A Travellerspoint blog

The Last Post

BY MURIEL

sunny 22 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

As I “open at the close” (the final Harry Potter reference, I promise), I thought it might be interesting to share some statistics of our trip:

71 accommodations (so 71 pack ups)
7 flights (Paris, Sicily, Malta, Athens, Turkey, UK, Canada)
13 000 airplane km
32 000 driving km
6 ferries (Ireland/UK X2, Malta/Gozo X2; England/France; Victoria)
104 loads of laundry
18 capital cities
23 countries (plus Gibraltar)
24 languages
257 blog entries
769 blog comments
4 dead watch batteries
3 police encounters
25 fridge magnets for most countries (missed the one from Iceland but got one for Wales and Scotland)
22 pins for Moe
Broken: 1 glass door, 1 washing machine, 1 car side mirror (unfortunately, not ours), numerous glasses/dishes, 1 power adaptor, 1 camera
Lost: 1 power adaptor, 1 headlamp, 2 wash cloths, 1 sweater, numerous single socks, composure (a few times)
4 saint’s relics
Uncountable churches, mosques, and synagogues
Uncountable bottles of alcohol
7 public transit systems (Madrid, Rome, Paris, London, Budapest, Venice, Istanbul)
154 West Wing episodes (22 x 7)
25,000 + photos
8 car rentals/leases
21, 482 bug brains on the windshield
Unlimited opportunities for growth

Coming back home has been both welcome and somewhat jarring at the same time. Of course, we expected variable feelings, given that we have been away in a cocoon of sorts and are now being immediately thrust back into real life. What else could we have expected? We anticipated the euphoria of seeing family and friends again, and of enjoying the pleasant familiarity that comes with pausing at favourite haunts and imbibing the much-missed sights, sounds, tastes and smells of our country and our home. We steadied ourselves for the reality of working and understanding what a regular work day is like, or in Ben’s case, what an extended work day can be as he prepares for his position as vice principal and generic classroom teacher after several years being dedicated to library and technology classes. We predicted the increased pace that comes with Abby and Hannah going into Grades 10 and 12, respectively. Their lives scheduled to the brim with school work, extracurricular activities, friends and now work will force us to be more diligent about squeezing out the joint family times we can. All these things were on our minds in the last couple of days in Europe as we purged our once-so-necessary collections: our just-in-case assortment of dishwasher tabs, laundry soap, dishcloths and matches; our kitchen spice kit accumulated over several months and even more countries, the various languages on the bottles tracking our path through Europe; the worn shoes once so valuable but now admittedly shabby and past the point of no return; the half disintegrated candies from Turkey that seemed durable at the time of purchase but now couldn’t in good conscience be shared with friends (or even colleagues); and the scraps of papers, receipts, and travel information we had amassed and purged at regular junctures. It all had to go so that our electronics, key though well-worn clothes, and few souvenirs could fit neatly in the packing cubes one last time. You can imagine the furor as we endeavoured to get things ready the evening before the trip home. The morning saw us do a last check around, turn in the final lease car, and pass through the concluding security checkpoint. Our flight was scheduled for early afternoon and as all check ins, transfers, and customs checks went very smoothly, we were tired but happy travellers arriving back in Victoria on July 31, walking off the evening ferry with light still remaining in the sky. As we made our way in the direction of the ferry waiting room, towards our friends Marianne and Calvin, whom we knew to be delivering our trusty vehicle, Abby broke into a run. While she had hardly been able to lug that big packsack across Europe on her small frame, straining at most airports and subways, she somehow forgot the weight when she saw that three dear friends were waiting for her. Welcoming her with open arms were Shaleyn, Leah and Lydia and after all the hugs and pictures, they came in very handy indeed, relieving us elder travellers of our bags. As we travelled back along the peninsula, the months melted away in one fell swoop and we were BACK. As the next few days evaporated with unpacking, cleaning and settling back into the house, we couldn’t believe how different those two worlds were. We had discussed all quickly writing a ‘final reflections’ blog while our trip was still fresh in our minds but never did get to setting down to write that. And in hindsight, most of us feel that it will take some time to digest our adventures, learnings and ponderings so perhaps those reflections will come in time.

Even as some realities were so anticipated, as I mentioned above, one was not. It is this new reality that has sent us reeling and off kilter the last few weeks. The week after we returned home, Ben’s dad (aka Opa) went into the hospital and was subsequently diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. It had been such a boon for us to share the trip with him and, ironically, the more the miles lengthened, the closer we felt as he proved to be such a loyal fellow traveller. All the Skype calls, witty and articulate blog comments and quick, meaningful visit while I was in Victoria served to cement our familial bonds. So it is with sad yet peaceful hearts that we prepare to let Pa go on his next journey. We don’t know when this will be but Ben has taken time off work to be with his dad more and is shuttling between Port Alberni and Victoria quite a bit. Pa has many family members and friends visiting and it is this that cheers him most and helps his days. It is sad to think the girls will lose both their grandpas in one year but, as Pa has commented, he and my dad seem to be on the same trajectory, having been born within months of each other as well. All the realities we’re experiencing, but this one most of all, support us in our conviction that we did the right thing to take this past year off. Life is all too short a journey and to have been privileged to share an intense, collapsed year with our immediate family has been valuable beyond belief. We have grown as individuals but also as a family unit. Individually, it has been maturing for the girls, and life changing for Ben and me. Possibly life changing for Hannah and Abby as well, but I think that may take some time to become more apparent.

We are very grateful to the many who have shared our journey with us in various ways – you were and are so appreciated! Till next time.

Posted by KZFamily 18.09.2013 07:23 Archived in Canada Tagged home canada Comments (5)

Our Last Full Day in Europe

by Ben

semi-overcast 26 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

The Gate to Hannah's School in Nancy

The Gate to Hannah's School in Nancy

A wonderful three days with the Poirot family are behind us and only one full day in Europe remains. It was a sad and exciting prospect at the same time. We are eager to be home to see family and friends and experience the joys of a regular productive lifestyle. Nevertheless, we (perhaps just Muriel and I) are sad that the adventuring and sightseeing are now just memories.

Before we left our apartment in Nancy we purged our possessions of worn clothing and shoes to make space for a few souvenirs we bought during our travels. Since each of us only has one backpack and one daypack we needed to keep our acquisitions to a bare minimum. This is a good thing, otherwise we would have likely spent a fortune on the many items we definitely felt like buying but had no space for.

On our way out of Nancy we stopped by the school Hannah attended. The school has at least one structure that dates back to the late 1400's and has some large buildings that are certainly a couple of hundred years old. It is a large campus with a mishmash of buildings of which some are a bit rough around the edges. It was hard to imagine a 15 year old Hannah on her first day venturing into this maze of buildings with thousands of new faces moving to and fro. I would have felt more than just daunted by the prospect. We now have an even greater appreciation of her courage and pluck to have travelled from Canada to France and to live for three months in a totally new environment with only her exchange “sister” as a familiar face.

Hannah's School in Nancy

Hannah's School in Nancy

For the final time we took another “road trip.” It was a four hour drive to Frankfurt mostly along secondary roads through farmland. We had our last roadside picnic which was a hodgepodge of leftover food items. A saving grace was that we still had a bar of Swiss chocolate with which to end our repast. We also enjoyed our last few podcasts together. They have been an edifying addition to our travels. So for one last time I will list our favourites in no particular order as being the Vinyl Cafe, This American Life, DNTO, Wiretap, and Stuff You Should Know. I think our favourite family choice of music has been the quirky and eclectic music by Cat Empire, a band that hails from Australia.

Our apartment in Frankfurt is a “unique” affair which makes it the perfect place to spend our last night in Europe. It was just renovated a few weeks ago and even so it has a number of unconventional touches fir an apartment advertising on Booking.com such as a nearly transparent glass sliding door on the bathroom (use your imagination), a hidden fridge in the living room, blue LED ambiance lighting throughout, a living room sectional that could easily sit ten people and sleep six, and a bed with a flower studded purple headboard with a large blue portrait of a naked woman hanging over it. The owner who hails from Bulgaria has been renovating and renting apartments for nearly 12 years in Spain and has recently moved to Germany to create better opportunities for his children. Apparently, he must have found that this kind of decor was good for business. I am just wondering what line of work his clientèle are in and whether we are somewhat unusual customers for him.

We will watch the final episode of West Wing this evening, something Hannah and Abby thought would be appropriate to watch on the last evening of our trip.

Posted by KZFamily 30.07.2013 12:07 Archived in Germany Tagged germany frankfurt Comments (11)

Bon Appetit et Au Revoir

By Hannah

semi-overcast 20 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Tart with Mirabelle Fruit

Tart with Mirabelle Fruit

We spent this morning going through our bags and finding things that we could either throw out or give away to the Poirots. It seems impossible that I will be able to fit everything into my bag. Abby, however, appeared to have no trouble with hers. Perhaps I just have more souvenirs.

Once more, we took full advantage of the Poirot's abundant hospitality and accepted their invitation to spend another afternoon with them. For lunch, we were served a wonderful French meal, which I will describe in so much detail you will wonder if it is not instead my father who is writing this blog. We began with the pinnacle of French delicacies: foie gras. Unfortunately, I have to say that I have no real fondness for it. Everyone else enjoyed it, though, Nicolas especially. We spread it onto little round toasts, and even though I wasn't particularly partial to it, I have to say that I felt exponentially more French while eating it, as well as a little posh. Our main course was a Provencal salad made with couscous, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, corn, mint, and raisins. I'll have to ask Myriam for the vinaigrette recipe, as we're definitely making it when we get home.

We had the same broad selection of apres-dejeuner cheeses, and this time Abby and I decided to try the strong, unpasteurised Roquefort. If you've never had the pleasure of trying it, allow me to give you a brief description of the process. First, the moldy cheese touches your tongue. It's soft, so you press the cheese to the roof of your mouth and let it spread out. Hmm. You can almost see why people like it. And then the full impact of the flavour hits you, and the smell fills your nostrils, and the putridity is overwhelming. You can feel the slight crunch of the mold, which is almost enough to make you stop trying to eat it altogether, but you know you must persevere if this foul creation is ever to leave your mouth. Finally, the worst is over. But the rotten aftertaste lingers a few moments more, and you must down a glass or two of water to completely rid yourself of the fromage d'enfer.

Dad said he quite liked it, though.

Myriam made two delicious French desserts for us, tarte aux mirabelles and soufflé a la rhubarbe. Mirabelles are small yellow plums, and are a specialty of the Lorraine region of France. Jean Pierre-Coffe, a famous French chef and food critic, once said, "Happiness exists and I've met it. It weighs 14.3 grams and it comes from Lorraine." When I was living in Nancy, I saw jam, juice, alcohol, and desserts all made from mirabelles. I also had the chance to make a rhubarb soufflé alongside Myriam when I was here, and found it just as lovely today as I had a year ago. Abby, however, was positively delighted with it. I might have to get this recipe as well.

Happy French Bowlers

Happy French Bowlers

After lunch, we played cheat (or "tricher" en français) and spoons, except we changed the name to bouchons (corks) and used those instead. These proved trickier to grab, and the corks would fly off the table as everyone lunged at once. Turns out the Poirots are just as competitive as the Konings. Most of them, anyways. Myriam taught us a French saying, "pour le beurre" (for the butter), which means "for nothing." But none of us were very content with playing "pour le beurre", so the frenzied snatching continued.

We wound up the visit with a couple games of bowling, the adults and the kids playing separately. There was a bit of confusion when it came to shoes, as we weren't very adept at converting North American sizes to European ones, but we finally figured it out. At our lane, Nicolas won the first game, and I won the second. Thierry proved to be the best bowler on the adult lane, winning both games with scores over a hundred. Dad came in second each time. C'est dommage.

We said our goodbyes and took a couple family photos, and there were hugs and les bises all around. It was fantastic seeing my French family again, and I loved introducing them to my Canadian family. They are incredible hosts and amazing people. Ce n'est pas un adieu, mais un au revoir!

To finish off our stay in Nancy, we made a final trek to Place Stanislas in order to see the light show we'd missed earlier. It proved to be spectacular, and had an interesting plot as well as breathtaking animation. The best bits where when the Hotel de Ville was built before our eyes, whether by tiny blue men in a videogame-like sequence or with strips of light slowly creeping over the arcs and lines of the building. Yeah, these descriptions don't really do it justice. But believe me, it was beautiful. Be sure to see it next time you're in Nancy.

Our final road trip is tomorrow. Wow.

Posted by KZFamily 30.07.2013 12:03 Archived in France Tagged food france au bowling goodbye nancy ludres revoir Comments (3)

French Hospitality

BY MURIEL

rain 26 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Another Great French Meal with the Poirots

Another Great French Meal with the Poirots

Our French friends have been so encouraging with having us visit that they insisted we come for another lunch, casual though it would be. We started the visit with ‘aperitifs’ of drinks, chips and salsa, crab sticks and little toasts with lump fish eggs. When I saw the little rounds piled with small black eggs, I wondered if it was caviar. They said no but I was impressed that I could identify them at least as fish eggs. Most of us had not tried this before; we found it interesting but quite salty and fishy. After an hour of eating and chatting, we moved to the table to have the actual lunch, consisting of salads and more wonderfully seasoned vegetables, duck, turkey, beef, chicken, prawns and salmon cooked again on the plancha (the small table barbeque). Add to that French bread and rhubarb wine and it was another culinary coup by Myriam and Thierry. Another hour and half passed around the table. When asked if we would like some cheese, we said ‘a little’ would be nice. They proceeded to bring out different kinds of cheeses ranging from mild, soft sheep cheese to Munster and sweet Roquefort. Also included were a soft Brie/Camembert cross, three goat cheeses (one plain, another smoked and the third with herbs and chives), and a hard cheese similar to a strong Emmental. We somehow made do with only the eight varieties and slowly worked our way through them from mild to strong. Of course, there was now white wine and more French bread as well. After the cheese course came the dessert: fresh fruit salad and ice cream. By the time we rose from the table, we had been eating and conversing for four hours. Do the French ever know how to entertain! It felt like a real occasion.

A day is not complete if the main meal of the day does not include Fromage!

A day is not complete if the main meal of the day does not include Fromage!

To release some of the energy we consumed, we played rousing games of cards which, surprisingly, got a bit physical. Some people commented on my competitiveness – I honestly didn’t know it was that obvious. We were then invited to try our hand at French Trivial Pursuit. Even though we played with the “kids’ questions,” it was still challenging as it concentrated a lot on European personages and history. Throughout the activities, Ben and I would try some of our French, just to try to keep up with Thierry’s more-than-valiant efforts at English. He said he hadn’t spoken it for years and we were in the same boat, dredging up our high school learning. Most of those brain cells are gone by now. That said, Ben and I spoke more French in these three days with Marine’s family than in our entire Grade 11 course. Additionally, hand gestures and tone convey a lot of meaning.
And soon, a mere four hours later, it was time to eat again. Somehow, the chocolate we ate during the game and the kilos of food we had eaten prior did not dissuade any of us so we feasted on a large pot of spaghetti carbonara made with rich cream and lardons, a French version of bacon. And more wine, of course. The evening concluded with us watching the movie “Time Out” in French with English subtitles. It was a day where, despite no formal sightseeing, we felt as if we had experienced more of French culture and lifestyle than we had during our whole time in Paris.

Posted by KZFamily 30.07.2013 01:16 Archived in France Tagged food france ludres Comments (2)

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