Trying to do it all: my last seven days in Bali

Here it was: my last week in Bali, and I was headed back to Ubud!

I had been looking forward to returning for another week of yoga at the Firefly Resort and when I arrived back, it felt like coming home!

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The rice fields around the resort were in the process of being harvested when I arrived, and over the course of the week the farmers harvested all of the rice plants surrounding us and began tilling for the next season. IMG_9893

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It had a completely different look from full rice plants growing tall and green, though it did allow for extra lovely reflections of the sunrise in the morning.

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I was able to snag the very last room available as it was a full week at the resort (8 other participants plus a family of 4 staying at the hotel), and I got the quietest room at the end of the property with rice fields on two sides and floor-to ceiling windows to frame this peaceful view.

 

It was wonderful to be greeted like family when I arrived. I’d only been gone 7 days but the guys welcomed me back with such enthusiasm I knew I’d made the right choice coming back for another week.

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Celebrating my favourite kind of breakfast in Bali!

I was thrilled to see my friend Laura again and have another week of awesome yoga practice. She greeted me with the best hug when I arrived to set up my yoga mat for our first morning practice.

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This week I planned to focus on yoga, relax in the pool, and explore Ubud and this part of Bali a bit more thoroughly.

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There is lots to discover in Ubud, from the market to the many yoga studios to artisan jewelry shops to unique gift shops to restaurants of every kind, and you can enjoy anything from local cuisine to Sicilian pizza to sushi. One night I enjoyed fantastic Thai food on a cute little side street that was great for people watching.

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Laura convinced me to join the group at Firefly for the “Balinese Experience”. She hadn’t gone before and was excited to join in, and since I had such an exceptional time two weeks prior, it didn’t take much to convince me to come along too!

We started at the elementary school we visited last time and got to peek into the library and office before being invited into a classroom to talk with with the students.

 

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The school courtyard

 

We went around and introduced ourselves to the class, told them where we were from, and told them our hobbies. The kids seemed most enthusiastic when someone mentioned soccer, scuba diving, or dancing as their favourite activities, but the biggest response was when Jessica introduced herself and the kids all freaked out and yelled and cheered and pointed to a girl in the back of the class who’s name was also Jessica. The poor girl definitely looked like a deer in the headlights with the sudden attention, but then Jessica gave her a high five and she beamed with pride.

They excitedly sang us a Balinese song at the very top of their lungs, and leapt energetically into photos people took of the class afterwards.

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We wandered through the banyar (community) to arrive at the same lovely village for a tour of the nearby rice fields, village temple, and the home and traditional kitchen of the family we visited last time, complete with demonstrations, lunch, and entertainment.

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When we watched the preparation for the offering they used different fruit from last time, so we got to have snake fruit and try ambarella for the first time (a firm, slightly sour fruit that reminds me of green mango).

 

Our group was again blessed with water and invited into the family temple and given gifts of the Tri Datyu: the red, black and white yarn bracelets.

 

The weather was a bit stormy so after lunch the band and dancers set up under the covered eating area with us and Laura got to try out some dance moves!

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The next morning while the group did the jackfruit cooking class, Laura and I went into town to try a yoga class at Radiantly Alive Yoga. We were originally going for an Ashtanga class but they changed up the schedule that day and we ended up in an aerial yoga class!

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This was one of the yoga studios here. Not a bad view…

Aerial yoga, for those of you that don’t know, consists of doing moves with the addition of a hanging hammock or sling of fabric that you use to achieve balance poses and allows for a different style of inversion poses as well.

It was something I have always wanted to try so I was excited!

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Thus began the hardest yoga class I have ever taken. 😀

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I survived!

The following afternoon, Laura invited me to join her to visit Tirta Empul (Holy Spring Temple) and handed me a helmet to join her on her motorbike! I had never been on one so I was definitely nervous to begin with.

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This is my nervous/excited “I’m on a scooter!” face.

Motorbikes are cheap to rent here ($3-5/day!) so Laura used it to get from where she was staying to the retreat every day as she was only working at the retreat for a month.

I held tightly to the back as Laura maneuvered through the winding, tiny streets. I was the navigator, getting more and more comfortable to the point of not white-knuckling the frame around the back of the seat and even capturing some video of our ride.

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When we arrived at Tirta Empul it was pretty busy, and there were many locals standing around, waiting to guide you through the process for a small fee. The temple is famous for its holy spring water and ritual purification in the pools there, and we were excited for the experience.

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We walked through a courtyard with a pavilion and this beautiful natural sculpture made entirely of branches, reeds, and woven palm leaves.

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You pay a small fee to enter, and you can rent a sarong if you didn’t bring your own to wear in the fountain. (Sarongs are mandatory, and you must be dry when you enter the water, among other rules.)

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Before entering the water you change, and then create or purchase an offering to place at the waterside. You are welcome to pray, give thanks, or simply reflect before stepping into the pool. The local gentleman that we paid to guide us through the process said that although the Balinese Hindu people are praying to their gods, you don’t have to be Hindu (or even religious at all), as long as you believe that the water is purifying. Everyone is welcome as long as there are respectful, and there was a wonderful feeling of awe and respect by all the people there.

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We arrived after a large group of people went through, so by the time we went in, it was quieter. The water was COLD. Definitely the coldest of any temperature I had experienced in Bali so far. Huge koi fish swam in colourful figure-eights of gold and orange and white around your ankles as you stood there.

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There are 16 fountains in the temple, and you wait in the water for your turn to go up to each one in sequence and perform the following process:

  1. You collect the pouring water in your hands and wash your face three times
  2. You drink the water (it was safe to consume as natural spring water but you were also welcome to simply rinse out your mouth if you were uncomfortable ingesting it)
  3. You duck under the spout and let it pour over you as long as you liked.

Each of the first 12 fountains focus on cleansing different sins, and we were told to skip the 11th and 12th fountains as they are reserved for purification when people die and are only for rituals surrounding death in the Hindu faith. The final four fountains in the neighbouring pool are based around karma; the focus of each of them was both for acknowledging wrongs you have done others and vowing to fulfill promises in the future.

It was a very soothing experience and I would highly recommend this to anyone.

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We had a lovely ride through the rice fields and stopped for lunch at Green Kubu, a restaurant surrounded by rice terraces on our way back to be at Firefly in time for the evening yoga practice.

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The weather this week was the rainiest of this “rainy season”, and there was numerous picture perfect mornings, followed by a mid-day wind that brought dark clouds and rainstorms.

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Occasionally, the power went out, which meant that the wifi went down and for the first time since my few beach days in Bali, I journaled, read, and did a little painting to pass the time.

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I still managed a daily sunrise swim and occasionally a night swim in the infinity pool because why the heck not?!

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A few of the girls and I also went wandering across the ravine from the Firefly to look at local art, and spent some time watching a few of the locals paint, carve and sketch in the afternoon sun.  The famous Mas Village is a local wood carving community in the area of Ubud (Gianyar Regency) and we saw dozens of local shops selling the most incredible wooden sculptures, furniture, and art pieces. I found it fascinating that there is no traditional word for ‘artist’ in Balinese, as art is a regular part of daily life in Bali, and everyone is considered artistic; music, dancing, storytelling, and handcrafted art is a central part of the culture.

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I really wanted this rice field and mountain piece in the middle.

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One of my friends left with two of these painted dancers (yellow and blue).

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The artist told us that his traditional Balinese wood carving is placed over entrances in Balinese homes or shops, and will take over 200 hours of work.

It was difficult to decide on pieces we all wanted to take with us!

On Saturday I said goodbye to all my new (and ‘old’) friends at the Firefly Resort, and Dewa picked me up for an afternoon of exploring on the way from Ubud to Sanur for my last weekend in Bali. I couldn’t believe this incredible month-long adventure was coming  to an end.

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So long, Firefly!

Dewa took me to this gorgeous eco-lifestyle boutique hotel just on the edge of Ubud called Bambu Indah. We bought drinks and one of the staff gave me a tour. From a movie room with deluxe seating, to tree-house style lookouts, views overlooking a ravine and rice terraces, local organic garden and beehives, lofts with basket chairs and hammocks, and a very calm and open-air feeling, I dreamed of staying here even for one night next time I come back to Bali.

 

 

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Treehouse lounge!

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Just a small bamboo ladder to the top….

We also stopped at a coffee plantation and jungle swing spot that was so quiet, when I asked to purchase a swing ride (usually $10-15 for 5 pushes total at the popular tourist spots), I was practically up in the air for 15 minutes, and the guys running it began competing to see who could send me swinging the furthest up into the sky!

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They would actually leap off the ground to get more height as they hucked my chair out over the jungle. I was harnessed in completely so I felt very secure the whole time; my only issue by the end was almost a feeling of motion sickness for how fast I was thrown up there.

 

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I also got a very Instagram-worthy shot up in a cute basket bird nest. How very touristy!

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When we arrived in Sanur, Dewa suggested lunch at a local spot that was unassuming and not a flashy tourist attraction, but had amazing roast pork.

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I arrived at my cute little hotel in Sanur and wondered why I didn’t hear about this city as a place to check out! I had booked two nights there so I could possibly take a day trip out to Nusa Penida (famous island/beaches) and also only be 20-30 minutes from the airport when I left on Monday night.

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My room had a dozen orchid plants outside on the balcony, and a clay rooftop view.

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This was our open air lobby/pool. Not bad. 🙂

I wandered down to the long beach strip and had a hard time keeping track of all the great looking restaurants, spas that looked worthy of visiting, and the many many hotels and various offerings on their beach fronts (from yoga, to dance lessons, to kids parties and beach movie nights, to live music).

It turned out that on the Saturday night, Laura was coming into town for a few days, meeting up with some yoga retreat ladies from the week in between my time there, so we all met up for cocktails and pizza, with vegan desserts to end the night. A salsa dance class in the sand was our entertainment for the evening, along with a gorgeous sunset.

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My sunset mojito.

Sanur reminded me of a more relaxed version of Seminyak, with lots of touristy/souvenir shops, spas, and restaurants, but it didn’t feel quite as busy, or is it touristy.

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And the beach!! You could find shady frangipani tree-covered groves, fancy resort beach chair and wedding pavilion sections, surf lesson areas, popular fishing spots, and shallow areas where families with littles ones splashed around to cool down in the hot sun.

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This table had been recently set with fresh flowers and table settings. Honeymoon?

I managed to book a speedboat day trip with Bali Hai Cruises for Sunday to explore Nusa Penida, Ceningan Island, and Lembongan Island. I had heard about the crystal clear waters and picturesque views and I thought that would be a perfect last full day in Bali, followed by a lazy beach day (and maybe spa afternoon) on Monday before heading to the airport late Monday night.

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Everything started off well for the boat trip, and I was prepared with gravol for the hour and a half ride across the ocean to the trio of islands, as it was supposed to be windy. As we left the dock you could see dozens of parasailing boats starting up, and the wind was definitely strong. As we got out onto open water the waves got bigger and bigger.

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I don’t know how I completely forgot my absolute loathing of speed boats from previous experience, and I proceeded to be white knuckled and stiff with fear for the entire 90 minute rollercoaster ride from the Benoa Harbour to the shores of Nusa Penida.

There were multiple times the wave surges on the water were so high I was reminded of scenes from White Squall and was planning my escape from my seatbelt and the canopy overhead should we (inevitably) capsize as the boat cracks completely in half or one of the waves overtakes us and we are flipped upside down.

When we arrived in one piece (with many additional grey hairs/years off our lives) I practically dove off the boat at Crystal Bay for our first snorkelling stop.

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It was still windy and the water was not still but I managed to enjoy puttering around and saw entire schools of baby barracuda, angel fish, and a puffer fish to boot! Plus, it was better than sitting in a rocking boat on the water like some of our group chose to do, and looked a bit greener for it.

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When I finally looked back to the boat I realized that everyone was on board watching me, waiting to move on to the lunch spot at our midway point, Nusa Lembongan…

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This is the bridge connecting Ceningan Island to Lembongan Island. Only foot and motorbike traffic move across it.

I was still queasy from the ride over and stuck to crackers and bread from the heavily American-style influenced menu of mayonnaise-laden ‘salad’ options, including potato salad, chicken salad, coleslaw, and two kinds of pasta salad. I also shared my gravol with a couple of friendly but sea-sick Italians, and took more myself. We had a bit of rain and storm clouds danced around the peripheral view as if to tease us with the threat of stranding us in this paradise. I’m glad I hadn’t booked this for Monday, just in case.

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The ocean had a hint of gorgeous turquoise colour, but with the overcast sky and turbulent waves, I had to imagine what sun rays and still water would do to enhance it’s beauty, and continued to enjoy getting out of the damn boat and back in the water to get my last snorkelling in on my trip!

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I bought Reef Safe sunscreen at The Dive Shop back home in hope of having a less detrimental impact on the environment and was really happy with it. It stayed on, wasn’t greasy, and I knew it wouldn’t be harming the fish and wildlife around me. And for the first time ever I didn’t once get a sunburn while snorkelling on this vacation! #winning

Our second snorkel spot was a large, buoy-marked area and only one other member of our group got in the water with me to explore. I think everyone else just wanted to sit and drink Bintang on the boat.

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I saw hoards of fish and even caught sight of a magnificent blue starfish as I explored the various areas around us, living in absolute denial that soon I would have to get back on the boat and experience near-death yet again for the 90 minutes back to port.

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We spent the last couple of hours of the afternoon at the Bali Hai resort on Nusa Lemongan, complete with access to a pool, showers, free tea and coffee, a bar and restaurant, and a sandy shoreline with plenty of beach chairs.  The sun even came out for a little bit while we were there.

 

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Armed with another gravol pill and determination to be less scared on the return, I got back on the speedboat. Thankfully, even though there were still some heavy dark clouds on the horizon, the ride back was not nearly as terrifying, and there were far fewer screams for our lives as we went over slightly smaller waves. I feel like the crew may have taken a slightly slower approach to make it a bit less stressful…

When we arrived back on land I practically knelt down and kissed it. Reminder for the future, Sara: NO speed boats. No tiny bouncy smashy terrifying little speed boats/rafts/cruisers. Big boats only!

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After a shower at my hotel and a quick bite to eat, I went for a foot massage across from my hotel (and next to an Irish pub playing live music that reminded me of Newfoundland!).

I planned to explore the night life here, as a lot of places seemed to have live music on Sunday nights, and I went back to my hotel to grab a bit more cash, and decided to double check my itinerary to see when I could do online-check-in that night for my flight the next evening.

And that is when my heart dropped into my ankles.

My itinerary said the following:

Departure Date: Monday January 28

Check in: 11:15pm.

Flight: 1:15am.

All this time, all this month, and up until 7:00pm on this Sunday January 27th, I thought that my return flight home was Monday night, focusing on “Check in at 11pm”. I had NOT realized that the check-in was SUNDAY night at 11pm. For a 1AM Monday flight.

So this meant that I had three hours before I had to leave for the airport.

NOT the entire next day and evening. THREE HOURS.

Luckily my pragmatism kicked in: I told the staff at the hotel I would be checking out early, I booked a taxi for 9:30pm, reorganized and repacked all my gear into my (now two!) large bags and backpack, and then was able to jog up and down the main road to find the last few souvenirs I had been putting off getting before I left.

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After passing by twice and hearing great music, I managed to stop and sit on the side of a packed bar for the last 30 minutes before I had to leave for the airport. There was a Beatles Tribute band (called FaceBeat) performing for the evening, and not only was the band exceptional, but the bar was spectacular, filled with interesting art and really cool lighting design that kept changing.

 

Arriving at the airport was bittersweet as I was sad that I ‘lost’ a day at the beach in Sanur, but equally grateful I didn’t completely screw up my 36-hour trip home and have to re-book and pay for another set of tickets back!! I was on my way back through Seoul, then Seattle, then home!

Selamat tinggal & terima kasih, Bali!

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I absolutely plan on coming back here soon, and I am happy to tell anyone who will listen all about the absolute magic that is Bali, Indonesia, and how happy I would be to come back with anyone as their tour guide!

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“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!! 


  

Dreamy PEI

The third installment of the East Coast/Maritimes/Atlantic Provinces, was on le petit Prince Edward Island. 😉

We drove from Nova Scotia across the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island, and the crossing was actually more fun than we thought it would be. At times you can see the sides of the bridge, and with the view of water on either side, we quite enjoyed the short ride over.

After a little exploring as the rain clouds threatened, and then cold and rainy night of  camping near Summerside, we searched for breakfast/coffee around Cavendish, our next major stop on the island. It really hit home at this point just how early we were for tourist  ‘high season’; we could not find one single restaurant open in all of the Cavendish area (not even a Tim Hortons!)!

We were determined to see Green Gables and Lucy Maude Montgomery’s homestead that day, and thankfully we ended up finding coffee and cinnamon buns at the tiny cafe on site. Hiking boots on and full rain gear equipped, we set out to stay as dry and warm as possible and explore the inspiration for the Anne of Green Gable books. 


We walked the path of the “Haunted Forest” from the Green Gables farm to the Montgomery homestead, library, and post office. The staff there were very eager to share their knowledge of the writer and her life and books. (I had no idea that Lucy Maude Montgomery rewrote the journals she kept from her youth all the way to her last year of life, and they were published! I also had no idea she had written so many books.)


The rain and cold weather were pretty tenacious while we were on the island, but it didn’t dampen our spirits since we had our night booked into the Airbnb and had theatre tickets, and we were happy to duck into the Water Prince Corner shop for dinner (bacon-wrapped scallops!!) and went to see Mamma Mia at the Charlottetown Festival! 

Now, I am not an ABBA fan, but not only had I heard high praise for the show but my friend Adam directed it, so I knew it would be a good time.

It was SO much fun! Great cast, beautiful set, fantastic choreo, and I enjoyed an entire evening of ABBA music way more than I expected to! We had a wonderful time!


Friday we spent the afternoon window shopping and enjoying some tea in a great little coffee shop called the Black Kettle, and then made our way to our next campsite. One night of reprieve from trying to sleep in a damp tent made us optimistic for another campground booking. 

We arrived at the KOA Cornwall campground and were amazed at the amenities including a kangaroo jumper (giant inflated canvas pillow for kids to jump on), bike-style ‘go carts’, kayaks, a pool (not open yet), and games room. Even last night there were card games galore and the staff were making popcorn for the guests.
This was the busiest campground we have been to so far!

Our campsite was kind of dreamy. 

We even made it to the original Cows Ice Cream Parlor (and self-guided factory tour), and tried a few popular flavours like Moo York Cheesecake and Wowie Cowie. Oh, the many bovine puns.

On Friday evening we had a fantastic catch up with my friend Adam at his house, and then we went in search of live music downtown and found ourselves at the Old Dublin Pub, where we could hear sounds of a great live band upstairs. We found a table near the front of the busy spot, and spent the next two hours listening to The Kitchen Boys perform a mix of popular bar tunes and traditional Maritimes music. The most impressive thing, actually, is that the drummer mixed the sound for the show right where he was, with an in-ear monitor to hear the mix. We were extremely impressed. It was fantastic, and I even got some dancing in! 🙂

Saturday we woke up to SUNSHINE! It felt like a miracle and we quickly changed our ferry booking from 1pm to 4:30 so we could stay on the beach at the campground a little longer. 

The beach! What we had been dreaming of as we planned this trip, was everything we had hoped it would be. I can’t get over how beautiful the red sand is here. The farmers freshly planted fields are red, the shorelines and rocks are red, the dust is red, and this rusty earth is all due to the red sandstone that is found throughout PEI.

Our last day in PEI was perfectly delightful, and after a lazy morning in the sun on the shores edge, some sunbathing, reading, and a little barefoot walk (carefully) among thousands of shells and shell fragments in the shallow water, we packed up and headed to the southeast point of the island.


We decided to take the Northumberland Ferry from Wood Islands Harbour to Caribou, Nova Scotia, which felt like a nice introduction to ferry travel, and a 75 minute ‘training session’ before next week’s 8-hour ferry to Newfoundland.


We got to the park early and got to visit the Woods Island Lighthouse there, and see the inside of a lighthouse for the first time on our trip. 


Then onto the ferry, which had a snack bar, a few arcade games, comfortable seats, and wifi. So civilized. 🙂 

Back to Nova Scotia we go, and on to Cape Breton and the glorious Cabot Trail!!

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.

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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!!

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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I never had this view before: from the stage!

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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

 

Amsterdam in 3 days. Next time it should be 5.

Amsterdam in three days. Nutsy. But we loved it.

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So maybe we tried to pack in too many things… And maybe we weren’t so great at our time management. But we did a lot and explored a lot and had a great time. Lots of window shopping, lots of food (we declined the kangaroo burgers at the Australian restaurant, though), a few museums, and touring the city. And no, we did not go into any “coffee shops”, though they were everywhere, and the whole alternative culture was overwhelmingly present in that city. 🙂

The famous architecture really was stunning, and along the many canals we saw countless tall and narrow buildings with colored brick, painted trim, and beautiful details that gave each house a unique charm and personality . And I have never in my life seen so many bikes in one city. (No photos to fully prove this at the moment, but I promise. It’s crazy.) 🙂

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In the trendy neighborhood of Jordaan. We liked it a lot here.

The university residences.

The art at the university residences.

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It rained a whole heckuva lot while we were there. When we had brief sunny breaks here and there we would immediately take all our photos, and then the water would pour down again and we’d run for cover.  This led to some fun shop and museum discoveries, and many delicious snacks (poffertjes, stroopwaffles, and cheese, to name a few…), so no complaints here.

We found ourselves at the Amsterdam Tulip Museum’ which had a full history of how tulips became such an important part of Holland’s identity. (Did you know that the tulip is originally from turkey and the name comes from the same word they used for the Turkish turban?)

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Did you know that tulips originated in Turkey? Their name comes from the same word for the turban-style headwear of the Turks.

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Several tools used in tulip production- to carry, clean, and sort different bulb sizes.

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Next door to the tulip museum was the Cheese Museum. A bit smaller and most of our time was spent sampling cheese. 😀

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No filter. You see before you magenta, green, and bright blue cheese.

No filter. You see before you magenta, green, and bright blue cheese.

My sister getting a little silly with their dress-up box.

My sister getting a little silly with their dress-up box.

We found little discount tickets to things at our hostel and one was for Sara’s Pancake House, so of course we had to go. 🙂 It was a little pricey but the crêpes were quite good (I had a walnut caramel one and my sister had a pineapple banana crêpe), and it was fun to get a photo outside of me grinning ridiculously at ‘my’ pancake house (same spelling and everything)!

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We took in an open mic night at an Irish Pub called Mulligans: we just couldn’t turn down free entertainment, especially not Celtic music. 🙂 Three young guys from Ireland were the main performers and sang such gorgeous harmonies we were in heaven. The lead singer was on an acoustic guitar, they had an acoustic bass and a mandolin. A percussionist on a box drum (forget the real name of it, sorry) and a guy on a hand drum rounded it out, and then part way through a fiddler came in to join them. It was absolutely fantastic!!

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We checked out the famous floating flower market, and found tulip bulbs, fresh flowers, seeds and more souvenirs, but it wasn’t too exciting for us- perhaps if we were avid gardeners… 🙂image

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We went to the Rijk Museum of Art, which had a huge collection of art from the  1200s-1800s. One thing I noticed that I have never before seen in such a classic museum was that every piece of artwork had a description under the usual artist/title/material sign. It often said what the artist’s intention was, or what the images symbolized, and as a non-art-history major, I really appreciated that. It completely enhanced my experience. That, and some giant post-it notes around the museum with commentary from two modern art-history students on the art and the collections there.

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Wedding dresses from the 1700s in Holland

Wedding dresses from the 1700s in Holland

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Explanation! SO awesome!

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We then had to get some shots by the I AMsterdam sign (as one must do when one is in Amsterdam), and then we headed to dinner, which ended up being at an Australian grill where we got burgers. Not very Dutch, I guess, but there were delicious. We opted for beef, and not kangaroo, (no, I am not joking)…. we just couldn’t bring ourselves to being that adventurous… 😛

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We had tickets to go on a walking tour of the Red Light District but we were misinformed as to where our group would start out, so we actually missed it. We tried tagging along with another tour company for a few minutes, but they kicked us out rather quickly. We walked around the area for a bit after that, and then headed to our next evening event: the Amsterdam Ice Bar. 🙂

We had seen posters about the Ice Bar and wanted to go, so made reservations for 10:30pm. The main bar is like any other, with music and drinks and bar seating (and maybe some bear skin rugs and giant polar bear and penguin statues)… And when your reservation time starts they give you giant parka ponchos and matching mittens, and lead you into a smaller room at the back of the bar that has ice sculptures, frosted walls and ceiling, and a mini light show. You get two drink tickets for inside the ice bar, and the options of Heineken, vodka or whip cream flavored vodka with orange juice. You get your drinks in ice glasses, and you only really want to hang out in there for long enough to have two drinks before you want room temperature again. It was really fun, and a totally unique experience. We then got “Amsterdammed” drinks in the main bar (cranberry-something-delicious), and headed home for the night, as the next day would be packed with Van Gogh museum, Anne Frank House, and a canal tour.

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We wanted to see the Anne Frank house before we left Amsterdam and decided to brave the long line up to get in. We arrived during a torrential downpour. We were already around the block from the entrance to the museum so I wasn’t too optimistic about how much patience I had for over an hour wait in the pouring rain. The rain slowly tapered off after about 45 minutes of heavy pouring, and then 30 minutes of continuous drizzle, and the sun poked its head out of the clouds. It was at this point we had moved about 15 meters. But we persevered, had some hot chocolate from a well-placed local little shop, and made friends with the people in line behind us, a woman and her sister from Copenhagen, and a girl from Dublin. While we were in line, a busker played us some amazing Vivaldi on violin, and the church tower near us played some amazing ‘popular’ music for some time before a musician on a tiny boat in the nearby canal started playing a trumpet. Then all of a sudden he and the church bells were playing to each other, and we found out the bells in the tower were being played live by a musician up there. This went on for quite some time and was brilliantly entertaining! (And obviously, not the first time they had done this.)

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We had been waiting for two hours when we got to this sign.

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My sister caught this photo of the musician in the boat while I held our place in line.

In the end we were in line for over 3 hours!!! We agreed that the museum was worth it. It was unbelievable to walk through each room in the home and hiding place of Anne and her family and see short videos of her father, one childhood friend, and one of the staff who helped hide her family above her father’s business talk about Anne and what it was like during the war, and the impact her diary and writing have had on the world.

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Because of our 4+ hours at the Anne Frank house we didn’t make it to the Van Gogh museum. 😦 Since a canal tour had been so highly recommended to us we did that as our last excursion in Amsterdam as our night train left the main station at 7:00pm. We were looking forward to seeing the streets we had already wandered around from a different perspective, and get some history on the city. Going past all the house boats and barges was my favorite part. I would imagine it would be fun to take a tour in the evening when the city is all lit up.

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Well, Amsterdam, it’s been a whirlwind three days! See you again!

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Museums and rainy days… A perfect combo.

The family vacation has begun! My mum and sister arrived on Saturday afternoon, and after their first fresh croissants of the trip and a jet-lag induced snooze, we had a relaxing evening with a short walk around the 5th Arrondissement around the Pantheon, down by the Sorbonne, and complete with crêpes on our way home.

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It was a beautiful night, as it often is, but we didn’t stay out too late as we planned a free-museum Sunday packed with plans.
Our apartment is awesome, but if you don’t have earplugs, and aren’t a heavy sleeper, you are hooped. There was some sort of event at the bar below that went later than the usual patio restaurant din that lasts till 1 or 2am, and the noise and celebration went on past 3am. As well, first thing the next morning there were some sort of renovations happening in our building above us, so needless to say it was a rough first-night sleep for the travelers, and they slept in while I went down the street to pick up some breakfast pastries.

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We ended up not doing a museum day after all as the adjustment to Paris time was harder than expected. 😉 That was fine, as we chatted about our plans for the rest of the trip, researched museums we hadn’t been to before, and my sister and I went on a walk down to and along the Seine. We discovered several spots along the Seine with groups of people dancing, so we watched for a while.

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I  had seen this one group before from the other side of the river on a walk a few weeks ago. They just have a small speaker set up and couples practice various styles of ballroom dance. It’s a little semicircle of steps to the edge of the wall, which makes it a perfect place to sit and watch, or join in.

 

That was the end of the clear skies for a while. And now: for the weeks’ activities! Time sure flies. 🙂 Especially when it rains for almost an entire week in Paris! 🙂

We had to get our mum to see the Eiffel Tower, and there were rumors the rain was letting up, so we headed to Trocadero metro station for the fantastic best first view. Unfortunately the rumors were wrong and it rained a lot. All that really means is that most of our photos include umbrellas! (And perhaps, the reason we decided to wear pants the next day….)

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We needed a warm up and lunch so headed to a small spot on the south side of the river. We had quiche and tea, and my sister had her first chocolate chaud, which was not as thick as the melted chocolate bars I spoke of earlier, and she only added a bit of milk. I was impressed. 🙂 And then we had our first macarons of the family time trip: pistachio, raspberry, and coffee.

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We then headed to the Musee D’Orsay.

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I have really noticed a huge surge in the number of people everywhere in Paris. Parisians are on summer vacation, and all the tourists from Europe and elsewhere have now arrived. And it is busy! Lines are way longer and museums are quite congested, and on top of that, there are all sorts of outdoor venues being set up for Bastille Day (July 14). The line for the Orsay was gargantuan, but it still moved surprisingly quickly, and we were only in line for about 30 minutes. Inside was packed, but we were still able to enjoy an afternoon snack in the Cafe D’Ours (The Bear Cafe) on the main floor, explore my favourite Impressionist paintings and sculptures on the 5th floor, and marvel at all the incredible marble figures and the Post-Impressionist gallery before heading back out into the rain.

imageWe then spent the good part of a day at the Louvre, with our main focus in the Egypt exhibit. That place is so huge we stayed primarily in the Sully Wing and we were there for hours!

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It was pouring outside, so we were content to spend the day in such a fantastic place.

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I think it was this night we walked across the street from our apartment (and when I say ‘across the street’, I mean, a few steps away from our front door) and had a delicious fondue dinner.

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Next up: L’Orangerie! I was thrilled to go back, and would be happy to go often if I lived here year round… 🙂

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The Jardin Du Tuilleries, L’Orangerie in the background on the left, and a cloudy sky around the Tour Eiffel. 🙂

And like the others, this museum was busy, so much busier than when I was there last, and unfortunately the quiet atmosphere of the last time I was there wasn’t the case this time. The “silence please” signs were entirely ignored, and there were loud conversations, noisy kids running around and even one woman chatting on a cellphone (who was thankfully asked to take her conversation outside by a security guard) and it was a lot less calm than it had been a month earlier. Luckily, the waterlillies paintings still had a magic effect on us, and we all loved our visit. I did not take a single photo here, so you’ll just have to come and see for yourself. No really. Come to this place. It’s at the top of my must-see list.

Thursday spot: the Musee D’Arts et Métiers – a museum full of inventions and design in the Marais. They were open late on Thursday which was perfect for us again, as we had a late lunch and were happy to spend the evening there.

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Our favourite room was the Automaton Theatre, full of animatronics, from toys to clocks to music boxes, it was filled with amazing and detailed work dating as far back as the 18th century.
We went to the Arts and Métiers Museum, which was fantastic! Inventions and design, industry and innovation, for practical or entertainment reasons, this place touched on it all. We actually discovered that the main exhibit wad free, and only the temporary exhibit on the history of cinema cost money to get it. We decided we would come back for that as we arrived three hours before the late-night museum hours ended. We saw all sorts of amazing things from ancient sun dials, gears and prints machines to hidden cameras and space station robotics.

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We truly were part of the last few people escorted out of the museum as they closed, so we felt we made the best bang of our buck… Oh wait- it was free admission. Even better! We may head back for the media exhibit there later this week if time permits…

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Friday we went to Notre Dame, figuring if there was a good time to visit an ancient Gothic Church it would be on a gloomy rainy afternoon. Apparently, most of Paris had this idea, so this meant more long lines in the rain.

We walked through the lovely Marché aux Fleurs on our way.

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(oh yes, and also, we discovered a cream puff shop. )

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We were prepared with rain jackets and umbrellas but it was remarkably chilly and all of us felt we could have brought warmer clothes for July (?!) weather in Paris. No 30 degree weather, here, Canada!

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It it was after standing for about 20 minutes in pouring rain in yet another line to climb to the top that we decided to instead go for dessert and tea in the Marais. (We learned the wait was over an hour, and thought- “another time!”) We walked along the the south side of the building through the park, and I showed them the bridge of locks before we went on our way.

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Back at the Loire dans La Théière, we found a cozy table with mis-matched chairs on one side, and a couch on the other. Tea and dessert (and a decaf cappuccino for mum) were just perfect.

Dessert options: we went with the lemon meringue tart, of course.

Dessert options: we went with the lemon meringue tart, of course.

We also walked by the Carnavalet Museum I had been to before, and since it was free, we decided to venture in.

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Friday night the skies cleared up a bit and we went to the Jardin Du Luxembourg to enjoy it when it is a bit quieter.

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Saturday we had a break from the rain at about 3pm, so after a lazy morning  we packed a picnic lunch to bring to the Parc Floral to take in a free jazz concert. The good news is, we pack excellent picnics. The bad news is, the concert was way less ‘jazz’ and way more ‘new music’, or as I like to call it, noise.

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All in all, we got in some great museum action, saw the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and spent time in gardens here, as well as having some great meals. Week one down, bring on week two!! (And maybe some sunshine and hot days?) 😀

My sister took this photo and I love it. She has a blog too, and if I did this right, you should be able to get to her page by the link from this photo!

A dessert that could feed a small country and a rant about chocolate.

This entry is about desserts.

Okay, so it’s about many things, and dessert happens to be a feature. 🙂 Because, to be honest, I started this post with the intention of writing about walking around Paris, but then I realized that walking is simply a means to an end in Paris. To eat. (Okay, okay, and also to get to cool places. True story.) 😉

I definitely recommend comfortable shoes to explore Paris. Seriously. If you want to eat all these crêpes and croissants and baguettes and cheese and desserts and whatever else is rich and delicious in France without having to buy drawstring-waist pants, ya gotta walk. A lot. On cobblestones. And if you want to keep up with Parisians during rush hour on the metro, you feel like you are training for a speed walk competition. (Although as a general rule I try to avoid rush hour on the metro; it’s just too many people, too little air, and too much stranger-body-contact-to-stranger-body-contact.) I have to admit, the footwear I brought are somewhat lacking in the ‘cushion’ department and there are mornings where I get up and feel like the soles of my feet have gone on strike and are violently protesting.

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On Friday night after class I decided to go for a walk (of course 😉 ) and revisit the 3rd Arrondissement (the Marais) , check out the Canal St Martin and scope out a couple cafés and restaurants that had been recommended to me. Not that I have to go very far for good restaurants- I walk by dozens of great places close to my apartment every day, and I passed three crêperies and two gelato places on the same small street on my way to the Marais. It’s fantastic and dangerously tempting at the same time.


It turned into a very ‘romantic night for one’ as I walked across the Seine and along the St Martin canal through rose gardens and ivy arches, passing numerous couples and several groups of friends hanging out under the arches, at the base of old twisted trees and on park benches and garden edges.

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This is the first sculpture I have seen in Paris with is much (or any...?) graffiti on it.

This is the first sculpture I have seen in Paris with this much (or even any) graffiti on it.

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A zig-zag stroll through the Marais brought me past many fancy boutiques, funky jewelry shops, art galleries, tea houses, bars, and as usual, so much amazing architecture. The perfect Paris evening sky made it a gorgeous walk, and the streets were decorated with rainbow flags and banners, along with crowds of people lined up outside the busy night clubs celebrating Pride weekend.

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Saturday was the rainiest day of the weekend, and after the parade I wanted to warm up with some tea and the famous tarte au limon meringue at Le Loir Dans La Théière (aka the Doormouse In The Tea Pot).

It is a very popular spot and there was a huge lineup to get in, but this ‘party of one’ was seated rather quickly at a shared table by the window. 🙂 They have a sign at the front door stating that laptops are not allowed in the establishment, and though my blogging heart would have been happy to move in for the afternoon and type away in a corner, I like the fact that they encourage people there to enjoy each other’s company over tea and dessert. (My table-mates and I didn’t talk too much more than a) marveling over each other’s dessert selections and b) laughing at the fact our table had one off kilter leg that made us spill each other’s tea any time we moved even slightly in our cozy corner of the place.)

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I ordered an Earl Grey tea which was brought over in a beautiful heavy silver teapot, and then was served the largest piece of lemon meringue pie that I have ever seen in my life. I believe that the meringue alone would feed several people. And really, you should have seen the size of the entire pie- it was gargantuan. It was deliciously luxurious and rich, and everything that is indulgent on this rainy afternoon. But I think I should not have eaten at all that day- in preparation. Or worked my way up to it -over several weeks…Is there training to prepare oneself for such an epic dessert? Alas, after my best efforts, I could not finish it. I tried. I really did. It hurt. In the best and yet saddest way. Next time I’m bringing a friend (or a hidden take-home container). 🙂

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Sunday was an excellent day with market shopping, more walking, company, and another delicious – um, we’ll call it ‘dessert’- that I couldn’t finish.

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In the morning (who am I kidding- late morning….so, at noon) I went to the outdoor market down the street from my apartment and got some great fresh produce- and possibly the best strawberries and cherries I have ever tasted. You know you are a little over-excited about your food when you have a mini photo-shoot about it.

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Yup. And now I wait for all the food magazines to start calling me.

It was a little rainy for a couple of hours, and I got to Skype with my pal Erin who is in Italy right now, which was fantastic. I then met up with my friend Hugo to go for a walk and possibly check out a cheap movie as it was the Fête du Cinéma on Sunday. The sun had come out at this point, so we started with a walk, but about five minutes in, charcoal clouds took over and rain sort of chased us along our route up past Notre Dame and along the Seine. (Yup, this girl still can’t get over the fact that on regular occasions she strolls past Notre Dame. *loooooove*). Even in the rainy weather, tourists were all over that place. It was the perfect day to explore inside a gargoyle-covered ornate ancient church, obviously. (And stand in line for a good long time beforehand, of course.)

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We went to a restaurant in the Odéon area called Le Hibou for something to drink, and both decided to try the Chocolat Chaud. Which turned out to be like eating an enormous dessert. It had been eight years since I’d had a chocolat chaud in Paris- with my sister at Le Chat Noir in Pigalle- and I will not forget again: a chocolat chaud is NOT like a hot chocolate. Unless you make your hot chocolate by melting down a giant Belgian chocolate bar and don’t add any milk. Or to be more accurate, you grind up your own cacao nibs and then melt them down and then pour that directly into a mug. It is likely the richest thing I have ever tasted. It is served with sugar sticks on the side, because, of course, you need to add sugar to your melted-chocolate-bar-in-a-mug. We asked for milk, and were brought a small creamer container, and we realized that we should have asked for a pitcher. Or a cow. I am certain that one chocolat chaud could easily be shared by four people (and a pitcher of milk). It was kind of ridiculous. And this girl loves chocolate, but come on, now. Hugo and I were beside ourselves, both bemused and considerably distressed at how on earth someone was actually expected to finish this ‘drink’ unless they were Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Neither of us could finish it for fear of being sick. Let that be a lesson to you all. And by all means, if you have had an entire chocolat chaud to yourself and lived to tell the tale, I want to know how you did it. End of chocolat chaud rant. 🙂

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We decided not to go see a movie, and as the sky brightened and that amazing Paris ‘evening magic’ happened again, I decided to explore Odéon, and see what the fuss was about with all the sales going on. The biggest sales in Paris happen twice a year: in February, and now. Danger danger: Paris fashion at 20-70% off…. I may end up shipping a box home…. 😀

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Window shopping in Odéon

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Many stores were closed because it was Sunday evening, so I ended up window shopping (and croissant buying), and finding my way around to my favourite place, the Jardin Luxembourg. Again, after a rainy day, it’s a fair bit quieter in terms of crowds, but diehard park lovers like myself were enjoying themselves on the metal chairs and around the fountains. With some Roquefort cheese, a demi baguette, and some fresh cherries, I had a lazy evening enjoying the delight of after-rain weather.

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Check out that sky!! (And the less-than-aesthetically-pleasing architecture of the Montparnasse building in the background.)

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Getting some evening sun!

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That’s all for now, but perhaps I will have a few more things to share before next weekend, when I will be joined by my mum and sister! I cannot wait to see them!!!

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Paris Pride Parade (ou, Marché des Fiertés).

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This will likely be my most colourful post so far. It was a rainy rainbow sort of day. 😉

As part of the yearly, highly celebrated LGBT festival, the Paris Pride March was this afternoon -and I discovered that it started within walking distance from my apartment. I had been trying to decide how to spend my Saturday afternoon, and having a great time in Toronto last year during Pride week, I wanted to see what Paris would be like. The parade was to start at the Jardin Du Luxembourg and go from there, and started like a rally, or a peaceful (but energetic) protest in the large roundabout by the Luxembourg RER entrance. There was music and several passionate speeches by unseen people at a large float in the middle.

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Strategically placed police surrounding the square, clearly prepared for a riot. There wasn’t one. 🙂

There were lots of people dressed up (to varying degrees), and you could buy rainbow flags, feather boas, rainbow wings, and other multicolored paraphernalia from a couple of stands in the square. There were also carts of drinks (mostly beer and wine) moving around the crowd.

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It was no surprise when it started to rain, and although many umbrellas appeared and some people used their rainbow flags as cover, the majority of people just reveled in the rain. It was already a party. 🙂 The float -and then crowd- started moving, and that’s when I realized that we were part of the parade! 😀

With the one giant dancer-filled float playing a mix of pop and electronic dance music at the front to a balloon-covered fire truck at the back, thousands of people walked from Jardin Du Luxembourg all the way to Bastille (and really, beyond). It was relaxed and fun, with the occasional wave of cheering passing through the crowd. Along the way I came across a group of people painting rainbows on cheeks, so I enthusiastically said “si vous plait- moi aussi? Si vous plait!”, and they happily obliged- they ended up speaking English, but after that I didn’t say much more than “Merci!”.

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There were loads of people lining the streets, and it was truly a giant crowd of happy drenched strangers dancing through Paris for a couple of hours. I often shared my umbrella for a few blocks at a time, I danced to some great music, I followed a giant butterfly for a while, and got to join in the celebrations for the LGBT community. It was a great way to spend a rainy saturday!

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