Tag Archives: Islands

Onto Toronto

Tuesday 13 September 2022 – First things first: I haven’t written anything about yesterday. That’s because there’s not much to write. The satnav got us to the airport in the rental car; Avis took it back without demur, despite the bug splatter on the windscreen, we stood in the check-in queue for a WestJet flight to Toronto which took off and arrived approximately on time, we were wafted to our hotel – the Royal York, another city-block-size Fairmont slab of masonry – we had drinks and dinner before bed. (By the way, Toronto was originally called York because the settlers didn’t want to use the native, Mohawk, name Tkaronto.)

The only thing worthy of mention was the arrival at Toronto airport. Our instructions said that someone would meet us “in the lobby”. When we got to what passes for a lobby after you leave the baggage carousels, it was quiet – too quiet. Not only was there no-one there to meet us, there was no-one there to meet anyone, which, you must agree, is odd, There was a desk there labelled “pre-arranged transfers”, with a lady sitting behind it. After a couple of minutes I decided to ask her if she knew anything about our expected transfer, expecting a blank look and a shrug. However, she consulted her computer and told us that our driver would be there in five or six minutes. So we went and stood outside the door, where there were chaotic scenes of punters trying to find drivers and vice versa; after a couple of minutes a chap bustled pass muttering “Dr. Jane?” so we flagged him down and he whisked us to the hotel. I don’t know how that system works, but I was quite impressed.

That was yesterday; today was a day with no formal programme. Jane had had a chat with the concierge, which meant, though, that There Was Now A Plan. For once, this did not involve going for a wander. Yet.

Instead, we opted for the hop-on-hop-off bus tour (in part, at least, because the weather was looking a bit doubtful). The bus we’d intended to catch was (a) a little bit early and (b) wasn’t quite following the route that the bus company’s map described and so wasn’t stopping where we had expected. But we stood in the middle of the road and waved, and the nice driver let us on anyway and we stayed with the bus until it reached the harbour so that we could join the cruise that comes as part of the ticket price. The cruise basically goes out to the Islands in the lake (Ontario – one of the five Great Lakes you remember from your geography lessons, because you were paying attention, weren’t you?) that the city lies beside. I hadn’t realised until that point that Toronto’s harbour featured any islands, but there they are – 14 of ’em.

Obviously, going out on the water gives many chances to take photos of Toronto’s skyline.

The central island even has a small airport on it – Billy Bishop airport, named after a Canadian WWII flying ace. Other islands feature marinas, parks, residential areas and all sorts of other entertainment possibilities too diverse to go into here.

At least one of the smaller islands features more cormorants than I have ever seen in any one place before in my life.

There were thousands of ’em! Fortunately it was not a hot day, so the smell, which is apparently legendary, was not too oppressive. They’re not the most popular of wildlife around these parts, we understand; partly because of the smell, and partly because the guano appears to be killing the trees.

After the cruise we walked back towards the bus stop, past a very cute wavy boardwalk

which is one of many curiosities that the city has to offer. Once back on the bus, in occasional showers of rain which were thankfully only intermittent, we started to get to grips with mainland Toronto.

Which is messy.

It’s an inevitable consequence of the climate. The guide on the bus explained that Toronto has only two seasons – Winter and Construction. During Winter, it’s too cold to do any building work, so once the weather is warmer, the city is afflicted by a plague of road and construction works.

Toronto strikes me as being similar in many ways to London. There are some lovely older buildings, squashed in and towered over by modern ones.

Above is our hotel. There is some lovely brickwork

and some streets have got attractive older properties in them.

There are some great artistic flourishes on some buildings

and plenty of standalone artworks around.

(what, you may ask, is the reason for the expression on the cat’s face? The answer….

….a fountain of 27 dogs, all aiming at the golden bone!).

Other things we noted as we passed: striking modern architecture;

the huge indoor St. Lawrence market

(where, incidentally, against all my expectations and in the very first boutique we looked at, we found a supply of Twinings Earl Grey teabags sufficient to last us for the rest of the holiday);

an Ice Hockey Hall of Fame;

a central square (Yonge and Dundas) with a blaze of huge digital advertising hoardings;

incredibly confusing traffic instructions;

a heritage railway museum

(including this tiny train which ran on compressed air to reduce the risk of causing a fire in the rope factory where it was used);

and the historic Distillery District, now a place of eateries and shopperies.

Some of these photos were taken from the bus (mainly by Jane) and others on a subsequent walkabout (see, we couldn’t resist going for a walk, after all – we were lone rangers in Toronto).

Because we leave Toronto by train in a few days’ time, we also looked in on Union Station

and noted, outside a side entrance to our hotel, cars parked on double yellow lions.

All this was from covering a mere fraction of Toronto – there are more lovely brick buildings, churches, University premises and all sort of other interesting things to see, all mixed in with the paraphernalia of a bustling, modern, big city – monstrous high-rise apartment and office blocks, tedious traffic queues, noise, homelessness and pollution – many things to like and many that are less attractive. But all in all it was a good day, and we felt that the walking we did justified a few cocktails in the hotel bar once we got back there.

Tomorrow is Niagara Falls Day. We hope that the weather will be kind to us and I hope to be able to bring you some photos of the experience (though I expect everyone’s seen masses of photos of the falls before now). Tune in tomorrow to see how we got on, won’t you?

Farewell to Victoria – Victoria to Farewell

Tuesday 23 August 2022 – For reasons which will become clear, this will be a fairly brief post, somewhat hastily cobbled together. I hope you enjoy the photos, though.

The day started well, in that we were up promptly, breakfasted, checked out of the hotel and in for our private charter flight, a small float plane, from Victoria to the Farewell Harbour Lodge. For a while, though, it all fell apart. The lass behind the check-in desk at Harbour Air told us that there would be a delay. It wasn’t quite clear why for a while, but eventually we understood the situation. Cloud and fog made flying in to Farewell Harbour too dangerous in the view of the Harbour Air despatcher, who was therefore unwilling to send a plane to us in Victoria unless the situation at the far end cleared. We were advised to wait and see whether the weather and the forecast changed. New forecasts came in every hour, and each one indicated that visibility would still be a problem.

Naturally, we started pondering alternatives, but the raw truth is that we needed to get somewhere over 500km away to an island in the Johnstone Strait, so flagging down a cab or seeking a bus ride wasn’t really an option. Even driving to the nearest place on Vancouver Island whence we could catch a water taxi looked too difficult.

Despite the best efforts of BT, whose circuitry detected a crisis and therefore implemented a cap on Jane’s phone, we managed to contact Discover Holidays, who are looking after us whilst we’re in Canada. Fortunately, Jane got through to a lady called Sarah, who had worked on developing our itinerary with the heroic Brendan at NATS, so we didn’t have to waste time explaining the problem to her. The idea of a driver was mooted, but then all of a sudden, a plan came into being which was to fly us as near to Farewell Harbour as the weather allowed (e.g. Campbell River) and take a water taxi from there. So we got our plane after all.

We climbed in, buckled up and the pilot taxied out past the air traffic control tower

(because Victoria Harbour is unique in Canada because it actually has a runway marked in the harbour), and off we went. Conditions were pretty clear, so here are some of the photos we managed to garner as we went:

Victoria Harbour, with the breakwater we walked around yesterday at the top of the picture;

Butchart Gardens;

evidence of some fairly drastic logging;

several views showing what a big slab of land Vancouver Island is;

a couple of arty attempts on my part;

a photo by Jane of Campbell River (meaning – yippee! – it had cleared and we were carrying on all the way to our proper destination);

coming down towards our landing and skimming along just below the clouds; and finally

arrival at Farewell Harbour Lodge, where we found out a couple of interesting nuggets. Firstly, the pilot of our plane (a De Havilland Beaver – I was going to call this post “Nice Beaver” but Jane gave me One Of Her Looks) was named, appropriately, Dakota; and secondly, Tim, the proprietor of the lodge, could take the credit for us arriving, as it was his suggestion that we fly as far as the weather allowed, and he was pretty sure it would clear, as indeed it did.

It was, thus, with considerable relief that we arrived at the lodge (which looks great and seems very well-organised)

only some five hours late and just in time to get a beer in as Tim gave us the indoctrination spiel. A key fact that emerged from this is that tomorrow will be an early start, hence my brevity. I am being brief. Yes, I am.

We actually peered round the back of our cabin and found where they park the boats, as well as this scene

which is documentary proof that you can indeed have your kayak and heat it. Thank you. Thank you for listening to my joke.

A delicious dinner was at 7, after which we got a very interesting talk on humpback whales from a lady called Vicky, and so it’s now quite late – at least relative to the 0530 alarm we’ll need if we are to join in tomorrow’s excursion to seek grizzly bears and other fauna. So I hope you’ll excuse me whilst I get to bed to try to get some sleep. Come back tomorrow and find out if we made it.

Afterthoughts: So…..Croatia, eh?

In the midst of dealing with the fallout from being away for a fortnight (laundry, mainly, though having lots of nice cups of tea also features heavily), I think it’s worth gathering our thoughts about the last couple of weeks and sharing them here, just in case it helps others planning something similar. Generally, both Jane and I thoroughly enjoyed our experience of Croatia and would heartily recommend it (particularly the Dalmatian coast) as a walking and/or sailing destination.

Timing. July and August can be fiercely hot all over Croatia. The best time to visit is May or (like we did) September. This is the second time we’ve visited in that month and the weather we experienced was, by and large, lovely. The Croatian tourist season runs out at the end of September or very early in October and things start to wind down quite markedly, so getting hotel rooms later than September might be challenging.

Walking. Our experience of walking in Dalmatia is very positive, but it was definitely a good thing to have thoroughly researched the level of difficulty in prospect, and the levels of fitness required, before booking the walking tour. We were operating towards the top end of our range with many of the group younger (and fitter) than us… Anyhoo:

  • The tracks are plentiful and well-marked (though I wonder how many of them we would have found without having an expert guide to do this for us).
  • Most of the routes we undertook were short on shade, which means that the walking can be pretty hot work, and taking lots of water is essential.
  • The tap water is perfectly drinkable, so take your own bottles and refill.
  • Very few of the walks we did passed any outposts of civilisation, so it’s advisable to take some food with you as well.
  • Mobile signal appeared to extend over much of the terrain we covered.

Sailing. This is big business along the Dalmatian coast. There are lots and lots of sailing boats, even some small towns sport large marinas and generally this part of the Adriatic is a good place for sailing, with or without an engine (take note, however, of the section below about the weather).

Landscape. The Dalmatian landscape tends towards being mountainous and scrubby – the land is difficult to farm, being stony. So the trails through it are pleasant enough and will occasionally offer great views from the tops of hills, but are otherwise not particularly scenic and are in some cases quite challenging. Our admiration for the local people who used these trails simply to get from A to B (often with their livestock, and often despite advanced age) grew day by day! We followed a couple of trails through woodland, which were more rewarding.

Townscape. The cities we visited all had old towns, which are all worth looking around. The towns and villages are by and large somewhere between pretty and handsome – well-maintained, tidy and picturesque.

Money. Croatia is no longer the cheap destination it was, but it’s not too expensive, either. In the towns, debit cards were widely accepted in shops, cafés and restaurants, and it was easy to find ATMs. You might find places that will accept Euros, but it’s best to have local currency (Kune) available. If you’re off the beaten track, you’ll need cash to be able to buy anything.

Eating out. Tourism is an important industry in Croatia and so there is usually a plentiful supply of cafés and restaurants in the towns, with English spoken and good service.

Cuisine. As you’d expect, there’s some good fish on offer, and seafood (especially squid and octopus). But emphasis tends to be towards meat and potatoes – the vegetarians in our group had some difficulty getting anything more imaginative than a plate of grilled mixed vegetables on occasion. For non-vegetarians, a couple of traditional dishes are worth seeking out: Pašticada, a slow-cooked beef stew; and Peka, a baked dish of meat and, yes, vegetables, cooked under a dome in barbecue coals. But there’s no problem finding more cosmopolitan fare such as steak, pizza or burgers – the burgers I had were very good, and served without bread, which I prefer.

Drinking out. You’ll find that most restaurants have a limited selection of wines and what is offered is likely to have been made locally or nationally. Croatia has a well-developed wine-making tradition and the local wines are perfectly good without being stellar. Local beers tend to be of the lager persuasion and are perfectly good.

Liqueurs. Something of a Croatian speciality is the production of liqueurs based on local produce – one we found to be very nice is based on sour cherry, but you’ll also come across walnut liqueur and something called Prošek, which is grape-based and quite sweet, among other variations such as olive and cornelian cherry. These are quite often offered as a welcome drink and I think it’s polite to sample at least one…

Bloody Cruise-Ship Tourists. Many of the larger or more attractive towns in Croatia are magnets for the big cruise liners – Dubrovnik and Split have a constant stream of them during the holiday season, for example, and Trogir during the height of the season is reportedly an utter zoo. So you may find that such towns are crowded during the day.

Bloody weather. Actually, for the most part our weather was pretty much perfect – a bit hot for me for going uphill, but sunny, warm and lovely for sitting outside when eating or drinking. But the Bura wind that we experienced is capable of wreaking havoc on sailing boats and travel itineraries. I was grateful for the experience of our captain to know it was coming (it took many others by surprise) and plan accordingly; if you’re considering sailing in the Adriatic, this is the sort of thing that can become very suddenly of very great pith and moment. Having said all that, and with the benefit of hindsight and no havoc having been wreaked, we’re glad to have experienced it; apart from anything else, the Bura clears the air and the visibility after it died down somewhat was vastly improved.

For anyone interested in sailing, walking, history, archaeology and/or pretty places to visit, the Dalmatian coast of Croatia is somewhere that we think should be high on the list. We hope that these thoughts, along with the descriptions of our various vacation days, help in understanding the possibilities that Croatia presents to the tourist.