The annual Hot Chocolate Festival in Calgary

Perhaps it’s the fact that the weather in Calgary feels like we are on our 103rd day of January that inspires me to write about the hot chocolate festival that happens here every year!!

For the entire month of February in Calgary, Meals On Wheels has their biggest fundraiser of the year, called YYC Hot Chocolate Fest.

(If you don’t know Meals-On-Wheels, they are an organization that delivers meals to people who aren’t able to purchase or prepare their own meals, like seniors or people who are physically unable to get out or make their own meals.)

I discovered the festival a couple of years ago and it seemed like the best excuse to get out and discover new coffee shops and cafes and restaurants, and enjoy a fancy hot chocolate in the mean time. It was also an excuse to make an event out of a simple coffee date with friends and family, and people I rarely see!

As part of the festival you can review the drinks you try and vendors are vying for the “Best of The Fest” awards, so they often pull out all the stops. One dollar from every festival drink goes towards Meals On Wheels!

This year I decided to try and do a hot chocolate a day! I was able to try 29 different Hot Chocolates at 28 different vendors!!

Here they all are: in order.

Day 1!

First drink of the fest:

Cafe Rosso‘s Orange Blossom Hot Cocoa smelled like an entire satsuma orchard, but actually had a very gentle flavour. It was also served with a cookie. A lovely start to YYCHotChocolateFest!

Day 2, hot chocolate 2.

The Gingerbread Spice at Bell’s Bookstore Café. Reminded me of a ginger cake. Lots of spice and delicious whip cream!

Day three, #3.

I got in a dinner date with my delightful friend Charlotte and we tried the S’Mores Hot Chocolate at Alforno Bakery!

I normally love the offerings at Alforno so I was a bit disappointed by the mediocrity of the actual cocoa. The toppings were good; there was a nice graham cracker rim, and we agreed that the marshmallow was the best part.

As it was the most snowy wintery day that day, clearly double the hot chocolate was in order! Day 3, and 4th hot chocolate of the festival!

At One18 Empire my friends Tawny and Raine and I went for late night snacks and ordered the Toasted Sneaky Pete. This ‘spirited’ hot chocolate had Jamiesons in it, with whip cream and a toasted marshmallow, with a dark chocolate spoon on the side. We thought the spoon was a fancy garnish. Not so, my friends, not so. This beverage came with steps that our server failed to mention: you must stir the spoon in the steamed milk *the second* it arrives at your table, so it melts and actually makes the drink complete.

IF however, no one tells you this, and you eat the spoon immediately, all you are left with is steamed milk and booze. 😄😳

Soooo I can’t say we loved this one, but we never really tried the ‘completed’ recipe. I am pretty sure, however, that even if you were to stir in the chocolate, this is one stiff drink!

 

Day 4 (and drink No. 5)

When I went to pick up my Cocoa Troll at Primal Grounds Cafe, another customer was waiting to ask me if she could take a photo of my drink before I grabbed it. Why? This hot chocolate had a face and cotton candy hair.

And ALL the whip cream. 😁

Once you get past the straight sugar topping, this is a deliciously rich and smooth hot cocoa! I recommend!

#Iamsogoodatadulting 😉 #ridiculouslookingdrinkforagoodcause

 

Hot chocolate #6

Suneshine-y day off plans with my mum included stopping into Bite in Inglewood to try their Kris Kringler hot chocolate. This was my favourite so far. Creamy, rich hot chocolate with divine vanilla bean whip cream and tiny brownie chunks on top. This one was deluxe, people.  😊

 

Hot Chocolate #7: Who knew peach and chocolate made such a delicious combo?

The Peach Melba Hot Chocolate at Waves Coffeehouse was surprisingly delightful. Sweet and like peaches-and-cream-meets-cocoa! Yummy!

Have you heard of UTCA? They make chimney cakes and their hot chocolate was the most colourful drink I had tried of the festival so far!

Also, can we talk about how cozy and inviting this place is? I want to bring people back here!

This one was number 8: called the Chimney Hot Chocolate. Once you get past the uber-rainbow-explosion topping, the whip cream and fresh orange zest melts right into a sweet, caramel hot cocoa. Delicious!!

 

I see your winter storm warning and I raise you: drinking chocolate. 😉 Drink number nine:

The slow motion snowfall tonight was too beautiful to not go for a walk. Thank goodness Analog Coffee is open super late so I could warm up with their #yychotchocolatefest offer!

Like many places, their featured drink Thai Chili Chocolate was more popular than expected and they were out of all their fancy garnishes (in this case, a mini pastry and macaron). C’est la vie, and really, I didn’t feel like I was missing a thing. This is the closest thing to “drinking chocolate” (true chocolat chaud) that I have had outside France, though this had a hint of heat to it with thai chili.

It was a perfect way to watch the snow come down after a long day!

 

The next morning’s hot chocolate adventure brought me and my friend Norm to Boxcar– the cutest little board games/coffee shop on 1st St SW!

Drink 10: Gingerbread Hot chocolate. Delicate cinnamon and nutmeg flavour that made it feel almost like a chai flavoured cocoa.

Beautiful, simple presentation.

 

The 11th hot chocolate of the festival was enjoyed at Sauce Italian Kitchen and Market. The flavour: Vanilla Pistachio Cannoli!

Yep. This was truly a full dessert hot chocolate. It came with an entire cannoli perched on it. Rich and sweet and delicious!

 

The next #yychotchocolatefest adventure was had at Ca’Puccini in the Arts Commons.

Drink 12: Can’t Beet Red Velvet.

Well…

It sure tasted like beets… Warm, sweetened beet juice. With some fake whip cream on top. It’s… a choice… and a poor one. Bottom of the list! 😳

#foragoodcauseatleast

 

Lucky 13 of the YYC Hot Chocolate Festival was enjoyed at The Bean Stop and their hot chocolate specialité: Amour.

With ginger-lemon infused dark chocolate, this came with toffee/cookie crumbs and purple edible glitter sprinkled on top of the whip cream.

Definitely rich, definitely good, and yet not quite the best ginger-chocolate combo I have had (that goes to last year’s dreamy drink by Monogram 😍).

 

The Nash served up their Smoked Chocolate Chili Mocha for drink 14.

There was no dairy-free option; this one had the best whip cream so far. Good heat in the chili, and perfect sweetness.

 

We ventured to Fiasco Gelato to try their Salted Malted Hot Chocolate complete with crushed Maltesers on top. Definitely the sweetest so far.

#15

 

The Cinnamon Bun Hot Chocolate at The Main Dish marked #16 on the list. Cream cheese marshmallow topping was a sweet surprise, and the cinnamon/cocoa rim was a nice touch, but the hot chocolate itself was rather average. I decided I would have to come back for their Salted Dark Rum + Baileys Caramel another time.

 

My mum and sister are the best company ever!

On this particularly delightful afternoon we visited the Deane House for their Caramelized Honey Hot Chocolate (my 17th).

Excellent flavour and texture, and check out that *chocolate* marshmallow!! It was divine. 😍

I highly recommend this one!!

 

I stopped into Phil & Sebastian’s for my 18th hot chocolate of the festival.

The Tonka Soul Hot Chocolate had a rich dark chocolate flavour with hints of caramel. The presentation was some of the finest latte art I have seen. I’d recommend this one for sure. I loved it!!

 

An impromptu visit and breakfast with my friend Elizabeth was an awesome excuse to go out, so of course it included a hot chocolate; and a return to the Main Dish for their alcoholic offering.

(We had to wait until 11am to order their Salted Caramel Rum and Baileys Hot Chocolate.)

Sadly, it was just so-so, and tasted more like rum than hot chocolate, but maybe that’s what they are going for. The Cinnamon Bun was definitely the better drink here. Drink 19:

 

My friend Shanny and I went for the Orange Florentine Hot Cocoa at Sucré Patisserie, and it did not disappoint.

Luxurious flavour, not too overpowering, and lovely presentation. No wonder this place is so busy. A delicious (20th!) hot chocolate.

 

The 21st Hot Chocolate was the Earl of Ginger at Cococo (Bernard Callebaut), which came with a ginger chocolate candy on the side. The hot chocolate was rich and creamy and a perfect ‘classic’ hot cocoa, though apart from the chocolate candy served with it, I tasted no ginger. I’d still recommend it!

 

#22 -This next ‘hot chocolate’ was the Frozen Hot Chocolate milkshake at Boogie’s Burgers.

People in Calgary rave about Boogies, and particularly about their milkshakes so I had high hopes. In the end it was a very basic, boring, chocolate milkshake. I expected much more, honestly.

The 23rd of the hot chocolate festivities was enjoyed at SAIT, and the company was the best part! My friend Nicole works on campus and we wandered into the sunshine to enjoy our pink drinks. The Flirty Chai Hot Chocolate.

This hot chocolate was a powdery pink (coloured by beetroot without the intense veggie flavour), and was *without* even the tiniest, remotest, slightest hint of the promised chai flavour, but was still very pleasant simple white chocolate.

 

The Lavender Honey Hot Chocolate (#24) at Higher Ground was as pretty as it was sweet. The flavour danced right on the line of ‘dessert’ and ‘perfume’… 😳🤔

 

I made it to Blush Lane Organic Market on a dinner break from work, and got to indulge in and surprise my friend Chris with the Pistachio Orange Blossom hot chocolate. #25!

This drink was soooo good; the chocolate ganache and orange blossom whip cream was divine. I highly highly recommend it.

I wandered into Famoso for my second coffee-infused hot chocolate of the festival. The Nutella Mocha is the perfect combo of hot chocolate, coffee, and Nutella.

This was drink 26!

 

A new discovery! Société Coffee Lounge opened up recently on 11ave SW and my mum and my friend Karen and I got some good chatting in over warm drinks and delicious breakfast baking! ❤️

We tried their Bumblebee hot chocolate. My 27th of the festival, this turmeric & honey hot chocolate was a nice start to the day.

 

#27- A snowy day’s walk had me stopping into Ollia for the Rocher Chocolate Chaud: a perfectly refined hazelnut & chocolate combo. I felt sophisticated drinking it. And French. 😉

Plus it comes with a tiny hazelnut macaron so how can you go wrong?!

 

The 29th and my final hot chocolate of the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest was had at Cornerstone Cafe: their Mexi-Cocoa.

This was the spiciest of the chili hot chocolates that I have tried, and I wish there was something to cool the heat or at least compliment it. The good/bad news was they ran out of the much anticipated topping (homemade marshmallows) because they sold 100 more drinks than they expected to. A good problem to have, I guess!

If you have a chance to go out and get a hot chocolate next February, do it! Support Meals on Wheels, maybe discover a favourite new coffee shop or restaurant, and enjoy a delicious fancy hot beverage as well!

“Has anyone warned you about the moose?” Aka, Our trip to Newfoundland

Mention Newfoundland to anyone who is from there, or has visited there, or knows someone who knows someone who has talked to someone who may or may not be have been there one time, say the phrase ‘road trip’ in conversation, and I guarantee you, the next next thing said will be:

“Has anyone warned you about the moose?”

There are thousands of moose in Newfoundland. (No snakes, in case you were wondering.) Numerous collisions with moose happen every year, and the moose almost always walk away them but of course, the humans, not so much. “Never drive at twilight“, “Watch out for moose“, and our favourite phrase “Keep your moose eyes on” were said to us constantly. There were also signs posted everywhere with updated numbers of collisions in 2016. So you can understand both our worry and also curiosity about seeing moose on our travels. 

But I will start at the beginning.
It was early Wednesday evening when we arrived at North Sydney where the ferry would take us to Port-Aux-Basques (along the west coast), and I had butterflies like I do before a big flight because in truth, we would end up on the ship for almost 10 hours overnight and awake in Newfoundland!!

So the ferry is pretty cool. 🙂

If you don’t want to pay extra for reserved seats or a room on the ship, you get your pick of a reclining chair on the same level of the ship that has a bar/restaurant, gift shop, and 24 hour snack bar. There are TVs if you want to watch something, but on the night ferry it seems most people bring their sleeping bags or blankets and pillows, and sleep in their chairs- or on the floor!


(Okay, so even I ended up sleeping on the floor, which is a lot like camping (but warmer),  and woke up to the “one-hour to arrival” announcement and a view of: you guessed it. Fog.) 
We drove to Steady Brook and our accomodation at our first Airbnb, close to Marble Mountain and the Humber River. Our host Yvan was super welcoming, and we soon met his roommates Brittany and Adam, then a friend who stopped by for an afternoon beer, and our new buddy John, who was planning on showing us the local (west coast of the Rock) sites and local adventures. We took a quick hike up to see the Steady Brook waterfall, which a remarkably easy effort for the incredible reward of a view of a giant waterfall that looks like espresso tumbling over rocks.


 We also got to watch a group of zip liners crisis-crossing the vast valley over the waterfall, which immediately sold me on wanting to join in, and simultaneously terrified Tara-Lee.

Our plan to spend a couple days in  St John’s meant that we had to drive all the way across the province, but not before stopping into Deer Lake to go up to the navigation tower at the Deer Lake airport to see John’s “office”! We brought him a coffee, and we got to watch him work through two planes taking off, and he showed us some of the tools and techniques he used to check weather, pass on info to pilots, and communicate with other airports. 


It was extremely fascinating! (And with the speedy technical radio chatter, it was almost like listening to another language!)

We arrived in St John’s to rain and low fog, and the drive across Newfoundland kind of made us feel at home with rolling foothills and lakes, and lots of highway construction. Dozens of kilometers of highway construction, to be exact. 

We stayed at a cute little house walking distance of George Street, the famous downtown strip where numerous pubs and restaurants (and music venues) are found all in one place. There are some fun stores to window-shop or find some great souvenirs – a lot of local artists are showcased- and we also stopped into The Rocket for a homemade lemon tart and hot tea.



We actually bar-hopped Thursday night to check out three spots. Our St John’s 3-bar-crawl, if you like. 

George Street on a rainy night

We started at the Duke of Duckworth (where they film Republic Of Doylefor fish and chips, and ended up sitting next to a couple of lighting designers just finishing up a contract for an event coming up for Canada Day. 
We then got to O’Riley’s Pub and caught a local band with a trio of guitar, fiddle and bass, a great dance floor and second level packed with people. It was a lively crowd and great local tunes, so we enjoyed one set before venturing to our third venue, Shamrock City, for the band we had been recommended to see: Middle Tickle.


Aside from having a pretty bad sound mix (and no actual sound person in sight), the band was top notch and were a powerful quintet of fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass, and drums. We had a great time and seemed to be the only out-of-towners, as it felt like absolutely everyone knew absolutely everyone else there!

 We awoke to another grey and rainy day with the familiar blanket of low fog and cloud, but were absolutely looking forward to brunch at Mallard Cottage, a restaurant we were told was a MUST and so we had made a reservation for 10am. 


We arrived in the adorable neighborhood of Quidi Vidi, a colourful fishing spot down along the water. We drove right past the adorable little white and green house-turned-restaurant, and were delighted to find the front door and step inside the most charming interior of a restaurant I think I have ever been in. 

First of all, the song we heard as we walked in the door was one of my favourites (Veneer by Jose Gonzáles), and the mix of tunes they played while we ate brunch were right in the genre of our road trip soundtrack! You could say that the experience started on a high note. 😉

The cozy atmosphere and hand-written changed-daily menu on the chalkboard wall was delightful.  It’s the kind of place you’d like to stay in, if it was a B&B or some such thing. 

Apparently they have a writer-in-residence that came about like this: this writer would come by every day for breakfast or tea or dessert and spend all afternoon there. So they invited her to stay. 🙂

And not surprisingly, the food was divine. And very generous serving sizes! We regretted not checking out the dessert buffet table before ordering and eating, as we didn’t plan well and had no room to spare. 

Not only is the place a MUST, we think it’s a “MUST every time you are in St. John’s”, and we’ll be back for sure.

Next on our activities list: an iceberg boat tour. Following brunch, we made our way down to the waterfront. 
As a full boat of adults bundled up and armed with cameras, including a group of adult girl guides dressed in purple (not the “Red Hat Ladies” as we first guessed), and our crew of Matt, Sheldon, Alex, and our Captain Derek, we set out from the harbour towards Cape Spear, the furthest eastern point of North America, and out to find some icebergs.

It was windy and cold but the ocean was pretty calm, and we came upon two small icebergs relatively soon. We circled them a few times to get some photos and in hopes that a small piece might fall off as we watched, but the water was too calm and no waves crashed against the ice to encourage that. 

We meandered back towards the harbour and a few of the passengers spotted a whale as we turned around, but it was stealthy and barely its fin appeared again before wee made our way back to shore. 

The coastline looked like something out of a movie, and definitely made us think of the shores of Scotland or Ireland in the mist and fog.

Matt- one of the crew- wanted to get in on our photo! 🙂


We were absolutely delighted to warm up at our next Airbnb before heading out to catch the Opera’s Sweeney Todd that night.

 Our host Brian arrived at the door to greet us along with his friendly dog Bo, and invited us into the living room where he has a beautiful fire going in the wood burning stove. He served us tea and crackers with bakeapple jam. Bakeapple is a type of berry that looks sort of like a large yellow raspberry and doesn’t taste like any fruit I’ve ever had before. I liked it!

Brian is a musician, and now that he’s retired, he likes having his home open to Airbnb guests, and he clearly has a soft spot for animals as his dog and cat are both rescues. We felt right at home, like we were just visiting a neighbor or long lost uncle. He even played the piano a bit while we were ther even. It was lovely.
That night we went to see the opening night of Sweeney Todd, and really enjoyed ourselves! The leads were all exceptionally strong, and the crowd jumped to their feet at the end.  

In the morning Brian made us pancakes (though all the while proclaiming he didn’t know how to make pancakes), with fresh blueberries and locally-made (from all the neighbourhood maple trees!) maple syrup. 

Did you know to make maple syrup you boil 40 parts sap to get 1 part syrup? No wonder it’s such a pricey treat!
We took off back for Steady Brook with a tentative plan to veer off course for a quick (?!) detour up to Twillingate or some such place on our way back. The weather started off grey and ominous but actually turned out quite pleasant and we had a completely different view driving west (i.e.: we could actually see what we were driving past!). 

Our arrival in Steadybrook was easy and we already felt like we were staying with friends at Yvan’s Airbnb so it was only fitting no one was there when we arrived so we made ourselves at home and spent some time relaxing on the hammocks in the backyard.

On Sunday we decided to check out Gros Morne and the various views and hikes and activities it offered, as our ‘tour guide’ John had thrown out his back a couple of days before and couldn’t do much at all let alone take us out exploring. Nevertheless, the kitchen party (or Sunday Fun-day, as they also called it) was definitely the plan that night.

Gros Morne could have been a week worth of our vacation with all the places to go and various things you could do. 


We checked out the Table Lands, a couple of waterfalls, and enjoyed the drive along the shore. 

We ended up driving along the south side of the bay to Woody Point and checking out the charming coastline, ‘main street’, and some local folk art that we almost purchased.


The landscape here is gorgeous. All the sapphire blue lakes and luscious green hills, and some magical blue sky that graced us for part of the day, just made it all breathtaking.

The kitchen party was a raucous event that went into the wee hours, with friends and coworkers of our hosts showing up with more and more beer, and we even got some music by way of Adam playing accordion and later guitar. We tried Iceberg Water beer, had chocolate cake that John made that was to die for, and we even had a bonfire. It was fantastic.


The next day, our last hurrah in Newfoundland, I was adamant that I wanted to zip line on Marble Mountain. Most of the guys and some of the girls at the kitchen party worked for Marble Zip Tours and were telling Tara-Lee how incredibly safe it was and helped me convince her to do it. 

The best part was, we booked to go at a time when there were no other people so it was a private trip down with just the two of us and two guides (one of whom was at the party last night)!
What’s so scary about ziplining 2000 feet across and hundreds of feet up in the air over a waterfall and rocks 8 or 9 times?

It. Was. AWESOME. Phenomenal. thrilling. Wicked. I loved it. 

(And by the end, I think Tara-Lee didn’t hate it, either.) 

The lines got more spectacular (and longer) as we went. At one point we did a ‘trust fall’ to start one line. You stand with your heels hanging over the ramp and hold out your arms and fall back, then zip line across. It felt crazy and exhilarating. 

This was by far the best zip line course I had ever done.

(I caught a moment of Tara-Lee zooming across. Hopefully the video works!)

At one point, the guys asked if I wanted to run off the deck of the line we had just completed and just hang out over the falls for a bit and then they’d come out and get me. (I did and it was amazing, but sadly there is no photo because I left my phone with Tara-Lee and she didn’t get a shot. Next time I think I must do a selfie. 🙂
We couldn’t really top that experience so we drove south to Port-Aux-Basques to take the ferry back to Nova Scotia, and as a bonus got to see the ‘strawberry’ moon on the drive, even before twighlight!
Now the question I’m sure you have is: did we see the oh-so-infamous moose that every single last person told us about?
The answer: no. 😀

After another night ferry (on which we felt like old pros), we drove through Sydney Nova Scotia and back to Halifax for one last evening, where we stayed at yet another amazing Airbnb and chatted with our host Paul, who had a beautiful house, brewed his own beer, and was a wealth of knowledge for not only his city but the Atlantic Provinces as well.

 Paul gave us a whirlwind tour of the harbour front, through the poshest neighborhoods and around the college and university, along the streets of local breweries, and even stopped by the Titanic Memorial in the Halifax Cemetary, before taking us to his favourite pizza place in the city, Salvatore’s. We shared their delicious “Original” pizza before spending one last night in Halifax before ending our 19-day road trip. 

It wouldn’t have been natural for us to sleep late and have a lazy morning on our last few hours before we drove to the airport so of course: at 9am we met a childhood friend of Tara-Lee at the Public Gardens, before heading to the Art Gallery to spend our last hour in the city checking out Maude Lewis’s artwork and relocated (real !) house !


And then, it was done, we returned a car with over 6000 km added (!), and off we flew, already planning our next visit to these Atlantic Provinces: this absolutely unforgettable part of the world!!

Cape Breton calls!! 

After a short ferry cruise from Woods Islands, PEI, to Caribou, Nova Scotia, we stopped for ice cream just outside the tiny town of Pictou before driving to our next KOA campground in Cape Breton. On the ship we read up on Cape Breton must-see spots, live music venues, and campgrounds. Free wi-fi on the ferry was a great amenity to have. 🙂


We have found that one of the best surprise-discoveries on our trip is how very much we enjoy staying in different places every night and seeing the varied scenery and natural beauty of the Atlantic Provinces.


Our campsite on the Cabot Trail was another example of this. Check out this rock; blasted in the 1950s to allow for the roadway and bridge across the Bras D’Or Lakes.

 (This moment of morning sunshine was a brief reprieve from all the rain and cloud that quickly rolled in within the hour.)

Especially along the Cabot Trail that circles the northwest part of Cape Breton, the rain makes for the most lush looking forests and hills, and the misty, rainy weather makes for a romantic, almost mythical landscape.


One delightful discovery was Baddeck, and the coffee shops, outdoor gear clothing stores, and art shops. 

We stayed out of the rain for a bit with a great breakfast at the cafe there, and made our way along the Cabot Trail getting purposefully lost on gorgeous forested trails and backroads before stopping into The Dancing Goat and picking up the last still-warm loaf of their famous Porridge Bread, which we planned to enjoy for toast and sandwiches as we trek north. 

The weather forecast was underwhelmingly monotonous, with expectations of rain straight on from lunchtime on Sunday through … Wednesday. We bravely sought a campground with the hopes of a well-sheltered tent site. And when we arrived at Plage St-Pierre Beach and Campground, we were immediately encouraged to rent their tiny, single wood cabin with a queen bed, mini heater, and barbecue. 

We took it.


The brute-force winds that created crashing thunderous waves along the beach, and the downpour that began shortly after nightfall made us feel like the smartest campers ever. We turned on our mini heater, listened to some music, and played a couple of games of cards before heading to bed, warm and dry inside. 🙂

 The wind and torrential rain pounded down all night, and even the power went out at some point. Spending the night in a tent would have likely been terrifying. In the morning we woke up to calm seas, no wind, and lighter skies. And we didn’t have a wet tent or anything to pack up!
I do have to say that the peanut-butter-and-apple-on-porridge-bread sandwiches I made us for breakfast got things started nicely, as they were delicious. The bread has a sort of molasses flavour and is hearty like a pumpernickel. It is so good!

We took off to get up to the Highlands National Park and hopefully get a couple small hikes in. Our other goal was to check out the furthest northern point at Meat Cove, and the small fishing village of Dingwall before heading into our campground by Ingonish.


The coastline is epic, with huge cliff faces and drop offs and the current weather causing great waves to curl and break and crash against the shoreline, be it sand or rocks.

 It is wonderful to drive the winding Trail so close to the ocean. There are many hikes along the trail, varying in length and difficulty, so we decided to check out a couple shorter ones on our first day. 
Along the Bog Trail, (known for its summer orchids and dwarf trees) as we walked along the fully constructed wooden boardwalk, we heard what sounded like dozens of rubber bands being plucked. We discovered they came from a small army of green-bellied frogs croaking back and forth, and if you paid attention to where the croaks were coming from, you could see them hiding in the water. 
 Another short trail to a Sole Sheiling – a hut built to represent the shelters of for an early farmer to watch over his sheep was our next stop, and it was here that we discovered the apparent local concern for coyotes in the area, as several large walking sticks were left at both ends of the parking lot for people to hike with (and many signs encouraged their use!).

 As we drove through road construction further and further up the ‘mountainous’ terrain, the low clouds above us suddenly surrounded us like the thick evening fog we discovered in Nova Scotia the week before. The view disappeared or became ghostly like a Tony Only painting. 

Some of the craziest winding and crumbling roads led us past North Cape up to Meat Cove, but the cold wind convinced us not to stay to long, and we bundled up and drove to Dingwall. The weather grew angrier and the fog thicker, and we could just barely make out the fishing boats tied up at docks and rocking in the waves, and see the tumultuous ocean pound along the shoreline.

Side note: I love the sound of waves crashing. It is like hearing a sharp intake of breath as the water is pulled up from the sand, and then a thunderous rumble as the frothy waves twist over to tumble down in long rolls over and over again. 🙂
We got to our campsite as the rain settled down and the fog thinned a little. For the first time so far we decided to put up a tarp over the tent, and found a sheltered campsite to also protect us from wind. 

We went in search of dinner and arrived at The Coastal Restaurant and Pub,  which coincidentally (!) was the only place open nearby

As we ate a dinner of their made-famous-by-You-Gotta-Eat-Here Ringer Burger, they seemed to be closing up for the night. (It was 7:30pm). We asked if there was a place open for drinks and they suggested the Keltic Lodge, because it has live music every night. Well, we were sold. 🙂


As we drove towards the Lodge we broke through the fog and the sun had fought its way through to make for a beautiful evening. The grounds of the restaurant and nearby golf course were gorgeous and we wandered around and took some photos before heading into the Atlantic Restaurant to catch some local music.
We proceeded to spend the next three hours listening to Rob Maclean, a Cape Breton local, play songs on request until the guests thinned out and he played a few original pieces. He was fantastic and we stayed to the very end, enjoying every minute of it (and also enjoying a slice of they spiced Guinness cake with whiskey caramel sauce).
A cool night’s sleep with lots of rain had us looking forward to spending another night inside. 

We had been told the night before of a hike along the Skyline Trail, and that people come from all over the world to do it, and that it’s a 4km walk on the northwest side of the island. Although it would be backtracking, we decided to do it and made our way back towards Cheticamp. The fog enveloped us about halfway there. Happily, it wasn’t very cold out. Perfect hiking weather.
With at least two dozen vehicles parked in the parking lot we knew it would be a busy trail. Tara-Lee wasn’t feeling well and she suggested I go alone and she’d rest back at the car.
What we had been told was “about a 4km return” was actually a 7.2km hike, so I set out to be efficient, and didn’t do the optional 9.5km loop, so I wouldn’t be leaving Tara-Lee for the entire afternoon.
In the highlands there is an abundance of moose (1,800+) and apparently after a very major tree loss in the 1970s and afterwards the moose just kept eating all new growth; in some areas the forest has been reduced to mostly grassland and small shrubs. There is one fenced off area you pass by where they are seeing/studying how the land can adjust back without moose interfering (yet allowing other smaller wildlife to still enter and exit the area). 

Further along the trail there is a much larger fenced in area you pass through via gates, where parks staff are planting trees and native plant life to regrow (safe from the moose) to possibly return the park to what it was before, for the benefit of wildlife and the ecosystem of the area. It was really cool, but I forgot to take photos.

As well, as the path got closer to the sea, it became a walk along a structured wooden path to keep hikers off the local vegetation. 


I made it to the lookout at the bottom of the stairs just in time to see a lovely view of the ocean, part of the Cabot Trail, and the shoreline, and then the looming fog blew in. Truly, only minutes passed before the view was nothing but white cloud.

This girl just hiked her very first solo hike! It was wonderful!

By the time I got back to the car, Tara-Lee was feeling much better and we decided to attempt to get down to Judique to see the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre before heading towards North Sydney to board the ferry to Newfoundland.

We made it with 25 minutes to spare before they closed, and found the exhibit to ourselves. We sped through reading the history of Celtic Music in the Maritimes, the fiddle, the bagpipes, traditional dancing, and even got to try out learning to play the fiddle- with REAL fiddles and bows they just left hanging on the wall for us to try. SO FUN!!


Now I want to take fiddle lessons… 

That’s all for this post! We will definitely miss the views and can’t wait to get back for more hiking and local music!! 


  

To New Brunswick: the land of high tides!

Part Deux! We head towards the more bi-lingual part of the Maritimes, New Brunswick. 

On Monday afternoon the Nook And Cranny restaurant in Truro Nova Scotia found Tara-Lee and I eating corn chowder, drinking tea, and pouring over maps and guide books: semi-planning our next few days, booking kayak adventures and ferry rides, and definitely looking like tourists. 
Our next stop was the Loch Lommond campground just before the New Brunswick border, and with the assurance that we didn’t need to reserve a spot, we didn’t rush out of Truro until spending some time at another Tim Hortons with tea and wifi, and found ourselves driving again at night through the Maritimes, something we had agreed we wouldn’t try to do, after numerous warnings (from a dozen people) of the plentiful number of moose. No one warned us about the fog. Oh, the fog.

Between some night road construction and the thickest fog I have ever witnessed, the hour drive to our campground turned into almost 2. We arrived after the front gate was closed and had to be buzzed in. It was 10:45pm and we were prepared to be lectured about the late hour and ready to beg for forgiveness when we were greeted by the nicest lady at the main office/house who checked us in and seemed to be as much of a night owl as we are, thank goodness. 

Can we just stop for a moment to appreciate nice campgrounds? They are in abundance here! This campground had the nicest washrooms and showers (and laundry!) I have ever seen! Complete with good tunes playing on the radio

Okay, so the Aulac Tuck Stop. I was told adamantly how great this place is, and I think that by the time we got there for breakfast I was worried I had oversold it to Tara-Lee for the number of times I had mentioned it as a must-stop restaurant. 


It was excellent. Busy and bustling, we narrowly missed a tour bus that likely filled the restaurant with about 40 people. We got the breakfast plate and promised to come back another time for the chocolate cake with boiled icing or mile-high lemon meringue pie.

On to the Hopewell Rocks! We had a booking for a kayak tour with Baymount Outdoor Adventures at 12:30, to kayak around the rocks at high tide and a final height of 43 feet high!

Our cheerful guides Alan and Anna informed us that the Bay of Fundy at the Hopewell Rocks has two high tides and two low tides every 24 hours. (The highest High Tide recorded is 47 feet.) There is admission to the park with a full interpretive centre, restaurant, playground, and gift shop.

You wouldn’t believe it but the clouds were dark and thick when we arrived at the park and we were prepared with layers and rain jackets, only to be delightfully surprised with the clouds breaking and full, gorgeous, warm sun for our afternoon on the water. 

And we got sunburned…. Whoops!

Please note the tow-away zone sign we were all encouraged to park in front of.


We came back after the park was closed (which everyone working there will – curiously – happily encourage you to do) to walk the beach at low tide. It was stunning. (It reminded me of my trip to Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, France.)

We were told that the almost continuous rise and fall of water levels due to the great tidal changes of the Bay of Fundy, the silt and mud never settle, which is why the water has such a “chocolate milk” quality. (Many restaurants, motels and hotels use the “Chocolate River” term to put a sweeter spin on the look of their rivers and shorelines in the area.)

We agreed it is a much kinder nickname of the reddy-brown waters than the imagery of “Mud City”, aka Moncton, NB.

 
In Moncton we found ourselves driving towards a huge spired steeple of a church on the north side of the town, and found ourselves at this gorgeous, ancient-looking Catholic Church: The Lady Of Assumption Cathedral. 

Even though it looked well over a century old from the outside, the kind caretaker there informed us it was built in the 1930s. He gave us a full tour inside where we discovered that all the stain-glass windows along the sides of the sanctuary were of women from the Bible, which is unique in itself. 


The attention to detail in the church was amazing. From the tops of pillars having carvings of the main industries in Moncton at the time the church was built (carpentry, farming, fishing, and flying), to the modern mosaics on either side of the pulpit to full multiple-panel stack glass windows telling the story of the Acadians, even the stairs up at the front had the Latin words for the seven steps it takes to become a pope.

Our next campsite was further south along the coast at Ponderosa Pines Campground. 


We had tucked our tent into a small site surrounded by bushes, as we felt like the forecast was not optimistic between the expectations of rain and wind. It was a good plan as the wind was tearing through the area that night at it absolutely dumped rain straight through till morning. 


At this point we decided to book an Airbnb for our first night in Charlottetown: simply to dry off…
We drove back through Aulac, where we split a (gigantic!) slice of their chocolate cake with boiled icing, which is like a mix between marshmallow and gooey meringue. It was delicious. 
 

Next up: PEI! 

A trio’s busy weekend in Nova Scotia

So a few months ago, I was chatting with a friend from university. She asked if I wanted to join her for a road trip across the Maritimes in June. I hadn’t fully thought out my summer, and it seemed like a brilliant idea. Within a few hours Tara-Lee and I began the plans to spend three weeks visiting Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, Cape Breton and Newfoundland!

“Week” one of the East Coast trip, begins with three jam packed days of travel.

and we're off!

The start: Halifax, Nova Scotia.
We arrived by the oh so wonderful Porter Air in the afternoon, and went to Avis where our silver Chevy Malibu was waiting for us. We made quick friends with our Airbnb host, Chris, originally from Poland, in his charming eclectic art-filled home.

A last minute addition to our weekend was a childhood friend of Tara-Lee, Tara. That’s right, folks: this weekend road trip trio (and likely inspires some sort of folk band name, likely), was Sara, Tara, and Tara-Lee. Tara flew in Friday evening, only a few hours after us.

Old Triangle
Once we were all together, we grabbed a bite to eat at The Old Triangle pub (fish and chips), and did some evening driving around the city, including up the hill to the top of Confederation Park with a night-time city-lights view of downtown Halifax.

The next morning we were invited for homemade lattes at Tara’s Airbnb spot and her lovely host Paul gave us insider tips for the start of our journey down to the south shore of Nova Scotia. We then headed right out of town (with a stop at Tim Hortons for our first Maritimes road trip breakfast).

Side note, I think there are more Tim Hortons here than anywhere I have ever been.

Tara-Lee
We started by making a slight detour to Prospect, a small hamlet, of quiet homes and docks and some beautiful first glimpses of the coast along Nova Scotia shores.
The shoreline had a delightful surprise of multicolored snail shells discarded and swept together, in a pebble rainbow of detailed colours.

Our next stop was of course Peggy’s Cove, and it did not disappoint. 


A windy, blustery, we were warned to avoid the ‘black rocks’ which were where the ocean waves frequented and therefore were slippery and possibly deadly if you lost your footing or a rogue wave came out of nowhere. The lighthouse itself is locked tight but people wander all over the massive shoreline of huge boulders that we could have easily spent hours sitting in or climbing around. 

But of course, we headed to our third stop of day 1: Lunenburg.


Lunenburg is a gem of a town, with the most charming, colourful houses we had seen so far. We stopped into the Distillery to check out their offerings, and from gin to rum to vodka, we all agreed the favourite spirit of the three of us was the rhubarb liqueur! 


All along the main road, and from our lunch spot “The Salt Shaker” (where we shared scallop linguini , a lobster roll, and salt cod fish cakes), we had an excellent view of the Harbour. Apparently every Wednesday night there are sailboat races! The best view of the city is across the water at the golf course, but photos don’t do it justice.

After that it was on to our campsite to set up before we headed to Shelburne for the lobster festival we had found out about online. With four jam-packed days of events this weekend, we decided to prioritize and only attempt to make it to the “Kitchen Party” concert that night.

Our campground was at Thomas Raddall Provincial Park. I only briefly checked out the beach nearby in the morning before we took off for our busy day two, and looking back on the weekend, it was the sandiest shore we came across and with the most beautiful weather. A solid reminder of the importance of taking a pause when you come across something you assume you will find again.

We arrived in Barrington later that evening; a small town just past Shelburne, where the ‘community centre’ kitchen party was to take place. We arrived at a hockey arena-sized building, and about twelve cars….. Not the best outlook. We went inside where the total of bar staff, security guards, and band members almost outweighed the attendees, and the band was like a basic wedding cover band, blaring almost deafening music we couldn’t dance to, and with no acoustic instruments in sight. We were expecting a pub type setting with guitar, maybe fiddle, even accordion or banjo, but alas, were disappointed. We will have to continue our search for a good kitchen party.


On sunday we did get to a community hall lobster roll and chowder lunch and homemade dessert with a local silent auction and games of washer toss outside. We enjoyed the view by the little Sandy Point lighthouse and went on our way.

We have had slightly rainy and mostly cloudy weather as we drive along the south and west shores of Nova Scotia, and even though the ocean is never more than a couple kilometres away from the highway we drive, there is a feeling of home as we drive through a mix of poplar and birch and fir trees, on winding roads that make us feel like any moment the fog will clear and we will see the peaks of the Rocky Mountains in front of us.

Smuggler’s Cove was a cool discovery along our route. Tough to walk this shoreline in flip flops!

We stayed near Digby to make sure we tried ‘world famous scallops’ straight from the source, and ended up at Ed’s Takeout, for fried scallops and clams that were absolutely mouth-watering delicious! It’s a funny little spot that is definitely a simple ‘dive’; definitely a busy place for good reason.

So far we have found that the people in the Maritimes seem to prefer their seafood deep fried or covered in cream of some sort… Not that we are complaining. 🙂 


We stopped into a couple of grand churches along the Acadian Trail, and spent a few moments inside. So massive. And peaceful.

Camping here has been great! My amazing cousin Toban lent us a tent and sleeping bags that completely saved me from my usual night-freeze I am so used to while camping. (And we have had some rainy nights already!)

We have found that all campgrounds so far have had showers, and often: laundry facilities, and even wifi. It’s amazing. I think we will be happy to camp more than we even anticipated!

One final day before heading back toward Halifax to drop off Tara at the airport, we were torn on where to stop, as Cape Split, Wolfville, and Truro were all on our list of places to go.


After seeing the Cape Forchu lighthouse the day before (and the comically large Adirondack chair upon which we climbed and snapped a photo), we went driving down the peninsula of Digby Neck with hopes of seeing a lighthouse, but discovered that it, along with hikes and whale watching adventures required a ferry ride to the islands across from it, and more time than we had.

Annapolis Royal offered their Historic Garden that we all agreed was worth every penny of the entrance fee, and offered a lovely walk through arbours and mazes and winding pathways through various styles and varieties of flowers, trees, and gardens.

Azalea bushes everywhere.


We could have easily spent another couple of hours here, whether taking another walk around the Acadian Dyke lands, or sitting in their cafe, or just enjoying the smell of the lilac bushes and rose shrubs. We were definitely there in the ‘spring’ of their season, as many beds were freshly planted and the rose gardens were only just starting to bloom.

This place will be absolutely breathtaking in July or August…

We decided to spend our last 90 minutes before the airport drive at Luckett’s Vineyard for wine and lunch, and it was dreamy.

There’s a phone booth in the middle of the vineyard that makes phone calls worldwide for free but we didn’t call anyone. We were content with the view of rolling hills, farms, vineyards, and the ocean as the clouds rolled by.


If we could pause time, this would have been one of those moments we would have.


After the most hilarious sight of Tara climbing on top of her suitcase to get in her new yoga mat, sleeping bag, and souvenirs, we bade farewell to her and headed towards New Brunswick for the next leg of our road trip. More to come!!

Culture shock, I guess

Many people asked if I had reverse culture shock coming back from Europe to Canada after 3 months, or if there were any major things I noticed.

I would say there were two things in particular that were hugely apparent right away.

ONE: While in Paris I never spent one minute in a car.   I did not drive for three months. In Paris I took the metro almost every day, walked, cycled, and had a couple trips on bus or train. There was one week in July where we rented a car in Avignon and drove around Provence (and for that week my sister and mom did all the driving).

My first day home in Calgary, I got in my car in order to meet a friend for a coffee. The day after that, I did some errands, and went out for dinner with my mom.   And I proceeded to use a car every. single. day. after. that.

Now, I don’t live downtown- I live in the suburbs. But very few of my friends are centrally located either. We drive to meet each other. It ensures we have more time to see each other, and spend less time waiting and waiting for inconsistent buses and avoiding rush hour LRT chaos.

TWO: In Canada we have so much SPACE. And we spread out like crepe batter. 😉 IMG_6151

Not only are the cities sprawled out but so many people here expect to have large front and back yards, a two car garage, and big house with parks and pathways and man-made lakes nearby. And suburbia reigns.

There have been attempts to create more concentrated housing in repurposed and more central up-and-coming neighborhoods in Calgary. The idea is for semi-detached housing in tall, narrow homes, and smaller lots. Sort of like townhouses, but without the condo boards. I see it as a wonderful opportunity to create a community with your neighbors, and some of the designs are beautiful and classic in design. I’d love to live in a place like this!   In several cases, the citizens of our great city have come up against the builders and have demanded more lawn space, larger square footage, and separate dwellings with larger garages.

In Paris, so many people live in tiny apartments with no yards, no garages and often they don’t even own cars. They walk or take transit or bike to get around. They share courtyards or small gardens and patios with neighbors. They spend their money on quality food and entertainment. They meet at local cafes and restaurants that are around every corner. They don’t sit at home watching giant tvs in giant living rooms and spend any time watering or mowing giant lawns.

My front ‘lawn’ aka door, in the Latin Quarter.

 

I have a new appreciation for our space here. The skies of Paris and France reminded me of our Alberta blue but I missed the mountain-edged horizon, the pathways around the reservoir, and the fact that the streets are only jam-packed with tourists ten days every year. Car keys in hand or not, I am happy to be home.  🙂

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