Ontario Visit: Fleeting Glimpses – Via Rail Days 2 – 3i

For some reason it is taking much longer to write about my train ride than the actual trip took! However, the time has given my the opportunity to reflect on some of my notes, my very few photos and my hope to do it again!

After warming up from my chilly night in the dome car with an excellent cup of coffee – my own of course – and breakfast I spent a good part of my day staring out the window, reading my book and dividing my window time between my seat, the dome car and the gathering area where people chat, play games, eat and listen to the entertainment. Summer train travel is great for the entertainment side. Usually a small audience yet so appreciative. I am always happy when the powers that be have not allowed economy class to enjoy live music and a break from the eventual monotony or train travel.

I thought I had his name – nope! However, he is from Victoria so maybe I will see his picture somewhere he will be playing when not on-board.

By the time we reached Sioux Lookout time was approaching a standstill. We were not exactly behind, just going through Northern Ontario…..and going, and going. Getting outside was becoming a palpable need for all onboard.

We have some great names for places in Canada!

My seat mate left sometime before Sioux Lookout, I would have the two seats to myself for the remainder of my trip. Small mercies! Soon enough we were in Winnipeg where I was joined one woman to explore the Forks, an area I am now quite familiar with after a few trips to -even staying at – Winnipeg in recent years. The Forks is a great place to stock up, I bought a giant chickpea roti and a vegetarian Somosa (I seemed to have been eating these lovely bundles a lot) to supplement my packed meals. There was so much I expected they would last a couple of days.

I met up with two writers I had talked with while in line in Toronto who were travelling in the sleepers after their attempt to visit me and a fellow passenger onboard had been thwarted. Thinking on our feet one handed me her only business card to take a photo of for me to look up.

Although I have no idea what the book is about beyond her marriage the title intrigues me.

Once the train left Winnipeg, with a new crew, there was a sense of truly going west. Many passengers left the train yet it still seemed quite full, enough that I was a little worried I might lose my double seat.

Hedging my chances: It comes in handy when travelling with the backpacker essentials!

As I wound my way through the muskeg, rocks and mosquito laden land – firmly seated in the AC dome car – I was once again struck by how fortunate I am to be travel in our vast land even though on a cinched tight budget.

Shades of straw with goldenrod hues peeking through green fields and manmade blue ponds turning to mud – it was not yet drought conditions. Saskatchewan fields live up to the oft used patchwork quilt. Arrow straight, stitched side roads to forever. Lovely field of sunflowers appeared outside my window seat – a perfect, silent in memory of the death of my father nine years ago, born in Saskatchewan. Sadly I missed the Perseus Meteor Shower.

Stopped long enough in Saskatoon to walk to front of train!

Vanscoy, SK. Inevitable bales of hay.
Perdue, SK. A lot of flat fields, blue sky with fluffy clouds on this trip!

Then suddenly, we were in Alberta. Red hills, undulating, rolling, held in stasis until we pass. It was a strange sensation. We crossed over what was once (still?) the longest train trestle in Canada.

Dotted with cattle.

Wainwright Via Rail Station. A little worse for wear.

Many of us were train weary by the time we finally made it to Edmonton. I was in dire need of a shower. Upon discovering we had only three hours at a relatively new side station with the closest places 3 kilometres away walking in the oncoming mosquito infested dusk. (A few of us considered taking one of the taxis buzzing around much like the mosquitoes) settled to wash my hair in one of the Ladies Room sinks. I discovered I was not the only one!

Hurray, I was still at two seats when we pulled out about 45 minutes late, way past my bedtime in any province. The doldrums of day 3 were dissipating. We were headed to Jasper with visions of mountains to greet us in the morning.

Jasper! Mountains, fresh air, pine trees, rivers,, small town feel with so much to see and do. One passenger said he was equipped to camp for two days in the mountains before hopping back on the train. Winter vs. summer – the mountains appear tame with no sign of the bone chilling snow and ice. Do not be fooled. There are bears in them hills. The fellow said he had camped in Africa where the lions roam. (I have not heard anything about a missing hiker in the area so he must have survived) My closest encounter, soup and a small loaf of day old bread at The Other Bear Claw, now a favourite stop when in Jasper. It was time to sit back to enjoy the views.

Moroccan soup chock full with vegetables and chickpeas. Bread filled with cheese, basil & tomato

Back on the rails, expectations from nature – best quotes far. Upon seeing Thunder Falls on the far side of Moose Lake one passenger quietly exclaimed to her seat mate, “That’s it? We came all this way to see a trickle?” Much later Pyramid Falls silenced them. Except they wanted the train to stop!

Thunder Falls
Pyramid Falls

We passed a tiny place called Blue River, except it’s green – ribbon of molten moss. Passengers come and go – moving vignettes into the lives of travellers. Boredom was interspersed with the glories of canyons and mountains and eavesdropping. A call for a nurse or a doctor also meant we stopped along the way. Some sort of medical emergency. A nurse practitioner from economy class stepped up and it seems a doctor from the sleeper cars was also available. One of the crew members had her radio with her that crackled the ‘patient’ was conscious. It seemed they would be sent to a hospital in Kamloops.

I finally had to order a meal. Not always easy with dietary needs! The chef went out of her way to determine if there was anything I should not eat in some of the choices before suggesting a chef’s salad with an extra egg in place of the ham. Lots of fresh vegetables, and great garlic bread.

We arrived in Kamloops as the sun was setting before I was lulled to sleep with dreams of home.

Expenses: The Other Bear Claw – lunch $9.00; onboard dinner – $11.00 (I had reluctantly thrown out the other half of my roti bought in Winnipeg. It was delicious, just too much potato and chickpeas that seemed to upset my stomach. Just as well I did not have a seat mate!

Ontario Visit: Ottawa (2019)

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.

It was difficult to fit in a shot of the name, me & the pandas! You know, proof & posterity.

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!

Kinki Kitchen Lounge. Somehow we managed to share our light lunch!

Patty Boland’s – a bit on the seedy side with surprisingly good food! (I had the chicken tacos) Atop the bar is the best place to belt out a song and grab a quick drink.

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!

The Library of Parliament has also had to be rehoused – quite close to where we stayed. Sadly only accessible to Parliamentary staff.
I did not find out if the Peace Tower will also undergo renovations. The bell still tolls on the hour, and it seemed the half and quarter hour although we did not pay that much attention to the time. (Clock Tower with the Canadian flag)
Peace man! A little time to play before dealing with the ropes.
Rather like a cork popping up! Look through the for front boat to see the man in red to show how much the canal rose!

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?

The temporary Commons was built in the courtyard of the West Block.

Sorry for the poor quality; I want d to show the steel posts that are holding up the temporary Commons roof. The seats for the MPs were moved from Centre Block except for the Speaker’s seat. (Not in photo)
Many Canadians have family who served during war and peacekeeping; many still do and many serve. Let us never forget the commitment.
Let’s never forget that women were also there. Just as they are now.
We were walking along the Promenade where we came upon an elderly woman who had just fallen and most likely dislocated her elbow. My daughter, always a nurse, stayed with her (family was also there) until the paramedics arrived. I thought this display was apt.
The locks from below.

Mini-Adventure: Goldstream Park, the other side

At the beginning of the week my daughter and I were in the mood for a bigger adventure than our recent forays onto a few of the many fantastic trails in my area. Feeling boosted from our unplanned Mill Hill jaunt a week earlier we both believed we were prepared. Even the weather cooperated.

One of the negatives of hiking with anyone is time. I tend to wake up early – rarely sleeping past 6:30; my daughter stays up late reading or online, this means she is rarely up before 9:30. Despite knowing we needed probably a few hours from start to finish we decided to go with our usual flow of the day rather than feel pressured to be ready by a specific time. (This only works if you know the average time to cover the selected destination and back) We picked the Gold Mine Trail at Goldstream Park. Barely 30 minutes from downtown Victoria and only ten minutes from my front door. Park information showed 8.5km, average 4 hours return, difficult or, as the website states, strenuous.

Despite visiting Goldstream Park (designated in 1958) many times when my children were still children and excited to visit the river during salmon spawning I was not aware an additional extensive parcel of land had been designated for the park in 1994 and 1996 through the Commonwealth Nature Legacy and Crown Land on the other side of the highway that now includes an extensive, yet carefully laid out and managed, campground nestled at the base of trails. Not exactly the other side of the mountain – that is on the original side of the park – it is a relatively new place waiting to be discovered.

A gold mine tunnel – on Gold Mine Trail – stunning waterways, side trails to waterfalls, a Hidden Spring, massive trees, tiny, delicate flowers, furled ferns, and steep trails greeted us. The air was silent and still, we had managed to traverse ancient trails on a perfect day, protected from the sun, the slight breeze barely rustling the leaves. For at least an hour we did not even hear any birds – that was rather eerie. Eventually the guttural call of ravens in the distance penetrated the silence. I discovered a dead pigeon down a slight embankment, surely the dropped dinner of an eagle. Pigeons do not tend to live in the Westcoast forests. A lone garter snake, very healthy looking, lazed in the dappled sun, completely comfortable in his domain.

It is important to always be prepared, we had to cover portions of two other trails before reaching the Gold Mine Trail. The beginning of Prospector’s, a section of Arbutus, then Arbutus Ridge, before finally the trail we wanted. We think this may be one reason the 8.5km ended up being 12km! There are two options to begin at Gold Mine Trail if a parking space in one of the lots off the highway can be accessed – any left hand turn off the Malahat section of Island Highway without traffic lights is foolhardy. We had prepared to be gone for at least six hours. The first time to notify family where we were going and when we expected to be back to the car.

Never hike alone on the difficult trails, we did meet with a couple of people who chose to disregard this. Do they not read signs? Bears and cougars live in these woods. There are very dangerous drops if footing is lost. One very short length, perhaps eighteen inches, is particularly frightening, barely twelve inches wide with a slight slope towards a ravine on one side and an extremely solid tree on the inside that is too wide to hug gave me pause to wonder what the hell I had embarked on. Hiking with someone might not prevent a fall but it could mean faster rescue. I always carry a whistle with my keys, not too helpful when in my bag but better than nothing. We had decided to take only one bag for my daughter to carry in order for me to use my walking stick. Upon reflection we decided that for any hikes of more than 10km we need a pack each. Back to the trails. Despite steep switchbacks, an extensive, thick web of tree roots, natural and man made steps, we were bewitched enough to keep going a little further whenever one of us felt that last climb was enough.

The little discoveries, a broken down footbridge and the embedded sign on a tree pointing the other way, an old cairn, the giant tree fallen (it seemed too convenient to have been felled by nature – although definitely possible. I should have taken note if the very long, younger tree laid parallel to the path extended that far) then sawn through to open the way. We discovered uprooted, massive 600 year old Douglas firs, Arbutus wrapped around still standing tall, unyielding firs, and yes, a tunnel that was one of a few gold mine entrances. I had already wondered if we were following a trail where over equipped and exuberant miners had passed, or even earlier, local First Nations: “Goldstream is located on traditional fishing grounds of local First Nations. Old mining shafts and tunnels are all that remain of the gold rush that Goldstream River experienced during the mid-19th century.” (BC Parks) A plaque provides only a hint of a possible gold rush in the area. A quick peek inside the tunnel shows signs of braver than me recent visitors with graffiti covering most of the moss covered rock walls for as far as my phone flashlight could penetrate the dark.

Our destination was Niagara Falls, close to the now disused railway trestle, which meant that as we came close to the side trails to Hidden Spring Falls and Miner’s Spring we chose to not visit these. However, at the start of our hike we agreed that if either of us needed to turn around we would. By 1 3/4 hours of nearly continuous trekking I knew my energy was flagging and we would still have to return. We stopped for a snack, ALWAYS take food, and NEVER leave garbage. Two notes here, do not wait to have a snack and take more water – this is one reason we decided two packs are important. Replenished we walked for another 15 minutes before I said it was time to turn around. Niagara Falls will be there for another time and we could always try that nasty left hand turn.

Exactly four hours from when we left the car we were back. I sent a message saying we had returned like the good hikerI am trying to be, drank a bottle of water – always stored in the car fry emergencies – before heading home. We also discovered we did not have to take the highway now that the area where we live has drastically expanded. We are fortunate to live in such close proximity to the real wilds of the island.

Mini-Adventure: Witty’s Lagoon, Metchosin, Vancouver Island

The morning started with crisp air, pale blue sky semi-shrouded in grey-white cloud. Where had the double digit temperatures disappeared to? Ah yes, although clocks may have been set to spring forward Mother Nature was sticking to her timepiece. A quick telephone call to discuss when to meet with my sister – not solely based on the 8c – ensured we would most likely be finishing up our beach hike as high noon approached. As I had also suggested heading for lunch to the local, and afar, favourite Mychosen Cafe I was hoping a later arrival might be in our favour so we would not have a long wait for a table. I also woke my daughter up to ask if she wanted to join us – she did! I was definitely not going to be unattended.

We did not head out until just past 11:00! At first I thought that would be a rather late start, however, being only a ten minute drive away it really was not. Driving to the lagoon is fairly straightforward, the parking lot is off of Metchosin Road, with Mychosen Cafe barely a two minute drive further down the road. More on that later. This time I did not second guess taking my sturdy stick. I had taken my usual precaution to read up on the trail I expected we would be taking. One warning is that the trail can get muddy and slippery in some areas, along with narrowing at times I decided throwing caution to the wind would be asking for trouble. My sister and daughter think I tend to over prepare, I always carry water and a snack with me, plus a small emergency kit. I would rather have it with me and not need it. Fortunately, if anyone did suffer a fall or anything else there are usually several people walking the trail. Many had Alpine poles. I had my stick and my knee brace. We were ready to plunge into the forest.

Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park has two main trails, the Beach and the Lagoon, that branch off from the Nature Centre situated at the beginning of the walk. Both trails are classed as moderate. The trail slopes down towards a bridge and platform where the lovely Sitting Lady Falls can be viewed. (I later discovered there is better viewing from the Lagoon Trail, sadly not until we had finished for the day) Before we could see anything, other than a stream merrily heading beside, then under us, we could hear the Falls. Much like my love of lighthouses, trains and the ocean, I love waterfalls. Moss covered rock walls, ferns clinging to the sides, slick logs choking sections, the Falls were many feet below us, pouring into the relatively serene lagoon below. By far not as majestic as many Falls it was still pleasant to view. Sometimes a walk in a park does need grand gestures from nature.

The trail continues its downward spiral, indeed muddy and narrow in places, hikers here seem to have an unspoken code that allows passing without crowding. Several good mornings and hellos along the way provided a pleasant acknowledgement of spring finally in the air. From the Falls we entered into the cooling environs of green forest. We discovered one ancient arbutus, entwined around an ancient, craggy Douglas fir nestled in the cradle of the arbutus limbs.

A variety of soft mosses, blackberry spines still without new shoots, many shades of green dappled by the sun. Oh yes, the sun! We could hear and see birds – the haunting call of a raven, the triumphant call of return from Canada geese overhead, seagulls in the distance, ducks paddling in the lagoon, crows giving chase to something. There are 160 species of birds in the park – birders flock the area.

As we continued to wend our way down, it is always at least a slight decline going – steeper in several areas – I started to pick up the slight decay and renewal of forest with an undertone of ocean. Despite our many stops along the way we were soon entering marshlands before the trail opened onto the beach access. Slivering waves, kissed by sunshine, its rays enticed a bare cheek to lift the face to the far reaches of ocean and deeply inhale the salt, algae and tiny, damp stones that meet the finely ground sand. First beach day! Picnics appeared, children with boundless energy hopped from giant, ocean smoothed logs, dogs joining in the delight of the warming day. (For me the only negative the whole time was the dogs – they are not allowed on the trail or beach from June to September)

the ultimate in log cabins

50 Shades of Blue

We chose to walk along the beach at the narrow line where small stones meet the soft sand; although a little trickier at times so much more enjoyable to feel and hear the skitter or pebbles underfoot, or the soft shush of sand as it slipped around my shoes. Shells dropped by seagulls are plentiful, shining purple whorls insides are all that are left inside. A piece of blue glass, always a treasure when my children were young, a small, pale, quite dead, crab. And always the glitter of the ocean as it gently lapped the shores. Beyond, snowy mountains and still the pale blue sky from the early morning. When summer arrives families, teens and many others, will crowd the beach and go swimming in the shallows. For now it is the ducks and seagulls who rule. I wish I could have filmed one very funny seagull high-stepping its way across a sand bar, even as the water became deeper it appeared this gull was not about to ruffle his under feathers as he stretched his legs and twinkle toed it’s way to that eventual dip where swimming took over.

Too soon our stomachs reminded us that it was lunchtime, we reluctantly turned around to traverse uphill, the same slippery, muddy spots waiting to challenge us. Going in the opposite direction there is a whole new perspective. While we took our time to enjoy everything in reverse Lunch beckoned.

One young boy had an ice cream sandwich that was nearly as big as his face! I will have to share a treat with someone next time.

Seems everyone else had a similar plan. Mychosen Cafe opened in 1987 and quickly became a reason to go for a drive to the wilds of Metchosin. I have probably eaten there maybe ten times over the years, not once was I disappointed. Hopping busy, we were told to expect a 25-30 minute wait for a table. This despite being after 1:30. A good reason to carry snacks. Alright, there really are not too many choices when in Metchosin. The Sugar Shack is the ice cream and bakery that belongs to the cafe, or there is Mychosen Pizza. (Heading home I did see a newer place on the next property) Patrons do not mind waiting. You can visit the goats in the Critter Corral, check out the various fowl, or chat with a neighbour – even if you have never met before. Metchosin is still very much a country place.

The wait was worth it. The menu could be considered too extensive if they were not practically the only place in town. Gluten free choices are available (not good for anyone who cannot tolerate possible cross-contamination), several salads, French onion soup(nearly ordered that), of course hamburgers, sandwiches, wraps, breakfast and dessert. There is also a dinner menus for after 4:00pm. Choices, choices! I decided on the Metchosin lamb Greek Wrap with a 1/2 order of fries and 1/2 order garden salad. Garden salads are far too often disappointing, a chunk of iceberg lettuce, tomato and maybe a slice of cucumber, all with bottled dressing. Not at Mychosen. A fantastic mix of lettuce including baby red, beets (these have never seen a can), carrot, cucumber, croutons and one cherry tomato. (I do not like tomatoes so that was fine) I chose their raspberry vinaigrette house dressing. This was enough salad to have as a light meal. However, I still had the lamb burger wrap to tuck into. Yum. Nicely seasoned lamb, generous, wrapped with feta cheese, tzatziki, lettuce, & cucumber wrapped in a warm tortilla. The fries were fine, not heavily salted. I liked them better when I had half of my wrap and chips for dinner. The servings are that generous. No need to cook that night!

Another weekend adventure to rejuvenate the soul, exercise the body, and discover, or rediscover, a little more about where I live. I invite everyone to take some time to discover the hidden or forgotten jewels in their area.

Vietnam Motorbike Tour: Day Four

Whenever possible I like to have a view from my room when I wake up in the morning and had to ask my guide about changing my room in Bao Loc as it overlooked the entrance and had a very strong light that penetrated the curtains. I was promised a great morning view of the valley. I woke up to fog.


After breakfast we visited the Pongour Waterfall – well, I visited. I cannot recall if I have said that my guide takes me to various sites but usually does not join me as someone has to stay with our belongings. However, when it is possible, a little dangerous, or the route might be confusing, he is there to, well to guide me. Most of the time he just hands me my camera, says to enjoy and I am off to explore. I think only once so far have I not carried my small Lug with me. 

As far as waterfalls go Pongour is pretty impressive and far enough off the beaten track to make it remain untarnished by tourism – unlike Niagara Falls in Canada. The falls tumble over natural steplike ridges which means rather than roar it cascades with a musical lilt – turned high but pleasant all the same. The terrible part of this visit is that I managed to delete two days worth of photos! I am hoping I did not make it permanent. Especially after carrying my camera all the way!

One can only hope the area will remain unmarried by vendors
Roadside lunch.

We visited Chicken Village, about 600 Co Ho people live there, where I was encouraged to find the chickens that are different from other chickens. Alright, I am not anywhere near a chicken expert but I have seen enough to know there many kinds. All I could say was all the chickens had gone to bed except for one that ran away with her chicks, one in a field and another that fled into the coop. I also noted the giant chicken at what appeared to be a defunct aquaduct. Did all the chickens perhaps drown I asked, or could they swim? Then the story as to how Chicken Village got its name. Several years ago the government had the bright idea to build a system for the village to get water, engineers and designers came to view the land. While there one of them was told the myth of the area.
Playing on the coffee beans at Chicken Village

A young woman fell in love with a poor young man, and he with her. They wanted to marry but he was too poor so the family said no. (In this particular minority group the man has to go to live with the family of the wife) The couple begged for her family to change its mind. Finally relenting a little they told the young man that if he could find a rooster with nine spurs he could marry into the family. He searched and searched but of course he could not find such a chicken. However, still in love the young woman told her family she would also search for a chicken with nine spurs and set out into the jungle. She was never seen again having been eaten by wild animals, perhaps a tiger. So the engineer and designer erected a giant rooster with nine spurs at the aquaduct in memory of the myth. Although the rooster remains the aquaduct is not used after more modern methods or water were found. It appeared it may have never been used. And that is why Chicken Village is a motorbike tourist destination.

One big Chicken!

From Bai Loc to Da Lat we kept passing by lion dancers, either preparing to dance or dancing. As in several dozen! Also one dragon dance. We could not stop for any of them although I really wanted to. It was as though they were announcing our arrival too each area. The colourful costumes, red, yellow, green, blue and even one pink one, with their fringes and sequins shaking and dancing was enthralling. Each small group also had a drummer and some had cymbals. The people in central Vietnam know how to celebrate a festival. Much later, in Da Lat as I was finishing a lovely dinner of spring rolls and a fabulous dinner of noodles with lots of vegetables, a lion entered the restaurant! I was thrilled and hoped I managed a few good photos before it headed down the street to another storefront. The drumming was still going strong into the dark night – I fell asleep to the beat. I later found out that all the young people who do the lion dance collect money at each stop – much like Spring Festival at home in Chinatown.

Have you ever asked a dancing lion to keep still?
I treated myself to dinner out at a place that was on Tripadvisor – except I made the decision solely based on the look of the place and the menu and completely forgot the name!

View from my room. Up the street, the hill, was the direction of where I ate. This seems to be my only photo of Da Lat,
Expenses: 220,000VND = 12.20CAD