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Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Category

Towed out of the swamp…

It’s not often I get to say that I’m awake while the Girl is sleeping, but alas, the day has finally arrived.  Sadly, it’s not because of anything awesome, like skydiving or bungee jumping, but more because I’m wrestling with insomnia and she’s not (also a weird reversal of roles). 

Can I mention how hysterical it is that the Girl stole the ‘Jailhouse Times’ newspaper from a Mississippi convenience store?  No kidding, there were pictures of people who’d been arrested (not charged, fyi) for things like ‘petit theft’.  It took me a little while to figure out that petit theft didn’t mean they stole something little, but rather something petty (like a newspaper).  She wasn’t joking when she said I was checking the rearview mirror for the Sheriff.  You just never know.  We might see Mel’s photo in the ‘most wanted’ section of next week’s paper.

So, I thought I’d pick up where the Girl left off yesterday.  We arrived in Lafayette, Louisiana on Monday afternoon.  It was an easy two-hour drive, and we checked into our really comfortable hotel without any problems.  To be completely honest, we were enthralled with the idea of the Acadians that live in Louisiana.  The Girl did a bunch of research and specifically worked this area of french cajun country into our trip so she could practice her french. 

We kinda lazed around for a couple of hours and then jumped into a cab to head out to this really cool place called Randol’s Dance Hall for dinner and what turned out to be quite a show.   The Girl keeps asking everyone, the hotel clerk, the cab driver, the servers at restaurants and everyone who will acknowledge her presence if they speak french.  They all shake their head in a sad way and tell us the story of how french was banned in the 1920’s and only recently became popular again.  We’ve also heard from the younger generation that their parents and grandparents chose not to teach them french so they could gossip about their neighbours while the kids were around.

Our first cab ride to Randol’s was….interesting.  A really friendly cabbie named Terry picked us up after we waited for almost 30 minutes at our hotel.  He asked where we were from, we said Canada and his first response was ‘I hear y’all have some great herbs up there’.  You know me, the herb connoisseur I am, I come back with ‘yessir, Mary Jane loves Canada’.  WTF?  I have no idea where that came from, the Girl looks at me like MJ and I have been hanging out and I shake my head.  I still have no idea where that came from. 

So we get to Randol’s and ask for a seat near the dance floor.  The reviews all said this was a tourist trap, so I didn’t have high hopes.  The server took our order, brought us beers and we watched the band do sound-check.  About 45 minutes after we arrived, people started going out onto the dance floor and sitting on benches.  The band hadn’t actually started yet.  About 15 minutes after that, 3 beers in, the Cajun band (accordion, fiddle, steel guitar, acoustic guitar and drums) started up a little diddy and the dance floor was full of members of the blue-hair club!  Seriously.  There must’ve been 20 people on the dance floor, all in couples, all over 70, and all doing the same two-step.  There was one exception though. 

 There was this sweet little lady, I imagine she’s got a tiny house somewhere in the mountains and a tiny little closet with some garden gnome friends.  She must’ve been 4 feet tall with a hair net type hat on that gave her at least another 6 inches.  When the music started, she got up from her bench and started doing laps around the dance floor, doing a two-step by herself, sashaying her hips and clapping every few beats.  It.  Was.  Adorable.   We laughed and laughed and awwed when one of the old men came and bowed at her to ask her to dance. 

We figured out during our meal why the night started (and ended) so early; the dance hall is open from 6:30 to 9:30.  It’s beacuse the old people don’t stay past 9:30pm and the only reason people come to this restaurant is to watch the old people dance.  I guess that’s what the ‘tourist trap’ reviewers meant.  I actually found it quite authentic, I haven’t seen 70 year olds move like that since…. ever!

The next morning (yesterday), we hit the road early (10 am) and headed out to our swamp tour.  We arrived and found some french speaking people!  Unfortunately, they were from France.  I don’t mean it’s unfortunate that they were from France, just that it was unfortunate that we still hadn’t heard a Louisiana cajun french person speak yet. 

In the thirty-five degree heat (not including the humidex), we stood on the dock, backed away from some huge ass spiders hanging in the trees and eventually got into the swamp boat, and figured out that our swamp guide was going to be doing a bilingual tour.  When he started speaking french, the Girl and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows.  We could completely understand him, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that it was like listenening to Acadie-man with a southern drawl.  It cracked us up.  The Girl took a video of him speaking  (see below).

It was a really interesting swamp tour, we saw a lot of cranes, egrets, trees and spanish moss.  Even though we didn’t see any alligators, we did learn a lot about the eco-system and about the bayous of Louisiana.  We were in a 14 passenger swamp boat, which was full, and at the beginning of the tour, the guide (whose name escapes me) said that we’d likely be dragging bottom the whole way, since the bayou only has 4 feet of water.   We hit bottom a few times, but nothing the tour guide couldn’t get us out of.

On our final push to shore, we passed a dead carp that must’ve been about 2 feet long.  It was floating, belly up, and people in the boat kept asking what it was.  As the tour guide turned the boat around to get a closer look, I felt the top of the boat go up and then felt something solid underneath me. 

Less than two hundred feet from shore, we’d managed to get ourselves stuck on a log.  And.  Not only did we get stuck on a log, but the boat’s motor crapped out at the same time.  As our skipper tried in vain to start the motor, I looked around and very slowly realized that not only were there no life jackets in this boat, there also weren’t any oars.  We were kinda up a creek without a …. never mind. 

BUT NO FEAR, friends!  The skipper called Brian, another guy with a boat, and Brian sped along the bayou, came up to the front of the boat and bumped our boat off the log with his boat!  It was like boat bumper cars in the Louisiana swamp.  Southern hospitality at its finest!  Brian grabbed a rope, tied our boat to his and towed us to the shore.  Seriously.

We got into the car after the Girl bid adieu to the Cajun and headed for the nearest place with coffee.  A good lunch and some caffeine helped to propel us through the stifling heat.  It’s HOT down here.  We looked around a quaint little village, bought some cute little things from an antique store and then headed out to the Acadian Museum in St. Martinville. 

I’d love to tell you about the Museum, but to be honest, I was completely distracted by some people speaking in the lobby.  There were two women and an adorable little kid talking to the Museum guy, asking about Acadian heritage, about lineage from Nova Scotia, about french names and whether or not there was a list of those exiled from Acadia in Canada to Louisiana.  Then, we heard the Museum guy tell these women that Quebec didn’t really want to be a part of Canada and that they want to go back to France.  I was shocked. 

I looked at the Girl and walked up to the women and the Museum guy and said ‘You’re mistaken, Quebec doesn’t want to move to France.  Some Quebecers want independence, but most want (and have chosen, by referendum) to stay in Canada.’  They all kind of looked at me like I was some whackjob, and then I said ‘Oh, we’re Canadian’.  They smiled and nodded and continued their chat as I moved on. 

Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t want to talk to them more, so as I pretended to read the Museum signs, I completely eavesdropped on their conversation.  It turns out the younger of the two women is working on a fictional novel about the  Acadian exile from Nova Scotia and trying to track down her roots.  As we started to make our way towards the exit, the adorable little girl was hanging out, so I started chatting with her, making little drum beats with our feet and generally being a dork. 

I go to find the Girl, who is still immersed (of course she is), and I find her taking notes in her little Hello Kitty notepad (of course she is).  The little girl sees her notepad and is immediately impressed, I get ditched and now the Girl and said 3 year old are comparing pink purses, shoes and all things Hello Kitty.  Mel said it right yesterday when she said that she gets along best with three year old girls! 

We have subsequently agreed to a very hospitable dinner invitation from Morgan (the lady who’s writing the book), her mom, Eddie (still not sure where that name’s from) and Jiffer (aka Jennifer, the adorable three year old who will no doubt covet the Girl’s stuff over dinner tonight). 

That’s the thing about the South.  We’ve met some amazing people.  In New Orleans, we spent the night in a bar and made friends that I suspect will be friends for a long time.  These two boys asked us if we’d let housebroken boys sit next to us, and we immediately hit it off.  Scott ordered a drink, offered me his cherry and told me how much he liked girls (to which I responded, ‘me tooooo’!!)  Then there was Minnesota, this cute boy who’s name I didn’t even ask, because I wanted to call him Minnesota, and the boys from Calgary who were in town on a conference.  Now there’s Morgan, Eddie and Jiffer who invited complete strangers out for dinner, because, well….I guess because that’s what they do down here. 

We’re having fun.  We really like nice people.  :0)






London Calling (and it’s our last call)

Hi everyone.

We are exhausted.  Completely and totally knackered, as the English would say.

We’ve had a great couple of days in London, but I am going to have to keep this post extremely short, because we still have to pack for our flight tomorrow morning!  Actually, make that *I* still have to pack….Tel is already in bed, almost asleep!

London is an amazing city, but it is HUGE and it is BUSY.  Huge and busy are not high up on the list of adjectives that either one of us would use to describe our ideal vacation! We’re more of the small village, watch life go by from a cafe or a pub kinda travellers.

As luck would have it, the tube workers were on strike yesterday in London, so we spent a small fortune in money and a large fortune in time sitting in taxis.  But we did manage to see another UNESCO world heritage site, Westminster Abbey.  All of the sovereigns since the 11th century have been crowned there, and that makes it a place of immense cultural and historical importance.  Unfortunately, the Abbey does not allow photos inside the church, but only in the halls surrounding it.  The church is unbelievably ornate, and even though I am not a church person, I thought it was beautiful.


We were also able to visit the Tower of London, another world heritage site here in London. The tower was built shortly after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and took 20 years to complete.  It was built by William the Conquerer, the first king of England, in order to assert his power and also to control the citizens that were not happy with the new monarchy.


Part of the original building are still standing, including “Traiter’s Gate” where prisoners would travel by barge under London Bridge (where the heads of other traiters were displayed as an ominious warning) and into the tower via these gates, to meet their fate.


We were also able to see the “Bloody Tower”, now harmlessly referred to as “Wakefield Tower”.  This is the place where torture took place.   You can still view the torture chambers where prisoners were held, and some of those chambers even contain the graffitti left by prisoners awaiting their fate in the 1500’s!  Three torture instruments were on display:

The Scavenger’s Daughter:

A terribly sadistic piece of equipment that would bend the prisoner’s body in three, with the calves pressed against the back of the thighs and the stomach pressed against the front of the thighs. Guards could usually get confessions, later used at trial, in less than an hour with this device.



The Rack:

In many ways, the opposite of the Scavenger’s daughter.  The prisoner was drawn on the rack, tied at the hands and the feet and stretched until the joints popped out.

It was a fascinating visit, although neither one of us could tolerate it too long due to the large number of school children visiting the tower today!  As with many of the other places in England (and the rest of the UK and Ireland), we were astounded by the history present in this part of the world.  The tower of London is where Anne Bolyne lost her life, after her husband King Henry VIII ordered her beheaded for treason…she entered the tower via Traiter’s Gate, spent her last days in the Bloody Tower, before being beheaded in front of a cheering crowd and having her head displayed on London Bridge.  Ick.  It was also interesting to hear about King Edward V (who was 12) and his younger brother, who were murdered in the tower after their father died as their uncle wanted to become King.  Their bodies were discovered on the grounds of the tower almost 200 years later!

We finished off our time here with a trip to the maritime village of Greenwich, a peaceful and beautiful town 25 minutes down the Thames by boat. Greenwich is the home of the Royal Observatory, where GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) is calculated.  It is also the home of the prime meridan, the separation between the eastern and the western hemispheres.  Of course, Tel and I got the obligatory picture of her in the eastern hemisphere and me in the western!


We’ve had a good couple of days here, but we are TIRED.  London is exhausting, loud, and everyone is always in a rush.  Although it’s beautiful, we both prefer the smaller places!

OK, folks….it is time to close out the blog for this trip and thank you all once again for reading!  We’re coming home tomorrow, and are looking forward to seeing the kids (Bubba and Banana), and to our own bed (after the horrible hard beds here) and to COFFEE (after three weeks of drinking tea!).  Other than that, I think we’d both be happy to travel for a bit longer.

Bye for now, and thanks for reading!


It’s pronounced BAWTH…

We have arrived on what is sadly the final leg of our trip.  We checked into a fancy Best Western in London – town, paid the most we have for any accommodations on this trip and our room is the size of our washroom at home.  I guess that’s what you get for staying in London!

So, the Girl left off with our Pagan-filled Halloween night and filling you in on the fact that I wasn’t scared.  I want to go on the record though, I didn’t ask that she tell anyone anything about me not being scared…actually – I know my friends well enough to know that if I said ‘Tell people I’m not scared’, that they would jump all over it and make several less than flattering remarks about me being a scaredy-cat.  So – that’s all on that subject, but after the novelty of the pagans walking around in capes wore off, I really wasn’t scared and we had an awesome conversation with a couple of folks (Pagans, if you must know) about what was happening in Avebury and where we were visiting next.

Cue BAWTH.  We had a really easy drive to BAWTH and stayed in the most comfortable room of the entire stay at this awesome boutique spot called Queensbury Hotel.  They really surpassed our understanding of ‘customer service’ and we’re fantastic all around.  We had a great dinner, the Girl discovered she didn’t like duck and we (actually, I) slept for 11 very much-needed hours.

(Mel) Bath was a really great city.  Beautiful, with stunningly uniform architecture. It is a Roman city, a medieval city, and a Georgian city….very interesting.


It was originally founded as a huge, ornate Roman bath during the Roman period in England.  There are immense thermal springs surrounding the city, and unlike other areas of England, there are some cracks in the rocks deep in the earth underneath this part of the country.  This allows water that has been simmering in the earth’s insides for up to 10,000 years to percolate towards the surface, producing up to 1 million litres per day of 96 degree F water.  Even now, the springs produce enough hot water to heat a ton of the buildings in town.  The baths were ornate, with large areas for the commoners and VIPs.




Hundreds of years after the Roman period ended, Bath was revitalized by 3 prominent architects, who came up with a plan to give Bath its sophisticated uniformity.  The result is stunning.  Extremely mundane blocks of apartments look like ornate, important buildings!  We really loved just wandering around, getting lost in the oldness of it. 

I’ve included the rationale used by UNESCO to award it World Heritage status.  Also, a couple of pictures of us inside the baths.

Bye for now, and thanks for reading!

Mel & Tel


Some pictures

Hi!  Tel and I are in London now, and just back to our hotel room after a long day of exploring London….and as luck would have it, the tube was on strike today, which made our day particularly interesting!  We’ll be back soon with a post about Bath and London, but for now, here are some pictures!







Are you ready with the goddesses?

Hi everyone!

Tel and I managed to survive our Hallowe’en in Avebury, apparently one of the most haunted places in the UK.  Avebury is the only village in the world to be *inside* stone circles and it has massive mystical significance for pagans (which we did not know before we arived!) This is a picture of us in front of the Red Lion pub in the village:

Legend has it (!!!) that in the 1700’s, a man drowned his wife, Flori, in the well of this hotel (at the time it was his yard).  Funnily, we found out when we got there that her body popped up a few days later in the well *of the house where we were staying*!!!  I am sure you can imagine our first thoughts about that!  Apparently, Flori now haunts the village and although we didn’t see her, we were watching for her!!  The bar area of the Red Lion still contains the well, although it is now long sealed over.

When we decided to start chasing world heritage sites, we opted to skip Stonehenge (too touristy) and head for Avebury, a teeny village inside the stone circles.  It is the largest prehistoric stone circle in the world, and is much, much, much less effected by tourism than Stonehenge.  The stone circle was made between 2500 and 2000 BC!!!!

Little is known about its significance at the time it was built; in fact, it is widely thought to have had an astronomical significance, but that is still being explored. What experts also believe is that it was also used in funeral rituals. It would have taken approximately 1.5 million person hours to build it…..and I find it astonishing that we still don’t know why it was built!!!

Unlike Stonehenge, Avebury is completely and totally accessible.  You can walk right up to the stones, touch them, lean against them, watch the sheep and goats grazing amongst them.

We wanted to be in such a cool, possibly haunted place for Hallowe’en.  What we did *not* know was that Avebury has immense significance for pagans. We were surprised when we pulled into the village and saw a lot of people wandering around in capes! Hallowe’en has its origins in a pre-christian celtic celebration called Samhain.  November 1st was the beginning of a new year, the beginning of winter, a time when crops had to be harvested and animals had to be secured for the winter. The Celts believed that at Samhain, more than at any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living.  As with all other pagan traditions, when the christians arrived on the scene and attempted to convert the celtic people to christianity, they countered resistance by starting to “meld” pagan traditions with christian ones  (fuckers!).  And so… we have Hallowe’en!

OK, off the soapbox and back to the people in capes wandering through Avebury!  It’s a teeny village so we were able to find out quite quickly that there was a really big pagan ritual happening that night.  Our curiosity was beyond piqued!!  At the appropriate time, we wandered over to a field amongst the stone circles and joined the large group of pagans, there to have a labyrinth for Samhain. The leader explained that on this night, the veil between the living and the dead was the thinnnest, and Samhain was also the time to practice the labyrinth ritual, to shed your negativity from the previous year.  A series of circles, marked by candles, had been created in the grass, three goddesses (the maiden, the mother and the crone) were in the centre.  The labyrinth was protected by a series of “gatekeepers” who wandered around talking to people inside the labyrinth, ensuring that their intentions were pure; if they did not believe your intentions were pure, you were sent back to an earlier point in the labyrinth and asked to do some more thinking/meditating. The labyrinth itself was surrounded by fire twirlers.  If you chose to enter the labyrinth, you were given a bunch of leaves to focus your attention on as you were going through the labyrinth; at the end, you were to speak to one of the goddesses (your choice which one) about what baggage you were trying to get rid of, and then burn your leaf in their cauldron. Apparently, this would help you get rid of the negative shit you’d accrued over the year! It was all very other worldly!

While Tel and I were at the side of the labyrinth, taking pictures, we were approached by one of the gatekeepers who said to us: “You’re taking pictures of my labyrinth, but do you have the courage to enter it”.  He was a bit of a jerk, told Tel specifically that he was not sure that her intentions were good, and that he would be challenging her again.  She decided against walking the labyrinth, but I decided to do it (I happen to think that being curious is a fine, and that makes me perfectly well intentioned!)

So, I did it, and I had no spiritual experience whatsoever. It was interesting, it was new, but it did not impact me in any other way than satisfying my curiousity!  Actually, much like so many other religious rituals I’ve seen, I though it was a hoaky, self-indulgent circus.  It was incredibly contrived, with the “leader” operating more as a director of scenes than anything else.  Truly, when they were preparing to start the procession to the centre of the labyrinth, we heard him shout: “OK, are we ready with the goddesses?” before directing them into the labyrinth!  I’m not kidding!

I suppose I am a bit cynical about these things, and those of you that know me well know that I tend to see the world in a different way than many others.  It seems to me that religious rituals are created by and for extroverts….who need to show how good they are at those rituals!!!  Even my favourite religion, Buddhism, which I love and which is of immense spiritual assistance to me…..I cannot practice the rituals because I think they are too contrived.  That is exactly what I thought about the labyrinth: interesting, but clearly for show. 

What was really great though is that we did not expect this at all!  We went to Avebury because we thought it would be fun to be in a spooky place on Hallowe’en!  After the labyrinth, we went to the Red Lion pub for some beers.  All of the pagans came back to the pub as well, although they left again at 10:30 to do a midnight procession to the sanctuary within Avebury.  We opted out of this part, as for one of the few times on this trip, we had an incredibly comfortable bed and we wanted to sleep!

Avebury was a great experience!  Palpable energy, amazing rock formations, interesting ceremony.  It was perfect, really.  Now we are in the town of Bath, England.  The *entire* town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, our sixth on this trip.  We will write about it tomorrow.  This is our second last stop on our vacation; we will be heading to London soon to spend a few days there before heading home on Friday.

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures of Avebury, as it was a truly beautiful place to visit.  Oh, and Tel asked me to make sure that I mention that she was not scared at all, at any time, even a little, while we were in Avebury!

Bye for now, and thanks for reading!


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