Monday, November 5, 2012

Going down Memory Lane

Cantebury
We finished our year of travelling with a week long trip back to England, attending the wedding of my eldest brother. In planning this trip, Andrea and I very much wanted to visit some of our old stomping grounds from the early 90's during our premarital days, and to somehow have a fun gourmet experience.

After my brother's wedding that was held in a classic British Country House in Kent, Andrea and I headed up to Windsor, home of the Queen's private residence (and yes she happened to be home as indicated by the raised Union Jack flag over the castle). We stayed in a 19 century gothic style country mansion called Oakley Court Hotel. It is situated on the Thames River, across from Eton's college, and was the location for the 2012 Olympic Rowing venue. With 35 acres of ground we had a lovely morning stroll as the morning dew burnt off the river.

Rhubarb Trifle with Coffee
The real reason for us traveling up to this area was because we wanted to drink and dine in England's "Pub of the Year" for 2011, that happened to also be awarded a Michelin Star for their restaurant. The Hinds Head pub is located in the village of Bray, and only a 10 minute taxi ride from our hotel. It is a 15th century pub that still carries its original name, and is tudor style building with large dark wooden beams and low ceilings. Our menu was simple and typical English yet super tasty. Andrea started with a Pea and Ham soup and I with the Ham Hock and Foie Gras terrine. For our main she had the Shepherds pie with pan fried Sweetbread, and I had the Oxtail and Kidney Pudding. And for dessert, Andrea had a never tried before Chocolate Wine slush! and I had an amazing Rhubarb Trifle with Roasted Pralines, Ginger and Coriander. All this scrumptious food was washed down with copious amounts of wine, that included a lovely fruity English wine made nearby.

Oakley Court Hotel
The next day we headed back South to the village of Arundel and met up with my newly wed brother and his wife for the evening. We stayed in a 19th century B&B, across from the Arundel Castle that was built in 1068 by the Earl of Arundel, overlooking the River Arun. As kids, my brothers and I would come to this village on Sundays for long walks and boat rides with our parents and dogs. Upon our arrival, we took my brother's dog for a 3 mile walk to the Black Rabbit pub, had a few jars before returning back for supper in the B&B pub.


Black Rabbit Pub
We said our goodbye's to my brother and his new wife after they dropped us off in the resort town of Eastbourne, in East Sussex. We had booked ourselves into the  Cavendish Hotel as it was one of the hotel's I had trained and worked in for 2 years while attending university studying Hotel, Catering and Institutional Management. It was great to be here after some 20 years, dining in the massive restaurant that seats over 200, and sleeping in an unusually large bedroom with balcony overlooking the English Channel. This is a classy old hotel that has recently revived its offerings of Christmas packages for which I had been accustomed to back in my student days. Although pricy, guests are treated to a 4 day stay over the Xmas period, served with ample food, entertained and lodging, all organized by the Hotel. Leading up to Xmas, the hotel also organizes Xmas parties with food  and entertainment for couples and large groups. I mentioned this because it is hard now a days to find a hotel that does all the catering and entertainment for the general public. Instead, they provide their facilities and cater only to private parties, where the customer's themselves do the organizing of entertainment etc. It should also be noted that we were still in October, and as we walked around town in the evening we saw other hotels putting on Christmas parties, decorated in Christmas wreath and strings of coloured lights, and guests wearing party hats. The classy Cavendish were not starting any of their Xmas parties until the end of November.
View from the Cavendish of Eastbourne
Travelling around the South of England was super easy. For the most part we took the train and tube, where I had booked most of our tickets online and then picked them up once we arrived in the UK at Paddington Station. We never waited more than 5 minutes on the platform for a train, and all trains were on time. Train travel is not cheap, but it sure is convenient, quick and safe.

Our last night was in London. Andrea had booked us tickets to the Mozart Requiem concert at St Martin in the Field, near Trafalgar Square. Rebuilt in 1542, then in 1720, the earliest reference to this church goes as far back as 1222 thanks to a dispute between the Abbot of Westminster and the Bishop of London. In 2006 during some excavation of the site, graves dating back to about 410 were discovered. The church is iconic and one of the most famous non cathedral churches in London, and is home to regular lunch and evening concerts. Our concert was by candle light with a large orchestra and choir that must have been made up of some 50+ people.

The concert did not start till 730pm, so took the tube to Coventry Garden. The annual Festival of Remembrance held by the Royal British Legion had a band stand set up in the square with various artist performing for free.  We were hungry and trying hard not to end up in yet another pub, and happened to walk into a Jamie Oliver "Union Jack" Restaurant, which had been opened in time for the recent Olympics. The Restaurant is outside, under the canopy of the Garden's. Although cold and damp that night, the serving staff offered us warm blankets to wrap ourselves in as we ate, and our seats were heated. The menu proudly offered only English items, and the food served was basic and healthy, yet super tasty. Best of all, this gourmet experience was very affordable and we were delighted by the number of teens also dining in the restaurant, without adult supervision. It really was a fun place where we could have spent an entire evening being entertained, but we had to rush off to our concert.

Next morning we were up at 5am, picked up by a shuttle from our hotel and dropped off at Heathrow Airport by 6:30pm. Yet another simple and enjoyable travel experience.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Road trip with Ruby

When we came home from our motorcycle trip we discovered the alternator on our car had seized up.  It's a 2003 Kio Rio with over 100,000 km and has had quite a few issues over the last couple of years.  Now that we live outside of the city, having only one car, and not a reliable one at that,  led us to take the plunge and get a second car.

Ruby made it to the top of Mt Washington!
Being a typical type A person, I did extensive research online and we test drove a few cars.  In the end we chose a Mazda 3 sport hatchback and named her "Ruby" (red is my favourite colour and Ruby was the name of my paternal grandmother).   She's a joy to drive (6 speed manual transmission) and her Skyactive engine gets 700+km on a 55 litre tank in the city. Since we aren't back to work quite yet, we decided to take her on a road trip.

We made it to North Conway, New Hampshire in 10 hours with only 1 gas stop across the border.  North Conway is a little sleepy town popular for its scenic country side, ski hills and for being situated at the base of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the North East continent.  We'd been here in early June on the motorbike in hopes of riding to the top of the mountain but the weather then had been horrible with torrential rain, and as a result we were unable to climb the mountain on our bike.  This time, even though it was drizzly and foggy, we were able to put Ruby to the test.  The 8 mile, 6,000 + feet climb, along a narrow windy road to the top was a harrowing drive with no barriers to prevent us from driving over the edge.  As we slowly made our way to the top, we were thankful we didn't try to do this on the motorcycle!  At the top it was so foggy you couldn't see 5 feet in front of you, and the wind was wicked.  However, we did it and got the bumper sticker to prove it.

Amazing fall colours
On the way back down the mountain it started to clear enough for us to stop and take some pictures.  Although a lot of leaves have fallen, the fall colours were spectacular.  We drove back in to the State of Maine and over to Freeport to do some shopping.  I'd heard that Freeport was a shoppers haven, only to be disappointed at the selection of shops.  The big draw is the LL Bean complex.  After a few hours of walking we were both "shopped" out and headed up to Bar Harbour for the night.

We stayed at the Bluenose Inn with supposedly great views of the harbour (although we couldn't see anything thanks to the fog).  We did, however, have a fantastic dinner at the restaurant on the top of the hill.  The next day we walked around downtown and drove through Acadia National Park (our 13th US federal park this year).  The hiking would have been great were it not for the rain, fog and wind that made it impossible to enjoy time outside.  Perhaps another road trip will be required in better weather.

Acadia National Park in the fog
Our final night was in St. Andrews New Brunswick.  Another sleepy little town on the ocean. St. Andrews is famous for it's majestic castle like hotel (The Algonquin) which is currently shut down and undergoing much needed extensive renovations.  The town was almost ghost-like as all the tourists were gone.  Luckily the pubs were still open for us :)  The next morning we made it home - a total trip of 2,000 kms.  A nice short trip compared to our other journeys this year.

Next trip is to England for Edward's brother's wedding...


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Quebec


Montreal Olympic Park
Edward and I had never been to the province of Quebec before.  Sure, we'd crossed the river from Ottawa into Gatineau and Hull, but that didn't really count.  And it was important to us to get a sense of true Quebecois culture.  So we were fortunate enough to spend almost two weeks in the province.  Our spanish was better than our french, although we knew some basic french phrases.  We met up with our friends Donna and Leon (we'd travelled to Europe with them earlier in the year) in Montreal.  Leon is french, and had been to Montreal a few times before so was our tour guide.  We stayed at the Auberge Royal Versailles hotel next to the Radisson Metro Station.
The location was perfect - only a 20 minute metro ride to Old Montreal.  Weekend highlights included a stop at Schwartz's deli on Boulevard Saint Laurent (famous for it's smoked meat), strolling along St. Denis street and an afternoon at the Olympic Park (observation tower, Biodome and botanical gardens).

Streets of Old Quebec City
It took about four hours to get from Montreal to Quebec City because we took Chemin du Roy most of the way.  This is a scenic route (and Canada's oldest highway) that runs along the St Lawrence, thru picturesque small towns and pastoral fields.  We stayed at a KOA in St. Nicolas, about a 20 minute ride to Old Quebec City.

An organized walking tour of the Old section helped us get our bearings and made us realize that we could easily spend an entire week here with so much to do and see.  The walled part of the city is so picturesque - a mini Paris with amazing restaurants, wine bars, jazz clubs and shops.  Our best meal was at Aux Anciens Canadiens.  The restaurant is in the oldest buildings in the city and serves traditional Quebecois food (the best (tortierre and maple syrup pie!).

The Citadel - Samuel de Champlain
We both think that every Canadian should come and experience the Plains of Abraham - where the English battled the French back in the late 1700's (and won).  This famous battle was the turning point of the English taking control of the area which eventually lead to the creation of Canada.  The plains are part of a huge park with walking trails right in the middle of the city on the river.   Unfortunately they were setting up for a Madonna concert on the field when we were there so we couldn't fully explore the park.  It was quite the concert as we could hear the music that night in our campsite 20km away!

Ed with his canned maple syrup
To get a feel of life outside of the city, we took a day tour to Ile de l'Orleans (only 5 km downriver from Quebec).  It was a small group - only six of us including a woman originally from Quito, Ecuador, where we started our year long adventure (quite symbolic really).  On the way to the island we stopped at Montmorency Falls (30 metres higher than Niagara Falls).  Once on the island, we sampled ciders, jams and fois gras at an apple orchard, had meat pie and pancakes for lunch at a sugar shack, and finished off at a chocolate factory.  Quite the gourmet experience.  Our tour guide was great - he seemed to enjoy the amazing food, wine, cider and chocolate as much as we did.

Sunset behind Chateau Frontenac
Although Quebec City is relatively small in population, it's tricky to find parking especially if you have a motorcycle.  In fact, they don't allow motorcycles in the walled old section.  So we discovered the best way to travel into the city was by ferry - from Levis across the St Lawrence.  It reminds me of taking the ferry from Dartmouth to Halifax.  Parking at the ferry terminal in Levis is free for motorcycles, and the view of Chateau Frontenac as you cross the river is spectacular especially as the sun sets.    Quebec City at night is a whole different experience than in the day time (quite romantic).  During the summer, the 81 grain elevators in the harbour are lit up at night in a free sound and light show that takes you thru the history of the city.  Cirque de Soleil also puts on a free performance each night.

Quebec City ended up being our favourite city on this entire motorcycle trip.  It captured all that we both love - history, unique language and culture, good food.  We can't wait to come back, perhaps for Carnival.  But after more than three months on the road, 32 states and 6 provinces, it's now time to go home.  


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Long journey to Montreal

Bearstooth Highway - stunning!
As we had previously arranged to meet up with Donna and Leon (our European travel partners - see previous blogs on Europe) in Montreal, we had just 6 days to travel some 3,600 km from Montana.  Rather than take the major interstates along the southern tip of the great lakes, we decided to take a more scenic route up the west side of Lake Superior into Thunder Bay and then straight across into Quebec.  Our behinds were pretty sore by the time we crossed the border and in even more pain once we reached Montreal; but always the adventurers, we did manage to do and see some unique things along the way:


Worlds largest crane in North Dakota
On a recommendation from a fellow biker back in Edmonton, we took the Beartooth Highway north east of Yellowstone National Park.  It is rated the most scenic road in America and definitely lived up to it’s name - a 111 km stretch of single lane road that zigzags along the Montana / Wyoming border, and peaks at 10,947 feet.  Near the summit we came across a couple getting married - their wedding pictures are sure to be memorable!   After such spectacular scenery, we became mindless from the boring drive thru North Dakota and into the Central time zone (one more closer to home!)   The ride was through hundreds of miles of flat farmland, appropriately named the "Flatlands".

Barrel Racing
We stopped for lunch and was entertained by a woman's barrel horse racing competition; and as we continued our long ride we came across the worlds largest Holstein cow, worlds largest Sand Crane and worlds largest Buffalo.  Glad to see that North Dakota is famous for a few things.


Lake Superior in Minnesota
After having been away from the ocean for a few weeks, it was refreshing to come across Lake Superior.   Thunder Bay was definitely nothing to write home about.  We stopped for the night at White  River, Ontario - the birthplace of Winnie the Pooh.  It turns out that in 1914 Captain Harry Colebourn bought a little bear cub from a trapper in White River and named her Winnipeg after his hometown.  "Winnie" was later sent to the London Zoo when Captain Colebourn was shipped off to France.   A.A. Milne's son Christopher Robins visited Winnie at the zoo and hence the stories began.  A nice unexpected history lesson near the end of a tough few days of riding.





Glaciers, Geysers and Wildlife


Glacier National Park
After having spent almost three weeks with family and friends, we were both eager to move on with our adventures.  Glacier National Park in northern Montana hadn’t been on our original bucket list, but was a good place to stop in between Edmonton and West Yellowstone, Montana.  We spent our 19th wedding anniversary driving the “Going to the Sun” road thru some of the most stunning mountains and glaciers we’ve seen so far on our trip. We were fortunate that the weather was in our favour, as it made the landscape so pristine and crisp. We had lunch at the Glacier Lodge, and napped for an hour by the nearby lake.



GPS Tour vending machine
It was then an easy drive to West Yellowstone where we spent two full days in and around Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks.  We rented a GPS tour guide from a vending machine at our campsite.  It actually worked quite well – a voice would describe the background and history of the parks as we passed by certain points.  Our day trips took us in and out of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.  Yellowstone is famous for its geysers, especially one called “Old Faithful” which erupts every 90 minutes.  We discovered that it’s best to watch the geyser blow early in the morning when the air is cooler as the steam channel is narrower allowing you to see the actual water gush high up into the air.  The best time to see wildlife was early in the morning when bison and elk are feeding.  There was one point where a herd of bison ran across the road right in front of us! 



Elk antlers in Jackson Hole, WY
We spent a day driving thru the Grand Teton's park but unfortunately couldn’t get a good view of the mountains due to the haze caused by smoke from forest fires in Idaho. Nonetheless it was spectacular.  We had lunch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is a fun little town with elk antler archways on the four corners of its downtown square.    

We've been really impressed with all the Federal parks that we've visited on this trip.  Visiting the Rockies in the US is much more spectacular than the Canadian side. In the US, one can drive up and over the mountains which provides amazing views of the landscape; where as the Canadians mostly have roads that go thru and around the basin of the mountains. One day we hope to visit every single US Federal park. But we're done for now, and will start heading East and back towards the Canadian border.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Off the beaten path .. our time in BC and Alberta


We had an embarrassing moment disembarking from the ferry onto Vancouver’s mainland, as I had drained the bike battery and could not start the bike. Being the first in position to leave the large ferry filled to capacity with 200+ cars and semi-trucks, I had to madly rush and unhitch the trailer pushing it and the bike aside to allow the vehicles off. Fortunately for me, the ferry is prepared for events like this as a staff member eventually brought over a portable battery for me to boost my bike. Lesson learned is to not have the bike connected to the fridge when stationary for long periods of time.

We spent two days with Dan and Faith Hunter, who took time out to chauffeur us around Vancouver, taking us to our old stomping grounds where Andrea and I lived and worked. Boy how the city has changed as a result of the 2010 Winter Olympics and the city’s policies on “Density and Population”. Vancouver is no longer a city for “tree huggers” as grassy sidewalks, backyard gardens and traditional ally-ways are being torn up and replaced with high rises. We were reassured that our move out east back in 1999 was the right decision for us, as we cannot stand populated cities.

Tubing down Penticton Canal
After visiting Andrea’s Grandma in Salmon Arm, we had an amazing long weekend in Kelowna with two sets of very close friends. When staying with Heather and Bob Hrasko , we took 7 kids tubing for 2 hours down the Penticton Canal. It was a scorching hot day, and the water was rather warm. It was great to see so many people out on the water having so much fun. After our dip, we took off with Heather and Bob (and no kids) and visited two of the two hundred plus wineries in the Okanagan Valley (Tinhorn Creek & Dirty Laundry).

Cuddling a Wallaby
I had no idea that there were Kangaroos and Emu’s in Canada, until we stayed with Evelyn Smith, mother of Kevin who we stayed with in Duncan. Evelyn took us to the Kangaroo Creek Farm who have been raising Kangaroo’s, Wallabies and Emu’s in the Lake Country area for the past 20 years. The owners promote themselves as a hobby farm, a refreshing change from all the orchard farms that we drove through.

Shortly crossing into Alberta and stopping for fuel at the North Saskatchewan Crossing, we were once again greeted by strangers and engaged into conversations that we had been accustomed to throughout our travels. I mention this because it was lacking in BC, and our stop at the Crossing confirmed to us that folks in BC are not really that friendly nor outgoing … with the exception of all of our dear friends whom we have mentioned as we got to befriend them outside of BC.

Who's driving this thing?
Our two night stay on the “Wogs” farm in Rocky Mountain House was a welcome respite from the long ride from Kelowna, which we did mostly in the rain. For 2 days we forgot everything about our bike adventure as we were treated to a fine curry made from a recently hunted big Horn Sheep (thanks Marty), played games of darts, drank good wines, and went boating per typical "Wog style"... as the only power was by paddle because the motor would not run.

Folk Fest and Edmonton at night
We spent our weekend in Edmonton with Jan and Kam Konduc and attended the annual Folk Fest. The festival has been going on for some 34 years, and it is the second largest Folk Fest in the world (next to Edinburgh) with over 20,000 in attendance each day and musicians from all over North America. While there, we met up with another biker who had just come back from Yellowstone National Park who told us that we MUST ride up the Bear Tooth Scenic Highway that goes from the North East entrance of Yellowstone to Interstate-90 in Montana.

Our last day in Edmonton was spent with my good ol' high school buddy, Ian Hunter, and his family (Sue, Deanna, and Aaron). Visiting him just before our long trip down to Yellowstone National Park and then home was well timed as we have become bored with our limited selection of music that we brought with us. Ian is a talented musician and he graciously compiled some 5 gigabytes of music to surely last us all the way back home. Thanks Ian J

Monday, July 30, 2012

Seattle to Vancouver Island


Chihuly glass & Space Needle

We left Crater Lake and took the Oregon Coast road north.  We’d planned on spending 2 nights somewhere, but ended up having to move around as there was a Cat show in town so all the hotels were booked up.  When we got into Washington State the landscape changed dramatically.  Logging is big business here and we passed huge clear-cut areas.  After having spent time in the Redwoods it was sad to see so many trees being cut down.  But we could see new trees planted, although they were still so small.  We got to Seattle on July 23rd and spent 2 nights with my Cousin Carmen who I hadn’t seen in over 30 years.  We sure appreciated the home cooking, comfortable bed and laundry facilities.  There was a new Chihuly Glass display at the bottom of the Space Needle that we walked around one afternoon.  I hadn’t realized that the same amazing glass sculptures we’d seen at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas were by Chihuly.

Ahhh Canada...
From Seattle, we drove north to take the ferry from Anacortes, Washington, to Sidney, BC.  We both cheered when we saw the signpost for BC.  Even though it’s on the other side of the country, crossing the Canadian border is like going “home”.   In Victoria, we met up with old friends.  Kathleen was the Executive Chef at the Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon when Edward was the Food & Beverage Director there in 1999.  It also worked out that another friend from the hotel, Russell and his family, were visiting from Toronto.  So needless to say it was a great big reunion with amazing food and wine.

Long Beach Tofino
Edward & I lived in Vancouver in the mid-late 1990’s and had enjoyed going to Tofino, on the far west side of Vancouver Island.  Although it‘s about a 5 hour drive from Victoria (single lane winding highway filled with RV’s and logging trucks), we wanted to visit again since it’s basically the furthest point west from Halifax.   It just so happened that our friend Russell and his family were spending a week there so we hung out together for a couple of days.  Tofino is now more commercialized, but Long Beach in the Pacific Rim National Park is still as raw and rugged as ever and a great place to walk when the tide is out.   Our campsite was at the golf course and at the end of the airport runway so we had fun watching the planes (only a few per day).

Merridale Cidery
Our final stop on the Island was in Duncan where we met up with an old Junior High school friend that Edward went to school with in Manitoba.  Edward hadn’t seen Kevin in over 20 years – it was great to see them catch up.  We took the time to make a stop at Merridale Cidery – one of our favorite ciders when we lived in BC.  Back then you could get 2 liter pop bottles filled right from the stainless steel vats.  Nowadays they distribute throughout BC liquor stores, and give tours and tastings just like a vineyard.  My how things have changed.

After 2 months on the road, we are now officially heading east, towards home.  Our time on Vancouver Island has definitely been fun catching up with old friends.  We’ll be doing more of the same as we head to the Mainland.  Next stop – Vancouver.