A weekend for skiing and wedding things

Saturday was a bit of a strange day as we didn’t really have anything planned. That’s not really a bad thing considering the wedding is soon and we have people arriving. It just felt a bit odd to be in Toronto on a Saturday with no real plans. That didn’t mean we didn’t have stuff to do.

I went shopping for a few odds and ends, leaving Glen to listen to a webcast on some breast imaging thing and putting the finishing touches on the party favours. He sent me a message while I was out with a photo of them attached. Each party favourĀ comes with a hangover kit that Glen’s put together (containing ibuprofen, tictacs, almondsĀ and chocolates), with a Canadian animal keyring attached. They look great. I made the suggestion that the animal should be in the bag with its head sticking out. He liked the idea, though having to redo all 60 was not fun. They were all done by the time I got home though.

In the evening we went to the Snow Show with Pete and Royden. I’d already been on Thursday so was largely there for moral support (and to stop Glen from buying more things he didn’t need). He managed to find some new ski pants. The ones he bought last year were too loose and long. He bought some orange overall ones, which I think are the same as the ones I have. Pete bought a onesie, Royden bought gloves, and I didn’t get anything. And not only did I save us money by not buying anything, I also stopped Glen from buying a new ski jacket. See how much money I’m saving this family?

Konzelmann WinerySunday morning Pete and Royden drove us down to Niagara-on-the-Lake so we could go through our final walkthrough for the wedding. I’m so glad we did. There were a few little minor details that we picked up which would have been missed if we hadn’t gone down there again.

We also got a good idea of the weather. Sunday wasn’t a particularly warm day and our ceremony is going to be down on the shores of the lake. The area looks a lot different to when we were there last year. Then there was snow and ice, Sunday there was green grass and leaves on the vines. And a gazebo! We finalised a few more details, went inside, checked out the reception venue, sorted that out, and then we were done. The venue manager went off to another meeting with people wanting weddings, while we went and chose our final red wine.

Glen also bought a fruit bowl made from part of a wine barrel, and Pete and Royden bought us a table, also made from a wine barrel, which Glen really liked. They’re both lovely. We need a bigger apartment.

After the wedding stuff was done, we went for brunch at Le Bleu Tortoise, then stopped at Corbett’s in Oakville on the way back to try on ski boots. I’m so glad we got the boots from the store, rather than picking something at the Snow Show. Glen and I each had a sales assistant fit us for boots. My guy was a good looking young guy, who was a bit surly, while Glen had an older guy who joked around with us (by making fun of us) yet really knew his stuff. I wonder how his sense of humour goes down with the Canadians as he was well suited for the Australian way of customer service.

We found boots. Glen’s were more expensive than mine, so I helped reduce the difference by buying a new GoPro accessory that was on sale. We also bought ski boot bags and some socks. Very excited to get out and go skiing again. We also learned there’s a place in North York where you can go skiing on small hills in an evening. Might have to check that out.

Next we stopped at the outlet malls. Glen wanted a new winter coat so he could give his to his mum. He found one he liked, as did I. He bought his, I didn’t. Yet again, I saved us a lot of money. Am I appreciated because of it? Pete and Royden then looked in Restoration Hardware and finally it was time to go home. My cold was getting worse and I was nodding off in the car. Very glad to get home after such a busy day.

Only 9 days to go!

Wedding rings and The Boy With Tape On His Face

Just 12 days until the wedding. And I think I’m getting sick. I woke up with a burning throat and a semi-blocked nose. I think the low level anxiety over the past few months has started to creep through now that more things are organised and it’s getting close to W-Day.

Despite this, however, it does feel like things are progressing. After getting another quote back from a bus company which is still too high, we’ve pulled the pin on the bus idea. Instead we’ll organise taxis for people to the venue, and then they can organise their own transport back so they can leave whenever they like. Now that that’s been sorted and everyone notified, I’m feeling less stressed about it.

Today Glen went to pick up our wedding rings. I hadn’t heard a definitive yes that my ring was ready, though I suspected it was. Glen’s was ready too. He was keen to pick it up so went after work. I stayed at home and tidied the apartment, which made me feel much better. I got a message from him soon after he got there. The jeweller had made the wrong ring. He’d asked for Summit, and she’d made Mountain Range.

Cutie that Glen is, he thought that maybe the jeweller had taken artistic licence and every ring was made differently. He wasn’t going to say anything, but he didn’t actually like the new ring and considering it wasn’t cheap, he asked why it looked so different from the one he’d requested. The poor shop assistant’s face fell.

Luckily it was the designer who’d made the wrong ring and the design he wanted had been ordered correctly. The jeweller was mortified and has promised to get it sorted by the time of the wedding. It certainly makes for a good story.

My ring looks wonderful, and is a combination of white gold and a red wood. I have funny shaped fingers so if I look at it too much it looks like it doesn’t fit properly, but in actual fact it’s fine. It fits on my finger well, isn’t too tight, isn’t loose. Will take some getting used to wearing a ring on that finger. I’ve worn a ring on my right middle finger since 2004 and barely notice it now. Am sure the wedding band will be the same.

This evening Glen and I went to see The Boy With Tape On His Face. It was a comic puppetry/non-verbal/physical performance show that involved music and a lot of audience participation. I’d seen it in London last year with Donna and thought it was well worth seeing again. I was really happy there were only three segments that I’d seen before. Glen laughed a lot through it, which made me happy. The audience loved it too. It lasted 70 minutes and then we went and had late night food.

Life is good.

The bus saga continues

Our wedding is less than two weeks away. I’m still trying to organise transportation for people from their hotels in Niagara Falls/Niagara on the Lake to the winery and back again. This has been going on for months.

When I first looked into it, I thought I’d found a good option with a double decker bus company. They were initially keen, and gave me a reasonable price. I then left it for a while as I was waiting for more quotes to come in, and also seeing exactly how many people would need to be on the bus.

Once I got my final numbers (37), I then contacted them again, only to be told firstly that they couldn’t go down some of the routes, and then, after I’d queried if alternative routes could be accommodated, told that they didn’t want the bus out that late (1am) because of trouble in the past. Thank you and goodbye.

My next option was taxis. I got a price for how much each trip would cost for a van and it looks like this will be the option we’ll be going down. However, I thought I’d investigate buses again and get some more prices.

Most were in the $1500 to $2000 range, which is at least double the cost of taxis. I did, however, get a price from a school bus operator which seemed almost too good to be true. I should have locked it in then, but we were meeting with the venue coordinator shortly after receiving the quote and I wanted to ask his advice. He gave me the contact for a guy at Niagara Falls town council as the city buses are available for hire.

After taking a week to get back to me, this guy said it wasn’t possible and flicked me off to Niagara Parks Commission. I eventually got a quote from them which was $2200. This was to use normal city buses, public transport stock essentially. I was not impressed.

I went back to the school bus people to confirm the price. Yes, that was fine but I’d have to lock it in quick as bus drivers were being booked up. I said go for it. I then get an email today saying the 1am part of the trip couldn’t be accommodated because there were now no drivers available.

I went back to Niagara Falls city council to enquire if there was anything that they could do, only to be told that this time, because there was another event on, they were committed. Thank you and goodbye.

Perhaps, thought I, the school bus company could do the 2pm journey, getting everyone to the winery but then taking taxis back. Oh no, sorry, not possible. The drivers are all committed to collecting school kids but if I was willing to have people get picked up earlier then they could do that, as long as they were done by two. Umm, excuse me, but why did you say you could do that part of the journey one minute, only to later turn around and say you couldn’t?

I am thoroughly over the whole thing, yet, like some sort of masochist, I have continued one other bus company to see how exorbitant their prices are. Failing this, it’s taxis. The whole rest of the wedding has been easier to organise than two trips on a bloody bus!

Our 1300 km trip on Nova Scotia and Cape Breton comes to a close

We went to bed early on Monday night. There’s not much to do in a yurt. We hunkered down beneath a very heavy thick quilt and attempted to find the balance between the heat from our bodies and the blankets, and the chill coming from outside. Can you believe that I was actually more hot than cold?

I slept pretty well, thankfully not needing to get up to pee in the middle of the night. We heard a coyote howling at one point during the night so there was an even greater incentive to hold it in. Glen woke up before me, then woke me up to ask me to walk to the toilet with him. It was 6:30am. I refused and tried to go back to sleep.

Eventually the sun started to rise and the yurt started to be filled with red light (it was a red yurt). We stayed in bed until about 8:30 when we got up, got dressed and went for breakfast in the main house. It was simple food. Glen called Rob back home to talk about work, and then we went for a walk through the orchard. We were treated to the very cute sight of a little red squirrel munching on some notes while he was sitting on a sign. He didn’t seem too bothered with us, until he dropped his nuts and then he went a bit psycho.

We left Cabot Shores about 10, stopped into the pewter shop (where we learnt that pewter is made of 92% tin), then drove down the coast, seeing even more spectacular scenery. Green, red, yellow and orange trees lined the coast and it was just an awesome experience to be driving down through it. I also got the sensation that I somehow wanted to take even more of it in, like what I was seeing wasn’t enough, that I had to have all of it. It was very bizarre. I felt greedy.

Usige Ban Falls

We drove to Usige Ban Falls, another recommendation from the Cape Breton tourism lady in Halifax. Once again she did not disappoint. We set off on our little walk through sun dappled forest beside a clear running river. It wasn’t a long walk but it was beautiful. The falls at the end were lovely and the water so clear. We stayed for a while, and it was just one of those sublime moments where you try to breathe it all in. A very peaceful place, even with the eight other people there. Apparently after rain it’s an even more impressive sight.

On the walk out we passed a tree that had green-and-red leaves, where the centres were green but the edges were red. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was really bizarre and unexpected. Just before we left the trail, we passed about thirty people coming in. They’d arrived on a tour bus and I was really glad we’d got there when we did, and were able to enjoy the falls with little distraction.

It was lunchtime by the time we got out so we drove to Baddeck, ate some pizza, sent postcards, and then began the four hour journey home. A bit more traffic on a Tuesday afternoon and there were some roadworks, but otherwise the drive was easy. I got a bit distressed see a dead coyote on the side of the road. It had a very fluffy coat and looked just like a dog having a sleep. Poor baby.

Back to Halifax and Toronto

We decided to go into downtown Halifax for dinner so we hit rush hour traffic going over the Macdonald Bridge. We had dinner at The Bicycle Thief, ordering more food than we actually needed, and eating it way too fast. Glen had a surf and turf (though with half a lobster), and a clam chowder to start. I had calamari then lobster ravioli. Definitely ate too fast as we rolled out of there feeling a bit sick. I had been anxious about getting the car back to the airport in time but we didn’t really realise we had plenty of time ahead of us.

We got to the airport very early, cleared the car out of all junk that had become strewn across the backseat over the past could of days, then returned it. Over four days, I drove for 18 hours over a distance of 1300km. I am a bit over driving now.

We passed through security with no problem and then waited about two hours for our flight. The flight was quick and the best thing of all was Julian collected us from the airport. It’s normally an hour ride on public transport from the airport to our place, which isn’t fun at 11:30pm. So grateful for him picking us up (he also brought us pizza). It wasn’t long after getting home that we tumbled into bed and fell asleep.

Do I need to visit Nova Scotia again? I still want to see the Bay of Fundy, and Parrsboro and Digby would be nice to see. And seeing the Cabot Trail again would be good, although at a slower pace perhaps. We probably won’t hurry back, especially as we want to see Bay of Fundy from the New Brunswick side. Then we would have been to 9 of the 13 provinces. I’d better look at some flights.

And finally, here’s a video of the highlights from the four days…

Exploring Cape Breton Highlands National Park

We joined three other couples for breakfast, squeezing in between two groups (four people had travelled from Winnipeg together). There was that initial awkward conversation so we didn’t sit there like lumps, but after that we swapped stories and discussed what everyone was going to do with the rest of their day. Glen usually doesn’t enjoy these social situations, especially not before coffee, but it’s often not long before he’s found something to talk about with someone.

The manager gave us some pointers on which trails to do in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. We needed to get to Bay St Lawrence by 1:30 for a whale watching tour, so that meant we couldn’t dally. We checked out at about 9, then drove into the national park. Soon after entering, we saw a small coyote on the road. It ran off shortly after we saw it but it was a nice sight for the start of the day.

Into the National Park

We pulled into French Lake again to look for moose, but again no luck. We drove on to the Bog, a 15 minute walk around a boardwalk. It’s supposed to be a favourite spot for moose, and I’m sure we saw a couple of moose trails as well as a spot where one likely had a bit of a lie down. One of the interesting things we saw were pitcher plants (insect-eating plants). I also found out that a flower I’d seen in Newfoundland and was fascinated by was actually the flower of these pitcher plants.

From the Bog we drove to Macintosh Brook, a beautiful short 45 minute walk along a brook to a waterfall. It was a clear bright day so the forest we walked through was just magical with the sun dappled light, the babbling brook (it actually babbled), and then a clear waterfall. Glen got a bit annoyed with me that I was walking so fast so he made us slow down. It turned out to be a good move as we were able to enjoy it all a bit better.

The next stop was Lone Shieling, a 15 minute loop that goes through a grove of 350 year old maple trees. There’s also a replica Scottish cottage there to commemorate the people who were expelled from Isle of Skye and settled in Cape Breton.

Attempted whale watching

We drove up to Bay St Lawrence, getting there at about 12. The whale watching tour wasn’t starting until 1:30 so we drove up to Meat Cove, had a quick lunch, then an even quicker look around to get back by 1:30. After all that though we decided against going on the tour because the water was pretty choppy and they hadn’t seen any whales in the earlier tour. It was a shame but it’s not like we can’t go see whales another time.

From Bay St Lawrence we drove along the coast, stopping at a number of places to take more photos. The drive is very distracting because there are so many beautiful vistas. The mountains were covered in yellow, and then the colours turned darker the further down the coast we went. Just stunning the whole way down that filled me with such a sense of calm and wonder.

We took a detour at Ingonish to have a late lunch at Keltic Lodge. As I’d been driving for most of the past six hours, I was glad for a bit of a break. After we’d replenished, we visited a pottery shop that Glen had seen an advert for. He bought a seal and some magnets.

Our accommodation for the night was Cabot Shore’s Wilderness Reserve where I’d booked us into a yurt. We arrived at about 6 and checked in. The yurt overlooks the water and we’ve been promised more moose. We shall see. We drove back up to North Shore to have dinner at the Clucking Hen, then back to the yurt.

It’s a little bit spooky outside as you have to walk outside to go to the toilet, and when I was walking back from the shower, something hooted. I really hoped I didn’t have to go to the loo in the middle of the night.

Blacksmithing on Cape Breton

After a pretty rotten night’s sleep, we set off early on Sunday morning, foregoing a sit-down breakfast (yay!) and began our drive to Cape Breton. Being Sunday and Thanksgiving, there were hardly any cars on the road, and the drive was really pleasant and beautiful.

Nova Scotia is currently going through the change, as the leaves turn yellow, orange and then red. The colours intensified the closer we got to Cape Breton Island, but unfortunately the clouds rolled in so it dulled the colours a little. We stopped at a sunflower field along the way, which added another nice burst of colour.

Striking while the iron is hot

After crossing the causeway at Port Hastings, we stopped at the visitor information centre to get a map and ask a few questions about where to go next. We zoomed on to Whycocomagh to FireHouse Ironworks to turn our hand at blacksmithing. We rocked up just in time as one group finished and Glen and I were free to go in for the demonstration.

It was a really neat experience to participate in. The blacksmith demonstrated turning a rod of steel into a coat hook, and then we each had a go. While it took us about twenty minutes each, there was probably only about five minutes in total of actually hammering. Because they were small rods, it didn’t require a lot of strength, but it does require a bit of skill.

I bashed mine pretty quickly, while Glen was a little bit more hesitant. We found out where the saying ‘striking while the iron is hot’ comes from. You have to be quick or else the metal cools and then you can’t work with it. There was a very nice satisfying moment where we dipped the hot steel in water and it hissed.

The blacksmith showed photos of some of the commissions he’s done. He’s extremely talented and even has people ordering his stuff from Australia.

The experience lasted 40 minutes and was well worth every penny. And now we have two hooks.

From there we drove towards Cheticamp, stopping at Margaree Forks to have lunch at the Singing Goat. Just before we got there, we saw a ferret cross the road. We stopped but it had run off before we could get a second look. It was very cute.

After lunch, we went into Cheticamp but there were still some hours to go before the day was done, so we drove into Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

On the Cabot Trail

First stop was the visitor information centre to get another map and ask about travel times. We also asked about moose at French Lake, and got another warning about moose.

Let me just say that I’m getting sick of the moose warnings. The blacksmith, the woman at the visitor information centre, and others, have been saying how prolific the moose are on Cape Breton. And in addition to the warnings about moose on the roads (because if you hit one, you’ll be lucky to escape with a trip to the hospital), it’s also mating season so the bulls are randy and rowdy. We thought bears would be our biggest problems.

So we drove to French Lake, a place GUARANTEED to have moose. First we drove past it, but then we turned around, pulled up beside the lake, got out, and…no moose. Bloody hell!

We then thought to head to the hotel in Cheticamp, and along the way stopped at all the different lookouts. Unfortunately the clouds blotted out the sun so we didn’t get the brilliant colours of the leaves, but going along the coast was beautiful. And at one stop we got out, went down to the water…and saw a seal in the water.

It was quite close at first. When I saw it, I could only see the head but it was a BIG head. We waited a bit longer and saw it pop up a couple more times. Very awesome.

The Skyline

On the drive back, Glen suggested we do the Skyline walk so we could see the sunset. The route was an hour and a half round trip. It was a bit chilly by that stage, but the view from the end was stunning. A good view of the valley, the yellow leaves, and the ocean. Also the sun setting was nice.

Less nice were the people who ignored the signs and walked off the boardwalk into the vegetation. Really pissed me off.

We walked back to the car, and turned around just to see the sun setting. It was a beautiful red blob that sank into the sea. No moose on the walk. It was dark by the time we got back to the car.

Next stop was the Maison Fiset where we’d booked a room. We were a little late but luckily Lynne had waited for us. The room’s really nice, very comfortable, and Lynne was very helpful. She made us a booking at the Harbour Restaurant.

We zoomed down there, ate a crab and lobster each (yes, we had to crack them) and a couple of Nova Scotian beers, then back to the hotel.

It was a great day.

Holidaying in Halifax

We left Toronto at 9:30pm on Friday, our flight a little delayed in coming in but then arrived in Halifax when expected. Nova Scotia is the fifth Canadian province/territory we’ve visited (there are 13 in total).

We picked up the hire car, paying for an upgrade because in a small we wouldn’t be able to see over the guard rails on the Cabot Trail. We got a Jeep. It’s red, pretty and has good pick up. I like driving it.

We drove into Downtown Halifax, taking a bit of an accidental detour through the charming (not) nightlife area, before arriving at the Westin Nova Scotian and checking it. The hotel is pretty impressive from the outside, and the room is fine. It’s just not stellar. And the lifts are super slow. We climbed into bed at about 1:45.

A bit of a late start to the morning. When I’m in a new place, I just want to get on with the day. Eating breakfast sitting down seems like such a waste of time, but Glen demands it. We had breakfast at the hotel restaurant. They had an ok buffet. It wasn’t too expensive. I had a ready made omelette, which would have cost about the same if I’d ordered it a la carte.

Suitably replenished, we finally set off to see the sights of Halifax. First stop was a cemetery (The Old Burying Grounds). It was the first cemetery in Halifax and used until 1844 or thereabouts. It was interesting to see the different artwork on the tombstones as there’s a change from images of death to representations of grief about the turn of the century. I also had fun breaking open the horse chestnut casings to get at the nuts inside.

From there we walked up to the public gardens, an old inner city Victorian garden that has been maintained. The biggest highlight was watching a bird wash itself in the fountain, and then a Blue Jay (that was actually blue) joined in. My first blue jay. Impressed.

Next was the Citadel on the top of the hill, star shaped fortress that was apparently so formidable that no other nation dared attack Canada because of it. I wonder if that’s really true, or by the time the Citadel was operational, geopolitical forces had changed and invading Canada was no longer that much of a priority. At least not through the harbour.

We walked around the perimeter, watched the noonday gun being fired, then tried on regimental uniforms (the kilts were either too big or too small).

From there we headed to City Hall, an old Victorian building, then went through the Historic Properties where we put each other in the stocks, then had lunch on the wharf.

We walked along the harbour after lunch to get back to the hotel. I stopped in at the Cape Breton visitor centre and got a great amount of information, and a number of tips for our next three days in that part of the province. There’s so much to do and such little time. Once again we have been promised moose. Glen had wandered off. He took a while to remember where I’d gone into and find me again.

We took a quick look through the farmers’ market near the hotel, bought a bag of apples, and then returned to the room. Once we got back to the hotel, it was nap time, and three hours vanished,

There are plenty of museums in Halifax to see, such as the Museum of the Atlantic which has a Titanic display (about 120 bodies from the disaster are buried in Halifax), and there’s an art gallery, but we weren’t in a museum mood and perhaps it’s ok to have a relaxing afternoon at least once while on holiday.

Once we woke up it took a little while to get ready and head out. We walked to the Bicycle Thief, a very popular restaurant on the waterfront. We tied to make a reservation on the way past earlier, but they were full. The only possibility was to come early and maybe get a place at the bar. We had no luck, and there was a queue.

We walked through the rain (yes, Halifax put on the rain for us) up Morris St to find a place Glen had read about called Let Bistro. We had a great meal there, spending more than we usually do, as we got starters, mains and dessert, plus three glasses of wine. (We actually got the wrong wine order to start with. Glen kept his, but I changed mine to what I’d ordered, and was glad of it.)

We waddled out of there at about nine. The rain had eased. We went to the local supermarket to get some supplies for tomorrow’s big drive. They are open 24 hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday because of Canadian thanksgiving. Crazy but convenient for us.

Big day ahead tomorrow.