Drive: Portland

No need to travel today, so we took a scenic drive and visited a winery we know.

Plan A was to visit Multnomah Falls, but the signs were not auspicious. The digital signs on the interstate, that is. They were advising the overflow parking lot and shuttle at 11:00 this morning. Weekend, hot, holiday.

When we dithered over the time required to shuttle both ways with half-hour waits, a helpful park staffer recommended taking the old Columbia River Highway and visiting some of the other, less popular waterfalls. We did. It was lovely.

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We caught up to bumper to bumper traffic at the Multnomah Falls area. Cars were parked all over the shoulder, and police were towing those that infringed on the white line at the side of the road. There were lots of these, as the shoulders are narrow, rocky and steeply sloped. We ate sandwiches in the traffic jam while we waited for the tow-truck to haul one off.

Then up the Columbia River to to cross the toll-bridge at Hood River, to pay a quick but pleasant visit to the Jacob Williams winery. For a change, we came back towards Portland on the Washington side of the river, and crossed back at Bridge of the Gods. Love the name.

Returned for a second dinner at Bistro 23. We perplexed the staff by eating on the patio despite the heat. At least we didn’t have to worry about the pizza getting cold.

Tomorrow, back to Seattle.

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.

Summer Travels 2016

It’s been a while since I wrote about our travels. This summer, we’re taking to the road. Dingbat, our beloved(?) GPS will be joining us for a road trip to Portland, OR. But we’re starting with a flight.

First stop: Calgary, Alberta for When Words Collide. My publishers, Five Rivers, will be launching two books at this convention.

5R Poster 2016

And lookit! Way down at the bottom of the poster, it not only says I’m doing a reading from Avians, it nails down the release date in print.

Immediately before the Five Rivers Salon, I’ll be doing my presentation on Alternative Aviation in SF, and I’ve been stressing a little over how to juggle my notes (one handed on an e-reader?) and the slide show (touch screen tablet?). Good news! Lindsay Kitson, critique partner and fellow pilot, has said not only will she be in attendance, she’s willing to help with setting up and running the projector for me. That’ll be a huge help.

There’s far more to the con than just those two things. There are a slew of panels and presentations I’m eager to attend; my schedule often has two or three highlighted at the same time. I’ll blog those as I go.

After that hectic weekend, we’re hopping over to Kelowna for some family time with the western part of Caroline’s clan.

From there, we’re sticking Dingbat in rental car and heading down into Washington and Oregon. We’d like to see the Museum of Flight in Seattle, then I have novel research to do at Mount Saint Helens, because it is a rare example of a stratovolcano with lava tubes, and you can hike through them. Then Portland, OR for some seafood dinners and as a base of exploration for some local wineries before heading back to Kelowna, Winnipeg and home.

Then just a week or two later, we’ll take an extended September weekend to go to Can*Con in Ottawa. That’s one of my favourite cons, and this’ll be my third visit. It looks as if I might get to moderate a panel there, which will be a great chance to meet authors and readers of SF. More later, as details get firmed up.

It’s going to be a great summer!

Drive: Picton to Ottawa

We could fill several more days in Prince Edward County, but our time is up. There were many more wineries we didn’t get a chance to visit, there were another forty-seven kilometers of the Millennium Trail to hike, there were bicycle rentals, and we never even set foot in a shop, unless you count the grocery store.

The county must be Canada’s headquarters for old barns. You could spend a week just photographing them. Or buying them- there were real estate signs all over the place.

One thing we got right was Brown’s Manor. We had looked at several inns and B&Bs online before we booked, but when we saw the others as we drove around, we never once said, “Oh, we should have stayed there!” Brown’s was splendidly located, very comfortable, and Dianne’s breakfasts were delicious.

There was a wind warning today, and that cemented my desire to avoid the 401. It’s by far the quickest way to Ottawa, but it has a lot of truck traffic, and the idea of sharing the road with all those transports in winds of up to 80km/hour seemed like a recipe for disaster. My first thought was to take the free ferry across the Bay of Quinte and pick up the Loyalist Parkway. It’s only a ten or fifteen minute ferry ride, and it lops off quite a few miles. Ferry service was cancelled today, I think, because of the winds.

We decided to drive the long way, on old highway 2 and 33. When I say we, I mean Caroline and I. Dingbat didn’t like the idea. We had to enter Napanee as a via point and exclude motorways, and then he wanted to zig-zag all over a bunch of county roads to save a few minutes. We didn’t bring a paper map, so we resorted to launching MapQuest on Caroline’s smartphone. Two GPS are not better than one. The two computerized voices argued over which of the routes we didn’t like was the best one. The atmosphere got positively fractious.

We pulled off at a viewpoint place to watch the waves while we calmed them down and got it sorted out.

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In the end, we got our way, but we had to follow highway signs. Who does that?

In Kingston, we decided we should get lunch. The first thing we saw that wasn’t a chain restaurant was The Greek Islands. I’ve never found a Greek Restaurant that did awful Greek food. Awful decor, maybe. When Caroline saw me pull out my phone after we were seated, she asked if I was checking it on Trip Advisor. I laughed out loud at the mental image of us finding awful reviews and making our escape by crashing through the window like action heroes. Seriously, I was just checking my Twitter feed. Dining in the Information Age. The food was fine, although not quite like Dino’s back home. She had chicken souvlaki, I had a beef & lamb gyro.

The drive went better after we humans got something to eat. Our route into downtown Ottawa was pretty simple, and although rush-hour traffic was starting to build, it was in the other direction.

Unloaded Sonnet at the Best Western Victoria Park Suites, then returned her to National at the airport. All the driving we did consumed just fifty liters of gas. I liked the Hyundai Sonata. It was comfortable. I’m tall, and there were oodles of leg and headroom, even with the sunroof. Easy to drive, with many modern touches that we don’t have in our ten-year-old CRV: a backup camera (except Dingbat was suctioned to the screen most of the time). Keyless operation, proximity warnings for lane-changes and reversing. Caroline was not so happy. Her seat lacked the multiple power adjustments, and she found the low seat position made her hips sore.

We were back at the hotel in plenty of time to go for a walk, so now Caroline knows her way to the Sheraton, where Can-Con is. She may meet me for meals to save time.

Our dinner plans for tonight are vague. Pizza somewhere on Elgin Street.

Chaise Cafe and the Cornerstone

I’ve been so busy with KeyCon and Timothy Gwyn Writes that I had to let my visits to  Winnipeg restaurants slide for a day or two. Now it’s time to catch up, and I’m looking forward to telling you about a pair of restaurants that were very different, but both fun in their own way.

On Saturday, after a hectic day of trying to be both a sci-fi geek and a social butterfly -I’m better at the former- I was ready to unwind with my wife and an old friend for dinner. I dropped by Donna’s downtown condo and then the three of us set off for Chaise Cafe and lounge on Provencher. There was a moment’s confusion when we arrived for our seven o’clock reservation, but the staff didn’t panic and got it sorted out quickly and quietly. They admitted that they had misplaced our table, (which sounds so much better than misplacing our reservation!) but in only a minute or two we were seated at a wonderful little table tucked away by the bar. Sheltered from the main room by a low wall, I loved having more conversation and less background noise.

I’m sure the easiest way to get to know this restaurant would be to go for the prix fixe option. Everyone at the table shares a couple of salads, two different pizzas and samples of the entrees. A pasta course is included if you have room, or you can ask for seconds of something. Dessert is part of the deal, too. As it happens, we did not go that route, and please don’t blame the restaurant if I explained any part of that incorrectly. There is one other interesting thing about the menu here. The entrees are not described in detail because the details vary from night to night. There is always pork tenderloin, for instance, but the chef doesn’t prepare the same pork dish today as yesterday. Tired sigh department: if I got a free salad every time a restaurant misspelled Caesar, I’d eat so much romaine, I’d look like one.

What we did was order a different salad each, and we mostly minded our own, then a different pizza each which we herded into the middle of the table and shared. For its versatility, we got a bottle of the Mirasou Pinot Noir. The specifics: Donna chose the Roasted Butternut Squash salad and the Pepperoni pizza with the mushroom option; Caroline went for the Roasted Beet salad and the Fig and Prosciutto pizza; and I picked the House Garden salad and the alfredo based Wild Mushroom pizza. We all enjoyed our salads, and I could see myself ordering the beet salad on a return visit. That means it wasn’t overwhelmingly dedicated to beets- they were more of a garnish or an accent to the greens and chevre. All the pizzas were thin-crust style, and came sliced into sixths, which meant (lengthy pause for Tim to do the math) we could each have two slices of each kind. In actual fact, the ladies ate one slice of each, and I had a second slice of two, so we could comfortably have ordered two pizzas for the three of us.  I doubled down on the Mushroom and on the Prosciutto and Fig. The pepperoni was nice, but perhaps the saltiest. I wanted another slice, but I was being good. Caroline thought the pepperoni pizza was best, praising the tomato sauce. Oddly, the Prosciutto she chose was her least favourite. No one had room for dessert, but we made sure to take the leftovers home.

I liked the food, the decor, the price and the service, and I’d happily go back.

On Sunday, my convention schedule was shorter. Before I move on to my next feature restaurant, let me just mention that the Winnipeg Radisson hotel’s 12 Resto Bar is not somewhere I would go out of my way to visit. At lunch one day I had a small salad and a large hamburger, but neither was exciting enough to justify the cost. The next day I wanted a light appetizer and ordered the crab-stuffed mushroom caps. The waitress was careful to make sure I understood that the vinaigrette would be imparting a vinegar taste to the dish. She was correct, and it was a little startling how it overpowered the other flavours. I’ve had other versions of this dish that I enjoyed more. Also, I thought $13 was a lot for three mushroom caps.

The month of May does not guarantee spring-like weather in Winnipeg. It does not guarantee howling winds and sleet, either, but they are apparently an option. I joined Caroline at Donna’s village condo again, and we made plans. If I had to live in a city, I have to concede that a downtown neighbourhood with restaurants, coffee shops, a supermarket and a wine store would be fun. Tonight, we took advantage of Donna’s central location to eat close by. It was no night for a stroll, so we decided on the Cornerstone, just steps away from Donna’s place. I didn’t like the bare decor, but it was warm and dry, and comfort food won the day. Well, Caroline had the flatbread and kale salad, which isn’t comfort food in my dictionary… I had the soup of the day, a tasty smoked potato clam chowder. Donna and I both ordered a steak sandwich. This last comes open-faced on a ciabatta bun, and is topped with mushrooms and a fried egg. It was delicious.

“Is there anything that isn’t improved by the addition of an egg?” Donna asked, contentedly.

“Beer.” I replied.

“I meant food.”

“Ice cream.”

It’s this kind of thing that forces me to eat with old friends, instead of refined company. A friend, they say, is someone who knows all about you, and likes you anyway. One day, I’m going to write a science fiction scene about a cantina where the aliens order chocolate ice cream and poached eggs. I’ll dedicate that story to Donna.

Good food, reasonable bill. I’d go there again, but I wish for decor that didn’t remind me of an office.

The weather didn’t worsen during dinner, but the forecast for morning was dreadful. We decided to make the drive in the evening after all. We loaded the car, grabbed a dark roast, and headed out into the rain and wind. It was both hands on the wheel and no cruise control until the highway grew some trees to break the gusty northeast wind. The rest of the drive was okay, if slow. Never turned the wipers off, but the temperatures stayed above freezing until we got home.

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.