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

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The “NBO” tour (Not Bleedin’ Obvious)

Does anyone know where the toilets are?

Do you ever have days when you just can’t seem to grasp the obvious? Oh yes. And when you’re traveling and in places you’re not familiar with, it’s twice as frustrating when something that should make sense doesn’t. This recent trip to British Columbia and Hawaii was one of those.

It could be something as simple as trying to work out how the shower functions. In all my life,  every hotel room is different and every single shower works differently. Some are easy to figure out but some are hugely confusing. The one in our lovely hotel in Vancouver had a diagram for the shower but even thing, we had difficulty working it out.

Trying to find the breakfast room wasn’t obvious, either. It was called the Stadium Room which sounds more like a function room to me, than a little breakfast room.

The fan expo in the convention centre was an exercise in “not obvious” when it came to trying to find the “ballroom” where the main panel discussions were. There was no map in the Expo guide. Well there was but for everything except the ballroom area. We asked several people and got a different answer from each one, at least the ones that did know. Or said they knew. Down that hallway over there just before you get to the big doors, turn left. Nope. There were escalators there and nothing resembling  ballroom at the top. Turns out you go *through* the big doors into the lobby of the convention centre and there it is.

Now we’re in the airport trying to navigate the screens of the check in area. I did check in online and I did get a boarding pass sent to my phone but it seemed to be only the one, not one for both of us. The Best thing to do was check in with the code and get it all printed. That worked. Why let you check in both people if you’re not sending the boarding pass, either two to the one phone or one each? Even when you do print off boarding passes at home, the airline invariably reprints them for you in the airline standard style, in my experience.

Another machine to work out at the US departure area for pre-screening. You try to follow instructions but they’re…not always obvious but someone came over straight away to help. Over to the security scan. We saw other people taking shoes off but there were no signs to say we had to. But they did ask when it was my turn. Why not put up a sign? Too obvious? Likely.

Don’t even ask about the frustration getting hooked up to the airport wifi. My phone doesn’t seem to have the capability to open the corresponding website to agree to Terms of Condition. It’s happened a few times but works with other connections. Even with my laptop it was a bit of a production because it kept trying to connect to an open network and I didn’t know what it was.

The un-obviosity didn’t end there. (yes, I know that’s not a word but stay with me). We’re in Hawaii now and we rented a car for a day to drive around the island. Nice day, now we have to fill up the gas tank before returning the vehicle. Never mind trying to get to the gas station across several lanes in heavy traffic, when we got to the pump, we had a heck of a time getting it to accept our credit card. Gas has to be prepaid but the instructions just weren’t comprehensive and we weren’t the only person trying to work it out. After I went into the attendant in the shop and got some instructions, it went better, much better than it subsequently went trying to find the right ramp to the parking garage to return the car. Let’s just say I’m glad we purchased the extra insurance coverage and leave it at that.

After an overnight flight back to Vancouver, we are faced with electronic customs clearance. I was aware of this and downloaded an app to enter all the information and generate a scannable code to save me time. Except there was no instructions for scanning that code, not that I could see so we had to enter the information all over again. Maybe I could have scanned the code as a first step even though there was nothing to say I could. Certainly not obvious. Even then, it wouldn’t have saved a whole lot of time because after that information was processed, we then had to have the most grotesque photos in the world taken. How the border guards could look at those and look at our faces and connect them as the same people or the pictures in our passports I have no idea.

Never mind. We’re finally back on home soil and after two overnight flights in a few days, we both need time to recover from our vacation!

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

Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island

Between the city of Parksville and Port Alberni on Vancouver Island is a little oasis of calm and peace. It’s a stand of trees, very old trees, mostly Douglas Fir with Red Cedar as well. The oldest standing tree is about 800 years old and stands over 250 feet tall, taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa apparently.

Recently we visited Vancouver Island. Most of the few days we were there were spent in the capital city of Victoria with relatives, doing a bit of driving around and hanging out. We rented a car and drove “up island” to see some friends in Parksville and before returning the next day, I really wanted to see Cathedral Grove. It was a long-standing destination on my list and it’s only about a half hour drive from Parksville on an inland road from the coast.

The weather is overcast with rain threatening but we only got a little heavy mist. There had been a tiny dusting of snow and in the forest there was still a little on the ground, enough to make the path slippery so we trod carefully. The light was low due to the cloud cover. No sunlight streaming through the branches picturesquely. The air was damp and cold. The breeze rustled the leaves. It was completely quiet aside from an occasional car that drove by. The grove is part of the MacMillan Provincial Park and its near the road. In November, there were few tourists besides us three. I hate to use a cliche word but it did feel a bit magical. Just when you think Nature can’t throw one more jaw dropping sight at you, in comes a curve ball. Here is a bit of video I took and a few photos.

The drive to Parksville is only about 2 hours from Victoria. You could easily visit Cathedral Grove in a day. You also drive past Goldstream where, in early November or very late October, the salmon return to spawn and you can watch them flipping through the water trying to get upstream. We were just a little late and there were only a few fish left alive (yes, that’s Nature again. The fish return to where they were hatched to spawn, and once the eggs are laid, the fish die and are food for eagles, birds and bears)

We stayed overnight since we were visiting friends and booked the Travelodge. Not a bad choice. There are quite a few hotels and motels in Parksville as it’s a resort area with some nice beaches.

Road Trip to Cape Breton, Part 2

Fortress Louisbourg from across the bay

We’ve decided to base ourselves in Sydney, Cape Breton for two nights. Sydney is only a short drive of about 30 minutes or so to Louisbourg where the restoration of the French fortress is.

Saturday September 23, 2017

The Fortress Louisbourg was established by the French in the name of King Louis in the early 18th century. While it was primarily there to watch over the lucrative cod fishing trade, there were military stationed as well, just in case, since there was always and inevitably another war just over the horizon. This was always a commercial town, with few farmers. It was filled with soldiers, fishermen and merchants and their families. There was a contingent of support with religious, medical and domestic servants, slaves and the like. There were inns, taverns, butchers, bakers, forges, all the services you need to contribute to a living community.

Bastion Reenactor maleThe site that’s there now as a National Historic Site represents the fort as it would have been in 1744, one year before the first time the British invaded. It changed hands between the British and French several times over the next couple of decades until it ended up with the British. They destroyed it in 1760. The current site is only about 20 percent of the original site. I didn’t know that before and it must have been enormous! There were five bastions for the army with barracks etc., 2.5 miles of wall surrounding and protecting the town and many, many merchants and businesses. Parks Canada began restoring the Fortress in the 1960s.

The park today employs seasonal workers who all dress in period costume in various roles and are very interesting to talk to. They all really know the history of the fortress and of the characters they play. They have events all summer, they have walking tours and special tours. There are often demonstrations of various types of things from cooking to crafts to musket fire and military drill. It’s pretty neat to step back 300 years in time.

View from the Bastion battlements over the town of Louisbourg

We arrived mid morning and at this time of year, near the end of the season, we could park right next to the site. Normally, you park by a visitor centre a couple of kilometres away and are bussed in. It was actually fairly busy because I believe there were a lot of tourists from a cruise ship in Sydney. We parked and headed to the visitor centre to get a map and off we went. We decided to investigate the King’s Bastion first, where the soldiers would be quartered as well as the unmarried officers. This one also included the Franciscan chapel, a jail where the prisoners would be shackled to the bunk, the governor’s quarters and a court. Graham and Malc walked around up on the battlements for a while leaving me to look into some of the other nooks and crannies and rest my bones in the sun as well.

Officers quarters coats

In the Officers’ quarters at the King’s Bastion, Louisbourg

We probably spent a good hour in the bastion and were starting to get a bit hungry. We made our way down the main street, looking into various buildings and listening to some of the staff talk. We got to the café but all it offered was tea, coffee and buns so we went to the main restaurant where you sit at communal tables and eat 18th century style with a pewter spoon and dish. That’s it. No fork or knife. The food they offer is all easily eaten with what you have. I had a really tasty piece of fish with vegetables and a vegetable soup to start with. Malc had French toast which he said was really, really good and Graham had chicken in a mushroom cream sauce, and pea soup, also really nice. I also had a small cup of French style drinking chocolate which seemed to be bitter unsweetened chocolate grated and melted in a bit of water or maybe milk. Different, anyway, very chocolatey.

Onward. We wandered around the site looking here and there, taking lots of pictures of course. If you take the time to talk to the various re-enactors, you can really steep yourself in the history of the fortress and the era it depicts.

Our feet finally gave out and we made our way back to the car. We stopped in the town of Louisbourg to have a look at the old train cars at a museum which was closed and we drove out to the old lighthouse as well. The original lighthouse on the site was erected in 1734 and destroyed in 1758 during the second seige of Louisbourg. The current lighthouse dates to the 1920s.

Tonight, we decided on an Indian meal at a fairly new restaurant I found while searching the area on Google, called Mian’s. It seemed to have good reviews but in the end, it was another disappointment, this time it was mine. Graham enjoyed his meal and Malc liked his. The samosas we started with were superb but my beef was dry and too chewy. Apparently the coffee was awful and they didn’t have milk for the tea, only cream. Unimpressed.

It’s back on the road tomorrow for home, stopping at a Highland Village open air museum on the way. A successful road trip indeed, with mostly spectacular weather!

Sunday September 24, 2017

The Black House Barra

The Black House, Highland Village, Cape Breton

The sun is up and shining and we are hopeful for another nice day. We are going to immerse ourselves in more history today.  This morning’s drive took us along the side of one of the lovely lakes though we mostly only saw it a bit through the trees.

The Highland Village Museum, part of the Nova Scotia Museum network, is high on a hill in Iona overlooking Bras d’or lake and gives you the experience of the Scottish immigrant to Nova Scotia between 1770 and 1830 and then the life of the community and Scottish Gaelic culture over the next 100 years or so as well.  Its staff are all dressed in period costume and talk to you of their lives for the period they represent. There are 11 period buildings on the site.

The first one was in a little “black house”, which is a stone shieling type of dwelling with a thatched roof. The woman there was very much into character and was really good. She told us lots of information about why and how the people in Scotland left home for a new life and what life was like in Scotland for these various clans in the western Hebrides islands. She’d speak partly in Gaelic and then in English which enhanced the experience.

Church and school view 1

Church and schoolhouse, Highland Village, Cape Breton

We climbed up the gravel paths slowly and talked to a few others in the next couple of homes and then it was all downhill. We were also overtaken by several groups of tourists bussed in from another cruise ship so we felt a bit flustered and rushed at times. Most of the buildings were brought here from other sites around the island to create the village and they often have demonstrations of various crafts and cookery.

I have a friend who told me that her late husband’s father and grandfather were ministers in the church, originally located in Malagawatch, that is now located here. He spent many a Sunday listening to long sermons in it! They have a general store, a school house and a forge as well as residential homes represented. The visitor centre gift shop has a good selection of nice things and there’s a small coffee shop on site. The whole village is very well done and informative and very much worth a stop.

Village view

Highland Village, Iona, Cape Breton

We started to lose the sun and from there, pointed the car in the direction of the Canso Causeway. We stopped in a market type place for lunch in Whycogomah and had another leg stretcher near New Glasgow and got home about 7. Brilliant few days on the road!

Mid 19c farmhouse matron hand spinning

Louisbourg Harbour lighthouse and the ruins of the original one, which was the oldest in Canada

Road Trip to Cape Breton, Part 1

Whale Cove Cemetery

Whale Cove Cemetery, Cape Breton

We’ve got a houseguest for a couple of weeks and he’s never been to Canada. We live in a really beautiful part of the country here in the east coast and wanted to show off some of the best of it so a road trip to the island of Cape Breton was organized. We headed out on the road and stopped for a pre-trip breakfast at Tim Hortons before getting on the rainy road to Cape Breton Island. Yes. Rain, most of the time just light showers but it made for a somewhat grim drive. Highway all the way to the island and then we were able to take a more scenic road, the 19, through the east side heading north to Cheticamp.

Malcolm had bought a map of Cape Breton at one of our comfort stops earlier and I had a look at it and spotted something called a Celtic Music Interpretation Centre. Does anyone want to go? Hell yes! We drive on to Judique where it’s located and head in. Malcolm was in heaven in the shop. So many of the cds calling his name! They also had live music in the café, a fiddler called Chrissy Crowley who was absolutely top notch. She was superb as was her pianist accompanist and both are fairly well known. We had a bit of lunch while listening to her play all the instrumental traditional ballads, jigs and reels and it was all I could do from stopping myself squealing out a “EEEEYAH!!!” when she was up to step dance speed.

The rain stopped more or less after that and we chugged along happily listening to one of the cds Malc bought. He kept track of where we were heading on his map and suggested a side scenic road. Good choice. It was quite pretty, following the coast closer than the other road. Then we spied a high open hill, with a little cemetery on the side and doubled back to check it out. It was a lookout spot over Whale Bay, according to the map. The cemetery was surrounded on by little brick chimneys. There’s a nearby area called Chimney corner so it’s likely to do with that. It was an absolutely beautiful spot.

On my way back to the car, I thought about the name “Whale Cove”. Why would it be called that? I turned around to have a look out at the bay. You never know. Yes, yes I spotted some dark shapes out in the bay and called back to the guys. Malc came out with his binoculars and said it looked like about 5 or 6 creatures out in the water. They were too far away to take even a full-zoom photo but we’re pretty certain they were whales which were likely pilot whales!

Cheticamp Harbour Boats

Cheticamp, Cape Breton

Onward to Cheticamp to find the motel which was about 5 minutes the other side of the town, just at the entrance to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The woman working there, the owner, was really nice, showing us a few scenic routes and ways to get around some of the road construction going on and she also recommended a restaurant for dinner tonight and made a reservation. There’s going to be live music there, too, so it should be nice. What a great start to the holiday!

We drove back into the town and had a look at the harbour with the boats. The sheltered water was like glass, it was that still. It was just at dusk so there was still enough light for a few photos. The restaurant had a French woman singing in the dining room. She was all right, sticking to safe crowd favourites in both languages. Most were just not my taste really. The food was as good as predicted so we all enjoyed our meal. We relaxed over dinner and finally headed back to the motel to relax. Tomorrow is our whale watching tour and we’re really hopeful the weather and the sea cooperate.

Thursday September 21

Sunny, cool and crisp this morning. Unfortunately, it’s also a bit too windy and the whale watching tour was cancelled. The boats can handle the choppy seas but the passengers can’t always and it’s a safety issue. We had got up early, checked out, picked up hot drinks and breakfast at Robins donuts and headed out to Pleasant Bay in plenty of time but to no avail. We did ask what companies did similar tours in the Ingonish area where we’re staying tonight and she gave us the information and even tried to get hold of them to book for us but couldn’t get through. We decided to take in the Whale Interpretive Centre they had there which was very interesting. It showed the evolution of the animal, it’s current environment and habits. They had a model of a full size pilot whale which is very common in the Cape Breton area. It’s a good little museum and well worth a stop if you’re in the area.
Northeast Cabot Trail views
We went on a few drives along the lesser beaten paths and drove to the northernmost community in Nova Scotia, called Meat Cove, accessed by a gravel road. The name apparently came from early settlers driving the deer and moose over the mountain to this location to be butchered and salted and shipped to other locations. We found a good place for lunch in Cape North called Angie’s and filled up the gas tank as well. There aren’t a lot of stations around the long stretch of the Cabot Trail from Cheticamp to Cape North so you should take advantage of it when you find one. The road around the Cape Breton Highlands National Park is hilly and twisty, sometimes following the coast and sometimes cutting across inland. There are lots of trails to hike with fabulous views and there are a number of roadside lookoff spots, little craft shops and a few cafes along the way.

It’s such a lovely day for a drive, too! We made a few photo stops along the way and got to the motel, the Sea Breeze Chalets and Motel in Ingonish Beach about 4 p.m. I called the whale watching company and booked us three spots for tomorrow. The man I spoke to said they would likely be ok to go. The Ingonish area is a popular stop. There are lots of motels and holiday chalets for rent. Our rooms face the sea from across the road. We’ll sort out somewhere to eat tonight and have a recommendation for breakfast tomorrow. It’s only a 10 minute drive to the harbour where the tour boat is located so we won’t have to get up quite so early!

Whale Watching Graham and Mal

The lads

We ended up at the Main Street restaurant and I went all out for something different and had swordfish, caught locally in Neil’s Harbour. I thought it was very good. Graham was not overly impressed with his burger, thought it was ok but really didn’t like the fries but Malc enjoyed his vegetarian meal a lot. Back to the motel for the night.

September 22

We checked out and went to the café up the road that was recommended to us, the Bean Barn Café, and they did indeed provide delicious all day breakfasts. We found the Whale Watching company down a small side road very close to where we ate last night and bought our tickets. It’s another beautiful day, perfect weather to be out on the boat. It’s a smaller boat and there were about 12 passengers so it wasn’t crowded at all. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales but we did see seals, bald eagles and a sunfish which was a good sized fish and had fins and flippers. There was a demonstration on how the lobster traps work as well.

We drove from there to the pretty town of Baddeck to see the Alexander Graham Bell museum. Because this year celebrates Canada’s 150th birthday, all of the National Historic Sites and parks have free entry. This is one on the list. It’s a very interesting museum. We never realized how many things Bell invented or started that were cutting edge for the time. Not everything worked out but he was fascinated with how things worked and tried to find new ways to do things all the time. He didn’t actually invent the telephone here in Canada but he maintained a summer home here for many years from about the mid 1880s onward.

It’s off to the city of Sydney tonight for two nights. Sydney is an industrial city at it’s core though these days the former regional industries of coal mining and steel are things of the past. We checked into the Comfort Inn on Kings Road. Be warned, there is no elevator, but they only have two floors. Nice large room, good wifi and lots of space. Breakfast is free but leaves a lot to be desired.

We had supper at the Old Triangle, a sister pub to the one in Halifax. Food was good but the first young man playing music was inadequate to the task. Reminded me of a busker who wants to play everything like it’s a party tune, and faster than it’s meant to be. The main act came on at 9:30. They were much better singers and players but their choice of tunes was mediocre middle of the road. We didn’t stay.

I’ll be back with part 2 very soon, where we visit the Fortress Louisbourg and the open air Highland Village museum.
Sunfish

Whale Watching eagles

Ingonish Beach area

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.

The Magical History Tour – UK 2003

Ailsa’s weekly travel theme this week is History. Pretty much every trip I take will have some element of history to it, whether it’s a visit to a cathedral or museum or historic site. I went to the UK in 2003, planning to travel around and see various friends. Included was a concert in Manchester to see Paul McCartney. (You can read about the concert in more detail here on my website) Because of the number of historical things I saw and did and in honour of the Beatles, I named this trip the Magical History Tour. It didn’t end very well, however. I started to get sick in Cardiff, felt worse in Bath and by the time I got to London I needed a doctor and a place to stay for an extra week because I was in no shape to fly out when I was supposed to. Thanks to a good Samaritan, I had somewhere to lay my fevered head.

But, in honour of the weekly theme, here are some photos from that trip. The full detailed travelogue is here but I’ll write an abbreviated version here as well.

We start the tour in Worcester, on the River Severn, where I stayed with a good pal for a couple of days. Worcester is quite an old city (well, most of the cities in the UK are old) and there’s a strong connection here to the English Civil War. It was near the site of the final battle when Oliver Cromwell’s troops defeated Charles I. They have a Commandery, a military museum here along the canal and a grand old cathedral. There’s also the Royal Worcester china factory and  very old streets in the city center that are still lined with some buildings that date back to Tudor times. We had lunch in the Cardinal’s Hat, a very old pub and visited the cathedral, the seconds shop for the china place, looked into a flea market in the old Guildhall and generally walked and walked. King John I is buried in the cathedral as is Arthur Tudor, the man that would have been king but who died not long after marrying Katherine of Aragon, leaving his younger brother Henry to be crowned Eighth of his name and the rest, as they say, is history.

My pal and I drove from Worcester to Glasgow (in a Smart car!) for a couple of days. Glasgow is a great city, and I prefer it to Edinburgh. While we were there, we went to the cathedral, St. Mungo’s, which is one of my all time favourites. It’s not a huge and spectactular as some, like Worcester’s or Canterbury’s but it’s peaceful and dark and there’s just something about it that I really like. Up a hill behind it is the Necropolis, Glasgow’s Victorian cemetery that has some wonderful old mausoleums. (mausolea?)

We also met up with another friend who lived nearby and he drove us to the Isle of Iona, which is a little speck off the western coast that you get to via another island, Mull (near Oban). Iona is very small and is mainly pedestrian only unless you live there or are coming in a service vehicle. There’s a ferry from Fionnport that will take you across. There’s a small village and a sandy beach with waters as blue as you’d see in the Mediterranean which surprised me. The main attraction here is the old abbey.

St. Columba founded the Abbey on Iona in 563 and it turned into the cradle of Craigtianity in Europe. Over 3 dozen ancient kings of Scotland are said to be buried in the old cemetery, some graves little more than a rise in the ground with a small stone the size of a man’s hand wedged into the ground at one end. There are also some modern graves here including that of political former UK Labour Party leader, John Smith. It’s a quiet place and wasn’t very busy when we were there, early April. It almost feels like time stands still. The abbey is partially restored inside and there are also ruins of a nunnery nearby.

We headed to Manchester to meet up with a few more friends to see the Paul McCartney concert. That’s historic in its own way. The Beatles were probably the first super group of the modern age and each of the band members are and were legendary. Manchester was a few days of hanging out with friends, including a trip to the Lowry Gallery to see the paintings of L.S. Lowry whose pictures of near-stick figure people and the working class of Victorian Manchester bring that period of Manchester’s history to life. A few more friends converged on the city over the next few days and we happily spent time with each other, shopping, eating and having a drink or two.

I left Manchester in the company of a friend who lives in Cardiff. We took the train back to her home and I spent a lovely few days exploring that city. I had a look in the big civic museum, saw a gorgeous war memorial surrounded by spring flowers and trees in bloom, had a walk in Bute Park that abuts Cardiff Castle where I had visited once before so I didn’t pay the admission to go in again. Kind of wish I had now, though. Cardiff is a nice place and has a lot to offer. It’s grown and modernized, especially along the Cardiff Bay development but the city center has galleries, theatre, pubs and shops including an indoor covered market that was fun to browse. We also went a bit out of the way to see Llandaff Cathedral but this turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. I was not impressed at the modern concrete arch across the middle interior topped with an art deco style statue of Jesus. It really didn’t fit in, I thought.

I continued my onward journey on my own after leaving Cardiff but was most definitely starting to feel ill with some sort of flu. I got to a hotel in Bath, a World Heritage Site, and probably should have found a walk in clinic but I was determined not to spend the next couple of days in my hotel room. I carried on. I went to see the old Roman baths, the pump room, the beautiful Georgian streets where Jane Austen walked. I loved the architecture and I visited the old Assembly rooms which includes the Museum of Costume. Superb stuff! I even walked through the old Pulteney bridge across the Avon, an 18th century bridge with shops lining it on both sides.

Bath Abbey is like a cathedral here and is very old. The current one replaces several editions of churches and religious buildings back to the 8th century and King Edgar was crowned King of the English herer in the late 10th century. The city itself was little more than a village in the late 18th century when the rediscovery of the mineral baths promped a flurry of development by Georgian architects John Wood, the Elder and his son and Bath became the Society’s “In” place, the place to see and be seen for the next 40 or 50 years. It’s a very interesting city and well worth braving the crowds.

I managed to get myself on the bus to London because the trains were not going to be running in to London on the day I was planning to travel. I forget why, now. By the time I got to London, I needed a doctor and arranged one through the hotel. My sister had a friend that lived locally and I ended up staying with him for almost a week until I was able to travel home. So the Magical History Tour had a bit of an ignomanious ending but I won’t forget it!