Crossing borders

To say that the girls were thrilled with the surprise I announced towards the end of our trip to Wales is an understatement. They had been curious about the lack of information for the last two days on our otherwise very detailed itinerary and I kept putting them off by saying we needed flexibility. When they learned that I had tickets booked for the Eurostar train to Paris…well use your imagination.

Jump for joy

We went up the Eiffel Tower, walked along the Champs Elysees, dined on crepes – covered the whole tourist gamut as best we could. Even down to a portrait on Montmartre. Didn’t my granddaughter do well when asked for a ‘mona lisa’ smile!

Mona Lisa smile

Many of us are privileged to take for granted the ease with which we come and go across borders with just the simple act of laying down our passport. As we sped towards the Eurotunnel on our way to Paris for the final part of our trip, the trucks lined up waiting to go through the Chunnel was a poignant reminder that there are too many families who don’t have that privilege. The three of us thought hard about what that meant.

Photo borrowed from media file

Photo borrowed from media file

For years desperate families have been making the perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe often drowning at sea. Now here they were trying to get from France to Britain by hitching rides on trucks and the consequences, besides the backups as trucks are searched, are often equally tragic.

Do remember this photo of all the documents I carried?

Papers for Wales trip

Well thank goodness for complete files when travelling with grandkids! After passing through 6 sets of border control (leaving Canada, entering UK, leaving UK, entering France, leaving France, entering UK!) that 6th guard finally asked the right questions! Who are these children to you, where are their parents and do you have permission forms to be travelling across borders with them? Not only did I have every possible form but, thanks to my ever efficient daughter-in-law, they were notarized by an oath commissioner with a major police force!

As our vacation came to a close my grand daughters and I discussed all those less fortunate families, without official papers but lots of dreams for better futures. There but for the luck of our birthplace go we….

Posted in Life, Political expression, Puzzles and Contradictions, Thoughts, Travel | Tagged , , , | 38 Comments

Wales – From the mouths of babes

What great travelling companions two 11 year old girls can make…I’d originally thought that my role would entail more ‘grandmothering’ but here we were on a girls road trip, complete with fits of laughter that had tears running down our faces!

Looking out to sea

They indulged me as I walked them through some of the places close to my childhood and my mothers and fathers family too. We visited homes all our great-grand parents, grandparents, parents and family had lived in.

Joined by another dear cousin, Johanna, we walked along the lanes where I’d played as a child.

Fern trio

I’ve already mentioned that we learned about the children in the mines, the Aberfan School Disaster and now we visited the site of the moving memorial to the Senghenydd Disaster and a couple of old churches with ancient graveyards.

Senghenydd mine disaster monument

Senghenydd mine disaster monument

It was about this time that my granddaughters delicately wondered why we were spending so much time on sad things! From the mouths of babes…So it was off to Caerphilly Castle and playing on the mountain in the ferns.

on Caerphilly mountain

Next on our trip came a few days at the seaside with Tenby as our base.

Seagull in Tenby 2

This gave the girls the opportunity to experience a fun, but chilly, day on one of the many beautiful beaches of Wales. Families playing cricket on the sand, having picnics and licking 99’s(vanilla ice cream cones with a flaky chocolate stick!). Then there were the others, like my brave two, enjoying the sea!

Tenby Harbour 2

Can anything be more fun than exploring Manorbier Castle where parts of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was filmed?

Manorbier by the sea

Or looking for aquatic treasures in rock pools on the nearby beach?

Rock pools

Good travelling companions always know how and when to be flexible with agendas!

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Wales through young eyes

Planning a trip with my two eleven year old granddaughters was an entirely new experience. I asked them to research their ‘must see’ spots in Wales and they cycled over with a list which found a home on the fridge.

Girls Wales list on fridge

I found myself approaching the upcoming trip with the same precision I once applied to leadership delegations that I led to foreign lands. Agendas, document copies, contacts and technical information all found it’s way into my file folder…not what I normally do for personal travel these days. While I wondered about over preparing you’ll see in a future post, it paid off in the end!

Papers for Wales trip

I wrote in 2013 about a trip I took back to Wales(here) with my mother and about how much had changed and I wondered “When I take my granddaughter how can I ever make her understand what those times were like?”. Well here I was with two granddaughters in tow and as I would come to learn they are a lot more perceptive than I gave them credit for.

We made Cardiff, the capital of Wales, our base for the first part of our journey. A city that has made it’s way through many changes including the de-industrialisation of the country and is now seeing a new revival represented by the revitalization of it’s old docklands…Dr Who and Torchwood fans may recognize some of this area.

Cardiff Bay

We met up with Welsh family who generously showed us around, including making sure the girls were familiarized with the best shopping locations!

The girls in the family

An understanding of the recent history of the country was important to both the girls and me and our cousin Emily helped a great deal with that objective by taking us to The Big Pit, one of the last remaining coal mines in a country that used to help fuel the world.

Down the Big Pit

Down we went and we listened intently as a former miner described the working conditions and harkened back to a time when children as young as six worked down there, women pulled the carts in tight tunnels and horses lived and died in the dark pits. The girls understood that by their age they could have been underground working 12 hour days for half their life already.

Big pit mine

Only because they had added it to their list we also visited the memorial site of the Aberfan disaster of 1966 where 116 children and 28 adults were killed when a coal slag heap slid down on their school. I’d once told them about my maternal grandfather being one of the heartbroken miners who had dug desperately to rescue the school children and they’d not forgotten that story…no photos of that day, as the skies opened up in what seemed very fitting to our mood.

And being a Welsh summer there was some rain…but I think the girls coped quite well.

Welsh rain

Of course they also needed to experience some pony trekking to appreciate the Welsh experience as I knew it! Along sheep paths, on fern covered mountainsides in the Brecon Beacons.

Riding in ferns 2

With the beautiful countryside spread out below.

Welsh countryside

We spent a wonderful afternoon in the Brecon Beacons, on Welsh ponies and some of the darkness of history fell away.

3 amigas ride in Wales

 

Posted in History, Horses, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 44 Comments

Summer glories

It’s a time of year when colourful beauties flaunt themselves shamelessly – some are wild and some a little more refined but they’re all determined to reproduce.

wildflowers

…a time of year when it’s often hard to tell the weeds from their cultivated cousins.

flower display

They are worthy of framing, right where they grow!

Garden frame

Foxgloves

Flowers can be abandoned as well as the buildings but they don’t know it and continue to each compliment the other’s faded beauty.

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The wild ones bloom around my home town …

Ducks at Kempenfelt Bay

and the ones I like best are the milkweed, not because they are the most glorious but because they bring hope that the monarch butterflies will return…

Wildflowers on Kempenfelt Bay

Happy summer to those of us in this northern hemisphere!! It passes all too quickly.

 

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Humbled again

Times when you are astounded by the beauty around you are such a joy at any age, but  to discover what is just on your doorstep after a lifetime of travel is doubly so! Hiking the Bruce trail provides so many of those moments that it could get a bit boring for those of you patiently following my blog but here it goes again.

Looking out over Niagara escarpment on an early summer day on the Cape Croker section of the Trail, is like being in a deep, dark foreign jungle.

Over Cape Crocker

Complete with giant ferns,

Early summer ferns

And just when you need to catch your breath yet another kind soul has provided a bench to rest and have your breath taken away yet again by the view!

Bench with a view

Quietly contemplating the peace around us an eagle hunts before our eyes, drifting on the thermals.

Eagle hunting

Not all is peaceful though – Cheryl and I have had the occasional dispute about whether we follow the white flashes of the Bruce or interpret the maps they provide. I am big on following the flashes although as we let them guide us into this crevice even I had a moments doubt!

Into the crevice

But then it guided us out once again.

Out of the crevice

Scrambling up the rocks we spied these sparkling wild strawberries…tempted by the fruit we remembered they were the bears favourite too and carried on climbing…a little more quickly.

Wild strawberries

The spectacular limestone cliffs of this part of the Niagara Peninsula that the Bruce Trail follows is in Cape Croker, a part of the Chippewas of Nawash First Nations. At times it felt as though we were seeing the land as it might have looked when the First Nations were the only humans in this region…humbling indeed.

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“Do we have to die first?”

Well the question did set me back on my heels a bit…Greed and corruption, the pursuit of wealth and power, self interest everywhere…there’s no doubt it can get you down sometimes. If you try however you can find the counter forces of community building, simple pleasures, selflessly helping others. That wonderful proverb about society being great when we plant trees in whose shade we’ll never sit sums it up perfectly.

Days last light

Days last light

One example of this generosity, can be found along the Bruce Trail I’m walking with my dear friend Cheryl. We’re into our second year now – clearly we’re taking our time and relishing our days!

Stairway to heaven
This is a nearly 900 kilometre trail along the Niagara escarpment and it’s maintained entirely by volunteers and has been for the 50 years of its existence. They keep the paths clear of fallen trees, build bridges, stairways, styles and even thoughtfully add an occasional dog door!

For dogs who can't climb.

For dogs who can’t climb.

There are sometimes heaven sent benches along the way – such a kindness, especially in poison ivy season! Many of them are memorial benches to people and other creatures who have enjoyed this jewel of a trail.

Dog memorial

But then there are the ones that are just there out of kindness.

Welcome seat

We have no idea who these strangers are who provide a little comfort but Cheryl and I have often discussed how we want to be one of those strangers. If I should keel over on the trail one day, she likes to say, make sure my kids know I want to donate a bench…and I ask the same of her.

Benches 2

On the last hike Cheryl wondered why we had to die before we donated a bench – good question! Maybe a bench to celebrate our completion – check back here in a couple of years…

Posted in Environment, Hiking, Life, Photography, Puzzles and Contradictions, Thoughts, Walking | Tagged , , , | 46 Comments

Hippie symbols and union meetings?

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Perfect in its three petals, most commonly white, the trillium heralds in spring on our forest floors. It’s also our Provinces official symbol. I don’t mean as the official flower of the Province – it actually is the government symbol and appears on all things official.

Sort of neat in a peaceful, hippie type way don’t you think?

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It may have changed a little in design over the years but as you can see, the flower remains – do you think someone got big bucks for these design changes?

trill

We have seen carpets of trilliums on our Bruce Trail walks and never tire of exclaiming to each other about their fragile beauty. There are several different species here although I could only recognize three – the big, erect white ones, the smaller white types  and the rarer scarlet ones.

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Patches of sweet woodruff also dot the forest floor and my hiking partner Cheryl and I look forward to a warmer spell which will release their delicate fragrance.

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There are blooming lilacs dotted across the countryside, once part of homesteads that no longer stand, they have become naturalized and tough it out easily over our often brutal winters. Romy’s 2 year old friend Aria tried these out for taste and manages to wear them in her hair…hippie symbols seem everywhere this spring.

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On an unrelated issue I saw this gathering on the pond out back and thought that it might be a union meeting of some kind. Maybe they were trying to work out a way to share the riches? Canada geese, mallard ducks, merganser diving ducks (I mentioned these here), a cormorant and a great blue heron all planning the revolution perhaps?

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Posted in Environment, Hiking, Photography, Puzzles and Contradictions, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , | 42 Comments