Archive for the ‘Driving’ Category

And We Continue to Be Spoiled…

July 17th, 2010 at 11:20 am (AST) by Jake Richter

We had booked our first five nights in Hong Kong at The Peninsula, rated one of the top hotels in the world. Part of the Fine Hotels and Resorts Package we booked through American Express Travel included complimentary airport transfers, a room upgrade, and afternoon tea for two at The Peninsula.

The airport transfers are extra special, however, as The Peninsula has the world’s largest fleet of Rolls Royce limousines, and that’s what you get chauffeured in from the airport on Lantau island to the hotel in the Tsim Shu Tsui section of Kowloon. But the service doesn’t start with the drive. As we deplaned, moderately well rested due to the comforts of our first class flight, we were greeted at the gate by someone holding a sign up with our names on it. He took our carry-on bags and rolled them to the immigration line (sadly, there was no shortcut or express lane for us there), while telling us about The Peninsula and answering any questions we had about Hong Kong.

After immigration we picked up our bags (which came off the conveyor belt quickly because they were priority tagged) and were brought past customs and then outside where our custom dark green Rolls Royce limo was waiting, along with Lee, our driver.

The Peninsula's Rolls Royce airport transfer at night with Lee driving

The Peninsula's Rolls Royce airport transfer at night with Lee driving

It was an incredibly smooth 25 minute ride to the hotel, where our luggage was whisked away and we were brought to our room by Tiffany, a delightful young Chinese woman, who checked us in while in our room (actually, our second room as the first was a bit smoky smelling). We ultimately ended up on the 25th floor, with a room overlooking Hong Kong island (more on the view later).

Daytime view of The Peninsula's Rolls Royce limousines

Daytime view of The Peninsula's Rolls Royce limousines

Our luggage gets loaded into the Rolls Royce limousine upon departure from The Peninsula

Our luggage gets loaded into the Rolls Royce limousine upon departure from The Peninsula

And, yesterday (Friday), we took advantage of the transfer in our package to have another Rolls Royce limousine drop us and our bags off at a hotel on Hong Kong island. The bags stayed and we continued on by ferry to Macau (which I hope to document in a future post).

Dennis drives us to our next adventure in Hong Kong in one of The Peninsula's Rolls Royce limousines

Dennis drives us to our next adventure in Hong Kong in one of The Peninsula's Rolls Royce limousines

We could definitely get used to being chauffeured around in a Rolls Royce limousine, but it’s not likely to happen on Bonaire or anywhere else on a regular basis, I think.

Linda the rock star

Linda the rock star

Jake's Rolls Royce self-portrait - can you smell the leather interior yet?

Jake's Rolls Royce self-portrait - can you smell the leather interior yet?


GPS Tracking – A Day In And Around Ushuaia

March 4th, 2010 at 8:21 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Our unexpected full day in Ushuaia turned out quite nice. We started with a visit to the Maritime Museum of Ushuaia, located in the former prison which had been the core of the foundation of Ushuaia as a penal colony a long time ago.

We then wandered through the main shopping and restaurant portion of downtown Ushuaia – lots of tourist goods, a large number of restaurants offering all you can eat buffets (we didn’t partake), and tour companies offering trips to see penguins (been there, done that).

Lunch required busing to Patagonia Mia, a restaurant near the entrance of the Tierra del Fuego national park. While not bad, the meal we had there was perhaps the most disappointing of the trip – they only offered fish (cod) as a main course (we managed to get a breaded beef filet for Bas), and it was bland and uninspired. Quite a contrast from the diverse and almost universally great food we’ve enjoyed aboard the National Geographic Explorer.

After a quick stop at the ship, we took a two hour bus ride to Estancia Harberton. Estancia means “ranch” or “farm”, but while Estancia Harberton used to be a sheep farm and place where firewood was harvested, today it’s more of a historic site. On property is also the Museo Acatushun Aves y Mamiferos Marinos Australes, the Museum of Birds and Marine Mammals, which features the world’s best collection of marine mammal skeletons and skulls. Pretty impressive, although we had limited time available to truly appreciate the collection.

Our final dinner aboard the Explorer awaited our return.

We’re now just about thoroughly packed and ready to get up before dawn so we can leave Ushuaia just after dawn. We hope to be in Miami late Friday night at a hotel Lindblad has arranged for all of us on the charter. On Saturday we move to a nice hotel in Coconut Grove, a trendy area south of downtown Miami.

The GPS track for our day in and near Ushuaia is below.


The Traveling Richters On the Road Again

August 15th, 2009 at 4:37 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

The case Jake was working on in Dallas settled a few days ago, so instead of spending the next five weeks together in Dallas while Jake worked, The Traveling Richters have instead opted to go traveling together and make up for the many months Jake has been apart from the rest of the family in the U.S. for business and research.

The original travel options included Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Australia, Greece, Turkey, Russia, South Africa, and Scandinavia. However, we opted for something more unusual… a road trip through middle America.

On Monday morning we set forth from Dallas on an exploration of parts of northeastern Texas, northern Arkansas, the entertainment Mecca of Branson, Missouri, Tenneesse, and ultimately the Atlanta area of Georgia. None of us has previously spent any real amount of time in these states, so we hope to see and learn all sorts of different things.

Here’s our itinerary:

  • August 15-17 – Dallas, Texas
  • August 17-18 – Texarkana, Texas
  • August 18-19 – Fort Smith, Arkansas
  • August 19-26 – Branson, Missouri
  • August 26-28 – Little Rock, Arkansas
  • August 28-31 – Memphis, Tennessee
  • August 31 – September 4 – Nashville, Tennessee
  • September 4-6 – Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • September 6-8 – Braselton, Georgia
  • September 8-12 – Atlanta (Buckhead), Georgia

If any of you reading this are in any of these areas, or en route between these places and have time to show us cool and interesting things around your neck of the woods, please let us know. We’d be happy to reciprocate with a meal at a restaurant you’d recommend.


New Brunswick – Closed For the Season; Bar Harbor – Just Barely Open

October 20th, 2008 at 12:19 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We already had an inkling on Friday as we drove into New Brunswick from PEI that we might have issues with places being open to visit, since the two New Brunswick Visitor Information Centers were closed for the season, and a number of parks and other attractions likewise sported “Closed / Ferme” signs.

The issue of everything being closed limited our options of what to see and do on Saturday as we left the Crowne Plaza in Moncton. We started off a a place in northeast Moncton called Magnetic Hill, so called because it features a spot where you can stop your car, put it in neutral, and then appear to have your car pulled uphill. It’s merely a visual illusion based on local topography, but it was amusing (but not interesting enough to do a second time). Magnetic Hill was also actually closed for the season, but that only meant they left the gate open and we didn’t have to pay a $5 fee (which probably would not have been worth it in retrospect). However, was we did find amazing was that a whole crop of amusements had been built up in the area, including a whole theme park, a historic village, and a waterpark – all centered around Magnetic Hill. And all closed for the season.

Our next stop was a place called Hopewell Rocks down along a rural coastal road (part of the so-called Fundy Trail, as in Bay of Fundy), where we had a deer trot in front of our mini-van briefly.

The Hopewell Rocks are tall rock formations of composite rock which are fully exposed during low tide, but during high tide only the tops show. The tops are referred to as the Flowerpots, because they look like large floating flowerpots, apparently, during high tide. The tidal variation between low tide and high tide here runs about 50 feet as the Bay of Fundy has thee highest tides in the world. What’s truly interesting about the Hopewell Rocks is that the bases of them have been carved into smooth organic shapes by the twice-daily large tides, in some cases forming natural holes, caverns, and arches through the rocks.

The Hopewell Rocks park area was also closed for the season, but with signs posted saying that anyone entering the area was doing so at their own risk. We were among over a dozen other people assuming our own risk as a result. We spent about an hour walking the beach (it was low tide) looking at the rock formations and looking for cool rocks and fossils. No luck on the fossils as the age of the area and the types of rocks were the wrong kind for fossils, but we found some spectacular pieces of quartz and basalt (at least we think that’s what it is).

We took the scenic route to Saint John for lunch, dining at Billy’s Seafood Company downtown. Sadly, the food lacked in distinct flavor, but the service was decent. Billy’s was adjacent to the Central Market – a large hall which was filled with small stands serving a variety of foods, fresh produce, trinkets, and other supplies. We spent an hour exploring the Central Market before making our way to St. Andrews in southern New Brunswick for the night.

Our hotel was the Fairmont Algonquin, and our travel agent had arranged a two-bedroom suite for us there, as our first choice, the Kingsbrae Arms Hotel, had already closed for the season. The Fairmont Algonquin was originally the Algonquin, one of of those summer resort properties you see in movies about the early and mid 1900s – it reminded me of the resort from the movie “Dirty Dancing”.

When we arrived it seemed rather busy for low season. Turns out we had arrived in the midst of the Indulge New Brunswick event, which feature culinary experiences over a two day period, ending with the Indulge Extravaganza, a three hour feast featuring tapas-size plates with delicacies prepared by some of New Brunswick’s best chefs, using local foods – salmon, scallops, cod, wild boar, and more, and accompanied by well over a hundred different wines brought in by local wine distributors, as well as a bunch of different ales and beers. Talk about serendipity, as they still had tickets available for the Extravaganza. We ended up getting three tickets, and leaving a very content Bas up in our suite watching TV and eating food from room service. It ended up being a very nice evening with an excellent variety of excellent food, and some pretty decent wines (the reds were all still a bit young).

We ended the evening watching Will Smith in Hancock on pay-per-view in our suite’s parlor. Pretty entertaining film, even though it got panned by the critics.

On Sunday, we brunched in our room on all the provender we had picked up along the way, intent on lightening our load because we didn’t think we could bring Canadian meats and other foods into the U.S. with us. We were wrong, apparently, as we were never asked about what we were bringing into the U.S. from Canada when we crossed over in St. Stephen, but perhaps that was because the U.S. immigration officer was distracted by our Nova Scotia license plates, our U.S. passports, and our Netherlands Antilles residency. It was a smooth process even so, and we were finally back on U.S. soil.

We had spent a very nice two weeks in Canada, and learned a lot about the local history, the people, the traditions, and also the geology. Well worth the time spent.

On the whole, we found the residents of the three provinces we visited to be very warm and welcoming, with the only exception to that being a few people in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, a couple of whom worked at information centers. The people of the Canadian Maritimes reminded us of old-time New Englanders (not the recent transplants who appear to have less time and inclination to be friendly and welcoming).

The idea of the information centers in all three provinces was excellent, although we were disappointed to find all the ones in New Brunswick closed for the season by the time we got there.

It seems that while we were traveling at an excellent time to avoid small crowds, one week earlier in New Brunswick and PEI would probably have been better, as it appears that most everything that was closed had shut down right after Canadian Thanksgiving on October 13th.

We also greatly appreciated the fresh seafood we found everywhere. Although Krystyana tired of seafood quickly, Linda and I continued to enjoy it daily. The scallops were moist and tender, the mussels delightful, the lobster and fish fresh and delicious. Probably the best long-term seafood experience we have ever had.

Navigating was also relatively simple, as we picked up maps before our trip, and then in Nova Scotia, also picked up a provincial road atlas. Our Garmin nuvi GPS was a bit of a disappointment, however, as it frequently didn’t have our destinations built in as part of its programming, and we had to find ways to trick it into giving us the directions we needed. Apparently at one point we upset our GPS so much that it hung, and we had to reboot. Ever since then we think the GPS has been trying to mess with us, as the directions it gives are a bit obscure at times. Technological payback, perhaps?

Once we had made it to Maine mid-day yesterday, we continued down the scenic route to Bar Harbor, stopping at a small diner in Sullivan, Maine, about 45 minutes outside of Bar Harbor for lunch. The lunch spot was called Chester Pike’s Galley, and was in a rather nondescript building. We arrived at 1:30pm, just before their 2pm closing time, and had perhaps the best seafood stew we had ever eaten – cream, butter, a bit of seasoning, and chock full of scallops, lobster, and shrimp and nothing else. It had major umame. And the prices were incredibly reasonable. A bowl of the stew – enough to feed even my hearty appetite – was only about $7.95, the same price we paid for Linda’s sizable lobster salad. And beyond the excellent yet inexpensive home-cooked food, what we truly appreciated was the ambiance. The camaraderie of the staff felt like they were all a big family working together (not entirely true as most of the staff were actually just friends, but not related), and made us feel like were were in a family dining room. Very cozy and comfortable. One other nice feature of the restaurant was that each of the handful of tables in the main dining room had a glass top, under which people had stuck their business cards, newspaper articles, and other readable content. Much of it was advertising, but some were cards from fans, so we added our business card for The Traveling Richters along with a note expressing our appreciation of the seafood stew. If you ever end up anywhere near Bar Harbor and Sullivan, make a point to visit Chester Pike’s Galley, although it should be noted they are closing for the season this week as well and not reopening until around May.

We arrived in Bar Harbor well sated, checking into the Bar Harbor Grand hotel, into a cozy two bedroom unit (comfortable with three beds in two rooms, but only one bathroom), dropped off our growing pile of luggage and then walked down Main Street to explore Bar Harbor’s eclectic collection of shops, most of which were still open for the rest of the month before they too would close for the season. We ambled around for a few hours until I had to head back for a conference call (although the girls stayed out a bit longer doing more shopping).

Dinner was at Michelle’s Fine Dining, a petite restaurant with only eight tables located in the Ivy Manor Inn, but with some of the best food and service we had yet experienced on this trip. Sadly, a number of items on their menu were not available as it was the last night the restaurant would be open before closing for the season and reopening in April. We enjoyed steak tartare, a warm brie with fresh berries, and foie gras for our appetizers, and French onion soup, duckling, and peppered beef tournados for our main course, accompanied by appropriate glasses of wine. We all shared the signature dessert – Michelle’s famous “Bag of Chocolate”, literally a dark chocolate bag filled with white and milk chocolate mousse and fresh berries, topped with a raspberry coulis. Simply delightful. Michelle’s Fine Dining is highly recommended by The Traveling Richters.

We had a good night at the Bar Harbor Grand, although as our room was on the side of the property adjoining Main Street, we found ourselves woken up by the sound of passing vehicles around 7am. Earplugs recommended. For the price, it was a great find, and the hotel was very comfortable and convenient to the rest of Bar Harbor as we could walk around and did not need to drive to visit the pretty little downtown area.

Today we’re off to Freeport, Maine, the home of L.L. Bean and countless factory outlet shops and other types of shopping.

By the way, this is being submitted from a very nice coffee shop in Camden, Maine – Zoot Coffee. Great selection of loose leaf teas, coffees, snacks, and meals. Mind you, our GPS has been protesting our use of scenic Route 1 vehemently. It keeps wanting to send us to a major highway.

Anyhow, we’ll be spending two nights in Freeport, and then moving on to Linda’s parents place in New Hampshire on Wednesday. On Saturday we have a BonaireTalk gathering in Amesbury, Massachusetts, where we will be meeting Bonaire-loving friends from all over the U.S., and then spending the following week with my family in the Boston area. My parents are flying over from the Czech Republic, and my brother and his family recently moved to Wayland from San Diego. Should be an entertaining time.

However, as the exploratory part of our trip is nearing its end, there will likely be no or fewer posts about our continuing journey in New England unless something really interesting and cool comes up that we think needs to be shared here. But, don’t despair as we’re still working on several reviews and reports from our August trip to New York City and from Krystyana’s and my trip to Costa Rica in September, so expect to see some of those show up here in the coming week or so.


Lots of Miles, Lots of Countryside – Three Provinces, Three Days

October 17th, 2008 at 11:21 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

In case you might have been worried about us falling (or driving) off the face of the earth, rest assured that we’re alive and well and presently in the city of Moncton in New Brunswick.

We left Louisbourg on Cape Breton on Wednesday morning for Pictou in mid-Nova Scotia, intent on timing things well for the 4pm ferry to Prince Edward Island. We stopped off at Harbor Quilt Company, a quilting store and gallery outside of Antigonish, and then had lunch at Gabrieau’s Bistro in downtown Antigonish.

Gabrieau’s had an interesting looking menu, but the we found the service to be pretty terrible. Our waitress mis-heard a couple of our orders, and when asked about it, explained what she thought she heard and then left without offering to correct things. She was also quite slow and difficult to flag down. The food that we ended up with was also underwhelming. The spicy Thai beef salad used deli-style roast beef, which gave it an odd flavor. The Caesar dressing lacked any real flavor. The Asian baby back ribs and vegetable and chicken stifado were better though. And the two different cheesecakes we had were a disappointment too. We did note that a table with a different waitress appeared to have had a much better experience, but that was little comfort to us, and a different waitress would not have improved the food at all anyhow. So, if you’re tempted by Gabrieau’s when in Antigonish, contemplate your alternatives first.

One of the issues with the service at the restaurant was that we were now getting concerned about making the ferry, as time was starting to get a bit tight. Turns out to have not been an issue at all because I misread the ferry schedule, and the ferry left at 2:45pm (which we had, by then, missed), with the next one at 6pm.

To burn time, we ended up taking a leisurely stroll through picturesque Pictou (with the only thing marring the pretty harborside being a factory of some sort across the bay) and then had some tea before heading to the ferry terminal.

At the ferry terminal, while waiting for the ferry to arrive, we came across another rather distinct wild creature – a real, live fox. Turns out this fox has become an opportunistic feeder and waits for ferry travelers to toss it food scraps. The fox provided us with about 20 minutes of entertainment before it scooted away with the arrival of the ferry.

A fox at the Caribou Ferry Terminal near Pictou, Nova Scotia

A fox at the Caribou Ferry Terminal near Pictou, Nova Scotia

An hour and a half later we were driving off the ferry in Wood’s Island, on Prince Edward Island on our way to the island’s largest city, Charlottetown, and also the most unique and attractive of all the various accommodations we have had so far on this trip.

We had booked two nights at The Great George, which is a collection of suites and buildings spread out over a block or two. The main reception area looks and feels just like one might picture a club room at a posh British gentleman’s club. The staff at the hotel was excellent and efficient, and within a short time had directed us to our lodging – a standalone house called The Dorchester.

The Dorchester was a two story house with two large bedrooms and excellently appointed bathrooms upstairs, along with a den, a living room (with fold out sofa), a kitchen, and another bathroom (this one with a washer and dryer) on the main floor. And all at a price cheaper than some single rooms we had stayed in so far. And the king size bed (one of the few we have encountered in the Canadian Maritimes) was perfect in terms of comfort – nice and firm without being hard.

Should you ever visit Charlottetown, The Great George is where you have to stay.

We arrived pretty late – around 8pm – but the front desk staff was able to suggest a couple of restaurants for dinner, and we settled on Sims Corner Steakhouse and Oyster House. Nice ambiance, but very spotty service. The food itself was quite good, with excellent appetizers and decent main courses. A particular favorite were the extremely fresh and plump PEI mussels. I also had some local oysters, and Canadian rib eye. Linda and I also enjoyed a very good Margaux with our meal. The food is definitely worth a trip to Sims, but be aware the service may be lacking a bit in terms of efficiency (and we’re used to island-time service back on Bonaire, and this was worse).

Our next day was spent driving around the center of Prince Edward Island in search of Anne of Green Gables and other diversions.

First, let me say that PEI (as Prince Edward Island is known) is beautiful and pastoral – outside the city the buildings are far apart with large fields separating them, lots of the fields used as farm land, with sprinkles of cows and horses here and there.

However, being the middle of October, we found just about every retail store and accommodation we drove by closed until next May or so. It appears that the main season for any sort of activity runs May through September – five months. The rest of the year things just close down and hibernate. The same applies to places like Cape Breton, as we noticed this past week.

We did find one shop open – Rustico Bay Wool Sweater Company, where the owner, the aptly named Kathy Winter, was also getting ready to close down for the season. Kathy was among the few people we had encountered on our trip who had heard of our home island of Bonaire. We ended up getting Bas a set of very soft and warm Alpaca wool gloves and being offered a couple of nice PEI apples (which tasted like Cortlands) on our way out.

We managed to find the PEI Information Center in Cavendish barely open – brochures were being boxed up in anticipation of closing down the center for the season this weekend. We did get some good advice on things still left to see, and then headed to the nearby park to explore some fabulous sand dunes.

Cavendish is one of the places where Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of the Anne of Green Gables (and numerous other books featuring strong female heroines), lived for a good bit of her early life, and many of the settings in her books, as well as the characters, were drawn from her own experiences and observations on PEI in the Cavendish area.

What we found fascinating was how much of the local tourism industry had evolved around a fictional teenage girl from a book published in 1908. In addition to the house used as the model for Green Gables, the birthplace of Lucy Maud Montgomery, and a couple of museums, a vast number of commercial enterprises had all hopped on the Anne bandwagon. We saw Anne of Green Gables chocolates being promoted, the Kindred Spirits Inn (using an oft repeated phrase from the Anne books), and several amusement and theme parks all based on the characters and stories of the various Anne of Green Gables books.

Anyhow, after the dunes we visited the Anne of Green Gables Museum near Shining Water. The museum was actually a museum about Lucy Maud Montgomery, and situated in a house owned by relatives of hers where she had spent a fair bit of time during her younger years. In addition to furnishings and memorabilia actually mentioned in some of her books, we saw excerpts from her journals, signed first editions of her books, and photos and stories documenting Lucy Maud Montgomery’s life. Pretty interesting. We also learned that the book Anne of Green Gables at one point was required reading in Japanese schools, and thus the whole area, and the museum in particular, was a major Japanese tourist attraction.

Amusingly, we found that a not insignificant number of the tourists to the area believed Anne was a real person instead of the fictional character that she actually is. That said, Anne certainly seems to have a life, and following, of her own.

After the museum we continued our scenic drive, ultimately ending up in Summerside, another city, about an hour from Charlottetown. We were starving by the time we got there, but sadly had no idea where to look for a good restaurant (not having brought our Fodor’s or AAA guides with us, foolishly), and ended with experimenting with “Chinese and Canadian Cuisine” (the subtitle for every Chinese restaurant we had so far seen in Nova Scotia and PEI) at China Star Restaurant in the heart of a rather desolate Summerside. The food was not bad, but as we had ordered a couple of Szechuan dishes, we had hoped for more spice and flavor. A fine place to go if you’re hungry. By the way, the “Canadian Cuisine” thing is apparently something that is almost required if you’re serving foreign foods in this area, as we’ve learned, as it tells less adventurous diners that it’s “safe” to eat there – they can get their sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, fried fish and scallops, and french fries in addition to whatever else might be on the menu.

We continued our scenic route back to Charlottetown, with the sole highlight being a farm for miniature horses, several of which were out in the yard by the road. They were absolutely adorable, and quite friendly. Bas was convinced we should go buy one right then and there, but we explained that we only had four seats home, so if we got the small horse, he’d have to stay behind. He wisely decided this might not be the right time for a miniature horse after all.

I had a conference call to attend to when we returned, and we then attempted to do a little bit of shopping in the pretty historic part of Charlottetown, but our efforts were brought up short when it turned out that all the shops, with one exception, closed at 5pm, which is what time we had gone out. We did find one shop, Firehouse Studios, which was open a bit later though. Firehorse is a shop specializing in artistic glass – including fused glass, stained glass, and the like. Some beautiful work there. Plus they also have classes and supplies for making your own glass art. The person working the shop was kind enough to provide us some tips on how to fuse glass and we hope to be able to give it a try ourselves once we get the necessary materials and dust off our kiln.

For dinner we chose Lot 30, which we had been told was the best restaurant in Charlottetown. We left Bas behind at The Dorchester, well fed from leftovers from lunch, and Krystyana, Linda, and I headed for Lot 30. We found the menu interesting and tried to make sure to each order something different so we could do our own tasting. Our waiter was a bit slow and hesitant in responding to our questions, but much better than the one from the previous night at Sims. We enjoyed our appetizers immensely – I had foie gras with scallop and shredded beef, Krystyana had a turnip and apple soup, and Linda had fried local oysters (which were the best appetizer of the three).

But the main courses were a bit disappointing, perhaps in that each of our plates shared key accompaniments with one of the other main courses on the table. For example, my scallops had a vegetable medley which was identical to that for Linda’s duck, and mashed potatoes just like those with Krystyana’s pork belly. And the girls both had another type of vegetable in common as well. First, the flavors of the accompanying items, while possibly better suited to one of the dishes did not translate well to the other in terms of a flavor combined, and second, it seemed to be a bit, well, lazy, at least in terms of creativity. And it also didn’t quite mesh with the descriptions of the dishes on the menu. One area where service was excellent though was in food delivery, in that they always made sure that each person at a table got their course at exactly the same time. However, on the flip side, the food was delivered without explanation, which considering how the food was not as described in the menu, was a bit off-putting.

If Lot 30 was supposedly the best fine dining restaurant in Charlottetown then Charlottetown has a ways to go in terms of fine dining.

Our final day of our three day, three province experience, namely today, started very early, as we needed to drive for about two and a half hours to make it to the Joggins Fossil Institute in Joggins, Nova Scotia for a 10am walking tour. This involved, other than an early departure, driving a number of kilometers over the Confederation Bridge (which also charges a hefty toll of CA$41.50) into New Brunswick, and then back into Nova Scotia. So, in fact, we hit three provinces in about two hours.

The Joggins Fossil Institute consists of a newly built (opened April 2008) museum and research complex atop the cliffs in the village of Joggins. Joggins is a recently certified UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the location of the discovery of the world’s oldest reptile fossil, all the back from the Carboniferous Era around 350 million years ago.

Our tour turned out to be a private one simply because no one else showed up, so we had Brian Hebert, the Chief Interpreter of the Joggins Fossil Institute, all to ourselves for two whole hours. Brian walked up up and down about one kilometer of shoreline (it was low tide in the Bay of Fundy, which Joggins abuts), showing us examples of fossil trees, veins of coal, rock stratification and collapse, details about tidal erosion, and all sorts of other good things.

While it was freezing out (at least for us thin blooded types), with high winds causing a biting chill factor, we braved it out and by the end of our tour were able to find all sorts of interesting fossils of our own in the limestone debris littering the beach below the museum. Unfortunately we didn’t find anything unique enough for the museum to want to put in its depository of fossils. Brian was an excellent and enthusiastic guide, and, as it turns out, one of the most prolific discovers of new and unique fossils in the area. He had recently found the only fossil of a scorpion ever seen in the Joggins area, for example.

After warming up a bit with hot Chai and coffee after the tour, we finished exploring the museum, “donated” to the gift shop for a number of new books, and then made our way back into New Brunswick and the Schnitzel Haus in Aulac, right across the border from Nova Scotia. We had a good hearty German lunch (with pretty reasonable service, for a change), and then made our way to the city of Moncton and the Crowne Plaza hotel here.

There was no clearly marked entrance to the hotel, at least not for bringing in luggage, so we ended having to call the hotel from a nearby parking lot for assistance with our growing pile of luggage. Our room was nice and big enough for all of us to sleep in, but we’re not impressed with the rest of the hotel. The corridors outside our room reek of cigarette smoke (apparently because the rooms themselves are supposed to be smoke free with fines for those who light up in them), and the hotel is located in a kind of grungy part of town, just a block away from a nicer section with lots of restaurants.

As Krystyana is still tired of seafood, we opted for a Thai-Vietnamese restaurant, Vien Dong, on Main Street. I found the food pretty good, but Linda wasn’t thrilled with her soup or any of the rest of the dishes we ordered, commenting that this was basically repackaged Chinese food – she may have been right to an extent.

Service again was quite slow though, but this time possibly because the restaurant was quite busy and there was only one waiter. We also found the beverage options (at least the ones on our menus) rather limited. The portions were huge compared to what we had experienced so far in the Canadian Maritimes. If you’re desperate for Thai food in Moncton, Vien Dong would not be a bad choice in any event.

We got back to our room and started planning our next day, which involves trying to go experience the Magnetic Hill, see the Hopewell Rocks, and then make our way to St. Andrews, near the Maine border.


Fortress of Louisbourg

October 14th, 2008 at 10:25 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Today was a bit less eventful for us than yesterday. No moose or whale sightings, although we did see an old fashioned musket fired.

We departed mid-morning from Baddeck for the village of Louisbourg, on the east coast of Cape Breton. We tried to stop at a fossil museum in Sydney Mines (a small town in Cape Breton), but as with a growing number of attractions on Cape Breton, it had closed recently for the winter.

We arrived at the Point of View Suites in Louisbourg around 10am, and were a bit surprised to find it was also an RV park. But in fact, there was a large building on a small cliff at the back of the property, overlooking the harbor of Louisbourg, and in that building was our suite. The managers of the property actually upgraded us from one large suite into two connecting smaller suites so that we could each (kids and adults) have our own space. That was something we really appreciated. One reason they were probably so generous was that the property is closing down in a few days for the winter season (when tourism is pretty much dead in most of Cape Breton). In any case, the rooms are spacious, and the kitchens appear well provisioned. But bring your own shampoo and soap, as what they provide is good for only one or two showers.

After dropping off our bags in our room we headed up to the Fortress of Louisbourg. The Fortress, run by the Canada Parks Service, is a recreation of a part of the fortress that was once located on the same grounds during the early and middle part of the 1700s, owned and controlled by the French (except for a three year period where the British ran it). The Fortress of Louisbourg was twice besieged and attacked by the British, and both times the French surrendered after about six weeks, due in part to running out of supplies because of British blockades, and also because the British brought many times more soldiers than there were inhabitants of the fortress. Surrender was an easier out than dying from starvation or being shot. After the second capture, the British pretty much destroyed Louisbourg, and it took a government project in the 1960s to attempt to rebuild aboutt 20% of the buildings that had once stood on the fortress grounds, and make the Fortress of Louisbourg a historic attraction.

Most of the people at the fortress are in period costume, playing the part of a person from circa 1744, but were kind enough to explain differences between that time and the present when asked. We learned an incredible amount about the daily lives of merchants, nobility, servants, and soldiers during the times of the Fortress. We also learned that we would not liked to have lived there during that time as the people endured what we would consider enormous hardships – ranging from very bad winters and poor health care to extremely difficult working conditions, among others.

We also enjoyed an 18th century lunch of soup, cod, and carrots, including a single, versatile eating utensil – a spoon with a curved tip on the handle which could be used to cut and pierce ones food. It was all very tasty.

We had gone to the Fortress of Louisbourg with minimal expectations, and left overwhelmed with new knowledge and information, and thirsting for more. And that’s taking into account that only a fraction of the various buildings were open and staffed because it’s low season here (and the fortress closes down on Saturday for the winter season too – just like everything else). During the summer months, the Fortress of Louisbourg is a hive of nearly non-stop activities, and it’s estimated that it would take at least 18 hours to see and do everything there is to do (not including spending time talking with the in-period docent/actors).

If you have any interest at all in history as well as how people lived and survived in the 18th century, then the Fortress of Louisbourg is a must.

Our dinner was at the Lobster Kettle, one of the only two restaurants still open for the season in the village of Louisbourg. Linda and Krystyana had a fabulous snow crab dinner special while Bas and I enjoyed haddock and halibut – both quite good, and amazingly Bas enjoyed the fish. So far, on this trip, Bas has learned to like lobster and fish. We’re working on him for scallops, but he seems to have set his mind against them for the moment. In any event, we enjoyed our meal at the Lobster Kettle – both in terms of food quality and service – large difference from last night’s meal at the Lobster Galley in St. Ann’s Bay.

Tomorrow we leave Louisbourg for Pictou, where we will take a ferry to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. We’ll be spending a couple of nights there, and hope to visit Avonlea and the museum of Anne of Green Gables, among other things.

For followers of our writings who are also familiar with our home island of Bonaire in the Southern Caribbean, we discovered after dinner tonight that Tropical Storm Omar had formed near the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) in the last day or so, and strong weather conditions have created very large swells and waves on the normally calm west side of Bonaire, damaging numerous piers and soaking some waterfront properties.

There are links here and here on BonaireTalk with more information.

Please note that most of the reports on BonaireTalk are independent observer reports or passed on from those on islands and that there is also a lot of speculation based on water drenched visuals. As we know from the past with large surge actions, until the surge subsides (sometime tomorrow afternoon hopefully), it will not be clear how much damage has actually occurred, and it won’t be clear for days how long any such damage will take to repair.

If you love Bonaire like we do, keep the island in your mind and think positive thoughts. For those concerned about our animals, we understand they are doing fine, albeit a bit shook up by the wind and rain.

To all of our friends and extended family on the island, we hope you are well and safe and dry.