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Count down is on

When we take a one week vacation, I find everyday is vivid and planned.  There may not be much time for relaxing, and it certainly passes fast, but we are motivated to make the most of it.  Usually about 1-2 days before leaving we start to watch the hours before having to return (to whatever that return might be!).

Well this scales up.  When we have taken 5 week vacations it is the last week where the thoughts of home and what is coming start to be more present.

And with a 9 month trip (at this point it is no longer really vacation) the count down started with 2 months still to go.   It does make sense, since there are things to wrap up here, our house to move out of, friends to say goodbye to and a long road trip home to plan.   More about all that still to come soon I imagine!  We are leaving our house here in just a couple of weeks.

Fortunately, the last couple of weeks our friends Napik and Jo have been visiting with their 3 kids and there is no better distraction from our upcoming departure than a full house! We have been having a great time profiting from the beach, the pool and time with good friends.  It has been great to rediscover our home, town, and surrounding area through their eyes.

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Breakfast on the beach. These kids have no idea how lucky they are.

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A cabin right on the beach. Living simple and well.

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I love living in an place where chickens can run totally free. Why not North America?

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Art everywhere! This guy is on the side of a beach-front shack

 

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Couldn`t leave mexico without a good picture of a cactus

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Adult supper in Colima – it is so nice to have some kid-free time!

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Are you scared?

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This volcano has been putting on a spectaular show for us all Winter long.

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The café we went to were out of blackberries, so they told us we could just go pick our own out in back if we wanted to. Yes, we wanted to!

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Gino, Andy and our friends did a little fishing trip, but didn´t catch anything. They saw lots of fish though.

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Mexican transport

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Our wonderful neighbour Bob cooking us up pizza in his wood oven.

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The waves keep things interesting. You never know what the next one is going to look like or what it is going to do. A complete surprise every time!

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I will miss these sunsets!

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And the campfires on the beach.

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I don´t think anyone is going to make a statue of these two anytime soon.

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As the months go by, the sun is working its way north and the reflection of the light on the water is even better each day.

 

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One last wave of the night

 

Cuyutlan – home away from home

After deciding on Mexico for the winter, the next question was where in Mexico?  There is no doubt it is a very large country with many beautiful areas.   We were looking for 2 things from our experience:   1) learn spanish by living as close to the local culture as (comfortably) possible and 2) learn to surf.

When looking for good surf in Mexico, the place that tops out all recommendations is a town near Puerto Vallarta called Sayulita.   Although it looks great initially, it turns out Sayulita was just not quiet mexican enough for us.  It has very much been “discovered” by americans, and not only are the prices really incredible ($2000/mth for a 2bedroom bungalow, 10 min from the beach!), but we were also concerned it would be too english for our spanish goals.

Continuing our (internet) search further down the coast (300km south of Puerto Vallarta), we finally settled upon Cuyutlan and so far are super happy with our pick.

It is an old Mexican tourist town of 1200 people of which about 200 are expats (people from Canada/USA) who live here in the winter.  Otherwise, it is virtually unknown to the outside world.   From within Mexico it is a well known beach destination and until about 1970′s, this was “the” vacation place for local Mexican city-dwellers.   Then cars/highways came in vogue -replacing the train- and other towns took over.

I wouldn’t say Cuyutlan is forgotten, but it is definitely quiet for a town run on tourism.  The 15 or so hotels here are fully booked for 2 weeks in April during the school holidays and a few weekends, but otherwise remain open -yet nearly empty – the rest of the year.   During the weekends, we are told they might get a couple of bookings…or not.

But this is what is so great here.  It is a real live Mexican town.  At any point when walking down the main street, there are people out walking, biking or scootering along.   There is an elementary school, daycare and high school.  A police station, a health care centre, library, pharmacy, hardware store, internet café, video rentals and about 5 convenience stores  (with a surprising amount of items in very small sqftage).  And of course there are restaurants – about 100 of them if you count each roadside/beachside stand/bar and each hotel.   There isn’t much variety in the restaurants however — it is pretty much tacos, fish, fish tacos, seafood, tacos, eggs, juice, tacos, hamburgers, tacos and well you get the picture.

As for tourist attractions,  El Tortugario is definitely worth the visit and there is also a museum dedicated to the mining (harvesting?) of salt.

Then there is the beach.   As we’ve mentioned in other posts (Our beautiful Black Beach), the beach is really beautiful.  Miles and miles (40km?) of soft dark sand beach that outside of the 1km strip in town is pretty much deserted.   And we can surf here.   We’ve been taking lessons with a local surfer for the past couple of weeks.   The waves are rough and although we can catch them, we can’t stand up yet.  However, I assume it will come at some point!

A few other reasons on why Cuyutlan was a good choice for us:

  1. Small enough that we can get to know people and after 4 weeks here – we are starting to see familiar faces and chat in our developing spanish.
  2. SAFE - according to the locals “nothing” every happens in Cuyutlan and it is perfectly safe day or night.  After a few weeks here, I am lead to believe it is true.
  3. Near a big cities and airports - Manzanillo is just 30km away and Colima 50km.  Together they have everything we could ever need including an international airport.
  4. Spanish – except for the 200 expats, about 99% of the population speaks nearly no english.  Great for learning!
  5. Level - no hills to/from town!  Some of the oceanfront towns are seriously in the cliffs.   Our ocean-level town/house makes for easy biking to get around.
  6. Easy access - the highway that passes right by Cuyutlan to the above mentioned cities is a beautiful road that is easy to travel.
  7. Affordable - because Cuyutlan is so quiet, housing is really not expensive.  For example, we rent our 2007 built 4-bdrm, 3 bath, beachfront house with pool for $600 USD a month.  A smaller 1-2 bedroom home in town easily rents between $100-$300 USD per month.
  8. Clean - from what we have seen of other small towns, this one seems pretty clean.  I guess because it is tourist orientated, it doesn’t have that grimy feel of some other places.

If any of you out there are dreaming of retirement real-estate, oceanfront lots here are sold for under $50,000 and there are ocean front properties in the range of $100,000-$200,000!   For those of you who know us well, let me answer that question….no we are NOT buying!   We are here to rest, get away from our life for a bit and regain perspective on what is next.  Not to buy…no matter how tempting the offers.

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The Malecon (cement boardwalk) that runs about 1km down the beach. This is a particularly busy day! Often it is empty.

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The main street is generally quiet and looks like this, but almost always has of people out walking/biking.

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The bikers were in town this day for a “meeting” (i.e. drinking).

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A little shop next to the beach that rents bodyboards and surf boards.

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Our surf instructor Carlos and his (quebecoise!) girlfriend Myriam. The beach hotel is the “san rafael”. It looks nice.

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The fenix hotel where we often hang out for a (slightly) faster wifi connection and a decent happy hour.

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The kiddy pools set up along the beach so the kids can safely play in the water while the parents relax on the chairs.

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The beach view of the restaurants. Each restaurants rents the chairs in front for $2 each for the day including an umbrella, small table and bar service. Not a bad deal at all.   Most days the beach looks like this (not many people!).

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And a busier day…apparently it is like this about 30 days a year.

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Apparently the angle of the sand will now start levelling out and in a few weeks the umbrellas will be about at the same level as the ocean…and it will become very shallow with good swimming.

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Not us yet! But hopefully soon…there are almost always surfers in the outer waves here.


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Enjoying one of the 30 ocean front beach bars.

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The local school looks super clean and had this display for the day of the dead.

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This tourist map shows the town and the surrounding area. Our house is just next to “El Tortugario” (4km outside of the town). Armeria is where we do our bigger grocery shopping.

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And a good night from the beach chairs.

The beautiful black beach

We have been living in our house for exactly 3 weeks and are enjoying our beach more and more every day.   “Our beach” is about 100 feet from the front door.  I’ve vacationed on the beach before, but never spent more than a week at a time at the same place.  Nor have I much experience with a natural beach (ie. one that isn’t combed, cleaned, driven on, shaped, reefed, etc).  So getting to know a beach is a whole new expereince.

It is fascinating how it is constantly changing.  From one day to the next, the sand moves around, different things wash up and other things wash out.  Somedays the waves crash into the shore with huge force and others days they quietly lap into the sand.  And the light – wow – the light!   The lighting is constantly changing as it bounces off the water and whatever clouds are around.  Even in the night (currently full moon), no matter the hour, the view is changing.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother had a purse at her house just for me.  Every time I would visit, there would be something new in the purse.  It would be such a little thing, yet it was so exciting to see the change.   The beach is like that.  Every time we go there is something new to find: a new fish washed up, or new bird we haven’t seen, or even mountains in the distance popping out.   This week the tail of a hurricane blew through and we had the chance to see the beach in 60km winds.   Last week we found a dead sea turtle washed up (about 1 metre around!).

I was initially scared of entering the water here.  The waves are STRONG and I’ve never felt anything pull with such force.  We only let the kids put their toes in (and with their lifejackets on!).   However, last week we took a surf lesson and were brutally (i.e. think of sand and salt in every place that I wouldn’t mention on this blog) introduced to what it is to go out into these waves.   And we survived – and sorta had fun.  Another lesson tomorrow and more on that later!

We are now a bit more brave in the water.   I’d say that today we started to enjoy it while catching some waves on the boogie board.  For the kids though we still hang on to them tight and let them just experience the waves on the edge….and playing in the sand.

 

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This was the light at the start of the tropical storm we had this week. The water was so choppy the waves were just hitting each other causing a big cauldron of swirling white.

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Ah yes and it is hard to get the kids to put any clothes on here. Luckily it is pretty much a private beach. We never see anyone.

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Our two new dogs

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Opps, one new dog.

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The wind doesn’t only change the ocean, but does incredible things to our hair.

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Serious sand castle time.

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Thats our house in the background!

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This was just this morning. We are slowly getting braver about getting in.

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Millie’s mermaid. The baby mermaid is under construction.

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Here I go!

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Thanks to Vero for the nice family pic.

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How cute is this picture? These 4 could be siblings…

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And the good night. Credits to Véro on this shot.

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Oh – and one of the best ways of enjoying the beach! Fresh fish on the fire.

A little hidden paradise – Faro de Bucerias

Since the waves in front of our house in Cuyutlan are too strong for swimming with the kids (and snorkelling) we knew we would be doing some exploring of the coastal beaches around us to find some quieter bays.   Our first week here, we tried Manzanillo – a city of about 150,000 people on a bay that is just 30 min north of Cuyutlan.  Its proximity makes it interesting, but on the day we visited, the waves were rough and the beach felt very industrial (just next to a busy road with container ships coming in and out of the port).    Anyway – it was fine, but not my idea of the mexico tourist photo beach.

So last Thursday we went out in search of another and this time we headed south into the state of Michoacan.   We had read in the Lonely Planet (all of 3 lines) that the beach at Faro de Bucerias was quiet and good for snorkelling.   Without knowing anything else – we set off!   It was about 100km south on the beautiful highway 200 (the road that winds down the coast from Vancouver to South America).   Up and down we went along the rocky cliffs and mountains – all along the coast.  Of course the views were fantastic, but car-photos just don’t do…

Finally turning off for Faro de Bakeries the road was quiet, but it soon opened up to a dusty vibrant village.   When we arrived at the beach though, we were all delighted (well except the kids who were hot, hungry and needed to pee…but thats another story).   The beach was on a beautiful cove of about a 1km in length with white-gold sand and blue-turquoise waters.   All along the cove was little restaurants with papalas in front for hanging up a hammock for the nigh.  On the south side rocks we found a picturesque lighthouse with a yoga platform about half-way up.  Big thanks out to Lonely Planet for the uninteresting description – we were the only people on the beach all day!

This place definitely qualified as the “photo perfect” tropical beach and I’m sure we will be back.

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Getting his rock climbing practise in for a future Val-David career?

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An amazing lunch of fried fish as fresh as it possibly could be.

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A shot of the bay

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Can this be called school at the beach? There are some serious construction techniques being analyzed here.

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The fishing boats are driven right up onto the beach…and Andy is stealing the sand toys. Again.

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Millie is a champion at snorkelling! There were some nice fish off the rocks

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Our first time venturing further from shore.

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Just had to throw this one in for the grandparents!

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This restaurant is walkable in the low tide. The sign says they are open for breakfast. I’m guessing not everyday…

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Gino showing Andy how to take the little waves.


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Visiting the Texas Gulf

Susie and I were roommates for a semester at McGill while she was on exchange from her university in Texas. We fast became good friends, yet lost touch after she went back home. Fast forward 8 years and -thanks to Facebook- we reconnect. Another three years go by and finally, we find the chance to get to Texas to visit with her and her family!!

We arrived to a beautiful homemade soup made by her husband Jacob. It was such a nice welcome after 9hrs on the road and especially since we hadn’t yet eaten supper. We felt right at home from the start.

During our 5 day visit, we had time to just hang-out, catch up and get to know her two little girls and Jacob. They took us to a couple of their local favorite activities including a Texas BBQ, an amusement park on a boardwalk with a sting ray exhibit and to “their” beach in Galveston, TX. Jacob and Susie have been surfing a long time and we were grateful to them for giving us some lessons. We still have practise to do, but were all happy to at least stand up.

In return, we cooked them a yummy Canadian Thanksgiving dinner. I was thankful to be able to share Thanksgiving with good friends, yet also to have the chance to use Susie’s kitchen to make a real dinner and not to have to attempt that one with a hotel microwave!

Tomorrow we are moving south to the Mexican/Texas boarder… I love pointing the car south.

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Both kinda gross and fascinating. Here is a place near the dock where people throw food in the river to catfish. They are almost 2 feet long fight each other by coming almost out of the water for the food.

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A perfect demo of feeding the ray. Thanks gino

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Andy is loving the Ocean now. He even lets the waves knock him right over and go over his head. So fun that this development happened at the beginning of the trip and not the end!

Warning – TURN YOUR SOUND DOWN before playing Ginos surf video ;-)

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Not expert position, but at least I’m standing.

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Wooohoooo! Millie is in on the action too.

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Susie is showing the kids the “Texas clams”

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How awesome is this tablecloth?? Susie happened to pick it up at a yard sale. SO perfect for our celebration of canadian thanksgiving.

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Yum…good friends and good food. What else do you need in life?

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Parenting FAIL. We are so sorry Millie! Btw, she is much better after multiple aloe vera applications and it is a good warning for the rest of our trip…

4 days of recovery

New Orleans has been on our minds since we started planning this trip. Both Gino and I were looking forward to discovering the music, food and architecture. Yet the cool thing of not having plans is that plans can change.

In our last night in Orlando around 9pm, we were planning our next stop – New Orleans. We were online and looking for a place to stay…which lead us to checking out what we could do there – walk around, museums, music, etc and the neighbourhoods looking into safety. It was a bit overwhelming and finally we decided we were just too tired to try to tackle New Orleans with 2 tired kids and a dog. I suggested “Lets just rent a little beach cottage and recover from all this “Disney” (and Andy’s flu-bug in the middle of it all!)”…. Gino agreed.

So by 10:30pm, I was sending out requests for little beach cabins along the gulf coast…and by 8am sunday morning, we had a positive response! Someone accepted our offer and we rented a little cottage in Orange Beach, Alabama.

This place is awesome!   I had never heard of, nor thought of Alabama as a beach destination, but I definitely want to come back here someday.   The people are super friendly – seriously – everyone you meet is just like you’ve been friends forever.  It is a refreshing attitude to find. And RELAXED doesn’t begin to describe it.  Dogs, boats, fishing and beaches everywhere.

The cottage we rented comes with:  a surf board, a stand-up paddle board, a sea kayak, boogy board, fishing gear, crab net, beach chairs, coolers, 6 bikes, a kids-bunk-house, a sandy volleyball court and a golf cart!

We came here to relax, yet have kept busy fishing, swimming and playing on the boats.  We’ve used the golf cart to go everywhere…super fun for all especially when we let the kids drive it.

Anyway, in my last post, I said yes Disney is worth it, but I’ll add in a last line — plan an extra week of recovery time.  We left Disney with two kids we could hardly tolerate.  When my kids are fatigued, that comes with attitude, fighting, huge tantrums (eh Dan/Sophie?), and frustration for all.  It took 4 days of good nights, long naps and easy days to “find” our kids again.  It seems like they are finally back.  ;-)

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Now how awesome is this mode of transport?

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Our little beach house. Actually it looks little, but still is a comfortable 2 bedrooms + bunk house.

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Best friends

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Finally brave enough!

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She caught a huge fish…but he got away by breaking the line.

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Andy is getting braver in the water every day

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Toys for everyone here.

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The monarch flutters back in our life for a day. This one at a butterfly exhibit in the park.


 

Georgia with Georgia

(Millie is posting today!).

We have been in Georgia for a long time and are still in Georgia. Me and Andy are playing “baby” right now. Andy wants me to be the mama and he is the baby.

Yesterday we went to the beach. It was a 1hr drive and on an island. We found seashells, sea crabs and snails. We had a picnic and after went driving around the Island. There was a really good grocery store with good food.

We went paddle boarding and saw a dolphin. It was really cool. Paddle boarding is when you are on a board and use a paddle. You can stand up or sit or go on your knees or lie on it. I was on it with my mom.

Georgia is a beautiful place.

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The first time we were in Georgia. It was extremely hot.

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Me and my mom paddle boarding. That was really fun.

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My mom was paddling boarding by herself and me, my brother and my dad were looking from the dock.

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A lady from St-Sauveur came by and asked if we wanted a picture!

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We are white because we come from Quebec where there is not as much sun. So we are the least tanned of everyone here.

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Sanja our dog likes laying on the beach.

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I was dancing on the dancing stage floor. It was fun cause everyone was looking.

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I was at the park with my brother and we love each other very much. Even if sometimes he hits me, but usually he is really fun.

Off to the cottage

Growing up we spent a lot of time at our family cottage.  My parents sold it years ago, but the cottage-life / vacation is something that has very much shaped my life (hence le village suisse!).   So even though we now live in the country and rent cottages, we still like to rent them ourselves!

So we rented this little cottage on 7-mile lake in Bridgewater for 4 days.   It was very well-equipped and comfortable.  The lake water was beautiful and warm (compared to our lakes in Quebec).    Bridgewater is a small town on Nova Scotia’s south shore.  It is just a few kilometres from the UNESCO world heritage site of Lunenburg.   We went exploring in and around Lunenburg a bit, but just used Bridgewater for groceries.

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Our little cottage on the lake

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Not too many neighbours here. One cool thing about Nova Scotia is that there are nearly more lakes than people!

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Clowning around with our tuques on the hammock

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Millie learning to kayak with her new little friend Audalie.

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Ready for bed in his shark pyjamas. He loves these pi’s.

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Millie loves to pose for the camera.

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Who can resist a sunset pic?

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Fun in the sand with the rocks.

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My parents at Hirtle’s beach near Lunenburg. Super cool beach with two little salt-lakes just behind the sandbank that are good for swimming.

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The easy surf makes for some nice play

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Too cool for me for swimming today…I’ll wait for Mexico!

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The famous Bluenose II. Still under renos after 3 years of working on it…

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Gino and mom enjoying the view.

Mama / daughter day

All summer Millie has been asking me for a day for just me and her.   Somehow (I feel terrible!), the summer has completely passed without finding one single day to fulfill this request.   The summer has just flown by.   Anyway, it was finally time and it was a beautiful day.

The first stop was for a good ice cream at a little corner store where I used to go often as kids.   A great start to the day!    Then we were off to the beach.  One thing that is actually very little known about Nova Scotia (we always picture that lobster dinner), is that there are so many beautiful beaches here that you can never visit them all.

I decided on Lawerencetown beach since it was such a hot day (27deg).  Lawerencetown is about a 15 min drive from dartmouth and is one of the coldest beaches in Nova Scotia.  Yet – on a hot day – this is a nice thing.   It also has the best waves for surfing, and I thought it would be fun to watch the surfers from the beach (maybe pick up some pointers for Mexico?).   It also has beautiful views from the surrounding cliffs.

After the beach, we hiked up one of the little hills and had a picnic overlooking what felt like the whole-world.  There were 2 paragliders taking off from the same cliff and we had fun watching them glide up and down.

Why didn’t we do this sooner?   It was a perfect day.

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First day at the beach

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First day of school…lifeguards are no longer here.

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Nice chance to check-out the view from above!

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Mama-Millie day!

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Lawerencetown beach. You can see the cliffs in the background where the paragliders were.