Here's an interactive map I put together of some of the places I went and the things I did in 2018. Some were with Becky and various friends, and some were just me. Take a look around and let me know what you think! The place on the left is our home base -- namely Port Union, as it's called on the map (or Rouge Hill if you are following what the GO train system calls it). We're right by the lake, not far from where the Rouge River feeds into Lake Ontario, on the far eastern edge of Toronto. You can grab the map and drag it around, and double-clicking on it will zoom in.
Every year for the past five years or so, Becky and I have gone to a journalism conference in Perugia, which is a lovely little university town about two hours north of Rome, up on top of a hill. It's not far from Assisi, and was once the capital of the Umbrian empire (Trivia: Francis of Assisi was injured in a war between his town and Perugia, which is how he became a monk). The old city of Perugia, where the conference is held, was built in the 1200s and sits on the ruins of an even older city that was built in the year 390 or so. There's actually an escalator that takes you down into the ruins so you can look around. It's a beautiful place, and I never get tired of strolling along the cobblestone streets and thinking about how they have been there since before books were invented. If you'd like to see one of these travelog pages but just for the different trips we've made to Italy over the years, you can find it here.
After Perugia, we met some friends in Rome, where we rented a lovely Airbnb and saw some of the sights, including the Palatine Hill and the Forum, plus a guided tour of the upper levels of the Colosseum, which I had not been on before on previous visits. It was quite spectacular. We walked up the Via dei Fiori Imperiali (which was helpfully closed to traffic) and found a little trattoria for lunch and then walked back down to the Colosseum again to see it at night, which was wonderful. Unfortunately, we were in Rome on Sunday, so a visit to the Vatican wasn't possible, but we did go to see the Caravaggio paintings in the San Luigi dei Francesi church, we got to see the Pantheon, and of course we had plenty of great food and gelato.
After spending some time in Rome, we rented a couple of cars and drove down to the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy, just south of Naples. We rented a lovely villa on Airbnb that was way up on top of a hill in the little harbor town of Massa Lubrense, with a huge rooftop deck that looked out over the Bay of Naples, with Mount Vesuvius in the distance. It was my first time driving in Italy, and I have to say I enjoyed the incredibly narrow and twisty streets of the Amalfi area (although I'm not sure my passengers enjoyed it quite as much). We did a day trip to Capri to see the grottos and climbed Vesuvius, and wandered through Pompeii, but the highlight of our stay was probably the private boat tour that took us down the coast to Amalfi and Positano. It was a great trip.
After we got back from Italy, I had to head off to San Francisco for a conference that I helped organize, which was held at the great old former press club, an amazing venue with a beautiful view from near the top of Nob Hill. I used to go to San Francisco a lot in a previous job, and I really enjoyed the chance to visit some of my old haunts (like Super Duper Burger on Market Street) and see the sights. I even managed to find my way to one of the public gardens that certain downtown office towers are required to provide by law. Some of them can be difficult to find, but this one wasn't.
As we often do, Becky and I joined her brother and sister-in-law on a quick trip to Florida to escape the Canadian winter, and this time we rented an Airbnb right on the beach on Siesta Key, which is a little spit of land off the Gulf coast side of Florida. Siesta Key has one of the best beaches in the world -- it is as white as chalk but as soft as flour or icing sugar. We spent a great week there sitting on the beach and riding around on rented bikes. We rented some kayaks too one day and paddled around the intercoastal waterway, which was a lot of fun. We paddled right up to a restaurant for lunch!
In October, I flew out to Calgary to speak at a conference put on by Walrus magazine, an interesting format in which seven people from seven different disciplines talk for seven minutes each about a specific theme and how it affects their field (the theme for this series was disruption). The best part about the visit was that I got to make a quick trip out to Banff to see the mountains, which I have missed ever since we moved away from Calgary almost two decades ago now. It was a beautiful weekend for a drive, and I soaked up as much as I could. I also met up with a friend I haven't seen since high school, which was an amazing blast from the past.
For the past few years, we have rented a cottage in Muskoka, which is just north of Toronto, so that we can get together with Becky's side of the family. We're up to about 20 or so now, with assorted boyfriends and sons and daughters-in-law etc., so that takes a fair bit of room, but we found a great cottage on the tip of a point near Bala that more or less holds us all. It's a beautiful old place that was probably built about 100 years ago, and has the advantage of getting sun in the morning on the boathouse and sun in the afternoon on a big deck and dock on the other side.
One of the best things about 2018 was that we got to spend time in Algonquin Park. We did a canoe/kayak trip with friends in August (which you can read more about here), starting from Achray campground near the eastern edge, which is where the ranger cabin that belonged to Group of Seven painter Tom Thomson is. It was a great weekend that ended with a hike along the top of Barron Canyon, a massive gorge carved by a glacier. Not long after that, we wound up paddling up Barron Canyon with some other friends, which was also great, but as I mentioned in the blog post I wrote about it, I would recommend not trying to do the whole thing in an afternoon.
In June, a bunch of us decided to go and visit our friend Sandra who lives in Stratford -- the Ontario one, not the England one -- so we could go to see their production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was a lot of fun. And since I was there, and it was nice weather, I brought my kayak with me and dropped it into the river (the Avon, of course) that flows through downtown. It was quite pretty, although I think the swans were rather irritated with me. It's quite a pretty little town, Stratford.
It's not super exotic or anything, since we spend at least a couple of months here every year, but it is still one of the most special places on earth to me. It's a tiny lake in the Ottawa Valley, not far from Pembroke or Renfrew. Our lake is actually more like a series of wide spaces in the Bonnechere River, which ultimately flows down to join up with the Ottawa River. We try to spend as much time as possible as we can in the summer, because it is quiet and peaceful, and we have a lovely beach at the quiet end of the lake. It was a beautiful warm summer this year.
As I have the past few years, I spent a fair bit of time in 2018 paddling up and down the Rouge River, which is just east of us. It's actually quite wide, and in the spring it runs pretty quickly -- and the valley is deep enough that in places you can forget that you're even in a city. Crazy story: The channels you can see if you look at the map were dug by this guy named Cecil White, who wanted to turn the Rouge into a "Venice of the North. I also ventured out into Lake Ontario more with the kayak than I have other years -- one day it was so calm I paddled about 10 km to The Guild, which was an artistic colony in the 1930s or so, and was recently restored. The grounds are fun to walk through because the original owners bought pieces of old Toronto buildings and statues that were being demolished.