Dinner Debriefing: A Weekend in Thunder Bay

Caroline had a conference in Thunder Bay last weekend, so we drove down. I was warned that the drive was a bit bleak, but it was beautiful sunny spring weather, and the scenery was of the rocks and trees persuasion, which works fine for me.

Lakes were thawing, so we saw some that were open water, and others that were largely covered in candled ice. We stopped for lunch at the Riverside Lodge in Dryden. We were told it would be good, and it was.

We pushed our dinner reservation at The Caribou back by half an hour to be on the safe side, and arrived in plenty of time. We had a nice dinner there, with exceptionally fine service. Example: Shauna always came by to check on us just a minute or so after our dishes arrived, so if there had been a problem, it would have been rectified right away. The meal got off to a strong start with an original bread-basket accompanied by hummus. I always feel that if a restaurant does well with basics such as bread and soup, the food will be good overall. See the dinner menu here. We shared an order of Calamari to start. The squid part was very agreeable- lots of tentacle bits, which we both like. We were less sure of the tamarind dip. Caroline took a dislike to it right away, and switched to the hummus that came with the bread, while I persevered for a while before deciding it really wasn’t for me. We shared a salad, the warm goat cheese one with Dijon vinaigrette. For our main courses, I chose a fish special—I forgot to take notes, but I think European Sea Bass, with barley done like a risotto—while Caroline ordered the Mafaldine Braised Rabbit with Pancetta, mushrooms, truffle butter, and Parmesan. Both were tasty and tender. There was a fair selection of wines by the glass, and many suited our personal tastes. We picked the Noble Vines Merlot, and liked it so much I went looking for it in an LCBO the next day, but they list it as discontinued. We finished with a chocolate torte thing that rounded out the meal nicely. We would go back on any future visit to Thunder Bay. We might try for a quieter night; Friday evening was busy and rather noisy.

Saturday I had a day to myself while Caroline did conference things. A helpful front desk clerk printed me a map showing how to get to the scenic lookout on Mount McKay. I wanted to go there because every time I land on runway 30 in Thunder Bay, I get a good look at it from the pilot’s seat: Mount McKay is right beside an approaching aircraft. Map in hand, I programmed Dingbat, our long-time GPS, (notice I call him long-time, not trusty) and he knew a better way to get there. Which took me to a closed bridge. I told him to detour, and he diverted me to Boundary Road, which is blocked by gates to the mill property. When I attempted a second detour, Dingbat tried to guide me back to the closed bridge. Apparently, the Garmin algorithms do not deal well with double detours. I got the map out and did it the old-fashioned way.

The trip up the base of Mount McKay was serene, and a sign at the base said the scenic lookout was open from May to October, between the hours of 9:00 am and 11:00 pm. They didn’t mean all of May, apparently, because there was no one at the toll gate when I arrived at 9:15. Still, I had been told it would be okay to park my car outside the gate and walk in, so I did. It was about a twenty minute walk up the winding blacktop lane to the lookout.

Because we went by road, I had my titanium hiking staff with me! I can’t take it when I travel by air, because: one, it’s oversize and the cost is prohibitive, and two, it’s packed with survival supplies including some fire starting thingies that are prohibited on aircraft. Click to zoom in on this picture, and you can see that my staff is on its third wood grain paint scheme.

But I digress. Scenery!

This is as close to the edge of the drop as I cared to get; there’s a vertical drop of a hundred feet or more. You can see Thunder Bay’s runway 30 in the distance. There was a hiking trail that started at the scenic lookout, but it quickly became steep, and crossed scree slopes that I didn’t care to try alone with the ice still coming out of the rocks.

Saturday we went for dinner at Bistro One. We’d heard good things about the food, and we weren’t disappointed. On the other hand, the meal was slow getting started. We began with some classic French bread with roasted garlic and butter, but then there was a long pause before we saw anything else, and our server seemed to be avoiding us. I started with the Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna, while Caroline chose the 5 Hour Roasted Confit of Ontario Duck Leg. We were both happy with them, although the duck leg was salty, as it often is; some chefs believe this dish should be rinsed, some do not. The wine list here wasn’t quite as tailored to our tastes, but there was a good choice of wines by the glass. For entrees, Caroline had the Roasted Fillet of Atlantic Salmon while I decided on the Cognac Flamed Breast of Duck. Both dishes were superb. By the time we were done, it was getting late, the staff were clearing things up, and there was a hockey game on, so we didn’t linger for dessert. We wouldn’t be likely to go back, but this restaurant was tranquil, and might suit people who wanted to take their time and talk.

Caroline’s conference finished before noon on Sunday, so we hit the road, pausing for lunch in Upsala. We were told it would be okay, and it was.

There were two incidents of note on the way home. First, I saw moose. Not one, but a group of four. They were down by the ditch, so it was more interesting than startling. I flashed my hazards at the next truck, in case they moved onto the road.

Second, we got flagged down by motorists with two cars stopped at the side of the road. I pulled over immediately, in case someone had been hurt in an accident, but they just needed a screwdriver to remove a wheel-well liner that was rubbing on a tire. Boy Scout that I am, (well, was once) I had tools including a Leatherman and a multi-tip stubby that was just the thing. We had them fixed up in minutes and were back on our way.

All in all, a nice little trip.

 

Kelowna to Seattle

You can get a t-shirt that says you drove the Coquihalla. I have no idea why. Caroline has made me drive over every mountain she can find, and the Coquihalla is a piece of cake.

Lunch in Hope, at 293 Wallace. Fabulous burger, delicious salad. Full marks.

Road coffee from Jungle Juice down the block. New-wavy atmosphere offset by AC/DC on stereo at till. Manager formerly from Winnipeg. French Press dark roast with Almond milk. Best coffee this year. Yes, seriously. Wish I knew what it was, I’d buy every bean.

Border crossing very quick: Pleasure, Portland, one week. No fruit, one bottle of wine. Thank you, you too.

Seattle, at the start of rush hour? That, I want a t-shirt for. Dingbat kept us in the right lane as the I-5 tried to fake him out by designating random lanes as mandatory exits, with emergency vehicles as wild cards to keep you from sitting in the middle.

Calgary to Kelowna

Up before dawn to fly to Kelowna for breakfast. Taxi late. Taxi went to wrong entrance. Taxi then drove past right entrance without stopping or looking to see if anyone was waiting in lobby. Grr.

Airport security, yeah well. Airport food, never mind. Forty-five minute flight to Kelowna fine. Once again, pilots unknown to me. We were sitting close to the wheels, so the landing was “authoritive,” at least by Caroline’s standards.

Car rental people very nice. Upgraded us to Mitsubishi RVR.

Dingbat at death’s door. His power connector had been damaged in the suitcase and he could not recharge properly. He’s old these days, and his battery life is measured in minutes. Panic sets in.

Struggled to drive RVR to hotel because A) mostly lost with Dingbat suffering blackouts, and B) transmission in sport position that required manual gear selection while wiggling Dingbat’s cord and begging him not to leave us.

Caroline got us checked in early, courtesy of very nice manager formerly from Thunder Bay. While she was doing that, I snuck the owner’s manual out of the glove box to find the secret unmarked gearshift position that provides fully automatic function on fancy constant velocity transmission. No one saw, so I may be able to keep my man card. It’s pretty tattered anyway.

Found replacement cord for Dingbat in Best Buy for $21. Don’t ask me how I found Best Buy. Dingbat restored to grouchy glory.

Visit to Quail’s Gate Winery. My trout was good, but everyone else’s lunch was just expensive. I do like a Chenin Blanc, though, and QG’s is quite nice.

Dinner with family. Delightful.

 

Prince Edward County, ON

The trip to Ottawa begins.

We did contemplate driving, but flying is so much faster. WestJet had us in Ottawa about two hours after departing Winnipeg, and we were at our Bed & Breakfast in Picton three hours after that. Driving from Kenora to Picton would take several days.

We brought Dingbat, our familiar but quirky old Garmin. If you are a GPS, the only thing worse than being transported a thousand miles while you are sleeping is waking up in an underground parking garage with no satellite reception. It must be something like The Morning After, a movie in which Jane Fonda wakes up with a hangover and a dead guy. Where am I? What the hell just happened? After we pulled out into Ottawa’s autumn sunlight, it still took nearly ten minutes for Dingbat to recharge and get his bearings.

Our rental car this year is a 2016 Hyundai Sonata. I christen her Sonnet, after an obscure elf warrior from Mon-Colle-Knights. Sonnet has many modern conveniences, including some well-thought-out digital bits. I speak fluent Windows, passable Android, and a few words of Apple, but I was able to find trip meters, fuel economy numbers and cruise control settings in just a few minutes without reading the manual or asking a stranger. I also discovered that she has some kind of proximity warning that you can set off with a lane change in tight traffic.

We needed lunch, and we spotted a Moxie’s on the way out of town. They served food, but I won’t be writing it up.

Same goes for two hours on the 401. There were trucks, and Mondayish amounts of traffic near Kingston. There are still some nice fall colours, although they peaked a week or two ago.

In Picton, we are staying at Brown’s Manor, a beautiful old B&B. Dianne greeted us and got us settled in, and Ross will give us the low-down on things to see and do tomorrow. The forecast is nice, so we plan to do outdoorsy stuff like hiking and scenic sight-seeing first. Later in the week, remnants of Tropical Depression Patricia may bring wet weather, so Wednesday might be a good day to visit some wineries and do indoor things.

Tonight’s dinner plan is Blumen Bistro. Dinner Debriefing to follow.

Wrapping Up

We’re home. Our flight from Ottawa to Winnipeg was quick and comfortable (Yay, WestJet) and our splurge on the valet parking at Winnipeg International was a real convenience. I’d do it again, only next time I’d check in with them while I was waiting for the luggage carousel to lurch into life.

Wanted to get something to eat before the two and a half hour drive home to Kenora, and this seemed like a perfect time to check out one of the Five Guys locations in Winnipeg for something reasonably speedy. Dingbat got lost on Route 90. There are new bits he doesn’t know about, so when we drove on them, he showed us hurtling through uncharted blackness. Spooky. We did eventually get close enough to some known roads that he was able to resume guiding us to the Pembina Highway 5G. I had essentially the same burger that I had in Waterton, and it was just as good, but the restaurant was appallingly littered with peanut shells. It looked as if the floor hadn’t been swept in hours, and they had been tracked and kicked everywhere, even into the bathroom. If I had not seen a clean Five Guys before, this would have been my only visit to one.

Drove home. Made good time in light traffic, and somehow managed to catch up to tractor-trailers only when passing was easy.

Spent Sunday unpacking, doing laundry and stocking up on groceries.

Monday, both of us went back to work, and I also found time to mow the lawn for the last time, mulching all the leaves in the process. It looks almost as good as if I had raked them up.

Thoughts for next time.

Yes, we’d like to visit Bar Harbor, Maine, again, and we loved Vermont, too. One notion that appeals to us is to fly to Halifax, Nova Scotia; I’ve always wanted to see the maritime museum there. We could drive or ferry down to Maine. We’d get to see some new territory: Vermont, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island would all be within reach.

We probably wouldn’t go in October. ‘Leaf-peeping’ was fun, but I don’t feel a need to make a lifestyle out of it. September might be good – tourist traffic dies down once the kids are back in school, making both highways and hotels noticeably quieter.

We’d put more effort into making dinner reservations in Bar Harbor, so that we didn’t end up eating wherever they were likely to have a table. I’d like to try some of the Atlantic seafood as prepared by a chef, rather than the simple traditional fare we ate this time around.

I need to pack lighter next time. I was right at the limit for WestJet, and hotels without elevators were not a lot of fun. Less clothes, more laundry.

The picnicking thing was worthwhile – the thirty dollars we spent on a cooler that we left behind (excess baggage fees on the airline would have been more than the cooler was worth) more than paid for itself in lunch expenses saved. Also, it allowed us to eat healthy salad and sandwich type lunches, instead of fast food.

I would absolutely take my own GPS again. Being familiar with all the features is a great benefit, saving time and frustration. Plus Dingbat has a big screen. And he’s part of the family, at least as much as Robbie the Robot was to those Lost in Space characters. Now if I could just teach him to say, “Danger, danger,” instead of “recalculating.”

That’s about it. Tim’s Road Noise picked up quite a few new followers during this trip, so I should explain that this blog will go dormant now. There will be no new posts until Tim and Caroline go vacationing again. There might be a short visit to Mexico this winter, there might not. Thanks to everyone that came with us in spirit, and especially those who commented.

I have two other blogs; you should see links on the right side of this page. Timothy Gwyn Writes is about my efforts as a writer of Science Fiction, and I post there at random intervals all year. Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol features aerial photographs and commentary on the spring conditions on the lake where I live. It is insanely busy for six weeks or so in the spring, when cottagers and boaters want to know when the lake will have open water. Ice Patrol generated some 60,000 hits in five weeks last year, but it won’t be active again until April or so.

Bye for now. Safe travels.

Ticking Away

We started our day by sleeping in and then finding a wood tick on Caroline’s shoulder. We pulled it off and checked the internet for advice. I like to deal with all my health issues by consulting random strangers. They said pull it off, apply an antibiotic cream. Went for breakfast and a walk on the lakeshore, but this time headed past the old Kingston Penitentiary. This put us on the sidewalk of King Street for several blocks, so not as scenic and woodsy as yesterdays walk with squirrels. And ticks.

Locals were wearing windbreakers and even gloves. And ski-poles, but that’s an exercise thing, not a winter thing. I’m sure they thought I was scandalously underdressed in my jeans and Puerto Vallarta t-shirt, but I find 13°C quite comfortable as long as I’m moving.

Towards the end of our walk, we stopped in at a small pharmacy to get some antibiotic cream. The pharmacy staff were adamant that we should see a doctor. They referred us to a walk-in clinic and even phoned ahead for wait times for us. There have been a lot of ticks this year, and Lyme Disease is a small but significant risk.

Proceeded to walk-in clinic at the Cataraqui Mall. The forty-five minute wait was going to mess up our check-out time, so we called the hotel to get a one hour extension. Gassed up Mitsu while we waited, and then after Caroline settled in at the waiting room I visited the mall to find a replacement for my smartphone holster that I almost tore off my belt yesterday.

Caroline was issued one prescription that’s supposed to nullify Lyme Disease. Then we rushed back to the hotel to check out and grab lunch at Tom’s Place adjoining the lobby. We were not in a very good mood, so I’ll just say it was convenient, and leave it at that.

Left some of our excess cargo for the hotel staff. My makeshift walking staff, our little picnic cooler, some leftover disposable plates and cutlery. Thought of holding onto the cooler for today so that we could keep the last of the snack food cool, but then we would have had to deal with all of it at the car-rental return.

All this made us a little later than we had intended, and we considered making up time by taking the 401 to Ottawa instead of our country-road route through Smiths Falls. Turns out it would have saved us one whole minute, so we stayed true to our wandering hearts and went on the byways.

It rained, so I was happy not to be passing semis in the spray. Returned Mitsu to National unscratched, but with at least 3000km more than when we met her. More than doubled her odometer, actually.

I would drive a Mitsubishi Outlander again. Did not seem very eager to accelerate, but I think gas mileage was better than my Honda CRV. The fuel tank is the same size, and my impression was that we didn’t have to fill it as often. It felt solid and stable, and had many thoughtful features.

Glad I brought Dingbat. It was so easy to work with our familiar GPS. Missed my Sirius satellite radio. Technically, I could have brought it, but it’s kind of installed in the CRV.

Took a cab back to our hotel downtown, the same one we were in ten days ago.

Tomorrow I’ll do Picks and Pans for the trip: favourite places, walks, restaurants and hotels, and their counterparts from the dark side.

Tonight we get one last chance to eat out in Ottawa, and then tomorrow afternoon we fly back to Winnipeg.

Waterbury, VT to Bennington, VT

The obvious place to go for a walk this morning would have been the cycle paths at Stowe. There are more than five miles of paved trail running along the river, and even a ‘quiet path’ for walkers and joggers only. However, we slept in and the eighteen minute drive to Stowe (each way) would have killed more than half an hour without a single step being taken. We chose to get back on schedule by sticking to the guest breakfast and walking up Blush Hill from our hotel. It was frosty this morning, but the early sun was shining. In twenty minutes, we were in farmland.20141013_065743[1]

Then into Mitsu to go over the hills and through the woods. The hills being the Green Mountains – we ran south all the way along Vermont highway 100. I feel a need to say that this is not a highway. It is string of country roads that  happen to share a number. Every ten miles or so, there is a right-angle turn at an intersection, just to stay on VT100. We programmed Dingbat with a couple of strategic waypoints so that he wouldn’t revert to the shorter route along the major highway, and I think we had to ‘detour’ him once or twice before he gave up and stuck to our winding road. Taking the country roads added about half an hour to the day’s run.

The sky turned cloudy early on, so although the fall colours were at their peak, they were not very photogenic. Parts of the drive through the Vermont countryside were lovely, and we saw two covered bridges, but did not stop. There were roadside stalls selling maple syrup. We thought it too cold for a picnic lunch and decided to have our first hot lunch since leaving Ottawa a week ago. The place we found at noon was a popular stop for tour buses, so we drove on a little longer to eat at the New American Grill in Londonderry. Eager to break out of our sandwich and salad rut, Caroline chose today’s special, a cheeseburger quesadilla, while I had the burrito with flank steak. Far from the cheesy grease bomb found in some Tex-Mex restaurants, this burrito was long on salad and black beans, easy on the rice and cheese. The restaurant had quite a good wine list, but we stuck to water. $10 off the price of bottle wine on Wednesdays, though!

Arrived in Bennington before 1500, but our room was already available, so we checked in. If it had not been, plan B was to do a side-trip to save time tomorrow, but the run from here to Lake Placid is not a long one, so we’ll visit Arlington on the way there. We have two nights in Lake Placid, so it’s not as if we’ll be pushing hard.

We have no reservations for dinner, or even a prepared short-list of restaurants. We shall see.