Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Visit To Windsor Castle

Since drawing has become more of a hobby in the last couple of years, I've decided to post some of my work here and tell you a bit about them. To the left is my sketch of Windsor Castle which we visited on the 4th day of our London/Paris/Copenhagen trip this past spring. I'm including the post I wrote on Facebook from London below. I loved the castle, but it was the adventure after the castle tour that mostly sticks in my mind ;-)

London, Day 3 & 4 -- It must be annoying sometimes, being a tour guide. All of us idiot tourists to cope with, asking stupid questions, looking for the nearest bathroom.

As a tourist, though, nothing beats a great tour guide. The ones who know how to tell you a lot without boring you to bits. Who keep you together and moving like herding idiot cows (with apologies to the cows). Who have tickets and whisper boxes at the ready, breezing you through security, all the while with a smile on their faces.

Some don't quite live up to that level. The lady who was our morning tour guide on Tuesday had it all together. She kept us moving with no sense of urgency, told us a little about everything, but not too much, and didn't lose one cow in the process. A real pro.

The guy we had yesterday, well, he still needs work.

We had a heck of a time finding Victoria Coach Station, which was our own doing. Buses are called coaches here, duh. Fortunately we gave ourselves lots of time, and eventually we asked a bus driver (or is that "coach driver"?) and he literally pointed across the street. Duh again.

We found the right coach, got on board, and patted ourselves on the back.

And then our tour guide started speaking. "How many have we got on board?" He had to count several times. "Okay, let's see, where are we off to?" He wasn't joking. I think the guy might have been at the pub a little too late the night before.

The first part of our trip was to Windsor Castle. We had to leave the coach (okay I'm fully British now) several blocks away, walking on an overpass through some twists and turns before reaching the queue for the castle, along with hundreds of other people. Hundreds.

He got us in, through security, and told us to meet us back at the bus at 5 minutes to 12 noon.
Windsor castle was gorgeous, extravagant, opulent. I've run out of adjectives. We couldn't take pictures inside otherwise I would have posted them. And then it was outside to find our way back to the bus.

I was sure it was down one street, and Michael was sure it was down another. We picked my choice. And on and on, and on we went, slowly realizing my pick was wrong. What an awful feeling. We tried desperately to get over to the street Michael thought it was, but towns and cities in the U.K. don't work in grids, the streets twist and turn and bend and sometimes don't even connect at all.
Eventually another lady from our tour came up behind us. I think she had been following us, hoping we knew the way. That was her first mistake.

The three of us tried to retrace our steps. Michael told us it was noon. The tour guide had said that they were going to pull out right at noon on the dot, so our hearts sank. We were only on the first stop. How the heck were we going to get back to London? What were we going to do?

Just then, I spotted a sign that said car park and coaches. Coaches! I know what that is! I started walking faster and faster, leaving the other two in my dust. Coaches!

Somehow we ended up coming all the way around entering it where we had originally driven in. I kept running, yelling back "I think I see someone else from our tour!" And then I spotted our coach. I have never been so relieved (or sweaty, for that matter) in my life.

In spite of the earlier threats, they had waited for us. As we got on, Michael the smart ass said "It's not our fault!" Nobody laughed.

What I learned yesterday:
1. Not all tour guides are created equal.
2. Left and right and sense of direction are totally useless in another city and country.
3. I can, actually, go along time without peeing when I'm panicking.
4. I'd rather be herded like a dumb cow than lost like Mary's little lamb.

Other people got lost on another part of the tour which left us feeling a little less stupid.
Today we did our own walking tour of all of the famous sights we could find. Tomorrow we go on another coach tour.

Oh, oh.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Oh, Canada

Of all of the places I recently traveled to in Europe, one of the most exciting sights for me to see was in the picture on the left.

What? No Eiffel Tower? No Big Ben? No Little Mermaid? Versailles? Juno Beach? Stonehenge?

Oh, yes, I loved all of those historic, amazing, and beautiful places. But the picture you see here is Labrador. It is the first view we had of Canadian soil on our way home.


Compared to the UK, France and Denmark where I recently traveled, Canada is so young. It is so vast. It is so...well...CANADIAN.

I have never seen Labrador with my own eyes before. That picture reminds me of how much of Canada is so remote and void of humans. It also reminds me of how little I've seen of my own country, not because I haven't wanted to but because...well, where do you start? In Europe, you can drive for a couple of hours and be in another country. In Canada, that'll take you about 1/4 the way through one province.

I have driven from Victoria, B.C. to Calgary, Alberta a couple of times before. Once, I took the ferry from Victoria to the mainland, hopped in a truck with my sister and drove to Calgary all in one day. That was literally exhausting. I left home at 5:30am and we arrived in Calgary just after midnight. Europeans don't even know what that means.

On our recent flight back from Europe, we had a 7 hour layover in Toronto. My husband suggested we visit the CN Tower to pass the time, and I had never been there before, so off we went. As we looked out from the top of the tower, I couldn't help but think that, although the CN Tower is higher than the Eiffel Tower, the view wasn't nearly as interesting to me. Toronto is a giant, flat grid of high rises as far as the eye can see. Paris is full of low, old buildings with streets going every which way.

Paris, France

Toronto, Canada
But then again, having lived in Vancouver, I'm used to the look of a big, modern Canadian city. London and Paris and Copenhagen were so completely different for me. Some might say that the towers in Toronto are all so unique and each have their own beauty. I would say that the buildings in Paris have more charm and personality. But of course, Paris has its own section of high rises.

My husband also reminds me that I haven't seen Canadian cities like Montreal where there are communities like that one he grew up in, Boucherville, which is celebrating is 350th birthday this year.

He's right. And that just makes me curious to see more of the country I call home.

Today is Canada's 150th birthday. And although this country certainly isn't perfect, we still have plenty of problems to solve and pasts to reconcile, I can honestly say that I'm proud to be from this country. I appreciate our diversity, our open-mindedness, generosity, and our respect for each other and the soil we stand on. I enjoy the positive way the rest of the world views us. My hope for my country is that we continue to go forward, building on that positive energy, and maybe even become an example to others along the way.

And so from my polite but jubilant Canuck heart, Happy 150th Birthday Canada!

“There are no limits to the majestic future which lies before the mighty expanse of Canada with its virile, aspiring, cultured, and generous-hearted people.” » Sir Winston Churchill

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Furusākuru - Another View

In my last post, Furusākuru (Full Circle) I wrote about my mother's journey across the Pacific to Japan via my daughter's trip there recently. Here is the story from her perspective:

We arrived in Gifu on a train and took a bus to Gifu Park, where Mt. Kinka and Gifu Castle reside. It was snowing quite heavily, but it was not cool enough for the snow to stick to the ground. It was a calming ambiance. The bus arrived at the park and my friend and I made our way through the archway of the park, and began our exploration of the area.

The day I arrived in Japan, I had shown the eye-shadow case full of my grandmother's ashes to my friend, and told him that I intended to spread them somewhere. I didn't know where I would put them, but I knew it would hit me at some point. During our exploration of Japan, I kept the case on my person at all times, ready for that moment.

Gifu Park was beautiful. There were lots of trees and running water, and everything was quite green and mossy. My friend pointed out as he took a picture that it reminded him of Victoria, and I agreed; we could have been in Goldstream Park. The reminder of home, and the peaceful beauty of the park stirred up a sudden realization: this could be the place. I didn't want to make the decision lightly; this was an important task, and this was the first time I had thought about it since I had arrived in Japan. I opted to keep it in mind and keep exploring... and take as many pictures as I could! We wandered around the park some more, and looked at a beautiful red pagoda that was on the side of the mountain. We couldn't visit it due to some construction on the pathway, but we still enjoyed looking at it.

There was a gondola that took tourists up the mountain where the castle was, and since that's where we wanted to be, we bought our tickets and took the next one up. The ride was quite beautiful. As we slowly drifted higher, the trees held more and more snow. We seemed to be ascending into a winter wonderland, and that's one of my favourite things. 'A good sign!' I thought.

We got off the gondola near the top of the mountain. It was still snowing, and we found ourselves surrounded by different shrines and lots of stairs, all covered in a delightful layer of snow. I kept my eye out for places; somewhere with a view would be nice, but I didn't want to decide until we at least reached the castle at the top. We hiked up countless stairs and I took picture after picture. Everywhere I turned was so beautiful, I couldn't help myself! As we neared the castle, it slowly became clearer and grander through the snow. It had gold features on the outside, and one thing I knew that my grandmother and I had in common was a taste for the opulent. The signs kept on coming!

When we finally reached the castle, we were able to explore inside. It was basically a museum with artifacts in glass cases - samurai armor, chunks of the original Castle, and lots of history on the different rulers that resided within it. The very top floor allowed you to go out onto a deck that went all the way around the castle. It was freezing and slippery, and the views were limited due to the snow, and from what I remembered on the gondola ride up, it would have been quite grand, but I enjoyed it all the same. We made our way back down and out of the castle, and headed over to another building nearby which was another smaller museum. There, they gave us postcards that we could stamp as proof that we made it to the top of the mountain.

We wandered back towards the castle, and were following signs to where we could find something to eat. As we neared one particular section between the buildings, I noticed that the sun was starting to peek out through the snow and the environment was filled with a warm, golden glow. It was at this moment that I saw a monument. It looked like a headstone, but it was on a sort of rocky hill next to a tree, and in front of an observation area where there were benches you could sit on and enjoy the, usually, stunning view of the city below. I looked at it and looked at it, in fact I stopped in my tracks and started to analyze the area. I didn't even quite realize what I was doing for a second, but I was searching for where I could rest my grandmother. This place was a definite contender. My friend kept going ahead, and I realized I had fallen behind, so I reluctantly caught up to him and we found a place to grab some food.

As we slurped up our nice hot noodles, I couldn't stop thinking about that stone. It was easy to find, it just stuck out from the other shrines and areas we had already seen that day. I wasn't going to even bother keeping an eye out anymore: I had this one place stuck in my head, and that was all the sign I needed. When we finished our lunch, I asked my friend if we could hike back up to the castle. He said yes without question, and as I pulled out the makeup case from my pocked I said, "There's something I need to do." He realized what that meant, and we headed back up to find the stone.

We got to the area, and I wanted to wait until the coast was clear to do my ritual. It involved a bit of climbing, and I didn't want to be pouring dirt in some place with an audience, just in case it was somehow disrespectful. There was this one man, though, who was standing in front of the tree, and it didn't seem like he was going to move any time soon. It was odd, because he was looking up into the tree with his hand in the air, and his phone in the other hand pointed upwards. I wanted to do my thing, and he wasn't moving. I leaned towards my frozen friend and we pondered at what the heck he was up to, but then I saw a tiny bird fly down to his hand and then back up into the tree. "Oh! He's feeding the birds!" I realized. It wasn't long until the man saw us watching him, and managed to communicate to us in Japanese that we should try. He gave us a few crumbled peanuts and then we stood where he had been; hands in the cold air, camera at the ready, waiting. One came down to my hand briefly and snatched a bite. Then another came down to the hand of my friend, and again, and again. The man had been taking pictures behind us during the feeding, and once our hands were too cold to continue, he offered to take a picture of the two of us together in front of the tree, which was very nice of him. Just as we positioned ourselves in front of the tree, I felt one of the birds flutter down between our two shoulders for a moment. The man took a couple of pictures with my phone, and we thanked him for the experience. As he moved on, I looked around and the coast was clear.

I climbed up the rocks to the stone, and noticed a small pool of water in front of it. I emptied the contents of the makeup case into my hand and grabbed my phone and hit record. I crumbled the ashes into the little pool gently, and then turned to see the view. It was a good view. Very peaceful. Quite perfect. I climbed back down the rocks carefully and then took a few more pictures, and rejoined my friend waiting patiently at the bottom.

As we made our way back to the gondola, I felt a little clench in my chest. I had done it. My grandmother finally had her place, and had now circumnavigated the world, and I helped her do it. I quietly got a little misty-eyed.

We took the gondola back down the mountain and explored the gift shop, as one does. My friend and I huddled together as he looked up which bus we needed to catch to get to our next destination. As we searched, the bird man from the top of the mountain approached us again. He handed us each a little cardboard token, and my friend deciphered from the man's Japanese and partial English, that these were charms that you are to put in your wallet, and they were for good luck - which he must have gotten from one of the shrines from the mountain. We thanked him again, and placed our charms in our wallets. What a nice fellow!

That evening we went to see The Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra's 50th Anniversary concert, which was our true reason for being in Gifu - something my grandmother would have appreciated as she loved the symphony. I think she just wanted to make sure she had a really good seat for the concert: one with a great view, and alongside some birds, which, I didn't learn until after the experience, was one of her favourite things. At first the castle was just something to do to kill time before the concert, but it turned into so much more - a very special experience that I will not soon forget.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Furusākuru (Full Circle)

More than 65 years ago, my mother embarked on quite an adventure when she boarded the Danish hospital ship Jutlandia for a year-long tour to Pusan, Korea during the Korean War. I've told a bit of my mother's story before and awhile back, I even found a YouTube video with footage from that tour of Korea. You can see it here if you are interested in knowing more.

Sometime during that year, the Jutlandia sailed to Japan, possibly to re-supply and to give the passengers, doctors, nurses and support staff a bit of a rest from the war itself.

Having immigrated from Denmark to Canada shortly after the war, my mother always told me that if she had flown from Vancouver to Japan, she would have travelled the circumference of the earth. She never had that chance. When she died in 1972, my father spread her ashes in the back yard at my suggestion. All I could think of at the time was that my mother loved the garden and the flowers. I obviously didn't give it much forethought, and when my father and stepmother moved out of the house years later, my Dad decided to save me some of the dirt from the back yard. He put it in an old antique creamer that my mother had bought years before, and I've kept it on a bookshelf for all these years since.

A few months ago, my youngest daughter decided she was going to take a trip to Japan to visit a friend who is teaching English there, and the thought hit me: why not send some of the dirt to Japan with her so my mother could finally make it there?

I made the suggestion and my daughter was immediately on board. The only thing we were worried about was how she was going to explain a bag of dirt to customs and security at the airport! So we devised a scheme.

We took some of the dirt from the creamer, and my daughter ground it down to a fine powder.

Then she added a little bit of water and made a tiny pancake that could fit into an eye shadow make up container.

When it dried, she dusted it with a little bit of glitter just to give it some panache!

I told her that when she got to Japan, she should wait until she found the perfect spot to spread it.

The other morning, I got a text message on my phone at about 5am. Knowing it would likely be from her, I got out of bed and went to the living room to read the message. It was a picture that I didn't quite understand at first because there was no accompanying text:

A snowy scene on what appeared to be the side of a mountain.

Then another pic came in:

It looked like some sort of stone monument from the same place. And then another picture came in and it all started to make sense:

This was the little make up container that we had put the dirt into.

The next thing I received was a video that my daughter took of herself crumbling up the dirt and sprinkling it into a little pond of water beneath the stone monument. And finally, she sent a picture of where she was:

This is Gifu Castle, about 40 or 50 miles north of Nagoya, where my daughter is staying during her visit. She sent other pictures of herself walking around the castle grounds in the snow. It was beautiful. It was perfect. I always told my daughter that she had inherited my mother's love for the beautiful, the glamorous, the lavish. It certainly didn't come from me! So I thought her choice of placing a little bit of her grandmother at the base of a castle was exactly the right place.

Let's face it, it's just a little bit of dirt from a garden that had my mother's ashes spread in it 45 years ago. I don't know if it was from the same area, or even if my father remembered exactly where he spread her ashes. But it doesn't matter. I think my mother would be absolutely delighted that her granddaughter would smuggle a tiny part of her memory to another country so that she could finally claim to have made it all the way around the earth.

Furusākuru. Full Circle.