Thursday, August 17, 2017

summer of 2017

I don't remember the date it started, but I could easily look it up. It's the forest fires (aka wildfires, a term my husband doesn't like).
This province has been on fire all of July and is still an inferno. Here, in Penticton, BC, where I live, we've been lucky. For the most part. First, before the fires started, we had rain and floods. I thought that would be a good thing, because this part of the world has wildfires every year--nothing new. So, with all the spring rain and run-offs and snow meltings, resulting in flooded basements for my neighbours (I don't have a basement) that would mean there wouldn't be fires. Unfortunately, the excess rain and flooding made the fire situation worse. Who would have thought? Apparently, the water made the grass in the forests grow faster and taller, so when the sun came out and heated everything up, the grass turned to tinder. Hence we have the worst wildfire situation in BC history.

As I said, we've been lucky. We weren't flooded, and as for the fires, the worst we've had is really nasty smoky air and all our beautiful mountains shrouded in grey smoke.

Today, and yesterday we had some blue skies. First time since last June, I think. But the fire hazard is still threatening. We could easily be the next fire victims. Thousands of people in the northern part of the province have been evacuated, and are living in temporary accommodations until heaven only knows when. All it would take to put us in that position, would be some idiot tossing a cigarette into the bush, or one simple thunderstorm complete with lightning. Yup, we're a risk, but lucky so far.


Friday, June 2, 2017

back to writing about writing

The travel rants are done. But not necessarily all the traveling. I just had a four day rest in Vancouver. Keeping busy, of course. I was able to see several friends and a grandson, so that was great. I also had a very special honour. The Faculty of Arts at UBC (my alma mater, of course) had invited me to be an alumni representative on the stage, greeting new grads as they paraded across the stage receiving their degrees. I was the first person ever to greet each PhD recipient with the words, "Congratulations, Doctor!"  Thrilling! (Robed in university regalia and processed in with the Mace and dignitaries, WOW!)
But that's not about writing!
Today I'm here at my desk, at Cowork where I rent my lockable desk and come to be away from all distractions) and writing.
My novel, HOUSE OF SECRETS, has been "finished" for several months now. But I still see things I want to fix. Meanwhile, I'm sending out queries to agents.
The first agent I pitched this to was Laura Bradford at the SiWC (Surrey International Writers' Conference) in October 2015. Laura asked for the first 100 pages, with some significant changes. I did the rewrite and sent it to her the following September. No response, so I guess no sale.
So, I continued working on book 2 of the trilogy (BABY'S BREATH), and tweeking HOUSE OF SECRETS.
Since my return from Europe, I've added to my work schedule the task of researching more agents and submitting queries. To date, I've queried Michael Hoogland at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. Unfortunately, he has already passed on my novel. However, I now have queries out to Sue Miller at Donaghy Literary Group, Cori Deyoe at Three Seas Literary Agency and Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.
No more of this nonsense of submitting to one agency or publisher and waiting for an eternity for a response--or lack of one. More and more agents are saying they expect the submissions to be simultaneously sent elsewhere. They only want to be advised if and when someone actually accepts the novel and makes an offer. I can do that!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Adventures in Travel

This will (probably) be the last post about the January 9 to February 9, 2017 trip to Europe and the UK.  Just because I want to move on to other topics. However, I did want to say a few words about the actual traveling.
I really love traveling--that is to say, I love seeing other countries, hearing other languages (and trying out the few words I might know in those languages), and meeting people who live in these "strange" (to me) places.
What I don't love is airports. Not even a little! I especially don't love big airports. So, this recent trip had moments, quite a lot of moments, that didn't help my temperament. Probably, exacerbated my annoyances with my travel agent. I should say that she was a very pleasant person, and other than the fact that she didn't think my travel plans were any of my business, she was in many ways, helpful. One thing she did that I was very grateful for, was she lent us her father's wheelchair for my husband. Without that, I really don't know what we would have done!
But this is mainly about airports. Given what I have just said, look at this list and you will understand why I spent most of the thirty days abroad filled with great frustration.
January 9th, we went to the little airport in Penticton. Fine. Not one of the big ones where we have to race from one gate to the next. But the frustration began because of the weather. Traveling in January, one expects weather problems, but this was a bit soon. The wind was too much and in the wrong direction or something, so we sat there for at least two hours for the wind to allow us to go.
At the Vancouver airport (YVR is my least favourite), we had to wait for a few hours because of a medical emergency on the plane we were supposed to be boarding.
Next stop: Frankfurt. Bad weather all over Europe was shutting down some airports, obliging us to wait for a few hours there. So by the time we got to Rome (you'll remember we didn't have any reason to go to Rome), we were thoroughly fed up with waiting. But, of course, that was a stopover, so we had to wait until the next day (in a comfortable hotel, though), for our next flight.
Ho hum. Airports--I hate them, even when the delays are not their fault!
Once in the air, however, I love traveling.
Crossing the Alps! From Rome to Prague

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Scotland

Nearing the end of the journey. Leaving Edinburgh, we went by train to Aberdeen and on to Inverurie, to visit relatives.
Why Edinburgh, you ask? As well you may. Initially, we had a dream list--that's all it was, just a dream list. Unfortunately, the travel agent liked it too, and immediately went ahead and booked (and paid for with my credit card) more flights than we really (in real life) wanted to do. Oh, sure, it would have been nice to have our visit to Assisi, but unfortunately, we realized that it was not practical for my husband with his physical limitations. But, the agent had already booked Assisi, including the Rome stop, before we had a chance to tell her to go ahead. I had told her that I wanted to book the accommodations and would let her know when that was done so she could book flights. But, she didn't listen and it was none of my business.
The same thing happened with Edinburgh. We had hoped to stay at Borthwick Castle. My husband and I had stayed there once before, and we wanted our son to see it. Unfortunately that was fully booked. Nevertheless, the agent had once again booked the flight to Edinburgh. And arrival and departure dates at a hotel. That stop was really unnecessary, but it was already done before we had any chance to confirm our plans.
The rest of it, the trip to our relatives' home, was pretty much as we expected it to be and was certainly the best part (tied with London).
So, aside from resting with loved ones, what did we do? Well, one day we spent touring Glenfiddich Distillery and tasting the best Scotch whiskey there is.
And another day, we headed for the Highlands, and visited another battleground, Culloden.

Liverpool

The trip posts continue, and it's about time. We arrived home on February 9th, and it's already April 25th. The memories are not as fresh as they were.
We had Liverpool on our list because our son is a Beatles fan, and this is Beatles Town. It was good to have a bit of a rest, though. Frank and I stayed in, most of the time, and let Steve have his tour of all the old haunts of his heroes. I did go to Mathew Street, and looked at the Cavern--the new one. But when I came to the souvenir shop and found there was nothing that tempted me, I hurried back to the hotel and told Steve to carry on and get his souvenirs.
The hotel, the Marriott, was all right. Quite ordinary. There was a swimming pool, so we made use of that.
When our second night was over, and we were preparing to leave, that's when the old feelings of being taken advantage of began to nag.
Why on earth did we have to fly to Belfast? Our next stop was to be Edinburgh--also not necessary. That agent, once again, was more interested in her commission than in our trip. Anyone who has ever travelled in the United Kingdom knows that trains go everywhere. Including from Liverpool to Edinburgh or Aberdeen, and certainly to Inverurie. Occasionally, it may be necessary to go by bus. But I cannot fathom why we had to go to Belfast.
Half an hour in the air to Belfast. Four hours sitting in the Belfast airport. Then half an hour in the air to Edinburgh. Then overnight in Edinburgh. Then train to Aberdeen and to Inverurie. At last!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Wales

It was the name. I just love it. Aberystwyth. American TV personality, Jon Stewart, of "Daily Show" fame, once said of Wales that it was so poor in natural resources that it had to import vowels. Looking at this city name, it's easy to see why he would say that. However, Wales is rich in real natural resources--and even in vowels. The word for Thursday, for example, is Iau.  All vowels!

My husband and I had been taking Welsh language lessons for about a year, and were still struggling with it. But it was fun to be in the country where it is spoken and English is tolerated quite nicely. We were there only a few nights, and wouldn't have minded a few more. Our hotel room, really a two-room suite, had a wonderful view of the Irish Sea.

One evening, we three were admiring the view, when suddenly we noticed some activity in the area around a pier. Then the air was darkened by a swarm, a flood, a murmuration of starlings. Some people say that this murmuration sometimes involves no fewer than about 50,000 birds, swirling and swooping like a black version of the Northern Lights. It was breathtaking.

One day, we went for a tour through the countryside, admiring the hills and mountains of this ancient and somewhat obscure land. If you ever watch the British television show, "Hinterland", this is where it's filmed.

Aberystwyth, one of our best stops on this trip.

London

A hundred years ago, or more accurately, almost seventy years ago, my mother and I moved to London from Vancouver and lived there for three years. So, for me, it's sort of my childhood home. Not a happy childhood home. We arrived just a few years after WWII had ended, and my first view of the city was very dismal indeed. Bombed buildings and rationing. And people thoroughly traumatized by their experience. As a result, this Canadian kid who had never heard an air raid siren or had to spend a night in a shelter listening to the terror outside, who had never been deprived of fresh fruit or vegetables, whose experience of rationing was very limited (me)--I was not really welcome. I hated England when I lived there. And yet--despite all of the above--I always feel at home when I visit London.
We had been terribly poor in those dark post-war days, Mum and I. Sometimes we were actually homeless. One night we spent just walking around the city because we had nowhere to go. Another night, we slept in a train station, but I don't remember which one.
I feel at home there because that's where my cousins are. And even one or two friends. So the hotel was not an issue this time.

Our first night, was just to get settled. The next evening, my cousins came and picked us up and we went to the theatre. I had been able to get seven seats in the Royal Circle at the Noel Coward Theatre. The show was called "Half a Sixpence"--and I wish I could recall the names of the performers. They were amazing.

The second day, we spent visiting these same cousins, spending a wonderful evening catching up and reminiscing. Almost all of them had been to Canada at some time or another, and we had a great time. I can't bear to think this could be our last time together, as we are all getting rather long in the tooth.

The third day, I met with a friend I hadn't seen since I was about thirteen and she was about 18 months old. We met at the entrance to the Tower of London, and spent the afternoon together there. I had baby-sat for her when we had lived next door to one another in 1951. While she and I had our visit, my husband and son had a tour of London--disappointing, they said. The city is changing so much that it is hardly recognizable.

Then we caught a train to Wales.




Lille to London

Leaving Lille was like heaving a deep breath of relief. We left on the Eurostar and whizzed through the Chunnel to London. It was probably the fastest trip we took anywhere on this journey. We hardly had a chance to appreciate the train and its speed. We just got on. Sat down. Then got off at St. Pancras Station in London.  I guess that had something to do with my travel agent's choice of the city of Lille, and of the hotel in London, the Pullman London, St. Pancras--about a block from the station so we didn't need a taxi. Walking even that short distance was a bit of a problem because the uneven pavement and the crowds of people made pushing and pulling the wheelchair quite difficult.
The hotel was fine--a bit finer than I would have chosen. We've been to London several times, but never had a hotel quite as fine as this one. However, it was all beyond worrying about.
The one difficulty was getting my son to his room on the ninth floor. He has acrophobia and the huge floor-to-ceiling window at the elevator exit was more than he could take. He moved to the second floor and that suited him fine.
My problem was that our room was on the 16th floor. Same style window! I didn't like it much, and it was impossible to get my son's help with my husband.
We were there for a few days, and fortunately did not spend a lot of time in the hotel.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Vimy Ridge

The desk clerk at the hotel in Lille (L'Hermitage Gantois Autograph) was very helpful. I had almost engaged a driver to take us to Vimy, but when the clerk heard about it he cautioned us, and offered a better alternative driver.
So, we set out to see Vimy Ridge, the place where Canada became a country--so it is said. And the place where my husband's father had fought and been injured. That injury took him to a hospital in England where he met and married my husband's mother.
What can I tell you about Vimy Ridge beyond that? Not a lot, because there's too much to tell. Instead, I'll try to give you some links and photos that will explain why, a hundred years after the battle, it is so important.
In this photo, you see my husband in his wheelchair (a loaner from our travel agent) with our son behind him, and me in the red coat. In the background you can see the enormous pylons of the memorial. I cannot express how emotional this visit was especially for my husband and son.
Notice my husband's white cane. He isn't totally blind, but his vision is such that he really saw only ghostly images of this magnificent structure. Up close, you could see sculpted figures representing Canada mourning her losses, etc. Too much to tell in a blog. I'll see if I can find a link for you.

Meanwhile, here's a link that tells why France gave this portion of their land to Canada in thanks for the victory over the German enemy in World War I.
And another link to the website of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, in Vancouver, BC. It's what that regiment is now, not what it was in April 1917.

Prague to Lille

To get to Lille from Prague, we had to fly to Lyons and change planes.  I'm still not sure why Lille was the city the travel agent chose for us when we told her we wanted to go to Vimy Ridge. My husband's father had fought there with the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders, a Canadian regiment, in April, 1917. It was important for him to see this place which has such a prominent place in Canadian history.
Our son and daughter had visited Vimy several years ago, but they were driven there by some Belgian friends, their hosts in Bruges. Someone else had suggested that we stay in Belgium and take a taxi to Vimy. But we went to Lille, for better or for worse.
Lille is a big city--bigger than I imagined. Population 2 million. So why we had to stay in such an expensive hotel, I do not know. Of course, my husband would require easy access to the shower, etc., but in a city of two million, I think there could be quite a selection of hotels with such facilities.
At first, because all the hotels were prepaid, I didn't know which hotels cost what. (None of my business, I guess.) But I got quite a shock when I saw
the notice on the door of our room. Seven hundred and ninety-nine euros per night??? I immediately emailed my travel agent. What was going on  here? She got back to me and said that was the maximum they were allowed to charge, and she assured us we had not paid that. Of course, she didn't know off hand what we had paid. Besides, it was none of my business. No she didn't say that, but neither did she ever tell me what I had paid.
The other shock in the message on the door was that breakfast, not included in the room price as in most European hotels, costs us 23 euros per person. Let's see. One euro is $1.42 Canadian. So, 23 euros multiplied by 1.42 is $32.66 per person per breakfast. There were three of us and no place nearby to go for another breakfast, so it cost us almost a hundred dollars a day, three days, three hundred dollars for one of those buffet breakfasts. You know, mushy scrambled eggs or maybe greasy fried eggs, greasy sausages, greasy bacon, maybe a waffle or slice of toast.  Some places will make you an omelet, but not this one.
The room was quite ordinary. They let you sit in the lobby but pestered you to buy a drink while you were there. Order a beer and you'll find it comes with four shortbread cookies. Really? Yes, and the drink and cookies costs only twenty-two euros. Just over thirty dollars. My son suspects that if you left the cookies (I never did) it might cost less. Or it might not.
One really good thing at this hotel was the marvelous swimming pool. Not big, just nice and not cold. Also a steam room. Best of all, my husband was able to a wonderful massage for fifty euros. Half an hour.
We stayed away from the hotel restaurant, which advertised a dinner special for "only" sixty-nine euros.
Instead we took a taxi and set out to find a restaurant, or cafĂ© or pub, such as I found online. They all closed at 2pm, and it was almost 1pm when I started to look. I found one that stayed open until 3pm, so we rushed there. The driver let us out, we went in. "Sorry, we're closing." It was 1:30.  It took a while and another taxi ride to find a place that would stay open long enough to serve us a burger and a beer.
The evening meals were another adventure. That was Lille. Not a place I'd care to visit again, but of course, we were there to see Vimy Ridge.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Prague 2

One of the tours our travel agent set up for us sounded quite interesting. She did tell us about this one. It was a sort of folklore evening of music, dancing and dinner. That was a good one, even though there was a very steep incline up to the many stairs into the building. It took my son, the driver, and several of the patrons of the establishment to get my husband up and into the building and, at the end of the evening, back down again. With all the attention focussed, rightfully, on him, I had a really tough time slipping and sliding down the icy stairs on my own. The travel agent had promised that all venues were wheelchair accessible. Well, maybe if she had shared some of the responsibility of choosing activities, I might have spotted some difficulties. But, of course, the details were none of my business. As long as I kept that credit card coming. After all, there's that commission to consider.
We went on the next tour. It sounded vaguely interesting--a tour of two castles in Southern Bohemia. Accessible? Well, yes, I guess so. Of course, it took the tour guide and another tourist to help my son get the wheelchair up some steep inclines and down (more treacherous than going up) the same inclines. Impossible without the help of that gracious tourist from China. I'm sure he didn't come to the Czech Republic all the way from China to push some Canadian invalid up and down castle passageways. The castles? I can't remember the names right now, but they weren't very memorable anyway.
So, that was Prague. It never was on my bucket list, so I don't even get to cross it off.

Prague

Prague was very nice, despite the fact that it was January, and rather cold. Snow on the ground in some places.
Our travel agent had set us up in a nice hotel, The Grand Majestic Plaza. Not quite as grand as its name, but clean and pleasant and it tried to be fancy. For example, in the lobby there's a tall fountain coming out of the ceiling into a pond. Until you get up close and find that the pond is dry and so is the fountain--just strips of clear plastic that shimmers like water. Neat trick.
The rooms (we had two, one for my husband and myself and a second for our son), were clean and comfortable. It had a minibar, which I used as a fridge in which to keep one of my husband's medications that is supposed to be refrigerated--didn't happen for most of the trip, of course.
Breakfast was included, and was better than most hotel breakfasts. Excellent omelets!
But when we came to use the same area, the restaurant, for supper that evening we found the prices to be quite out of line, IMHO.
However, there was a cute little pub across the street.
Our travel agent had also signed us up for some tours. Tours? Tours? When did she mention tours? I didn't ask for tours. But of course, the details of our trip were none of my business.  By the way, I was the one who did all the arranging of the trip because my husband is partially blind and partially deaf. It doesn't make sense for him to try to handle details. They were none of his business, either, of course. And there was the matter of her commission.
There were four tours arranged for us. The first was an introductory tour of the city, culminating with a river cruise. January. Snow. Twenty steps down to the river to board the boat and another twenty steps up to the city. My husband is in a wheelchair. We didn't go on the river cruise. Instead we asked the driver to drive us back to our hotel--which was not included in the tour.
The second tour we cancelled outright because is was an all-day ordeal of visiting glass and porcelain places. Not happening.
Instead, we hired a taxi to take us to a place the travel agent had not considered--even though she knew we were Franciscans and she often spoke of her own association with the Roman Catholic Church. We went to the Church of Mary Victorious to see the famous Infant of Prague.

Rome to Prague

So, on our first day, January 9, 2017, we flew from Penticton to Vancouver, from Vancouver to Frankfurt, and from Frankfurt to Rome. Italy? I thought we'd cancelled Italy.
We landed in Rome, stayed overnight in the Hilton located in the airport, never breathed a breath of Italian air other than to walk from one part of the airport to another. The next morning we flew from Rome to Prague.
Have you looked at a map of Europe lately? If you were booking your own flights, would you go from Frankfurt to Prague by way of Rome? No, I didn't think so.
There were those same two issues I spoke of in my last entry. We had to rescue the items on that mysterious list that was none of my business. And there was, of course, the small matter of her commission.
Prague had never been on my bucket list, nor on my husband's, nor on our son's. However, in order to preserve whatever it was that had to be preserved, we went along with it. I bought a couple of guide books about the city, and watched Rick Steves' video, and was impressed with what I saw. It looked interesting, so we weren't really put out about being obliged to go there.

Frankfurt to Rome

Our first day of our recent trip began on January 9, 2017. We (my husband, who has numerous physical problems, and our son, who came to help my with his dad, and myself) had several places that we wanted to visit.
At first, we wanted to go to Assisi. Frank and I are Third Order Franciscans, and although I'd had a chance to visit Assisi, my husband had not. And as he is in his eighties and has health problems, we thought it would be now or never. Unfortunately, there was an earthquake in Umbria (the province where Assisi is located) and we were afraid there may be aftershocks and with his disabilities, we would be in serious jeopardy if anything like that happened. So, although we had told our travel agent that we wanted to go there, we contacted her as soon as possible and cancelled Italy.
"Oh no!" she said. "You can't do that. It's already paid for." Really? We hadn't had any conversation about how we'd get there or where we'd stay. As Franciscans, we'd planned to make our own accommodation arrangements, preferably with some members of our Order. But no. She'd already gone ahead and done all that. Oh  yes, she had asked for my credit card, but I really thought I'd be consulted about details before she went on a spending spree. But there were two issues I hadn't counted on. First, that all indications were that she thought the details of our trip were none of my business. Second, there was the thing about her commission.
So, with Assisi cancelled, in order to "save some of what we'd already spent" we'd have to choose another destination on some list she had. She offered Barcelona or Prague. We picked Prague.

travel agents

I don't usually use the services of travel agents, but I can tell you right now that I certainly never will in the future.
Normally, I would have simply gone on line and made my travel arrangements myself. But there were a few obstacles, the most relevant was that my laptop is old and will no longer take updates, and is therefore vulnerable. Not a good idea to do anything regarding money using it. I could have used the computer I'm using at the moment, a Surface which I bought in October 2016. But this thing has a mind of its own and often suddenly decides that it doesn't like my project, and simply moves onto something else. For example, this very blog entry. I started it once and it changed pages on me. So I had to start again. Not the sort of instrument that you want to use to arrange complicated travels.
So I went to a travel agent. The company name and the name of the agent will not be mentioned, but their actions have turned me off all travel companies and all travel agents everywhere. Some, I'm sure are reputable. Some, clearly, are not.
Rather than give all the details here in one entry, I'll just post how my recent trip went, and you can fill in the blanks for yourself.

Let me state once and for all, just for the record, that I have no problem with people earning their commissions, although that is something I mention frequently in these blog entries. I do, however, take great exception to having unnecessary additions to my journey for no observable reason other than padding the commission package.

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