John A. MacDonald – The Old Chieftain

This book written in 1955 by Canadian historian Donald Creighton is an absolute page burner! It is one of the most riveting books that I have read in a long time. Written in novel style, it tells the detailed story of the “architect of Canada”, our first Prime Minister – Sir John A. MacDonald – from just after he took office in July 1867 until his death in June 1991 at age 76. It is Vol 2 of a 2 part book that won the Governor General’s award for history and is considered a classic of Canadian history.

Why I like it is because the style of writing makes the history come alive. It is written as if John A. were writing his own autobiography except rather than in the first person “I did this or that or felt this or that” it is told in the third person “He did this or that or felt this or that” with all the intimacy of personal action. Somehow Donald Creighton is inside the head of Sir John A. and so are we the reader.

While this style of history writing may be somewhat discredited now as it can only present one side of the subject, it makes for a most entertaining and intimate portrait. I learned so much about Canadian history that I never knew before:

  • the long delicate balancing act to prevent the U.S. from annexing or attacking parts of the fledgling Dominion
  • the creation of a strong federal government in the face of demands for more power sharing from provincial governments
  • deft political integration and peaceful coexistence between English and French Canadian societies
  • the financial challenges of completing of the Canadian Pacific Railway which literally and figuratively knitted the county together
  • the need for tariff protection to build up a strong Canadian economy in the face of American bullying and self-interest
  • importance of the direct ties with Great Britain, Canada’s one and only ally during these critical birthing times

He was a nationalist like no other. Today many look back and say yeah, but he bulldozed the indigenous culture and had Metis leader Louis Riel executed. He was a colonial tyrant who destroyed everything that was not of the British culture or liking and furthermore he was white and Scottish. Yes but, IMHO, if he had not been so visionary, so persistent, so crafty and so indefatigable, we would not even have a country from within which we could look back to make such judgments. If it were not for Sir John A., we would most likely be casting votes in the upcoming American election!!!

Yes, he has his faults – he was a workaholic and never retired. He would not name or mentor a successor until his dying bed and he drank too much from time to time. His party and he personally accepted bribes from a Montreal business man who was trying to get the contract to build the CPR.

Perhaps in the book there is too much detail about proceedings in the House of Commons and the names of various ministers. Perhaps there is too much denigrating of American politicians. Perhaps we would like more discussion about his private life with his 2nd wife Agnes and their daughter Mary. But all in all, this book is a measure of the times that we know too little about – yet we think we do! Personally, I dropped out of history class as soon as I could in HS. If I had read this book back then, perhaps I would not have done so so quickly.

Whoever says Canadian history is boring should read this book. Highly recommended read – 5 stars out of 5!

Sir John A. – the man who made us

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Cruise Epilogue – Rome

That Eastern Med cruise we took in 2008 was probably our best cruise ever. You probably thought thankfully – it’s over….finally. But no!!! We tacked on a trip to Rome to make this into perhaps the best trip overall we ever had.

The bullet train from Venice to Rome

A group of 7 of us took the train to Rome for a 4 night stayover. It was an adventure. Most of the group were in different hotels in Venice and converged on the train station from different directions. One person in our party was tardy. We waited and waited and reluctantly decided to board without them. One of our party decided to give it one more try and got off to take a look. And there was the late person huffing down the walkway with their big suitcase in tow. Phew, we all made it aboard!

Our accommodations were… superb. We had booked the whole floor of a building with 4 separate 1 bedroom apartments which connected with each other through a central foyer. It was located only 2 blocks from the Vatican. We each would take turns hosting a party, and boy did we party! Being an older building, there was limited electricity capacity. If 2 of us put our toasters on at the same time, the master breaker would blow and we would all be in the dark lol. So we had a person shouting out “OK apartment 1 – you can put your kettle on now. Apt 2 – turn off your hair dryer quick. OK who needs lights?” You get the idea it was pandemonium! It was fun. We never stopped laughing the whole time.

OK back to Rome. We had 3 short days to try and see it all. This is far too short a stay folks! Nevertheless we packed in a lot of sightseeing: the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museums (Sistine Chapel), Roman Forum, Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, Castel Sant’ Angelo and some great delis, cafes and restaurants.

Now as to the partying. One night we went out to an innocent looking pizza restaurant for a group dinner. Naturally we had had a few glasses of great Italian wine before we got there.

The hostess saw (and heard) us coming and sat us down at a nice table outside. She said “I know what you want.” For the next 2 hours we never ordered a thing. They brought us wine, food, more wine, more food and we laughed and laughed. At one point our hostess brings out her mother and father the restaurant owners to meet us.

Meet my mom and dad.

Of course we laughed along thinking isn’t this great, what a nice family. Then she brought out her real father Pepi and they all had a laugh on us.

The she brought out her brother. By now we are all 3 sheets to the wind. We gathered that Italians like to laugh so we fit right in.

After this mayhem we headed back to the apartments where things got even crazier.

The two Davids
Oceania slippers

One day on a grocery excursion, Dave hid a huge block of parmesan cheese in our friend’s shopping cart. When the couple got to the cash, the wife erupted to her husband “What the heck is this? We rolled in the aisle laughing. To this day we still chuckle about our stay in Rome when we get together. What happens in Rome …. is fun!

In Rome with friends

So that’s it, for real this time. Fourteen wonderful places visited over 25 days. In case you can’t remember them all, here they are again:

Highly recommended cruise itinerary once the pandemic is over.

Bye from Rome with love

Dave and Marie

PS. The Oceania Nautica is currently safely riding out the pandemic in Genoa harbour.

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Venice was the final destination of our 14 day cruise on the Oceania Nautica. How enchanting the city without cars is! The highlights were visiting St. Mark’s square and Cathedral, the Doge (pronounced doji) Palace and an excursion to Lido island.

First day we took the Vaporetto public transit water taxi to Murano and explored the glass factory. We then walked to the Rialto Bridge and had a beer – 14 Euro each! We sauntered back through St. Mark’s Square. That night, we stayed on board Nautica the and enjoyed one last dinner in the Polo Grill.

Then it was off to our local hotel. We stayed 3 nights at the Alloggi Barbaria guest house with some friends from the cruise. It is in the east area of town about a 20 minute walk to St. Mark’s. Breakfast was included on the terrace. We had a small fridge and their was a grocery store nearby. Restaurants are very expensive in Venice so this place was great.

St. Mark’s was a very busy square. There were several cafes and we remember that if you made the mistake of sitting down to order your coffee and pastry, the price doubled compared to if you stayed standing lol!

St. Mark’s Square and Cathedral

St. Mark’s Cathedral was very crowded so we had to line up to get in. It was very hard to get good pictures because of the huge crowd. There was a tower in the square that we climbed so we could get a better look at things and enjoy the view.

The Doge Palace is just behind St. Mark’s Cathedral. It was the home of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Venetian Republic. It dates from 1340. It contains some magnificent paintings, institutional chambers, the Doge’s apartments and the Bridge of Sighs to the ancient prisons below.

On another sunny day we took the Vaporetto to Lido, a picturesque little island nearby and wandered around. We found some lovely gardens, a nice hotel and a quiet beach. It was a great place to visit.

On our last night we joined friends Bruce and Judy for a great fish dinner.

Our Eastern Med cruise with friends had now come to a beautiful end. This was indeed the best cruise we ever went on – 13 fab ports in 14 days. Thanks for cruising with us. To Canadian readers, Happy Thanksgiving!

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Leaving Kotor behind in the darkness we cruised north east about 100 km to Dubrovnik, Croatia. We had been looking forward to visiting one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the Mediterranean Sea. We were not to be disappointed. Dubrovnik, pop. 43,000 is famous for its old city centre, surrounding city walls, several palaces and its cathedral. We made the most of it!

We were soon on our way again to our final destination Venice.

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We left Sicily and cruised overnight around the boot of Italy towards the eastern coast of the Adriatic. Nothing was to prepare us for the stunning cruise up the Bay of Kotor. It was a perfect sunny day as we wound our way up through magnificent twists and turns. Click on the play button below as you brouse the slideshow, you will relive the experience we had complete with classical music. Oceania out did themselves that day!

Kotor, pop. 14,000, is a small city in Montenegro with one of the best preserved medieval old towns in the Adriatic. It is at the head of an ancient submerged river canyon, cut deep into steep limestone cliffs. Of interest to tourists arriving on cruise ships, it has a long history: from Roman times; Venetian and Ottoman rule; annexation by Italy during WWII; and being part of Yugoslavia. Montenegro now is an independent country, pop. 650,000 after peacefully separating from Serbia by referendum in 2006. It has it’s own language – Montenegrin. The Serbian Orthodox Church is its largest religious institution with Islam being next. Relations are peaceful.

We certainly enjoyed our visit there. We explored the town square before hiking up the steep rocky path to the old walls, the Castle of San Giovanni and St. John’s fortress high above the city. It was a very steep climb with narrow with broken steps here and there. You had to be very careful and in reasonably good shape. The views of Kotor and Kotor Bay from the top were breathtaking.

On our way back down we stopped to rest. It was here that we received a message that Dave’s nephew Nicholas and wife Shelly had just had their first child – Alexander – and everyone was doing well. What a nice place to receive such good news!

Good news in Kotor!

When we got down we noticed a lot of stray cats around. They have become a symbol of the city. Kotor has several cat stores and a cat museum, as well as the Cats’ Square. Water and food is left throughout the city for the cats to feed on, and cardboard boxes are often arranged to be a place for the cats to sleep in.

The cats of Kotor

We continued wondereing through the narrow streets of old town marveling at the beauty, peacefulness and long history there.

Then it was time for some shopping and refreshments before heading back to Nautica in the evening.

Only one more stop before Venice.

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[We resume postings about our 2008 Eastern Med cruise on the Oceania Nautica.]

In Taormina looking down

Where in the world is Taormina you might ask? We had not heard of it either. If you have and know sort of where it is, congratulations! A hint – it’s near Mount Etna and Palermo… right, Sicily, on its east coast. Our small ship was able to take us to a small port like Taormina and what a treat it was!

You may recall that Sicily is famous for being the original home of the Mafia. But, did you know that it is the largest of all islands in the Mediterranean Sea and known for its arts, music, literature, cuisine and architecture? We were only there for a few short hours but saw enough to realize we would love to come back and explore the whole island someday. It’s a real paradise.

Our group boarded a mini-bus and headed for an apiary where we were introduced to the making of honey. We sampled a variety of delicious honeys with different wild flower flavours. They also sold Sicilian wines here too and boy were they a delight to sample! If you ever see a Sicilian wine for sale, go for it, you won’t be disappointed.

We then took a circuitous road route to near the summit of Mount Etna the highest peak in Italy south of the Alps, at 10,912 feet. It is one of the world’s most active volcanoes – but we were totally safe where we were. Its fertile volcanic soils on its lower slopes support extensive vineyards and orchards. A UNESCO world heritage sight with one of the strangest geographies we have ever seen.

Heading back to Taormina

We descended again to greener pastures and had some free time to roam around Taormina and do a little shopping. I hope you can see its quaint beauty from the pics below.

Nautica awaits our return

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Lake of the Woods Wrap-Up

Nestor Falls

After everyone left, we did a little sightseeing and hiking on our last day. Nestor Falls is a lovely little town, pop. 290. It straddles a 25 foot drop from Lake Kakibikitchewan to Lake of the Woods. We met Shane a pilot with Northwest Flying Co.. He grew up here and went to the 2 room schoolhouse pictured below.

In high school he had to bus it 1.5 hours to Fort Francis and back each day. When we mentioned this to Scott our BnB host, he said that their son had to spend an additional hour each day boating to shore as they lived on an island at the time. He and his family eventually moved to shore to run Canadian Haven. Shane the pilot now lives with his family in Fort Francis. He flies for the Northwest Flying company which has 6 float planes and several bush camps that they fly people into. Business was slow this year of the Covid but Shane figures they would survive somehow.

We also had time for a great 90 minute hike up around a beaver pond at Caliper Lake before later relaxing by the fire one more time. Did you know that hunting beaver was the reason Canada was colonized in the first place? I had never thought of it this way before. This is the heart of beaver country, an important piece of Canadian history.

The next day we drove to Fort Francis and stayed the night in a lakefront motel. En route we stopped by a memorial to the injustice of the indigenous Residential Schools era. We loved Fort Francis, pop. 8500. They have developed their waterfront and you can walk for several km along the bank of Rainy Lake to where it flows into Rainy River. Minnesota is just across the water. Wow, we were really impressed with its beauty, peacefulness and spirit. They lost their pulp mill several years back but a huge gold mine has taken its economic place.

Next day we drove the 3 hours back to Thunder Bay and stopped at the beautiful Kakebeka Falls for a look see. Definitely worth the stop.

Our family bubble up trip was coming to an end. We had had a great time and had visited a beautiful part of Ontario that we would not likely have gone to if it wasn’t for Covid. Some good things are indeed coming out of these pandemic times, don’t you think? Stay safe everyone!

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Lake of the Woods Family Bubble Up

Family bubble right to left: Ashley, Elias, Kyle, Marie, Dave

Our family arrived safely from Winnipeg and our bubble up vacation began. We were so glad to see each other again. We soon filled our days with playing with Elias (almost 2), hiking on the local trails, swimming off the dock, delicious BBQ dinners, beach time and even a round of golf. There were paddle boards and kayaks available and a rubber raft and slide. In the evenings we would have long camp fires complete with smores, then story time with Elias and family card games like cribbage. Elias was a champion eater and sleeper all week. At dinner he would clasp his hands together waiting for grace and then clink glasses with us all before eating. It was so cute! The weather was great and there were no bugs at all to spoil our bubble up.

Although he cannot speak yet, Elias communicates his needs very well by pointing, smiling or frowning and grunting in sentences and even paragraphs. He understands simple questions about who is who, where is this or that, when to be careful, stop, go, yes and no etc. He never panics when his parents aren’t around. As you can see he loves getting his hands on cell phones or TV remotes to push the buttons and have make believe conversations. He adores his Gran Marie and Poppa Dave and we him. We are so blessed to have him in our lives. This was the second time we got to see him and Kyle and Ashley this year. We are so grateful and can’t wait to do it again.

Ashley’s Dad, Rick paid us an overnight visit, driving his motorcycle up from Winnipeg on a perfect day. Elias’ little face lit up when he saw his Granpa Rick arrive. We had a great day together swimming, joking, eating steak and then smores and playing cards. It was a a great visit that passed much too quickly. Rick likes to drive his Harley whenever he can. He confesses to going to Sturgis, SD each year for the annual motorcycle rally there that attracts 500,000, and this year was no exception.

Probably the most fun everyone had was down at the dock swimming, paddle boarding, watching Kyle take Elias down the water slide and just hanging out in the warm sunshine. Elias had little floaties on his arms and went into the deep water bravely with his parents. Yours truly tried the paddle boat with mixed results.  Kyle and Rick swam about 500m to an island and Ashley joined on paddle board. The water was great and seemed even warmer then our local Madawaska River. There was some green algae around one day that disappeared quickly the next day. It was hot and we enjoyed the cool off.

Then again, the camp fires were pretty special too.  We gasped as Elias when flying high up in the air, his little arms spread wide and a grin on his face. 

The hiking trails were fun too. We found one suitable for families and Elias loved every minute of it. On longer ones his parents took turns carrying him. One day Kyle and Ashley went to Kenora and Elias became Marie’s little companion for the day. Another day Kyle and Dave went golfing at a lovely little 9 hole country course an hour west called Spruce Creek Golf. Ashley, Marie and Elias spent a day at the equally lovely Caliper Lake Provincial Park beach. All this activity increased our appetites for smores.

It is safe to say that everyone had a good time and if it were not for Covid, we would not have done this. We hope to repeat this experience next year. Thanks be to God for our safe family bubble up in pandemic times. Stay safe yourself and enjoy a family bubble up too!


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Lake of the Woods Family Bubble Up – Preamble

[Our Mediterranean Cruise series of posts is taking a short hiatus as we write about our recent family get together during this year of the Covid.]
We decided to meet our son and his family in Nestor Falls on Lake of the Woods in NW Ontario. They live in Winnipeg and we in Arnprior. This way we could avoid the need to self-isolate in Manitoba during this Covid 19 pandemic year. Manitoba is bubbled up with NW Ontario for travel purposes. We flew to Thunder Bay and rented a car. They drove directly from Winnipeg, about a 3.5 hour drive. So what’s it like flying during Covid? In a nutshell, calm. There are no line ups to drop off your baggage or at security. You are screened before boarding about any Covid related symptoms. They take your temperature at the gate. You have to drop your mask momentarily so they can verify it’s you with your photo ID. On board they give you a plastic bag that contains a bottle of water, head phones, gloves, mask, hand sanitizer and pack of pretzels. Everyone is masked. We were surprised that 3 of the 4 flights on this trip were completely full. However we were on smaller planes only 4 seats wide with an aisle in between. Everyone was calm and relaxed. Mostly young people and not many seniors were flying we noted. The only incident was that we could not land in Thunder Bay due to fog and had to return to Toronto to refuel and then fly back again lol.
Great walking path next to our hotel in Thunder Bay

NW Ontario is billed as Sunset Country
It is about a 4.5 hour drive from Thunder Bay to Nestor Falls. Just after the change to central time zone, we stopped briefly in Shebandowan an hour west of TB, for a little reminiscing. Way back in ’67, Dave spent the summer here in the Ontario Junior Forest Ranger program. Many fond memories of clearing bush, planting seedlings, eating cherry pies and steak and lots of laughs with 25 other teenage boys from all over Ontario. The government camp is now long gone, but not those fond memories. We continued on Highway 11 (Yonge Street north) and found a nice quiet spot to stop for a picnic lunch.

Lake of the Woods is over 100 km long and wide with 15,000 islands and over 100,000 km of coastline. It is located between Ontario, Minnesota and Manitoba and lined with First Nation communities, predominantly Ojibway who are also known as Chippewa. Nestor Falls is located on a long inlet on its north east side. We arrived first and were warmly greeted by our Canadian Haven (AirBNB) host Scott. Our lakefront cabin was a 3 bedroom, 1.5 bathroom cedar A frame complete with 6 beds, wifi, a/c and satellite TV – we were not going to rough it! Originally established to host mostly men on fishing trips (some of the best fishing in North America), the demographic is rapidly changing as more and more families opt to vacation here. Normally filled with Americans, this year was a quieter one but they were doing OK Scott explained. His wife Ruth who is disabled, does all the bookings and greeted us warmly too. Scott dropped off a pack of frozen Northern Pike and invited us to pick some tomatoes, cucumber and red peppers from their garden (yum). He pointed to the amble fire wood supply and wheel barrow.

So we are all ready for our Lake of the Woods family bubble up! :)😎😍:D:D;)

Anticipating the family’s imminent arrival

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Amalfi Coast


Well it was another gorgeous sunny day when our little ship the Nautica dropped anchor just off Amalfi, Italy. Larger ships would not likely be able to do this as easily, if at all. We were in for a treat: the Amalfi Coast.

The Amalfi coast connects several picturesque towns perched on a steep cliff with a narrow winding road in between them. It is located on Italy’s west coast in the southern Province of Salerno overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. A popular tourist destination and World Heritage Site, author Gore Vidal lived here and John Steinbeck wrote a short story called Positano. The area is known for production of limoncello liqueur made from lemons grown in terraced gardens all along the coast. It was truly a beautiful place to visit and explore.

We decided to do our own thing today. We walked off the tender boat and explored the town of Amalfi. It starts with a small beach, colourful boats and then one heads steeply up hill. We enjoyed seeing the quaint houses and how people lived on a day to day basis. We kept going up and up and found a discount market to shop in. Turning around we slowly descended to the town piazza and gazed at the magnificent late baroque styled Duomo di Amalfi (St. Andrew’s Cathedral).

It was time for some adventure. We hopped on the local bus for a ride to Positano about 10 km away. This was one of the narrowest insanely picturesque highways we have ever been on. The bus roars along at full speed honking its horn as it enters each corner so whoever is coming the other hears it coming and moves over just in time! On and on when we went honking our way to ever more gorgeous views!

Finally we came to Positano with its beautiful little beach, restaurants and shops. Truly a picturesque town, we wandered around and had lunch in the warm sunshine at a spot overlooking the beach. We thought we could see the Isle of Capri in the distance. We wanted to spend a lot of time here just soaking it all in.

However, it was soon time to head back so we took a water taxi and enjoyed looking up at the steep sights. Another day was almost over. We had loved every minute of it and were filled with much gratitude and amazement.

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