Travel 2017: B.C. and Hawaii

Vancouver skyline

Vancouver Skyline from the North Vancouver ferry

We didn’t do a lot of traveling last year though we did fit in a couple of road trips. I did go to the UK at the end of March to bring my husband back to Canada for good but there were no other travel opportunities involved aside from driving to Ipswich to spend some time with his family.  We made a quick trip to the Canadian/US border to validate his permanent residency visa and did a road trip around Nova Scotia’s south shore in September which was a lot of fun.

The first trip to book is to go on our delayed honeymoon in November to coincide with his milestone birthday or just before it, actually, since his birthday is late in the month and the later it gets, the more there’s a possibility of weather-related travel delays. The plan will be to fly to Canada’s west coast, visiting Vancouver, Victoria and maybe Parksville and Tofino. We will be able to see some family and friends and do some sight seeing there. We also plan to fly to Hawaii for 4 or 5 days for the “just us” part of the trip.

The first bookings for the trip have been made. I browse through the Aeroplan site frequently, checking out availability and dates and last week I found the best combination. Fail: there was no availability for flying on Aeroplan points in coach class anywhere near the dates. Win: No problem if we want to fly business class on points. Win: I had more than enough points for business class. Win: Every flight we needed has business class seats in exchange for my hard earned points. Booked! Now we can look at specifics for the rest of the trip.

English Bay, Vancouver

English Bay, Vancouver from UBC

An aside: Aeroplan is strange. Some times I’ll search for flights and there will not be anything, and other times there will be and I’m checking the same dates or close enough. What I really find irritating, though, is that you might not get business class for part of the trip but they’ll still charge you the full whack for all those points. I say no. It’s wasting my Aeroplan points if I don’t get to fly business class all the way.  Now, a free flight isn’t free exactly, because they still charge you for taxes and any fees but Aeroplan has changed things. Now you can use points for the taxes as well. Fail: It uses almost as many points for the taxes as it does for the ticket! I don’t think that’s fair but it’s a step in the right direction. Luckily, taxes for two business class tickets to Vancouver only ended up costing under $200 per ticket. Still a win in my book considering the price of those tickets paying cash is over $4300 return.

Market Square, victoria

Market Square, Victoria

Decisions, decisions…

Planning a major trip is all about decisions and then you worry if you’ve made the right ones. Do we rent a car at all and if so, when? What dates will we fly to Hawaii? Earlier in the trip or later? Maybe we should do that at the very end, fly back to Canada  and then home the day after a night in an airport hotel. If we fly back to Victoria, we could actually leave the big suitcases with my aunt and uncle and just go to Hawaii with our carry on rolling bags which would be more convenient.

In the end, I think we’re going to fly to Hawaii from Vancouver even though it will mean taking all our luggage. It looks like we’ll go at the end of the holiday, then stay overnight at an airport hotel on return, and fly home the next night on an overnight flight to Toronto where we’ll change to fly home. Next will be to get the Hawaii flights booked and once that’s done, the rest can fall into place, including picking hotels. In Victoria, though, we’ll stay with family.

Steam clock

Vancouver’s famous steam clock, in Gastown

As always, it’s frustrating trying to decide where to stay. You read many reviews,  you try to read between the lines of the ones that aren’t as good. If a hotel has quite a few negative reviews, it’s off the list. Most places will have some people complaining and then you decide if their complaints are valid and if so, are they deal breakers for you? For instance, I really don’t mind if a hotel room is small but some people do. I want a comfortable bed, free wifi (!), breakfast included if at all possible, and an en suite bathroom. Those are top priorities. A kettle or coffee maker is nice to have and a mini bar  or fridge is a bonus because we can then use the fridge for our own drinks and milk for coffee/tea.

Budget of course matters. I don’t stay at hostels but we can’t spring for anything expensive. For Vancouver, I think it will likely be something along the lines of a Best Western, Comfort Inn or that sort of thing. I’ve no idea what to choose for Hawaii and might actually go to a travel agent for some suggestions. They often can get good deals.

victoria inner harbour

Victoria Inner Harbour

Once the hotels are sorted, we can make lists of things we want to do and see. That’s always fun! It looks like five nights in Oahu with, we hope, 3 full days and a good part of a fourth. We will probably stay 6 nights each  in Victoria and Vancouver, visiting friends and family and seeing the areas. I’ve been to both cities before, but my  husband hasn’t and he’s really looking forward to it.

Planning a vacation adds to the fun, I always found. I make lots of lists but in the end, other than a few things we *must* do/see, the rest if flexible. Stay tuned for more organizational notes and please, if you have any hidden gems for Oahu, or Vancouver, please let me know!

 

Travel Theme: March

The travel theme challenge from Where’s My Backpack this week is March, not the month, but the action of a group of people moving together in precision style. Here are a few photos from my archives, from the Tower of London to Copenhagen and back home to Halifax.

Tower Beefeater Parade

Beefeaters (Yeoman Warders) in the Tower of London

On Guard at Amalienborg Palace

On Guard at Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen

Untitled

78th Highlanders, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Goodbye Virtual Tourist

vtFebruary 27 will be a sad day on t’interwebs. It’s the day we lose a top travel website, Virtual Tourist, and that makes me sad. In the old days, it was a great place to find tips from real people, the good and the bad about the majority of locations around the world when you were researching a trip. You could post your own reviews and photos. You could connect with other travelers and make friends. It was about more than just hotel and restaurant reviews. It was about all the things that make a trip great. You could find tips about things that were off the beaten track, packing tips, sports tips, tourist traps, someone’s favourite things, general tips, travelogues, and forums for questions about thousands of locations as well as a technical help forum for the site itself.

People organized huge VT get togethers in fun locations. Dozens of VT members would travel and meet up for a weekend of food, drink and they all had the love of travel in common. While I never went to a “meet”, I did meet one lovely man from VT in person. He had come to Halifax several times on business and we usually tried to have a meal together and a visit when he was in town. My partner and I met up with him and his wife in the Netherlands for a lovely day out, as well. That’s the beauty of making all these connections, you often have someone with whom you can touch base if you’re on the road.

Then VT was sold to Trip Advisor. Little by little it changed. Many changes were for the good, mind you. Better photo quality, the opportunity to save your reviews in draft form until you wanted to finish them, creating itineraries. But content from TA was creeping in as well including TA hotel reviews. Some upgrades in the look and feel and functionality of the site seemed to make things more complicated instead of easier, at least for me. But the VT staff did a great job trying to be more things to more people and they were always helpful and friendly.

Trip Advisor was changing, too. It was originally about hotels and restaurants, the place you’d go to find out where you should go and where to avoid. It became a bit of a beast, though, with people posting vindictive reviews on purpose, business rivals posting lies, exaggerations. It became a victim of it’s own success. And it became about more than just hotels and restaurants. Now you can review tourist attractions, other things to do like sports and shopping. It is emulating what VT had already been doing for years and doing well. Maybe Virtual Tourist was also a victim of it’s own success. The little engine that could, if you will.

The writing was on the wall.

I guess TA didn’t want to own two sites that did the same things and since TA seems to be the site that rose to the top, it gets to stay while this lovely site and community of travelers has to go. I’ll be spending the next few weeks saving my VT content and deleting it as I get through the pages. This content represents years of work and traveling, I need to keep those memories! Maybe I will post my VT tips from my travels here on occasion, or at least the tips that haven’t become out of date.

I shall miss VT. I shall miss the wonderful help and knowledgable travelers on this site and I shall miss reading about all the journeys, seeing the photos and being envious of the great trips everyone is planning! February 27 will be the end of an era. I have posted reviews on Trip Advisor but it’s not a personal experience like Virtual Tourist is/was.

Postcard love

It was about 1995 that I first touched base with the internet. It was only via work and all we had was the ability to email and we had usenet, aka “newsgroups”.  I became a fan of newsgroups, connecting with people that had similar interests, mainly American soap operas and Coronation Street. I made some very good friends through my Corrie connections over the years and it’s given me opportunities to travel. Also, when I have traveled, I’ve often had someone living in the area that I could hang out with for a meal and a drink at the very least.

But there was another interest I discovered. Postcards. I don’t remember now how I found the newsgroup for postcard trading, whether I specifically searched for it or whether I heard mention of it elsewhere. This particular newsgroup was monitored and moderated once you joined. They also had a trading aspect. They amassed a list of names and addresses and the types of postcards you were interested in. Everyone on the list got a copy, were mandated to keep it private, and you could then send postcards to anyone on the list if you had one that matched their interest. They were not obligated to send you one in return but most people did if they could.

I have always liked postcards. Any time someone traveled somewhere, I asked them to send me one or bring me back one. It felt like armchair traveling and I could live vicariously through the pictures of far off places. I think even as a teenager, I was collecting them though the collection didn’t get very large. I do recall sending cards home when I went on a school trip to Italy and France in my last year of high school. My mother kept the cards and I re-discovered them some years later. It was very interesting to read my tiny cramped handwriting, so anxious to fit in all that I was seeing and doing on that one small card!

I always bought postcards when I traveled to new places. They make a great souvenir and are a good complement to all the photos I take, as well. You can’t get an overview of a large building or area on the ground with your camera but a postcard can give you that perspective. Often you aren’t allowed to take photos inside a church or cathedral or other place and a postcard or two is the only way to bring back a visual memory. I would file them in the album with my trip pictures plus a few extra for the postcard collection.

I always sent a lot of postcards to friends and family, too. Often I’d arrive home before the card did but it didn’t matter. I was seeing new things and new places and wanted to pass on my impressions. In this day and age of emails and blog posts and social media, it’s not something I do much anymore and that’s a pity, really.  Everyone loves to find mail in their mailbox that isn’t a bill or an advertising flyer.

Prince's Lodge, Bedford, Nova Scotia

Prince’s Lodge, Bedford, Nova Scotia

Now I began trading cards and looking for them. I would find some antique cards of the city where I live to send to people that like that sort of thing and I began to find them very interesting as well. Messages written on the back so long ago could sometimes be fascinating. People used to send postcards frequently if they didn’t have time to write a whole letter. They’d send a quick card to let a loved one know what day they’d arrive by train, or that someone was recovering well from an illness, everyday living, not just travel related. It’s a slice of real life.

Trading postcards was a lot of fun and there was almost always one or two pieces of mail in my box a few times a week. Sometimes single cards, sometimes envelopes with several. I remember taking a bus tour around the UK and we tourists on the bus, the ones that became friends and hung out together promised to keep in touch. As you do. I suggested we all send each other postcards instead of Christmas cards that year of where we all lived. It was deemed a great idea.  Most everyone that agreed to do it did it and I received cards from New Zealand, Israel, Australia, Malaysia as well as various places in Canada and the U.S. We never really kept in touch after that, though. Our group holiday romance faded away as they usually do.

My favourite kinds featured the beautiful architectural buildings found all over the world. Castles,  churches, cathedrals and other buildings of religious significance, cottages,  town halls and squares, mansions, etc. I traded postcards from that list for several years in the 90s and into the early 2000s but as the price of stamps went up and up and up, it became quite expensive and people seemed to be trading less and less so it went by the wayside. I still have two good sized shoe boxes with my postcards stored though I haven’t looked through them in some time.

I keep thinking I will weed through and save my favourites and do something with the rest, perhaps find a second hand shop that will take them off my hands. There used to be a shop locally that sold stamps and they had postcards as well but I don’t think they’re in business anymore.  Yes, I suppose I could put them on eBay if  some are collectible, that’s an option. I wouldn’t likely get a lot for most of them and it might cost more to post them so would someone want to buy them only to add on 5 or 10 dollars postage for something they might only have paid less than $5.00? I don’t know how successful it would be but I could try.

Meanwhile, I see racks of postcards and they still make me feel nostalgic for my own heyday of collecting.

Travel Theme: Quiet

This week’s travel theme from Where’s My Backpack is Quiet.

We set out on a road trip around the southern tip of Nova Scotia last September. Our first day was overcast and then turned quite foggy in spots. It wasn’t late in the month but it being a weekday and the weather not really being bright and inviting must have kept the tourists home. One of our stops was the town of Shelburne, an old historic town that has a waterfront area of very old buildings that were restored and used in filming several movies and series. The buildings contain museums, shops, cafes and a B&B. There is a theatre space and the old warehouses near the shipyard and marina and the side streets have some lovely old houses as well. We walked around and enjoyed the area. I think it’s quite busy there in the summer months but we had the place almost to ourselves.
Historic building in Shelburne

Cox building, Shelburne

An old warehouse, now housing an artist’s studio on the ground floor

Bottle Glass Window

Old bottle glass window detail

Houses the Dory Museum and shop

Down the road a little from Shelburne is Shag Harbour. Its claim to fame is a UFO sighting there in October 1967. They often get tourists through there, stopping at the small museum and taking photos at the park that looks over the bay, the location where the mysterious lights first appeared. They also have a festival in October and get a very good turnout. This year is the 50th anniversary and they are planning on some extra events. It won’t be quiet then but it sure was when we were there, the fog thick and eerie only adding to the mystery of the village.
Shag Harbour Shoreline

Shag Harbour Pier
Foggy Shag Harbour
Shag Harbour Museum sign
Further information about the Shag Harbour Incident:
The Shag Harbour Incident Society
UFO Casebook
Wikipedia
Books:
Impact to Contact: The Shag Harbour Incident
Shag Harbour Incident 1967

The Travel Agent Kiss of Death

Greek Helmet, British Museum, London

Greek Helmet, British Museum, London

This is *not* a rant about travel agents. I’ve mostly always had very positive encounters with these knowlegable and lovely people that help me book trips and hotels. I do like to do my research online and I will often book things myself but if I have a larger combination of things to book, I will drop in to an agency and use their expert services. It’s done me well in the past, too. They have obtained some good hotel deals and can get flight bookings in combinations that the airline and booking sites don’t always present  after a search.

No, the “kiss of death” is me.

Over the past 25 years or so, I can tell you that nearly every travel agent I’ve ever used leaves me one way or another. They change branches, they retire, they just disappear and most recently, the whole agency closed down. I’m telling you, I’m getting paranoid.

Some people tell me they’ve used the same agent for decades. Lucky them! I never have managed to built up a rapport with a travel agent. I have a cousin that was a travel agent but I didn’t dare use her services for fear of her losing her job! I think the most I’ve ever used any individual agent was twice. The third time I went to book something, I hear “Oh they don’t work in this office anymore”. Of course they don’t.

I really don’t think it’s me that drives them away. Most of my bookings are straight forward. I’m not forceful, or pushy and I’m always polite. My credit card has never been declined (yet! knocking on wood just to keep the Travel Gods on my side).

I’ve been using the Flight Centre branch near my office over the last few years even when one of the agents I’ve used has moved on. I came into the shopping area at work one Monday morning a few weeks ago and the whole office was closed and the glass storefront papered up. There was no warning sign that I remembered seeing. I just shook my head, not really very surprised.

There’s still an agency in the shopping area and another one across the street. I’m going to be planning a trip for late this year. Do I dare? In fact, I probably won’t need flights booked because I’m going to be using Aeroplan points for one of the main flights and my best friend’s husband who works for another airline, offered to try to get us tickets on our other flight at a discount. All I need from there is deciding when I will need hotels and possibly a rental car for one or two days. Still, they can find good deals on hotels that may not be available online. That’s happened to me before.

We need a plan first. Then we will have to pick the hardiest looking agent, not one too near retirement age and not one too new. Someone tenatious, someone “hard”, someone with staying power. A Warrior.

The quest continues.

Now for something completely different

Cheatham's Library, Manchester UK

Cheatham’s Library, Manchester UK

I love to travel. That’s no news, of course, this is a travel blog. My other passion is reading, a lifelong love of words and stories. Books take me to other worlds, other lives, other destinations. I thought it was about time I started a blog focussed on reading and books. If you are interested, it’s called Reader at Large, here.

It’s early days but I hope to fill the screens with reviews, discussions, and other chat about the written word. Drop buy and join me!