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: 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

A Photo A Week Challenge: Props

Nancy Merrill Photography’s blog has a weekly challenge and this week’s theme is Props. It’s often easier to take portraits of people if they have familiar items with them, especially for children to try to keep them focused. People like to show off their things, creations, anything that gives you an idea of who they are. In my post, I’ve decided to show some photos from a historical fort, Louisbourg, in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia where the staff dress in 18th century period costume and portray what life was like in the French fortress in that era. To see more of my visit to Louisbourg, check out my Flickr album.

Declaration

He’s guilty! (Sentenced to having to stand in an iron collar for two hours a day for three days in a row. All for stealing a bottle of wine.)

Costumed "inhabitants"

Passing the time of day.

Louisbourg Drummer

The Drummer Boy

Basket Weaving

Basket Weaving 101

Travel Theme: Hills

Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack has a weekly travel photo theme. This week it’s Hills. While I don’t go hiking or hill walking, we do encounter hills on our drives, train rides, etc.  and traversing through cities which almost always have hills. Some more than others. The steepest city I’ve ever been in was St. John’s, Newfoundland, the easternmost province in Canada. The streets soar up from the harbour, some so steep they actually have little staircases in parts of them. Here are a few photos featuring hills.

First, from one of my favourite parts of England, the Peak District National Park

Peak_1520
Next up is a view from another of my favourite regions, the Lake District.
Lake District
Here in Canada, you can’t beat the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia for dramatic scenery.
Cabot Trail MacKenzie Mountain
Then there are the rolling hills of the tiny province of Prince Edward Island.
Country Roads
And last, Sacre Coeur, high on the hill overlooking Paris
Sacre Coeur

Travel Theme: Playing

Where’s My Backpack’s weekly challenge is Playing. Here are some photos from the town of Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia where they have a scarecrow festival every year in the autumn. These critters are scattered all over the town centre. Good fun walking around with hundreds of people in a good mood, cheerfully hunting down the scarecrows. These scarecrows mostly take up the theme of playing, games or music for the most part, or just because I liked them!

Welcome to our town

Welcome to Mahone Bay, home of the Scarecrow Festival

He rocks

Playing the blues?

Scored!

The home team “Bay Boys” vs the away team “Other guys”

Pig with a fiddle

Who knew one of the three little pigs could fiddle a happy tune?

Elvis, Ray Charles, Tina Turner and Diana Ross

Elvis, Ray Charles, Tina Turner and Diana Ross all making sweet music

 

DP Challenge: Home

The Daily Post Challenge this week is Home, asking people to show photos of where they live, home being where the heart is and all that. Halifax, Nova Scotia is my home, on the east coast of Canada. Halifax has one of the largest ice-free harbours in the world and is home to Canada’s East Coast Navy. There are two large container shipping ports, and oceanographic institute,  and a ship building  yard. Needless to say, a lot of Halifax’s life is structured around the sea. There are also 5 universities and colleges and it’s the seat of the provincial government. Lots of lakes and beaches, culture, shopping, food and a gorgeous waterfront where there’s always something going on.

McDonald Bridge nearly dark

One of the two harbour bridges just after sunset

Halifax Waterfront

Halifax downtown skyline and the ferry

Public Gardens gazebo

The Victorian Public Gardens

Dalhousie effects

Dalhousie University campus

Lake 022

“My” lake, Albro Lake, in my neighbourhood

Cisne Branco (Brazil) and Kruzenshtern (Russia)

Visits from the Tall Ships (another visit coming in July 2017)

DP Challenge: H2O

The Daily Post weekly challenge is H2O, or water. Water features strongly in my travel photos since many places we travel feature lakes, oceans, canals, fountains etc. because bodies of water attracted settlements. Water provides a living, it provides sustenance, it provides life to the creatures that live in it. It provides transportation and is a source for conversion to power supplies. You can cook in and with it, create beverages, keep yourself clean, travel on it in various types of vessels, you can make a living on or in it in many ways. Water is also reflective which makes a lovely photo, and feeds through fountains which are not only nice to look at but in former days, provided the means for people to obtain water for drinking and cooking.

Mahone Bay Harbour Boats

Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia where the harbour provides recreation and a home for fishing boats.

Coins in the fountain

Reflections of coins in a fountain in the Public Gardens in Halifax

Niagara Falls Maid of the mist

The power of water. Niagara Falls, Ontario

I mentioned that many settlements are on or near water. Canals are fascinating. In cases like Amsterdam and many other cities and towns in the Low Countries, the sea was forced back and cities were built on canals and islands. There are more cities with canals than the one you think of first, Venice. Amsterdam actually has more canals than Venice. Other cities on the list include Copenhagen, Stockholm, Bruges, Annecy (France), Bangkok, and St. Petersburg. Britian’s city of Manchester has a number of canals which were built in the industrial revolution to transport goods from local factories to the coastline for shipping.

Frederiksholms Canal

Copenhagen. One of the many cities that grew on a series of canals.

Road Trip: Port Royal

Da fence for defence
On to the last day of our road trip:

We stayed at a little place called Granville Ferry which is just across the Annapolis River from Annapolis Royal, a very old town. The Bed and Breakfast, A Seafaring Maiden, was lovely, full of antiques and the owners were super. We were a bit late getting there, so I had called ahead just to make sure they knew and once checked in, we headed out for something to eat. The place that the B&B owner recommended as only having their kitchen open until 7:30 was just locking the doors at 7 when we pulled up. Damn.

Another cafe that looked as if it was open was not so we ended up going across to Annapolis Royal after all and though it took us a couple of times around a one way system to find it, we located the pub that I remembered and went there for what turned out to be a so-so meal. I’m sure I’ve had better there when I stayed in Annapolis with my mom 6 or 7 years ago but our steaks were most definitely underdone. G.’s was actually done the way I like it, he preferring almost well done and I like it medium but mine was raw in the middle. By the time I got that far into it, it seemed too late to send it back so I left it but when the waitress found out, she gave me a dessert for free!

We got held up on our return due to some work being done at a power station at the causeway between Annapolis and Granville Ferry but we weren’t held up too long. We had a comfortable night and a lovely breakfast and headed out. Our destination is Port Royal which is only a 15 minute drive from where we were.

Kitchen
A bit of history:

Port Royal is the oldest European settlement in Canada and the US, founded by the French in 1605. It was a fur trading post, not a military one. The man leading the expedition was Sieur de Mons who tried to establish a settlement in Saint Croix Island the year before which is between Maine and New Brunswick, but the winter was so severe that they lost half of their people. De Mons and Samuel de Champlain found the more sheltered area and built Port-Royal in 1605 and they managed to get the fort built before winter. Since there had already been trade with the local native Mi’kmaq, the colony was accepted and welcomed. Port-Royal did lose its colonists a couple of years later due to their monopoly being revoked but it was reestablished by 1610 and the settlers came back. However, in 1613, the fort was attacked and ransacked by the English coming up from Virginia and the colony was soon abandoned but the area across the river was later colonized by a contingent of Scots in 1629 but was conceded to the French who re-named it Port Royal after the former fort. This became the capital for the area then called Acadie, or Acadia. That’s what it was before it was Nova Scotia.

Ownership bounced back and forth between English and French, though mostly staying with the French for about a century but the British eventually succeeded in keeping hold and renamed it Annapolis Royal after Queen Anne. Annapolis was under seige more than once, and not just from the French but from the local Mi’kmaq as well but when Halifax was founded in 1749, the British control became a firm grip. The French settlers were expelled from the province in 1755. The current historic site of the fort at Port-Royal was rebuilt in the 20th century and it’s now a National Historic site as well it should be. There were excavations when they found the original site and apparently they found a copy of the original plans in France. They have recreated it as much as possible using the same methods. Some of the items are from the period but many are recreations but done very well. There is quite a lot to see and it does give you a good idea of what it might be like to live there when it was first built though I suppose unless you spent a very frigid winter huddling around the fire, you won’t truly get the full experience!
Forgery
The staff greets you when you buy your tickets and tells you a little of the beginnings of the fort. You can then wander around as you like. There are rooms such as a forge, a kitchen and bakery, a common room where they would have eaten and spent the evenings, the wood workshop, a chapel, and the various kinds of accommodations. The “gentlemen” had bunks though the artisans and workers slept on straw mattresses in the lofts. The fort commander had his own quarters. There is a palisade with cannon and you can see where the boards are fastened together with wooden pegs! The site has some period-dressed staff wandering around that you can talk to. I spoke with one tourist there who worked with Parks Canada and he was saying that the site did need a lot of money spent on it as it was starting to need repairs to the woodwork and structure apparently. I hope they can find the money because it would be a shame for a site that has so much historic significance to Canada to close.

We headed back towards home through the Annapolis Valley. We had intended on stopping at the air force base in Greenwood to see the Aviation museum there but it was grim and the rain was already splattering on the window so we thought we’d just drive straight through. We can always do the Aviation museum some other time on a day trip. There’s a little zoo not far from there as well at Aylesford.

Our latest road trip was a lot of fun even if the weather didn’t mostly cooperate. We were just glad we had the one sunny day on the day it mattered most, for whale watching.

Photos here from both the current visit and one in 2010.

Road Trip: Close encounters of the Whale kind

Bay of Fundy Big SkyContinuing on our recent road trip…

Since the weather was uncooperative for star gazing, we had a nice dinner out in Yarmouth and relaxed in the hotel for the night. Breakfast in the morning was kind of mediocre but it was free. You sometimes get what you didn’t pay for, right? Today’s destination is Brier Island.

The province of Nova Scotia itself is an isthmus or peninsula, nearly an island and surrounded by water aside from a little neck of land near the New Brunswick border. There’s also another bit of land that is nearly detached from the main province, along the north side along the Bay of Fundy. It’s long and skinny and is called Digby Neck, running into two small islands at the end. The first is Long Island and the last tiny one is Brier Island. The main attraction of this area is eco tourism. There are trails, birds and sea life in abundance. The Bay of Fundy is the summer home of several pods of whales, humpback, minke and “right” whales mostly with schools of dolphins and porpoises and lots and lots of seals. There are many kinds of seabirds as well including one type that lives exclusively on the water and never on land at all. There are a number of companies that will take you out on the Bay with whale watching being the main objective and it’s something we’ve both long wanted to do. The best time to go is over the summer and into September. After that, the whales leave for southern warmer waters to breed.

Historic Cape Forchu

Cape Forchu Lighthouse, Yarmouth

Right. So we’re going there today from Yarmouth which will be about 2 hours or so on the road. First a stop at Cape Forchu outside of Yarmouth to see the lighthouse. It’s a little different, this one. It’s an “applecore” style as you can see from the photo. While this particular structure dates back to the early 60s, there has been a lighthouse or station here since the early 19th century. There’s a little museum in the lighthouse now. The shore line is extremely rocky here and you really don’t want to go clambering over the boulders. It can be very dangerous even if it seems like the sea is calm. Rogue waves have been known to snatch tourists into the briny. Trust me, this happens. It was still foggy that morning so the lighthouse wasn’t at it’s best though sometimes, taking photos in the fog does give them a bit more atmosphere. We could tell the sun was trying to break through and indeed it was full out sunny by the time we were half way to our destination.

East Neck ferry

East Neck ferry, en route to Brier Island

On the road, following Route 1 this time. We stayed on the older highway rather than the 101 for awhile. We stopped at had a look at another lighthouse at Cape St. Mary. By the time we got past St. Anne, though, we decided there wasn’t much interesting along that road so we took the next connector to the 101 and zipped up to Digby where we grabbed a quick lunch at an Irving Big Stop. The sun was out by then, too. We back tracked to the exit for the 417 that leads to the islands. That was a pretty drive through rural areas with glimpses of the water now and then. It’s about a 45 minute drive to the first ferry which runs hourly on the half hour and takes about 7 minutes for the crossing. It’s about 15 minutes to the final ferry to Brier and again, just 5 or 7 minutes across. The village on Brier is Westport and there isn’t a lot there. The island has few hotels or guest houses, just a couple of places to eat, a general store and a gift shop. You can hike as there are lots of trails where you can see lighthouses, bays that have seals frolicking and you might even seen some whales if they come close enough.

We stayed in Brier Island Lodge so we headed there to check in and then drove around the island’s dirt roads. Only the main road along the water is actually paved and just a bit beyond that but the roads are in pretty good condition. We found all three lighthouses, passed a couple of cemeteries outside of the village on hilltops, and went to a cove where we could see seals bobbing in and out of the water. We had dinner in the hotel that night and it was very, very nice! This will be a restaurant that serves really good, really fresh food but isn’t a budget place. Worth a splurge, just the same.

Mama and Baby whale

Mama and baby humpback

The next morning, the skies were blue and the sun was out. Hooray! After an excellent breakfast, we picked up packed lunches that were part of the hotel package and went to the dock to wait for the whale watching cruise to depart. It turned out to be everything we hoped for and more. We were on a small boat, as we weren’t comfortable taking the type of whale watching from a zodiac (similar to a lifeboat in size. Much too small and too close to the water!) They sail out into the Bay and keep watch. We did see some “blow” in the distance and one whale was a bit closer but it didn’t want to have anything to do with the boat and swam off sharpish. Soon, though, another one was spotted closer by so the captain cut the engines off. We floated there and were excited that the whale, a female humpback, swam right up to the boat. She floated there, came up and went down, under the boat from side to side as if she was making sure everyone got a good look. These animals can be well over 50 feet long and many, many tons in weight. You look down over the side of the boat at these creatures that are probably as long as or longer than the boat you’re on and you realize they could have you tipped over if they wanted to. Whales are pretty peaceful, though.


Everyone was taking photos of course and I did too though I made myself put the camera down and watch, just watch, rather than spend the whole time behind the lens. You really do find yourself awestruck at these gentle giants. We saw a couple more close up as well and then after another ride to another spot, we encountered a mother and her calf. They didn’t come close to the boat but they were still close enough that we could all see them well. The calf was showing off, and at one point was waving it’s flippers at us! We weren’t lucky to see them jump right out of the water but they did breech and a couple of times dive with the tail flipper up out of the water. We didn’t see any other types of whales besides the humpback nor did we see any dolphins but it didn’t really matter. We saw whales!

The water in the bay wasn’t too choppy though we did bob about quite a bit while stopped. Nobody seemed to mind much and the sun was very warm. There was a breeze but it wasn’t really cold. We did have warm things on but I had to take my coat off. We both got lots of pictures and some video that I put together into a clip which gives you a better idea of how close they were. A lot of these pictures aren’t zoomed in much at all, not the ones of the whales that came close to the boat. Only a little and the ones of the mother and calf are zoomed in a bit to a lot.

We were out a total of three hours and had a bit of sunburn when we finally came ashore. We’d already checked out of the hotel so we hit the road again, this time heading for Annapolis Royal where we had a Bed and Breakfast booked in nearby Granville Ferry for the night.

Photos of the whales are here.