Tag Archives: roadtrip

The Stay: Les Lofts St-Joseph

Last weekend we were in Quebec City for three nights and stayed at the recently opened Les Lofts St-Joseph. This boutique property consists of 18 two-bedroom lofts that were created as a part of a massive renovation in a building from 1918.
Quiet in Saint-Roch
The property just opened at the beginning of April and we were actually the first guests to stay in our unit. This would also explain why I was unable to find reviews before we stayed but our leap of faith was rewarded with an awesome place.
Relaxing as loft-dwellers do
Les Lofts are another step in the revitilization of the Saint-Roch neighbourhood in Quebec City. This reminds me of a sort of ‘Williamsburg lite’ – right down to the Urban Outfitters that has just opened up. Although not how most people picture Quebec City, we found that it was much more authentic and enjoyable than staying in the Old City where it tends to be dominated by tourist traffic. There are plenty of cool coffee shops, a couple of microbreweries – including La Barberie which makes a pretty tasty IPA. We were still able to hike up the hill into the old city and take in the beautiful sights there as well.
As the pictures on their website show, this new place is beautiful with lots of natural light and they have thought of almost everything in stocking the apartments. We would definitely stay in this same spot when returning to Quebec.
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The Stay: St. Simons Island

I first read about St. Simons Island probably three or four years ago when I saw an article about the large number of PGA golfers, including Davis Love III, that keep a residence here. After enjoying ourselves so much in Savannah a couple of years ago, I always kept this in the back of my mind as a possible destination.

While browsing aimlessly through AirBnb over the Christmas holidays as I like to do, I came across a cottage in the heart of St. Simons that seemed to check off all of our boxes and we booked it right away. As much as we liked the area, our accommodation was the star of the trip – not only was the cottage even larger than the photos suggested, the private pool, hot tub and huge backyard made it so there was hardly a reason to leave our place.

Home base

On our first day there we headed straight to the beach, and had the whole place to ourselves. One thing we noticed, and enjoyed very much, was how uncrowded everything was. Despite a beautiful day where I managed to get my first sunburn of the season, we were the only ones on our stretch of beach. Nobody summoned up the courage to go swimming but the kids had a great time playing in the sand and the surf for hours.

East Beach

The next couple of days were unseasonably hot for the area, around 30 degrees Celsius, and we decided that there was really no reason to leave the comfort of our backyard when we could enjoy the pool and the shade of the palm trees. Although I am not always a big fan of sitting still on vacation, these days were fantastic and really relaxing for everybody. In the evenings when it had cooled down we also enjoyed bike rides through some of the beautiful neighbourhoods under the cover of the huge oak trees with the Spanish moss hanging down.

Taking a cruise

Later in the week we ventured a bit further from home, heading about ten miles further down the coast to Jekyll Island. This island was famous for being the Southern retreat and private club of many wealthy American families from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s when they sold it back to the state of Georgia for the princely sum of $600,000. Many of the “cottages” still stand along Millionaire’s Row and the club has been turned into a beautiful hotel. While on the island, we checked out the Georgia Sea Turtle Centre where injured turtles are rehabilitated and they also provide an excellent awareness program. The kids really enjoyed seeing the turtles and we all learned a lot there as well.

Exploring Driftwood Beach

Perhaps my favorite part about the American South is the food! While there we feasted on pork chop sandwiches at Willie’s Wee-Nee Wagon, lowcountry boil at Shucks Seafood Market, and all types of barbecue at Southern Soul which was just down the road from our place. I would drive back for that right now.

Lil’ E with her rack of ribs…which she polished off completely

Other highlights we hit were the St. Simons Lighthouse, the historic downtown of Brunswick, and the Fort Frederica National Monument. One of the things we really enjoyed about our stay on the island was that although there were a few things to keep us busy, we weren’t overwhelmed with things to do and were able to really just take it easy. This is such a great part of the country, with an interesting history and really friendly people so I am sure we will be back soon.

 

 

Places: The Drive

While our family has never shied away from a big drive, our March break road trip was one of the most ambitious yet. Our destination for the break was St. Simons Island in Georgia and to get there involves a lot of time on the Interstate. You can see the full route we took there and back on this map. We decided to break it up a bit more on the way down, stopping for two nights on the road.

Our first stop was the Federal Pointe Inn in Gettysburg, PA. We toured the downtown which is filled with buildings that had significance in the battle of Gettysburg on the first night and enjoyed our historic hotel, previously an old schoolhouse. This was a gem, with soaring 15-foot ceilings, wide hallways, only 18 rooms but all the modern conveniences that you would want.

Federal Pointe Inn
Cemetery Hill

About 800kms later down the I-95, we pulled into Florence, SC for our second night on the road. While it may not have quite the same level of fame as the ‘other’ Florence we visited in the fall, I would argue that the fried seafood at Tubb’s was better than any that can be found in the Italian version.

From Florence, it was a half-day trip to our final destination but we took our time, stopping at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge to spot some gators, and at our favorite restaurant from the last time we were there; Sisters of the New South. This ‘meat and three’ spot cannot be beat and we couldn’t justify being so close without stopping in for some fried chicken and sides.

Gator hunting
Meat and three

On the way back, we decided to compress the trip even more so we could spend as much time as possible down south and still make it back for work on Monday. We decided to skip the I-95 on the way home so we did not have to deal with the congestion that is always present around Washington D.C. Instead, we headed north toward Charlotte on the I-77 before merging on to the I-81 that would deliver us to the 401. This was a much more pleasant drive as we were able to enjoy seeing the Blue Mountains and had a great hotel in Harrisonburg, PA just outside Shenandoah National Park. As with any good drive home, I think we took approximately three photos during the course of the two days, none of them particularly good. It was also downright comical to see the number of Ontario plates heading north on the I-77; every second car seemed to be headed back to winter. In the two days, we ended up travelling just over 2000kms; no matter how you slice it, North America is still huge!

Overall, we traveled just over 4200kms – a heck of a distance but I don’t think it would be hesitant to do it again. The kids were champs in the car, they loved stopping at the rest stops along the way to run around like crazy, play Frisbee and freeze tag and then load back up with their iPads to watch Big Hero 6….again!

When you do 1100kms a day, the ‘no eating in the car’ rule is suspended

I haven’t run it by H yet but I happened to stumble upon this version of the ultimate American roadtrip today. Maybe next year….

Places: A Familiar Destination

One of the great things (and sometimes a complicating factor) about travelling is the ability to experience new and different things; new food, new sights, different cultural norms than those that you are used to. However, sometimes, there is something very comforting about visiting a place you have been to a dozen times before. When you visit, you stay at your regular hotel, you eat at your favorite restaurants and you notice when a shop you used to go to has been replaced by something else. You feel more like a regular than a tourist.

For us, one of these places is Burlington, Vermont. We usually end up there two or three times a year since it is a comfortable distance for a weekend and it is also a good halfway point on the way to the Maine coast. We stay in our same hotel, visit many of the same places and we eat at our favorite restaurants from the last time we were there.

Then…
And now.

Last weekend, we made the four-hour drive from our freezing cold climate to a similarly cold environment in Vermont. Upon arriving, we visited Pizza Verita on Friday night and although not quite the same, it provided a nice reminder of our many pizzas eaten in Italy last fall.

One of the new wrinkles this weekend was a trip out to Shelburne Farms, a 1400-acre working farm just south of Burlington that sits on the edge of Lake Champlain. It is a National Historic Landmark and one of the things they seem to offer is educational programs for kids and adults. On our way out, we stopped at our favourite place for bagels, Myers Bagels, a nondescript shop in an industrial sector of South Burlington.

At the farm there happened to be a ‘Bread and Butter making’ interactive class for the kids on the Saturday we were going to be there so we signed the kids up and they had a great time making their own flour, then baking bread, and learning how to make their own butter to spread all over it. I am looking forward to making a trip back out to the farm in the summer since it is set on gorgeous land with many walking trails and a seasonal restaurant that looks out over the lake.

The teaching barn at Shelburne Farm
The payoff.

On Saturday afternoon, we did a little shopping on Church Street Marketplace and the kids continued to make great use of the pool. We also tried out a new place for dinner, El Cortijo Tacqueria which delivered on some really good tacos.

On Sunday morning (after another swim of course) we hit an old favourite for breakfast, Magnolia Bistro. All in all, even though it wasn’t any warmer, the weekend proved to be a nice respite from the winter.

I expect that some other people have these type of ‘comfort destinations’ as well. When we were kids, I always considered Victoria to be ours because we would visit my grandparents there so often. Even when I visit now, it feels like a familiar place. Does anyone else have places like this that they enjoying visiting time after time? Where’s yours?

Places: Sandbanks Provincial Park

Each year we usually go on a family camping trip to an Ontario provincial park with H’s sister and her family. Over the past couple of years we have gone to Charleston Lake and even closer, to Rideau River last year. However, it has been a few years since we had made the trek down to Sandbanks. There’s a couple of reasons for that:

#1. Sandbanks has some really horrible campsites – whoever was carving these out was not concerned about having level ground, whether a car would be going right by your head, or whether all the rain in an area would collect in the one basin that also happened to be the only clearing for your tent on your site.

#2. It’s a long drive for a weekend camping trip that was made longer last time we went because of road construction.

#3. You have to reserve five months in advance, at 7am as the reservations open up, to even have a chance at one of the aforementioned lousy sites.

Regardless, we gave it another shot this year, booking our five months in advance on a site that looked to be decently large and flat (the addition of pictures on the website now sure helps!) and choosing to stay for three nights rather than two to make up for the length of the drive. Oh, and they finally finished that road construction in Picton county – a nice bonus as well!

The last time we visited (June 2008)

This time around, we stayed on site #333 – although it lacked a bit of privacy on one side, it was a huge site that had a nice level spot to pitch our tent.

Site #333
Paddleboarding

We also rented a paddleboard this year from Sandbanks Tours – they were great to deal with and only about a 15-minute drive from the park but I did notice that the park also rented standup paddleboards right on the water which might make it a bit easier. Neither of us had tried this before but it is quite intuitive and doesn’t take much getting used to.

Breakfast in the great outdoors
A-Train running the grill

Overall, I don’t think my assessment of Sandbanks has really changed. I would definitely try and stay in the Outlet River section of the park if we went again. The best beach of the park is located there and the sites also seem larger and more private. We did have a great weekend, but our fortunate choice of site and beautiful weather certainly played a part. I am sure we will return in the future but I think we will try out some other parks as well before rushing back.

It has been mentioned other places and I am not sure what has happened to ranger patrols in Ontario Parks – they seem to be non-existent. In three days, I did not see a single ranger go through our campground loop whereas the last time we were at Sandbanks, they were a constant presence and were warning people for talking too loud around their campfires after dark. This year people had music going until 1 or 2 in the morning every night – luckily they were not right by us but it certainly was a change from the tightly-patrolled and dead-silent nights we spend in Vermont earlier this summer.