Archive for October, 2008

The Tidal Bore, Maple Syrup, Using Water and Steam Power, and Alexander Graham Bell

October 12th, 2008 at 8:23 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

The breakfast at the motel was pure carbs, so we dined en suite on the various cheeses and cold cuts we had picked up along the way for snacks. It was just about the best breakfast we had had so far on our journey (the breakfast at Cora’s in Halifax on Wednesday was the only one better).

The main reason we stopped for the night in Truro was so that we could observe the Truro Tidal Bore in action. The tidal bore is a rapid tidal change caused by tidal waters surging up a narrow channel, the Salmon River in this case, so instead of waiting for hours to see a difference in water levels due to the tide, you can see it in minutes. The tidal bore in Truro was schedule to occur at 10:21am in the morning, but we had been warned not to have huge expectations as many factors affected the rapidity with which the tidal waters would flow upriver. We hoped for a nice wall of water, but ultimately what we saw was the water rise about four feet in about ten minutes, without a lot of visual drama. It was pretty cool to be watching the water in the river serenely flow downstream and then all of a sudden realize the whole flow of the water had reversed course and was now rushing upstream. But it wasn’t breathtaking.

We headed north after the bore of the tidal bore, and as we left Truro, Linda spotted a bald eagle on a tree off the side of the road, so we got as close as we could and took pictures of our one major live wild animal find for the day (we saw lots of cool road kill – a deer, porcupines, skunks, an opossum, pets, etc., but Bas said dead animals didn’t count).

We stopped en route at Sugar Moon Farm, a nice log cabin structure in which you could have breakfast all day, featuring locally grown and made products, including maple syrup made right there at Sugar Moon. After a hearty early lunch of red fife wheat pancakes (healthier carbs than white flour by a long way), a frittata, home-made granola, and a variety of excellent sausages, the co-owner of Sugar Moon, Quita Gray, gave us a tour of the facilities as well as an orientation on how sugar maple sap is collected and processed. We learned that the local Indians first taught the European settlers how to harvest maple sap, and that Canada is now the world’s largest producer of maple syrup. We also discovered that collecting maple sap by buckets is a thing of the past (except for people with only a few trees), and that larger producers of maple syrup use plastic tubing to create a delivery network that brings the sap directly to the processing vats.

Maple sap, which is generally as clear as water (probably because it is over 95% water in the first place), is collected during March and April each year. At most, each sugar maple tree would have two taps, and each tap will typically output enough maple sap to produce one pint of maple syrup. The ratio of sap to syrup is about 40 to 1, so there’s a lot of water that needs to be evaporated to condense the sap to syrup. We learned a bunch of new things at Sugar Moon Farm we had not expected to be enriched with, so it was a truly worthwhile visit – never mind the great food as an added bonus.

Our next two stops were the Balmoral Grist Mill Museum and the Sutherland Steam Mill, both run as part of a network of Nova Scotia Provincial Museums.

At the Balmoral Grist Mill we had a docent explain the milling process as well as the history of the mill itself. We discovered that raw oats look nothing like what we expected – they are actually rather ovoid, seed-like things. We also found that buckwheat is not a wheat at all, but instead a relative of rhubarb, and during the milling process, the outer shell is removed entirely, making the inner endosperm (the part that is milled into flour) rather void of complex carbohydrates. Same for oats. The only flour which retains some of the complex carbs along with the refined (and really bad for you) carbs would be whole wheat flour, as that includes the bran (the outside casing) of the seed of the wheat. I will get into the whole issue of refined carbs and the diseases they help spur along in homo sapiens at a later date when I write up a review of Gary Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories” – a real eye opener which relates incredibly well to my personal dietary experiences.

Sorry, I digressed, again.

At the Sutherland Steam Mill we had another docent-guided tour. Here we learned about how steam-powered saw mills operated over a half century ago, with both insightful and witty commentary by our guide, Andrew. It’s pretty amazing how resourceful people can be with limited resources and not much oversight from the Occupational Safety & Health Administraton (OSHA).

Our final stop of the day prior to trucking on to Cape Breton was at The Pork Shop for some protein for the road (great German-style cold cuts).

We had a nearly three hour drive up to Baddeck (pronounced “Bad-ek”), in the Cape Breton area of Nova Scotia. Cape Breton has a strong Gaelic cultural background, and all the road signs are in both English and Gaelic. We surmise that the “Breton” refers to the “Bretons”, Celtic folk who settled in Brittany in France as well as Scotland and Ireland. And it’s no coincidence that just 25 minutes from Baddeck, in St. Ann’s Bay, is the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts & Crafts, nor that there is an annual Celtic Colours Festival here (going on right now).

When we got to our hotel in Baddeck, the Inverary Resort, we discovered that while we had connecting rooms, they each had only one bed, and not enough room to fit an extra bed in either room for our second child (since there’s no way a 13-year old girl will share a bed with her 11-year old brother). The front desk staff were very understanding, and managed to arrange an alternate room situation for us even though they were sold out last night. But we were still a bit grumpy from the experience and the long drive. And we got grumpier when we found we had to wait almost a half hour for a table at the resort’s Lakeside Café. However, once we got to having dinner, it completely wiped away all grumpiness. The food was just fantastic. My tomato seafood soup had the most perfectly cooked shrimp I can recall eating in a very long time, and the white wine garlic sauce for Bas’ mussels was devine, as were Krystyana’s local scallops. And Linda says her trout was also perfect – moist, slightly pink, and delightful. Only my pork chops did not meet this new standard the restaurant had set for itself, in that they were a tad dry. But their flavor was quite good. An excellent meal, and one which completely overcame our travel weariness-based unhappiness with the original room situation at the resort.

This morning we dined in the main dining room and had a passable breakfast (on the house, however, so that made it a little better) before venturing forth into Baddeck to go and do a week’s worth of laundry at the local laundromat.

We then spent a couple of hours at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site and Museum. We had at first wondered why this was located here in Baddeck, but it turns out he had a home in Baddeck, and did a lot of his research work here too.

It was endlessly fascinating, as we learned that while the invention of the telephone is what Bell is best known for, he also developed and invented countless other devices and technologies, and was involved with research in a variety of areas. For example, he co-invented the gramophone (cylindrical model) as an improvement over Edison’s recording/playback device as well as an operational high-speed hydrofoil. He also helped develop Canada’s airplane program.

Bell’s wife Mabel, whom he met as her teacher – he taught deaf children to speak using a special visual language system – was also a very strong and intelligent woman, and many of his successes can be credited to her support of his efforts, both emotionally and financially (she was the majority stockholder in Bell at the time).

Definitely visit this museum should you get to Baddeck.

We had a late lunch at the Telegraph House (where Bell apparently stayed before he had a home in Baddeck). They had good chicken wings, and a very nice turkey soup, but the other food was a bit disappointing – my seafood casserole was mostly mashed potatoes, and the peas served as my vegetable were canned peas.

The rest of the afternoon was spent driving up to St. Ann’s Bay to see the foliage and visit a few artisans’ shops.

We ended with a very nice dinner at Gisele’s across the street from the Inverary Resort. Great lamb (according to Linda), a nice prune stuffed chicken breast for Krystyana, and a turkey dinner for me (tomorrow is Canada’s Thanksgiving Day). Bas only had dessert, but enjoyed it greatly.

Tomorrow we’re due to drive the Cabot Trail, as well as go out on a Zodiac to find whales. It will be a very long day, as the Cabot Trail is nearly 200 miles long (and scenic and windy). We’re also hoping to finally spot some wild moose.

 

Lobsters, Cheese, Wine, and Views along the Bay of Fundy

October 12th, 2008 at 1:14 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Sharing a single bathroom among four people, especially when one of those people is a teenage girl, is a bit of a challenge, at least when you want to get moving in the morning and everyone has their own priorities. But we managed it nonetheless, and were actually checked out and on the road from Lunenberg by 8:30am this past Thursday. Less than a half hour later we had discovered the quaint Saltspray Cafe Chowder House in nearby Mahone Bay, where we enjoyed a hearty breakfast and friendly country service.

Our further travels took us over Route 12 to the other side of Nova Scotia, to the small village of Port Williams, and more particularly to the Foxhill Cheese Farm. We had already found a brochure for the Foxhill Cheese Farm at a Nova Scotia Information Center in Peggy’s Cove, but had the opportunity to actually meet one of the owners, Jeanita Rand, at the small farmer’s market in Lunenburg yesterday. Jeanita was full of information on cheese making, and we hoped to get a small tour at her farm today. And we were not disappointed.

But, before I wander off in the direction of dairy production, let me say that Nova Scotia does a brilliant job in promoting all that the province has to offer to tourists. There are numerous Nova Scotia Information Centers scattered around the province, in key tourist locations, staffed by very knowledgeable people, and filled with a variety of free maps, brochures, guides, and other useful materials. Among these is a thick tome called the Doers & Dreamers Guide, and it’s loaded with suggested accommodations, lists of attractions, national park listings, advertisements, and more. The Doers & Dreamers Guide is organized by provincial region, and each section includes a list of must-see attractions, must-do activities, calendar of events, and even rainy day activities. Many hotels also have these guides freely available. In any case, should you be visiting Nova Scotia, make sure to visit one of the Nova Scotia Information Centers and load up on all you need to explore this gem of the Canadian Maritimes.

Back to dairy existence… The signs to Foxhill Cheese Farm were clear and visible as we made our way up from Wolfsville through Port Williams, and we arrived to find Jeanita in full protective gear (gloves, apron, hair cover) at the farm store. After having us sample a variety of the cheeses – they make several varieties of Gouda, a Parmesan-like cheese they call Parmesran (so as not to infringe on the Parmesan trademark, and because Jeanita’s last name is Rand, so it’s a slight play on that), and German-style “quark”, a cheese that’s half way between sour cream cream cheese. They also make fresh gelato. And everything we sampled – and we sampled a lot of cheese and gelato – was very good. Jeanita also gave us a short tour and overview of the cheese-making process, and we are now inspired to at least make our own curds at home. We left loaded with a bunch of cheeses and gelato for the road.

After a stop at the Look-Off – a high point overlooking the entire Annapolis valley (a what a nice view it was!), we made our way to Hall’s Harbor, a place known for some of the most extreme tides in the world. When we got to Hall’s Harbor we found that the tide had mostly already gone out and a number of lobster fishing boat were literally high and dry. We lunched at The Lobster Pound, where we got to pick out our own lobsters, and then have them cooked for us while we waited in the petite dining area. The kids split a 2.75 pound lobster, Linda had a pound-and-a-half one, and I had one just over two pounds. It took about a half hour to cook them all, but the wait was worth it. We had an excellent though rustic meal.

Our next stop was at the Domaine de Grand Pre Winery, just a bit northeast of Wolfsville along Route 1, where we took a short tour followed by a tasting. Grand Pre is owned and operated by a Swiss-German family, and thus appears to run quite efficiently. The grape varietals they use, such as L’Acadie Blanc and Marechal Foch, are ones that are better suited to the shorter growing season available in Nova Scotia. They also produce three different eisweins (also known as icewine, a sweet dessert wine) – a Vidal, a Muscat, and an Ortega. One thing we found interesting what that their primary red wine production is using steel barrels, something which we found to make those reds rather less complex (and for us, not enjoyable). They do offer a couple of reserve reds which are oaked, and we enjoyed those quite a bit more. Part of the lack of development of the regular reds might have also been that the tastings involved rather young, 2007 vintages. We ultimately ended up with a collection of three aged, oaky Foch reserves (a 2001, 2003, and 2004), a bottle of the New York Muscat icewine, and a couple bottles of an apple-based apertif sweet wine (Pomme d’Or) which Krystyana thought might go well with cheese.

In terms of Nova Scotian wines, we have had a number of different reds from the Jost Winery (which we will not have a chance to visit during our current travels), and found those to generally be quite good. Grand Pre was a bit of a disappointment in contrast, however, as we had to work harder to find enjoyable wines.

From Grand Pre we took the scenic route between Windsor and Truro, along the coast. The countryside was beautiful as we enjoyed fall foliage and great ocean vistas. One of the stops along the way was at the lighthouse in Walton. The lighthouse might more appropriately be called a light-shack, as it’s very tiny, maybe 20 feet high. But it was cute. Walton also claims the distinction of being the place with the highest tides in the world. We’re not sure if this is true, but certainly our wanderings among some broken down piers near the lighthouse during low tide suggested tides were very high in this area, as we saw damp seaweed far above our heads on the pier. During this particular exploration we almost lost Bas to the mud. He had decided to investigate a few feet off the gravel we had wandered onto and ended up nearly losing his shoes due to the suction of the still very damp and thick mud where he stood. Krystyana and I had to pull him out gently so that his shoes stayed on his feet.

Our leisurely drive ultimately brought us to the Willow Bend Motel in Truro, and probably our least expensive room night of the entire trip, with a $125 “suite” featuring two queen beds and a queen sofa bed. The motel was in good condition, but Linda wasn’t wild about the location – halfway between a silo and the local bus station.

Let me digress a little here and say that one pleasant surprise so far has been that every accommodation we’ve had in Nova Scotia so far has included free Internet service, typically both wireless and wired. I usually prefer the later because I plug-in my Linksys wireless access point travel router and then can get a stronger wireless signal in our room for both the notebooks we are traveling with, but having the access be free is a nice little additional treat in any case – far better than the $10-15/day that many U.S. hotels we frequent charge for access (although with my Boingo membership, that’s usually waived).

Dinner options in Truro seemed a bit limited – lots of fast food, as well as a Chinese restaurant offering “Canadian Chinese Cuisine”. We ended up at Fletcher’s, a small diner offering what’s typically referred to as “hardy” food – loaded with starches and carbs, with bits of protein mixed in. Even the grilled haddock was covered in pancake batter (we managed to get some “naked” haddock). Reasonable prices, but low-carb oriented people (like us) should eat elsewhere.

Thus ended our Friday in Nova Scotia.

 

Appreciating Nature in Off-Season in Nova Scotia

October 9th, 2008 at 10:25 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, is dead quiet now as it’s low season here, and we’re loving it. All the shops and restaurants are open, but quiet. There are no crowds. The only mild downside is that the weather is a little brisk, and the skies were overcast today (in contrast to the beautiful sunny skies yesterday), but it’s still pretty wonderful here.

We finished yesterday with dinner at the Tin Fish, which happens to be in our hotel, the Lunenburg Arms Hotel & Spa. The service at Tin Fish was charming and pleasant (thank you Sarah!), and our meal was excellent. And the hotel is really charming and well-located too. We have a very large room with two queen beds and a queen size sofa bed on the top floor of the quaint hotel. We could use a second bathroom, but otherwise things are great. The staff here is very friendly and helpful, and we’d recommend both the hotel and the restaurant.

This morning, we enjoyed a leisurely late breakfast at the Historic Grounds Coffee House, and then headed out to the weekly farmer’s market at the Lunenburg Community Center. We bought some cheese and some sugar free preserves and had some interesting conversations with some of the market stand operators and owners before driving about 20 minutes to visit Ovens National Park.

The “ovens” referred to in the name of the park are large caverns and caves carved out of the cliff side by the ocean over many thousands of years. Trails along the cliff’s edge take you down to some of the sea caves – either into them, or on a platform so you can view them. Amazing what nature can create. The rock formations and striations were pretty incredible too, with almost all colors of the rainbow represented during our hour long walk.

What was also nice, again because of low season, was that Ovens National Park was closed for the winter, but a sign at the gate suggested anyone willing to make a donation to the park and assume all risks for being in the park was welcome to come on in and wander about. So we did. We never saw another soul – at least not a human soul. We did see a number of local birds, but better yet, as we were leaving the park, a large female deer walked across the path, not more than 30 feet in front of us (sorry – too dumbfounded to take a picture in time). The combination of the might of the ocean with all the flora and fauna around us was exhilarating and we all had a bit more spring to our step as we left.

We drove back to Lunenburg for another nice meal, this one at The Grand Banker Seafood Bar & Grill, right along the waterfront (and about a block from our hotel). Best seafood chowder we’ve had so far, although the lack of broth with the mussels was a bit disappointing. There was also an excellent Acadian Cajun Seafood Stew – the Acadian inhabitants of Nova Scotia are the primogenitors of the Cajuns of Louisiana, and were kicked off their lands in Nova Scotia by the British in the Great Explusion of 1755, as we learned a few days ago. Back to the point – we would recommend the Grand Banker for a nice lunch or dinner.

The rest of our day was spent at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, where we learned how to launch a newly built ship, how to properly design a lobster trap, the difference between Atlantic and Pacific salmon (the Atlantic salmon spawn multiple times, the Pacific ones only once), and countless other bits of useful and not-so-useful information and trivia about sailing, fishing, and Nova Scotian history. What impressed us – and no doubt this was again the benefit of being in Lunenburg during low season – was that there were docents readily available everywhere in the museum, and they all really knew their stuff. We spent perhaps 20 minutes with a gentleman of obvious Acadian background who showed us how to make a duck decoy and lobster trap buoys, and then regaled us with lobstering stories and history. The museum was an excellent way to spend a drizzly afternoon in Lunenburg. If you ever get to Lunenburg and have limited time on your hands, go to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic – you won’t be disappointed (at least during low season).

We wandered around Lunenburg and viewed several of the various gift shops – all of which were interesting and somewhat quirky – no chain retail stores here before settling down at Magnolia’s Grill for dinner. The front desk staff at our hotel had recommend them, and we were not disappointed. Magnolia’s Grill is tiny – it has seven tables, and half the menu is scribbled on a large chalkboard on a wall in the main dining area. There were almost a half dozen soups of the day, along with another half dozen other dishes and a separate board featured several desserts for the day. We had three of their soups (a spicy peanut cream, tomato and cheddar, and French onion) and all were perfect. We added a shrimp stir-fry over brown rice (all ingredients cooked to perfection in terms of crispness, but not as flavorful as expected), some bacon wrapped shrimp with a phenomenal garlic aioli, and then finished things up with a pumpkin cheesecake and a chocolate peanut butter mousse cake. Oh, and Linda and I enjoyed a couple of their excellent martinis with our meal too. Great dinner and pretty reasonably priced. Very highly recommended.

After returning to our hotel, we put Bas to bed (actually, we need to start calling him Sebastian now, or so we’ve been informed), and went to the bar at the Tin Fish for some wine (for me) and coffee (Linda) and tea (Krystyana), sitting in front of the warm fireplace to work for a bit on our various tasks (e-mail for me, math schoolwork for Krystyana, day journal for Linda).

We’ve got an early start tomorrow as we head up to the Bay of Fundy, with plans to visit a look-out point, an artisanal cheese maker, a premium vineyard, and finally ending up in Truro so we can observe the Truro Tidal Bore on Saturday morning.

 

New Approach for One-Way Car Rentals and Nova Scotia Travels

October 8th, 2008 at 10:35 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

For those of you wondering if we would finally get our rental vehicle situation worked out, we’re pleased to report it worked out wonderfully – in fact, better than expected. Our travel agent at American Express managed to secure a mini-van for us for two weeks at a Halifax Hertz downtown location, initially with a return back to the same location. But our travel agent managed to confirm with the Halifax Hertz airport location that a one-way rental to the U.S. would be possible for a one-time drop fee of CN$695, but that that would have to be arranged at the Hertz pick-up location.

When we went this morning to pick up our rental, the agent was a bit skeptical, but once he confirmed the drop fee with the other Hertz location, we managed to also get him to change the rental duration and the drop off location to Boston, so we now have a single rental for the entire duration of our travels, at a weekly rate lower than we were getting for the U.S.-only rental we had arranged, and a lot cheaper than the one-way rental we had arranged for the full size sedan.

As best we can tell, it turns out that the central reservations desks for rental car companies don’t have a way to tack on a drop fee for one-way rentals, so they add a significant surcharge to the daily and weekly rates to compensate for the drop fee. For a short rental, this might be reasonable, but for long rentals it could get exorbitant. If you can instead check with the rental location on the amount of a drop fee, you might find it cheaper to book it as a local-only rental, and have the rental location modify the reservation with the one-time drop fee.

Anyhow, once we picked up our vehicle and loaded it up with luggage (and we now have room to spare because it’s a mini-van), we drove down to Peggy’s Cove, a picture perfect scenic fishing village south of Halifax. We had lunch, explored the glacier rock formations, and took lots of pictures before heading further south to Mahone Bay to learn how pewter was cast and formed as well as to view the remnants of their annual Scarecrow Festival.

We ended our day taking sunset photos over the waters outside the harbor of Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where we’re spending the next day and two nights.

At some point we’ll get the photos up here on the site for all to see.

Tomorrow we’re scheduled to see some spectacular (so we’ve been told) caves made by ocean action, as well as the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic.

On Friday, we’re planning on visiting a cheese makers, see the world’s greatest tides in action, and ultimately end up in Truro so that on Saturday we can see the famous Tidal Bore before heading up to Cape Breton for a few days.

More later as these plans solidify, and maybe with some pictures to show all we’ve been up to.

 

The Anxiety of Not Planning – Two Days in Halifax

October 7th, 2008 at 9:47 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We were woken yesterday morning by the sounds of a bagpipe in the park across the street from our hotel. Seemed apropos in a place called New Scotland (Nova Scotia).

It was a beautiful day outside, and I pointed out to Bas the fact that fall foliage seemed to just be starting here in Halifax, and delighting in the fact that we had not missed the color change. Bas then pointed out to me that he had actually never been through fall foliage before. Kind of a sad thing to realize for a boy who was born in New Hampshire. However, we knew this was a deficiency in experience that we would be able to correct in the coming weeks.

The other new thing for Bas was that that until now he had always worn shoes with Velcro straps or which were just slip-ons. But for this trip, because we expected to do some hiking and simply climbing, we upgraded him to real hiking shoes with laces. So now he’s having to deal with also getting used to tying shoelaces – another new experience.

But the real trauma with Bas arose when he asked me what we were going to do for the day and I responded that I didn’t know. He was quite upset by my response. I asked him why, and his response was “Because you always know what we’re doing.”. Another sad truth for the day – I was raising a child that was just as anal retentive as I was. This spontaneous, unplanned travel thing will take more time to get used to for everyone.

When we first came up with the odd (for us) idea of going to the Canadian Maritimes without a particular agenda in mind, we were concerned that perhaps we might have selected a poor destination for this adventure and would not find enough to do, but as we speak to native Nova Scotians (the guide books refer to them as “Blue noses” but none of the Nova Scotians we spoke to would admit to that nickname), we are finding more and more interesting things to consume what little time we now appear to have here in Nova Scotia as well as in neighboring Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

We ended up with a late breakfast yesterday, then a climb up the hillside of the Halifax Citadel, an old military fortress which is also the highest point of Halifax. We learned quite a bit about the history of Halifax there, and also observed the firing of the noon cannon, a long standing tradition which was used to inform Haligonians (the name for those from Halifax) that it was exactly noon. Certainly one of the more interesting time-pieces we’ve come across.

We then wandered downhill towards the waterfront in the hopes of securing a lobstering tour at Murphy’s On The Water, but our hopes were not fulfilled as it appears to be too late in the season to enjoy such a tour. So we settled for a nice meal at Murphy’s Restaurant instead, enjoying our first bite of Nova Scotian seafood, including Digby scallops, a lobster, mussels, and a few other treats such as three different kinds of small whole potatoes – purple, red, and white. Service was pretty decent too. While the restaurant definitely seems to be mostly tourist oriented, we would recommend it to others looking for a nice seafood meal along the Halifax waterfront. And be sure to try the regional wines from the Jost winery and the sweet potato fries too.

After our leisurely lunch, we headed over to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, where, as Linda put it, “we found out all about history that we never knew existed” including lots of details about the ill-famed Titanic, as well as the Great Explosion of Halifax in 1917 (a ship laden with explosives blew up after a collision and the resulting explosion caused incredible damage and carnage), and the battles against French occupied Louisberg to the north in Cape Breton.

We wandering back to our hotel via streets filled with eclectic shopping opportunities for a couple hour break at our hotel before dinner at one of Halifax’s finest resaturants, Onyx. We didn’t know it was one of Halifax’s best restaurants when we made our reservation, but after dining there, we have to say that the service was top-notch – better than at many “fine dining” restaurants we have dined at elsewhere. The menu and our meals were also excellent. We enjoyed duck, tenderloin, lamb, and monkfish, as well as a variety of appetizers and even a baked apple with a flambé filling for dessert. Onyx is highly recommended by The Traveling Richters.

After a good night’s sleep we returned to our exploration of Halifax, with a visit to the Halifax Natural History Museum. Another excellent museum, featuring a diverse set of exhibits blending information about local fauna, dentistry (great exhibit for kids), results of archeology in old Acadian lands, and mineralogy, among other things.

We walked back to the harbor for lunch at McKelvie’s, another restaurant specializing in seafood. Again, we had excellent service and great food. The seafood chowder was creamy and flavorful, while the seafood salad was close to perfect. And in terms of spice, the Szechuan scallops were just right (using local Digby scallops, of course). Again, another recommended restaurant in Halifax.

After our meal, we spent the afternoon at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia looking at the works of Tom Forrestal as well as Nova Scotian folk art, Inuit art, some very odd photography, and pieces from the Gallery’s permanent collection. We also discovered that the Gallery has a nice cafe by the (in our opinion, unfortunate) name of Cheapside Cafe. Regardless of the name, the Cheapside Cafe has great ambiance, and a very nice selection of desserts and coffees, and apparently serves some mean sandwiches at lunchtime.

Our evening walk brought us to our final dinner in Halifax at Opa Greek Taverna where we enjoyed a leisurely meal consisting entirely of mezithes (appetizers and small plates) and a nice bottle of a Boutari reserva. And again, amazingly, we had excellent service. We don’t know if we just lucked out with the service at the restaurants we chose for our lunches and dinners here in Halifax, or if waitstaff in Halifax just has better training, but either way we’ve been very impressed by the attentiveness and knowledge of the waitstaff serving us. And the food quality has been very good too. Mind you, as a counterpoint, the breakfasts at our hotel (the Lord Nelson) have been merely ordinary, both in terms of the food (weird scrambled eggs) and service (a bit slow).

We finished our final evening in Halifax weary from all of our walking, but pleased with all that we learned and saw. And as a bonus, it appears we might have a rental mini-van at a very good rental price all the way to Bar Harbor and possibly even beyond.

Considering our lack of planning, things went pretty well the last couple of days. Hopefully Bas will learn from that. And maybe I will too…

 

The Problem With Luggage

October 5th, 2008 at 10:23 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

My excuse for having bigger and heavier luggage than the rest of my family is simply that I am bigger and heavier and thus my clothes take up more space and weigh more. I mass about 80% more than Krystyana or Linda, and am another foot or so taller than either of them. And Bas is far behind them, for now. I think I have a good excuse, but the rest of The Traveling Richters are skeptical.

But my own luggage aside, the single biggest challenge we all find in packing is that our trips tend to cross over a variety of climates and situations, meaning that for one part of a trip, shorts, flip flops, and t-shirts might suffice, while for another part of the same trip we might need heavy weight, all-weather jackets and hiking boots. And on top of that, we might also require elegant clothes for a formal dinner or event. And all that adds up to a lot of stuff and therefore a lot of luggage.

We have found only two viable solutions to this problem of lots of luggage. The first is to plan shorter, more distinctly targeted trips. But that’s just no fun. And besides, it can get quite a bit more expensive for all those extra plane tickets, and it wastes a lot of flying time having to revisit areas that are relatively near each other. The other solution – the one we have adopted – is to just find a way to cope with all the luggage.

But coping with lots of luggage, even if it’s mostly hand luggage, has a sort of domino effect. It affects a number of other variables in the chain of travel.

Probably the biggest impact we find with having lots of luggage applies to the size of vehicle we need to rent or hire for our journeys on terra firma. And the few times we have tried to economize and rent something like a four door full-size sedans, it has always caused problems.

And thus, today we find ourselves in yet another situation which might have been avoidable had we bit the bullet for an exorbitant rental fee for the size vehicle we wanted.

Several months ago, when we first started planning our Canadian Maritimes, we were looking for how we might be able to get from Halifax, Nova Scotia to the U.S.A., and discovered that we could actually rent a vehicle in Halifax and drive it all the way down Boston over four weeks. However, we also learned that for the rental fees involved, we could also afford to buy at least a couple of brand new Indian Tata Nano cars, except they don’t sell them in Nova Scotia as far as we know.

After working on a bunch of alternatives, we decided to rent a four door full sizes vehicle – something like a Ford Taurus – for the first two weeks our of journey, which would get us from Halifax to Bar Harbor, Maine, and there we would switch to a minivan to accommodate the shopping we’d inevitably end up doing along the way as well as having more space to carry family members during our end of the month reunions. Doing this saved us the price of one of those Tata Nano cars and we were pleased with our ingenuity.

We felt confident we could manage to pack ourselves such that all of our luggage and non-critical carry-ons could fit in the trunk of the full size car, but this morning, as we looked at what we packed as we checked in our luggage at the airport, we starting having doubts. Then we made the foolish mistake of letting the kids get new Dash roller bags at Brookstone’s in the Newark airport. Finally, as we waited for our flight to Halifax, we came to the realization that we would never manage to fit everything comfortably, or even uncomfortably, into the sedan we had waiting for us in Halifax.
We made a call to our travel agent to find out if we could upsize at this late date, but the prospects are looking dim – the next two vehicle sizes up are sold out, and the rental car company now will not rent us an SUV to be taken out of the country. Fortunately, we actually don’t need a rental car available until Wednesday morning, so that buys us a bit of time to find a solution. But at the present, we find ourselves set up for two weeks of driving in the Canadian Maritimes without a vehicle.

However, The Traveling Richters are up to just about any challenge, and surely we can overcome this one.

On a different note, during our nearly eight hour layover in Newark Liberty Airport, we rested, played some games (SET and Five Crowns – great family games), had a very nice steak lunch at Gallagher’s Steak House, and Bas enjoyed his first ever foot massage at the airport spa (and the rest of us had a variety of treatments too, of course).

It’s bed time here in Halifax, which is presently an hour earlier than the U.S. east coast, so that’s enough writing for today. More tomorrow on our travel travails.

Last minute update: The taxi from the Halifax airport to our hotel was a Lincoln Town Car, and we fit our luggage in that just right, so we’re having our travel agent hunt something that size down for us.