Always make a hard copy

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A little voice in my head said make a hard copy on the day I received my Aussie visa. Which was with in 10 minutes of the credit card payment having gone through. I was sent a message that my application was accepted and during the whole process no red flags came up. But that little voice just kept nagging me to print a copy. As I don’t really have great faith or trust in online services I did exactly that and printed a copy.

All was going well  in the ticket line everything checked out okay for Steve, Katrina and my father. Then came my turn as the ticket agent swiped my passport I watched with intrepedation as the startled looking agent said to me according to Australian immigration you are already in Australia. After I picked up my heart off the floor I showed her the email message I received saying that I have a visa. After a few minutes what the immigration message meant she decided to see if my boarding passes would print up. If they did it meant there really wasn’t a problem. They all printed out and we went on our merry way thinking all is well in the world.

Our six hour flight to London was uneventful not that I managed much sleep. Whatever position I slept in my back and shoulders muscles would scream at me to assume another position. Fortunately for all us Steve in his travel wisdom booked rooms for us at Heathrow airport in a Yotel as we had a very long lay over. What is a Yotel you may ask. Unlike a hotel it provides small sized accommodations with everything in it but the kitchen sink. Aside from my father we all managed to catch a few ZZ’s. Feeling somewhat rested we chowed down on a hearty breakfast ready to endure the next leg our flight  11 hours to Singapore.

Within a few minutes of checking in for boarding the agent comes around the corner and asks me if I have a VISA for Australia as it has come up not to allow me to board. My heart punched out of my chest and dropped to the floor once again with me barely getting out the word YES!! With my hard copy in hand the agent tried to sort things out for me by a having a three way conversation with a ticket agent in Australia who was conversing with someone from immigration at the same time. The problem was that when I visited Australia 8 years ago my departure was never registered hence the reason for the message in Toronto stating I was still in Australia. Now that little voice has turned into a nagging headache knowing our plane was about to depart in 20 minutes. Everyone in my family is telling me to breathe and stay calm but that all went out the window when I was handed the phone to speak with the Australia ticket agent. Her question do I know the exact date when I left Australia otherwise nothing can be done? Now I am ready to crawl through the phone and scream are you kidding me then puke on her feet as I was feeling nauseated by this point. Then my fairy godmother arrives the Supervisor on the London side of things. Once informed about my predicament she starts to work two phones at the same time and within a few minutes tells me Rick of the Immigration department in Canberra has over ridden the don’t allow me to board notice. With about 5 minutes to spare and my stomach starting to do a dance we walked on the plane. A couple of gravols later I am sprawled across Katrina and Steve  sleeping  on and off  during our 11 hour flight. While thanking my little voice that said I should print a hard copy.

In Zombie like fashion I entered the Singapore airport and immediately felt peace. Singapore airport is one of the best airports in the world. Which I can understand why as it’s design and purpose is to provide calm for hectic air travellers. They did so with style by having a beautiful butterfly garden to walk through and enjoy.  Even though I was feeling much better I still wanted to be at the gate well enough in advance to make sure I did not have to do the pick my heart of the floor dance again. Rick from Canberra had done his job, he will never know how indebted I am to him. I am also considering framing my hard copy.

The last leg of our trip was uneventful which was okay by me. Funny the smallest plane provided the best meals and a yummy chocolate fudge/chocolate covered ice cream for dessert. After what I had been through it seemed like a gift from the gods. We arrived in Perth a little before ll:30 pm. Picking up our luggage we still had a half our taxi ride before arriving at our rental which by that time was 1:00 am on July 28th. We all did a swan dive into bed and covered ourselves with lots of blankets as winter was upon us.

Thankfully I managed 8 hours of sleep, I woke up to find that Steve had bought provisions for breakfast. Even though it was cool outside the sun was shinning and the was a good enough invitation for to go for a walk. Luckily for us there was a beautiful park nearby called Hardey Park.  Hardey Park is one many beautiful city parks you find through out Australia. The aptly named Swan river flowed through the park where one can easily see downtown Perth. But to my surprise and delight the park is a haven for water fowl and birds alike within minutes I discovered these wonderful birds.

Perth also has the one of the world’s largest city parks King Park with a botanical which must be absolutely stunning in their spring and summer, have to keep reminding myself it’s winter here. However I did manage to see some flowering plants and shrubs. This is the one thing I do envy the Australians for is the wonderful plant life the can enjoy year round.

Tomorrow we pick Derek up at the bus station in downtown Perth, Steve gets to test out his Australian driving skills as we drive south to Kendenup, Western Australia.

G’day to all until next time.



It Is A Green Christmas For Us!

It has been a couple of years since I last wrote but I felt doing a Blog about this trip was the right way to go.

Let me start by saying this is the last place I thought I would be spending Christmas with the family. However looking at it , it was most appropriate as Christmas is about giving and in our family we are trying very hard to give back to our mother earth. Which this trip did lend itself to.

Stephen was sponsored to go to Cancun in order  to report on the COP 16 summit as well do a workshop for aspiring young environmental journalists from South Africa. My son Derek along with his girlfriend Cheree we planning on travelling through South America starting in December. Thus I put forth the idea that we all meet in Mexico. Where we could meet other people from around the world and learn from their stories. While at the same time being able to have a family Christmas together. Everyone was on board, Katrina cracked open the Spanish books immediately.

Off we flew to Cancun and upon landing took a taxi to the lovely fishing village of Puerto Morelos.

The Original Lighthouse in Puerto Morelos was tilted over in 1967  by Hurricane Beulah. It has  survived Hurricanes Gilbert 1987 and Wilma in 2005. It has become the symbol for the this small fishing village. The new light house replacing the leaning Pisa is visible in the background.

Having experienced the Resorts of Cancun twice and now Puerto Morelos I truly believe  the way to experience Mexico is staying in small villages like Puerto Morelos. Guess what no food poisoning happened here. I am thinking the gastrointestinal problems are a resort issue. We  enjoyed many fine meals from the numerous food stands, restaurants and even from the back of a truck (that is another story) without having to rush to a doctor. Mind we did have to take Derek to a doctor as on our third day here he managed to step on a small Stingray and get stung. What a way to start our adventure by seeing how good the medical system is.

While Steve was off doing his workshop in Mexico City Derek, Katrina, Cheree and myself went to the Klimaforum 10 The People’s Climate Summit.

Here I heard the best comparison from a former British lawyer  Polly Higgins concerning Climate Change. She likened it to a mother who has a child which is constantly throwing up. Upon taking the child to the doctor she is told the child is allergic to milk. Whereupon the mother stops feeding it milk. The mother does not like in the case of  Corporations and Governments when dealing with CO2 emissions reduce the amount of milk she gives to the child and if the child throws up sweeps it under the rug.

Also managed to catch some cultural displays

while in Cancun to watch a documentary on the Inuit and the changes they see occuring to their landscape.

On December 7th there was a gathering of thousands to march on the main highway of Cancun leading to Moon Palace.

We also decided to add our voice to the Via Campesina (International Peasant Movement) protest march. 

The principal objective of La Via Campesina is to develop solidarity and unity among small farmers. In order to promote gender equality and social justice in fair economic relations. COP now a days seems very far removed in the concept of fair economic relations and social responsibility.

This creation aptly named The Hammer came all the way from Berlin which was created by Derek’s friend Jakub Simcik and artistic partner Artúr van Balen

Naturally Steve was busy interviewing people during the march. In this photo Steve is doing an interview with Tom Goldtooth Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

In all it was an amazing experience seeing and hearing the voices of many peoples being a united voice of action.

Needless to say we never made it to Moon Palace as there were police barricades  well before the palace.


The day ended with a pleasant surprise after taking a bus back into Cancun to find something to eat. In behind the Town Hall the Mayan Tropical Forest People were providing a feast and all were welcome. This where the meal from the back of a truck comes in. The best piece of meat I ever tasted. The cops enjoyed it to. It always amazes me that those who have so little give so much.

It goes without saying I was in my element in discovering all the different wildlife here. I was shutter bugging away.This little guy we saw everyday in the garden of the apartment we stayed in. It is an Anole Lizard


Cheree, Derek and Katrina were on the hunt for this guy.

Look what Derek and Cheree found!

A new species okay just kidding Katrina and Steve are just plain old beach bums not wanting to have their pictures taken. But here is the rest of my camera finds. Just click on the thumbnail image if  you want an enlarged photo to look at. P.S. you can do this with the other photos as well.

Butterflies are natures way of saying keep it simple.

The stories are in the eyes. This crab gives a whole new meaning to look in my eyes.

Another little    beach bum the Sand Piper

Of course what would a fishing village be without a Pelican.

The stunning  Needlenose fish which we had the fortune to see quite a few of. Their colours blew me away.

Christmas is not that far away and we are off to the jungles of Akumal. There will be no snow for us this Christmas but lots of interesting things to see and experience that I am certain of.  So good-bye from Puerto Morelos and Merry Christmas to all.

Oh yes and this guy says HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Adios from Renee

Published in: on December 20, 2010 at 12:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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Saxony and the Swiss

This summer Derek’s Tour Company (Insider Tours) began running tours in Dresden. It involves a two hour bus ride from Berlin to the state of Saxony which Dresden is it’s capital city. During our two hour ride Derek and John (Hebrew speaking guide)  kept us well informed with historical facts. After sitting for that length of time (actually bus was very comfortable) walking was definitely needed and Derek made sure we did plenty of that.


Historical Dresden is filled with titillating tales, religious discord, a long line of royalty that filled Dresden with culture and artistic splendor which later would be almost completely destroyed during a still controversial aerial bombing near the end of WW II.  The image below is the courtesy of  Dr. Torsten Henning who released it to the public domain. I thank him for this as it beautifully shows the Elbe river which splits Dresden into the “old city” and “new city”. Click on picture for full size.


The death of his brother from smallpox given to who him by his mistress  enabled Frederick Augustus to become the Electorate (ruler) of Saxony in 1694. Augustus became known as Augustus the Strong for his physical strength and iron rule, somehow I think it had more to do with his sexual stamina. He had at least 10 or more mistresses and the exact number of illegitimate children will probably never be known, 365-382 has been suggested. Yet Augustus did leave behind a legacy of castles, Meissen porcelain and as mentioned before culture and arts.


The most flamboyant of his castles was the Zwinger it’s open square   once lined with pavilions and arcade galleries that later would become exhibition galleries and library halls. After his death an Opera house was added to the square.  Much was destroyed during the aerial bombings or carpet bombing raids in 1945. Dresden’s dedication to restoring the Zwinger and the rest of it’s city is an amazing sight to behold.


Like many times before from ashes and rubble  history waiting to unfold and perhaps turn into something beautiful.


Does August 17th, 2002 mean anything to you? It does for the people of Dresden. It is the day flood waters from the Elbe river reached historic levels 9.39  meters or how about 31 feet.IMG_3090 Derek is standing underneath a bridge where a broze plaque  marks the level the waters reached forcing over 30,000 people from their homes. It seems Dresden will always have a history of rebuilding itself.


Published in: on September 5, 2009 at 8:57 pm  Comments (1)  

Tropics and Royalty

The last time we toured Postdam Derek stripped off his shirt much to the delight of the young ladies, as the heat was unbelievable that day.  During that particular summer Berlin was having quiet the heat wave, however this summer is a different story we stepped the train in Postdam and walked into pouring rain. I guess the wetness was fitting as we were heading to the tropics. Out in the middle of nowhere stands this grass roofed concrete and glass building that would leave you to believe that not much was inside.  We discovered the exact opposite inside a tropical paradise filled with plants, lizards, birds, fish and butterflies.


These guys were IMG_2895our first encounter in our walk along a corridor  that had a least 20 built in terrariums housing different lizards, snakes and insects. The only thing missing was the opportunity to get close and personal with some of these guys.  Naturally some insects particularly the Stick Insects, were playing the game  hide and seek.  Their camouflage was fantastic we had a challenging time finding them, it was sheer delight when we did discover them.

IMG_2896We rounded the corner and beheld this beautiful sight, a small example of what we would soon encounter. Before going to the tropics we entered Darwin’s library (reproduction) and we were given a brief history of his life. Next elevator ride going down , doors opened….IMG_2967

Awestruck is what we were when we stepped through the door, for few minutes we did not move. We were taking in the beautiful flora and fauna in the Potsdam Biosphere while coming to the realization that this breath taking scene was achieved with 20,000 plants. To make the experience complete  rain began to fall along with clap of thunder and the blitz of lightening.IMG_2912


Coral reefs with all their splendor was our next visual delight.IMG_2942


Graceful and enchanting creatures beyond our grasp.  In dreams that  land gently upon my hand.  I watch these winged angels of the sky secretly wishing I could fly.

IMG_2996IMG_3002 We were hard pressed to leave this tropical dome but there was still more to see that day. One the first things we saw as we left the biosphere was the sun. Making our next journey nice and dry.

Cecilienhof  was built for  Crown Prince Wilhelm Hohenzollern  and his wife Cecilia hence the castle’s name. It took about 3 years to build from 1914 to 1917 interesting is the architectural design used for this castle English Tudor.


It’s historical significance is what happened inside this building, Churchill, Truman, Stalin during  June 17th to 2nd of August 1945 met in the  halls of Cecilia Court Palace for the Potsdam Conference.  These men decided the fate of Germany and her people by taking steps to ensure post-war order through peace treaties, reversing all Germany’s annexation of Europe,  partitioning of  Germany  and the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.

IMG_3019Glienicke Bridge connects Postdam to Berlin after WW II it was divided into east and west. It became know as the Bridge of Spies during the Cold War as the United States and the Soviet Union used to carry out their exchange of captured spies.

Crossing the bridge over to Berlin we headed to a beer garden for refreshments. Good thing unbeknownst to us (Steve and I) we still had a fair walk ahead of us. You would think the last our son the Tour Guide would want to do is alot of walking on his day off. Lets just say Steve and I slept extremely well that night.  All that walking was just a prelude as to what lay ahead and that is another story.

Published in: on August 27, 2009 at 12:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Prague-Longest Day Of The Year


Our day started at 9:30 am with breakfast at our hotel, for the next 10 hours we walked, walked, breaked, walked, walked, dined, walked, walked and fell into bed around 9:30 pm. By the way we would highly recommend Hotel AbsolutIMG_2464 our room was spacious and clean as was the bathroom. Included in the cost was breakfast lots of bread,cheese, cold cuts, fruit, cereal and most importantly coffee. Location is great has it is only a four minute walk from the transit system which meant we were in the inner city in no time.

As our stay in Prague was short we decided to take a tour, picking a tour was not easy. It seems all the tour companies meet in the same area on mass. We arrived in The Old Town Square where about 15-20 sign waving, umbrella or bottle swinging as well as theatrical tour guides were trying to get the attention of the tourists. To say it was chaotic is an understatement it, took us about 15 minute to find a tour group we were aloud to join.

Unfortunately my son Derek did not talk to us for a few days as we informed him we took the Sandmann’s FREE tour (guides ask for tips later), which is the competition for the other tour companies around Europe where you pay for your tour. The free tour company was started by a young man who has an extremely rich father that financed all his tour companies. The idea being you have a free tour and then tip the guide whatever you want.

How does Sandmann make money you ask the tour guide has to pay the company 3 Euros per tourist that was in their group so you can imagine the guides want some big tips otherwise they could be left with making know money that day. Hence with the other companies guides get paid regularly and are not desperately begging for tips. Lesson when it is free there is always someone who has to pay.

Hoping before we leave we will be out of the dog house with Derek. (more…)

Published in: on July 29, 2009 at 9:10 am  Leave a Comment  

Guitar Hero and Gaudi Inspired

For the young music lovers of Vienna there is a spectacular event that happens in summer, Die Donau Insel Fest or The Danube Island (Open Air) Festival. It is a 3 day all day music event where bands from all over Austria, as well as some international ones perform live. With 21 stages there is music for everyone, heavy metal, folk, country, jazz, old rock, new rock, indy and my favourite blues band Wiener Linien Blues Band.IMG_2311

Now you may ask how do I come to have a favourite band from Austria? I am a bit bias as my (3rd) cousin plays for this band, he is their lead guitarist. Boy can he play and the band makes sure he does a few solos this would get everybody moving. They did play one of my favourites Mustang Sally  which made it a great night for me.IMG_2327

Steve and I did listen to another band a female string quartet, were they different. They would play traditional folk songs with a bit rock, jazz and other music genres mixed in. Their music style was something we had never heard before,  enjoyed it so much  that we bought their CD.

The amazing thing about all of this is that this great muscial entertainment is for free and they do this every summer. Steve and will be checking our calendar to make sure the next time we come to Vienna we are here for the Donau Insel Fest.IMG_2330

Now from music to architecture, a few times the name  Friedensreich Hundertwasser  was mentioned to us as one of Austria’s famous architects. (more…)

Published in: on July 23, 2009 at 9:04 am  Comments (1)  

A Wonderful Surprise

IMG_2395Before I write about the surprise let me tell you about Schloss Schönbrunn. It is one of the most important cultural monuments in Austria. Built as as a palace and summer residence for the Hapsburg family, construction started 1696 and completed 1749 with the final touches coming from Empress Maria Tersia. During her reign it was considered to be Austria’s “golden era”. The grounds holds an extensive park and a zoo that is the oldest of its kind in the world.

It was constructed in 1751 by order of Kaiser (Emperor) Franz I Maria Tersia’s husband. At the time it consisted of 12 enclosures inhabited by the appropriate sized animal.

About 20 years ago Steve and I along with our two little ones visited the zoo. We walked away feeling very sad for the animals especially the elephants (were chained). This experience left me wondering why the city of Vienna had not closed down the Zoo.

Fast forward 20 years Steve and I enjoy the surprise of our life. We had over the years heard that tremendous changes had occurred at the zoo and we should go see it. But our past memories kept haunting us, this time there was a hook. Artists had come into the zoo and constructed environmental messages within some of the enclosures.

(notice Canada tattoos on shoulder on ankle)

IMG_2396 Naturally we had to see what this was all about, we walked through the gates with apprehension only to receive a wonderful surprise especially when we saw the enclosure for the elephants.

OUTSIDE ( Hut with snow on message Should There Be Snow in Winter?)



(Indoor enclosure for elephants it also as an viewing gallery from above, what a change!)

I recently checked the world ranking for the zoo, many sights have ranked it number one and not too far behind is the Berlin zoo ranked number 3. Looks like we maybe checking out another zoo.IMG_2401


Lions, tigers and bears oh my.IMG_2445


Trouble In ParadiseIMG_2452

Shy Pandas, photo the right is of the little baby panda that was born two years ago at the zoo, the mother is on the left.


Steve’s favourite animal Rhino with it’s armor on.IMG_2457


Going to the zoo, zoo how about you, you, you!

Published in: on July 11, 2009 at 10:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Discovering The New In The Old

I am letting the pictures do the talking as I am taking a new look at the buildings and monuments of Vienna.

I realized so often we take pictures on a broader scale as oppose to a small one the little details many times are missed.

Mozart MemorialIMG_2283


Published in: on July 10, 2009 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Just When You Thought You Have Seen Everything

Vienna is a wealth of leisure activities, my favourite are the coffee houses and Eis salons, there are many other activities but one of the most famous is the Vienna Prater. Unlike our CNE which is only open for 3 weeks, the Prater is open at least 6 months out of the year 7 days a week.

I could also go on about the less working hours for all concerned eg. hard to find stores open beyond 6:00 pm and the longer paid holidays. One could say leisure is more important than working 24/7 (so why can’t North America adopt this lifestyle?). Hence the reason why Steve and I are always seeing full coffee houses, restaurants and wine bars everytime we go into the city. Most of the people filling these places are the people of Vienna themselves.


Back to the Prater, the land where it stands was once hunting grounds in 1560 for Emperor Maximilian. In 1766, Emperor Joseph II donated the area to the Viennese as a public leisure center (even back then leisure was important). Where upon the emperor also allowed the establishment of restaurants and snack bars, thus began the birth of the Prater. The “better” class of people came here in horse-drawn carriages, Waltz King Johann Strauss performed here much to the delight of the Viennese people.

Now I wrote about this to tell you about a lesser known Prater. Around 1900 one quarter of the originally inhabitants of 10 district (Favoriten) in Vienna had come mainly from Bohemia and Moravia (now part of Czech Republic). Not only did they live in the 10 district the also worked for the largest local employer, the Wienerberg brick factory . Thus when a smaller version of the Vienna Prater came to be in the Laaer Woods about a 150 years ago it would be known as Böhmischer Prater (Bohemian Prater). (more…)

Published in: on July 3, 2009 at 3:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

It Is A Long Way Down August 1, 2008

All I can say, I was glad I was the one taking pictures and not driving. However when I think about it being on the passenger side going up the mountains was no picnic. Everytime I stopped taking pictures and looked over the side realized it would not take much for our car to flip off the mountain. When a tour bus came down my heart jumped as we had to move over slightly to give it room. As far as I was concerned there was no room, however with Steve being on the mountain side he felt he had lots of room. Hence I decided to take pictures non stop till we go to the top. I did not even notice if Katrina was nervous or not I was so focused being the photographer.

By now you are wondering where in Spain are these scary mountains, Manresa.IMG_1848

Manresa is in the interior of the province of Barcelona and it is here where we did the heart attack drive up the mountains of Montserrat in order to see the Monastery that sits up in these mountains. Lets just say after that drive everybody had a queasy stomach and we were quite happy to get out of the car.IMG_1858

The basilica was built in 1592. It had to be reconstructed after the Napoleonic invasion then again in the 19th century and in 1939. Beginning of the 20th century several chapels were built in the mountains as well. IMG_1869

There is also a musem, as well as a luxury hotel and hostel. And if you were lucky you could also eat with the monks. Well not actually seat with them but sit in the same eating area as them. Do expect to have any conversation with them as they kept a vow of silence. After I flew home Katrina and Steve spent a couple a nights at the hostel and hiked in the mountains which was breath taking. As you will notice from the pictures these are very unusually formed mountains.

Just to let you know the car ride down was much easier maybe because I was on the mountain side. It was hard for me to believe that my trip was coming to an end as we drove down.

However I knew there would be some new adventure waiting for me next summer.IMG_1859


Published in: on July 3, 2009 at 7:26 am  Leave a Comment