’t think they ever quite anticipated how truly magical it is. Walking along the walls and ramparts was absolutely wonderful, but as many others before us have pointed out, the central part of the city is completely overrun with tourist shops selling all manner of things. The kids were highly critical of this, but when I asked them what should otherwise be there, no simple answer was put forward. We talked about the need for a city such as that to generate revenue in order to maintain itself and there was subsequently general agreement that perhaps capitalizing on the tourist trade might be the only viable option.

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Phys Ed: once around the castle.

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Drama: re-enacting scenes from Monty Python.

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Cruising South in France

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The blue slate tiles of Trélazé.

The beauty of France is that everywhere we go, we find interesting buildings and sites. Case in point is the little town of Trélazé, just outside of Angers, we stumbled upon when looking for a place to stay. Not a town that would otherwise have drawn our interest, we were intrigued to learn that it was famous for its blue slate. Extensively used throughout the region, it could be seen on the roofs, paths and in the garden walls of the houses and chateaus for which the Loire Valley is famous. Continue reading

The North of France

 

Michel et Elizabeth: dwarfed by their house and their hospitality.

Michel et Elizabeth: dwarfed by their house and their hospitality.

North from Paris, from a one room apartment and millions of people to a large stone farmhouse in the tiny village of Villers Chatel near Arras in the northeast of France. It was bliss – from shared space to our own private bedrooms. Our Servas hosts, Elizabeth and Michel, fearing that we spoke no French, had invited their bilingual cousin Andre (30 years ago he lived in Quebec) to dinner that evening. We had a wonderful meal together and pored over maps to plan an 18 km bike route to the memorial at Vimy Ridge. Continue reading