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Go West then go East

a travel blog by rickandsuejohnson

Two years ago we visited the West coast after our visit to Ollie an Ang so this year it seemed only right to visit the East coast...........
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At the start

Waterloo, Canada

Arrived at the terminal for 10 and found the queue for Air Transat. While substantial, it was not horrendously long and we soon found ourselves at a check in desk where we had to have our hand baggages checked for weight and tagged prior to checking in the hold cases. It was worth the time spent making sure that we were within limits! We went straight to security and were again surprised to find no long queues; we were through quite quickly albeit directed by a guard who had had a recent charisma bypass and was still recovering from the surgery..

In the departure lounge we were amazed to find that there were seats available and that the bar area wasn't packed. We took the opportunity to nab a couple of comfy seats and grab a nice bacon bap and pint. Our gate wasn't announced until and hour before departure and we were beginning to think we would be facing a delay again but this was unfounded. Nevertheless, by the time it was announced the airport had filled considerably.

Having booked seats at the front of cattle class, we were among the last to be called to board. The bloke in front of me chose to put his trainers under his seat rather than the seat in front which gave me little room for manoeuvre and after gentle hints by pushing didn't work I gave up subtlety and just trampled on them.

In the isle seats one row back from us there was a family with a small boy of about 2½. Apart from not enjoying being strapped in for take off and landing (which meant he couldn't be easily comforted), he was very well behaved. We couldn't help but think of Zoe, Neil, Ben & Ellie next may and hope it goes as well for them.

We had a good flight with only a small amount of turbulence for a short while and enjoyed the in-flight service. Having left in sunshine, we flew over cloud for most of the way with only occasional breaks to see the atlantic. The coast of Canada was under cloud and there was no break for about an hour before the coastline of the St Lawrence began to emerge. We flew in to Toronto in slightly hazy sunshine to be met by Ollie and Ang 25 minutes early having passed through border control without problem, though lack of charisma seems to be contagious among customer facing staff.

The temperature was a low 27degrees C as we stepped out of the airport and made our way to the car. A short hour or so later and we were sitting outside Ollie & Ang's house sipping sangria and enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

Early (?) to bed at 9 when our bodies were grumbling that it was 2.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 22, 2012 from Waterloo, Canada
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Hot Hot Hotter

Waterloo, Canada

Off to a Rib Fest around lunch time in Victoria Park, central Kitchener. Tokens bought, we charged our sampling glasses and headed for the shade. A huge range of craft beer stands bordered one side of the central area of the park (porters, light and dark ales, lagers and fruit flavoured beers!); stands selling ribs, chicken and huge onions dipped in batter vied with one another on the other. Large tables sporting trophies from past glories fronted some of the latter. This was a serious business. It seemed the more trophies that were displayed the larger the queue line. Ol and Rick headed off and decided a half rib from the stand with the shortest line was a good idea. Good choice boys – the judges agreed with you – it beat the established trophy holders hands down!

A couple of hours had passed under the trees and a pleasant breeze was building up along with the cloud cover. We decided to take a walk in the park away from the fest. The sky had turned a steely grey – better head back to the car we thought as a few large drops of rain fell on the lake. Car reached, the heavens briefly opened. No sign that there had been any when we got back home. Ol and Ang's friends and previous near neighbours, Steph and Dave, arrived to share the evening with us. It was great to get to know them.

Temperatures predicted to rise even higher today so after a leisurely start we headed off to West Montrose to see the oldest covered bridge in Ontario and the town where Bill Tutt one of the Bletchley Park code breakers settled after the war. He was invited to became a professor of Mathematics at Toronto in 1948 and then moved to nearby University of Waterloo in 1962. He returned briefly to Newmarket, his place of birth, after the death of his wife in 1994 but the call of his adopted homeland brought him back to Ontario.

On to Guelph and after a brief stop for lunch at Pitta Pit (great value and really tasty) we reached John McCrae's House (place of birth) and now a small museum dedicated to his memory and to those whom he treated as a Colonel in the Canadian Medical corps in the Great War. It is thought that he wrote 'In Flanders Fields' following the death of a great friend in 1915. We had visited 'Essex Road' one of the dressing stations where Col McCrae had worked and had written the poem when we stayed near Ypres last summer but both of us had assumed that he had been killed from shelling. Not so - apparently he had suffered badly from asthma throughout his life and contracted pneumonia while working at a Field Hospital near Boulogne. Meningitis took hold and he died only a few days later in January 1918.

A detour to look at a possible rental for next May on our way to the very small museum in the local bakery dedicated to Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables) at Norval. Norval was the second place in Ontario where Maud's husband Ewan was minister. Back home to delicious barbecued steaks and corn on the cob!

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 24, 2012 from Waterloo, Canada
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A quiet day

Waterloo, Canada

Sue & I wished each other a Happy Anniversary and were astonished to see as we opened each other's cards that we had chosen identical cards. What does that mean? Spooky and perhaps worrying.

A relatively relaxed day, Ollie & I went to borrow Dave's car to pick up some chests of drawers he & Ang had bought from the other side of Waterloo. They were so large we had to make two trips but soon had them stashed downstairs.

After a nice lunch of fresh baguette, salami & cheese we went to Heidelberg where Sue had seen an inexpensive B&B on the net. I guess you get what you pay for!

We called at a fascinating farm shop on the way back; all sorts of produce and an O gauge electric train set running around the roof.

In the evening we went to a restaurant for our anniversary meal; a former school House with an interesting decorated metal relief ceiling. I started with a delightful leek, potato & bacon soup while the others shared a huge tandoori Chicken flatbread. Sue followed with halibut and the rest of us had 'Brick Chicken' – a huge portion of Chicken cooked under a brick. It was very tasty and we finished off with a special coffee with Grand Marnier and maple syrup. A really lovely evening.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 25, 2012 from Waterloo, Canada
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A Distillery and a washout

Toronto, Canada

Another beautiful blue sky and an hour on the motorway network to Toronto and a cruise around to find parking near the Blue Jays stadium. We headed off in the direction of the CN Tower, skirting the Railway Museum with its miniature children's railway, towards the historic Distillery district, original the site of industrial units now used as a microbrewery, craft shops and restaurants. Ol hailed a taxi and 10 minutes later we were there. First stop lunch at a micro brewery – 2 huge 'Starters' for us all to share. Ang and I left the men to another beer and headed off to look in a couple of the boutique galleries. The prices were also 'boutique'. A shop selling old household nik naks was asking $135 for a rusty old bird cage; $595 for a 1960s office stool! Mental note – if your shop is in a 'trendy' area you can ask silly prices. The jewellery, clothes, ceramics were lovely and were very unusual but, even taking into consideration the time taken to make them, they were hugely over priced (small filigree metal work earrings at $245).

We headed off towards the lakeside from the Distillery district on our way back to the stadium. The whole area is being rejuvenated with high rise apartment blocks under construction on the edge of the lake. As we neared the centre some of the development had been completed and included a lovely water park and sandy beach area.

An early meal at Wayne Gretsky's restaurant full of hockey memorabilia, before the game. We noticed that the roof had been closed – did this mean they expected rain? Well we didn't bring the Blue Jays luck. They lost 16-0 in a three hour game with Oakland Athletics. It was a great experience. The height some of those balls reached before hurtling into the crowd was impressive! Heavy rain greeted us as we reached the exit. What to do as none of us had coats or an umbrella? In the end Rick suggested we go back into the stadium and walk round to the Radisson Hotel and get a taxi. He wasn't the only one with this idea ,so Ol volunteered to get the car and meet us there. Within a quarter of an hour we were back on the motorway with sheet lightening illuminating the skyline as we left the city and buckets of rain making it a tricky drive for Ol. Home safely and in bed a little after 1am!

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 26, 2012 from Toronto, Canada
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Waterfalls and a new game

Waterloo, Canada

We see on the news this morning that Toronto had a number of lightening strikes, some on the CN Tower and one setting fire to 5 townhouses. It is easy to underestimate the power of Nature.

Rang Ben when we woke to wish him a Happy Birthday. He was having lunch in a pub with Ellie, Freddie & Mary at the time.

On a day with lowering clouds threatening rain, a moderate 25 degrees and high humidity we went to Hamilton 'City of Waterfalls' according to the tourism website. Only they do not appear to be in Hamilton as much as Dundas, they do not appear to be signposted much if at all and the only local we spoke to was very vague about their whereabouts. We managed after much searching with reference to the web courtesy of Ollie's Blackberry to find only two because the map on the website is insufficiently detailed. Nice as they were, it was a bit of an anti-climax having expected to have a 'fall fest' and as it kept threatening imminent rain, we had to have our waterproofs to hand! We consoled ourselves somewhat with a late lunch at Timmy Hor-tons.

Back in Kitchener, we popped in to Ollie's new workplace to be welcomed by owner Mike and dog Max. Apparently Max is a shrewd judge of character and chooses who he lets in – fortunately he seemed satisfied with us. Zoe would particularly like Max; he is just like a small polar bear cub and quite gorgeous. Mike made us very welcome and Ollie introduced us to the team who were there. They were all very welcoming to us and took time out of their work to have a chat; it seemed to me to be a really great environment in which to work. It turns out that Lisa, the editor-in-chief of Canadian Skies, one of the MHM magazines, has a next door neighbour who is on the organising committee for the Waterfalls of Hamilton and could have got us a map!! Just before leaving we chatted to Mike about our plans for NS. He knows it well and gave us a number of very useful pointers. I am not surprised that Ollie enjoys working there.

In the evening we went to watch Ollie & Ang play 'Ultimate Frisbee'. Never having seen a frisbee used in anger, I was expecting all sorts of arcane rules but mostly it made sense. Think netball meets association football (interperson passing) meets rugby football (running angles and scoring zone) and you get close. The frisbee is passed from a standing position to a runner who has to stop and pass it on to another attacker; defenders attempt to obstruct or interrupt the pass, success leading to a change of ownership. Frisbee not being caught results in a change. The objective being to get the frisbee from one end of the pitch to the other with the last catcher being in the end-zone (try scoring area). It was very interesting and frankly rather more exciting than the professional entertainment offered the previous night. Although very much a team game, it was nice that our team members contributed 3points to the winning 15-3 score.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 27, 2012 from Waterloo, Canada
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A Day in London

London, Canada

Off to London for a rendezvous with Kris, Dave, Jackie, Val and Ang's Nana and Papa at the Windermere, where Ol and Ang are to be married. We travelled the scenic route thinking that the journey would be smoother as the hotel is North of London but this is road repair season. Three stops (one for ten minutes) meant a bit of a delay in arriving so after a great leisurely lunch we went to see the banqueting hall, ceremony venue and grounds. We can see why Ang and Ol chose it – roll on next May!

The party Split and we girls headed off to a bridal shop in downtown London for Ang to try on some dresses. Back to join the boys in Timber Drive and the Nyhout's legendary welcome with Kris producing appetisers at a drop of a hat and drinks all round as we watched the Olympic opening ceremony. Dave set to with the barbecue, though as black clouds gathered, we ate inside before rounding off the evening with a couple of games of 'Telestrations' (rather like Pictionary).

Heavy rain overnight swept the humidity aside for the morning and we girls headed off to another bridal shop which Ang knew stocked a dress that she had seen on-line. Least said but tissues were used by all of us before we returned home for lunch. Back to Waterloo with a stop at the Bay for Ang to buy a gift for a friend's Wedding shower on Sunday. Steph joined us after supper and we watched a film while Ol booked us an airport hotel for our final night in Ontario.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 29, 2012 from London, Canada
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Lovely castle and a sad farewell

Toronto, Canada

Ang had to cook some champagne cup cakes for a friends wedding shower taking place at 1pm in Toronto, so we were up fairly early and on the road shortly after 11. Ang dropped us off at the York Shopping Mall and Ollie, Sue & I took the subway 6 stops south leaving a short walk to Casa Loma. I say short but it was all uphill and some of it was quite steep! Still it was easy going back.

Casa Loma was built by a wealthy financier Henry Pellatt who introduced electricity to Toronto. It took 300 men 3 years to construct from a start in 1911. So it is not strictly historic but rather a realisation of a romantic dream and no less interesting for that. Most of the furnishings were sold off when it was put on the market to pay off Sir Henry Pellatt's debts following a period of bad calls. We only spent about 3 hours there following an audio guided tour but you could spend a lot more. The views from the top of the tower were spectacular and while not exactly an uninterrupted view of the lake, is possibly better than the slum area it apparently overlooked when built. There aren't many people who would solve the problem of two properties separated by a main road by building an 800 foot long tunnel and using it to provide a huge furnace to give central heating to both properties. Apparently the furnace consumed 800 tons of coal per year. Bearing in mind that summers in Toronto are hot, so minimal amounts would be needed for hot water then, this means around 120 tons per month or 4 tons per day during the winter months!!

The formal gardens are not grand but they are beautiful and the whole place very nice indeed.

A short walk back to the subway and another 6 stops and several blocks walk in high heat and humidity saw us to the edge of Chinatown. We had been looking for somewhere to slake our thirst even being tempted to go in to a dive that looked as though it may have been on the police watch list; once entered swiftly exited.

Ang had trouble with the traffic but managed to park up and meet up with us in a McDonalds. It was a refuge at least and easily identifiable. Ollie had wanted to visit BeerBistro since Ang had got him a book produced by its owners based on cooking with beer; we therefore headed in that direction for our evening meal. The beer list is extensive with tasting notes and the food has recommended pairings. The meals were very good and the pairings worked well though Ollie and I each had another beer to finish off.

As we didn't have to book in to our hotel 'till late, we drove down to the lakeside by the city centre airport and walked along the front in the crepuscular light. It was absolutely lovely and a great way to end this section of our holiday.

Ollie dropped us off at the hotel at about 10pm and we said our sad farewells. It had been a wonderful week, we had done a lot and spent a most enjoyable time with Ollie and Ang which suddenly and predictably seemed too short. It was hard to break away but poor Ollie & Ang had an hour and a half's drive back to Waterloo, we just had to get ourselves sorted for the morrow and a 6am call to catch the 7am shuttle to the airport, and crash.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 30, 2012 from Toronto, Canada
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Arrival in Halifax

Halifax, Canada

Up at 6am and in the lobby to catch the shuttle bus. Some consternation when someone shouted as the driver accelerated out from the hotel – the rear door had swung open and one of the cases had dropped out. Quickly checked in and through security - this time I had my palms swept by a magic wand , I guess to check for traces of something non kosher. A quick Ice Cap and bagel and forty minutes later we were boarding. Even though we were 30 minutes late in taking off (waiting for a dog's paperwork to accompany him) we arrived on time. Having picked up our lovely bright red Dodge, Rick took to the highway and we headed for Downtown Halifax. He had noticed that, unlike Ontario, drivers weren't turning right on a red light. Was Nova Scotia different to Ontario? He chanced it and a quick text to Ol and a referral to the guide book seemed to indicate we were ok. Maybe we'd just seen cautious drivers!

Tom tom got us safely across the $1 dollar MacDonald toll bridge and up to the Citadel Hill National Historic Site. At the end of the Napoleonic wars we Brits decided that the old wooden forts defending our strategic points against the French in North America should be replaced by more permanent and sturdy structures. The present star shaped fortress to defend the deep harbour of Halifax against possible attack from the French stronghold in Louisbourg on Cape Breton was begun in 1828. We arrived at the start of a guided tour. Our guide was dressed in the uniform of a garrison soldier of the period. The fort is run as it would have been at the time with students playing various parts. The enactment included a firearms drill and a cannon was fired. The views from the walls over the harbour are well worth a visit even if you're not interested in history. It was 5.30pm and check in at our B & B being up to 6.00pm. After a quick break we headed on foot to Hydrostone market and supper at the Little Europe Bistro a great end to our first day in Nova Scotia. This area was completely flattened in the explosion of 1917 and there is a memorial to those who died in the little square in front of the restaurant.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 31, 2012 from Halifax, Canada
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Halifax explored

Halifax, Canada

A lovely warm and sunny day, so a 20 or so minute walk into Halifax to see the oldest church in North America with a piece of debris from the Halifax explosion embedded in a wall. The Halifax explosion was in 1917 when a French vessel loaded with TNT and a Norwegian vessel with relief supplies were manoeuvring in the port and collided creating sparks which ignited flammable liquids on the French deck. The flames quickly got out of control and when they got to the TNT set off the largest pre-atomic bomb explosion. 2000 people were killed instantly and over 300 acres of Halifax were flattened.

On to Province House, the seat of Provincial legislature. A lovely Georgian sandstone building where we enjoyed a free half hour guided tour filling us in on all the elements we might have otherwise missed.

By now it was midday and feeling thirsty, we headed down to Alexander Keith's Brewery. We went for the double tour; a guided tour of the brewery together with a harbour trip on the sailing boat 'Silva'.

The brewery tour was rather quirky with costumed guides taking us 'back in time' to Mr Keith's time. With over-enthusiastic overacting for my taste, I found it interesting but OTT and light on detail. The tasting was for two of the brews and although for good volumes, it would have been nice to try a small amount of all 4 brews prior to choosing which to sample in quantity. I tried the ruby and IPA and found both a bit light, thin, acid and flavourless. It tasted to me like sparkling water that had had any life chilled out of it; a huge disappointment after the wonderful craft beers I had sampled the last week. As we exited we were surprised to note that we had been inside for 1.5 hours.

A quick bite of a wonderful seafood chowder from a harbourside eatery and we were due on 'Silva'. Once out of her berth, we hoisted sails and sailed gently round the island in the harbour and under the suspension bridge for 1.5 hours. It was very pleasant but didn't compare with our trip on Barnaby in NZ, although it was a great way to see the harbour.

A couple of berths along was a corvette similar to the one in which a certain Cockshutt matelot spent many enjoyable hours bobbing along in the Atlantic between 1942 and 1945. I knew it was small but until you see it in the flesh, you don't realise how small. I would hesitate to cross the solent in one, never mind the Atlantic. We had hoped to see the WT office in which he had spent his time but sadly it wasn't possible.

Not far from here is the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. No admission fee after 5 on Tueday – open to 8. There is a marvellous exhibition on the 'Titanic'. Not simply the tragedy itself but the aftermath which is often overlooked. Apparently, even in death class was respected with first class passengers meriting a wooden coffin while second and third class passengers got a canvass sheet!

We aimed to have a beer and meal at the 'Lower Deck' , a pub recommended by Mike, Ollie's boss. Our guide book misplaced it but determination allowed us to find it in the historic buildings area. We had a lovely meal but being owned by the same group as Alexander Keith's Brewery, it stocked the same beer and I was sad to find that even with food, it still left me disappointed.

Back uphill to our B&B via the No7 bus – we had had quite a long day and some walking!!

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 1, 2012 from Halifax, Canada
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Peggy's Cove and onwards

Shelburne, Canada

A leisurely start and off again, this time though in the pouring rain which had suddenly swept in. We quickly visited the Fairview Lawn Cemetery where 121 Titanic victims are buried and headed off to Peggy's Cove. By the time we arrived the rain had stopped and, despite the guide book's warning to be prepared for the world and his wife to be there it was relatively deserted. We were glad that we had taken Mike's advice. With a stiff breeze, the sea was pounding against the rocks so we gingerly walked around to take in the lovely views of this pretty little fishing village and the seascape. We bought a couple of pasties to eat en route and headed out towards highway 103 stopping briefly at the Swissair Flight 111 memorial just outside the village. The countryside is so pretty here. It is densely wooded with fir and birch trees and dotted with lakes both large and small. Now and again the highway hugs the shore line itself. There are so many little sheltered inlets that the only way you know it is the sea and not a lake is the presence of seaweed on the shore line. Strangely there aren't any pull offs to speak of. In the end we stopped in a mail box layby to eat our pasties – not very PC but necessary.

We got to the Lunenburg County Winery around 3pm Rick tasted and I, having volunteered to be the driver, sniffed. We bought a blackberry wine and headed into Lunenburg itself. We caught sight of Blue Nose II. It is being lovingly restored and will, according to the website, be offering harbour cruises (Lunenburg and Halifax) for Summer 2013. The original Blue Nose, a racing schooner built in Lunenburg, won the Fisherman's Trophy five times between 1921 and 1938. She became an icon - not only Nova Scotians as her image is on the Canadian 10 cents piece.

A quick visit to a late 18th century house, now a museum and again with costumed guides where we learned about the original settlement and how it prospered before the final two hour drive to the lovely Cooper's Inn in Shelburne.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 2, 2012 from Shelburne, Canada
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