Seriously, I should stop listening to Brittany, my God-daughter, because after all she is only 24 and she is obsessed with seeing the northern lights. If she discovers any news article, written by anybody who can two-finger type, that says you can see the northern lights from anywhere north of South Africa if you look out of your good eye and stand on your toes, it means a road trip! Yep... I started to get text messages from her right away once she discovered the possible sighting news!
We took the usual route up Adelaide North, to Stonehouse road then right to Observatory Hill Road. We drove slowly since it was pitch black and we were the only people on the narrow, scary road, which was edged by tall grasses that blended into a horizon of complete darkness. Since the roof was down on the car we could hear the crushing of gravel under the tires, which sounded a little like bones being crushed by a vicious and bloody axe murderer. I parked the car in front of the silhouette of the abandoned Cronyn observatory, which was gently outlined by a soft sparkle from the moon.
We got out of the car and stood bounded by complete darkness. Britt judiciously examined our scene to check out our safety, as she still expects the Walking Dead to have some sort of role in her life on this particular road. She jumped when she saw tiny lights moving, flickering sporadically around her head. It must be the glow from the eyes of the dead…or the walking dead, carrying their teeny-tiny walking dead flashlights so they don’t twist their ankles when they attack... "What are those lights?" she said, "they are coming closer; they are right at us!" I calmly sized up the situation and replied "Fireflies". I continued to get my camera out of the trunk.
I took a few time exposures to try and pull some colour out of the sky, but all I really caught was the ghost of someone who obviously had met the Walking Dead while stargazing on this street before…
Just as Britt settled and started to feel a little more relaxed, we saw the lights of another car very slowly, crawling, hardly moving at all, heading in our direction. The bone crunching gravel sounds were getting closer and louder. The car parked. A man carefully raised himself from the driver’s seat and said: "It's okay, We’re not axe murderers!” And they indeed didn’t have any axes with them that we could see in the darkness, only cameras and tripods.
We all stood in silence, staring at the sky waiting for any sort of illumination movement at the horizon to the north when another car slowly crept up the road. This time the bones were being crushed by Christine, Brittany’s best friend, and Christine's mother, Sharon. They parked the car and got out. Christine locked the doors by pushing the button on her key fob and just a fraction of a second before she closed the locked car doors, she tossed her keys inside, onto the drivers seat so she didn't have to hold them. The door clicked itself closed. Locked. Locked in darkness, with people who said the words “Axe murderer” standing just a few feet away...
By this time it was after midnight. Christine phoned her dad. Her first words when he answered were “I love you daddy!” We all howled with laughter. She explained. He asked if it was an April Fool’s joke. He encouraged her to smash her car windows to get in. She wouldn’t. He also wanted her to climb up on to the roof of the car and go in through the sunroof. But because of Christine’s concerns that no one could possibly steal her car from her, while she was standing right beside it, the sunroof also was locked. The axe murderers beside us didn’t have a car door pick-lock set. The dad agreed to bring the other set of keys.
While we waited, we watched a thin layer of cloud gracefully extend itself from the northern horizon right to the big dipper directly above our heads. This meant that any chance of seeing a clear view of the spectacular, dancing lights we so eagerly wanted to see, was impossible. We could see the lights, but the view was through the clouds, which made it look like a weak sunset. But at least we saw them – sort-of.
Christine’s dad arrived with the keys… he thought the lights we were seeing were the glow from the City of Stratford…and well... the ghost in the time exposure photo posted with this note, was really Brittany, my god-daughter “walking dead” in front of my camera lens during the time exposure shot!
It was fun!
After I arrived home from Italy, I spent a few weeks writing and creating a video of the trip. Since the trip was with various travel partners, it is possible that I can break the movie into travel sections that are small enough to post online. My travel partners don't know I have posted this video yet... hmmm.. maybe I will send them a note... It is now a year later and not all of you who want to see it have been able to yet, so I post it here.
In Part One Karen and I toured the Islands of Lipari and Volcano by scooter and then portions of Sicily by Fiat 500C. We saw beautiful landscapes, churches with loads of Arabic influence, mosaics that are out of this world, and massive ancient greek temples and ruins. We scootered on every inch of the islands where no other normal tourist would scoot.
Italy 2014 Part One - Karen and Deb - Lipari and Sicily (17 minutes)
Part Two- Keith and Deb - Sicily and Florence (18 minutes)
We picked up Keith in Palermo then headed back to our cottage in Scopello. Keith went swimming but not out as far as Karen so I didn't have to call in the gypsies!. We ate incredible things that we had purchased at the local supermarceto and I drank my fair share of Lemoncello. The next day we sadly drove Karen to the airport to fly home and Keith and I ventured on to Trapani and Erice. Over the week we did a cross country tour in the Fiat seeing amazing sites in Palermo, Enna, and Paterno then flew over to Florence for a week. Even though the image on the video below is black, there is really a video there, so click play!
Part Three - Solo (12 minutes)
Keith flew out of Florence on July 11th leaving me on my own for three weeks. I picked up a Smart Car and headed for Siena. My goal was to rediscover Pierro della Francesca. Stops included Arezzo, Sansepolcro, Urbino, Gubbio, Spello, Perugia, Assisi and then Rome for two weeks to work on the Rome Travel Apps. Rome is not covered in this video. To see Rome you need to buy the apps in the Apple store. Click here to view the apps in the Apple Store.
Part Four - Brittany - Sicily, Mt. Etna and the West Coast of Mainland Italy (14 minutes)
After being delayed in the Toronto airport by two and a half hours Brittany met me in Rome on August 1. Her flight delay caused us to miss our flight to Palermo so we had to rebook a second flight without receiving any refund on our first flight. The second flight had a delayed departure too so we arrived very late at the Palermo airport. We rented a perfect Fiat 500C which we named "Little Blue," hopped in and pointed it towards Enna. We arrived around 11 PM and promptly fell asleep.
Part Five - Brittany - Herculaneum, Pisa, Orvieto, Florence (20 minutes)
This video starts at Herculaneum and ends after an incredible hike through the Cinque Terre. The village of Corniglia in the Cinque Terre region is my favourite and if I had to select a village to retire to this would be it. It is high on the cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea. The people are friendly and the fish, dairy and clothing trucks arrive in the main square on Thursdays so a person can buy what they need for the week. We overnighted at Pisa and then drove in to the main piazza in Orvieto. Britt's favourite part of this video is Orvieto. She explains....
Part Six - Britt - Mantua, Verona, Northern Italy (8 minutes)
We had a lot of fun at the opera in Verona, of which we only partially saw as it was rained out far enough into the show that the theatre didn't have to give the patrons their money back! We also got completely drenched in the rain and drove our car home in a brutal storm along a cliffside road without any barriers. Yes, we both were worried about tumbling to our deaths down the cliffside but we are not telling you this until a year later! We headed north from there into the part of Italy that doesn't look at all like the Italy to which we had become accustomed.
Remembering the Italy trip can be as much fun as being on the trip.... well, kinda... Today's video presents a few compiled clips that no one has seen of our adventureful drive to Agira. We had just escaped from Lipari by taking the hydrofoil, rented a car in Milazzo and were about to start exploring Sicily. The weather was great and the scenery was incredible. We enjoyed driving through narrow streets of tiny towns and open highway with amazing views of the countryside. We didn't have a place booked to stay for the night but knew that if we couldn't find a place we would sleep at the Canadian War Cemetery at Agira for free. After all, who would throw two lovely Canadian women out of a Canadian War Cemetery. After driving up and through Agira a few times, and speaking with locals and some cute little boys who kept smiling and saying to us "Weee speeeeak IIEEEnnnnnglish," we did indeed find a place for the night. It was a great driving day and we knew that what we had seen of Sicily so far meant that we were in for some incredible experiences ahead!
Press Play, then Press Pause to give the video time to buffer... wait for a bit, maybe go stare in the fridge.. then come back and press Play.
It was a bright and sunny morning as I pointed the car toward Adelaide Street, North. I gripped the steering wheel, and sped off leaving the airy dust of London floating behind me like left-over fireworks. The roof was down on the car and my hair was blowing around like a Dutch windmill gone mad! The swirling pieces of my hair were smacking every inch of my face as each individual hair stood straight up then sharply slammed itself against my youthful, tender, skin. It was not a pretty sight, but there was no way I was putting the roof up on the car.
My first stop was in Palmerston to visit Engine 81. She is one of the hundred, 2-6-0, mogul locomotive twins to Engine 86, who stands in Queens Park in London. Each was built in Kingston in 1910.
As I was studying the No Trespassing sign, which is so clearly posted to scare-off anyone considering climbing onto on the train, three young men, who appeared to be around 16 years old, beat me to the iron steps, and scaled the heights landing themselves in the Engine room. I didn’t want to look like I was an old cougar chasing after well built, handsome young men, so I reached up towards one of them and passed him my camera. I asked him to take some photos of the engine for me. He asked why, so I gave him a brief history of the train, its twin in London, and named a few parts of the structure for him. He smiled and took the shots for me. As he passed my camera back he said, “I love you.” I replied, “I love you too.” He smiled and scooted off with his buddies to sit atop the back-end of the tender and stare at the young girls on the nearest park bench. I think he had been practicing his words on me trying to buff-up enough courage to say them to the girl on the bench, with the pink hair.
The citizens of Palmerston have done a lovely job maintaining the locomotive and tender. The duo is located in a beautiful park, all parts are nicely painted and the number plate is even the correct colours.
By the time I had reached Wasaga Beach all the Nanook winds of the north had gushed over my windshield sculpting my hair into a dead ringer of a yard-sale whirligig being held in the mouth of a limping baby Harp seal sporting a broken flipper. My hosts, the Taylors, never mentioned the appearance of my hair however, later though, as Carolyn hugged me, for some reason she mentioned that the hair dryer was duct-taped to the bathroom wall. Perhaps she was worried that the tape would grab my hair as I walked by and I would forever, like an Egyptian goddess, be entombed... but in this case it would be in the loo!
I haven’t seen the Taylors for many years and we had a great reunion. All the boys and spouses who live in the province visited to say hello, and give hugs, and jump up and down. Some of them stared at me for five minutes! We had a fun filled night of silly memories and laughter. Late in the night I received a text message from friend Karen, stating that she was able to join us at the beach, and would leave London for Wasaga Beach in the early morning of the next day, on her motorcycle.
Let's back up a little bit here - When I moved to Wasaga Beach sometime in the late 70’s, the population of the village was 4,700 and the town had one traffic light; to which you didn't really pay much attention. A few years later, the town council installed a new traffic light down by the Beckers store at Sunningdale Road. Everyone was in an uproar about it. Nobody wanted to be inconvenienced with actually having to stop their vehicle at the intersection. So the council put it on Blink, and you didn’t really have to stop, you just kind-of glanced around a little then swooshed through.
When I left the beach to come back to London, in 1991, the population was 6,244. The village was still small enough that you waved to everyone you passed and you knew everybody’s business. Jimmy the garbage man helped us move. Barry's mom was our mail lady. Eric was the most knowledgable Unix System man in all the county. Joy and Brian ran Videoflicks and when they weren't too busy with work they would invite the customers home for dinner. You could buy fishing bait at the motel on the corner, and if your car broke down in the winter people were lined up with their skidoos to give you a ride home.
Today the town of Wasaga Beach is 18,000, which makes it over-qualify to be called a Town. On Saturday morning I had a personal self-directed tour through the now, Town of Wasaga Beach. I looked at the sands of the Silvercrest school. Sand only now, one portable and the big tree. The rest of the school is gone. Maybe it was built on quick sand and the building sank deeply into the warmth of the earth, but miraculously, like a phoenix, a church, arose from the ashes. The toboggan slide hill at the back of the property is still there but it seems to be a lot smaller, or my memory is larger, or perhaps skewed. The beautiful forest on Hwy 92 has been replaced by a rather large photosynthesis-free Walmart. The tiny, but ever present Big K Restaurant at the other end of town has been replaced by an omnipotent Superstore. (The Big K Restaurant was never open anyhow!) But the most noticeable horror of the town, is the number of traffic lights and stop signs. I lost count after seven, or was it nine, maybe it was 11. I had to stop at all of them, there was no swooshing. And the stop signs that are posted at every corner of the beach outnumber the starving seagulls looking for Macdonald's french fries at the main beach.
Of course, I drove down Ansley Road to see the old house. It actually looks very good except for the fact that while the house is still brown, the shutters are now blue. The deck we built is in wonderful condition, including the porch swing. The trees are huge and the grass is real. ,In the olden days, our days, 25 years ago, we had real grass too; it was beach grass. Now the grass is city grass; it has a lot of colour but less character.
After a five-hour ride on her motorcycle, Karen arrived around 1:00 in the afternoon. Once introductions were made, we had a wonderful one-armed-cook-Taylor-made lunch and then were on our way, to tour. Our first stop was Allenwood Beach so Karen could see the tremendous view over to Collingwood. Although as we were driving to Allenwood, a heavy fog rolled in so Karen doesn't believe that Collingwood is actually visible. Look at the picture below and see if you can see the terminals at the horizon!
A weekend in Wasaga isn’t complete without a trip over to Big Chute. Big Chute has always been my happy place! It’s takes about an hour to get there, but if you’re in a convertible, with the roof down, chatting with a good friend, as incredible scenery fills your vision while it lingers casually along the roadside, you don’t even notice the time. Besides, you get to drive through places named: Moonstone, Sturgeon Bay, Waubaushene and Fesserton. How great is that?
Travelling with Karen is like travelling with a good luck charm. When you need something to happen, a person just needs to say it out loud to her, and it happens! This happened many times when we were in Italy, and it happened this weekend; right there at Big Chute! When I said “I hope there are some boats ready to use the Chute”, there were boats! And they were the only boats in this part of the Trent-Severn Waterway! One boat at the bottom and the other at the top! We watched each go the other way all the while admiring the sheer genius of the marine rail system. We doddled around for a while after, visited the tourist centre, climbed over the old system and carefully stepped around loads of poison ivy. We were on our way again in the car, by shear chance, and by the beauty of the lake beside us as we sped along, we stopped at Lock 45. This is the Swing Bridge Lock. We watched as two rather large boats were closed inside the lock and the flood gates were opened on the lower lake side. The water fiercely changed levels in seconds! Were we ever surprised when we noticed that the boat we had watched on the marine rail at Big Chute, 20 minutes earlier, was now going through Lock 45! We waved to the people on the boat like they were long lost cousins, and they waved back. But I don't know if they knew they were waving at the same goofy people who had waved to them one Lock back! One of the boats coming through the lock, was so large that it required that the Swing Bridge swing itself out of the way so the boat could pass. It was very cool to watch.
We headed back to the Taylors and wrapped up the night with dinner, a sunset and the most incredible sing-along. Three Martin guitars, one ukulele, one piano, six singers and various glasses of wine. If you named the song... we thought we could play it! It actually came together packed with fun, the correct notes most of the time and some amazing harmony. Karen and I sat in awe as we enjoyed the music that was filling the room; the natural beauty of the spring landscape that was surrounding us within arm's reach right outside the windows, and the happiness in every melodic note. It was easy, natural, fun and moving. Jeanette, the pianist ... was... well... simply amazing.
Karen and I loaded up the bike and car to head home. We made one important lunch stop so one of us could explore...
I am home now, it's 2:30 am, Sunday morning. Wendy, Doug, Brittany, Christine and I spent late Saturday evening at the Observatory at Western University, where we looked through various telescopes to see the rings of Saturn, Jupiter with its four moons that were discovered by Galileo, Antares, and a Globule cluster made up over over 300,000 stars.
Thank you Eli, Lani, Eli's friend, Laurie, Carolyn, Jason, Jeremy, Jeanette, Wendy, Doug, Brittany, Christine, Galileo and Karen for a most amazing weekend.
I don't know how this weekend could possibly have been any better.
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