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.

Wine & Cheese in PEC

As forecast, it was a wet and miserable day in Prince Edward County. We hurried out the door of Brown’s Manor at first light to get a walk in before the rain got heavy. Picton has three urban trails, and we did the longest, a five kilometer loop that takes you along part of the Millennium Trail, a repurposed railbed at the edge of town.

Then another lovely breakfast at the Manor. There are masses of beautifully crafted woodwork in this big historic house, but it picked up some very modern touches on the way to becoming a B&B. Some of my favorites have to do with the bathroom. Besides a fancy jet tub, there is a practical contemporary shower with a recessed light. A nice idea is the provision of a wall sconce with a low power light for nighttime use.

We fine-tuned our island briefing with Ross, and then took Sonnet and Dingbat for a spin around the island. Yes, Prince Edward County just qualifies as an island, rather than an isthmus, as the one land link has been cut by a canal.

Wet, windy, and cold.

Wet, windy, and cold.

Driving conditions were so-so, with gusty winds and roads covered in wet leaves. Hooray for Sonnet’s heated seats and steering wheel! The tourist season is mainly over, so lots of things are closed. The first prominent winery we went to was Devil’s Wishbone, and it was closed today.

Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Company was open, but they were mildly surprised to see us. They specialize in goat and sheep cheeses, and we tasted a water buffalo cheese as well. We bought a goat cheddar, a brie-style cheese and a goat cheese that reminded us of Manchego. We meant to buy a little of the lemon feta, too, for salads, but forgot.

The next winery we came to that was clearly open was Waupoos. I’m a fan of Gewurtztraminers, so I tried theirs, as well as one of their Chardonnays. I quite liked the Gewurtz, but not enough to load down our suitcase for. If we don’t want to pay WestJet for overweight bags, we can only take a couple of bottles home.

We made a pit-stop at Black River Cheese to buy some five-year-old Cheddar. From cows. Oops. We bought it from a person; the milk was from cows.

For lunch, we detoured to East & Main in Wellington. Caroline was in the mood for salad, and teamed it up with a veggie bunwich. They call it a burger, but try not to picture one of those vegan patty things. The soup of the day was mushroom, and that sounded nice for a cold fall day, so I had that and the day’s meat feature. This is on the menu as Savoury Pie, but today it was a slow-cooked beef brisket with a house barbecue sauce. It was terrific. Tender, melt-in-the-mouth meat, served on a crisped slab of polenta, with grilled veggies. Delicious. Thinking of you, Johnny!

We thought we’d try one or two more wineries before calling it a day. Rosehall Run was open, and we tasted the JCR Chardonnay, which is their heavier Chard. They make an unoaked one, too, but we like them big, and this one didn’t disappoint.  The Hungry Point Pinot Noir, was nice, with a little chokecherry dryness, and it’s reasonably priced.

We don’t do a lot of white-wine meals, so Caroline suggested we focus on reds. This backfired at Closson Chase. They had such a good year for reds that they committed to an LCBO order, and sold out. They were only tasting Chardonnays today. Their tasting fee was $7 for two samples, and although that would have been waived if we purchased, well, we’d just decided to stick to buying reds. We declined. Cool purple barn, though.

On impulse, we pulled in at Huff Estates, but it looked very upscale, with modern sculptures on the grounds and a tasting center that was all architecty. We reversed our impulse and pulled right back out again. Ever since our first trip to Napa Valley, ostentatious wineries are a turn-off for me; I have way more fun at the Mom & Pop garagistes. That’s right, there’s a word for wineries so small they fit in a single shed.

Which brings us to Black Prince. We went there to taste some of the Canadian Cellars artisan vinegars, and ended up buying two vinegars and two Cabernet Francs. We had great fun talking to Pete, who is a master cooper. He specializes in making barrels from oak sourced in Prince Edward County. It’s much more tightly grained than the French oak traditionally favored by winemakers, and imparts flavours to wine that are both different and more subtle. Long story short, we bought two bottles of a Cabernet Franc aged in typical oak, and one pricier bottle of a Cab Franc aged in the local oak.

Then we got into the vinegar tasting. That’s right, you’ll sip vinegar, and you’ll like it!

Like a wine tasting, you work from lightest to heaviest. We ended up purchasing a just-released apple-cranberry vinegar to use for some salad dressings (Pete wrote our names and the date on the bottle for us) and their Select #17 Pinot Noir vinegar.

Most fun we had all day!

Tonight, supper at Agrarian. Dinner Debriefing later.

Dinner Debriefing: Merrill Inn

The Merrill Inn is in Picton, just a one-minute walk from our B&B. As the name suggests, the place is an inn, and the restaurant is in the lower level. The outdoor terrace is a little below grade, (and not open at this time of year) so there are only windows on the one wall. It’s a cozy room, with room for about two dozen diners.

The menu has some things in common with other local restaurants, at least as far as offering duck, rabbit and pickerel dishes. I think this is because good chefs everywhere look for locally sourced food. Tonight’s special was a bison striploin with a sauce of carmelized onion and sage.

Once again I am unable to find the wine list on the website. Maybe that’s an Ontario thing. The Inn works hard to promote County wines, with a good selection available by the six ounce glass, and an option to have two glasses for $22, which is in line with the bottle price but allows you more freedom to mix and match with your courses. We slipped slightly, and ordered a wine that is bottled in the county from grapes sourced in the Niagara Peninsula VQA; the Keint-He Voyageur Pinot Noir. This was a fairly light Pinot, but went well with our entree choices without overpowering the salad. There were imported wines on the list, too, and judging from the Californians offered, someone there knows their grapes. Edward, actually, one of the owners.

The bread basket featured a sourdough bread that is baked in-house, and a multi-grain sourced locally. Oh, and there were some little cheese biscuit thingies  with a fresh pear chutney. We both started with the house salad, and the inn got points for applying the dressing with a light hand. Caroline wanted the duck and fig dish, I chose the rabbit with pasta. Both were very nice, and we had enough room to share a dessert.

The pie of the day was an apple, served with ice cream made on the premises. We’re not really pie people, so we shared a nice little Opera Cake with raspberries and creme Anglais. Tea for her, coffee for him.

Another nice dinner. Considering that the population of Picton is under 4000 (the population of the entire Prince Edward County is around 25,000) this place is rocking the restaurant biz.

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.

Can Con 2015

I had to cancel my plans to travel to Spokane for Sasquan this summer for reasons related to health and health insurance. I cautiously set my sights on Hal-Con for the fall. I’ve always wanted to see Halifax, and there would be lots to do: the Cabot Trail, the Maritime Museum, Halifax Harbour, Theodore Tugboat. However, by the time I felt ready to book, Saturday had sold out. This is probably because the costume ball falls on Halloween, an opportunity not to be missed by Cosplayers. For writing geeks like me, though, it meant I would only be able to attend the Friday and Sunday events, amounting to about half the total schedule. It’s likely that I would have missed some major panels and workshops. Maybe next year.

This year, Ottawa’s Can Con also falls at the end of October, so while I was thinking of Halifax, I was resigned to missing Ottawa. I loved Can Con last year. I pitched my novel to Dragon Moon and Bundoran, did a workshop with Jo Walton, and met a bunch of other writers. So I’m going.

We have enough Air Miles to fly to Ottawa from Winnipeg, and enough RBC Rewards to rent a car. The Sheraton has arranged a splendid room discount for convention guests, so it’s all starting to gel. We’ll start by driving out to Prince Edward County to see some wineries and sceneries. There are also cheese producers, and the whole county is a foodie paradise, with many fine chefs and restaurants. If we’re really lucky, there might still be some fall colours.

We’ll take Dingbat, our quirky but lovable Garmin GPS. He gets left and right mixed up sometimes, and there’s always some excuse: the museum expanded and was relocated across the road; the intersection was redesigned; the official address is on one street, but the parking lot entrance is on the side road. The lovable part is that if it wasn’t for Dingbat, Caroline would be navigating, and heated words might be uttered. I can utter all I want at Dingbat- he neither hears nor cares.

Once we’re back in Ottawa, we’ll return the car. The Sheraton is walking distance to Byward Market, the restaurants of  Elgin Street, and many other attractions. And enough coffee shops to get me a different dark roast every day. I’m starting to get excited.