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Go west, then go west some more.

a travel blog by rickandsuejohnson


Heading to Canada to visit the Canadian branch in Ontario, then off to BC for Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the Rockies.
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Toronto

Toronto, Canada


Saturday/Sunday
Delays on our journey reminiscent of our flight to Sydney but there the comparison ends. Smooth flight, plenty of legroom and lovely staff. Thumbs up for Canadian Affair.

Because ours was not the only flight that had been held up, on arrival at Lester Pearson, we had to wait around an hour before we finally emerged from immigration to collect our bags (not enough staff to deal with the unexpected influx). Couldn't get through on Rick's international Mobile to let Ol and Ang know what was going on but there they were smiling and relieved when we reached the arrivals hall and their lovely new car complete with air conditioning, much needed in the temperatures even at 10 pm local time.

Ol and Ang had booked us all in to the Renaissance hotel, central Toronto, right next to the Blue Jays stadium and the Tower – great location. You can see the pitch from one of the hotel's bars! Next morning we set off for a brief walk before meeting up for a tasty and filling breakfast at nearby 'Coras'. Everything imaginable on the menu and great value.

Off to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) via the tube to see the The Warrior Emperor and China's Terracotta Army exhibition. Really beautifully presented and not too crowded either -an opportunity not to be missed. It didn't seem that we had been in there for two and a half hours and in that time the last clouds had drifted away and the sun was shining.

A walk through Kensington Market to Little Italy for a meal outside on a covered veranda. A great summer deal with a set menu at $15 a head. We chose Gazpacho or Bruschetta for starters; Linguine or Green Salad with Mushrooms and Parmesan for mains; Almond Gelato or Tiramasu dessert. A walk back through the market to pick up the car and then off to Waterloo and Ol and Ang's lovely flat and their welcoming boys.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 25, 2010 from Toronto, Canada
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Elora

Elora, Canada


Another fairly early wake-up courtesy of Iggy who was keen to ensure that we understood how pleased he was to see us at 05:30. After a leisurely start we did some shopping for provisions and went to see where Ollie & Ang will be living from September. A lovely modern town House near a lake and the university.

In the afternoon we went to Elora, a pretty village on a gorge. The village had the air of a former industrial area which had declined before being restored to a certain gentility. The feature that gave rise to its original status was the river which cascades through a small gorge powering a mill. The mill is now a restaurant with superb views of the tumbling waters rushing past a tooth of rock in the middle of the flow, down a cascade into the throat of the gorge and along the gorge itself, before merging with another, gently flowing river some 400 metres later. We walked through the village to Victoria Park, which has views along the gorge along with the regulatory 'Lover's Leap' from which a distraught Indian maiden threw herself after her lover was killed in Battle. We found some steps down to the tributary which while fast flowing was not too deep and took the opportunity to cool our overheated feet, paddling in the water.

We got back to Waterloo, popping in to Canadian Tire to collect a coolbag to take with us to the West coast. Ollie made pizza dough, collecting Ang while it rose and we had a wonderful home-made pizza for dinner. Afterwards we played a game of 'Leading Question' in which you have to match answers to a given question to the individual who gave the answer, this was great fun – and Sue won by a mile!! Shrewsbury College staff take note!

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 26, 2010 from Elora, Canada
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A Farmer's Market but not as you'd know it

Waterloo, Canada


Blue skies again and off to St Jacob's Food Market today. Think big, very big – huge market outside, large market indoors, countless stalls and all piled high with every vegetable or fruit imaginable. I've never seen such huge beef steak tomatoes, cauliflowers the size of small wheels and water melons in varying sizes, the largest needing to be transported in a buggy while the mother carried her small child. There were stalls, selling honey a few craft goods and, in the indoor section, a range of different meats and delicatessen items with Italian, French or German roots - who needs to go to Europe with this to choose from. A cattle auction was in progress as we wandered past and we caught sight of a few of the Mennonite community in their distinctive dress. It wasn't until the afternoon though ,when we visited the township, that we caught sight of some of the brethren driving their horse drawn wagons coming back from the market. The township was busy with some lovely shops selling pottery goods, glassware and quilts. We asked directions to the Maple Syrup Museum and spent a while looking at the exhibits and watching a video about syrup production before heading back to the flat via the local LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) to pick up some wine for the evening. Thank heavens for air conditioning!

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 27, 2010 from Waterloo, Canada
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Wet, wet wet

Stratford, Canada


A leisurely start to the day before leaving for Stratford, arriving just after midday. After a nice picnic by the river, we made for the Green Room, a fashion shop with an eclectic mix of items that are intended to be surprising. Although I would not exactly describe myself as a fashionista, it made for an interesting few minutes. We then made for the tourist information office, getting the lowdown on what's around. We chose not to take the boat tour and although the 1hour guided walk around the lake sounded quite interesting decided not to wait and to do it ourselves, ending with a visit to the Japenese Gardens.

The first stop on this tour was the Shakespeare Gardens, which were a tiny but perfectly formed set of gardens on the banks of the Avon connected by a footbridge to a little island with big ants. It was very warm, sticky and close, so we decided to get a nice 'ice cap' at Tim Horton's and literally chill for a while.

Leaving Tim Horton's, we set off on our tour of the lake. The side away from the town centre had lovely looking houses backing down to the footpath running by the waterside and it was a nice and interesting walk. The lake is only about 1Km long and is really a widened part of the Avon between 2 bridges. We were approaching the half-way point when we felt the first spots of rain. There was no shelter so we quickened our pace; it was no good – within seconds the heavens decided to dump the huge excess of moisture they had built up and it was raining hard.

Taking shelter under a tree, it rapidly became clear that this was not going to ease quickly and the tree was providing a reducing amount of protection, so Ollie took off for the car and brought it round to the aged and by now bedraggled parents. Of course by now, the rain was easing a bit. So I wrung about one reservoir's worth of water out of my shirt before getting into the car and Sue passed her dress out to be given the same treatment! In the circumstances we decided to leave the Japanese gardens to another visit.

Back at the flat, we did some washing and drying before enjoying one of Ollie's marvellous meals.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 28, 2010 from Stratford, Canada
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An Increasingly Merry Crew

Niagara Falls, Canada


Off bright and early to Niagara Falls to park up at the hotel and be picked up by Wine Tours International for our Wine Tasting Tour. Ol had managed to get us booked in to the Sheraton On the Falls opposite the American Falls and a stone's throw away from one of the border bridges. Two years ago we had stayed at the Ramada overlooking the Canadian Horse Shoe Falls so it made a nice contrast to be at the other end of the parkway which runs the length of the escarpment and from which you get wonderful views of both waterfalls.

We were due to be picked up at 10.15. After an exchange of calls to the tour operator we were picked up by Brian at around 11.00 am and taken to Niagara on the Lake. The drive took us through beautiful parkland peppered with neat, clean picnic areas and plenty of opportunity to stop off and admire views of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. Apparently there is a 34 km cycle path that the more adventurous can take that borders the river and lake. Brian told us that the whole area is maintained by the Parks Commission who keep it immaculate and there are strict planning regulations for anyone who wants to build in the area. As we entered Niagara – On -The- Lake we passed Fort George where they were busy preparing for a 'Battle Enactment' weekend, presumably re-enacting the failed US invasion attempt.

We had driven through Niagara-On-The-Lake on our Wine Tour two years ago so it was great to have the opportunity to explore it on foot whilst Brian took the remainder of our bus party (two couples) to their first Winery and then on to their lunch. We wandered down the main broad street and spied several interesting shops, which we decided we would return to at our leisure on Friday. We were due to be picked up again by Brian at the Tour Operator's unit in an hour's time and needed to get our lunch so stopped at a lovely little eatery, Fournos Restaurant, with a cool basement bar and dining area.

Back on the bus and off to our first Winery, Riverview. Then on to Lailey, Marynissen, Caroline and an added bonus, Rancourt. The most interesting in terms of being taken to the vineyard and the cellars was Lailey's. The Sommelier told us about the winery's ethos – small but quality wine produced, using traditional methods, with natural fertilisers and wine, aged in oak casks. The only winery that we had visited two years previously was Carolines and even there the range of wines seemed to have increased. Rick and I sampled 8 different ones all amazing – a shame our luggage allowance prohibits taking several back! We did buy some to drink with Ol and Ang and some to take with us to Kris and Dave's at the weekend! The two couples had visited Rancourt at the beginning of their tour whilst we were at Niagara-On-The-Lake and had much preferred their white wines to any they tasted in the afternoon so Brian took us back there. Rick got chatting to the owner's brother a Quebecois, who was down for the summer on holiday.

We got back to the hotel just before 6.00 pm and quickly changed before walking along the parkway to The Keg overlooking the Horse Shoe Falls.

A great meal and then views of both Falls lit with different coloured lights – amazing.


permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 29, 2010 from Niagara Falls, Canada
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From the ridiculous to the sublime

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada


Ollie, Sue & I went for a walk through the slightly tacky part of Niagara Falls looking for a place to have breakfast while Ang went to meet up with a schoolfriend and her baby daughter. The place we found offered an excellent breakfast if with a rather slow service. After the extended breakfast we walked back along the strip between the falls, making the most of the photo opportunities along the way before being picked up by Ang.

We then took a trip back along the very attractive drive down Niagara Parkway to Niagara on the Lake to have a wander down to the lake and then round the very pretty town. Brian had yesterday recommended the Golf Club as a great place to have good value meals and drink but we were still too full from breakfast to try it out – it certainly looked nice.

We found a lovely old pub, The Angel Inn with half timbering and exposed oak joists, serving an excellent range of beers. I had a particularly good Sleemans Honey Brown which refreshed all essential parts very nicely.

After a little bit of souvenir shopping, we all piled into the car and went back to Ollie & Ang's flat where we took advantage of the communal 'Broil King' outside the apartments and enjoyed a lovely meal of barbequed huge burgers and sausages with salad.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 30, 2010 from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada
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Arrival at the west coast

Vancouver, Canada


On the road shortly before 8 am and a trouble free run to Terminal 3 at Toronto airport. A sad farewell to Ollie and Ang after our wonderful week with them. Thumbs up for West Jet and an arrival in Vancouver shortly after mid-day. We stopped for a bite to eat in the airport before buying or day passes for the Translink transport system for the three days of our stay in Vancouver and hopping on the Canada Line in the airport. Sixteen minutes later we emerged from the Waterfront station and a short walk to our hotel, The Victorian on Homer Street. We quickly unpacked, loaded our day bags and headed for the Harbour Tower just a couple of blocks away. From the observation platform we were able to identify the key sights with the help of information plaques and fully appreciate the wonder of the location that is Vancouver. The lift is on the exterior of the building, which is a little disconcerting if you're not very good with heights!

Off to catch the ferry (a super speedy catamaran) to the North Shore using our day passes. A quarter of an hour later we were on Lonsdale Quay. As it was a bank holiday Monday and by this time about 5.30 pm very few of the Mall shops were still open.

We took in the views of the city from the decking at the quayside and decided to have our evening meal overlooking the harbour at Marios (Italian Restaurant). We both decided to sample Sockeye Salmon and linguine. Someone was obviously slumming it in a little boat moored right next to the restaurant – how the other half live!
Back on the Catamaran to downtown and a wander round Canada Place Board Walk to take in a wonderful sunset and watch the float planes land. At this point it was around 9 pm (12 pm to our Ontario body clocks) so we headed back to the hotel for an early night.


permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 2, 2010 from Vancouver, Canada
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Skyscrapers and mountains

Vancouver, Canada


Strange arrangement for breakfast. Only three or so table in the buffet area so you collect what you want and sit in the reception area or pop back to your room. Off on the first leg of a hectic day taking in the architectural heritage of the area on our way to Granville Island and its famous market. We caught the number 50 bus to the area, got somewhat disorientated but got there after twenty minutes or so. Great market. Almost as good as St Jacobs! Bought Burritos at one of the stalls and ate them overlooking the water. Back to Downtown and a change of bus (No 19) to Stanley Park. Hired bikes and set off on the seawall circuit. Wonderful views of the harbour in our two and a quarter hour circuit. Passed a couple of lovely beaches and at the second one took a brief detour to the Interior to see some 'big' trees. There is so much to see we only scratched the surface but we had come to see the scenery and what scenery. Back on the bus to the hotel and a quick call to Ol before heading out to nearby Chambar (Belgium restaurant). We both had Mechui a dish which we have when we go to Argentat, washed down with some unusual Belgian lambic Beers. The lamb was beautiful. And the beers were excellent too! Blog writing to catch up with and we are planning to stop up to 11 ish to ring Zoe and wish her happy birthday. We are hoping that 7 am in Bristol won't be too early!!

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 3, 2010 from Vancouver, Canada
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Walking on air

Vancouver, Canada


Breakfast with the irritating bloke who wants to talk about global warming in attendance. He is miffed that I neither wholeheartedly support the contention that it is all man's fault nor debate why it isn't. I dodge the 'so you don't believe in climate change' with 'I don't believe the science is agreed'; I dodge the 'look at the flooding in Pastistan' with 'there have been floods since time immemorial but with modern communications we are more aware of them'; he thinks he nails me with 'you don't think that a disaster would have been recorded 500 years ago' and I sidestep with 'not all cultures have a written tradition.' I would love to ask why he thinks had a mini ice age for 300 years in the middle of the last millennia and whether he has considered that the vast herds of buffalo covering the North American plains may have produced more methane that current population of cows – or on what assumptions he calculates the methane output of the herds of herbivorous dinosaurs. But I would have ended up entertaining him rather than getting on and enjoying what the planet has to offer now!!

We checked out of our rooms and stored our bags in the basement. First stop today was gastown, apparently named after an early publican in the area who enjoyed 'gassing' - I would have been happy to introduce him to climate change man. Gastown is an area for domestic shops, furniture etc. and quite old. It has not yet suffered from an explosion of high rise buildings and seems familiar to provincial eyes such as mine. It looks rather attractive, I think. While there we saw a steam clock, originally powered by waste steam from the local businesses. Every ¼ hour, it toots; we were lucky enough o be there for the 09:15 tooting.

Moving on to Chinatown with its rather magnificent millennium gate, near which is supposedly the narrowest building in the world at 6 feet. It is undoubtedly narrow but it is tacked on to the front of a building a lot wider, so I think it is a bit disingenuous. Dr Sun Yat Sen has had a small park and garden dedicated to him with some funds towards it provided by the Chinese government. The park was small but beautifully formed and the garden was closed all day to accommodate a ruddy film crew, so we didn't get an opportunity to see it.

We wanted to get some maternity wear as part of Zoe's birthday present, but hard as it is to believe, there are no maternity shops in downtown Vancouver – or possibly none of the locals we asked wanted to share it with us.

Even the Hudson Bay Company couldn't oblige.

We collected our bags, made our way to the Canada Line and Airport and picked up our rental car, a nice Toyota Corolla. Looking at the map, our next port of call, Lynn Canyon involved a long drive round Vancouver or a shorter drive though the middle. Rather to Sue's horror, I elected to go through the middle, hoping Ollie's tuition last week would be remembered. I found that having driven in Corsica last year, it didn't take very long for me to adapt to left hand drive.


Tomtom navigated us beautifully through town but was less sure where Lynn Canyon was. Not altogether surprising as there are no signs to guide you. After stopping for directions a couple of times, we were able to find the path and take the ¾ hour walk up one side, over a terrifying suspension bridge and back up the other side. The walk through pine forest with huge trees along board walks and up and down steps was a wonderful experience. The guide book said that this was better than the Capilano which is much better known, busy and expensive. We can't compare but it was not too busy, it was free and our landlady at the B&B told us that in her view it was a much nicer walk.

We found a nice pub for our dinner of meatballs with linguini – excellent.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 4, 2010 from Vancouver, Canada
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Haze over Vancouver

Port Alberni, Canada


Mountain B & B on East Balmoral Road was a good find. Our hosts provided us with a mammoth breakfast – fresh fruit salad, home baked Blueberry Pie, Ham and Eggs and tasty black bread. Ivan explained that what appeared to be mist was in fact the smoke from the forest fires and as it was hot and there were no winds it was lying like a blanket overhead. From their lounge you could just about see Canada Place and make out Burrard Sound. We knew it wasn't an ideal day to go up Grouse Mountain for the views but it would be our only opportunity so we went for it. We parked up just before 9 am and were one of the first up on the Cable Car. Apparently each one can take up to 100 people - ours carried 6! The ride was smooth and although there wasn't the amazing view of the city below us, due to the smoke, it was a thrilling ride to the 1128 m summit. I'd read the previous evening that if you walk the Grouse Grind be sure to use plenty of insect repellent. As I've a history of being a very tasty bite to flying insects, I liberally applied Jungle Strength lotion and was I glad that I did. No sooner had we emerged from the lift terminal building than they descended on us – well it was 9 am and we were the first potential meals of the day. They were annoying but didn't actually bite.

The top of the mountain has been set out with various trails bordered by lovely wood carvings. There is a short lake walk which we did once we had spent some time watching the two resident juvenile bears, Grinder and Coola in their enclosure. They were found as tiny cubs on the mountain (they think the mother was probably shot) and instead of being placed in zoos the park commission decided to keep them (they wouldn't have been able to survive in the wild). One of the guides gave a very interesting commentary about them and Grizzlies in general. Apparently the whole mountain is home to Black and Grizzly bears and there have been recent sightings on the adjacent trails. We took the chair lift to the mountain summit (1250 m) and walked up to the wind turbine. We didn't think it was worth paying another 28 dollars to the viewing pod because of the smoke haze. On our way back to the lift terminal we stopped to watch a Lumberjack show – great fun!

Off to Horseshoe Bay to catch the ferry to Nanaimo. Only a short drive and we managed to catch an earlier one to our original booking. Shame about the smoke, which didn't allow us to see as much of the scenery as we would have liked , but we realised that was rather selfish to put it mildly as news reports showed people loosing their homes and firefighters risking their lives to bring the fires under control. Arrived at Port Alberni around 6.30 pm. Brief glimpses of Cathedral Grove as we neared our hotel and we plan to go there first thing tomorrow to view the giant cedars.


permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 5, 2010 from Port Alberni, Canada
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