Some fireworks and some beach-time.

The days here fly by and we are definitely seeing progress with the house. However, I seem to take more pictures and have more stories on my days off… 😁

Here are some photos and details about the national holiday and a long weekend camping trip to the coast!

“Bastille Day” brought a show of fireworks to the village and we were invited to another delightful evening at the island home of Helen and Moyed, again with plenty of food and wine and good company.
I baked chocolate hazelnut brownies for dessert. (They were something I hoped would not have to compete with the local boulangerie that people had become accustomed to. And I was relieved when they went over very well! 🙂 )

We were told that every year the lower bridge between Bourpeuil and L’Isle Jourdain is filled with locals and people who come into town for the fireworks. 

While we waited for the fireworks and ate a delicious dinner in the front yard, we could hear his strange music coming from the bridge. 

We ventured out the front gate to see what was going on and discovered a group of bugle players performing a sort of pre-show entertainment in the crowd. 

You may not have considered it before (I certainly didn’t), but it is actually extremely difficult for numerous bugle players to create the same note at the same time as bugles are only ‘tuned’ by the way a player holds their mouth.

One player stood at one end of the bridge and played a tune, and then the group at the other end would echo it back. It was really fun!

The fireworks (or feu d’artifice en français) were set off from both the base and the top of the viaduct, and the water in the Vienne River was so still that night we got to see an incredible double display with the reflection in the water. They were gorgeous and lasted 20 minutes! 

This video gives you an idea of the coolness factor of seeing the fireworks and their reflections at the start of the show.

The next morning my ‘co-workawayer’ Viktor and I took off for the Brittany coast for a long weekend of beachy camping on Isle D’Oléron and Isle De Ré.
We packed up the little van with Corinne’s and Gilles’ bikes, blankets, sheets, and beachwear, and headed for the coast. I drove (stick shift as a right-side driver 😳), with Viktor as navigator. 

After what seemed like endless roundabouts (the true French road way, apparently), we first arrived in La Rochelle and saw the beach and wandered around the Old Town, and then took the viaduct over the water to L’Isle D’Oléron, and towards the Grand Village. 

We stopped for a coffee and some wifi with a view of the ocean, of course!

The Old Town area of La Rochelle.

I was happy to note the giant sign that read “La Ville Des Huitres” as we drove onto the island of Oléron. Oysters (and mussels) are *the* thing to get on the islands as they are farmed all along the shorelines. (You also get amazing Fleur De Sel here, direct from salt farmers). 🙂 Another happy place. 

We arrived at a very busy campground called Les Pins (pine trees) as it was located in the forested lower end of the Oléron island, yet only a ten-minute bike ride to the beach! 

Campgrounds here are even more deluxe than along the East Coast of Canada.

 It seems like the French like to arrive to fully furnished cabins, trailers, and structured tent units with running water and electricity. Some are really beautiful, and clearly big families come and stay for a while here. (There is even a regular schedule of some sort of family activities and/or entertainment every day.)

I spent a little time at the naturally-filtered pool (complete with waterfall!)

Bikes are pretty much essential on these islands not only to go where cars can’t, and due to the limited parking spots available near all the best beaches on the islands, but because the winding roads and endless pathways along the island are perfectly lovely to cruise on two wheels. 😎

An afternoon siesta? I think so!

There were a handful of restaurants just down the street from the campground, a boulangerie, and a little supermarket. It was quite convenient, as I ended up buying a sleeping bag the second day we were there because the nights were colder than I expected (wimp that I am, I should have known better).

Chez moi pour le week-end!


We set up camp in a sandy and shaded campsite (tent for Viktor, van-avec-curtains for me), and made our way over to the beach just as the last of the daytime visitors were leaving. The beach was almost completely empty, aside from a few guys flying a large kite, and so we checked out the water temperature (freezing) and wandered he shoreline, watching the sun sink down towards the water before we headed back to our campsite.

The next day we spent at the beach (La Plage de la Giraudiere). The water was very shallow for quite a distance out, and with the heat and wind, and waves all along the shoreline it was the perfect location for surf lessons. It was fun to watch both kids and adults run and jump onto small surf boards and glide along the shoreline (or slip right off and tumble into the water, which happened much more often). 

It was a packed beach, and actually reminded me of family vacations to Florida when I was younger. Lots of families, and lots of kids.

Every morning there was a market at our campsite, where you could purchase 6 varieties of local oysters 😁, fresh veggies and fruit, and bread. 

Viktor tried his first ever oyster, but wasn’t too keen on it, so I happily had oysters for lunch, while he had the tried-and-true cheese and bread.

Perfection

Friday night at a tapas bar and pizza place called La Choza we caught the most excellent live djs I have ever seen- 5 guys sharing 4 turntables, multiple pieces of effects equipment, and numerous boxes of records, and on top of that there was also a saxophone player who would improvise along brilliantly with the music when he felt like it. 

It was clearly a popular locals spot and was a very surfer/island/party atmosphere. After an excellent pizza dinner I ended up hanging out there until well after midnight watching them skillfully mix sweet music for hours!


Saturday we changed islands and made our way up to the northern tip of Isle De Ré. 

Clearly the more popular/touristy of the two islands, you have to pay a toll of €16 to drive onto the island. (It’s free if you walk or bike over. The bike ride would likely take 20 min over the bridge, and walking would likely be closer to 45, but as the island is almost 30km long we figured a vehicle would be more efficient this trip.)

The beach we spent the day at was idyllic. The sun was hot, the water was perfectly refreshing, and the beach was busy but not packed. The only thing I wished we had brought was a large parasol (as everyone else did), as there was no shade to be found otherwise.
After playing volleyball in the water with a bunch of Francophones, sunning on the beach, swimming and wandering along the shore (and checking out the huge dead jellyfish that had washed up hours earlier)….and possibly turning a bit pink (but not as pink as Viktor!), we searched for a campsite.

After the June road trip  where we never worried about pre-booking campsites, I didn’t have any concern for finding a spot. This was when I learned that this was the start of the summer holidays for not only public schools, but now private schools, and it took us until our third campsite to find an available tenting spot! 

Luckily, our campground was awesome (Camp Du Soleil), near the stunning town of Ars-En-Ré

Complete with restaurant, pool, arcade, and two perfect trees for the hammock we brought, this was our favourite spot to stay.



An evening bike ride over to Ars En Ré was absolute perfection Saturday evening, with the streets looking ready for a movie crew to set up a scene for a romantic French film at any moment. 

Pristine buildings, lavender and hollyhocks lining the cobblestone streets, and nothing but a few pedestrians and cyclists winding their way through the little village that has been named one of the most beautiful villages in all of France.


We came to the town centre and the regal Church of Saint-Etienne, where a boys choir was performing a small concert. If you come during the day you can sometimes climb to the top of the tower and have a great view, but I only learned this after we left. 

This is definitely a place I’d return to!!

I think that will have to do for now. So much to share, but I’m definitely finding it hard to sit still! 🙂

A Staycation for the summer

Last summer I did not do any travelling, as much I hoped I would be, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t get to enjoy many opportunities for adventure and entertainment in my hometown and the nearby area.

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Summer is the best time of year in Calgary so I was happy to be home.

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June brought the Cirque Du Soleil show “Kurios: Cabinet of Kuriosities” to Calgary, and with the steam-punk look that is trending right now, I was looking forward to getting tickets for my family. We got phenomenal seats, and enjoyed one of the best touring Cirque shows I have ever seen.

One thing I missed last summer and was thrilled to get to do again was sign up for a beach volleyball team. The Calgary Sport and Social Club has games almost every night of the week in the summer, from volleyball to soccer to ultimate frisbee to badminton. It was excellent. I always sign up for the singles team which ends up leading to meeting new people and new friendships, and sometimes, we end up playing together so well we sign up as a team the following season. I have no photos, however, so you’ll have to believe me on this one. 🙂

We also got a lot of barbecuing in this summer, which is definitely my favourite way to cook.

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Grilled veggies and chicken with only spices and olive oil. Perfection.

Even walking along the river pathways in town was a regular evening activity in the beautiful summer weather.

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pathway

This is the pathway by Prince’s Island and Eau Claire Market.

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The next thing I did was take my kayak out of storage for the first time in three years. I didn’t have anyone to kayak with so I didn’t stray far from home. I spent many days of my summer on the Glenmore Reservoir and wouldn’t have traded that for anything. Next summer I hope to do some river kayaking but hopefully I’ll have company.

 

I got to work on the Calgary Grandstand Show a the Calgary Stampede for a few days, and if you have ever been to Calgary in July, or live here, you know that the first ten days of the month every year are a big crazy busy mess of international tourists, western gear like boots and cowboy hats, and free pancake breakfasts every day of the week.

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I never had this view before: from the stage!

The grandstand show has over 100 performers from age 6, up.

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fireworks

A pancake breakfast seems like the closest thing to a “Canadian” meal I can think of, or at least a “Calgarian” tradition that I think is unique to Calgary. You can truly find several free breakfasts all over the city every day of stampede, and likely even the week before it begins. They usually include pancakes, bacon or sausage, sometimes eggs, sometimes hashbrowns. It’s a great way to celebrate community. I moved downtown this summer and got to attend a local breakfast that included live music, good food, and running into old friends that I now know are neighbors!

For the first time, Slide The City came to Calgary. It is three large slip-and-slides set up on a street and you can buy a one-slide, three-slide, or unlimited-slides pass, and you get an inner tube to ride down. I bought a pass and met up with a good friend on the day to try it out. It was a two day event, and we went on the second day. Weather was perfect. We had a great time and I’d happily pay for unlimited slides next time. There’s an art to going fast, and avoiding bad collisions with other, less successful sliders.

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Going to the Calgary Folk Festival is one of my favourite weekends of the year and I was sad to miss it in 2014. I tell people that if I am in town for this weekend of the year, I am unavailable unless they come down to Prince’s Island Park. I volunteer all four days, and plan my schedule to catch as many different artists as possible. There are multiple stages and dozens of artists. My favourite parts of the day are the ‘workshops’; where several artists perform together. Every year I discover new groups and musicians that I love.

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And the following weekend: another festival!

Something I haven’t attended since I was in university is the South Country Fair.

It’s located in Fort Macleod (about 90 minutes south of Calgary) and the best way to experience it is to camp there.

We drove down on the Friday morning in grey cloudy rain-stormy weather. It was a damp set up of our campsite, with nothing more than our tent and our car nestled between dozens of other tents, trailers, and vehicles. I have never seen closer, cosier camping than at this festival. It’s at a park, not an official campground, so there are no designated spots. Bring your earplugs if you want to guarantee sleep…

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Oh yes, it’s a cozy camping experience. It was very community-building! 🙂

There was live music Friday night, all afternoon and evening Saturday, and then Sunday afternoon. The weather cleared up by Friday night and the last band started playing after midnight, so we understood why no events really got started until noon on Saturday and Sunday.

The other crazy thing is, the site is on a riverbed and the acoustics are crazy good, so we heard the music at our tent almost as clearly as on the field directly in front of it.

There were people attending that didn’t even leave their campsites because they could hear the music from their campfire. There were lots of families and little kids, and it really felt just like we went camping with a huge group of friends and some of them play music. We will definitely be doing it again!

 

We even tried out hooping, and it turns out my mom is a natural! It took me several tries, but once I got the hang of it, we got a good core workout for a little while!

My hiking partner and I had very different schedules this summer and she only had weekends free to hike with me, while I had booked up my weekends with travel and festivals.

We did get one hike in on a hot and sunny afternoon in August. We went out to Running Rain Lake, which is in Kananaskis, about a ten minute drive past the very popular Ptarmigan Cirque and Pocaterra Tarn hikes.

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I love the mountains, and don’t even have to be hiking them to enjoy them.

I took a drive out to Canmore with one of my best friends, got some coffee, and wandered the pathways in town, exploring the local shops and then just sitting by the river appreciating how incredible nature is.

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At the end of the summer, okay, truly this was in the fall, I spend a weekend at a cabin with friends just north of Calgary on Burnt Stick Lake.

I always thought that beautiful cottage locations were only found in BC or Ontario, but to my delight this is a hidden gem less than two hours away from home.

We did everything from roast hot dogs and make s’mores, to setting off fireworks on the shore and playing cards by a roaring fireplace. It was just one night away but it reminds me how much I love the idea of owning a cottage property in my future.

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Other local autumn-season things included my first experience at the Calgary International Film Festival! I saw the intense and incredible story of Room, the heart-stopping thrilling mountain-climbing story of Meru, and the charming tale of Brooklyn. I highly recommend all three!

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Overall it was an excellent summer at home, appreciating the best of my city and events nearby! Hopefully my next summer entry will again be across the pond!