Roady Goes to Europe - 14 Days
The last time my dad and I went on a vacation together like this was almost 20 years ago when I was seven. We drove out through the northeastern United States and up to the east coast of Canada, Nova Scotia than made the road trip back through New Brunswick and Quebec. I remember slight bits and pieces of that trip but being so long ago, many of it is a blur unless captured through a lens.
My dad just retired in January of 2017 and I wanted to do something special for him. He's not the type of guy who goes to far from home, unless he's going up north ice fishing which brings him to North Bay, Ontario. That's a whopping eight hours from home!
Since I didn't really have any set plans for the month of May, I figured why not celebrate his retirement and birthday all in one! I went ahead and bought the plane tickets and coerced him into travelling to Europe with me for two full weeks of exploring and living a bit of the life I've been living.
This would mark the first time that he's left the continent of North America...
Day 1 - May 16th
(Cottam to Copenhagen)
Waking up was pretty much just like any other day. Grab a coffee, make sure all the gear is together then head on out to the garage. The main thing different about this day; I was about to head to Europe for two weeks with my dad. After a bunch of planning and organizing our flights, trains, and rental vehicles, it was finally all coming together. Fingers crossed!
My uncle picked us up from home to give us a lift to the Windsor train station where we would begin our adventure. We had four hours on the train to Toronto where we would catch a small series of different trains over to the busiest airport in Canada, Toronto Pearson International. From there we would have a six hour flight to Keflavik, Iceland, where we will connect to a quick three hour flight over to Copenhagen, Denmark. While at the airport our first small speed bump came abound. I had just picked up the plane tickets and now my flight from Keflavik to Copenhagen boarding pass had disappeared. Where'd it go? Turns out my dad had it stuck to his two passes. Phew!
Arriving in Keflavik was the first time my dad entered a country that didn't consist of English as the first language. I warned him plenty of times that English is widely spoken and most people in Scandinavian countries often speak English just as well or better than us. He still showed signs of nervousness so I paid for our lunch and that was when he realized, wow, they do speak English well.
Since we just had a short layover, it wasn't too long before we onto the next flight over to Copenhagen. The one thing my dad was really worried about was his ears on the planes. He was nervous but throughout the weeks leading up, friends and family told him different methods to cope with your ears popping such as chewing gum, yawning or simply just going to sleep. Everything went smooth and we found ourselves landing in Copenhagen around 11am, May 17th - Happy 59th birthday Dad!
Day 2 - May 17th
(Birthday in Copenhagen)
The first thing we did after gathering our checked in luggage was head over to our hostel. This would also mark the first time my dad has slept in a hostel! We bought our train tickets from the Copenhagen airport over to central station, and then had an easy 20-minute walk to the Copenhagen Downtown Hostel from there. During our train trip however, my dad pointed out that we must be in the old part of town because of all the old buildings. I got a good chuckle and said "Welcome to Europe."
We checked in and got told where our room would be. We headed up to the fourth floor via elevator and into our room. We were in a mixed dorm of four people but at the moment, we were the first to arrive. My dad was thrilled that at the moment we didn't have to share with anyone. Certain people often snore in their sleep, make noises, or perhaps talk. My dad is one of them so he was shy when it comes to sleeping around new people but I did my best to comfort him and have him realize that he's not the only one that does things in his sleep. It's not his fault, it just happens and it's something that others will understand.
We got ourselves situated, then rented some bikes. Leading up to this trip, my dad had started riding his bike more and more around our little village of 2,000 people in order to prepare for some biking ahead. What he wasn't prepared for... was the amount of other people that would also be riding bikes.
Instantly, anxiety came about and I had to do a bit of convincing that it would all be good. Just go with the flow of traffic, pay attention to signs and most of all, remember you're just another tourist. Before long, it was like he'd been riding a bike in Copenhagen all his life!
Our first stop of the day would be the Church of our Saviour which features an outside spiral staircase leading up to the pinnacle of the church. It offered an amazing view of the city and also tested my dads fear of heights. You'd think I would have known ahead of time how bad his fear of heights was but I guess there isn't much to do with heights in southwestern Ontario. It showed here however as he clenched to the centre of the sphere too nervous to look over the edge. He decided to head back down and I continued to make my way to the very top. After shooting a bunch of photos, I spotted our next destination from the top, Christiana.
Christiana is an area of Copenhagen that was over run by hippies back in the 1970's when land taxes became too high and people decided to take over an old abandoned military barracks to give them a safe haven. The rules were different in this area and drugs were plentiful. Over the years, many raids took place since the city of Copenhagen wasn't exactly fond of the outlaws. Nowadays it's a bit different, although photos are forbidden along Pusher street where you'll find merchants selling all different types of hash and weed. Christiana is similar to Amsterdam in a sense but it is still illegal and one local told me, police actually come through and arrest whoever they can catch (non-tourists) once or twice a day regularly.
We made our way over to Christiana and it kicked in, no vehicles were allowed! Amazing I thought. My dad likes his beer, but being in a new continent it becomes a little bit trickier to find what you like so I made the deal that we would try a bunch of different ones together throughout the trip. You'll have to bear with me as there is no way I can recall all of the ones we tried but here in Christiana, at Nemoland we found Tuborg Gold, which was a hit.
While walking around and checking out this one of a kind place, we stumbled upon a mini DIY skatepark in the centre. I had to check it out! One young man came out asking if I spoke English and then continued to ask if I could shoot a video for him. I kindly agreed and after we got a couple clips for him I asked if I could skate his board for a clip. First day of our trip and I already can't get away from the skatepark!
While we were exiting Christiana my dad notices a man in a booth selling something behind a gate. The thought didn't even cross his mind, but this man was actually just taking a leak in one of the public urinals. It was hilarious to see the reaction when it clicked in his head.
Eventually, we made our way out and this little community left a good impression on the both of us. We started to go check out more of the city by bike. Heading over the bridge to Nyhavn gave us our first good glimpse of the canals we would be seeing across Europe. Beautiful coloured buildings standing along side a boat filled canal offered a perfect opportunity to get my camera out.
From Nyhavn, we rode up towards Rosenberg Castle. It was a quite the medieval castle that was envisioned when thinking of a castle but the luxurious home was quite extravagant in its own right. We pedalled through the gardens for a short while collecting some photos and taking in the sites.
Our next stop, was another fort called Kastelskirken. It wasn't the fort itself that had drawn my attention but the windmill out front. It was a windmill like you'd picture the Netherlands to have or Holland as some would say. Standing huge along the moat surrounding the castle.
After this we decided it would be best to head back to our hostel, get some dinner and catch happy hour before calling it a night. When we arrived back at the hostel, we were met with a note on the elevator saying that it was out of order. At this point, my dads legs were already worn out from the climb up the church plus all the biking we just did. He's a trooper though and we needed to get up, so the stairs it was. We got to our room and not too long after, our roommates for the next two nights arrived. We introduced to one another then headed down for some food. It felt great to get a big meal in us. Feeling a bit strong after that, it was time for happy hour and a good night’s sleep.
Day 3 - May 18th
Remember what I mentioned about certain people snoring? Well yeah, apparently after a few happy hour drinks it'll kick that effect into full gear. It was a rough first night not knowing I was going to need ear plugs. We felt bad for the two sisters who were sharing the room with us but everyone knows what staying in a dorm is like. It was around 8am so we got our things together then headed down for an all you can eat breakfast.
During breakfast, I was met with an email from my friend Sarah who lives nearby in Helsingborg, Sweden that she became incredibly sick and would not be able to meet up. Shoot! No worries though, I quickly gathered up a back up plan and we caught the train over to Øresund channel to Sweden anyway.
Along this voyage, we didn't realize that the ticket from Copenhagen Central Station wasn't valid for entry into Sweden. Nonetheless, we made it to Lund before the ticket inspector inspector caught us. I offered to buy the ticket right then and there but she kindly let us go reminding us to purchase the right one next time. We’ve now set foot in the third country of our trip, Sweden!
We got off the train in a small town called Lund, just 30 minutes past Malmö. My dad’s number one mission was to get a shirt that says Sweden on it at this point. Let’s go back a little bit here… My dad thought this through quite well. He only brought two shirts with him and then in each country we visit, he’ll buy one as a souvenir. As of right now we’ve visited three countries and guess how many shirts he’s bought. None. It seems that every morning we mention the idea that we have to get one but as the day goes on, we forget and then by the time we remember again, it’s too late.
The first place we found ourselves admiring was the university area. A stunning fountain blasting water out in front of the main building with a perfect display of flowers was a refreshing sight. One thing I’ve grown to admire about Europe is the relaxed persons in their everyday life. My dad would constantly ask himself “Doesn’t anybody work around here?”. And the answer is yes. Except day to day life here is pleasantly different then what we are accustomed to back home. Sure, different areas throughout Canada may be similar but where we’re from in Southwestern Ontario, it surely isn’t. People seem happier here.
We made our way through the parks before attempting to find a shirt for my dad but I figured we’d have better luck in nearby Malmö. We decided to head back to the train station and catch the next train to Malmö. This time we made sure to purchase the right ticket and we were on our way. Central station in Malmö was modern and surrounded by glass. When we stepped foot out the doors, I instantly remembered how much I liked Sweden from my previous visit to Stockholm back in the fall of 2015. If I had to put it in words… Imagine that feeling of walking outside without a care in the world, with the sun shining down warming you up a way only the sun knows how.
Without much of a destination or plan, we set out towards the lake. Not getting far away from the train station however I came across this sculpture that had a hole through the center of it. A skateboarder was looking at it and began to walk away. I yelled up to him saying “Hey! You down to do something in there, and I’ll take a photo of it?”. Samuel Norgren smiled and went ahead to mention that the sculpture was hard to ride but then said that his friend had recently also got a photo in it. He showed me the photo and even I was blown away. The obstacle had an inward carve to it that made it difficult to ride back and forth on the four wheels. Motivated from the photo of his friend, Sam got some confidence going and went for it so I grabbed a few shots before he sent it one last time.
I grabbed Samuel’s info so I could send over the photo later, then headed out towards the lighthouse in the distance. By the time we reached the lighthouse, it was in fact the nearby draw bridge that really caught our attention. The weight on the front was nothing like we’ve ever saw before. It was two lanes long and one lane wide of pure concrete hanging above the street. Could you imagine if that went? Eeek.
This was about the time we remember that we still have to find a t-shirt with Sweden on it so we headed towards the big tower known as Twisting Torso in hopes of running into something. We came across a supermarket type store but we were out of luck there as well. We stuck around the tower getting some photos and a bite to eat for lunch before venturing down the waterfront. There was a dog park close by that would give us a decent view of the Øresund bridge so we headed down that way as to make our way to the next train station past Central Station.
Luckily, next to this train station there was a giant mall. We were sure we’d be able to find something with Sweden on it. We must have checked out every single clothing store before we went to a sports specialty store and found the only Sweden shirt we could find, a football (soccer) jersey. Apparently the colours of yellow and blue were too bright for my dad’s taste. We ended up giving up on the idea of getting a shirt in Sweden for the moment and headed back to Copenhagen.
Our intentions getting back to Central Station in Copenhagen were to check the tourist information lobby for a Danish shirt, but of course… Closed 10 minutes prior to our arrival. The guy that brought just two shirts at this point is starting to think he’s not going to be wearing a new shirt for a bit. We slipped back over to the hostel for another night of happy hour and some delish Chinese Wok before hitting the sheets.
Day 4 - May 19th
Perhaps my dad adjusted to sleeping in a hostel quicker than I could have wished for. The whole room this time around was able to get a good nights sleep and by 9am we were fired up and ready for one final day exploring Copenhagen. First thing first though; we had to check out of the hostel and find a place to put our luggage. The downstairs lobby was able to handle all our luggage which set us up on time to catch the opening of the tourist store at Central Station. We were getting a shirt this time! We headed over and about three quarters of the way there we both realized it probably would have made more sense to rent bikes again. Oh well. We got a shirt he was happy with and that marks shirt number one of the trip.
There was a few places left in Copenhagen that I wanted to get some photos of still and my dad wanted to go back to Christiana one last time because he enjoyed the Tuborg Gold beer so much. We decided it would be best to rent a couple bikes again and save our legs the walking. Once we got our fresh red tourist bikes, our furthest destination was the Little Mermaid; the Heart of Copenhagen.
On the way there however, I got my first taste of what road rage is like in a city filled with bikes. I sort of figured that car owners just mixed well with the cyclists given the ratio but apparently not. I had come to a four-way intersection that had no signs of any kind. I stopped in order to check if the crossing was clear and there was no one coming except for a few cars turning right. A lady riding her bike had come up to the intersection behind me and continued on, so I slipped in line but a car had pulled into the 6-meter space between the lady and I which caused me to slow down and go behind in order to avoid a collision. The gentleman driving the vehicle behind me at this point wasn’t thrilled with my evasive action and began cussing and honking the horn aggressively at me before pulling up beside me and saying “You’re going to kill yourself in Denmark if you don’t learn how to ride a bike!”. There was a few inappropriate words and gestures that I won’t get into but needless to say, I never thought I’d get told that I need to learn how to ride a bike.
With that situation resolved we carried on along the waterfront until we reached the Little Mermaid. This place was tourist central. My dad just looked at it and then at me in confusion to why I cared so much about this sculpture in particular. We thought about waiting for a bit to see if the crowd would die down but it didn’t look too promising. There was a guy dressed as a Viking getting photos taken so I told my dad to hop on in there for a quick snap while we killed some time. Soon after I cut through all the tourists, got a shot of the Little Mermaid with nobody in it and headed off towards Christiana.
The first time heading to Christiana, neither my dad or I knew what to expect but this time we were ready. We headed straight towards Nemoland to grab the number one beer of the trip to cool off by the lakeside for a few hours before having to catch our evening flight over to Prague, Czech Republic.
After grabbing our luggage from the hostel and returning our bikes, we found ourselves arriving in Prague only a couple hours later. I was excited to finally see Prague and my dad was also excited to get himself another shirt after missing out on Sweden. We arrived at almost 10pm (22:00) due to a short delay out of Copenhagen and it looked as though we’ll be taking public transportation via a bus and subway to the center of town where our next hostel is located.
We were both hungry by this point but made finding our accommodations the top priority. Hostel Prague Tyn was conveniently located next to the old square and the staff was more then helpful at accommodating us so late in the evening. We found ourselves sharing a dorm room with four others this time and since we were the last to arrive, we got stuck on the top bunks. After a quick introduction with everyone in the room, we headed out to grab some food. You’d think being in Prague we’d try some new cuisine but my dad was pretty dead set on KFC. I wasn’t going to argue because it was getting late and all I wanted to do was get some night shots and go to bed. After the late dinner and some night shots of the old square, we called it quits knowing we’d be getting up early for a full day exploring Prague tomorrow.
Day 5 - May 20th
(Prague, Czech Republic)
We slept in till we heard the rest of the dorm getting up and then slowly scraped ourselves off the top bunks to get ready. Breakfast was free at the hostel so we filled ourselves up for the day’s adventure and headed out. Our first stop was back at the old town square. What a difference it was visiting at midnight versus visiting now. The square was filled with people and artists of all types. What caught my attention was a man with a custom setup for blowing bubbles into the air. The kids absolutely loved it and it made for some interesting photos for myself.
The architecture surrounding us all around was beautiful! No matter where you looked, it was as though you were shoved back in time. We had our next destination in my mind, Charles Bridge. Instead of taking the quickest and possibly easiest route, we decided to see if we could make it just by navigating the labyrinth style streets. Perhaps it was a good idea to venture through the streets this way because we ended up stumbling upon a shop selling touristic Prague t-shirts within moments. Shirt number 2 check!
As we were walking up towards the Charles bridge we began to hear the sound of violins in the distance. It seemed as though it was coming from the bridge directly and upon making our way, it was in fact coming from five individuals busking on the bridge. The group known as Electroshock was playing classical covers of popular songs and I was beyond amazed. I purchased their C.D. right then and there. I don’t even know the last time I purchased a C.D. for the record. We listened to a few different covers before making our way across the bridge where the real urban hiking began.
We had done a ton of stairs over the last few days and my dad’s legs were starting to feel it. He’s a trooper though and pushed through it as we marched up what felt like 20 sets of stairs towards Prague Castle. When we reached the top he politely asked me “Why do you have a drone? Can you not fly it up here, take a photo and bring it down to us?”. I laughed and we carried on only to see that the line up to enter the castle grounds was well over 100 people in length. That’s fine we both thought and discussed other options instead of wasting what would surely be over 45 minutes standing in line, only to be arm to arm with tourists inside.
There was a tower out in the distance that I had researched before and made that our next spot of interest. At this point we were able to get sort of out of the city and into a more naturalistic setting through the park. We came to one lookout point that offered an amazing panoramic view of the entire city including the castle and tower.
We relaxed here for a bit taking in the sites and giving our legs a break. While we were there however, some sort of ceremony and chanting began taking place behind us becoming louder and louder. Before long, whatever it was taking place had shown up right where we were. We took our hats off to pay respect knowing it was some sort of religious happening, and watched the event take place for a few minutes. We felt completely out of place at this moment so begun heading towards the tower again through the park. It wasn’t long before we were there and although it wasn’t as packed as the castle was, there was still quite a line up for the tower. I contemplated going up for bit but then thought about how many photos have already been taken from that exact spot. Was it worth paying the entrance fee only to have the same exact photo of thousands of people before me? Nah.
We stuck around the area for quite some time though and enjoyed reading the history on the ancient buildings while watching the kids jump for bubbles in the air.
Heading further into the park I could hear the sound of a waterfall in the distance. If you know me and waterfalls, then you know I surely followed that sound to the source… with a slight distraction. We came across a playground that had a long slide in it and I convinced my dad it would be fun to go down it. Surprisingly, I didn’t have to do much convincing and he was up for it. I think deep down he wants to do all this stuff by the idea of being 59 is in his heads. Never too old to have fun I say!
After playing around on the playground for a bit, we went back towards the sound of falling water but when we reached the source of the sound we were let down a bit. It clearly wasn’t natural at all but was still nice to check out. By this time, we were both beginning to get hungry and could go for a drink so we set a pin on the map down by the river. A slight drizzle began to fall from the sky which was refreshing in it’s own right and only lasted for a few minutes. It certainly cooled us off and we enjoyed our snack consisting of peanuts and beer while watching a group of swan’s snack off the nearby grass.
While I was getting some close ups of the swan breaking apart the grass for her offspring, a group of people were behind taking photos shocked to see how close I was to these swans’. I’ve come in close contact with swans before and know how aggressive these birds can be but there was something different about these ones. They were calm and showed no signs of being aggressive. After I was happy with what I had obtained, I turned around to be greeted by a man visiting from Austria. He was overwhelmed with how close I was and asked to see the footage. We ended up chatting for quite some time and he gave us some tips of what to check out next. We took his recommendation and headed towards Vyšehrad, a medieval castle along the river.
Looking at a map we realized we had a good 3km walk on top of the 9km we had already walked today. My dad was super motivated at this point and came up with the idea of going halfway, take a beer break, then continue on. Sure I thought, why not? We ended up stopping at a restaurant along the way and I used this time to recharge a few of the gadgets.
It was probably about another 30-minute walk before we had reached Vyšehrad and began climbing even more stairs. The view at the top was completely worth it and a big thanks to Mario from Austria for this amazing recommendation!
There was a beautiful medieval style church at the top with a cemetery beside it that we wandered into for probably an hour. At first we were admiring the headstones and landscaping but before long we were trying to find each of our birthdays. We ended up coming across a grave stone that said the woman was born on the same day as my father, and passed away the same year he was born. Trippy!
By the time we got to the castle grounds, the many merchants and entertainers had begun to pack up for the evening so we went over to a lookout area where others were patiently getting some photos of the landscape. When we saw an opening I hoped up on the boundary wall so my dad could snap a quick photo and what a shot he got.
There was no way by this point that we were going to walk all the way back to our hostel so we headed towards the nearest subway and opted to catch that back to the old square. While we were walking from the subway to our hostel however we passed by a car that had “World Championships – Ice Hockey: Semi Finals” written on it. As Canadians, seeing that sign in front of us lit a spark underneath us and all of a sudden we had a bunch of energy once again. Unfortunately, we missed the Canada vs Russia game that saw an incredible comeback win for Canada. We headed back to our hostel to clean up and that’s when I saw that Finland would be playing Sweden in the other semi-final this evening. Beauty! I get to see my favourite young player for the Toronto Maple Leafs, William Nylander take charge for Sweden.
Once we were all cleaned up, we headed back to the car with the sign on it and got pointed in the right direction to a bar filled with half Swedish, half Finnish prepared and waiting for the game to start. I had never been in an atmosphere quite like this before, let alone in an entirely different country. I knew the Czechs were one of the powerhouse countries in hockey at one time and the love for the sport clearly hasn’t died down one bit. There was only one seat left at the bar so my dad graciously gave me that while he chose to stay in the smoking area. At this time, there was a couple ladies on my left that clearly weren’t happy when Sweden opened the scoring in the first so I had to ask if they were from Finland. Turns out they were, so I can understand why they weren’t ecstatic at the opening goal. We ended up chatting a bunch through the intermission and got to know Riikka and Pauliina a little bit. During the second period Nylander ended up scoring a goal making the score 3-1 for Sweden. I just wanted to see Nylander score once so after that goal, I took sides with the Finnish but there was no comeback to be had. Over the course of the game we met a few others and decided to go out for dinner all together. A lovely couple from Texas, Thomas and Sara also accompanied us to dinner. We ended up eating a ton of pizza, exchanged our contact information then said our goodbyes. Prague has lived up to it’s expectations!
Day 6 - May 21st
(Paris to Strasbourg, France)
Our flight from Prague to Paris, France was bright and early this morning at 7am. We awoke at 4:30am and quietly made our way down to the lobby careful to avoid making noise or waking anyone up. Our taxi was to meet us at 5am in front of the hostel which gave us a bit of time to repack and organize our things for the plane. We ended up getting to the airport around 5:30 and did any last minute preparations for the flight.
After arriving in Paris, we needed to get our rental car for the next week. My recent eight-day trip to Iceland a couple weeks’ prior was my first real time driving a manual transmission vehicle so as anxious as I was to get this car, I was slightly nervous. We were handed the keys to our 2016 Ford Fiesta and the six-hour drive to Strasbourg, France began. It was a bit nerve racking getting out of Charles du Gaulle airport but no accidents and not stalling helped my confidence level big time. We made it to France!
We opted to avoid the toll routes for a more scenic drive through the countryside seeing small villages and fields upon fields. This prepared us for a six-hour drive to Strasbourg but it was one of those relaxing long drives. We got to sit and enjoy the views as they came instead of walking everywhere. This also got me practicing my French along the way since it’s been almost two years since I spoke French everyday.
When I lived in France two years prior, I first lived with my good friend Arnaud Wolff and his family in a small town called Reitwiller on the outside of Strasbourg before living with a wonderful family friend, Christiane and Danou in a small village called Pfulgriesheim. This forced me to learn French quicker as I was always tempted to switch to English with Arnaud since he can speak English very well. I created a great bond with Christiane, Danou and their son Loris over the course of a year and couldn’t wait for my dad to meet them all.
We arrived in Pfulgriesheim around 6pm that evening. Loris was apparently passed out in his room with a hangover from hell due to a party the night before and couldn’t hear us at the door. Christiane was visiting her sister in the south of France at the time and Danou was at the NL Contest in Strasbourg at the moment. We decided to clean out the fiesta in the meantime and waited for Danou to get back home. I had prepared my dad for “La Bise” which is a French cultural introduction that involves kissing the individual on the side of the cheek twice or more depending on your location in the country. When he met Danou, it was the first time he got to really put it to practice and nailed it perfectly!
We caught up and made plans to head into the city to not only check out my favourite location in Strasbourg, La Petite France but also the Notre Dame Cathedral as well. This was my dad’s favourite piece of architecture from the trip. We met up with Arnaud to have some tarte flambee on one of the famous streets, Grand rue. My dad has heard me talk about Arnaud, Danou and everyone else from France for some time and it felt so surreal to have them altogether for the first time.
After enjoying the sights of my favourite city in France, we headed back to Danou’s and discussed some plans for the next day. Arnaud had mentioned a run down castle not too far away that gives a great view over the region that I had never been to before. We set our alarms for 9am and fell asleep within seconds feeling more comfortable then ever getting the chance to sleep in a real bed for the first time in five days.
Day 7 - May 22nd
(Chateau du Haut Barr, France)
Our alarm went off and let me tell you, we did not want to get up. I let my dad sleep in as much as possible while I got all my gear together and had a quick shower. He was up on his own by the time I was done, so we headed downstairs for a morning coffee. I felt right at home once again being in this house. Danou even remembered how much I loved a freshly baked baguette and headed to the nearby bakery first thing in the morning to pick up some for breakfast. It was long after that Arnaud arrived, Loris woke up from his 36-hour hangover nap and the adventure to Haut Barr Castle was underway.
Last time I saw Arnaud, he had just got his driving license and a car. This time, he’s rocking an awesome Honda 400cc motorcycle! While he headed out on two wheels, the rest of us got into the good ol’ Mercedes and headed out. It was about a 45-minute drive to the castle and the elevation must have been up 200 meters or more to start. As soon as we began the climb up the stairs, you could really see the landscape unfolding before us. It was magnificent!
This was the first real chance I got to really test out my drone. I sent it up into the sky and the view from up there was even more remarkable! We climbed all over the castle it seemed for the next little while, while Arnaud and I took a ton of photos and video. Arnaud was a huge inspiration for me to get more into videography while I lived in France, so to get back out doing what we both love together was awesome.
After having lunch upon the castle we decided to head back to Arnaud’s apartment which happens to be in the little village of Reitwiller. Arnaud invited his little brother Florian and our friend Erwan over for dinner as well. Erwan stayed with me in Canada for three months the year before and got to know my dad really well. Having everyone together on such a beautiful day brought smiles and laughs non stop.
We stuffed our faces with some delicious food cooked on the bbq then headed over to a hill overlooking the countryside for a stunning sunset accompanied by a couple drinks. We thought of where tomorrows adventure could take us and it was decided that we’d venture out to some old Roman ruins that rests on the top of Les Vosges mountain range’s highest point, Col du Donon.
Day 8 - May 23rd
(Col du Donon, France)
Today started similar to the last in terms of getting ready although Loris would be staying back and Florian would be joining us to Col du Donon. It was a beautiful day outside and Danou wanted to take out his motorcycle to ride with Arnaud so I got the keys to the Mercedes this time. I set the GPS and we were on our way. We ended up beating Danou and Arnaud to the trailhead, but found out after they had stopped for food along the way. The trail to the top was estimated to take about one hour and would have an elevation gain of about 250 meters. This will mark the biggest hike I’ve done with my dad. He did it flawlessly though and before you know it, we’re all looking over across the extravagant Vosges countryside.
The roman ruins were something else as well. What I couldn’t comprehend is how did they build this so long ago? The columns must have weighed an incredible amount and the man power alone would have had to be substantial. This couldn’t have been a better place to make up some sandwiches. My dad was feeling pretty adventurous and stumbled upon a small little cave off the beaten path that we all ended up checking out. Good one!
Arnaud and I could be seen 80% of the time carrying a camera and getting some more content for whatever reasons. It was a windy day so I wasn’t able to fly the drone as much as I’d have liked to but still got some awesome footage. Tomorrow, my dad and I would be starting our lengthy drive down to the south of France so we thought it’d be great to get everyone together for dinner tonight at a nice restaurant in Strasbourg. Danou made the reservations while we were still at the ruins and then we began our descent.
I had been eyeing up this gap I wanted to jump on my feet that would make for a cool photo but didn’t have the confidence at first. As soon as everyone started heading down, I looked at Arnaud and said let’s do it! I ended up doing it twice and the second time slightly bruised my heel. An injury I’ve dealt with plenty of times in the past from BMX, it didn’t phase me. We quickly caught up with the rest of the group and headed down. My dad was quick to mention that going down was a lot easier than going up.
We got back down to the beginning of the trailhead in good time and made our way back to Danou’s. Everyone gathered for a quick aperitif and then drove all together with Loris meeting us at the restaurant. I recognized the restaurant soon after we arrived. The six of us sat down and began ordering plate after plate of tarte flambee or as my dad liked to call it, pizza. The highlight of this meal was when the waitress kindly asked my dad if he’d like another drink. Of course, my dad didn’t hesitate with a yes but then the waitress asked if he’d like the same size. My dad already had the largest size available but still innocently asked if he could have bigger. We all let out a good laugh at that one.
While we were eating we came to the realization that it was our friend Alice’s birthday. I quickly texted Alice and made plans to meet up at Atlantico for some birthday drinks. Atlantico was the first bar Arnaud brought me to when I came to France and I loved it. A classic spot on a boat along one of the many canals of Strasbourg. Once we all finished dinner together, we headed over to Atlantico to celebrate.
This would be the last time I would see a few of the guys and Alice for who knows how long now. We shared a ton of laughs together and did as much catching up with one another as possible in that time before saying our goodbyes. Danou had to get up super early the next day but didn’t let that thought bother him one bit. I couldn’t tell you what time we ended up getting back to the house but it was late. Another epic night in Strasbourg in the books!
Day 9 - May 24th
(Les Alps, France)
We had set our alarms for 9am this morning knowing we had a long drive ahead of us. Our goal today was to get down to the small village of Argentière, which is located in the French Alps. When I had lived in France before, my time was split between living in the neighboring towns of Strasbourg and living/working in Argentière. This was my chance to not only show my dad how beautiful the alps are in person, but also to show him my old apartment and workplace.
It was about 9:45am by the time we had breakfast and headed out. Instead of taking the AutoRoute down through France however, we decided to head into Germany and catch the autobahn down through Switzerland and then come in the back way to France. This proved to be longer but much more scenic.
This marked the first time my dad has drove from one country to another without having to go through a customs booth of some sort. If you’re from Canada or have visited in the past and drove over to the United States or vice versa you know how annoying, not to mention stressful it can be having to cross through customs security.
It wasn’t too long after we entered Germany that we’d be getting onto the Autobahn and going as fast as we possibly could. We got up to 150km/h before we were backed up by semi-trucks and slower traffic. We needed to fuel up anyway, so we took this time to pull over for a quick little fill up and break before hours of driving ahead of us. My dad purchased a few different types of beer for the ride and I picked up a couple bottles of water. Back on route and before long we were up to 180km/h and for this trip that would have to suffice as the top speed. As much as we wanted to go faster, unfortunately the busy daytime traffic would not allow it as we quickly caught up to the cars in front of us.
As we were getting closer to the border of Switzerland, traffic began to get a bit more congested and slightly confusing to say the least. As this was my first time driving in Europe, I wasn’t entirely knowledgeable in the way some of the roads worked. This turned out to be one of those circumstances. There was stop lights on the highway that had semi-trucks pulled to one side. Could it be scales? My dad and I both had no idea what was going on but there were multiple locations similar to that so we just kept following the cars ahead. Shortly after there was an even longer line up on the left hand side but no traffic in the center lane so we thought, lets go for it! We drove down the center lane and no lie, we must have passed over 100 vehicles. What were we doing wrong was the main sentence running through our head at the moment. The lane brought us up to a building and to think back about it, it must have been a customs booth. We were so confused by this point because it was entirely different than any kind of customs check we would have encountered back home. If this was Detroit, we would have already had guns pointed at us, pulled in for questioning and I won’t even get into further details of what could happen. Since there was none of this happening, we pulled up to a stop sign, looked both ways and continued back onto the highway leading into Switzerland. Whatever we just went through, it was behind us now and we figured if they’re going to come after us, they’ll come after us. Carry on we did!
Not thinking ahead, I forgot to buy some snacks and a lunch in Germany with our euros since Switzerland uses the Swiss Franc as their currency. Not to mention how darn expensive it is! I may have forgot to buy snacks, but my dad completely forgot to buy a t-shirt. Oh no! At this rate, he is now two for six on country shirts. Tisk tisk, we have to get that ratio up!
Once we got out of the city of Basel, I made sure to pull over right away so we could grab some lunch and also get that t-shirt ratio up. The location seemed to be perfect. Right next to a lake with a small walking trail, we grabbed some lunch and sat along the water while watching all the planes fly overhead. We were also able to find a t-shirt with the Swiss flag on it. Officially three for seven now!
I set the destination on our maps to Martigny, Switzerland figuring once we got there I’d be able to remember and figure out my way towards Chamonix, France. The thing with the maps app that I was using called Maps.Me is that it works both offline and online. The problem is that sometimes it likes to take its own touristic route for no apparent reason at all so if this drive wasn’t long enough already, it’s becoming longer. Randomly at one point, it decided to take us off the highway and through the countryside, just to bring us back onto the same highway only a couple of kilometers further down.
You could tell we were starting to get closer to the mountains. The road began to start changing in elevation and smaller mountains were beginning to pop up. Then it all hit at one moment, we came into sight of Lake Geneva and the alps. My dad started grabbing for his phone to take photos completely blown away by what he was seeing with his own eyes. He has finally seen real mountains for the first time and his reaction was priceless. All of a sudden the photos that I had taken of these mountains before had no real factor. No perspective like seeing it with your own eyes.
The sights only got better and better as we neared closer to Martigny and eventually the signs pointing us towards Chamonix. We were in the valley by this point with mountains standing mighty and tall around us. The switchbacks had begun as we climbed in elevation meter by meter until we were looking out over the valley below. A beautiful sight I only saw once before during the night time. Seeing it in the daytime was something else.
Only half an hour or so now separated us from the border of France and it was all beginning to come back to me. The names of the towns and the landscapes were all too familiar once again. I couldn’t stop smiling be back here. As we went by different trailheads, I began to point out to my dad which ones I’ve done and which mountain peaks I’ve stood upon. Then all of a sudden, just as if the curtain had been pulled open, the mighty Mont Blanc massif came into view. Standing tall at 4,800 meters, Mont Blanc marks the highest point in the European Union, and seventh tallest in all of Europe.
I warned my dad that his neck may get soar once we enter into the Chamonix valley and he was beginning to understand why by this point. It’s extremely hard not to look up the entire time. Next we were passing the sign that welcomed us to Argentière. It was so much different this time of year being the off season. Only one bar was open and my old workplace, UCPA was died. The front doors still opened however so I went in to see who was around. Turns out the director Luc and his wife Sophie were inside getting some work done and what a surprise it was to see them. We did some catching up over coffee before I reached out to my friend David Goodall who owned the snowboard shop 3Ride across the street. Dave was nice enough to let my dad and I crash at his place this night and it was great to do some catching up with him as well. Seeing everybody and Argentière again really made me want to live there again.
After getting some drone shots and photos in the area, along with a quick tour for my dad we headed over to Dave’s place in Montroc-Argentière. He knew of an amazing stone cooked pizza place so next thing you know we got four pizzas on the way. I think it would be safe to say by this point that pizza was the food of choice on this journey. It just so happened that a final football match between Manchester and Amsterdam was on TV. We munched out, had some drinks over the match and then prepared for a good nights sleep before another lengthy drive tomorrow.
Day 10 - May 25th
(Les Alps to Montpellier, France)
Last nights sleep was a bit cold but nothing compared to some sleeps I’ve had to endure in the past. It was kind of refreshing and it certainly woke us both up faster than usual. We thanked Dave and said goodbye before starting what would be an almost 10-hour drive to the south of France. Just like before, our plan was to avoid the toll roads and take in as much scenery as possible.
The idea for the morning was to go up to Aguille du Midi which is an epic starting location for skiing and snowboarding during the winter season but provides an amazing lookout during the summer season. It stands 3,800 meters above the city of Chamonix right next to Mont Blanc. Unfortunately, when we arrived, the line up was already outstanding and I couldn’t justify the wait with the price and the distance we still had to cover throughout the day. Instead I decided to go somewhere new for both my dad and I.
The drive began through the valley, then up the switchbacks towards Plateau d’Assy. I had visited this specific location twice in the past. Once in the summertime for a via ferrata route and then once in the winter time for a hike and butt boarding. This time we were aiming for Lac Vert which was at the furthest possible mark on the road.
We got there with only one other car in the parking lot. This was already much more promising then having to wait in line for an hour. We grabbed a couple snacks and headed into the forest towards the lake. When the lake came into view, it was breathtaking to say the least. The reflection that shined along the still water left us in awe as I sent the drone up to take in the landscape from above.
There was a trail going around the lake which seemed like a great idea to get our legs stretched out before we sat in a car for hours on end. It was an easy walk except for one little area that seemed to be a bit flooded resulting in a bit of rock climbing. I was a bit nervous that it would be too difficult for my dad but he did it no problem. The best part was he did it all with a beer in hand!
Once we got back to the car, we drove back up to Plateau d’Assy to watch some of the people paragliding take off. I tried to get my dad to do it with me but with no avail. Soon after the long drive commenced. It didn’t take long before we were down into the valley and heading up the other side taking the back route through the alps instead of driving out to Lyon. My dad had mentioned he was going to try and catch up on some sleep while I drove but it didn’t take long before he realized how windy this route was going to be. I was having a blast driving through here as the road winded back and forth, up and down in elevation. Bout as close as I’ll ever get to living my rally racing dreams.
Driving in Europe is so much better than driving back home because you constantly have something to look at or the road is much more entertaining rather than be dead straight and boring. By mid-afternoon we decided to stop for a bite to eat for lunch. We had gotten out of the alps and into more of the countryside by this point but the landscape was still nothing short of beautiful. There were canola fields everywhere and one mountain off in the distance protruded above them distinctly. We looked for the next turnoff for a chance to capture this view through a lens than continued on.
We were aiming now to arrive in Montpellier by 7pm (19:00) just in time to meet our hosts at an AirBnB we had reserved. Initially the plan was to arrive by 5pm (17:00) but the drive proved to be longer than expected including stops for a bite to eat, photo opportunities and breaks to stretch the legs. We came upon one vista overlooking the countryside and in the parking lot adjacent there seemed to be some kind of old car show going on. Most of the cars I had never seen before in my life, and were in pristine condition. A bit of time was certainly spent admiring the vehicles and the scenery before carrying on to our destination.
Just like clockwork we were arriving in Montpellier right on the dot. I began to receive texts from our hosts letting us know where we could meet. Normally, we would be able to meet right in front of their apartment but due to the FISE event taking place this weekend, police have barricaded part of their road. Our two hosts for the next couple days were a couple of men named Alex. They were both very welcoming and made our stay in Montpellier absolutely amazing!
We brought up our luggage to the room, learned the rules of the house, and had a well deserved drink to celebrate driving almost 1,500km’s throughout France, Germany and Switzerland over the past few days. Now the main reason we came to Montpellier was for the event I mentioned earlier, FISE (Federation International Sportif Extreme). The FISE competition is an extreme sports festival that has stops all over the world with Montpellier being the formal #1 destination where it all began. Over 500,000 people attend this event to watch the worlds best compete in disciplines such as BMX, skateboarding, MTB, wakeboarding, parkour, roller blading, scootering just to name a few. I had attended this same event two years’ prior and was completely blown away. I made it a point to attend once I found out it would be happening the same weekend we’d be in France. A great chance for my dad to see and meet some of my friends from around the world.
After our celebratory drinks, we headed out to meet up with a bunch of my friends from Strasbourg and the surrounding area that were at the FISE. It was insane to see everyone again. It didn’t feel like two years had passed at all. Seeing everyone’s expression when they realized it was me was priceless. My buddy and one heck of a crazy dude Yannick Trevisan didn’t hesitate to get me involved on the party festivities upon the first sight of me. My dad got to meet so many awesome people this evening and everyone was more than willing to do their best at speaking English to comfort my dad or as they would say Chase’s Papa! The party went well into the night as per usual at FISE and I knew it was only going to get crazier come tomorrow so my dad and I decided it would be best to get a goodnights sleep in. We headed back to “Les Alexs” and called it a night.
Day 11 - May 26th
(FISE @ Montpellier, France)
Today was the big day. My friend and unreal MTB rider Remy Carra had qualified for the finals and would be giving it his all at 1pm (13:00) this afternoon. That was our number one priority for the day, followed by some sightseeing in the old town and then watching the wild night begin with qualifications for the BMX mini ramp contest.
Alex had shown me just the evening before how to work his coffee machine but leave it to me to somehow mess up a straight forward approach. I probably wasted enough coffee for 4 people making my first one but I figured it out. You got to learn from your mistakes, right? Let’s just blame it on the early morning. Once we were caffeinated, we quickly signed up for the event online and headed out. One thing that is brilliant about the FISE competition is that it is completely free for all spectators. This year however to address safety concerns, everyone who would be attending the event needed to sign up online and get an e-ticket that way the event organizers have a bit of a background on everyone in attendance.
The last time I was at the FISE here in Montpellier, I had been shooting the BMX portion of the event for BMX union. It was an amazing opportunity and I would do it again in a heart beat but this time I opted out of being a photographer so I could enjoy all disciplines together with my dad. That’s not to say I wouldn’t be taking photos however. As soon as we got to the MTB area, I was hustling trying to find a good spot to shoot some photos of Remy before his finals began. Remy ended up crossing paths with me as I was trying to find a spot and let me know the rest of the guys were down below the second last jump. We headed down to the group to say hello and it just so happened to be probably the best available spot for shooting the entire course. Voila!
I fired out a few shots throughout the contest and congratulated Remy on finishing 9th place overall before venturing out to see some other disciplines taking place. My dad was pretty keen on seeing the wakeboarding aspect take place so we headed there next. This was also the first time I got to witness top level wakeboarding in person. The way those guys can launch themselves up against the wall then flip out is gnarly.
Once we saw enough of the wakeboarding, we went and checked out a bit of rollerblading, and parkour before making our way to the flatland BMX area. The heat was beginning to get to the both of us by this point and we were quite hungry as well. The next main event we wanted to see wouldn’t be for another few hours so we took this opportunity to head into the old town via tramway.
We got off at the stop called observatoire and proceeded by foot the rest of the way. Alex had given us a map of the old town, as well as took the time to highlight some of the landmarks we may be interested in. This came in handy quite a bit since the old town feels like an absolute maze to someone who isn’t from there. We headed toward a triumphant arch called Porte du Peyrou that would be the gateway to the Chateau d’Eau which looks out over an old aqueduct.
It was about this time my dad finished his last cigarette of the carton and a half he brought over from Canada. We stopped at the nearby tobacco shop to purchase some new ones for him but my vocabulary for smoking is next to nothing in French. I’ve never had the need to learn but still managed to get something that would at least tie him over until we got back home.
Carrying on through the old town, we came upon Place de Comedie which would be similar to Prague’s old town square. A massive square in the middle of the old town that had a bunch of artistic demonstrations going on. We thought this would be a good place to finally pick up that France t-shirt we had slightly forgotten about until now. We looked and looked however and still couldn’t find one. It was beginning to get close to the time of BMX mini ramp qualifications by now. We hit up the nearest store to grab some beer for the event, then caught the tram back to the AirBnB.
The apartment we were staying at was literally across the street from the mini ramp competition which made it very convenient. We had a little bit of time to spare before the event began to clean ourselves up and prepare. We headed out with a couple drinks in hand to find the street we normally had been walking down closed off for the competition. Now, if this was Canada, we probably wouldn’t walk up to a police officer in public with a beer in our hands asking where we can stand and drink without a problem, but this is France. The officer politely showed us an area and we headed that way. Once we were there I noticed a couple friends, Anthony Perrin and Joris Coulomb chatting it up. We went and hung out there and before long it seemed all the street dudes were incoming.
*In BMX, there is a few sub-disciplines so to speak. There is park, street, dirt and flatland. Park involves ramps and big air. Dirt involves, well, dirt jumps. Flatland involves the use of just that, flat land. Then there is street which typically involves a setup similar to what you would find in the city streets.
My dad continued to take it all in and we would joke around throughout the evening. A couple of the guys that showed up were some of my favourite riders that I look up to so I had to get a photo with them to remember the times.
Once the mini ramp qualifications were all finished, everyone was heading the the Australian bar which was thee contest after party. I warned my dad ahead of time that tonight would be a good one and it was! We were heading back to the apartment around 12:30 knowing we had to get up early to check out before a few familiar faces walked by, Pat Casey, Taylor McCoy, Kevin Perraza and Tyler Rizzi. They were on their way to the bar and convinced me to join so I said goodnight to my dad and the five of us hit up the afterparty. Unfortunately, if you’re not a rider or with media you can’t sneak pass the line up to get in. Well, the rest of the guys happen to be one of those two so I acted casual in the middle and security didn’t even recognize my empty wrist that should have had a wristband. I’m in! I had forgotten my wallet in my dad’s backpack so shout out to Kevin for helping me out with some drinks. I got you back next time Kevin!
It must have been close to 2:30am before I found myself stumbling back to the apartment. A successful night indeed! As I was getting closer to the apartment however I came to a realization… I have no way in. My dad is surely asleep by now and he’s got the key. I tried calling but his phone was turned off. I had been messaging my friend Fiona from Ireland at the time and she mentioned the idea of throwing rocks at the window. Three stories up and the window was open. I gave some attempts but it wasn’t working. I curled up on the sidewalk at one point convinced I’d be sleeping outside then Fiona called me motivating me to try the rocks again and yelling. With one last attempt he answered to his nickname, Roady. Success! He hollered back at me letting me know he was coming down and five minutes later there he was half naked in his underwear laughing at the situation. A wild night indeed in the books!
Day 12 - May 27th
The alarm went off for 9am this morning and yesterdays events were taking their toll on my head. Even a cup of coffee wouldn’t be able to fix it. Our flight from Montpellier to Amsterdam wasn’t until the afternoon so we had quite a bit of time to kill. What better way to fix a hangover then to go down to the beach!
Danou had just finished a road bike race near Marseille, also in the south of France and made his way over to Montpellier to catch the ending of the FISE contest. I told him about us going to the beach and without hesitation he said he’d meet us there in 30-minutes. My dad has only been swimming in saltwater off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada in the Atlantic Ocean which is freezing. It wasn’t going to be like that here. The Mediterranean this time of year is astonishing. The three of us met up at Les Plages des Lesards which directly translates to the beach of the lizards… Sounds appealing.
We spent a good while soaking up the sun and talking about the last few days. It was a blistering hot day out and even though we may have been missing some exceptional talent back at the FISE, nothing could compare to how refreshing it was to swim in the sea. It was getting down to the wire in terms of getting to the airport so we said our goodbyes one last time to Danou and thanked him for all the hospitality and kindness he’s given the both of us. It was time to head to the airport and also time to say goodbye to our wonderful Ford Fiesta.
While we were at the airport dropping off the car, I received a message from Danou asking where we were. A little confused at first, I then replied that we were at the airport. He answers me with “Yes, me too! And Christiane and her sister!”. I looked up at my dad astonished and said Christiane and Danou are here! He was just as shocked as I was. We headed over to greet them and introduce my dad to Christiane. I’m so glad that they were able to meet after all. This really put the cherry on top for the trip.
We had a bite to eat together and talked about so many different topics. I went over to check in our bags in the mean time only to find out that our flight had been delayed three hours… So much for arriving in Amsterdam at 7pm (19:00) now. Danou, Christiane and her sister decided to stick around with us for most of the time before saying goodbye and heading off. We had told Christiane about my dad’s idea of buying a shirt in each country and she loved it. Even though we forgot to buy one from Sweden, Germany and France, she said that when Danou and her take a vacation to Canada, they will bring those three along with her. Exceptional!
It wasn’t too long after they left that we headed through security and waited to board our flight. I took the time on this flight to begin writing the blog you’re currently reading but it was a short flight, only an hour and a half. We touched down in Europe’s second biggest airport and must have taxied along the runway for almost 15 minutes before coming to the terminal. Then we still needed to figure out how to get to our hostel from there. When I connected to the airport Wi-Fi, I was informed that there was Uber in the area. Perfect, I had a driver come and get us but of course it wouldn’t be fun if we didn’t have to work for it a bit. We were both unsure about the layout of the airport and ordered the taxi to the departures instead of the arrivals. Luckily, we had a 15-minute wait for him to arrive which was just enough time for me to realize my error and make it to the correct area.
The uber ride lasted just over ten minutes and got us to the doorstep of our hostel. We checked in and got our private room. Without a doubt, this was our least favourite accommodations of the trip. There was no A/C and it was a smoldering 34 degrees celcius outside and because of our room location, we were only able to open the window a crack. I asked reception for a fan but they had none available. Guess we just got to suck it up and make due for the night.
Day 13 - May 28th
Due to the heat and dryness in the room, my dad ended up waking up to a bloody nose and I was reaching for a bottle of water instantly. The good news is, we got up at 8am without even an alarm. We had all day to explore Amsterdam and we told a friend of my Jennifer Van De Stelt that we would meet up with her in Vondelpark around 1pm (13:00). I had actually never met Jennifer yet, but we both once belonged to a collective called Groundfolk.
*Groundfolk was a collective of over 200 creative talents across 42 different countries that had an aim to inspire others. Many chose to inspire through photography but other creative outlets such as videography, dance, and music were a few that also existed. We were connected through social networking to one another and were always trying to meet up.
We began our walk over to Vondelpark with a quick side stop at one of the many coffeeshops. This is Amsterdam, and when someone thinks of Amsterdam, you can probably narrow it down to either windmills, the red light district or marijuana. Coffeeshops are found all over the city and offer a legal foundation to purchase marijuana. Of course, while in Amsterdam it’s basically obligatory for a tourist to partake in the activities. The one problem was, I don’t know how to roll and neither does my dad. We had to purchase a miniature pipe in order to consume. We found ourselves in Vondelpark shortly after. While making our way towards the big pond in the middle, I got a craving for ice cream. Just so happens when we get there, they got ice cream. Woot!
I messaged Jennifer at this time letting her know our whereabouts and within a few minutes I met my first international member of Groundfolk. Jen was excited to show us around her city and the insights she provided were phenomenal. We headed to different landmarks including the Anne Frank house which my dad had never learned about. The detail Jen provided and the back story of WWII couldn’t be matched. We learned more than we ever could have expected that day.
From there we headed towards central station and this time we went looking for a shirt at the first opportunity. We grabbed a couple souvenirs for friends back home then proceeded to check out the canals before making our way over to all you can eat sushi. My dad has never ate sushi in the 59 years he’s been on this planet. How crazy is that? Typical, when one thinks of sushi, they think of raw fish. Sushi isn’t like that however. Sure, there is raw fish (that tastes amazing for the record) and there are also different types of rolls that contain no fish at all. My dad was up for trying everything though since he was on vacation.
After sushi, Jen and I got a photo together in front of the canal to share with the other members of Groundfolk. In the background there was a building that said mom on the top. This was a funny coincidence because it was actually my moms 61st birthday on this day so I snapped a photo and sent it off to her with a happy birthday message. It was then that we mentioned to Jen that we’d be heading into the red light district soon and understandably Jen decided to head back to where she was living by train. We walked her to the station and like many times throughout this voyage, we said our goodbyes.
Red light district bound we were. I had visited once before and knew what to expect but I’m sure my dad had no idea. We made our way towards the big red church so that way I had a landmark to connect with, bought a few drinks and snacks for the road then made our way up and down different alleys. Exactly like what everyone envisions the red light district to be; Ladies stand in their windows lit by the glow of red lights inside and out. At one point there was a kid who must have been about ten years walk past a window with his mom; He turned to go back and look but his mom blocked him as he tried to push through. I couldn’t help but laugh at this, and that’s when his mom looked up at me and also started laughing. How can you not?
We ventured out of the red light district for a bit checking out other locations around Amsterdam before heading back at dusk to see if anything changes. We must have walked every alley and canal around that area and I’d be lying if I said we didn’t end up in the same one more than once. Once we had our fill of the red light district we began walking back towards our hostel.
We didn’t realize how long of a walk it was from the hostel to central station on the way in due to the continuous conversation we were having with Jennifer. That and probably something to do with the fact that Jen knew her way around Amsterdam a heck of a lot better than my dad and I. It must have taken us almost an hour and a half to make it back to our hostel. Luckily, it had cooled off a bit during the evening so it made it a bit more comfortable to go to sleep.
Day 14 - May 29th
We woke up this day fired up but legs feeling a little tired from the day before. We figured out that we walked roughly somewhere between ten to thirteen kilometers that day. Having to check out this morning since we’d be catching a late flight over to Keflavik, Iceland for a night, we chose to store our luggage at the hostel and go for a walk in the opposite direction of downtown.
There was a small café that was just opening their doors as we walked by so we ceased the opportunity to grab some coffee and use the Wi-Fi to create a day’s plan. Everything we wanted to see in Amsterdam, we were able to knock off the list the day before, so today was completely carefree. I saw a pretty cool route on my maps that would see us walk to a small peninsula shooting off into a lake and then take a ferry back over.
We got going towards the route and the first place that really stuck out was a village of houseboats. Houseboats lined the canals and my dad fell in love with it. He’s not one for the city life, but he has a love for boats and the water. Next to this area was a small playground that had a bunch of different obstacles to play on. As typical tourists, we purchased more than enough marijuana the day before from the coffeeshop and had an abundance we needed to get rid of. Looks like today’s events would be impacted and boy did we have a good time. I never thought I’d see my dad have so much fun on a playground! Mind you, it may have taken a bit of peer pressure but it was positive peer pressure as I like to call it.
After a good hour easily spent playing around, we continued our route to the peninsula coming across a building that resembled to me, a high speed rail train or as my dad saw it, a cruise ship. What do you think?
Finally coming into the park that leads out to the peninsula, we felt so far out of the city. Building tops could barely even be seen by this point and you could hear the constant sound of birds chirping. My dad even pointed out that there was a parking lot… for cars. The whole time in Amsterdam, all we saw were places to park your bike.
By now, we had already walked seven kilometers but the ferry would save us from backtracking and allow us to make it back in only three more kilometers. Well, low and behold, the ferry is not running at the moment. What do you do at this point realizing how far you have to walk? Laugh, laugh, laugh and then walk, walk, walk. We came out at what looked to be a training area for long distance kayakers and the only way we could get to where we needed to be was walk the three kilometers straight. This part was grueling. After five kilometers, we gave in to the subway system not able to finish the walk knowing we’d be cutting it close for the airplane.
Once we got back to the hostel and collected our luggage, we came to the conclusion that we wouldn’t be able to finish smoking the rest of the marijuana we had bought and decided to leave it as a gift for whoever finds it.
Packing the pipe, along with the bud into a Ziploc bag sealed inside a jar, we left it near one of the bushes with hopes that someone would find it. Deciding to use uber again in order to get to the airport fast and convenient, we arrived with an hour to spare before boarding. The original plan in Iceland was to stay at the Oddsson hostel which I had stayed at on my previous trip to Iceland and then head to the Blue Lagoon in the morning for some relaxation before flying back to Canada. We ended up creating a new plan while at the Amsterdam airport however. While getting ready to board, it was announced that our flight would again be delayed and we wouldn’t be arriving in Iceland till almost midnight. We were going to be getting picked up by Cheap Jeep Iceland and have a vehicle for us to drive to the Oddsson hostel anyway so we figured why not just cancel our reservation at the hostel and sleep in the vehicle. I contacted the hostel and explained the situation which they happily agreed to refund us even though we were within the 24-hour period with no refunds. That became our plan. Sleep in the car and depending on weather; I would either drive through the night directly to a waterfall I had missed on my previous trip or just sleep in the car and head to the Blue Lagoon in the morning.
When we arrived at the airport in Keflavik and got picked up, the rain was coming down full force. No way I was thinking about driving out to the waterfall now. I asked the driver if there was any rooms available at the hostel he worked for but it was full. My dad and I were planning to sleep in the car anyway so it wasn’t a big deal at all. When we got to the office of CheapJeep Iceland, he said he had an idea and to follow him. I followed him to a door that looked like it belonged on solitary confinement in a prison. He opened it and showed me the closet inside that had an elevated bed. It was a tiny tiny area but he offered it to us and said he’d be able to get another mattress if we’d like to stay there for a few hours’ rest. How could we say no to that? Thank you CheapJeep Iceland for coming through once again!
Day 15 - May 30th
(Blue Lagoon, Iceland)
Day 15 (May 30th – Blue Lagoon, Iceland) Our reservation for the Blue Lagoon was at 8am but we thought if we get there early, maybe we got a chance to get in early. We cleaned up our little closest, jumped in the little Suzuki two door we were given for the day and made it to the reception by 7:30am. Not a single person in line. The staff was super friendly and told us about the wristband we’d be wearing that could be used to pay for anything else in the resort. After a quick shower that is mandatory before entering the lagoon, we were in.
It was still pouring rain outside and a lot colder than what we had become accustomed to throughout the rest of Europe. Luckily, the Blue Lagoon has an area indoors where you enter the water and then work your way through a door leading to the outside. For those of you who don’t know, the Blue Lagoon is a resort that stands upon geothermic ground and offers bathers a refreshing 38-degree Celsius bath. A natural silica mask can be given out at one of the stations in the lagoon to cover and nourish your face, as well as a bar if you feel like spending $15 on a drink.
We must have spent a couple hours at least as our hands became prawny chatting with other travelers in the man-made cavern. Then the time came to exit the lagoon. This part was not as enjoyable as the rest since you had to leave this luxurious temperature into the freezing cold before entering the building and grabbing your towel.
After getting back into our travel clothes, we still had some time to kill before having to return the rental vehicle so we took one last coffee and headed over to Gunnuhver. Gunnuhver is a boiling pit with the waters reaching over 100 degrees centigrade and causing steam to visually emit from the ground surrounding. Walkways were built to provide travelers with a safe but reasonable view point. From here, it was time to return our vehicle and get ready for the last flight of our trip.
As soon as we got back into the airport, we made a jolt for the clothing store so my dad could get t-shirt number 5 of 8. All in all, he finished above 50% so I guess you could see mission passed! While we were getting ready to go through airport security, I forgot about the two RedBull energy drinks I purchased when the idea was to drive throughout the night. Unfortunately, we had already checked out luggage and we were faced with two options; Throw out the two full cans, or chug. Let’s just say we were more than pumped to get on this last flight home.
Our flight landed in Toronto ahead of schedule which was great news for us since we had to still catch the UP Express train over to Union Station before catching the last train from there back to Windsor. Then it all started coming down… There was an airplane still in the terminal that we were heading for. All of a sudden, we’re not ahead of schedule anymore. As soon as we were out, the speed walk was on. We were almost at customs until a airport attendant had us stop because customs was currently over populated at this time. I was thinking we weren’t going to make our train and we’d have to stay in Toronto overnight. Luckily enough, we made it to the UP Express with just five minutes to spare and were on our way home!
At this point, I can’t thank everyone enough who helped make this trip a reality. From all the well wishes, inspiration and helpful tips throughout our journey. This trip will never be forgotten and the memories associated with it will last a life time.
Check out the YouTube series I put together HERE!