Tag Archives: outdoors

Ottawa Winterlude: Day 2

Sun. Feb. 14, 2016:

As soon as I had climbed out from underneath the covers I was freezing cold. It was going to be another freezing cold day with the temperature hovering around the -30C mark (without the windchill). This time I put on regular leggings and fleece-lined leggings overtop. I also doubled up on socks. I thought I was a brilliant genius, how could I possibly end up cold with so many layers?! The outdoors was barely tolerable, I was glad that my breakfast choice was just the down the street. After about 10 minutes outside I was ready to warm up. Bluebird Café was wonderful, the coffee was amazing and the chocolate chip muffin hit the spot. We sat in the window, but there was not much going on for people watching save some people moving in across the street. The lady ran outside in a t-shirt and we both cringed and yelled at her (through the window, quietly) to run back inside.

We walked to Rideau Falls, passing a few embassies along the way and trying to guess the countries based on the flags. I did poorly. As we walked by the Canada Research Council Brent joked that the place was now empty thanks to Stephen Harper. The first half of the falls was unimpressive as the view was obstructed by the power generation station. It was cool to see that the mist from the falls had landed on nearby trees as a layer of fine snow. It was that cold outside. The second half was much more impressive and it looked so cool because it was frozen and misshapen. My hand froze as I desperately tried to take pictures with my cellphone. I had deemed it too cold to even bring my DSLR as I would never get a chance to use it. Seeing as we had already walked all this way, we continued on Sussex drive to the Prime Minister’s house. 24 Sussex Ave was well guarded and very uninviting, from what I could see, which was barely anything. It even had a wooden barricade, which somehow made it quaintly Canadian.

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Walking by the Royal Canadian Mint there was not much going on. Once we got to Majors Hill Park we were greeted with a strong and super cold gust of wind- and no Winterlude festivities. We had a good look at the canal and we could see Quebec across the river. We walked up to Parliament Hill but again, other than the increased police presence, there was nothing really going on. Except for renovations, there were a lot of renovations going on. The East Block was really pretty to look at. Even though I still have no idea what it is or what goes on there. On our way back to our hotel we passed by the Fairmont Chateau Laurier and made note of how to get back, for we were switching to that hotel in the afternoon.

I could not resist stopping at the Nestle Tollhouse Café for a small snack. We hung out in the hotel as I attempted to warm up while eating cookies. It was an easy walk to our next hotel as we had just come from that direction. We got there just after noon and thankfully they already had a room ready for us.

It was a 5 minute walk down to the canal from our new (and better and warmer) hotel. It was really scary walking on the ice on the Rideau Canal as we slowly made our way over to the skate rental place. We made a pit stop for beaver tails and hot chocolate. I downed the hot chocolate in one big warm gulp. The warmth did not last.

I did not last very long on skates, it had been years since I’d skated and I was really nervous. Add to that my foot cramping and the freezing cold. Yeah it was a poor show on my part. I skated a little way down the canal, at least I got past the people filming an A&W commercial. There’s my future cameo appearance in the background awkwardly and slowly skating to look forward to. Brent skated on ahead, I skated back to the rental place having been defeated. I walked up and down the canal looking down on the skaters below. It was getting really, really cold. I had resorted to taking photos with my nose (the joys of a touch screen).

Near the canal was Confederation Park. They had lots of ice sculptures and a demonstration and even an ice sculpture fire pit. Some of the ice sculptures had seen better days, we were there for the last few days of Winterlude, and they were falling apart. I was starting to get really cold. My double-socked feet were starting to go numb. As we circled the park I got free samples of cookies and tea. This was not enough to entice me to stay and watch any more demonstrations. I was freezing cold and I needed to go back to the hotel to warm up.

During our warm-up break I turned the heater to maximum and turned off the auto function. I brewed a cup of tea, grabbed my cookies and a bathrobe and headed to the heater. I pulled up a chair and wrapped the bathrobe around my legs and feet and over the heater. The tea was good, the sample had worked and now I am a fan of Four O’Clock’s almond biscotti tea. I was finally warm enough and before heading out I added one more layer, an extra long sleeve shirt. I was ready to go to the final location on our Winterlude tour.

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We crossed the bridge over the Ottawa River. The river was mostly frozen but had broken in some parts. Yet people were still walking out across it. It made me uneasy to watch.  Looking back we had a gorgeous view of Parliament Hill overlooking the river. Gatineau Park was where the fun was. They had made ice slides, however I was not going to risk getting my jeans wet and thus being uncomfortably cold again. Instead I watched Brent slide down. We did go down another slide in a two-person tube. It was dizzyingly fun, as we had requested being sent off with a spin. The last activity they had was the chance to go around a track with a dog sled. You could hear the dogs in the pen down below all howling, it was sad. And I was too cold to stand in line.

It was Valentine’s Day and we did not have reservations anywhere. The plan was to walk past the Murray Street Kitchen and peer in, if it did not seem busy we would have dinner there. The backup was to keep walking to Dunn’s for sandwiches instead. Murray’s didn’t seem too busy so we went in and asked about a table. They had one, however we would have to clear out by 7:30pm. It was just past 5pm, we looked at each other and at once understood we would be out of there way before then.

We decided to order the charcuterie as nothing else on the menu really caught our fancy. Again we got to choose which meats and cheeses (gouda, raw cow’s milk cheese, smoked duck, kiełbasa and headcheese). Once again the charcuterie was outstanding, I am beginning to think that Ottawa is a great place for charcuterie but I have no idea why. The nachos with beef heart were also delicious, especially because they were made with kettle chips. And the feta cheese was minimal. We had overheard from a nearby table that the poutine had been featured on a TV show (it was on You Gotta Eat Here) and we wondered if we had made a mistake? When the server came back with our second round of drinks we ordered it- without really knowing what we were getting. Poutine would obviously have fries, right? Not here it doesn’t, it was some weird doughy noodle-shaped things. It was a small serving but even still it was difficult to get through. Who does that? Who messes with poutine like that?

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On our way back we passed some kids that were booing every dinner option their parents presented and every business they passed. One of which was a cupcake shop, The Cupcake Lounge. We had not ordered dessert and it was Valentine’s Day, why not? I got the last maple cinnamon cupcake and Brent had the Oreo one which was way better.

I snuggled up under the covers and brushed all the cupcake crumbs off the bed. It was time for my all-time favourite vacation activity: mindless stupid TV! We watched Bob’s Burgers followed by an SNL Valentine’s Day special that was truly terrible. I flipped back and forth through channels, having lost my patience for commercials a long time ago. I kept switching between Family Guy and a comedy festival. I thought for sure John Cleese would be funny- he was not. And then there was nothing on which was fine by me, being freezing cold all day is exhausting.



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Ottawa Winterlude: Day 1

Sat. Feb. 13, 2016:
Toronto train to Ottawa

For Valentine’s Day Brent surprised me with a weekend getaway to Ottawa for the Winterlude Festival- which just so happened to coincide with the start of my reading week, so I was all in. Our VIA train was set to leave Toronto at 2 in the afternoon, but there was no way we were walking to Union station. It was about -35C with the windchill. The train ride itself was about 5 hours long. The Wi-Fi was weedy and I ended up doing all of the readings I had loaded to the iPad and I was unable to load any more. I resorted to getting mad at the browser on the iPad and constantly refreshing web pages for the last 40 minutes of the train ride.

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It was a freezing cold walk to the hotel from the train station once we got to Ottawa. It was unbelievable how cold it was. Under a minute of bare hands as I tried to put my earmuffs on over my hat and it hurt. Even with fleece-lined leggings under my jeans I was still cold. It was indescribable how cold it was, but in the air it was at least -30C and that is not even counting the windchill. We kept getting lost as the Google maps print out was not exactly clear. Then Brent’s phone started malfunctioning and restarting, it did not like the cold either. In fact only the 100+ crows we saw in the trees did not seem to mind. Eventually we had to resort to using my phone. Thankfully it had a touch screen and voice commands so my hand did not have to freeze. We stopped in at an LCBO just to warm up. However I had not turned off the turn by turn GPS on my phone and the nice lady was trying to give us directions from my pocket.

In hotel I cranked the heater to the maximum which was 26.5C and turned it off auto. I crawled under the blankets and snuggled in for some really crappy TV. Border Security was on and it fit the bill perfectly. I never managed to fully warm up and was shivering as I was getting dressed to go back out. I left the heater on in the hopes of returning to a warm and toasty room.

We had reservations at Brother’s Beer Bistro, I had not mapped it out beforehand and we lucked out. It was across the street from our hotel. Any further and we may have had to turn back. Despite an awkward wait with no service when we first entered, the restaurant soon won my heart. They had my all-time favourite beer, Mort Subite. I was overjoyed. We ordered a charcuterie plate because it had the option of picking and choosing the meats and cheeses. We settled on: chorizo, a smoked meat with a weird name and a soft cow’s milk cheese. The written description of the cheese reminded me of camembert- and it was even better. I was in heaven. The charcuterie board was amazing, possibly the second best one we’ve ever had. One of our choices for mains was sold out so we decided to order the beef short ribs (our other choice for a main) and see how we felt afterwards. The beef short rib was not impressive at all, the French fry underneath (yes, there were literally only two giant fries underneath) it was better than the rib. Having only split one main instead of two, we had room for dessert. We decided to change it up and not get the crème brulee (I know!) and got the beer brownie instead. It was topped with cinnamon honey ice cream and underneath there were strawberry preserves. I was worried about the banana cream on the side but it was delicious. I may be wrong about mild banana flavour, it might not be the worst thing on the planet after all. The brownie was delicious, it was still warm and just perfect. At the end of dinner I was still not fully warmed up, even though I had kept my scarf on.


As we walked back to the hotel, a guy in the crosswalk yelled “stop right now… thank you very much” which was confusing, because if this was a reference to the Spice Girls song the next line is rather inappropriate to shout at a stranger.

After a hot shower and with the heater still going full blast I was finally starting to warm up. This was helped by the extra blanket I found in the closet.

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Posted by on February 22, 2016 in Adventures of Pinka!, Travel, Uncategorized


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Florida 2013- Day 2

Fri. June 14, 2013:

The boil water alert was still on. Apparently traces of E .coli were found in the water and so we had to boil it. Even something as simple as brushing your teeth became a hassle as you had to make sure you used boil/bottled water. This being our first full day on vacation (i.e.: the vacation munchies had yet to surface) I was game for going running. Turns out running in Florida, even at 8 in the morning, is a less than stellar idea. Marianne and I ended up walking most of the route, turning our run into a (much cooler) nature walk. We saw so much nature, at times too much nature for me to handle. I did fine not know that there are spiders in Florida the size of my palm; I could have lived the rest of my life not knowing of these nightmare-inspired creatures with their giant webs. Thankfully they hang out higher up in the treetops, away from human faces that are liable to wreck the webs and lead to spider-stomping. Not helping matter were some vultures sitting high atop in the trees, it was as if they were just waiting for me to collapse from heat exhaustion.

As we walked we could hear the peacocks off in the distance (they run wild in the park we passed through) making a huge ruckus. There was a trail along the paved path for people on horseback- just about the worst place for a turtle to bask in the sun, yet there we saw one. We approached it slowly so as to gently scare it towards the canal. The stereotype about turtles being slow is a lie. This little guy was hoofing it towards the canal. For the grand finale he slid down the bank and splashed into the canal water with an epic *plop* that made my day. As we continued we saw more vultures, this time however there were about 10 of them circling an area: a turtle smooshed by a horse, an exhausted runner? We’ll never know, it was too hot to go investigate.

Passing by Flamingo Gardens we saw two red parrots, a male and female. For some reason they flew towards the Gardens, where the peacocks were being obnoxiously loud. Marianne mentioned that there was a parrot display at Flamingo Gardens that had free admission, alas we were there too early yet we were outside too late. At this point, as we headed back, it was unbearably hot. I would like to point out that is was barely 10am and it felt like high noon at the peak of summer.

There is nothing like working up a sweat and nearly getting heat exhaustion to motivate one to go lounge by the beach. We made lunch and packed it up for eating on the beach. My sandwich was epic: almond butter, peanut butter and cranberry preserves. As per my caffeine addiction, we stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts so I could fill up. Happily, they had a new donut: key lime, I was overjoyed, even more so when Marianne informed me that key lime pie is the official pie (dessert?) of the state of Florida! It was delicious, how can it not be? Lime= good, donut= good, crumbly bits on top= good. Something I had (apparently) forgotten to mention when petitioning for a Dunkin’ Donuts pit-stop was that the reason I was so in love with the place was solely for the drip coffee with a flavour shot, and to a lesser extent the donuts (doesn’t beat Tim Hortons). Everyone else had ordered fancy espresso based beverages and then walked away surprised that the flavour was subpar.

Dania Beach was pristine and just gorgeous with a blue sky and nothing but sunshine. I dipped my legs to cool off after setting up the umbrellas and chairs. We were serious beachgoers (as apparently everyone is in Florida) with two giant umbrellas secured in place providing the necessary shade and a cooler for our waters and sandwiches. There is nothing worse than a warm bottle of water in 30+ degree weather.

June 14, 2013- Florida P&S (4)- Dania Beach

While dipping my legs, I found a coconut that had washed up on shore. I found a giant rock, lifted it over my head and threw it down. With comic timing, it bounced off the coconut and landed beside, barely missing my foot. Turns out the coconut was soggy, so I instead adopted him and he sat by our umbrellas, helping keep one of the towels down.

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I tried to lie on my towel in the sun, listening to podcasts but this proved to be a difficult endeavour as the sun was trying to bake me. Even with a hat over my face, I could not take the heat. I retreated to the shade where after a while… it got cold! Shocker! I tried to go back to my towel, but the wind had picked up and was blowing sand all over me, so I took one of the chairs out into the sun, a nice compromise. I was half asleep in my chair (watching pelicans and the Coast Guard fly by put me to sleep) when everyone returned from the ocean. They were shouting and half took off running down the beach. I turned to look and what do you know, the umbrella I thought was more secure (and thus had been paying less attention to) had been blown away. The wind had drastically changed direction. Thankfully the wind was nice enough to not blow any sand onto our lunch.

The wind was so strong the birds could not fly, they were stuck hovering in once place, trying so desperately to fly against it, both sad and funny. A storm appeared on the horizon soon after lunch, but it went out across the ocean and then back to land further north. It had completely bypassed us it seemed. Except it looped back around and came straight for us, threatening not just rain but also lightning. We packed up and left.

On our way back we stopped at Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlour for a little treat. Little is an understatement. The smallest size ice cream scoop, the kid’s size, was 1/4lb. I love ice cream, but that seemed a bit much to me. Camilla and Lucy saw the economic value in sharing a banana split and thus the Great Debate began. They were almost at the window and wondering if they should rehearse- and they forgot their order. Everyone else ordered and they went last. I was nearly in tears, laughing at the size of their banana split when it was handed over. It was enormous, easily too much for 3-4 people. Their flavour choice was not that great: strawberry (tasted too much like bubblegum), pina colada and caramel. Clearly I was the winner with a giant scoop of rocky road. Not only was it made freshly in-house, it had real marshmallows in it. Where else can you get that? Bonus points for including a plastic drip tray to hold my cone in. No sooner had I walked away from the ordering window, my ice cream was already half melted. The whole thing was a messy, sticky affair. While we ate we laughed about the epic salad Lucy had at the cottage, proving she has a propensity to order too-large dishes.

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As we drove, our ride was interrupted by a one-car train, but it was so cute you could not get mad at it. We made another pit stop, this time at the humane society. It was heartbreaking to see all those animals. We got to pet the tiniest little kitten I have ever seen, it kept meowing and it took all my self-will not to adopt it and take it with me in my carry-on luggage. While there we found a cat with my name, as well as two that looked like our cat back home: Mruczka.

It felt so good to shower when we got back; there was a whole layer of sand mixed with sunscreen stuck to me. Turns out I had not put enough sunscreen on my belly, as it was red and sunburned. We got some aloe from the garden. It felt cold and slimy on my belly, but it also provided relief. I was torn.

Kazik (one of the cats) had caught a lizard outside on the patio and was batting it around. He would periodically pick it up by its head and carry it in his mouth. He would chase it, bat it, and carry it around- but not eat it. He had just eaten his dinner and was not hungry, so Ela and I taught him not to play with his food by setting the lizard (remarkably unscathed) free.

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We had another super-Polish supper, with zapiekanki (grilled cheese with mushrooms) for the main course. For dessert we had the greatest idea ever. You see, Nutella is not exactly healthy, bearing more than just a hint of cocoa. We fixed the health factor by spreading it on strawberries. It has now become a staple in our diet. The day ended on a high note, while playing Bohnanza we found out that the boil water alert had been lifted. Our area had been unaffected by the e.coli!


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Los Angeles 2013- Day 8

Fri. Mar. 22, 2013:

Apparently my horrible nightmare, from which I sprang up in bed horrified, did not wake Brent seeing as the next morning he had no idea what I was talking about. Thankfully there was coffee in the lobby, but more importantly: they actually had milk!! For once I did not have to settle for whitener or fake creamers.

As we drove north I noticed that the trees had changed, they were no longer all palm trees, and they sort of looked like redwoods, but not as big, at least not big enough for the hawks, as I saw one sitting on a wire instead. We passed the cutest road sign I had ever seen, it showed a pig and a piglet crossing the road. Another sign informed us that we were passing over an old bridge from the 1930s, we drove over a few. It was really odd to see a sign that said Monterey was 25 feet above sea level, it seemed so incredibly low.

We got to Monterey early, and rather than waiting in line at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with a million screaming school children, we opted for walking around Cannery Row. From the pier you could see (through a free telescope, a true rarity) sea lions basking on rocks near the shore, far off in the distance. There wasn’t much else to do, despite how tempting the wax museum dedicated to the book Cannery Row was. Apparently everyone else thought so too, because when we got to the aquarium there was a huge crowd of people waiting to get in.

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We had half an hour before the penguin feeding (for once we were actually doing something from the aquarium schedule, another rarity). We watched a hilarious situation unfold before us in a giant exhibit. There was a hammerhead shark that would circle the tank and then cut through a school of fish, you could watch as the school reformed into a different shape to accommodate the shark. And he kept doing it over and over, almost like a dog herding sheep. And of course I got my fill of jellyfish, I could watch them all day- and I almost did were it not for the penguin feeding.

The penguins were adorable, they saw the crowd and knew that it was feeding time. A few of them even lined up by the door, they knew the drill. They don’t so much eat, as pig out, swallowing the fish whole. Eventually the feeding became unbearable when the school children started asking questions. We headed outside to the viewing deck in an attempt to get a break from them. We were wrong; you cannot escape school children, ever. There was a log book that said dolphins had been spotted the previous day. I looked out over the vast ocean while sneakily eating my Pop Tart. I saw no dolphins, no whales, and no sharks. Just blue: blue ocean, blue sky.

Back inside there was a sting ray trying to escape from his enclosure- except on the other side of the glass was a petting tank. He kept flopping up against the glass; I guess a petting tank is better than bratty school children? There were some baby seahorses and baby jellyfish on display as well, if you can call it that. They were impossible to see, a magnifying glass should have been provided. In one of the seahorse tanks there was a giant shrimp swimming in circles in the middle of the tank, he was followed along the bottom by a horseshoe crab. In another tank I was entranced by a crab eating a piece of kelp, it was so cute how he held it up to his mouth and nibbled it.

jelly collage

In the middle of the aquarium there was a tank that was supposed to be a kelp forest. At every window we would see different creatures, more interesting than the ones in the previous window- yet all in the same tank. It all culminated with a giant sea bass and a shark that looked like a sting ray. We ended our trip to the aquarium with the jellyfish exhibit. The jellyfish mentioned earlier were part of a general exhibit; this one was specific to them. I can never get enough of watching jellyfish floating about and this was no exception. It really made me want a pet jellyfish, they are just so cute but also calming, floating so peacefully with those fake bright coloured lights. There was one exhibit were you push a button and see what they really look like- I do not recommend pushing that button, it might ruin your day. But you can always just backtrack to the brighter of the tanks.

A couple hours in an aquarium can leave one rather hungry; thankfully we walked by a Pinkberry. However a few doors down we passed a Nestle Tollhouse Café, I could not resist going in. I must have looked like such a glutton, contemplating cookie choices while eating Pinkberry frozen yogurt. The choice was easy: you can never go wrong with white chocolate macadamia. It was one of the best I have ever had, the cookie had hints of cinnamon (I had been debating the snickerdoodle cookie, but I got my cinnamon fix anyways). Brent’s triple chocolate cookie had a hint of peanut butter in it. Walking back to the car we were accosted by a sneaky fundraiser. He threw me off guard when he said something about my smile, the Blue Jays and then he handed me a sticker. He was too friendly and I ended up listening to him talk about homeless women. The only reason I gave him money was to make him go away- it was so awkward and I was terribly uncomfortable.

I was so happy to be back in the car and away from that too-sneaky fundraiser. Besides we were now on our way to the Mission San Juan Bautista, the actual mission from Vertigo. The night after we went to the Santa Barbara Mission, I Googled it out of curiosity, and lo and behold: it was not that far away. A cop tried to pull a guy over on the highway, but the guy kept going, ignoring the sirens. The cop even had to call it in, but then we saw that the driver was motioning for them to both pull off the highway, not nearly as interesting as a get-away chase. I did see a shotgun house though, that was sort of interesting?

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We got to the Mission right at high noon, when all the school children were on the lawn playing. There was a giant lawn between the stables and the Mission. As it turns out they are two separate properties. When we tried to enter the barn, so I could fake a flashback by the carriage, a park ranger came by and told us we had to pay a $5 admission fee if we wanted to enter. We cut across the grass over to the Mission instead. There was no bell tower, but the rest was real. Well the exterior anyways, I did not feel like paying admission to go inside, given I had already seen inside of one, and you could see most of this one anyways. Curiously there was no mention of the movie anywhere.

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We stopped at a gas station before getting back on the Pacific Coast Highway. The bathroom there was the third worst one I had ever encountered. The first was the one in Massachusetts where the floor had been freshly bleached, and the second was in Shipshewana, Indiana that did not have door stalls, just shower curtains. As we drove we passed by many farms. One drew my attention; I had to stare at the animals for a bit to figure out what they were. They were goats it turned out. The beautiful scenery was interrupted by an out-of-place power plant. We also passed by Bonita Drive, which made me slightly giddy.

Given that we were driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, we stopped at the first McDonald’s we saw: we had no way of knowing if there would be food up the road and nothing is worse than being hangry (hungry and angry) on vacation. There was an insufferably annoying girl seated near us. She was telling a fake tale of a “boyfriend” and she kept flip-flopping, “yes he is real, no he is not” and at some point she explained why she brings a pillow to school. I ate as fast as I could just so we could get out of there. You may ask why I did not just eat in the car. It is because I wanted a sundae for the car ride and it would have melted before I got to it, or I would have to eat it first which is never fun. While at McDonald’s I found out that the quarter pounder comes with two slices of cheese to the one burger patty- and it goes great with a 10 piece chicken nuggets. I was ready for In N Out burger, for the 4×4.

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We drove by a sign for Rockaway Beach, so at least the Ramones did not lie about that. As we drove further north, I saw an antenna atop a hill. It was a dead giveaway that San Francisco was up ahead. And just like that we were stuck in traffic, no more scenic highway, and just bumper to bumper cars. We drove through Golden Gate Park on our way to the Golden Gate Bridge. We were paranoid that the GPS might try and take us on a faster route, but thankfully it complied with our wishes. The drive over the bridge was quick. Not so for the other side, they had fewer lanes and were just crawling across the bridge. Just over the bridge there was a sign saying Redwood High. That might seem like a boring sign, unless you have played Cruis’n USA where there is one race through a redwood forest (arguably the hardest track in the game). I was beyond myself with giddy joy. I had always wanted to see the redwood forests (it was even on my list of Life’s Goals).

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The anticipation was growing as we drove over a mountain and down into a valley along narrow winding roads, the signs pointed to Muir Woods National Monument. It is a cleverly constructed park. You cannot really see the redwoods from the parking lot. You have to pay admission to get in, and then you can see them. It was well worth the fee, it was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. You hear about these trees being enormous, but it is nothing until you see them for yourself, when you have to tilt your head all the way back- hurting your neck in the process. And even then you can’t always see the tops of the trees, just the sun breaking through the top. For some reason I had it in my head (not sure from where) that there is a tree that is hollowed out, with a tunnel so you could walk through it. There is no such thing, as far as I could tell anyways. So it turns out, there is such a thing, but it is in Yosemite National Park, the Wawona Tree.

Throughout the forest there were downed trees and burnt trees, which only showed how giant they were. Some were leaning precariously, threatening to topple over. As we walked back I remembered a sign showing the different types of wild life found in the forest, one of which was the banana slug. We had just listened to a podcast (Stuff to Blow Your Mind) about slugs on the drive up. I was now determined to see a banana slug and photograph it so I could email the podcast host. There were no banana slugs. In fact, we saw no wildlife whatsoever.

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We stopped at a 7-Eleven for some snacks and soda to hold us over as we drove to Berkeley. As it turns out grapefruit is not all that bad when it is in Squirt soda, I guess it is drowned out by all the other citrus flavours. And coconut makes for a nice addition to Three Musketeers chocolate bar. We passed over a double-decker bridge over San Francisco Bay.

Given that our evening plans were cancelled, we walked over to Chez Panisse just to see it (as we had done in Chicago, when we walked by Charlie Trotters). We were not the only ones surveying the fire damage, there was a small group of people who appeared from all sides, almost like a pilgrimage to mourn. I was still sort of hungry, alas it was a Friday night so everywhere was packed full of people. I settled for a pepperoni slice from Papa John’s by the hotel. Settled is the wrong word, it was disgusting. They did not even heat it up and it was rubbery and half-cold and just outright gross. Hungry, tired and disappointed by a lack of Chez Panisse I could not sleep. Also there was a guy on the street outside yelling at passersby. I thought about digging the pizza slice out of the garbage and throwing it at him, or at the very least yelling back.


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NYC 2012- Day 4

Sat. Sept. 8, 2012:

I woke up relatively early despite the fact that 1.) the previous day’s exhaustion and 2.) I did not sleep all night, just tossing and turning pierced by horn honking and sirens. With my Dunkin’ Donuts fix in-hand we walked to Magnolia Bakery. The streets were a lot less crowded because the commuters were not in town, it was the weekend. I made a beeline for the cupcakes, no time to dillydally looking at inferior baked goods. We split a lemon coconut cupcake and a chocolate cupcake with boiled icing. The lemon cupcake had lemon custard in the centre, but it was no match for the boiled icing. It was amazing! The cupcake itself was not as good as the Georgetown cupcake, not as creamy and soft. They were setting up for a parade, but it looked like Mother Nature was going to rain on their parade and by that token us. It started slowly and then it was just pouring rain. What else could we do, we kept walking.

We arrived at Dylan’s Candy Bar soaking wet. The candy selection was quite good; it would have to be for there are three floors. We had Chewy Runs, a Rocky Road Bar (marshmallow goo with cashews all covered in chocolate) and a chocolate covered marshmallow blob with a salted caramel centre. The third one was essentially a Viva Puff cookie without the cookie base, Brent hates Viva Puff cookies yet he ate up that little chocolate.

The rain stopped for all of 5 seconds, just enough time to give us a false sense of hope. Drenched and dripping we hid out in the Frick Collection Museum for a bit. This museum is run by geniuses: the admission is only allowed for kids older than 10! Subsequently we were not bothered by screaming children; we could look at fine paintings by the likes of Renoir and Turner in peace and quiet while people stared at us as we left puddles everywhere.

When we got back outside the rain had stopped, for real this time. We took the break in the weather as a chance to go to the Central Park Zoo (had originally been planned for later in the day). Also the Frick Collection was a lot smaller and had taken less time than anticipated. Soaking wet and freezing cold we made our way through Central Park, eating chewy runts. Well trying to, I kept getting banana ones and having to forfeit them to Brent and keep digging in the bag for non-gross ones. We found the Zoo using a map of the park on a lamp post.

Here is where my illusions of the Central Park Zoo as formed by the movie Madagascar got shattered. One by one it all fell apart. First: you had to pay admission to get in! Second: there was no Senior’s Day listed. Thirdly: there were no lions, giraffes, hippos or zebras. There were some penguins, but they smelled to high heavens and had no interest in stealing spoons. There were monkeys, but not the newspaper-reading-coffee-drinking kind. And still, I loved it, except for the sad and depressing polar bear: he would swim back and forth, eyes closed, he knew the route. And he just did that, back and forth back and forth, over and over. We headed back north through the Park, stopping at Bethseda Fountain on our way to get lunch. We were voraciously hungry as we had spent the whole morning walking and had eaten nothing more than sugary goodness.

First we went to Lansky’s Deli because it was closer, but the line was to the door and we had no intention of standing in line waiting for food. Off to Gray’s Papaya for hot dogs! The place had a great set up: all they sold were hot dogs and fruit juice, and there were really only three things you could have on your hot dog making for fast and efficient service. The hot dog was delicious, which was helped by the fact that I did not get sauerkraut on it. Satiated we headed to the American Museum of Natural History. We got lost along the way, taking a dead end to what we thought was an entrance, then trying to enter through a side entrance that just led to the planetary exhibit. Eventually we made our way to the grand front entrance. There was a giant line-up of people at the admissions windows, but no line-up at all near the self-serve kiosks. It is crazy how many people were just standing in line.

There was so much stuff to see in the museum, we spent over three hours walking around, our backs and legs were hurting, we were hungry again- but we saw it all. It was great; we got to touch fossils, multiple fossils and not just a little sliver of a tiny piece of it. There was a confusing display about the size of stuff in space compared to the size of other stuff, and eventually we figured out how to get to the lower level of the display and it was so crappy down there. There were broken scales that would have told you how much you would weigh on other planets.

We headed back to Lansky’s and fortunately there was no line-up this time, we were seated right away. I had to order the motza ball soup, out of curiosity’s sale. Alas I also wanted a knish but was told they were all sold out. So I just stole some of Brent’s fries. I attempted to bite his triple-decker sandwich but it took multiple bites to get everything in one mouthful. The soup was delicious, the motza balls were just bland and weird and oversized chunks of bread-like stuff. The service there was slow, which on any other day would have been fine. But we were glued to the TV as the U.S Open had been cancelled because a giant storm was heading our way. We wanted to get out of there quick. It did not matter, the rain got us anyways. We had made it maybe two blocks. We still had a good 20 blocks back to the hotel. It was really bad down near Times Square. There is nothing worse than being packed into a slow-moving space with rain-soaked people while street vendors try and sell you an umbrella: you are already drenched, what good is an umbrella now?!

Back at the hotel, in dry clothes, we headed down to the lower level; the elevator button said there were vending machines down there. It lied. There were just construction materials. We sat there watching Storage Wars, rain soaked and exhausted. A movie came on HBO that we had both heard critics rave about, so we started watching it. About half an hour in we were both confused and not enjoying it. As we were about to change the channel a new character was introduced and it got kind of interesting. Then it got dull again. In the end: we watched the entire damn thing. The cravings got the better of me and Brent went out to get candy and soda while I stayed behind waiting for the room service guy to bring us a bottle of wine. Brent had tweeted that he was staying at the hotel and for that they gave him a free bottle of wine. It took the guy forever to show up. And then we did not have a bottle opener. So I had to call again for room service, and again had to wait an inordinate amount of time.

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Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Adventures of Pinka!, Travel


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2012 Roadtrip 1, Day 6

Wed. June 27, 2012- New Hampshire to Quebec:

Our hotel did not have a coffee-maker in the room, or free breakfast, and the coffee downstairs was way too expensive so we just left. Except that, as soon as we opened the door we looked down and there was a tray with coffee cups, a canister of coffee and a copy of the morning newspaper! At this point Brent mentioned that there was a light tap at the door around 7am, but he figured it was room-service to the wrong room, so he ignored it. So while he express checked out (instructions were included with the coffee) I chugged a cup of coffee, which was easy because at this point it was lukewarm, for it had been sitting out there close to two hours. I was finally reunited with my purse and wallet! As we drove I saw a turkey couple on the side of the road, the wife did not look happy, it was raining and she looked soggy and miserable. No one likes soggy turkey. We were leaving New Hampshire and all its rain for (hopefully) sunny Quebec. Along the way we finally passed a welcome sign! Not to Quebec, to Vermont (we had to pass through). There were so many moose crossing signs, one every few miles. It was driving me nuts, it made me want to see a moose all the more (albeit over in the forest, not on the road in front of us). We reached the highest elevation of the interstate, a paltry 1856 feet elevation; Bear Mountain in Connecticut has a higher elevation.

I excitedly yelped because I saw something interesting, and Brent got all excited thinking I had seen a moose. He was very disappointed that I had seen a grey heron sitting in a marsh. I had such a good laugh at psyching Brent out so good, only to then be psyched by some tree branches and a giant rock. This only made me want to see a moose all the more. We passed a nifty sign informing us that we were at the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole. And then all of a sudden we were at the border, no signs or anything warning us of it. Every other time there were always tones of signs, as if to last minute discourage you from leaving the country. It was our fastest border crossing time yet, it would have been even faster had I not listed off one by one all the stuff I had bought in the States (soap, shaving cream, a purse… the list just went on), the guard seemed mildly irritated so said Brent. All the signs were now in French, which was just wonderful for our elementary school French educations. In total I would guess that we understood maybe a quarter of it? Even that might be a generous guess, it would have been higher if all the signs just said pamplemousse. We did amuse ourselves quite a bit with trying to understand what was written on signs and what people were saying to us, but in the end we resorted to singing the French song that teaches kids about over, under, in and out. When out in public however, we were forced to reply to bonjour with hello, and sometimes followed by “we are Anglophones”.


We drove through the small (OK, super small) town of Ayre’s Cliff, but there was nothing there to even stop and look at. We did stop however at a roadside rest stop, the scariest one yet. It was a parking lot with a little shack that had two bathrooms in it. I swear, this is where people get murdered in horror movies. Our next stop was in North Hatley, here we actually got out of the car and wandered around a bit, in the rain. It was still raining. Other than the coffee shop and a gazebo on the lake, there was not much to see. Off to our main destination: Sherbrooke for the scenic train ride! As we drove there were signs for a detour however the road was not closed, so we just kept driving and driving and driving for what seemed like forever and then, only then, half an hour after the first detour sign- the road was closed. We had to back track all the way back, to cheer ourselves up we went off on a side road to go over a covered bridge, it was real fun, especially because we had to turn around and go over it again to get back on the main road. Along our detour route there was another detour. I kid you not, our detour had a detour. The traffic lights were very weird, they are horizontal (not vertical as your see everywhere else) and each colour was a different shape as well, plus a very confusing extra yellow arrow.

We parked in a random parking lot that was supposedly near the train station and we took off in a random direction, after about 15 minutes of walking we realized we had to turn back, we were going to get the GPS to get us. Only as we approached the car i saw what looked like a train station in the other direction. Sure enough it was across the street from us. We still had some time to kill however, so we walked around the Lac Du Nations, eventually though the rain was really starting to irritate me so we just went to line-up for the train, the Orford Express. We were the youngest people in line (save for a few kids) and also the only Anglophones. This was no ordinary scenic train ride for it came complete with a three course lunch, bonus that it was really fast service (it had been pre-cooked before the train ride). Unfortunately for me the starter was a salad, which I only got halfway through because quite frankly: I hate salad. For our mains we did not get a choice, but it still worked out well because we each got a different dish. We split the mushroom-stuffed chicken and trout & cod, the chicken was better though. For dessert we also did not get a choice, but we also got two different ones so it again worked out well. Really well in fact, one dessert was a chocolate cake and the other a lemon meringue cake. We were also served tea with our dessert. Not exactly the most ideal drink to have on a mildly shaky train ride, but it would have been worse on the Cog Train when it was going up the steep incline. It was during dessert that I found out that in fact Earl Grey tea is not disgusting as I had previously thought, but in fact rather delightful, my bad. The train ride itself was as promised, really scenic with views of farmland, forests, rivers and lakes. The best view however was a gang of wild turkeys roaming about at the edge of farmland bordered by a forest. Brent did not believe me the first time; I think he was jealous that he did not see them. On the way back he said he saw them, but I am not sure if I believe him.

On the way back we stopped in the town of Magog by the Lake Memphe-something (Lake Memphremagog). There was a tower you could climb up to get a better look of the lake, to watch for Memphe the lake monster. Alas, she was not out, and neither would I, the weather was awful: cold, windy and rainy. On our way back down a French woman started to talk to me and I started saying no… but she misunderstood it as non, as in an answer to her question, but i was trying to say no, I don’t speak French. It was awkward, even more so when Brent stepped in with “oui” the women must’ve thought we were nuts, or just plain rude. Walking back to the train we were attacked by a swarm of bugs and we had to spend a few minutes picking them off each other before boarding the train, I apparently had four of them on my back. For the last part of the train ride there was a woman walking up and down the aisle singing in French, with one or two English phrases such as “I love you” sung in a thick French accent peppered in here and there, it was not the very entertaining, it was just weird. It was still raining when we left the train. Not helping was the fact that upon leaving the parking lot we drove in an entire circle ending up back at the parking lot, all for trying to avoid the traffic-jammed detour. Thankfully I figured out how to make the GPS program an alternate route, and the sun came out! The sky was blue! And somehow, somehow, it was still raining!!!

From the train we had seen a big fancy building atop a hill and we had been guessing what it could be, Brent said it was a retirement home, I guessed a resort. We were both wrong, it was the University of Sherbrooke. Brent waved to another driver for letting us in, I mistook it for a high five attempt and went in for it, only to have it turn into a face-palm incident. We had a good laugh about it though. That night we were staying at the Manor Hovey on Lake Massawippi, so we wandered around and took in the sights before dinner in the Main Dining room. We were treated to a super fancy prix fixe menu, how fancy was it? The whole ordeal took over two hours, that is how fancy. The waiter pulled my chair out for me and put my napkin on my lap, it was very weird and awkward. To go with the complimentary “artisan baked” bread there were three different types of salt to try: a fancy Italian salt, a salt made with Bordeaux (the best one) and a salt made with Hawaiian volcanic ash. Every person who came to our table, we had to explain that we were Anglophones, which sometimes resulted in them leaving and finding someone else who spoke English. The amuse bouche was a haddock mousse with mushroom paper and Seychelles. It was delicious but the mushroom paper proved difficult to eat when it fell off the mouse and onto the serving platter, it would lay flat and stick to it, no amount of scraping at it (loudly I might add) with my fork helped. Up next was the appetizer, Brent had the venison tartare while I had the lobster with lobster roe (we never did figure out what in my dish was the roe) and some other garnishes. Brent won this round, the venison tartare was amazing. For mains we stuck with the meat dishes. There was no unanimous decision however on who won Round 2, I did not like the lamb shoulder (Brent’s) at all. The filet mignon on parmesan risotto was way better. I did however come to the conclusion that I do not in fact like lamb, the only times I ever liked it were when it was drenched in sauce, pretty much the actual flavour of it was covered up. The dessert amuse bouche was outstanding and just plain cute: mini strawberry shortcake topped with whipped cream and a mint leaf, served in a snap-top jam jar that was chilled. It was a good indicator of what was to come for dessert; between the two of us we had a whole smorgasbord of goodies. There was the main dessert in the middle with stuff around it, sesame seed ice cream (tasted like halva) surrounded by banana fritters. The stand-out was the roasted marshmallow from Brent’s dessert. For dessert Brent also had a glass of mead, ordering it however caused some confusion. It must not be very popular because he had to point to it on the wine list. It was well worth the confusion however, it was amazing. Stuffed full of food, we headed back to the room to watch… more America’s Got Talent!!

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Posted by on July 13, 2012 in Adventures of Pinka!, Travel


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2012 Roadtrip 1, Day 4

Mon. June 25, 2012- New Hampshire:

I woke up early in anticipation of breakfast, so early in fact that I was up before breakfast was even being served, so I opted for having coffee in bed while watching Boy Meets World. Once again we were the only ones in the Dining Room, we had the buffet of granola and fruits and amazing maple pecan strudels all to ourselves. There was also a menu you could order off of, that is what I was excited about. Nothing beats a stack of pancakes first thing in the morning, especially if they are topped with pieces of apple and drizzled with pomegranate syrup. Needless to say, it was a tie at breakfast, pancakes were amazing, but so was Brent’s maple walnut French toast. There was a break in the rain and no sign of thunderclouds so we decided to brave it and go kayaking, alone, on a lake, just the two of us, inexperienced kayakers, when storms were called for later in the day. We survived!! We lasted close to an hour out on the lake, paddled around a small island and learned that I veer right when I kayak. No matter what we did, somehow we were always going right. Except when it was decided we should go right, then I inexplicably veered left. We heard a loon off in the distance, as well as some scary thunder. Also scary was the few times when I almost tipped us over with my fidgeting. Towards the end it started raining, you could see the drops hitting the lake. As for us, we could not feel it, because I also splash a lot when I paddle. Again, it is amazing we made it back. Alas, to get out of the kayak we had to step in the lake again (as when getting in) so much for my shoes having started to dry.

Driving to Weir’s Beach for a cruise around the lake, we passed a pirate-themed mini golf with a hilarious sign: We Aargh Open. We arrived at the cruise an hour and a half early so we wandered around the small beach town and boardwalk in the rain. Yup, the rain finally caught up to us. There is a train route running along the beach and it is geared towards tourists/children called Hobo Railroad (it even has an ice cream parlour car), we saw kids getting off carrying toy bindles, it was at once cute and weird. Were it not for the rain I would have spent that hour lounging on the beach, instead I was stuck gawking at a tacky arcade that didn’t even have Cruis’n USA. The cruise around Lake Winnipesaukee was 2.5 hours long. The views were gorgeous, until the rain really started falling hard and the wind got really strong and cold. I went back inside only to be annoyed by kids. So I went back up to the top deck. Too cold and windy. Back downstairs. Before the boat had departed there was a loon on the lake.


The Days Inn where we were staying was the in the middle of nowhere, it was a 15 minute drive to McDonald’s! I thought we were staying in America, the land of McDonald’s?! What I knew for sure was that I could always count on one of a few shows to be on: Jersey Shore, Diners Drive-Ins and Dives, or Spongebob. Luckily for us there was a Spongebob marathon. The McDinner was the first “real American” meal of the entire trip. On Brent’s McCup there was a McCoupon for $1 off a cherry berry chiller. Seeing as we were in need of spoons (Ben & Jerry’s was to be had for dessert) I went up and ordered one, using the coupon. It was great, I paid 75 cents. We drove to Wal-Mart to restock on granola bars for hiking, as well as grab some dessert, the aforementioned Ben & Jerry’s as well as some Swedish Fish, our go-to combination. The Wal-Mart was atop a hill with a beautiful backdrop of the White Mountains behind it, it was a rather weird site to see this scene of nature from a parking lot. Also Wal-Mart sells alcohol for dirt cheap, they had California Zinfandel’s for $3 a bottle, I was floored. On the way back to the hotel, not worried that the ice cream would melt, we drove through/over a covered bridge beside the hotel, much to my giddy joy!



Back at the hotel it was time for America’s Got Talent- or so I thought. It was not in fact on for another hour. So we watched Spongebob and gorged ourselves on Swedish Fish and Phish Food, the best Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor I have had thus far. It was chocolate ice cream with a ribbon of marshmallow goo, caramel swirls and fish-shaped fudge!

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Posted by on July 9, 2012 in Adventures of Pinka!, Travel


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