Tag Archives: travel

A few more pics of the European whirlwind tour

18 Jul

It was a long day of driving today, marred by wrong exits (adding 40 minutes to our itinerary!) and bad traffic around cities, but we ended up in the Pyranees and the last hour of driving was absolutely spectacular. It also started off with a delightful visit to Michael’s ancestral home of Lusignan, also home of the legend of Mélusine… but before I get into that, I’m going to take you further backwards on our trip…

Our last night in my Oma’s home was also the final World Cup game. I’m generally not a watcher of sports, but it was very exciting to be in Germany, watching the Germany team win the gold. I was impressed that my Oma knew such a lot about the individual players and about the rules of soccer — pardon me, I mean football. I guess because I grew up with my dad being so indifferent to team sports, I assumed that was the attitude of the whole Fritzen clan.20140718-073105-27065938.jpg

Oma’s cupboard of mugs is a cupboard of childhood memories. Each of her grandchildren was allowed to pick his or her own mug from the local store called Hettig, and that was forever his or her cup to be used at Oma’s house. We often had hot chocolate from them in the mornings. I still remember that Heidi’s was the blue one with the sun and birds (or did that one belong to Johannes?), Victor had the rhinoceros, my sister had colourful balloons… Mine is the one with the multicoloured umbrellas.20140718-073106-27066779.jpg

Our first stop on our first day of driving was Bremen. It was fun telling the girls the tale of the Bremen Town Musicians as we drew close to the city. We impulsively stopped in the town centre since it was close to lunchtime and sought out this carillon concert (“Haus des Glockenspiels”), which Michael remembered from our visit here in 2001.20140718-073108-27068555.jpg

As you can see, the girls were captivated.20140718-073107-27067670.jpg

After lunch, the girls were delighted to see how many times they could spot the Bremen Town Musicians as we walked around town. (They are everywhere!!!!)


The Schnoorviertel is a touristy area full of shops and the girls were nearly in fits with all the things they wanted to take home. Despite that, it really is a delightful and charming place to wander, with some impossibly narrow streets (still with shops in them!) that make you feel as though you’ve discovered a secret passageway. This wasn’t even the smallest street here…


Our final destination on our first day was “Sneek” (pronounced “snake”) in the Netherlands. Beautiful architecture and canals abound, along with the singular sight of sailboats making their way across a farmer’s field (although, of course, in reality there’s a canal there, just where you can’t see it). It felt strange to me to be in a land where I couldn’t read the street signs, although Dutch is often just close enough to German (and at other times to English!) that I can figure stuff out. This jug at the restaurant De Lachende Koe (where all things are decorated with a laughing cow) made me laugh. I’ve always teased Michael that his Saskatchewan accent makes him pronounce certain words oddly. For example, he says “melk”, not “milk”. Perhaps he actually has Dutch roots?20140718-073240-27160499.jpg

The highlight of our brief stay in Sneek was visiting the sand-sculpting competition. This is an annual event and Michael and I both wondered how the sculptures could stay so well-preserved against the elements of wind and rain, as they evidently are viewable for a couple of months. This year’s theme was Hollywood. Halia’s favourite sculpture was this depiction of “Toy Story”.20140718-073241-27161371.jpg

And then the girls got to make their own sculpture!20140718-073352-27232193.jpg

There, now I think we are mostly caught up…

Except I haven’t shown you a thing from today, of course, and we saw some amazing sights. But now it is closing in on midnight. I am sitting on a comfortable bed in a perfectly charming bed and breakfast perched on the mountainside, with a five-year-old softly sleeping and waiting for me to join her. Outside, a rainstorm broke out minutes after we arrived, so we are soothed by the sound of raindrops on cobblestone, the rumble of thunder, and the soft, cool breeze that is a balm after two days of sweltering weather. I believe I shall sleep well tonight!


‘Tis autumn

4 Oct

I am back amid fiery maples and scarlet sumac. It has been close to a decade since I experienced an Ottawa autumn, and I love it as much as I ever did. Fall was always my favourite season: not too hot, not too cold, and gloriously alive with colour.

(It’s no coincidence my wedding anniversary is in October, at the height of Ontario fall. This year — just how did this happen?! I’m not old enough for this! — we will be celebrating 10 years of marriage.)

A week ago today, I was leaving Ottawa. With Michael at my side, and the kids safely ensconced at his parents’ house, we boarded a First Air plane and flew to Iqaluit, Nunavut. Iqaluit is the capital of Canada’s newest territory (formed in 1999), and a vital part of my own history. I spent two years at Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit, graduating with the class of 1995. Those two years went by in a flash, but made a lasting impression on my life.

I haven’t been back since my sister’s graduation in 1996. I’ve always wanted to visit again, but flying to and from Nunavut is prohibitively expensive. For this trip, I was invited to perform at a conference, and I jumped at the opportunity.

It was an amazing trip, revisiting familiar haunts, reconnecting with friends, exploring all the new areas of the much-expanded city, and finding musical opportunities at every turn.

Thursday, it was karaoke at the Legion with some of my high school classmates. Friday, I gave my very first house concert (with Grant Simpson from Whitehorse!) at my former music teacher’s house. Sunday there was a musical coffeehouse at the Francophone Association in the afternoon and then the conference performance we were hired to do, a “mini Frantic Follies”to give conference delegates a taste of the other end of northern Canada.

Now we’re all back in Ottawa. Grant and I will be playing (four sets!) at the Options Jazz Lounge this Saturday evening, and then we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with Michael’s family. This trip has been warm and wonderful makes me appreciate more than ever how much I have to be thankful for.

‘Tis autumn . . . and it’s still my favourite season.

First glimpse of the Iqaluit airport

Best boat name ever

Best boat name ever

Inuksuk High School

My old stomping grounds

Bilingual stop (Harper) sign.

A coast guard boat in Frobisher Bay, with an inverted qamutik (traditional sled) in the foreground

It's always fresh in Inuktut

It’s always fresh in Inuktitut

St. Jude's Anglican church

St. Jude’s Anglican church in Iqaluit has always had this unique “igloo-with-a-steeple” design, but the original wooden one burned down. This new (bigger) incarnation was completed earlier this year.

Lights and tunnels of Norway

11 May

Were we really still in Oslo just yesterday morning?  We’ve had two sensational days of driving, along fjords and farmlands, up into snowy mountains, around dizzying switchbacks, on ferries, and through tunnels.

Ah, the tunnels. We always seem to associate trolls and gnomes with Scandinavia, but I swear there must be dwarves somewhere in its history, too. Dwarves, after all, are the ones who tunnel, and never before have I seen a land with such an abundance of tunnels.

But let me start with the light, to make a feeble attempt to describe it. The sunlight yesterday morning was spectacular. The sky was clear and blue, and sunshine poured over the horizon from a low angle, lighting up one side of the houses spilling down the hill.

As we drove into downtown Oslo, we could see a solid wall of cloud had built up over the fjord, with sunlight leaking out overtop. Utterly dramatic.

Then in the evening, too, we watched golden sunlight dissolve first into coral hues, tingeing the snow-capped mountains and few wispy clouds a rosy pink, then into violet, and finally into bluish grays.

It’s just after midnight now, and it still isn’t completely dark.

By the way, there are lights in the tunnels, too. It seems that you never know what you’re going to experience when you go into a tunnel in Norway. It might be wide, or it might be narrow. It may be well-lit, or you may find yourself wide-eyed and staring into dusty darkness, especially if your eyes were dazzled by sunlit snow moments before.  Some tunnels are smooth-walled, and others seem to have been newly chewed through, with wet patches where spring melt is seeping through the rock. The rare tunnel is tiled in glazed panels that reflect the lights of oncoming vehicles. Sometimes the tunnel lights are white, and sometimes they’re orange. Once, while driving under a fjord, the lights at the shaft’s nadir were blue.

In this land of tunnels, you might be anywhere when you emerge. The country is built on bedrock, so many of the tunnels must be built by dynamite, eating through solid granite.

You never know where you’re going to be when you get out. You may go into one teetering along the edge of a precipice, and then emerge to find yourself in a green valley.

We remarked today that we should have kept track of how many tunnels we’ve traversed, and the distance we travelled through each one.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find we’ve driven through 20 or 30 kilometres of tunnels on our trip so far.

It can be harrowing, and it can be exciting, but it’s certainly never boring.

Day 1: Oslo

9 May

Greetings from Oslo!

The trip from Vancouver to Oslo was fairly uneventful and, if not entirely comfortable, not entirely unbearable, either. There were 20 minutes of near-panic when I was hemmed in by my carry-on bag at my feet, the guy reclining in front of me, and the GIANT Croatian guy sitting next to me, whose  legs spread into typical man-sitting position when he fell into a thunderous, snoring sleep. Fortunately, I was able to move my bag to another nearby seat and the fellow in front of me obliged me by raising his seat back a couple of inches, so I had a little room to breathe for the 9-hour-and-20 minute flight.

My parents and my Oma greeted me at the airport and we set off right away to see a few sights and find some supper. My dad had spotted a sign earlier in the day advertising a Norwegian whalemeat dinner, so we sought the place out. I tried muktuk (whale blubber) once in my high school days in Iqaluit, but had never actually tried whale meat. I can now say that I’ve tried it, but I don’t think I would jump to do it again. It’s really kind of a red meat and has quite a strong flavour that I wasn’t overly fond of.

The my dad took me for a quick jaunt over to the new Norwegian Opera House, opened just 4 years ago. It is designed to look like an iceberg and you can walk from street level right up to the roof! The inside is beautiful, too, although I can only attest to the lobby and the bathrooms.

Oslo Opera House

(Photo from Wikipedia)

After that, we drove to the B&B where I was able to shower off the travel grime and attempt to recover from jet-lag.

This morning, I looked out the window of my room and was greeted with a hazy mist, spring green, and colourful houses.

A room with a view

Driving into Oslo later in the morning, I was continually struck by the architecture: an interesting house here, a round building there, a slanted one over there. But driving along at high speed on narrow and windy roads is not conducive to great photos, especially when combined with a slow, jet-lagged, and head-cold-affected brain that registers a second too late that the camera must be switched on.

After breakfast, I made a quick stop at Oslo’s City Hall.

My mom outside City Hall

Imagine the party you could have in here!

The other end of the giant foyer, including pipes from the pipe organ

Next we jumped onto the “Jomfruen” for a little sailing tour of the Oslo Fjord, including a close-up of the Opera House and the floating sculpture that lies next to it. We jumped off on the opposite side of the Fjord so that we could visit a couple of amazing museums.

Not sure this sailboat ever gets to be under sail, but it was a lovely ride around the Fjord.

"She Lies": a floating sculpture

“She Lies”: a floating sculpture

First there was the Fram Museum, which appears to have been built around the huge boat inside it, the Fram, used by Fridtjof Nansen for both polar expeditions at both ends of the earth.

The Fram inside the Fram Museum

The museum also covered information about Roald Amundsen’s expedition to the North Pole, and also a boat (called the Gjøa) that was taken to Gjoa Haven, Nunavut about a hundred years ago. Fascinating stuff! After that, we walked a kilometre or so to check out some Viking ships that had been excavated out of burial mounds.

It’s after midnight now, so I’ll gloss over the Nobel Peace Centre (amazing, too!) and the fantastic dinner we had. Tomorrow we’ll drop my Oma off at the airport so she can fly home to Germany. It’s been wonderful seeing her. Our friend Marina will also join us as we head for the first stop on our driving tour. We’ll be driving between 8 and 11 hours each day, so not sure how much blogging I’ll fit in.

En route

7 May

I’m sitting in the International wing of the Vancouver Airport. There’s a little oasis here, with a stream, grasses growing along the edges, a footbridge from which small children can throw coins, a giant salt-water aquarium, and comfy chairs all around.

I have quite a nasty head cold and am grateful for the sinus-clearing drugs that allowed me to stave it off long enough on Saturday that I had a fantastic show, and that allowed me to land in Vancouver this morning with trepidation but no pain.

I am off to meet my parents in Oslo. It will take all day today and a good chunk of tomorrow to get there. I’ll be gone for 10 days. I’m excited, but melancholy all at once. Yesterday as I was packing Jade’s lunch, I was getting teary thinking about leaving my girls for so long. And I very nearly cried when my plane took off this morning. I am a suck.

I know Michael is perfectly capable, and yet I feel bad to leave him to parent both girls and try to get his work done. (Although I do the same thing. But my work doesn’t pay the bills. It just barely pays for itself. Yet.)

I just had a Skype talk with Michael and Halia, so I feel a bit better.

My Oma will be in Oslo, too. I haven’t seen her in a couple of years and I’m really looking forward to giving her a great big hug. I wish I’d thought to ask the girls to make a card for her before I left home.

This is my life today. Chaotic, disorganized, and exciting.

And my kids will be fine.

I must be crazy

11 Jul

You won’t see me around here this weekend because tonight we’re heading out to the Atlin Music Festival, where we’ll be spending the weekend. Atlin‘s about 2 hours away from Whitehorse and is technically in British Columbia, but Whitehorse is the closest city, so everyone there comes here for shopping and medical care and so on. Keep your fingers crossed that we won’t need any medical services while we’re there.

Most of yesterday evening was dedicated to preparing for our trip, since Michael and Jade are leaving this afternoon, and I’ll be heading down with Kelly and Nita (from The Big Band) after work is done. The band is playing a one-hour set on Saturday night, so it’s not crazy that we’re going to the festival; it is crazy that we’re planning to spend two nights out there in a tent and actually expect our toddler to sleep. These will be our first nights in a tent this summer, so it’s hard to know what how things will go. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? And this festival is supposed to be great for kids, with tons of family-oriented activities. I’m really looking forward to it!

We’re also considering heading out to the Fort Liard area for a few days in early August, to attend the annual Petitot Gathering. This might be even crazier, because we’ll be 40 minutes from Fort Liard (the closest nursing station), about 90 minutes from Fort Nelson (the closest hospital), and it’s a 12-hour drive from Whitehorse. That trip will definitely depend on how comfortable we are with Jade’s epilepsy being under control.

But the craziest thing is the fact that I just signed up for a whole whack of courses at the Yukon Summer Music Camp in the last week of July. There’s a vocal jazz camp every day for a week starting at 5:30, and a 3-hour workshop on the weekend, plus I’ve requested a couple of private vocal and jazz piano lessons. Altogether, I’ve committed myself to over 12 hours of music instruction in a one-week period during which I’ll still be going to work. I’m really excited about what I could learn at these courses, but as I was filling out the registration form, I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s the pregnancy hormones that have caused me to take complete leave of my senses. I am so going to be a dead woman at the end of that week.

You asked…

9 Apr

Hee hee!  Some fun stuff here!

MommyTime asked…

  1. What is one book you love and why?
  2. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you pick and why?
  3. And what’s something you looove to eat?

One book I love to read

Oooh, MommyTime, you asked me some toughies!  ONE book I love?  How to choose?!  It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of juvenile fiction; classics like The Secret Garden, Five Children and It, and A Little Princess I’ve read over and over again over the years, and I’ve also found many more modern tales that I love. 

But let’s see, if I had to choose something a little more mature, I’d probably pick Like Water for Chocolate.  It’s a romantic novel, but it has a fairy-tale flair to it that I can’t resist.  And it’s written like a cross between a cook-book and a diary.  What girl can resist good food (especially with chocolate in it!) and a little gossip?  I also love the idea of ones emotions flowing into ones creations, the way Tita’s flows into her cooking, inflaming the eaters of her food with the same feelings.  The Chinese believe in this, too; one should be happy and joyful when cooking because that energy is transferred into the dish.

Oooh, but then there’s The Time-Traveler’s Wife, and the recently discovered Thursday Next series.  Stop me now or I’ll never stop…

A place I’d like to travel

I was having some notions of travelling to Taiwan this year.  Taiwan is where my mother grew up, and where that whole side of the family still lives.  The last time I was there, I was about 6 years old, so I only have splashes of memories: waking up to the cock crowing, children teasing me and my sister through the screen door of my grandparents’ house, calling us “big nose”, bright red (hibiscus?) flowers, crowded streets on the back of my grandfather’s motorbike.

The last time I saw my maternal grandparents was when they came to visit us in Northern Ontario back in, hmm, 1993, perhaps?  My grandfather has since died, and I would love an opportunity to get to know my grandmother a bit before it’s too late.  Particularly with this pregnancy, though, I don’t know if going to Taiwan in high summer is a good idea.

And someday I want to go back to that little place in Mexico where my sister got married in November.  Maybe just with Michael this time.  *dreamy sigh*

Something I love to eat

Oh dear, again, how to choose?  You see, I looooove food, and I love such a variety of foods.  I sure have been having a lot of chocolate lately.  (Michael accuses me of making our future child chemically imbalanced, but I read a study somewhere that says pregnant moms who eat chocolate once a day have happier babies.  So there.  Pbththt!)  Right now, if I could choose one thing to have that absolutely looove, it would be my mom’s spring rolls.  She would make her own skins and it’s a ton of work to make the stuffing and then roll the darn things and then deep-fry them.  But damn!  They’re worth it.  If only we hadn’t been living apart for the last 14 years, I’m sure I would have learned by now how to make them just her way.

Thanks for the great questions, MommyTime!  I’m going to stop here for tonight — more answers to more questions next time! — because I really need to get some work done in the kitchen.  Michael’s away and Jade and I had sandwiches for supper because we were running late.  I need to create something for lunch tomorrow and plan something a little more complete for tomorrow night’s meal. 

That’s assuming we end up even going to work/daycare tomorrow, of course.  There’s chicken pox going around at the daycare and they think maybe Jade has it.  I’ll be counting spots in the morning…