Wildlife in Fiji – A Fruit Bat Eating Papaya

There are a lot of great things about Fiji like the scuba diving, the fishing and incredible people.  One of the things not really known or thought about is the tasty papaya.  The fruit bats love them a lot and will be out day or night eating them up.  Check out this one getting his fill on a ripe one.

Te Papa – The National Museum of New Zealand

Te Papa is the national history  museum of New Zealand and is located in Wellington the country’s capital city.  This is a quick video of the front entrance to the museum.  Here are a few features of the museum:

  • Built on reclaimed land at the edge of the bay.
  • Features many interactive exhibits and works of art that are important to national and Maori history.
  • Free internet over wifi (even the library a few buildings away doesn’t have that)
  • A nice cafe and cool gift shop are located on site.
  • It’s a must visit and it’s free!


Wellington Skyline – Mount Victoria Lookout

A stunning view of Wellington on one of the few calm and clear days.  This city has a very high average wind speed. Some notes about this city:

  • Lookout includes the Byrd Memorial
  • Due South, in the direction of the airport is Antartica
  • Forest below is a popular movie set location
  • trails are great for mountain biking
  • Green belt that surrounds the city was to reduce city sprawl and size
  • You can easily spot Te Papa Museum, the stadium and the airport from this location


Travel Checklist

Home Checklist
  • ________Arrange for pet and plant care
  • ________Stop routine deliveries
  • ________Make your home seem lived-in while away by putting lights and a radio on timers
  • ________Turn down thermostat
  • ________Leave keys and itinerary with a friend
  • ________Lock windows, garage, and doors

Before Leaving
  • ________Guide books and maps
  • ________Passport and visa(s)
  • ________Foreign currency of your destination country
  • ________Credit cards
  • ________Travelers checks or ATM card
  • ________Insurance: Trip Cancellation/Medical
  • ________Personal Identification
  • ________Photocopies of documentation
  • ________Birth Certificate (if necessary)
  • ________Marriage License (if necessary)
Basic Essentials
  • ________Appropriate Luggage
  • ________Luggage Locks & ID Tags (Do NOT Lock checked baggage)
  • ________Appropriate Clothing
  • ________Comfortable Footwear
  • ________Rain Protection
  • ________Camera and Film (Place film in carry-on baggage)
  • ________Telephone Plugs for Modem
  • ________Small Flashlight
  • ________Travel Alarm Clock
  • ________Small Binoculars
  • ________Brimmed Hat or Visor
  • ________Reading Materials
  • ________Playing Cards/Games
  • ________Address Book
Maintenance Items
  • ________Batteries for camera and flashlight
  • ________Mini Sewing Kit (place in checked baggage)
  • ________Travel Iron or Steamer
  • ________Sink Stopper
  • ________Folding Scissors (place in checked baggage)
  • ________Laundry Soap Packets
  • ________Laundry Bag
  • ________Ziplock Plastic Bags
Medication
  • ________First Aid Kit
  • ________Aspirin/Pain Reliever
  • ________Cold/Sinus Medication
  • ________Diarrhea Medicine
  • ________Laxative
  • ________Insect Repellent
  • ________Contact Lens Preparations
  • ________Antibiotic Ointment
  • ________Alcohol Wipes
  • ________Sunscreen
  • ________Motion Sickness Medicine
  • ________Personal Hygiene Items
  • ________Personal Prescriptions
Toiletries
  • ________Comb/Brush
  • ________Toothbrush/Paste
  • ________Dental Floss
  • ________Shampoo
  • ________Blow Dryer
  • ________Deodorant
  • ________Lotions/Creams
  • ________Cologne
  • ________Lipbalm
  • ________Towelettes
  • ________Shaving Cream
  • ________Towel/Washcloth
  • ________Earplugs

Greenland

This is as close to Greenland that we will probably come for many years.   Maybe in the summer it would be cool to check it out the icebergs and glacier.  Greenland’s coast looked great with it’s many valleys, bays and villages.  We passed over the southern most edge of Greenland on our way to Canada.  Our flight into Europe from Canada was apparently on this same course.  I guess we flew over when I saw the amazing green auras.  The northern lights were moving rapidly around the sky in shades of green from as far as I could see.  I suspect those lights are why this place was named so.

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Sudbury, Nickel Capital Of The World

Sudbury Bush Planes
Sudbury Bush Planes
Planes Taking off from Lake Ramsey in Sudbury

Sudbury is the gateway to the North. It is located about 400 km north on highway 400 which eventually becomes Highway 69. Stopping in Barrie for dinner is a standard ritual as most people like to get out of Toronto as soon as possible to avoid traffic rush. As you drive into Sudbury I notice that it has definitely gotten greener since the last time we were here. There has been a massive re-greening process that has been going on for the past couple decades spearheaded by the mining industry that destroyed the land in the first place.

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This city was known for it’s moon like landscape as it was devoid of trees and most top soil. The city of Sudbury is located on the rim of a large crater that was created a couple hundred million years ago. The meteor impact brought a lot of minerals near to the surface in large quantities, especially nickel. There are probably a hundred mines in the area operated by either Falconbridge, now called Xtrata or Inco, now Vale Inco (lots has changed in 3 years since my last visit). During the process of refining the ore to extract the minerals a fuel was needed in the burning process. Trees were dumped into these long trenches and the ore trains would drive up to the edges and dump the ore from the mines on top. The wood was then burnt and the sulfur exhaust was given off crept along the surface killing everything in it’s path. Over the years the process has been improved and refined.

In 1970 the Super Stack was built to help push that noxious gas up into the jet stream. This helped reduce the air pollution in the city and pushed it further away. This change contributed to many things including acid rain that has killed many lakes hundreds or thousands of kilometers away. You can see it’s devastating effects in Killarney Provincial Park which is about 80 km south. You can see the Super Stack from about 40 km outside the city as it’s about 1500 feet tall. Mining has been a major part of the city for the last 125 years. It will be for many years to come as the prices and demand for minerals continue to increase worldwide.

The city also boasts things besides it’s mining achievements. There are lakes everywhere that are wonderful for swimming, boating or fishing. Bell Park is one of my favourite (getting my Canadian spelling on) swimming beach with a great place to jump into the water or to have a picnic under the trees. Our first time there this trip there was a thunderstorm as we started down to the water. Our swimming time was cut short as lightning hit the top of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Center which is located just next to the park (many of us were born in that hospital). The hospital of my birth will soon be closed as a new hospital is being built just down the road. I am proud to say that the patriarch of the family has contributed to the construction of many of the buildings in the city including Laurentation hospital, Science North, Laurentien University, Cambrian College and numerous mining industrial complexes. We would meet him often at this park during the summer months for lunch and sometime tour these buildings during construction or renovations.

The surrounding countryside is great for mountain biking, hiking, picking blueberries and building forts in the summer. In the winter it’s great for cross country skiing, snowmobiling, sliding and with all the lakes ice fishing too. You always run the risk of running into wild animals and sometimes they stroll right into the yard.

Sudbury is on the south rim of a large valley. The valley is a huge flat plain with great farming and many rivers. The Vermillion River is one that snakes through the center of the valley and is one that we know very well. We have canoed almost the entire river on many occasions over the past 30 years. Another beautiful river is the Onaping River which flows into the Vermillion. The Onaping Falls has been painted in many seasons but some very famous Canadian artists but I can’t remember who at the moment. All around the valley is great places to camp, fish and enjoy the outdoors. We didn’t have a lot of chances to do that since it thunder stormed every couple days.

Caltagirone

We stayed in this picturesque,  hilltop city for a few days while we explored the west side of Sicily.  The town is known for a few things.  For many centuries it has produced quality ceramic tiles, masks, sculptures and vases.  The town center displays them with masks on the walls next to a long staircase with each stair featuring a different style tile pattern. It is also known for the high concentration of Roman Catholic churches, there are over 100 of them in this quaint town. Most of them are used once or twice a year on big holidays or the church patron’s day.

We stayed in a little apartment on the one side of town.  It was decorated in an older style of Italian furnishings.  We used this as a place to sleep while we did day trips to Syracuse to the south, Agrigento to the north and to an ancient Roman villa of Casale.

We enjoyed many home cooked Italian meals.  They were simple yet very enjoyable.  I must have gained 10 lbs in the week were there.  All the women loved the girl and always wanted to hold her, feed her and show her things.   We spent many of walks just visiting with the locals.

In this little town our friend’s parents live.  We visited their country house and it was beautiful.  We played soccer on the field, swam in the pool and wandered around the grounds admiring the orchirds, chickens and ducks.  The dog was happy to have us around and followed us everywhere trying to get us to play with him.

Taormina, A Legendary Town

Taormina has been in existence for over 2500 years. It sits high up on the hills above the salty Iaoian Sea with a ancient Saracen Citadel above it.   The citadel is not in good condition but The Greek Theatre is.  It was started by the Greeks and expanded by the Romans over the next 5 centuries.  It’s incredible location overlooking the ancient port of Nexos makes a beautiful stage backdrop.

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Our journey into Taormina took us past Mount Etna, a 10,000′ + active volcano’s with lava flows we can see from the road.  We drove 1/2 hour through a couple long tunnels to get to the beach house.   We stayed in a beautiful 4 story beach house overlooking one of the prettiest bays in the area.  The water was definitely salty but very warm.  It was a great place to swim and the girl loved to play in it.  The beaches were not sandy like we are used to but a rocky beach which was a nice change. We wandered up into the city and enjoyed the walk through town.  The view from there was spectacular.   There we saw one of the narrowest streets in Italy. You shoulders brushes the walls as you walk.   We spent many hours sitting on the porch, enjoying the view. While in Toarmina for those few short days we visited a few restaurants and bars.  The one restaurant just down the street was wonderful.  We had a great time and the food was excellent.  We also checked out a bar in a little village about Taormina.  It was a 4 story bar with an amazing view of the lava flows and Catania.  The bar was nice and has occupied the place for over 150 years.  The decor of the place caught me a bit off guard and we thought it was funny. After visiting that place we decided to take a drive up the mountain.  It was very dark and cold, so we didn’t even feel like getting out of the car.  We couldn’t see anything and we didn’t have a light to help guide us up to the lookout.  We headed back down the mountain and home to relax in the warmth by the sea.

Fiery and Fabulous Florence

Florence, or as the Italians call it “Firenze”, was like something out of a vivid dream where you were taken into the past, yet it still exists today with it’s epic churches, ornate palaces, an ancient fortress and striking, historic homes that blend one or more of these elements, oftentimes adding a modern twist. The days were unseasonably hot for October and because of that the evenings were just barely comfortable. Staying near the train station made for easy access to everything and all of the amenities but the humidity forced us to take shelter between noon and 6 p.m. The early evenings cooled down the air just enough to allow us to begin our explorations of the city center and try the local cuisine.

Everything is picturesque and it’s not too difficult to imagine what things must have been like centuries ago in this bustling, artistic city centre.  We began our trek through Florence, as soon as the temperature would abide, by wandering up and around to the other side of the river to a local eatery for an ultra-creamy gelato, (the kind only Italy is best known for), and a crisp, tasty proscuitto panini, consumed in just that order.  After a quick cappuccino on ice, we followed the river up to the next bridge and in towards the Duomo.

The Duomo itself causes you to just stop and take a deep breath while absorbing the complexity of it all.  The tile work is intricate and mesmerizing.  Inside you’ll find perhaps the most beautiful tile work seen anywhere in Europe, maybe the most beautiful on Earth.  Nearly in shock, we wandered inside and around the plaza looking for treasures in the surrounding marketplace and little shops.  Finally, hunger once again got the best of us and we began to look for places to have dinner.  The aromas wafting out of the pizzerias was irresistible and we unconsciously set our minds to having one.  It did not disappoint.  Some friends had warned us that there wasn’t any good food in Italy.  We were a bit worried because we are picky eaters but we let our noses do the choosing in Florence and didn’t have a bit of trouble, especially when we went a little out of the way and off the beaten track.

Also, we still can’t figure out why people don’t like traveling with children.  All throughout Europe, but especially in Italy and France, the owners, waiters, waitresses and other patrons made an extra effort to interact with us and it made what might have been just another trip to Europe a magical experience for us all. Our little one year old was always happy and kept herself busy entertaining the owners and staff, and vice versa, so we used that time to relax and enjoy our first of many flavorful pizzas in Italy.

The Italian people are so loving towards children that we sometimes couldn’t hardly get a block down the street without someone wanting to hug or kiss our little girl.  It really took some getting used to, but we’re learning to trust.  Certainly perfect strangers wanting to pick up, hold, and take your child around the restaurant, bar or hotel isn’t commonplace in the US or Canada, but it is here and when in Rome… or rather, Florence, do as the Florencians do!  It also afforded us both a moment to eat… together!  We always kept a watchful eye on her, of course, but somehow it made us feel a renewed sense of caring in people, which, these days is refreshing to say the least.

The next day began with a quick grocery trip and transitioned into seeking refuge in artsy studio apartment we rented for the remainder of the hellacious heat of the day, until the evening’s reprieve.  On our way to dinner we did a bit of last minute clothes shopping, and found prices in line or just slightly above those found in US, depending on what you were looking for, and then embarked on our twilight trek towards the Fort.  It’s tall tower is a Florence landmark and can be seen throughout the city.  Underneath it sits the famous, stunning statues of Neptune and David.

Being so lifelike, had they begun to move one would have just thought it was another talented street performer who somehow made themselves a bit larger than life. Someone had mentioned that they are replicas, due to their popularity there is a fear of vandalism, but certainly some of the other statues in the area are the genuine articles.

The Neptune and David statues are in a busy, open courtyard where people gather in large numbers to listen to the nightly entertainment, which, of all things, is comprised mostly of American music! We began to wonder when the rumored impromptu opera was going to begin, but, alas it did not. Perhaps the heat kept the tenors away?  However, there was a high end karaoke machine, accompanied at times by live musicians, which allowed for an extensive repertoire of the Beatles, and a plethora of American bands, to be performed.  They won out the night and the crowd.  There are certainly other types of art and music events held at this plaza on a regular basis, but the evenings we were there it was rock and roll all the way with talented vocalists from all over the globe.

On the edge of the plaza is an Italian restaurant, frequented by locals and expats which is always a good sign when choosing a place to chow, where we had a wonderful spaghetti pasta with meat sauce that was identical to Mom’s recipe!  There was no difference what so ever.   Everyone always enjoyed Mom’s pasta sauce.  She makes it for us, OK, me… religiously when we go back to Canada to visit.

Our last full day in Florence consisted of wandering about checking out the statues in the daylight, heading across the river on the ancient, two level bridge for another wonderful meal while listening to string instruments being played in the street.  It was a hot, beautiful time in Florence.  We will definitely hit the museums next time and plan to get reservations months, if not years, earlier as we missed seeing the original David and some others… but we had to have a reason to come back, and what a great reason it is!

The Duomo, originally designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, is an amazing work of art inside and out. The inside of the dome is a beautiful mosaic with 44 wonderful stain glass windows.

The Duomo is one of the centerpieces of Florence. Below the Duomo is the evolved remains of many versions of former churches.

The Duomo in Florence, Italy is a beautiful structure made from Green and Pink marble panels bordered by white. The building was started at the end of the 12th century and continued for many years. The dome is a landmark and is recognized throughout the world as a symbol of Florence.

The Arno River that cuts through the center of Florence is beautiful and was the source of water for the city. This day we are seeing pickup soccer happening on a pitch right at the water’s edge. The two story bridge with the shops underneath is known the world over and is located just downstream.

We checked out of our place on Tuesday morning and took another high speed train down to Rome.  Our flight left that evening for Sicily.  We wanted very much to check out some of the sites but the distances were too great in that hot weather.  We instead decided on having a beer and gelato then doing some more treasure hunting.

We hopped onto another train to take us the 30 min drive into the airport.  We made the trip in plenty of time to wander around the airport a bit.  We particularly thought the wine bar was a good idea for all airports.

Our plane took off without a hitch and we were in Catania in just over an hour.