Kicking off Summer!

We kicked off summer with the last day of school and our little town’s “Fête des enfants”. If you recall last year, it was a nice evening with a parade after school, and then the kids get a few free hours to go crazy in a fairground set up for kids only. It’s a nice way to end the year and the kids were really looking forward to it.

This year was… less fun. The day was pretty rainy and we kept expecting the event to be cancelled, but the sun came out by the end of the day and we never got “the call”. So we headed downtown and joined up with the mayhem that is a street full of a few hundred kids, some out-of-tune fife players, and all the teachers and parents in the area. Then it started to rain. I mean, really, really, rain.

The parade came along, and sure enough, all the cardboard outfits were disintegrating and the kids (and fifers) were soaked to the core. But we snapped our obligatory photos and let them head over to the fairground while we went to a friend’s house for some celebratory wine.

After about 30 minutes, I got a phone call from a teacher to come meet up with my child who wanted to go home – but it was a wrong number, in fact, I don’t know what happened to that kid – but it made me think our kids were also not going to last a few hours as planned. We went to pick them up and discovered a fairground full of wet children, shivering like frightened kittens, all ready to come home. There was even some crying (mostly theirs). So, instead we made them come back with us to our friend’s house for a BBQ and an evening of parental celebration before walking home late at night… in the rain, again. At least they were already wet, so it’s ok, right? Hooray for summer vacation!

By the weekend, it was time to celebrate our great nation’s 150th birthday! The local Canadian expat group was hosting a Canada Day dinner in Geneva, so we spent the evening eating and drinking some hometown favourites: Moosehead beer, Okanagan wine, President’s Choice cookies, Pop-Tarts (are those Canadian??), Timbits (flown in from Montreal that morning, nothing like kind of stale Timbits for a taste of home!), and a good old fashioned barbecue dinner.

We sang bilingual O Canada with a singer who couldn’t get the sound system to work, but the 75 of us or so made up for that lack. We met people from NB, ON, AB, SK, QC, BC and several “honourary” Canucks who were just visiting – but that’s ok, Canada Day is all-inclusive. We missed the Ottawa fireworks, but went home happy nonetheless. Here’s to the start of a great summer!

 

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Cabot trail

Cape Breton
This photo of the Cape Breton coast (not quite the Cabot Trail, but close enough) is in honor of all our relatives meeting there for a family reunion this week. We’re sorry to be missing the rich blue ocean, rugged landscape, kitchen ceilidhs, whales, and hugs, but we’re with you in spirit!
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Cape Breton sunshine

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Summer 2013 at the family cottage in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Possibly one of the most beautiful places on earth. This one is credited to LittleB, who photographed every single thing in the outdoors after we gave him an old camera to play with. The sticky-fingerprinted camera lens led to this unexpected gem of a photo – a perfect memory of breezy summer leaves in the late afternoon sun.

Great Canadian Tour 2015: Toronto

In some ways, our trip to Toronto this summer was the start of our real vacation. Ottawa was a holiday, but it didn’t feel out of the ordinary. So when we got the chance to spend a few days in Toronto, followed by a few days in Washington, D.C., we figured we should try to do as many touristy things we could.

We set off on an early train ride and arrived in time for a nice Mexican lunch with my sister. We had tickets for a Blue Jays game later that night, so after lunch we stopped in at my friend’s house to drop off our stuff and headed out to meet her at the ballpark. The game was a lot of fun, and it was the start of the Jays’ winning streak (which just culminated in getting to playoffs this week). The kids were pretty tired and whiny by the end, which put a damper on the last half of the game. But we did manage to enjoy some incredibly overpriced stadium beer, pizza and popcorn.

A dude in our row got picked to do one of those commercial break contests, where he had to tie a tie faster than another contestant. So this guy spent a good 20 minutes practicing, getting other people in the stands to show him how, since he quite honestly looked like he had never tied one before. It was painful. But somehow that was enough practice, and he won – and all of us in his row got gift certificates to Tip Top. Cool.

We spent the next day at the Royal Ontario Museum, where there was an overpriced Pompeii exhibit going on. It was very dramatic, with real casts of the bodies on display. Also cool. We wandered around a bit, and the kids had fun pretending to be archaeologists, and I took giggled at all of the Roman penis decorations, because I have the sense of humor of a 10-year-old at heart.

The next day B took the kids to the Hockey Hall of Fame, since I was busy with some work things. Once again, I have trimmed down his hundreds of close-ups of jerseys to just these few artsy shots (you’re welcome):

And just to hammer home the idea that we like museums, we spent our last day visiting the Ontario Science Centre. Really we just went for the Mythbusters exhibit, because we seriously, seriously love Mythbusters. It was cool – we recognized all the machines and props on display, and they had a few try-it-yourself myths, like driving blind, flicking a playing card into a cork board, dodging a bullet and pulling a tablecloth off the table. We also sat through a presentation involving audience members getting hit by paintballs and a very much over-the-top pair of presenters, like, trying way too hard to be enthusiastic. It was cringey.

Of course we ended that outing with a huge temper tantrum on the lawn outside, because we’re classy like that. Then LittleB stepped out in front of the moving bus we were about to get on (because he doesn’t understand how North American traffic works, like, the fact that there is a separate place for people and one for cars, you know, the road) and we were all scolded for a while by the bus driver in front of the bus packed full of passengers. It’s going to take a few years for that shame to ebb from our memories… Ah, family vacations.

At least we had a great couple of evenings with good friends, and some playtime with the cousins, which is really the whole point of vacations. And we celebrated our friend’s 53rd birthday together (J put the candles on…). And the next day, we flew off to (very) sunny D.C. for a few days.

 

Great Canadian Tour 2015: Ottawa museums galore

One of the best things about Ottawa is all the museums. There are so many that, growing up there, it’s commonplace, almost boring, to go to a museum. But lucky for us, fresh off 3 years of no museum visiting in Indonesia, the kids still think it’s pretty cool! It’s not so cool for the pocketbook, but hey, we’re on vacation, right?

The first museum we decided to visit was the Air and Space Museum. The kids were keen, but I’ll admit that I also pushed for it because it was the one I have visited the least often myself, so it was still a fresh experience. And, of course, who doesn’t want to look at awesome old planes and rockets? And maybe there was a chance that Chris Hadfield would be there, right? (He wasn’t.)

We saw everything from old-timey flying (and hilariously non-flying) contraptions to slick air force jets, a huge bomber, rescue helicopters, courier planes, cushy 50s passenger planes. And the space section was lots of fun, with some hands-on activities and neat artifacts from Canadian space missions.

But, really, I think we had the most fun taking photos of the kids in the photo board cutouts. These things are classic:

We also visited the Canadian Museum of Civilization History. We are well aware that our museum timing is limited to only a couple of hours, so we have to triage. B and I can never get enough of the First Nations hall and the Inuit art in the basement (which is always shamefully undervisited), and we made a point of visiting the special exhibits rather than the permanent ones, keeping in mind our triage decisions. The exhibit on Greece was very cool, and I was able to crack into the depths of my undergraduate brain and read a lot of the ancient Greek writing. B was uber keen on the “Confederation” exhibit, which was a bit tedious for the rest of us non-politicos until we found a table where you could wear a top hat and pretend to be one of the fathers of confederation! And we also saw a Terry Fox exhibit, which was timed for the 35th anniversary of his run. It was great to share this important Canadiana with the kids, even if B did spend most of the time just photographing close-ups of all the hockey jerseys in the room.

And of course there’s a great Children’s museum that we needed to visit. We also decided to watch an IMAX movie about Lemurs. Lemurs are cool, but for some reason this film was a bit too over the top, and felt like it had been made 10 years ago, despite being recent and narrated by Morgan Freeman. It was missing some kind of legitimate messaging, like “lemurs are good, deforestation is bad” is pretty trite, even when you’re targeting a young audience… But we had a good time over all. We even ran into the kids’ cousins who were at the museum with a summer camp trip, so that was a nice surprise.

The final museum on the list was the Billings Estate Museum, which is a manor right in the heart of the city, the home of the original settlers of the area. In fact, I didn’t visit for the museum itself, but for afternoon tea. My mom and I escaped for the day and spent a lovely few hours enjoying tea and snacks overlooking a beautiful outdoor garden. Probably my favourite kind of museum trip!

 

Great Canadian Tour 2015: Ottawa fams & jams

Whenever we head home to Ottawa, our main vacation goal is to see all the family. And visiting in the summer means hot days and sticky nights, farm-fresh strawberries and corn, barbecues every weekend, backyard sprinklers and downtown festivals. Unfortunately, it also means a lot of family & friends are away on vacation. So we never get to see all the people we hope to see. This summer was no exception. I think we managed to see maybe 6 friends in total? Sorry, everyone else! But you can always *cough cough* come to Switzerland *cough cough*.

We still had a glorious few weeks enjoying the summery summertime in Ottawa. It’s the season when everything is bright and awake, with the sun suspended high in the sky for 18+ a day, and everyone spends their evenings on the patio with a drink in hand to soak up as much of the sunset as possible.

B and the kids arrived a few weeks before I did and got to enjoy the first strawberry picking of the year, visit some kid play zones and splash on the beach. It was a great chance for them to catch up with Grandma L, who left shortly after to spend the summer on the east coast.

Once I arrived, we tried to fill our time with some more ‘touristy’ activities, since we were on our own most days while our parents or friends were working or otherwise busy. B and I managed to catch a show at the Ottawa Bluesfest – Dropkick Murphys and The Tragically Hip. It was great music… but we were totally, absolutely 100% rained out. I have never been so cold and soaked in my life. I think my body actually forced a reset at one point during the concert, because I fell asleep standing up for like 2 songs and didn’t realize it. But it was worth it!

B also took the opportunity to enjoy a football game at the new Ottawa stadium. He took about 400 pictures and short video clips, which I narrowed down to just two. You’re welcome.

One of my favorite things about Ottawa in the summer are the downtown festivals. One weekend, it was RibFest, which is exactly what it sounds: a bunch of rib stands selling copious amounts of ribs. We had a great time stuffing ourselves, and the kids discovered their love of grilled meat…

But visiting is always bittersweet. All we’re left with are a few photos with the family, trying to keep our memories fresh while we wait for the next time we can see each other. But still, it is always worth it!

 

Great Canadian Tour 2015: The great outdoors

And so begins a series of posts about our summer holidays. I still have a few more Asian trips to share, but I’ll dig them out of the archives when winter hangs thick and we all need a bit of jungle and beach scenery.

Our summer was loooooong. We were basically living as transients across Ottawa, Toronto, Washington and Montreal until our Swiss visas could get sorted out. This involved a lot of moving suitcases back and forth across cities, sleeping wherever we could, and pissing off neighbors all over the country with our travel-weary kids.

We started off in Ottawa, our home base for the summer, and the first thing we couldn’t wait to do was go camping. We love camping. We love it so much that we filled our parents’ basements with all our gear when we moved rather than sell it or give it away. So it’s our duty to use it when we come back to town, right?

We booked a short trip, only 3 nights, at Silent Lake near Algonquin Park. Now, I hesitate to tell the internet about this, but it was amazing. It wasn’t too full, the sites were clean and perfect, the beaches were rugged but groomed and uncrowded, the weather gorgeous, and the night skies starry and clear. But please don’t go there, so it can stay that way.

We passed the days with swimming, outdoor games, roasting marshmallows, napping, roasting more marshmallows, watching the fire and listening to the sounds of the forest. We went on a hike one day and went a bit mushroom-crazy with our macro lens.

The kids had a good time. Mostly they just dug holes – like, they dug holes in the ground at our campsite, at the beach, in the lake bottom, in the gravel near the outhouses. What’s with kids and holes, seriously? I picked sand out of their hair for weeks afterwards. And they alternated the hole-digging with whining about eating marshmallows (when they weren’t actually eating marshmallows).

And then there were the 10 minutes when we lost LittleB in the forest while we were hiking. Oh man, other parents, you know that horrible feeling when you’ve lost your kid somewhere scary and dangerous? Yeah.

We were on our way back to the car park, and he got ahead of us, but I wasn’t worried because it is a one-way track… but then I got to the car with J and he wasn’t there. I looked around the area, checked the beach, checked the parking lot, and started to freak out. I ran back into the forest to BigB (who was still photographing mushrooms) and we split up, calling his name and looking around.

After 5 minutes of escalating frenzy, LittleB suddenly showed up at the trailhead, in tears but totally fine. It turns out he was smarter than us and actually got into the car, but I didn’t know it was unlocked so I never looked directly inside when I was in the lot, because why would he be in the locked car? Eventually he freaked out because we hadn’t come out of the forest and came looking for us. So… actually I guess we got lost rather than him.

But it really was a great trip. There’s nothing I like more than a toasty campfire, watching the flames lick the logs down into glowing coals and ashes. I like sitting up late, playing cards by torchlight, making early morning pancakes on the portable stove, snuggling into the sleeping bag when there’s a touch of dew in the night air. And I’m always heavy in the heart to pack up and go home.

 

Winter magic in the rockies

Well, New Year’s was quite some time ago – but it’s never the wrong time of year to share the glory that is winter in the Rocky mountains.

We spent three lovely nights in a Canmore condo with our friends, enjoying some incredible snowshoeing in the Sunshine Valley, watching a snowstorm blow across Lake Louise, spending frosty evenings in the outdoor hot tub, sharing wine and games into the night warmed by the cozy fireplace, and having delicious dinners of both homemade and restaurant variety to top it all off.

Our snowshoeing trip stole the show. It was a perfectly crisp, clear day, with the bright sun glinting off the fresh snow. The light and air were magical, the trees perfectly framed by clumps of pure white.

We journeyed along the Sunshine Valley floor for hours, taking photos and getting lost in the glory. And that night, we rang in the new year with good food and laughter. It was a perfect New Year’s Eve.

The next day, we drove up to Lake Louise so A could teach J how to ski, while B and I photographed everything in sight, went tubing, drank beer and hot chocolate, and drove around the Lake. So, basically the perfect New Year’s Day.

It was all over too soon! But we’ll always have these gorgeous memories. You’ll want to look at them babies in full screen:

And if those glorious views were not enough for you, here’s a message we recorded for the kids from the valley lookout:

Plus – bonus video of B and I tubing at Lake Louise, with a surprise ending (for me, at least!):

Happy (belated) New Year!

Wintertime in Calgary

In the middle of our winter holidays in Canada, B and I took a week out for ourselves to visit family and friends in the Calgary area. It was our first real non-kid vacation ever!

Our plan was to rent a car at the airport, spend a few days in the city to see the aunts, uncles and cousins that we hadn’t seen in several years, pick up our friends at the airport and head into Banff for a few days of frigid fun over New Year’s Eve.

We arrived at the airport on a snowy, blustery morning. I was nervous about renting a car because we only have Indonesian drivers’ licenses, and, well, those aren’t exactly recognized internationally. I had done a lot of digging on the rental company’s website and brought along some printed pages from their rules & regulations. Clutching them, I handed over my driver’s license to the clerk… “Oohh, no, Indonesia?” Me: (oh crap) “Yeah… we live there, we’re just here visiting family…” And then he proceeds to talk about the recent airplane crash in Indonesia, all the while ringing up our car order like nothing is amiss! I am sorry to say that I was relieved to talk about an airplane crash rather than my questionable driving status. He even managed to talk us into an upgrade from a mid-size SUV to a full-size truck, because, well, Alberta.

That morning we caught up with my cousin and her husband for brunch at a hipster beer-house-slash-breakfast place. Mimosas were on sale. I approved. The next few days were a blur of family visits. We managed to fit in both sides of my family and B’s family too, as well as some wandering around downtown and a drive out to the country.

My mom’s side has some land just outside Calgary along the Elbow river, and I used to spend summers there as a kid. I always like to go back and see how much smaller things look as an adult. This time, they were covered in snow and wintry beauty. We stopped in to see my aunt and then took a little drive around the neighborhood.

Later that day, we had to stop in at Peter’s drive-in for some burgers and milkshakes, which turned out to be kind of a bad choice on a -25C day, but they were still delicious.

The next day, we met our friends at the airport to begin our trip into Banff!

 

Winter holiday highlights: Ottawa

Our Christmas holidays were lovely. It had been over a year since we last visited home, and even longer since we had seen winter! The plan was to spend almost a month relaxing in Ottawa with family and friends, making the most of wintry days playing in the yard and wintry nights sitting by the fire.

We headed out of Jakarta on an early Saturday morning, laden with suitcases full of gifts and only the bare necessities – since none of our current wardrobes were at all suitable for the weather in Canada. Luckily we had managed to buy some long pants and a few sweaters in Bogor, so we could at least make it from the airport to the house when we arrived. But wearing socks for the first time in two years was a bit weird.

The flights were relatively smooth, other than a few panicked hours in Hong Kong when we thought our flight would be late and we would miss our next connection in Vancouver. But it turned out fine, and the 35 hours passed like a breeze. A very long, very boring, incredibly painful breeze filled with hours of cramped seats, terrible movies, inedible food and whining children. But we made it.

Our first week home was also filled with boring things like visiting the dentist. Twice, for the family members who had a cavity. Three times, for those with two cavities. And we battled jet lag for quite a while, waking up to watch movies at 2 in the morning. Ah, who am I kidding – it was the holidays – we probably would have done that anyway!

It snowed just when we arrived, and the kids were so excited. We took them tobogganing. J cried the whole time, complained that LittleB was “throwing sand at her” and went to play at the snowy swing set instead. LittleB face-planted at the bottom of the hill and sprawled there for the rest of the time. BigB smacked his knee on some ice riding down the hill on a kiddie saucer and limped for the rest of our trip. But I had a good time, though!

Obviously the big ticket item was Christmas. My sister and her family came to stay as well, and we had a busy schedule of visiting friends and family throughout the week. Christmas is always a busy time for us, since we have so much family in the same city – and we have to carefully plan our days to get in a dinner and presents with all of them. The upside is that we get dinner and presents with all of them. We also visited an old-fashioned Christmas village, where we got to meet Québécois Santa, see thousands of Christmas lights on old-timey buildings and eat toasted marshmallows at the firepit. We also managed to see a number of good friends.

Before we left the city, we decided to do some tourist activities so we didn’t feel like we had wasted our entire vacation sitting around drinking Bailey’s (that doesn’t sound too bad, actually). Of course, on the week we decided to take the kids to the museums, they were all closed for annual maintenance. We did manage to visit the art gallery for an M.C. Escher show, which was very neat. But it was on the coldest day of the year so far (-37 C with the windchill). We made the poor kids walk about 10 minutes to the gallery – that was a mistake. J started crying uncontrollably and LittleB had a panic attack when he saw BigB’s mustache getting ice on it. But we stopped for beaver tails and hot chocolate, which every Ottawan knows is the only cure for a cold day in Canada. Everything worked out fine.

The night before we were meant to leave, the whole family came down with a stomach bug. We managed to change our flights at the 11th hour and got a whole extra weekend of time. So we headed over to the Nature Museum to see the dinosaurs and stuffed birds and stuff. We also managed to squeeze out a few more restaurant trips and extra goodbyes.

Too soon it was time to head home for real, to the home that has all our stuff. The highlights I carried home with me, other than a bunch of new underwear and kids’ medicine: easy shopping, nice restaurants, driving on the wrong side of the road, new babies, craft beer, personal space, silent snowy nights, ham, and bacon.

I think my only regret is that I didn’t get any one-on-one time with my sister. Our kids kept us both busy, and we had too many family gatherings eating up our days and nights. Luckily, we just planned a last-minute Thelma-and-Louise trip to Paris in a few weeks, so I guess that worked out for the best!!

We miss you, Ottawa. See you next time!

Christmas in Canada

We had an old-fashioned canuck Christmas at home this year. Visits with Santa (twice), snow, sledding, Christmas village tours and sleigh rides, dinners, friends, presents, caroling. I hope all your holidays were as merry and bright!

Happy New Year!

-The Cayas

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that we really miss here. There’s no way to replace it – it’s so linked to home: the season, the colors, the smells. A perfect autumn morning, waking up early to bake some pies, sharing the afternoon with family, maybe taking a hike through the bright fall forest, playing a game of pick-up hockey or football in the crisp evening air. Spending the evening eating and laughing, ending the night a little rosy and so full of turkey that it’s hard to breathe.

The past few years, we’ve done a little thanksgiving with our Canadian friends in the area. This year, we had a few Aussie additions, but they were made welcome nonetheless. We found a turkey (imported from Utah!), dug up my mom’s stuffing recipe, bought $18 cans of pumpkin for pie, sourced a can of cranberry sauce. Instead of a hike, we swam; instead of football, we had a mini ukulele jam. But we still spent the night eating and laughing, getting rosy and ending the night too full to breathe.

It was lovely, but it wasn’t quite the same as being home. We’ll miss you all this weekend – Happy Thanksgiving from Indonesia!

-The Cayas

Canadian Thanksgiving – the real one!

Last weekend, we headed into Jakarta for the real Canadian Thanksgiving in Indonesia. Organized by the local Jakarta Canadians group, it was a traditional turkey dinner held at a downtown hotel.

The menu was very tasty: roast turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, carrots & peas, brussels sprouts with bacon, roasted pumpkin, cranberry sauce, and a selection of desserts that included tiny pumpkin tarts very close to the real thing! The only thing missing was my mom’s stuffing recipe.

It was a great night. Two of our other Canadian friends came along, as well as a handful of wanna-be Canadian friends. Oh, I should mention that there was free alcohol for most of the night, so the party was well lubricated.

We figured that since we have whiny kids who fall asleep at 7 pm, we should book a room in the hotel and just stay overnight. It was brilliant. Sure enough, J fell asleep before dinner even started, and LittleB spent most of the evening playing gameboy under the table. We were able to put them to bed halfway through the evening and then come back down to continue the party!

Planning for this overnight, I decided to take the leap and drive into Jakarta on my own. It actually wasn’t too bad. As I’m discovering, it’s not the traffic that makes driving difficult, it’s that unless you have the routes memorized, it’s impossible to find your way around. And you can’t trust GPS. Google maps was sure that the hotel was located somewhere on some crazy backroad that you couldn’t access, so after many stops for directions at coffee shops and every foreign-looking person on the street, we finally found the place by chance. I also successfully made it home the next day, despite waking up with a hangover at 5 am. Thanks, kids.

 

O Canada: bonus round – NYC redux

Our bonus round was an extra visit to NYC after our plane was delayed and couldn’t be rebooked for several days. We holed up in the airport hotel and took a few trips into the city again. The first day, we visited the NYC aquarium and Coney Island – both newly reopened after hurricane Sandy. On the second day, we headed into Manhattan for a bit more sightseeing, including the Flatiron building, Madison Square Park and a trip to Eataly, Macy’s, and the NY Public Library. Even though we were more than ready to head home, it was nice to have another chance to redeem our less-than-stellar first visit to the city!

O Canada: part six – Beaches

There are many wonderful beaches in the Cheticamp area. Cheticamp beach itself is a lovely sandy/rocky coast that is sheltered from the open water. It has a sand bar close to shore which makes it easy to walk out quite far, even with the kids. There are sometimes jellyfish, but we were lucky to avoid them all this year. It’s close to town, so we spent several lovely afternoons enjoying the sun and warm water – well, warm for the north Atlantic at about 20 degrees or so (celsius).

We also took a special trip over to the western coast of Cape Breton to visit Black Brook beach. This is another little sheltered bay where a waterfall/brook meets the ocean. The waves were perfect – not too big, not too small. And there was a great rock cliff to climb and look out over the beach. We whiled away the afternoon jumping in waves, building castles, and hunting lobsters (but not catching them!). It was lovely.

O Canada: part five – Whales

One of the first things we did upon arrival in Cape Breton was head out on a zodiac whale watching tour in an area called Pleasant Bay.

This is quickly becoming my favourite tradition in Nova Scotia, since this was now our second time going out on such a tour. There are two types of whale watching tours: the regular tour takes you out on a fishing boat and boasts a slightly easier ride but doesn’t get as close to the action. On the other hand, zodiacs are basically inflatable rafts with benches, so you just hold on and hope you don’t go flying off as you skim across the water. But you also get right up close to the whale pods, since the craft isn’t as intrusive or dangerous. Oh, and it’s lots of fun!

The day we went out was quite clear, and we were expecting a fairly smooth trip. Out on the water was another story – although the waves didn’t appear very large, once you’re travelling over them at 30 knots (I’m totally guessing at the speed here… how the heck do you calculate knots anyway?), waves even a foot or two high were sending the zodiac flying.

We headed out with a group of about ten (B and I, plus his brother and wife and a few other vacationers), first sailing straight out about 5 miles off the coast. We didn’t have much luck there, and frankly I couldn’t tell the difference between a whale and a wave anyway, so I was never sure whether to be continually excited or continually disappointed. Luckily a sister ship soon radioed in the whales’ location closer to shore, so off we went.

We first spotted the whales breaching right next to the other boat, a group of what looked like about 20 pilot whales. The captain pulled us in a bit closer to their path and we waited for them to swim in our direction. A few minutes later, they appeared. It was a group of mostly cows and babies, and there must have been at least 50 of them! They swam right up next to us in little groups of 3 or 4, babies alongside. I probably could have touched one or two of them, they were so close. I had to fight the urge to just jump in there and grab on for a ride! The pod seemed to be swimming around and feeding in the area, so they weren’t in a rush to leave. We followed them for at least 20 minutes, watching them dive deep and then surface a hundred meters away then return to us. It was magical.

Here are a few (rather shaky) videos!


Eventually we let them move on and we started back to the marina. The return trip was into the wind, so as you can imagine, the waves were quite a bit rougher on us! We were getting air of at least 2 metres at times, which was exhilarating and little bit painful… But the chorus of groans from us travellers just made it hilarious, and we were all killing ourselves laughing as we all got soaked and slammed around on the waves.

The ride back followed the coastline, where we caught glimpses of a few seals and a lot of majestic cliffs and wilderness. We tried to take pictures, but they all turned out crooked!

All in all, it was great, and I can’t wait to do it again next time.

 

O Canada: part four – Cheticamp

The real vacation part of our vacation started in Chéticamp, Nova Scotia, where B’s maternal family comes from and where they still keep a family cottage. B’s mom, brother and his wife joined us for a week of R&R on the beach. The cottage is located along the Cabot Trail, which is the famously beautiful coastal road along the edge of the island. You can’t ask for a nicer place to vacation.

To get there, we flew to Halifax and rented a car to drive up the coast into Cape Breton. We were all excited for a road trip! We blasted our favourite east coast tunes along the way, and stopped at our usual rest stop – the Atlantic Superstore in Antigonish – to stock up on essentials like Cheerios, mustard and marshmallows. It was going to be a good week!

We rolled into the cottage mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the day catching up with the family and enjoying fresh fish and chips for dinner.

The week was filled with visiting, sightseeing, swimming and eating. Plenty of lobster, of course, although I have discovered that I prefer crab. Also plenty of beer and goods from the local bakery. (Yeah, we all put on at least ten pounds that week.)

We did a whale watching tour on our first day, but it was so great it deserves its own post. We also headed up the Cabot Trail almost every day to check out the beaches and trails in the area.

We were in town during the Festivale de l’escaouette, which is an Acadian arts and culture celebration. We did catch a show featuring one of the cousins and his father on guitar. Shameless plug here! It was great music, and even the kids had a good time. The festival ended on the weekend with a parade, most notable for the gobs of candy the kids collected from the floats – it was like Halloween, disgusting toffees included. It would have been better if some of the treats had not been freezies that leaked everywhere, but hey, free candy is free candy. Other floats were for local businesses or VIPs, but with an Acadian twist (i.e. with fiddlers onboard), and of course the fire truck got the most love, bringing up the rear.

During the rest of the week, we went swimming as much as we could at the beach, which, other than being a bit chilly, was great fun. In fact, we had so many beach days, it too deserves its own post. Stay tuned for that. We also had a couple of great dinners out, including one where I stuffed myself on the fruits of the sea until I thought I would be sick. We also enjoyed a few cookouts at the firepit at B’s brother’s hotel – including one night where we literally outran a sheet of rain coming at us from across the harbor.

Overall our visit was the perfect cap to a long few weeks of travel. At the end of our stay, we drove back to Halifax filled with love and lobster, begrudgingly ready to hop on a plane (or two, or four) and face the real world again.

 

O Canada: part three – Ottawa

Our time back home in Ottawa was a whirlwind of visiting, shopping, doctor’s appointments and what seemed like an awful lot of driving around the city. We are blessed with many family and friends, but it meant we had someone to see or somewhere to be nearly every day and night. (Seriously, I had an hourly appointment chart for the week.) It was great to catch up with everyone and see how the past year had treated them. I was especially happy to see my old colleagues and school friends. And we had a great moving party redux. I think that’s going to become an annual event, so mark your calendars!

Our time with family was short and precious. Even though we only had a few hours with the Caya/Hinz crew, it was memorable for an especially great meal, great conversation and a great game of pick-up hockey. A lovely evening-slash-almost-sleepover with Brainslie and the smalls was also perfect.

My sister and her kids followed us to Ottawa, so we were able to spend the week together. I would have liked more free time to spend with them, but we were able to have a few fun outings, including the Red Bull flugtag and our family tradition of Sunday Dim Sum.

Some highlights – last-minute trivia night with a gathering of friends and a tasty dinner with the same group at a bbq joint a few nights later. I will never complain about platters of meat followed by gelato! I was also lucky to enjoy multiple outings with my best friend, and B had the chance to do some kind of hockey/man things with his buddies. (I assume these man gatherings mostly involve drinking and trading insults about …) I capped off the week with a girls’ day out with my mom. We had a great time at the spa and a delicious lunch in the Byward Market.

It was a great week and I wish it had been at least one hundred times longer!

Turning to a bit of introspection, there’s something vaguely strange about returning to a place that used to be home but isn’t really anymore. Of course it was nice to see our family and friends – and that was the main reason, other than doctor appointments, why we went back. It’s comforting that we were able to slip back into our old lives and routines so easily: driving around the city without a map, knowing where to shop for the things we want, eating familiar foods and easily doing everyday things like laundry and cooking. But we also unexpectedly felt a bit out of place. Maybe it’s because we don’t really live there anymore, so we had to depend on the kindness of our relatives to get us through. Maybe the fact that it was so easy is what was unsettling. I think I assumed that during our time abroad we would have substantially changed in some obvious way, but I guess we didn’t and that was what seemed weird. How could we have moved so far away and lived such a different life yet stayed so much the same? Or maybe that’s really a blessing. Despite everything, passing through all the challenges and trials, we come out the same on the other side.

Anyway, we are looking forward to our next visit! And to all of you who we didn’t get to see for one reason or another – sorry! I hope we can meet up next time!