Hawaii – Honeymoon Central

Waikiki rainbow best
We were in Vancouver when last I wrote. We transferred to an airport hotel, a Ramada, so we would be handy before flying out to Honolulu. In retrospect, considering that it wasn’t that expensive to get a cab to the hotel and wouldn’t have been much more than that for the airport, we should have booked an extra day at the Rosedale on Robson and spent the last day downtown with the luggage being held until we could go directly to the airport. Lessons learned.

The flight takes about 5 hours and the airline is Air Canada Rouge, not a great choice but that’s what they have for the flights to Hawaii. We did pay extra to get seats with extra leg room and I think the Travel Gods we did because even with that, the seats felt cramped and uncomfortable. Daylight flight, no chance for a nap. We arrived late in the evening and eventually nabbed a cab into the city. Two tickets on an airport bus wasn’t a lot less. For the convenience, taxis are it.

We checked in to the Hilton Garden Inn Waikiki Beach nearly 11 p.m. The travel agent had forwarded a message that we are on our honeymoon and celebrating a milestone birthday so they upgraded us from a “partial ocean view King room” to a one bedroom suite with a partial ocean view. Nice! But we were taken aback when we got to the suite. Two double beds instead of a king size or queen size bed. For a honeymoon. Someone missed the boat there, I think. We went back to the desk since we were heading to a little shop that was in the lobby anyway to stock up on drinks and snacks and asked them about it. Oops! They were full up for that night so couldn’t change us but offered to change the next day, just let them know.

We were more amused than irritated, really. When we went back upstairs, we decided to unpack and keep the room. Considering how badly I’d been sleeping so far this vacation, I think he’d have had a better sleep with me in the other bed and we could always cuddle in one if we want. The room is on the 19th floor  so it’s quiet and has a pretty good view towards the city and Diamond Head, the inactive volcano at one end of the city and we can see the ocean when looking down to our right from the balcony that we have with the room. It’s pretty amazing to stand outside as the sun comes up over the buildings. It’s already nice and warm.

Fancy Drinks Hula barHawaii is going to be different things for different people. A vacation based out of the city of Honolulu is going to be more commercial than at one of the resorts on Maui or one of the other islands. Waikiki has shopping, boy, does it have shopping, top end designer gear. There are, of course, plenty of souvenir places, restaurants and cafes for all budgets. They have museums and galleries and malls (oh my!) and another major attraction is Pearl Harbour which is still a military base of operations in addition to a memorial to the attack by the Japanese that pulled the United States into WWII. Ironically, Japanese tourists are the major group of tourists to Hawaii these days.

We want to get oriented so our Day 1 intention is to find the hop on hop off trolley tour and get around on that. There’s a desk for an Expedia rep in the lobby and they set us up with vouchers though we still have to go to the starting point to exchange. We also used them to rent a car for Saturday so we can explore some of the island away from the city. The depot for the trolley tour isn’t too far, in the basement/garage of a department type store. They have four routes and you can use the ticket for 48 hours in November (probably all winter, not just November but I didn’t ask) We made time for two of the routes, one through the city and one that went up to Diamond Head and got a good look around.

We had a late lunch at the Hard  Rock Cafe, a place we always like to visit in a new city because we know the food is always good. We then picked up the Diamond Head route tram with some go views along the way up. I’m not a hiker so never did plan to do any of the hiking there but in any case the hike to the top was closed due to wind. Even though the sun was shining and any cloud cover seemed quite far away, we felt sprinkles of rain now and the. A bit disconcerting but on the plus side, there were rainbows!

On our second day, we had tickets booked to Pearl Harbour via a tour operator. We were picked up at the hotel in a nice mini-bus with a uniformed driver who was a very  informative guide as well. Pearl Harbour entry prices can cover a variety of things. I think the basic set up is the USS Arizona memorial with a film included and that’s what we got. There are other museums on the grounds and while some are free, some are not. I’m sure you can get a one-ticket-covers-all at the gate and you certainly could spend all day if you wanted to see everything.

Arizona Memorial

The USS Arizona memorial, Pearl Harbour, Hawaii

The film was about how America got into the war, focussing on Japan’s aggression and the politics of the time. Very sobering. They discussed the Japanese attack and the aftermath which was also sobering. Then we were on a boat that took us out to the USS Arizona memorial, a long white structure that sits over the actual battleship, still sunk in the harbour with over 1000 sailors’ bodies still entombed in it. Some of the ships that were bombed and sunk were brought up but the Arizona was left as is, far too damaged by the huge explosion set off by a bomb. Some of the bits of the ship were salvaged but most of it was beyond repair. It’s a very peaceful memorial. You can look down on the remains of the rusted ship and watch the fish swim and in and out of the blue water surrounding it.

We wandered around the grounds for awhile, looking at various information signs and markers and having a look in the very good gift shop. They also had a kiosk where you chose an oyster from a bowl and they would open it up for you to reveal your pearly treasure. Then, they hope you will buy a gold or silver setting to put the pearl in and that’s where it gets very expensive for the most part. I tried the oyster, and I actually got lucky and got two pearls! I did eventually find something to put a pearl in but they offered me another go for free. That oyster came up with another single pearl and I contributed that to the charm I had picked out. I saved the two pearls and brought them home. My cousin’s husband makes jewellery and I sent them over so he could put them in a pair of silver earrings for me!

Punch Bowl Cemetery memorialOn the drive back to the hotel, the driver/guide took us up to the Punchbowl volcano where the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is. It’s a military cemetery with all of the stones set flush into the ground. there’s a lovely memorial at the end with steps and a huge statue representing Lady Columbia or Justice. There are good views over the city from up there, as well.

We finally got to the beach the next morning. Waikiki beach seems to be a long series of beaches, or just one but which seems to be segmented when a hotel juts out into it, probably to keep their bit of it more exclusive I suppose. It’s not quite what I expected, but it is in the middle of the city. The sand is white and warm and the water wasn’t cold either. We aren’t “beach bums” and we weren’t there to sit and soak up the sun or to swim but we did walk along the beach for a little way, people watching. There was a lot to see, too. You could rent surfboards and boogie boards, chairs and you could take surfing lessons and boat rides.There were a number of food and drink kiosks as well and some huts with public toilets.
Splash
Waikiki Beach to Diamond Head

There were palm trees. Oh dear God the palm trees! Having seen them elsewhere in the city, I noticed one thing.They had all been stripped of coconuts, probably safer that way so one didn’t fall and knock out a tourist! Because there was no large expanses of beach that didn’t extend for miles, it seemed more intimate, cozy and quite a nice place to spend a few hours. We saw another part of the beach later on, at the end opposite to Diamond Head, which did seem to have a large expanse of sand by the water with the tree line away in the back. I think it was Fort Derussy beach park. It seemed rather dull, actually. Not as picturesque as the main beaches in Waikiki.

We picked up Captain with a viewa quick lunch at a food truck which was quite tasty. For the afternoon excursion, we had booked tickets on the Atlantis submarine. We went with the Premium cruise as it gives you a little more personal space in the submarine. Each person has a large porthole and the sub goes down to 100 feet. The photos on the website make it a lot brighter than we saw it. It was very blue and a bit murky but you could see the fish and the reefs quite well. We saw a couple of white sharks, too, lying in the sand by the artificial reefs, created there in addition to a couple of wrecks. They turn into proper reefs over time and the fish make them their home.

It was fascinating and the guide/narrator was entertaining, as well, with lots of bad jokes and gentle humour. It is something we will never get a chance to do again and we really wanted to have something special to splash out on for our honeymoon! We were taken back to the hotel and we wandered around the neighbourhood looking at the shops. I allowed myself to get pulled into a skin care store for a little mini facial, with a hard sell for the creams and cleansers of course. It’s fun to see how low they’ll go and what they’ll do for you to get you to buy something. In the end, the young man found a “damaged” box of one item and offered it less than half price. I very much doubt it was damaged when he went into the stock room to get it but who cares!? We walked along a bit further when G. noticed a sign for a revolving bar at the top of one of the towers so we went up for a drink. The bar revolved so slowly you never even noticed until you glanced out the window and saw a different aspect of the city! I think this was also the evening where we discovered Japanese Ramen Noodles! Our first time with this kind of cuisine and it was very nice. We saw the tail end of a hula show in a shopping mall. One other evening we at at the Hula Bar in one of the better known hotels where we had fancy drinks with umbrellas and my creme brulee came in a pineapple bowl. That is,a bowl which was the actual pineapple! You’ve gotta do these things when you’re in a place like this, right?

North Shore Laniakea Beach Surfers 2

North Shore Laniakea Beach Surfers

The next day we walked around the block to pick up the rental car and headed out around the coastal route. There are lots of photo stops  and we took advantage of a few. The scenery was lovely, with beach and ocean on one side and mountains on the other. There are small towns as well, with little cafes and shops. We made a stop at the Polynesian Cultural Centre to have a look at the shops and have some lunch. The centre holds special exhibits like a living museum and they do big luau shows at night as well, I believe. But the cost of just the basic ticket to get onto the grounds where the bigger exhibits are is scandalously huge and we didn’t want any part of it. We did like the shops, though and there was an exhibit in the main building with artifacts from various Pacific cultures.

One of the things I really wanted to see were the surfers on the famed North Shore beaches. Unfortunately, we were losing the sun and the wind and the waves were not any higher than those we get at home on Lawrencetown beach! Winter is the best time to see the championship surfing with high, crashing waves but not today! We drove a little further along the north of the island and then headed back to the city.

North Shore Laniakea Beach 4

North Shore Laniakea Beach

Rabbit Island Makapuu

Rabbit Island, Makapuu

We did have a bit of trouble finding a gas station and when we did, of course we were too many lanes away and the traffic was horrendous! When we finally managed to get into the gas station, the directions on the pumps were not very bleedin’ obvious as per the rest of the trip! Eventually we got it done. The next challenge was finding the hotel where the car had to be returned. The GPS is partly to blame here, I think and we ended up in a private residential parking garage that was narrow and very tight when we tried to turn around and get out again. We ended up with a door scrape but luckily we did choose to get the extra coverage that day. We found the right place and left the car. All the stress of the last half hour, the traffic and gas station and parking debacle kind of put a damper on the day but it was a nice day over all.

On our last day, we got a little extra time before check out because we wanted to use the coin laundry in the hotel . Yes, boring, but it had to be done! After checking out and leaving the bags at the hotel, we took at taxi to the huge Ala Moana shopping centre. We were looking for lunch primarily and found a Korean food place in the food court. We walked around a little bit but we’re losing our energy and decided to go back to the hotel. We went to the pool and had a drink to kill some time and finally decided to go to the airport a bit early to give ourselves extra time. We faced another overnight flight which was just as uncomfortable as the flight out so I didn’t get any sleep. And because it’s Air Canada Rouge, there’s no entertainment unless you use your own device and stream it through the Air Canada App or you rent an iPad from the flight crew. (Business class gets the iPads for free).

Another night of no sleep and finally back to a rainy Vancouver for the last couple of days, spent with my cousins catching up. We didn’t do a whole lot as we were pretty tired by this time though did have a damp and foggy drive up to the town of Squamish at the foot of the Rockies.

Honeymoon came and went and it was worth the wait of two had a half years. We saw and did some new things and enjoyed the company of friends and family as well.

Squamish marina

Squamish marina under a rainy sky

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Vancouver: The Weird and the Wonderful

After our first full day in Vancouver, what next? Turned out, the weekend was full of weird and wonderful.

In addition to seeing a bit of the city, one of the things we did while in Vancouver was attend a Fan Expo, similar to the Science Fiction Comic Con (convention). Fans of SciFi, Fantasy, comics, super heros and their worlds and Japanese animation flock to these conventions. Many of them dress up as favourite characters. There are guests from popular televisions shows and artists of graphic novels and comics there to talk to fans. People can pay for autographs and photos with their favourites and sit in the audience and listen to the actors talk about their craft and the show.

There is usually a huge hall full of vendors where you can buy all manner of related items. It’s a great place to get swag, tshirts, memorabilia and related items to your favourite genres and programs. We bought a one day pass though the convention goes on all weekend. The Vancouver Convention Centre is enormous, covering two buildings on the waterfront. It was a rainy day so we decided to take a taxi to the centre. We still ended up trekking about between the two buildings because we weren’t sure where to go.

Vancouver Convention Centre from Stanley Park

The convention was in the main building that looks like a ship with full sails on it. It’s also where cruise ships dock. As you walk down the length of it, in the ground are inlaid plaques with various Canadian cities from the West to the East and then to the North as you walk along. We finally got in and got our entry bracelets and tried to figure out where everything was. My husband has a ticket to get a photo with one of his favourites and we wanted to sit in on two panel discussions and still have time to peruse the vendors. One section of vendors was Steampunk oriented which is something I really like.

The convention was hugely crowded so it took patience to work your way along the vendor stalls and through the hallways to find the various rooms. We have a similar convention here called Hal-con which, while crowded, seems a little more manageable.

We spent a great afternoon looking at all the items, listening to the panels  talk about the other actors and behind the scenes and people watching for all the great costumes. Lots of people go to such a great deal of trouble to represent characters in painstaking detail.

The second allocation of weird and wonderful was the Museum of Anthropology at University of British Columbia. One of the prime focuses of the museum is the indigenous art of the people of British Columbia which is absolutely gorgeous. It’s very distinctive and it’s different from the art of the First Nations people from the east coast of Canada where I’m from which is also lovely, don’t get me wrong.

The museum has totem poles and pieces of them, as well as other artifacts such as bent wood boxes, feast “bowls” and intriguing sculpture. It’s also got collections from a great many other cultures around the world, primarily Asiatic and from the South Seas and Oceana but also from Europe and Africa. There are treasures, and maps and papers.You could spend all day there and never see it all. It is very intriguing and you’ll learn a lot. I don’t think you could see it all in one go because there is just too much to take in. We spent a couple of hours wandering about and spent a few dollars in the gift shop, too.

We had gone there with friends who live locally and after the museum closed, we found a Chinese restaurant for a nice meal to top off the day and the weekend. This is pretty much the end of our visit to Vancouver as well. The next day, we used the coin laundry in the morning before we had to check out and transferred to a Ramada by the airport, thinking it would be easier to get to the airport the next day if we were already nearby. In retrospect, we probably should have just spent an extra night at the Rosedale and enjoyed that last full day in the city. Turns out even a taxi to the airport from downtown wasn’t all that expensive.

We checked into the Ramada which was a couple of blocks from a large shopping mall, the Richmond Centre. We plodded over there under cloudy, rather wet skies and had some lunch in the food court along with a bit of a wander through the mall. Both of  us are on pins now, excited to leave for Hawaii but we still have to wait until tomorrow afternoon. We did end up getting a shuttle to the airport a lot earlier than we needed to after checking out of the Ramada just so we didn’t have to sit around the hotel lobby. At least in an airport, your baggage is checked and you can walk around and look at the shops. Pretty soon it’s time to board….
MOA - Haida items

Onward to Vancouver

A few days on Vancouver was a great way to start our visit to Canada’s beautiful west coast. Family and friends always make a visit enjoyable. We chose the bus/ferry/bus route across the Juan de Fuca straight to Vancouver on the mainland and paid a little extra so that the bus would take us straight to the hotel after the end destination of the main bus terminal. Worth every penny and cheaper than a taxi, especially trying to navigate and haul luggage around in the dark.

Our hotel is the Rosedale on Robson and is a suite hotel. We found out that they upgraded us to a higher floor and a room with a separate bedroom. The windows in these are floor to ceiling and the decor is light and airy. We had good city views from the18th floor! The staff were excellent and the room had everything we needed though there was one thing missing that seemed odd for a hotel like that. No in-room safe! Seemed odd.

North Vancouver from Stanley Park

We unpacked because we’ll be here for a few days. Our friend Annmarie came over later with wine and we had a great catch-up.

The sun was out on our first full day in the city, one of Canada’s largest. It seems even larger because of all the communities and cities that surround it such as Burnaby, Richmond, Coquitlam etc. I’ve been to Vancouver before but my husband hasn’t so we thought an orientation would be a good idea. The hotel is close to the circular central library where the hop on hop off trolleys stop so we jumped on one there and took the day to do the route.

We wound our way through the historic centre and decided to get off at the gorgeous Stanley Park, a 1000 square acre park on the tip of the peninsula of downtown Vancouver. The area has been settled with indigineous peoples and others for centuries and was turned into a park when the city was incorporated in the late 1880s. It’s a naturaly park, no landscaping or manipulating. The forests have evolved naturally. There is now a seawall built around the perimeter which is  a great place to walk and run and there are other very interesting things to explore as well such as the Vancouver Aquarium.

Totem poles in Stanley Park

We stopped at a spot where there are about 8 totem poles some dating as far back as the end of the 19th century. Each totem tells a story, a family, an event, a heritage. The style of art of the First Nations people  on this coast is really distinct and I really like it. We had a good look at the poles and did some shopping at the gift store there which had quite a lot of locally made gifts. I started my Christmas shopping!

We walked all around a point at the end of the area, saw a little lighthouse with great views over to North Vancouver, and back around where the trolley stops. We got on the next one which found it’s way through the rest of the park and around English Bay. We got off again at Granville Island which isn’t an Island but a spot of land under the Granville bridge over the False Creek area. There are craft and artist studios here, a huge famer’s market, restaurants and cafes, a theatre. We were quite hungry, though, so we looked for a restaurant first thing.

After a meal in The Keg, we went over to the market and were suitably impressed. More than fruit, veg and seafood, there are local crafts, anything you can think of. Lots of things and even the food was top quality and there were quite a lot of unusual items there. We popped into one ceramics/pottery shop which was also the studio for the studio for the artists. I have to say, even though one of the bus drivers or the prerecorded spiel said that Granville Island is designed to be pedestrian friendly, it isn’t. Cars everywhere and the roads are narrow and not logically laid out. It’s a really good place to visit but be warned, watch your step!

Aquabus across False Creek at Granville Island

Granville Island also has a number of small, brightly painted boats as a ferry service for a small fee to areas across the water on the main area of Vancouver. They almost look like toys!

By this time, we are ready and done for the day so we trudge back up to the trolley stop and get back to the hotel. We had a rest and then headed out to meet up with Annmarie, her partner Brian, her son Tristan and his girlfriend for cocktails and a meal and a very nice meal it was, too!

A good introduction to Vancouver if ever there was one and the best weather we’re going to see. Weather-wise, it will be downhill from here.  Tomorrow will be spent in the Vancouver Convention Centre, the large complex on the waterfront with ‘sails’ as a roof. But more on that another time.

Vancouver Convention Centre from Stanley Park

The Final Countdown

With little over a week to go, we’re on the final countdown of things to do before our trip. Last minute laundry, print off all the tickets, vouchers, etc (I like having a hard copy), decide what to pack (two climate zones!), distribute contact information to the family (note to self!), last minute touch base with friends and family that we plan to see, airport drop off / pick up to be arranged where necessary. I’m sure there’s more on that list.

All hotels are booked, even the single overnighters. Rental car is booked for an overnight visit to see friends on Vancouver Island. Transport from Victoria to Vancouver is booked and we were lucky there, it includes hotel drop off! Bonus! Still don’t know how we’ll get from downtown to the airport hotel but taxis may be involved even if just to get the luggage to the nearest skytrain stop downtown. There’s a skytrain stop near the hotel and the hotel has a shuttle to the airport.

There’s an airport bus from the Honolulu airport into town so we’ll probably get that. Or a taxi. It’ll be fairly late so that might be the more comfortable option. Two activities are booked (Pearl Harbour, and an Atlantis submarine tour!), the rest is open to possibilities because we don’t want to schedule every minute. We will be meeting up with a friend that my husband has known online for many years but there are no set plans as to when or what we’ll be doing yet. We won’t get through the list of all the possible things we might like to do/see but the five days in Oahu will at least be a sampling in the sunshine!

Back to Vancouver for a couple of days with family before heading home again. Two overnight flights back to back is too intimidating so we needed a day or two in between. At least the flight from Vancouver to Toronto overnight is in business class! Thank you, Aeroplan!

Must get the suitcases out of the storage room this weekend and start throwing things in. I can’t do it all last minute like Mr. Mister can. One more recharge session for the laptop to make sure it’s ready to go, all updated etc. Should put my pdf documents on one of the cloud services, too, like Dropbox or Google drive. I do have them on my phone. Overly organized, you say? Me? Perish the thought!

This will be fun. I’ve been to the west coast before, twice and it’s his first time there. Hawaii is new for both of us which is nice. I’m looking forward to seeing various family members again and a few good friends as well. When you live in a country that covers 6 time zones and 5514 km (5780? depends on which source you look at. It’s over 3400 miles, give or take.) from the farthest east to west points, and you have friends and family scattered across the country, you don’t get a lot of real time with them.

WPC: Shiny – Let’s Visit Worcester, UK

The WordPress Weekly challenge this week is “Shiny”, or, to use their description, “Diversions, Distractions, and Delightful Detours”. Things that catch your attention and divert you from your original goal or intention, something you can’t resist. It might, indeed, be something shiny but it could be really, anything.

When I’m traveling, I always have my camera handy. I’m always on the lookout and the things that might take my attention, things I can’t resist photographing are sometimes a unique architectural detail, something interesting, weird or wonderful in a shop window, or perhaps a small and unusual museum.

I was sitting in a very old pub once, The Cardinal’s Hat in the city of Worcester, with a friend and he looked at me, baffled as to why I appeared to be taking a photo of the wall beside me. I pointed out that there was an old door there. “Yes…..”. “Look at it.” “Erm….” What I was pointing out was the existence of two locks side by side on the door, a modern Yale type lock and a very old latch. This is the detail that caught my eye, such contrasts over time.

Old and NewThe building dates back to the fourteenth century and has had many names over the centuries. When I visited, in 2003, it was an Austrian bar and defied licensing laws by serving beer, not by the pint but by the litre! It has since been refurbished again. The building now mainly reflects the Georgian era so I presume that’s the origin of the latch.
The pub is on the main historical street, Friar Street, where you will also see old buildings such as the Alms House and Greyfriars and many of the shops on the street are housed in buildings with some origins as old as the Tudor era.

Worcester itself is an old city with a lovely cathedral overlooking the River Severn. There’s a beautiful Guildhall. There is the cathedral that has parts of the building dating back to the 10th century (crypts). Royal Worcester porcelain was still a going concern when I visited and could shop in the “seconds” outlet but it’s closed now. There is, I believe, a museum. Worcester is also the home of the famous Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce which is still made here. It was a Roman occupied area at one time and later, it was a Royalist city during the English Civil War. There was a battle nearby and a defeat for Charles I in 1751. Worcester was also chosen to be the retreat for the British government in case of a German invasion in WWII. It’s a really interesting city if you’re a history fan. Here are some of my old photos from my visit there, scans from film so they’re not the best quality but I think will represent some interesting aspects.

See more distractions and ‘shiny’ here

2017 Travel: Cape Breton

Baddeck lighthouse on the Bras D’or lake, Cape Breton

I’ve been blogging about our big trip to British Columbia and Hawaii in November, but there’s another shorter trip that we’ve been looking forward to, as well. We have a house guest visiting form the U.K. in mid September and we’re planning another “Three Amigos” tour, this time to Cape Breton Island (The last Three Amigos tour was to Northumberland in the UK, read about that here)  Cape Breton, an island off the east end of Nova Scotia, has often been voted one of the best islands to visit, not just in Nova Scotia but in the world. The magazine Travel + Leisure had it ranked number one  and number 3 in two different years in the past few and it’s also been mentioned by other travel magazines.

It’s not your usual beach and resort type island. There are beaches, yes but the real beauty is in the scenery and the history. Hiking, fishing, golfing for those that want active things to do. The mountains of Cape Breton and the winding Cabot Trail around the tip of the island, with lots of little coastal towns and villages along the way will take you a full day of driving with stops for the local craft shops and tea rooms and cafes. Fortress Louisbourg brings you 300+ years of history. The small city of Sydney has arts and culture and a nice waterfront area. Discover Alexander Graham Bell in Baddeck where he had a summer home. You can go whale watching and spot the seals and birds and other nature from the boats. There’s even a whiskey distillery in Glenora near the Margaree Valley.

Louisbourg gates

Gates at Louisbourg

We won’t get to do all of that, but we do hope to go whale watching somewhere off the Cabot Trail and we will definitely go to Louisbourg. (My photos here) It’s an easy day trip from Sydney where we’ll land after a day or two driving around the Cabot Trail exploring. I also fancy seeing the Highland Village Museum  and we’ll likely stop in at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. It’s really very interesting. . We have a couple of motels and a hotel already booked. All we need is a picnic lunch, some flasks for coffee and tea and a full tank of gas to get us on the road! The great thing is that this year, to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, all of the national parks and historic sites are free to enter!

Nova Scotia’s Bluenose II

We have a few more of those on our list besides the ones in Cape Breton. We are thinking of other day trips to go on to take our friend around more of this beautiful province. A big bonus, the schooner Bluenose II has been refurbished and will be taking public sailing out of Lunenburg, another World Heritage Site, while our friend is here so we’re going to make plans to drive down the south shore and do that. I’ve never been out on the water in the Bluenose. It just never worked out, timing wise.  Lunenburg is a beautiful town as is nearby Blue Rocks,  Mahone Bay and Chester, also very nice places to stop.

There are museums and the Citadel fortress here in Halifax that he’ll enjoy. Maybe we’ll get into the Annapolis Valley. He might like the Grand Pre National Historic Site commemorating the French Acadian settlers who were the first non-Indigenous settlers in Nova Scotia (which was called Acadie back in the 17th century, thus…Acadians).

September is usually a month of pretty good weather so we’re hoping for as much sun as we can get.

Blue Rocks, Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia

West Coast and Hawaii Itinerary building

Vancouver skyline (April 2000) from North Vancouver

As previously blogged, we have Hawaii booked and I am glad to say we now have the hotel in Vancouver booked as well. It’s a suite hotel called Rosedale on Robson and is not far from Chinatown and the Vancouver central library, a short walk from the old historic Gastown which is the original part of the city. I’m glad to have that sorted out. Now we get to figure out what we’ll do and where we’ll go.

Vancouver has lots of attractions and as we always do, we’ll make a list and end up doing some of it and finding things that aren’t on it at all. For transportation around Vancouver, they have a smart card called Compass. A lot of the larger cities have that these days and they’re really convenient. It can be used on the busses, seabus and the skytrain. You can pre-load it with day, month passes and with cash. Tap in, maybe tap out (don’t need to do that on busses). Simple. We’ve used the Oyster card many times in London. Love it.

We like to take a hop on hop off bus or trolley tour in a new city. You get the lay of the land and you get a decent historical background as well. We’ll probably do that. They aren’t usually particularly cheap and a lot of people think they’re a tourist rip off but we enjoy them. I’ve been to Vancouver before but not seen all the sights and I don’t expect to “do” all of them but the views from the busses will give me a perspective on a lot of areas I’ve only touched on, Stanley Park and the Lion’s Gate bridge with the view over to the city in particular. The view from the seabus to North Vancouver is great, too! It’ll be interesting to compare my  14 and 17 year old photos with the new ones. I really like the city. It’s modern, it’s on the sea coast yet you can walk and turn a corner and see a majestic mountain!

Me at Lynn Canyon, circa April 2000

Museums, art galleries, Haida art, maybe the view from the Lookout tower. I’d like to go up in the mountains, maybe to Squamish or Whistler. Perhaps we can do that with my cousins. I remember that we drove part way up a mountain the very first time I visited in 2000. I then tried to stand on the edge of a snowbank and sunk into it up to my hip! Unfortunately, I was wearing light coloured trousers and had dirty, muddy stains all the rest of the day! The snow in early May was softer than I realized. Oops! Also that day we went to the suspension bridge in Lynn Canyon and had lunch in a pretty town called Deep Cove on the inlet. It really is a picturesque area.

Hawaii:

We have most of four days on Oahu. My husband has a long time internet friend that we will be meeting up with. He and his family live outside of Honolulu. I’d like to take in a museum or two or a gallery and have seen a few, including the Iolani Palace and Shangri-La. The Bishop Museum also looks interesting but we don’t want to spend all our time in museums. There’s an International market and a night market. We will definitely be taking in Pearl Harbour and the historic sights there and really want to drive around the island. I yearn to see the surfers on the North Shore. I’ve been fascinated watching the surfers on television since  I was young.

Maybe we’ll get a chance to attend a hula. There are a few around the city that the big hotels put on. Rest assured that I will definitely enjoy having a feast of pineapple in the place where it’s grown! We aren’t really beach types, but I’m going to dip my toes in the Pacific and walk the beach. We may also look into whale watching or try a submarine tour. It’ll be a busy few days!

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.

Road Trip: Shelburne and Shag Harbour

Shelburne Buildings

Old buildings on Dock Street, Shelburne

We took a four day road trip in September and had a couple of special things to do. Both of them were weather dependent and as a result, one of them got cancelled but the other one, which I’ll write about in another blog post, went off without a hitch. Considering we had three out of the four days with weather ranging from plain overcast, to thick fog to brilliant and sunny and back to overcast with showers, we did well to get that one day and I’m glad it landed on the day that it did.

Starting off, we headed for the highway, driving a bit more than two hours down the south shore of Nova Scotia. Our first stop was a craft brewery called Boxing Rock. It’s a little place, up a dirt driveway. I’d heard good things about it but it turned out they only do tours on Fridays. We did get a tasting at the small bar and unlucky for me, I wasn’t keen on any of the four that were available but my other half was and he walked out happy with a six-pack under his arm.

The brewery is just outside the town of Shelburne which is one of the older and more historic towns in Nova Scotia. There was a small French Acadian fishing settlement here in the late 17th century but it didn’t last all that long. The harbour was used as a shelter, and it was even the site of a pirate raid at one time, but there wasn’t another permanent European settlement there until British Loyalists arrived in 1783, welcomed by the Crown and aided to start up a habitation. One other interesting fact, just outside the town a village called Birchtown was settled by former slaves, also feeling the Revolution in America. Birchtown became the largest free black settlement in North America but it was pretty rocky for the inhabitants for awhile. Shelburne grew into a major ship building and fishing port over time.
Historic building in Shelburne
One of the attractions of Shelburne is its history, reflected in the large number of buildings that still exist from the Loyalist days. So much so that it’s been used for a few movie and tv productions, most well known being The Scarlet Letter starring Demi Moore from 1994. A recent production The Book of Negroes was also filmed here in part. I wanted to see the buildings on the waterfront Dock Street and have a wander around.

Shag Harbour Shoreline

Shoreline at Shag Harbour in the fog

Dock Street is not that long, and is lined pretty much all the way to the shipyard and marina will these old buildings which have been kept up quite well. The side streets leading up to Water Street, Shelburne’s main street, are also lined with gorgeous old houses and gardens. Most of the buildings on Dock Street now contain cafes, gift and craft shops, a pub, a couple of museums and a Bed and Breakfast. We spoke to one young woman in the Cox Warehouse, she had part of it as her artisan workshop. She had some lovely things. Seeing and speaking to the artist makes browsing more fun, getting the story behind some of the pieces and seeing the work in progress. We were going to go into the Dory museem (that’s a type of row boat used for fishing) but the chief Dory maker was gone for the day so we went to the Shelburne County museum across from it. It details the history, most of it maritime related, of the area. There were many interesting artifacts and models in the small two storey museum. There’s also another one, the Ross Thompson museum that we saw but didn’t go into which shows more of the every day life of someone living there.
Shelburne Marina
We ended up deciding on a pub on the waterfront for lunch. In retrospect, we likely would have been better to go up to the main street and find something there. The food we had wasn’t much to write home about and was quite underwhelming. The only thing it had going for it was the location on the water. Never mind. We cruised over to where the old buildings by the ship yard are, which also included an event centre and the marina. By now, our feet were getting tired and the sky looked a bit more threatening. We still had a couple of hours to get to Yarmouth for the night. We were supposed to go star gazing at a small observatory near there but we already knew it was cancelled due to the weather. By the time we got out of Shelburne, we drove into extremely thick fog. We wouldn’t have seen any semblence of a star in that!

We did, however, stop into the village of Shag Harbour to peek into the UFO museum. There isn’t much else in Shag Harbour to see. We did take a few photos of the foggy harbour and shoreline before the museum which had lots of newspaper articles, posters, photos and “alien” displays. They had a good book for sale about the event and investigation with up to date information. We spent about a half hour there and then drove the nice coastal route down to Yarmouth for the night.

You can read a little more here.
There are photos from our visit to Shelburne here.