Tag Archives: canada

Places: Mont Sutton, QC

Although we were ‘staying around home’ for the holidays, way back in July or something I had spotted these interesting stand-alone cabins on AirBnb and felt I had to book them for some occasion. Since the prices didn’t seem to really change over Christmas, I thought they’d be a nice spot to ring in the new year and get out on the slopes at the same time. Although the downtime over the holidays was nice, after a while it seems like you’ve had the same conversation with family enough times, watched enough TV and definitely eaten enough.

We had a perfect day to drive up to Sutton after a half-day at work and arrived at about 4pm just as the ski hill was shutting down. We picked up the key to our Kabin and headed to the base of the ski hill where it was located. Some people were even just skiing home from the hill which made for a funny scene.

The Kabin was excellent – the ‘modular-type’ home was one of about eight that make up the community. It had everything we needed and obviously had made great use of space to create a cozy but spacious place for us to hang out. Before anything, the kids were anxious to hit the hot tub on the deck which was simply awesome. Each of the Kabins backs out on to a birch forest which is a nice touch of nature.img_1485

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Hanging out at our ‘Kabin’

On our first day at Sutton, we put Noah in a lesson since he had never been on a snowboard before. Although his teachers (one teacher and one translator) focused a lot on slowing down and stopping, he really wasn’t too interested in doing much of that but seeing how fast he could get to the bottom of the hill.img_1512

We didn’t explore much of the mountain this year since we were skiing with the kids but it is a fantastic place for families who are just getting into skiing to go. For only $22, you can get a lift ticket for the ‘family zone’ which consists of a single chairlift that leads to about five or six runs that are all green-dots or blues. This was perfect for Ella who got on the chair for the first time and made her way down in fine fashion after I taught her the most elegant way to fall off the chair at the top.img_1479

Although it was relatively busy on New Year’s Eve, the resort was perfectly empty on New Year’s Day with the parking lot only about half-full. That, combined with about 10cm of snow that fell overnight made for a great day of snowboarding/skiing. On the second day on the hill, the kids continued to grow in confidence and Noah must have set some sort of record for the number of times he went up and down the magic carpet. Up the carpet, binding strapped, zip down the hill, binding off, back up the carpet….on repeat.

We tried to explore the town a bit, most things were shut down for the holiday so we will definitely need to go back since there seem to be some interesting microbreweries and restaurants. We had brought a large amount of food from home to cook in our chalet so that worked out really well. There was also a large IGA in town to stock up on any provisions.

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Happy New Year!

Overall, this was a great spot to relax for three nights and break up our holiday for a bit. The wood stove and the hot tub were highlights as well as the fantastic weather on the hill.

 

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Places: Dinosaur Provincial Park, AB

After ten days in Alberta, we may not have been quite ready to hit the road again but it was time to get going and our first day took us through Drumheller, one of the kids’ favourite spots in Alberta. There is nothing quite like this area of Alberta that I have seen anywhere else in the country. The hoodoos and landscape are amazing but it did provide an auspicious start to our drive home.

Although we didn’t do the Royal Tyrell Museum this time I would recommend it to anyone who is visiting Calgary or able to make the drive out. We did however make time to visit ‘The World’s Largest Dinosaur’ and walked up the admittedly wobbly steps to the top to take in the view from his mouth. img_2211We also stopped at the hoodoos east of Drumheller which are really one of the coolest things to see in Canada. It is hard to imagine sometimes that this landscape is less than a three hour drive from the mountains we had stayed in the week before that are so lush.

Out first night on the road, we stayed in Dinosaur Provincial Park. This is a place I had wanted to stay for quite some time – it has the highest concentration of fossils anywhere in the world – and the valley is fascinating.

However, I think it is safe to say that despite the uniqueness of the area, this night of camping was a bit of a disaster. When we arrived, it was scorching, about thirty degrees with no escape from the sun because of minimal tree cover in the campground. The sites in the campground are really close together, especially compared to some of the other excellent sites we had in other areas. We ended up boxed in, with an arguing couple on one side who ran their air conditioner all night. The second thing was the bugs – we had experienced basically no bugs the whole trip but this place made up for it. They were INSANE – the size of small sparrows and everywhere. After doing the self-guided fossil tour which got us out into the valley to explore, we hunkered down in the tent to avoid these mosquitoes.

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Me: “I hope those clouds don’t result in anything”

Typically, this area of the country is pretty dry – the landscape is essentially a desert with farmers relying on irrigation for crops. However, at some point in the night it started to rain, and this rain turned into a crazy thunderstorm although there had been no indications that one would start. It sounded like it was right on top of us and we escaped to the car. At that point, we realized that being in the river valley, all of this rain was coming down towards us and the dry creekbed behind us that had been about eight feet deep when we arrived now filling up rapidly. I am no expert on flash floods but I guess this is how they happen!

We drove from our campsite to the washrooms to try and escape the downpour, only to find a river flowing in front of the entrance that prevented us from entering. We were not the only people to abandon our campsite because although it was four in the morning, about a half-dozen of us were sitting in our cars in the main lot. It is hard to describe how much water was coming down but a river had essentially taken over the parking lot and I remember having the thought at a certain point that the road out of the valley was going to get washed out and we’d be stuck. The scene was so chaotic that I would have loved to grab some pictures but it was so dark except for the lightning strikes that there was no way to do so.

Eventually, after about an hour in the car, the rain started to ease and we ventured back to our campsite. The creek had now overrun its banks and it became clear that our campsite was in much better shape than some of the others that were drowning in water. We had the thought to try and grab another hour of sleep but as soon as we got in the tent, another couple of sharp cracks of thunder hit and we abandoned that idea. After throwing all the wet gear in the roofbox, we were out of the campground before sunrise and desperately seeking coffee. That marked the end of our Dinosaur Provincial Park experience.

In summary, what a beautiful and unique area of the country but I am pretty sure we will not seek this place out again after that experience. Regardless, even with the craziness and overall miserable nature of the night, I am sure it is also one that our family won’t forget that we spent together – and that’s one of the things that makes family vacations so great.

 

 

Places: Banff, Alberta

When growing up in Alberta, it was easy to take the Rocky Mountains for granted. They are always there, they aren’t going anywhere, and as a kid it was easy to downplay their sheer magnitude and beauty as we would drive through a couple of times a year on our way to Victoria or another destination. Moving out East, unless people have been, there is a general sense that the Rockies must be pretty impressive but that they can’t be too much different than the ‘mountains’ out here.

I was reminded this summer of how false that is and how truly amazing the Rocky Mountains are. As part of our prolonged driving trip, we tacked on three days to do a loop through Banff and up highway 93 toward Jasper. For sheer scenery, I would put this up against anywhere. The fact we had beautiful weather to enjoy it made it even better.

Banff, and the Rockies, is all about being outdoors so camping is the ideal way to visit. It is also much, much cheaper than the overpriced accommodation that abounds in the summer. We were very fortunate to score a beautiful site in the Two Jack Lakeside campground that is run by Parks Canada. This is a relatively small campsite that is located about 10 minutes outside of Banff. Booking for these sites starts in January for the whole summer and we were lucky to find a cancellation that allowed us to stay. For reference, we stayed on site #8 and if you do have the luxury of being picky, I would suggest staying on that side of the campground as sites have a bit more privacy and are located a little further apart.

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Site #8 – Two Jack Lakeside Campground

As we checked in to our site, we were provide of warnings of both bears and wolves in the area. Although a bear warning is pretty standard in the Rockies, I think this is the first time I have stayed in a campsite that was having a problem with wolves. Although we had no issues, the campground was subsequently shut down to tent campers about a week after we left because of persistent problems with one wolf.

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The view out our backdoor….ridiculous

We enjoyed our location on our first afternoon, hiking around Two Jack Lake and relaxing at our fire while a bunch of deer filled in behind our site. dscf5571

The next morning, we headed into Banff and although it is a pretty touristy, there were still many things we wanted to show the kids that I had experienced as a kid myself. We did a loop around the golf course before visiting the famous Banff Springs Hotel and having a picnic lunch on the grounds there. In the afternoon, we visited the Cave and Basin Historic Site and wandered some of the shops of the main street before heading up to the Banff Upper Hot Springs to relax in the warming, mineral-rich waters. For dinner, we visited a Banff institution, the Grizzly House Fondue Restaurant. This place has not changed since I visited as a child, and probably since many years before that but it was great and lots of fun.

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Banff Springs Hotel terrace

On our third day, we had to pack up our gear and head for home, or my parent’s place at least, but we chose to do so via Highway 93 which runs north towards Jasper. This highway is amazing with beautiful views everywhere you look. After a great roadside picnic lunch, we were greeted by a black bear in the ditch – who was in turn greeted by crazy tourists that were trying to take a selfie with it. Although that aspect does seem a bit like a theme park, there is still something really cool about spotting a bear in their natural habitat.

Our quick trip to Banff and the Rockies reminded me of how much I miss it, and will certainly ensure that we concentrate on making the effort to get there more often.

Places: Summer 2016 Roadtrip

On Saturday, we will leave for our most ambitious roadtrip yet. Last year we tackled Eastern Canada, which you can check out here, but this year we will head west and the 4000km we travelled last year looks pretty easy compared to this year’s task.

Through to Alberta we pretty much have our route set; although the Google Map above doesn’t reflect it, we will actually head through Sault Ste. Marie and follow Lake Superior up to Thunder Bay before passing through Winnipeg, Saskatoon and to Edmonton. On the way back, we are a little undecided as to what route we will take and whether we want to include a large city such as Chicago – this may need to be something we decide as we go.

Although I have done the drive many years ago, I am excited to show the kids the great diversity of landscapes in Canada and I hope we will be able to do that by travelling through the Canadian Shield, the Prairies, the Rockies and the Badlands. I also expect they will gain a new appreciation of the enormity of our great country. The four-hour flight to Edmonton doesn’t translate in the same way.

If anyone has suggestions for ‘must-see’ spots, or ‘must-eat’ restaurants, we’d certainly appreciate your ideas and hopefully we can add to them when we return. If you’d like, follow along with our adventure on Instagram with @uhrblock or on the sidebar of this site.

Places: Montreal, QC

For years it seems we have talked about going to Montreal but because it is so close there has never been any urgency to do so. Planned trips are easy to cancel, other things get in the way or we pass through quickly on our way to somewhere else.

For the first time in five years, we didn’t go to New York City for May Long weekend. You can see posts from some of our previous NYC trips here, here or here. Rather, we took the shorter drive to Montreal to finally make a weekend of it.

Although Old Montreal is the highlight for many people when visiting the city, we wanted to stay in an actual neighbourhood and found a great spot on Airbnb. This place was right on the border between Mile End and Plateau – although not too close to the subway, it was right on a major bus route to downtown and close to lots of great shops and restaurants.

Our first night there, we explored our ‘hood and with beautiful weather we walked a long way (longer than planned), ate some poutine at La Banquise and found some great ice cream at Cremerie Meu Meu.

Our second morning I was up early to hit one of the famous bakeries in the area, Boulangerie Guillaume. This place was incredible; although I arrived at about 7:05, just minutes after they open, the line was already 10 deep and for good reason. There is nothing more appealing to me for breakfast than a wall of pastry. After enjoying our pile of absolutely delicious pastry on the back deck, (order the almond croissants) we took the bus to Old Montreal for the day on Saturday.

We did a good tourist circuit, checking out the Notre Dame, exploring some of the small streets, eating at Jardin Nelson, hanging out in Jacques Cartier square and going down to the Old Port.

After our full tour, we took the subway back at Noah’s request and relaxed on our patio for a couple of hours before a great dinner at a neighbourhood Italian spot, Keste. Finally, we ended our day at the famous Cafe Olympico with some coffee and dessert. Although it has been a lousy spring, we had beautiful weather and made the most of it, eating outside everywhere we went.

On Sunday, we were in no real rush to get going so we went for some more pastries, this time from Cheskie, and some bagels from the famous St. Viateur store. Although the Cheskie had some good babka, it didn’t quite live up to the New York version in our minds.

Upon checking out of our place, we headed up to the top of Mont Royal, the first time I had ever visited it and checked out the beautiful view of the city below. Our last stop on the way out of the city was another Montreal institution, Schwartz’s smoked meat. The meat that is used here to make the sandwiches is fantastic and justifies the line that was out the door.

With our first foray to Montreal in the books, we were happy to have less than a two-hour drive to home and we will certainly look forward to returning soon.

 

Places: New Brunswick’s National Parks

I had promised I would come back to our time in New Brunswick and here we are. Our experiences in New Brunswick were really focused around the two National Parks we camped at and both of them left us wanting to go back.

On our way east through New Brunswick, we stayed on the north shore and spent two days at Kouchibouguac National Park – or as I described it, the one that starts with a ‘K’, kouchi-something…(koo-chi-boo-gu-ack).

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Site #136 with some sort of lightsabre battle going on

The weather was threatening a bit as we arrived at Kouchibouguac so we got the tarp over our site right away. Just as we were tying off the last rope, it started to pour! For about a half-hour it was a full downpour but once it was done, it was the last rain that we saw in New Brunswick and our next two days were beautiful.

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Headed to the beach

The facilities at Kouchibouguac National Park were not quite as deluxe as we had experienced at Gaspe National Park but there was still a great playground for the kids, clean bathrooms and the dish sinks that make washing up after meals so much more enjoyable.

dscf4051We only really spent one full day in the park but got a good sense of the area and enjoyed learning about the natural area through the kid’s junior ranger program. We went to two of the beaches and unfortunately, Kelly’s Beach was overrun with jellyfish the day we were there so we did not get into the water. Depending on the currents this seems to happen along the Northumberland Strait from time to time due to the high concentration. Regardless, the sand bar is very beautiful and there is an excellent boardwalk system for walking out to the beach to limit the erosion.

The kids also enjoyed the variety show that was put on by the park staff at the amphitheatre that night featuring Parka, the official mascot of the National Parks. We were there during the middle of the week so it may not have been indicative but availability seemed pretty easy to come by as there were many empty sites around us.

dscf4067Overall, a great campsite and although you are pretty isolated, it is part of the fun. We stayed on site #136 and it was very nice; private and a good size.

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On our way west from Halifax we debated for a while what to do; whether to stay there for a couple more days, whether to stop in Fredricton or Quebec City but in the end, with the weather looking good we decided to book in for two nights in Fundy National Park and it was one of the last sites remaining.

Stopping just outside of Fundy National Park in Alma, before we even arrived we had a delicious dinner of lobster rolls and seafood chowder at the Alma Lobster Shop. dscf4617On the main road in to the campground they were doing major construction so it was a kind of an unsightly mess with dust and dirt everywhere but it was hard to complain with views like the one below right off the road.dscf4680

Our site was one of the better we saw so we must have gotten awfully lucky – some had hardly any privacy but ours worked out really well. (site #253 – Chignecto North) Even when our neighbours pulled back into their site at 1 in the morning and then decided to start a campfire, at least they were quiet!

dscf4675Knowing we only had one day to explore Fundy, we made the best of it. The kids loved exploring the rocks and caves at low tide and the National Park actually has a giant outdoor pool that overlooks the Bay of Fundy and is constantly refreshed by water from the bay and heated by solar panels. It was a really fun way to spend the afternoon and even included in the price of our park pass. There was also a giant playground that the kids made very good use of.  In the evening, we took in the show that was put on at the amphitheatre and headed home for our last campfire of the trip.

dscf4628The National Parks we stayed in were really a highlight of our trip and made us anxious to try and explore more of Canada’s National Parks. Each of them were new for us and we couldn’t have been more impressed with the facilities and of course Canada’s beauty is on display at each of them as well.

We said goodbye to Bay of Fundy the next morning before daybreak – taking down the tent in the dark and heading for home. Fifteen hours and 1300kms later, we pulled into our driveway with another vacation in the books.

 

Places: The Maritimes

In our quest to see more of Canada, this summer we headed East. After 18 days, five provinces and 4900 kilometres we finally pulled back into the driveway on Sunday night and can at least say we’ve put a small dent in it. Over the next week or so I will post some of the details of our trip but for now, here’s a glance at our route:

We had unbelievable weather, particularly for this part of the world, never spending any time at all inside due to rain. Our minivan performed admirably, even as our GPS continued to lead us through backroads that could only be loosely categorized as roads at all. If you’d like to get a sneak peek of our adventures, check out my instagram photos in the sidebar. Otherwise, stay tuned…