Category Archives: Guest

My Birthday in Paris (Guest Post)

The following is a special ‘guest’ post written by my wife Diane. Thank-you Diane!  If you’d like to be a guest contributor, please contact me.

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Paris.  I have long dreamed of the day that I would visit this wonderful city.  I always envisioned it to be romantic, chic and alluring in a peaceful kind of way.  For me it was all of that.

Thanks to Patrick’s perfect planning we arrived in Paris on my birthday.  We got up early and took a train into Paris.  The 45 minute journey only helped to build my anticipation.  The weather was not the best (windy, cold and with rain on and off), but how could I complain when I was headed for Paris.

Of course our first day in Paris would not be complete without a tiny bit of excitement.  We began at a quaint café for a small bite to eat and some espresso.  A perfect way to start my day.  We ordered a toasted baguette sandwich (very French) and a café Americano (not so French).  We were ready to go with the coffee and baguette in hand, but had difficulty paying.   Neither our visa nor our bank card would work at this shop, and we did not have enough Euros with us as we hadn’t been to a bank machine yet in France.  The very nice man behind the counter (originally from Afghanistan and who spoke excellent English) told us where there was a bank machine.  Patrick set off and I waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Of course I drank my coffee, but thought I best hold off on the sandwich in case no money arrived.  Patrick was gone for what seemed like hours.  At one point the nice man said, “He’s gone a long time.”  I smiled and agreed, not sure what else to say.  What I was thinking was “do you want your sandwich back?”  After another 10 minutes went by the nice man said he thought I should go look for Patrick.  I really thought I should stay put.  There’s no use both of us being lost, but he was insistent.  So off I went.  I had no idea where I was going but thought I would walk around for a minute to make it look good.  I was relieved to see Patrick as I was heading back to the coffee shop.  It turns out that the two bank machines that he found (both from the same bank) would also not accept our debit card so he ended up having to take a small cash advance on his Visa.  We paid the nice man (he even reheated my sandwich), and we were finally off to see the Eiffel Tower.

Métro train arriving at an underground station in Paris

The Paris Métropolitain

It was a short subway ride from the café.  As we approached our stop I was really getting excited.  We exited the train and headed up the stairs to the street.  I turned around and there it was, larger than life.

Patrick and Diane in front of the Eiffel Tower

As I first lay eyes on this magnificent structure I gasped!  I am not sure what I expected but it was much bigger than I thought.  I wouldn’t call it beautiful though.  It’s an enormous metal structure painted brown.  For me the beauty came from its size, strength and view of the city.  There were huge lines to take the elevator, so we hiked up the stairs to the viewing platform, not letting the howling wind and rain deter us.  When we reached the top the view of Paris was stunning.  I loved it.

View North from the Eiffel Tower

View North from the Eiffel Tower

We spent the rest of the day wandering the famous boulevards of Paris.  We finished off the day with an incredible French dinner, some great wine and a lovely birthday kiss.  It was the best birthday.

A staircase leading to the Seine with the Eiffel Tower in the background

A Room with a View (Guest Post)

The following is a guest post from Martin of the S&M Motel.  Thank-you Martin!  This is Martin’s second guest post on DreamBigLiveBoldly.com.  If you’d like to be a guest contributor, please contact me.

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There’s a niche in the corner of King Charles’ palace in Alhambra, Spain, where you can look across an 800 year old building void, through some Moorish lattice work, into another world.

Alhambra, (Arabic meaning ‘The Red’) sits on a hilltop overlooking modern Granada in south-eastern Spain. This famous city fortress palace has a thought provoking history.

In 312 AD Emperor Constantine legalised Christianity throughout the Roman Empire (i.e. most of present day Europe). By 390 AD Christianity was the only religion permitted in the empire. However, the 1000 year old empire could no longer sustain itself against external attack and internal decay.  In 476 the last Roman emperor sold his title and moved to his retirement home in what is now Split in Croatia.

The collapse of the Roman Empire left much of Western Europe without education, civil construction projects, employment, economic activity, law enforcement and, crucially, defence against attack.

One hundred years later, the tide of Islam that had been sweeping through northern Africa crossed the straits of Gibraltar into a vulnerable Spain. The invaders were ‘Moors’, relatively recently converted Muslim tribes from north Africa . They quickly occupied virtually all of Spain and stayed in charge for 700 years.

Alhambra architecture reflected in rectangular pool

In about 1250 the Moors began to build the fabulous fortified palace, Alhambra. For 200 years the palace grew in splendour; every inch of the staterooms, private apartments and bathing complexes was decorated with intricate carving, ceramics or gold leaf. Water features were installed everywhere. The latest technology was utilized to provide stunning pools, decorative fountains and cascades woven into stairs and walkways.

Mosaic of coloured tiles separated by white bands with small starsAn important aspect of Islamic art is its abstract nature. Muslims avoid images of people in order to avoid creating ‘graven images’ which are forbidden by their religion. As a result, abstract patterns using bold colours and shapes decorate the walls, ceilings and floors of Alhambra. These striking and original ceramics have inspired artists down through the centuries.

The period of Muslim rule in Spain is known for tolerance and cooperation between the three religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity). However, outside of Spain, the Christian world was not terribly happy with this state of affairs, and began to re-take Spain for their own faith.  Alhambra fell to Christian forces in 1492, ending Islamic rule over Spain.

The Catholics were now in charge at Alhambra.  The first thing the Catholic King (Charles the 5th) did was to build himself a palace within the existing complex.

Did Charles have his palace sympathetically placed among the Moorish architecture? Was he magnanimous in victory? Did he want to leave the previous palace complete for future generations to admire and learn from? Not really. He built his new palace right across the old one cutting off an entire wing, leaving just the façade of the south wing standing beside the central pool of the old Moorish palace.

In 1922 the artist M C Esher visited Alhambra and, like others before him, was inspired by the Moorish abstract ceramics. Escher’s art explores the space between objects. Characteristically he would fill a space between repeated images to form another series of repeated images, challenging the viewer with a choice of which series of objects to focus on.

Escher abstract with grey, white, and black repeated images

A sample of Escher's work

The viewer has to decide what to look at, the primary objects or the space in between which holds a significance of its own.

Today there is an exhibition of Esher’s work installed in King Charles’ palace. In the corner of the exhibition is a niche for those inquisitive enough to duck through its darkened entrance. In the far end of the niche is a window with a view into the building void between King Charles’ palace and the rear of the surviving south façade of the old palace. Through the lattice work in the façade can be seen the sunlit grandeur of the surviving Moorish architecture.

Looking across the void prompts thoughts of the time and space between the Christian and Muslim worlds, between medieval and modern Europe — thoughts of history, power and politics. It’s an interesting place to sit.  I’d recommend it.

Happy New Year!

S&M

Christmas Festivities – Spanish Style (guest post)

The following is a guest post from Martin of the S&M Motel.  Thank-you Martin!  This is also the first guest post on DreamBigLiveBoldly.com.  If you’d like to be a guest contributor, please contact me.

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We are temporary inhabitants of the S&M Motel and I have so enjoyed the blogs from Patrick that I thought I would let you know what’s going on in Spain as the festive season approaches.

Like most places in the world with a Christian tradition, the towns and cities of Spain are becoming illuminated with decorations. Abstract swirly things suspended from lampposts, LED animals tethered to the roadside verges, along with traditional Christian and secular symbols (e.g. stockings, Santas and sleigh bells).  Nothing unusual there.

However. there is a tradition in Spain of building and displaying Beléns (Belén is Spanish for Bethlehem).  They look like an expanded version of a nativity scene. Their central focus is a tableau of the stable and its inhabitants, but from there the scene expands in time and space. Scenes depicting Gabriel telling Mary she was expecting, Herod’s edict to slaughter the innocents, the flight to Egypt, and Jesus at the temple are all somehow woven into a kitsch cardboard and plastic, seemingly fairly inflammable, toy town construction.

Municipalities compete for the grandest Belén.  In Malaga the city hall is open to the public.  Their 10 metre long Belén, guarded by the police, is admired by streams of people filing in to admire the display. This is not just for kids.  The crowds include courting couples, businessmen, and elderly people, photographing and discussing the arrangement of the little town (literally) of Bethlehem.

The 10 metre Belén in Malaga City Hall

The 10 metre Belén in Malaga City Hall

Beléns are big business.  Every home should have one. Stalls sell figurines, prefabricated stables, watermills, bushes, trees, and anything else you can imagine (and some you can’t) to build a mega model nativity. The most bizarre figure we saw for sale was a Boxcar Willy lookalike on a rocking chair peeling an orange. There are grown men out at night hunting through hundreds of shepherds, Marys, baby Jesuses, camels, wise men, and carpentry shops for the perfect addition to their own private Beléns.

Close up of Belén Figurines

Belén figurines, individually priced and ready to go!

The other odd thing about continental European festivals — I make the distinction because we are from a bit of Europe that happens not to be on the continent — is the liberal detonation by children of street fireworks. I don’t know what happens in Canada, but in the old country one has to hold a special licence, have a safe piece of ground separated from the public, and have a damn good reason to let off any pyrotechnic device, let alone the cheap Chinese ones thrown around by the children of the continent.

These things (the fireworks not the children) are for sale from street market stalls that also sell other festive novelties, for example, father Christmas costumes for dogs, fake dog poo (always a crowd pleaser), and the ever popular self-inflating whoopee cushion.

Although some of these novelties are taken home and presumably treasured by generations to come, many of the fireworks are for instant use. The kids are bought bags of sweetie-looking whizzers, rockets, bangers, and buzzers (along with a novelty cigarette lighter) by doting parents and immediately set to the task of lighting and throwing them as quickly as possible. The streets are littered with discarded wrappers and spent casing. Some older people object, particularly in the case of shock or injury, but it doesn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm for the sport among the young.

One can only wonder at the number of times that a wayward firework has resulted in the devastation of a lovingly created Belen…… still they all seem to be having a merry time, bless.

Have a safe Christmas,

S&M

Elvis is in the Building – by Diane

Petra is an ancient city of caves, carved into the sandstone by the Nabataean people about 2000 years ago. It covers a huge area, and is truly remarkable. It has the most amazing rock and rock sculptures I’ve ever seen.

After spending the first day walking around the site in awe and climbing two mountains, we decided to use our second day to try a new route which had been recommended to us by a couple we met in Egypt. We didn’t know what to expect, but Patrick was excited to check it out. We were hiking with a British couple that we met two days earlier. Martin is a retired fire fighter, and both he and Susan are rock climbers.

As we started out on our journey down a side canyon, a local person tried to tell us that we were going the wrong way. Then the tourist police yelled at us from the cliff above and advised us that the way was closed, was not safe, that there was a lot of water, and that other tourists had much difficulty going this way. After a lengthy debate, where it became apparent that we weren’t giving up, they let us proceed. A general rule of thumb in the third world is that if someone tells you that you can’t do something, keep trying and they’ll stop you only if it is truly forbidden. Many of the ‘rules’ are actually guidelines, or someone trying to cover their butts.

The entry to the route was through a large tunnel, carved through the rock by water over the millennia. The route is susceptible to flash flooding, but there hadn’t been any moisture for a few days. The four of us continued down the gradually narrowing canyon, which required route finding and negotiation of large and small rocks.


The first section of the canyon was not too tough, but as we traveled further along, the route became much more challenging. The walls narrowed to just a few feet apart, and the bottom of the canyon was filled with pools of ever increasing depth. The three rock climbers in the group found the journey quite exciting and even exhilarating, I questioned why on earth I was doing this. This was about the time when Patrick joked with Martin and Susan that it was a good thing that the two of them were with us, or Diane would be really giving him a hard time about the choice of route.


The narrowing of the canyon and the water in the floor of the canyon continued to increase. To avoid wading through the water, we used “foot back chimney” rock climbing moves on the canyon walls, and of course the climbers thought this was great.

After traveling down the canyon for about ninety minutes we came to the really “interesting” part of the journey. This was when the walls of the canyon were far enough apart that the chimney moves would only work for those of us in the group with long legs. Patrick went first, carrying both of our bags and cameras, to confirm the best approach, and to ensure the passage was viable. I went next. At the start all was well, however it was short lived as the canyon walls became farther apart. Verbal instruction from the group was plentiful.


I was suspended between the canyon walls, about four feet above water of unknown depth and questionable purity. This was when the climbing phenomenon known as the “Elvis leg” came into play, accompanied by a few choice words beginning with “F”, a scream and a splash into the water. Fortunately Martin quickly employed his fire fighter rescue moves and helped me out of the water. Patrick, on the other hand, captured the event on film for your viewing pleasure.


When I got out of the water, I found that we were in a small chamber carved into the canyon walls. This route was pioneered over 2000 years ago, and was a sacred placed for the Nabataeans.

I was relieved that it was only a short distance from the end of the slot canyon, and we were able to dry off in the warm sun before continuing our exploration of Petra.

Preparation — Diane’s Perspective

To say the last month has been stressful would be a bit of an understatement. As Patrick already told you in his blog post, things have been a bit crazy for us. He has worked extremely hard getting things ready for our trip, finalizing stuff for his parents’ estates, etc. Yes, we’ve done lots of shopping which under any different circumstances, I would say would be terrific. However, with a list that measures as long as the height of Kilimanjaro (4 miles), I don’t think that even Paris Hilton could go the distance. One list after another and I thought that I might lose my mind. After organizing, sorting and reviewing several times it was afternoon on Saturday (departure day) and we were finally ready to start packing. I must say that even I was a bit impressed with our ability to get everything into two 38 litre packs. This really was due to Patrick’s attention to detail and endless lists, but boy oh boy it was a tough process for me. You will need to check back with me in a few months to see how I am faring with only one pair of shoes, a pair of sandals, and limited clothing.

Patrick and I had lots of help from family and friends in preparing for our world adventure. I want to tell you all again how much we appreciate your support along the way. Even my precious Skyler thought he should test out my new down North Face jacket for comfort and warmth. I think he thought that it would pass the test. What do you think?

Patrick and I also tested out our stuff by washing and wearing it several times to make sure that everything fit right and would be appropriate for our trip.

Waxing our boots with the use of Kevin’s hot air gun worked great and hopefully this will keep the rain/snow out when we climb Kili.

But by far for me, the most challenging part of preparing for this trip was saying goodbye to family and friends. The goodbye parties were greatly appreciated and we both feel extremely privileged to have such great family and friends. We love you all and will miss you.

I know that we are blessed to have an opportunity to embark on such a fabulous adventure and we are both looking forward to sharing our experiences with you. I am sure that I will be feeling home sick much sooner than later so please feel free to post your comments and send email.

Until next time, lots of love,
Diane