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Archive for the ‘outdoor adventures’ Category

The Cottager is questing on the Camino de Santiago in Spain at the moment and if inclined, you can see what he is up to on his blog where he posts a few lines and some great pictures almost daily.

I spent the better part of a week at the cottage, just catching my breath and bonding with my new friend Farley. He is a rescue from an L.A. shelter and is now permanently on vacation.

Farley

The Urchins had a week at home without mom harassing them to clean up after themselves. And the cats were happy just to have a week without the dog, whom they do not consider a particularly good addition. And so for the price of one plane ticket to Spain, 7 winter-weary creatures had a vacation.  Told you I was frugal.

I did get a few things done.  The deck got its last ever coat of stain. Before it is due again we will rebuild and only use an oil product after that. Stain is a hassle.

unstained deck

stained deck

I also did some gardening at a relaxed pace, having decided to limit rentals and keep the cottage principally for my own enjoyment this summer. 

A few good friends came to visit. My parents came too, which was wonderful as the have only come in fall or winter before and hadn’t seen my garden to advantage or walked on the beach.

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Besides these pleasant events, the highlight of my vacation was having nine or ten blissful and uninterrupted hours of sleep each night. No doubt Cottager and the Urchins have better highlights.

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I know. It’s been a while. The summer was so fine that I did not have the head or the heart to spend time with a computer if it wasn’t necessary. And truth be told there wasn’t much to tell. The cottage has been rented pretty steadily since the end of May.

We had one week there in August and the weather was perfect. Our boys came for two days and we spoiled them a bit, including taking them out for a sunset kayak trip.

Many of our guests over the years have done this and raved about it so it seemed only right that we check it out. There is a rental spot right in Gibsons harbour. I could tell you how wonderful it was, but I’ll let these photos tell the tale…

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Big Urchin (Bu) is home for Reading Break so the rest of the Keats View family arranged a three day weekend and we headed off to Manning Provincial Park for some family time in the snow. Both Cottager and I remember when you had to arrive early at Manning because the cross-country trails and even parking would be full. Nowadays, the world has passed this quiet little place by and everyone heads for Whistler.

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The lodge and cabins are basic but budget friendly. There’s a nice indoor pool with two large jacuzzis, a small gym, one restaurant, pub, an outdoor ice rink (used to be free, but no longer) and a clanking school bus to run you up to the ski area. Big roaring fires in the lodge, pub and restaurant.

There is only one lift, but both Saturday and Sunday our boys never waited more than a minute or two for a ride up. The snow was powdery and plentiful, and the slopes half empty. Two all day youth passes plus equipment rental for one of them: 115$.

A basic room for four at the lodge (fridge, microwave and coffeemaker) is 119$/weeknight and 167$ weekends. Nordic ski, snowshoes and skate rental are available right behind the lodge on highway 3. Very good value, but the best part is that wifi is limited and pay (so don’t!) and there are only three channels on the old TV. So we had to go to the pool, play cards, goof around and go to bed early.

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Went out for a walk on the beach in a light mist and saw some things I hadn’t seen before. This tree, of course, has clearly been exactly here for many years but something about the dark turbulent day made it stand out in a way it hadn’t before. Wish I’d had a better camera with me.

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And then, along the sea wall in town I found a new public art installation: a line of blackboards and chalk where passersby can record an ever-changing list of single intentions and desires. Here is a link about this lovely idea.

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Better than Paris. Better than Paris by Night
Paris by Night on a Bike!

I hoped to spend quite a bit of my time in Paris on a Velib (shared bike), but the weather really wasn’t cooperative and a close encounter between my left knee and the cobblestones of Prague just prior to my arrival was also a bit discouraging. The weather had improved and the swelling subsided by my last night; however, so some friends and I rendezvous’d at the South foot of the Eiffel Tower at dusk for a Fat Tire Bike tour.  This is an amazingly good value that I strongly recommend to first-time and experienced visitors to the city alike.

The bikes are comfortable and well maintained and the staff at Fat Tire have the tour down to a fair science. No reservations required. You meet at the Eiffel Tower, they divide everyone into manageable groups, walk you back a few blocks to their headquarters and collect your fee, store your effects and sell you bottles of water and rain ponchos if required. Eat something before the meet up time and take an extra layer for the night tour – they will give you a bungee cord to carry it along on your rat trap.

The first part of the ride is the most parlous but quite exhilarating:  A half-hour ride to Notre Dame and Ile Saint-Louis – and quite a bit of it in traffic!  Well how can that be fun, you ask?  Or safe?

The reason is that the tour rides in “road domination” formation, and makes good use of bus-only lanes.  Those occasional honks one hears while blocking the entire road are merely the good citizens of Paris complimenting the riders on their excellent form, agreeable environmental choices and all-round good looks.  It is a bit stop-and-go just at the beginning, but soon everyone in the group is comfortable and the amount of road riding diminishes considerably after that first leg.

On the Ile Saint-Louis we stopped for a famous Berthillon ice cream cone and listened to an old fellow play the accordian on the pedestrian bridge. It was one of these great moments in Paris – right out of Lady and the Tramp, only minus the meatball.

Later, we rode into the Cour Napoleon (the large courtyard surrounding the glass pyramid at the Louvre) through a passageway at the back where a lone cellist was exploiting the acoustics. Also quite magical. We spent a bit of time racing around the pyramid,  photo-bombing the tourists not clever enough to be on two wheels, and then headed along to the Place de la Concorde and a ride down the road-width sidewalks of the Champs-Elysees.

Lose the crowds and enjoy the lights of Paris.

After nearly three hours of short, easy rides and sight-seeing with a knowledgable guide, we locked up our bikes and boarded a bateaux mouche (open excursion boat) for an hour long sightseeing tour along the Seine. This was included in the 3o Euro tour ticket, as was a fairly generous pour of wine. Another short bike leg and we arrived back at Fat Tire at about 1130, tired but happy.

Fat Tire also operates day tours in Paris, as well as in Barcelona and Madrid.  I recently did the Barcelona tour and found it to also be a great value and a brilliant way to get oriented to that city.

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That’s what we learned to do. And also consult Tripadvisor! The thrill of maybe discovering a great restaurant on your own wears thin after a few consecutive failures. Once we started to consult the gurus we never missed. While traditional Czech food tends to lovely roasted meats swimming in gravy with dumplings, potatoes or creamy salads, we also found terrific Indian at an outdoor terrace near the pricey Old Town Square as well as lovely pizza (this last on a floating restaurant with views of the castle.) We had terrific food at great prices along with good service!

Together with all the beautiful sights and the pedestrian friendly and bustling vibe, my visit to Prague was really enjoyable. Now off to Paris for a few days but I won’t leave you without a few food pictures!

This was our lunch yesterday at U Parlementu. I had roast pork in a luscious gravy, along with spinach and bread dumplings. AB had beef sirloin in a cream sauce (which looks like gravy) and buttered boiled potatoes. We shared a Greek salad and a crepe-style dessert and we each had a beer. Our bill came to 427 Crowns which is approximately 18 Euros or CDN $23.
Best of all, the server was friendly and really helpful. He didn’t tip himself, but we sure did.

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Gorgeous day, so AB and I jumped on a tram and then the funicular up Petrin Hill. The walk down to Prague castle in the fall sunlight- through forest and then orchards-was spectacular!

Near a monastery we decided to splurge on coffee on a terrace with a spectacular view. My coffee was 79 crowns, and we think AB’s hot chocolate was 80 or 85, but when the waiter came to collect he presented no bill and asked for 180. It was no more than what we were preparing to give him, but perhaps he thought we would tip him on top of his faulty math?

We proceeded to join the throngs of tourists milling around the castle just as the guard changed at noon. Decided not to buy a ticket package for the various exhibits but did see St Vitus’ chapel.

After walking down through the Royal Gardens we looked about for a bite of lunch in Mala Strana, finally settling on a beer garden style spot that was very busy and advertised reasonable prices.

Things began to go wrong pretty quickly. I used the bathroom and was appalled by it’s condition. Bad sign.

Then AB noticed that the menus all instructed customers to “accept only printed bills” – code for “don’t trust our staff.”

But we’d already ordered. Half an hour later our food arrived
AB’s fried cheese was hot and plentiful. My Goulash soup was excessively salty but edible. Side dishes of fries and a meager portion of limp onion rings – which came on a bed of dressed greens- were stone cold. I thought of sending them back but felt it was probably my fault for ordering a North American style dish. I decided to just enjoy the salad instead. And that’s when My teeth discovered it was full of sand. I lifted up the lettuce leaves and could see sand all over the plate. Now it was going back.

Called the server to explain the problem and told her I did not want a replacement – I was simply sending it back.

She wandered off to report this to someone, and as we waited for her to come back something nose- dived into AB’s fries. I thought it was a big bumble bee: No such luck. It was a cockroach.

We looked at the plate in frozen horror, too stunned to even take a photo. The waitress came back just then and began to say “I’m sorry but…” but was halted when we waved at the cockroach. She scooped up the plate and disappeared with it in moments, returning shortly thereafter to say ” I’m sorry but the chef says the bug was not in your food when it left the kitchen. That is nature.”

“You have roaches.” I countered.
“Yes, in the Czech Republic.”

It was becoming clear we would not agree on whose problem the roach was. I asked for the bill and told her I would not pay for the cold onion rings and sandy salad. I deducted the appropriate amount from the bill that she brought us, we left the reduced amount on the table and left. Around the corner was a market selling cold beer and a MacDonald’s with a clean bathroom and hot fries. And that is what I had for lunch.

Best meal and value we’ve had was an Indian restaurant rated number three on Tripadvisor. We looked up our lunch spot after returning to our hotel and found horrible reviews and tales of bill scamming – rated at almost 1000 among Prague restaurants. So now we are going to consult Tripadvisor in advance. In fact I believe we will plan our days around our meals.

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