Tuesday, April 1, 2008

End of the road


Above: I'm not sleeping, I'm praying, or just resting my eyes, or thinking

Another Europe trip has come and gone. From the initial planning of the itinerary a couple weeks after Europe 2007 to the first meeting with interested families, to the booking of transportation, accommodations, and attractions, Europe is on my mind throughout the year. It is my sincere wish that those who joined me and Mr. Johnson on this journey are left with a feeling of camaraderie with the rest of the group, an appreciation for the world outside of Canada, a sense of adventure, and a lasting impression of the history and culture of Europe.


I don't think I need to summarize the trip - it's in the other journal entries -but we definitely squeezed in as much of Europe into each and every day, and even allowed some time for shopping, eating, and sleeping (in order of importance girls?).

As we drove to the airport, I felt happy to be going home to my family, but sad to be leaving the bus (despite the smell) and the other 41 people on it. Though I’ll see all of them again, we’ll never be in that same group on that same adventure again. So now we have the memories, and the 26,817 photos on my computer!

Here’s my email to all the Europe parents explaining my eventful trip home from Munich to Toronto to Vancouver – I think it makes a pretty good final story for this blog.

Lots of people were asking me about the circumstances of Karsten’s and my extra wait in Toronto.

First things first - it was NOBODY'S FAULT, except maybe mine. Here's how it all played out:

1. Our flight from Munich was delayed because of an accidentally inflated escape ramp.

2. On the way to Toronto, I asked the steward about our connecting flight, set to board at 15:25 Toronto time. Our plane was set to land at 15:30 Toronto time. He said they would hold the flight for us.

3. Just before landing, they announced a bunch of details about connecting flights, but did not mention flight 161 to Vancouver. I asked about this, and they said we would just be taking a later flight.

4. As we were clearing customs, they started shouting from the connections passport check for passengers on flight 161 to hurry to the front of the line, recheck the baggage, and move to gate 137 as quickly as possible. It was at this point that the group spread out a bit. Most people entered the secure area through the third level of the airport.

5. I waited behind to ensure all of our group got through, and hurried what I thought was the last of them up the three flights of stairs to the security check. Karsten was there waiting with his mom's bag. He hadn't seen his mom or Joel pass through security, and had been told by others they were behind. Apparently, there was another security check entrance to the departure gates, and not everyone used the one on the third floor.

6. I got Karsten to guard my bags as I ran back to customs to see if they were there. The security guard of course would not let me in and told me to go check with Air Canada.

7. I ran back up the stairs to the AC booths and asked them if Joel Taylor had boarded the plane. No Joel Taylor is on the plane they said. They suggested I go back down to the customs office.

8. I ran back down to the bottom level and found the customs office. I told him I was the guardian of a student who may be being held in customs. He said, "We can't release any information sir". I said he's with my school group, and I need to know if he is in customs still. He said, "He's in good hands, sir". I said, "So you have him?", to which he replied, "We can't release any information sir". I said, well nevermind what I said, but I ran back upstairs to where Karsten was waiting.

9. The security guard at the boarding gate entry said to run over to the information phone and have them paged. I did so, and we never heard the page. I ran back and asked again - they said they had paged in a different part of the airport, and so they paged in our part of the airport. Meanwhile, I was watching the monitor, seeing flight 161, flashing Delayed in yellow everytime I passed one while running around like a maniac. I ran back to the Air Canada desk with a list of students, parents, and passport numbers, and while doing so passed two monitors. The first one still flashed flight 161 Delayed, but 100 metres later, it had disappeared off the screen. The AC employee confirmed that the plane had left.

10. I got Karsten and we brought our bags over to the AC counter. They were very helpful, and we went through my list, name by name, and checked off everyone, including Joel Robertson-Taylor. I should have remembered that the first time I went to the counter! My mistake. "The only people from your group who didn't make the flight are Craig Bresett and Karsten Krumhardt," she said. "That's us!"

11. They found the two last seats on flight 33, leaving at 8:30 PM Toronto time, and I had them data-link to the plane to tell Jackie that Karsten was with me and that we were already booked on the next flight to Vancouver.

12. Karsten and I enjoyed a gourmet pizza and excellent conversation, then he watched some educational programs on my Ipod, and I did my Munich blog entry. We also took a cab to the CN tower, climbed the 1000 stairs, and took a cab back. We forgot to take pictures though.

13. I called my wife and Karsten called his dad to explain the situation.

14. We calmly boarded flight 33 on time, and Karsten slept almost the entire way to Vancouver, while I, stuffed between two guys bigger than me, tried to retain some sanity as my day of travelling home stretched into its 24th hour.

15. In Vancouver, Karsten went home with his dad, and I went home with my wife and three wide awake kids. They insisted I stop at James' house to pick up my luggage. Arriving home at 1:45, they also insisted we continue the tradition of gift giving immediately upon arrival. My son Jude, who is 5, pulling my larger carry-on bag on the way to the car, asked, "Daddy, is this bag full of chocolate?" At 2:45, all gifts had been given, some Dumon chocolate had been eaten, some Pesto had been tasted, and I had phoned my kids' school letting them know that they would be absent for the morning on Monday. Having got out of bed at the Easy Palace at 7 AM Europe time on Sunday, I finally laid down at 11:45 AM Europe time on Monday. What a long and strange day.

16. Somehow, I slept through my 6:30 AM alarm, and when I finally woke up at 7:30, I first wondered why James had his arm across my chest (it was my son, who had crawled into our bed), and then wondered why he left the hostel room door open. Oh, wait, I'm home, that's my bedroom door. And by the way, if you've never been to Europe, it is very common for a double occupancy room to be one double bed.

17. I actually made it to school for the start of first block, walking in at the start of Oh Canada.

So, one extra adventure for me and Karsten. Again, if there is anyone to blame for the mix up, it was me. I should have told Karsten to go through security with his mom's carry-on while I continued to search for the not-really-missing people from our group. But we all made it home this year, and I was impressed to see a lot of the kids made it to school Monday. I understand if some stayed home to rest, but it is important to try and normalize your schedule again as quickly as possible, and force yourself to stay awake until at least the early evening so you aren't waking up at 2AM every day for the rest of the week!


Above: Europe Moms and Dads smile as they abandon kids for a night on the town in Trier. A night on the town on a Fundy Europe trip is kaffee mit milch or café au lait or caffè con latte (depending what country you are in) at the nearby coffee shop. Mr. J and I were good babysitters, and made sure the kids didn't fight, brushed their teeth, and got to bed on time.

To the parents who did not come on the trip: Your kids were supported and cared about by an amazing group of moms and dads in Europe. The chaperones had the students' best interests at heart at all times, and they made the trip safe and fun. Mr. J and I thank them from the bottom of our seemingly made-to-order Europe 2008 steins (a gift from the parent chaperones), which, of course, we will use for drinking Fanta or ice water. Your kids themselves had what I hope was the adventure of their lives - so far. I wish I had seen and done all that when I was in grade 9!. They were fun, friendly, respectful, and enthusiastic - I couldn't ask for anything more.

Craig Bresett

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Munich

Above: Waiting in the huge buffet line at the Hofbrauhaus is accompanied by great entertainment.
Above: Singing in German.
Above: Dancing in German.
Above: Europe dads with their new favourite lady.
Above: Bakers of Neuschwanstein
Above: Triplets of Neuschwanstein.
Above: At the entrance to the castle.
Above: Mary and the Christ child looking out over Bavaria.
Above: Mack and Karsten are so excited to be visiting Neuschwanstein.

Above: Dachau - the grass represents the first line of imprisonment. If prisoners were to place one foot on the grass, they would be shot by snipers in the guard towers, no questions asked.
Above: We listen to Claudia with the guard tower in the distance.
Above: One of the punishment devices.
Above: In the barracks.
Above: Ludwig II's famous Neuschwanstein.





Munich is the capital of Bavaria, the fun-loving, beer-swilling (this is where Oktoberfest takes place), mostly Catholic southern part of Germany (as opposed to the very conservative, mostly Protestant north). Munich is also home to a major international airport, and as such is the end of many trips to Europe.

Our hostel, the Easy Palace, is great as far as hostels go. The girl at the front desk with pretty good English struggled a bit to let me know that “Smoking in any part of the building is strictly forbidden”. “Great!” I said. We’ve been in enough smoky places. Sitting in the lobby updating the blog on the free wireless internet, I met lots of people, most of whom were American students studying in Italy or Spain traveling around Europe on their three week Easter break. I know some former LFMSS Europe trippers have gone on to study abroad – what a great opportunity.

Our day in the Munich area started at Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp, and the model for all the others to follow. Dachau opened in 1933, and had over 200 000 prisoners live and die here until the Americans liberated it in 1945. It was never an extermination camp like Auschwitz, but rather a slave labour camp where Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists, homosexuals, Catholic priests, and any others who Hitler and his ilk didn’t like were worked, often to death. Our tour guide, Claudia, did an excellent job of explaining the camp’s functions and history. This very solemn and sad place always has a strong impact on me, and many of the parents and students also were deeply affected by the visit.

We left Dachau, eating our VERY LAST LUNCHPACKET (I know everyone will miss their bun and cheese, bun and meat, Corny bar, apple, and juicebox) heading to a site that represents a very different part of German history, Neuschwanstein. “Mad” King Ludwig’s 19th century castle dedicated to the operas of Richard Wagner is always a treat. From the sweeping views at Marienbruch to Ludwig’s 5 MILLION dollar bed, it is over the top like Versailles but in a German style. Ludwig died under mysterious circumstances a few months after he moved into this castle, and the vast majority of it remains unfinished. The tour takes us through the finished rooms, from the 2 million-tile-mosaic-floor throne room to the concert hall built for personal performances for the king (and finished only a few days before his death at age 40). Our very German tour guide loosened up a bit and challenged us to count how many swans, the main motif of the castle whose name means new swan stone, there were in the appropriately named Swan Room. The closest guess was 42, but there are actually 96 he told us.

After we returned to Munich proper, I gave everyone 20 minutes to get ready and reload the bus for our trip down to the Hofbrauhaus. I had invited Rens to park the coach and join us by walking the 20 or so minutes through Munich to get there, but not feeling well, he declined this year and offered to drive us to the city centre instead. When twenty minutes was up, I went out to the bus to discover the back of the bus full and the front of the bus empty. Rens said, “Ja, Kreg, it is only the parents who are not here,” and laughed. The parents looked great and smelled fresh as they entered the bus for our last trip to an attraction in Europe (unless you count the Munich International Airport as an attraction). I missed out on the pork sausage fest as one of our kids was feeling a little under the weather and I took him back to the hostel basically as soon as we got there. It was no big deal to me; I ate dinner with Rens in the restaurant beside the hostel and enjoyed some quiet time to organize my final paperwork for the trip. I’m actually at the hostel right now writing this, and the group is, I’m sure, full of every pork product imaginable from the Bavarian buffet, and singing along with the traditional Bavarian musical entertainment, drinking down pint after pint of ice water, while the guests at the other tables drink their 1 LITRE mugs of beer. The Hofbrauhaus sells, on average, 10 000 of their 1L mugs a day. That’s a lot of beer! The room our group is in is mostly tourists and not too rowdy (although it is loud and jovial); you have to go downstairs to find the hardcore drinkers. It’s great for a group like ours as the focus is more on the Bavarian entertainment than the Bavarian beverages.

I know I’m going to miss this group – it is a very unique experience to travel through Europe with a group of kids you know well, and a group of parents you get to know during the trip. I’ll write another entry to end this blog, maybe on the plane ride home, or maybe after we get back. I can’t believe that we were in London just a couple weeks ago! We’ve seen so much, done so much, eaten so much… it’s hard to believe it was only 18 days.

Craig

Friday, March 28, 2008

Playing chicken with the Mediteranean

video

The hills are alive with the sound of salt mines

Above: Everyone enjoys a giant pretzel.
Above: In the fortress courtyard.
Above: In Mirabella Gardens.
Above: Berg at the Burg
Above: Chocolate overdose.
Above: Chrian is imprisoned in the fortress dungeon.
Above: Crosses over Salzburg.

After an OK evening at an Austrian Gasthof (decent meal but only one waitress for the whole restaurant) and a frustrating breakfast (we were kicked out of the area where you could get a hardboiled egg, orange juice, yogurt, etc, and told to stick with our bun/meat/cheese trays. Also, an old Austrian man came into our breakfast room, sat down, lit up a cigarette, and downed his morning beer), I decided I would probably go back to Mostwastl (a different Austrian Gastof) next time.

Before entering Salzburg, we headed for the salt mines that made Salzburg (literally “salt castle”) rich. On the way we stopped at The Real Austrian Superstore (that’s what it seemed like anyway) to buy cheaper-than-Dumons-but-still-really-good-European chocolate. Once again, Rens was shaking his head at how much stuff we bought. At the salt mines, the students enjoyed the different forms of transportation (underground rail, underground boat on underground lake, and long wooden slides), while the parents enjoyed the highly informative and entertaining film, which is shown in different clips as you go through the guided tour. I think Mr. Cook got a copy of it to take home and watch again.

Entering Salzburg, we got to see the impenetrable fortress on a bluff overlooking the city. We went up the funicular (an on-the-ground gondola) and toured the fortress, which is the largest intact medieval fortress in Europe. From the top of the fortress you can see why it protected the city so well – it gives you a 360 degree of the Salzach river valley where Salzburg is located.

After a giant pretzel each, a stop at the Sound of Music cemetery and Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich’s “Florence of the North” domed baroque cathedral, we split up near Mozart’s birthplace to have our LAST HOUR OF SHOPPING IN EUROPE! A couple kids are out of money , and I have lent a bit, but not too much. They seemed to budget well despite the amount of souvenirs falling off the overhead shelves of the bus onto people’s heads.

We reentered Germany, and will not be crossing anymore borders until we take the plane home on Sunday. The trip, alas, is almost over.

Craig

Berg gets owned by wada

video

Better than Playland

This is how the salt miners used to get to work.

video

Thursday, March 27, 2008

More Pictures from Slovenia

Above: On the Pletna - Robert rows us back from the island, Ethan naps
Above: Pletna race!
Above: Pat makes a wish and rings the bell; Brad looks skeptical
Above: At the top of the 99 stairs!
Above: Pletna's are usually named after the owner's daughter - Vanja is Robert's sister since the first owner of this Pletna was his dad. Castle is barely visible on the misty cliff.

New Stop Number 3

Above: On the castle lookout
Above: Enjoying Slovenian cuisine.
Above: Product of the Gutenberg Printing Press.
Above: Wine-crazed monk blocks our exit until we all buy a bottle from him.
Above: In front of the baroque St. Mary's church on Slovenia's only island.

Slovenia is a tiny country, half the size of Nova Scotia, that used to be the northernmost part of Yugoslavia. It escaped most of the ravages of the war in the early 1990’s that saw a lot of the Balkan Peninsula in chaos, and has recently joined the European Union, adopted the Euro, and closed down the massive communist era border checkpoints in the north (though they have had to increase border security with Croatia to the south as Croatia is not part of the EU). After seeing a film about tourism in former communist countries of Eastern Europe that talked about Tito’s (the Yugoslavian dictator for most of the 20th century) holiday home on Lake Bled, I set out to add a new stop to the LFMSS Europe experience.

Bled is a small town on a lake in the middle of the Julian Alps. In the middle of the lake is Slovenia’s only otok (island), and on top of the island is an inviting baroque church. Slovenians bring their wedding parties to Bled, take a pletna (more about that later) out to the island, and climb the 99 steps to the church to ring the bell, which, according to a local legend, will grant you one wish. The interesting thing about the stair climbing thing is that the groom must carry the bride up all the steps without a rest.

We arrived in Bled in the rain, unfortunately, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. Our local guide Robert, who can be seen in Michael Palin’s BBC travel series, guided us to the restaurant where we had a traditional Slovenian meal, ending with a piece of Kremna Resina – the cream cake Bled is famous for. He took us down to the lake where our group split into three and we boarded three Pletnas. Pletnas are s flat bottomed boats (no keel) that are traditionally hand made in Bled only. Maria Theresa, Austrian princess, instituted this practice during the Hapsburg reign in the region. There are only 21 pletnas on the island, owned by 20 families (one guy has two), and passed on generation to generation. Robert was working in Baltimore for Lloyd’s of London when his dad called him home to take over the family pletna since he was retiring. The Pletnas are beautiful boats, and we were all really glad they are covered.

On the Island, we rang the bell in the church, annoyed a swan who laid its eggs too close to the dock, and hid out in the gift shop while our pletna captains took a break. After returning to the mainland, Robert took us up to the Grad, or castle, on the cliff overlooking the lake. Even with the clouds and rain, it was a beautiful view. Robert told me all of his clients who had booked tours for Easter time had cancelled except us. He liked our hearty spirit. Inside the castle we saw something I thought was really cool – a Guttenberg printing press. A man in costume and playing the role of a medieval printer showed us how to use it, and let those of us who wished to buy a handmade paper and have something printed on it actually use the press. In one of the cellars of the castle, a man dressed as a monk made a great sales pitch to our kids – for Slovenian wine! It was an awkward silence after he went through his explanation of some of the customs around wine in Slovenia and then told us which wines were which and how much they cost. I made all the kids buy a bottle to end the awkward silence. Plus he was holding a huge sword they use to open magnums of champagne at weddings, and blocking our exit from the cellar. Hopefully they still have there bottle when they get home – they are supposed to give it to their parents.

I hope you enjoy my sense of humour. If you do, great. If not, it was Mr. Johnson’s idea to write those last couple lines.

I would definitely return to Bled, and would definitely book Robert as our guide again – he got a nice big tip after being very patient (we were an hour late, got lost on the way to the restaurant where we were supposed to meet him, he had to run up the hill to the sports park to guide us to the restaurant) and very friendly and informative (he had a huge smile almost the whole time, and answered all our questions).

Craig

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Last set of Italy pics for the blog


Above: Everyone's new favourite drink in Italy - Chinotto. A sweetened, carbonated, squid ink beverage. Thanks to Mack for discovering it. I brought home a six pack myself.

Above: The star of many meals here
Above - On the Rialto Bridge.
Above - This is us in the morning of our full day in Venice, well rested from our sleep in the Venetian palace behind us (on the left) and enjoying the early morning rays of sunshine.
Above: Venice from Campo San Marco bell tower - in the foreground are Saint Marc's Basillica (domes on left) and the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's palace, on the right)
I can't get rid of this duplicate without deleting the whole post, so enjoy it again.


Ok, I took a lot of pictures in Italy

Above: In front of the recently rebuilt Fenice - Venice's famous opera house that burned down in 1996
Above: Overexposed in the Doges Palace courtyard
Above: Looking back at Venice - check out the cool partial reflection in the water on the walkway
Above: mmmm
Above: In the gondola on the Grand Canal

Yet more pics of Italy

Above: Only Fundy kids are crazy enough to swim in the sea at Levanto in March (must be that Loon Lake training)
Above: Florence from the top of the Duomo
Above: In front of the fake David (no photos allowed of the real David)
Above: Casey in the prison of the Doges palace
Above: At the entrance to the Grand Canal

Even More Italy Pics

Above: One of the countless views from the path
Above: The "A Team" - first group into Vernaza for lunch
Above: The group who decided to do the last path before setting out
Above: Through the Cinque Terre
Above: We made it! Proof - the sign behind Ryan's raised fist says Monterosso, the most northerly town of the Cinque Terre. These guys deserved their extra scoop of gelato in Venice!