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Two Thumbs up for the Canucks

a travel blog by rickandsuejohnson

On our last trip, to Corsica we went to Cascades des Anglais and took a photo of Sue with that backdrop holding her two thumbs aloft in success. Ollie informed her that she had committed a terrible faux pas and our Canadian family were very distressed at the insult. This was maintained for some time with Sue very worried about the situation before the penny dropped that Ollie was being Ollie and teasing his gullible Mum. It has become something of a joke for all to enjoy and seemed a good title for our trip.
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From rainy Manchester to very rainy Toronto!

Toronto, Canada

I programmed my new (early birthday present) toy for T1 long stay car park. TomTom was particularly helpful in the navigation of the last stages to the car park with lane information. Though I reckon someone has had a little joke with modified route information making you leave the M56 one junction early and then take you straight back on again!

In an eery reversal of last year, we had a traffic and rain free trip until we parked at 09:45, when the heavens opened and we decided to wait in the car for it to subside. Every time it looked like stopping and I poked my head out, it would wait until I got to the boot before tipping down again.

The route to the checkin point was less than well signposted and the queue was quite long when we got there – of course, our line had to be the one with the difficult family with oversize and overweight baggage which took a long time to sort out. Our main concern was that we may not get two seats together but we were OK. The passage through security was thorough but one of the easiest passages we have had. Into the departure lounge quite unstressed, where we had a drink and a bacon bap. We got on board the Transat Airbus 310 in good time but had to wait 30 mins for a clubclass passenger who was late. Someone who obviously was more important than the rest of us put together. The seats were very comfortable and there was more legroom than we had on the jumbo with BA last year – all in all a pleasant experience.

We arrived about 30 mins late, had a relatively easy passage through airport controls apart from a mercifully brief encounter with a fairly miserable immigration officer who'd had a charisma bypass. I thought of asking him if he was having problems with his piles but decided that I should hold my tongue. We emerged to see Ollie and Ang waiting for us at the arrivals gate.

The rain had followed us to Toronto and a heavy mist shrouded the city but we managed to see some of the landmarks on the way to the hotel.

After a nice meal served by a very attentive waitress who really understood customer service, we went on a walk through Chinatown in the rain – at least it was not cold! Back at the hotel, Sue & I had an early night (well it was 03:00 our time).

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 19, 2008 from Toronto, Canada
from the travel blog: Two Thumbs up for the Canucks
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Toronto to London

London, Canada

From our bedroom window at the Sheraton we had a great view of the Old Town Hall complete with clock tower, reminiscent of Big Ben, and the CN Tower in the distance. At 6 am, it was dark enough for the clock face to be shining out making the whole scene look rather pretty as the clouds began to shroud the skyscrapers in the distance. It was still raining but only slightly. By the time we were ready to have breakfast the clouds had closed in and the rain was torrential. Not the sort of day to be going up the Tower for that iconic view of Lake Ontario with maybe a hint of the spray from Niagra in the distance! Having been introduced to the wonderful impressionist works of Canada's renowned Group of Seven by Ang a couple of Christmas' ago and knowing that a large collection of the work was not too far away, we headed for Kleinburg. It more than made up for missing out on the Tower, which Ol had said we could take in on our next visit – we hadn't blotted our copy book yet then!

What a welcome at Timber Drive – we felt at home as soon as we arrived and as though we had known everyone for ages!

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 20, 2008 from London, Canada
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Black squirrels and chipmunks

London, Canada

A haven of wildlife in your own back garden. From the kitchen dining area we were treated to: chipmunks, rabbits and black squirrels; and a rainbow of birds – red cardinals, green and yellow finches and humming birds. Just literally through the woods across the road a Canadian botanical adventure – comparing names of plants and spotting the rhubarb plants growing wild that we are only used to seeing in parks and the gardens of stately homes.

An afternoon tour of London taking in the area and places associated with our Canadian family – we feel part of it already and what a beautiful place it is. What has really struck us is the space. The streets are wide, the housing plots large and generally you don't feel jostled. Even in Toronto it seemed relatively quiet for a city.

We are heading off for a wine tour in the Niagara region tomorrow and another chapter of the adventure.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 21, 2008 from London, Canada
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The wine tour

Niagara Falls, Canada

We left reasonably early so that we would be in Niagara at our hotel for collection for our wine tour. A brief stop for Tim Hortons refreshment saw us checking in to the Ramada by midday then grabbing a quick sandwich while we waited for our minibus.

Our tour driver/guide David had come over from Glasgow in 1957 immediately after he got married but he still had a distinct Scottish if not exactly Glaswegian accent. He was a remarkable chap; we introduced ourselves to him just once and he remembered our names infallibly all afternoon even to the extent of associating the voice and the name when he couldn't see us. He was a mine of interesting information about the area.

Our first visit was to Jackson-Triggs winery. This is a huge concern and we had a tour of the winery led by a very interesting young man who gave instructions for tasting and appreciating wine. We sampled 3 wines, one was called Meritage and is based on a classic Bordeaux recipe, the next was a dry white reisling and finally we had a drop of icewine which was very good indeed.
Our next visit was to Strewn, a smaller concern, where we tasted 3 wines again; the one with the most impact for me was a delicious Reisling Gewurztraminer – I bought a couple of bottles for later consumption.

The third winery was Pallatine Hills; again 3 interesting wines and a palate that was beginning to have some difficulty in differentiating between them, and a brain that had difficulty in appreciating why you should bother analysing something so much fun.

Our final visit was to a winery called Caroline after its founder. A very simple building and a family run affair. They offered 4 wines to taste and while by this time, it was difficult to relate and compare with the earlier wines, they did have a unique product in the fruit wines. I was quite taken with a pinot and cherry wine and bought a couple of bottles.

The drive back from Niagara on the lake (which was a rather nice, tidy town) along Niagara Parkway was very pleasant.

Back at the Ramada, we went up to our rooms and Kris & Dave swapped with us – theirs had a better view! The Ramada appeared to have been built as a bit of an afterthought; we wondered why when we got in the lift, the floors started numbering at 25! it was built as a tower with reception in the base and then at the top of the stick, the observation deck, then the restaurant and the bedrooms.

Obviously, there would have been no views any lower down, so it was built with lower floors missing! After a freshen up we decided to go down to the observation deck for some fabulous views of the falls. After much debate we had dinner in the restaurant where we had a table overlooking both falls; the meal itself was marvellous if more than we could handle and with the view, the experience was truly exceptional. Grandpa Morris may even have used the word 'fantastic'.

After our meal, a walk down to the falls and along the embankment to take in the view as dusk was falling. The numbers hanging around suggested that they may be lit, so we hung around ourselves and were delighted to see them lit up at 21:00.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 24, 2008 from Niagara Falls, Canada
from the travel blog: Two Thumbs up for the Canucks
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The Maid in the Mist (plus others)

Niagara Falls, Canada

Up reasonably early and a quick breakfast at the hotel then off to Maid of the Mist following a brief conference on what to do first. It was a good decision as it was one of the first boats out and far from crowded; we didn't have to queue at any stage and the boat left as soon as Sue got on board. There were enough people on board to cover the sides of the boat but not much more and we had no problem in moving around to get the best view. The views were exceptional; we had prepared ourselves for getting wet, which we did and we had expected that the experience would be memorable but we hadn't expected the depth of either! The views were tremendous; recording it all was a bit difficult as avoiding getting the camera too wet was one issue and avoiding water on the lens was another! Having Kris, Dave and Ollie there to share it, as can be seen from the photos doubled the pleasure.

We dried out as we walked back along the front to Table Rock. Kris and Dave went back to collect the luggage and the car while Ollie Sue & I queued for the Rock and Tunnels behind the falls. And we did queue! However, I suppose we waited for only about 20-30 mins and the system is geared to very much longer waits than that! Table Rock, which juts out on a promontory just below the falls and only a few metres from the falls was very worthwhile and gave you a close up perspective of just how much tumbling white water is cascading over. The tunnels with two lookouts were a bit disappointing; all you can see is a white wall of sheeting water; I suppose what I had hoped for was an open gallery in which I could see some of the rock face with a curtain in front – but it wasn't like that. The falls apparently had been eroding at 1ft every 10 years until modern times; with hydroelectric power stations taking some water the rate has been reduced to something like one inch every 10 years.

Back out, Kris and Dave picked us up and Dave suggested we went back via the backroads and had a look at Port Dover. It proved to be one of many good ideas Dave had that day.

Port Dover is on the north side of Lake Eyrie, a quiet (that day at least) lakeside town with a marvellous, clean sandy beach. By this time we were all getting quite hungry and so we went searching for a suitable eatery. In due course Dave found something looking promising and we found it delivered in spades. Another good decision, Dave! Back to the beach for a quick paddle and then off back to London.

The fields either side of the road were in places saturated and had surface water; it must have been raining hard for some time.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 25, 2008 from Niagara Falls, Canada
from the travel blog: Two Thumbs up for the Canucks
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An important date to remember

London, Canada

Our wedding anniversary did not start too auspiciously; despite knowing it was coming and despite having made a note to get a card in preparation for the event, in the fracas of the last week at home, I overlooked it – so no card for Sue 1st thing! Ollie took us to a shopping mall for the north American experience – just think a large scale Cribbs Causeway or Brierly Hill shopping centre. At a bookshop, they had some nice handmade cards and I took the opportunity to make partial redemption. We then shared a cinnamon roll that was other-worldly before going on a short-hunting expedition.

We finished off our experience with a visit to the food area – a central table area with every different kind of fast-food you can imagine on the periphery. Ollie & I had a steak burrito, which was huge and Sue had a taco shell filled with salad – it certainly looked very good.

Back home to get ready for our trip to Stratford to see Hamlet. Ang drove us up to Stratford and we parked up near the centre while we had a quick look around the city centre. We found a nice spot by the river/lake where we enjoyed the picnic we had brought. It was a little hike out to the festival theatre from the centre of town and we weren’t sure exactly where it was, so after following the river for some time we began to wonder how much further it was. After a quick check with some locals, we were still some 400 metres from the theatre, so as it was getting close to 8pm start time, Ollie and Ang went ahead to make sure of collecting the tickets; we made it to our seats with about 2minutes to spare. A little close for comfort! This Hamlet was a modern interpretation set in the early 1900’s but using the original language. Normally I am less than keen on such efforts but this was an excellent production, the seats were excellent and the acoustics were very good, so it was possible to hear every word. It was a long time since I had seen Hamlet and I didn’t remember there being so much humour in the first part but it came across very well.
We thoroughly enjoyed the play and it was a marvellous anniversary present from Ollie and Ang.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 26, 2008 from London, Canada
from the travel blog: Two Thumbs up for the Canucks
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Dinner at Michael's

London, Canada

We were up a bit late today and then went for a nice walk in Springbank Park – a lovely, huge green area in the centre of London and along the banks of the Thames. Ollie apparently did his training for the Toronto half marathon here. After a bite of lunch, we accompanied Kris and Dave to Val’s end of summer school ceremony. We met some of Val’s friends, as well as protégés of Ang and Jackie; all bubbling with enthusiasm for the time they had had together. We had a quick skype with Ben (to wish him a happy birthday), Ellie and Freddie.

After getting back home, we rested up for a while with a beer on the back porch before getting ready to go out for dinner. It was nice to go out with the whole family; all the girls looked stunning, everyone had dressed up except me but as this didn’t seem to worry them, it didn’t worry me. We arrived at the restaurant amid some confusion, the nature of which was unclear but appeared to involve parking. None-the-less as we went in, we were welcomed and shown to our table. We were presented with a card from the Nyhouts and had a superb meal accompanied by affectionate family banter; we had a really great time. I started with a lovely bowl of Jalepeno, cheese and broccoli soup which was nicely spiced. Ollie, Dave and Kris had French onion soup the quantity of which beat everyone. Ollie, Dave and I had a wonderfully tender rib roast steak, Ang & Jackie had pasta and Val chose mussels and had a huge bowl of mussels delivered that I had doubts she would manage but she did! At the end of the meal, the owner, Jack presented us with a plate on which there were two chocolate covered strawberries and an inscription in chocolate – ‘Congratulations from Michaels’. Accompanying this, Jack sang to us in honour of our 37 years together. It was a truly wonderful surprise and we were deeply touched. The final surprise was on our exit finding out what had caused the consternation; Dave led us round to the left at the exit instead of the car park. On the restaurant sign, as bold as life was a message that had been forgotten earlier – Happy 37th Wedding anniversary Rick and Sue. A lovely thought and the evening will be a memory to treasure.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 27, 2008 from London, Canada
from the travel blog: Two Thumbs up for the Canucks
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Off to the Cottage & Tobermory

Tobermory, Canada

Up at a reasonable hour to be ready for Dave & Kris to pack the cars. Away for the cottage at around 10:00 with a 5 hour trip, stopping only for a quick lunch at Tim Hortons. We arrived late pm and unpacked the car. The cottage is delightfully situated on the shore of the lake with an approach from the road through mature trees. The plot has its own lake access with timber decking for soaking up the sun and a shady area in front of the house for people wanting the atmosphere and view but not the UV.
Kris had semi-prepared an evening meal of chicken enchiladas which were great, washed down with a glass of Dave’s wine.

Sun - Tobermory

Off to Tobermory to have a look around the town, check out the glass bottomed boat tours, do some shopping and look in a couple of the arty crafty shops.
After lunch we went to ‘Singing sands’ where the beach slopes very gently into the lake. You can walk some distance before the water even gets to your knees and as a result of being so shallow, it is quite warm. Back on the beach, we set about building a sand castle – it has been some time since we did anything like this and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The castle we built had a real moat! The sand was very nice to work with and lent itself to the task.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 28, 2008 from Tobermory, Canada
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Dyers Bay

Tobermory, Canada

Ollie and Ang took us over to Georgian Bay to spend a few hours with John & Janet’s friends, Ron & Rita Baker. They have a lovely beachfront cottage with a garden leading down to the shore with a beach hut at the bottom. We spent a lovely couple of hours chatting over a snack lunch and finished up at the top of the beach where R&R had a table and chairs under an umbrella. Ollie and Ang picked us up at about 15:30 and we had a drive down to the lighthouse that Ron had helped to restore. It was a little further than we expected but it was worth the trip. The lighthouse has been restored to reflect the sort of life of a keeper around 1880.
Back at the cottage, we had supper then went outside and watched the sun set as we made a fire around which we played games. It was a lovely evening.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 29, 2008 from Tobermory, Canada
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The Grotto

Tobermory, Canada

We went to the grotto after breakfast. We had a 40 minute walk through pine forest and emerged to a small cove which contained the grotto accessed by a short swim across the cove. There was no beach, it was an amazingly bleached white shingle but mainly rock. The water was crystal clear and a lovely shade of blue; where the rock showed under the water it was a clear white, shading to a
deep azure blue as the water gets deeper; which it does quite suddenly rather than shelving gradually. Sue was the first in; she was joined by the Nyhout family and I got in as far as my waist before deciding it was just too cold to get in any further. Over time we all got out of the water and warmed up again on the rocks for an hour or so.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on July 29, 2008 from Tobermory, Canada
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