Adventures in British Columbia, Part Five – Heading Home


On Monday, August 29th Jim, Pauline and I climbed into their SUV and began the execution of the plan Jim and I had put together several days before. He had a meeting in Comox so he offered to take me with them in the morning so I could catch the Island Link shuttle from there to take me to the Nanaimo Ferry Terminal. We had to leave early to catch the first ferry off Hornby Island. We were already too late.

We caught the second one, which took us to Denman Island. On the other side of Denman we boarded another ferry to Vancouver Island and then drove down the coast toward Comox, stopping for brunch at a beautiful resort dining room somewhere between Courtenay and Comox.

When we got to Comox we made sure we knew where the bus stop was for the shuttle. My phone data was all used up so I couldn’t check email or check in for my next day’s flight until I was somewhere that I could get WiFi, but I didn’t feel any urgency. Jim’s meeting was at 1:00 pm; my bus left at 12:50 pm. After running some errands and taking a walk along the boardwalk, they dropped me off at about 12:35.

comox (8)

Plane coming into small Comox Airfield

comox (7)

Boats along the bay at Comox

comox (6)

Pauline with me

comox (4)

Pauline and Jim

Perhaps I should have gone into the MacDonald’s to use their WiFi, but there wasn’t that much time, so I didn’t. Soon a young woman named Rose, who was headed back to University in Victoria joined me. We waited, and waited. By 1:10 we began to get concerned. I went into the service station to see if they knew anything about it. They didn’t. Rose looked up the Island Link website to get a phone number so we could call, but there was only an email address. What good would that do at this time? I had a reserved seat; Rose did not. At 1:20 I texted Jim to ask him to check with me before they left for home. At about 1:30 an Island Link bus drove in and dropped off some passengers.  The driver told us that our bus would be arriving shortly. I told him that it was supposed to be there 45 minutes ago. He knew nothing about it. He seemed to be done for the day and left.

To make a long story shorter, I’ll just say that Rose called her Aunt to pick her up. She’d try again the next day. Jim and Pauline came to pick me up and had to drive me all the way to Nanaimo, an hour and a half drive away. It was too late for me to catch the 3:10 ferry that I’d planned on, so the rest of the well laid plans also went down the drain. Pauline and Jim’s grandson Matt was going to meet me at the ferry at Horseshoe Bay and I was going to have him drop me off at the Sea Bus Terminal. From there I’d cross the bay and catch the Sky Train to Burnaby, where Ann would meet me. It was a good plan. Instead, we cancelled Matt and I had to ask Ann to drive all the way to Horseshoe Bay after work to pick me up.

At least this time I didn’t get lost at the Ferry Terminal and I had time to connect to the internet to do my flight check in while I waited. Once aboard, I found an empty row of seats, and slid over to the window. I was too stressed and tired to do anything but watch the waves roll by for a while.

An older woman with a thick accent, perhaps German, dragged her large suitcase into the row in front of me before she stood looking around and mumbling something to me, or herself. She said something about having to call her daughter. She caught a woman wearing the uniform of an employee and asked her some questions. When she was told where she had to go when it was time to get off the ship, and assured that someone would come to help her, she sat down and slept or read for a while. I was deep into my book when I caught movement to my left. I looked up to see her pushing her suitcase toward me.

“I have to find the Purser,” she said. “I need to call my daughter to tell her where I am. Can you watch my suitcase for me until I get back?”

“Of course,” I smiled.

She trotted off, seeming uncertain as to where she was going. I wondered if she’d find her way back on time. As I continued to read, I kept an eye on my watch. Time passed; my anxiety built. I had no idea what her name was or how to find her or what to do with her bag if it was time for me to leave and she hadn’t returned! Eventually the employee she’d spoken to before came looking for her, I thought. But she was looking for her suitcase. She had the woman safely in her office. Thank goodness!

lastferry (1)

Ann arrived at Horseshoe Bay at just the time my ferry was docking at 6:30 pm. We’d both been up since 6:00 that morning and were anxious to get home, but traffic was backed up for the first part of the drive. Frank was waiting for us when we arrived at 7:45 and we all walked down the street to the local pub for dinner before Ann and I had to get organized for the next day (her for work; me for my flight) and crawl into bed.

At 6:30 the next morning Ann dropped me at the airport on her way to work. I had time for a good breakfast at The White Spot, which was just outside the Security lines. My first flight was to Calgary and took only 45 minutes. Before it left I got online to check my email. There was a message that had been sent an hour after we left Hornby Island the day before, from Island Link informing me that because of mechanical difficulties, the 12:50 shuttle bus from Comox had been cancelled and I should take either the 12:20 or the 3:20! I wrote back to say that I hadn’t received their email or text on time, and asked for a refund for my ticket. So far I’ve not heard from them again.

I had only a short wait to catch my final flight to Toronto, and it went smoothly, well except for the fact that I may have caught the exposed toe of a woman who decided to step into the aisle just as I lowered my heavy suitcase down from the overhead bin! Sorry!

It had been a great adventure and I was very happy to have seen so much of my family, but I was sure glad to see Jim waiting for me at the airport. As I opened my eyes the next morning, I wasn’t sure where I was! It’s good to be home…at least until our next adventure begins. 🙂

 

Adventures in British Columbia, Part Four – Hornby Island


On Tuesday, September 22nd my son-in-law Frank dropped me off at the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal where I bought my ticket to Hornby Island at the low price of $17.00. I was there in plenty of time, but apparently my brain hadn’t quite woken up yet. I heard the ticket agent tell me to take the stairs up and then follow the red line to Waiting Area A, but the red line part didn’t register. I looked for signs and when I saw a sign that read “Waiting Area A” with an arrow that appeared to be pointing to my right, I followed it through a door and across an outside passenger bridge. That didn’t seem right. I eventually got turned back around and this time followed the red line! The room slowly filled to capacity before we were called to board. Because the vehicle passengers hadn’t yet made it to the main deck, there were no lines at the cafeterias. I took advantage and bought myself a packaged sandwich and a coffee that would be my breakfast and lunch, supplemented with the cheese sticks and granola bars that I had in my bag. Those two items cost me almost as much as the ferry ticket, at $11.25! Be forewarned, if you plan to travel on the BC Ferry System, and you’re on a budget, pack some food if at all possible.

The hour and a half trip went quite quickly. I slept for a while; I read my book, and I people watched, one of my favourite pastimes. I chatted with the woman sitting next to me who was travelling with her daughter and two granddaughters.  She’d traveled by foot before and told me where to find the Island Link shuttle bus that I needed to catch when I got off the ship. I found it without any problem and an hour later I was at Buckley Bay on Vancouver Island, where my sister Pauline and her husband Jim were waiting to drive me, via two more much smaller ferries, to Hornby Island. I breathed a sigh of relief. I could relax for a week.

On the Hornby Island Ferry

On the Hornby Island Ferry

Every time I visit Hornby I am charmed by the island’s uniqueness. This small island has lots to offer to anyone seeking a relaxed vacation away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s a place where there are no trains to catch, or crowds to push through. There are no big department stores or grand hotels and the only “traffic jam” you’ll encounter is while you’re waiting in line to catch the ferry when, reluctantly, you need to leave.

Driving up from the ferry you will come to the hub of the island where all roads seem to meet.  Here you will find a variety of little shops, including a bicycle rental shop, a couple of clothing stores displaying colourful summer wear and a few little eateries where you can experience some great and maybe unusual lunch items.  The main destination in the hub is the Co-op, where you will find all the staples you need, such as groceries (many organic), pharmacy items, dishes, clothing and rubber boots.  You will also find the post office nestled in one corner and an ATM somewhere in the middle.  The only island gas station is outside the door.

There are many residences on the island, but they are usually partially hidden from the road by the natural vegetation and are quite unobtrusive.  The pace is slow and relaxed.  The only “industries” are cottage industries – a variety of potters and weavers, and small farms.

Some of the highlights of this trip were:

Outdoor Cooking

Campfire Dinner

 

Farm Animals at Outer Island Guest Farm

Farm Animals at Outer Island Guest Farm

Beautiful Sunsets

Beautiful Sunsets

 

Walks on the Beaches

One of the many sandy beaches, at low tide

One of the many sandy beaches, at low tide

The rocky beach of Sand Piper

The rocky beach of Sand Piper

Rocky Sand Piper Beach

 

Good Food

Clam Chowder by Chef Ben. Delicious with corn bread!

Clam Chowder by Chef Ben. Delicious with corn bread!

Blackberries

Freshly picked Blackberries

Hornby Island Market

Hornby Island Market

Hornby Island Market

Walking the Trails

A hidden treasure along one trail

A hidden treasure along one trail

Helliwell Trail

Helliwell Trail

We also enjoyed a fantastic music concert by renowned Marc Atkinson – acoustic lead guitar, Brett Martens – acoustic rhythm guitar and Scott White – stand up bass, at the Community Centre one evening, and a delicious meal at the Sea Breeze Lodge dining room another night.

Before I knew it, it was time to pack for home.

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem, A Niagara Get-a-Way


We drove for three hours to Niagara-on-the-Lake to see Alice in Wonderland at the Shaw Festival. We’d never been there before and Alice looked like a fun production. We almost didn’t go because we’re saving our money for our next big adventure – a tour to China – but we got in on a seat sale and off we went.

For some reason our GPS needs to be always plugged in and the connection has a problem so it kept shutting off and reloading.  Finally I found Google Maps on my new Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime and was pleased at how easy it was to follow. We arrived at the theatre, found a parking spot on the street only a short distance from the door, and still had time to purchase a large chicken Caesar salad at the food bar to share before curtain time.

The theatre is well laid out, meaning there were no bad seats in the house. The production was as colourful as expected, including gorgeous costumes, and brilliant special effects.

IMG_1301

At intermission we enjoyed a cold drink on the patio and toured the gardens. It was worth the trip, to that point.

IMG_1293IMG_1298

IMG_1300

Some children wore funny hats

By the time it was over, two and a half hours later, the shared salad had left me yearning for something more. We drove down the main street and again were fortunate to find a perfect parking place. We wandered the street, taking pictures of the lovely old restored buildings, poking our heads into some of the unique shops and checking out menus at the many restaurants.

The prices seemed high, even for a tourist town, starting at about $25.00 a plate. We decided that we’d drive to our inexpensive hotel in Niagara Falls and find a restaurant there.

When we checked into the hotel, we were told that the $48 room didn’t include the $12.00 parking fee or the $3.99 tourist fee, but we had read about that on the website. We were impressed with this Super 8 hotel, which seemed to have recently been updated. Everything was clean and fresh. The room was large.

We were given coupons for a couple of attractions, and $15.00 off a meal at the iHop, just a few blocks down the street. Off we trotted, only to find that that particular iHop isn’t open for dinner during the week. We saw another one in the distance and started walking again. By this time I was feeling a little weak from hunger. When we opened the menu we discovered that the prices at this chain restaurant were only a couple of dollars less than what we would have paid for an exclusive fresh-made meal in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake. None of the choices were very appealing. Jim chose the chicken fried steak dinner; I settled for a chicken and cheese quesadilla. The shell was a little too crispy, but the chicken was tender and flavourful. Jim had an iced tea; I had water. Total cost including tip, and minus the discount, $45.00!

In the morning we snared another discount coupon and headed back to the closer iHop for breakfast. Along the way we noticed a sign advertising a Breakfast Buffet for just $6.99, but we’d forgotten about the breakfast prices at iHop, and we had the discount coupon, so we carried on. It was 9:00 a.m. and there were very few people in the restaurant. That should have told us something.  We ordered coffee while we looked over the menu. Neither of us wanted pancakes or waffles, iHop specialties it seems.  We asked about just getting bacon and eggs and were told that they could do some substitutions. On one special menu a variety of fruit covered waffles were shown. Below them was a list that read, “Build your Own.” It looked like maybe these simple entrees of bacon/ham, eggs, hash browns and toast might come with the waffles, but our inquiry confirmed that they did not. The price for the bacon and egg plate, without the waffles was $18.99!  We decided to leave. We’d already poured our coffee, and added three milk to the very black liquid. Just a few sips were all our taste buds could handle, but we knew we were obligated to pay for it. When the waitress brought the bill, Jim’s jaw dropped –$9.28!

As we exited, Jim offered our coupon to one of the few other groups of people seated. They exclaimed, “Now we’ve got two!” I didn’t even hear a thank you.

We walked back to the $6.99 Breakfast Buffet at the AlMacs. The place was buzzing. We were shown to a booth not far from the buffet and there we found more variety than the iHop menu provided. We should have gone there to start, and we could have also enjoyed the dinner buffet the night before for only $12.99.

Back at our hotel we packed up to leave. When Jim went to the desk to settle the bill again his jaw dropped. The $48 had become $86 by the time all the little extra charges were added on.

So it turned out that what was expected to be a reasonably priced one-night get away was just a tad more than we’d budgeted for.

 

Exploring and Camping in Canada’s National Parks Part II


Banff National Park

We were awake at dawn the next morning so thought we’d postpone breakfast and get back onto the Parkway before other traffic, hoping, again, to see some of the wildlife that a multitude of signs along the road warned us about. We saw none. Fifty-two kilometers later we finally came to the only service area on the Parkway so we stopped for breakfast. It was nearly 9:00, but neither the restaurant nor cafeteria were quite ready to open. We looked at the restaurant menu and decided that we’d just grab some coffee at the store and eat cereal in the motor home. The Continental Breakfast would cost us $14.95 each, and the full breakfast buffet of bacon, eggs, sausages and pancakes, would be $25.00 each! As it was, two coffee cost $7.50.

The higher we climbed over the mountain pass, the more snow we saw on the evergreen trees and in the ditches. Fortunately it wasn’t on the roads. That’s the kind of snow I like to see! It was beautiful. By 10:30 we had crossed into Banff National Park.

Glacier Parkway

Glacier Parkway between the Glacier Centre and Banff

Glacier Pkwy (176)

It was just before noon when we reached our next planned destination, Lake Louise, but because it was still early we agreed to continue on to Banff and stop at Lake Louise on the way back the next day. An hour later we were at the Information Centre in downtown Banff getting campground information and lunch locations suggestions. We walked to JK Bakery and Cafe to fill up on salad and homemade lasagna for much less than the breakfast offered along the way. I also picked up a big loaf of their fresh multi-grain bread for less than the price of it in a grocery store. Look for it if you are ever in Banff.

We found a lovely, full hook-up campsite at Tunnel Mountain Trailer Park, that included a bus stop to catch the bus back into town, which we did as soon as we were hooked up. After looking around the shops, we found a grocery store where we bought a few supplies, and then had dinner at Tony Roma’s. To our surprise, the same cheery young Australian woman who’d waited on us at JK Bakery was our hostess here. In fact, most of the servers in the restaurant spoke with Australian accents. They love Banff, and I can’t blame them.

Banff

Banff

Banff

Our Campground

Banff (7) Banff (11)While we waited for our return bus I chatted with Wendy from London, England, who was in Banff on a bus tour.

The next afternoon we were out of the National Parks and into British Columbia. We decided to bypass Lake Louise this trip.

A Few Days on Prince Edward Island


The next morning I enjoyed a leisurely shower before Jim and Dave got up. After a stop for breakfast, we had a good ride to Prince Edward Island. Although dark clouds circled around us, we didn’t have any rain until after we crossed Northumberland Strait via Confederation Bridge. On the island, we stopped at the Tourist Centre where we discovered internet connection, so we took the time to catch up on emails and check for orders on our online stores. It was with mixed feelings that we learned there were no orders, which are more difficult to process while on the road, but help pay for the trip.

The sun had been shining when we entered the building; black clouds greeted us upon our exit. We rode for only about ten minutes before the rain started, forcing us to pull into a gas station to struggle into our rain gear, and fill up the gas tanks, and by then the rain had retreated. But, we caught another deluge in a few more minutes. It lasted only five minutes and that was the end of it.

At 4:00 p.m. we were knocking on the door of our friends’ cottage at West Point, and were quickly immersed in Maritime hospitality when neighbours began showing up and bottles of rum or beer were broken open.

The Cottage

Friends and Neighbours relaxing on the porch after a day of renovation work

After dinner we all went for a stroll along the beach and watched a beautiful sunset. We didn’t need to strike our tents for the next few days, as beds were offered in the cottage.

PEI Beach

Beach at sunset

In the morning we decided to ride the bikes to Skinner’s Pond, home of Stompin’ Tom Connors. We visited a fishing harbor, and enjoyed a lunch of mussels and Seaweed Pie at the Seaweed Pie Café. We learned all about the harvesting of seaweed and it’s uses, before continuing on to the Tourist Centre and the Windmill Farm on the most westerly point of the island.

Skinner's Pond, PEI

Skinner’s Pond, PEI

Home of Stoppin' Tom

Home of Stompin’ Tom

Fishing Boats

Fishing Boats

Mussels

Mussels

Eating Mussels

Dig in, Jim!

Seaweed Pie

Seaweed Pie, not what you’d expect,

Our last day was a hot one. Our friend Meg and I went into O’Leary to do some grocery shopping before Jim, Dave and I headed out on the bikes again. We left the jackets off when we rode to Summerside to the Tall Ships Festival. Having endured a half-hour of sitting in the blazing sun at a road construction site, upon our arrival in Summerside we were disappointed to find that only two of the ships had docked, one being the Bluenose, which we’d all toured before. So after a stroll along the shore, a light lunch, and another stop for ice cream, we returned to the cottage in time for the delicious scallop dinner that Meg had prepared.

The evening ended with us clapping our hands and stomping our feet at a Gaelic music concert in a nearby church.

More Adventures Through Texas


After two nights in San Antonio, we spent the next day on the road crossing the barren plains of Texas on I-10, stopping only to eat lunch and fill the gas tank. There wasn’t much to see. Four hundred miles brought us to a KOA in Van Horn.

Since it was already 6:30 we decided to try dinner at the Grill. The menu was limited and prepared by the work campers who were on duty. It was not the best meal we’d ever eaten, but it was adequate. Being late in the season, there weren’t many other amenities open or activities happening, but it was a clean, well-maintained park. After a walk around the park for a bit of exercise, we soon crawled into bed. To save time in the morning we returned to the Grill for what we hoped would be a quick breakfast, before striking out again. Unfortunately, a new, quite elderly couple was beginning a three-day stint and already they seemed tired and confused. I felt badly for them as I overheard the man exclaim that he had retired once before. I got the feeling that they had to do work camping just to survive. It reminded me how fortunate we are. The eggs were fried in the bacon fat, the toast was too thickly buttered and, although I had eliminated some things from my order, such as an extra egg and home fries, I was still charged the full amount. The $20 bill for breakfast seemed rather steep compared to the full hook-up camping fee.

El Paso

Interesting sculptures along main street through El Paso

At 10:00 am we were on our way again, although we soon realized that we’d traveled through another time-zone and it was actually 9:00 am. By the time we reached El Paso the busy traffic, slowed down by construction and accidents had tired us out. We’d seen signs along the highway for The Saddle Blanket and thought we’d take a wander through there for a break before lunch. When we turned off at the designated exit, however, we saw no more signs as to which direction to take. We chose the wrong one. A Google search told us that it was on the other side of the highway, so we made our way back through the congestion, under the overpass and back along the service road until we found it. We found an out-of-the-way parking spot and I gratefully pulled the door latch to get out. The door wouldn’t open. Jim tried to no avail. While he tried different things I opened the window to wave down the first person who saw us. A kind woman in a white Lincoln stopped and asked what the problem was. I explained that we couldn’t get out. We both had a little chuckle, and then she took the key that I offered and tried opening the door from the outside without success. A younger fellow in another Lincoln also stopped, but he too had no luck. By this time Jim had managed to find the only screw driver that wasn’t in the trunk, and was starting to disassemble the lock. When the woman offered me “the office phone number” saying to call if we needed more help or wanted them to call a locksmith, we realized that they were both from The Saddle Blanket. They went off to lunch and Jim got the lock torn apart. He discovered that all that jarring on Hwy 90 out of New Orleans had displaced the bolts, causing them to obstruct the opening of the door. He put it back together, fixing the problem, and we were finally able to do the tour of The Saddle Blanket’s massive two warehouses. We discovered that our “rescuers” were two of the owners, Bonnie and her son Luke. After we’d finished the tour, while we were having some lunch in the RV, Bonnie stopped by again to make sure we’d gotten out and were alright. A big thank you goes out to Bonnie and Luke for their concern.

We carried on until 5:15 before stopping again at a little KOA in Lordsburg, New Mexico. It took a bit to find it, buried at the end of a street behind some dilapidated house trailers and rusted old automobiles. We were doubtful, but kept following the signs and were pleasantly surprised to find, as we rounded the last corner, that there was a line of motor homes waiting to register. We figured it couldn’t be too bad, and was probably the best RV Park around before the border to Arizona. At least there were a few trees and a small store/office, unlike the many others we’d passed along the highway. Again, it was in the off-season, so not much was happening, but it was pretty park with much to offer in-season.

By mid-morning the next day we were in Arizona.

San Antonio, Texas


When we left New Orleans we headed in the direction of San Antonio, Texas. Traveling along Hwy 90 was the worst road we’ve ever been on. It is made of concrete slabs and they have all heaved just enough to cause the RV to thump over the uneven seams with each set of axles. Dishes rattled, doors and drawers that we thought were secured banged open and closed. My body began to ache and my head began to pound. At one point we turned off it to take the much smoother service road that ran alongside it, until that took a turn north before meeting up with 90 several miles later. It was 4:45 pm when we crossed the border into Texas and were back on I-10.

Jim takes a break under the Texas Star

Jim takes a break under the Texas Star

At 6:30 we stopped for dinner at a Cracker Barrel near Houston and called it a day. Most Cracker Barrel Restaurants have parking spots at the back just for RVs and as long as there is space, they are welcome to stay for the night. Of course it’s good for business because we always return for breakfast.

By 2:00 pm the next day we were entrenched in the San Antonio KOA. We unloaded the bike and rode downtown. After finding a spot in a nearby parking lot, we walked to The Alamo and did the tour with headsets that told us the history. It’s an interesting story.

Alamo Alamo5And the gardens around it are beautiful.

Alamo Gardens

Alamo Gardens

Alamo GardensThe sun was hot, so the cooler air that enveloped us after we descended  the stairs to the River Walk was a welcome relief. We strolled on the walkway beside the river banks, and checked out the many restaurants before settling on an outdoor café that featured polish sausages, sauerkraut (or potato salad) and fresh baked pretzels.

Yummy Sausage, pretzel and German Potato Salad

Yummy Sausage, pretzel and German Potato Salad

While we ate we were entertained by two fellows dressed in German-style knickers, vests and hats. One played an accordion, the other a lap drum kit; both sang and told jokes. They quit about the time we were finished eating.

Enertainers

Sign on bucket: “All Donations Benefit the Home for One-armed Accordion Players”

We climbed back up the stairs to the hot pavement, returned to the bike and attempted to find our way back to the campground. We needed a little help from a traffic cop who allowed us to make a U-turn after he told us we were going in the wrong direction. Following his directions we found a much easier route back than the one we’d taken to get there, one that we would use again the next day.

After breakfast we returned to the same parking lot and made our way back to the River Walk. This time we took the hour long boat cruise through all the branches of the river while our captain told us of the history of the building of the River Walk, its main purpose being to prevent flooding. Over time the building of a multitude of restaurants, a shopping plaza, convention centre and two towering hotels has turned it into a major tourist attraction. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the atmosphere, listening to the music being played on the terrace of the plaza, and ending our visit with a fine dinner at The County Line BBQ, after waiting in line for twenty minutes. We were disappointed to see that not all of the lights along the walk had been turned on, but it was a lovely evening just the same.

River Walk

River Walk

River Walk

River Walk Tour Boat

Five & Dime

A good place to purchase t-shirts and other souvenirs

River Walk

The birds found a good place to eat, but we couldn’t get a seat here.

The next morning we were on our way again.