Ringing in a New Year of Adventures

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As I sat wrapped in my warm, hand knitted throw I caught myself contemplating adventures past and those to come. My top choices for 2016 were the Jiuzhaigou National park, the Stone Forest outside Kunming, China, and the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology. It was not that everywhere else did not live up to expectations – I did not have any other than to be open to new experiences.

As a primarily solo traveller, I think it was the chance meetings with people for first time experiences that made each place all the more special. If it had been planned ahead of time the spontaneity of sharing various wonders might have seemed forced.

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Which may explain why my time in southern Thailand, on Phi Phi, did seem forced. Too much was expected of me and I expected too much of my daughter. We both forgot rule of travel. Let the experience flow.

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Of course there was the food. Never forget the delights of new tastes, weird taste, nasty tastes, sharing and laughing over a meal or cooking one with complete strangers.

I went to a junior hockey game just the other night, have not been to a GS D since the 1970s!
That was a winter adventure for me!

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I will ring in the New Year with two of my daughters and one SIL, fireworks at the reasonable hour of 9:00pm. The only person at home is my daughter in Victoria. My youngest is in Cape Tribulation. Grandson and his father in New Brunswick, the rest of are staying at a hotel tonight.

For 2017 I may have bitten off too much to complete in a relatively short period. A short trip to New York with my eldest daughter – no solo travelling. I was there once, in 1992. Then, depending on that trip I was hoping to visit Newfoundland. However, it seems it is recommended for most travellers to go during the height of the tourist season. Seems the cold weather does not disappear until late May or earlyJune.

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Then there is the 30 year dream I have had of doing the Trans-Siberian Railway, plus the Beijing Loop. Also best to wait until May, avoid the summer, or go in September. Somehow I wanted to fit in Australia too if my daughter is still there. All before mid-September when my travel insurance will become astronomical. One of the problems with getting older. I will officially be considered a senior in many places. Great for lower fares but quite difficult for other things.

One thing I will do before going anywhere is to find a good backpack to replace the one with frame. I refuse to pay anymore fees for baggage. I will have to make travelling light an art form.
Happy adventures everyone!

Closed For the Holiday?

I set out early the other morning with a plan. This meant up and out the door by 6:15am, bundled up for the cold. I gave up trying to drive the vehicles available to me last winter due to a cast on my left wrist. (It extended up to the crook of my elbow, my fingers just would not cooperate, and I am left handed!) Although unencumbered this year I am still reluctant to drive when the weather is nasty. Therefore I head to town when someone else needs to go.

A crisp, pre-dawn walk from the parking lot took me along a street with beautiful, large, old homes. A few of them have been turned into B&Bs; draperies were pulled open to display twinkling Christmas tree lights. The snow crunched below my feet, all was still quiet, a peaceful walk before the hustle and bustle of shoppers on Princess Avenue, the main shopping street.

My first stop had to be breakfast, and more coffee. Rather than seek a new place that might not even be open that early, I headed for Crave – fast becoming a favourite. I was their customer. Thank goodness the cinnamon buns would not be ready for another hour – I am attempting to avoid such decandence! I established myself in a seat by the fireplace, Americano, breakfast, book and iPad all at hand. I managed to just enjoy the vibe – students must all be in bed now exams are done – of pre-coffee break, early shoppers, staff banter and regulars.

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My next stop, on the way, was through an alleyway, between Princess St. and Wellington Ave. with a rather gory history. According to my daughter, who conducted Haunted Walking Tours, this has a few ghost stories. The one I looked up is that the alley is haunted by a woman named Theresa Ignace Beam.
“She is supposed to have been murdered back in 1868 and her bones are supposed to be buried in the basement of an adjacent store,” Anderson says. “But we don’t actually know if her bones are there because nobody has found them yet, so it remains a bit of a mystery.” (Kingston Heritage Au 13/15) I must ask my daughter to give me a personal tour of Kingston!

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Across from City Hall I cam across a Nativity scene with a Martello Tower, built 1846 as a defence against a marine attack, (Lake Ontario) in the background and the Confederation Arch, (1967) built to symbolize Canada as one nation, hovering above. Too good an opportunity to pass up, especially when the ferry heading to Wolfe Island was also in view. Of course I could not overlook the mixed message of war and peace.

Then off to do some church visits. I like the architecture, inside and out, the trappings (or lack of) and any decorations for the holiday that may have been added. I have never belonged to any Christian denomination so I had absolutely no idea what to expect. This was purely, I thought, a chance to see churches at their best during the most important celebration for their existence.

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The first church I encountered seemed promising, there was the laughter of children ringing out in the air, dressed up in colourful snowsuits they certainly appeared happy in the snow. I did wonder if their classroom was regelated to a dark, nasty basement space. (Is my prejudice for such spaces seeping out?) as I continued on to find an open door I also searched for which church this was. All I found was a sign with the name of the Early Childhood Centre. I thought how delightful, they appeared to have the whole space! Unfortunately, I could not go inside. I would have loved to see if they were using the, I assume, now pew less nave that once invited parishioners to sit. The refraction of sun on stain glass windows must be wonderful opportunities for exploring the wonders of colour, discussions of science, allowing imagination to soar. I think this is a great way to use a deconsecrated church.

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Onward, to three more churches. Seems none of them believe in inviting people to come in out of the cold. They were all closed! Locked up tight. How disappointing. I finally came across the Sydenham Street United Church, build 1851-1852 that, upon first approach also seemed locked. However, walking around it I found a side door that led into offices, then, lo and behold! – a short corridor with a partially open door into the nave. Very simply decorated for the season, a tree and very simple, iron candlabras. Not at all austere, perhaps that had something g to do with the seating design.

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My last stop was a Catholic Church I visited a year ago but after the holiday. Only the doors had any adornment – pine branches tied with purple ribbon. Perhaps any other de oration would have appeared garish with the stain glass windows, icons and paintings. Not knowing the protocol I did not venture too far inside for fear of disturbing those who appeared to know what they were doing.

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If nothing else I managed to get in a good walk that day!
Lots of fluffy snow the next day gave me ample opportunity to play in the snow. I built a snow bunny. My travelling companions, the pandas, refused to come out to play.

Winter Wonderland

The snow was falling off and on for two days making for some more perilous treks, this time walking and driving. Highway 401 is the route to Toronto, three lanes on each side, 100km/ph, treacherous when there is snow drifting across the lanes, over snow formed into ice, and exits scantly touched.

Although on the 401 for barely ten minutes I could feel the blood run cold in my veins as we were approaching, and were approached by, a couple of semi trucks. It was the wind creating the flying snow. Otherwise the fluffy flakes were quite lovely. Like powdered sugar with a bit more oomph. More importantly, the temperature rose from -20c to a bearable -5c. Heck, I left my coat, toque and warm gloves in the car! Unthinkable a day earlier.

Both days found me shopping with my daughter for a few hours, a little bit of madness seems to seep into everyone a week before the holiday. After three winters in Kingston I have come to the conclusion that there is no reasonable explanation for how far apart everything is.

Alright, I understand ‘they’ say that is where the land is, but why, oh why, in such a cold climate over winter, then exceedingly hot over summer, build big box stores? Even within walking distance of each other, and strip mall style, it makes little sense. Architects and builders must have severe height restrictions when planning these vast spaces.

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My big adventure was to Montana’s, definitely not a restaurant I would normally choose. I think I have been to one of this company’s eateries twice, hated it. I could not think how going to one in a different province would be any different. However, that is where we were, my daughter having missed Kelsey’s, where she had intended to go. This is an indication of just how much everything in such shopping centres look alike.

Montana’s is very country. I am not. Envision heads: moose, deer, possibly a bear and I dare not think what else. I felt as though I had entered an a taxidermy haven. Heavy wooden posts, a large stone fireplace, paper table coverings, (crayons encourage scribbling and drawing) an old truck, a rowboat, canoe and snowshoes enhance just how country the decor is.

There was more, I was a little afraid to look. Fortunately, after getting through at least three menus, (alright, two were single laminated sheets) I was able to find some salad choices. The Apple Pecan Salad was a pleasant surprise, as were the Kapow! Shrimp we shared. I left there happy in the knowledge I had a pleasant lunch with good company.

First full day in Kingston

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Too often we tend to forget that when visiting family or friends during a holiday it is also a chance for a different kind of vacation or, in my case, another opportunity to be a traveller and learn more about the place I am at. I started my day by venturing out.

Yes, the sidewalks are icy and the temperature was -7c when I headed out. We are expected to be feeling below 0 in double digits! Oh, the weather out there is frightful… I am happy to say that although it was cold I kept pretty snug, so glad I dragged along my snow boots! First on my list of getting reacquainted with downtown Kingston was to find breakfast. There are more restaurants in the city, for its size, than anywhere else in Canada. (I believe I gave that statistic last year) Lower Princess Street, finally having Phase 3 of reconstruction completed summer 2016 – budget was 13 million.

It was dreadful to navigate last winter. Too bad the sidewalks are still not treated for well enough for safe walking, particularly the corners where there are little crossing signal posts, surround by ice and snow, just out of reach of pedestrians already slip sliding along.

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I am pleased to have made my way to a coffeehouse that opened last winter and is still running strong (pun intended). Students seem to be the niche Crave has carved for itself, lots of seating, at least one shared table, plug ins for the inevitable computers, tables sturdy enough for textbooks, decent prices, and of course lots of choices of coffee and far too many of food, particularly of the baked variety.

 

I had planned to be very good after too much bread on my day of travel, but the pastries, muffins, all sorts of cinnamon buns, croissants (in a category of their own in my opinion) and bagels, which I first turned away from, drew me in again when I glimpsed the board. So I had a breakfast sandwich – whole wheat bagel with an egg, bacon and cheddar cheese. Plus an Americano.

I love university students, especially during exam time, there is such earnestness and determination in the air, along with the tip tapping of keyboards, flipping of pages, scratching of pens or pencils (still in use, usually on index cards). I might have been the only person there not using some form of electronic device.

Good coffeehouses are fantastic for people watching, and I was only near the front of the place – it is such a favourite I was lucky to have found a seat at all. I stayed for an hour or more, reading, listening and watching before grabbing a muffin and coffee, and my uneaten yogurt, for my daughter. This is where travelling and visiting so nicely meet.

I then sought out a little art studio I had found the year before, Martello Alley, where I had found two prints of places I had been to while in Kingston. I wanted a third one, and was very happy to discover they are still in business selling the work of local artists.

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I did find another print, same artist, of the bakery my SIL works at. Although I have not actually been inside the bakery/deli, I have been the delighted recipient of their delicious baked goods. I thought that would be a perfect addition for my collection.

My walk back to the house was a little perilous, I finally walked part of the way on the road, they are clear, the sidewalks are not. I even have a kitty I can cuddle with, he is new to the family, an adorable 7 month old grey with a bushy tail. He discovered snowflakes and was trying to catch them as they fell – the window kept deceiving him. An excellent way to view winter, from inside!

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Trains, planes and automobiles indeed!

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To get from Victoria to Kingston is a test of stamina. Up at 3:30 to get to the airport, there by 5:00 and so was everyone else escaping the cold weather! I did make my flight, even managed to buy a banana and fill my water bottle. However, next time I plan to leave earlier if flying out of YVR. In the air, zip across, point the nose down, land in YVR 15 mins later.

Not many choices for buying food at gate C50 so I trekked back to near the gate where we had landed from Victoria, bought a sandwich and coffee, then did a balancing act back to my gate. No spills. I worked on making my two bags easier to carry and stow. Too bad I had not done so before checking in at YVR – my carry-on had to be checked in as technically I had too many bags. I was grateful to be told the fee would be waived, this after I was trying to figure out which boots to take – severe weather or the ‘let’s pray it stays mild’ pair. Once in YVR, I realized it was just as well I was not carrying everything, what I did have was heavy. Decision to leave my winter boots and heavy sweater in Kingston when it is time to go home. I am tempted to leave my winter coat too.

Smaller gifts too. I had two containers filled with macarons my daughter made for her sisters and their families. Security guards do not listen when told to keep bags upright. I would not know how the cookies fared until late evening.

It is very easy to get from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to Union Station. From Terminal 1 take the UP Train, it stops at Union Station. However, arrival can be more than a little confusing as the station remains in the throes of “extensive renovations through multiple phases as part of the City of Toronto Revitalization Project.” This was slated to for completion in 2016. Unless they have magic wands it is not about to happen. There appears to be no end in sight. Most recent information indicates 2017 to finish, an approximate one trillion-dollar (boggles the mind) budget and now over budget!

Unlike at airports, with pockets of places to grab a bite to eat or a coffee, (unless it is me wanting something – I seem to always have gates out in the ether) the pocketful at the train station are not easy to access, have no seating, and are a pitiful choice. Once a purchase is made ‘guests’, as Via now calls passengers, provide entertainment for all by juggling meal, drink and baggage all in an effort to find a seat back in the central area five minutes away. With Via, UP, GO and access to the metro all using Union Station I can only hope there will eventually be more than just five vendors. After all, “If you build it they will come.” I can only hope someone has actually looked at the plans.

Money – I am always amazed at how much more expensive it is to travel by air in Canada. With travel insurance, Victoria to Toronto was $560 return. Plus my UP train and Via train at $165 return. Fortunately I will not be spending anything on accommodation, meals and transportation while here unless I visit Quebec City, or Ottawa with my eldest daughter.

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The train was comfortable, nobody sat next to me, it was relatively quiet as we hurtled along the track in the dark. It is a shame Via is so expensive, more people would be inclined to take the train just as is done in so many countries. Leave the car at home, relax, get some paperwork done, even use the internet on these short routes.

I made it, the cookies made it. A hug from my SIL, not expected. A long trip but relatively easy.

Expenses for day:

  • a turkey and lettuce sandwich and coffee from Starbucks at the Vancouver terminal for nearly $15
  • a pumpernickel bagel with roasted red pepper cream cheese, $5
  • an inflated $6 flat white at Starbucks bought at Union Station in Toronto
  • water, tea and a Kit Kat on the train $6
  • taxi $13

If I spend that kind of money, $45.00, everyday I will be flat broke.