Tag Archives: family travel

Places: Akumal, Mexico

This year we were pretty split on what to do for a winter vacation. Although it is tempting to wait until March break to go, most years I find that it is too late – and so this year, we decided to keep it simple and return to Mexico for essentially the same winter break we did last year. After the coldest, wettest spring seemingly ever, we probably could have gone ahead and waited until March though…

After another fantastic vacation I would really say that if you find the right place to stay and are willing to explore it is hard to beat Mexico as a winter vacation destination from Ottawa. There are direct flights right to Cancun, driving is easy, and the Canadian dollar is actually still worth something since the peso has been declining even faster than our own currency. Oh, and there are beautiful beaches, cenotes and jungle and it’s hot. That part is nice too!

This year we only went for a week and stayed in Akumal in a beautiful condo at the Tao Wellness Resort. This place was well-situated for exploring a bit more around Akumal and also for a couple of trips into Tulum. At the resort, we were able to take advantage of the beautiful, and empty!, pool as well as the great breakfasts at the Wellness centre.IMG_1894

While in Tulum, we headed to our favourite beach club, La Zebra. Although it has become a bit busier since we were last there, it is still a beautiful beach and the restaurant is fantastic. The kids made some friends with kids from Toronto who were staying and they were off exploring and playing on the beach for hours.

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La Zebra

We also made it back to our favourite grocery store, Chedraui, and hit a couple of our favourite spots in town including Manglar Pizza on the west side of town and Flor de Michoacan. Ella also managed to return to her favourite tamale stand…I’m unsure of the name but it is located just beside the police station on a small little side street. IMG_1888

IMG_1886IMG_1688Just south of Akumal we found a perfect beach, apparently where they shoot Corona commercials, but there was nobody there when we visited. Just off the beach there was also a cenote hidden in the jungle that was great fun. 

IMG_1788IMG_1791Our only big driving of the trip took place when we visited Coba, a huge Mayan archeological site that we really enjoyed. The bicycle taxis to get you up to the site are pretty fun and the actual climb is crazy-steep but well worth it from the top. IMG_1817

Mexico seems to have just so much to explore, and the food is so good, that I’m sure we will be back again soon.

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Places: Driving East

After our exciting night at Dinosaur Provincial Park, we continued east through Southern Alberta and since we had such an early start, enjoyed a nice part of the day in Medicine Hat relaxing at their man-made beach at Echo Dale Park and letting our gear dry out.

From there, we headed to a place that few do – but a spot that had really captured my imagination in Val Marie, SK and Grasslands National Park. This National Park, only founded in 1981, is one of the least-visited national parks in Canada with just over 10,000 visitors annually. The reasons why aren’t hard to figure out – it is tucked away in southwestern Saskatchewan on the U.S. border and admittedly it is harder to sell people on the idea of viewing prairie rather than mountains. However, to me, the scenery was equally as beautiful and since one of the ideas of this trip was to show the kids the multitude of landscapes that make up this country, it fit the bill perfectly.

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Grasslands National Park

After the night before, it was great to relax in one of Parks Canada’s Otentiks and enjoy the beautiful views.

After enjoying the tranquility of Grasslands, it was time to cover some ground if we were ever going to get home. We took off the next morning and after a twenty minute conversation with the Homeland Security border guards where I thought they might invite us in for lunch because they were so bored and lonely at their remote outpost, we cut through rural Montana and entered North Dakota.

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Montana traffic

While flying across Highway 2 to Minot, another one of those funny road trip moments happened that you end up remembering as much as the trip itself. All along this stretch there were roadrunners along the highway and they would typically zip into the ditch as we approached. However, there was one guy who made a bad decision and zigged when he should have zagged and he hit the front of the van full-on. After bouncing off the bumper, and then the windshield he catapulted high above the van and I could see his bowling ball of a body land in my rear-view mirror as I tried to process what had happened. As I got out to check the van I was happy to see that there was no damage beyond the roadrunner legs stuck in our front grille and the giant streak of red blood that extended from the front of the hood to the top of the windshield that would stay there the rest of the trip. For the rest of the trip, the kids could not stop talking about this and Noah would check at each stop whether the legs were still hanging out  the front of the car.

Our time in Minot and through northern Minnesota was fairly uneventful – we stayed at a beautiful campground about an hour out of Minneapolis but our next stop in Wausau, Wisconsin also proved to be exciting for the kids. We have never taken on one of the Great Wolf Lodge waterpark hotels but when looking for hotels in appropriate places, a smaller version had popped up in Wausau that seemed as good as anything else so we gave it a shot. The kids had an absolute blast from the time we got there in the waterpark – playing for hours and Ella surprising me with her bravery going down every one of the slides.

Downtown Wausau also proved to be a pleasant surprise as we had a great meal at the locally-famous Mint Cafe.

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While in Wausau, I realized that Green Bay was only about a half-hour detour from our route the next day as we planned to get back into Canada to spend the night in Sault-Ste-Marie. The chance to visit Lambeau Field proved too great a draw and we spent a good part of the day in Green Bay taking a tour of the field and eating at famed fast-food restaurant Culver’s. (the In n’ Out of the Midwest!) It turned out that we were also there for the first day of training camp which added to the excitement and the crowds. img_2376

Although we had hoped to camp one more night on our trip, we could not find anywhere to stay through northern Michigan and so we landed back in the Soo before our drive home. From the Soo, it was familiar territory until we pulled into our driveway just short of 9000km travelled and with some great memories of a very special vacation.

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Home!

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: 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: Lake Placid, NY 

One of the places I have camped the most since I’ve moved out east is Meadowbrook, situated right between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid in the Adirondack mountains. I’ve probably stayed there a dozen times over the years and although it is hardly the nicest place to camp – situated right off the highway beside a BBQ restaurant and a car dealership – it is comfortable and within the small campground there are a few really nice sites.

This year for Fathers Day we were able to snag my favourite site, #26, a huge site in deep trees at the terminus of the campground road.IMG_1336

We drove down with H’s brother, while her sister and parents arrived in different vehicles bound for their own accommodations.

We pitched our new tentropolis, which is the size of a small apartment and settled in to relax on the Friday night with perfect weather. On Saturday morning, after a lazy start we headed out to climb Haystack Mountain. This is a relatively easy and short climb (even for kids) just outside of Saranac Lake that has a pretty good payoff in terms of the view from the top.IMG_1331

After our hike we went just north of Saranac Lake to Lake Clear to cool off. This mountain lake was still pretty chilly for swimming but with the heat it didn’t take long for us all to get in.

For dinner on Saturday we went in to Lake Placid to eat on the main strip at H’s parents’ favourite spot, The Dancing Bears, and afterward we enjoyed a nice walk along Mirror Lake with the beautiful weather. We capped the night off with another great campfire at our site.IMG_1310

After taking down the site on Sunday, we stopped in Saranac Lake for ice cream and also to check out the restored Adirondack Carousel – something I’ve meant to do for years when we’ve visited but thought we better get done this time before our kids were too old to ride. It was another great weekend in Lake Placid – so I’m sure we will be back again soon.

 

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.

 

The Stay: Yutacan Peninsula

Typically when we travel I will find a place I think we’d like to stay and then worry about flights et al. afterward. When considering Mexico, there seemed to be plenty of options so we booked flights that worked and then went from there.

We already knew that we weren’t going to consider resorts but I was amazed by the multitude of options available on Airbnb. There were all sorts of different options in the peninsula that we considered but after choosing Tulum, we quickly settled on this newly built two bedroom condo. It was central to the town and the beach and since we knew we’d have a car, it was a great option. Although the pool wasn’t heated, the warm weather was enough to make it pleasant and our kids seem impervious to any temperature of water regardless. The roof deck made the place as we spent many mornings up there having our coffee.

In Akumal, the place we stayed worked out well as we only needed it for three nights rather than a whole week. Attached to the massive Bahia Principe resort, these condos had access to the amenities of the resort but also had their own beautiful pool and facilities that we found less crowded and even nicer. The condo itself was beautiful and was a great deal. I am not sure how the economics of buying a place like this works for the price they were renting for but it worked out well for us! For an easy vacation of just relaxing by the pool and enjoying the sun, this would be a great spot.

My full Airbnb wish list is here. Based on the selection, it is clear we still have lots of exploring to do in the area.