Countdown – 7 Months

I realised this week that in 7months we will be in London at the beginning of our next overseas adventure.  In the 2 months since my last post we have organised a couple more things.

We booked our accommodation for the night in Cardiff.  As usual, we aimed to find somewhere that was fairly central.  We opted for a large chain hotel which is within walking distance of the train station were we will arrive from Swansea.  It is close to the city walking tour, the stadium as well as the departure point of the cruises to waterfront.  It will be a brief look around but we are looking forward to visiting Cardiff as it will actually be the only place on the trip which we have not been to previously.  The other places on our itinerary are London, Swansea and Cambridge.

The other thing we did was buy a lightweight down jacket for each of us from Uniqlo.  They squash up and can be rolled into quite a small carry bag,

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While it is not high-end fashion, I hope the jacket will not scream ‘tourist’ as I step outside the door.  I chose a mid-grey as it will co-ordinate with the other clothes I will be packing.  I will do a separate post at a later date about what I will be packing but it is mostly black, grey and red and of course, denim jeans.

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Where Next?

At the end of my last post I alluded to the fact that our next major holiday might be within Australia.  I was considering a houseboat trip on the Hawkesbury River but when I began researching the idea it became less appealing.

The lure of overseas travel was just too great so we have opted to go back to the UK in November.  This trip will be somewhat different from our previous trips to the northern hemisphere for several reasons.  We are going in late autumn rather than the height of summer and relying entirely on public transport instead of hiring a car during any part of the trip.  This is because the focus of the trip is quite different – we are not taking a touring holiday and sightseeing along the way but are planning on staying in just a handful of major centres with the majority (3 weeks) of our time in London.

This also means much less time will be spent researching, planning and booking the trip.  In fact, we could pretty well leave tomorrow as we have current passports and have booked our flights, accommodation except for one night in Cardiff and have a list of things we hope to see and do in London.  Hopefully, the queues will not be as long at the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

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Perhaps we will be able to take the tour of the Royal Albert Hall, too.  It was closed for cleaning last time so I only managed a photo of the exterior.

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I have also given brief consideration to what we might need to pack.  As always we have chosen accommodation which includes laundry facilities which allows us to keep the clothes we take to a minimum.  Due to cooler weather, we will need some warmer clothes but I still expect to be able to just have one small suitcase each.  I am looking at buying a lightweight down jacket for each of us.  I think these would be a useful addition and take up minimal space.

 

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The Final Numbers

I apologise for the hiatus, but as promised, here are the final figures for our 6 week trip to USA and Canada.

I will begin with the easiest figure – the grand total for 2 adults for 42 days and nights was $18,764.36 which is remarkably similar to our UK trip 2 years ago.  You can see the details for that trip here.

This is how it was broken up.

Airfares $     4,563.99
Accommodation $     6,335.44
Insurance $         559.94
Transport $     2,799.08
Food/Drink $     2,757.53
Sightseeing/Tours/Events $     1,258.61
Souvenirs/Gifts $         229.37
Other spending $         260.40

It is interesting to see where the money went.  Once again, accommodation was the biggest single expense.

Airfares includes 2 internal flights as well as our return flights from Brisbane to Chicago.  I included the cost of our visas and also car parking in Brisbane as it was all part of getting there.

Transport was trains, ferries, car hire, fuel and parking fees.

Food and drinks included everything that we ate or drank from restaurant meals, drinks at the pub, groceries to an occasional ice-cream or cup of coffee.

Sightseeing etc was made up of admission costs, guided tours, cruises and two shows.

We bought limited souvenirs with a couple of items for our granddaughters as well as some maple syrup and a boxed set of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ DVDs.

The final category of ‘Other’ was a couple of things from the chemist, a dental visit, a top and trousers for me as well as hats to replace the ones we left on the train early in the trip and phone recharge and some internet access.

As with our UK trip we pre-paid as much as we could with a total of $11,580.21 spent before we set out.

Our total budget was $20,000.00 for everything and although we kept very accurate records of what we spent we did not keep an exact running total.  It was not until today when I sat down and gathered up all of the information, converted our spending into AUD and completed the final spreadsheet that we knew exactly how much we spent.

This will be the last post on the blog until we start planning our next trip which will probably be within Australia.  In the meantime, I can be found on my other blog, Organised Castle.

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Adversity to Adventure

It is a few days since my last post about our day trip to Niagara Falls.  We had one full day after that in Toronto during which we caught up on some domestic chores, explored a little of the city and most importantly, spent our last night at a Cirque du Soleil performance.  It was magnificent and certainly worth seeing.

The title of this post comes a comment from a friend, “Great way to turn adversity into an adventure” and I will explain why.

We were up bright and early the morning after Cirque du Soleil as we were heading for home starting with a flight from Toronto to Chicago followed by another to Los Angeles and finally the long-haul flight across the Pacific Ocean to Brisbane.

However, things did not go according to plan and we arrived in Los Angeles too late to connect with the 11.20pm departure of the Brisbane flight so ended up being accommodated at the Sheraton Hotel near Los Angeles airport.  We were rebooked on the same flight the following evening so would have the whole day in Los Angeles.  We had never spent time here previously and so decided to make the most of the time we had and opted for the Hop On, Hop Off bus which does a route up the coast to Venice and Santa Monica.

After going to the end of the circuit at Santa Monica pier we hopped off and walked the majority of the way back to Fisherman’s Village near Marina del Rey.  It was a warm, sunny day and here is some of what we saw.

The lighthouse at Fisherman’s Village.

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Santa Monica beach.

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Santa Monica pier which also happens to be the end of the legendary Route 66.

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Some interesting merchandise at one of the beachfront stalls in Venice Beach.

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And artwork.

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Venice is so named for the canals which were designed in the early 1900’s but many were filled in and turned into roads in the 1920’s but a few canals remain.

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There was plenty to see and we made the most of our enforced stopover.

We are now safely at home so that is almost the end of posts on this blog for the time being apart from one final summation of the the costs.  I still have some calculations to do for that so it will probably not be until next weekend.

In the meantime, I will be back blogging at Organised Castle in the next day or so – once I have caught up on some sleep.

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Next Stop – Niagara Falls

Today we took a full day tour from Toronto to Niagara Falls.  I am struggling to remember the last time we did a group tour but I am really glad that we chose this option to visit Niagara Falls. Judy was an entertaining and informative guide who made sure that everyone had the best experience possible.  There were a couple of stops along the way, including almost an hour at the picture perfect historic town of Niagara-on-the Lake.

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There were flowers everywhere.

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Then it was on to Niagara Falls.

The buffet lunch at the Sheraton Hotel gave us our first real view.  This photo is taken from the table where we we sitting for lunch.  The falls in the foreground are described as the ‘American’ falls while the ‘Canadian’ falls which are regarded as the more spectacular ones are in the distance and partially obscured from this angle.

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Although the falls are a natural phenomenon there is plenty of man-made tackiness around them.  Some of the streets look like sideshow alley.

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However, the attraction of the falls drew us here and it did not disappoint.  We boarded the boat for a short cruise up to the base of the thundering waterfalls (‘Canadian’).  Even complimentary disposable ponchos did not keep us completely dry.  Being so close was an amazing experience but photographs were difficult to capture.

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Finally, the bus took us to where we could walk along the promenade which overlooks the falls on the Canadian side.  This was the highlight for me and I was able to take many photos from different angles.  Here are a couple of views.

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Amazing scenery and we are so glad to have had the opportunity to witness the power of the water first-hand.

 

 

 

 

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Ottawa in One Day

Like Montreal, we had just one full day in Ottawa.  Our run of luck with almost perfect weather ran out as the rain began on the evening we arrived and continued well into the next day.

After a slow start we braved the showery conditions and walked from our accommodation to Parliament Hill.

On our way we walked through the old market area of Bytown (the original name for Ottawa) and across the Rideau Canal.  The series of locks at the junction of the canal and Ottawa River proved irresistible as we watched a vessel make its way through.  It is all manually operated.  It took almost an hour for the boat to navigate all of the locks.

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Looking the other way along the canal.  In winter, the canal becomes a giant ice-skating rink as the entire waterway freezes.

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The Parliament Building has commanding position atop the hill on the southern bank of the Ottawa River and overlooks the city.

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As you can see from the sky in the photographs, it was not a great day for sightseeing but we persevered and took in as much of the city sights as we could.

The weather fined up late in the afternoon and we were able to go back to the Parliament Buildings to see the “Northern Lights:Sound and Light Show” set against the backdrop of the building.  It was well done with amazing technology and we really enjoyed it.

The next day was fine and sunny for our train trip to Toronto which is the final stop in our trip.  We have a couple of big events planned during our 3 nights there but more on that in the next post.

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Just One Day

We arrived in Montreal at 4.15pm yesterday and in just 24 hours we have managed to see and experience the highlights of the city.  Of course, this is only our opinion.

Once we had arrived at our accommodation, our first destination was Jean-Talon market which is literally about 100m from where we are staying.  At this time of the year it is bursting with fresh, local fruit and vegetables.

Our plan for today included the basilica, beer and a bus to the park.

We began by catching the subway into one of the city stations where we walked a short distance to the Notre Dame Basilica.  The architecture is more ornate than the one in Quebec.

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The interior is something to behold.

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Like Quebec City, Montreal has an old town area with a distinctly European feel, however, we had decided that it was probably enough to see the historic district in just one of them.  We did walk through part of old Montreal  on our way back to the subway and I felt our decision was justified.

From Mont Royal station we caught a bus to the summit of Mont Royal at an elevation of a little over 200m.  Judging from the number of passengers who were also clutching tourist maps, we were not alone in this endeavour.  The mountain is clearly most spectacular during the autumn months but we enjoyed a pleasant walk along the path to the lookout.

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The view of the city and the St Lawrence River.

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A return bus ride brought us back to the inner suburban area known as ‘The Plateau’.  Like many  inner city suburbs it has undergone somewhat of a rebirth in recent years.  Hidden in an unassuming building is what is regarded as one of Montreal’s top craft breweries, Dieu du Ciel.

The beer ‘menu’ is on wall-mounted  blackboards and there is no shortage of choices.  Most are their own brews with some other specialty beers as well.

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GMan tested a couple of different beers and we shared a vegetarian platter and some nachos.  By the time we left at 3.30pm there was a queue beginning to form outside.  It is clearly a very popular place with locals and tourists alike.

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Here are a couple of views of residences in the area which caught my eye as we walked back to our accommodation.

 

We enjoyed our brief experience of Montreal.  Our next stop is Ottawa.

 

 

 

 

 

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Night Moves

After 3 days of traversing the steps and cobblestoned laneways  of Old Quebec, we had a rest day – at least it was a rest until after 3pm.  This was quite a smart idea since today was a bit warmer and walking during the middle of the day would have been a bit much.  Although the temperature only reached 26C the humidity made it feel like 32C.

Our walk this afternoon was in the opposite direction to the city and away from the hordes of tourists and sightseers.  We wandered along  leafy streets where residents were going about their daily business – picking up kids from daycare, putting out the garbage, skateboarding and arriving home from work.  I enjoyed the normality of it all.

This evening we went back to the walled town as I was hoping to get some more photos as dusk fell.  The Upper Town was still very busy with people packed into the many cafes and restaurants which line the narrow streets.  However, the atmosphere had a much softer feel as the old stone buildings were bathed in the glow of external lighting.

Here are a few of the photos I took.

Some restaurants

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The full moon

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Chateau Frontenac

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The Old Post Office

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Archway and garden

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Stained glass window in Jesuit Chapel

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Tower at the Kent Gate on the city wall

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And one last restaurant on Rue Sainte Jean

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We are off to Montreal tomorrow afternoon on the train so it will be a new city to explore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stepping Out (and Up and Down)

From a strategic military point of view, Quebec is ideally located – on a cliff top overlooking the river.  The old, walled city is clearly divided into the upper and lower town by the cliff and these are joined by various staircases.  These range in height from between 150 and 400 steps.  Of course, there is also the funicular which is essentially a cross between an elevator and a cable car.  The importance of access between the 2 sections of the city is emphasised by the fact that this has been in operation since 1879.

This information board shows the original funicular.

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The current version which we rode yesterday (up, of course).

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Walking around Quebec is certainly not for the faint-hearted as there are plenty of staircases in other parts of the city, too.

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Some of the streets are so steep that the footpaths are steps or have handrails attached to the front of the buildings.

I am really glad we do not have a car here as it was tricky enough negotiating the main roads to drop it off at the car rental company.  A map does not show the elevations and my first futile attempt at navigating led us to the foot of a cliff – the roads did not join up as it appeared on the map!

 

 

 

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Food For Thought

Regardless of whether you are at home or on holidays we all have to eat.  Eating out can be a real highlight of a trip but most of us do not have a budget that runs to dining out for every meal.  So we try to mix it up.

Shopping in unfamiliar supermarkets can be frustrating or a challenge, depending on your point of view.  I try to make it the latter.  If you add in a foreign language that just adds an extra level of complexity.

One not so glorious moment was of my own making.  I decided that I had to try ‘Poutine’ – a French-Canadian delicacy which is essentially chips (fries), cheese curds and gravy.  I chose this small serve at a pub near Petit-Champlain yesterday.

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I did eat it but as far as I am concerned poutine really has no redeeming features.  It has been consigned to the foods which I am unlikely ever to eat again, alongside my experience of a Philly cheesesteak when in Philadelphia.  You can read about that meal here.

The best thing about travelling in the northern hemisphere during late summer is the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables.  This has been evident even in supermarkets but today we visited the the Old Port Market (Marché du Vieux-Port) and stocked up on fruit (strawberries, blueberries and raspberries) as well as some broccoli and leeks.

As well as fruits and vegetables you can buy bread, cheeses, meat, cakes and other sweets as well as a drop of local wine if you wish.  The market is not huge but it is clean, well laid out and has an excellent range of fresh, local produce.

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Since we have now divested ourselves of the rental car we will be catching the train to our next destination, Montreal, so I wanted to make sure that we are carrying as little food as possible.  I have planned our meals for the next 3 nights with a view to using the ingredients that we have.  The leeks will be teamed with the last of the potatoes from Prince Edward Island to make leek and potato soup.  Half of the broccoli has been added to some leftover roasted vegetable salad and half a can of crushed tomatoes for a vegetarian sauce with pasta.  The remaining broccoli and some carrots will be served with a potato-topped chilli con carne pie.  It is amazing what you can create when you need to.

The best meals that we have eaten out on this trip would definitely be at Antique Taco in Chicago – tacos will never be the same, Cape House restaurant at Cape Enrage for GMan’s birthday and Le Hobbit Bistro on Rue Saint-Jean on our first night here in Quebec.  All have been good in their own way.  DeeDee’s ice-cream at Peggy’s Cove was pretty amazing, too.

I am looking forward to the food options in Montreal as our accommodation is conveniently located in the block next to Jean Talon Market in the area known as Little Italy.

 

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