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Archive for the ‘travel tips’ 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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Heading for the Sunshine Coast?  If, like most folks, your route takes you straight up the highway from the ferry, then you will shortly pass the new Beer Farm.

Don’t!  Pass it, that is.
Drive on in.

This is the home of Persephone Brewing Company – a new and wildly popular craft brewery on a lovely property which was formerly home to a flower nursery. 

1 and 1.89 litre growlers available to take along and start your Coast visit in the pleasantest of ways. We like the Goddess golden ale, but the Red ale is also good.

Check their hours before you continue on your way, as you will want to grab a growler re-fill on your way back to the ferry.

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Growing hops at the beer farm

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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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To find the wonderful in Toronto?

Me, who has been here for less than two weeks? OK, lets start with the two things I mentioned: A good pub and some decent Indian food.

I found the pub just across the street. It’s the Irish Embassy. Handsome and friendly barkeeps – including at least one with an authentic Irish accent – have made me very welcome there. It doesn’t meet my “pint for less than 7$” criteria, but in every other way it is splendid. I had some of the best chicken fingers ever there, and they happily brought me a bowl of curry sauce for my fries when I saw it was paired with another menu item. There is a sister-pub called PJ O’Briens just around the corner, and they have live music on the weekend, so I will check it out then. Meanwhile, here is a picture of my chicken strips, and another of the pub itself.

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As for the Indian, I noted four Indian joints in a row on Queen Street at University, which is not far at all. TripAdvisor was my friend here, singling out two of them for good reviews. I chose one of these, Little India, and was not disappointed. The daily special was a $19.95 menu that started with a vegetable samosa, added four other dishes, including THE BEST butter chicken I have ever had, and finished with a warm sweet. I was too excited/hungry to take a picture but here is a shot of just the leftovers from my meal, which I polished off last night. Great value. Good location. Criticisms would be that the vegetable dish was craaazzzy hot (as in spicy) and they burn an incense which – to me anyway – is incompatible with a restaurant. Just too smelly, but I am sensitive.

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That’s where I am and must stay – for work – until the middle of the month. Bad time to be away from home – and cottage! – but what can you do? Work has been a focus recently, hence a dearth of blog posts. But I hope to have some cottage stuff to talk about in the New Year, so don’t cut me out of your life just yet.

Meanwhile, we must work with what we have, and so I am looking for wonderful things about Toronto. Perhaps you know of some. Good Indian food?; a friendly pub where a pint doesn’t cost $7? Do share!

Here is the first great thing that struck me on arrival…the Christmas lights. This is one of my favourite things about Christmas, and this town does it up right. A few photos to illustrate: The lovely tree is one of several outside my hotel. The reindeer are roughly 10 metres high.

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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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