After a glorious 4 weeks in Canada we hopped across the border by bus from Vancouver to Seattle. It was a remarkably painless journey, made easier by the decision to grab a cab from the airport where we had dropped our car to the bus station. Thankfully the inflatable rubber dinghy found a home with the attendants from Thrifty Cars who were delighted to take it, and its single remaining oar off our hands.
At the border we had to get off the bus and go through passport control. We were rather bemused by the lackadaisical and frankly negligent approach of the US border guards who seemed only able to move at the pace of the sloths (if you’ve seen Zootropolis at the Cinema you’ll get the idea!), and in between chatted between themselves about nonsense. Most bizarre given the ‘terror’ that is reported, and a very sharp contrast to the diligence of UK and European border controls! We held up the whole bus due to the driver giving us the wrong instructions, hey ho, and after a mad dash (at sloth speed) we finally got back on. Dean was not in the best of moods, which was unfortunate for the young French couple who had decided to nab our seats which were in a prime spot. They quickly decamped in response to his thunderous “get out of our seats’, and we caused much amusement for the rest of the bus.
Beautiful scenery brought us into Seattle, where our high bridge entry gave us stunning views of the Space Needle and Seattle harbour. We rode the ‘Sky Train’ to the airport through sketchy districts, and a lovely elderly retired microbologist struck up a conversation with me. He was reading the Economist and hearing my English accent asked what I thought of Teresa May and Brexit (it follows us everywhere…!). We had a lovely discussion about the virtues of good leaders, and the paucity of such leaders in the US and UK political parties. A good conversation with a delightful elderly man. As we pulled into the airport Fred was asleep in my arms, nuzzled in my neck. Another sweet moment.
We got to choose our hire car for the next 5 weeks, and we pulled out in a large Toyota that Fred had chosen because his brother Barney was just starting a 2 year placement with Toyota in Epsom. A couple of hours of heavy traffic on the freeway and we pulled into our motel in South Tacoma. We were greeted by fire engines and ambulances, and it looked like some poor old man had started a fire in his room. It proved to be our most interesting stop to date. As we ate our salad and cooked chicken by the pool we were joined by a couple of people, likely on meth, who proceeded to swim fully clothed in the pool and request our food. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have a key card to enter the pool!
The relaxing evening was slightly disrupted when we got notice that our AirBnB in Portland had fallen through. I jumped onto CouchSurfer.com to see if I could muster up a last minute home for us. Within minutes Karrie and Ed came back and said they could do 2 nights but we would be doubling up for one of those with couch surfers they already had booked in. Portland was back on.
We jumped onto Highway 101 after a breakfast swim, this time meeting a lovely African American grandmother who was living at the motel with her daughter’s family including grandchildren. They all joined us in the pool and we learnt about the wider family dispute over a family farm that was subject to probate. She shared her homespun wisdom and God’s blessing for our trip. Yet another lovely set of memories.
Our route, it turned out, took us past the exit for Mount St Helen’s an active volcano. We stopped off at the visitor centre which had a magnificent view of the smoking giant that had last erupted, unexpectedly, in 1986 with the loss of over 100 lives. A quarter of the volcano’s side had been blown out with the eruption, and we had a great view of the huge crater in the side of Mount St Helen’s. Being cheapskate’s we viewed the exhibition from the entrance hall, and looked at the detailed history in the visitor centre shop. Another $30 saved!
Another detour in to the town of Battle Site, because we thought there might be a battle site there (there wasn’t!), a stop at Walmart to buy food to cook for our couchsurfing hosts, and horrendous traffic coming into Portland meant we arrived an embarrassing hour late. Ed and Karrie however were gracious about our lack of punctuality & I set to in the vast kitchen of their lovely home making Spaghetti Bolognese for us all. Caleb their second eldest took Fred under his wing, and much to his delight, they were soon playing ‘Call of Duty – Black Ops’ on the Xbox (bad bad parenting by us!).
The next day we headed out to the park and ride to catch the train into Downtown Portland. Pioneer Square was our first stop with a lovely amphitheatre. Dean and I went into the Tourist Info centre whilst Fred wondered around outside. The delightful Larry, a retired gentleman now volunteering, gave us maps and tips, including hiking for Dean (there’s just something about Dean that makes everyone think he wants to go hiking!!). We came out to find Fred ecstatic that he was in the middle of a ‘Pokemon Go’ meeting place. It was all we could do to drag him away….
Following Larry’s directions, we came to the largest Portland Food Cart site with over 200 on 2 blocks of wasteland. The variety was stunning. Our first stop with Egyptian because Fred loves Egyptian flatbreads. All the way to Portland to get a Kebab, none of us had been drinking, and it was midday! Throughout the day we grazed on a smorgasbord of international food from the carts and all were fantastic.
On Karrie’s recommendation we headed to Powell’s bookstore that takes up and entire block. We were slightly stunned to be greeted at the door by a sign reading ‘no guns beyond this point’ – not something we see on the doors at Waterstones! We left with 3 books. Taking a walk through the Pearl District we came to Blick’s a huge artists shop. The array of paints, brushes, canvases etc were astounding and beautiful to see. On our way to our next stop we came across Portland Art College. The security guy on the desk let us in as ‘visitors’ to view the students work, and pointed out a couple of exhibitions we could go in and see. There was a terrific piece of video and photographic work about the Portland homeless population. It was moving in the way it humanised this large, and marginalised, section of Portland’s society. One person in the film talked about the strength of community that they were part of, how they cared for one another. What stuck was his identification that he sees and engages every day with his neighbours, and this gives him a huge amount of social connection. On the large prosperous estate that Karrie and Ed live on I didn’t encounter one neighbour. It rang true.
As we left the Art college we headed through ‘The Parks’ a series of small parks on a boulevard. The homeless move into these shady spots during the hot daytime. We only had to deviate from our path once and that was to avoid Fred seeing a couple of guys shooting up a young woman in her 20’s. There’s lots of things we’re explaining on this trip to Fred, mostly ahead of his time, but this was one I wanted to skip. We were heading to one of the most famous donut shops in town, Voodoo Donut, and as we worked our way there we came across so many homeless people. The man slumped out cold in his motorised scooter who we thought was dead (he wasn’t), the man who was having a psychotic or pharmaceutical episode in the fountain with his trousers and underwear round his knees, the high black man who wanted a cigarette (which we gave him) who then joyously engaged Fred in a conversation about what sports Fred likes (we passed 5 minutes with him), Cathy in her 50s who can’t stay clean and so can’t get a place in a hostel (Dean sat and shared his lunch with and then went back with a donut). Saddest of all for me was the teenager, with half her teeth missing, with a cardboard sign outside Voodoo Donut. She had been seeking $25 for a bed for the night, as people had given her money she crossed out the $25 and made it $20, then $15. Fred and I decided to break our not giving money rule to beggars, we chose the cheaper dozen donuts and gave the $10 we saved to her. Our resolution to give to a national charity for each country and then not give money to beggars… but when you have so much…….
In the midst of this we had the light relief of Voodoo Donuts. Glitter painted outside walls gave the old building an iridescent glow. So famous that queues were managed around the block. Once inside the visual displays of the donuts were stunning. Each donut, a work of art in itself, danced a pirouette inside revolving display cabinets. Funky pierced tattooed young millennials served us. We left with a dozen inside the iconic pink boxes with voodoo graffiti.
We decided to end our day with a walk along the Portland river front. As we made our way there, balancing our pink box, we came across the Mercy Corps HQ. Larry from tourist info had recommended a stop here. We were the only visitors to this extraordinary charity. Their objective is to address hunger and the causes of hunger, employing only locals in the countries they work. Individual stories of self-sufficiency enabled by Mercy Corps adorned the walls. Most impactful was the three differently sized Perspex cabinets containing grain. Each one contained the average food per capita, represented by the grain, consumed in three different regions of the world. The US box was by far the largest and was treble that of the poorest of countries. We took photos and for one of mine I placed my Voodoo Donut box on top of the US Perspex cabinet. I was feeling inspired…..!
We made our way back to Karrie and Eds and I set about making a chicken curry for us all. We enjoyed more good conversation about American politics before hitting the sack. After a leisurely start the next day we headed back downtown heading for OMSI the Portland science museum. Karrie was picking her 2 youngest Vespa and Laith up from the airport, who had been visiting their grandma for 3 weeks, and they were all going to meet us at the museum. We had a great time exploring the space, science and physics sections. Dean had nipped off with Ed for a cheeky beer. We all met back up and Ed drove us around the East side of Portland, through the famous funky Hawthorne district (apparently where beards, fedoras, tattoos, and the man bun was born) and up to the top of their local city volcano. Apparently Portland has more volcanos than any other part of the US, active and extinct which was a surprise. That night we were treated to marinated ribs cooked by Ed on the BBQ. I don’t know what they feed their pigs, but if I hadn’t known it was portk I would have sworn from the size of them that the ribs came from a buffalo.
We were only supposed to stop 2 nights with Ed and Karrie, but they had offered us 3 and then that evening suggested that we have another night making it 4. They had just found out that Beaverton Diversity Night Market and Festival was the next night. We didn’t take much persuading. In the morning we were treated to homemade waffles which I felt I had earnt with an early morning run around the area. We spent the morning chilling out and catching up on emails, blogging, reading etc before I took Vesper, Laith and Fred off to the local pool. We got a MacDonalds on the way due to me getting the pool opening times wrong (duh) but the kids were rewarded with a ‘Secret Lives of Pets’ toy in their Happy Meal. We had a great time at the pool which refreshed us for the evening fun.
Beaverton Diversity Festival and night market turned out to be a real treat. Food from Somalia, Jamaica, Mexico, Cuba etc and dance displays from Persia, Korea, Hawaii, China, Japan. Last up was a Brazilian band fronted by a long haired, long legged female singer in the biggest stacked shoes and the shortest white dress any of us had ever seen. She looked and sounded fabulous. Immediately the dance area was bursting and the fantastic moves of those that knew what they were doing left me sitting on the side-lines. Finally, Fred, who for some reason adores it when Dean and I dance together, made us get up and dance. He captured it on video (see Fred’s blog) before taking to the dancefloor with me, which Dad caught on video (see below). It was also lovely to meet some of Ed and Karrie’s friends and their children. It really is a community with people from all over the world that works in a very harmonious and affirming way. A great speech was given by the organisers recognising the contribution of the diverse community of immigrants which started with the Europeans. Of course this is a community of prosperity. Nike, Columbia Sportswear, Intel and others all have their global headquarters in Beaverton. Maybe none of this is about race, religion and colour. Perhaps, after all, it’s all about money……
After a wonderful time with Ed, Karrie, Caleb, Laith and Vesper we said goodbye ready to hit the Pacific coastline and Highway 101. We couldn’t have asked for kinder and more hospitable hosts and we even left with a full set of clean clothes!
Below are some more pictures from the Portland visit
Having enjoyed the stunning scenery of the Rockies and following the recommendation of ‘Scottie’ (the Scot we met in the B&B at Valemont who’s name we can’t remember….) we headed for the town of Nelson. Luckily we found an exceptionally cheap AirBnB and were hosted by the delightful Cheryl.
On our way down we crossed a river by the free ferry, that was a surprise in every sense, and wended our way down the Kokanee Rockies. A fabulously hippy ‘wimin’ roadside diner ‘Mama Sita’s’ gave us a sense of the more alternative folk who had staked a claim to this out of the way part of Canada. After 3 hours of driving we came to Cheryl’s lovely home on Stanley Road in Downtown Nelson. A red haired funky granny, whose son gave up teaching to farm cannabis for the legal purposes of medicinal pain relief…! She gave up her entire home to party the weekend away and we settled in J
Nelson was the best of all Canada world’s; on a beautiful lake, surrounded by vertigos mountains clad in trees, with a thriving alternative community – co-op housing, community veg gardens, local co-op radio etc.…. – and great food and entertainment. Our first evening stroll took us to the edge of the lake and we found a man doing his yoga chanting to the hills and the water. We then stumbled across a DVD store which had just been taken over by the most charming young man who had decided it was his mission to screen and rent the best movie ever. Apparently business was thriving despite Amazon Prime and Netflix! We decided this was the best town we had visited so far & we were a stone’s throw from moving here (we do this a lot!!).
Early Saturday morning and I found the Kootenay Co-op store and Bakery. Fabulous fresh food, staffed by funky energetic youngsters. I got the sense that sexual orientation was pretty fluid round here. After homemade pancakes (I’ve mastered the N American pancakes that rise using baking powder – yay!!) we arrived at the local farmers’ market in the Japanese garden. If you’re a hippy this is hippy heaven and you need to come here. Home dried rolled fruit, fresh bread, a Jamaican shouting “cous cous” every 2 mins to get you to come to his cous cous stand, massage, a folk band, wild flower stand, women doing the hula hoop (just for fun), I could go on and on…. Finally, actually first, we came across the most delightful table with a woman sat behind an ancient typewriter who was a poet. You could type your own poem or you could pay her to type a poem for you. Being a supporter of the arts & the independent artist, I wanted a poem. Behind me Dean shuddered as I commissioned my own work of art without asking the price in advance (dear reader, in my naivety I thought that this being hippy heaven it would be ‘pay what you think its worth’). Fred gave our commissioned poet his topic “Travelling round the world” and we left her to compose whilst we explored. 10 minutes later we got back to the poet who read us her labours. It was beautiful and within seconds I was shedding tears – there must be some medication that can cure me of this over emotional response to any artistic endeavour by other…. Anyway see video below of the poet reading this to us.
I’m not sure if there is a DSM II classification for what Dean has but it needs inventing. 24 hours after arriving in Nelson and being smitten, he was experiencing an allergic reaction to ‘hippy heaven’. Having contemplated going to the Kootenay Shambhala Meditation Centre on Sunday morning for a 3-hour meditation, I became acutely aware that he was on the verge of punching the next person that asked him if he needed his Chakra’s sorting (I may be slightly exaggerating for the purposes of injecting some humour – but not much….!)
A lovely antidote was leaving Nelson to experience the Ainsworth Hot Springs an hour away. Taking a winding road, stopping for fabulous coffee and milkshake in Balfour, we arrived at the most magnificent natural hot springs. Sulphur coated caves with Iron rich waters, 45°C in heat, with an ice cold plunge pool got our pulses racing. Fortunately, there was also a pool, heated by the hot springs water, which was a more bearable 35°C that we could lounge in, or by.
Our final day in Nelson saw us chilling out in the morning, changing our bookings for various cars and accommodation – we decided to can Vancouver and Vancouver Island as too expensive & everyone said that if we’d seen what we had of Canada so far we wouldn’t get anything extra from it – before we headed out in the afternoon to the beach on the river. Another lovely chilled time. Great play area for Fred, who made more new friends, and shady tables for Dean to catch up on his blogging. The dingy we had bought in Wasaga Beach had a good outing in the chilly waters, Fred and I mastering the one paddle canoeing, and a refreshing dip got our circulation going. Dean got a free pass and wondered off for coffee downtown. You’ll have to read his blog to get the detail but coffee turned into new friends, a Sunday League baseball game, and beer….!
Nelson, Stanley Street, and Cheryl will have a special place in our trip. It was magical and I may just retire there…... (but only if Dean has his Chakra’s sorted first!).
Click on link below to view more photos from Nelson trip
What a treat Kamloops turned out to be. Yet another great motel with outdoor pool, aptly named the Grand View Motel. What a ‘grand view’ it had. Nestled where 2 rivers meet in mountain country it becomes inaccessible at times in winter, with all roads to it closing. Weather permitting, in winter flights come in and out bringing provisions and tourists who come to ski and sled. With a small airport and beautiful setting it has grown to over 100,000. A vibrant community of people have been drawn here. They have built a stunning municipal park on the water’s edge, with obligatory beach, bandstand, play park, and a wealth of sporting facilities all free. People gather, like Gary, who was playing basketball alone until others joined in spontaneously. Unbelievably every night they host, at the bandstand in the park, a free music concert. We have since found this is pretty much standard. How great that towns get to come together, young and old, and musicians have a wealth of paid work across Canada. But what was really stunning about Kamloops was our insight into 2 contrasting cultures that have built Canada; European settler cowboys and the First Nations Shuswap Tribe that had been here for thousands of years.
Going up to the Tourist Information Office we found out that there was a local rodeo starting just down the road in Pritchard. Off we trotted taking a route through a river gorge reminiscent of the Grand Canyon. Millions of years of erosion had carved out stunning scenery. Arriving at the rodeo we stepped back in time. This was a truly local rodeo and we looked like the only tourists. Women wore their plaid shirts with rhinestone studded jeans. Men limped around battered cowboy boots topped with broad brimmed hats. We would understand why so many limped in a few minutes’ time. Saddled up, cowboys and cowgirls caught up with friends, a few with tiny tots perched on their saddles with them. I never knew they made cowboy boots so small, and it was most endearing when the tiny ones held the reins in one hand and their comforters in the other. They certainly start them early here. I lost Dean at one point and found him at the competitor entry stand. I’m pretty sure he was a few seconds away from entering the steer rustling contest. The lady at the stand was certainly finding him amusing with his man bun, florid Hawaiian shirt and bright red shorts.
After the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new grandstand (think local rugby club size), parade of teams participating and renditions of ‘O Canada’ and the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ by a 10-year-old girl, the contests started. First up was the bareback riding. Unbroken horses were released into the arena mounted by cowboys with nothing but a leather strap to hold onto. Maximum time any of the cowboys lasted was 12 seconds, with most of them tasting the dust in about 4 or 5. Even with body protectors they took a violent battering, none more so than when they were ditched into the aluminium fencing around the arena. Horses definitely won that one. This was followed by steer tethering, steer riding etc etc. As the interval approached we were astounded to find out what ‘Mutton Busting’ was……
To our ‘amused’ amazement and horror ‘Mutton Busting’ is bare back riding for the under 10’s but on sheep. The horror was watching wailing 2 year olds strapped onto bucking sheep, and also tasting the dust in a few seconds. We presumed that British Columbia social services have other concerns! I guess that’s how they toughen them up round here….
Fred acquired a Budweiser cowboy hat for free which he proudly wore for the rest of the afternoon. In the stands we got talking to a family that had just relocated out here from Bristol. All in all, it was a fabulous afternoon, and great to see an authentic local rodeo rather than a big commercial one like the Calgary Stampede. Total cost for this one was £12, whereas Calgary would have been over £150. We finished off the hot day in the pool of the motel and more home cooked food thanks to the kitchenette in our room.
Sunday we headed over the river in Kamloops to the First Nations museum on the Shuswap reservation. We were the only ones there which was surprising. The museum was run on a shoe string but full of fascinating exhibitions. To set the scene we were shown into a small room to watch a video made in the 80’s. Incredibly moving, it described the lives of the tribe before, during and after the European settlers arrived. The history of the European settlers attempts to ‘civilise’ the First Nations people was shameful to watch. Far from being wild savages, the first settlers were welcomed and helped by the Shuswap tribe. They had no need of coal, gold or lead and so let the settlers mine and take it from their land. However, as further commercial gain was to be had and the British and American interests expanded, the First Nation people were removed from their lands. Nomadic by nature, they were corralled into small settlements with their traditional migrations prevented.
With the ‘Indians Act’ in the 1880’s the British Government enshrined in law the right to forcibly remove any ‘Indians’ from settlements over 8,000 people, and children from First Nation families were removed from the age of 6 and sent to religious institutions away from their families to be ‘re-educated’. We met Dan, who was 2 years older than Dean, working in the museum. Fred who was teary after the video and horrific stories told, was stunned as Dan told how he had been removed at gun point from his family in 1970 as an 8-year-old, and sent to the site we were on. This site was a boarding school run by the Roman Catholic Church staffed by nuns and priests. Terrible physical and sexual abuse took place. Children who became ill, which was often as the accommodation was inadequate for the harsh winter climate, died. Families who tried to find their children were told they had been sent to hospital but subsequent research has shown no records of this. What was most astounding was this practice did not end until 1980. A pretty inglorious bit of history for ‘Great Britain’……
After a sobering day we distracted ourselves with Fred’s pool games, and were joined by the son of the Nepalese family running the motel. We then took ourselves down to the park to enjoy a local band. Along with the mixed aged prosperous middle classes of Kamloops, sat out on their picnic chairs, a couple of local drunks were dancing exuberantly at the front. We were very touched to see a large group on a trip out from what must have been a mental health rehabilitation unit. There were some very ill people in the group, one inspecting individual blades of grass on his hands and knees with very bad Parkinsonian side effects of medication, but all given free rein to roam about, and treated gently and kindly by the staff.
As we set off the next morning for the start of our ‘Rockies’ adventure we dropped back into the Shuswap museum. Fred wanted to interview Dan for his ‘Canada Day’ video (he’s just finishing the editing and then we’ll post it) to get a First Nations perspective. Dan was there, but although he had talked freely and confidently to us the day before he was uneasy about ‘speaking for First Nations peoples’. Instead Carol, the archivist for the museum, from the tribe came and did the interview. I won’t say more because you’ll see it on Fred’s video, but again I was reduced to tears by her quiet and moving responses to his questions.
With lots to talk about as a family, we set off in the car to Valemount which is the last town with accommodation before the Icefields Highway. A 5-hour drive through yet more glorious scenery and we arrived in a ski resort with no lifts. It seems that a lot of BC ski resorts have no lifts, instead you need to take a helicopter to the top of the mountains and with a guide ski the backcountry. Not something suited to my race slalom skis!!
Valemount is a maudlin run down small town with little to do. As luck would have it, however, that evening the Tourist Info were running a session on Beavers and Muskrats down at the lakeside. After an A&W burger we met the youthful Sarah at the rendezvous. To our delight we were the only people so had a really personal guide through the wildlife on the wetlands. Accompanied by a wealth of mozzies we spent an hour searching for Muskrats. Dean and Fred were rewarded with sightings, which I kept missing…. Never mind we learnt an awful lot. Fred was amazed that Sarah happily let the mozzies graze on her. She shuns deet products and even in Thailand for 2 months last year she applied no product. They do make them tough out here!
For the second time we were staying in an old jailhouse. Cells are still intact, the owners grown up children have their beds in the cells, so we all made the most of the photo opportunity of being behind bars. We had breakfast with a young Scottish / Canadian couple on their way to a festival in Whistler. Steve recommended Nelson as a place to visit after we had done the Rockies. As I write this we are now headed there for 3 nights. Seems we’ve taken to going where others tell us which feels quite fun J
Unfortunately, as we woke for our Rockies road trip the weather had closed in. Instead of soaring mountains we could only see the foothills and lots, and lots, and lots, and lots, and lots…. of trees. Thankfully we could see the stunning glacial icefields and beautiful turquoise lakes. We were going to stop for lunch in Jasper, but when we drove it we found it very disappointing. It was a poor man’s alpine resort and we couldn’t see the point of it. So we drove in and drove back out. However, the biggest treat came out of the blue. Just after the icefields the sparse traffic came to a halt, we thought there must have been an accident. Then we spotted it. Directly alongside our car, we had a perfect view, a black bear came out of the woods. Ignoring the Japanese and Chinese tourists, decanting from a bus and cars, it foraged in front of us. We were no more than 15 meters away safely shut in our car. Others were within 5 meters on foot …… For bears own longevity you should be 100 meters away and not stop for more than 30 seconds otherwise they become too socialised, which this one clearly had. We had no choice but to stay where we were as we were boxed in by traffic. It was several minutes before it slowly wondered off into the woods. This encounter, which we caught on film close up, made our day. Shy Rockies evaded us, but the wildlife gave us the biggest treat. A few irresponsible tourists being given the fright of their life would have gone down well too!
So we pulled into Revelstoke after 8 hours driving and found a motel with a kitchenette. Whilst Dean unpacked Fred and I went off to the store to get supplies to cook. Thai green curry on the menu, I found a lovely bottle of red to cope with the hefty dose of chili I was going to put into it; taste buds needed reviving after too many burgers. The early night that was planned got canned when we got talking to our motel neighbour Rob. Rob was in town to negotiate permission to mine lead and gold. We passed a couple of hours discussing local and world politics. He sat firmly in the camp that the world needs a policeman and that is the role that the US and UK have nobly taken, and which Canada should support. He was also of the view that the First Nations never invented anything “where are the pyramids they built?”. Despite divergent views we enjoyed his company. When we moved off the politics we got more recommendations on places to visit. A native of Vancouver he suggested we don’t bother with it, or Vancouver Island, if we’d already been to the places we’d described. So now we are going to linger in Nelson (Steve’s recommendation), which we are driving to now, then drop off the car as planned on 19th before we take an earlier crossing into the US. Of course this is liable to change…..!
Yesterday the sky cleared for us. Revelstoke is surrounded by mountains and we decided to take the 23Km drive up the main mountain to then do some hiking. It’s become a running joke that wherever Dean goes and asks what a town has on offer they always recommend hiking to him. Along with hot sandy beaches, hiking is one of Dean’s least favourite activities. As I point out it must be because he looks like he loves hiking ;-) So he finally gave in and decided to please the locals by going hiking. The fact that we’d been so sedentary sitting in the car for hours the 2 previous days meant we were all ready for some serious exercise.
It was beautiful. Gorgeous blue skies, mountains draped in snow thanks to the bad weather the day before, wild countryside, and meadows of wild flowers. The views from up high in the Monashee mountains more than made up for the poor visibility on the Yellow Highway the day before. More mozzies for company kept us moving at a good pace, so much so that at one point we lost Dean again and I found myself wondering around with Fred asking people if they had seen a man with a big beard and a Budweiser cowboy hat…… A young couple pointed us in the right direction – thank God he’s noticeable. After our bear encounter the previous day Fred gave Dean an enormous telling off for being irresponsible. He has very little faith in us!
Free passes for the local pool came with our room. Very well equipped, it included an indoor rapid that you floated through, and with islands to hide behind and in it made for an exciting game of ‘infection’. Quick stop for supplies and we went downtown for another free concert in the square. After music and an explore tired out we retired early to bed to watch a movie. Just as we did so an enormous thunderstorm and flash floods hit. At 8:30 the electricity was cut to the whole town. This lasted till the early hours when Dean was woken by lights coming on in the room & the rings on the electric oven where we’d been cooking. Apparently we’re having unseasonably rainy weather in the last couple of days. After the heat we’re quite glad, and it’s still 20 degrees, but we are feeling for all those camping, which is what most people do in BC. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be a summer holiday for us Brits without a bit of rain!
Leaving the verdant lake district of the Rideau region we headed to the north east of Ontario where more lakes abound. Based on a recommendation from Annabelle we headed to Lake Simcoe, but never actually made it there…. Accommodation shortages meant instead we found a cheap motel between Collingwood and Wasaga Beach, so that was where we ended up. The minute we arrived the Indian born family were a delight. Four generations lived on site and Josh, the only child of the family, aged 9 became best buddies with Fred from the minute we arrived.
We awoke to eggs boiled by Raisa the grandmother and formidably capable matriarch who ran the motel. This was not a B&B but we were being treated like family. Fred and Josh had decided the night before that they wanted to go to the beach the next day together, permission granted from Josh’s family we drove off to Wasaga Beach. It is the longest freshwater beach in the world at 14km of white sand. Beach 1 had the feel of Skegness, if Skegness had wonderful weather! However, as we walked down the sand dunes we escaped to Beach 2 where trees provided shade and a cooling breeze over picnic benches. Those of you who know Dean, or who have read earlier blogs, will know that this is essential to a successful day at the beach since Dean likes neither sun, heat, sand or water…..! Thankfully the lovely spot we found meant we had 2 brilliant days with an additional family member in Josh for both of them. We also had managed to acquire an inflatable boat and oars which we have since found room for in my rucksack and strapped the oars to the outside, and I’m pleased to report that only one oar was lost between Toronto and Vancouver!
As our first day had been so successful at Wasaga Beach we added an extra night and had 3 nights at the Pleasant Mount Motel. At the end of our first day on the beach Raisa cooked us a vegetarian pasta with chili which was gorgeous, this was delivered to us on our porch as a ‘thank you’ for taking Josh out. So after 2 lovely beach days we left with the boys having had a great time and new friends made. We also left with clean laundry as Raisa had done that for us all for free!!
Niagara Falls was our destination for midday and we took the most direct route through breath taking scenery. The roads were endlessly long and straight over undulating geography. We got some fabulous pictures when we dropped over the top of one peak of the road that stretched ahead for over a 100 miles over the rolling hills.
We arrived in Niagara absolutely starving so on the outskirts we headed into a bar / diner on a parking lot. Dean was convinced it was going to be a strip joint when we approached the darkened windows, having had a similar experience in the States as a shocked 17 year old – this is one of Fred’s favourite stories about his Dad. Relief all round that it was a sports bar where all the women were fully clothed!
Watered and fed we braved ourselves for the onslaught of Niagara Falls. As a person who doesn’t queue I had nearly canned the idea of this visit, however a number of FB friends had said we ‘must’ do it so here we were. Unbelievably, for peak season and at midday, we drove straight into the town found parking and walked 10 minutes along the river that feeds The Falls before we found ourselves alongside the stunning ‘horseshoe’ fall. It really is impressive and certainly beats Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian / Argentinian / Paraguay border. In searing heat, we got the pictures we wanted, wrote a postcard to Grandma who has this on her bucket list & sent it from Niagara Falls postbox, and set off to find a place to sleep that night. We had been told to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake and took a scenic drive along the gorge that leads from The Falls to Lake Ontario. Stopping for fresh cherries on the roadside some helpful ladies from Niagara-on-the-Lake said we wouldn’t get any cheap motels there (it was too chi chi!) so recommended we drive through Niagara-on-the-Lake and carry on to St Catherines, where there were 2 cheap motels on the highway interchange and one with a pool. Hooray!! We were in desperate need of a cooling off, however dodgy the motel or pool may be. An hour later we arrived circa 5pm. Dean had a ‘funny moment’ when I came back to the car with the great news that it was in budget, had a pool, and they had a vacancy, suggesting that it wasn’t to his liking being on a highway interchange. Heatstroke and exhaustion from a long day and driving had clearly got the better of him so he was overruled. Fred and I laid him down in a darkened room whilst I went off in search of supplies ie food, chilled wine and a bar of Hearsheys cookies and cream (this is a combo that never fails to work, but which was not covered in my ‘Far From Help’ medical course in Aviemore……). Revived he joined us in the pool and Fred invented more complicated games with fluid rules. I think banking would be a great career for Fred….
Another solid nights sleep and we set off for Toronto. Being the terrible planners we are on this trip we arrived without tickets or reservation for the revolving restaurant at midday at the CN Tower to a massive crush. Given my issue with queuing, when I identified there was no queue for the line those with reservations for the Tower 360 Degree Restaurant we threw ourselves into that one. We blagged it through the first few attendants and security. It looked like we would be undone as we approached the final hurdle of tickets being scanned. Nonchalantly we tailgated a large family and successfully got through the 4th round. As we stood in what seemed to be a last and unavoidable queue a manager came through the line. I grabbed him did our ‘Bumbling Brit’ bit. Yes, he said, we were in the wrong queue for the restaurant, no I replied we don’t have a reservation, ok he said I’ll take you through as a walk in. 5 minutes later we were seated and it had taken us all of 15 minutes. Perhaps I should go into banking….?!?
Thanks to Fiona, Michael and Annabelle for the recommendation to have lunch in the revolving restaurant rather than just do the visit up the tower. The food was wonderful, sadly we had to enjoy it with tap water as the £30 per head was outside our daily budget, however the wine list for each course and dish looked amazing – another time!
After a jolly good walk round Toronto we drove out through Mississauga to the Super 8, near the airport, where we would spend our last night in Ontario before flying to Vancouver. A lovely small indoor pool with a scalding hot tub set us up for a great night’s sleep.
Breakfast was provided with this accommodation, and we got to make our own waffle’s on a real waffle iron. Fred’s day was made with the discovery of whipped butter to accompany the maple syrup in clogging his arteries. LOL - as Fred would say. With 11 hours to kill before we flew and no appetite for more sightseeing we had a swim and then settled on the local Imax, 2 blocks away, on the opening day of ‘The Secret Lives of Pets’. Fred had been nagging us to see it at some time during our trip and couldn’t believe that he was going on the opening day. Loaded up with bottles of water and unopened cans of Diet Decaff Coke, which we couldn’t take on the flight, we settled in for a low cost movie viewing (half the price of the UK). What a brilliant film! Seats were unbelievably comfy too with tons of leg room.
We then headed to the airport, dropped the hire car off and waited until we could go through security. 5 hours before our flight we settled into the Premium Lounge that Dean gets access to through an anomaly of how long he has had his bank account with NatWest. This is proving to be a real winner and cost saving! Luxurious surroundings with unlimited food and drink. Mindful that 5 hours of unlimited drink prior to flying comes with its own risks, I found the Club Soda. 4 hours before the flight I felt that I had restrained myself for long enough and taught a couple of Canadians at the bar how to make a G&T using ‘farmhouse measures’. Soon they were planning out our British Columbia trip and, with laptop in hand using Bing Maps, we had a complete itinerary in short shrift. I knew there was a reason we had left it until the night before we flew out…..!
The 5 hour flight, landing at 3am Toronto time but 1am local Vancouver time, passed mostly in sleep. So good was the hospitality we had enjoyed at Toronto I don’t even remember taking off. We picked up our baggage (only one of the 2 oars missing) and caught a cab to the dingiest of motels, another Super 8. We awoke to a pigeon roaming the landing! However, sleep was good and we were refreshed ready for breakfast. Fred was slumbering still. We took it in turns to grab the sparsest of breakfasts in a desolate windowless dining room. Muffins and hard boiled eggs were dropped into our, now famous, Wilko bag given to me by Dr Chris for our car journey. We eventually woke Fred just before 11am (2pm Toronto time!) and caught the mini bus to the airport to get our car.
We now have a little red compact Chevy that our things barely fit in. But we love it! Its wonderfully over spec’d with reversing camera, TV screen, great stereo, and sun roof – bizarre.
We headed straight out of Vancouver up through Hope, Chiliwack and other wonderfully named places. After the flatlands of Ontario we were ready for the stunning mountain scenery that started straight away. 4 hours later we arrived in Kamloops and eagle eyed Dean spotted a motel with beautiful views. We pulled in and I was sent in to negotiate. It looked out of our price bracket, but we felt in need of a more aesthetically pleasing stop than the last couple of nights. The lovely owner duly obliged and agreed to a price, plus a kitchen apartment thrown in, that we were looking for. So as I sit here now, we are overlooking the most beautiful town, surrounded by mountains, in ‘Injin Country’ (yes there is a reservation here, a totem pole welcomes and warns visitors, and I was served by a lady from the First Nations in Safeway), having enjoyed a great home cooked dinner, ready to be woken by the sun coming up, and a morning swim in the pool here. Will be hard to leave but we will only have 2 nights here before we head to the Rockies proper, taking the highest road in Canada :-0
We woke up on Friday ready to join our Canadian hosts in celebrating Canada Day. I found out the lay of the land with an early morning run (not as early as previous mornings as sleep now thankfully embraces me till 8am!).
Yet another beautiful village sat on a lake and everyone saying morning to everyone else. There has to be a deep dark secret that these communities have, where is the crack in this perfection?! Speaking to the hip laundromat lady I found out that there was indeed a big village ‘do’ for Canada Day. Well done Dean for getting it so right again. So at 1pm we trotted back into the village and joined the school parade led by veterans into the village centre. Before they set off there was a very touching ceremony presenting an 85 year old lady the award of ‘Senior of the Year’. How wonderful that they celebrated the gifts of the elderly, particularly in this age of youth and beauty being prized by most western societies above all else. A rendition of ‘Oh Canada’ (rather lacklustre!!) and Senior of the Year placed in a John Deere ride-on started the parade off. Hordes of children on extravagantly decorated bicycles were cheered through the town to the Fire Station. All the kids, including Fred, were presented with a ‘Canada Day’ bag of sweets, pin flags, Canada Flag tattoos, and a book mark with the words to ‘O Canada’ on it.
Parade over we went to the local museum housed in the old coffin maker and blacksmiths residence. The building was preserved, including the original floorboards, with all the original features from its 1850 construction. Historical objects packed the small space on 2 floors and gave the history from the ‘First Nations’ original Innuit settlers through to the settlement by Europeans. Fred had decided that his ‘project’ for the day was to film a vlog interviewing locals about Canada Day and where they, as individuals, had come from. All rather pertinent in this time of debate about immigration. Canada, after all, is a country of immigrants; from the First Nations who travelled to Canada from across the ice and waters from Greenland etc, through the Western French and British in the 1800s, to the contemporary Western, Asian, and even 25,000 Syrian refugees who have been airlifted by the Canadian Government under a sponsorship programme. At the museum a rather delightful volunteer Christine gave Fred a wonderful interview.
Having spent time in the town we retired to our Motel for some down time in readiness for the late afternoon into night celebrations on the local beach. As everyone else was wearing red and white we all dug into our rucksacks to find what we could to blend in. Dean definitely won the prize and I did my best, finished off with a slash of classic Chanel red lipstick – I knew I brought it backpacking for a reason Dean!! As we headed back out we parked up behind Ken a local policeman in his very impressive truck. He was Fred’s next interview & even set the sirens off for us. He was pleased to report that he had just 5 minutes earlier ticketed a ‘Brit’ for speeding!
The small beach was sandy, natural, and gorgeous. The Lions Club had a fabulous pavilion and maintained the grounds for the whole community through their fund raising. The Canada Day event at the beach was organised and staffed by them, what a terrific community of people. We walked in to the bizarre sight of a red and white clothed Elvis Impersonator singing ‘My Way’! Within 5 minutes the clouds had come over and were ominously dark. Although events had only started an hour before at 4pm and were due to go on until 11pm people were leaving in their droves. 30 minutes later we found out why. Children were pulled out of the water, the bouncy castles deflated and the food tent cleared. A storm of truly biblical proportions broke out (I know I used the term biblical in Montreal but that was nothing compared to this!). Fortunately we could run to the pavilion where Fred and I took shelter with the 2 dozen others left. Dean meanwhile ran through the torrential rain to help the Lions Club team dismantle the food tent that was about to take flight. The opening scene of the ‘Wizard of Oz’ comes to mind! We caught on film the thunder, lightning and torrential rain and were deeply thankful to be able to do so from the shelter of a very wooden structure….
The scheduled band ‘Dogherty Brothers’ playing the ‘tunes we grew up with’ came on at 7pm with only a few of us to enjoy their great musicianship. That changed as a bunch of teenagers from a local ‘camp’ arrived. They were followed by another group from another ‘camp’. Shortly we witnessed a very skilful dance off between the 2 groups that lasted all night. Remember that the band were playing the likes of Van Morrison!
Fred made friends and soon was hanging out in a group with 2 boys and 3 girls. They swam, danced, ate hot dogs and I was struck by the fact that he’s suddenly at the age where he no longer needs to play tig or hide and seek (though he still loves both), but instead he and his new mates were just standing together talking and joshing each other – next phase has come I guess….!
After a wonderful night where the crowd swelled to about 1,000 we were treated to the most magnificent firework display I have ever seen, which took place over the lake. It was truly and was stunning and never ending. At 11pm we headed home. Now sensible people, having not had a drop to drink all day and evening, would have gone to bed then. Dean and I however decided to open a bottle and enjoy a late supper on the deserted terrace of our motel. One bottle turned in to 2 and very merry we finally hit the sack at 2am. I guess it still takes the Brits show ex-members of our empire how to celebrate ;-)
July 2 Oooooooo Canada……
Bleary eyed we all woke feeling the after effects of the fabulous day (and early hours). Fred because he had had a late night, Dean and I because we had got over excited….. Fortunately, in the parking lot of our motel was ‘Kelly’s Diner’. No morning run today, instead we settled for a bucket of coffee and cooked breakfasts to repair the damage.
In need of a refreshing wake up and to get ourselves moving we went back down to the beach with the local and national papers. Fred and I swam and played catch in the water (gosh that restored me!) whilst Dean caught up on the news. He read a really interesting article on Canada’s immigration approach in the main editorial. Whilst a country of successful integration and resultant diversity, the article acknowledged that Canada only takes those it chooses to. To emigrate to Canada you have to meet the points required (profession, educational attainment and money) and therefore it is not only a self selecting (ie immigrants who choose to travel and come to a place) but also a nation selecting country (ie it only takes those who it wants to take). You need to get on a plane and fly to Canada or cross from the US, and most people who get to the US don’t choose to come to Canada. I have to say that the liberal and positive narrative of the national paper has not been reflected in conversations with Canadians we have spoken to. We have not met any of the liberal ‘Intelligencia’, but rather ‘ordinary’ Canadians. Without exception they have all expressed concerns about immigration. What has surprised us is that this has happened without reference to the fact that all Canadians are de facto immigrants, albeit 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation. The Toronto authored article also referred to the ‘identifiable immigrant population’ ie (people of colour or discernible non-European background) as being 23% - I’m not sure what the First Nations people would make of that!!
Enough of politics. With the day clouding over we decided that we would do some sightseeing by car and headed off to Smiths Falls and Perth. Perth was by far and away the most interesting of the towns we had passed through in the region. Settled in the early 1800s by British soldiers gifted land it turned out to be a poisoned chalice. As they tried to farm they discovered that the land was so barren that “A groundhog would need to pack itself lunch in order to make it across a field” (may find myself using that one in the future!). However, the town possessed wonderful Georgian architecture from its time as a British Army garrison town and had its own impressive theatre run by the local amateur dramatics society – I was so disappointed that we were going to miss their next show by a week.
Dean found an art gallery run by a delightful couple. She was of Armenian extraction and was spunky, glamorous, intelligent woman personified. They had fallen in love with Perth and were in the process of moving there permanently due to the great mix of people and lifestyle. Fred made friends with their ‘American Water Dog’ pup who could not only sit and do paw on command, but also high five! Yes I did also get this in video….!
Shattered from the night before (or rather that morning!) we hit the sack after a stunning dinner made on our single electric ring kitchen. Spicy Italian sausage simmered with onions, fresh garlic, mushrooms, fresh pepper and tomatoes, a whole bunch of basil, and a bit of pepper I’d nicked from Harvey’s – pretty impressed with that I was – though I do think a drop of red wine would have helped, if only we hadn’t drunk it all the night before……! Sleep came easy……. As did the mozzies that night…… (I think I’ve found Canada’s fatal flaw!)
The night before we left Knigston and the a Hilltop Motel we decided to head to Montreal to get a taste of French speaking Quebec, and also because Dean had found what looked like a great hostel that had a family room for 2 nights.
Driving through Montreal was very different to other parts of Canada. There was obvious poverty and a ramshackle feel to the city suburbs. Toronto by contrast had been clean, full of middle class suburban 'Bovis Home' suburban estates. Montreal by contrast is characterised by the old buildings with iron staircases on the outside. They were full of people whiling away the time smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. There was even the odd sofa on the pavement!
Our hostel was on Sherbrooke one of the main roads that goes to the heart of Montreal. Despite this we had no problem finding parking. However very confusing parking restriction signs (in French only) seemed to say that for one hour on one day of the week (different days and different hours on the opposite sides of the road!!!) you couldn't park. Turns out that many years ago this was to enable roads sweeping. They no longer road sweep but they've kept, and enforce, the restrictions! The hostel was fabulous. An old Montreal 'mansion' with all original features and a terrace at the back draped in vines, it was staffed by young french people on gap years.
After 4 hours in the car we set off on foot to explore the Latin Quarter via 'The Village'. The gay quarter was beautifully festooned with rows and rows of pink orbs strung across the street that light up at night. Leather Bars, Sex clubs, and shops (there were only a few but their advertising was impactful!) meant that Fred's questioning allowed us to cover off more than the DfE 'Health and Social Education' curriculum requires for both primary and secondary years!
In the Latin Quarter we settled onto a rooftop terrace just as the heavens opened for a biblical thunderstorm. With a local beer we grazed through a platter of deep fried appetisers, I had misread the menu and not realised that the traditional french platter of charcuterie, fromage and accompaniments were going to be treated to a heavy dose of Glaswegian style cooking!
When we got back to the hostel after the storm had cleared we chilled out, got chatting to other guests and planned our day in Montreal city for the next day. Fred's highlight was meeting and getting a lesson in sparring from the Argentinian boxer who is the South American champion. He was staying with his coach at the hostel for a month training for a series of fights in Canada and the USA.
After a breakfast of homemade pancakes, fruit, bagels and buckets of coffee on the terrace we set off for the Montreal Museum of Fine Art. We wanted to see the Pompeii and Tolouse Letrec temporary exhibitions as well as the main collection that stretches from Roman times to contemporary work.
Poor map reading on my part meant a detour and us purchasing tickets at the Contemporary Art Gallery before we realised. The very helpful lady on the desk refunded us and sent us in the right direction! My error however meant that we walked into the centre of The Montreal International Jazz Festival which we didn't even know was on....! We picked up a programme and decided to come back and catch some acts after we had been round the Fine Art Museum.
The museum was stunning, spread over a huge area we took in the fabulous art. It's by far and away the best collection I've seen. We spent 4 hours there and then headed back to the Jazz festival. A great Quebec Dixie Jazz band was playing on one of the free stages and we got seats right at the front. The band members looked like double glazing salesmen and were having the time of their lives. The audience was brilliant and the whole atmosphere was a real unexpected treat. As we headed back to the hostel a 'jazz train', literally a small train with a different musician on each open carriage, came past. They were a Steam Punk band (Vince Ion we thought of you and Chantelle!) who played some ethereal funky music. Unplanned surprises continue to bless this trip
With Canada Day looming and no plans Dean started his search for our next destination. Our original plan had been to head north up the St Lawrence River further into Quebec. However we were tiring of the more aggressive and less welcoming french region and people we spoke to said Quebec didn't celebrate Canada Day in the same way as the rest of the country. Driven by accommodation availability and towns Dean thought looked interesting we booked the Westport Station Motel back in Ontario. We liked the idea of a town with a population of 700 that had had a population of 700 one hundred years ago. It also was in the heart of The Rideau Lakes and had lots to do around it.
We left the hostel the next morning saying goodbye to new friends. Fred had breakfasted before us and we came down to find him holding forth on Premiership football and the reasons behind Leicester's success with a table of lovely young french backpackers. We sat as far away from him as we could!
As it was a beautiful day we drove to The Aquatic centre, built for the Olympics. We watched the Canadian diving team training (presumably for Rio) as we swam and sunbathed - what a treat - it's stunning to see professional divers up close and marvel at what they can do! Five hours of pool fun and reading set us up for the 4 hour journey to Westport.
We got off the highway at Brocksville and took a small road through a succession of hicksville farming towns. Having missed any supermarkets where we had planned to stock up in preparation for the Bank Holiday we finally came across a small store in the town of Athens. Run down and impoverished we both felt like we were in the opening scene of 'Cabin Fever' as we left.....but the people were so friendly. Fred was accosted by a group of older ladies who called out "My what a handsome boy! You gonna have the girls chasin you soon!"
A few wrong turns to Westport and I got out of the car to ask an old man, in a rocking chair on his farm porch, directions. He was delightful, with a long plait down his back under his cap, and set us on our way. We finally arrived in Westport having driven through beautiful countryside, rather like a flat Lake District, passing only pickup trucks on our way. It's a lovely motel with a kitchen this time, great as we're now reigning in our budget to our daily allowance and have to make back the early overspend of the first few days!! A homemade dinner of Carbonara with chicken, mushrooms and onions, and salad washed down with a local Pinot Noir made for a solid nights sleep by 10pm
Waking at the King George Inn, our old prison Inn at Cobourg, to glorious sunshine (nice and early - only 4 am today!) we headed off to find a beach on the shores of Lake Ontario, on our way to Kingston. We decided to book a motel for 2 nights before we left and found a cheap as chips one on the internet.
Deciding to take a local road rather than the highway we passed through a succession of hamlets with traditional wooden farm buildings sporting fiercely pitched roofs to prevent the heavy snow of winter building up on them. By the time we needed a coffee, and having finally bought a route map we hit upon Brighton. Locals sat out in the sunshine enjoying the morning papers, we opted for the AC indoors to escape the heat that was already building. Home made cakes and fabulous coffee restored us. Fred decided that the Chocolate Toffee Brownie was the 'best he had ever tasted'...... again! I had a coconut and lime vegan cake that was beautiful. We popped across the road to an art gallery in someone's house and garden which was really quaint.
We had been planning to hit the beach at South Picton, but in Brighton we saw signs to Presqu'Ill Provincial Park a nature reserve where we thought we'd take some pics. We got talking to a woman who had also stopped her car and she said there was a beautiful beach in the park so we decided to head there instead of schlepping out to Picton.
We passed Beach 1 entrance, Beach 2 entrance was blocked off, so we went in at Beach 3. There was only 1 other car parked which we thought odd but we spotted the occupants making their way through a woodland track to the beach and followed suit in the breeze free stifling heat . As Dean was dressed in a rather 'interesting' combination and doing something he hates, walking to a deserted beach in the heat, I decided I had to capture the moment on camera. As I lined up my lens I realised that I had 2 enormous mozzies feeding off me. The reaction was instant as I saw both bites swell. More mozzies were starting to land at which point I screamed at Fred and Dean to run. My parkrun training paid off and I made it back to the car just ahead of the swarms following me. Dean and Fred were totally unaffected! Looks like I'm going to be the 'Barney' of this holiday (Barney, Deans other son is usually our mozzie bait who draws them all away from us and keeps us mozzie free!).
We canned the idea of the trek to Beach 3 so went back to the Beach 1 entrance. The car park was full! When we stepped out we realised why. A strong cool breeze and no woodland to trek through meant it was mozzie free. So we loaded up and took the short walk through the sand dunes to a fabulous 5 mile beach (not unlike Rhossili Bay). The Canadians seem to provide picnic tables, volley ball nets etc on all their beaches so Dean didn't have to deal with the irritation of sitting on sand with no shade!!
Fred has got so used to travelling alone with us and having to find playmates that within 5 minutes of setting down he had made friends with a Brazilian family who were playing football. Happiness all round! After a lazy few hours on the beach, interspersed with building sand forts and taking refreshing swims in the icy water with Fred, I finished the 1996 updated 'Brief History of Time'. Its apparently out dated in terms of its science but I wanted to read it. Having finished it I moved onto the 2015 'Before the Big Bang' by John Gribbin which gives the updated science of the Big Bang for the first 30% of the book before taking on the time before. My resolution this trip is to get a bit more educated about the world scientific before we get to the Atacama Desert for our visit to the worlds highest observatory. No mean feat for someone who got an 'Unclassified' in my Physics O'level!!
Leaving the mozzize free beach with three stonking bites that had by now developed a full allergic reaction we drove to Kingston, our destination that evening. We had found a wallet saving motel with good reviews (clean, free wifi, and beds!) . As we arrived we were a little nervous. Our prejudices were popped with the service we got from Jim the delightful ex-Hell's Angel (not 100% sure on this but he did have old tattoos, a Harley Davidson ring and the look of someone who could look after himself in a bar so I'm going to make this bit up but secretly hope its true.....!). In addition it turned out that the owner who was also there was originally from Swindon where his son was still running his old shop. Fred was rather taken by him because he looked just as he imagines 'Raj' from the David Walliams books (for those who don't know them this is a good thing because Raj is the true hero through all of them!). The room was also great. New bathroom, 2 large double beds, TV, free WiFi, fridge, microwave and thankfully really good AC.
Ready for a burger we were recommended Harvey's by Jim because you get to design your own burger and they make it in front of you. We all loved it and Fred decided.....(yes you've guessed it)..... that it was 'the best ever'!
As we're on a mission to get around as many iconic places as we can we popped into Tim Horton's for a take out de-caff coffee which we drank on our porch before heading to bed.
Heavy rain overnight had left a lovely freshness when I got up at 5am (slowly improving!). Across the road to Tim Horton’s for a full strength dose of carry out coffee for Dean and I as Fred slept on. We were kept company in the early morning by black squirrels and an extremely tame Groundhog (see pics!). A pint of coffee later I’d finished 4 TripAdvisor reviews, caught up on my blogging, and emails.
When Fred got up we shot some hoops in the yard. I’d like to say I won but you’ll have to read Fred’s blog to see if he agrees. I personally think he makes up the rules as he goes along but we’ll have to get his basketball coach Andy to give an independent view of the video evidence…..!
We decided to catch the local express bus into Kingston to do our sightseeing. Dean managed to break the automated pay machine next to the bus driver who gave up on our incompetence and waved us on for free! Totally innocently he managed the same on the return trip – so buses in Canada are very cheap for bumbling Brits!!
Kingston is the original capital of Canada and contains some beautiful historic grand buildings. We went into the town hall which sits on the harbour. Fronted with an impressive portico we were allowed to go up into the state rooms. The largest of these rooms was decorated with 16 stained glass windows depicting a soldier from different regiments that had served in the 1st World War with the name of the town where significant battles had taken place. Two years ago we visited Amiens and the Somme, including the Canadian cemetery and memorial that contains preserved trenches. Canadian losses in the 1st WW were massive and the Canadians we have talked to still see the connection between Britain and Canada in both World Wars as emotionally, politically and culturally significant. It’s something I reflect on with the recent Brexit result and maybe it explains why the Canadians are perplexed at the result – they see the common ground not the differences…..
Brunch was in Le Matin a small French ‘Nora’s Caff’ type place. Hot dogs (best ever according to Fred…!), bagels, waffles (best ever according to Fred…!), and Eggs and Peameal (a thick juicy bacon / ham type thing), with more coffee hit the spot. As we ate we had the excitement of fire engines charging to an incident in a hairdressers. The street soon filled with ladies in foils much to the amusement of those around us. It was also from here we saw the first beggars. From our spot in the window we saw the Canadians treating them with respect and generosity. When we walked past them later both had veteran and PTSD written on their cardboard signs.
We made our way to the harbour to catch a 3 hour cruise through the 1,000 islands which has become a millionaires playground. Enormous houses and plush cottages have been built on islands of all sizes. One house sat on a tiny crop of rocks with only water access. I loved the fact that in the 1700’s no-one could decide where to put the church in this area so they decided to have pontoon set up that families would row to for Sunday service and the vicar would preach from the pontoon. This tradition continues today.
We were entertained on our cruise by a jazz duo, which was an unexpected pleasure. Ronnie and Spencer were fabulous (see vid) and played a wonderfully diverse (Bob Marley to Fats Waller) set plus requests. Ronnie the singer, keyboard and jazz sax player was a hoot with his ironic but uncynical audience engagement. We reached hysterics with ‘Hotel California’ by the Eagles where he knew only 75% of the words but valiantly made up the rest.
After our free bus ride back we nipped into Fresh Co to pick up a fiberous salad supper to counter the carb and protein filled diet. Thanks Dr Chris for my Wilko shopper bag its getting loads of use and will have its own picture gallery! You can only buy alcohol in specially licenced liquor stores so Dean drove out in search a few bottles of wine for the next few days. We chilled down a bottle of local Prosecco in a plastic pint glass we turned into an ice bucket. Thanks to Jim (again) for coming up trumps and providing free ice J
As we sat out on the porch sipping Prosecco a people carrier full (and I mean full) of Chinese arrived. As one lady walked past she turned to me and said “Pretty, you very very pretty lady” oh what a joy! We spoke to them for a bit and they were all utterly charming and found us fascinating; Fred with his blue hair (now green!), Dean with is beard and manbun, and my blonde hair and red lipstick. If you’ve not heard it play ‘Chinese Child’ by Devendra Banhart, we’d been listening to it just the day before J
A bit more basketball before bed, and I’m pretty sure my game improved after a few Prosecco’s. I wonder if the LA Lakers have thought of that? Another thing to check with Andy.
For me this trip is all about having a great adventure with my family. Its taken years for us to finally stop talking about it and do it - simply because it both excites and frightens the life out me! So I'm stepping out of corporate life, where I singularly failed to achieve a work/life balance....to experience different cultures and spend time with those I love xx