Away we go

Every now and then in my life, a luck bomb explodes. Circumstances happen to come crashing together in a way that makes amazing opportunities drop into my lap. One of those resulted in my amazing solo trip to Europe in 1995, and another resulted in our family trip on the Allure of the Seas back in 2012. They don’t always involve travel, but when you’re a family of five, international travel can be prohibitively expensive, and sometimes a luck-bomb is what it takes to make it feasible. In this case, I had a very short window to decide whether to cash out or lock in a severance allowance that I’ve been accumulating over my 27+ years with the government that was being phased out, and couldn’t think of a more spectacular way of investing it than planning a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Europe.

I committed to cashing out the allowance not too long before my dad died. There’s nothing like losing a parent to instill a little “carpe diem” into your outlook. Some of the last afternoons we spent together, my dad and I chatted about places to go and see, and talked about some of our favourite trips. The older I get, the more I’m beginning to value travel over things. It’s been a few months since we’ve committed to the trip, and I’m still breathless with excitement when I think about how lucky we are to be able to show the boys more of the amazing world outside the paths we usually tread.

We chose London and Paris because as much as I loved cramming five countries and 12 cities into a four week solo trip in 1995, I’m not sure my crew is up for that level of nomadic intensity in a travel schedule on an international trip. I loved my time in Paris in 1995 so much that Beloved and I spent our honeymoon there in 1999, and revisiting one of our favourite places in the world seemed like a great way to travel and yet not be completely overwhelmed by everything being new and, for lack of a better word, “foreign.” Also, because Paris!

We chose London because it’s somewhere we’ve both always wanted to go. I have to admit, I wasn’t as keen on the London part of the trip until I started getting into researching what we could see and do, and now I’m not sure how we’ll ever cram everything in, and especially how we’ll ever leave. Platform 9 3/4 and the Tower Bridge and the Thames and fish and chips and Buckingham Palace and the Tube; from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere to Abbey Road to Aziraphale and Crowley feeding the ducks at St James Square, it seems like a lifetime of cultural touchstones are just waiting to be discovered.

In addition to the excitement of actual travel, I have to say that I am incredibly excited to be planning this trip. It’s like a hundred research projects to be managed, all wrapped up into one! From pricing flight options and route itineraries to comparing neighbourhoods; from AirBnBs to budget hotels; from Notre Dame to Paris Disney; there are so! many! things! to learn about. I have spreadsheets and lists and a stack of library books as long as my arm, and I am loving every minute of planning this trip. (Obsessive much?)

Admittedly, we are not the world’s most sophisticated travellers. The last time I actually purchased my own airline ticket was in 1999, for our honeymoon in Paris. And when I was planning my big European adventure in 1995, it was in a pre-internet world. I made my hotel reservations via fax machine! So, I thought sharing the planning process here might be a way to both pick your collective brains, and lay some groundwork for other newbie travellers too.

The biggest expenses will be flights and accommodations. Getting five people to London, and back from Paris, looks to cost us about $5,000, and I’ve been using Google Flights to track prices for a few months. We’re thinking of flying out of Ottawa into London, taking the Eurostar through the Chunell to Paris, and then flying home from Paris. We could drive to Montreal and increase our number of options, but at current prices we won’t actually save anything for the massive inconvenience.

tracking flight prices

Tracking flight prices on Google

I’m also debating between a daytime or an overnight flight. We can leave at 7 am local time and arrive in London at around 9 pm local time, so probably not arriving at our rental flat until nearly midnight. It won’t be too bad from a jet lag perspective, as it will feel like much earlier in the day due to the time change, but navigating a strange city in the dark with kids and suitcases does not seem appealing. What seems even less appealing, though, is the other option of flying out in the evening and cobbling together a few hours sleep on the plane, arriving early the next morning. There are some members of our family who are not at their best (cough cough) when they are tired.

So bloggy peeps, let’s talk about planning flights. Got any tips to share? Do you prefer the red-eye or a daytime flight? How do you find good deals on flights? Am I right to hope for a seat sale for high season travel, or should I just lock in our flights now? Am I crazy to look at Air Iceland flights because they have free wifi and cheaper fares, even though (okay, and because) there is a stop-over in Reykjavik and the flight is four hours longer than the non-stop from Ottawa?

Please share your best flight-planning tips!


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If you’re a long-time blog reader, you know that as a family, we have been stalking Chef Michael Smith for about four years now. We’ve long been fans of “the world’s tallest freestanding chef” and have been visiting his Flavour Shack in Souris every year that we visit Prince Edward Island. For my birthday in 2015, we even sprang for a night out with the family at his amazing FireWorks restaurant in the Inn at Bay Fortune – although the Chef was not in attendance that evening.

You might even remember that last winter, I got to meet Chef Michael when he was in Ottawa on business, and I managed to convince him to Face-Time with Beloved and the kids. I’m not kidding, we’re serious fans!

So when the stars aligned for our 2017 visit and we found out that Chef Michael’s annual charity event, the Village Feast, not only coincided with our visit for the first time ever, but would take place practically walking distance from our cottage, there was no way we could *not* go.

To our delight, right there as soon as we walked in was the man himself, offering oysters for sale to raise funds for the various charities that the Feast supports. And didn’t we just walk right up and say hello, as if we hadn’t been stalking the man for more than four years? I asked him if he remembered FaceTiming with the kids last year, and he was delighted (or so it seemed) to be meeting them face to face.

Here’s a memorable photo: that moment when your family meets your culinary boyfriend:

The Village Feast with Chef Michael Smith

The Feast itself was amazing. We had salmon cakes and fresh greens, steak cooked to perfection, PEI potatoes mashed with gravy, a Kenyan curried bean dish called Githeri, and strawberry shortcake for dessert. Especially considering it was food cooked for a thousand people, it was the best meal we had on PEI.

We were just finishing dessert when I noticed a familiar face in the crowd. Loretta from Chef Michael’s Flavour Shack has taken our family portrait each year that we’ve visited PEI, by sheer coincidence of her being at work in the Flavour Shack every time we’ve visited. I walked over to say hello and asked if she remembered us, and not only did she remember us, but she was happy to take a “Village Feast” version of our annual PEI family portrait.

The Village Feast with Chef Michael Smith

On our way out, we stopped for a quick final chat with Chef Michael. I was amazed at how accessible he was – if this event were back in Ottawa, he’d be thronged with people trying to say hello or get a selfie. There was plenty of that going on – he signed my new Village Feast souvenir hat, which we needed in the blazing afternoon sun! – but it was a steady stream of folks instead of a big crowd. Most of the people just wanted to greet him as one greets a neighbour in the local grocery store, not an internationally recognized celebrity with his own TV shows. It was charming, and typical of the small-town vibe on PEI.

Lucas and I each tried oysters. Chef Michael carefully instructed Lucas on how to hold and eat the oyster, and I was just a little bit relieved when Lucas didn’t promptly spit it back out.

The Village Feast with Chef Michael Smith

Isn’t that awesome? He is as kind and magnetic in person as he is on TV – a perfectly Canadian celebrity. :)

A few days later, we saw via this local newspaper that the Feast had surpassed expectations, raising more than $100,000 for charity. It was one of many great moments from our trip to PEI this year.

Feast news


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Lighthouses are an iconic part of the PEI experience. In 2016, we even drove from one tip of the island to the other to earn our “tip to tip” lighthouse certificate! This trip, we visited no fewer than seven lighthouses in our adventures exploring PEI. They are as varied as they are beautiful, but after visiting the same places year after year, I felt like I should shake things up a bit with my photos.

There’s the “lighthouse peeking over the dunes” shot for some classic PEI flavour. This is Covehead Lighthouse, in PEI national park.

Covehead Lighthouse PEI

There’s the landlocked lighthouse. This is the New London Lighthouse, which we found while exploring near French River. I’ll have more photos from that adventure another day. We didn’t get too close, but it looks like the lighthouse keeper’s cottage is still attached to this one. How much fun would it be to live in a lighthouse? New London, by the way, is the birthplace of Lucy Maud Montgomery. One can imagine that the author of the beloved Anne of Green Gables stories gazed often upon this lighthouse!

Cape Tryon Lighthouse PEI

And speaking of iconic (did you say “cliche”?) shots, you can’t go wrong with some lobster traps in the foreground and a lighthouse in the background. This is the Souris lighthouse, and if you like seaglass, you simply must visit the wonderful seaglass exhibit inside the lighthouse.

Souris Lighthouse and lobster traps

This year, we paid our first visit to PEI’s oldest lighthouse at Point Prim. I thought a black and white treatment worked, and really like the addition of the silhouetted person walking into the lighthouse.

Point Prim Lighthouse, PEI

By the time we got to the last day of our trip, I had taken a LOT of pictures, of the boys and of lighthouses and of the boys with lighthouses. We started to get a little silly. I noticed that Lucas was just about the right size to make this forced perspective shot work.

Lucas and the Souris Lighthouse

About two seconds later, Tristan nearly gave me a heart attack by leaping from one boulder to another nearby, and a new idea was born. With a little bit of planning, a big leap and lot of luck, this shot worked out just about perfectly.

Tristan leaping over Souris Lighthouse

Lighthouses are awesome! Do you have a favourite? Which of these shots do you like best?


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We’ve just returned from our annual vacation in Prince Edward Island, and I have a *cough* few photos to share.

This might be my new favourite photo of the boys, taken in Souris.

Boys in Souris

I might have thought, years ago, that vacationing with teenagers would have been a very different experience. We’ve just spent the most part of 10 days together in close quarters, though, and it was great. The boys tolerate our ideas of “adventures” (“let’s drive across the island so I can take a picture from a scenic lookout!”) as long as they’re liberally paired with stops for ice cream and the occasional used book store or comic book shop. And when we’re “home” in the cottage, they have liberal device and screen time – it’s their vacation too, after all.

Stay tuned and I’ll share some of our favourite PEI adventures from this year over the next couple of weeks.


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Back in 2014 when we visited PEI for the first time, one of our favourite stops was Chef Michael Smith’s Flavour Shack on Souris Beach. We met a passel of lovely women who all seemed to work for Chef Michael in some form or another, and one of them was a photographer named Loretta. She was kind enough to use my camera to take a family portrait of us at the Flavour Shack – and it was also them who encouraged us to visit Basin Head for the first time.

In 2015, of COURSE we stopped by the Flavour Shack again, and we happened to find our friend Loretta there and willing to take an updated family portrait for us. The only small disappointment was that in a few visits, we never managed to see Chef Michael himself.

This year, our cottage was just outside of Souris, so we passed by the Flavour Shack each time we set off on an adventure elsewhere on the Island, and each time we drove past, we craned our necks to see if anyone standing six inches taller than the rest of the crowd happened to be in the Flavour Shack. (The “world’s tallest freestanding chef” is rather easy to pick out of a crowd!) Alas, no luck. But we did, on the very last day of our PEI adventure, stop by for a visit to the Flavour Shack. And to our delight, Miss Loretta was there! And to our dismay, she told us that we had JUST MISSED Chef Michael, who had been in the Flavour Shack that very morning with his family.

We did, however, manage to caputre this terrific treasure: our third annual PEI Flavour Shack family portrait!

Flavour Shack family portrait 2016

It’s fun to see the changes. Here’s 2015:

Family portrait

And 2014:

Flavour Shack family portrait previous

I guess we’ll just have to keep going back to PEI to get our family photos updated every year!


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Only time for a quick photo today. This is from Basin Head – of course.

“Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle. It’s a feeling inside that can hardly be contained.” ~ Terry Pratchett

“Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle. It’s a feeling inside that can hardly be contained.”  ~ Terry Pratchett

I love this quote and how well it goes with this photo. It’s from Hat Full of Sky, a wonderful Terry Pratchett novel featuring the debut of the Nac Mac Feegles. You should read it! And, you should dance joyfully in the sea, whenever you can.


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Rediscovering Basin Head

20 July 2016 Ottawa to PEI 2016

Basin Head beach was our first favourite place on Prince Edward Island. Clearly, lots of other people agree with us: Basin Head was recently named by Chatelaine as one of Canada’s Best Beaches. One of the main reasons I chose our current cottage is because it’s perfectly situated on the same coastal area as Basin […]

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Tip to tip: To the other side of PEI and back

19 July 2016 Ottawa to PEI 2016

Did you know that if you visit both the East Point lighthouse and the North Cape lighthouse on Prince Edward Island, you earn a “tip to tip” certificate? I wasn’t entirely sure that a certificate alone would be enough to induce the boys into agreeing to the 2.5 hour drive across the province, but I […]

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A perfectly unambitious day in PEI

17 July 2016 Ottawa to PEI 2016

I have a spreadsheet of things we can do while we’re on PEI, with events and ideas and links that I’ve collected over a couple of years of relentless PEI research. It’s a little bit hard to admit that I’m the sort of person who has a spreadsheet to plan her vacation, but then again, […]

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Photos of the day: Back to the Beach in Prince Edward Island

15 July 2016 Ottawa to PEI 2016

We’ve returned for our third annual trip to Prince Edward Island. This year, we’ve chosen a cottage with direct beach access and water views from almost every room in the cottage – quite an improvement from our cottage last year, where “water views” meant a postage-stamp-sized glimpse through some trees and a walk most of […]

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