Fear and Loving in Vancouver

I love Canada and especially Vancouver. It has quickly become one of my favorite destinations. It’s far enough that I feel I see a completely different culture, but it is also close enough that I don’t get too homesick and start to feel like a tourist. It also retains that big city feel, without feeling like a giant metropolis unlike New York. The people are generally very friendly.

Stanley Park and the West End

The drive out to Vancouver was pretty relaxing, and we stopped at the West End first. This is an extremely popular place for tourist and the locals. It was likewise my wife’s favorite spot. She absolutely loved the beauty of the 1000 acre park that is known as Stanley Park. My wife loved walking the trails and seeing nature and the totem poles peppered around the park. I preferred the little train that rode around the park. It was a relaxing ride. I wanted to have a beer on it, but my wife heavily discouraged me. However, the best part of Stanley Park is the Vancouver Aquarium. It simply must not be missed, because they have an amazing array of animals.

City Centre

This is the downtown area of Vancouver, and it did not disappoint. We left the R/V near Stanley Park as we were warned that traffic in the city center would be quite packed. So we optioned for a bus instead. There is so much to see and do here I couldn’t possibly list them all. The city has a laid back atmosphere that is evident everywhere you go. The Vancouver Lookout is a must. This 360 panoramic view of Vancouver is on the top floor of the Harbour Centre.

We stopped by a little restaurant called “New Amsterdam Cafe”. If you didn’t know, the attitudes towards marijuana here are very lax. You will see people smoking everywhere, and this cafe is one of those that allows patrons to smoke. We were told it was illegal to do this, but that it was hardly enforced. It seemed to be in a grey area of “we don’t see, we don’t know”. However, the coffee and service there was great, but there’s a reason why Vancouver is called “Vansteram”.

Some of the restaurants downtown are rather expensive, and we decided to splurge for once. We stopped at Hy’s Encore, which offered some of the best steaks I have ever had. The service was amazing, I felt like I was being treated like movie star or crooked politician. We also tried The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Vancouver for a more affordable place to eat. This is a school where you pay $10, and the students cook for you. The food there was surprisingly good, especially given that they were students.

Gastown/Chinatown

This is the oldest part of Vancouver and must be experienced before leaving. We were also told to avoid driving here as the parking in the area would be expensive (if we could find any). So we walked. The first thing you notice is that the streets are still made of cobblestone and retain that classic, aged feeling. While this may be the local Chinatown, there are plenty of non-oriental places to eat at. Our favorite was an old pub called “The Irish Heather”. They serve a delectable pheasant, but the main draw is that this is the only place in all of Vancouver where you can find a pint of Guinness!

Such a great city, I just wish I had more time to see it all.

Montreal: North America’s Version of Europe

montreal-trip

When we entered Montreal, it was something else. First, it is completely on an island for the most part, so we saw some amazing views of the river. We felt like we were entering a completely different European country. We might as well have, because most the people spoke French here, but we were able to find English speakers rather easily.

Old Montreal

My wife wanted to eat at first, but I wanted to see some of the interesting landmarks. So we made a compromise, and we would go eat in Old Montreal. I figured that it would have some historic spots to check out. The area has the look of 18th century Europe and was complete with the cobblestones.  The streets were alive with not only tourists but street performers doing all sorts of shows in an attempt to get some of that sweet tourist cash. Another street offered artists selling their paintings and other works. We decided to eat at Chez Suzette which had amazing crepes at an affordable price. Afterwards, we took an amazing walking tour that showed us many of the old landmarks, such as the clock tower and the perfect view of the river.

Downtown

Since we were already in Old Montreal, the next place I suggested was Downtown. It was only a few minutes’ walk away from our current location. Downtown was a stark contrast than Old Montreal because of all the giant skyscrapers. We stopped by the Mary Queen of the World Cathedral which is a cathedral that is 1/4th the scale of the one that is said to be in Italy. We also checked out Parc du Mont-Royal. It is a park next to Mount Royal, but it really happens to just be a small hill. My wife really enjoyed the beauty of the place, and it offered me a serene feeling as well. There were so many places to eat, so we vowed to come back later at night.

Mile – End

I had read about this area of Montreal in a book when I was younger so I insisted my wife we go check it out. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as spectacular as I thought. Nonetheless, I was still impressed at the ambience. It seemed to be a trendy area, the word “hipster” comes to mind when visiting here. There were plenty of shops and boutiques which my wife loved, of course. Mile-End offers the most amazing bagel shop in the world though. There is a shop called St-Viateur Bagel. When we approached, there was a huge line there and when we received our bagel, we were not disappointed. There was another bagel shop nearby that competed with this one. Apparently, these bagel shops are world famous, but I didn’t know that when I first walked up to them.

Montreal is a perfect vacation destination for those wanting to travel to Europe but don’t have the money for a transatlantic flight. There are plenty of old style architecture, roads and landmarks. Beware that many people will speak French and even seem rude if you try to talk to them in English. However, I didn’t have any difficulty, and eventually I would just find someone else who did speak both to translate.

Our visit to Toronto

toronto-trip

Like most big cities when one arrives, the question will come up, “What are the things to do in Toronto, Ontario as a visitor?” Fortunately for this Canadian town, we found out there is plenty.

Toronto generally makes up the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. So if you’ve never seen 750,000 gallons of water dropping per second, it’s worth a sight and it’s only a 90-minute drive from town.

On the other hand, if leaving town is out of the question, then a walk to the CN Tower is in order. This Toronto-central feature is 533 meters high, and visitors can go inside to look out on the city at different levels. Altitude choices include terraces at the 350 meter and 450 meter levels above ground. It’s definitely breathtaking.

Hockey

Of course, one can’t go to Toronto and Canada without experiencing the national sport pasttime – hockey. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a hockey team with a tremendous amount of history, so catching a home game is well worth the trouble when in town. And if you then think ice-skating is easy, take a spin during the winter months at one of the 50 city ice rinks around town. The ice rink at Nathan Philips Square is a popular choice.

The above said, some folks would rather see history, and the Royal Ontario Museum is a great choice. The facility is home to thousands of artifacts and pieces of history as well as one of the largest shoe collections in one location, 13,000 different shoes. Imelda Marcos would have been jealous.

And for the real tourists who don’t believe a trip is actual made without shopping, there is the Toronto Eaton Centre which is has enough stores in it to keep someone busy for a week. This covers everything from simple street stores to high-end design as well as everything in between. On the other hand, if antiques are more of the focus, then shopping at St. Lawrence Market will provide plenty of choices and inventory to look at.

Food and Entertainment

All of the above locations and running around is going to make someone hungry, however, so grabbing a bite should be on the agenda. Toronto has its own Little India, Chinatown, Little Italy, and more, so there’s something for everyone. Yet whatever you eat, you need to make sure that you have room to eat some Poutine, Canada’s own version of french fries and sauce.

In the evening, Toronto has its own version of Broadway, being home to dozens of stage plays and touring shows every year. The two big facilities to take a look at as well as their billing include the Young Centre for the Performing Arts and the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre. Alternatively, the city has plenty of stand up comic humor, and comedians can be found at the Bad Dog Theatre Company as well as at Second City. Finally, the late evening can be spent in the Entertainment District going from night club to night club. 30,000 dancing people can’t be wrong, and most clubs are running DJ music until the wee hours of the morning.

Those visiting with children can sometimes find seeing a town challenging as there isn’t always a whole lot for kids. Toronto is an exception to the rule. The Toronto Zoo is an easy place to spend a day with children, providing access to Canada’s biggest zoo, and 5,000 different animals. And that includes a Panda family.

For more excitement, there is Canada’s Wonderland. The location serve’s as Toronto’s main amusement park with roller coasters, contests, skill games, rides, and a gigantic IMAX movie theatre on the water. Toronto is definitely a place we’d love to visit again in the future.

On to Winnipeg

winnipeg-trip

Since our retirement, Julia and I have been enjoying our travels around Canada. Our travels are something we had dreamed about for years. Now we are making the dream come true. Winnipeg was our recent destination stop; we loved every minute of the stay.

Arrowhead RV Park

Most RV parks close around the end of September which is why we like to go to Arrowhead which about ten minutes outside of Winnipeg. Arrowhead is one of the few places to remain open until the end of October which is great for those of us who like to travel later in the fall. Fall travel is beautiful especially with the changing leaves.

We could pull the RV through the site and give us a chance to relax while we figure out our next stop. While staying at the Arrowhead, we were able to catch up on laundry just remember to bring coins. The showers and restroom facilities were well-kept and clean. On the way, to the shower I was able to see the cutest little dog. Did I mention the Arrowhead is very pet friendly. Julia enjoyed her time catching up social media with the free Wi-Fi. I just enjoyed the time walking around the stony garden area and taking in the wonderful cool air. We had a fun time chatting with our neighbors who had grand kids about the same ages as ours. Instead of sleeping in their RV, the kids all camped outside in their sleeping bags. This reminded us about the previous Christmas where we bought our youngest granddaughter a sleeping sack from the Sleep Sack Store. She immediately wanted to sleep outside with it even though it was near freezing.

The Sites

Since Arrowhead is so close to Winnipeg, we could enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of the RV Park but still do some site seeing. We took in as many sites as possible while we were there. I know there were a few that we did not get to see but since we are retired there is a good chance we will be back. Being a history buff, the first sites were my personal favorites.

  • The Manitoba Museum which is in downtown Winnipeg. Maneuvering the RV around was a bit tricky but worth the trip. The museum has lots of history information with dioramas and even full scale replicas to walk through; I could just imagine how people lived in the past. Julia enjoyed the planetarium and the science gallery. The tour took us about four hours out of our day which was a great way to spend the afternoon.
  • The Forks National Historic Site has everything we could ever ask for while site seeing, we actually came back to this location a few times in order to get in all the sties we wanted to view. The Forks really does have something for everyone. Julia loved browsing around the little specialty shops which seem to go on forever. We took time and checked out the Canadian Museum of Human Rights and The Forks National Historic Site of Canada. We even spent time just browsing around the farmer’s market.
  • Winnipeg Art Gallery was a destination on Julia’s list. Visiting Canada’s oldest public art gallery really was relaxing.  The gallery had all types of art and even showcased some local talent.  Julia found some unique jewelry in the shop which she had to have.

Food

Okay, I admit it, finding new a place to eat is my favorite pastime. Even though, most days we would just grab a quick bite at a local vendor or eat in the RV, I still enjoyed searching out new eateries. One of the ones I liked the most was Stella’s Café & Bakery which is on Portage Avenue. The breakfast was amazing, the perfect way to start the day. We stopped at the Crusty Bun which is on St. Mary’s Road and at VJ’s Drive Inn on Main Street to get an awesome shake.

Well, until our next stop…

Where in the World is Halifax?

halifax-trip

My wife and I are continuing our retirement travels around Canada. After much consideration on where we wanted to go next, we decided to head to Halifax which is in the Nova Scotia province. As we headed toward our destination in our RV, the scenic drive was nothing short of spectacular.

Woodhaven RV Park of Halifax

Our first goal was to find a place to park the RV while still being close to Halifax. The closes campground is the Woodhaven RV Park of Halifax. The campground was perfect for our needs with hot showers, laundry facilities and a pool. While Julia was catching up on her social media with the free Wi-Fi, I was able to take in a game of horse shoes. The campground had a nice relaxing atmosphere which is perfect for us while we figure out where to head next.

The Sites

Julia and I enjoyed our downtime at the Woodhaven RV Park but we did our share of sightseeing as well. With so many choices, we had a hard time picking out which sites to see first. I was able to convince Julia to start with a historic site for our first stop.

  • Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada on Sackville Street was our first destination stop. The Citadel is a perfect place to learn about Canada’s history. The Citadel has reenactments of the two most historic regiments of the time, the 78th Highlanders and the Royal Artillery. Of course, the bagpipes playing in the background also helps envision what the time period was really like to witness. We also stopped at the Coffee Bar and Regimental Shop which provided me with a wonderful hot cup of coffee and a snack. Julia spent time in the souvenir shop; she needed more postcards to mail to friends of our recent travels.
  • Halifax Public Gardens is located out on Spring Garden Road and South Park Street. The Halifax Public Gardens was on Julia’s list of must see places. Admittedly, the gardens are stunning. In 1867, the gardens opened and have been maintained to keep that original Victorian era feel with statues, urns, fountains and the iron entrance. Julia of course had to remind me of the honey-do list for our backyard which I never finished before we embarked on our adventure. I had to remind her that I didn’t exactly have the best tools for the job. I’m still a little bummed having to sell most of my tools including the new blue tool chest that was only in my garage for a couple months. But then I think about all the constant upkeep around the house and realize… it’s all good.  We also took a moment and stopped at the Uncommon Grounds Café. I love these little cafes.
  • Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is located on Lower Water Street. The Maritime Museum is just full of marine history. I absolutely love all the history.
  • Fairview Lawn Cemetery may seem like an odd destination stop. However, I wanted to see the cemetery since this is the final resting place for numerous victims of the Titanic.

Food

I know I have probably said this before but my favorite part of traveling is finding new places to eat. Many times we eat in the RV while enjoying the relaxing atmosphere of Woodhaven. But we still like to see what the local eateries have to offer. We had a delicious breakfast at Annie’s Place Café which is located on Queen Street. Julia loved the veggie omelet. I loved the French toast and the baked bread.

We also stopped out Morris Street to Piatto’s which is a pizza place. The pizza was great, the best that I have had in a long time. From my understanding, the tomatoes are actually imported in from Napoli, Italy. Of course, Julia liked the fact that the flour used has less gluten.

One of the greatest aspects of Halifax is being able to see the sunset which is absolutely stunning. Try Wagner’s Cove, a beautiful spot.

Top 5 Things to do in Calgary

calgary-trip

As our trip through Calgary began, we realized it was time to park the RV and really explore Calgary the way it should be explored – on foot, on a bike, and the CTrain. We opted – obviously – for the CTrain, as being retired is about relaxing, and walking too much or trying to ride a bike through town just wasn’t our idea of fun. Anyways, we found some of the most amazing activities, places to eat, and things to do in Calgary, that we just have to share with you.

Prince’s Island Park

One of the first places we went was Prince’s Island Park, and no, not because it is free. We had to check out this gorgeous island, as soon as we heard about it. For this trip, however, we decided that a picnic would be the best meal for the day, so we stopped at a local market to pack our basket. There are beautiful sites to see here, and it is definitely a family place, something you would not expect to find in the middle of a large city like Calgary. As we were taking a stroll, we passed by the River Café and stopped to have a cup of coffee while watching the people around us.

Calgary Zoo

Our next destination was the Calgary Zoo, mostly because it was located near Prince’s Island Park and we adore animals, which this zoo has plenty of – more than 1,400 to be exact. We gazed for hours at the amazing beasts, including bears, moos, emus, and kangaroos. Of course, we stopped by the Prehistoric Park, and not because the younger generation considers us to be dinosaurs, but because it we enjoyed learning about the history behind the land that was once roamed on by dinosaurs.

Heritage Park

Many people are unaware of the Wild West past of Calgary, unless they have visited Heritage Park. We were amazed at what a vast area this was – covering more than 65 acres of ground, displaying the history that was once Calgary. We visited fur-trading posts, the ranch, and of course, the historic village. This is definitely a place we would return to on a subsequent visit to Calgary. The only issue was they were doing some type of construction nearby so you could hear the constant noise of air tools in the background. I guess we just came at a bad time. Overall though, Heritage Park gets good reviews from both of us.

Glenbow Museum

Not that we are major art connoisseurs or anything, but we though the Glenbow Museum would be worth our time, and the truth is, it was. There is a large collection of military memorabilia, European Art, West African artifacts, and Asian sculptures. It was like taking a time-travelling trip through different cultures across the world all in one location. We’re especially glad we didn’t drive here since there was a huge mess on the roads. All we noticed were some guys using a huge hydraulic jack to try to lift up the back of a large truck for some reason. Still not sure what happened there.

Let’s Talk Food

One of our favorite things to do is eat, and while the picnic was satisfying, that wasn’t the only place we dined while on our trip to Calgary. We decided to try some different places while on our trip. We started with Gaga Pizza, which was definitely worth it. Not only was the food amazing, but the people were great, too. We also stopped by the 7 Seas Seafood & Grill Restaurant, which was fresh and delicious. The last notable place to eat we stopped at was the Village Ice Cream parlor. The sweet and spicy chocolate was divine.

You know, it’s funny, many of the places we visited were old, or about old things – the museum, Heritage Park, and the Prehistoric Park inside Calgary Zoo. However, these are definitely places that are great for couples and families of all ages, not just us because we’re retired. Go! Enjoy! Explore! See what you can see!

Edmonton: Love at First Sight

edmonton-home

This was written prior to making Edmonton our home. Our first visit was all it took for us to fall in love with the city.

When we rolled into Edmonton, Alberta my wife, Julia, instantly fell in love with the bright city lights. We discovered that Canada’s “Festival City” truly lives up to its name. We had heard there was something to do almost every day of the year and apparently there really is. In our case, we had arrived smack in the middle of the Edmonton International Jazz Festival. It looked fun, so we decided to park the RV. It took awhile to find a place to park but knew I’d find something if I kept at it. I finally found a decent spot in the parking lot of a nearby mall. I waited as my wife grabbed her purse, then we climbed out of our RV. We strolled past Edmonton City Hall and the beautiful fountains that lay before it  Julia and I stopped to admire them before we headed toward Churchill Square where a crowd had gathered to witness a band that was performing. I never caught the band’s name but they sure had a good sound. As we wandered through the area I spotted a large chess set. The pieces were taller than I was!  My wife decided to take a picture of me standing next to the knight.

We stopped to eat at a nearby local establishment before venturing on to something new. Pico Bello Cafe was where my wife wanted to go. It was a nice Italian/Spanish restaurant that also offered some Mediterranean dishes. Julia absolutely loved the turkey cob salad sandwich. I was in the mood for something else so I ordered the Italian Burger. Our waitress was excellent and highly attentive but we had to wait awhile since they seemed to be a bit understaffed that day. I was very impressed overall with not only the food, service, and atmosphere, but the prices weren’t as steep as I initially thought they would be given the portions of the food. We didn’t even have room left to sample dessert!

After we left Pico Bello Cafe, I wanted to scope out the Art Gallery of Alberta. While I never studied French, I did appreciate the exhibits. There were numerous contemporary drawings from the national gallery of Canada and artist Amy Melbeauf had some of her work there as well. I didn’t really get her whole concept of the physical to the immaterial but Julia did a good job explaining it all to me.

We had a great time in Edmonton, Alberta. There was too much for us to see in one visit but Julia took plenty of pictures of what we had time to explore. I’d like to come back one day. Until then, we’ll be focusing on our next destination. My wife and I can’t wait to see more of this beautiful country.