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My First Visit to Prague was January 2007…I’ve had many returns

I moved to Europe in January 2007 to attend a semester abroad at Memorial University’s campus at Harlow in the United Kingdom. This was a big step for me – I was a 21 year old rural Newfoundlander who had spent some short family vacations in the Atlantic provinces and a week in Ottawa was as far west I had ventured. It was a decision that forever changed my life!

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After trekking the streets of London and a group trip to Berlin, Germany I choose to visit Prague in the Czech Republic with Elizabeth and Meg. I will have to admit that it wasn’t love at first sight given a number of unfortunate circumstances we encountered when it came to trains, trams, poor weather, getting lost, adapting to a foreign language and so much more.The first night proved to be quite a nightmare. All was not negative though and as time passed, our lows became highs as we truly experienced the beauty of the the Old Town, Astronomical Clock, Castle, Charles Bridge, famous Czech beer, music and many other sights and sounds.

I never knew after that visit that I would end up travelling back to Prague for many returns. As time passed throughout the winter semester at Harlow, I would visit France, Norway, Ireland, Sweden, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Portugal, Spain, Austria and other parts of Europe. I learned a lot about culture, society and various life skills that had me interested in continuing my education abroad. I applied for an exchange as part of the my Bachelor of Commerce with Prague, Czech Republic being my number one choice, Uppsala, Sweden as number two and Mexico as my third choice.

I received a letter of acceptance to Prague to attend the University of Economics and I was ecstatic. I was eager to experience more of this city as after my visit in January, I knew I would be back and this place would have a special piece of my heart.

After accepting the exchange and making arrangements, I was also offered a job to work for London Offshore Consultants, an international marine and engineering consultancy. This meant I spent the whole year in Europe and fulfilling a dream of visiting Egypt. I spent my Fall of 2007 in Prague where I truly experienced the rich culture, history and made memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.

I’ve returned to Prague again in January 2010 and also in September 2012. I’ve had my friends I met in Prague visit Canada in 2008, 2009 and 2011 and visited them in Europe every year since 2009. I could certainly write a book or two about my many “Random Travel Adventures”. These travel experiences have helped shaped who I am as a person and does provide a different perspective when I look at the opportunities and challenges that exist in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

I would encourage anyone to study, work or travel abroad (and it can be done on a shoestring). Today, I am a little nostalgic given an 8 year anniversary since my first visit to this magical city. I love reflecting and returning, because each time offers something new and a stronger connection to this special place. I always look forward to my next return.

Rural Newfoundland & Labrador and the Great Northern Peninsula has a similar impact on people. Once you experience the landscapes, architecture, heritage, history and other unique aspects of our culture, you too will want to have many returns.

Live Rural NL –

Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA (The Straits-White Bay North)

Sailing the Mediterranean with my European Amigos!

On August 15th, I departed the rock on an adventure planned many months in advance. One has to do that if you want to use these things called Aeroplan points to travel on the cheap to far away lands. Over the course of these months, I have been quite excited to travel back to Italy, this time the small island of Sardinia and experience a week of sailing for the first time – with the most wonderful friends in the world.

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The Milk Run meant flying from Deer Lake to St. Johns to London to Munich to Olbia. I know when I arrived more than a day and many time zones later I was ready for sleep. The Grand President Hotel would be my resting place for the night, but I would not immediately sleep as they placed me on the top floor on the corner with an amazing view of the port, cruise ships, ferries and the aqua park. Below me, people were playing a friendly game of beach volleyball, the cheers were coming from an amusement ride and for the Canadian traveler, imagine hearing the sounds of Celine Dion from the stage. There was much vigor and life in this small town of Olbia. After soaking in the sights and sounds, I would peacefully drift off to sleep and would be greeted by my friends the next day.

After an amazing hotel breakfast my German friend and I played a friendly game of chess in the hotel lobby. He planned to continue his winning streak from the giant chess match-up in Cuba; however, it was not meant to be in Italy. During this game and others, I was able to come out victorious. Next time Old Sport, next time. We went grocery shopping, along the way we passed a small market and even an Esso gas station. We picked up a lot of groceries 🙂 and made our way to pick up our sailboat. I was very happy with the name of our boat – RELAX. It is so important to just step away from the world sometimes and relax – it is good for the body and good for the soul. It was my first time sailing – I highly recommend. We left Portisco to various places including entering French waters near the island of Corsica.

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Re-united again! We all first met in the Czech Republic in 2007 on an exchange at the University of Economics. We’ve all remained friends ever since and have travelled to places like Switzerland, Denmark, Cuba, Canada (Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Newfoundland), Ireland, Italy, France & Czech Republic having many random adventures.

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Although it took me awhile to recover from jet leg and feeling very congested, I had a wonderful week on the water seeing hundreds of sailboats, yachts, fishing vessels, cruise ships, sailing school and other pleasure crafts. The feel of just moving with the wind is amazing. The view scapes of the Italian coastline and houses built on cliffs is just leaves you in wonder. Each marina has something unique to offer. Each time we stopped at port, I had to ensure I ate “gelato” or Italian ice-cream or a double espresso.

The goggle photo will always have me think of the Minions, every time a second anchor drops and the humor they can bring to any situation. This is only the snapshot of more than 1,000 photos taken throughout the week.

From rowing the rubber dingy, making giant sand castles, swimming (albeit miserably at sea), playing cards, chess and other games, catching a few laughs and reminiscing about the good ol’ days made me realize how blessed I am to have such wonderful friends and how we were able to each share the tasks of cooking, dishes, weather, anchor drinks, safety, mechanical, supply and treasury in such close quarters and not kill one another. As well, Marcel certainly knows how to crack a coconut and make a feast that fits with the climate. It was also a great experience to sleep under the stars, while anchored in the bay.

One can only imagine how quickly a week can fly by when with a great group of friends having an adventure on a sail boat in the Mediterranean. Far too fast!  I ended up staying after my friends left almost another week before returning to the rock, enjoying Italian food, sun and surroundings. I do look forward to sailing again with Skipper Reto and sailors Tobias, David and Marcel. I waited a year for the vacation that truly was – like all the others it’s been a slice!

Take time to plan adventures with your friends. And always, live rural!

 

Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA
The Straits-White Bay North

Free Falling…from an airplane (not to be confused with the Tom Petty song).

I’m not sure how many politicians can say this, but I certainly enjoyed free falling from an airplane in 2007

I just got off the telephone with my former room-mate while I was studying in Prague, Czech Republic. It is always nice to hear from old friends.

On a such a cold day on the Northern Peninsula, it gave me the opportunity to revisit some of my travels and adventures in the Fall of 2007. It’s always nice to take a stroll down memory lane…from the Nation2Nation celebrations, drinks at the Academic Club, $1 slices of pizza en route to the university, Tram #9, dancing at the 5 floor disco, Palac Flora shopping centre, booking one of the two washing machines in a building of 16 floors with no dryers to eating at “steakie”.

One of the biggest highlights was my experience “free falling” when I jumped from an airplane some 4,000+ metres over a rural village in Prague. A group of students from England, America, Canada and parts of Europe took the train and then piled into this little airplane to experience skydiving for the first time.

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After getting all suited up we were very enthusiastic about the thrill we would were about to get. I decided to capture the memory with a video. I’ve watched it a few times since. The words of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck plays in the background. From my last post, you know I’m a fan of The Beatles but I also like Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and also AC/DC.

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I can not describe the experience of just falling at over 130 KM per hour from the sky. I will say I do not think I’ve ever felt so alive. It’s also a great feeling when the parachute pops open and you gently float and make for a safe landing. 🙂

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My time in Prague had a significant impact on my life and I have returned three times since 2007 to this beautiful central European city that has a rich culture and history, that combines with modern flare.

Life is all about experiences. At 27 years old, I reflect on the times before me and look forward to my next random adventures – because life was made for living. If you have a “bucket” list you may want to add experiencing the Great Northern Peninsula where the Norse were the first Europeans to re-discover North America more than 1,000 years ago. It was a place where the Basque, French, English, Irish, recent Indians and Maritime Archaic Indians lived before us dating back more than 5,000 years. There is a rich legacy of co-operation and advancing health care under the leadership of Dr. Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, a natural landscape that includes the last of the Appalachian Mountains, unique lifestyle and incredible people you have yet to meet.

Live Rural NL –

Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA
The Straits-White Bay North

A Royal Screech-In from the woods

There is a rite of passage for those who visit Newfoundland & Labrador and want to be an honorary citizen – this ritual is known as the Screech-in.

I brought this custom to the Czech Republic as part of the Canadian Nation to Nation celebration in 2007. With 1500 people at the Face2Face Club, some dressed in Halloween Customs (myself a Canadian Mountie), enjoying pancakes with maple syrup, nanaimo bars, Ceasers and lots of trick or treat items. The visitors were given a presentation of all-things Canadian and then a game was played. The Canadian Lumberjack Challenge for Honorary Citizenship:

Round 1 – Three Individuals chug a bottle of Canadian Maple Syrup

Round 2 -Two Individuals chugging a giant Molson Canadian Beer

Round 3 – Had myself as Captain Jack and my trusty assistant Sparrow deliver a Screech-in wearing a poncho and yellow rubber boots. We determined the stage was owned temporarily by the Newfoundlanders, which permitted the Screech-in ceremony. As the person completed the tasks he was made an honorary Newfoundlander. In turn, because Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949 – he would also be an honorary Canadian.

This was the first visit to Newfoundland and Labrador for my German friend, my Swiss friend had been before and was Screeched-in at Christians Bar on George Street. It was my pleasure to break out the South Wester and let the ceremony begin. My first from the woods…

Each Screech-in ceremony has a few variations depending on who is delivering it. I always ask “where ya from?”  “Do you want to be a Newfoundlander?”

We begin by talking like a Newfoundlander and throwing out a few lines. After talking like a Newfoundland. I ask ’em to get down on their ‘knucks. It typically gets a puzzled look. After a few repeated requests they get down on their knees.

Then they get the stamp of the Newfoundland map drawn on their forehead. Since, I was in the cabin, I improvised with an ice candle (icicle). Then I usually take the salt water and baptize them; however, in this case I used pond water.

Next we sang a tune and danced a little jig. After talking, dancing and being christened, next the person must dress like a Newfoundlander.

Since we were in the forest, I did not have my trusty rubber suit, rubber boots or hat. Instead I handed over my South Wester’ hat and had him put on my wooden rackets (snowshoes w/sealskin). I was not handing over my sealskin boots, belt or wallet.

After looking like a Newfoundlander – one must eat like a Newfoundlander…First Newfie Steak which is bologna.

Normally, I’d have some Purity Rum n’ Butter Kiss candies (quintessentially,  from Newfoundland & Labrador). Instead this time, I included my Swiss friend and he handed over a Lindt chocolate ball.

Next is the Screech Rum! Before we drink though – we always get the person to say:

“Indeed it is me ol’ cock and long may your big jib draw”  – I point out my translation:

“indeed it is’:  here we are

“my ol’ cock”: cock comes from Olde English meaning buddy or friend. So: my old friend

jib: sail of a ship

draw: gust of wind

If a good gust of wind hits a sail of a ship, one will have smooth sailing.

Translation: Here we are my old friend, smooth sailing.

Leave it too a Newfoundlander to made a long and fancy way of saying cheers!

Down the hatch. Next comes the Kissing of the Cod. Now since the moratorium in 1992, it is quite difficult to get a cod fish. I won’t get on a rant about that today. So instead we used a whitefish or smelt that was caught by us a few days prior.

The facial expressions are priceless…Pucker Up

After completing all the tasks, my friend has been granted the rite of passage by the Royal Order of Screechers – presented his certificate of being an honorary Newfoundlander.

If you come to rural Newfoundland & Labrador, check with the local pubs. If you are not successful, look me up as I would be happy to conduct the Screech-in ceremony, so you too can be an Honorary Newfoundlander.

Live Rural NL –

Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA
The Straits-White Bay North

A Swiss, German and Rural Newfoundlander Re-united for the Holidays.

On December 25th, 2011 I was re-united with my Swiss and German friend, who I had met in the Czech Republicin 2007. Unfortunately two others were unable to make the trip across the pond during the holidays due to work commitments as we all try to visit each other once a year.

We had embarked on a journey that brought us 4,551 kms to places that include St. Anthony, L’Anse Aux Meadows, The Straits, Gros Morne National Park, Gambo, Bell Island, Cape Spear, St. Johns and of course, Paradise.

Again, I had the opportunity to explore this beautiful Province of Newfoundland & Labrador and be a tourist at home. We had truly experienced our unique landscapes, culture, cuisine and shared much laughter.

Over the next few posts, I’ll share with you a taste of what it means to explore Rural NL during the holiday season. Please join us for the journey.

I remember returning in 2010 from Ireland, quite eager for “When the Plane Touches Down in Deer Lake” (Derrick Pilgrim Song).  This time, I would be arriving at the Deer Lake Regional Airport some 335 kms away from my home to pick up friends arriving on the 1:22 AM and 3:25 AM flights.

In the morning we would drive up the Great Northern Peninsula. Gros Morne National Park is just 67 kms away. The beauty of this landscape attracts some 180,000 visitors during the summer season. It could also become a winter destination, as we had no choice but to stop and take a few images, breathing in the visual appeal of the mountains, water and nature as far as the eye could see.

 A view from Jenniex House Lookout, overlooking Norris Point

The Wharf at the Bonne Bay Marine Station, Norris Point

Gazing from the pier in Norris Point

Another view of Norris Point

As we moved further up the coast the experience continued to impress. I look forward to talking local hockey, ice-fishing, mummering and more as we begin to experience a rural Newfoundland & Labrador Christmas.

Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA
The Straits-White Bay North
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