Brugge, Sept 15 and 16, 2010

Brugge was the first stop in a 6 week tour of Europe.  We arrived by train after a flight from Halifax to Heathrow airport.  We took the underground from Heathrow to Kings Cross-St Pancras.   Then we travelled from St Pancras Station to France where we caught another train to Belguim and a small regional train to Brugge.  I had allowed for several hours to reach St Pancras thinking that customs and the travel from the airport would take a lot of time.  This extra time allowance was not necessary, but we weren’t able to change our tickets for earlier ones.

Our accommodations were already confirmed at Hotel t’Keizershof for 44 euro per night including breakfast.  It was a short hop from the train station…if you departed by the correct door. We soon figured out our mistake and make our way to the hotel.

Hotel t’Keizershof was very clean, in an older building.  Our room faced the street.  I was excited to hear people going past from the train station with their wheeled suitcases; it seemed to match the feeling of being on the road.  It was to become a soundtrack for the next 6 weeks and remained consistent in every country.  There was a sink in the room, but we had to go down the hall to use the bathroom or shower.  A sign in the room told you not to wash clothes in the sink, which was a disappointment to me as I had hoped to do this every night.  The breakfast was served in a bright room overlooking the street.  Our fellow travellers were from all over the world.

We were an easy walk to the historic centre of Brugge.    Brugge comes from the Old Norse, “Bryggja” which means landing stage.  In medieval times Brugge became a centre of commerce.  Its beautiful canals and prosperous merchants earned it the name Venice of the North.  Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, the city’s well preserved medieval buildings, canals, cobbled streets and market squares draw tourists from all over the world.

Brugge Town Hall

Quiet and peaceful Beguinage.  This monastery housed nuns from the Beguine movement for many centuries.

Along one of the canals in Brugge.

Bell tower Brugge

I have never seen a violin quite like this one before.

Barlovento, Varadero, April 2012

My sister and I went for two weeks to Cuba this year.  We stayed at the Barlovento, a small resort on 1st Ave about 1 klm from city centre, near the entrance to Varadero Peninsula.

Barlovento was fine.  The rooms were clean, the beach beautiful and the evening entertainment was great.  The dance troupe was thrilling to watch.  It was a pretty chill place.  Our Cuban friends were able to join us under the shade of huge trees and we spent many days together enjoying the beach chatting with other beach goers and marveling at the lengths little boys will go to, trying to catch a lizard.

  One red flag day.  Waves were huge.

On the downside the resort ran out of wine occasionally, egad!  (we brought our own into the buffet with no problem).  The food wasn’t the best.  I found it worthwhile to wait in the line-up for eggs in the morning and pasta in the evening.  These were good but after two weeks nothing to look forward to.  We ate out at many of the restaurants around the resort.    Some of the restaurants we ate at included:  KiKi’s and La Sangria for pizza, LaiLai’s for Chinese food, La Casita (which is a treat to eat at and check out all the beautiful antiques including some of interest to Canadians) and Coral Restaurant on the beach by Aquazul.

La Casita, Varedaro  CubaPicture of Trudeau in La Casita, Varadero

La Casita had Pierrre Elliot Trudeau Liberal posters and a picture of Trudeau on the walls.

During one of our weeks there is was a school holiday.  It was a highlight of the trip to see all the young people enjoying themselves on the beach.  There was a kite surfing business set up on the beach just down from Barlovento and lots of young people were gathered there.

Many also spent time fishing in the canal across from the resort and jumping off the bridge which signals the entrance to Varadero.   They had lots of encouragement from their friends in the water and watching from the side of the road.  There were barracuda swimming in the water they were jumping into.

           

We took our cameras out to get some photos and met all sorts of friendly people, swimming, fishing or just out for a stroll.

Varadero has changed a lot in the past few years.  This year foreigners are able to stay in Casa Particulars in Varadero.  Casa Particulars are Cuba’s version of a Bed and Breakfast, and in past years they were not available for visitors to Varadero.  This is great news for people who want to visit the beautiful beaches but prefer not to stay at an all inclusive resort.

Casa Particular Cuba  These Casa Particulars are located on the street beside the Barlovento Hotel in Varadero.  

Particular cars are now licensed to take tourists.  This gives tourists an opportunity to hire an independent driver who has lovingly restored one of the beautiful old cars that Cuba is so famous for.

  This is Gonzalo Rojas’ particular car.  We hired him to take us to Matanzas and Boca to visit friends.  We walked across the bridge to an area where lots of particular cars were parked and discussed the price before we got into the car.

Small markets are popping up all over the place as well.  Free enterprise is becoming more and more a part of life in Varadero.  This is the biggest change and one that I am happy to see as it benefits the people of Cuba.

Off Again

My bags are packed.  Half filled with stuff I might need and half filled with things for my friends.

Tomorrow I am cooking an early Easter meal for about 20 friends and family and helping some young people decorate Easter eggs.  It will be cold here so we will be inside the house most of the time.

There will be a few people who can play guitar so we will have some good music to listen to and sing along with.

Sunday I will clean the house and Monday my sister and I are off for two weeks in Cuba.  We are going to Varadero and will stay at a cheaper hotel close to downtown so that we can visit with our friends more easily.  We will also be attending a christening in Matanzas. I will post something when I get back.

I am a sporadic blogger at the best of times, but will not be taking my computer to Cuba so will be out of touch for two weeks.  Happy Easter everyone, I look forward to reading your posts when I return.

Getting Lost

Siena, Italy

This started as a post about doing your research before you travel and veered off course in a wonderful way.

I love the research part of travelling.  I suppose years of working as a theatre tour coordinator taught me to be an organized traveller.  Don’t get me wrong.  I leave everything open when I arrive at a place.  I just like make sure I have my accommodation booked and know how to get to the room so I can dump my knapsack and explore.

I think I spent as much time researching places to visit, where to stay and how to get there as we spent on the trip.  It was worth every minute.  My husband was always a little dubious when I would hop off a train in a new city and start looking for the next bus or subway, or even more unnerving for him, start walking to our accommodations.  We usually ended up right where we were supposed to be-or pretty close.

The red carpet was for the New Pop Festival, in Baden Baden, it was a bit helpful for finding your way around.

The times I didn’t have our route figured out so well were also ok, because  we were able to meet the people who lived in a new place.  It always amazed me that no matter where you went, you could always find someone who was willing to help you find your way.

In Siena, Italy we had gotten on the correct bus at the train station to take us into the city, but didn’t know when to get off the bus.  I asked a younger woman, who I figured would speak English, where we should get off the bus to get to Via della Sapienza.  While she was pondering an answer an older woman and man jumped into the conversation.  By the time our stop came, lots of helpful people were telling us to “go, go now”, or something like that in Italian. The man who had made suggestions earlier met us at our stop, we must have looked incredibly confused on the bus, because he had gotten off one stop earlier.  He very kindly walked us part way to where we needed to go.  We were still in trouble.  The old city is full of narrow alleys and streets.  After conversations with shop owners and a police officer we found our accommodation, Albergo Bernini.  It was worth getting lost for.

Civita di Bagnoregio-pretty hard to get lost here

We also ran into a large crowd of very helpful people in Naples who helped us figure out which train to catch to Sorrento.  A wonderful young couple on the express bus from the airport to the port of Athens (Piraeus), used their blackberry to find directions to our hotel and even talked to the bus driver to make sure he was aware of our stop.  These encounters with people are what make travel worth while.  There is natural beauty and wonderful examples of art, architecture and engineering all over the world.  But, when you travel and are blessed by the kindness of strangers it reaffirms your faith in humanity, and the memories of these encounters become more remarkable than the sights you have seen.

Old Hippies Hit the Road

Featured

Off to EuropeSearching and researching a title for a travel blog is tough work.  My original idea was “Old Hippies Hit the Road”, my daughter christened us old hippies, but it doesn’t really fit. Then came “Bluenoser Travel” until I looked up the definition of Bluenoser (which is defined as a puritanical person-I always thought it meant from Nova Scotia!).  Other titles I tried included:  Frugal Traveller (taken), Inspired Wanderer (taken), Exhilarated Excursions (not really descriptive of my travel style).  After several days, I opted for The Inspired Packer.  Whether you are travelling for a few days in your own province or thousands of miles away, packing signals the start of your journey.

This site is about travel.  Something I am passionate about.

If you are under 30 and your travel style involves hiking for days in the wilderness and pitching a tent where-ever you fetch up, this site probably isn’t for you.  I’m not into that much adventure.

If you are over 30 and your travel style involves staying at 5 star hotels, using taxis and local guides, this site may not hold many answers for you.  5 star hotels can be nice, but I usually don’t have that much money to spend.

But, if your are moderately active, seek low-cost travel experiences and are not afraid to climb aboard local transport and discover a place on your own, you may find answers here.

Picture:  Here we are at the Halifax airport ready to hit the road for 6 weeks.