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!


London part 2: the tourists

It was Sunday in London, and my sister and I were looking forward to exploring around and watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade taking place at Trafalgar Square. It was cold enough for mittens that day (which, luckily, I had brought with me!). So we set out on foot in the hopes of having tea with the queen and to see some rowdy Irish folk drinking in public.

Well, we didn’t get to visit the queen. But we did see Buckingham palace. There was a large crowd standing around, and we sort of stood around awkwardly with them for a while wondering what to expect. The royal family arriving from church? The queen gracing the crowd with a wave from her balcony? No, nothing happened. So we left. But as we walked through the park, a troop of fresh palace guards came by on their horses – of course, everyone was waiting for the changing of the guards! Luckily we come from Ottawa, which is basically mini Britain, so we’ve seen the changing of the guards before and didn’t feel we missed anything. But I did get a video of them trotting down the lane:


After the palace, we found the tourist motherlode at the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, and about 100,000 Asian tourists. We snapped a few photos, and decided to look for some tea, because London. We didn’t find any tea, but we did stop at an adorable place behind Westminster abbey called the Jewel Tower, where I bought a blanket made out of recycled wool (which I then had to carry around all day – I am not smart).

We wandered our way toward Trafalgar square and stopped for some overpriced lunch and drinks at a pub along the parade route. The parade filled up quickly, and soon we were back outside, fighting our way along the road to the square. I was surprised at how many South & Latin American groups were represented in the parade. I realized that St. Patrick’s Day is treated as the “Irish” national holiday in North America, but actually, it’s the “Catholic” holiday, so of course there were plenty of Mexicans, Peruvians and others taking part. But it was great to see so much spontaneous salsa dancing in the street! Also, plenty of pipers.

The activities in the square were not very exciting, but as we left, we came upon one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen: a huge animatronic St. Patrick float blasting “Whoop, There It Is” with a troupe of pro-choice (or anti-abortion? actually it was hard to tell) dancers in front of it… video or it didn’t happen:

That afternoon we decided to go for a real English High Tea, and booked ourselves into a table at a swanky restaurant. We decided to order ALL the scones and crumpets and cucumber sandwiches, and forgo the strange cakes that everyone else had. Because London. After stuffing ourselves, we wandered around for the night sampling pints in all the bars around Chinatown and along Charing Cross road. It was a good night; if only I could remember it better.

The next morning we met up with a business contact for brunch at the Wallace Collection, which is a beautiful family-donated art house. Londoners really like their runny eggs, dry toast and smoked salmon for breakfast – that was basically every morning menu we saw. After breakfast, we went off to explore the Tower of London and whatever else we could find around there.

First, I had a mission to find the Globe Theatre. We didn’t find it. But I did take a picture of something that had the words “The Globe” on it, close enough? But we did find some pulled pork sandwiches for lunch, which made up for that loss as far as I was concerned. Then we wandered along the river, both of us in shock that the “London Bridge” is just a boring normal bridge and not the iconic “Tower Bridge” that you see on everything London. My childhood nursery rhyme knowledge was built on lies. We also wandered over to the Tower of London, fully intending to go inside (I mostly wanted to see ghosts), but it turned out to cost about 4 billion dollars to get in, so we just looked at it from afar and consoled ourselves with the fact that we were unlikely to have seen any ghosts anyway. Later on, we stopped at Coventry Gardens (not at all anything to do with gardens) to check out the flea market… it was not very exciting.

That night we wanted to celebrate our last night in town, so we planned to check out this neat restaurant called Flat Iron that apparently has fancy hipster steaks, but it was packed. We settled on a funky ramen noodle restaurant instead, and it turned out be amazing! I ordered the “Dracula” ramen, which was FULL of garlic and black sesame broth. The crazy waiter tried to talk me out of it, and when I insisted that I love garlic and would accept nothing else, he started crushing on me because it was “his favorite dish too.” We had a moment. I also ordered a BEER SHAKE – beer that came with a frozen whipped topping, which was also made out of beer. Look, if you didn’t know me before, then you do now. Garlic ramen and frozen whipped beer is the key to my heart. After a bit of shopping at the totally surreal M&M shop and a disappointing dessert bar, we headed home to sleep off our food hangover.

Before the train left in the morning, we spent an hour or two wandering around Regent’s Park, which I’m certain is beautiful when it’s warm and sunny. But it was cold and drizzly, and the zoo was closed. We did spy over the fence to see some kind of penguin documentary being filmed, but one of the production crew gave us the stink eye so we didn’t linger. On the way home, we peeked at 221b Baker street. There was a guy dressed up like an old-timey bobby hanging around, so we took some discreet photos like real Brits and went out of London with a bang!

Next stop: Paris.

From the archives: Cottage trip no. 2

Playing catch-up on some old topics.

I should start this one by telling you that my friend C is coming to visit from Canada this weekend! This is very exciting, because we have been friends forever and I can’t wait to see her – plus we have an awesome trip planned to Flores, so stay tuned for that. But thinking about her visit reminds me that I neglected to post the final details of our trip with my other dear friend and visitor, J!

After our memorable (though rather ill-fated, for her at least, heh) few days in Kalimantan, we came back to Bogor for some rest. And where better to relax than at the cottage in Puncak?

We drove up the pass midday, which was great – very little traffic, clear views across the mountain, and just general good spirits. We made good time. Unfortunately, when it came to finding the cottage again, we were getting a little bit lost. Google maps is wholly unreliable here, and really did not want to send us straight there. We seemed to be going in generally the right direction, but it was impossible to find the exact alley road that would take us to the cottage itself. After getting lost a couple of times, some kindly security guards directed us to the right way, so we set off again. But wait – the car in front of us has suddenly gotten itself stuck in the ditch on the side of the incredibly narrow road, blocking our way!

Until you’ve seen a car stuck in a ditch in an Indonesian alley, you haven’t lived. This is how it works: 1. Car A, being driven by a barefoot child, very slowly drives down the alley road. 2. Barefoot child does not know how to drive, and thus gently slides one car wheel into ditch. 3. Barefoot child, not knowing how to drive, cannot correct for this error and proceeds to drive a second car wheel into the ditch. 4. Seventeen more barefoot children appear out of nowhere and begin to dangerously rock the car up and down, back and forth, in attempt to dislodge the car, effectively trapping car further into ditch and pulling off important items like bumpers and side mirrors. 5. Random adults appear and tie a rope to the car and try to tug-of-war the car out of the ditch.

At this last step, B finally took pity on them and got out of our car to see if he could help. I’ve never seen a group of tiny people cheer so loudly at the sudden appearance of a giant who wants to help tug-of-war their car. Alas, even his bear strength couldn’t move the car out of its death hole. Meanwhile, friend J was running around, also barefoot, snapping pictures of the hilarious spectacle – I think she fit right in around here.

We thought we might stop at "KFC" for lunch.
We thought we might stop at “KFC” for lunch.
Car tug-of-war. Those kids were so excited to see a man giant!
Car tug-of-war. Those kids were so excited to see a man giant!
That car ain't going nowhere
That car ain’t going nowhere

Eventually someone brought around a bunch of rocks and barrels to fill up the ditch under the wheel, and the car drove itself free. It was pretty wrecked, I hope that kid wasn’t in too much trouble – certainly it was not his car.

Anyway, at last we made it to the cottage to enjoy a couple of nights of quiet living. In fact, I did basically nothing for those few days, and took no pictures. I thought I forgot the camera, but as it turned out, I had just forgotten to take the camera out of my bag the whole time. But everyone did the tea mountain climb again and they took some more photos. It looked like they had a beautiful view, not as misty as last time we were there. And no leeches.

Soon it was time for J to go home. We spent a last day in Jakarta, enjoying some food and shopping, and sent her on her way with a lot of stories and a bunch of batik. Miss you!


New Zealand Part 2 – Touring Rotorua

Our second stop in our New Zealand adventure took us to a town in the middle of the north island called Rotorua. It’s famous for being a “thermal wonderland” – home to hot springs, geysers, volcanic lakes and a wicked sulphur smell. Like the town was built on rotten eggs. It’s also home to a large population of Maori, though of course we could really only see the tourist side of the culture, kitschy knick-knacks and culture nights. But it was still good fun.

We rented a little apartment overlooking Rotorua lake, mostly because it had a hot tub. The neighborhood was a bit run down – the neighboring house was an empty shell and I’m fairly certain the next one over may have been the residence of a particularly friendly professional lady.

When we arrived in town, the rental wasn’t quite ready, so we wandered down the street and discovered a fair/flea market set up in the park. It turns out these kinds of fairs are pretty much the same everywhere: a few kids’ rides, people selling handmade soaps and earrings, dudes with a bunch of random items from their basements, grannies selling crocheted everything, a young girl selling an entire table full of princess Diana memorabilia.. ok maybe that one was unique, I’m not sure. Anyway, the kids were pretty excited to buy something, so we gave them each a few dollars – J bought a coloring book and LittleB bought a tiny chess set. Not bad!

Eventually we checked into our apartment and settled into the hot tub for the night. It was freezing, actually. Apparently they had just filled it. But hey, we’re Canadian so it felt ok to us.

The next day, we had a great time wandering around the area. We stopped at the nearby Blue and Green Lakes to check out the view. Beautiful! Then we made our way to a Tea House at a historical Maori village. The tour was $30/person, so we only stayed for the tea. Luckily they had some of the best scones I’ve ever eaten in my life. Worth it.

We stopped at a redwood forest for a looksee. Having lived on the west coast of Canada, we had seen huge redwoods before; but they’re always amazing! This forest had been planted in memoriam of NZ servicemen who died in the war(s). We decided to measure the trees in “Bs” – how many Bs fit around the trunk? The biggest one we found was 4.5 Bs around. That’s a big tree.

Overall the walk was beautiful, except for the fact that J fell about a thousand times and got a teeny tiny cut on her knee, and, well, that was the end of that. There was no way she was going to be able to walk back to the car without wailing and collapsing in agony every ten steps. Then we got to the gift shop and she wailed and collapsed at the injustice of us not buying her something. It’s a rough life to be four with a teeny tiny cut on your knee.

Anyway, the rest of us had a nice time!

Cottage & Tea

It’s been a busy couple of weeks!

I had a friend visiting from the UK, mainly for work, but we were able to enjoy a few great nights out during the week. More exciting, we took him up to the “cottage” that my work maintains in the mountains nearby. Ostensibly this is a place where you could hold work retreats and have a bit of isolation, but really I think employees just rent it out for party weekends – which is exactly what we did!

Let’s backtrack a bit, though. Last year, we had a really great masquerade party at the end of our Annual Meeting. During the course of the night, I won the door prize, which turned out to be a free night at the cottage. Until now, we had never been able to find a time to go up, but the certificate was expiring in October, so it was becoming a bit desperate. Luckily, with our friend in town and some other friends interested in joining, it was perfect timing.

We headed up after work on Friday, only getting trapped in about an hour’s worth of traffic. So it only took us 2.5 hours to drive the 25 km to the cottage – a holiday miracle! The cottage is located up in the Puncak area, which is nestled into the side of the local volcano and generally considered vacation country. It is much cooler than the city, and the cottage itself is quite private. Calling it a cottage is not really fair – it’s more like a small mansion, with four bedrooms and a huge living space. There were 7 adults and the 2 kids, and we fit very comfortably. It apparently sleeps 16 if you pull out all the extra bedding and mattresses.

After we arrived, we enjoyed a great evening of drinking and impromptu ukulele karaoke. In the morning, we lounged around and the kids had fun exploring the area. In the afternoon, we took a little hike up the hillside to a nearby tea plantation. The guide said it would be about a 40 minute walk, so we figured that wasn’t a big deal. He neglected to tell us that it was literally 40 minutes up a cliff. It was a bit of a workout! I really shouldn’t have drank that Smirnoff Ice right before we left. Anyway, after braving the rainforest, a few mosquito bites, a couple of leech attacks, some major kid whining and several long rests, we made it to the top. And it was worth it!

The view was a bit cloudy, but it was cool and lovely, with a breeze washing over us. We enjoyed the scenery for a while, took a meander up an old cobblestone path and rescued LittleB when he tripped and gouged his knee skin off on said cobblestone path. We had to peel the skin back and rinse it out with water, bleh. But he’s a trooper.

Soon the rain clouds were threatening so we headed back down. It was a bit slower going with the kids, who tended to build up too much speed and start tumbling, but we made it. We only found one leech on our friend after arriving home, and we blasted that sucker with salt – it was science in action. Afterwards, we took a swim in the still-filling pool, which unfortunately was a bit grimy, but we did find some frog eggs! We kept them in a jar and watched them grow over the weekend. More science in action!

On Sunday, we relaxed and swam some more, in the now-filled-and-cleaned pool. We headed home in the afternoon, again getting stuck in some initial stand-still traffic, but once it got going, we made it home in about 2 hours or so.

Definitely worth it, and I think we’ll be making a regular weekend out of it!


Sri Lanka part 3 – the hills

Our last two stops on the trip were to Ella and Kandy before returning to Colombo and home.

Ella is a beautiful little village in the high tea mountains. We stayed at a boutique hotel which had a single-family bungalow perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking “Ella Rock.” We arrived in the early evening when the fog had rolled in, so we weren’t sure at first whether or not the location was very good. But then suddenly the mist rolled away and we saw a beautiful view across the mountains and valleys. It turned out to be another perfect few days.

In the morning, we visited a heritage tea factory and saw how the leaves went from green to tea. They didn’t allow us to take any photos, and although B snapped a few illicitly, they didn’t turn out. Suffice it to say that making tea is a rather labour-intensive process. And honestly, the tea we drank in Sri Lanka was the best I’ve ever had in my life. Also, we drank so much of it so often that I felt like I was living with my mom again. We bought a few boxes to bring home with us, so if you are lucky you might get to try some.

We enjoyed the rest of the day wandering down the (very small) street of Ella village and stopping for some lunch and snacks. That night, we played cards on the balcony and watched the full moon rise and light up the mountains.

The next day, we said goodbye to Ella and hopped on a train to Kandy. The views of the countryside were astounding. In fact, it got to the point where we just had to literally stop taking photos because it was so exhausting. It was a long trip, but we enjoyed it. The windows opened and we could watch everything passing by. The train only travelled at about 15 km/h, so it was easy to see it all.

We arrived in Kandy around dinnertime and made it to our hotel. Luckily we had booked into a very new, higher-end place with western-style amenities. We were all ready for a warm shower and a night of TV watching. So we ordered some room service sandwiches and hunkered down.

In the morning, we headed into the city to wander around. We walked through markets and temples, and it was Easter Sunday that day, so there were a lot of festivities happening. I guess even Buddhists like Easter. Well, there were a lot of churches too. Anyway, we bought some snacks and checked out some stores. We unsuccessfully tried to find a cool colonial graveyard I had read about, but the day was still fun. We spent the afternoon back at the hotel enjoying the pool.

The next day, we checked out early and backpacked our things back through the city (our train didn’t leave until the evening). At last, we managed to find the graveyard we were looking for, as well as a great batik store that is highly rated. After a picnic lunch beside the lake, we headed to the Botanical Gardens for the afternoon. The gardens were large and lovely. We saw flowers, ferns, cactuses, trees, lakes. At one point, J fell and hurt her hand, so we stopped to bandage her up and grab a snack. A herd of monkeys came through and started aggressively circling us. They were getting between me and my cubs, so I sort of yelled and stomped at them and almost started a human-monkey turf war. We GTFO of there right away, luckily no harm done!

We carted a pair of tired kiddos to the train, and after a couple of hours on the train to Colombo, we flew home early in the morning back to real life.

We’ll miss you, Sri Lanka!

Retreat in tea country

While many of you were filling up on turkey and pumpkin pie, I was spending a few days on a work retreat. Our group hasn’t done this very often (so I’m told), and it was a nice way to wind down the annual meeting.

We drove up the mountains from Bogor, into an area called Puncak, where there are many tea plantations and the air is cooler. We spent the night in a resort hotel that caters to large groups and corporate sessions. Basically, it was a chance for my team and our division to brainstorm about what is working well, what’s not, and what will be our priorities for the coming months. It was perfect timing for me personally, since it really helped me get to know my colleagues and employees, and invest in the start of our relationships.

The resort ran a number of team-building sessions which were actually quite fun, despite being mostly in Bahasa. We ended the day today with a hilarious game of “dress the cowboy”, where your team takes turns gathering clothes for your cowboy (another team member). The previous day, we played a bunch of observation games and outdoor activities. Then we sang the night away in the karaoke bar. I don’t have pictures of the fun stuff, and I probably wouldn’t have posted them even if I did, but here are a few shots of the drive and the hotel grounds (from the moving car – sorry!):

Unfortunately, I was on the other side of the car from this view, so I had to get someone else to keep taking pictures.
You can start to see the farmed fields of tea bushes. And the picturesque cell towers.
It was a bit hazy, but I managed to finally get a good shot of some of the local mountains. We’re headed into the Puncak pass now.
The nice thing about being management is the fact that you get a room to yourself! By the way, that bed was about 3 metres wide… I slept diagonally because it felt so silly to be crammed to one side. And the other side was feeling left out.
I always like to judge a hotel by the quality of its bathrooms. This one was reasonably good. At least the hot water was plentiful.
This was the patio connected to my room
A fountain in the hotel courtyard
This is where we had lunch – that’s the pond at the top of a little waterfall.
There’s a reason why all the rooms and restaurants were named with “bamboo” in the title
Some of the friends I’ve made.
Heading home. Another perk of management: I got to ride in the director’s car instead of the group bus. This was a lucky shot of the beautiful mist gathering before an afternoon storm.
Around the other side of the mountain

So now I’m home safe and sound, with two days’ of work and emails to do tonight. So I’m posting on here instead. I’m going to leave you with a little peek into the true horror of surprise banana – caught on camera for the first time!

Mmmm… a delicious pastry with chocolate on top. What could go wrong with that? Looks perfect.
Wait, something’s not right… Damnit, surprise banana!!