Category Archives: Confoederatio Helvetica

This Adventure Made Possible By…

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Anna Maria Esposita for finding us on the side of the road in Salerno, putting up with our feeble attempts at Italian, and magically making our luggage appear out of nowhere.  Maya, for introducing us to AirBnB in the first place…our travels will never be the same.  Our barista in Vietri Sul Mare (thank you for the doughnuts, we hope you made it to Australia!), and our wildly flirtatious maitre d’ (that wine was impressively strong!).  Fernando, for the ride to the Tiber (we’re sorry if we gave the impression that we wanted to boat back to Rome).  Pope Francis for instilling humanity into our visit to the Vatican.  University of Manitoba College of Medicine for changing the direction of our lives while sitting in a Roman burlap tent!  Jamie Pierce, for pointing us in the direction of Cinque Terre in the first place.  Kaya and Aeden for being the best roommates we could have asked for, and Sarah, Alicia, and Stacey for getting lost with us in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  And for the calamari cones.  Genius.  The Lemon Man, for delicious homemade wine with a side of really disgusting jokes, and the Pizza Man for abusing/believing in your employees (either way, you made a pizza in record time, well done!).  Pak Kashmir Doner Kebab for starting a 3-month-long love affair with kebab…and for not judging us when we came back twice in one day.  The Sprachcaffe receptionist for helping two confused travelers find a place to sleep in a language school.  Pietro for being a (very charming) walking encyclopedia of Florentine espionage.  All’antico Vinaio for your legendary sandwiches and free wine refills (no, seriously, it’s for real!).  The lovely couple who shared coffee with us on the train to Venice.  Archie & sons…your front hall will forever evoke in us a sense of oriental mystery.  The kiosco girl (and all of Vienna, for that matter) for your patience as we realized we knew literally NO Deutsch (“Card!…48?”).  The Musikverien Usher for engaging us in a Viennese musical intrigue and, therefore, much better seats!  Our Bulgarian/Brazillian (Bulgrillian?) cellist hostel roommate.  We tried to find you on iTunes but alas we were…so far…but…so close.  The Heinrich and Kress families for welcoming us so generously into your homes (and travel snacks that nearly broke the bus tables!).  Artur & Irina, we feel like we have a real home in Germany thanks to you.  Robert, Christian, and Erwin, we hope we can jam and play Dutch Blitz again one day!  Johannes for an unexpected evening of German tango (we’ll bring our dancing shoes next time).  Julia & your roommate for making us feel so at home in Köln.  Viel Glück to both of you in your new jobs!  Oma for always talking about your home country and inspiring us to retrace your Sunday walks down the Rhine.  Maybe one day we can go back with you!  Linda, dankjewel for your bikes, your lovely attic, and taking a chance on us as your first AirBnBers!  Edwin and Farah, for taking the time to hang out with us even with your wedding being a week away.  Once a WOOFer, always a WOOFer (ps come to Manitoba, we’ll take you to the snake pits!)  The stars, for aligning so perfectly as to allow us to have a lovely lunch with Dorien.  The Alma Dixons for getting us to and from Europe in the first place (Mom, your axiom of ‘would you rather have stuff or memories?’ has successfully stuck with me into adulthood) and for showing us all the places you always talk about.  The Farnham Dixons for a lovely afternoon and some authentically British fish’n’chips (sans mushy peas, thank-you!).  Wendy for taking this whole motley crew into your home and showing us around Glastonbury. Elly for introducing us to your family (I cannot imagine a more adorable kid to blow bubbles with than your granddaughter) and an evening of reminiscing about icebergs and penguins.  Pete & Patricia for the most incredible Welsh hospitality, and for driving us all over the country at all hours of the night.  Mark Hanford for keeping us simultaneously amused and not dead as we threw ourselves off cliffs into the sea (still waiting for those carpets!).  The disembodied Welsh couple whose voices helped us find our way out of the mist and back to the path somewhere on Mount Snowdon.  Jack Johnson, for being you, and for entirely coincidentally being in Paris at the same time as us.  Andréanne, for showing us around your beautiful new Swiss home.  Irene and Martin for sharing so many things with us: your inspiring work and outlook on life and faith, the truly breathtaking landscapes, and yes, the little bears :P.  Andreas and Simone, also for sharing so many things with us (like mother like son, eh?): your friends, your family, your food, your car, your bike…. That night with the giant map (and the many road trips that ensued) is still a memory that we talk about regularly!  Aric and Gabriel, for being as excited about the high-ropes garden as we were and never judging us on our (lack of) Swiss German. Joël for sharing your beautiful pays et famille. Yannick for the best duck I’ve ever tasted, and Hélène for showing us the work you’re doing to help new immigrants become self-sufficient in Toulouse.  Ron, Nicole, Aimée, Sean (and yes, Cougar) for making us recognize the name Carcassonne, even if we’ll never pronounce it properly.  Les Cabys des Taillades (et oui, de Paris aussi!) for sharing your passion for history, many hours of games (we now have our own Möllky set!), French puns, and more wine and cheese than any North American could comprehend.  Mami Caby, for a beautiful afternoon in St. Jean du Gard, and the silk scarf that’s currently on display in our living room.  Isaac and Sylvia of JUCUM Barcelona for the generous hospitality, the 2AM tour of your majestic city, and showing us what we truly believe is the best beach in Europe.  Hind, Nour, and Adam for helping us finish off the bag of snails and confirming everything we’d heard about the welcoming nature of Moroccans.  Nour, of Sahara Desert Crew, for an unforgettable few days of sights and culture unlike anything else we’ve ever seen (also, your mad photography skills. ‘Nuff said.).  Cafe Restaurant Nora, for providing a literal oasis in the desert (Nothing tastes as good as Berber pizza and Berber whiskey at +50C!) The Samnoun family for taking us in when our hostel was suddenly infested with bedbugs, and Bousha for introducing us to the madness of the Medina (and many, many friends ;)…)

And of course, contributions from VIEWERS LIKE YOU!

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The right place at the right time

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Throughout our travels, Sara and I have often thought about how great it would be to arrive in a new city just as some big significant event is beginning, to witness the locals celebrating something they are legitimately passionate about. Alas, this has never happened (save for an incident involving prom queens hurling watermelons at crowds and shirtless men with tridents) …until now.

As plans with our incredible Swiss cousins took shape, we realized that we were taking a very serendipitous detour. Instead of heading south to the French Riviera (where hostels and train tickets had already been scooped up by throngs of tourists), we were very nicely positioned to rent a car and hit not one but THREE events of extreme national importance.

We bid a fond farewell to Andreas, Simone, and their boys at the Basel airport, since we’d have to pick the car up in France in order to avoid border-crossing fees. Fortunately we didn’t actually have to fly anywhere:

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Our faithful steed
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After enjoying a glass of local Alsacian wine with our lovely airbnb hosts, we headed to our first stop: Germany. No particular destination, just anywhere with a screen, some Deutsch brew, and some patriotic football fans. In the town of Kehl, just across the Rhine, we found exactly what we were looking for:

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The crowd thinned a bit after halftime, when the torrential downpour started growing increasingly cold. Fortunately it left only the most hardcore fans (and us, but I suppose that makes us hardcore).

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It was pretty tearing to see the country we were IN (and had grown to love) going up against the country we’d long adopted as our second home. Ultimately I’m glad Germany won, not only because the chorus of horns honking echoed behind us the whole way back into France, but let’s face it, the winning goal was REALLY impressive.

Our second stop was an hour drive south, to the small city of Mulhouse (pronounced muh-LOOZ), where stage 10 of the Tour de France was departing. Despite the banner-waving crowds and adorable tweens running around with notepads hoping for autographs, we were able to get right up to the makeshift fence as the cyclists took their place at the starting line.

The starting line. Full disclosure, the in-town starting lines are purely for show…the cyclists will bike a few kilometres out of town, where they will legitimately start the race with a little less pomp and ceremony. If you’ve ever wondered how the race works (when most of the images we see on TV involve cyclists packed together like sardines, unable to pass each other), check it out here, it’s pretty much the most complicated thing on earth!
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Locals appreciating the scene from the comfort of their own balconies.
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The yellow jersey, the race’s most prestigious symbol, worn here by the current first place contestant, Tony Gallopin (alas, he would be forced to give it up at the end of the day!)
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The day happened to be the 14th of July, known throughout the world as Bastille Day, but in France simply as fête national. We were told that Strasbourg had some of the best fireworks around, but some less-than-accurate directions steered us the wrong way. As we finally found the right exit off the freeway, however, the sky exploded in front of us. A convenient construction barrier on the side of the exit ramp provided the perfect place to watch the celebration.

Strasbourg’s fireworks display, celebrating the victory of reason over monarchical insanity.
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The closed exit ramp was a pain to most, but it afforded an excellent view for us!
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In sum, Glückwünsch, Deutschland; bonne voyage, cyclistes; and heureuse Fête Nationale, France. Thanks for a ridiculously eventful 48 hours!

Swiss Bliss (zwöi)

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Continued from some previous bliss with other Swiss…

From Bern, we took the train to Chur, the closest train station to the hamlet of Ober-Says where my cousin Andreas and his wife Simone lived. Andreas had come to visit his (and my) Uncle Jeff over two different summers, so we had gotten to know each other then. However, while I knew hypothetically that Jeff and his family were Swiss, my only interactions with both Jeff and Andreas had only ever been in Manitoba, so I couldn’t actually imagine seeing Andreas at home in Switzerland. Furthermore, the last time I had seen Andreas was not only the summer of my & Josh’s wedding (so we were already a bit preoccupied), but it was also during their holiday to Canada that summer that Simone, only six months pregnant, had gone into labour and ended up giving birth to their second son in the backseat of my aunt’s car in the middle of rural Manitoba and had to spend the next three months caring for her son in hospital. Therefore, the last time I had seen Andreas and Simone, there hadn’t really been a lot of time for hanging out together!

As a result, we really had no idea what to expect when we stepped off the train. What we got was two blonde tow-headed Swiss boys hurtling towards us with fistfuls of waving Canada flags, and hugely welcoming hugs from Andreas and Simone.

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They asked us how long we planned to stay, and we proposed three days, but when they hesitated, we hastily assured them we could leave earlier if three days was too much. “Well, we have this whole week off and then we were going to take you to Simone’s family’s place this weekend as well, but if you have to leave earlier than we don’t want to keep you…”

Hosts that want you to stay longer? We would never say no to that!

With our week-long stay confirmed, they got down to business. Spreading out a map of Switzerland on the table between us, our hosts extraordinaires proceeded to plot out all possible destinations and activities for our “programme” together.
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Hang on to your hats… It was a packed week, and we have the pictures to prove it! 🙂

The “4 Countries Before Lunch” Roadtrip (Lichtenstein, Austria, Germany, & Switzerland!)

A little (okay, a lot) of rain couldn’t dampen Lichtenstein’s mysterious beauty
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The Bodensee (finally seeing it for ourselves after hearing about it from so many Bodenseehof alum!)
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Mid-roadtrip power-nap
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Dinner with Simone’s sister Andrea in quaint Appenzell (ps. Andreas – where is my beer?! :P)
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App dinner

High-Ropes Climbing Garden

Choo-choo… Loading our car onto a train to pass through the mountain on the way there
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Snowball fights in July as we passed over the mountain on the way back!
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The Great Canadian Breakfast (where our hosts proceeded to write down every single Canadian breakfast food they could think of, then looked at the list and mused, “Maybe we will need to invite another family to help eat.”)
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Roadtrip to Italian Switzerland in search of sunshine!
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Paddle!

Josh’s Alpine driving lessons in a standard proved that Simone has the patience of a saint (apparently my terror was palpable from the backseat)
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Weekend with Simone’s family

Ruk-Shuk (thanks to Simone for introducing us to this truly awesome Canadian game!)
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Schwingen/Hoselupf aka Swiss German wrestling pants (apparently it’s a thing… I plan to ask Uncle Jeff for a demonstration! :P)
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A beautiful little walk turned deluge! (Josh & I seem to attract flash floods on this trip…)
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Ps. Dankeschön to Elizabeth for the towels and clothes dryer!!

The best way to learn a language: hang out with 3-year olds (they are always excited to name farm animals and colours, and only judge you a little bit when you can’t count to 10)
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Andreas, Simone, Aric, & Gabriel: You have redefined the meaning of “hospitality” for us.

    VIELEN DANK / DANGGE

for an incredibly fun, beautiful, relaxing, and entertaining week. We cannot wait to host you in Winnipeg next time! 🙂

Fam!!!!

Swiss Bliss (äis)

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Way back in February, Josh and I sat down for the first time to actually start making concrete plans for this trip. We went online, bought tickets to see Jack Johnson in Paris, and considered our trip planning done! In my excitement, I did what I so rarely do and updated my status on Facebook. The next day, there was something even more engaging than the morale-boosting “likes” from all my friends: a comment posted by Andréanne, my exchange partner from a 2004 Québec trip. Although Andréanne and I had connected incredibly well during the exchange and became fast friends, we had lost touch upon returning home and had not spoken to each other in 10 years. And yet here was her comment: “Just so you know, I’m living in Switzerland ;)”

To backpackers, Switzerland is like the steak section in a restaurant menu. It’s smack in the middle of all the other options, tempting you with its decadence, but you force your eyes to roam around it because it’s so prohibitively expensive. However, as stated so many times before, our whole goal for this trip was to pursue any connections we had across this continent. So, one sunny afternoon in July, Josh and I hopped off the Lausanne metro at the hospital where Andréanne was working as a nurse. Leaving Josh in the waiting room, I nervously rode the elevator up to the Urology department (this was thankfully a travel experience new to me), found the nurses’ desk… And there was Andréanne jumping up to meet me, looking so familiar I refused to believe it had been 10 years since I had hugged her goodbye at the airport!

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We had a wonderful few days reconnecting and wandering over beautiful Lausanne, making ourselves “comme chez nous!” as Andréanne insisted.

Our lovely tour guide
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An incredible thing to stumble upon: Roman ruins from the ancient city of Lousonna
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Lac Ouchy (note the impending clouds of doom…)
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From sunny skies to hurricane rains: getting blown away while attempting to watch the France/Germany World Cup match!
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From Lausanne, we caught a train to Bern, where my uncle’s sister Irene and her husband Martin had offered to host us for the weekend.

A Swiss feast of Raclette
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Bern’s bears!
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The next day, Irene & Martin took us hiking up to Mürren, a village nestled at the feet of the Schilthorn Mountain. We spent a wonderful day admiring the Alpine wildflowers, wildlife and, of course, the majestic Alps themselves.

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A lovely lunch stop
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Not a bad view for a coffee break…
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Trummelbach Falls: a series of 10 glacier waterfalls churning INSIDE a mountain
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Our evenings were spent not only devouring raclette, but also learning more about Irene’s work in raising awareness and fighting against human trafficking. Compounded with what we had learned about human trafficking in the Red Light District of Amsterdam, it was both empowering and humbling to hear Irene’s stories of horror and courage, and then to have her ask us (and expect an answer), “And what are you planning to do about it?”

There is so much injustice, exploitation, and tragedy in the world that there is a lot to talk about. But I know I can get carried away with rhetoric and forget that merely talking about injustice takes time away from actually working to alleviate it.

Hold me accountable to this! In spring, I started volunteering with the WISH (Winnipeg Interprofessional Student-Run Health) Clinic. WISH acknowledges that health is affected by social as well as physical determinants, and thus works to provide “non-judgmental, socially responsible, holistic health care to a population that struggles with poorer health than the rest of the city.” WISH is an incredible community of students, healthcare professionals, and the Point Douglas residents who together want to learn to care for each other better. I can think of no better place to lay aside my rhetoric, so feel free to hold me accountable to continuing to volunteer with these guys this fall.

A huge thank you to Andréanne, Martin & Irene for opening up their homes to us and giving us so much to think about. However, our time in Switzerland was not over yet…

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News from away! (with the Batmanns and their iPad)

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We received our iPad just before going to Argentina, and it has been our faithful travel companion ever since. It was on this little screen that we saw our niece for the first time (after hiking six hours down a mountain to find wifi on a semi-weekly basis… Two weeks overdue, seriously, kiddo?!);
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that Josh applied for Education from an Argentine campground (and was accepted!);
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that a Mennonite frantically tried to learn Cree as his train chugged towards the Northern school at which he was expected to teach it;
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and of course, it was on this little screen that this very blog was born.
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Now, halfway across the world in a different direction, our little iPad has remained faithful in keeping us connected with our lives back home and in being the bearer of some very exciting news. In May, in a campground outside of Rome, it was on this iPad that I opened the email that would change the direction of my life yet again:
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Going into Medicine has been a dream of mine for many years. I am beyond thrilled to not only have the chance to study Medicine, but also to study it in the Bilingual Stream, which will allow me to continue pursuing my passion for the French language and the French community that has become an incredible part of my life!

I received the email around midnight, so all the buses going into town had stopped running. Therefore, we celebrated my future career in Medicine by running across the highway and going to McDonald’s for celebratory McNuggets. I figured I didn’t need to worry about being a good role model for healthy eating practices until I was actually IN med school 😉
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After receiving my acceptance in May, I had a few blissful weeks free of any obligations. Finally, however, the magnitude of paperwork caught up to me. In early July, I spent an entire day in my cousin’s office in a tiny hamlet of Switzerland downloading, printing, filling out, scanning, and finally coaxing an ancient fax machine to send all the forms required for my admission. I am frankly astounded that the forms actually sent properly… I don’t know if the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Manitoba have ever received an enrollment package from Ober-Says, Switzerland!
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Faxing

During this trip, Josh’s path has also meandered along some new adventures! In May, Mr. B officially graduated with his B.Ed. Although we were in Köln, Germany at the time of his convocation, his wonderful Ed friends made sure to include him in their celebrations:
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In June, we were living in a London flat with Josh’s family during their annual trek to England. One Sunday evening, Josh received an email describing a possible job opportunity for the fall. He excitedly emailed back, but the next day, we went to Glastonbury for the night, so we were without Internet for one day. ONE DAY… which was apparently enough time for the principal of the school to request an interview with Josh! Arriving home that night to a pile of emails, we panicked that he had missed his chance. However, thanks to a convenient time difference and some speedy Skype-calls, Josh got ahold of the school, who reassured him that it wasn’t too late, his interview could be moved to the next day.

Fantastic… Except that the next day, we had tickets to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at London’s West End. So, we brought the iPad and during the show, Josh snuck out of the theatre and ended up doing his interview in the theatre bar over Skype. Only at one point did his potential employer ask Josh if there was a marching band in the background. Unconventional, perhaps – but, that very evening, there was a job offer in his inbox, so unconventional seemed to have worked!!
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A huge thank-you to Laura for faithfully checking our mail back at home, M.O.M. for being willing to sign and drop off all Sara’s crazy forms, Andreas and Simone for letting Sara commandeer their office all day and then (trying to) explain to their workplace why two Canadians had to use the fax machine for an hour, Gwen and Leanne U. for being the most persistent emailers, the Dixons for the 3G, the bartender at Royal Drury Lane Theatre for not batting an eyelash during Josh’s interview, Margaret Park School for being so flexible (note from Josh: I’m so excited to join you this fall!)… And to all of our amazing friends and family, back in Winnipeg or here in Europe, who cheer us on in our crazy, unconventional, ridiculous adventures. We love you guys and love sharing our life with you!

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