Tuesday, July 16, 2013
The flight from Toronto came in over France, gave us some spectacular views of the Alps and northern Italy and then headed down the coast to Rome landing at 10.15 am. The international arrivals area of terminal three was somewhat outdated and certainly seems ready for a refreshing facelift. We grabbed our bags and went to try and find our driver. He was ready and waiting and before long we were making our way into the city centre. We checked in to the Fortyseven Hotel and were very impressed with our room and the hotel. The room was bright, modern and quite big by European standards. The location was excellent. A quiet part of town near the Tiber River and within easy walking distance to several major Ancient Roman sites. We will definitely stay here again on our next trip to Rome.

We freshened up from our long flight and then headed up to the rooftop restaurant for lunch. A quick helping of bruschetta followed by a delicious mushroom fettucine with truffles and it was time to go exploring. We walked past the Circus Maximus on our way to the Roman Forum and the Colisseum. While the chariot track is mainly grass today, you can certainly imagine how it must have looked at the height of the Roman Empire. Next stop was the Roman Forum, the centre of city life in Ancient Rome. It's incredible how well preserved the many structures are and how advanced the Roman architecture was over two thousand years ago. 

Anchoring one end of the Forum is the Colisseum - one of Rome's tourist magnets. The ticket line up was ridiculously long, but we managed to bypass the line as our Forum tickets also included our entrance to the Colisseum. The first thing that strikes you about the Colisseum is the size of it. It is massive and must have been quite the venue with over 50,000 Romans watching the action at the centre of the arena. It was also surprising to see that there is no floor in the centre. Instead, the ground has given way to reveal an intricate labyrinth of tunnels and rooms where the "entertainment" - man and beast - was kept prior to entering the arena.

Following our visit to the Colisseum, we walked through the streets of Ancient Rome to take a look at the Pantheon, one of the best preserved buildings from the Roman Empire. Again, the architectural wonder of this building is amazing with its huge columns outside and massive dome ceiling. We visited the grave of Raphael inside the Pantheon and were glad to take a seat for a while to recover from the heat of the day. We decided we should look for a place for a lunch snack and found a wonderful side street cafe with the most delicious bruschetta. A couple of ice cold Cokes and some sparkling water was also much appreciated.

Recharged from the food and drink, we made our way to the Trevi Fountain but on the way we stopped to try the best gelato we have ever had. A blend of hazelnut and tiramisu gelato made its way into one container while vanilla gelato provided a great filling for a cone. After this tasty treat, we came across the Trevi Fountain. Truly the most beautiful fountain we have ever seen. It really is spectacular and one of the most impressive sights we saw while visiting Rome. 

Next up was a walk to the Spanish Steps, a magnificent staircase leading down from a church at the top of a hill. While the staircase is worth a visit, it is a popular meeting place and very crowded. There was a metro stop nearby, so we decided to take the subway train to the Vatican. Another amazing stop on our day tour of Rome. St. Peter's Square with its surrounding white columns is vast and imposing providing an incredible setting for St. Peter's Basilica and the papal balcony. It was early evening and the crowds had gone for the day, making our visit to the Vatican peaceful and memorable. 

We took the subway back to our hotel and were amazed at how much graffiti there was both inside and outside the train. It seems that the graffiti brigade takes great pride in spoiling every building, wall, window and fence with some useless symbol, initials or slogan. Thankfully, they have not yet painted the historical artifacts. Before arriving at our hotel, we grabbed some snacks from a nearby cafe and called it a day. We both commented that Rome is a fantastic city and in many respects, we would recommend it over Paris.
Monday, July 15, 2013
With the boys set to head off to summer camp for two weeks, it was time for us to get our trip to Italy started. We left for the Vancouver airport at 7.30 am and checked in for our flight to Rome via Toronto. The first leg of the trip seemed to go by quickly and before long, we were boarding the 7.45 pm Air Canada flight to Rome. While one of us took the opportunity to catch up on some work, the other enjoyed a few episodes of Black Adder accompanied by a fine malbec from Argentina. After a decent meal, it was time to get some sleep.
Saturday, September 1, 2012
We decided it would be fun to be hometown tourists for the day. We parked in North Vancouver and took the seabus over to the city centre. We started our tour with a walk through the historic Gastown district and lazily looked around some of the unique and interesting shops we passed along the way. We made a point of stopping by Save on Meats, the meatshop featured in the reality TV series "Gastown Gamble". While there, we ran into Football Mike who was doing a fabulous job of keeping the sidewalk clean.
Following our visit to Save on Meats, it was time for afternoon tea and we stopped in at Apres Midi. The service was excellent and there is a great selection of loose leaf tea. The scones are freshed baked to order. Yummy! From here, we walked over to see the Vancouver 2010 Olympic torch on display near Vancouver's new convention centre.
After reminiscing about the Vancouver games for a while, we took a walk along the Coal Harbour seawall to the entrance of Stanley Park and then turned back to end the day with gelato from Bella Gelateria, first place winner of the 2012 Florence Gelato Festival. The long line-up outside the store was a sure sign that we were in the right place and the gelato lived up to our high expectations. With our dessert craving satisfied, we headed back to North Vancouver on the seabus and agreed it was fun to be a tourist at home.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
While staying at the Westin Bear Mountain resort, we decided to hike the trail up to the top of Mount Finlayson. Finding the trailhead was no easy feat, but after asking for directions, we were well on our way. The hike started off easy enough as it meandered through the forest on the edge of the golf course. After a few minutes the trail got a little steeper and then our little hike turned into a full-on rock climbing escapade. 
We persevered and made our way to the summit. At the top, the view was fantastic as we looked over towards to the city of Victoria to the south-east and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the west. After a moment to catch our breath and enjoy the view, it was time for the downward descent. Slow and steady we headed back to the bottom and arrived at Bear Mountain to enjoy a refreshing cleansing shower.

All cleaned up, it was time to head out again. This time we decided to visit the town of Sooke. As we drove through the town, we turned off to follow the signs to the Sooke Harbour House - a highly rated Canadian hotel and restarurant. The hotel is right next to Whiffen Spit Park, where a spit extends into the mouth of the Sooke harbour and provides protection for the inner basin. We took a walk to the lighthouse at the end of the spit, where we were able to get some excellent views down the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
We headed back to the mainland and decided to take a peek inside the Sooke Harbour House (www.sookeharbourhouse.com). The hotel looks to be very pleasant and restaurant is nicely situated with expansive views over the water. We asked to see the menu but the maitre 'd advised us that there is a new menu each day. Even though dinner was imminent, the menu was not quite ready. Clearly, the restaurant prides itself on the freshness of its ingredients. We will definitely be back one day to stay and sample the delicious cuisine. One of the neat features of the hotel is the artwork for sale that is spread throughout the corridors. We particularly liked the lighting effect captured in the following painting by Mark Hobson, an artist living in Tofino. Visit Mark's website (www.markhobson.com) for more samples of his excellent work.
As evening approached, it was time to head back to Bear Mountain. We decided to have dinner at the resort and had an excellent meal at the Bella Montagna Italian restaurant.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
We spent the last weekend of August at the Bear Mountain Resort on Vancouver Island, just outside Victoria. After a lazy morning and light lunch, we headed off to Point Ellice House for a tour of the house and afternoon tea (www.pointellicehouse.ca). The house is located on the Gorge waterway in Victoria and was built in 1861. The house belonged to the O'Reilly family before it was sold to the  Province of British Columbia in 1975. The O'Reilly family left all of the contents behind providing a rare opportunity to see one of North America’s largest collections of Victoriana in an original, privileged Victorian home. The house is now a National Heritage Site and the wonderfully maintained gardens present an excellent opportunity to enjoy afternoon tea on the lawn.
As the picture shows, afternoon tea is taken seriously in Victoria!
The waterfront views at Point Ellice House aren't shabby either.

We returned to Bear Mountain in time for a swim and some time in the sun. As the evening approached, we headed indoors for a light meal in the bar where we watched the Whitecaps lose 2-1 to their rivals in Portland.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Today started with another Starbucks and then it was off to the Marketplace breakfast buffet for yet another meal. Three of the four meals we have had here have been at the Marketplace!

With breakfast in our bellies, it was waterpark time again. A few trips around the river rapids and then it was time to tackle the tube rides of the Power Tower. The lineups were quite long so we just settled for the Drop and then made our way to the Mayan Temple for some more slide rides - the Leap of Faith, the Challenger Slide and the Serpant Slide. All great rides. While the guys did these rides, Catherine went shopping and for a walk on the beach.

Monday, April 4, 2011
With everyone well rested from the tortures of travel the day before, our day started with Starbucks from the coffee shop downstairs in our hotel - kindly brought up by Devon and Logan. They, however, had the pleasure of discovering strawberry frappacinos with whipped cream - a soon to be daily pleasure.

We ate breakfast at the Mosaic Restaurant in the nearby Cove Hotel, which had an impressive breakfast buffet. The highlight of the meal was the chocolate syrup container that exploded when it was placed near the hot water jug we were using for our tea.

Breakfast was followed by a trip to the Atlantis waterpark, where we had loads of fun tubing on the lazy river rapids and soaking up the sun. We headed to the beach for some more sunshine and after a lazy day by the water, we went for an evening walk to explore more of the resort. We visited The Dig in the Royal Palace - a giant aquarium based on the ruins of Atlantis - and then we headed over the marina to see the amazing yachts of the rich and famous. Very impressive. This was followed by a return trip to the Marketplace buffet.

After dinner, the adults went to the casino where we left with less than we brought and the boys stayed in the room to watch some tv. A great day was had by all.

Sunday, April 3, 2011
While headed to Orlando for springbreak, we decided at the last minute to book a short trip to Atlantis in the Bahamas. We did not tell our kids, Devon and Logan, about this.

We told our guys to pack a bag with a few days worth of stuff they would need for a place that likely had a pool and a slide, packed the rental car we were using at our place in Reunion and headed off down the highway. When we arrived at the Orlando airport, we made our way to the Marriott Hotel (where we were hoping to find cheap long term parking) and told the boys this was where we going to stay for a few days. While we found cheap parking, the bus ride over to the airport sounded like it might take too long so we left the Marriott and decided to park at the airport instead. The guys were not impressed as this trip was starting to sound like it might take a while to get to our destination.

We checked in at the Jet Blue counter and the boys were eager to see where we were going. At the check-in machine, I had to type in our itinerary reference which was HUUBMT. Devon immediately saw this and shouted out - we’re going to Hub Mountain!! Good deduction, but no-one knew where that was. There were several Jet Blue flights scheduled that day including some to Buffalo, Boston, New York, Austin, Puerto Rico and Nassau. The conclusion was that we were likely going to either Buffalo or Boston. I quickly searched for Hub Mountain on my iphone and was amazed to find the Hub Mountain Resort in Idaho, which I convinced Logan was just a few hours south of Buffalo. The con was on and after we headed through security and grabbed Burger King for lunch, we headed to Gate 8, the Buffalo departure gate to eat our lunch. The real gate we needed was Gate 3 to Nassau, but we could see this from where we were sitting. Fortunately, the bar next to Gate 3 was showing a hockey game so that provided a good excuse to go and hang out close to the right gate once we had finished our lunch. 

As the Nassau flight started boarding, we joined the line and the guys exclaimed, “Yay, we are going to Nissay.” I said, “Yip, we are going to Nissay, Mexico!”

Once the pilot announced that we were flying to the Bahamas, the gig was up but the boys still did not realize we were going to Atlantis. After a short hour flight, we landed in Nassau. It took forever to clear immigration and get our bags, but eventually we were out of the airport and on the bus headed for the Reef Hotel at Atlantis. The bus ride took about 30 minutes and as Atlantis came into view, the boys were excited but sad that we were not staying there - they did not realize that the Reef Hotel was part of the Atlantis resort complex. Once they figured this out, they were really excited.

We checked into our room and went exploring as evening was approaching. We saw a little bit of the waterpark but not much. Logan found time for some slides on the Mayan Temple and then it was time for dinner. We tried the buffet at the Marketplace Restaurant in the Royal Towers - it was fantastic. After dinner, we took a quick walk to the casino to scope it out and then it was time to call it a day.

Saturday, March 19, 2011
Arrived in Vancouver last night for the Vancouver Whitecaps inaugural MLS game against FC Toronto this weekend. Picked up our rental car and made our way to Oceanpoint, where we got settled for the night.

Woke up this morning to a grey overcast sky - it looks like the rain will hold off. Around lunch time, we put on the new scarves the Whitecaps had sent us for their inaugural season and then we headed out for a bite to eat at White Spot in West Vancouver before game time at 3.30 pm. 

Following an excellent lunch of Tuscan chicken pasta, chicken fingers and fries, and several butterscotch milkshakes, it was time to move on to Empire Field to get ready for the game.

We arrived to a very large, noisy and happy crowd of Whitecaps supporters. The fans were lined up way down Hastings Street with many of them singing Whitecaps songs developed by the Southsiders supporters club over the years. We parked the car and joined the line-up to get into the stadium, just as a long procession of fans from the Southsiders club marched past us in full colour and full song. It was really neat to see the excitement building.

As we entered the stadium, we were each given a Whitecaps drum and  we made our way to the Whitecaps store to buy our supporters shirts and souvenirs. With kick-off approaching, we went to our seats and joined the other 23,000 excited fans for the pre-game celebrations. The crowd went particularly crazy when Steve Nash came onto the field. By this time, the grey skies from the morning had long passed and the field was bathed in brilliant sunshine. It turned out to be a beautiful spring afternoon. 

After the national anthem, the game started and the teams looked quite even until Vancouver scored their very first MLS goal at the 15 minute mark - a beauty from Eric Hassli. The place went wild and hundreds of people started throwing the white rain panchos they were given to wear on to the pitch. After a five minute delay to clean up the field, the game restarted and Toronto came back to tie things up five minutes later with a goal from Dwayne De Rosario. Shortly after that, Vancouver took the lead again with a goal from Terry Dunfield.

After their second goal, Vancouver never looked back and completely dominated Toronto for the rest of the game. The Whitecaps scored two more goals - one from Atiba Harris (our brother from another mother!) and a second from Eric Hassli. Toronto got a late goal but it was too little too late and Vancouver had sealed the win. A historic day of football for Vancouver and hopefully a sign of many fun years to come. We had a fantastic time and can’t wait to go to our next game. Go Whitecaps!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Alarm went off with sufficient time to grab a quick breakfast and then check-in for our two hour flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong. 

Arrived in Hong Kong around noon and checked into the Intercontinental Hotel with its wonderful views of the waterfront. Decided to take the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong Island and then the bus up to Victoria Peak. We did the walk around the peak, tracked down two geocaches and then headed back to our hotel for our last dinner in Asia.

Tomorrow, we head back home to Calgary via San Francisco. A really good trip but it’s time to come home.