From the mountain to the seaside

Week three in Bali began on Sunday afternoon when we checked out of The Firefly Resort and Rachel, Kaska, and I hopped into a taxi with our good pal Ketut and headed out to hike Mount Batur at sunrise in the northern part of Bali.

On our way just had to stop at the Tegallalang Rice Terraces and wander about.

A rice season here takes about 3-5 months and because weather is pretty consistent year round, every area is on a different planting/harvesting schedule. At one end of the terraces there were young seedlings freshly planted, but the area we were in had been harvested recently and was drying up.

As we got further and further north, rice fields turned into mandarin orange orchards, and we drove past fields of tomatoes and onions and cabbage.
The mineral-rich volcanic soil closer to the mountainous north is excellent for growing all sorts of things.

Seriously, it feels like they can grow anything in Bali!

We started driving by numerous beautiful  fruit stands and had to stop.

We picked up 2kg worth of mangos, about a dozen mandarin oranges, and a big bunch of mangostines.

We had the most hilarious time trying to find yet another accommodation; the Triangle House hotel was another tucked away secret, apparently, as the google maps location was incorrect and the property was so small and so low (and surrounded by tall bamboo fencing) that we drove right past it. Twice.

When we finally found it and saw our accommodation in real life, I was reminded of Swedish design. If the palm-leaf roofs were wood shingles instead, it would have completed the look as if we were staying in a cedar sauna house.

The hotel has only been open since December and everything was in pristine condition. This was already the most charming place I had stayed in so far.

These buildings contained only a bed, a side table, and two shelves. There were hooks outside to dry clothes/towels, and shared washrooms/showers behind. They put a soft, freshly washed duvet on the bed just after we arrived, and for the first time in Bali we didn’t even think about air conditioning. It was actually slightly cool in the evening… perhaps thanks to the elevation and mountain air.

Because originally, Rachel had booked the hotel for a solo trip up here, the booking was only for one person. Instead of booking another hotel somewhere for Kaska and I, we hoped we would be able to convince them to let us stay here and just pay them extra. (When I had tried to book another room in advance they were all full up- which was no surprise, it turns out they only had 4 rooms!)

English was not a strength for any of the staff there, but we got by with some charades and exaggerated gestures, and they seemed to be fine with having three girls share a room- and they even moved us to a slightly larger building.

I had been connected with Dewa, a local driver and guide who was friends with one of my best friends back home. They had met when she was here on a yoga retreat, and when I told him we wanted to climb Mount Batur he suggested that night as the weather was supposed to be perfect. He was taking two other Canadians up and asked if we wanted to join them. We had originally planned to go on the Monday night but at that point hadn’t secured a guide so we took him up on his offer.

(When you climb Mount Batur you need a guide. If you read any stories or blogs about people attempting to climb it solo, you will see how much hassle/issues they have with the locals. It’s considered extremely disrespectful to the local people, and particularly if you do a sunrise hike and go up in complete darkness, it can be dangerous. )

The total cost was 900,000 Indonesian Rupiah, which works out to about $90 Canadian. Between the 5 of us it only cost $18 each, which was a full $50 cheaper than what I found online when I was researching my trip before Christmas. Clearly it is best to wait until you get here to book a guide and you will get a much better deal!!

We went to bed at about 8pm, as our alarms would be going off at 3am that morning. Headlamps, water bottles, and running shoes at the ready, we awoke to our earliest morning yet, and headed out the door to meet Dewa at the gate.

The hike started shortly after 3:30am and we were moving at a very speedy pace. It may have had something to do with the other two Canadians being trail runners and they seemed to be racing to get to the top. I was the slowest of the group as it felt like the humidity in the air cancelled out any of my athleticism, and the struggle to breathe was actually worrying. Dewa suggested regular 20 second breaks, and I took them often, immediately turning back to look up at the stars.

The sky took the little that was left of my breath away. The canopy of bright stars were clearer and more plentiful than I have seen in years. I was awestruck.

My friends were happy to pause and we all marvelled at the view (while I tried not to pass out).

We still reached the top in about 90 minutes, climbing 700 meters over 4 km. The average group takes 1.5-2 hours to get to the top.

We were one of the first groups up there and we added our up-until-then seemingly laughable warm outer layers to counteract the cool mountaintop weather‘s effect on our sweaty bodies.

We were told that once there was a bit more light we could wander further along the ridge above the crater where steam still pours out.

(Mount Batur is actually a volcano, and another volcano in Indonesia did erupt within the last two weeks, causing a tsunami in Indonesian islands further north of Bali. No big deal.)

The sunrise was absolutely incredible. We took countless photos, including the ‘vital’ though obviously cliché yoga pose silhouettes.

It was so much fun, and we snuck further along the ridge so we could get some photos without having to dodge and deke around other people to get a good shot.

We came across the steam curling up off the mountain and it was like walking past a nordic spa and facial steam. And it was so warm!

It turns out our guided hike included breakfast: our guides cooked us eggs using only the steam on the mountain, and served them to us with sticky coconut rice. It was delicious.

Just as we were finishing up, about 15 monkeys came up out of the forest and hung out, waiting for leftover food. It was hilarious to turn around and see a monkey peeling and eating an egg like he had just come on the hike with us.

The hike down was hot but only about an hour, so we arrived back at Triangle House just after 8am and took showers.

Best mango ever

We looked over photos while we drank strong black tea with raw sugar and were just dividing up a mango when our hosts asked if we wanted the complimentary breakfast that came with the room. The options were: banana pancakes with honey or chocolate, toast with various spreads, or a “jaffle”: a soft-cooked egg inside two pieces of bread toasted in a round sandwich press. The other two had banana pancakes and I had a jaffle.

We all felt deserving of a late morning nap, and then at about noon we went out to the garden to have a tea when it started to rain. A lot.

I didn’t have my phone with me to document it but let me tell you, as we sat there the wall of water between us and our bedroom became an opaque silver curtain, and it just wouldn’t stop.

As the rain pounded down in monsoon-like fashion, we sat and sipped 2nd and 3rd cups of tea, watching geometric rivers form in between the raised paving stone pathways around the garden and hotel buildings.

The owner of the hotel went out during this time and returned with beautiful multi-coloured umbrellas and brought them over to us, insisting we use them for the rest of our stay.

We befriended the owners’ 3-year old as he played in the rain and made faces at us. It was that evening that another little boy joined him and by the time we were heading to bed they were hanging off our table and making faces and playing monsters & zombies and being silly with us.

When the rain finally let up (after several games of Crazy Eights and multiple cups of tea), we took the umbrellas and wandered over to the lake, in search of the famous Hot Springs and some dinner.

We didn’t feel inclined to jump in any of the pools (starting at $19 to get in), and went for food instead. We found ourselves on the very edge of the lake at the quietest restaurant I have ever been to (we actually thought it was closed when they waved us over) and while we waited for our food we watched locals setting out fishnets along the shoreline.

I had chicken saté there, and I’m pretty sure that the sauce was the best I’ve ever had in my life.

We got a ride back to Ubud the next morning by a friend of the hotel owner and from there I was heading to a hostel for the night and Rachel and Kashka were catching the shuttle to meet our fellow yogis Ange and Aneta in Kuta before their flights home.

The women’s dorm I had all to myself!

The view from my room

I got to enjoy one night in Ubud wandering charming streets, perusing unique souvenirs (like cool multicoloured travel/camping hammocks!) and finished the evening with some live music and great food!

Pad Thai!!

An early morning shuttle pickup mean that once again I was up before the sun, and then off to Padangbai to catch a fast boat that would be a 75 minute ride across to the Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok.

Along the port for the fast boat to Gili, there were locals selling Bintang beer, Pringles and Dorito chips, and fresh fruit.
Verbatim, a woman selling snacks:
“Something something chips? Yes? Pring-less? Doreet-as? Doreet-as?”

We moved along the shoreline of the mainland of Bali and as we passed by the coastal town of Candidasa I noticed how black the shoreline is. Volcanic sand. 🙂

The highlight of this voyage was not only the discovery that I could hang out on the roof of the boat and listen to tunes cranked by the crew on their stereo, but the pod of dolphins that appeared out of nowhere and leapt across the waves along the side of the boat for several minutes! There were at least 12 of them!! (No video or photos as this moment was too magical to look through a lens for!)

The boat ended up being about 90% full and most people were headed to Gili Trawlangan – the biggest and liveliest of the islands where people go to party. 

Then there is the middle island, Gili Mano, which is apparently the quietest and most romantic. Not ideal for a solo traveller… unless maybe you are learning to love yourself…

I was headed to Gili Air, which is apparently the best of both worlds. Chill and relaxed, with some nice shops, yoga studios, dive/snorkel clubs, and restaurants to enjoy.

But really, I was going for some quality ocean time.

Swimming, snorkelling, and kayaking were on the top of my list.

The island also had many charming pathways and inviting entrances to all the home stays, hotels, and resorts here.

No vehicles or motorbikes are allowed on the island so it’s quite quiet. Occasionally, you will hear the sound of a horse and cart go by only because the horses wear bells that jingle as they prance and their hooves click on some of the paved roads.

VIDEO TO COME

The central mosque on the island

Most of the people on the islands are Muslim so there are no temples like in Bali.  Every day we could hear the morning and evening calls to prayer at dawn and dusk at the large central mosque.

Because flowers aren’t used in daily offerings, this means that the beautiful frangipani trees are always blooming with plenty of flowers that I can pick and put in my hair…

Gili Air is also called Rock Island because of all the coral that washes up on shore here.

In the low season, on a rainy afternoon, this island felt very *quiet*.

Barren, practically.

I learned that there was a huge earthquake in Lombok only four months ago, and it impacted the Gili islands greatly. Several shops and restaurants are still closed and you can see some places where entire buildings came down. The beautiful beach was lined with empty restaurant loungers and tables and hammocks. Beach umbrellas were closed, chair cushions were stacked, and my footprints were the only set on the beach.

I was glad to have my umbrella because at any given moment a heavy downpour was ready in the next set of clouds, and I made good use of it, and often found myself tiptoeing through puddles and pathways that were quiet as the rain poured down and everyone took cover.

I found a sweet little restaurant called Musa and I decided to try their vegan carrot cake. I picked the most comfortable looking spot in the restaurant; a beautiful big swing with comfortable cushions.

My server, Ending, [yes that is his name] suggested that next time I come, I try the treehouse. Because this restaurant has a treehouse.

The carrot cake was some of the best I’ve ever had. I swore I would come back the next day and try something else.

The first morning here looked like we were getting a bit of sun, and a storm was forecast for the afternoon. So I decided to sign up for a snorkelling adventure that morning! I brought my own full face mask which I was eager to try out. The trip promised sea turtles, underwater statues, and lots of fish! We took off at about 9:30 AM and went to our first location, just off the east shore of Gili Mano. I decided to put my $12 waterproof phone case to the test and try to capture the stunning under-the-sea sights I so often discover but can never share.

Not only was I delighted to discover the case worked, but I caught the absolute highlight of the day: a stunning, graceful sea turtles gliding by.

The downside, was the jellyfish. Tiny, aggressive, though almost invisible little demons. I was wearing a T-shirt, as I often do to snorkel in order to not burn my back. There was a point where I was sure I had trapped about six angry creatures inside the shirt so they could just keep stinging away to their hearts content. I ripped it off and tossed it up into the boat for the remainder of the day.

Sadly, by the time we got to our third spot, the jellyfish were so bad that no one had any interest in staying in the water and we all turned around simultaneously and beat our guide back to the boat. In the end it was probably for the best, as the aforementioned storm came up and it started to rain just as we began our return to Gili Air.

Back in Bali I was always catching incredible sunrises. Well, here: it was all about the sunsets.

Oh the sunsets on this island!!

The Friday night I was here I glimpsed the sun going down through the palm trees and I booked it over to the west beach to catch one of the most gorgeous sunsets I have ever seen.

Even the locals seem to come to the beach at this time to sit and watch the sun go down. Some people stood in the shallows casually tossing fishing lines out into the water although they didn’t seem to be expecting anything at the other end. Some smoked cigarettes or sat in the sand drinking bottles of Bintang.

A further highlight to the evening was a beachside barbecue at one of the resorts nearby. The Oasis Resort had a huge screen set up and as I walked by the staff said “yes? You stay for movie night and dinner?”

I couldn’t resist.

The options for dinner were: locally caught tuna, saté chicken, prawns, or tofu/tempeh skewers and an all-you/can-eat buffet for $10.

When I mentioned I couldn’t decide between the tuna and chicken saté, they said they could give me a deal and I got both! A beautiful tuna steak seared on the barbecue, and two delicious saté chicken skewers.

The film was Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, and though I had seen it already, I grabbed a lounge chair and settled in to indulge in this beachside movie night with the soothing waves lapping the shore on my right. About ten minutes into the movie the staff brought out individual coconut bowls of popcorn for each of us! So awesome.

Oh yeah, and the sunset.

Breakfast fresh fruit

The next day I woke up to sunshine and heat and no sign of a storm or any rain at all! I was headed to the beach for a kayak, and then discovered they don’t rent kayaks until the afternoon as the tide is too low to get out there. They suggested I return just before sunset.

There are lots of yoga studios on the island, as well as diving training pools and shops, restaurants, and spa services everywhere you looked.

Oh, the flowers on this island!

Stunning mural at a local yoga studio

Back at Musa, I finished reading my ‘vacation novel’, a birthday gift from my friend Allison, while enjoying a cold fresh young coconut, in the treehouse. 😎

After exploring the island (you can wander across the entire thing back and forth in less than an hour), I found a lovely restaurant that was part of a resort.

I decided to splurge and booked a villa there for my last night. When I was looking at the website I knew they had me at ‘private pool’. With the stormy weather we had been having I hadn’t done nearly as much swimming as I had wanted on the island, and the pool was saltwater so I felt like that was a proper nod to the ocean (and definitely better: sans jellyfish)!

When I arrived at my new hotel in the early afternoon I was handed a fresh watermelon juice and my bag was carried to my villa through a shaded canopy walkway made of bougainvillea branches.

And oh, the pool. ❤️

One look at this place and I was tempted to stay longer on this island…

Everyone here is so friendly and I can see why people stay longer on the islands and really get to know the locals.

My hotel lent out free bikes so it was easy to get around the island last couple of days and do a bit of speedier exploring. I shared a pizza with a couple Canadians at a beach-side bar, took some photos for other solo travellers on the water swings, and was invited to come listen to a jam session with some of the locals at one of the restaurants later that evening.

Not my bike…. “bike in a palm tree” art installation?

Vegan strawberry coconut cheesecake at Musa

My last evening on Gili Air, I headed over to the beach and the hotel that rented kayaks. Pink Coco is the name of the hotel  and everything is magenta, from the beach chairs and the umbrella to the Instagram-worthy swing in the water, the hotel front, and the pool. $15 for an hour was just perfect for my final night, and I definitely had the best view of the sunset.

(My first ever kayak at sunset. Not too shabby.)

Indonesia, you raise the bar for sunsets to a whole other level. 😍

I was very sad to leave this magical place but was looking forward to heading back to Ubud for another yoga retreat week!

Goodnight, private pool. ❤️

“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!! 


  

A Staycation for the summer

Last summer I did not do any travelling, as much I hoped I would be, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t get to enjoy many opportunities for adventure and entertainment in my hometown and the nearby area.

downtown

Summer is the best time of year in Calgary so I was happy to be home.

sky3

June brought the Cirque Du Soleil show “Kurios: Cabinet of Kuriosities” to Calgary, and with the steam-punk look that is trending right now, I was looking forward to getting tickets for my family. We got phenomenal seats, and enjoyed one of the best touring Cirque shows I have ever seen.

One thing I missed last summer and was thrilled to get to do again was sign up for a beach volleyball team. The Calgary Sport and Social Club has games almost every night of the week in the summer, from volleyball to soccer to ultimate frisbee to badminton. It was excellent. I always sign up for the singles team which ends up leading to meeting new people and new friendships, and sometimes, we end up playing together so well we sign up as a team the following season. I have no photos, however, so you’ll have to believe me on this one. 🙂

We also got a lot of barbecuing in this summer, which is definitely my favourite way to cook.

bbq1

Grilled veggies and chicken with only spices and olive oil. Perfection.

Even walking along the river pathways in town was a regular evening activity in the beautiful summer weather.

sky4

pathway

This is the pathway by Prince’s Island and Eau Claire Market.

kayak6

The next thing I did was take my kayak out of storage for the first time in three years. I didn’t have anyone to kayak with so I didn’t stray far from home. I spent many days of my summer on the Glenmore Reservoir and wouldn’t have traded that for anything. Next summer I hope to do some river kayaking but hopefully I’ll have company.

 

I got to work on the Calgary Grandstand Show a the Calgary Stampede for a few days, and if you have ever been to Calgary in July, or live here, you know that the first ten days of the month every year are a big crazy busy mess of international tourists, western gear like boots and cowboy hats, and free pancake breakfasts every day of the week.

onstage

I never had this view before: from the stage!

The grandstand show has over 100 performers from age 6, up.

11112810_10155767962250640_5962037413675326290_n

fireworks

A pancake breakfast seems like the closest thing to a “Canadian” meal I can think of, or at least a “Calgarian” tradition that I think is unique to Calgary. You can truly find several free breakfasts all over the city every day of stampede, and likely even the week before it begins. They usually include pancakes, bacon or sausage, sometimes eggs, sometimes hashbrowns. It’s a great way to celebrate community. I moved downtown this summer and got to attend a local breakfast that included live music, good food, and running into old friends that I now know are neighbors!

For the first time, Slide The City came to Calgary. It is three large slip-and-slides set up on a street and you can buy a one-slide, three-slide, or unlimited-slides pass, and you get an inner tube to ride down. I bought a pass and met up with a good friend on the day to try it out. It was a two day event, and we went on the second day. Weather was perfect. We had a great time and I’d happily pay for unlimited slides next time. There’s an art to going fast, and avoiding bad collisions with other, less successful sliders.

11831772_10155849667730640_1492072369086295427_n

Going to the Calgary Folk Festival is one of my favourite weekends of the year and I was sad to miss it in 2014. I tell people that if I am in town for this weekend of the year, I am unavailable unless they come down to Prince’s Island Park. I volunteer all four days, and plan my schedule to catch as many different artists as possible. There are multiple stages and dozens of artists. My favourite parts of the day are the ‘workshops’; where several artists perform together. Every year I discover new groups and musicians that I love.

cffstage1

cffstage2

And the following weekend: another festival!

Something I haven’t attended since I was in university is the South Country Fair.

It’s located in Fort Macleod (about 90 minutes south of Calgary) and the best way to experience it is to camp there.

We drove down on the Friday morning in grey cloudy rain-stormy weather. It was a damp set up of our campsite, with nothing more than our tent and our car nestled between dozens of other tents, trailers, and vehicles. I have never seen closer, cosier camping than at this festival. It’s at a park, not an official campground, so there are no designated spots. Bring your earplugs if you want to guarantee sleep…

camping1

Oh yes, it’s a cozy camping experience. It was very community-building! 🙂

There was live music Friday night, all afternoon and evening Saturday, and then Sunday afternoon. The weather cleared up by Friday night and the last band started playing after midnight, so we understood why no events really got started until noon on Saturday and Sunday.

The other crazy thing is, the site is on a riverbed and the acoustics are crazy good, so we heard the music at our tent almost as clearly as on the field directly in front of it.

There were people attending that didn’t even leave their campsites because they could hear the music from their campfire. There were lots of families and little kids, and it really felt just like we went camping with a huge group of friends and some of them play music. We will definitely be doing it again!

 

We even tried out hooping, and it turns out my mom is a natural! It took me several tries, but once I got the hang of it, we got a good core workout for a little while!

My hiking partner and I had very different schedules this summer and she only had weekends free to hike with me, while I had booked up my weekends with travel and festivals.

We did get one hike in on a hot and sunny afternoon in August. We went out to Running Rain Lake, which is in Kananaskis, about a ten minute drive past the very popular Ptarmigan Cirque and Pocaterra Tarn hikes.

hiking1

I love the mountains, and don’t even have to be hiking them to enjoy them.

I took a drive out to Canmore with one of my best friends, got some coffee, and wandered the pathways in town, exploring the local shops and then just sitting by the river appreciating how incredible nature is.

canmore
At the end of the summer, okay, truly this was in the fall, I spend a weekend at a cabin with friends just north of Calgary on Burnt Stick Lake.

I always thought that beautiful cottage locations were only found in BC or Ontario, but to my delight this is a hidden gem less than two hours away from home.

We did everything from roast hot dogs and make s’mores, to setting off fireworks on the shore and playing cards by a roaring fireplace. It was just one night away but it reminds me how much I love the idea of owning a cottage property in my future.

cabin

Other local autumn-season things included my first experience at the Calgary International Film Festival! I saw the intense and incredible story of Room, the heart-stopping thrilling mountain-climbing story of Meru, and the charming tale of Brooklyn. I highly recommend all three!

filmfest

Overall it was an excellent summer at home, appreciating the best of my city and events nearby! Hopefully my next summer entry will again be across the pond!