Monday, August 19, 2019

Point Pelee and Kingsville

One of Ontario's best kept secrets is the town of  Kingsville near Windsor. I spent a wonderful long weekend there with a few of my closest friends.

This small picturesque town situated on the shores of Lake Erie offers countless ways to spend a few days or more.

Upon arriving, John and I and our friends Jackie and Barry immediately checked into our Victorian Airbnb rental. The Griffith house offered four bedrooms and was the perfect mix of bygone era charm and modern conveniences. We loved  the large, private back yard. 

Our thoughtful hostess, Katie even left us a bottle of wine from one of the local vineyards and coffee, tea, cream and sugar for the morning. 

Our first visit was to Point Pelee National Park which is about a half hour drive from Kingsville.

Upon entering  the park, we stopped at the marsh area where we signed up for the 50 minute canoe tour with a park ranger. The canoe holds ten people and the park ranger. A couple adults with four infants and toddlers sat at the front of the boat. They didn't do much paddling but the toddlers managed a fair bit of splashing with their paddles before one (paddle, not toddler) was dropped into the water. Fortunately, Jackie and Barry were sitting between them and us, thus providing us a protective shield from the soaking.

We paddled through tall grasses, bullrushes and pink flowering rose mallow bushes. Water lilies were all around us. I was intrigued to find that there were even small carnivorous plants with little yellow flowers in the water. 

Our next stop was the park visitors centre which had numerous displays, a couple ponds inhabited by cute, local frogs and a short film about the history of the park. From there we made our way to point.

Strong waves rushed up onto this southern most point of mainland Canada. While posing for a picture, our shoes got soaked. Note to self: next time wear sandals.

Swallows swooped along the shorelines at the side of the point. This area is known for bird watching.

Back in Kingsville, we ate on the patio of Jack's Gastropub. Main street Kingsville is filled with wonderful restaurants and boutique shops.

By the time we walked back to our rental house, our other friends had arrived. We spent a pleasant evening sipping local wine while a fire in the firepit set off an intimate glow. This was the perfect place to spend a summer's evening with friends.

We were up early the next morning since we had to be at the Pelee Island ferry dock an hour before departure or we chanced losing our reservations. The ferry only takes so many cars, so you have to book well in advance. I could only get one car reservation so all eight of us were forced to squeeze into our minivan. The phrase canned sardines was an understatement. Fortunately we didn't need to stay in too long and immediately propelled out upon parking on the ferry.

Although the island looked deceptively close, it was an hour and a half to get there. We were sternly informed that we were sadly mistaken regarding the laws for opening a bottle of bubbly on international waters and we had to quickly dispose of the contents.

The island is small but pretty. After stuffing ourselves back into the van, we took a short trip to the Pelee Island winery where we indulged in some tasting before eating the picnic we brought with us. Of course we were allowed to crack open a bottle of their wine at their picnic area.

We toured the island, did a short hike and stopped for ice cream before boarding the ferry back to the mainland.

We barbequed in our yard that evening and walked around the quaint town, admiring all the houses with their wrap around porches.

A music festival with Serena Ryder among other artists was taking place in the nearby lakeside park. There are many festivals that take place in this area throughout the summer.

Two of our group had to leave on Sunday morning, so our band of eight was down to six. After breakfast, we loaded into the minivan and headed west to the vineyards. This is a growing wine region, offering many picturesque vineyards to choose from.

It took us twenty minutes to get from Kingsville to the furthest winery on our tour that day.

Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery was beautifully set on the shores of the lake. An area was set up beside the water for an upcoming wedding. All of us (except for John and Lance) ordered a flight of wine to try. We shared our glasses amongst the group enabling us to sample all the wines on offer...fortunately no one had any communicable diseases...that we knew of.

Our next stop was CREW. Our Airbnb hostess had left us a delectable bottle of wine from this vineyard and free wine tasting coupons so of course we had to check it out. This winery had a new visitor centre under construction but it hadn't opened yet. We still totally enjoyed our tastings at the current visitor centre because the staff were so enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

For lunch we stopped at the vineyard next door, North 42 Degrees Estate. We rested up and enjoyed the restaurant where we ate on the upper deck. This vineyard also grows lavender which they incorporate into many other products including teas.

Viewpoint Estates and Oxley Estate were the next vineyards on our list, Both wineries had live music added to their gorgeous backdrops. I would have liked to dally longer but the afternoon was growing old.

Our final vineyard was Coopers Hawk. I know from before that they have unique and awesome wines but we were all too pooped to do it justice. I will definitely come back.

Exhausted and still full from lunch, we decided to have a light supper from the night before's leftovers and enjoy our backyard's hammock, swing, fire pit and lounging areas. We walked off our supper around the well cared for town, delighting in the  fireflies flitting around the gardens. We even managed to catch the final hour of the music festival.

The next morning we packed up and made our way back to Point Pelee National Park. This time we climbed the marsh platform lookout while swallows swooped around us and walked the 1 km boardwalk through the marshes, taking lots of pictures of the waterlilies and plant life.

Since the rest of the group hadn't been with us when we checked out the visitors centre and point on the Friday, we went again. This time I made sure to take off my shoes.

Too soon, the weekend was over. I plan to return to this beautiful gem of an area.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Sheridan Falls and the Bruce Trail

I’m embarrassed to say that we have fallen behind with our New Years resolution to walk 100km of the Bruce Trail.

Yesterday afternoon was a perfect Ontario summer’s day so we decided to check out one of Hamilton’s waterfalls and hike some of the trails.

Hamilton is home to over 100 waterfalls. These waterfalls are one of Ontario’s best kept secrets. They first came to my attention when a Norwegian couple staying at my Bed and Breakfast said the falls were one of the highlights of their ten day trip. Some falls are close to a road and others you need to hike into. The guide to the falls explains everything you need to know to plan a spectacular visit. If you love nature and are in the  area, you should definitely check them out.

Since we only had a few hours, John and I started by checking out Sherman Falls. They were pretty close to the road and absolutely beautiful. We continued along the Bruce Trail into the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. It was pretty easy hiking with a groomed trail, mostly flat with a few modest hills. The lush trees kept us well shaded. We spotted a lone deer grazing in the greenery. While keeping us under her watchful gaze, she continued to nibble away.

Such a lovely way to spend a summer’s afternoon.

Total km hiked 5km

Main trail hiked July 25 (46.3-49.8) 3.5km

Total km of main trail hiked to date, 25.1km

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Mindo: Our Last Day in Ecuador

On our last full day in Ecuador. We took the 25 cent bus to the Secret Garden Hostel which has special prices with approved taxis for a private tour to Mindo.  The town of Mindo is a couple hours north of Quito and in a cloud forest. The countryside was very very lush and green.

Closer to Mindo, the road became very snakelike as we drove up and down through the valleys for the last hour.

Our taxi driver/guide, Hugo spoke some English and was really good. His day rate was $100 US.

Once we got to the tourist office in Mindo, they asked what we wanted to do. We chose the butterfly & hummingbird centre, waterfalls and orchid gardens. John asked me if I wanted to do zip lining. I guess I was taking too long to think about it so he went ahead and bought tickets for that as well. We paid all our entrance fees on top of the taxi. Once in Mindo we also paid for one of their 4x4 pick-up trucks to take us between sites as the roads are too rough for the taxi. Entrance fees and the pick-up truck came out to $48 US each.

Our first stop was the butterfly and hummingbird centre. Lush green vegetation, flowers and the air filled with colourful, gorgeous butterflies. The big blue ones were my favourite.

In the gardens, many blue and green, iridescent hummingbirds glimmered in the sun as they ate at the feeders. We could hear their wings vibrate like little motors.

Next was the zip-line. I was very nervous when we got to the zip-lines. I do not do heights well. It was like they read my mind when they asked me if I wanted to go to the bathroom before being harnessed up. 

Three guys came with us. They were real hams, joking around. Two of them went first and waited for us on the other side. 

I was not thinking kindly thoughts towards John as we stood on the first platform. I turned on the video mode of my phone, crossed my legs and leaned back as they instructed. It sure was high above the forest canopy. Then I forgot about everything except screaming and dropping a few four letter words as I was pushed out into space. I was relieved when I landed in one piece on the other side - I had done it! 

John says the valley was echoing with the sounds of me swearing as I soared across.

When John landed, he told me that we had nine more zip lines to do. Yikes!!! I thought there was only one.

The last guy followed John and we were onto the next.

One of the guys followed and videotaped me. That time I did land properly and slid backwards, running into the videotaping guy behind me and we dangled over the abyss. It took all three of the guys to pull us back in. It seems like this has happened before.

I was much calmer for the remaining ones, only having my nerves spike when they attached John and I together.

At one point they asked me if I liked surprises. I said yes thinking that there was some gorgeous scenery after the next one. Nope, the surprise was that they moved the wires so that I bounced up and down that whole stretch of the zip line. Much screaming ensued. In my defence, John was yelping a bit when they bounced him. They guys were all chuckling during the bouncing incident.

They say you should do something that scares you every day. This was my thing. It wasn’t so bad but I won’t be doing it on a daily basis

From the zip-line it was a 5 km drive to the waterfalls. To access the waterfalls you take a tarabita basically a basket hanging from a cable that is strung across the valley below. Once on the other side there are trails to take you to the falls which are really more a set of rapids. We enjoyed the walk through the  humid cloud forest but our trail was a fairly steep hike down and then back up again. 

After the falls we had lunch and then to the orchid garden. A guide showed us the many orchids on display- some of the flowers are so small you need a magnifying glass to see them. The garden also had a hummingbird feeder area where we watched again these amazing little birds buzzing around us like flies. 

By now it was 5pm and time to head back to Quito.  We had a close-up view of the clouds as the mist descended into the valley as we drove out of the Mindo area.

We spent the evening packing (yuck), checking in for our flights and finishing off the Malbec.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The La Mariscal Area of Quito

Our Airbnb apartment is on the 18th floor with great views of the city. It was cool and grey this morning when we got up.

We were missing Galápagos so we hit the streets looking for boobies....this was all we found.

We are very close to Plaza Foch which is the heart of the party area in La Mariscal. 

After a huge breakfast at Juan Valdez Cafe we went to Swissotel to meet up with a walking tour of the La Floresta barrio (neighbourhood).

This free walking tour was put on by Quito Walking Tours and focused on the extensive street art/graffiti in La Floresta. Our guide Martin was a thirty year old art graduate who grew up in Quito. His English was excellent. There were only four of us on this tour today; the other couple were from a place called Toronto - small world.

We loved this tour because it offered us a look into the local culture and society. Street art and graffiti are a big thing in Quito and South America. I didn’t realize how it has its own culture until today. It was really interesting.

Martin also gave us an inside look into the general feelings and concerns of the local people. We got to tour some of the local artists homes and one of the local organic chocolate outlets. I am truly glad that we had this tour and were given some insight.

We next grabbed a cab and went to the Teleferico (cable car) which runs up the side of the Pichincha volcano that overlooks Quito and is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world. It took us up to the Cruz Loma lookout at a height of 4,100 metres (13,450 feet). The views were amazing.  It was so much cooler up there than down below in Quito. The top is often in cloud and although today wasn’t very sunny at least the clouds were still above us. 

Once back at the bottom we cabbed it back to Plaza Foch, we chose a restaurant for the evening, walked through an artisan area and headed back to our apartment. 

We popped into the grocery store below our apartment because Gisela (our host) said that thats where the local people buy their chocolate. Well we bought even more chocolate than the amounts we had purchased from the outlet....what can I say, I’m an addict and when you are near some of the world’s best organic chocolate....

At this point I was beyond exhausted from walking all day so we bought a roasted chicken, veggies, a bottle of Argentinian Malbec and called it a night.

Checking the news tonight we were very saddened to hear the news about the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.