Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Years Eve

It is a snowy, blustery, foggy night in downtown Vancouver. 
We are happily staying indoors... not exposing ourselves 
to the elements and treacherous sidewalks. 

Large clumps of slushy snow keep falling from the roof
...startling us from our winter reverie.

Time for a glass of wine!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Day

It has been a whirlwind of fun, food, walks and card games!

Christmas morning view from the garret!

Christmas morning walk along English Bay.

Bubble entertainment along the way!

Lewchaks under the mistletoe

Maxwells under the mistletoe.
We attracted quite a crowd!

Not sure what he's afraid of...maybe that the poor overcooked turkey will attack?

Staying warm!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Eve

John's sister and husband arrived from Moose Jaw on December 23rd. We have been eating, drinking and playing cards ever since!...Oh...and a long walk yesterday!

Christmas winter cabbage

Christmas Eve dinner with Adrian and the Lewchaks
followed by more card playing!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Crazy or brave

Crazy or brave?? Not sure which category we are in after navigating the downtown streets of Vancouver this morning. Instead of rainfall overnight, we experienced a huge dump of snow. None of the main streets or side streets were ploughed, none of the sidewalks were cleared. All intersections had foot deep piles of snowy slush.

We slipped, slid and waded across intersections enroute to the Community Centre (John's gym) on Denman Street. For those who have never experienced Vancouver after a snowfall that turns to a is ugly! We had finally released our grip on each other, on a cleared piece of pavement, when an idiot raced along Denman Street in the curb lane and covered us in a heavy spray of slush from head to toe!! We were soaked and sought refuge at Delany's for a coffee/tea warm-up.

The return walk, two hours later, showed some improvements on the sidewalks but nothing had been done to clear slush from the streets. Rivers were running alongside the curbs and massive puddles had formed at every crosswalk.

We are taking a one hour rest (and drying our gear) before tackling our next outdoor adventure to get to a Doctor's appointment using the transit system. Should be interesting!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Early Christmas dinner

We shared an early Christmas dinner tonight with Adrian, Heather, Chris and Augie.

Augie's latest interest is History.

The men collapsed after dinner with bulging stomachs!

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Friends for 75 years!

They have so many stories to retell!!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Full moon

The cold weather is settling in for a few days...

...along with this full moon in a winter sky!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Bright idea?

Sometimes when you wake up with a bright's best to ignore it and replace it with common sense! That didn't happen this morning! I suggested that we take the little ferry to Granville Island, enjoy a "pre-crowd breakfast" and do a walkabout.

Looking out the windows from our lofty height it appeared that the snow had been washed away overnight so there should be no problem...wrong! The sidewalks were still slushy on the way downhill so we chose to walk on the road, navigating around parked cars. Then we arrived at the pathway leading to the little ferry. It had not been cleared so we chose to step onto the snowy grass edge, clinging to each other to ensure that if one of us went down, the other was down too! A feeling of confidence soon evaporated when we encountered the ramp that would take us down to the wharf and the waiting ferry. It was very slippery but at least there was a railing. The skipper waited patiently for us and dropped us on Granville Island a few minutes later.

A word of warning...Granville Island roadways have not been plowed and the pathways were not cleared!!

Sliding into the market we settled ourselves for a relaxing breakfast while we watched racing skulls with energetic young people race back and forth in the harbour. Finally it was time to layer ourselves into winter outerwear and brave the walkways of the Island, not an easy task. As the sleet intensified we decided to slide down the ramp and sail back to the West End.

The snow intensified and we were soon in the midst of a blizzard as we tackled the hill back to the apartment. We weren't empty handed however. There were prawns and scallops for dinner tonight...

...and we were not tempted by the Christmas goodies on display!

Friday, December 9, 2016

More snow

It looks like Vancouver is going to have a harsh winter.

Once again we are receiving a blanket of snow!

Snow has been falling off and on all day. We went for a walk this afternoon and slid back to the apartment on slushy, slippery sidewalks. There isn't a huge accumulation in the downtown area but there is enough to make the roads treacherous when temperatures drop tonight.

The weather forecast indicates overnight lows next week of minus 10 degrees...probably record breaking cold temperatures for Vancouver! We were very grateful to discover our winter coats (from Salmon Arm) in my sister's closet.

We heard from John's sister that she and her husband will be joining us for Christmas...driving from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to share turkey dinner. This year we are not doing the "big family dinner" routine, instead we are breaking into smaller groups for a change.

Over the years we have hosted Christmas dinners in Salmon Arm, shared the turkey festivities in Puerto Vallarta and visited with family at the coast for large tables of food and fun. This year we have decided to keep it small and simple. Three of our kids are spread out...New York, Sechelt and Oregon so our youngest will join us along with the "blow-ins" from Saskatchewan to fight over the turkey wishbone, who makes the best gravy and whether brussel sprouts are necessary for Christmas dinner! (Of course they are!) We will wrap up the evening festivities with a rousing game of Saskatchewan Rummy and Rusty Nails!!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


We are marking another anniversary date today. 

Monday, December 5, 2016


After waking up to sunny skies yesterday
this morning we have snow in downtown Vancouver!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunny day

What a surprise! Woke up to sunny and clear skies this morning!
Headed out for a chilly walk.

Snow on the mountains and more in the forecast for Vancouver.

Pink tinted windows caught my eye.

Cadbury's truck waiting for Santa's parade to start!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fog and a small baby doll

Today's wanderings

Burrard Bridge in morning fog

An abandoned baby doll

Friday, December 2, 2016

Winter in Vancouver

Oh dear! Bleak days...wet...wet...wet!...but we are still braving the wet to enjoy walks and coffees! The West End continues to please us. One cherry tree is in blossom already...about to have a shock if the temperature drops as predicted.

Winter in Vancouver

One of the surviving small grocery stores in the West End
offering good prices on produce as well as a variety 
of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern goodies.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November 29

The wakeup call was unnecessary. As usual we were awake off and on all night. The taxi was waiting for us at 6:15am and we arrived at the airport half an hour later, checked our bags and waited for the flight to Frankfurt, the first leg of our return trip on Aegean Air. The flight attendants are quite exotic and still wear lovely little hats and high heels!

The Air Canada flight to Calgary was much more pleasant than our flight to Europe. This time we had small screens and a range of movies to fill the hours. Meals were the usual mediocre offerings.

In Calgary we were surprised and pleased at the system for directing passengers who are connecting with other flights through a fast lane. Well done Calgary!!

Confusion in Vancouver resulted from the fact that I had not told Adrian that we were flying in from Calgary so he was waiting at International Arrivals for us. If we had not been exhausted we might have thought to ask the Information desk to page him. Instead there was a lot of walking back and forth before we finally connected.

November 28

This was the day that we parted company with our Greek family and headed back to Athens while they continued to explore the mountainous northern region of their country. As we prepared for the trip to Athens the yard was invaded by a group of roaming sheep.

By 11:30am we were on the road again, this time with Sotiris in his car. The drive took over six hours to his home on the outskirts of Athens. From there we hopped into Olga's car for the traffic jammed drive into Athens city centre. When I spotted the sign that would lead her directly down the street to our hotel she was six lanes away. This was not a deterrent!! She nudged her small vehicle across the six lanes of traffic and dropped us off right in front of the hotel in the middle of a thunder and lightning storm!! It was 7:30pm!!

Our friend Vassiliki had trouble getting a taxi to bring our stored luggage to the hotel but she finally arrived, dripping, around 8:45pm. Together we walked to a nearby taverna for pizza and she returned John's wedding ring to him. Her partner Andronikos had replaced the lost piece of ivory with another material and the ring looks new again! Beautiful work by a talented jeweller!!...and we are very grateful to him.

The Balkaneros
Theo, Kalliroi, Yorgos, Lin, Mata, Yianni

We realise that we could never have managed this trip without the company of our wonderful friends and we extend a million thanks to them for including us, looking after us and believing that we could handle the rigours of travel on this Balkan trip. It was a very special opportunity for us to share experiences and explore other cultures. Thank you...thank you...thank you!!!!!

November 27

Up early for a shower and breakfast. This was the day that the rest of the group would explore more of the mountainous area while John and I stayed in the cottage to rest and keep the fire going.

Before they left the teacher and his student had a tavli competition!

The group of seven finally drove away around 2:00pm and returned after 8:00pm. Their return trip (2 hours)involved tense driving in the dark and thick fog on the winding mountain roads. Our reward was a bottle of Tsiporo that they brought back from the small cafenion in a village that they visited.

While they were gone I took some photos of the cottage.

Living room

Lower level sitting room

Mata returned with a treat...chocolate!!!

Dinner was late...bean soup, fried chunks of tender liver, cabbage salad...delicious! We finished off the evening with some challenging rounds of cards...Saskatchewan rummy and Whist before heading to bed around 1:00am!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

November 26

After breakfast and another two loads of laundry we finally set off at 11:45am to find an old village in the mountains. Mists hung low over the hills and we climbed on switchbacks for over an hour before stopping at a mountain refuge. Seven of our group went for a wet walk in the woods while John and I hunkered down in a smokey den of mountain men with a jug of mountain tea and a game of tavli.

The mountain men's den

When they returned we continued our journey up and down winding roads, over bailey bridges, gradually getting higher and higher until we reached the Monastery of Kipina, built in 1212 with a pendent bridge that can be raised to close the monastery from the rest of the world.

It remains a construction mystery!

At the end of the road we arrived at Kalarites, an old village with a recorded population of 71, although we were told that there are less than one dozen who live here throughout the year.

In the local cafe we met Napoleon, the owner of the cafe that has continued to serve locals for 140 years. Napoleon and his wife returned to the village 22 years ago to continue his family's tradition of serving delicious local food. The raki was amazing!

This beautiful creature was spotted on the path as we left the village.

We returned to the cottage in low clouds and rain around 8pm. A short round of Saskatchewan Rummy before heading for bed.

Monday, November 28, 2016

November 25th

After breakfast and several attempts to pay the hotel bills with credit cards the owner offered to drive 2 or 3 of us and the luggage to the bus station. Unfortunately he only took John and I...we had no way to communicate with the others and our driver seemed uncertain about where to leave us. There are no "central bus stations" in Albania!! I finally found a young woman who spoke English and she offered to use her cell phone to call one of our group who were searching for us!

Another mini-van was finally booked and we chugged our way to the Greek border with faces covered to avoid major inhalation from the fumes! We walked across the Albanian border and across "no man's land" to the Greek border crossing where we were greeted by a smiling guard and a waiting bus to take us to Ioannina.

In desperate need of cash I attempted to use my bank card at an ATM and was told that my pin was not correct. After three attempts it froze me out so I walked back to get John's card which eventually worked. We sat in a cafe for almost 3 hours waiting while the guys picked up a rental car and Sotiris, our friend, arrived from his cottage.

An hour later (it was now 4pm), after driving through mountainous winding roads we arrived at the cottage and were greeted by Eugenia (Sotiris wife) and Olga, another friend from Athens. Now we were a group of nine!!!

The cottage, nestled high in the mountains of Northern Greece, has been beautifully renovated and comfortably held all of us. A fire was burning, candles were lit, soup was heating on the stove and raki was poured for a welcome toast!

The after dinner challenge was to name all of the Greek islands. After 101 were identified we said good night and climbed into our multiple beds.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Old Bazzar 1790 offered us a large breakfast with small fried pancakes, bread, conserves, an egg, a sausage, fresh fruit, something yellow called juice and cold coffee. They responded quickly to my request for "hot" coffee and, according to John, the tea was hot and good. Redona, our receptionist, doubles as the server. She led us outside, downstairs and into the dungeon for breakfast!

The Hotel and the entrance

We did a short wander as we contemplated how far to descend on the steep roads, aware that we would have to climb back up to the hotel. A short rest at a cafe rejuvenated us.

Do I look more like my mother every day?

After our rest we tackled the climb to the castle that sits on top of the world! In short bursts of energy we made it!! The fortress is huge and contains memorabilia (mainly cannons and large guns) from WWII.

There is also the remains of an American Air Force fighter plane.

Pathway stones.

The return downhill walk was much easier than the uphill climb. 
We picked up two spinach pies for lunch and John had a nap 
while I sat on a park bench in the sun with my book.

Redona, our sweet receptionist at Old Bazaar 1790 in Gjirokaster.

The Balkaneros, at the end of our Balkan tour, with Redona.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Travels in the LOOLEY van

The sun is shining on us again today! I hesitate to say it...but...we have been very lucky with weather so far. It is cold at night but beautiful during the days. There was even a lonely mosquito in our room last night.

We didn't have a kitchen in this Guesthouse so Mata and Theo went in search of breakfast goodies. When we opened the window they were sitting outside with cheese pies and fresh fruit. It was warm in the sun. We sat for a while before packing up our bags and moving them to the girls' room and descending to town for a coffee. The group had offered to bring our bags down so we had no intention of climbing back up to the Guesthouse again. Unfortunately the town was experiencing a power outage but Kalliroi managed to find a place that was using a small gas stove to make turkish coffees and teas.

A walk along the other side of the river gave us an opportunity to look back at the old town (referred to as a town of 1001 windows) where we were staying, at the very top of the buildings!!

At noon we met with LOOLEY and his 4 cylinder Citroen mini-van for the trip to Gjirokster in southern Albania. OMG!!! The uphill portions were navigated at 24km per hour with a risk of stalling on every hill! A trip that could have taken 3 hours became a 4 1/2 hour marathon and ended when the van could not make it up the hill to our hotel! It was much worse for the two passengers in the back seats...Mata and Kalliroi...over bumpy sections of road. Looley was a more aggressive driver than the ones we had hired before. We were often faced with oncoming drivers who showed no inclination to slow down or allow us to pass! At one point we were stopped by the police who took his documents and demanded that he stop to pick them up on the return trip (i.e.) with a payment which he termed MAFIA!

The owner of our hotel in Gjirokaster met Looley's van on the outskirts of town and guided us up and up and up until Looley's little Citroen could not handle the incline on steep cobbled roads with 6 passengers and a load of luggage. We all disembarked, hauled the luggage to the side of the road and waved goodbye to Looley!

The hotel is beautiful and located almost at the top of this ancient town. Donna greeted us and showed us to our rooms. We immediately decided to stay 2 nights. 

Balkaneros partners are inseparable!

After the "LOOLEY" trip Kalliroi needed a hug!

Following Donna's recommendations, we searched for her No. 1 choice of restaurants and shared a delicious meal!...probably the best in Albania so far. Tomorrow we will explore this Unesco Heritage site.