I was pretty well packed and ready to go, all I had to do was put on my runners, drink my tea and finish chatting to my daughter who had decided she will meet me in Hoi An as there was not enough time for her to fly to Saigon and catch up with me. I received a message saying my ride had arrived – 45 minutes early. I decided right then we would get along. I hate being late for anything.
I need to stop here to say most of the day remains a bit hazy. I must have been more overwhelmed by the experience than I realized as I simply cannot recall one clear memory. It was more of a sensory overload. I needed to become acquainted with the bike and driver, and he with me. Trust is a major factor when sitting astride a motorbike. First I had to hop aboard – easier than it sounds. Then getting out of Saigon seemed to take forever and the traffic remained crazy although not quite as insane as in the centre.Fortunately it was a nice day – heck, it was HOT! I applied sunscreen 3-4 times and still had a sunburn on my back where it is never easy to reach.The weaving in and out of traffic, light touch of the horn as we passed by others; the city giving way to lush green, with too much garbage on the roads to mar picture perfect moments. The smell of oil, fish, garbage all mingling into a barely bearable bouquet that we finally left behind before our first stop for coffee.
It took quite some to get out of the city, Saigon and the surrounding countryside is huge! I thought we would never leave the traffic behind. Finally crossed what I thought was a toll booth but was the entry to catch a small ferry boat across to an island -.this seems to cut down on time and is far more pleasant to sit for about ten minutes without all the exhaust. To help with the fumes, dirt and wind Toan bought a cowl like cover up for my face. We drove off the ferry towards a monastery of sorts. I would find myself getting rather confused as to just what I was visiting at times. The way I understood it this was a retreat of sorts for monks but with a distinct Chinese influence.
Of course I do not read Vietnamese so the first notices telling visitors to remove their shoes went unheeded – oops. Thank goodness there was not anyone around. I remembered before entering the largest hall, it helped that I saw shoes but no people right away. I put away my worries about the, being stolen. I was quite sure nobody would want my runners – not a common type of footwear.
We did a lot of driving and had to stop in one place when the motorbike started to make strange noises. Eventually it was suggested I be dropped off at a cafe while my driver went in search of a mechanic after the one he wanted was closed – it was Sunday. I suggested Highland – I had seen it a couple of blocks back – because I was quite sure they would have AC and a western toilet. Ah, the conveniences we prefer. I was also able to charge my phone and iPad. As I said, trust was important. After all, I had paid him and he had all my stuff except my purse and daypack. About 40 minutes he came back, had to jury rig what he needed because the piece could not be found anywhere.
Of course we wasted a lot of time so made it to our hotel just before dark. I was exhausted, and Toan was most likely worried I would be unhappy with the turn of events. However, we had stopped for coffee a couple of times and lunch as well as short stops for him to point out places and explain them to me. Money has yet to be discussed other than the cost of the tour it self which includes my guide, the bike, fuel etc., accommodation and entry fees to sites. For the day we took turns until dinner. When we discussed thwt took up his offer to being me chicken and rice to the room which he insisted on paying for. I was ready to fall asleep.
Perhaps it is important to stress at the outset that I had a rotten week and was ready to throw in the gloves. If it had not been for my eldest calling me after I sent out a stressed message, then her sister and I going over an edit, I might have turned tail in Vancouver to head home. So, the title is due to World Nomad travel insurance – or lack thereof.
It seems their site is down and the Canadian office (head office is in Australia) has not been given any information other than to say keep on trying. All very well except I had been trying since 24 hours earlier – prior to departure! I sent two emails, no response. To be told that once out of the country any insurance purchased has a two day hold before it is valid! Absolutely unacceptable in my opinion. I will be making a major stink about this once I can figure out how to do so on Twitter etc.
Other than that significant issue seems were smooth. The drive to the ferry was quick. I was so early the ticket booth was not even open. The ferry was fine until announcement there would be a “man overboard drill” that would possibly delay our arrival by 15 minutes. I was beginning to see this as a sign. We were on time. The bus was waiting for passengers – no use leaving empty. I nearly left on the wrong Sky Train – a security person called me (lady in green works when wearing a lime green rainshield on my pack) to say I had to wait for the next train, about 3 minutes. Then off to the airport. I still had not turned heel to run home.
Check-in was a breeze, as was security other than my leg brace that I had not even considered. So, day 1, still sad, not quite as stressed, and hanging out with my travel companions.
With 40 days and 40 nights to go before I step on the ferry from Victoria to Vancouver for my flight to Shanghai it was time to work on how I will post my blog. Everyday is time consuming for me, boring for readers if I am just adding padding. Reading the travel blogs of others, usuaally about 3 decades younger than me, I think I have come up with a plan to make the process more enjoyable for me and interesting for readers.
Post on the same days each week; keep it consistent. It is easier to follow a writing schedule this way.
Seriously consider at least one day of less writing and more photos.
Work on the money/places/information – perhaps do not imbed it in the text. (I also add bits of nonsense at the end not really thinking if anyone actually reads it).
After about a week or so of several hours nearly daily I finally hashed out my itinerary for roughly the first 25 days of my trip to China and Vietnam. I struggled with how to fit in what I want to see and do within the time constraints of avoiding the National Day holiday. My first itinerary was just too difficult to really enjoy anything, it had me rushing off for the far reaches of Gansu and Northern Shanxi provinces, in Northwest China, before flying to Saigon. Just not practical, even if taking in only one of the provinces. The cost of airfare alone to Saigon was prohibitive.
I finally decided to break my trip into four sections. I will do a much smaller loop for the first ten days, Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing, Huangshan, Shanghai. Although I have been to Suzhou and Nanjing there are still places I want to visit. In Suzhou my main goal will be the New Suzhou Museum, known for its simplicity of design. I saw a documentary about the architect, I.M. Pei, and how much this particular project meant to him.
In Nanjing I hope to visit the city wall there, maybe rent a bike and ride on it, we only drove past it when there years ago. One can do so much solo, with children, or even other adults, so much has to be considered. There are so many layers of history in that city to be studied and one visit found me wanting to know more.
Huangshan, Anhui will be a stepping stone to the Huangshan (Yellow Mountains) National Park, where I will spend one night somewhere in the the park – not sure if at the base or partially up a mountain, and, I hope, the ancient villages of Xidi and Hongcun. I am fully aware these might be more along the line of rebuilt villages to bring in the tourists, domestic and foreign, so I can only hope there may be some authenticity.
To ensure I make it to the airport in Shanghai to leave on Sep 28th for Saigon I was meticulous when choosing trains for each stretch of this leg of my trip. The only piece of information I have been waiting for is will I make it to the train station from Hongcun to Huangshan. Lots of time still. What I had not considered was that cancelling my first tentative itinerary, to Gansu, would mean my new itinerary would also be wiped out! I am hoping all my effort can be easily rectified and I will once again have my requested trains put in the queue again. I immediately fired off an email to have this done. A similar situation occurred last year – I do wish people would read things! So, waiting with my fingers ready to send my payment for seats and berths.
Thank goodness I do not have to plan my time Vietnam beyond the first three nights in Saigon. I will ask my daughter what I can do there other than have my phone stolen. (That is her story – not mine)
A last Trolley Tour, still too hot for walking tour of the Royal Military College so I just enjoyed the ride. Also my last breakfast at Crave, yogurt and coffee. Later I would visit Sipp’s for a raspberry lemon mousse and coffee while sitting under the patio umbrellas and listening to a sole violinist playing at the corner of the Springer Market – not operating. I took my time before f slowly wending my way up the shady side of the now very familiar Princess St., stopping to window shop until I met my daughter and her husband for lunch. We did not know if we would have time to meet the follow no day before my train.
They suggested a place I had yet to try – Harper’s Burger Bar. I tend to stay away places that have Burger and bar on their name. I was assured I would be happy with the choice. The menu does indeed focus on burgers. Fortunately they have a slider trio that can be made up of three selections of their regular size choices. Only one could not be made as a slider; considering there were ten others to pick from I did not have too much difficulty. All were beef patties on tiny buns with ‘toppings’ top and bottom. I have never understood why cooks leave one half of the bun bare. I could not believe I did not take photos!
Lala Land: goat cheese, roasted red pepper, avocado spread, arugula, pesto mayo
Bleu: blue cheese, soya glazed ‘shrooms’, bacon, Kansas City BBQ sauce (no idea what makes Kansas City special)
Delicious: havarti, onion straws, avocado spread, more of that Kansas BBQ sauce
All with a small helping of zingy coleslaw.
Although it sounds like a lot of food the meat equalled one burger. Everything was perfectly proportioned. That first bite absolutely divine! As were all the others. I loved the sliders, and May seriously consider searching for miniature buns for home if I ever have a yearning for a hamburger on a bun. Not that I ate the tops. The burgers were delicious, moist, garnished with superb ingredients, the buns with a smear of condiment top and bottom! (It really is an issue I have) Best of all, I could easily slide off the bit on the bun I did not want.
My SIL paid, we were finished with enough time to walk my daughter back to work to say our final farewells before I headed to my other daughter’s car. I needed to walk off lunch as we were heading to Wolfe Island for dinner with her friend and family just days before they moved west. I should have hitched a ride.
We nearly headed over without them, we walked on only to realize their vehicle had been one of a few unable to drive on. Thank goodness the ferry had not already been cast off. The truck was parked, we waited an hour and all walked on instead. It was such a lovely evening that a vehicle was not necessary. We were also heading to Wolfe Island Grill again. Except we had a reservation – unlike many who were on the same ferry as us. Once again, lovely setting. Only drawbacks were the mosquito bites I found later that night and an inedible Caesar salad. I ate the chicken for the protein – which I said was good only to stop my D from worrying – it was so-so. Too bad, I had enjoyed my first visit to the island and WIG immensely just four days earlier.
With time to wander a bit before catching the ferry back we walked towards the only hotel nearby where an artist was painting a giant mural on the side wall. Of course General Wolfe Hotel needed a large artist’s rendition of Wolfe. There were also sketched in pictures showing life on Wolfe Island. I will have to check it out next time I am in Kingston.
Last morning, I was of course all packed. We headed to town to hit the market where I bought some supplies for my train trip. Squeaky Wilton cheese, raspberries, a couple of treats. We even had enough time for a quick visit to say a final, final farewell to my other daughter.
Sad to say, I was on my way, had to leave my little girls in Kingston town.
Still counting: 7.40 breakfast; 10.00 treat; 19000 steps
Until now all I have mentioned is hopping on and off one of the regular trolleys to get from one of the many tourist attractions. What I have not included is the actual cost. Fortunately the
K-Pass is available for 24, 48 or 72 hours $79 – $119 plus tax, with the higher passes offering a lunch or dinner cruise. A quick calculation, based on the three day pass shows this is indeed a fantastic savings considering the dinner cruise alone is a whopping $78-$98 per person, and that is not on the three level Island Queen. The Trolley Tours, keeping with 72 hours, is $ 51.50 plus that glaring tax not including entry fees to any of the sites they stop at. Although I did not add up all the entry fees included in the K-Pass an estimated savings seems to be about $250.00 if all sites are visited. It is important to note that the Kingston Penitentiary Tour is not included.
All Aboard! Island Queen Brunch
First, this was a brunch cruise, the lunch and dinner cruises aboard the Island Star, and the Island Queen for that matter, have different menus. I will also note here that I had the buffet on the Island Star in May of this year. Which leads me to wondering how they could have been so far off the mark for a simple plated brunch. Put bluntly – food mediocre, views fabulous. Gorgeous day. Unfortunately, I found the cruise far too overpriced for what is offered meal wise. Which for us was a comped meal. The set menu – with one of three choices of croissant – sounded promising.
Miniature Frittata Florentine, pretty basic, easy to make and serve as well as covering dietary needs for many passengers. This should have been a delicious beginning to the meal. However, before even taking a bite I was disappointed with the plating of the food. Simple salad, croissant, frittata looked just okay when everything should have looked pleasing. However, I let that slide. Until I tried the frittata. I know mini size baking can be an issue with balancing ingredients but surely these were made by trained staff – or maybe not. The flavour of the three cheeses was just not there and there was a taste of iron in each bite that I thought might be the spinach unless, in an effort to ensure fluffiness, baking soda was added.
Next, the Applewood Smoked Salmon on a Croissant, a difficult choice for this westcoast islander to make considering I was inland. However, I made that decision on the assumption it must be Atlantic salmon and I do not care for cranberries with turkey nor did I want the vegetarian choice. Presentation is important, as already noted the plating was not great. The croissant top was falling off its sad bed of salmon and red onion with capers (they were the best part) and appeared to have lost its glory as a trumped up sandwich. More between the covers might have made it more palatable. Fortunately there was not much they could do wrong with the fresh lettuce salad and the strawberry/mint dressing was actually quite nice. Dessert was a small apple danish, far too sweet for me. We were plied with coffee once I suggested leaving the pot on the table and my daughter enjoyed her speciality coffee – no idea what was in it.
Ah yes, but how was the actual cruise? That was wonderful, somewhat crowded, it was a Sunday after all. With three levels we had the choice of staying at our window seats in the dining area, heading to the first level to listen to the live music, or head topside for the lake breeze and fresh air. We did all three a couple of times. The crowd on the main level was a tough one for the entertainers. Perhaps it was a mix of it being a late morning/ early afternoon cruise and several families – they were just not interested in the entertainment. Being drawn to dance whenever a tune pulls us my daughter and I were far more energetic in our appreciation than anyone else. Talking to my daughter we both felt the mood was just too stifling to strike the centre of the dance floor. Must be tough for the musicians who were pretty decent and the lead did try to keep up a mix of humour between songs. Topside had the best unobstructed view. Overall we had a wonderful three hour Heart of the Islands cruise and were able to put aside the mediocre meal until later. A few days later my daughter sent a response to an email from the individual who had provided us with the tickets asking how the day was. Do I recommend the cruise, YES! With brunch, not so sure.
The drive back to the country was very strange. Giant grey. Louis loomed ahead, directly over where we were heading, when a sudden downpour burst open on us as we moved towards its direct path – it was like entering a waterfall, dry on one side, soaking on the other. Just walking the few feet from the car to a store we were drenched. I was grateful we had clear blue skies with just whiffs of cloud during the cruise. All Aboard! Wolfe Island Trip
I am an islander through and through therefore, as though my three hour cruise the previous day had not been enough, I headed over to Wolfe Island with my other daughter just for the fun of it. This was after wandering around downtown a bit and discussing what I had not yet done. It was sort of a lightbulb moment when my daughter asked if I had ever taken the free ferry. I was up for free!
The Wolfe Island ferry route is considered part of the provincial highway which means free passage for all vehicles and passengers. Too bad we do not have the same consideration in BC. The ferry runs 365 days of the year. During the summer it goes to the Marysville dock, 20 minute ride. In reality it only seemed a leisurely pace for everyone standing on either side I. The open air, probably due to the lovely day, as it does go at a fairly good clip. Inclement weather probably finds walk on passengers huddled up in the car deck side rooms. The vessel holds 55 vehicles and around 300 passengers. (I kept finding different figures so settled on this) the best part is that the dock on the Kingston side is right downtown, as the Marysville summer dock. Walking on and off was a breeze.
Of course, once on the island there is not a whole lot to do unless you are driving. One major attraction, Big Sandy Bay was closed due to high water. Which was fine as we had plans back in Kingston for later. However, a light lunch seemed like an excellent idea and we headed off to the very nearby Wolfe Island Grill, visible form the ferry. A great place; with nary a patron sitting inside we might have thought it deserted if we had not seen people on the multi-level dock enjoying the view, sun and some very nice boats tied to the pier. This was Island living. Knowing we would be having dinner later we both chose the Wilton Aged Cheddar Cheese Bread. I could stop there, except I had the extras on mine – bacon, caramelized onions and portobello mushroom. I was in heaven. Wilton cheese is an Ontario delicacy. The combination I chose was beyond perfection. Who knew anyone could enjoy a few crusts of delectable bread and cheese so much. I was very nearly tempted to order a fancy drink to prolong the day. I think I stuck to lots of water and probably a coffee.
We visited the local museum, checked out the Wolfe Island Bakery where shared a peanut butter truffle – beyond the heavens deliciousness. Checked outvaclocal craft place hidden at the back of a church, or maybe it was City Hall, and found a very strange painting. A wonderfully relaxing afternoon.
The Numbers: I finally reached the stage of not taking careful note of my expenses. This meant adding up how much I had left to figure out where I was at. Which led to a bit of a dilemma, I did not write down what I started out with! I thought it was $1800.00, then had a vague recollection of having put aside $200.00 for various expenses at home while I was away. As of this entry my remaining funds ($138.00) were lower than how much I would still need. This happens to nearly everyone when they travel. Some of my expenses were for my next trip. It was time to do the math and figure out where to draw the extra funds from.
What I know I spent in the last few days: $85.00 dinner at Mandarin for two including tip$20.00 misc Market purchases; $8.00 coffees; $12.00 items for train trip; $5.00 light snack. 8.00 brkfst; 4.00 snack (Small Batch Cafe carrot cake shared with daughter 3); 36.00 lunch $5.00 coffee Steps: two days, falling behind a bit – only 14,000. Must have been be all the sailing.