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!

West Coast, here we come

 

Teatime in Vancouver

We booked our package to Hawaii last weekend! That’s one more thing ticked off the list. The next thing to be done is organizing ourselves for the Victoria and Vancouver legs of the trip. We’ll stay with my aunt and uncle for a few days in Victoria on arrival in the west and then we’re looking at maybe an overnight trip up to Parksville, and possibly another night with another good friend that lives in Victoria. I don’t like to overstay my welcome in any one place and it’s really nice to reconnect with good friends.

From there, we’re over to Vancouver. I’ve been trying to narrow down where we’ll stay. It’s going to be a hotel for the first few nights and then a couple of nights with a cousin who has graciously invited us. As they’re retired, we don’t have to stick to weekends so I think we’ll go there for the Monday and Tuesday before we head to Hawaii for five nights. When we get back, we’ve got an airport hotel booked for a night before flying home and since we arrive in Vancouver very early and leave for Halifax via Toronto on an overnight flight, we’ll have the best part of two days more in Vancouver. I think the hotel is close to a skytrain station to facilitate that.

There seems to be a lot of suite hotels and condo type hotels for rent in Vancouver which is very convenient. I’m leaning towards something like that, more than just a mini-bar fridge and coffee maker. I very much doubt we’ll actually cook but we might get breakfast things in if the rate we pay doesn’t have it included and it’s great for keeping fresh milk and pop, and a chilled bottle of wine, perhaps. I think though we could save money and get a hotel similar to a Comfort Inn or Travelodge, I’d like to get something a bit nicer. They are fine, usually clean and fit for purpose but the rooms are pretty basic looking and nondescript.

I’m actually kind of surprised at the hotel prices. I expected Vancouver to be quite expensive but there seems to be a decent number of hotels in a reasonable price range in the city centre. With taxes included, you can get a fairly nice place for under $200 CAD per night. Considering when we went to New York, a 40% sale at the Holiday Inn Express near Times Square was still over $250 and even hotels a bit away from TS were that and far more, I count myself lucky. Vancouver real estate prices are sky high, I expected the hotels to follow suit. (or should I say suite? *snort*)

I’ve been to the west coast twice before though my husband has not been there. I first went in spring 2000 and the next time I flew out on Halloween, 2003. Here’s a gallery of the photos from those trips, bearing in mind they are low res scans from film photos.

First, Vancouver

Next, Victoria

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!

 

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.

Going down the road

Blue Rocks fishing village, Lunenburg County

Blue Rocks fishing village, Lunenburg County

We’re about to hit the road again. In about 3 weeks, we’re going to fire up the iPods with driving tunes and head south. Not that far south, just to the south end of the province of Nova Scotia and drive the loop around the tip and back. Even though this is one of the smallest provinces in Canada, it’s also one of the most beautiful (but I’m not objective!). Nova Scotia is almost entirely surrounded by water. Only a small neck of land about 20 miles wide attaches us to the rest of Canada. That means a lot of beautiful coastline, dotted with lighthouses, beaches and quaint, historic fishing villages along the way.

My husband hasn’t seen a lot of the province and there’s plenty of it I haven’t seen either. I’ve been down along the south shore part of the way but not all the way around. We’ve made tentative plans but as everyone knows, plans change on a whim. But as of now, We’re going to head down the highway to start off, to get past the parts we’ve already seen and visited.

Our tentative Itinerary:
Shelburne, visiting a local micro brew, checking out the town that has a lot of historical old buildings still standing. This will probably be our lunch stop and afterwards, if we have time to fit it in, a stop at the nearby Black Loyalist museum in Birchtown.

I say “If we have time” because we want to drive the coastal road the rest of the way to Yarmouth where we’re pitching up for the night. We have to have something to eat before going out to the woods for a session at a small observatory! That was a discovery in a tourist brochure we picked up and it sounded so cool that we booked it.

Gilbert Cove Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

Gilbert Cove Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

For day two, we’re heading around the tip of the province and along the north shore, one of the pockets of French Acadian Nova Scotia. Beautiful beaches and little towns and a French university along here. We might fit in a visit to Port Royal near Annapolis Royal to see the reproduction of the old French settlement, founded in 1605 by Champlain. From there, it’s down across several long, narrow islands to Brier Island for the night in a lodge. The next day, we’re going whale watching out on the Bay of Fundy, another bucket list event. The companies here guarantee sightings but knowing Mother Nature, I will be cautiously optimistic.

Once we’ve done communing with the whales, seals and dolphins, we’re off to a Bed and Breakfast near Annapolis Royal. We’ve been to Annapolis before but will likely drive into the town for our meal and have a walk around. It’s a very nice place and has gorgeous gardens and the remains of an old fort, Fort Anne.

Our final day takes us through the Annapolis Valley on the way home and we thought we’d stop at a military aviation museum in CFB Greenwood, an air base near Kingston, NS. A casual meander through the Valley, perhaps a stop at a farmers’ market or two, and we’ll be back home by the end of the day.

It’s been quiet around here lately

cropped-cropped-kemblestreetrestaurant2.jpgYes, I know I haven’t really been writing or posting photos too much this month. I must get back on the bandwagon, at least when it comes to the photo challenges. I’ve been considering pulling out an old travelogue and posting bits here but not sure if anyone would be interested in trips from 10 to 15 years ago or more. A lot of things can change!

Possibilities for posts: Maybe the bus trip around “Bonny Scotland” (2000)?  What about the “Magical History Tour”, including various locations around the UK (2003)?

I am planning a trip to the UK for the end of March but it isn’t expected to be a sightseeing type trip. I’m going over and when I come back, my husband will be returning with me to move to Canada for good! The days I’m in Manchester will likely be doing all the last minute stuff that had to wait until then and we’re planning on a couple of days in Ipswich to see family before flying home. We might get a chance to see a bit of the city of Ipswich and maybe Bury St. Edmonds nearby. If we check into the hotel at the airport early enough, we may take the tube in to London for a few hours and a meal. I haven’t booked any rental cars or hotels yet because we need to confirm with the relatives for dates. I guess I can do the Heathrow hotel, mind you, we know what night we’ll be there and flying out on the morning after. It’s all very exciting!

Day Trips: Blackpool

Blackpool is a seaside town in the northwest of England. It has been a firm and traditional summer holiday destination for well over a century. It has all the seaside traditions – sand, donkey rides, arcades, piers (three!) with attractions and there’s lots of shops and places to have fish and chips along the seafront. There are streets upon streets of small hotels, guest houses and B&Bs. There are Bingo Halls, theatres, exhibitions (some tacky, some not) and there’s a huge theme park filled with rides and games called the Pleasure Beach. They even have the Blackpool tower, a mini-Eiffel like structure on the seafront that has a grand ballroom in it and an observation deck high in the sky.

My husband spent many a happy holiday there as a child. They took the bus, or “charabanc”, “chara” for short. They did all the things families do. There were many great memories. He’ll be emmigrating to Canada and wants to see Blackpool one last time so we’ll jump in the rental car and drive up from Salford, just about an hour’s ride away by car.

I’ll confess. Blackpool has always felt a bit tacky to me, a tourist trap, but I’m not British and these seaside wonders are not ingrained into my psyche.  Also, I grew up in a city by the sea so the ocean isn’t as much of a novelty. We did go once before, for an afternoon and we went up in the Tower, found a Doctor Who exhibit and had a walk along the seafront for a bit.

In September, I think the weather will be a bit warmer than it was on the day in the month of May when we went last time. Maybe a paddle in the sea while walking on the beach might be something we’ll do. I think I’d like to walk out along one of the piers, perhaps take the tram to the Pleasure Beach (though you won’t get me on those enormous roller coasters for love or money) and see what other interesting or dubious things to do away from the sea front streets.

One thing I do want to see is the Illuminations. The Blackpool Front (the seafront) and streets are lit up with neon decor, some of it very artful, from the beginning of September through early November so whatever day we decide to go, I want to stay late enough to see the lights turned on. There are indoor illuminations too, at Illuminasia in the Winter Garden.

Other possibilities, if we have the time include a peek into the Winter Garden Opera House, and the Grand Theatre, two wonderful old Victorian theatres.  There’s the World Fireworks Championships on several dates in September, that would be pretty amazing, I would think. We shall see what we have the energy to do! I anticipate plenty of rests with cups of tea/coffee, maybe a fish and chip meal and a sit down to watch the sea.

 

Road Trips: Northumberland


Northumberland, the northeast part of England, is an area that’s not all that familiar to me and my husband. My only experience with this region is driving through it en route down from Scotland on a long-ago bus tour, and a brief overnight visit to Sunderland a couple of years ago. We’re going to do some day trips and road trips in September out of the Manchester area and invited a friend to come along on one of them. He suggested Northumberland to my husband and they even found a nice inn in a small coastal town called Seahouses that we could use as our base. I started to surf the net.

There are a number of castles in the area including Bamburgh and Alnwick and I realized this is also the spot where the Holy Island is located, just off the coast. Holy Island is or was the home of a very old abbey, Lindisfarne where some famed illuminated Gospels were created. There’s a castle ruin as well and it’s also famous for being raided by Vikings! I have heard of this place through another friend that has been here and I always thought it would be very interesting to see. So … that’s on the list!

Picture of Holy Island Causeway which is also known as Lindisfarne causeway. The island is linked to the mainland by a three mile long causeway, built in 1954. Twice each day the tide still renders the road impassable for 2 hours before high tide and 3 hours after.

Picture of Holy Island Causeway which is also known as Lindisfarne causeway. The island is linked to the mainland by a three mile long causeway, built in 1954. Twice each day the tide still renders the road impassable for 2 hours before high tide and 3 hours after.

You access the island by a causeway and have to watch for the tides so it’s only accessible for part of each day. Visits have to be timed around that. We can see that perhaps in the morning and go to one of the castles in the afternoon or vice versa depending on the tides. There may also be a quick stop in Sunderland to see friends on the way home.

On the way to Northumberland we have to cross from one side of the country to the other and if we drive north then east, we can follow the route A62 that follows generally the line of Hadrian’s Wall, the old Roman fortification built to keep out the Scots. There are several excavation spots with museums and visitor centres along the way and I think we’d all find that really interesting, too. English Heritage owns most of them so I may buy an online overseas visitor pass which you can purchase for a 9 day or 15 day range (single, or more people up to a family size pass)  as long as you have your passport or other ID that shows you live outside of the UK. Check. (as long as they don’t look at my husband’s ID, too!)

There are so many interesting and historical places to visit in the UK and in Europe that day trips and road trips are a real delight.

Day Trips: The Snake Pass

SnakePassRouteWhen I travel to see my fiance, now my husband, in the UK, we usually take a few day trips by car. There are lots of nice places out of the Manchester area that make for a good road trip. We’ve often gone to  York, into the Peak District or up to the Lake District, among other places, and we’ve also gone across the border into Wales as well. My next visit is in September so we’re starting to decide where we might go.

One scenic route I’d heard was really nice was through the north of the Peak District National Park across the Snake Pass. G. loves driving along twisty, turny roads so he won’t mind at all. There is a particularly pretty stop off at the Ladybower Reservoir and there is sure to be a country pub or two along the way to choose for lunch. I always say Google is my friend so I’ve learned this about the pass. It’s got an elevation of 1680 feet at it’s highest point. It is the main connector road between Manchester and Sheffield but can be closed in the winter if the weather is bad. It’s actually been closed as I write this for road works and repairs so I will expect it to be in top form in September.

The Ladybower Reservoir was built in the Upper Derwent Valley in the Peaks in the mid 20th century and two local villages were “drowned”. One was demolished completely but apparently you can see the remains of the other one if the reservoir is low. It’s a very picturesque spot and an interesting place to visit so maybe we’ll stop there to stretch our legs.

As we circle back up north of the area into Yorkshire, we thought we might stop in the village of Holmfirth, famed for the filming location of The Last of the Summer Wine, which is one of the longest running sitcoms ever. It aired from the 70s for just over 30 years. I have seen the occasional episode but I haven’t watched it much. It was very popular in the U.K. and the village is a tourist attraction now. It’s got lovely stone cottages and shops and is surrounded by beautiful scenery. We may stop off there on our return leg.

Driving the pass without stopping really shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours or so but with stop offs, it will make for a grand day out!

We got Day trips

Day trips, we got day trips. Now that we have a rental car booked for my trip to Manchester, we are starting to think about day trips to make. I fancied seeing Chatsworth house again. I visited there with a group of friends back in September, 2000 on a rainy day. Wasn’t very good for walking in the gardens, just the house and a quick trip to the cafe. It’s a beautiful manor house, home to the Cavendish family, the  Dukes of Devonshire. In recent years, it’s been featured in both the movie about Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire (“The Duchess”, played by Keira Knightly), and in two recent appearances, it has represented Darcy’s home Pemberly in a remake of Pride and Prejudice (also with Keira Knightly) and in a television series, Death Comes to Pemberly.

There’s been a house here since Tudor times when it was first owned by “Bess” of  Hardwick from 1549. The house that’s there now dates from around the turn of the 18th Century. It’s pretty spectacular inside, with painted ceilings, elaborate plaster work and the gardens are extensive, with fountains and outbuildings. The stables and greenhouses can be visited (I believe the cafe and gift shop are now in the stables as well as some little shops).

I fancy another visit to see it again and update my photos and it isn’t that far to drive across the beautiful Peak District from the Manchester area so, weather permitting, I think that’s on the cards. We can go in the morning and find a nice country pub on the way back for lunch. In fact, I did some judicious Googling, as you do, and found one called the Royal Oak near Buxton that will suit requirements perfectly.

Not sure yet on other day trips though we’ve discussed taking the train over to Liverpool perhaps. I thought about Ripon and Fountains Abbey in the Yorkshire region or maybe just another visit to one of our favourite cities, York. We’d like to find somewhere where we could meet up with friends that might come from the Sunderland/Newcastle area.

We have pretty much everything booked for the France/London trip. The rental car is reserved, the theatre tickets for The Mousetrap are bought, the tickets/voucher for the Tower of London also bought and printed. We thought we’d stay at an airport hotel the night before we have that really early flight to Paris so that’s booked, too. Maybe we won’t have to get up *quite* so early though it still won’t be much more of a lie in. Every little bit helps and we can drop off the car at the airport the night before as well, after we check in with the luggage.