I have been fortunate to spend quality time with my daughter and grandson over the last few weeks as well as finding activities I can do on my own when they are working or having their own fun. Visiting family for extended stays is all about balance.
What did I find to do in Kingston when I have already seen and done so much during past visits? A surprising lot! As always, Music In the Park (Confederation Park – not Centennial Park as I constantly call it! The latter is in Victoria) is always a great place to sit back and relax, have s picnic, enjoy some great music and, when it comes, a cooling breeze off Lake Ontario. During the summer Thursdays are a perfect time for the afternoon hour of music then an hour of Downtown Country before heading to the far side of City Hall for a an outdoor movie at Springer Market Square! On the evening I was in the area I saw Mama Mia: Here We Go Again after some pretty mean country picking earlier.
Of course I sang! Very quietly. Cute movie, not what I expected.
I managed to snag my grandson for another Monday outing! We took advantage of the two National Parks for one price from our outing the previous week, choosing to visit the much closer Fort Henry. The original Fort was built and garrisoned during the war of 1812 but saw no military action. (Must have been pretty boring times stuck in readiness every day)
Despite having been on a tour a couple of years ago I learned more about the military and civil daily life for the inhabitants from an engaging guide. In addition to that there were some changes made since my last visit. Although I like fresh baked cookies and bread I was unsure about grilled cheese sandwiches being served at the Bonnycastle Bakery that is now within the Lower Fort – although they were far less expensive than the Battery Bistro where we eventually had lunch. However, the chocolate chip cookie I did buy, and shared with my grandson and pandas, was quite yummy. My issue is that sandwiches, like the cookies, are not authentic fare. Not that anything at the bistro, in the Upper Fort, serves anything authentic either. Their outdoor patio has a million dollar view of Lake Ontario. If given a choice another time I would go for the bakery.
Precision stepping and measured piping.
It might be expected that I was becoming quite worn out with so much to do! Fortunately I did have days I could just relax, go for a walk – most days it was too hot so I went to Cataraqui Mall, open late Monday through Friday, to get in my much needed steps. A visit to Picton, one of many small towns in Ontario’s wine country, to the local, exceptionally well attended and large, arts & crafts fair did nearly do me in despite having my hat, sunscreen, plenty of water from the refill station, and a few delicious choices to snack on. My daughter and I shared a giant pretzel, a variety of spreads (most of which I could not eat) before deciding we would not get dinner at the nifty, mobile fire truck pizza.
Firewood in a fire tuck!
We rocked out to Moist at Stringer Market downtown.
Attended a backyard bridal shower the following day.
Then a barbecue, complete with roasting marshmallows, the next evening!
I will be heading to Kitchener soon to spend three days before heading home on the train. The decision to return to Kitchener makes the most sense financially as well as a way to visit my family there again. I will avoid the expense of staying in Toronto overnight if I had left from Kingston by taking GO Transit from Kitchener very early the morning.
Expenses: after my trip to Ottawa I slipped in keeping careful track of everything – no real reason beyond laziness. However, despite yet another expensive day with my grandson, despite not having to pay an entry fee, I do seem to still be on track. (Speaking of which, my train trip to Kitchenerwas booked on Discount Tuesday by my daughter who will take my e-vouchers in payment = $60.00)
Bonnycastle Bakery: $1.60 cookie; Battery Bistro: $32.00 lunch for two
I was extremely fortunate to be treated to two wonderful days and nights in Ottawa by my daughter, and in a way my SIL. He worked, we played. I had only been to our capital city in the dead of winter – twice! If possible visit after all the ice has melted even if it means in the heat of summer. Choosing to only walk while there we barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do – much of which is free!
We ate out a lot! How could we resist The Cupcake Lounge with two trips through Byward Market? No photos so no guilt! I actually enjoyed the market more when I was there one winter. Go figure. Great restraint, half a cupcake after dinner, then half a one for breakfast. A boat cruise took us across to Hull, and gave a water view as we cruised past 24 Sussex Drive, a few embassies, the Rideau Falls, and so much more.
We took a tour of West Block, the only way to visit is to book a tour online. Well worth it, free, despite the very heavy security. Wherever we were water, sunscreen, a hat and places with AC were a necessity. We also put in a lot of stairs and walking. I would do it all again.
Expenses: what can I say here? I paid for so little. Two days in Ottawa for two people, staying within a stone’s throw of Parliament, could easily run into $600 – $1000. We had free accommodation, walked everywhere, took in free activities or my daughter paid. I hope I can return the generosity if she ever makes it back to the west coast.
Bytown Museum. Ottawa’s oldest stone building.
A great museum with a permanent collection plus temporary exhibits makes this a must see for visitors and locals, all for the incredible sum of $2.00 each. Can’t find a coffee for that!
The cynic in me turned around to get a shot of Cartier with his back turned to all. At least he is standing on the same side of the fence as all we commoners!
All lit up just before the stunning, and dare I say, made me proud to be Canadian.
Northern Lights is showing every night until September 8, 2019. A sound and light show depicting the history of Canada in a breathtaking show. Times depend on the month. We stood right at the ropes on the edge of the grass at the back, a great way to prevent anyone from standing immediately in front of us. Or take a picnic supper and sit on the grass. Did I mention it’s also free?
(Note: Staying in the country has its pluses and minuses: it is so peaceful; so much so that internet access is sporadic. I started to write and download this blog the evening I arrived – Thursday; another attempt and it is approaching lunchtime on Saturday.)
A final farewell to my daughter at the corner of King and Victoria, a grasp of the handle on my small suitcase to trundle my way to the train station and I was on my way to another adventure. My eldest daughter had hopped on a train heading from the opposite direction. Toronto beckoned.
I consider myself a seasoned traveller, and I have been to Toronto a few times, which meant a whirlwind trip of my not really doing much should have been easy. The trip from Kitchener to Toronto was uneventful other than leaving about ten minutes late. I read more of my book The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck) and arrived by 11:00am. Plenty of time to grab a cup of coffee, relax and look up the best way to get to where we would stay for the night.
I learned that the 24 hours we would be in the city would include a few firsts for my daughter’s friend who was joining her to go to a Kids On the Block conncert for her 40th birthday week. (When did birthdays become weeks? Perhaps only for milestone years) First time on a train. They arrived maybe ten minutes late, our friend took a lot of selfies, then we decided out best option would be a taxi to our stay after considering three people would only be a few dollars over public transit and we would not have to walk a couple of blocks.
I highly recommend checking out university dorms for a summer trip. CampusOne, on College St. is a shining new, extremely clean, 25 storey, quality dormitory. Our suite had four bedrooms, two full bathrooms and a small common area with a view that would normally cost far more than the $200 plus tax, including buffet breakfast, we paid. Lots of amenities and a short distance from Kensington Market, Chinatown and of course the University of Toronto.
Although the TV show King of Kensington was before my daughter’s time I remember it and was happy to finally make it to the popular market. Lots of shops to poke about in without even going inside, so many eateries it would take at least a full month of eating out for every meal and snacks, and a tattoo shop my daughter dearly wanted to be inked at. Common sense prevailed, time was tight and she would most likely be dancing up a sweaty storm at the concert. Another trip is stewing.
Meanwhile, although the temperature was mild we did feel as though we had been stewing in the sneaky humidity. It was time to stop at Dolce Gelato for what else, gelato! . Another first for our friend! My choices -of course I had two types, mango and pompelmo rosa (pink grapefruit-not allowed with one of my medications) – were delicious. We opted to have bowls and sat inside after our couple of hours wandering the streets. Before we knew it we had to head back to our rooms to change for dinner. I had been up for finding somewhere nearby, perhaps a Persian restaurant. I guess the friend was not quite ready for a foreign meal and my daughter had already discussed where we should eat. Irish Embassy Pub was booked, later I discovered primarily for the deep fried pickles.
The pickles ended up being a special request, seems they are only served after 10:00pm from the bar menu. Always ask, and have a good reason. That worked. The empty plate was certainly an indication they were excellent. (I do not like pickles) Pubs are never my first choice to eat at. They are noisy with loud, big screen sports channels and often music at the same time. This place was no different. Our table was tucked right next to the work space of the staff – thank goodness there was a high wall cutting off that view. The whole place just seemed too crowded despite several empty tables. I chose the crab and shrimp cakes plus a bowl of chips (aka french fries). Our friend had fish and chips. My daughter had baked Brie and chicken & asparagus soup. Another first for our friend, she had never had Brie, baked or otherwise! My shellfish cakes were wonderful. They really were real crab and shrimp. Being from the west coast I was rather worried. The fries were good, just too many. I forgot them in the common fridge at our stay. (There is not a fridge in any of the suites) The Brie was also delicious, and our friend was very happy with her fish and chips. However, unless I had nowhere else to go, and that is highly unlikely in Toronto, I would not return.
I was put in a snazzy, huge, black cab (like a SUV but far nicer) to go back to the dorm while my daughter and her friend walked to the Scotia Centre for the concert. I think I had the best of it, a room with a view of the CN Tower, slowly lighting up as the evening progressed, and some live Facebook action from my daughter and her friend of the concert – no jostling crowds, no screaming fans, no overheating, I was in a happy space.
I heard the ladies coming in around midnight. I had a dreadful sleep, the beds are hard and too high for me, making getting out of bed a bit of a death defying leap. However, for the price and the view I will return if with anyone. We could always use one of the extra rooms for our luggage. We had a decent selection for breakfast: scrambled eggs, three types of hash browns, bacon, sausages, and another meat selection in the hot section; two types of yogurt, fresh and canned fruit choices, various muffins or croissants, cereal and do it yourself toast. Of course there was coffee, tea, juice and milk. No hot chocolate, perhaps it is offered to students living there once winter sets in. The eggs were good, and I took some butter and jam for my muffin I expected to eat later when on the train.
When we checked out we were asked if we had gone to the lounge on the 25th floor. We had not; when told it was not a view to be missed we headed up. Once we caught our collective breath we headed back down with a plea to be allowed to go back up for about an hour as it as raining and our train would not leave until the afternoon. This is yet another view that people pay a lot of money for. There are two very decent size lounges, the one we were in has a 180+ panoramic view, of course including the CN Tower and downtown skyline. We had the place to ourselves until the last minute, as we were gathering our belongings six guests arrived. It was a peaceful end, or so I thought, to a nice quick visit to Toronto.
So what happened to shatter the peace? Without being too blunt I was not well. It was not the meal from the previous night, nor breakfast, nor the gelato, I just happen to have an ongoing, as yet undetermined why, issue that makes going anywhere iffy. Thank goodness we had factored in enough to time to walk to Union Station if we wanted to. Also for a drugstore very nearby and a Chinese Herbal medicine shop where I could have managed to state my dilemma in Mandarin if necessary – it was not. I stopped at both. I had a miserable walk, pushing and pulling my damn suitcase, yet I was not so poorly off, or willing, to want to chance getting into a taxi. When I lived in China I was given medication for diarrhea and had considered buying it in Victoria ever since this problem reared its ugly existence, it works wonders, Po Chai pills. A tiny vial of teeny tiny pills is one dose.
We made it onto the train with five minutes to spare. I napped, took the Po Chai pills, napped some more, and by the time we arrived in Kingston anyone might have thought I had just been difficult! My now very tall grandson and his girlfriend met us at the station, I was given a lovely hug, and we headed into the country where solitude, a big porch, dog and cat awaited us.
Expenses: $22.00 dinner (huge bite from my budget); $15.00 taxi. I did not pay for my gelato nor even a portion of the first taxi, and nothing for our suite. I will however repay my daughter for my train from Toronto to Kingston – $40.00. The two medications were paid for with a credit card, there is a good chance my daughter at home will not ask for me to repay that as this is an ongoing condition. That said, I spent more on food and local transportation in one evening than I had spent in six days!
A mini roundup seems necessary for me if not for anyone interested in what to do in Kitchener-Waterloo on a tight budget. A quick reminder, I am visiting family, ten days of which I will be petsitting while they are in BC – including staying at my place in Victoria. I also did not have to pay for the bulk of my food, they having happily (or at least not saying otherwise) paid for my groceries in exchange for the care of their dog and cat. I think they fared quite well considering kennel/cattery fees. I also do not eat much meat, and easily settled on none for the time being. I am leaning towards vegetarianism. With roughly $335.00 beyond my airfare I want to see how far I can make that stretch.
Keeping in mind that although I did not have to get coffee I did want to talk to someone at the new Starbucks in Kitchener about the lack of attention from service staff about payment method. Time to back up. I was not feeling great – time change, age and an ongoing problem had caught up to me. Yet I was determined to make something of the weekend. Back to SB. Twice now my supposedly points paid coffees were charged to the card – it’s on my phone so I did not notice the second time until the following day. This is frustrating when trying to stick to a budget even if the money does not come from me. I was not happy with the conversation and will rachet things up a notch.
It was the start of Pride month and, although I am not directly affected by homophobia, I do strongly support ridding the world of the prejudice, so I had planned to attend a music festival at a local park that was a public kick off for Pride month. My first stop, after the aforementioned coffee payment error, was to the Kitchener Market where I bought green onions, parsley, cilantro and zucchini. I was rather disappointed to discover that the two herbs were imported from the US. At least the price was decent. I had plenty of time to walk back to the house, make a picnic lunch and head down to the park for an afternoon of music. Except I did not make it. As it turned out just as well, by mid-afternoon rain poured down and thunder promised a further deluge. I took a nap.
The next day I was determined to go to the Tri-Pride March. (which I later found out is Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and area – so Quad+ Pride?) Very low key compared to what we have in Victoria or Vancouver, and a walk rather than a march – which I think would be a far more suitable title. I did manage to hang around long enough to see the Rainbow Flag raised, and even walked some of the distance – I had to go that way. By the time the relatively small group (200 or so) left I was ready to to go back to the house. I did get some pictures, even convinced a somewhat dubious young woman to pose with my companion pandas.
The whole weekend was not lost. I finally felt I could once again face the world, needed to get out, and walked to Balzac’s, a nearby coffee shop for a small coffee and a ginger cookie. The ginger for my tummy, the cookie part because I was feeling I needed to. When we travel staying put to read, write or even watch silly shows is just fine.
Expenses: Produce $9.00, Balzac’s (coffee & cookie) $5.60
A weird water fountain but easy to find. (We were not looking for it)
My daughter from Kitchener joined to spend a few hours in Toronto before she had to return home by GO train and GO Bus. We packed in as much as we could without becoming too exhausted. First stop was our hostel where we dropped our bags and paid for our beds. It was time to explore – after a late breakfast. Hostels are great for providing suggestions for where to eat and things to do. Le Petit Dejeuner 191 King St. E) was highly recommended. To our mutual delight they were right! A funky 1950s look with eclectic decor, a massive espresso machine, somewhat grubby and worn menus and a friendly welcome, I was sure we would each find something to satiate our hunger. I am particularly fussy about how my eggs are cooked so never order fried eggs and rarely – as in probably over 35 years or so – order poached eggs. However, I found I could not resist this item: Toast Champignon – A halved bagel topped with sauteed mushrooms, herbs, onions and bacon. Served with potato rosti and apple slaw. Oh my goodness, fabulous even if the poached egg was too soft for my taste.
After breakfast we checked out St. Lawrence Market, very impressive. I expect one could easily spend a week’s salary doing grocery shopping there. Meat and fish counters, all sorts of seasonal vegetables and fruit, an extensive display of exotic rice, tea, coffee, breads, and pastries are some of what I recall. We managed to just look – good thing we went after breakfast. We came across a play park being constructed that looked like it will be a lot of fun for when children and parents need a break and perhaps a picnic.
Despite not making it to some of the places on our list, not enough time and unsure of distance, we kept busy. First, a visit Toronto’s first post office (260 Adelaide St. E.) where we each tried our hand at writing using quill pen and inkwell in the reading room. Various letters, artefacts, photos and information about the history of the building and Toronto (originally York) were interesting as well as providing us with 40 minutes out of the heat! The front room once again serves as a post office (originally 1834-1839) after several decades in various uses before a fire in 1978. The Post Office and Reading Room are replicas of the 1830s.
Replica postal boxes: William Lyon Mackenzie King (Canada’s 10th PM) collected his mail here. No idea which box # was his. (All my PO photos came out cloudy)
I love stumbling across events such as summer music in churches or parks. We had passed St. James Cathedral a couple of times before I stopped to take some photos and saw the notice for Music at Midday. Dr. Giles Bryant – guest organist. He certainly has a heady CV! In 1979 Dr. Bryant was the organist and Master of the choristers at the Cathedral. He was at the door greeting some of those who wandered in as well as giving hearty hugs to, from what I overheard, former parishioners/friends he had not seen in decades.
The single toll of the bell rang out 1:00pm. Five pieces by Healey Willan were on the programme; the first Fantasia on Ad Coenam Agni’ (1906) followed by ‘Slane’Prelude for Organ (1967) which may explain why the latter was so subdued. Although I love music, including the organ, I am not at all familiar with composers or pieces. Organs are the original surround sound. Clarion ups and downs like hills and valleys. The first piece was too heavy on clatters for me until the magnificent bass booming behind me. Smattering of applause indicated other audience members were also unsure of how to respond. Although most likely technically far more difficult to play quiet, gentle pieces the heat turned the listening into a soporific torture. We left just as the third piece was finishing. I found it interesting to later read that was Scherzo (Five Pieces), it did not sound too playful to me.
I wanted to check if there any last minute tickets available for this production – next time
We continued to wend our way past historic buildings, parks and dizzying glass towers before it was time to walk back to Union Station to see my daughter board the GO and a final farewell. We headed back to the hostel to check in, find our beds and hide from the sun before venturing out again. This time to Eaton Centre. This is where everyone goes if they want to be out and about without getting scorched or frozen depending on the season. There may be a gym on one of the floors although there is no need for one – just walk up and down the corridors in a quest for elevators and escalators. Lots of ramps and stairs give a little more oomph to the workout. We found lunch on the bottom floor – we both chose beef and chicken shawarma. I was rather surprised when it came with rice and potatoes, also slaw of some sort. Or was that breakfast? I was rapidly beginning to fade yet glad to walk off some of my lunch before calling it a day.
HI Toronto is an extremely popular, busy hostel. Trivia, chocolate & whisky sour. Don’t forget the caffeine kick at 6:02pm – new pot of coffee made for me despite it being past the time for the free cup and two, count them, hotdogs. I ate one bun but both dogs. Did I even sleep? I should explain. A bed in a four bed dorm, mixed, will set you back $54.00 per person plus tax. This includes breakfast. But wait, just in case breakfast is not your thing dinner (wraps after 7:00) or even lunch (no idea what that might have been) can be chosen so long as it is under $15.00. Except Tuesdays are free dinner – that is where the hotdogs came in. Chicken or vegan – this place has nearly everything covered. Too bad there was not any relish. The free coffee (or tea, pop, maybe juice) was on the receipt – one only.
By the time I was ready to call it a night a Trivia game was about to start. Anyone could play using a mobile device. Mine were at the reception lounge and I was not really interested. I thought it would be recent trivia. However. With my daughter helping I found the App and signed in. Also with her help I did rather well, even coming on top for the last game despite it being all about Friends. My daughter said blank blank money in student loads and she has a useless degree and an encyclopedic memory of Friends. The organizer of the game had to find me though – I was still upstairs. I got a chocolate bar, and she gave my daughter a bar coupon. Which was exchanged for a ‘real’ whisky sour – I would not know the difference. Before the music started, live music most nights, open mic that night, I finally headed to bed.
My last morning in ON I was up with the birds despite not having slept well. Hostel dorms, and beds, do not make it easy for a good night and even less so when someone arrives at 4:00am, then their devices start to ping several times before 6:00am! As mentioned, Breakfast is included in the cost of the bed which is great except for having to wait until 7:30. It makes me wonder just how much sightseeing young backpackers pack into a day. In desperate need of coffee I asked where I could find the nearest Starbucks. At the corner. It is not that I am a huge fan of SB, I was trying to not spend anything which meant using rewards points – yay for my daughter who put her card on my phone!
Crossing the street I saw a man sitting in his wheelchair asking a young woman for something. As I approached, and while waiting for the next light, he asked me if I could buy him a coffee. I honestly said I have no cash. He said he did not want cash, just coffee then asked me if I as buying coffee for myself so I said yes. He asked how – rather impertinent but I responded anyway along with the side comment it was all I had. To which he said he understood being house poor. Of course I had to laugh, then I said no house but definitely poor! I crossed the street with the intention of possibly getting him that cup of coffee. Until I saw him accosting drivers on the street, using his wheelchair as a chariot flying full tilt. He did not get his coffee. However,he did unwittingly provide me with some early morning entertainment. I joined my daughter at the hostel where we each had a hearty Backpacker breakfast. Guess what, nearly all backpackers take the best of the free.
Rundown to home. UP to the airport. Then the inter-terminal train. Breezed through security. Flight delayed. Ate leftover toast, bought more coffee and some yogurt. Ate that. Finally departed about 55 minutes late. Very worried we would miss our connecting flight. Hurray for carry on bags and a great computer system. We arrived at the gate with a scant minute to spare before our next flight was to depart. Someone came on board, called our names and a narrow, Moses like parting of a path was made down the only aisle for us to follow. Our luggage was tagged and checked free of charge as we scurried to our seats. Fantastic views of the Rockies! Somehow the 65 minute flight from Calgary to Vancouver arrived ten minutes or so early! We grabbed our checked bags, raced for the Skytrain (yet another train) then the bus to the ferry terminal. Our first glimpse of the ocean in three weeks and all the tension of the wedding, intense heat, humidity, and all the rushing just melted away. My daughter asked, “Why would we want to move?” Why indeed – yet, we might.