Story of a Lifetime

storyofalifetime

My daughter had given me a bit of background on my Christmas gift. And I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I opened my present on Christmas morning, there before me was a book: The Story Of A Lifetime. The book is 384 pages. And it contains a list of questions for which there are currently no answers.

Writing in the answers will be my contribution.

There is a story behind the book and it reads in part:

There were questions she [the author] had never asked, questions she had feared to ask, questions that simply had never been answered. “It suddenly seemed as if their lives were passing me by,” says Pamela. “Where had I been all those years while they grew old?”

To show them how important they were to her, Pamela set out to compile a list of questions reflecting her loving interest in them and their lives. “I worked very hard for several months preparing the list to give to my parents for Christmas. The day before Thanksgiving, proud to have finished in time to have it beautifully bound before the holidays, I ran down to the local coffee shop to celebrate with a cappuccino. When I got home, I discovered a message on my answering machine. Mom said ‘Pam, your dad just passed away.’ I was devastated with grief and riddled with guilt. I had waited too long. Now I would never hear from Dad, first hand, about all the lessons he had learned and the wisdom he had gained. He would never tell me what life had meant to him. Most of all, he would never hear from me how much I loved and appreciated him.”

My father’s life is almost a complete mystery to me. He died when I was young. I never had a chance to learn about his life or his values.

My daughter has provided me a platform to share my journey with her. Hopefully I still have a few more years on the planet but at least I can provide her with some insight about a life lived thus far.

Merry Christmas

Christmas Table Family Dinner Christmas Table Christmas Morning

Benjamin Michael

As proud grandparents, Lorraine and I were thrilled to welcome Benjamin Michael into the world. He was born yesterday at 1:48pm and weighed in at 8lbs 4oz.

Our second grandchild and our first grandson.

benjamin-113 benjamin-134

Santa Claus Parade

20131123_santa_parade_006

I did five things on Saturday that I have never done before:

1. Play a solid-state amplifier
2. Play on a moving flatbed trailer
3. Play in sub-zero temperatures
4. Play while wearing insulated gloves (with fingers exposed to the elements)
5. Play in a Santa Claus parade

We arrived at the Rogers Media float for 2:30pm to set up the equipment and to conduct a sound check. We had rented most of the equipment: sound system, drums, bass amp and guitar amp.

The temperature was hovering at around 0 Celsius although the wind chill was making it feel more like minus 10 Celsius.

Cold, cold, cold.

And the winds were really gusting. So much so that we had to use sandbags on the cymbal stands to prevent them from being blown over.

It took us about an hour to get ourselves ready for the main event. Matthew, our drummer, was fully protected from the bitterly cold temperatures. Josh, our bassist, had mastered a technique of playing the bass while wearing gloves. Rob, our vocalist was also well protected.

I had taken all reasonable precautions: thermal underwear, multiple layers of clothing, headgear. But to play a guitar, I had to expose my fingers and I had to limit the outerwear on my upper body to hold and reach the instrument.

I had no idea whether I could even play in such frigid weather.

After the first hour on the flatbed, we retreated to the warmth of our vehicle and waited until the first call. At 5pm we took our place on the flatbed. There we waited for about 40 minutes or so until our float began to move.

The temperature had fallen to minus 2 Celsius with a wind chill somewhere in the minus 12 to minus 15 range. I literally could not feel the guitar with my hands.

But somehow, as we progressed along the parade route, with thousands and thousands of people lining the streets, we started to forget about the cold. We played to the people and they were so supportive and encouraging. I had to dramatically simplify my playing but I think I hit the right chords at the right spots most of the time.

For the next couple of hours we had an incredible time.

Fortunately, I did not get frostbite on my hands.

And our float won the best commercial float of the parade.

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Good Work

honourroll

Matthew worked hard last year and he did well in his studies. Great job buddy!

Final Thoughts On The European Cruise

Deckside Disney Magic

The day was September 1st. I wrote this post on my travel back to Canada. We enjoyed such a wonderful experience and I am so pleased that I took the time to document the trip.

Here are a few thoughts about the cruising experience in Europe.

Time and Port Excursions

Mickey Mouse 5

Taking a Mediterranean cruise meant that we only had enough time to sample the ports of call. With only five to eight hours at each port we were really constrained in terms of what we could cover.

Rick Steves’ book, Guide to the Mediterranean, really helped us to focus on our approach. And we did a combination of do-it-yourself tour itineraries and private tour operators.

As a result, we did take in most of the major sights and we feel as though we got a better sense of the culture by working with local drivers and guides at many of the ports. They provided us with valuable and interesting insight.

Security

Police Presence

Despite the many warnings about pickpockets in the major European cities — particularly in Barcelona — we did not experience any issues. We were amongst other tourists for the most part but we never once felt unsafe or at risk.

That said, we did not carry much with us. I had a security pouch with a few Euros and a couple of cards (American Express, Disney Cruise Line, Driver’s License). Lorraine had a small purse that she wore over her shoulder. We remained vigilant and travelled in much the same way as we would in a large North American city.

Crowds

Florence

There were other tourists. But really, we never felt overwhelmed by the crowds. In many areas, the crowds seemed quite light. Perhaps we got lucky with our timing — late August.

We were wise to book some of the visits online prior to our trip especially the Vatican and the Colosseum. The queues to purchase tickets at these attractions were very, very long. We spent little, if any time, queuing for the major attractions in our ports of call.

Photography

First Frame

I really wrestled with this one for several months. Which camera system? And which lenses?

I settled on my Nikon DSLR. I own both a D600 and a D800. The D600 is lighter and the image file sizes are much smaller than those produced by the D800. I took the D600. And it worked just fine.

I took three lenses with me: 24-85mm VR, 50mm and 70-300mm VR. The vast majority of the images were shot with the 24-85mm. I used the 70-300 for shooting the coast from the ship. And the 50mm was hardly touched.

I captured some great images with this system.

I also took along a computer and an external hard drive to back up my images. I wasn’t sure how many frames I would shoot over the week. I estimated about 8,000 frames and I shot closer to 5,000. Looks like I used about 200 Gigabytes of disk space for the images.

If I were to take a trip like this again, I would take the D800 with the 24-85 or the 24-70. No real need for the other focal lengths.

Packing Light

Travelling Light

Well, packing light really works. In the above photo, all of our luggage is to the left of Lorraine. Two weeks in Europe with three small bags, a computer bag, a camera bag and a purse. Such freedom to not have to worry about hauling lots of stuff around. We really did not need much to enjoy our travels.

I received so many comments about our lack of big heavy bags: at the airport gates, at the hotel check-in, boarding the cruise ship, leaving the cruise ship and heading out to the airport. Several people encouraged us to post our experiences travelling light.

We did not miss anything. But in looking at my packing list, there were several items that I did not use. I could pack even lighter next time.

Cruising

Food

The folks at Disney really did a great job. Their service was excellent. The ship never felt too large or too crowded. Sailing from port to port was exciting. It seemed like we were entering a new world each day.

There are a few downsides to cruising. Food. There is simply too much food and it is virtually impossible not to gain weight. I will see how much damage the cruise caused me when I get back home. I suspect a 3 to 5 pound weight gain and I was fairly responsible but I definitely ate larger portions at breakfast and lunch and I did not have the opportunity to ride the calories away as I normally do at home. Update: it was a 1 pound cruise. I guess all of the walking and exercise routines offset some of the extra calories. Thank goodness.

Unplugged Family Time

Family

This can happen anywhere of course but there was something about the three of us being separate from the online world that was very, very nice.

No Internet. No email. Just time with my lovely wife and my youngest son. Lots of adventures and experiences that we shared together and memories that will last a lifetime.

Back To Barcelona

Vacations have a beginning and an ending. The beginning of a vacation is awesome.

The ending of a vacation not so much. Oh well.

We spent last evening getting ourselves packed up. The Disney folks have a debarkation process all laid out. But it still required us to pack and to get ready to leave the ship.

This day was Saturday, August 30th.

Breakfast was served at 7:15am and we needed to vacate our stateroom by that time. Our last meal with the serving team was very nice. They had become our friends over the past week. It was a bit sad to say goodbye.

Leaving the ship was much easier than boarding. No queues. No waiting. We took our few luggage bags with us and just walked off the ship.

We met Christian outside the debarkation point. He was our driver for the day. He was a German guide in a Spanish city driving an English-speaking family from Canada.

Christian worked out just fine.

Christian took us out to Montserrat. This area is situated about a 90-minute drive from Barcelona. There is a monastery at Montserrat which includes an expansive array of hiking trails in the unique, serrated mountain range. There are many smaller buildings that are connected to the monastery through an expansive set of trails such as the one pictured below (click on the image for a larger photo).

Montserrat

We began our tour of Montserrat by walking through the main cathedral. We were there before the crowds so we had no issue going through to see the black Madonna, a major highlight of the monastry at Montserrat.

We then followed one of many trails that ascended to approximately 1,300 metres. Fortunately we started the climb only a few hundred metres lower. The walking trails were all paved with a stone and concrete mixture and impressively lined with perfectly laid stone walls. Perhaps the monks did not have too many other distractions when they built these trails. Here are a few photos from the hike.

Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey

Prayer Stop at Montserrat

St Francis of Assisi

The Cross

After Montserrat, Christian drove us back to Barcelona where the first order of business was to take in some lunch. We ate at Catalana and sampled some local Spanish food: flautas and tapas. Excellent meal.

The afternoon was spent touring the various sites around Barcelona: Park Guell, several Gaudi buildings, the Olympic grounds, the coastal area and the historic city.

Park Guell

Park Guell

As the afternoon passed, we started to fatigue. I think we were now a bit overwhelmed by all of the tours in Europe. So much to see and so little time to see it all. We did take time to see the Sagrada Familia. This is a Roman Catholic church designed by Antoni Gaudi. Although the construction of the church began in 1882, Gaudi became involved in 1883 and worked on the project until his death at age 73 in 1926. The church was less than a quarter complete. The latest timeline to complete the church is now 2026. I hope to go back when it is finished. If I am still on the planet.

Here are a few photos of Sagrada Familia.

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

We returned back to our hotel to check in. And then over to Las Ramblas to find a restaurant for our last dinner in Europe.

Okay, we went to the Hard Rock Cafe. Matthew really wanted an American cheeseburger.

After we finished our meal, we decided to return to the hotel and rest before the trip home.

Here is a family shot overlooking the city of Barcelona.

Cleaver Family in Barcelona

I was not feeling at all well that afternoon and evening. After our dinner, I really needed to get back to the hotel and rest. I had originally hoped to spend the evening walking the streets of Barcelona and taking pictures. Not to be. And I was disappointed as we made our way to our room.

But, with my camera still at my side, I pointed up towards a building just before the turn into the hotel and took my last photo of Barcelona and my last photo of our European adventure.

Our vacation was a truly wonderful experience.

The Last Frame

At Sea

Friday, August 30th.

We are now making our way back to Barcelona. Although this is the last full day of our cruise, we still have another tour planned when we return to Barcelona. We have a private tour arranged for the city and for Montserrat.

So we have been taking it easy today. I have spent several hours writing up the trip diary. You can see me hard at work on the deck of the ship.

Richard at Sea

We’ll need to pack and to get ourselves ready to debark the ship tomorrow morning.

Aside from eating, our plan is to catch the Lone Ranger later this evening. It is one of several movies playing on the ship’s screen. Here are a few photos from onboard the ship itself.

Our stateroom was on deck seven. This was the main elevator lobby.

Deck Seven

We always took the stairs. Here is the shot from the elevator side but from the opposite side of the ship.

Deck Seven

I briefly connected to the shipboard WiFi on this day. Likely the most expensive email I have received on a computing device. The best area for WiFi reception was in this lounge on deck three.

Promenade Lounge

Our final dinner meal was served at Lumiere’s.

Lumieres

We watched the Lone Ranger here.

Theatre

And a few final shots of our time aboard the Disney Magic. She is a beautiful ship.

Disney Magic Atrium

Disney Magic Atrium

Disney Magic