Stef & Mike

"I love being married.  It's so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life."

- Rita Rudner

One Year Later...

It is incredibly hard to believe that we are already celebrating our first anniversary. It genuinely doesn’t seem possible that it was over a year ago that we were celebrating our wedding with so many wonderful people at the Hotel Macdonald! Yet, at the same time, so much has happened in our life together...

Our first big story takes place in July, where thanks to the generosity of our wonderful wedding guests, we were able to start our married life together with a three-week adventure in England, France, and Italy. For Mike, it was his first trip overseas, while it would be Stef’s first time back in France since 2005.


We began our journey with 4 days in London, England, and considering the abbreviated time we had in jolly ol’, we managed a lot! Despite the torrential rain on day one, we made our way to the Underground and ventured downtown. First on the list was the National Portrait Gallery, which turned out to be a great start! In part, the few hours we spent there was to offer some relief from the rain, but it turns out there are some great pieces in there! Mike’ has always preferred art that “looks like stuff”, which is pretty much all you get in a gallery full of portraits! Inexplicably, we did not venture to the National Gallery, which shares a lobby with the Portrait Gallery, but we had to leave something for next time...

Upon leaving the Portrait Gallery, we encountered the first of many surprises on our trip. As we headed south to Trafalgar Square, we noticed that the crowds were getting larger and larger. We had been warned that this was a popular place, but this was out of control! As we drew nearer, we noticed that the park itself was completely fenced off, and the crowds were gathering beside the 8 foot fences and on the steps of a cathedral across the street. What was the commotion?!

The world premiere of the final Harry Potter movie!!!

This was certainly a neat thing to witness, if only because tabloid culture for Brits is exponentially worse than anywhere in North America, and it was of course a very British movie, but we really had no desire to stick around on the off chance we’d rub shoulders with Daniel Radcliffe himself. As we fought our way through the crowd that the hopeless bobbies tried to keep moving, we often found ourselves shoved onto the road, into traffic that thankfully wasn’t moving too fast because the crowd was also commandeering the street itself. We’d been there 12 hours and already almost gotten run over by traffic on the wrong side of the street!

We finally made it past the horde and continued south past 10 Downing Street (where the PM lives) to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey (the venue for a large wedding just a few weeks before ours), and took a ride on the London Eye. Not bad for a first day!

The rest of the London leg was filled with tourist traps and British culture, with visits to Buckingham Palace (the Queen wasn’t home), the British Museum (museum #2 of the trip), and took a longer than anticipated walk to the Millennium Bridge and to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (sadly, only a re-creation, and the performance of Romeo and Juliet that night was sold out). We also visited Tate Modern (museum #3), which apart from the impressive building itself (a converted power plant) did absolutely nothing for Mike. After shopping on Oxford street, on our last night we took in a fantastic performance of Les Miserables in the London theatre district.

The highlight of London was definitely the Tower of London. The White Tower is located just beside the Tower Bridge (often confused with the London Bridge) and is where a lot of Britain’s colourful history occurred. Most people are aware that this is where Anne Boleyn was imprisoned until she was beheaded by Henry VIII, but the beefeaters would also matter of factly tell stories about how aspiring rulers would kill their infant nephews in the name of a faster route to the throne. Truly a bizarre place, but fascinating nonetheless. Highly recommended!


From London, we took the Eurostar through the chunnel to get to Paris, where we spent a week. Immediately after arriving at the train station in Paris, we encountered another culture that we’d see for the rest of our trip: the aggressive panhandler. Their tricks range from having you sign a meaningless petition, to helping with your bags, to finding gold rings, to having small boys flirt with women, but at the end of the day their goal is to liberate you from your money (and anything else you don’t have tied down). From this point on, we had our radar up for anybody getting close to us, which was unfortunate but necessary nonetheless.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take us too long to discover that our mastery of the french language isn’t nearly as complete as we thought it was. Despite being able to read and understand most of what was being said around us, when it came to ordering dinner at restaurants, our nerves overcame us and we sadly resorted to pointing at the menu and smiling. But this is no way prevented us from enjoying our trip! Much like London, we were drawn to the tourist traps, but this time we had more time to enjoy them.

First on the list was the Arc de Triomphe, which is infinitely more impressive in person than it is in pictures. From there, we walked the Champs d’Elysees, exploring the overpriced shops and delicious pastries, before passing through the Place du Concorde, and wandering the grounds around the Louvre. Of course, a trip to Paris would not be complete without seeing the Eiffel Tower, and we rode to the very top to take in the breathtaking view of the city.

Stef insisted that Mike could not see Paris without including a trip to the Louvre (museum #4), and we made sure we were in line before it even opened to get some nearly one-on-one time with the Mona Lisa. When we doubled back to the same room later in the day, the room was overflowing with people packed in shoulder to shoulder. The Mona Lisa is of course only one of many masterworks in the museum, and we were overwhelmed by what we were able to see.

We spent Bastilles Day (France’s National Holiday) at the Palace of Versailles (museum #5). The Palace itself is a monument to French excess that eventually ignited the French Revolution, and it’s not difficult to see why. Room after room of glamour and opulence, surrounded by acres of pristine landscape. The vibe is now very much that of a public park, with street vendors and people relaxing near the water, and it was a very relaxing way to spend France’s most patriotic day. That night, we were treated to a fireworks display that we were able to enjoy from a few blocks from our hotel.

Our hotel was conveniently located across a small bridge from Notre Dame, so it was easy for us to admire that on late night walks, but the most romantic night of the entire trip was spent cuddling on Pont Neuf, with the Eiffel Tower in the background and feeling totally alone despite the dozens of people wandering the streets around us.

Interestingly enough, for a city world-renowned for its lavish cuisine, we completely stuck out when it came to our meals in Paris. Part of this may be due to the fact that we are both somewhat particular with respect to what we will eat, coupled with the fact that we rarely strayed from the tourist areas that can afford to be less than discriminating about what they serve, made for a relatively disappointing dining experience. A blemish on an otherwise incredible French experience!


The highlight of our trip was by far the 10 days we spent in Rome, starting with our hotel. Hotel Artorius is a family-run boutique hotel located within walking distance from the Colosseum, but not so close as to be surrounded by tourist traps (and the associated tourists). The 10-room hotel was built in 2007 in an old palazzo and claims that the elevator running through the middle is one of the oldest in Rome. The room was small but well cared for, and the staff were incredibly kind and helpful. Considering that this was the last hotel we booked for the trip, and the cheapest, we could not believe our good luck at this gem of a find!

The ancient ruins that are everywhere you go in Rome are a sight to behold for a pair of Canadians living in a relatively young city. The aged architecture make the whole city feel cozy and welcoming, with every back alley hiding some of the best restaurants you can imagine.

And boy, did we eat! After our disappointing meals in Paris, were ate like royalty in Rome! Nothing fancy; in fact, everywhere we ate had the vibe of Mike’s relatives’ dining rooms, but the food was AMAZING! This is one situation where our travel guides definitely steered us in the right direction. The trick is to avoid eating anywhere near the major tourist destinations... a short walk and you’ll stumble across a restaurant that is only open for four hours a day but serves the best lasagna or pizza or gelato that you can imagine (go figure!).

The fact that the whole city is walkable almost forces you to explore as you venture between planned destinations. The obvious stops are the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain, but en route to the Pantheon you’ll pass the Spanish Steps, or the Piazza Navona, or any other piazza that is hidden around the city.

The farthest distance we walked was from our hotel to Vatican City (about 45 minutes with no stopping). First up was a tour of the Vatican Museum (museum #6), which includes the Sistine Chapel. If you aren’t a fan of crowds, it’s safe to say that the Sistine Chapel is not for you, as it seemed that once people arrived at the Chapel, they didn’t leave, yet more people kept piling in. That said, it’s truly a sight to behold, and no photos will ever do it justice, not that we have any photos in the Chapel since, unlike a great many people there, we acknowledged the “no photos, no speaking” rules. To finish our day in Vatican City, we went to the incredibly impressive St. Peter’s Basilica, then enjoyed the long walk back to the hotel.

As much as we loved Rome, we took a day trip up north to Florence based on strong urgings from friends and other travellers. With only one day in Florence, we had to budget our time accordingly, and were torn between visiting the Galleria Academia and the Galleria Uffizi. We chose to wait the 3 hours to get into the Academia (museum #7), primarily to see Michelangelo’s David. Even though shortly after leaving the Gallery we discovered a replica of the same statue in an outdoor piazza a few blocks north, the original was worth the wait!

While in Florence, we also climbed—and sometimes crawled—our way to the top of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. We spent nearly an hour just sitting at the top of the cathedral, admiring the view of the ceramic rooftops that are ubiquitous in Florence. The rest of the day was spent wandering around shops and the Ponte Vecchio, a pedestrian bridge with only jewelry shops lining its sides.

Florence has a much slower pace to it than Rome, and if we have one regret it’s that we didn’t spend more time there, but now we have all the more reason to go back someday!

So eventually, regrettably, our time in Europe came to an end, but the memories we made together at the beginning of our life together will be with us forever.

Not to say that those were the only lasting memories of our first year together. In September, our family grew by one when we welcomed a little monster named Bowser into our home. Bowser is a Boston Terrier/Pug cross, and has proven to be a great learning experience for when we eventually start a family of humans.


Shortly thereafter, Mike broke his ankle playing hockey, and the “in sickness and in health” clause of our wedding vows was invoked. Stef deftly handled raising the new puppy while juggling work and looking after an infirm husband.

Finally, in December, Stef surprised Mike with an early Christmas present...


So, in August of 2012, the next step in our life together begins.

We thank all of you for being a part of the ride so far...

With love,

Stef & Mike