Heading East

Happy Sunday Everyone,

Just under 2 years ago, I boarded a plane from Halifax to Edinburgh to set out into the unknown. No job in hand, no final destination determined, no real fucking idea what I was doing. Looking back on my two years here, there is so much to reflect on: the friends I’ve made, the adventures I’ve had, and all the good things British like proper coffee, ales, jacket potatoes, and mince pies to name a few.

But life isn’t as romantic as the written word can make it seem. While the experience of living in a new country has been incredible, there is an itch that it hasn’t scratched. One that I’ve been trying to reach for a long time now. After 10 years in university followed immediately by full-time work and actuarial exams, I have found myself tired. Mentally and spiritually (whatever that means). I need a break and I’ve decided that now is the time to take it.

A week from today I will be boarding a plane again, embarking on a 3-month journey that will bring a new set of experiences and challenges. Most of you are probably already aware of this as I’ve been talking about it and planning it all year, but for those of you not in the know, let me provide a rough itinerary to my travel.

Stop 1: Tanzania (10 September – 9 October)

I am starting off my travels by spending 4 weeks working in the town of Moshi on the Education & Community Support project through African Impact. When I first decided to take this trip, I quickly decided that Africa would be on the itinerary. When researching what I could do in Africa, I came across African Impact. They are a charity that runs a large number of projects in Africa focusing on Education, Conservation, Gender Equality, Building & Development, Medical, Sports & Coaching to name a few (or to name a lot). Researching their projects got me excited about being a part of one of them. I chose the Education project because I wanted the opportunity to work with members of the community; to understand what their lives are like and gain perspective of what Africa is really like. I chose Tanzania because I liked the idea of staring at Kilimanjaro all day. I figured I would climb it as part of my adventure (I mean, it is right there). I, however, opted to save my climbing for later in the trip. Might still do some morning hill sprints up and down it though. Depends. If the coffee isn’t good, I’ll need something to wake me up.

If you would like to learn more about the project I’ll be working on, more below!

http://www.africanimpact.com/volunteer-projects/tanzania/education-community-support-kilimanjaro-tanzania/overview/

Stop 2: India (9 October – 22 November)

What the fuck have I gotten myself into here? Throughout October and November, I will be traveling solo in India. I’ll be one in a billion. Well, I wish anyway. I’m sure I’ll stand out like a sore thumb everywhere I go. Sore thumbs. Do they stick out? I mean, have you ever seen a thumb and gone “wow, that baby is sore”. That’s a Willow quote by the way. Lie to Me. Yeah? Just me? Moving on…

India is a massive country so there is only so much I can see in 6 weeks. I did an extensive amount of research and opted to mostly go with the typical tourist spots this time around. In India, some of the “tourist” spots aren’t overly touristy so hopefully, there are plenty of authentic experiences on offer.

My itinerary includes Mumbai, Goa, Hampi, New Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal), Jaipur, Pushkar, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, and Rishikesh. The best way to get around in India is far and away the train as the roads aren’t always in the best condition. Unfortunately, this means that the trains tend to fill up quickly so I’ve had to book most of my travel ahead of time which limits my flexibility. Things are cheap enough that if I did decide to adjust course, I wouldn’t have to swallow a massive loss.

A few things I am planning on doing in India include a camel safari, a week in an Ashram, yoga, meditation, cooking classes, overnight train journeys, laying on a beach, zipping around on a moped, exploring ruins, and befriending elephants.

I am equally excited and terrified about India. One way or the other, I’m sure it will be a memorable if not exhausting experience.

Stop 3: Nepal (22 November – 8 December)

To close out my travels, I am spending a couple of days in Kathmandu before joining up with Gadventures to trek to Everest Base Camp.

It’s worth clarifying that Everest Base Camp is NOT the summit of Everest. My Mother was confused about this and thought I was concluding the trip with my death. Everest Base Camp is a commonly trodden path and isn’t an overly difficult walk. I reckon it will be like Times Square up there. At 5,364m, the only potential difficulty is dealing with the lack of oxygen. Here’s hoping my trip doesn’t end with a helicopter trip off Everest. Actually, that be kind of neat. Kidding Mother, I’ll be fine.

You can check out the itinerary of the track below.

Everest Base Camp Trek Itinerary

On 9 December, I’ll be boarding a plane back to Halifax to spend the holidays back home and get what I imagine will be much-needed rest.

I plan on keeping the Blog going during my travels so stay tuned!

Take care.

Matt

Trip Map

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Out of Sync, Out in Wales

Hello Everyone,

I’ve been sitting on this adventure for far too long! My apologies for the poor turnover.

The story for today is my recent trip to Wales (it happened in May and I’m not sure if it was 2016 or 2017 at this stage) with one of my favourite people in the entire Universe: fellow boy band member, guitar strummer, softball teammate, High School lifeline, Beaver Banker, Late Night Film star, Mayer enthusiast, Lifestream rider Mr. Barry Allen Seymour!

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Reunions and Ales

I’ve spent a lot of time looking to Europe for my adventures since I’ve moved here but I’ve always had my eye on Wales as a place that looked like it would provide a proper romp. Barry has spent a lot of time looking into his genealogy and has some roots in Wales so it seemed like an appropriate place for us to explore together. This wasn’t my first time in Wales but felt like the first time I really stretched my legs there.

Our first stop in Wales was the Breacon Beacons which is a mountain range located in South Wales and fairly well known in the UK as a scenic wonderland. Check out the exhibits below:

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Totally random thing here, but the Welsh and the British in general take safety very seriously:

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No fucking swimming!

 

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The Timber Stacks are Off Limits!

 

The other factor outside of its stunning beauty that pulled us towards the Brecons was to visit the town of Defynnog. Never heard of it? Me either. Hell knows if anyone else in Wales really knows much about the place. It’s one of the many small little towns that are scattered across the country, each with its own charm and distinct story. One of those storylines has stretched through time and space to deliver to the World Barry Seymour.

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You see that sign? The little white one. I spent about a decade in front of it taking 94 billion pictures of Barry with the sign (all the exact fucking same) in search of the “perfect shot”. Bloody artists!

Our next stop took us up to Snowdonia National Park to tackle Snowdon, the largest peak in Wales (1085m). This was something I’ve been excited to do for awhile. Despite not being a fan of hill climbing, Barry was a good lad and joined me for the ascent. We were rewarded for our efforts with an endless supply of wonderful views.

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Barry photographing photographs well.

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Barry loved his Lucozade.

 

After our Welsh travels, we stopped back into Cheltenham for a couple of days before concluding our time together in London to see our dear Mr. Mayer. John was actually the inspiration for the trip as neither Barry or I had seen him play for 10 years! To make up for it, we saw him twice!

 

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Our Boy

 

After the second Mayer show, I sent Barry down the Picadilly towards Heathrow to concluded our trip. I watched him go with the knowledge that I won’t be seeing him until December when I am back in Canada for Christmas. This means I will be missing his Annual Baseball Classic Derby Experience Festival Game for the first time throughout its epic 13 year run this year. What could possibly keep me away from such an incredible event? Lead me to break such a streak? To muddy a perfect record?

Next time.

Matt

Race Report – Edinburgh 70.3

Howdy,

I’ve just made it back to Cheltenham following my triathlon weekend up in Edinburgh. I am still buzzing from the experience so I wanted to share my story. My apologies for not putting out more updates. I have a couple of other blog posts ready to fire. I promise to get those out soon.

I am sure most of you are familiar with how triathlons work: swim, bike, run. Pretty simple. Most triathletes find their way into the sport through one of those three sports. Obviously, for myself, I started as a runner. After injuring my knee during my ultra marathon last year I decided that it was time to make the switch to something that would have less impact on the knees. So I bought myself a bike and some goggles and decided to take the plunge into the triathlon Wolrd. Give it a spin if you will.

Triathlons come in all sorts of distances: Sprint (0.75km, 20km, 5km), Olympic (1.5km, 40km, 10km), Middle (2.5km, 80km, 20km), Long (4km, 120km, 30km), and Ironman (3.8km, 180km, 42km). Something for the casual and the crazy.

The race I did was a Half Ironman (so half the distance of the Ironman above). I originally intended to do the full Ironman but eventually realized that’s fucking crazy! It’s an unimaginable distance! Training for it is a full-time job and I don’t see how people find the time! A Half IM fitted in pretty well with what I do anyway so that was the more sensible route. I have done one sprint (last year) so this wasn’t my first crack at it.

I chose to do my Half IM up in Edinburgh because well, it’s my favourite UK city. And the event is new as of this year so I assumed it was destiny that I go up there. In retrospect, it would have been significantly less faff to do a more local race but I have no regrets.

I think that’s enough prelude so let’s get to the race report. My day started at an ungodly 3 am which is apparently around the time the sun rises in Scotland this time of year I drove my way over to the final transition and got a shuttle bus over to the swim start. I had about 2 hours to kill so I went to check on my bike, gave the tires a pump, gave it a good tap on the seat, had a disappointing cup of instant coffee and walked down to look at the water. We had gotten an email earlier that the swim may be shortened (from 1.8km to 0.95km) due to the choppy conditions of the water. I wasn’t happy with this because I had come up here with the intent of doing the distance. After looking at the water I thought “the water looks fine! What are they on about?”. Well, let’s just jump to the start of the swim then (and yes they did shorten the swim). I make the quick run across the beach, hurdle a couple of waves and plunge into the surf. After two strokes I am hit in the face with a wave and take in a gallon of sea water. I am thinking to myself “I’m going to die. There is no way I can survive this. What are they thinking letting us out into this!????” Somehow I managed to make forward progress and looked up to see a rescue kayak. There was an athlete hooked onto the side of it and I thought to myself “Fuck. I should join him. Fuck. Fuck. FUCK!!!!” The kayak made its way into my path and instead of grabbing hold I swam past it and out into the sea. Stroke, wave, gulp, stroke, wave, gulp. It wasn’t convinced I was making any forward progress but I eventually made it to the first turn. Swimming along the waves was a bit more sensible than swimming into them but only a bit. I looked around to see different coloured swim caps being thrown around in the water. It’s hyperbolic to say but it looked like a war zone! Things improved significantly after the next turn as I was riding the waves back towards shore. There were two more turns in the loop before I finally looked up to see the shore. It felt pretty damn good to have my feet back on solid ground!

UPDATE: The swim was actually my strongest event relative to the field! What!?

After making it through transition I found myself feeling happy to be one the bike. This evaporated quickly as I couldn’t get my bike into the hardest gear. A rookie mistake not to have the bike already in the gear I want! Anyway, I had to get off and do it manually which didn’t make for a good start! The bike is my weakest link as most triathletes are cyclists turned triathletes. Zoom! There goes a 60 years old man. Zoom. There goes someone with 50 pounds on me. Man, woman, and child zipping past me like I was a spectator! Not the most motivating! I struggled for the first 20k as I was still feeling shell shocked from the swim. I eventually got into a bit of a groove as we got into the hilly part of the course which is the type of cycling I am used to. I was out of the saddle attacking the climbs and driving hard down the hills finally feeling a bit of momentum. This lasted until the final 20km which turned into a bit of a slog. I got a bit of encouragement with 10km to go from a fellow Canadian as she passed me on the bike. She’s been living in the UK for 8 years and is married to a Scot. Maybe that will be my story in 6 years time! The last bit of the bike was complete BS! A climb around Holyrood Park!??? If I had actually prepared and studied the course I would have realized this but I was blissfully unaware that this was how it ended! After a lot of swearing, I finally made it to transition and out of the saddle.

Once I got the running shoes on I felt very comfortable. I wasn’t too worse for wear (given the conditions) and had 4 hours to complete the run before being timed out (there is an 8 hour 30 minute time limit) so I knew I was sitting pretty. The run is a 3 loop course which is not good psychologically. Running that first loop knowing you have 2 more to go is not good for the brain! But I was feeling good and it felt good to be cruising past everyone who had passed me on the bike. I got a glimpse at some of the athletes who were a loop (or two) ahead of me and they were all monsters. Ripped as shit and running faster than I could completely fresh (I’ve got a lot of work to do!). I usually get emotional during races but that didn’t really happen during this race. I found my mind was lazer focused on what I was doing and just turning over the legs that there wasn’t much room to get sentimental about anything. It wasn’t until the final lap that my body started to show some signs of wear. The left knee was barking a bit! Thankfully, the last 2km or so is mostly downhill so it was an easy finish. It was a good feeling to make that turn and see that finish line!

I ended up coming in at 6:37:50 which is a fair bit slower than I wanted (under 6 hours was my goal) but there is lots of room for improvement. Probably 10 minutes to scrub out in transition by getting myself a tri-suit (kit you can bike and run in versus making a complete change of clothes for each event) and lots of time to scrub off the bike!

Will I do another one? Absolutely! Will I ever do a full Ironman? We shall see!

I’ll try to stay in better touch in the future. I’ve got lots to share!

Take care.

Matt

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My Christmas Tree Tour of Eastern Europe

Hi All,

A little delayed I apologize, but I’d like to share with you the tale of my journey through Eastern Europe over the holidays. Keeping with my tradition of travelling to cold places in the Winter, my 2016 holiday trip took me on a 9-day journey through Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.

I had originally planned on making this journey by myself but I was fortunate enough to enlist some company for the Poland phase. A couple days before I set off I met someone who was considering taking a holiday journey themselves but hadn’t yet worked out the details. After explaining my trip, I invited her to come along. Given that she didn’t yet know me that well she decided that is was a good idea! If nothing else, she at least learned how to play Crazy 8s on the trip so she can’t complain!

Poland has been on my destination list for awhile. A country with 38 million, I’ve always found Poland interesting because of its history; particularly in the 20th century. Throughout this period, they were in a constant struggle for survival and independence. They fought off a Soviet invasion in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921. They were occupied by the Nazi’s from 1939-1945, a period in which 6 million Polish citizens died. After the Second World War, they were under Soviet rule until 1989. Trying times. And throughout all these occupations, the Poles always fought tooth and nail to regain their independence. Truly admirable folks.

The first 3 days of the trip were spent in Krakow. It is a nice city for walking around in and Emma and I took in a wide variety of establishments: bars, coffee shops, sushi places, jazz clubs. Much more cultured than if I had been on my own!

One of the cooler things I did here was head down into the Wielicazka Salt Mine. The salt mine opened in the 1200s and only closed in 2007. It was stunning down there. Like a city under the Earth. And everything was made out of salt!

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I guess the mine has 4 churches. As appropriate place as any for praying!

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Pass the salt?

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A Polish treasure. Salt of the Earth that guy was.

While we were in Krakow, Emma and I took a day trip to the Auschwitz and Birkenau death camps where 1.3 million Jews were killed during The Holocaust. One of the reasons I wanted to come to Poland was so that I could visit this place. Honestly, I don’t know how to describe my experience. I didn’t take any pictures. And I don’t really have any words either. It was a tough day.

Our next stop was to the Polish capital of Warsaw. It had a unique feel for a European city as it was more like a modern big city than one with an old rustic charm.

 

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Warsaw’s entry into the Christmas Tree Pageant.

 

After seeing Emma off, I made an 9 hour bus trip to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Lithuania has a population of roughly 3 million and was part of the old Soviet bloc. I’ll admit, this place was a bit of a miss (or should I say mess?). There wasn’t really much to see. Plus after enduring an insanely ruckus New Year’s Party in the hostel I was staying in (it lasted till 4am), I was asked to leave! The plonkers wanted to give my bed to someone else! Good riddance! I was sure to give them an appropriate review.

I did however, enjoy the New Year’s celebrations. I guess the thing to do is to run into the empty square below and set off your own fireworks. The police were heavily discouraging this behaviour. I can report that there were no fatalities (that I know of).

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New Years in Vilnius.

After spending two days in Vilnius, I boarded a 5-hour bus (just a short skip) to Riga, the capital of Latvia. Latvia, another former Soviet bloc country, has a population of roughly 2 million. Riga was a really nice city. Not a lot of major things to do and see but it was a great city to just walk around in.

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Riga Christmas Tree entry #1

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Entry #2

Perhaps the most exciting story occurred on my flight home and I’ll conclude this entry with it. It was a 9am flight or something like that. Not super early but certainly early. It’s a 2 and half hour flight so not super long. The first hour ticked by without incident. Well, some old bitch sat in my aisle seat forcing me to sit in the middle seat. I could have asked her to move I guess, but think about the optics. First World problems anyway. I digress. Anyway, an hour into the flight a man about 7 rows up from me starts making a big fuss. I’ll refer to him from now as IDR (Infinitely Drunk Russian). So IDR starts yelling about something. He’s speaking Russian so who knows. He then gets up and starts punching the guy in front of him. Standard. He calms down a bit and then later on he starts choking the passenger sitting next to him. Typical. After calming down a second time, he tries to smother the passenger next to him with his jacket. He’s getting inventive now. After that he just opted for yelling and screaming until the place landed. Maybe he was tired or something. In any case, he got super arrested. But I mean, who hasn’t had a bad day right. I hope he’s doing okay now.

Till next time!

Matt

Year in Review

Howdy,

Well. I’ve burned through a year in the UK. Does it feel like I’ve been here that long? Yes and no. Maybe? Honestly, my ability to perceive the passage of time feels non-existent nowadays.

This is one of those blog posts that I don’t really feel equipped to write. I’d like to explain in striking and moving language how this year has changed my life. How it has led to amazing experiences I thought I would never have. That I am a better man for it and that I’ll never be the same again. All of the above is true and perhaps it’s best to just leave my reflection at that. I may try later to distil some further insight into my year.

I feel that from now on I will consider a year as running from October 22 – October 21. So, welcome to 2017! Here is a photo collage year in review.

 

 

Okay, I guess I shouldn’t completely cop out with pictures. I often think about how easy it would have been to not make the jump over here. There is a fair amount of inertia that needs to be overcome with any change. It can be pretty easy to accept comfort as a substitute for confronting challenge. People do it all the time and I’ve done it over a lot of stretches of my life. Sometimes we are unsure of what our next move is. What the right thing is. It is easy for noise to get in the way of the signal when making life decisions. It isn’t easy to cut through it. There was one quote that really resonated with me when I made the choice to head across the Atlantic. Ironically enough, it comes from the British actor High Laurie.

” It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”

I think that one will remain an all time favourite of mine for awhile.

I definitely want to keep the blog going. I’ll admit I have found this surprisingly difficult to write it. Those who know me well know that I typically have no issue with being open and communicating my thoughts. But there is something about writing it down that makes me nervous. It’s inexplicable to me. I haven’t been able to figure it out! But I have at least another year to go in the UK and I already have a fair amount penciled in already  that I would love to share with everyone.

Stay tuned.

Matt

Two New Scotians Tour the Retro Version!

Howdy,

It’s time to fill you in on my recent trip to Scotland! Scotland, Edinburgh specifically, was my intended destination when I first moved over here before fate whisked me away to Cheltenham. I had always intended to come back for a proper trip. Scotland is home to roughly 5 million of the UK’s 65 million population. The country is probably most famous for, at least in North America, for providing the historical context for Braveheart. The country is also well known for its infinite beauty as this entry will illustrate.

I had some very special company for this journey in the form of my favourite redhead Jennifer Bishop! Scotland was the last stop of a whirlwind tour for Jen which consisted of stopovers in Iceland and Norway! The primary theme of her trip was hiking up steep things and we managed a few climbs during our week together.

Our adventure kicked off in Edinburgh, Scotland’s charming capital city. This marked my first return since I first landed in the UK last October. Hard to believe its almost been a year now that I moved here! There will probably be a separate entry in a months time where I attempt (and likely fail) to sum up my first year in the UK and what it’s meant to me. Stay tuned.

Our first day in Edinburgh consisted of hugs and giggles as well as a quick tour around Edinburgh to take in some of the obvious sites such of Edinburgh Castle and of course, a walk up to Arthur’s Seat.

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Let the Adventure Begin!

Our trip was only 7 days so to keep things efficient we had planned out most of what we wanted to do ahead of time. Basic idea was to rent a car to drive and camp our way around Scotland.

The first stop of the trip was Loch Lomond for a few hikes and a walk around Loch Katrine. Everything we looked at here was stunning and we easily could have spent the entire week here.

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Next, we hiked up Ben Nevis which is the largest peak in the UK. As mentioned, Jen is a seasoned climber and this was a relatively small peak for her but it was my largest ascent. I proposed the idea that we run up it to make it a bit of a challenge for her but she politely declined. The trail up to Ben Nevis is well trodden and we saw 100s of fellow hikers making the climb. And a lot of young kids as well. It’s nice to see parents getting their kids out for this sort of thing. May have been less crowded if we were climbing a hill in the US. One of the first things I noticed when I moved to the UK is that mostly everyone is in decent shape. Also, they tend to not eat like complete shitheads (though there is an abundance of biscuit consumption!)

The climb up Ben Nevis stirred up a bit of a desire (it doesn’t take much with me) to climb other peaks. I have a career break planned for sometime in the not too distant future which will likely feature a trip to Africa and possibly a jaunt of Kilimanjaro. Though I have heard that altitude sickness makes it pretty unpleasant…

Our next destination took us to the Isle of Skye which is one of the islands off the coast of the mainland. I am really going to have to just let the pictures do the talking here because the place is absolutely stunning. It has a distinct Middle Earth feeling about it. I kept expecting a fuck tonne of orcs to pour over the mountains. Then I’d look behind me to see Aragorn charging up on horseback, stopping to toss me and Jen a couple of broadswords, give a stirring speech before we were all engulfed in a 4-day long battle killing off legions of orcs. Seriously, my entire time there it felt like this was a real possibility. Fortunately (unfortunately), this did not happen.

 

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Blending in

 

 

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I’m in this picture as well!

 

 

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Old Man of Storr / Classic Bishoping

Now for a Travelling with Matt story. While on the Isle of Skye we went to check out a beach. Both being Nova Scotians, we are accustomed to being close to the water and a beach has a natural pull on our souls. When we arrived we drove through the narrow parking area looking for a spot to park. Well, I guess it was a busy day or something because there weren’t many spots available. I got to the end of the parking lot empty-handed and had to turn around. Just a couple point turn and I would be on my way out and on the search for other parking options. So I back up to turn around and in the process come quite close to the ditch in front of me. No problem, I’ll just pop the car in reverse and all will be sorted. Unfortunately, I was driving one of those fuckers where reverse and 1st is the same position (almost all cars are manuals in the UK). There’s a button you have to press to switch between the two. Well, I forgot about the fucking button this one time and found myself unhappily in the ditch. Jen, of course, found all of this hilarious while I was quite flustered. After a few failed attempts of trying to back out, we enlisted the help of 10 or so travellers to help shove us out. The cast included a 70-year-old woman who fell during the effort. Don’t worry. She was alright and also found the whole thing fucking hilarious. The funniest part of the whole thing is that the Isle of Skye is fairly small and has a couple of well combed over tourist spots so we kept running into these folks over and over again. There were the middle-aged German couple and our personal favourite, Infinite Calf Guy and his family. I reckon ICG could have pushed the car out on his own…

Our final destination was Glasglow which is Scotland’s largest city. Nothing too exciting happened here. This was simply the place both of us were departing from. Though Glasglow did have a distinct Halifax feel to it. I may have to get up there for a race sometime.

 

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When is the next adventure, Jen?

 

Hope you’ve enjoyed!

Take care.

Matt

A Journey Through the Low Countries

Howdy!

Sorry for the delay but it is finally time to share my stories from Amsterdam and Belgium. This entry features a lot more pictures than usual so something for the lazy among you to look forward to! Now this trip came directly after the London Marathon so for the first couple of days I wasn’t feeling my most spry! There is actually a fairly humorous story of me almost missing my flight out of London which I will save for a separate entry in my new section “Travelling with Matt” which offers my comedic take on incredibly frustrating events that are borne out of my inability to plan appropriately ahead of time.

My first stop was the Netherlands which is perhaps one the World’s most loved countries. Who can hate these folks? With their progressive social policies it is easy to convince yourself that it is the 21st century when you are among the Dutch. They were the first country to legalize same sex marriage. They are perhaps best known for legal prostitution and their infinitely progressive drug policy. The Dutch are also famous for cheese, bikes, wooden shoes, windmills, orange (the colour), and tulips. Yeah! Tulips! About 500 years ago or so there was a short period of time where there was utter confusion about the intrinsic value of a tulip bulb. Complete nuttiness. Any economic nerds out there should Google it.

My time in the Netherlands was spent entirely in Amsterdam. It is definitely a complete gem with its beautiful canals. A very European city. It also offers the full spectrum of experiences from a calm and measured dose of cultural and history to a complete and utter shit show involving a fistful of ???????? and door to door visits to establishments that offer naked recreational experiences. Perhaps I shouldn’t comment on which end of the spectrum I lie.

There were a couple highlights of my time in Amsterdam. The first was my visit to the house Anne Frank hunkered down in during WWII before eventually being captured. It was both very interesting and very sad to see the place. But the girl’s spirit is something that is truly remarkable. That someone could continue to be so positive in the very worst of situations is inspirational.

Another highlight was that my trip happened to align with Kings Day which is a National Holiday in the Netherlands which celebrates the birthday of  King Willem-Alexander (yes, other places are still doing this King / Queen thing). In any case, everyone gets the day off to walk around the streets wearing orange and drinking Heineken. It was an unique experience for sure!

My next stop was down to Belgium. Now the Belgians are quite famous for their food and drink offerings: waffles, chocolate, fries, and of course beer. The beer in Belgium is considered to be the best in the World. Now there is no debating its good but I have fallen in love with English ales. The Belgian offerings didn’t measure up in my view. Maybe I just didn’t drink enough….

I did some hopping around in Belgium as there were a couple of places I really wanted to see. My first stop was Brugge. A very picturesque historic town.

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The Belfry

I spent a couple days here mostly taking it easy. Walking around. Drinking coffee. Reading. My usual travel routine.

The remainder of my trip was a make shift 20th century war tour. Belgium’s geographical position has made it a constant battlefield in Europe’s biggest wars.

My first stop was down in Ypres where some of the larger battles in WWI were fought. Canada became a country in 1867 but it is often said that they became a nation during the battles fought in Belgium and France during the First World War. It was the fierceness and bravery of the 425,000 folks we sent to war (60,000 of which never returned home) that helped distinguish Canada from the British Empire. As a Canadian I am both fiercely proud and infinitely sad of the sacrifice of our soldiers in helping to restore peace to Europe.

My first stop was Hill 62 which is a trench system that has been preserved since the end of the war. The most haunting thing about this place wasn’t the pile of rusted shells, the eerie darkness of the tunnels, the broken down wagon that was likely used to move bodies away from the front, or the uncountable blast craters from German shelling. It was the singing of the birds. I can only imagine they continued to sing during the war or else John McCrae wouldn’t of wrote about it.

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I also visited the Tyne Cot Cemetery which is the Commonwealth burial ground for those who fought in the Ypres Salient. About 800 Canadians are buried here. Many of the graves are unmarked presumably because the remains could not be identified. The few graves that were marked showed that the solider was in his early 20s, usually not old enough to have obtained an undergraduate degree, when they died. That’s hard to imagine. I can only contrast with what I was doing with my early 20s. And I thought at the time I had a lot on. That I was struggling. Perspective is a very powerful thing. They call those who came of age during WWI the Lost Generation and there is nothing that underlines that more than a walk through this place..

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My next stop was all the way across Belgium to Bastogne. Bastogne is best known for the Battle of the Bulge which was  the last major German offensive during WWII. It was the Americans bloodiest battle of the war and the town has many shrines, museums, and monuments commemorating the Americans who fought and lost their lives there. The gruesomeness of this battle is depicted in the HBO Series Band of Brothers. The entire series is excellent and if you haven’t seen it you should.

I spent a couple of days taking in the history and getting some much needed relaxation. I stayed in a bed & breakfast just outside of Bastogne in a place called Tenneville. It has a population of 80 or so. I was the only guest and the man who ran the place was a gentle giant named Carl. I could of stayed for months.

As I said, my main motivation here was to take in some of the history. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

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Mardasson Memorial

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The Ardennes

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Foxhole outside the town of Foy

Over the course of this trip I became aware of a level of fatigue that I have been accumulating over the course of 2016. I told myself when I got back that I would start to “simmer down” a bit. That was about 7 weeks ago and I can report that I have failed miserably! Summer is a lousy time for slowing down any way. Maybe some time in the Fall! Though probably not!

Take care.

Matt

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