Monday, October 26, 2009

Are you God's gift to the world?

I am an amateur photographer, in fact, for the most part, I'm an amateur everything. I'm one of those people who tends to take an interest in things, but rarely to develop an interest to it's full potential. Fortunately, I am blessed to have people around me who are much more thorough in their pursuits. One of those people is Katriona, a member of our Ste. Anne's marketing team. Among other things, "Kat" is a "brilliant" photographer. For several years, I have tried to capture the sun in some of her most beautiful moments, as experienced here in the Northumberland Hills. My photographs never quite capture the magnificence of these events. My body clock is still set to 6 hours ahead, so I've witnessed some incredible sun risings these past few days, and today, with the flick of a few dials, Kat helped me capture (one of) God's gifts to the world.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Leaving the Rock (Thank God!)

When most Canadians think of a place called "The Rock", we tend to think of Newfoundland. For 10 million Britons, (who for some reason unknown to me, travel there annually) "The Rock" refers to Gibraltar, a little piece of land at the southern tip of Spain that they hang onto as a "British protectorate". A friend of mine has a friend who has been posted there for the past little while, so I thought it would be a good jumping off point for a foray into southwestern Spain. As it turned out, I was wrong. Getting to Spain through Gibraltar was a big mistake - next time I will fly directly to Madrid or Barcelona, or even to Lisbon if I want to "do Spain". Aside from the inflated cost of visiting any part of the United Kingdom, the last leg of our journey home left me bewildered as to how so many things could go wrong on one day. Now here I am tending to place the blame on the Brits, but I suppose one could just as easily find fault with the Arabs who flew planes into the World Trade Centre for making air travel for those of us who don't like our planes to crash into buildings such a hassle, or the Spanish GibAir agents who manned the gate at the Gibraltar airport for so badly bungling everything, but really, there is enough blame to go around for the whole human race for letting a lack of trust and insatiable greed make what should be pleasurable and relaxing (travel) into the complete pain that it has become. Here's what happened. We were booked on an EasyJet flight from Gibraltar to Gatwick, scheduled to leave at 11:40. Like good travellers, we arrived at the airport 2 hours prior to departure. Not a soul in sight. The GibAir/Easyjet agents finally arrived around 10:00 and started checking us in. Once we got through security, we sat in the boarding lounge for 2 hours, where the odd announcement was made about waiting for more coaches to arrive. We just assumed these were the coaches that would take us from the terminal to the airplane, as it was pouring rain and gusting outside. What we were never told, was that these were coaches to take us on a 2 hour bus ride to Malaga airport because our plane wasn't able to land due to bad weather. The pilot who eventually flew us home was the first to fill us in on anything. He said that Gibraltar airport is an old military airport with outdated equipment, a short runway, and a big rock making landing difficult when there is wind cand rain in the mix. So off we went, like lambs to the slaughter to reclaim our bags so they could be loaded onto the coaches. Then we got on the coaches, while the bus drivers and the gate agents chatted amongst themselves. When they were finally ready to leave, they made a 2 minute trip to the Gibraltar/Spain border, where we had to get off the bus, claim our bags, drag them across the border, through Spanish customs and security, and then load them and ourselves back on the bus. Off we went to Malaga. As much as this is a lovely drive along the coast, our bus was so loaded with people, and pulling a trailer full of luggage no less, that we didn't ever break the speed limit of 100 k/h as we slowly chugged our way along. When we finally arrived at the airport in Malaga, we were offloaded - again, no explanation, no assistance, we just followed the rest of the sheep into the airport, where we joined a line of at least 200 people being served by 2 Easyjet agents. It took us an hour to get checked in again, and then off we went to the gate, where there was yet another long line to get onto the plane, as the gate wasn't yet opened. We finally were boarded and the cabin crew and Captain began a series of apologies and explanations, but by this time we had been waiting to leave for 8 hours. Someone at Easyjet decided to offer complimentary bar service, but because no one usually buys their crap, they ran out of food long before everyone was served. Arriving at Gatwick, we were put into a holding pattern, and then when we landed put onto another bus, into the terminal where we lined up one more time to get through British customs and immigration. From there we took a taxi to the Hotel I thought I had booked, an airport Marriott, paid 90GPB (equivalent to 180CND), only to find out that we were at the wrong Marriott - apparently there are 3 at Heathrow. Off we went, only to join the end of another line up to check in. I am so looking forward to getting home. Canada may have Stephen Harper to contend with, but like Dorothy, I'm going to be clicking my heals, closing my eyes as I say "There's no place like home".

Saturday, October 17, 2009

If only I had the courage to try

A week ago now, we landed in London for a little R&R. Despite all the hassles and expense of travelling though London, I´ve become hooked on the daytime overseas flight. I can´t stand flying overnight and arriving like a zombie, usually taking two or three days to adjust to the time change. However, I think I´ve seen the sights of London enough now, and was happy to move on from there to Gibraltar - although not being enough a world traveller to know that I was landing into a British protectorate, we spent 2 more days enjoying the worst traits of Britain and Spain rolled into this tourist trap. Finally we were on the road to Tarifa, a beautiful oceanside town, once known for an unusually high rate of suicides, sometimes attributed to the never ending winds, which of course make it an ideal location for kite surfing (pictured above). This looks like an incredible amount of fun - a sport I´d love to try, but I just haven´t found the courage to give it a try. When I get home I´m absolutely going to start working out, really, I mean it, so I will have the confidence to try some of these things. The wind really did howl endlessly, but the sun was also non stop, and Tarifa is a charming place to spend a couple of nights. We were tempted to take the 35 minute ferry crossing to Tangiers, but in the end, decided that it might be just one big haggling market, a little too much for this trip. From there we travelled further into the Spanish countryside with a day trip to Arcos de la Frontera, and Ronda, two equally spectacular towns with stunning views and natural beauty. We then took a trip along the coast to Cadiz, but decided it was too much of a city for our taste, and instead made our way back to Conil, where we found a great little Apartmento Hotel for not very much money, close to walking, beaches lots of sun, sand and doing nothing. Aside from checking work emails once a day, I think we are starting to unwind, and getting lots of good ideas for importation back to Ste. Anne´s. The Spanish people are very nice, and the food is wonderful. The only depressing event has been a rather poor review posted on Ste. Anne´s by a recent guest on TripAdvisor. If you are a true fan, please take a minute and post something positive for me. After 20 years of investing love and sweat into a business, it really hurts when someone takes their best shot at ruining your reputation. Why don´t they just call me when they aren´t happy? Oh well.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Roseneath Fair

I was raised on a beef farm. Originally we had Black Angus cattle; later on we migrated to Charolais. At the time, I wasn't much for farming. It seemed as though we kids were raised for the exclusive purpose of providing free labour for this endevour, and more often than not chores seemed to interfere with play time, later with party time. In hindsight, many good life lessons were learned growing up on a farm. Strange then that I should find myself bidding at a steer auction this weekend at the Roseneath Fall Fair. Earlier in the year, I had been talked into buying 10 calves to raise here at the spa in response to the high prices we were paying for meat. Other than counting them every once in a while, my involvement has been pretty limited as they seem pretty content just to eat grass day in and day out. Our champion grass cutter at the spa, Evan, and his brother Colin invited me to attend in hopes that I would bid up the price on their prized steer, Urban Legend. Attending the livestock auction at the fair required a little more intimacy, than raising the 10 calves had to this point. I had to get into the ring, poke and prod the prospects; (some of whom wanted to sniff and lick my hands and shoes), and ask a few questions about how they would get from the ring onto the grill. Once the bidding started, my adrenaline kicked in, and before I knew it, I was proud owner of 2 hefty looking steers, one being the show champion! In a month or so, if all goes to plan, they'll show up on the menu at the spa. I know that's not a very nice thought, but our guests love their meat, nothing beats locally raised food, and I'm not about to become a vegetarian. For a brief moment, I considered taking my two new mooing friends back to the spa to pasture, but one of the real farmers talked me out of that option, as apparently they are at their prime for eating. We also checked out the sheep shearing, the vegetables, the pig races, the dog show, and the equestrian display. On our way out we ran into some friends enjoying a ride on the Roseneath Carousel. If you've never experienced a real country fair, you really should. Next weekend is the Norwood Fair - there's something there for everyone, and it's a great education for the kids. Check it out.