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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

Courtesy Ricksteeves.com

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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Athens

Athens is a big hot busy place
Piraeus port city of Athens
This is common in busy cities like Athens

We arrived with much anticipation at Athens, ready to see it in all its glory. It was a hot sunny day as we boarded the tour bus after walking off the Nautica. The bus angled its way down narrow crowded streets 8 km into Athens. It was a long long drive delayed by heavy traffic and congestion. We recall it took most of an hour. Finally we arrived at the Acropolis. It was very very crowded! You had to really pay attention and watch your step on the steep stairs going up and down.

Our guide got us tickets and we listened patiently to him giving us much detailed information for what we were about to see. I think though we eventually wandered off among the ruins, eager to see and take photos of one of the most iconic buildings ever, the Parthenon.

Words cannot capture our rapture when we made our way around the site and marveled at the beauty of the Parthenon. Built in the 5 century B.C., it was a symbol of the power, wealth and elevated culture of Athens. It was the largest and most lavish temple the Greek mainland had ever seen. Today, it is one of the most recognized buildings in the world and an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece. An eternal tribute to Athena, the patron deity of Athens. It was severely damaged in 1687 when an Ottoman ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by a Venetian bombardment. You are not allowed to touch any part of it and it is being slowly restored.

We then headed back down to the city to tour the Temple of Zeus. It is a former colossal temple in the centre of Athens. It fell into disuse and was pillaged in an barbarian invasion in 267 AD,

We were then dropped off in the tourist area of town for some sightseeing, shopping and lunch. We had the best Greek salad you could imagine as we were serenaded by a lively group. We soon found our way back to the bus and then in traffic to the ship, ready for relaxing again onboard. Athens is a big busy hot city that we would love to come back to someday for sure.

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Santorini

Ahh…Santorini at last

As our little ship the Nautica moved towards Santorini we were very excited. Who hasn’t seen images of this iconic Greek island with its white buildings and blue domes perched high on the cliff overlooking the deep blue sea? We could hardly wait to disembark and sample these eye treasures.

Then the captain’s voice came over the speaker: “We’ve encountered some trouble. The port had just been closed due to high winds today. The tram has been shut down and we will not be able to disembark. We are truly sorry but it’s beyond our control. Instead we will take you on an extended cruise around the island so you can see Santorini from all angles. Once again our apologies for this situation.”

Darn! Of all the places for this to happen, it had to be Santorini. We had noticed the whitecaps and the fact the ship was rolling a bit more than normal, but we were truly surprised and disappointed. So we spent the day cruising around the island. There was free gravol available at the desk and the sick bags were put out by the elevators etc.. I think we felt a little queezy at times that day but our discomfort soon passed.

So this gives us the opportunity to talk a little bit more about the Oceania Nautica. The most important aspect of a cruise for many people is the quality of the food. Next usually comes the quality of the service and then the comfort of the cabin. The destinations and other facilities on board are the bonus. Oceania Cruises ranks near the top consistently year after year in consumer ratings and is known for having the best onboard dining experience. We agree!

In addition to the Grand Dining Room (breakfast, lunch or dinner), the Terrace Cafe (breakfast or lunch) and the Waves Grill (mahi mahi lunch) there is the Polo Grill (filet mignon and lobster tail) and Toscana’s (pastas and salad). Of course there is also 24/7 room service, Baristas specialty coffee bar and daily afternoon tea time with all the trimmings. Here are more details. It was a true gourmet experience with amazing choice and variety for a small ship (684 passengers as opposed to 4000+). We enjoyed many a fine meal with wine! Unlike mass market cruise lines, there are no upcharges for the specialty restaurants and “O” permits you to bring on board all the wine and spirits you can carry, for personal consumption in your cabin or for a corkage fee at the dinner table.

We will leave you now with a few more pics of life on board Nautica. It was difficult to find anything not to like. It was Santorini at sea lol!

Santorini – Not!

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Delos and Mykonos

Nautica off the coast of Delos

On a perfect Aegean Sea morning our small ship dropped anchor and we were tendered in to the ancient island of Delos. I think larger ships would not have attempted such a delicate operation but perhaps so. Delos is one of the most important historical, mythological and architectural sites in Greece. The Ionians arrived here in 1000 BC bringing the worship of Apollo. Uninhabited today, it is revered as the birthplace of Greek gods Apollo and Artemis.

It was a crash course to be shown these ancient ruins and instructed in Greek mythology. We had to watch our step though as it was very rough territory strewn with rocks. The highlight was the magnificent Terrace of the Lions, guarding the birthplace of Apollo, the God of archery, music, dance, truth, prophecy, sun, light, healing and poetry. Artemis was the Greek goddess of hunting, wild nature and chastity. She was the sister of Apollo and the daughter of Zeus and born here to their mother Leto.

We headed back to the ship in time for lunch and then a short cruise to neigbouring Mykonos. We were now in the Cyclades group of Greek islands known for their beaches and whitewashed clifftop villages. Mykonos is dry and barren but its sandy beaches and dynamic nightlife make the island one of the most popular in the Cyclades. It was under Venetian rule from 1207 but eventually flourished as a self-sufficient society.

Mykonos

Known as the glitziest island in Greece, we were indeed in for a beautiful afternoon wandering around the intricate shopping streets, the waterfront bars and restaurants and hitting the town beach, all within easy walking distance.

Mykonos Town is a tangle of dazzling white alleys and cube-shaped houses. It was purposely built this way to defy the wind and pirates. One can easily get lost in the maze of narrow streets, shops and colourful bars and restaurants. It was truly the quintessential Greek island. We enjoyed some beach time with friends Judy and Bruce, visited the Folk Museum, saw the still working 16th century windmill and of course had a beer or two in “little Venice”, the colourful bar area overhanging the sea.

Truly a gorgeous place to visit this Mykonos, we would love to come back someday and stay awhile.

Artemis is one of the most venerated of Greek god’s. Her temple was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world whose ruins are in Ephesus. She vowed to remain a virgin and help mothers bare the pain of childhood. She also was good with bow and arrow and became the goddess Diana in Roman times.

A famous myth about her according to Lamar Ronald Lacey’s The Myth of Aktaion: Literary and Iconographic Studies, is that Actaeon was the hunting companion of the goddess who, seeing her naked in her sacred spring, attempts to force himself on her. For this hubris, he is turned into a stag and devoured by his own hounds. However, in some surviving versions, Actaeon is a stranger who happens upon her. According to the Latin version of the story told by the Roman Ovid having accidentally seen Artemis (Diana) on Mount Cithaeron while she was bathing, he was changed by her into a stag, and pursued and killed by his fifty hounds. Different tellings also diverge in the hunter’s transgression, which is sometimes merely seeing the virgin goddess naked, sometimes boasting he is a better hunter than she.

Artemis courtesy Ancient History Encyclopedia

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Rhodes

Map courtesy Pinterest
Rodos or Rhodes is the capital of the Dodecanese Islands, the farthest of the Greek islands from the mainland. It is a rather large island second only to Crete in size. It was an important centre in the 5th to 3rd centuries BC. It was part of Roman and Byzantine empires before being conquered by the Knights of St. John in 1310. Fringed by sandy beaches, with good hiking and lively nightlife, Rhodes attracts thousands of tourists in normal circumstance years. There is no connection between Rhodes the island and the Oxford University Rhodes Scholarship which was established through the will of Cecil John Rhodes.
Putting in to Rhodes Town
We had time to see the Acropolis of Rhodes, the Palace of the Grand Masters, the Street of Knights and wander the streets of the old town. The famous Colossus of Rhodes statue was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world but collapsed during an earthquake in 226 BC.. It is no longer visible however constructing a new one has been envisioned. Acro means highest, topmost, or farthest and polis means city. In ancient Greece, an acropolis was a settlement, especially a citadel built on a high hill with steep sides which provided a good defensive position. We toured around the site with our guide but after having seen Ephesus the day before, it was hard to hold our interest for long.

  • Friends Glenn and Betty

The Palace of the Grand Masters was the highlight. Founded by the Knights of St John also known as the Knights Hospitaller, the Knights of Rhodes and the Knights of Malta. This order was founded around 1099 in Jerusalem to provide care for poor or injured pilgrims coming to the Holy Land. It is named after St John the Baptist. The order was also present for pilgrims during the middle ages on Spain’s Camino de Santiago after taking over from the Knights Templar. Several organizations continue the Hospitaller tradition today such as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The Palace of the Grand Masters had been a fortress but became the knights administration centre and home of their Grand Master. It is one of the few examples of a gothic architecture in Greece. We enjoyed touring its insides and out and dreaming of the days of the chivalrous Knights and of their mysterious Grand Masters. Routed by the Ottoman Empire in 1522, eventually Italy took over their palace which served as a holiday home for Benito Mussolini. His name can be seen on a plaque inside. Italy transferred ownership of the Dodecanese Islands to Greece in 1948. Lots of fascinating history here under the dry warm sunshine. Next we sauntered down the Street of the Knights in the UNESCO World Heritage medieval town centre. Along this 640m long cobbled street, the Knights of St. John constructed 7 different inns in the early 16th century. These represented the 7 countries that the Knights had originated from. Each facade is decorated with emblems and details of the home country. Auberge de France is the most splendid example. These inns are still functional today.

It was soon time to head back to the Nautica. We had had another full day of sightseeing and were ready to relax over dinner and a drink.

Friends Lydia and Tony
The Oceania Nautica
The newly envisioned Colossus of Rhodes bids us goodbye.

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Ephesus

Resuming our Eastern Med voyage, nothing could prepare us for the glory that was to come in downtown Ephesus.

Before we get to that, a curious outcome, the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul has just been reconverted to a Mosque. This is big news in Turkey as it is apparently being done to shore up political support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Many do not think this a good idea. Living history for sure.

Our ship put into Kusadasi, Turkey on a perfect sunny day. We boarded a private tour bus for Ephesus, a 30 minute drive from the port. Yes Ephesus is the famous Greek city mentioned in the Bible many times in Saint Paul’s epistles. It was one of the ancient 7 churches of Asia and had come under Roman rule in 129 BC. The Christian Council of Ephesus was held there in the 5th century that confirmed the Nicene Creed and condemned Nestorius. Today it is a favorite tourist site. Its extensive antiquities are still being uncovered and lovingly restored.

Our first stop was the House of the Virgin Mary. While not formerly recognized yet by the Catholic Church as verifiably authentic, pilgrims visit the shrine based on the belief that Mary was taken there by St. John to live out the rest of her days after her son Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. As we were a group of Catholics, it was spiritually meaningful for us to visit this site and for each make a written prayerful wish and leave it on the wall with thousands of others.

We then continued on to Ephesus which was very crowded. What an experience it was strolling down the main street of a Roman formerly Greek ancient city. There were dozens of buildings and monuments in good to excellent condition. They are constantly uncovering and restoring more. We marveled at the facade of the Library of Celsus and chuckled when our guide pointed out a tunnel running under the street to the brothel. We tried out the open air public toilets for size. We sat ourselves down in the huge open theatre and could hear the echo of Saint Paul preaching. Even though it was very busy, it was a beautiful marvelously maintained historic place to visit, to experience and to ponder about its mysteries. We will not soon forget Ephesus.

Tired, we headed back to Kusadasi for some shopping which was pretty good. In fact it was so good Dave decided to by a ring for Marie. We picked out a nice one and the proprietor said to come back in an hour or so and it would be ready after it was polished and adjusted. So Marie went back on board the Nautica and Dave wondered around a bit and then went back to the store for the ring. Well it wasn’t ready yet…. Not to worry. Dave waited and waited and finally it did come after servicing.

But now Dave had only 10 minutes to get back to the ship before its scheduled departure. Sprinting like O.J. Simpson in the Miami airport to the Hertz counter, he hurtled plant stands, dodged street vendor wagons as he bee lined it for the dock. Running onto the dock, the crew were just about to winch up the gangway when they saw him coming. They cheered him on with “Come on, you can make it!” just like in the ad. At last he jumped up onto the gangway just in time. A little too close for comfort but in the end we were happily reunited in time for happy hour. It was such a great day! Lol!

To be continued.

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Gallipoli and Lesbos

Our ship – the Oceania Nautica
Resuming our 2008 Eastern Med group cruise, after 4 days in Istanbul we boarded our ship the lovely Oceania Nautica. It is a smaller sized vessel with 684 passengers and 400 crew capacity. We deliberately chose a smaller ship since it can get into smaller ports easier and has a higher crew to passenger ratio. Oceania bills itself as an upscale cruise line with the best food at sea. Dave had listened to some podcasts where past passengers had raved about Oceania, so we decided to give them a try. We were not to be disappointed.

This is the approximate routing we were undertaking
We spent one more night in Istanbul while settled into our balcony cabin on board Nautica. We were anxious to leave but spent the day doing more sightseeing near the dock. That evening we tucked into some of Oceania’s famous food including some great seafood, steak and a colourful desert. The next afternoon we headed out the Bosphorous and caught some memorable pics as we departed Istanbul.
Galata Tower or Tower of Christ
Our small ship
Blue Mosque left, Hagia Sophia right
One our group was a military history buff and has been raving about the need to see the monument to the WW I Gallipoli Campaign near the entrance to the Dardanelles, that narrow straight which connects the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmora. Unfortunately we were to pass this area in the middle of the night. We nevertheless set our watches and rose about 3:30 AM, the predicted time of passing. Incredibly, I think I saw the monument and snapped the poor quality picture below. We would have liked to visit the battlefields while in Istanbul but did not have the time to do this.

We awoke to bright sunshine and were soon at our first port – Mytilene – the capital city of the Greek island of Lesbos, founded in the 11th century. Lesbos, also known as the Island of Poets, is most famous perhaps for the Greek lyric poet Sappho who wrote with powerful emotional content directed at other women. The term “lesbian” is indeed derived from the name of the island. We did not see any tourist evidence of this. In fact, Mytilene was a little disappointing in that we found it to be more of an industrial port, with fewer tourist type attractions. Lesbos was in the news a few years ago when thousands of refugees attempted to cross the rough body of water from Turkey to Greece and sadly, many did not survive. We enjoyed our short stay there and were soon on our way to the next port and more food lol!

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