Archive for ‘travel’

September 3, 2012

Squamish

When we left for Montreal, one of the things I was most upset about leaving behind were our frequent summer trips to Squamish. My first time climbing outdoors was with my husband when we first began dating. Over the years we have introduced many friends to it. We are not serious climbers by any means. Many of the community’s more fervent members would look on us with scorn for our late-morning start times, our lax pace on the rock, and, most of all, our ritual pre-climb meet-up place: Taco Bell (the Taco Bell in Squamish recently closed, and is not GF-friendly, so our days there are over, but recounted fondly!). Our motivation when climbing, however, is to have fun being active and to always be safe. We aren’t out to break records, just to have a good and relaxing time.

The drive from Vancouver to Squamish is among my favourite of all the drives I’ve ever done. The highway runs right along the coast, where the mounain tumble sharply into Howe Sound. In late evening, the sun pokes out in gods-rays behind peaks in the middle of the ocean. The highway winds in tight S curves, and it is a delight to fly down when the roads are clear. There are many lovely look out points to stop along to snap pictures, but few gas stations.

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The Chief, post-hike, on a rainy and fogged-in day.

 

You know you’ve arrived in Squamish when you barrel around a corner and catch sight of the Chief: a giant monolith of granite lumped on the east side of the highway. The Chief is the second largest rock of its kind in North America. The hike to the top is a definite “bucket list” item if you are looking for a challenge. The ascent is pretty much like doing 2 hours of stairs (sometimes crossing over and through a creek), except for the last 15 minutes which is like doing 15 minutes of rope laddering. We hiked it in the pouring rain, and I do not recommend it – dangerously slippery. The feeling at the top is pretty astounding. And then you must down-climb that rope ladder descend those stairs, and my god 2 hours of plunking down stairs does a number on your knees and hips! There’s talk of putting a tourist gondola up the back of the Chief to attract more tourists. I was firmly opposed until I realized I could hike up and take the gondola down. Then it became a touch more palatable to me!

If you aren’t up for such an intense ascent, Alice Lake is a good spot for a leisurely hike. The Four Lakes Loop starts off steep, but flattens quickly and is quite pleasant. If you fancy a bike ride, Government Road from Eagle’s Run to Bailey Street to Cleveland Avenue is a nice route along the Squamish River. The best view of the valley, however, is a short stroll into Smoke Bluffs Recreation Area. Take the trail in a ways and you’ll see a neighbourhood of homes. The view from the west side of Cliffside Lane, just up into the resident’s front yards, is sweeping – the Chief is unobstructed, as are views of the Coast Mountains, with peaks directly west and north as they turn into Whistler, Pemberton, and beyond. Be jealous of all the homeowners whose properties scatter along the edge of Burger and Fries, the beginners climbing wall just below.

Howe Sound Brewery Inn has a good rates for places to stay, and a good restaurant if you don’t have food allergies. Their beer is divine. If you have food allergies, Onatah Coffee is a good spot for a morning treat or nut bar. For a romantic but still reasonably priced dinner, hit up The Nest – their GF pizza crust is fantastic, and I have rarely had such helpful and friendly service. They also have GF pasta available!

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Delicious, gourmet gluten-free pizza. There are some fantastic topping combinations!

 

Squamish is a unique place, full of friendly hippies and outdoor enthusiasts, with some of the most spectacular views in all of Canada. Access to it is one of the many reasons I am thrilled to live here!

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April 13, 2012

Calgary to Halcyon to Kamloops

I’ve been enjoying our accomodations too much the last few nights to post! I’m way behind on trip-logging. We are firmly back in BC, and just left our friend J’s home in Kamloops after a night of playoff hockey, dog-wrestling, and catching up. The Dahg is exhausted from all the playing with J’s dog. They are the best of friends now.

We stayed in Calgary with the Hubby’s childhood friend S. she has two cats, so the Dahg was really happy to stay there. S’s sister M brought over her 2-week-old daughter, and was nice enough to let us monopolized baby-cuddling time. She was too cute, and so calm and sweet!

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Our friend CG had recommended a place for us to stay outside Revelstoke called Halcyon Hot Springs. We were looking for a nice relaxing place to stay after so much time in the road. We were particularly looking for somewhere with a pool/hot tub since my back was getting into bad shape. Halcyon sounded better than anything else we looked at in Revelstoke.

I assumed it was in Revelstoke or just outside, and didn’t look at the “how to get here” on their website because we have a GPS. So an hour into the Rockies, away from any cell phone service, I look at the GPS directions and see “Take the ferry at Shelter Bay”. I wanted to kill CG, because my experience with ferries to Vancouver Island lead me to assume they will always be late, long, and expensive. Luckily (for CG), the ferry across Arrow Lake was punctual, short, and free. It was also situated in about the most beautiful location: a giant glacier lake in the middle of the Rockies. The sun was just starting to drop behind one of the peaks, and was glistening off the water with that beautiful early evening light. I seriously think that Arrow Lake is what heaven must look like. It was a fantastic introduction back to BC. So thanks to CG for the tip, and especially for failing to mention the way to get there, because we totally would have missed out on a beautiful place that guidebooks don’t tell you about!

The resort at Halcyon was also great. We got an evening and a morning swim in the hot pools, and the food at the Kingfisher Restaurant was delicious (they easily accommodated my GF diet). Our little cabin was great, but the bed was really high, so the Dahg had trouble getting off and on. This was only a problem after we had gone to sleep, when he suddenly decided he wanted off and nervously paced. The Hubby lifted him off, but the Dahg was clearly conflicted about leaving the bed, because he sulked and glared until he jumped back up an hour later, and stayed for the rest of the night.

The next day we drove to Kamloops. The Trans-Canada between Revelstoke and Kamloops is a really fun road that snakes through the end of the Rockies and then along Shuswap Lake and into the Okanagan region. It’s really fun to watch the ecosystems change so slightly, and the road itself is fast but not too fast with perfect lazy curves. It was a huge treat after boring Prairie roads and nerve-wracking Rocky Mountain passes!

I remember coming through Kamloops last time and thinking it was kind of a dumpy town, really brown and not very impressive. It is amazing what 6 months in the flats of Central Canada will do for your perspective. Kamloops was amazing! There are these amazing hillsides surrounding a canyon that looked to be intentionally carved out of the earth. J lives up on one of the hillsides, and the way it drops off quickly makes the hillsides in the distance look like they are green-screened in. I don’t think it will ever look as beautiful again, because I’m bound to get a little desensitized to awesome mountainous scenery. But I am determined to not take it for granted again. BC really is one of the most spectacular places in Canada, in North America, probably in the world. I intend to enjoy it a bit more in future!

On that note, I leave you with gratuitous pictures from the ferry “terminal” on Arrow Lake. Next stop, Vancouver!!
-W-

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April 10, 2012

Regina to Lethbridge

Prairie Fever hit me pretty heavy yesterday. We left Regina at 9:00 and didn’t arrive in Lethbridge until just after 5:00. A full 8 hours on the road only stopping for quick gas/pee breaks.

The Prairies are a vortex of rolling hills, grain silos, wheat, small ponds, and cows. For a city person, it is actually visually disorienting. I’m used to orienting myself by vertical things: buildings, houses, mountains, bridges, etc. To be then stuck in a place where everything is horizontal it physically jarring. Your vision actually starts to feel askew. Time passes slowly and seems to repeat. I’m not sorry it’s over, but it is an interesting phenomenon.

We stayed with our friend CG in Lethbridge. She had some steaks and rice ready to be prepared for dinner, and her roommate had a pair of dogs for The Dahg to play with. The three of them had a good time ripping around the backyard together. It’s always fun to watch dog-play go from the initial chase game to a more pouncy wrestlefest as the dogs get more comfortable with each other. The Dahg is happily passed out in the backseat, so we know he had a good time.

We’re on our way to Calgary now. Staying with some more family friends, and having the privilege of a dinner with a brand new baby! We just got our first glimpse of the Rockies way off in the distance. It feels like a relief to have them in sight!
-W-

April 9, 2012

Brandon to Regina

I am in the most delightful food coma! We’re settling into bed after an amazing dinner with the C family. We stayed with the C’s on the way to Montreal, and are so lucky they had us back.

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We left Brandon this morning with ice cold Prairie winds barreling into the side of our trailer. The wind out here is really putting a dent into our gas budget. Before we hit the Prairies, we were averaging about 7 km per litre (16 mpg) – bad, but expected considering how much weight we’re towing. With the winds cutting crossways against us, we are averaging 4 km per litre (9.5 mpg). Yikes. I feel less bad when I remind myself that we’re still getting better mileage than a Hummer!

Our times, however, have been decent, or at least predictable. We got to Regina about 2.5 hours earlier than planned today. We decided to kill some time and stretch our legs walking around Wascana Park. It was bright and sunny out, though chilly, and the Canadian geese have just settled in for the season. The Dahg was very pleased to have a good hour-long walk. Wascana was a beautifully situated park with a pleasant view of the cityscape and the Capitol building.

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We then showed up at the C’s home ready for a feast. Mr. C had cooked up a delicious ham (and gave me a tip I will definitely try when I get charge of a kitchen), and Mrs. C had made a cake for her daughter’s birthday. J is vegan, so that was enough of a challenge, but she also made it gluten free so I could enjoy it. It was such a treat – moist with really good chocolate flavor. Perhaps one of the blessings-in-disguise with gluten free eating is things like baked goods are such a rarity that you really savor and appreciate them when you get them!

Tomorrow we have a long drive to Lethbridge. Roads all appear to be clear and open, so we are on schedule to arrive in BC (Golden specifically) just in time for the first Canucks-Kings playoff game! Could not be better timed!
-W-

April 7, 2012

Thunder Bay to Falcon Beach to Brandon

We have finally escaped Ontario for the Prairies! Yay? We were remembering today how the Prairies can make you go a little insane after awhile – we decided to call it “Prairie Fever”. Luckily, we have the Rockies to look forward to at the end of it.

We left Thunder Bay yesterday morning after making a hasty reservation at the Falcon Lake resort. It was our second choice in places to stay. Our first choice was the quaint recreation area that only took last minute reservations for 1-night stays. Instead, we picked Falcon Lake because it was the only thing within an hour, and we were already in for 6-Google-hours. In the effort to not burn ourselves out, we chose proximity over quality.

So began the accomodation flashback. I have not stayed in a place that felt more like the Totem Park dorms since I lived in the Totem Park dorms. Complete with cinder block halls, white and forest green paint, a night manager, a cafeteria, and several vending machines, Falcon Lake resort felt like the place kids from University of Manitoba would come for a weekend in the snow. It’s what I imagine the AMS Whistler Lodge is like, minus the Whistler. Not exactly top-notch, but perfectly safe and amusing.
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The manager was this chatty little Indian guy who told us all about the troubles of the resort. Apparently his brother purchased the property, but the old owner was shady and promised certain things in the contract he did not live up to. Specifically, he allegedly failed to replace a leaky roof and made off with the property’s hot tub. This last feat seems most impressive, and was also most disappointing. Luckily, there was still a (freezing cold) pool and (slow-to-warm) sauna. There was a pretty awesome waterslide, but one turn was enough with the pool temperature and sauna malfunction. It was a weird but memorable place!

Today we took off for Brandon, MB. I’m actually pretty impressed with Brandon. It’s quaint, new, and appears to be on an upswing economically. We had a nice steak dinner at Montana’s, which was really accommodating to my gluten allergy. I tend to stick my nose up and big steakhouse all-you-can-eat type chains, but I can’t be upset when a kitchen is caring and accommodating. Also, more importantly, the food left me feeling full but not sick, which for me is usually the sign of decent ingredients and good cooking processes. It was also my first steak in years. So a surprise kudos to Montana’s.

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We hit some good winds on the drive today, and expect some more tomorrow on our way to Regina. The distance home gets shorter and shorter, and I am getting more and more anxious too see me some mountains! Luckily, most of the rest of the trip we have friends to visit and stay will along the way!

April 6, 2012

White River to Thunder Bay

I’m in a bit better of a mood today. We’re in Thunder Bay at a Travelodge. There’s something comforting about being back in a chain hotel. Even if we did end up in the pool-less Thunder Bay Travelodge.

It was beautiful sunny weather again today. I am going to miss that. It really hit today that this trip would be much more enjoyable a month from now, when the parks and attractions are all open. Yesterday we went through Lake Superior Provincial Park, which was closed. Today, we drove past an amethyst mine – you can dig for your own amethysts! Also closed. Tomorrow, Sleeping Giant, also closed. It would also be more in bloom, and more picnic and camping weather, thus cheaper to travel. But not much could be done about our choice of travel dates.

Tomorrow we leave Ontario and cross into Manitoba. We hope to stay at a nice resort on Falcon Lake, home to this kitschy CBC program. We also hope to get there enough before sundown that we can get a stroll in with the Dahg. He has gotten a little antsy after so much car time!
-W-

April 4, 2012

Huntsville to Blind River to White River

I greatly dislike this part of Ontario. It’s pretty desolate, and the only places to stay are crappy budget motels on the side of the highway. They make me a nervous sleeper. I will be in a lot better mood tomorrow when this part of the trip is behind us.

Sorry for the lack of post yesterday. We checked into the hotel, and I promptly spent the night sleeping off nausea triggered by caving to a potato chip craving and not eating properly. Both of our stomachs are off tonight as well, partly due to lack of decent food options on this leg of the trip. Thunder Bay tomorrow will be such a relief. It may not be a big place, but the population is in the 6-digit range. The cities we’ve gone through ear are lucky if they are low-end 5 digiters.  Most are around the 1500 mark. And not the quaint 1500 mark – just desolate.

We are currently in White River, birthplace of Winnie-the-Pooh. Not Winnie-the-Pooh the character, but the black bear that eventually ended up in the London Zoo and inspired A. A. Milne’s character. Basically a Canadian Army Vet bought a bear from a trapper for $20 and traveled to England with the regiment, becoming a sort of pet for the barracks. When his owner was shipped off to France in WWI, he was donated to the London Zoo, where he was a quick favourite of zoo-goers.  The White River website has a nice little summation of the story. My favourite part is the zoo letting kids ride Winnie – like that could ever even come close to happening nowadays! Yikes!

I wish I had more observations. Lake Superior is lovely, as expected. There have been some more hills than we expected.  We have designed the trip well, I think, and aren’t burnt out of driving yet. The slower pace was definitely wise, even if it means we are stuck in desolation-Ontario for a little longer!

-W-

April 2, 2012

Niagara to Huntsville

Today was a less lengthy drive. We had a somewhat leisurely morning, not checking out until around 10:30. We drove 10 minutes down the road to see the Falls.

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Today I learned that Niagara is Canada’a Las Vegas. It reminded me so much of the tacky goodness that is the Strip. Personally, I liked it. It was ridiculous, and if I hadn’t expected it, I would have been upset at it detracting from the natural beauty of the Falls. I kind of liked the contrast. We tooled along the observation area right next to the Horseshoe, and then we forked over some money to go up to the observation deck of the Skylon Tower.

After spending a few hours at Niagara, we drove the 4 hours to Huntsville, backtracking much of our route from yesterday. I’m actually glad we did, because we got to see what was so dreary yesterday in perfect sunlight and great visibility. The Toronto metro area was prettier than yesterday, but still kind of a big sprawling packed suburb.

The rest of the drive was the first really pleasant scenery we’ve had. It was farmland and forest and rolling hills, and felt speedy to go through despite our top speed of 55 mph/90 kph. We got some good glimpses of Lake Ontario and Lake Simco, and there was not a cloud in the sky all day.

We’re now resting at our hotel in Huntsville. So far, we are two for two on hotels with gluten free restaurants across the street! Today, I had a gluten free BLT made with locally made gluten free bread. It was delicious – the bread was some of the best I’ve had! We upgraded to a jacuzzi suite, since it was only $20 extra and we needed something to soak our tired joints in.

Tomorrow will hopefully bring some awesome scenery. We’re covering the Parry Sound/Georgian Bay stretch and the first of a few days circling the giant Lake Superior. I’ll end with a giant stream of pictures from our day at Niagara.
-W-

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April 1, 2012

Montreal to Ottawa to Niagara

We are currently resting and well-fed in our hotel in Niagara after a very very long two days. A Knights Tale is on TV, the Dahg has his own queen-sized bed, and we just finished choosing down some delicious gluten-free Thai food.

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I never want to move again. We were very organized, and had everything packed up and ready to go. Unfortunately, there are always those little things that don’t fit into boxes (sports equipment, flat-packed furniture, ironing boards, etc). You get all the boxes and easy stuff packed, and then the chaos begins. You get bogged down in the chaos, become inefficient, and then suddenly see the end and power through. My arms are shot from carrying so much stuff. We ended up not leaving until around 5:30, arriving in Ottawa at 8:30.

It was nice to have our first stop be a familiar place. It was good to see Jm and his friends. They are good people. We wonder a little if we had picked Ottawa, would we have made more of a life here? I don’t know, but we do have fond memories of our times in Ottawa. We had a big taco feast, then went out and watched the Canucks eliminate the Calgary Flames from playoff contention.

We got up later than expected after such a hard day previous. We strolled through the Byward Market to Tim Hortons for coffee and then strolled in the miserable slushing weather to catch one final glimpse of Parliament. Ottawa was my first experience of Old Canada, the first time I saw an old Eastern Canada church, and the first place brick really stood out. Even if it wasn’t the most picturesque day, we felt the need to say good bye.

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We got on the road around 10. Our first stop was Ganonoque, where we took a little detour to see the Thousand Islands Parkway. We were hoping for some good St Lawrence scenery, but it was so windy and rainy that we couldn’t see much further than 100 yards onto river. It was a bit underwhelming.
Our next stop was Fort Henry in Kingston. We stopped out for a brief stop to walk around the outside of the fort. The view toward Kingston was actually quite neat. The mist and rain blurred the cityscape against the lake, so it looked like the city was falling off into nowhere.

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After Kingston, we powered through, save for one gas stop, all the way to Niagara. I was hoping this leg of the journey would offer some decent roadside scenery, but the weather made everything dingy and gray and a bit ugly and industrial. We are checking out Niagara Falls in the morning tomorrow, and then hopefully have a bit shorter of a drive up Georgian Bay to Huntsville.

March 30, 2012

Au Revoir MTL

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We’ve got everything packed and ready to go, just a very few odds and ends left to chuck in a box. We learned after the last move to have aces things out of boxes as possible. The last move took way longer than we expected because we weren’t fully finished packing. We anticipate a bit of chaos tomorrow, but not nearly as chaotic as last time.

Tonight is our last night in Montreal. Part of me is sad, but the majority of me feels ready to go. The sadness part is that this adventure turned out to be a lot different than I expected. I turned out to react a lot differently than I thought I would. My anxiety was a lot higher, and my interests here were a lot different than I expected as well. In the end, even though I am a little sad things didn’t work out quite as expected, I learned a ton about myself at a very important time in my life. Some big lessons, some small lessons:

1) The Hubby and I don’t get sick of each other. We’ve spent 6 months with each other, with very scant contact with other friends and family, both working from home in a tiny 1-bedroom apartment. Close quarters, sometimes not being away from each other for 24 hours, with and at a certain point with some very significant financial stresses. We never once got angry at each other, and never felt like we needed the other out of our hair. It’s kind of unreal, but I feel really lucky.
2) Despite the above, I don’t do well without my family and friends. My anxiety has skyrocketed here, to the point where I’m suffering some health problems from it (stomach issues, sleep issues, etc). We have a very deep network of amazing people out west. Some of it I inherited at birth, some of it I gained through marriage, but a large part of that network the Hubby and I built through careful selection of awesome people, nurturing friendships, and joining of groups. We came here to see if we could create a new group like that. We did meet some cool people, no doubt, but our Tribe as we like to call them are really exceptional. We don’t just love having friends, we really love our specific friends. We don’t just love having family, we love OUR family.

3) I have growwed up. How the heck did that happen?! Part of coming here was to try and delay becoming an adult. Marriage felt adult enough, and I didn’t think I was quite ready to start saving for a house and kids. Montreal was supposed to be a distraction into that collegiate lifestyle: going to shows, hanging at bars, late nights, and restaurant food. But once we got here, I was far less inspired by it than I expected. I get tired of bars pretty quick. I am less interested in concerts and late nights on a regular basis. I would rather cook food for people than eat out all the time, partially because it’s fun and partially of the serious lack of gluten free dining in Montreal. I’m not as content going out drinking as I once was. Staying in and drinking with board games or instruments, video games or a hockey game is more enticing to me now. Also, things like walks in the park and hiking, visiting the Biodome, and Montreal’s family friendly festivals appealed to me way more than the club scene. I guess it’s time for that transition as I near the end of my 20s, but I didn’t expect it at all!

4) I don’t like being poor. This seems silly to say, because no one likes being poor. And it’s not that I can’t budget – being poor has actually taught me much better budgeting than I had before. The kind of complete paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle everyone experiences as a student, the not being able to afford much outside of the basic necessities, poor because you aren’t working enough. I don’t like it, and a new scene is not motivation enough for me to stick with it. In other words, money and a certain amount of frivolity and luxury is actually a value of mine. I hate admitting it, but I can’t just pretend I’m not that way.

5) A positive lesson: I like the cold! Everyone told me I’d hate the weather once I got bogged down in it. Once it wasn’t new. After the first few snows I’d hate it. It never happened. I know it was an easy winter, but the temperature was low enough that I got enough of a taste for cold. I found out I like it. I like -15. I don’t even mind -20. After -25, things get tough, but that’s because humans are not meant to be alive at those temperatures. When it drops that cold, the thing is, everything is dry. The air becomes crisp. The sun and cold air to me are uplifting. My mood skyrockets. It is the one thing I am not looking forward to about Vancouver. I’ve seen what it’s like when it doesn’t rain for 9 months, and I like it.

6) I belong on the West Coast This lesson is harder to explain than the others. In “San Diego Seranade”, Tom Waits has two separate lines that really hit home: I never knew the east coast until I moved to the west…I never knew my hometown till I stayed away too long. Something about being away has made me appreciate what home really is. I don’t really fit in over here. I feel like I’ve lost my centre. The west coast has a ton of thing I like. I like green things, mountains, salt water, fusion food, mid-century housing, cargo pants, and knee-high boots. I am polite and cheerful but a little aloof. I am very socially and politically liberal, I crave the beach, I pick up after my dog, and I like my city clean. I belong on the West Coast and in Vancouver in particular.

Tomorrow it’s packing everything into the trailer and a short drive to Ottawa. Then on to home!
-W-