Category Archives: The Bucket List

Fiat Bambina

Fiat 500 - 7439-121-low-wide-rear-5-8-view-480If I could possibly justify another teeny-weeny cute car, I’d get the new Fiat 500. I’ve only seen one around here, a silver grey one. I like the tv ads, and I’ve checked them out online since I first heard that Fiat/Chevrolet was going to remake the Bambina.

I was so much hoping they’d do a good job – keep the look and spirit of the original, as BMW did with the MINI. And Fiat, bless their hearts, did.

In the 1970s, in New Zealand, I had a 1965 Fiat 500. There, at the time, old Bambinas were the car of choice or, more accurately, no choice for students and others with no money. I learned to drive on that little car and my boyfriend’s parents’ 12-seater Land Rover. It was like switching between a Dinky Toy and a tank.

Bambino in Ponsonby, AucklandMy Bambina had the “suicide doors” that hinged at the rear (it was 6 months older than the last of those). The back seat would hold two adults as long as they didn’t demand a lot of legroom. Storage was under the hood and the 500 cc engine was in the rear.

It was two cylinder. In models like mine, both pistons went up and down in unison instead of alternating. That meant a lot of vibration, leading to engine parts and wires falling off.

Fiat repair manual

My boyfriend and I bought a manual for it because we had no money for garage repairs. My father was a mechanic, but he was in Canada and he’d never seen an engine like that anyway. I drew pictures of it and mailed them to him to get his opinion on mechanical problems. But return mail took about 6 weeks so that wasn’t very efficient.

Fiat 500 with cats, Ponsonby, Auckland NZEventually we got so we could put blocks under the engine, haul the bumper off and push the body of the car away, fix it and put the car back together in a couple of hours. That was to replace the starter motor pins that sheared off regularly from the vibration. The starter motor was located at the front of the engine and there was no way to get in to it unless maybe you had a hoist.  We learned to tighten the starter motor every time before starting the car.

Wires also fell off, often at inopportune times like the middle of an intersection. I could push the car off the road by myself. And I learned which wires were more likely to fall off and where they belonged. We learned to check and tighten all wires and cables before starting the car.

But it was a good car. It took us and camping gear all over the North and South Islands one summer. It got crotchety and didn’t like the damp. On those days, it just wouldn’t start. It’s often damp and rainy in New Zealand. Finally, we just kept it for state consumerguideauto.howstuffworks.com/2011-fiat-500.htmoccasions, opting to walk or take the bus most of the time.

It’s the only car that I’ve known every inch of and known how to fix. And its engine was totally unlike any other, so that knowledge was not transferable. I’ve never had a car that frustrated me more and I’ve never had a car I remembered with such love. I am so happy that they’re back.

Friday the 13th Port Dover

bike and sidecar, with dog, Port Dover, Friday the 13thBucket list item checked off.  The bikes at Port Dover.  Beautiful weather and the only Friday the 13th in all of 2011.  I was a little nervous about it, I get panicky in crowds.  I figured this was going to be a crowd.  And it was, but there were no humungous knots of humanity that you couldn’t get away from easily.

Friday the 13th Yorkie with a new HD hatIt was just about walking around, looking at bikes, talking to people about bikes and dogs.  Dogs got a lot of attention.

The whole thing seemed very well organized.  There was a parking lot in a field near Port Dover.  No problem getting a space.  School buses were waiting to be filled up with people.  The bus driver greeted us and coaxed Leo up the stairs.  He was nervous about it, but soon decided this was fun.  Lots of people petting him.

bike and side car, wrought iron frameBus dropped us in the centre of town, then it was just wowwowwow look at the beautiful bikes!  Regular bikes of all makes, but a lot of Harleys.  Bikes that were works of art in their paint jobs or their entire structure.  Bikes parked with ‘for sale’ signs on them.  Bike dealers.  Every kind of Harley merch you could want.  People wearing commemorative t-shirts from past PD13 events, from Sturgis and other Harley events and clubs.  Biker colours.   Cops on motorcycles, bicycles, foot and in patrol cars.  Almost no other cars on the streets.  Just bikes.

The whole downtown and lakefront was filled with bikes.  And people.  But it was easy to find a quiet shady spot for a little break, but you still could watch bikes.

Then when Charlie was looking like he was going to go in search of the Simcoe Humane Society booth (where we’d bought them scarves), we figured it was time to leave.  Found the bus stop again, buses were waiting.  Leo jumped right up the steps this time, and back to the parking lot.

Nearly home, we saw this sign just outside St. Thomas.  The road warriors passing along #3 Highway tomorrow are welcome at this house.  Nice.

Royalty

In June 1983 Charles and Diana, Prince and Princess of Wales, came to St. John’s on the Royal Yacht Britannia.  Two Britannia, at sea in Scotland after decommissioningyears before, I had woken up early or stayed up late, can’t remember which, to watch their wedding on television.

I was very excited that they were visiting and couldn’t wait to go to the harbour front to see them.  I didn’t want to go alone – it felt like an event that should be shared with friends.  Turned out the only people I knew who were going were Irish Republican supporters going to protest.  Well, you have to make the best of things, I thought.

So when the yacht arrived, I walked down to the waterfront with about ten people carrying placards and a rolled-up banner. We found Royal couple on Britannia deck - Charles and Dianaa good spot as near the yacht as we could get, with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary staying near us, keeping a watchful eye.

Placards were distributed and the banner unfurled.  Ten feet long, it read “England Out Of Ireland Now”.   I have no idea why they gave me one end of it to hold.

When the Royal couple came on deck, the crowd went wild.  Diana sparkled – well, like a princess.  Even at the distance we were, you could see her astounding beauty.  I too clapped and cheered and jumped up and down.  The banner bounced awkwardly so I tucked the stick under my arm to keep it steadier while I clapped.

Sinn Fein banner, in IrelandI turned around to look at my companions.  In this huge crowd, only they were standing stock still, with long morose faces.  Oops!  I tried to curb my enthusiasm, but it wasn’t enough.  One of the guys came to me and said, “stop clapping!  We’re not here to clap!”  Well, I was, and I hadn’t made a secret of it!  Still, I tried to keep still and look serious.

The Yacht without the Royal Couple

A few days later, the yacht was in port without the Royal couple.  Friends and I were in a downtown bar and some of the Royal Navy crew came in.  They sat with us.  Much later that warm summer night, going swimming seemed like a good idea.  So we did.  A sailor, fooling around, grabbed a girl’s ankle.  She twisted and the ankle was seriously sprained.  We had no car and she couldn’t walk.  Thankfully, we had fit young men to carry her.

Britannia gangwayThey felt bad for what happened, so invited us aboard the Royal Yacht the next day along with St. John’s dignitaries.  Unfortunately, the injured girl couldn’t navigate the gangplank with crutches.  The rest of us did and told her all about it afterwards.  Our sailors showed us the salons, kitchens and bridge – everything but the Royals’ private quarters.

I was sad when Britannia was decommissioned as a Royal vessel.  She was magnificent and deserved royalty.  In 1997 I also got up early or stayed up late to watch the funeral of Diana, former Princess of Wales.  This Friday I’ll do the same to watch her son marry Kate Middleton.

I have no pictures of my own from this time.  These came from: HMS Vanguard, Charles and Diana, indymedia and gangway.  Thanks!

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

727 suite, Hotel Costa Verde, Manuel Antonio, Costa RicaIt started with an email I received.  You may have also got it, it’s making the rounds.  A woman turned a jet into a house for only $30,000.  It’s astounding, as is where it’s situated.  I thought, well, you might luck out on beautiful wood and fixtures at the scrap yard.  And just because you didn’t spend much converting it doesn’t mean you don’t have the money to buy ocean-view land in the tropics.

My husband delved into it further. The email is partially true – more accurately, it’s two true stories mashed into one.  A woman did convert a 727 for $30,000 – on a country lot in Mississippi.  And there is a converted jet with Hotel Costa Verde photo from its websitefabulous teak paneling and chandeliers overlooking a beach at the Hotel Costa Verde in Costa Rica.  That’s it in the picture at top.  My husband’s opinion was that the real story of the $30,000 conversion is interesting on its own, as is the story of the fancy hotel one.  I agree, but for me the story really hit home when I checked out the hotel jet story.

I yelped with almost physical pain when I saw Hotel Costa Verde, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.  Manuel Antonio is my very favourite Manuel Antonio, playing in the surfbeach in the world.  There is a public beach and a national park side by side.  Here it is as I remember it.  Never crowded when I’ve been there – maybe it is when Costa Ricans take their vacations, but not when tourists flock to resorts.

There really were no resorts there then, 20 years ago.  Some small hotels, clusters of cabañas on the beach.  That was it.  Especially near the national park, a wildlife refuge, there were no tourist developments.  You had to make sure you took your own water and food into the park because you wouldn’t be able to buy me and parrot at beach bar Manuel Antonioany there.  On the public beach, small huts sold food and drinks.  Picnic tables to eat at. This is a small bar on the beach where they also rented surfboards and bicycles.  There was a bar parrot, here sitting on my head.  Also a bar cat who patrolled his territory but would deign to eat a shrimp if you gave him one off your plate.  The food was delicious, the owners delightful.

plane on airstrip at QueposManuel Antonio wasn’t hard to get to.  Drive or take a bus, fly to nearby Quepos and take the small bus to the beach.  If you wanted to only hike in the park, walk a couple hundred yards from the bus stop across the beach and you were at the park entrance.

Now, I can’t imagine it.  A private path into the wildlife refuge for hotel guests.  Special packages for wedding parties.  Edgy brides frightening the bejabbers out of poor monkeys who thought they were safe in the protected forest.  It doesn’t bear thinking about.  Yet I can’t help but think about it.  I had a special experience with a dog here, a dog with no name so I called him Perro, Spanish for dog.  I pigs scavenging on beach at sunset photo Dorothy Stewartwonder if the stray and feral dogs still roam the beach, most not friendly but a few like Perro enjoying human company.  Pigs too roamed the beach, at night, cleaning up the scraps left.

Aren’t there enough beaches and islands that have become resort-land?  Don’t bridal parties and package holiday seekers have enough options already?  Do they have to go to Manuel Antonio too?

Perro has stayed in my mind for 20 years.  A few years ago I started writing a story about him.  I finally finished it to my satisfaction last year.  Click here to read it.

Skating on the canal

Low-flying on glass, long swooping strides pushing you along.  Wind Rideau Canal skatewayat your back propelling you.  Wind coming at you, slowing you, your legs pushing forward into its face.  It’s you and the power and glory of winter.  From the National Arts Centre to Carleton University.  It’s skating on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.

I never learned to skate when I was a kid.  I spent my very first years and my early teen years in a small Ontario village where the arena was the centre of town.  Girls figure-skated, boys played hockey.  Everybody cheered the local heroes – the Junior D hockey players with NHL dreams.  It happened for a few.  They left on hockey scholarships, went to farm teams.  Mostly, they came back.  Probably they play in the old-timers games at the arena now.

We didn’t live in that village during those formative years that would have given me proficiency on the ice.  When the village kids started skating lessons, we’d moved to a city.  Organizing skating wasn’t so easy.  I never took lessons.  Public rinks were scary places full of people who knocked you over as you stood wobbling on narrow blades.

Living near the canal

Later I moved to Ottawa.  A friend and I rented an apartment off Elgin Rideau Canal skatingStreet near the canal.  She was from my hometown.  She had taken skating lessons.  She owned two pairs of skates.

So to the canal in winter.  She held my arm until I was steady.  She showed me how to push and glide.  She glided alongside, holding my arm.  Then she let go.  I panicked, but I didn’t fall over.  One foot, swoosh, then the other pushing ahead, swoosh, then again.  I was skating.  It was like flying.  In daylight and in dark – swoosh, glide, glide, swoosh.

It was the beginning of my love affair with snow, cold, ice, winter.  I moved away after that year.  Next winter, I lived near a large pond that froze solid.  I bought skates.  I can skate!  No.  Skates on, totter on the ice, fall over.  Stand up, fall over.  Take a step – no swoosh, no glide.  Just bruises.  Skates got hung up, eventually lost.

Graphic for Rideau Canal, from Via Rail siteFifteen years later, back in Ottawa.  Living on the other side of downtown this time.  But treks to the canal in winter.  You could rent skates there now.  Fearful, maybe it had all been a dream, maybe I’d make a fool out of myself.  There with another friend who couldn’t skate.  I wasn’t going to be able to help him.  He gave me courage:  we’d made fools of ourselves in enough places, we might as well do so on the canal.

Beavertail stand, Rideau CanalSkates on, stepping fearfully out on the ice.  Step, swoosh, glide.  Glide, swoosh, glide.  I did it.  So did he.  I helped him balance a few times when he tottered.  We fell a couple times.  But so what?  We swooshed and glided the whole length of the canal.  It was just as magical as it had been before.  I felt like Toller Cranston.

The canal was a different place then.  The ice was kept clear all the way to Carleton.  Hot chocolate and beaver tail stands were all along the length of it.  Other skaters also were.  But you still didn’t feel crowded, you didn’t feel like a rat in a lab maze.

A skating Nanook of the North

Canal, by QueenswayWhen I’d first skated there, only a rink-sized patch of ice was kept clear near the Arts Centre.  The rest was left to the wind Zamboni.  Your ability to skate the length of it depended on the wind and your skill in navigating ice bumps and snow.  There were no lights, no hot chocolate-filled oases along the way.  You were on your own in the elements.  It was nice, especially at night, the feeling of being alone in the frozen tundra.

But the lights, hot chocolate and fellow skaters of 15 years later was also nice.  You didn’t feel like Nanook of the North, but you did feel part of a Christmas card world.

I’ve never tried skating again.  I don’t know if I could or not.  I own skates.  They hang in Skating on the canal at nightthe closet and, when I look at them, I hear the swoosh swoosh sound of the blades and feel the crisp winter air of Ottawa.  It’s ok with me if the Rideau Canal is the only place I can skate.  It makes it magical.  In Ottawa, I can be Joanie Rochette.

The top and bottom two photos are from the blog Images of Centretown, the 2nd is from Wikipedia, the 3rd is on the Via Rail site and the 4th is from Let’s Go Ottawa (Dec. 6th 2010).  Thanks for reminding me!

New Year’s Eve at the Harbourfront

boats in St. John's harbour at sunsetThe most wonderful place I ever spent New Year’s Eve was the waterfront in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The tradition started, according to CBC, in the 1960s with one family going to the harbour front. In the 1980s, when I first went, it was still just a small group of people, mainly those who lived downtown. You’d leave the bars about 11pm and walk to the harbour. And wait. At midnight, the ships that were docked blew their horns. Every one of them, as many as were in port, would toot one after the other, then in unison. A few minutes later, they’d stop. That was it.

Everyone would cheer, open champagne, sparkling wine or beer bottles, toast each other and themselves and yell “Happy New Year”. Then everybody would make their way back up the hill, either back to the bars or home.

view of Narrows from harbour apronI remember one New Year’s Eve so cold with gale force winds that only maybe twenty diehards were there. You nearly got blown into the harbour it was so windy. Still, if you could survive until the ships’ horns marked the passing of another year, the fireplace at the Ship Inn up the hill on Solomon’s Lane was waiting to warm you up.

From ship horns to fireworks

Over the years, the waterfront became the spot to go. People began coming in from the suburbs. City officials decided it would be good to have fireworks at the harbour. That was nice, but in the opinion of many of us it was also unnecessary. I assume, prior to that decision, there were fireworks somewhere in town.

New Year's Eve fireworks St. John's 2000 photo CBC NLAnyway, with the fireworks came even bigger crowds.  People were bussed in to downtown because there just wasn’t enough parking. Then, in the early or mid-1900s, someone decided to make it a commercial event. Snowfencing was placed along the harbour apron, with one entry gate. You needed a ticket to get in. Vendors were there, so were police. Hauling a bottle of Baby Duck out from under your coat was no longer permissible. I suppose it never was, but there was no one around who was going to complain.

I read on CBC’s website that the fireworks won’t be held at the harbourfront this year due to liability and insurance issues. That’s ok, I think. Maybe the harbour can go back to welcoming those who want to stand on the apron and clap and cheer the new year in without fireworks. Maybe the ships will blow their horns again.

 

The Boat House, Laugharne

Portrait of Dylan Thomas by Augustus JohnWhen I was in high school, I discovered the beauty of Dylan Thomas’ writings.  I first read Under Milk Wood and then moved on to his poetry.  In community college, I was lucky enough to get an English teacher who let me pick my own course content.  I picked Dylan Thomas and read everything he wrote and everything about him.

So much later, when I was in Wales for a few days, I wanted to find the places of Dylan Thomas.  Laugharne was within easy driving distance of where we were staying.  So off we went in our rental Mini to spend the day in the footsteps of the great Welsh poet.  I was so excited I had tears in my eyes as we drove into town.  We walked the streets, found the houses he and Caitlin had lived in.

Found our way to sign at Browns Hotel, Laugharne, WalesBrown’s Hotel where he spent a lot of time.  We went in, spent a lot of time.  Pictures of him and Caitlin on the walls, lots of ambience.  Locals looking askance at the tourists looking at everything as if they were in a place of worship.  For me, I was.

Another wander through town, then a look at my watch and at my pamphlet.  “We gotta go, the Boat House is going to close soon.”  The Boat House, on the water at the bottom of a cliff, is where he and Caitlin last lived in Laugharne.  Nearby, atop the cliff, is the “writing shed” where Thomas worked.  Both are a museum about him.  They are a fair walk along the cliff from downtown, where we were.

Walking to the poetry

We started walking through town, leisurely looking around as we went.  I was keeping an eye on my watch and realized time was running out, and I sped up. I The Boat House, Laugharne Waleskept looking back, saying “hurry, hurry”.  My partner strolled along, with a “don’t worry, lots of time”.  I was getting panicky and the Boat House was farther away than I thought.  I should have just run ahead.  I did finally, but I got there ten minutes too late.  The Boat House had closed for the day.  I cried.  I was angry at myself for having not Exterior of Dylan's Writing Shedjust gone on ahead in the first place.  At him for dawdling, for not realizing how important this was to me.  The town’s atmosphere was indeed lovely, but it would still be there after the Boat House closed.

So I looked in the windows trying to see as much as I could.   You can see almost everything inside the writing shed, with his table set up as if he’d just walked away for a minute.  But it wasn’t the same.  I wanted to be inside the rooms in which Dylan Thomas had spent his time.  I wanted to touch the walls, breathe the air poetry - Interior of "Writing Shed"inside his place.  I wanted to absorb the space of a poet I’d had a crush on for two decades.

My partner felt bad for causing me to miss this.  I guess the sight of me with my hands cupped around my face pressed against the window glass while I sniveled must have been pretty pitiful.

The cat in the graveyard

We walked back to town, went to the church graveyard where Dylan is buried.  A white cat walked up to us and lay across a nearby gravestone, stretched and rolled, batted at blades of Dylan Thomas' gravegrass.  She wanted somebody to play with her and scratch her belly, so I did.  There were no flowers on Dylan’s grave, but there were some plastic flowers on another gravestone.  I felt bad about what I was about to do, but did it anyway.  I took one flower from the bouquet and stuck it in the earth in front of the white cross marking his grave.

We patted the cat good-bye and drove around Laugharne for a farewell look, then left.  That visit has stuck in my mind, for what I didn’t see and what I did see.  It was devastating to not be able to go in the Boat House, but the cat at the graveyard felt right.  It was like she was greeter of Dylan Thomas fans and keeper of the grave.

 

Portugal and Eco: The Knights Templar Castle, Tomar

Archways at Knights Templar Castle, Tomar PortugalVacationing in the Azores, my reading was Humberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. It was my introduction to the Knights Templar and I fell in love. I was going on to Portugal, and Tomar with its Templar Castle was on my itinerary, come hell or high water. I met a friend in Oporto, and after a few days in that amazingly beautiful city, we headed south, with a stop in Tomar planned.

Driving fast because we’d got away late and wanted to get to Tomar before nightfall. Driving through the city of Coimbra, with its ancient university – no time to stop, gotta get to Tomar. On the highway through the city, looking at the map and out the window, I could see rooftops – “there it is, that’s the university over there”. My partner, driving, took a glance over. And that was our tour of Coimbra.

Roman Ruins

Just out of Coimbra, we saw a sign for Roman ruins ahead. We’d made Conimbriga Roman ruins, Portugalgood time, so decided to stop for a look. There was no one there, and we just walked in. It was astounding. Beautiful, peaceful, eerie almost. We spent quite a long time there because it demanded time and attention. Not attention to explanatory signage, although it was useful. Just looking at the mosaics and their beauty and the engineering and its beauty.

Feeling glad for having seen this true pearl of history, we continued to Tomar. I was a bit anxious; I feared it would be dark when we got there. We had to find a place to stay, had to find the Castle, I had to psych myself up for this pilgrimage to the holy land of the Knights Templar. Still, I didn’t regret our stop to see the Roman ruins.

View of Tomar, with castle on skylineDrove like hell to Tomar, got there almost at dusk. I’d been looking at the maps, so knew where the Castle was (plus it’s a castle, how can you miss it?). “Quick, let’s go there first, just to see it.” We drove through the town and headed up the winding lane that leads up the hill to the Castle. All the way through town, you see the Castle looming above you. The hillside is wooded. Darkness was falling. We park and jump out. Quiet, nobody around, just the trees and the massive dark wooden doors. I’m crying, I’d started on the way up the hill.

Tomar at Easter

There’s a sign beside the doors. It gives the hours for the Castle and its very few closed days.  Easter Sunday is one of them. This was Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. The castle had closed an hour before we got there. We had to leave Sunday evening; we had only blocked out the one night and day for Tomar. There was no choice; this was a working holiday and the holiday part was ending, with work starting Monday.

Easter Sunday Procession, TomarWe found a hotel and I read pamphlets about the Castle. Sunday morning, I went to Easter Mass and the procession through the streets. It was beautiful, the old church in the town square, the service, the old women in their black shawls, the little kids spit-polished in their best clothes.

Afterwards, I walked around the square and went to a park along the river that went through the centre of town. I sat on the grass and looked up at the Castle, stone battlements against the tree green and black and sky blue. I watched people strolling in the park with scampering kids, all dressed in their best clothes. All, like me, just out of Mass. Picnic hampers were unpacked, grannies called kids to come and eat. I wandered across the square again, quiet now, and went back to the hotel. We went to a restaurant, had a fabulous meal of seafood and drove around the castle grounds again and then out of Tomar.

One miss, two hits

View from Knights Templar Castle in TomarSo one big miss on the bucket list in this trip, and two unexpected hits: the Roman ruins and Easter in Tomar. And I never hear of Coimbra or its university without remembering yelling “there it is, look over there” and waving my arm toward a tower and rooftops way in the distance from a highway while the driver negotiates through high-speed city traffic reading road signs in a language he doesn’t speak.

I gathered these photos from several sources. The photo of the procession in Tomar I took that Easter Sunday. The panoramic photo of Tomar and the photo of the Conimbriga ruins I found online. American women took the photos from inside the Templar Castle, of the archways and the view from the top. I met them in the Algarve and we talked about where we’d been and what we’d seen. When I told them about my trip to Tomar, they said “You poor thing! We’ll send you our pictures when we get home.”  And bless their hearts, they did. In their letter, they noted that they “hope these are Tomar, so many cities, so many castles…” But I am happy to look at them, and imagine myself in the Castle keep.