Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Juneau, Alaska

When we booked our cruise, our travel agent, Sylvia, asked what special occasion were we celebrating.  Our 45th anniversary!  She passed this information along to Princess as apparently most cruisers plan their holiday around a special event.  Of course, the cruisers we know never need an excuse!  The day we selected to be our celebration day was the Friday of our cruise.  We thought they would sing us Happy Anniversary at dinner but it was so much more.

When we left the cabin to go to breakfast, we were greeted with balloons and a card stuck to our door wishing us Happy Anniversary.  Inside an actual anniversary card were several gift discounts.  We could reserve a table at the specialty restaurants and not pay the cover charge, we could get $50 off a spa treatment, we would receive an authenticate print from the art gallery, and yes, we could have them sing happy anniversary at supper.  Our steward, Allan, also wished us happy anniversary when he met us in the cabin way.

The sea was glassy calm so I decided it would be good to do a walk around the promenade after breakfast.  It was chilly so Glen opted to sit on comfy seats near the Wheelhouse Bar and enjoy the passing scene.  A Zumba class was working out in the bar and that music can get your heart racing even if you don't dance.  I did 3 circuits of the promenade (1 mile or 1.6 km) while photographing the Gastineau Channel which leads to Juneau, the Alaskan state capital.  When the Russians owned Alaska, Sitka was the capital but in 1906, Juneau became the seat of government.  It was named after a Quebec prospector, Joe Juneau who may have bribed the miners with drink to call the settlement after him.  It's an unusual capital in that there are no roads connecting the city to the rest of Alaska.

We missed the docking of our ship as we were slated to board a tour bus and had to meet in the Wheelhouse Bar.  I had pre-booked our excursions on line choosing ones that were wheelchair friendly assuming this would allow Glen to enjoy them.  However, one in Ketchikan, although wheelchair accessible, involved walking half a mile which Glen felt he could not do.  

Our bus guide pointed out all the points of interest to be seen in Juneau as we drove to the Allen Marine Tour dock.  The Allen family have been organizing tours since 1970 from their base in Sitka and have a fleet of over 25 whale watching boats.  The catamaran style gives the vessels stability and means they can handle the many who wish to see Alaskan wildlife.  The day was calm and not rainy (Juneau receives an average of 93 inches [236 cm of rain] a year).  This was unusual weather and meant we saw sights normally shrouded in cloud.

A naturalist on board explained the types of creatures we'd see and also pointed out some of the geological features we passed.  Due to the fact wildlife is indeed wild, we had no guarantee of seeing anything.  But Mother Nature didn't disappoint.  The animals of Favourite Channel which the boat plied were so used to the sight-seeing boats, they didn't hide from view.  Our first sighting was a herd of Harbour Seals laying on a stony beach waiting for the tide.  Unlike sea lions, seals don't have large flippers that allow for land-travel so they hug the coastline using the tide to lift them gently onto and off of the rocky shores.  

When the captain used the hackneyed phrase, There she blows!, the excitement in the boat was palatable.  We craned our necks watching the humpback whales break the sea's surface.  They are amazing creatures and one decided to show off.  I lost count of the number of times it dove so its tail could be photographed.  Glen and I were inside the cabin as standing on deck would have been difficult for Glen but I was still able to capture this exciting moment.  Humpbacks are in Alaska to feed.  They are baleen whales who filter fish and krill (shrimp-like crustaceans) through comb-like plates of baleen (the whalebone used in old-fashioned corsets).  At this time in September, some had already left for the warmer waters, most mating and bearing their young in Hawaii (see my posts, Hanakaoo Cemetery and Pontoon Boat Snorkeling).

Not to be outdone by the performing whale, some Steeler Sea Lions came to check out our boat, their characteristic noses pointing in the air (one way to tell them apart from seals).  These creatures are threatened as overfishing of pollock has led to their decline so we were happy to witness a few of the animals cavorting around us.

Due to the great weather, the captain took us further north along the channel to another place where whales loved.  On the way, we saw some Dall's Porpoises breaking the surface.  I realized this was the 'fish' I had seen in the wake of the Island Princess as I waited for Glen to get his lunch.  It looked liked a black and white torpedo and just as fast, I imagine.  They cannot survive in captivity so seeing them in the wild is amazing.

The naturalist spotted a bald eagle but it was too faraway for me to see despite the complementary binoculars the tour company provided.  They also had a galley that served a task lunch although we had had ours on the ship before leaving.

Our tour was actually two groups in one, the first only did whale watching while our group was off to see the Mendenhall Glacier.  It wasn't a long bus drive to the glacier and it was good to get out and stretch our legs.  We opted out of the hike to Nugget Falls for obvious reasons but did a short walk to where we could see the glacier and its surrounding mountains.

The glacier is named after Thomas Mendenhall a superintendent of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey.  He was an advocate of the metric system and was responsible for defining the exact border between Alaska and Canada.

The glacier is typical of the glaciers we see in the mountains near Calgary so it wasn't as thrilling to us as it was to the tourists who enjoyed the view with us.  There was a lovely visitor centre where we could get warm, listen to a ranger talk about glacier movement, and watch a movie.  The Mendenhall Glacier began receding in the 1700s and is used as an example of how climate change affects its retreat.

See my Juneau photos here.

Friday, October 13, 2017

North to Alaska!

Most of the summer we spent in Calgary golfing, gardening, and dealing with medical concerns.  At the end of August, we headed to the "island" and enjoyed socializing with friends, golfing and crabbing in Victoria.  On September 13th, our adventure to Alaska began.

"North to Alaska" was a Johnny Horton song (cute video) we've sung on road trips since we discovered him back in the 80s.  He wrote it for the John Wayne movie of the same name.  It ran through our heads as we planned to explore whether or not cruising was for us.  We felt a short trip to celebrate our 45th anniversary would be an excellent way to try cruising out.

Our trip began with us almost missing our taxi ride.  Glen finds standing difficult so wanted to wait for the cab (early in the morning) in the foyer of our condo where he could sit.  The cab arrived but we didn't see it.  The cabbie called Glen but his phone was on 'Do Not Disturb" mode.  I finally went outside and saw the cab pulling away from the curb.  We hailed him and scrambled inside.

We were taking a BC Ferries Connector bus to Vancouver and it left from the downtown terminal.  We weren't the only one taking a cruise.  Apparently, two ships were Alaska-bound from Canada Place and all but one couple on our bus were to board the Island Princess.

We chose the Princess Cruise line because Glen's Mom and Dad had always sailed on Princess boats.  We thought we'd continue the tradition.  My sister, Lynda, has taken over ten cruises on various cruise lines and gave us travel hints.  So did our travel agent at AMA, Sylvia.  She told us not to staple the paper luggage tags to our bags as they tore off.  She said the ship's porter would tag it when we boarded the ship.  Good point, except the bus took our luggage and loaded directly on the ship.  I had put a homemade tag with our cabin number on our bag but the bus driver shrugged and said we might get it eventually.

On this rather disturbing note, we boarded the bus and made the 9:00am sailing of the ferry to the mainland.  Glen couldn't get his famous ferry ice cream as the machine was out of order so settled for a cup of coffee.  It was a pretty normal trip.

According to the information we had, boarding would take place after lunch.  However, as the bus arrived at Canada Place, we disembarked and were ushered into the terminal, leaving our luggage for others to worry about.  Due to his hobbling with a cane, staff hurried Glen through short cuts and I quickly followed him.   It seemed to take no time to get our cabin key cards and permission to go aboard.  Our cabin was on Caribe Deck but the man working the elevators told us that was deck 10.  The ship had 16 decks and we explored 10 of them.

Long ago, we had gone a cruise with the kids.  We quickly discovered the Big Red Boat was tiny compared to most cruise ships and the one that plied the waters of the Galapagos was even smaller so that experience didn't prepare us for the size of our cabin.  It had a huge cupboard with lots of hangers and a king size bed.  But, what thrilled us the most was the large balcony.  Glen declared he'd spend all his time there.  We sat enjoying the Vancouver harbour bustle amazed that this trip was finally happening.

Although we saw luggage sitting in front of other cabin doors, no bag sat near ours.  We decided to explore the ship and see if we could get some lunch.  We had a great buffet meal in the Horizon Court and learned that if you want beer with lunch, it's best to get it from the bar and bring it to the table.  Lynda had told us to bring lanyards for your key cards as they're linked to your credit card and mean you don't have to worry about carrying wallets  (Glen would not give up his) or purses (I had a small one for my phone).  I couldn't figure out how lanyards would work as there was no hole in our cards.  Turns out Passenger Services will punch the hole for you.

We also checked the Passenger Services desk for information on luggage without tags.  Turns out there are always a few.  However, ours wasn't among the ones waiting for their owners.  We returned to our cabin to relax and there sitting in front of our door was our bag.  Someone actually read my homemade tag.  Yay!!

As I unpacked, Glen enjoyed the view of Vancouver from the balcony.  Then it was lifeboat drill or General Emergency Stations as they now call it.  Our mustering point was the Wheelhouse Bar which became our favourite place to enjoy before-dinner drinks.  During the presentation, we learned how to behave during an emergency at sea and how our life preservers worked.

Afterwards, we headed to the Lido deck and bought a bucket of Budweiser beers (five were cheaper than four).  Ensconced in some deck chairs, we waited to experience our departure.  Other experienced cruisers had told us to buy the all-inclusive drink package but we weren't sure we'd drink that much.  Turns out we didn't.  However, if you like fancy drinks and wine, it might be a wise investment.

We left Vancouver to party music and dancing.  Going under the Lion's Gate bridge was a must-do so I left Glen and headed to the bow where I was able to snap a photo among the hordes of people.  The Island Princess then entered the Straits of Georgia and headed north.

Our dining room, the Bordeaux, was designed for those who didn't want a set dining time so we changed from our travel clothes and headed there for supper.  We had to wait a few minutes for a table then were seated by ourselves.  If we had wished to share our table with strangers, the wait would have been less.  It was our anniversary cruise so we chose to dine alone.

The next day was "At Sea" and very windy so not conducive to lounging on the balcony.  We began the day as we would every day while onboard with breakfast at the buffet.  Horizon Court had a great view of the passing scene so was preferable to the small windows of the main dining room.  Breakfast choices were varied each day but there was usually a soup choice.  I ended up eating a lot of smoked salmon for breakfast and indulging in my love of soups.  One day, I had soup at each meal!

There are lots of activities on board a ship but in the end, we didn't really partake in many of them.  I thought I would use the fitness centre but never did.  I did walk the promenade deck and took the stairs whenever I could which kept my weight gain to a minimum.  We did catch a few performers as we wandered the ship, listening to a string quartet playing the Beatles one night and a reggae band another time.  We tended to eat late so never did see the wonderful shows cruise lines stage.

After a day at sea, we dined in the Bayou Café.  Lynda had told us if we wished to dine in the specialty restaurants, you must pay a cover charge to make a reservation.  We did this and did not regret it.  We were seated next to the window and could watch the sea and spouting whales as we ate dinner.  I had Alaskan Salmon and a sweet potato pie for dessert.  By this time, we had discovered Alaskan Amber beer--so much better than Budweiser!

You can see my "North to Alaska" photos here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Family Gatherings -- Muskoka

In April, Glen's wonderful cousin, Lynn, passed away.  We were devastated.  She was a woman of cottage country Ontario (Muskoka) and wanted her memorial held there when all her friends and family could gather.  The date was set for mid-June.  Of course, we would attend.

In her obituary Lynn wrote:  "Weep for your loss, but do not weep for me.  I have lived a richly blessed life."  And she had!  The evidence was in the group of people who gathered to cry and laugh as her life was told first by her bother, Alan, then by friends, Mark and Kathy.  The choir she belonged to (Minettones) gave voice (with the Grandsons of the Pioneers) to her favourite songs and Rev. Jim Hatt led the moving service.  Lynn's daughter, Elizabeth, provide us with packets of tissues and I used them all!

We flew to Toronto on the Friday before the memorial, meeting Glen's brother-in-law, Randy at the Calgary airport.  We took a cab to the military base where we met, Glen's sister, Norma. Randy drove their SUV expertly through Toronto traffic north to Bracebridge.  We stayed at the Quality Inn as most hotels/resorts in the region were booked for the summer season.

Bracebridge was built around waterfalls on the Muskoka River.  It was named after a book, Bracebridge Hall by Washington Irving, the post master was reading at the time.  Incorporated in 1875, it became a distribution hub for the region and was the first town in Ontario to have its own hydro generating plant (1894).

The street in front of the motel was under construction and the inn itself looked dodgy.  However once inside, we realized it had been newly renovated and the rooms were perfect.  Glen had insisted on a river view which was lovely (once you looked past the parking lot) and much better than viewing the construction site.

We quickly changed into summery clothes and headed to the family dinner Elizabeth had planned.  The restaurant, called the Crossroads, sits where the old Rosseau gas station stood.  We all remembered that!  In fact, I was amazed at how many landmarks hadn't changed from our last visit to the town 20 years ago.  The Crossroads easily accommodated sixteen people and served a delicious meal beginning with an antipasto and charcuterie board followed by salad, chicken or steak and dessert.  The local Muskoka Brewery beer was refreshing on such a warm, humid day.

While we ate, we (I include Norma and Randy here) got caught up on the lives of our relatives:  Fred (Lynn's husband), Elizabeth, Alan, Kitty, Scott, Doug, Katherine and little Elliot (who did very well being the only kid at the table).  Welcoming hugs held much emotion but we were family so tears flowed and laughter followed.

Randy easily navigated us around the Muskoka area as we moved from town to town.  The memorial was at the community hall of Minett and Fred's cottage was on the Little Joe River (the link between Lake Joseph and Lake Rosseau--see photo).

The motel restaurant had a lovely view of the river so the four of us lingered over breakfast on Saturday then moved onto the patio.   It was nice to just chat and not worry about being anywhere until after lunch.  A diner across from the hotel served foot-long hot dogs that I swear were longer than a foot and Glen could get a 'real' milkshake made the old-fashioned way.

After the memorial, everyone was invited to Fred's cottage for drinks and a late supper.  Glen was thrilled to touch base with another cousin, Peggy, whom he hadn't seen in over forty years.  Turns out she shared Glen's love of family history and they spent the evening trading stories.  The only issue was it poured rain so any outside activities (like tossing people off the dock) were curtailed.  However it was a good 'wake' and in the end, Fred and Elizabeth raised the flag which had been lowered in Lynn's honour.

Randy and Norma had a long drive home to Kingston so we left Bracebridge after breakfast and arrived at the Toronto airport in time for lunch.  I had been battling a cold and for the first time in my life, fell asleep at the gate.  Fortunately, we didn't miss our flight.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Family Gatherings -- Road Trip East

Geoff and his family flew to Calgary at the end of May.  Elijah and Miles had just finished school but Alberta kids had another month to go.  This meant most places offered pre-season discounts.  They spent the night with us before heading south (same route as we took with Lynda) to Wateron National Park.  There they met Melissa's mom and her husband and enjoyed family time in the mountains.  Before going to Edmonton to visit family and friends, they stopped in Calgary.  We had a fun supper (low country boil) with Meg and Mike, then the next day, Glen and I joined them on a trip east to Drumheller.

In the 1880s, geologist Joseph Burr Tyrrell came to the Badlands looking for coal and found an Albertasaurus (at that time an unknown dinosaur) skull near the Red Deer River.  So began Drumheller's relationship with dinosaurs and as you drive through the town, they appear on every street corner.

Our grandson, Miles is fascinated with fossils and the visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum was on his to-do list.  The badlands have been drawing people like him for years: first dinosaur hunters during the Great Dinosaur Rush of 1910-17, then modern day tourists who visit the museum or volunteer on digs in Dinosaur Provincial Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site).

Tyrrell did find coal which lured people to the area.  Samuel Drumheller bought the land in the valley from Thomas Greentree and they tossed a coin on whose name the Canadian National Railway would use for the town.  Between 1911 and 1979, over 56 millions tons of coal was shipped across Canada.  Glen's PhD supervisor, Bill Paranchych's father was one of the miners from the Ukraine who came to dig the coal.

Destined to die after the collapse of the coal industry, Drumheller asked the provincial government for help.  With incredible foresight, it proposed moving the existing paleontological program from the Royal Alberta Museum (in Edmonton) to a new facility in Drumheller.  The Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology opened in 1985.  Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the title "Royal" in 1990.   Over 400,000 people visit the exhibits every year and they are constantly changing as new fossils are found.

The museum is huge (4,440 sq. metres of exhibit space) but the path through the exhibits is easy to follow so we went our separate ways discovering displays or enjoying people-watching.  Glen basically hobbled from bench to bench until we came to the Preparation Lab where he watched technicians cleaning the fossils for study and eventual display.  Elijah and Geoff read as many plaques as they could (something Glen used to do).  Miles and Melissa led the way through the exhibits until Melissa discovered the Cretaceous Garden.  This is Canada's largest collection of prehistoric plant relatives where creatures like fire-bellied toads and salamanders control pests.  She spent time photographing the flowers and animals.

Tradition is we have lunch in the on-site cafeteria.  The last time we did this Glen's folks, Jim and Bessie, were with us as was Aunty Pearl.  He and I reminisced about our visit to the Tyrrell with them while the kids ignored us and enjoyed their lunch.  Afterwards they headed to the gift shop with the 'Canadian' money Aunty Meg had given them while Glen and I went to a bench outside.  I got bored watching a ground squirrel eat food off a chef's sneakers so hiked up the stairs to the lookout.  It offered great views of the museum and surrounding badlands.  If you have the time, there are also many hiking trails to explore.

Fossils are often unearthed after storms so you may see them lying on the surface.  Do NOT touch the ones on the trails near the museum.  Take a photo and write down its location then contact museum staff.  Surface collecting is legal on Crown land or if a landowner allows it.  You can keep the fossil if you live in Alberta but you can't sell or alter it.

After some family photos, we parted with the gang heading to Edmonton and Glen and I returning to Calgary.  Such a short visit but so worth it!

Family Gatherings -- Road Trip South

It's been awhile since I've written and it's not because nothing has happened, it's just that we've been busy with what life throws at us.  I reacted to a new medication and after a month can finally walk again however, Glen's arthritic hip means he cannot.  This has meant adapting to new circumstances and spending the summer at home in Calgary.  But, I've had done some landscaping and we've had some wonderful family visits both happy and sad.

Road Trip South

After spending the month of April in Victoria crabbing, golfing, visiting friends, and enjoying spring flowers, we came back to Alberta.  My sister, Lynda, had a conference in Winnipeg and flew to Calgary for a short visit.  We did lots of walking along the West Nose Hill Creek near our house, chatting and taking photos.  Lynda is very knowledgable and takes wonderful pictures (click here to check them out) so I try to remember everything she tells me.

She has been to the mountains many times so we suggested a road trip to Southern Alberta, our final destination being Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.  From where we live, we circle Calgary on Stoney Trail then drive straight south on the Queen Elizabeth II highway.  When you reach the branch in the road, going right takes you to Fort Macleod; left to Pincher Creek.  We came to the branch at noon so headed into Fort Macleod for lunch.

Fort Macleod, originally built in 1874 to house the North-West Mounted Police dealing with American whiskey traders, boomed as an agricultural centre in the early 1900s.  When Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) built a depot there, the town flourished.  However in 1912, CPR moved its depot to Lethbridge and Fort Macleod died.  It declared bankruptcy in 1924.  The buildings remained as they were as the town struggled through the passing years.  In 1982, the province declared the downtown a Provincial Heritage Area and Heritage Canada began restoring the buildings.  Now it's a thriving tourist destination.

I had scoped out the town's restaurants on-line and Macleods Restaurant and Lounge received the best reviews.  It's a nondescript white stucco building with a red roof on the main highway and you are embraced with its small town charm the minute you enter.  We wanted a booth by the window but first Lynda and I used the ladies room.  When we returned Glen looked like a little kid sitting at the table.  I laughed because I knew if I sat down I wouldn't be able to eat.  The place wasn't busy so the server moved us to a regular table.   Glen was thrilled to see a Monte Cristo sandwich on the menu--he hadn't had one in years.

We headed west, back to QE2 and north to the exit to Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrates the Blackfoot culture by honouring the place where the tribe killed buffalo (driving them over an 11 meter cliff).  The museum is sunk into the Porcupine Hills and is almost impossible to differentiate between its sandstone building and the surrounding hills.  The Blackfoot call this area Estipah-skikikini-kots and according to legend, a boy watching the buffalo herd plunge over the cliff got caught in the stampede and was buried in the ravine below.  He was found dead with his head smashed in.

To view the museum, one begins at the top floor which opens onto the jump's viewing area.  It was a beautiful day and we could see forever from the top.  The mountains marched down the western horizon into the Untied States.  Glen used Geoff's Summit Peek App to discover the names of the more prominent peaks.  The museum is not extensive but tells a simple, compelling story of the jump and what the buffalo meant to the Blackfoot tribes.  We had visited the museum years ago and not much has changed.  Both Lynda and I concluded I had drawn on its resources as background for my book, White Crane, although it's not about indigenous people.

After tea in the rather small cafeteria, we stopped at the gift shop and enjoyed a delightful chat with a gorgeous Blackfoot girl.  She seemed to enjoy the story of the mating marmots we'd spotted earlier on the buffalo jump.

On the return trip to Calgary, we stopped in a little town called Nanton to photograph their original grain elevators.  Turns out they were part of a museum but it wasn't open (too early in the season).  Nanton was founded in 1903 and named for a financier who came out to invest in farm mortgages.  It's also home to the Bomber Command Museum of Canada.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fun by Ourselves in Victoria

Yes, despite being together for so many years, we actually do enjoy each other's company and have fun together.  Go figure, eh?

Using the format of my last post, I'll describe what we did.  First and foremost, Victoria is a place where food and drink are a part of its culture and we are happy to indulge.

Eating:  Our first meal is always at Christie's Pub and those who read this blog, know this.  The menu has changed over the years but we can usually find something we like and we always have a jug (or two) of Killer Bee Dark Honey Ale made by a small brewery called Tin Whistle Brewing.  I don't think I've seen this beer anywhere else in Victoria.

Before I got involved with Christmas baking, I wanted to have dim sum at Don Mee's.  Our table soon becomes laden with goodies and we end up filling boxes to take home.  This means I don't have to cook supper and there's nothing wrong with that.  We used to walk to this Chinatown restaurant but Glen's bad hip means we now take the bus.

Not only do we enjoy restaurant dining, we also frequent our local fish monger, Finest at Sea.  We made several visits and enjoyed rockfish, sablefish, dungeness crabs, oysters, and mussels.  Beside the haggis (see last post), we also bought a lamb and a goose at our local butcher, Slaters Meats.  The goose became a wonderful Christmas dinner.

New Year's breakfast we do at Shine Café.  They open 9:00 on New Year's day so you can stay up to midnight and still make the first sitting.  The place is small so getting there close to opening time is advised.  I usually get the Nemo eggs Benedict but we had had so much smoked salmon over the holidays, I decided to go all veggie and ordered the Provençe.  It was all I could ever have asked for in deliciousness so has become my new favourite.  Glen always orders the classic benny.  He did so again when we went to celebrate his birthday.   It is a short walk from our place to the Oak Bay location which was their first restaurant.  I had always thought the downtown version was the original.

It has become a tradition to go to Marina restaurant in Oak Bay for our birthdays.  They were closed for renovations on mine so we waited a couple of days and celebrated my 65th birthday then.  The server, Holly, recognized us from the summer and even remembered which beer we drank.  Impressive!  I told Glen he must have tipped well.

Our final island meal is at the White Spot at the airport.  Glen swears they make the very best burgers.    I had their noodle bowl which was delicious.  I travel with chopsticks as it seems wrong to eat Asian food with a fork but the server gladly provided me with them.  This meal is always bittersweet as we hate leaving the island but still enjoy our prairie home, too.

Golfing:  Winter golf is not usually pleasant if one plays some of the courses in Victoria but the Ridge, a nine hole, par 3 is on a hill and well drained.  With the snow and frost causing course closures, we only golfed four times.  Glen had a great round on his birthday with four pars.  I got par on the most difficult hole which pleased me.  We use our old clubs in Victoria and I really can feel the difference although my no-name driver can still hit it out there.  Glen does have issues walking the course but his golf cart acts as a 'walker' in disguise.

Crabbing:  We've visited the Sidney Fishing Pier on numerous occasions and watched people fish for crabs.  Glen wanted to do this so, for Christmas, I gave him a small crab trap.  After opening it, he immediately perused the regulations and bought himself a crabbing license.  We bought a float and rope, a measuring device since you can't take small crabs or females, and a can of cat food as Geoff said it was good bait for crawfish.

We lowered the trap (see photo) off the side of the pier and then headed to the Rumrunner for lunch.  We had our favourite Dead Frog Ale and shrimp and crab croissants then Glen had a nap in the van while I read.  We were very disappointed when the trap came up empty but realized the cat food can had tipped over so its 'smell' had not attracted anything.

Undeterred, we made plans to use raw chicken (another favourite bait).  I butterflied a chicken for a great lemon chicken recipe and we used the discarded backbone.  This time we got to the pier early and had coffee at the local Oasis coffee shop in the Pier One Hotel.  We weren't the only crabbers waiting it out there.

This time when Glen pulled up the trap, there was a huge dungeness crab clinging to the outside.  It had pulled the bait bag through the trap's webbing and was dining in style.  We held our breath as the trap broke the surface and Glen gently pulled it in.  The crab let go, taking the bait with it.  As it floated to the bottom, upside down, I was pretty sure it was a female.  This tale is now known as "Moby Crab".

Beaches:  Unfortunately, Glen can no longer walk to the beach.  He does ride his bike to Willows but we are seldom there together.  I walked there on my birthday and a week later, I met Glen there.  Bonus was I didn't have to walk home as he had driven the van.  One thing we discovered while walking along Cadboro Bay beach, was that Glen needs a basket on his cane so it doesn't sink into the soft sand.  Who knew this could be a problem?  I suggested using his old ski pole and he might do that.

Dogs are permitted on beaches in the winter so become part of the wild life.  We also saw herons, mergansers, ravens, goldeneyes, and cormorants.  Closer to home, we hung up our hummingbird feeder and five minutes later had the first of many hummingbird visits.  The cold temperatures kept them coming back for more.  Even the bush tits stopped by to have a sugary treat.

Salt Spring Island (SSI):  To say you're off to SSI for lunch with friends seems odd to us but those in Victoria shrug it off as normal.  We took the 9:00 ferry and did as locals do -- stayed in our van and read during the crossing.  It was a cold day so no one was up on deck.  We've never been on the big SSI ferry so that made the trip different.  We disembarked and headed straight to the SSI cheese factory.  After checking out the goats, we went to buy our usual cheeses.  Horror of horrors, there was no Montaña!  Turns out the person who provided the sheep's milk had retired and no one else on the island could provide the amount needed to make Montaña.  So we settled for a chili-flavoured feta that was amazing on pizza, Sicilian olives and my favourite, Raspberry and Habanero jam (pairs well with soft goat cheese).

Our next stop was a sheep farm where I must resist buying wool for spinning (I am almost finished spinning the last bag of Alberta wool I bought back in 1982) but can buy as many lamb sausages as I want.  The miniature horses always come to say hello and the sheep welcome us with deep baas.  The owner's little dog tries to hog our attention before the bigger ones realize guests have arrived.  As the owner stuffed her stove with fragrant wood, she told us the animals were expecting breakfast.  The horses get fed last as they don't work for a living.  I remembered what my friend Cathy used to call her horses, living lawn ornaments and I guess these two served much the same purpose.  As we left, one of the black lambs, born the previous day, came dancing across the field to watch us drive away.  It was snowing but that didn't dampen its good-to-be-alive spirit.

We took a quick cold walk along the Ganges Harbourfront before going to Moby's (see last post).  I had to photograph the famous tug that sits in the harbour and got a couple of decent shots of a goldeneye plying the waters close to the pier.  What used to be our favourite pizza place is now a burger joint (again).  It seems every two years, it changes hands and food styles.  There are rumours another eatery we liked, the Harbour House restaurant, had closed its doors but their website seems to indicate they're still open.

We tried to catch the 2:00 ferry, a new time slot on the schedule, but so did everyone else.  We missed boarding by one car so were first in line for the next crossing.  We had a wonderful view of the sunset then took a detour because the day before both my sister, Lynda and my best friend, Wendy sent me flowers for my birthday.

Glen had to work on my birthday so I had walked down to Willow's Beach.  There I received a call from the florist saying no one was home.  Turns out our entry buzzer wasn't working.  I called Glen but he was doing a radio interview.  After several attempts at a solution, the flowers were delivered.  Lynda's bouquet also had delivery problems and we ended up picking them up at the FedEx centre near the Butchart Gardens on the way back from SSI.  

Walks:   Other than beach walks and ones to the coffee shop/barber, Glen did his usual holly hunt to Stadacona Park so we had live holly for Christmas and one day I walked to Government House gardens.  It was a cold day in the gardens so I only saw two others walking.  The duck pond was frozen and the Christmas roses shivered in their beds.  I did see blooming snowdrops and daffodil shoots poking through the leaf litter but most plants were dormant.  The sage in the herb garden was silvered with frost.  I love the gardens in the winter as they alway remind me of the book, "The Secret Garden" by F. H. Burnett which was one of the first 'British aristocracy' books I read (it was set in Yorkshire).  The view from behind Government House (which was under renovations and where Prince George and Princess Charlotte stayed) is spectacular in the winter when the trees are bare and you can see across to the snow covered Olympic Mountains.

That seems to be it as far as what we did and when we did it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Fun with Friends in Victoria

My fans (yes, I do have them) are champing at the bit for another blog entry.  Since we haven't done much traveling, it seemed pointless to ramble on about our lives but who can deny a fan?

We spent two months in Victoria enjoying what most said was the coldest winter on record.  We left at the end of January just before "the Blizzard of 2017" hit the city dumping over a foot of wet snow.  It didn't last long, not like the dump of snow we experienced here in Calgary last week.  Still, the sun is warm so spring mustn't be far away.

So what did we do in Victoria?  Glen worked most days doing emails, reviewing grants and papers, conference calls and Skype sessions.  However, there was plenty of time to enjoy fun with our friends.

Diane and Tony:  We had a few lunches with these friends from Edmonton.  First, we had a pizza lunch at their home.  We brought jelly doughnuts as a Hanukkah gift as Tony is proud of his Jewish roots.  Unfortunately, he'd never heard of the custom.  I guess it wasn't something the Jews of Manchester indulged in.  We did discover that doughnuts freeze very well and although the chocolate glaze ones are not aesthetically pleasing, they are tasty.

A week later, we had Christmas lunch at the University Club.  They always put on a nice buffet with turkey, salads, and Christmasy desserts.  After Christmas, we hosted a chili lunch for Diane and Tony at our place.  I had done some baking so dessert was Christmas cake and cookies.

As their lives got busy after the holidays, we didn't meet up again until mid-January and that was at Smuggler's Cove Pub.  Glen and I walked along the beach at Cadboro Bay before enjoying fish and chips at the pub.

Janet and Iain:  These Scottish-American friends have family in Victoria but we still enjoyed several visits before they left for Hawaii.  The first was meeting for lunch at their favourite pub, the Bard and Banker.  Iain is a fan of oysters and they serve good seafood.  I like their calamari which is what I ordered with a bowl of chicken soup.  Glen enjoyed halibut and chips and shared some of my calamari.  We both drank Hoynes Dark Matter beer.

Between Christmas and New Year's, Iain called inviting us to a simple supper.  Spontaneous is not something we usually are but we jumped at the chance.  We met at their apartment then went across the street to the Chateau Victoria Vista 18 for pre-dinner drinks.  What a view!!!!  Almost a 360º vista from Mt Baker to the BC Legislature building and Victoria Harbour.  The Christmas lights on the Legislature sparkled.  Back at their apartment, Iain served a hearty soup which warmed us on this cool winter's eve.

Before Christmas, we bought a frozen haggis and I suggested we eat it on Glen's birthday, Jan 23rd.   Robbie Burns Day, Jan 25th is the traditional day for haggis but I wasn't up for all that entails.  And it would require Glen wearing his kilt which we didn't have with us.  We wanted to golf in the afternoon (Glen could not miss with his putter so the golf gods smiled upon him) so put the haggis in my slow cooker.  It came out perfectly.  Iain could not let a haggis be served without reciting the Robbie Burns poem, an Ode to the Haggis which made it a memorable moment.  I also served tatties and neeps (potatoes and rutabaga) which is traditional fare.  We finished off with Christmas goodies.  Sadly, no shortbread, another Scottish favourite, as I didn't get around to baking it this year.

Janny and Robbert:  We have developed a wonderful coffee culture with our Dutch-Canadian friends.  They invited us to their wonderful hillside home mounted on a huge slab of granite.  I knew Robb loved sweets so I brought them a tray of Christmas goodies.  I was happy they set these aside and served us traditional Dutch Christmas baking.  The ginger cake was my favourite.

Over the course of our time in Victoria, we also met Janny and Robb for coffee at Murchies.  I had always thought of this teahouse as just that, a purveyor of fine teas but their coffee is good, too.  J&R have spent every Saturday since they retired having coffee here and we joined them in this tradition.  Never has two hours passed so quickly.  We have lively discussions on all topics.

Monica and Ole: In our days in Edmonton, Monica and Ole were famous for their Schnapps parties and Indian food.  Monica is an incredible cook.  Our kids enjoyed their dogs and swimming pool as all were invited to their parties.  They moved to Europe so we lost touch socially but picked up where we had left off when they retired to the home on Salt Spring Island.  We agreed to meet them at their favourite pub, Moby's, doing our usual tour of the island first (more on that later).  We enjoyed good conversation and food.  Ole and I had gyoza (see photo) while Monica and Glen had duck wings.  Our view of Ganges Harbour was amazing.  The pub is tucked in a tiny cove outside the normal tourist zone so its diners were mostly locals.

Cynthia and Ray:  Our floor neighbours (Slitherin rules!) are a wonderful New Zealand couple and their daughter.  Carolyn always hosts Christmas dinner with Cynthia helping out.  We are invited for pre-dinner drinks.  It works out well as we get to enjoy family fun and still monitor the cooking of our own dinner.

Just before we left Victoria, we went to Christie's with Ray and Cynthia. The pub was busy with made conversation difficult but we had some good laughs and the food was great.  Glen had the biggest Yorkshire pudding stuffed with roast beef I've ever seen.  I had vegetarian flatbread while Ray had a steak sandwich and Cynthia enjoyed curried prawns.  Vancouver Island's Sea Dog beer was on special so Glen and I drank that.