Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Canada By Rail: Halifax, NS

We began our city planning like we started all our other city planning by checking out the hop on/off bus and found out that the bus only ran when the demand was high (i.e. if a cruise ship was in town). The demand was not high. We decided to walk down to the waterfront to check out our options.

A colorful street on the way to the Halifax waterfront.
We confirmed that the bus was not running but the Harbour Hopper was. The Harbour Hopper is an amphibious bus-like vehicle that tours Halifax for about thirty minutes then enters the water and tours the waterfront for another thirty minutes. Yes, this was similar to the Duck boat that sank in Missouri. Before we left the captain of the hopper noted the difference. The hopper was an ex-military vessel used to ferry cargo to ships. It was first a seagoing vessel. The ducks were land vehicles that were modified to ride in the water. I’m not sure about the difference but the weather was great today and I wasn’t too worried.  The tour was interesting and marked our first amphibious vehicle ride.

The Waterfront from our Harbour Hopper.
After our tour around the city and waterfront we continued to walk the boardwalk along the water stopping in a few places to buy magnets and water. It was pretty warm here and the humidity made things a bit uncomfortable. We were thinking about what to do when a small “train” pulled up. It was a donation run tram that took you around a loop of the waterfront and downtown. We got on and rode it around picking out a few places we would return to. We ended up getting off at the City Hall.

Something not seen in American government buildings: A Thrown Room.
The City Hall offered free tours which we jumped at. We learned about the history of one of the oldest buildings in Halifax. It was an interesting tour.

We walked towards the hotel passing the Catholic cathedral, a very old cemetery, and a cigar shop where the Wife bought some Cuban cigars for her brother.  I like Halifax.  There is a lot of new construction and a lot of history.  Quaint homes and modern restaurants.  A nice mix of old and new.

A sail boat off Georges Island.
Later in the afternoon we went out for food and visited the Maritime museum that was free on Tuesday evenings. The museum was ... underwhelming. We walked through it like our butts were on fire. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we are not museum people.

Entering the Citadel.
The next day we walked to the Citadel where we heard them shoot off the noon cannon. We had a light lunch here, listen to some bag pipes (naturally), and toured the World War I trench exhibit. It was quite interesting though it felt out of place in the much older Citadel.

We left the citadel. At this point we split up. The Wife went back to the hotel while I went to the Halifax Public Gardens. I strolled through the gardens looking at the scale model of the Titanic (It was listing, of course) and other photographic opportunities before walking back to the hotel.

In the late afternoon we returned to the waterfront and boarded the tall ship Silva for a cruise around Georges Island and along the waterfront.

This was our last full day in Canada and we were ready to go home.  The next day we took a taxi to the airport and flew home via Toronto.

It was nice to be home.

Photographs can be found in my 2018-06 Canada By Rail Google Photos album.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Canada By Rail: The Last Train To Halifax

This was a long vacation.  As I waited in the Montréal train station there was an underlying sense of dread.  I was tired of trains.  This vacation involved a lot of sitting - sitting on boats, sitting on buses, and sitting a lot on trains.  I was not looking forward to sitting another twenty-two hours on a train.

The trains to the east of Toronto were newer trains.  The older trains from Vancouver to Toronto have some cars dating to the 1950s (though they were updated, naturally).  Strangely enough, the older trains were more comfortable to me.  I had trouble sleeping on this train.

I knew I was tired of travelling.  I usually draft posts on the train but on this leg of the journey I just sat back and listened to podcasts.  I was feeling lazy.  I was ready for it to be over but Halifax beckoned.

We arrived in Halifax in early evening and walked the couple blocks to our cool inn.  It was located in an old building that felt like an old mansion ... which it was.  The Waverley Inn is in a Victorian house built in 1876.  I don't remember sleeping well this night but I got over it when we went out to explore the city of Halifax.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Canada By Rail: Montréal, QC

I ate too much crap the day before.  I do this too often and when I do I know I will feel like crap the next day.  I felt like crap when I woke up on our first full day in Montréal.  It also happened to be my fifty-fifth birthday.  I've never been very good on my birthdays.  So, on top of the crappy way my body was feeling, I was also in a matching crappy mood.  Memories of what was happening the last time I was in the city completed the trifecta of crappitude that was the morning of my fifty-fifth birthday.

The 17 Shades of Gay art project in the Village.
We didn't get out of bed until around 11:00 am.  We walked to Dorchester Square to get on the hop on/off bus.  We rode the bus around the city making notes of what we wanted to return to later.  Riding the bus was pretty much the limit of what I was up to this day.  After the two hour ride we walked back to our hotel.

The very cool sunset over Montréal from our tour bus.
We stopped at an Irish pub across the street from the hotel and ate lunch.  This was the first food I'd had since the day before and it was around 2:00 pm.  I had a near perfect French Dip sandwich.  We returned to our room and I fell asleep.

Leonard Cohen tribute.
A few hours later the food/sleep combination revived me and I started feeling alive again.  We went back out and took the evening hop on/off bus.  This evening bus takes a slightly different route that provides views of the sunset and early evening skyline.  I hadn't really been present during the afternoon bus ride but now I saw the city and I took more pictures.  The bus route ended with views of the city lights from Mount Royal.

The next day we got back on the bus and went to Old Montréal.  We went to the Notre Dame Basilica and took a tour.  We were there about an hour taking pictures and learning about the history of the beautiful basilica.

Inside the Notre Dame Basilica.
We walked around Old Montréal and stopped for lunch before getting back on the bus taking it to St. Joseph's Oratory.  It was a warm day and we were sweating as we toured the oratory.  We stopped and had a snack and cold drink in an attempt to revive ourselves.

St. Joseph's Oratory.
We took the bus back to Dorchester Square and walked back to the Irish Pub where we ate dinner before returning to our room for the night.

The view of the downtown city lights from our hotel room balcony. 
Our train was leaving early evening.  It was our first rainy day since Jasper.  We went to a nearby cathedral for Mass before heading into the underground city.  We heard about the underground city from one of our bus tour guides.  The underground city has over two thousand businesses connected by 20.5 miles (33 km) of tunnels.  There were stores, restaurants ... anything you would need.  It turned out to be a nice place to explore on a rainy day.

Palais de justice de Montréal lit up at night.
We took a taxi to the train station and waited to take the last leg of our train adventure.

Photographs can be found in my 2018-06 Canada By Rail Google Photo album.

Onward to our final destination: Halifax.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Canada By Rail: The Train To Montréal

The train segment from Toronto to Montréal was our shortest.  It was only five hours and on time. The scenery out the window was mostly agriculture.  Strangely enough it didn't seem as interesting as the wheat and canola fields of Saskatchewan.  Not sure if it was just late in the vacation and I was tired or what.

There was a lot of beautiful scenery during our train ride.  The mountains of the Rockies would have been the top for me if it hadn't been so cloudy and many of the mountains could not be seen.  Because of this the best part for me at this point was the section between Winnipeg and Toronto.  Most of this leg was dense forests broken up by swamps, ponds, lakes, and rivers.  We saw eagles and other birds along this section and the Wife and I both saw moose from the train.

We arrived in Montréal early evening.  We took a short taxi ride to our hotel.  Our hotel was on Crescent street which has a lot of restaurants and bars.  We walked to a corner bistro and had a late dinner.  We were ready for Montréal.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Sorry About That ...

I was tired the last week of our Canada by Rail vacation so I stopped posting on the go.  I apologize and promise I will get the rest of the posts put together over the next week or so.

Please be patient.

Thank you.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Canada By Rail: Toronto, ON

Our stay in Toronto would be a short one.  All together we were talking about thirty-six hours.  We arrived in early evening, checked in to our perfectly situated hotel (picked out by the Wife naturally), and walked to a local bar to plan our time.

The modern buildings of Toronto.
The next morning we slept in ... a common occurrence on this vacation ... before going out to look for a hop on/hop off bus stop.  It took us a little while to find the stop.  We got on and road the bus though the twenty-one stops around the fairly modern city of Toronto.  While there were a few spot we could have spent more time at, we decided not to go back to any.  Our time, and energy, were limited.

The Toronto skyline is dominated by the CN Tower and the Rogers Centre.
Included with the bus was a ticket for a boat tour.  After we completed our two hour bus tour we got off at the boat tour start.  We ate a late lunch at a bar near the water before getting in line for the tour boat.  The boat took you around the islands off the shore in Lake Ontario.  On the way to and from the islands you got a great view of the skyline.

The little wildlife we saw in Toronto - ducks and swans.
We returned to the room after the boat tour and relaxed awhile.  We went back out for dinner before walking the few blocks to the CN Tower.  We went up to the top just before sunset and waited and watched as the sun dropped below the horizon and the city lights turned on.

Sunset from the CN Tower.
Our train was leaving the next day at 3:15 pm so we got up, checked out, left our bags at the hotel, and walked to the St Lawrence market.  We had a late brunch at the awesome Paddington's Pump restaurant.  We wandered through the market looking at the variety of meats, cheeses, and sea food while looking for magnets in the more touristy stores.

We were a little early so we walked to a nearby park (Berczy Park) whose center piece is a fountain surrounded by water spitting dogs.  We sat in the shade and people watched while drinking water.  It was a perfect, relaxing moment.

We returned to our hotel, picked up our bags, and walked to Union station and caught our shortest train leg.

Pictures can be found in my 2018-06 Canada By Rail Google Photos album.

Next stop, Montreal.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Canada By Rail: The Train To Toronto, ON

The Train finally left Winnipeg's Union Station around 2:30 am. This leg would be our longest. Originally it was scheduled to be thirty-four hours long but, as we’ve found for all trains west of Toronto, the trains never run on time.

In case of emergency summon Mjolnir and access the power of Thor, the God of Thunder. 
Riding economy class means we are in peasant class. We do not have access to the dining car as that is reserved for the elite sleeper class. The peasants have access to a snack car with a small, but tasty, kitchen. The firefighters who got on the train before us sealed our food fate when they determined that the kitchen was unsafe. The peasants were allowed to use the dining car but, frankly, many of the people in economy are there because they can’t afford paying the dining car prices. So for them, and us mostly, we were condemned to eat unhealthy junk food and unappetizing cold sandwiches for the thirty-plus hours we were on the train.

The thirty-four hours turned out to be thirty-eight as the trained lost four more hours before it arrive in Toronto. We couldn't have gotten off that train any faster.  We'd had enough.  We collected our bags and walked the block to our hotel.  We'd planned to do a lot on our arrival but, since the train arrived nine hours late we were limited to finding a bar that served food near by (The Loose Moose), eating a good meal, and going back to the hotel to pass out in our bed.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Canada By Rail: A Return To Winnipeg, MB

We returned to Winnipeg and were bused to the Inn at the Forks, a very ritzy (by my standards) hotel in the Forks area of Winnipeg. As I mentioned in another post , the Forks refers to where the Red and the Assiniboine rivers combine. We would be spending the night here before moving to the hotel where we stayed when we first arrived in Winnipeg.

The next morning we checked out and left our bags at the the Inn before walking over to the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Red river and connects Winnipeg proper and the St Boniface district. On this bridge is the Mon Ami Louis french restaurant (I posted a picture of it in this post). We stopped here and had lunch since ... how many times can you say you ate in a restaurant on a pedestrian bridge. The place was very nice. We were the first to be seated and we had a very tasty lunch.

Mon Ami Louis restaurant and the Museum of Human Rights.
We completed our walk on the pedestrian bridge and found ourselves in St Boniface - the french district of Winnipeg. St Boniface was once an independent city but, due to lack of growth, joined with Winnipeg. In this area there are all french schools and colleges. French is the primary language used at home. French restaurants abound.

Sculpture near the old
St Boniface city hall.
We walked to the old city hall and sat down in the shade in a small sculpture garden. We were planning to take a walking tour of St Boniface but we were a little early. It was very comfortable in the shade with a strong, cooling breeze. In the sun it was broiling.

We were the only ones on the walking tour today and our college student took us on a short walk through St Boniface. I think our guide was a little short on the history of the area but made up for it by giving us the perspective of a young immigrant Canadian (she was from the Congo).

The tour ended at the St Boniface cathedral. The old cathedral had burnt and when they built the new one they kept the shell of the old intact. I was hoping to get good pictures but they were preparing for a church festival of some sort and scaffolding and banners obscured much of the old cathedral structure.  I did manage to get a picture from the water taxi tour earlier in the week.

By the end of the tour we were very hot and dripping with sweat. We made our way back to the bridge and bought a couple bottles of water. We headed back up the street to a Chocolatier Constance Popp and indulged in some ice cream to help cool our overheated bodies before heading back to our hotel, got our bags, and taxied over to our other hotel where we would spend two more nights.

Façade of the old St Boniface cathedral.
As we checked in the Wife was starting to not feel well. She thought it might be allergies. It probably was a cold since it lasted a few days.

On Saturday we slept in to give the Wife some time to heal before we walked over the the Museum of Human Rights. The museum is housed in a very interesting building. There are seven levels to the museum connected by long ramps. As we moved up we learned about human rights struggles in Canada and the rest of the world. By the fifth level the Wife was starting to wear down and she was cold and clammy to the touch. We switched from ramps to elevators for the last two levels before heading up to the eighth level observation deck.

The interesting Museum of Human Rights building.
We took the elevator down and had lunch in the museum bistro, bought some magnets, and returned to the hotel so that the Wife could get the rest she needed. I did laundry.

Winnipeg Legislative Building.
On Sunday we were supposed to leave at 10:30 pm on the train. We decided to extend out hotel stay so that we could wait in comfort. We expected the train to be late and we were not disappointed. I did one more load of laundry, watched the World Cup finals (the french district was in a very celebratory mood after France won), and went for a short walk. A front went through overnight and the temperatures were much more comfortable today.

The Hudson Bay Company founded in 1670.
We checked out of our hotel at 10:00 pm and walked to the train station. The train was roughly five hours late. This would cut into our limited time in Toronto. It felt good getting out of Winnipeg. It’s a nice city but the train schedule had forced us to spend too much time here I think.

Photographs can be found in my 2018-06 Canada By Rail Google Photos album.

Onward to Toronto.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Canada By Rail: A Side Trip To Churchill, MB

There once was a train that would take you to Churchill, MB from Winnipeg but the undermining of the track due to melting and shifting permafrost has cut the remote town off for at least a year now.  The only way to get to Churchill today is by air or sea.  We flew in with Lazy Bear Expeditions.

Along with bears and whales, the flowers were everywhere.
We were picked up at the airport and started our bus tour of Churchill.  Our guide was a photojournalist chock full of information and a sense of humor.  He made the tours a fun experience.  This was important since Churchill is a small, gritty town of homes, apartments, and a few double-wide trailers.  There is a layer of sand and grit on just about everywhere.  There are no stop lights - there is a four way stop sign that nearly ended in disaster when three vehicles arrived at the same time.

The land and shores around Churchill are rocky and ruggedly beautiful.
After our town tour we arrived at our log cabin style Lodge where we had lunch.  The Wife and I walked down to see if we could find some insect repellent (the airline security confiscated her spray can).  We were unsuccessful but we did explored some of the town.  The lodge offered bug head nets that we should have purchased the first day.  We didn't and learned our lesson soon afterward.

Bears sometimes get too close to town.  They are trapped, kept in a bear holding
facility (bear jail) and eventually flown fifty km or more away from town.
The first afternoon we got back on the bus and explored more of the town and the surrounding areas.  We learned about the history of the area and we visited the park interpretive center for a history of the First Nation's people in the area.  During a visit to the beach the Wife dropped her phone in the Hudson Bay.  Salt water is not good for phones.  It did not survive.  The Wife was bummed.

Our boat for the day.  Landing to look for polar bears.
On Monday we had a slow morning for self guided exploration followed by an awesome boat ride in the afternoon.  The boat was a landing craft with the fold down bow for hitting the beach.  As we went out we slowed down a bit to see the beluga whales feeding.  This time of year there are as many as sixty thousand belugas in the area.  The whales (actually a relative to the dolphin) were friendly and a bit curious approaching the boat many times.

A few beluga whales near our boat as we head up the coast.
We finished loitering around the belugas before heading up the West coast of Hudson Bay to a small peninsula.  The way North was rough and our flat bottomed boat slapped the water hard.  It was not the most comfortable ride I've had.

A polar bear way off in the distance.
We pulled up to the shore and the bow was lowered so we could walk on the shore.  Our guide went ahead of us carrying a shotgun just in case.  He would wave us ahead once he checked everything was safe.  After a short walk we saw our first polar bear.  It was just a white spot on the horizon (even through my camera) but the polar bear is the biggest predators in this region and getting too close was not a wise thing to do.  We crept as close as we could safely and we all watched the bears through our cameras and binoculars.  We saw four bears on our walk.

A polar bear way up close.
We got back on the boat and began following the coast until we saw another bear - a juvenile.  It was wandering among the glacier dropped boulders along the shore.  We thought it had walked over the ridge of the peninsula and the boat was about to turn and head home when the bear came back over the ridge and headed to the shore.  The boat was floating about ten to twenty feet off the shore.  The bear came all the way down to the water before standing on submerged stones.  It finally got in the water and was about fifteen feet away from the boat before it decided to go back up on the shore.  It was an incredible experience seeing this large animal up close.

We headed back for the hour or so long trip back to Churchill stopping briefly for some more belugas.  We ended up being out on the water for eight hours.  During that eight hours we both lost several pints of blood to the mosquitoes that were everywhere.  The mosquitoes were joined by huge biting horseflies (known as bulldogs in Churchill).  We ate late dinners, bought mosquito head nets, and went to bed.

We had most of the Tuesday off so I went walking around town.  I bought some magnets, got stamps in our passports at the post office, and took pictures of things we'd passed in the bus tour.

I can just see the smile of the beluga's face.
Tuesday evening we went out on zodiacs to get up close and personal with the beluga whales.  It's really hard to get pictures of animals in the water.  Twice during this trip I saw a beluga stick its entire head above water and twice I did not get a picture.  All I got mostly is pictures of grey humps in the water.

An interesting learning experience from our fort guide at the Prince of Wales fort.
We landed on the shore opposite the town to visit the Prince of Wales fort.  A gentleman in period costume interpreted the fort with its forty cannons which housed forty men.  It never held soldiers and mainly served a part in the area's fur trade.

The polar bear jail decorated with one of the SeaWall murals.
Thursday was also mostly free.  We'd signed up to snorkeled with the whales and many of the water related activities were held during high tide which was early evening.  We were told to put on as many layers as we could since the water was cold and the dry suits we would be wearing would not be warm enough by themselves.  It was in the upper 80's Fahrenheit (nearly 32 Celsius) so once we put on all our layers and the dry suits we began sweating buckets.  That changed rapidly once we got in the water.  The water was around 40℉ (5℃).  We were tethered to the zodiac and slowly towed through the water.  I had my small waterproof camera on me but ... it failed soon after I tried to use it.  Olympus will be getting a letter from me.  No pictures this day for me.

The brilliant orange lichen that brightens most of the landscape near Churchill.
We got in and out of the water three times searching for curious belugas but many of the belugas seemed more interested in eating than us.  I saw maybe a half dozen over the three attempts with only one getting anywhere near me.  This would have been find but I was cold ... I mean COLD.  The low number of belugas did not justify the cold for me ... especially when I started to shiver involuntarily.  I tapped out and was the first back in the boat.  While this excursion was not totally successful, it's easy to understand that these animals are not tame and you can't predict what you are going to get.

Back on the beach after a ride on the cold Hudson Bay waters.
The sun barely sets this time of year.
We were exhausted when we got back to the lodge.  We ate another late dinner and then rolled and tossed in our beds sweating and, frankly, not getting a good night's sleep.  Fortunately this was our last day and we would have time later to catch up on our sleep.

Our tundra crawler.
On Thursday, our last day , we took a short Summer tundra tour in a massive tundra crawler.  Wildlife was a bit rare this time of year and we only saw a bald eagle but it was still cool to see the tundra landscape.  We also saw the shipwreck of the SS Ithaka which was a bonus.

The SS Ithaka shipwreck.
The holes at the bottom are big enough to drive the tundra crawler through.
Our flight was late so we went back to the lodge for lunch and went out for another bus tour to see the SeaWalls public art around the town.  The murals added some meaning and a lot of color to Churchill.

An arctic Fox bounces around looking for lunch. 
Our charter flight finally arrived and we winged outreach way back to Winnipeg.

Except for the bugs I enjoyed Churchill.  At times the town felt like the most remote place I have ever been.  I'm not sure why.  We had all the amenities.  We even had cable.  But there was something that made it feel like we were on the edge of the Earth.  No matter how much we enjoyed the whales and bears, we were ready to get back to civilization.

Pictures can be found in my 2018-06 Canada By Rail Google Photos album.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Canada By Rail: Winnipeg, MB

We walked from the train station to our hotel a couple blocks down on Main st. Not many people or cars at 4:00 am. We checked in then passed out in our bed until nearly noon.

We finally got out of bed and headed to a diner we’d seen on our walk from the station. We ate and planned out the remainder of our afternoon. We called a taxi and went to the only thing on our itinerary for the day, the Royal Canadian Mint.

The Royal Canadian Mint building in Winnipeg.
The Mint in Winnipeg only makes coins. They make fifteen million coins a day for Canada and several other nations. We took pictures of the really cool building before joining a tour of the mint facilities. It was interesting to learn about the processes used to make coins and to see the variety of coins Canada issues. Makes me wish the USA would take the time to redesign our coins. I also wish Americans would use dollar coins but, for some reason, we just don’t like them.

We took another cab back to the the hotel area and stopped back at the diner for milkshakes - vanilla for the Wife and Banana Fudge for me. They were yummy.

A restaurant on a pedestrian bridge crossing the Red river.
I went out for a short walk around the downtown/Exchange area of Winnipeg. This area is trying to be hipster but it’s not quite there they. A few more years and I think it will be a fun place to spend time at.

On Saturday we walked to the Forks area of Winnipeg, named after the fork where the Red and Assiniboine rivers combine. We rode a tourist bus around seeing the highlights of Winnipeg. The city is a one of big dreams with little payoff. An example of the coasts beating out the heartland. Having said this, there is lots of potential in Winnipeg.

We did some shopping around the Forks Market, ate lunch, and took a boat tour along the river. The boat tour was a nice break from the heat. As we took these tours we took note of things we would like to go to when we get back from Churchill.

We returned to our hotel, collected our bags, and took a taxi to another hotel where our Churchill expedition would start on Sunday.

Pictures can be found in my 2018-06 Canada By Rail Google Photos album.

Onward to Churchill for the polar bears and the beluga whales.