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Newfoundland: Taking a Hike and Liking It….

Travelling across Newfoundland in a Recreational Vehicle, as we did, affords us a great deal of time to try new pastimes. As such our go to activity since arriving here has been hiking. 

Beaches of Burgeo. Miles of seaside pleasure

Let me say that walking for pleasure is something that I have taken up late life like the last five years. For much of my adult life I was pretty much a “couch potato.” However health challenges about twenty years ago forced me to re-think some my lifestyle choices. One of the new health conscious changes I made was to become more active and walking was a key  part of my health strategy going forward. 

Beach near Lumsden NFLD. Stormy walks…

I have taken the occasional walk in the woods or Recreational trail but I can’t say I made any effort to do so regular. I was pretty much an urban walker. Well let’s say that all of that changed we arrived in beautiful Newfoundland last July. 

Hiking and walking trails in Newfoundland are a key piece of their tourism infrastructure. All levels of government here have invested in developing and maintaining trails dedicated to hikers of all levels. The quantity and quality of the trails seemed tailor made for retiree’s like use with time on our hands. It didn’t take long before the call of the trails had us hooked. 

Tablelands Hike Gros Morne National Park

We are very much novices when it comes to the hike game. We limit out hikes to between 5 & 10 kilometers on any given day. The trails I choose are usually rated easy to moderate although Martha, who has always embraced physical challenges, has done a difficult trail with a friend while in Newfoundland. 

Newfoundland is a fabulous place to hike and not just because there is an abundance of trails, but because it an Island in the North Atlantic. There are many unique plant and ecosystems that make every walk interesting. Add to that incedibly scenic Mountains and Coastline and there is always motivation to take another hike. 

I don’t know if I have become more observant as I have aged or I just walk slower and therefore I see more. The fact is there is much to see in the forest here. Much of which I have never seen until now. Plants, varying  terrain, world class Mountains and amazing Coastline make every hike an adventure and a journey of discovery.

Trailside plants Terra Nova National Park

Since we have been here we have hiked the Coastline, explored miles of beach, circled lakes, climbed high bluffs using hand built stairs and walked over bogs on board walks that are popular throughout the province. 

I will not recommend specific trail simply because there are so many that can offer a variety of experiences. The internet is a great resource for researching your next hike or you can go old school and just speak to locals or other tourist throughout your journey. Most people you encounter are happy to share their favourite hiking discoveries with you. 

We will offer you a little advice however. Although hiking is a great way see the world and enjoy the great outdoors affordably. The experience can be greatly enhanced with the right equipment. Invest in good quality hiking shoes or boots and breathable rain gear. There are also a number of “technical” clothing options that although not necessary will keep you dry and comfy from both the rain and the heat and thus worth considering. Finally I highly recommend investing in some hiking poles. They are great for adding stability over rough terrain and helping with difficult climbs. For those of us who are “aged challenged” it is like having a portable banister with you all the time. 

Any Newfoundland vacation would not be complete without a few days exploring the vast network of hiking trails. Whether you’re a bird watcher, a plant lover, a walker or someone who just loves fresh air and open spaces; just take a hike because you just might like it.

Barachois Pond Provincial Park NFLD. Erin Mountain Trail. View from the bottom and the top. 360 meter climb of hiking splendour. All photos taken by Eric Morin


Explore Canada: Quebec’s Eastern Townships 

From time to time at MIA we will highlight certain regions or communities across Canada based on our experience and impressions. This week’s spotlight is on Quebec’s Eastern Townships. 

Martha’s has a large extended family in the Eastern Townships and this area holds many fond memories and much family history for her. I first came to the Townships shortly after we were married 32 years ago and my affection and appreciation for this region grows with each visit. Because we have such a connection  to the area we are planning  a four day stopover  to visit family and explore more of the area.

The Eastern Townships, which are southeast of Montreal and straddles the area between the United States border and the City of Sherbrooke, was one of the few Anglophone enclaves in the Province of Quebec up until before the end of the last century. Francophones and Anglophones co-existed for over a century. In fact families from both cultures stretch south across the US border even today creating a unique cross border heritage based on a an era and history of hardworking families committed to farming, lumbering and earning a living off the land.

The townships  always come through with a spectacular and lasting first impression. The tops of the rolling hills provide amazing panoramic views of endless farms that are often separated by the deep greens of hardwood forest. This area is the ultimate destination for pleasurable drives through the country, especially during the fall of the year with the changing colours of leaves and interesting stops at roadside stands with selections from the year’s harvest. But, frankly the townships offer plenty to do regardless of the season.

As you explore the back roads of this region there is much to discover. Small towns, villages  and even the roadsides offer the possibility of finding unique artisans, antiques, local produce and food. If you are lucky you may stumble upon a world class cheese factory, a gourmet food fair or pick your own farms.

One of the Canada’s best bicycling networks can be found in the Eastern Townships.  The charming town of Magog  is the hub for the cycling network. This town that is situated on the shores of Lake Mephremagog  offer shops, bistros and a variety of restaurants.

The region also offers scenic hiking for both rookie and seasoned hikers. Start your hiking adventure in the town of Coaticook. For beginners the scenic Gorge de Coaticook is a great place to spend a couple of hours. For those who demand more of a challenge, nearby Mont Pinacle will not only meet the challenge but also give you an incredible view of the entire  region. For those who enjoy learning about local history, specialty museums are scattered across the region. Camping is also widely  available.

Quebec’s  Eastern Townships is not considered a well known tourist destination for people from outside the province. Maybe that’s good thing as the country charm and scenic beauty remain authentic. If drives in the country sprinkled with a chance to explore and find old and new country charm is your thing, the Eastern Townships  will not disappoint as it truly is a unique piece of Canada.

Too Old for Adventure? Not!

Today we embark on the travel adventure or misadventure of our lifetime. The ultimate road trip across Canada. We have driven across Canada before but not like this.

My wife Martha and I retired earlier this spring and are fortunate to begin this phase of our life before our sixtieth year. We shared a vision of retirement filled with travel and in particular extended travel a across our beautiful homeland of Canada. We have travelled to most parts of Canada over the years but this trip is the is going to be totally different….

About five years ago we decided that we wanted to spend the our summers exploring Canada once we retired. We wanted to do it in a way that was more than sightseeing. We wanted to spend time in communities across the country exploring and having conversations with locals from sea to sea. We want to have a true experience of small town Canada beyond what we read in travel brochures or on the internet. We quickly decided that the way to do this was by travelling by recreational vehicle. This is where things kinda got crazy.

Other than a small pop-up tent trailer we have no experience travelling with a recreational vehicle so there was a huge learning curve just determining was type of RV would be best for us and our plans. We eventually made decisions and only time will tell if we made the best decisions. 

We settled on a truck and a fifth wheel trailer combination. In future blogs I will detail how we came to our decisions and why we settled on this 51 foot long and 14,000 pound behemoth of an RV and truck combo. 

So here we are senior  citizens embarking a trip of a lifetime with no experience chauffeuring a vehicle this huge vehicle to our first destination: Newfoundland and Labrador. So keep checking in to see how our adventure or misadventure goes as we push our limits well beyond our comfort zone ensuring that everyday will bring something new and exciting. 

China: Dance Dance Wherever You May Be

As someone who is making the transition to embracing my golden years and retirement, one of my more interesting observations was how Seniors in China approach aging and a post retirement lifestyle.  Before arriving in China I had some understanding of the important role the elder Chinese play lives of their children and more importantly their grandchildren. Chinese seniors traditionally provide child care for their grandchildren while the parents are at work. What I didn’t know was how my Chinese cohorts filled the rest of their day. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised with what I learned.

Beyond providing childcare and home support for their grandchildren it appears that seniors in China pursue three interest: fitness and health, social interaction with peers and finding spouses for unmarried children.

In China tradition and practicality dictate that the oldest male child maintains a lifelong responsibility for their parents. The trade off is that young families have worry free childcare and domestic support at home. But to fulfill their version of the dream lifestyle in their golden years, these senior need grandchildren. Consequently it is essential that their adult children find suitable mates and these perspective grandparents take charge when it comes to finding their children a spouse. To be clear this is not arranged marriage as the adult children have the final say but one can imagine that internal family pressure here is huge especially as biological clocks are ticking.

So how do parents find a spouse for their adult children. Well the simple answer is marketing and advertising in the traditional way. Each morning sellers and buyers gather at local parks. The sellers line up along pathways with prepared flyers that provide vital statistics and make the pitch. Shoppers stroll along checking out who is on the market. If they like what they read, a conversation ensues and the sellers eventually produces photographs to try and close the deal.

There are no guarantees with this process which can take months or longer only to have the adult child reject a perspective suitor. These matrimonial marketplaces also provide a social outlet for seniors to gather, chat and maybe even forge new friendships of their own.

Socializing for seniors in China is important. The time for socializing is usually when the grandchildren are in school or in the evening when the parents take over as primary caregivers. What was both interesting and surprising is how seniors combine socializing with fitness.

Based on both observation and anecdotal evidence from people we encountered, the fitness activity of choice for seniors in China is dance. Yes I said dance.

The affection Chinese Seniors have for dance can’t be overstayed. They love to dance. They literally dance from morning until night. They dance in parks, public spaces and even on sidewalks. They dance traditionally. They dance to salsa music, country country music and even rock music. In the morning, one public promenade we visited there were at least five separate dance groups, some with more than 50 participant. Our young tour guide referred to these daily gatherings as “weird old people morning disco dance party.”   Each group dancing a different style. Their dance is usually choreographed and looks like line dancing. Whether they are beginners or retired professional dancers, their passion and love for dancing uninhibited in public is blissful. They were also pleased to welcome visitors to their groups and patiently offered informal instruction.

Public parks are equipped with various apparatus to support fitness and exercise. From traditional gymnastics equipment to other equipment that helps with stretching and toning are readily available. Various groups practice yoga and Tai Chi. Power walking is also popular. However, dancing is by far the most popular. They dance dance whenever and wherever they maybe for in China seniors are truly the Lords and Ladies of the dance.

Group Touring Canadian Style

Later today we board a flight from Hong Kong to Toronto for our fifteen hour journey home. The past nineteen days have been spectacular and even life changing. I will write about the personal impact of this tour in a future article so keep checking in.

This is the second time I have taken a pre-packaged guided extended tour with a group of Canadians. Despite differences in age, status and where we grew up; when Canadians come together it usually results in a great experience. It always leaves me appreciating how lucky I am to come from this wonderful place called Canada.   

Nineteen days ago we boarded a bus at the Beijing airport as 23 random strangers and nineteen days later we are 23 friends who not only took something from our journey but also shared and left something of ourselves with those we met along the way.

There were times when I’m sure we got on each other’s nerves. But if we did it never resulted is harsh words or unkind gestures. If fact the opposite experience was true. The ability of our group to practice tolerance, patience, respect, compassion, cooperation and genuine caring in the interest of others fills me with pride and  unqualified satisfaction.  It seems when we travel abroad, it brings out the best of who we are as country. On this occasion, travelling with a group enhanced the experience through sharing past travel experiences, personal stories along with observations and opinions. I have very fond memories of my friends on bus number one.

During our trip, we met others and observed others from all over the Western world. Without calling any one group out, let me say that our Canadian virtues are not a world wide phenomenon.  Sadly a lack of tolerance or condescending attitudes towards others including our host are still more prevalent than one would like believe. It is unbelievable how anyone could even spend two days in in China with the amazing Chinese people and still feel superior and entitled rather than gracious and humbled.

Along the way we were privileged to share time with local guides or specialist. Their ability to speak English or French varied from capable to fluent but their ability communicate with pride and genuine concern for our vacation experience could never be questioned.

Throughout our tour, the resilience of the Chinese people became self evident through and through. One of my favourite things is to listen to people’s personal stories. This is especially when I meet people from distant lands. Although to the Western observer the story of the Chinese is one of hardship and struggle, it is not the whole story. The remarkable thing about the Chinese , that we often fail to see, is that they don’t seem to view any kind of past pain and suffering as a hardship. Or as we say in the west ” they are not whiners.” On a personal level, where you come from or what your past is does not define you. It only seems to serve as motivation or strength to keep striving for a better life. Self pity and victimization seems to be rare amongst the Chinese people living in China.

The first person we met in China exemplifies the Chinese spirit of resilience. She has left a lasting impression on me. She was our first local guide, an energized women of about 28 years named Cherry. She immediately the self-disclosed that she knew her name was weird and that it was given to her by an English teacher who handed out names on the basis of academic standing. Because she claimed to a poor student, by the time the teacher got to her all the good names were taken.  (FYI. Most Chinese working in tourism have an English name). She could have changed her name and no one would be the wiser but instead she embraced it as it also serves a funny ice breaker for any new group she meets.

Cherry also shared with us that she was abandoned as a child by her birth parents because she was a girl. Sadly this practice was not unusual in China at one time especially amongst the poor. This seemed to be no more than an historical fact to her because she was eventually adopted by another family whom she spoke about with great affection and reverence. Nobody can question this young ladies devotion and unconditional love for her adopted family as she even left school to care for her mother when she became ill. Once again no self pity or regrets. She just moved to the next challenge.

Interestingly Cherry then disclosed that she had become what is known in China as a “leftover woman” or a woman who is unmarried after the age of 22. Again she wore this label as a badge of honour as she is one of a growing number of young Chinese women who choose to be independent and focused on their career. She is free to travel the world as as guide/translator and explore other paths.

She said she is actively dating but in in no way ready to settle down just yet. She recently purchased her own apartment. A huge accomplishment for a woman in China. Truly an amazing and strong young woman. We all appreciated her openness and infectious spirit.

I met many wonderful people during our Chinese adventure. Language was often a barrier but the universal language of smiles, laughter, warm gestures were sufficient to demonstrate that kindness and compassion are still at the heart of the human spirit in China. For example, Cherry told us that a simple wave and a smile from a foreigner, who was on a passing train, when she was a young child instilled a dream in her to explore the outside world. By being tour guide she is living that dream.  Now she wants everyone to smile and wave at children when they are in a foreign land.

My Canadian style tour was personally fulfilling and enriching because of having a chance to share the journey. To my new Canadian friends on bus number one, thank you for being representative of all that is good about our country. I not only learned much about China on this trip, I was also reminded of what Canadians can give the world when we put our best selves forward and that is really really awesome, especially when we smile and wave….

Cruising the Yangtzee

Yesterday we completed our five day cruise on the on China’s mighty Yangtzee River aboard the Century Diamond. Our trip, with 264 other passengers, began near the city of Wuhan and ended at this country’s largest city Shonshing with over 33 million inhabitants. Yes that’s right a city that has the population of Canada.

The Yangtzee River twist and turns 8000km between Tibet and Shanghai, is China’s largest River and has nearly 100 million people living on its shores. Our tour focused on an area known as the Three Gorges.

The Yangtzee Three Gorges Tour is a balance of natural beauty and man-made marvels.  The natural beauty of the Gorges is spectacular. Towering cliffs rise from the water’s edge toward the China sky. Mountains that tower hundreds of feet high feature abundant greenery with plenty of exposed gray rock for contrast. Mountain side  farmhouses  with orange groves and linier gardens extend high on the on the hillsides are common and seen regularly.  Some animal life can be seen on the shores. We were fortunate to see monkeys and goats from our private balconies. I have to admit I was not expecting discover this level of natural beauty on this trip. It is definitely one of many highlights for me thus far.

The other feature of the cruise was once again witnessing the technological prowess and determination of the Chinese people. The Chinese completed the Three Gorges Hydro Electric Dam in 2010 almost 20 years after is was started.

This massive dam, perhaps the biggest in the world, raised the water on  upstream side by 110 metres. This meant that 1.3 million who lived upstream of the dam were permanently displaced because of the resulting flooding.  New homes built at higher elevations allowed many to continue life on the river like generations before them. Other opted to be relocated to nearby cities or other parts of the country.

This dam, with more than thirty turbines, will provide China with  three percent of their electricity needs. As unimpressive as that sounds we need to remember that three percent in China means that 39 million people will benefit from the power produced by this world class facility. In relative terms, this dam could provide all of Canada’s electricity needs which is truly remarkable.

But as impressive as the dam is, the adjacent lock system that has been carved out of the mountain is also a modern day marvel. Shipping of manufactured goods and natural resources is a vital transportation link all along the Yangtzee. Boat traffic is heavy in both directions. We estimated that one ship we passed was carrying about 1700 new automobiles. The growing cruise ship business is becoming and important economic engine with hundreds of cruise ships carrying thousands of Chinese and International Tourist weekly.

The five step twined locks (one set for upstream traffic and one set for downstream traffic) is designed to lift ships over 30 metric tons 110 meters. Each step raises the ships 22 meters in about about 45 minutes. The entire lift is completed in three hours and forty five minutes. 100 ships in both directions can be moved through the locks each day. Passenger vessels get priority which means that some cargo ships can wait up 36 hours before getting passage through the locks.  I have been through locks in Canada. The shear size and capacity of each lock here impressive. The it is the height of each lift that is exceptional. Truly a modern technological marvel.

For smaller ships less than 30 tons, they have built a lift lock to raise these boats the full 110 meters in about 30 minutes. It is the largest lift lock of this type in the world. There is no charge to pass through the locks for any ship.

The quality of service and accommodation on the Century Diamond is excellent. Staff and crew on the ship were gracious and efficient. All provided exceptional service. Excursions were well timed, varied and interesting.

But the icing on this River adventure is the sights and sounds experienced along the way. Technical marvels and mountain vistas were  impressive and pleasing to the eye respectively.  Night views from the water of tall buildings and bridges with their choreographed multi-coloured light shows had us smiling with child like delight.

The sounds of ships motoring by and distant fog horns provided our nautical background music for our journey. Hearing the young mother, who was our River guide for the day, proudly sing century old folks songs about love and family was endearing and enchanting. Finally the sound of the children laughing and at play, in the small river side communities we visited, is a reminder that regardless of borders, language or culture, there are joyful sounds that make us all the same.


Thus far on our Chinese journey we have visited three major cities. The historic and political capital Beijing, Beautiful Xi’an which is the gateway city to the one of the truly modern wonders the Terra Cotta Warriors and the spectacular Shanghai the business and commerce centre of China. All of these cities are experiencing a building boom of unprecedented growth and development. The sheer number, size and modern over the top design of these new buildings is mind numbing. The level of my astonishment and amazement is beyond description. Everywhere you look you see modern architecture that causes your jaw to drop in wonder.

With three times the population of New York City, Shanghai is New York on steroids and still growing as skyscrapers can seen to be sprouting in any direction you look. The tallest building in the world was recently completed in Shanghai dominates the skyline with its twisting form.  It stands as a beacon the center of Shanghai’s exploding financial and business hub. But the supporting cast of surrounding builds emblazoned with the names of some the world’s foremost financial companies are equally impressive and appealing to the eye. But what is most impressive is that twenty years ago the amazing cityscape that is “New Shanghai” or “East Shanghai” did not exist. Since the mid-nineties a financial district has been built that would rival any in the world has emerged from nothing.

But Shanghai is just not about unrestrained development. Like most cities in China space is at a premium but supporting infrastructure has not been sacrificed. In the last twenty years three new subways connecting East and West Shanghai under the Yangtzee River have been put into service with with several more under construction or in planning stages. In a joint venture with venture with Simmens of Germany, a thirty kilometer electro-magnetic train line has been built that will get you from Shanghai’s new airport to downtown is seven minutes and twenty seconds.

Traffic congestion is a major problem in Shanghai. A number of road construction and traffic management strategies have been undertaken to address this difficult problem. For instance when major city traffic arteries become congested they simply build another roadway above the existing one. The result is an elevated eight lane freeway above the eight lanes below it taking up half that space of a similar expressway in North America. There are hundreds of kilometers of elevated highways around Shanghai alone. When another suspension bridge was required to handle automobile traffic across the Yangtzee River, a bridge with a spiraling or corkscrew bridge approach was built to minimize the space that is required to descend about a twenty meter drop in elevation from the top of the bridge to ground level.

Not all traffic problems can be handled with a construction based solution so traffic is also strictly managed.  Only cars with certain license plate numbers can drive in cities on designated days. For example if your plate number ends with a one or a three you can not drive your care in the city on a Monday.  Roads tolls are also heavily used throughout the country. In fact a major highway without a toll would be an exception.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that life in a city like Shanghai is wonderful and problem free. It is not. Population density, smog, traffic congestion, water and waste management are real issues here like any major cities in the world. Moreover many struggle to make ends meet with locals paying rents that can consume most of their salary in rent. The difference in China is they are open to radical creative solutions to address problems they face. Also they are an action oriented society. Once they review the options and decide on a course of action work begins immediately without looking back or bureaucratic reviews or inefficiency. Consequently the result is unprecedented rapid growth and economic expansion that would be astonishing to the average Canadian.

Trans-Arctic? Yes please!

Our flight between Toronto and Beijing followed a Trans-Arctic flight path. Below are a couple of photos I took of the Arctic landscape near Resolute in the Canadian Arctic. Without a doubt a beautiful piece of our planet to behold.

The Arctic has always been a fascination for me. As a young person I often pointed to the North Pole as the one place I would like to see and any movies or documentaries set in the high Arctic usually get my attention.

Most of our flight was above the clouds but there were short periods where there was a clear view below us where I was able snap a few pics. I must say that being able to view the Arctic even for a few moments was a real thrill even if it was from 30,000 ft.



Enduring the Tour

Organized tours are a great way to see the world. But when you visit a large country like China, tour companies want provide the best experience possible. Consequently, that means having a hectic schedule that can result in fatigue. Here is a sample of three of the most challenging days on the tour.

On Friday evening we ended our three days of touring in Beijing then we boarded a 6:00 pm flight to Xi’an. We arrived at out destination about two hours later and by the time we retrieved our luggage and travelled to our hotel it was 10:30pm. The next morning we had a 7:00am morning wake up call and we were on the bus by 8:30 for a full day of more touring and attending cultural events.

When finally heading back to the hotel at about 10:30pm we were told we had a an 8:00am flight to Shanghai. This meant having our luggage packed and outside our room door at 11:30pm for pick up to be transported to the airport before getting to bed. We were back on the bus by 5:30am the next morning.  So our sleep for the night was limited to about five hours.

Upon arriving in Shanghai and clearing the airport we boarded our bus for the commute into the city.  Lunch, sightseeing, free time for shopping in one the world’s busiest shopping districts filled the afternoon. We then had an early dinner and we gratefully checked into our hotel at about 7:00pm so we would have time to regroup for the next day by doing a bit of laundry and repacking.

This morning we were up at 6:30am to get ready for another 12 hour day of exploring this part of China before we take another flight to another city tomorrow morning.

So the pace is challenging but we’ll worth the sacrifice to experience the incredible country and its people.

Given the schedule there is not much time to write. Also internet access is limited. Consequently more detailed information and pictures will have to wait until we get home.

All in All it’s One Hell of a Wall

One of the most famous tourist attractions in China is the Great Wall. The Great Wall was built between the 13th and 16th century the first and second century so about 1900/years ago and stretches 21,000 km. As  it came into view from our bus I was overcome by its dominance of the mountain landscape sheer greatness of the achievement. I am also struck by reality that in the end it never really did what it was meant to and the human cost during its construction must have been immense. Like the first time I saw the Colosseum in Rome I am both inspired and left in awe at the sight of this ancient wonder.

Again photos do not even begin to provide a true sense of what is here. To be able to see it first hand and touch it begin the provide some appreciation. To be able to walk on it and climb it steep inclines provides a glimpse of the builders vision and the warriors experience.

I admit that the climb for me was quite challenging. But slowly and methodically I was able to reach the highest tower that I could see at the beginning of my walk.

The stones on the path of the wall are uneven and worn. Although there are stairs, the rise of each step is random and varies from a few inches to 15 or 16 inches. As we were told by our guide Cherry, the climb demanded our full attention and we had to promise not to be distracted by taking photos on the move.

As physically spent as I was upon reaching my goal, the view of the wall serpentining through the mountains as far as one could see was spectacular. As I rested in preparation for my careful and taxing descent, I was struck by the history of the place and it’s significance. Looking out and seeing the world from the same vantage as those ancient Mandarin warriors I believe I could truly feel the history, if such a thing is possible..