Tuesday, 30 January 2018

A Wonderful Niagara Weekend


    The Harbour House Hotel in Niagara-On-The-Lake (NOTL) is quiet and comfortable and the ambiance grabs hold of you the moment you step inside. The brick exterior trimmed with white welcomed us on a glorious winter Sunday afternoon. The snow and sub-zero temperature only added to the thankful feeling of arriving to a fire blazing in the large fireplace in the lobby making our arrival feel like a warm hug.


      As we entered our room there was some natural light filtering through the shuttered bay window, accented by the bedside lighting and soft music playing. What a greeting! A king bed, window seat and a fireplace made the room. Unbeknownst to me the lamp behind the wicker chair by the fireplace was a trap. As I moved the chair later the lamp crashed to the floor in 3 pieces. I’m pretty sure this fall did not cause that – someone broke it and set it back up in hopes of escaping.
      NOTL is known for wine and fine cuisine and that is the reason most people were there. In our case it was not the reason. We were checking out restaurants to see if we might have to sell the car or something to finance dinner. It didn’t take long for us to come to the conclusion that we wouldn’t be eating in this town any time soon. Except for the Sunset Grille at about $15 a meal there was little to offer under $35 per meal and that did not include any wine, appetizers, dessert, coffee, plates or silverware.

      We were here for the weekend to see the Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls, a yearly display of Christmas-oriented lights in the parks bordering the falls. The Niagara Parkway connects NOTL and Niagara Falls. It’s about a 20 minute drive from one town to the other but is scenic all the way passing through Queenston Heights at the mid-point. The road travels alongside the Niagara River and Gorge.

      Located on the Niagara River where Lake Erie drains into Lake Ontario, Niagara Falls is the collective term given to the Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls which straddle the international border between Canada (Ontario) and The USA (New York State). Many consider it to be one of the Wonders of the World though it technically is not. It is considered one of the Natural Wonders of the World. Semantics aside, it is usually insanely crowded with visitors arriving by the busload to see the falls. However, this was the off season and it was benign, actually enjoyable, especially at night. In winter the falls are a delight if for no other reason than there are not tens of thousands of people standing around gawking at them.
      We managed to find a $5 parking lot at the top of Clifton Hill then we cautiously made our way through the dinosaurs and walked unencumbered down the hill through the frigid night air. To say the lights in the park were enchanting would be a huge understatement. This is why we came so we wanted to be sure to take in as much of it as we could. The Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights is now a tradition drawing visitors from around the globe. Luckily we missed the brunt of that onslaught but the two million lights displayed along the parks and roads are not to be missed.
      We returned to our oasis in the seemingly affluent atmosphere of NOTL around 9PM. As suspected all spots in the underground parking were now taken – hey, some bastard stole my spot! I parked in the snow in the lot just outside the garage. Why should this be any different than at home? I did try to squeeze into a spot that was likely designed for a large bicycle. I could have got the SUV in but we wouldn’t have been able to get out of the vehicle and we wouldn’t have any mirrors intact so I abandoned that effort. On our way past Reception we begged a couple more welcome cookies then fittingly finished our evening drinking our Twist of Fate wine and watching Friends reruns on TV. That’s what holidays and road trips are all about.

for more information go to www.thatroadtripbook.com




 

Thursday, 28 December 2017

On To '18


    It’s been a great year for me and as the list of safe travel destinations grows ever shorter I take solace in the fact I am fortunate to be a Canadian. Not that we are immune by any means to the insanity that plagues the world today but we have an incredible array of scenery and culture at our fingertips in our own country.

    If you’re retired and find you have time on your hands remember this: no road trip is too long. Canada has 10 provinces and 3 territories and all but Nunavut can be reached by motor vehicle. A cross country trip will open your eyes and your heart to the many wonders Canada has to offer.

    So don’t delay, hit the road today. Happy and safe travels to all for 2018.


for more information go to www.thatroadtripbook.com

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Not Just A Fair Weather Road Trip Guy

    As I alluded to in my last post, great road trips don't always have to be in nice weather. I love winter road trips because there's something about the serenity and peace driving a snowy back road in the depth of winter. It's the song White Christmas come to life. Just a tip though; stay off the main roads and highways. It's not the same, as a matter of fact, that becomes a major hassle. 
    Our last trip with our boys was to Boston at Christmas 2005. They were young adults then and very busy with university but were able to scrape a few days together so Karen and I made an adventure of it and drove from home and the boys came out later on the train. We took our time, enjoying the drive as we always do, passing through beautiful storybook towns. It was almost like we were living in a Christmas movie.
    We selected the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, A grand downtown landmark since 1912. It was elegant and we and likely the staff felt the Clampetts had arrived when we rolled in with back packs, suitcases and grocery bags.
    Our first trip to Boston had been with the boys in 1988. Gavin had just read Robert McCloskey's classic children's book Make Way For Ducklings so was very pleased when we discovered the statues in the Public Garden quite by accident. Seventeen years later they both re-created their duck portraits.
    Gavin was working for a youth travel company at the time of this 2005 visit so was very familiar with Boston and we were the beneficiaries of his knowledge as he gave us a personalized tour along the Freedom Trail. The Granary Burial Ground was poignant as we had a very special day with the boys.
    Literature and education have always been of interest to me so I was thrilled to visit Harvard and take an out-of-town excursion to Walden Pond. I always wanted to say my kids went to Harvard. It was a sad end to a family tradition but had to be. There have been more winter road trips on our own since and I'm sure others are in store. It's not just a fair weather venture.

 








Thursday, 23 November 2017

Holiday Road Trips Were An Early Family Tradition


    Christmas is a great time for a road trip. As our sons matured and had obligations to university, jobs and girlfriends we decided a quick Christmas trip would be a good way to see them over a very busy time; if not over actual Christmas Day before or after worked well.

    Being from Ontario we grew to love travelling to Quebec at Christmas; Quebec City in particular was a favourite destination. I don’t mind driving in the snow, in fact I rather enjoy it on back country roads. Quebec City is beautiful in the snow; the old walled city, the Chateau Frontenac, the Parliament Buildings and all the city buildings, all vibrant with lights.

    Fortunately Karen speaks a little French and we quickly found a little can get you in a lot of trouble. On one occasion we actually were away over Christmas Day and St. Hubert Chicken was one of the few places open for delivery. In French quarter is quart and four is quatre. We ordered four quarter chicken dinners and were indeed fortunate the young man on the phone was diligent and insisted on reading our order back to us in English. An overly hearty meal of four chickens was narrowly avoided by his decision.

    A road trip is wonderful at any time but it may very well be the way to keep families together over the holidays.



Friday, 10 November 2017

Back to Reality

  My love for the road trip experience is often matched by my disappointment that it has to come to an end. As reported earlier, the traffic was the first slap-in-the-face return to reality. Fortunately, I have not had to venture into the city yet or I'd have gone completely berserk.
  The daily grind, as it were, quickly replaces the relaxation and tranquility of a vacation and a surprise greeting from Mother Nature adds to the mystique. It was only a week ago I cut the grass (complaining bitterly about having to do so in November) and this morning I awakened to a winter wonderland.
  Life is good indeed.





Sunday, 29 October 2017

A Great Canadian Road Trip 22

It truly was a Great Canadian Road Trip. Before we left absolutely everyone asked, "Why are you going to Labrador? What is there to see or do there?" I couldn't answer then but now I can. In a lot of ways the most definitive answer is, "Nothing!" And that in itself is the real essence of venturing there. We wanted to get away from a world that is often a madhouse; have time to relax and enjoy just being. We were not distracted or annoyed by traffic at all - as a matter of fact as I looked out the windshield of the car driving along the 401 this morning as we approached Toronto I commented there were more cars in my immediate field of vision than we had seen all the time we were on the road in Labrador.
We had TV and internet but were not inundated with all the bad news - maybe we just chose not to look at it. That alone made it worth getting away. On the road in Labrador we were often the only car for kilometres and sometimes hours. There was always the opportunity and possibility of seeing wildlife but that rarely happens with us and this trip was no different. We saw two moose, lots of chipmunks and grey jays, some white whales crossing a river in Quebec and that's about it.
Labrador is one of Canada's few remaining wildernesses and we are blessed to have seen it in that state. As the road is improved and we are treated to "progress" all that will disappear. We truly did and saw things that few people get to and that made our month special. The photo below is back home. We made it! Nothing unusual there but the fact that van did it is nothing short of miraculous. I was going to jump way up in the air for the photo but, alas, that ship has sailed some time ago and I figured I'd severely injure myself so this is what you get.
Eric and Karen


Thursday, 26 October 2017

A Great Canadian Road Trip 21

Sadly our time on the road is rapidly coming to an end. This is likely the last post from the road. I'll post a wrap up once we're home next week. We've been on the go since Monday and unable to post until now. We left Isle Madame on Monday morning and stayed overnight in Antigonish, NS. There is a wonderful immigrant story come to life there in Peace By Chocolate. Forced from their home country of Syria they came to Canada, resurrected their chocolatier business and are doing well and giving back in their community. We met several of them and Karen had an instant bond with the mother recalling her own mother's story of arriving in Canada after the war.
Tuesday morning we left Antigonish and moved on to Mineville to visit our friend's Mike and Gayle. Along the way we stopped in Victoria Park in Truro on their suggestion. A beautiful park with lots of trails to walk, waterfalls and plenty of stairs. It was a gorgeous day and we spent a couple of hours enjoying Nova Scotia.
We have known Mike and Gayle for over 45 years with a sizeable interruption when they moved to Europe for a couple of decades. We don't get the chance to see them often and even less in their beautiful Nova Scotia home. One day is not enough of a visit but all we had time for this time around. We did manage to squeeze in a hike through the salt marsh.
We wanted to make it to Fredericton, NB last evening and we did but it was full. We tried several spots and all were fully booked - some government conference we were told. The boys will remember many such instances in our travels in years past. Always something absurd when it should never happen. There is nothing on the TCH heading north so we diverted to the James River road hoping to find something before we got to Edmundston 300 kilometres away. That's a beautiful drive in the sunlight but a nightmare in the teaming rain and the dark. It's a winding road alongside the river but has numerous warning signs about moose. Luckily this time we did not see any. Seeing them as they slam into your vehicle at 80KPH is not a good thing.
 
We landed in Florenceville-Bristol around 7:30PM. The French Fry Capital of the World. Everybody's got an angle.
 
Until we meet again in a few days...Eric and Karen