Showing posts with label travels. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travels. Show all posts


more trip pics on flickr

More photos from our drive west are now on my Flickr page: here.

I'll also be adding to the sets vancouver island and vancouver island north as we explore.


the move west: day nine: delta to port hardy

We are here! At our new home! Very excited!

We had a reservation on the 10:15 ferry from Tsawwassen to Nanaimo, but we had to get there super early. If you get a lower berth, you cannot stay in the car -- which means we'd have to stay in the designated pet area with Diego. (You can leave your dog in the car by itself, but you know that's not gonna happen.) We wanted to make sure we had a spot on the upper deck, but you can't reserve that. This meant getting to the ferry very early. We were the second or third vehicle to check in, and M & SIL were right behind us in the truck.

Waiting to board, we listened to the end of the Westlake book and an interview with David Yaffee, who wrote the recent biography of Joni Mitchell. That was notable mainly for our disagreements with the author.

Eventually the boarding began. We happened to be parked right near the pet area. Turns out that is a little glass enclosure, about the size of an elevator, with a few built-in crates and two small benches. That would mean Diego would have to be in an enclosed area, on his leash, with other dogs. If you remember our Diego training, his issue was leash reactivity. He came a long, long way, further than I ever imagined he could do. But on-leash in an enclosed space with other dogs? Round two of not gonna happen.

So Diego slept in the back seat, and we mostly stayed in the car with him. The captain announced that a whale was visible on one side of the boat. We went to the wrong side -- and saw school of dolphins! A few moments later, the captain announced those, too. There must have been 10 of them, white and black, diving through the waves, very close to the boat. Beautiful.

Once off the boat, we all drove to Campbell River for some shopping. Campbell River is the closest big town to the north island towns -- the closest collection of big-box stores. Allan has been obsessed with buying a dehumidifier before we move in (as opposed to a few weeks later when we'll be there again). We used to have a dehumidifier, lost in the flood, and it was really effective. So to Campbell River we went for Canadian Tire, and while we were there, a bit of food shopping and a liquor store.

Then we drove. And drove and drove and drove. A winding country road, dense forests on both sides, intermittent heavy rain, and plenty of fog, just to keep things interesting. I thought Allan was driving fast, but every other vehicle on the road passed us as if it was bright daylight. Hundreds of kilometres of deep forest, rain, and fog. The mileage signs were all "my" libraries! All the libraries that I'll be responsible for: Woss, the ferry to Sointula, Port Alice, Port McNeill, and Port Hardy. It was a long, tiring drive, mostly because it was night, and we had had enough driving, and also because we didn't know where we were going. Eventually, the road ended, and voila, there was a town! Lights, stores, houses. Port Hardy!

We knew the house as soon as we saw it, and the rental agent was waiting for us -- with a fire going in the fireplace! The house is way nicer than I imagined. For many reasons, I don't like to go into details about living spaces; suffice to say that we were very pleased. You know, many people have remarked that it's amazing (or crazy or foolish) that we're renting a house we had never seen, in a town we'd never been to. But really, isn't that what people have always done? Before there was modern technology, anytime people emigrated or relocated, they went to towns and cities they had never seen before. When I graduated university, I applied for theatre administration positions in regional theatres all over the US. I was hoping for someplace fun like San Francisco or Chicago, but wherever I landed a job, I was going to move, and chances were good I would never have been there before. (As it turned out, I did the thing I was told was impossible: got a job in New York City.) All this to say that moving to a place you've never been is far from unprecedented, and in some situations, it's the norm.

I called my mom to say we were here and that we love the new place. She was overjoyed. Overjoyed is my mom's default setting these days, so when she's extra happy, it's through the roof.

M and SIL were in town before us, but they went to the local supermarket and waited for us to get in touch. We had no phone service on the drive up, but we all had signals in Port Hardy. (I expected that, but it was still nice to get confirmation.) We did a little house tour with the agent, then M and Allan started to bring in the "back of truck" stuff, the boxes and bags we had reserved for our first night and the following morning in an empty house. Then things went south. Spoiler alert: it ended up OK. Spoiler spoiler alert: we think, we hope, we still don't know for sure.

The back-of-truck boxes were soaking wet. The cardboard was pulp and came away in chunks. The plastic around the mattress was filthy with mud. The futon was wet. Boxes with sheets and towels were soaked through. What did this mean for our books, our furniture? Had everything in the truck been getting wet all along? Was our stuff mostly ruined?

We stood in the garage, trying to figure out next steps. Someone noticed the emergency water jugs... and then we realized what happened. Or what we think and hope happened. We had two huge water jugs, probably 5 gallons (20 litres) each. The water froze, the plastic containers cracked, then the ice melted, and things in the very back of the truck got wet. My computer was in one of these -- but it was bubble-wrapped, and was dry. Towels and sheets, washable. The mattress, under the plastic sheeting, had a few splats of mud, but there's an outer cover that's also washable. The futon will dry and we'll vacuum it. All told, no real damage done -- if that's what happened. I am reasonably certain that all is well. But we'll feel much better when we see everything is safe and dry.

Eventually we put a blanket on the floor, busted out the champagne, and had a picnic. My system worked: we found sheets, pillows, towels, and the all-important equipment for morning: coffee, coffee maker, kettle, tea bags.

People we've hired to unload the truck are coming (we hope) later this morning. All systems are go.


the move west: day eight: sicamous to delta bc

Sicamous looked like a sweet little town, nestled on the shore of the Shuswap River, with mountains visible on two sides. We had breakfast at Grandma's and Grandpa's Family Restaurant. Most of the customers -- seniors at that time of day -- seemed to know each other and were talking very loudly. When I went to pay at the front, the woman said, "So where are you folks bound for now?"

I said, "Port Hardy."

She said, "That's an interesting place for a vacation."

I said, smiling, "Actually, to live."

"To live? Now that's really interesting!" She looked eager, so I thought I'd pile it on.

"Yes, relocating from Toronto."

Her face lit up. "Oh my! Everyone will be very interested to hear this!" What a riot.

The drive out of Sicamous towards Vancouver started out very scenic and lovely. When we reached the Coquihalla Highway, it started to rain lightly and was sometimes icy. We had been warned that this highway, which runs through the mountains, is prone to sudden changes in weather, from sun to rain to snow and back again in an instant. It was a beautiful, dramatic drive around and through mountains, until it started to rain hard, and was just a nuisance.

In Hope, where the highway straightens out, on the way to Chilliwack and Abbottsford, we stopped for more A&W -- not quite the In-N-Out saga I've indulged in when in California, but still more fast food than I need for a long time to come. I did try their "Beyond Beef" meatless burger. Great idea, glad that they're offering it... nowhere near as yummy.

After that it was rain, rain, rain for the rest of the drive. Yes, we were warned!

We're staying at the Coast Tsawwassen Inn, a few minutes from the ferry to the Island. It's a cut above our Super 8s -- actually several cuts above -- and very pet-friendly. They gave me a little bag of dog treats, tied with a ribbon, when I checked in!

The room has a little sitting area. I lay down on the couch, and woke up three hours later. Allan, M, and SIL had eaten dinner; Allan brought something back for me, and I dimly recalled half waking up to answer some questions.

This is our last night in a hotel! Tomorrow night, Tuesday, we'll be in the house. Wednesday, people are coming to unload the truck, and our internet is being installed on Thursday. Until then, I'm hoping to compose in another app, then post through a data connection. I moderate comments on my phone, so we should be able to keep the blog running.

I've gotten so much great feedback about this travel journal, both here and on Facebook. I really appreciate you reading this. It's wonderful to know you're out there.

We're super excited! It's especially wonderful to see Allan so happy.

the move west: day seven: calgary alberta to sicamous british columbia

It's very exciting to be past the mountains and in BC! We're having a really good time. It feels like we're on some kind of weird vacation where we don't do anything but drive and eat, and when we're done, we'll go back to where we live -- in Mississauga.

Yesterday we had breakfast at an IHOP, then hit the road. It was cold, bright, and sunny. I had been checking weather conditions regularly, and there was no snow in the forecast at any location on the route.

From other people's photos, I knew at some point, leaving Calgary, we'd be on a straight, flat highway with the mountains in front of us. It was exciting to get our first glimpse of the Canadian Rockies!

The drive through the mountains was spectacularly scenic. All the evergreens were laced with snow, or sometimes covered in ice. And the snowy trees seemed to go on forever in all directions, undulating hills upon hills of snow-covered trees. Behind the trees, huge walls of brown rock jutting into the sky, and behind those, snow-covered peaks. We were both bowled over by the beauty, not really talking much -- no music and certainly no Dortmunder! -- just drinking it all in. Allan drove and I took a lot of photos.

Once when we stopped for Diego, there was an interpretative exhibit about the animal crossings built around the TCH in Banff National Park (the section of road we were on). I didn't know that Parks Canada pioneered the use of animal crossings. I also didn't realize that the funny-looking overpasses we saw were overground animal crossings.

The exhibit had a display version of the crossings, both underground and overhead. There are 44 animal crossings in Banff. The exhibit said that even the most secretive animals -- the lynx and the wolverine -- use the crossings. There are evidently tiny cameras set up in at least some of the crossings, and some photos were on display.

There are also high fences on either side of the highway. When these were first built, animals could jump over or burrow under them, so Parks Canada made the fences both taller and deeper.

I found this exhibit really touching. It had some lovely text on how the Trans Canada Highway connects the country and allows us to visit our families and experience all regions, and how the highway crossings has allowed animal families to live their lives, and resulted in more coexistence with nature. If you're interested, there are some faqs here, more links here, and very good images of the crossings and animals using them.

The road itself was completely oversold, in terms of challenging or scary driving. There's one section with a series of S curves -- and that's about it. It's actually a less challenging road than the drive around Lake Superior. Sure, you want to do this in good weather, and you want to have a full tank of gas and good brakes -- in other words, basic preparation -- but other than that, there is nothing to be concerned about. Even if you had to drive it in snowy conditions, it would be doable, although unpleasant.

During this drive, we passed the provincial border into BC -- whoo-hooo! -- and at some point entered the Pacific time zone. Ohmygod, this is where I live now. In the west! Whoa.

When the mountains and parks end, there's a town called Golden, and we stopped there to pick up some food. It has a sweet little historic downtown, and we got amazingly delicious grilled sandwiches at the Big Bend Cafe. When we got back on the highway, we saw our truck at a gas stop. I texted SIL to ask if it was them, and it was. For once, we would arrive first -- although only by a minute or two.

The rest of the drive was lovely, through forested areas and lots of mountain resorts. It would be much nicer, however, without all the billboards. There are a lot of them. There is no escaping advertising; I find it so depressing. Once we passed Revelstoke, we knew we were almost there. I purposely booked in the less famous and less expensive town of Sicamous, just a little further down the road.

We're staying at another Super 8. The parking lot adjoins a pub and liquor store. We all (including Diego, of course) hung out in SIL/M's room for some wine, then popped Diego in his little house, and walked over for dinner. Unbeknownst to us, it was Grey Cup, and most people at the pub were watching the game.

I've been waking up at crazy hours, even for me, and unable to go back to sleep. Then at night I'm tired and fall asleep early... so I wake up even earlier. It's getting really ridiculous. I'll have to have one night without alcohol, so I can stay up later and maybe reset my body clock. But a night without wine?! Life is so unfair.

Today we drive to the Vancouver area, and are staying very near the Tsawwassen ferry terminal. Tomorrow morning, we'll take the ferry to Nanaimo, and drive home... to a place we've never been!

Photos of our drive through the Rockies are here.


the move west: day six: swift current saskatchewan to calgary alberta

Greetings from Mountain Time! I had a friend from Denver who always said Mountain was the forgotten time zone. He may have been right: we forgot about the hour time difference until we saw the time on a bank sign.

On the way out of Swift Current, the highway was a bit slippery, not from recent snow, but from compacted snow and ice that hadn't been cleared. We saw a few trucks in the median that had slipped off the road; we did have to drive a bit more carefully, but nothing scary.

The land looked more like ranch and grazing land than farmland, and we did see a lot of cows and some buffalo. I'm glad to see them out eating grass the way they should be. I spotted a few animal crossings, the tunnels built under highways. The land was also less flat, with low, rolling hills, but still unbroken to the horizon. There were looong stretches without a town in sight.

We listened to more Dortmunder -- we're both getting a little bored and want the book to end soon -- and coordinated the airport pickup and a U-Haul issue with M. An engine light is on, and although the truck is driving fine, we want to get it sorted before driving into the mountains. U-Haul is supposed to have roadside assistance.

Speaking of "supposed to have," I was unsurprised to learn that the "third stay free" Super 8 promotion is pretty much a bait-and-switch. It's a program through the parent company, Wyndham, and the front desk person at the Calgary Super 8 didn't know anything about it. After some discussion, we checked in in the usual way, then once in the room, I poked around the Wyndham Rewards website.

Yes, we are earning points for these stays, but they aren't credited right away, and they have an expiry date. In other words, the program is worthless. I plan to complain, only because I think companies should hear from us (all of us), but I know it will do absolutely no good. Luckily the Super 8s have been fine, actually pretty nice, and the rates have been good.

While I'm complaining about hotels, here's my recurring complaint about the supposed green policies at most hotels. Reusing towels or sleeping on the same sheets two nights in a row are logical actions to take -- except that those actions end up cutting hours for underpaid hotel workers. Meanwhile, the hotels are using disposal cups in all the rooms. Even worse, many of the in-room coffee makers use disposable filter holders -- instead of putting the filter pack in a tray that's part of the coffee maker, the filter pack comes with its own single-use tray. It's incredibly wasteful. And of course there are the little bottles of shampoo and other hygiene products. We've stayed in hotels with good environmental practices, I know it's possible to do. It's not green to push more families into poverty and to increase income inequality.

My former co-workers and union team will be interested to hear there was a strong scented air "freshener" in our room when we got in. I'm one of the people who benefited from the City of Mississauga's scent-free workplace policy, and several times had to deal with violations, both as a supervisor and a sufferer. We were in our room for about 30 seconds when I started coughing violently. Allan got rid of the scent thingies and I opened a window, and avoided a full-scale asthma attack. I will definitely mention it to the manager on our way out.

The room is much nicer than I expected for the price, once I was able to breathe.

I got Diego settled, M dealt with U-Haul, and Allan picked up SIL from the airport. Diego went absolutely berserk with happiness when he saw SIL -- leaping about, jumping up to kiss her over and over, then barking furiously to try to get SIL to greet him the way he wants -- hands-on. SIL was a bit freaked out; who wouldn't be? Of course, we all knew SIL was coming today, but Diego didn't. To him it was the most amazing and wonderful surprise! Ah, dogs. We are so loving traveling with him.

The hotel is in the middle of big shopping area -- it looks exactly like Mississauga -- so we went down the street to an East Side Mario's for dinner. (Non-Canadian readers, that's Canada's version of The Olive Garden.) After dinner all three of us went to M/SIL's room to drink wine, but SIL and I quickly conked out. I've been getting up ridiculously early every day; my brain is still on Eastern time.

Today, the mountains! There's no snow in the forecast and we're closing in on the end of the journey. Thanks for coming along. It's fun to know that friends are following our progress.


the move west: day five: brandon manitoba to swift current saskatchewan

Greetings from the prairies!

Yesterday was a good day. I fell asleep super early the night before, had a great sleep, then another amazing breakfast, this one at Smitty's, next door to the hotel. Then we hopped in the car, put it in cruise control, and went back to the Donald Westlake book. In northern Ontario I couldn't listen to a book while driving, but in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, it's a breeze.

Allan and I both find the landscape fascinating. The highway is a straight black ribbon in the middle of a vast expanse of land, stretching to the horizon in all directions. The sky is huge. For long stretches of time, the only buildings you see are grain elevators, and the occasional clumps of trees planted as a windbreak around a farmhouse.

The fields are mostly covered in snow, although it doesn't seem deep. Sometimes on first impression, we couldn't tell if an area was a snow-covered field or a frozen lake, that's how flat everything is. It looks like we won't catch one of the legendary sunsets, but driving west on a cloudless day, I end up cursing at the sun.

While Allan was driving, I took care of some business: confirmed with our move-in help, checked in with the house agent, and fixed a motel reservation in Calgary.

Other than Dortmunder, the event of the day was a food search. A&Ws are very common out here, and seeing so many of them, I wanted to have a (for me) very rare fast-food lunch. Does Tim's or Subway count as fast-food? I eat those. But I don't eat McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, or KFC. But once a year or so, I give in to a craving and eat A&W, which is an improvement over the others. There was an A&W at a gas stop in Ye Olde Middle of Nowhere, but we weren't hungry yet. And then, nothing.

We passed billboards advertising the tunnels of Moose Jaw. The show sounds like a cheesy tourist trap, but the tunnels themselves sound strange and interesting. Allan likes anything underground, so we'll make a note of that for a future visit. But no A&Ws, and practically no rest stops on the road.

Around Regina we were getting really hungry, so I searched online for an A&W off but near the highway. We had plenty of time, and the driving is so easy here, we figured an extra 10 or 15 minutes won't hurt. So outside Regina somewhere, we took an exit, found the restaurant, ate, and got back on the road. And about 500 metres down the highway: a rest stop with an A&W.

Then more Dortmunder, to which I fell asleep and missed a chunk of story, then we pulled into Swift Current, meeting M at the Comfort Inn.

None of us felt like going out, so A and M went out to forage, and I relaxed with Diego. Last night we all hung out in our room, listening to music, drinking beer, wine, and vodka (I'll let you guess who was drinking what). They had picked up food for dinner, but apparently eating burgers and onion rings at 3:00 is enough dinner for me. Good to know.

A couple of days ago, I thought Diego might be a little depressed. It's understandable -- many dogs would be upset by long days of driving without much pay-off at the end, night after night in strange surroundings. (That's why we brought his bed and a crate.) But our happy boy can't stay down for long. Yesterday he came roaring back, thrilled to jump in the car, bouncing all over with happiness and affection.

Diego also might have been reacting to the general stress levels, now greatly reduced. Our final week in Mississauga was pretty stressful, and we brought that with us for the first couple of days of the trip. But we're much more relaxed now, and have the car-truck-hotel thing down to a science. Allan hates the daily loading and unloading -- there are a lot of bags going in and out -- but at least we know what we need, and it goes quickly every day.

Leading up to this trip, so many people -- both online and in person -- acted like we were insane to even attempt this drive in late November. I am not exaggerating: they acted like we were crazy daredevils, as if there are white-out conditions every day, that we would be risking our lives daily.

It's quite ridiculous. Even in the deepest winter, it doesn't snow every day, and after a big snow, the roads get cleared, and people go about their lives. All of Canada doesn't shut down from snowstorms every day.

We bought snow tires, we packed emergency gear, and I am checking weather and road conditions frequently. But we're driving on roads that thousands of people drive on, without incident, every day.

Allan and I have talked about this a lot, in many different contexts. I find Canadian culture values what I consider an excess of caution.

Today we head to Calgary, where SIL will join our little caravan. We're all very excited about that. The mountains await, and then we're almost there.


the move west: bonus track

If you are following along, you might want to check comments, too. Allan often has interesting notes that he adds as comments. From yesterday:
So we passed the geographical centre of Canada today. Tomorrow morning (Friday), we will pass the halfway point in distance on the trip. That will be roughly in Fleming, a small town about 50 km across the border into Saskatchewan.

The deer carcass was amazing. Diego was riveted to a big clump of fur in the grass. Once I saw a few clumps of fur, I realized they were everywhere. They had not been snowed on, so the deer had probably not been there more than a day. I did not see anything resembling a skull, but there was a bottom-half of a leg that looked untouched. Seeing that a few hours after the wolf was pretty cool.

I love looking at maps and finding interesting town names. Here are a few from Manitoba: Overflowing River, Brokenhead, Tolstoi, Snowflake, Altamont. ... I found many more cool names in Saskatchewan, which I should save for tomorrow. Sneak peek: Laura, Allan.

Distance report:
Monday: Mississauga to Sudbury: 388.7 km / 241.5 miles
Tuesday: Sudbury to Wawa: 551.3 km / 342.5 miles
Wednesday: Wawa to Ignace: 744.2 km / 462.4 miles
Thursday: Ignace to Brandon: 672.2 km / 417.6 miles
TOTAL TO DATE: 2356.4 km / 1464.1 miles
Also in comments, reaction to "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" -- like a throwback to the early wmtc. Nice.


the move west: day four: ignace ontario to brandon manitoba

We are finally out of Ontario! We had a lovely and eventful day -- including a visit with a friend and a wolf sighting!

We got up and ready very early this morning, thanks to some insomnia on my part. Too much salt plus vodka before bed equals Laura doesn't sleep well. It's not like I don't know that. I just sometimes lack the discipline to do what I should.

It was decidedly less freezing today, with a low of only -10 C and a high of +2. I scouted out a spot for breakfast, about an hour down the road (the TCH) in the town of Dryden. Allan got us tea and coffee and muffins so my head wouldn't explode during that hour. The local chain is Robin's Donuts. We saw them all through northern Ontario, too. The muffins are really dense and seem to be whole grain. The glazed donuts give you a toothache just by looking at them. I'm not into donuts, so I can't tell you how they compare to Tim's or Krispy Kremes.

Right before we left Ignace, Allan remembered that Diego had been looking for something under the bed. He brought the flashlight in from the car... and found "planet" -- Tala's favourite comfort toy. Diego has inherited it, but during Tala's lifetime, he was not allowed to play with it. We would have been heartsick to realize it was gone.

In Dryden, the Patricia Inn Family Restaurant served a terrific diner breakfast, with a choice of home fries (cubed) or hash browns (shredded) potatoes, and fantastic omelets, plus friendly servers. These diners all have desserts that have gone out of fashion elsewhere. I may just have to have some lemon meringue pie before this trip is done.

After breakfast, we were motoring down the highway, still hilly and wooded at that point. As we came down a hill, I saw an animal loping across the road. I thought it was a coyote, but as we slowed down and got closer, I thought... could that be a wolf? It crossed the highway and then continued down a slope. As we drove by, I got a very clear look at its face: it was a Grey Wolf. My heart soared. If you read wmtc, you may know I am fascinated by wolves -- by all wild canids, but especially wolves, the most majestic animals on earth, the princes of nature. I've seen wolves in wolf centres, but the chances of spotting one by chance in North America is very slim. I was thrilled.

We started listening to an audiobook today. I normally can't do audio -- I can't concentrate -- but I thought I would try again on this trip, choosing something a little less challenging. I've been reading Donald Westlake's Dortmunder novels, comic crime capers that are so funny and entertaining. Allan also loves Westlake -- he reads the Parker novels -- so this is something we would both enjoy. I found two Dortmunders on audio. We also have a podcast Allan wants to hear, and a CBC radio documentary about George Orwell. I'm finding I can mostly listen to the book, but only as a passenger. I can't really drive and listen at the same time. I'm not sure this is going to work. But we'll keep trying.

We soon crossed into Manitoba; neither of us has been in this province before. Almost immediately, the terrain flattened and the road straightened. You can see forever.

One time when we stopped for Diego, Allan came hurrying back to the car to get the camera. When he returned, he told me there was a carcass of a deer in the woods, partially eaten. He saw clumps of hair from a deer all along the embankment, so we speculated that the animal may have been hit by a vehicle, then dragged into the woods by enterprising coyotes.

Our friend in Winnipeg texted us a link to the marker for the longitudinal centre of Canada. We stopped for a couple of pictures. As you can see, I'm not attempting a photo journal of our trip, but this was just too good to pass up.

Soon after that, we ran into M and the truck at a gas stop. He asked if we had pulled off the road to see a dead animal! Maybe our car is bugged.

In Winnipeg, we found our way to a Tim Hortons, and met J and J there. I know J through the War Resisters Support Campaign. They are both Quakers, and have lived on Vancouver Island, among other places. I learned that one of the Js is originally from the US, and emigrated to Canada the same time we did. It was wonderful to see them -- really a highlight of the trip. Plus they gave us a big batch of homemade cookies. (I know there's a lot of food in these posts!)

After Winnipeg, we continued down the highway two more hours to the town of Brandon. I fell asleep during a chapter of Dortmunder. (I wasn't driving!)

In Brandon, we're at another Super 8, this one crazy inexpensive and quite nice. Once we got Diego situated, we went next door to a Smitty's for dinner, this time with M. Smitty's is something like a less obnoxious Denny's. I had a cobb salad and my daily glass of red wine.

Today we did 670 kilometres, down from yesterday's peak of 706. From now on, we'll have a little less driving every day -- but that's deceptive, as one leg is through the mountains.

Thanks for reading!

the move west: day three: wawa to ignace

Yesterday was notable for several reasons.

We've made it to the Central time zone.

We've never been here before -- once we passed Kakabeka Falls, we're further west than we've driven in Canada.

This is the first night of five provinces in five days, something Allan loves, and I also think is cool.

And it didn't snow!

From Sudbury to Wawa was 488 kilometres and it was a long, grueling day. Yesterday we drove 706 kilometres and it was so much easier. Yesterday was also the longest planned leg of the whole trip. From now on the driving will be a little less each day.

We started the day with a big breakfast at North of 17, the same place we had dinner the previous night. This excellent breakfast included toast made from homemade bread. As I said, the diner of my dreams.

I was getting a bit stressed about the time. I woke up at 6:00, got Allan up at 7:00, yet somehow we were getting on the road close to 10. I was worried that we'd be driving at night again. A and M reassured me: a portion of every day's drive will be in darkness, and that's just the way it is. The daylight hours are short, and we can't start early enough to stop before dusk. If we did, we'd be driving in the dark anyway -- in the morning. This made me feel much better. One more thing to let go of.

The weather was sunny and cold again, emphasis on the cold. The windchill was -30 C (-22 F). For weeks I've been saying that on this trip, I'll go for a good walk with Diego every morning, and we'll walk him together every evening. It never occurred to be it might be too cold for that! Diego is getting a little antsy from lack of exercise, but there's not much we can do about it right now. It is just too damn cold. (PS: it's +8 C in Port Hardy right now.)

The first part of the drive was really beautiful, with amazing views of Lake Superior, and surrounded by snow-covered evergreens. The road was completely clear -- in fact, as soon as it started to snow the day before, there were plows out -- and seemed newly paved. We switched driving a few times and "made good time," as the saying goes. Somehow we can't find our ice scraper, so when we stopped for gas, I picked one up along with three (small) bags of chips, which became our lunch. Not good. I don't need a giant salt infusion in the middle of the day.

Speaking of which, we've had some discussion about what to do about eating on the road. M would prefer we stop at a supermarket, buy food to take with us, to save money and be more self-sufficient. Allan and I will sometimes do that on road trips, but on this trip, that just feels like too much work, and kind of unpleasant. We can't eat outside (obviously) so that means eating in the car. How much money or time would we really save? Allan and I agree that we don't want to go to a restaurant and spend an hour on lunch, but we could pop into a Tim's or something similar. With everything this move is costing us, spending a few more dollars on food is fine. Right now convenience and a bit of comfort are more important than economizing to that extent.

Around Thunder Bay, the highway widens and mostly straightens out, and we were able to drive faster. I'm using cruise control, hoping that will allow me to drive more without pain. So far, so good. Oh yes, speaking of pain, my finger hurts, and likely will for a long time -- but luckily it's on my left hand.

Somewhere west of Thunder Bay but before our planned stop, we passed a plaque marking the beginning of the Central time zone. I was driving, so Allan changed the clock in the car, and was very happy of suddenly "gaining" an hour.

We made it to the Westwood Motel in Ignace, Ontario, about ten minutes after M pulled in with the truck. It's a bit of a dump, but it's clean, the bed is comfy, the pillows are fluffy, and there's plenty of room for Diego's crate. We went around the corner to the Mystic Bar and Grill for dinner. M declined again, and picked up something to microwave in his room. I think at the end of a long day, he feels this is more relaxing. Me, when we stop for the night, I am going to a restaurant, eating dinner, and having a glass of wine. Non-negotiable!

When we did our last-minute packing, I found an almost-full bottle of vodka in the freezer, and we still had a carton of orange-peach-mango juice. So after dinner, M came to our room, we busted out the little plastic motel cups, and I tended bar. We had a good time... and then totally crashed. I very nearly slept in my clothes; it just seemed like too much work to do anything else. Allan kind of shamed me into being more civilized.

Today, Manitoba! We've never seen the prairies, and despite everyone saying there's nothing to see, it's a new landscape and we're looking forward to it. We're also hoping to connect with a friend in Winnipeg, on our way to Brandon.


the move west: day two: sudbury to wawa

I've retitled the last two posts. Original day one is now day zero, and day one is a new (different) post. I won't attempt to explain what I was thinking, but it's fixed now.
Yesterday morning we woke up to a bright blue sky and freezing cold weather. It was -17 C with a windchill of -27 C. Everyone at the motel was talking about how cold it was. I was thrilled because it was sunny and bright. Who cares how cold it is when we're driving all day?

We got off to a slow start, with so much of what we needed in the truck, including the damn netbook adapter (it wouldn't boot up without it), and various other delays. We thought that was fine because we had only 480 kilometres planned, so we assumed the whole trip would be in daylight. Ha!

Allan and M went off on another M quest, while I hammered away at the keyboard. About 45 later, when I hit publish, the post disappeared. So now I have no post and I've delayed us for nothing. Yay.

We finally hit the road around 11:00, getting the Trans Canada Highway in Sudbury, west towards Sault Ste Marie and beyond. It was very scenic, the road winding through snow-covered fields and evergreens, small towns, and frozen rivers. We stopped a few times for Diego and to pick up caffeine in various forms. Just a few stops here and there, no lunch break or anything substantial, yet somehow, it was growing dark and we were still 300 kilometres from our destination. Which would be less than three hours on a fast highway, but following Lake Superior from The Soo to Thunder Bay is decidedly not a fast highway. We knew this -- we just drove the damn thing in September! -- but that was in daylight. And dry weather.

As soon as it gets dark, it also starts to snow. And here we are again on a completely dark country road in the snow! We said we weren't going to do this again, and we're doing it again on the very next night. Plus this time the road is winding and hilly, and huge logging trucks are flying by, too. I had been driving, but once the snow started, we switched. It was stressful enough as a passenger. No way I could drive in that. Allan is great that way, though -- nerves of steel when it comes to driving.

The snow was coming down hard. During the day, it's a beautiful scenic drive. At night, in the snow, a painful crawl. Much of the time we were doing 40 or 50 kms/hour, just trying to stay on the road.

We had no phone signal for much of the time, so I had no idea how M was doing. When I reached him, he was already in the motel! He had seen a car in a ditch with highway patrol people and was very relieved to learn it wasn't us.

We pulled in to the Best Northern Motel and Restaurant at around 7:00, tired and hungry, but very happy to be there. Except for the big sign that said RESTAURANT CLOSED FOR SEASON. When I checked in, I asked, "So there's no restaurant right now?" The woman said, "There's a restaurant, but it's closed for winter." Ah yes, very helpful. To be fair, she gave me a dog bowl with the hotel logo on it, for use in the room.

She said two restaurants in Wawa would still be open -- if we hurried. We quickly got stuff in the room, Allan set up Diego's crate, and we set out in the snow, about 6 inches by then, and still coming down. M was done for the night, so we took his order, hoping we'd find something.

In Wawa we saw a Tim Hortons (of course) and a Subway, so we had a last resort. The two restaurants were side by side. The Embassy looked more promising, but they were closing early: "It's a slow night".

North of 17 was like the diner of my dreams. The server was an older woman who seemed to want to feed us. I ordered my favourite comfort food: hot turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy. I hadn't had that in eons. Real roast turkey, homemade gravy, and a $6 glass of red wine, a huge glass that costs $19.50 at Canyon Creek. The whole thing was heavenly.

We tried not to order dessert, but since we were taking food back for M, the server suggested she box up dessert as well. Who were we to refuse.
When we got back to the room, Diego was calm and happy. I don't know if he was barking while we were gone, but I've decided not to worry about it. I hear other people's TVs, they might have to hear my dog.


the move west: day one: sauga to sudbury

I tried to post this earlier today but had some annoying technical difficulties. Truth be told, I had organizational difficulties: the AC adapter for the netbook was in the truck. Later I wrote in the Deluxe Hamburger in Sudb‌ury... then blogger crashed. Then I drafted it again in the car. Oy.

Yesterday was a long, tiring day, but in the end, it was successful. We are happy!

The movers arrived right on time, which was impressive... then things quickly went downhll. They may have been trying to set a speed record. Our stuff was being tossed and piled and generally thrown about. It was kind of scary! It doesn't help that we live(d) on the 19th floor, the apartment furthest from the elevator, so the elevator has to be packed and unpacked, too. So many opportunities for disaster. Allan and M were able to corral the guys a bit, and in the end, we hope it was better than it looked.

It was a complicated process. We drive a very small car with minimal truck space, and Diego takes up the whole back seat. This means we need many things to be accessible, packed in the back of the truck. I used green painter's tape to label many things -- but it still needed explanation. Plus we will be getting into Port Hardy at night, and a crew will be (we hope) arriving the next day to unload the truck. This mkeans we have to sleep one night in an empty house -- which means that the mattress and futon must be accessible, too. It's complicated! Plus there was last-minute packing to do, and we had to keep Diego out of the way. It was complicated!

I left at one point to get refunds for our Presto cards (so glad Allan remembered that!) and Allan and M went out to do some errands, which included another M obsession.

The movers finally left late in the day, then we packed up our road trip needs. I picked up some Subway -- we hadn't eaten all day -- Allan returned our keys and whatnot, and were about to set out on the road. But what would a travel story of mine be without at least one fall?

It was the perfect storm. A storm named Diego. I wasn't using his harness/halti/collar combo that gives me control over him. I was holding the leash loosely around my wrist. I was putting stuff in the trunk, not paying attentionto him. And a little dog surprised him. All the elements in place, ready for disaster. Suddenly my arm is jerked violently, the leash burns through my hand, and I fall in slow motion onto my hand, my knee, and my ankle. But mostly my hand. When I got up, Diego was barking in the face of a small dog who is giving it right back to him.

Oh my god my hand. You know I have arthritis in my hands, plus fibromyalgia makes things hurt all out of proportion -- both in intensity and duration. I was in dire pain for close to two hours. M gave me a painkiller, which helped a lot, but also meant I couldn't drive. Poor Allan has worked his three 12-hour days, with zero rest, and an incredibly busy, stressful day... and now he has to drive all the way to Sudbury, at night. Yuck.

[An aside for the locals. On the way out of town, we missed the 401/427 split and were on the 427 north. M was still following us in the truck, and wouldn't have good directions until we got on the 400, the route north. Oh shit, how the hell do you get from the 427 to the 401 if you've missed the split? Allan reads a road sign -- 409, does that help? -- just as I see the 409 on Maps. The 409! It apparently exists only to link the 427 North to the 401 East!  Whoo hoo! I learn this exactly when I need it -- and now I'll never need it again.]

So we got on the 400 North at about 7:00 pm, and we were happy. Cue a helpful reader explaining that you shouldn't drive on country roads at night, because of animals. Big animals that, if hit, can cause serious or even fatal accidents. We know. We agree. But sometimes it must be done. And this was one of those times. It was (we hope) the only leg of this road trip to be driven at night.

At some point it started to snow. a lot. It was really hard to see, very tiring. There were very few cars on the road, and when some uncoming traffic appeared we discovered that visibility in snow is much improved with your high-beams off. Go figure. Also: hooray for new snow tires! We never had them in Mississauga.

For this trip, I did a lot of emergency preparedness. I was all kinds of pleased with myself, as we tend to be pretty casual about a lot of things most Canadians consider necessary. So it's snowing and we're driving on a completely dark, unlit road, and I realize 100% of the emergency gear was in the truck. We didn't even have our warm jackets in the car! Do not be alarmed, I was very amused.

Despite the snow and the dark, Allan and I had a great drive to Sudbury, talking about everything in the world, occasionally checking in with M in the truck. We pulled into the Super 8 Sudbury around 11:30 pm.

Once in the room with a shit-ton of stuff, we realized that we were disorganized, bringing in many things we didn't need and forgetting many things we needed. I had organized what was needed on the trip, and what we needed access to in the back of the truck. But I had not considered what we'd want in the car or in the hotel room every night. One more thing to fix in the morning.

My finger was hurting again; it will probably hurt for weeks or months. Not to be undone, Allan misjudged a step and fell off the back of the truck. It sounded horrible, but he appears to have escaped without lasting damage.

When I was booking rooms for this trip, Super 8 had a deal to stay two nights and get the third night free. It sounded worth a shot. The one in Sudbury was pretty nice for a budget motel -- clean, bright, and new looking. You can see where they cut corners -- a better hotel would have retired those threadbare towels -- but it was perfectly adequate for one night. And the whole chain is pet-friendly.

One of the many items kept in the back of the truck is Diego's crate. We're hoping it will help if he has to be alone in unfamiliar surroundings. We haven't used the crate since we first adopted him, but he was crated overnight any time he stayed in Dogtopia. Diego doesn't have separation anxiety, thank dog, but he does like to bark. And he doesn't use his indoor voice.


the move west: day zero

This is it! Our last day in Mississauga.

Saturday morning I picked up the car from Canadian Tire -- our first set of snow tires! Then I spent the day driving around doing errands. I was super lucky to have dinner with two good friends who couldn't make it to the pub night. I've been binging on pho and dim sum... knowing this is something I'll miss in our small town.

Yesterday, Sunday, I picked up my brother at the airport; he took the redeye in from Oregon via L.A. A few hours later, we dropped Allan at the GO bus for his last day of work in Toronto, then M and I went to pick up the truck. It's the largest U-Haul there is -- we can only make one trip! Then I spent the day packing.

(Over the last two weeks, we hired two friends to pack the apartment. Allan did some, especially the jungle that is his office, but was mostly overloaded by errands and chores. Last week he said he couldn't wait to go to work -- to relax.)

Several people have very kindly asked how Diego is doing amid the boxes and bubble wrap. We're so lucky: he's super chill. We've had dogs who would be depressed or anxious about all the commotion, but not the Big Boy. Wherever you plop down his bed, that's his new place to sleep. Any friendly human to drool on and get attention from, that's his new best friend.

A word about M. My brother is eight years older than me. Yesterday -- after spending the night in airports and on planes, through two flights and three time zones -- he never stopped moving. The man is retired, and still, no one can keep up with him. He claims he has slowed down, but I see no evidence to back that up.

We never did get that smoked salmon in Sydney. The current obsession is getting gas at Costco -- in Barrie. To be fair, this gas is $0.20/litre cheaper than what's around here, and $0.10 cheaper than anything in the Barrie area. And Barrie is on the way.

Me, I'd fill up at the nearest Petro Canada to earn points. Plus, full fairness disclosure: I am obsessed with points. M is not the only obsessive at the party. But hey, if Costco gas is the thing to do, then Costco it is. As long as we reach our dog-friendly motel every night, I'll just go with it.

Now it's Monday morning. I made a big pot of coffee, and I'm hoping for an hour of calm and quiet before the chaos begins. The crew we've hired to load the truck are supposed to arrive at 9:00 a.m. If all goes well, tonight we'll be in Sudbury.

Thanks for coming along!


the good, the bad, and the mushrooms part two: northern ontario road trip pics

Photos from our recent trip in Northern Ontario are here on Flickr. I'll also update the original post.

question about driving from ontario to bc: how long will it take to cross the rockies?

We're planning out our road trip to Vancouver Island a bit more carefully, with less spontaneity than we might normally want, because we need a pet-friendly motel for every stop. At the end of a long day of driving, I don't want to schlep from place to place looking for a motel that will let us stay with Diego! We'll also get better rates online, which will help compensate for any pet fees.

Allan is giving me a list of towns we're aiming for, and I'm booking motels. The question is: how long to leave to cross the Rockies?

We know there are different crossings, some easier (and safer) than others. We know to check weather conditions. We know to have a full tank of gas before starting out. All that kind of stuff: we know. No need for advice on that front. (Although why I bother writing that, I don't know. There is something about moving that brings out the advisers.)

What we don't know is, assuming good road conditions, how long to leave for this leg of the trip. Which pass would you take and how long would you expect it to take?

Update: This trip is not for scenery, not for hiking, and not for sightseeing. That's a bit frustrating for me, but I'd rather have more time in our new home before beginning my new job. This trip is strictly for getting there.


my plans and hopes for our big life change

We are moving west for several reasons. One is a lifestyle change. I've adjusted to living in the sprawling suburbs, and while we were living in a (rental) house, it was nice. But for the last 2-1/2 years we've been living in an apartment. A nice apartment, and a large one, but what's the point of the suburbs if you don't have a backyard?

Soon we will have a big yard, a deck -- and the ocean very nearby! I want to spend more time outside. We're not super outdoorsy, but I love to walk and hike, and I would like to kayak now and again. We're about to have a huge wilderness area in our backyard. I want to experience it as much as I can.

I have two goals.

In 2019, I will take a break from activism and focus on improving my fitness level. Although I've never been thin, I was in good aerobic condition and had good muscle tone -- until I started grad school in 2009. First school plus two jobs, then becoming a local union president, made physical exercise sporadic at best. My fibromyalgia demands I get adequate rest. Something always got pushed off the schedule, and it was almost always exercise. Now it's almost 10 years later, and I don't like how it feels.

Another change I want to try involves travel -- how often, where to, and why.

There are few things I love as much as travel. It feels more like a need, an addiction, than a pastime. But these days, some of my hunger to see new places has abated. I just want to travel -- anywhere. There are still dozens of places I'd love to see, but I notice that any travel, to anywhere, feeds the need. A big, special trip -- like Egypt last year, or Peru in 2006 -- slakes the thirst for a long time. But a short trip to a place I know well also quiets the bug, just for a shorter time.

Since we moved to Canada in 2005, all our family has been long-distance. This has sometimes caused conflict between wanting to visit people, and wanting to travel someplace new. Moving to Vancouver Island, we'll be closer to some family and farther from others, but everyone will still be long-distance.

So here's what I'm thinking. I'd like to try traveling primarily to see friends and family, plus local exploring, and see how that feels. That alone includes Vermont, Boston (Fenway Park), New York, New Jersey, California (both SoCal and the Bay Area), and Oregon. It could also include Florida, Maryland, Texas, and Alaska, if we wanted. And the GTA! We would see family and friends, and get some travel in at the same time.

I wonder, could we do this for, say, five years? Would it satisfy my wanderlust?


two weeks in northern ontario: the good, the bad, and the mushrooms

Our Ontario trip was a mixed bag of ups and downs, but mostly ups. Everything is pretty good with some not-so-good mixed in.

Traveling with Diego. We loved it! It was so much fun having us with him all the time, and seeing him so happy and content.

Downside: Traveling with a dog can be a bit limiting. We had planned to leave him alone while we explored Sudbury and Thunder Bay, but when we were actually there, we weren't comfortable with it. We had very limited time in those towns anyway; had we been there for more time, we probably would have done it.

Balance: A huge 5 out of 5 leafs.

The RV. I love traveling by RV. On a road trip, it's great to be so self-contained, to not have to go out for every breakfast and dinner, to have your own kitchenette and washroom, but still be in the woods. Ever since we traveled by RV in Alaska, about a million years ago (1996), I've dreamed of owning one. That's not very practical, but I hope we can rent one again soon.

Downside: Once you're in a campsite, it's not easy to explore a town or city. The ideal would be an motorhome towing a small car, or a big car towing a trailer. That gives you the convenience of the RV and the flexibility of leaving it behind. With only the RV, it can be a bit limiting at times.

Balance: 4 out of 5 maple leafs.

Park facilities. The provincial parks were beautiful. The campsites were good, each with a firepit and picnic table, and some with electric hookups. The washrooms and showers were clean, and there was a washer/dryer available in every park.

Downside: Ontario Parks doesn't take reservations in September (with one exception: Killarney... but we were given wrong information, so we didn't know that). Without reservations, we would get in to a park, often late in the day, then have to drive around looking for a suitable campsite. This was tiring, especially after a whole day of driving. Not being able to reserve campsites was a significant drawback. I assume the absence of reservations is a cost-cutting measure. It's not good.

Park facilities were five-leaf, but the absence of reservations was a real drag.

Road-tripping through Ontario provincial parks. Ontario is insanely huge. The area we drove through is beautiful, but it's a lot of driving, even if you love road trips as much as I do. The parks have a certain sameness to them -- especially if you're not up for extremely challenging hiking or climbing. The Ontario Parks trail rating scale was very different than what we're used to. We were discouraged that a hike labeled "moderate" -- usually our speed -- was too challenging. And once you're on the trail, there's nothing you can do but tough it out.

So if you're not hiking most trails, there's not a lot of difference among the parks. They're all beautiful, but I wish I had realized that they're all pretty much the same. But would I have planned a two-week trip at only one or two parks before actually seeing any of them? Definitely not.

So there was a lot of driving, much of it very scenic, broken up by staying in very similar woodsy places. Touring several Ontario Provincial Parks: 3 of 5 leafs if you love road trips. 2.5 leafs if you don't.

What else did we do?

So besides driving and going on too-challenging hikes we: ate a lot (especially steak, potato chips, and frozen yogurt), drank wine and vodka, listened to a lot of music, had great talks, and read a lot.

Saw the Sudbury Nickel, the Wawa Goose, and Terry Fox. Saw a coyote, many deer, ducks, geese, blue jays, sandhill cranes, rabbits, a bald eagle with something in its talons (!), and many nice dogs. We saw a turtle crossing a highway, but there was no safe way to pull over and help it. I hope you made it, turtle.

We thought we'd see petroglyphs in Lake Superior Provincial Park, but they are inaccessible unless you can climb steep cliffs. Saw crazy elaborate RV campsites where retired folks have created little manors. Saw a lot of friendly people, not one of whom wanted more than a "good morning".

Saw a sky full of stars. Heard much French spoken. Saw dozens of old-fashioned roadside motels, old-fashioned diners, and almost no fast-food restaurants. Had a great breakfast in an ancient coffee shop in The Soo, the only restaurant of the trip.

I wanted to see more of Sudbury and Thunder Bay, but Allan visited bookstores in both places, and loved the one in Sudbury.

And, oh yeah, the mushrooms!

Ever since reading The Omnivore's Dilemma I have been a bit freaked out by wild mushrooms. Mushrooms found in a store or restaurant, no problem. But mushrooms that appear after a rainfall or in damp woodsy places have creeped me out.

Before reading Michael Pollan's excellent book, I didn't know that fungi's networks of (mostly invisible) mycelium can extend vast distances, or that visible mushrooms are but a small fraction of the whole fungus, or that mushrooms aren't plants! I was amazed to learn that fungi are a separate category (kingdom) of living things, neither animal nor plant. (If I learned this in grade school, I had long since forgotten it.) This is only a bit of what I learned about mushrooms from that book, and all of it gave me the creeps.

Now I can report that this trip desensitized my fungiphobia. On our hikes we saw a great variety of wild mushrooms, and we photographed every variety we saw. Now I'm more amazed than freaked out -- although they are still super creepy! I'm going to look up the varieties online; photos to follow.

Update: photos from the trip are here on Flickr.


we head north

We're going glamping! Allan, Diego, and I are hitting the road.

Driving this:

Going here:

Killarney Provincial Park

Lake Superior Provincial Park

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park

Pancake Bay Provincial Park

Grundy Lake Provincial Park

Plus quick visits to Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, and Thunder Bay.

Doing this:

Hike, grill, explore. Watch dogs play on beaches. Read. Keep an eye on the Red Sox. Find used bookstores. Maybe hear some music. Take photographs. Be in woods. Feel nature do its magic.

I love road trips and am in vacation mode the moment we get in the vehicle.

See you in two weeks!


two days in new york city

This is one of those posts I write only for myself. This blog functions as my travel diary, and I like that diary to be complete. So here I am. Feel free to ignore. Which of course you always are, and you don't need me to tell you that.

I was supposed to go to New York by myself to see Springsteen on Broadway. (Review to follow in separate post.) I had been trying to get a ticket since they first went on sale more than a year ago, and somehow Allan managed to get me one. And not just a ticket -- an affordable ticket! Factoring in air fare and hotel, I couldn't spend a huge amount on a ticket, and Allan snagged one for $75. Amazing!

When some of my NYC plans got cancelled, I persuaded Allan to come with me. He wasn't interested in the Springsteen show, but why pass up two days in New York?

Day one: sweat, lunch, pod, bistro

We flew down on Porter, and it's super easy to take NJ Transit into the city and hop on a subway. However, it was 45 degrees on the street with swamplike humidity, so goddess only knows what the mercury hit on the subway platforms. It didn't help that we got on a wrong train and had to backtrack. By the time we got to the hotel, we were little more than puddles of whining sweat.

I had a room booked at Pod 51. Have you heard of the Pod Hotels? They are budget hotels with a fresh, hip look. There have always been budget hotels, even in the most expensive cities, but they can be scary and gross. A couple of times -- Seattle and Amman come to mind -- after getting in late, we stayed one night, then promptly found another room in the morning. Nothing like that in the Pods. Tiny, clean rooms, some with even tinier bathrooms, others with shared bath, with several washrooms on each floor. A cafe and a rooftop bar and what else do you need? Book directly through the hotel's website, and they throw in two complimentary glasses of wine.

After showers and a rest, we went downstairs for lunch. On the way over, I noticed that Chopt, my favourite salad place, is still in business. I walked over and brought back an amazing salad, and Allan ordered a burger from the place next-door, and a server delivered it to the hotel cafe. Time for free wine!

After lunch, we re-arranged our plans a bit so we wouldn't see any more subway platforms that day. I went around the corner for a mani-pedi, which I often do when I'm away.

Earlier, in the Toronto airport, I had been looking online for a place for dinner. I was thinking French bistro, something we loved in New York and don't do anymore. And wouldn't you know it, one of the oldest and most established bistros is next door to Pod 51: Le Bateau Ivre. (One side burgers and craft beer, the other side oysters, steak frites, and red wine.)

Bateau Ivre is the kind of place that would be a serious three-star restaurant anywhere else, but in NYC is just a neighbourhood joint. The place was hopping. We sat at the bar and had an amazing meal. We're not really into spending huge amounts of money on restaurants anymore, and I'd forgotten the difference between the chain restaurants, which are good enough, and the real deal. It was pretty awesome.

Back at the room, we turned up the air-conditioning to an Arctic blast and followed another insane Red Sox game on Allan's phone.

Day two: shoes, Union Square Cafe, Bruce

We had breakfast amid the insanity of Ess-A-Bagel, an old and authentic bagel place around the corner from the hotel. I almost caused an international incident by ordering coffee while Allan was on the bagel-sandwich line.

Bagels. Real bagels. Ahhhh.

The only errand I wanted to do in New York was shoe shopping at Tip Top Shoes. I hate to shop and don't care about shoes. But I do need shoes that are classic looks, comfortable, and made well enough to last many years. Therefore, I need Tip Top, the shoe store that time forgot. Older gentlemen in shirts and ties give you their undivided attention, fitting your foot, making suggestions, and, obviously, living on your commission. It's the first time I've been there since we left New York in 2005, but it was exactly as I remembered it, and I got exactly what I needed.

I took buses between Pod 51 and Tip Top, and seeing New York for the first time in many years, I felt that rush of energy the City always gives me. I saw some new (to me) things: bike sharing, "LinkNYC" kiosks (there are thousands of them!), Metrocard machines at bus stops, and -- ta-da! -- the Second Avenue Subway. Or so they say. It only took 100 years to build and is three stops long! (Great story and pics here.) But seriously, it exists, and that's almost amazing enough. NYC seems to be making strides in trying to be more people-friendly. If only anyone could afford to live there.

I had just enough time to drop my new shoes at the hotel, change my clothes, and meet Allan at our favourite New York restaurant, Union Square Cafe. (Allan had been at NYPL for some research. He bought me these.) It was our first time at USC since it moved to its new location. The atmosphere, the service, and the food was exactly as we remembered. There are more inventive menus and more lavish food and decor, but there is only one Union Square. Perfect simplicity.

Allan went to The Strand while I went back to the Pod to shower and rest before the show. Later I hopped on the subway to the show -- had an incredible experience -- and walked across town back to the hotel. I'll fill in the blanks in a separate post. It was truly one of the greatest performances I have ever seen.

When I got back, Allan was following yet another insane Red Sox game. Is there anything this team cannot do?

Morning of day three: bagels and out

Now an old pro, on our second morning I did not create havoc in either Ess-A-Bagel or my caffeine-starved brain. I got up early, went around the corner to an old-school NYC coffee shop, got a very large coffee, and was well fueled before re-entering the insanity of Ess-A-Bagel, which that day was even more insane. On our way out, there was a line out the door and down the sidewalk.

Should you ever find yourself in a position to eat an authentic New York City bagel, may I recommend swiss cheese, nova, and tomato on an onion bagel?

From there, subway to NJ Transit to Newark Airport, Allan went to work, and I went to pick up Diego.


vancouver island day eight: nanaimo, qualicum beach, parksville

Our final full day on the island, we did a little of everything. We drove through different areas of Nanaimo, went into more bookstores, went food shopping to make a simple dinner at the house, and drove a little further north to the towns of Parksville and Qualicum Beach.

Parksville has a beautiful library ("has a beautiful library" drinking game?). In a bakery there, I made a random compliment about the very nice place and the nice town, and the person behind the counter raved about living there. Parksville and Qualicum Beach both have beaches, with waterfront motels and condos. I would have thought these towns were too upscale to have affordable rentals, but I saw several places online.

We've been talking a lot about, if I was a librarian in one of these towns, where Allan might work, and where we could live, and I've been looking at rental sites and job openings. It seems that while we were out here, Vancouver Island has moved from idea to intention.

We drove to the ferry, to see where it was, and how much time we would need the following morning. On the way back, M spotted a bald eagle; we got out to watch and take pics. Such a thrill to see those magnificent birds. Also we didn't wake up at in the middle of the night to do it. (Same people, two years earlier.)

* * * *

Tomorrow we take the ferry, a bus, and the SkyTrain to the Vancouver airport. M&M will head back to Victoria, see Butchart Gardens, stay one more night, then take a different ferry, and go to Olympic National Park. We've all had an amazing time together!

Sometime not that long ago, I wrote about how, when you're young, you don't know -- and can't imagine -- the shape your life will take. This trip is the perfect example.

First, when we lived in NYC, I never would have taken a vacation with another couple. We never had enough time off. Time out of the City was super-valuable, and we wouldn't have spent it with anyone else. Now we actually have enough time off -- paid time off -- that we can do this and still have a family vacation with a dog later in the year. This isn't accidental -- more time and money to travel was a factor in my career change -- but still, I didn't see it coming.

Second, my relationship with my brother has changed radically (although I think gradually, over time). (He's reading this... but he knows it's true.) This is awesome and amazing, and not something I could have predicted. An earlier version of me and him would not have done this, and certainly not done it so well.

Third, when we first moved to Canada, we didn't consider the west coast, as my mother lived in New Jersey. Now my mother lives in Oregon! Talk about not being able to predict your life! Even two years ago, on our first trip to Vancouver and Oregon, we weren't dreaming of moving west.

* * * *

Our photos from this trip are here. I haven't broken them up into smaller sets, as the number of photos seems more manageable than usual.

PS: Insect warning on page two of above Flickr set. Stop at parrots.

PPS: I was concerned that the trip from Nanaimo to the Vancouver airport would be grueling. It was super easy. It sounds like a big deal -- boat, bus, train -- but it's actually quite humane, even with luggage.


vancouver island day seven: chemainus, ladysmith, nanaimo

Poor Allan, the only non-morning person in our little group, being faced with three high-octane coffee drinkers every morning! In Chemainus I let him sleep in a bit as we had breakfast in the hotel.

I've been emailing frequently with both the NDP search committee and the riding association, as the nomination meeting is being set -- and also discussing with Allan and M&M when to tell members and management.

After breakfast we drove around Chemainus for a bit. We saw a lot of beautiful homes with view of both water and mountains; saw a funny gingerbread house with crazy topiary; and saw one small library in a poor location. This was the only disappointing library on the whole trip -- although it was closed (Sunday), so perhaps during the week it's more vibrant? But the location was terrible, a well-kept secret.

A bit further on, we visted the town of Ladysmith, whose claim to fame is that the 49th parallel runs through the town. There's a monument and some history markers, but more importantly, there's a beautiful library, a playground and park right on the water, and several buildings that appear to be rentals. Ladysmith is a definite possibility.

After Ladysmith we reached Nanaimo. I can’t decide if Nanaimo feels like a small city or a giant sprawl. We found the central library, the Harbourfront Branch, but it opened late (Sunday), so we had brunch at a nearby place in the little downtown. The library was beautiful and in a great central location. There was a beautiful quote from Dr. Seuss on a wall near the entrance.

I spoke to staff here. Everyone seems so genuinely happy. In the Greater Victoria Public Library, the staff is all CUPE. In the Vancouver Island Regional system, the front-line staff is CUPE, but the librarians belong to a separate union, which is province-wide, and represents a hugely diverse group of workers, with 550 collective agreements! That is some serious bargaining power.

We immediately saw that there are many rental possibilities in Nanaimo, but I'm not sure if it's a place we'd want to live. Maybe a place to work, and live near?

With some difficulty, we found the AirBnb, a sweet ground-floor apartment in private home. After a rest, we drove into the old city quarter for dinner, an amazing authentic Greek restaurant. Have I mentioned that people are insanely friendly here?