Last Days of Semi-Solo Travel: or ‘Final Countdown’

At Christmas I was given one last gift to be used just prior to going home. Tickets to see a local little theatre production. Before we would meet one of my daughters for dinner and the show, her sister and I managed to have a wonderfully stress free day despite dealing with banking and other stuff. With all of that out of our way we decided to have lunch at a small pub in a small strip mall along one of the main roads in Kingston. The Rose and Crown on upper Princess. They even have live music on Wednesday nights, sadly we were there far too early and had other plans.

Knowing we would be going for dinner later I chose from the lunch menu. Breaded sole, a small side of chips (aka French fries) and a side order of coleslaw. The sole was fine, chips not greasy and only lightly salted (a bonus in my books) but the tartar sauce was a poor concoction of green relish, mayonnaise and mustard. My daughter said she needed a photo of me using ketchup to show my grandson. The coleslaw was crispy, lightly dressed, quite nice. I only ordered that because there was no vegetable offered with my meal. Rather disappointing.

My daughter had the meat pie with Caesar salad and a small side of previously frozen vegetables. She declared the meat pie good although most likely too salty for my taste. The Caesar looked nice, I neglected to ask, the sad looking vegetables were not touched. The atmosphere was simple, a good place to stop at if in the area – perhaps while out shopping for a vehicle, which is how my daughter and her husband came across the place a few years ago. That is an indication of most likely not a place I would purposely seek out in the future.

We then headed to a mystery appointment. My daughter had something planned on her hands. I really could not think what it might be as she was talking about meeting a co-worker I did not know. We were getting pedicures and manicures! Although this can be a solo activity, and I have done so often, the interaction with others, and, this time, with my esthetician, who may have missed his calling to be a comedian. We also talked about Vietnam, his home country and where two of my daughters have been, It did not hurt that he was a nice looking young man and served us chocolate. Twice. Full chocolate bars. I stashed mine for emergencies. So far they are still stashed. There is something about getting a pedicure in the middle of winter that seems positively sinful.

 

Dinner and a show (I am not at all spoiled):

I was determined to eat at a favourite place I found last year, only to be stymied with recalling if it was Mango Thai Cafe (also a nice choice) or Taj Curry House. The styles of cooking only sort of touch regionally so it took some sleuthing on my part. My memory served me well, it was Taj. A small, family operated eatery. We had three dishes and were thankful we did not order four! Vegetable Biryani, Beef Ragan Josh and chicken Dansak. A small appetizer of onion Bhaji, some naan to share and we were all well satisfied. Much like Crave for a coffee out, Taj Curry House is a restaurant I will make a point of visiting when back in Kingston. Of course I am always game to seek other eateries and activities.

The little theatre production was put on by Blue Canoe Productions. This is primarily a youth company, 13 – 30, many performing for the first time. Their enthusiasm certainly helped to hold up the production. Peter & the Starcatcher, written in 2006, played on Broadway April 2012 – Jan 2013. This is the story that tells us how Peter Pan became a lost boy. A young girl, other lost boys, Smee of course, a nasty pirate captain, mermaids and the crocodile are all included. I could not catch some of the very quiet lines and the poor sight lines for the many occasions the players were sitting on the deck of the boat or the sands of the shore were frustrating.

There is nothing more irritating than having to peer over shoulders for a glimpse of the action or to hear the lines. We were there for opening night, the audience was well peppered with family, friends and production people, so a full house. Encouraging for actors. The Baby Grand Theatre is a cozy set up, and would work much better for players rising up, rather than sinking down. I believe this production might play better with a raised stage. We joined the audience and actors for a post show gala – we must have been the only ones not somehow connected to the show. Having been involved in many theatre productions, a lot of higher caliber, I left thinking how fortunate I am no longer.

Farewell hug to one daughter then back to the countryside. Some serious packing was on my agenda for the next day.

Maple Syrup Heist: Improbable Escapes

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It was a weekend of family fun activities – Christmas present from one of my daughters and SIL for all of us to enjoy. First the shivery, yet delightful Lumina Borealis, then the following night we headed to Bellevue House to try our collective acuity at detective work in a game offered through Improbable Escapes, a local business that encourages interaction, fun and wearing of thinking caps for a fee. Fortunately this was an indoor activity!

A little about the Bellevue House Historic Site, which seems rather off the beaten path until the history of it is known. Built in the 1840’s, Bellevue House was the first non-traditional home built in the area, moving away from the familiar Georgian architecture of the time, to Italianate, and not greatly admired by the population of Kingston at the time.

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There are, according to the floor plans, seventeen rooms, including the cellar, and seven levels! Of interest is how well situated the house is, the style includes an aesthetic that takes into account the lay of the land. I was there at night, in the winter, what I could see in the darkness of night, half moon and stars helped, were the darker shades of bare trees, a vast stretch of snow and vines in need of leaves and blooms.a good reason to visit when the weather is finer.bellevue-kitchen-ashx

According to the Parks Canada website, “the Italianate style belongs to the Picturesque period in architectural history. Picturesque taste, besides advocating unusual architectural styles, valued the siting of a house to take advantage of scenic vistas. Bellevue House was built on a height of land with a southward orientation so that the principal rooms, the drawing room, dining room, master bedroom and study, would benefit from views of Lake Ontario. This orientation, co-incidentally, fulfilled another goal of Picturesque design: the rooms are pleasantly sunlit for a large part of the day.”

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Sir John A. Macdonald , the first Prime Minister of Canada, and his wife, lived at Bellevue House (before his political life took off, and before he was a Sir) for about one year, 1848/49. The house is now a museum set up in the fashion of when Macdonald lived there. As such the house is an interesting look into the past as well as being a wonderful venue for the fun of trying to solve the Maple Syrup Heist.

Maple syrup, that golden, all natural sweet topping for pancakes, as Canadian as hockey. 71% of Maple Syrup in the world is produced in Canada, 91% of that in the province of Quebec. It takes 40 litres of maple tree sap to make one litre of pure Syrup. There was even a real, year long Maple Syrup heist between the summer of 2011 to summer 2012 – worth $18million! We take our maple syrup very seriously and culprits, once the theft was discovered, were arrested. Alas, only 70% of the stolen golden syrup was recovered.

Bellevue House Historic Site is a National Site, which, for 2017 means free entry! Improbable Escapes is not free and only runs through to February. A wonderful way to utilize a historical site that would otherwise remain empty until May.bellevue-dining-rm-ashx

“This will be something you’ve never experienced before. A jump from the traditional escape room. Imagine a series of puzzle rooms with a limit to solve each room.” An apt description of what we were about to encounter. We had one hour or so of chaotic fun searching for clues, running up and down hallways, stairs, into various rooms and being handcuffed. Silliness ensued, we were assisted by a maid who insisted she had not stolen the Maple Syrup and gave helpful hints whenever we appeared bogged down with too many clues and little time.

We had only eight minutes in each of the six rooms we had to search. I became enamoured by all that was not included in the clues which meant I was not very helpful. Observation was important, just not what I observed! Six of us should have resulted in coming up with at least one correct clue, alas, we became two camps and came up up with two sets of guilty party, where the Syrup was stolen from and how they escaped with it. We also had a marvellous last holiday evening.bellevue-master-bedrm-ashx

Lumina Borealis: Fort Henry Magic

I had the pleasure of going to an outdoor winter wonderland with my Ontario family. A time to let the worries of the day, let work and school blues be dropped for an hour, don warm winter garb and be treated to a light show for all enjoy.

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The original Fort Henry was built in 1812, for fear of an attack close to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, an important shipping and trade route, when the British were fighting against the Americans. Canada was, and remains, a member of the Commonwealth. Today it has absolutely no connection to the military in Canada besides being across the street from a base. It is now a museum and historic site. Over the winter the Fort and most of the facilities that are open for tourists are usually closed. Of course, this means I have never been inside the grounds.

My travelling companions joined us.

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Lumina Borealis opened the gates to a quiet, mystical wonderland that welcomed all who entered; from the swirling mists and illuminated walls depicting various scenes, to the soft, inviting music from beyond, it was an ethereal, magical hour. Upon entering we were encouraged to slow down, stay awhile, follow the blue movement and changes on the walls of the Fort before wending our way around a bend where we came upon lit iceberg sculptures. A short piece of poetry was illuminated on the wall, stopping walkers in their slow tracks. Arches of the Fort in this area echoed pleasantly with throat singing mingled with softer sounds. As we reluctantly left the soft light and crags of the stylized bergs we rounded another bend.

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It was a little like entering Narnia. A forest of low pine trees that held lights in their branches, then lit up all around us. On the stone walls depictions of animals slowly came to view. The curve of a head, twitch of nose, the stealth of foot, wings spread, silent howl. An owl, rabbit, a fox, the wolf, and other friends of the forest were there, then faded away. Like a memory from long ago. Of course I knew it was all done with lights. It did not matter, for a short time we were outdoors, enjoying life.

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Fire pits served three purposes, warmth, light and more creatures. The light show this time was interactive. We could walk across the path where soft blue hues dominated, heading towards s main fire pit where ‘our’ animal would present itself. I was a wolf. When several people were there, we were a party of six, a wonderful display of pale blues, purples, reds, oranges and whites mingled towards a fabulous explosion of muted colour. The shades of winter. All with music that was just there, as though not being present would diminish the sensation.

There was more, and it was wonderful to see Fort Henry being put to positive use for all. Similar winter shows are happening in Quebec, Nova Lumina, Chandler; Forest Lumina, Coaticook, QC; Anima Lumina, St – Felicien, QC. I encourage anyone living nearby to attend. It is an hour of enchantment – and we all need that. I hope a similar show is offered for the 150th birthday of Canada in December.

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I also had the pleasure of visiting a relatively new bakery, tucked away in a small plaza. We nearly missed it. Of course I had to go in, it is called Grama’s House. We bought a couple of apple tarts and one butter tart. The Apple tart was yummy! Not too sweet, the apple still a teeny crisp, flaky pastry, and a small bite. Perfect for a little snack without feeling dreadfully sinful.

Winter can be quite beautiful.

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.