Picturesque Nova Scotia – Canada’s Winery Wonderland

Photos and Story by Linda Kissam
Nova Scotia Wine Travel Nova Scotia is so much more than I expected. It’s a delight to the senses, a region that speaks to the soul. I went there to learn about the wines, and came home with a wider appreciation of their dynamic and intriguing mix of heritage and culinary mastery. It’s such an easy trip to get there, you should definitely think about adding it to your “must travel to” list. I am glad I did.
Flying into Halifax to start my seven-day trip with seven other writers was easy. The airport is small and easy to navigate. With 15 minutes of claiming our baggage we were at the Radisson Suite Hotel . Located in the historic downtown section of Halifax, this was the perfect place to begin our journey. My executive suite overlooked the harbor and was close to shops, dining and cultural sights. It makes a wonderful base if you don’t like to move lodging every night as I did. Every place we visited in this trip was no more than 2 hours from the hotel.
Eating out in Nova ScotiaHalifax is a college town, so there is an active nightlife and the pub-crawl group was having a great time. We were hosted for dinner at the Five Fisherman Restaurant & Grill – a quick safe walk from the hotel. Impressive menu featuring seafood. Local wines, and a unique mussel bar made this evening a real treat, however it is the heritage of this building that will quickly get your attention. The Five Fishermen Restaurant is housed in a building that was originally constructed as a schoolhouse in 1817. It’s changed hands several times, but at one point was a mortuary that housed victims from the Titanic and The epic Halifax Explosion. It is because of this history that locals and staff say the building exhibits some odd occurrences of a nether worldly sort. Ask anyone who has worked there and they’re sure to have a story or two. It’s fascinating to talk with the staff who are more than eager to share their experiences and help you choose some amazing foods and wines.
Nova Scotia Kilts
Up bright and early the next morning we hopped on a double decker bus to do some sightseeing. It gave us a good rounded view of the past, present and future of Halifax. We were able to visit the historic Citadel (a must see for history buffs) where Halifax’s historic role as a key naval station is commemorated with kilted Highlanders and booming noon-time guns (a daily ritual since the mid-19th century). We also toured the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (a must for the maritime buff) where we saw exhibits on everything from small craft boatbuilding to World War Convoys, the Days of Sail to the Age of Steam, the Titanic (a real tear jerker) to the Halifax Explosion. If you’re looking to discover the stories, events and people that have come to define Nova Scotia and its relationship with the sea, this would be the place to do it.
Our afternoon activity was lunch at the amazing Sandbar Restaurant (located at the Tidal Bore Park) and a choice of either Tidal Bore Rafting or visiting the Glooscap Heritage Center. The Sandbar Restaurant looks like an unassuming diner, but let me tell you the food prepared by Chef Heidi was exceptional. The food was eclectic – everything from hamburgers to muscles to hot wings to over-the-top desserts. I cannot possible say enough good things about the service and food. Definitely dine here. After lunch half the group went Tidal Bore rafting, the adventure of a lifetime on the Shubenacadie River. Think white water rafting on steroids where participants jump into a rubber raft dressed in full foulf weather gear to see and feel the Bay of Fundy tides in action, home of the world’s highest tides. It’s a rip roaring, high flying, rock and roll ride of your life. If you are an adrenalin junkie, this is THE activity for you. The other half of the group went to the Glooscap Heritage Center just a few miles down the road for a touching guided tour of the history and culture of the Mi’kmaq – the Aboriginal group of Nova Scotia. We were all impressed with the story and artifacts, and were literally stunned as we gazed at the 40-foot statue of Glooscap (the great Chief who looked and lived like an ordinary Indian except that he was twice as tall and twice as strong, and possessed great magic. He was never sick, never married, never grew old, and never died. He had a magic belt which gave him great power, and he used this power only for good.) By the end of our visit we understood how the Mi’kmaw has survived for many generations, and where the Mi’kmaw strive to be in the future. If you are into native cultures, this cultural center is worthy of you attention. It is both touching and inspirational.
My nights lodging was in a box car. Yup, you heard me right; I stayed the night in “Box Car Jane” at the century old Train Station inn at Tatamagouche. The station was lovingly restored in the 1980s with train cars and furnishings reflecting its railway past, and continues to this day with new additions arriving all the time. The station itself and its spacious cabooses offer a unique Bed & Breakfast and dinner experience. Each one of our writers had a different car to stay in. What a treat. Each car featured a living room, kitchen, private bath, bedroom…and yea! wireless Internet. Dinner found us in the dining car ordering pre-dinner drinks (local wines & cocktails such as the “Pink Caboose”). Dinner was an amazing food & wine experience. This is truly the epitome of “The Romance of the Railroad.” Lodging rates are reasonable in the $150 range. Train buffs out there – this is YOUR stop.
Halifax WineOur next day was filled (yippee!) with the wines of Nova Scotia. As a reference point for you, Nova Scotia is a Peninsula located on Canada’s East Coat. It’s bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Fundy. The southern tip of Nova Scotia dips below the 45th parallel. There are six distinct growing regions. Protected valleys and hillsides in the South Shore, the Annapolis Valley, the Malagash Peninsula and Marble Mountain in Cape Breton are particularly well suited to growing cool climate grapes because they have a long fall, stretching into late October, allowing grapes to ripen slowly, increasing their flavor intensity.
First stop was Jost Vineyards, a 27-year old award-winning winery found along the picturesque Northumberland Strait, just off the Sunrise Trail in Nova Scotia. Owner Hans Christian Jost gave us a guided tour of the property and a private winetasting. How surprised I was at how rich and fruit forward the wines were. Hans Christian shared that growing exceptional grapes in Malagash is made possible by the warm waters of the Northumberland Strait. Jost makes an amazing selection of reds, whites, fruit wines, ice wines and specialty wines. While all of the selections were notable, my favorites included the 2007 reserve Marechal Foche (red- $19.99) featuring an earthy undertone of dark red fruits and the 2008 Whiskey Barrel Aged Ortega Ice Wine ($30) aged in Single Malt Whisky barrels from the Award-Winning Nova Scotia single malt whisky producer, Glenora Distillery of Cape Breton. You’ll have to drive a ways to find this place, but I guarantee it’s worth it.
wines of Nova ScotiaOn our way to our next winery we stopped at Sugar Moon Farm. This is an intriguing working sugar maple farm and pancake house. We had a hearty lunch of pancakes, baked beans and maple-spiced sausage; and an afternoon cocktail of a yummy Maple Martini before we took a tour of the “camp.” The camp is where the maple syrup is made and where we learned that 85% of the world’s maple syrup is made in Quebec, of which 90% of that is made in Nova Scotia.. All I can say is this looks like an awful lot of work. But as with most family owned businesses there is lots of love, dedication and excellent products that result from the hard work. This is a true artesian effort. Sugar Moon is a living museum of the craft of maple sugaring. They offer free tours of the working sugar camp and maple interpretive area, seasonal demonstrations, and maple samples. You’ll love visiting it in any season.
After Sugar Moon, we went to Domaine de Grand Pré Winery located in Wolfville in the beautiful Annapolis Valley for a private wine tasting and then on to dinner at their unforgettable Le Caveau Restaurant. After a short guided walk through the vineyards, we were treated to appetizers and wine in the tasting room. Standouts for me were the Champlain Brut ($29.50), a traditional méthode champenoise sparkling wine named after Samuel de Champlain who mapped Nova Scotia during the earliest French and Acadian settlement in what was then L’Acadie. It’s great as a starter served prior to a meal or alongside various appetizers such as local seafood. I also enjoyed the 2009 Castel; a rich, complex, full bodied dark wine showcasing dark fruit, herbs, and black pepper. It pairs well with grilled beef, game meats, caramelized onions and roasted root vegetables. A nice fall wine to be sure. Dinner at Le Caveau was wonderful. It’s an upcasual dining experience (fine dining without the fuss of dressing up). Chef Jason Lynch and his team focus on regional Nova Scotia product prepared with a global flair. An experienced service staff made the group feel welcome, appreciated and pampered. I was feeling rather international that night and ordered the Szechuan crusted Nova Scotia Sea Scallops on kimchi with caramel dust and sesame oil ($12) and the Crisp Martock Glen Pork Belly with Chinese spiced, stir fried local vegetables. The night ended with Warm Chocolate Boule served with a Castel and Raspberry sauce ($12). All in all a very decadent experience I can truly recommend to you.
Historic inns of Nova ScotiaOur lodging for the next two days – The Blomidon Inn – was just down the street. If you’ve been reading my stories, you’ll know I love B & B’s. I especially like the vibe of this family owned and run, award-winning, tastefully restored 19th Century Sea Captain’s Mansion. Each room is unique and the inn is surrounded by acres of gardens giving the feel of a Victorian English Manor House. They also have an exceptional gift shop – two stories of unbelievable treasures. I love that they have a fabulous in-house restaurant run by one of the sons Chef Sean Laceby and the other son Michael is the sommelier. I understand their wine cellar has over 7,000 bottles in it. We were treated to a special private dinner in the drawing room where the skills of Sean and Michael gave us a glimpse into the seriously magnificent foods and wines served here. Many of us enjoyed the Grilled Filet Mignon – a Maritime prime filet complimented by a Madagascar peppercorn sauce and maitre de hotel butter. Served with chef’s vegetables and paired with a local Benjamin Bridge Taurus red wine, this was an exquisite experience.
World's largest pumpkinOur next day was filled with fun and informative trips to the , Foxhill Farm Cheese House, Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound for a tour and lunch, a walk on the Bay of Fundy dykes near Wolfville, and a walk and taste in the Tangled Garden. The pumpkin farm tour was sort of a whim. Our guide was pointing out where the annual Pumpkin Regatta (fall related events are huge in Nova Scotia) is held each year, and the group in our van immediately wanted to see the home of the giant pumpkins. The regatta involves teams carving out gigantic 500 pound + pumpkins, decorating them, and then sailing in them across a local lake. The pumpkin farm grows over 50 different types of pumpkins (small, large and giant) , squash and gourds and has a small gift shop on site which has many different pumpkin souvenirs, seeds, books, pumpkin baked goods and preserves along with many other pumpkin items. We had a great time viewing all the large pumpkins waiting to be carved and immersing ourselves in this fun fall event.
The family-owned cheese house crafts over 20 varieties of cheese using milk from their own herd of Holstein cows. Their motto, “From seed, to grass, to milk, to cheese, to you” pretty much sums up their philosophy. This is a unique tasting experience. Expect lots of samples of artesian cheese and OMG gelato. The lobster pound tour is located in Hall’s Harbour, one of the last authentic fishing villages surviving along the Fundy coast of Nova Scotia. It was fun and speaks directly to the heritage and culture of Nova Scotia. The views are incredible and the lunch was affordable, plentiful and delicious. Next up, a guided walk by on the Bay of Fundy dykes, was a stunning revelation. Most of us don’t get to see 100 billion tons of seawater flowing back and forth in front of them every day. But there we were watching and learning about the highest tides on the planet. What a rush. What a salute to the power of Mother Nature
The Tangled Garden visit was just the thing to end a day of special sights. Here herbs and fruit are transformed into artistic jewel-like jellies and tasty vinegars. We sampled (and purchased) herb jellies such as Raspberry Lavender and Garlic Rosemary, delicious jams, chutneys, mustards, vinegars, ice cream, and liqueurs. All are made using fresh herbs from their garden and fruit from the surrounding fertile Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. Fresh herbs are picked daily from the garden from late spring to early winter. Fruit from local farms and orchards and wine from local wineries are used to make the jellies in small batches, six jars at a time. As I said, this was a spectacular ending to a wonderful day.
After a good night’s sleep at the Blomidon Inn, we departed for the 3,000 case Gaspereau Vineyards (a few minutes from the Inn, about an hour from Halifax) for a special tour and tasting with winemaker Gina Haverstock. Female winemakers are far and few between, so it was a pleasure to visit with this young, energetic and knowledgeable woman. The vineyards were once an apple orchard. Planted in 1996, the 35 acres of vineyards thrive on the south-facing slope, and under the careful supervision of the winemaker produce premium, award-winning wines that are fruit forward and aromatic. This is a beautiful spot to go winetasting. A favorite for me was silver medal 2008 L’Acadie Blanc (Dry- $15.99). A true glimpse into what Nova Scotia does well, this balanced wine had a fruity nose of pineapple and citrus. The sweet tropical fruit and gooseberry finish makes this wine a perfect complement to Nova Scotia scallops, shrimp kabobs and gazpacho soup. I also enjoyed their 2007 Pinot Noir (Dry – $19.99). Surprisingly, Pinot Noir has been growing in Nova Scotia at Al McIntyre’s Racca Vineyard near Canning, Nova Scotia since 2001 and is the source of grapes for Gaspereau Vineyards’ first Pinot Noir. Harvested in early November 2007, the grapes were hand-harvested and sorted, cold soaked prior to fermentation and cool-fermented. Malolactic fermentation followed. Aged in a combination of New Hungarian Oak, older French Oak and stainless steel, this wine shows the classic style Pinot Noir aromas and some smoky vanilla under tones. A light cherry hue with an elegant structure makes this classic cool climate Pinot Noir a winner.
Nova Scotia WhiskeyAfter the tasting we departed for the quaint seaside town of Lunenburg. First stop was the Ironworks Distillery and tasting room. Ironworks is a micro-distillery located in the old port of Lunenburg on Nova Scotia’s historic South Shore. The Ironworks name comes from the 1893 heritage building they call home: a marine blacksmith’s shop that once produced ironworks for the shipbuilding trade. They produce Vodka (from apples), Brandy, Rum and fancy liqueurs. Co-owner Lynne MacKay told us, “The whole reason for doing this is to make something special and unique, with our personal stamp on it, that we hope other people will enjoy.” Distilling by hand in small batches, Ironworks uses only natural ingredients, as fresh and as local as possible, showcasing the remarkable produce of the Annapolis Valley. It’s always fun and inspiring to meet such passionate owners. I definitely recommend this as a must-do. Be sure and try the Apple Vodka, the Wild Blueberry and Cranberry Liqueurs, and the Apple Brandy. Next stop was the fabulous Salt Shaker Deli. Not so much a deli really as an eclectic mix of wonderful flavors and cuisine. This place was packed and for good reason! Our group loved the Smoked Seafood Chowder ($10), the Lobster Roll – Nova Scotia Lobster with tarragon mayo and fresh celery and greens on toasted brioche ($15), the Pad Thai – red curry noodles, finished with peanuts and sprouts ($13.50) , and the fun and tasty Pint & a Pound -a pint of Propeller Draught and a Pound of Indian Point Mussels (10).

Nova Scotia horse and buggyAfter lunch we went for a tour of the town compliments of Trot in Time Buggy Tour. What fun it was to tour the town in an old fashioned horse drawn buggy ($20). The 35-minute tour leaves from the waterfront, goes up to the top of the beautiful historic l town and down again via a different route. The town of Lunenburg has more than three hundred historic homes dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The churches are some of the oldest in North America. This breathtaking tour is well-worth your time. I love the fact that they care very much for the horses. The drivers are experienced handlers and each works with a horse specifically matched with them. Shifts are scheduled in a way that allows the horses to work only five days a week for four and one half hours per day. Be sure and schedule this activity, and then step right off next door to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. While at the Museum, you’ll experience life in a fishing community and discover, up close, life at sea. Have fun exploring the magnificent aquarium and wharf-side vessels, viewing a dedicated section to the historic Bluenose schooner, and learn how to properly clean scallops. You can also take a boat ride or make your way to the Ice House Theatre, where films are shown throughout the day. Solid family or adult fun.
Halifax hotelsWe stayed the evening at the chic Lunenburg Arms Hotel & Spa. Centrally located in downtown Lunenburg, this historic hotel offers elegantly comfortable rooms with a charming maritime theme. My room overlooked the harbor and was serene, spacious and stylish. Room rates run from about $129 – $299, which is more than worth it. Downstairs their Spa at Nienty4 was a treat for the senses. A full service Aveda spa they offer all the traditional spa services plus a hair and nail salon and aqua therapy…and they even send you home with fabulous samples. I can definitely recommend this spa for all its services – but for sure don’t miss the facial. Dinner was just around the corner at the
Trattoria della nona where we enjoyed authentic upcasual Italian cuisine and an amazing wine list. Our group ordered the minestrone soup, wood fired pizzas, homemade pastas, and slow roasted lamb. Everything –including the exceptional service made us smile. I think you’ll enjoy this place for its fine food, beautiful ambiance, affordable prices, and convenient downtown location. Who knew such a small town could hold so many wonderful activities, chic lodging and culinary delights?
Our last day found us packed up and ready for a few more sights before we hopped on the plane for home. We departed Lunenburg for Mahone Bay – a picture postcard perfect maritime town and my personal small town pick of the trip. This was sort of my ahhh and aha moment all wrapped into one. This town has a special vibe. Not sure if it was the beauty of the bay, the easy strolling streets, the amazing 19th century architecture, the many quaint retail shops and markets, or the all-out craziness of the annual Scarecrow festival. I do know the locals love it here, so it’s not just for tourists. We were treated to a walking tour of the town and then a private tour of the famous Amos Pewter store which designs and handcrafts pewter gifts and keepsakes in an open studio. The artisans began making pewter gifts and keepsakes in 1974 in the vacant boat building shop (circa 1880) that houses the workshop today. We watched designers and craftspeople demonstrate the skills and techniques that have been used by pewter makers for decades. Amos Pewter has won awards for excellence in craftsmanship and design from the Nova Scotia Designer Craft Council. The skilled staff knows the value of quality craftsmanship producing amazing pieces from jewelry to cutlery to ornaments. Yes, I walked away with my share of some very special treasures – of course from the jewelry section. . My next trip to Nova Scotia, I’ll definitely be staying her for some quality “me” time.
Our final luncheon – a Treasure Picnic -was held a few minutes away at the lovely Atlantica Hotel & Marina Oak Island resort. Can I just paint you a picture of warm blue skies, brightly painted Adirondack chairs set around an open pit fire, situated mere steps from the Mahone Bay overlooking legendary Oak Island (reputed to have pirate treasure buried on it). We were greeted by Executive Chef Daniel Orovec and taken to an hors d’oeuvres buffet of steamed Indian Point Mussels and our choice of local wines, pumpkin martinis, or beer. Let me tell you, two pumpkin martinis later, life never looked better. Lunch followed a short grilling class on planked salmon. Local wines were served with the gourmet lunch. I wanted to ask for another martini, but that’s another story for another time. Dessert was a fun and tasty s’mores treat cooked on the open fire pit. I like to think of this experience as a one of the best campouts I’ve been to in a long long time. You should think about staying in one of their 105 guestrooms with ocean views and balconies, one of the 13 oceanfront chalets, or truly indulge by renting one of their seaside villas. Hotel’s amenities including mini-golf, tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools, fitness facility and more. You will be sure to find the exact activity and level of relaxation you are looking for at this cool resort.
Our final stop of the trip holds the claim of being one of the most photographed places in Nova Scotia, a gorgeous historic lighthouse set amongst giant rocks washed smooth by rough waves, known as Peggy’s Cove. About 750,000 people visit Peggy’s Cove a year. According to legend, Peggy’s Cove was named after the only survivor of a schooner that ran aground and sank in 1800… a woman named Margaret. Locals called her “Peggy” and her home came to be known as Peggy’s Cove. The original lighthouse was built in 1868. Peggy’s Cove, a picturesque fishing village, is one of most popular stops in Atlantic Canada. Set on rocky shores, the lighthouse, restaurant at Peggy’s Cove are a photographer’s paradise. We arrived on a bright sunny day, the winds were mild, but we could certainly see how this 360 degree view spot could turn in a raging inferno of waves smashing over the lighthouse during rough weather. For a great view of what this tourist spot is all about visit the Peggy’s Cove web cam.
I’d like to thank Randy Brooks, Manager of Media Relations and Pamela Wamback, Editorial Media Relations for Nova Scotia Tourism, Culture and Heritage, and Christine White, Director of Communications and Events for the Winery Association of Nova Scotia for hosting me and my fellow International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association members on this trip. Each one of these special people brought to the tour a special talent and gift in explaining the treasures of this phenomenal place.
I hope to go back several more times as I am sure I’ve just scratched the surface of what Nova Scotia has to offer. The wines, the culinary scene, the activities were magnificent. I love this place. I know you will too. See it in the fall when the leaves are turning, the temps are mild, the local harvest festivals are in full swing. This place, these people, this experience gets my best five-star Food, Wine & Shopping Diva rating.

Wonderful Alberta: Breakfast with Dinosaurs and Lunch in the Wild West

Story and Photos by Esther Amis-Hughes

Ever heard of Drumheller?

This small town in Canada is quite literally the best place in the world! It is more like a giant movie set than New York; there are better museums than London, and it definitely boasts the most ‘atmospheric’ location for a cheese toastie!

 

‘Drum’ is about 135 kilometers east of Calgary, in Alberta, Canada. This drive is the perfect way to appreciate the contradictions in the Canadian landscape. Calgary is on the cusp of the rockies, which smolder menacingly in the distance, reminding the growing city that they were there before Calgary became a force to be reckoned with, and they’ll be there long after.

Leaving Calgary, the mountains fade in the rear view mirror and suddenly the landscape drops away to reveal nothing. Stretching way into the horizon are the huge green plains of the Alberta prairie, which is so still it seems to be holding its breath. This is enchanting for about 10 minutes, but then it becomes like the illustration in a children’s book, unbelievably bright and unchanged.

 

Just as we reach Drumheller, the landscape changes one final time. Big nobbles of gnarled grey rock shoot up from the grassland as we descend into a valley that more resembles the moon than anywhere on earth that I’ve ever been.

 

We stay at Heartwood Inn and Spa, a B&B that I cannot recommend highly enough. It is run by a husband and wife partnership who do everything to make the weary traveler welcome – our room (their best value – by which I mean the cheapest!) is spacious, with a huge bath at one end of it. The building itself is beautiful, clad in bright blue wood, and what’s that in the garden? Oh a dinosaur.

 

Yup, a life size dinosaur just hanging out in the garden. Pretty much a must for all boutique guesthouses and I’m pretty sure all dinosaur-less B&Bs will be a disappointment to me from now on. Coming in a close second to the carnivorous garden guest is the breakfast. Wowser! Our host asks what we would like and gave us an option of French toast or French toast. Being allergic to egg, I say we’ll sort out our own breakfast, but our host takes this as a challenge to serve me the most amazing (egg free) fruit, toast and yoghurt combo I have ever had. And The Photographer tells me that the egg breakfast is also delicious – either savoury French toast (mushroom, asparagus and bacon) or sweet (syrup and berries). Breakfast is eaten with the other guests, and served with plenty of fresh coffee and enlightening conversation.

 

We ask our hosts what we should do in Drumheller, and are sent off on the ‘Dinosaur Trail’. The complete absence of any dinosaurs is the only disappointing things about the trail, which takes in several unique sites that only Drum could boast. The first stop is the much more appropriately named ‘Little Church’, a roadside church with six one man pews. Cue lots of humorous photography. Next, Horse Thief Canyon, a real taste of the Alberta Badlands, where the bland but colourful prairie landscape drops dramatically away to reveal a great scar in the land, with huge mountainous lumps. From the top you can see from miles, but clamber down to look closely for those famous fossils that give the trail its name and its easy to feel like you’re in another world, (and totally loose your bearings.)

 

Talking of being in another world, our next stop was also completely new to me – the cable operated Bleriot Car Ferry crosses the Red Deer River, at a point where it is so narrow I was wondering if I could jump across. The kind, three fingered operator chatted to us all the way over (it was painfully slow, so it took at least 3 minutes) and waxed lyrical about his job. I found myself wondering if we were his only customers that week. The smallest church, the quietest car ferry and no dinosaurs – so far this was road trip was sounding like the bin in the offices of the Guinness World Records.

 

We drive back towards Drumheller and out the other side towards Wayne, a ghost town with a population of 27. It looks like everyone left the minute they stopped mining coal, and didn’t take anything with them. The best thing about Wayne is ‘Last Chance Saloon’, the Lonely Planet’s recommended Top Choice restaurant in Drumheller. It’s no top choice restaurant, but it is my recommendation to anyone who goes to Canada! Have a warm pepsi and cheese toastie (that’s what we call it in Yorkshire! You might know it as a grilled cheese sandwich) amongst the relics – which range from old pianos and static customers who are so still I thought they might be dead – to actual bullet holes in the wall from real dead customers who didn’t pay.

 

From ’Last Chance’ we progress from cowboy territory, to alien planets. The hoodoos are a crazy moon like formation of precarious columns, with a flat shelf on top. Apparently, in Blackfoot and Cree traditions they are believed to be frozen giants who come alive at night. I like them even more knowing this.

 

We arrive at our final destination unsure what to expect: Atlas Mine is a former coal mine which is now a historic site. Living in Yorkshire, England I am familiar with mining memorabilia and it was eerie to see this completely disused and deserted mine, left to rust. It is so familiar, but in such foreign surrounds. I stand under the rickety wooden tipple tower, sheltering from the sudden and torrential rain, and think about all the Brits and Europeans who moved to Drumheller to mine coal.

 

When natural gas and oil were found in Northern Alberta, the demand dried up and the migrant workers had to move away to find new jobs, breaking up the mining communities they had built around the Pit. In Yorkshire people stayed (the disadvantage of a small country I guess) but the communities also dispersed.

 

We head back to Heartwood to find that in our absence another Velociraptor has appeared in the garden. Is this for real? It’s like they’re following us.

 

Day two in Drum and we do what most people do on day one – head to the world famous Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. As interest in coal waned, tourism became a big market for Drumheller, and the town has built up a powerful brand around the famous by-product of their now redundant fuel: fossils. Now the dinosaurs make sense. Turns out a full size dinosaur in your garden in Drumheller is the equivalent of a full size BBQ in your garden in Australia. In fact, in the center of Drum is the ‘world’s biggest dinosaur’ – a 26M tall T-Rex, and this really is in the Guinness book of world records.

 

If the plastic dinosaurs are cute but frankly a bit cheesy, Royal Tyrrell is the exact opposite. It is an academic institution, with very well presented galleries and films. Staff sit in the galleries cleaning fossils and answering questions, and breathtaking fossils fill every room.

The Museum runs educational excavation activities, we head to ‘Dinosite’, which, despite assurance from staff that it is for ‘all ages’, appears to be for children. I don’t care – give me a trowel and a tray and I am ignorant of the fact that I’m the only person over 4 foot tall! Our guide traipses us across the Alberta desert (yet another landscape in this schizophrenic region), shows us recent dig sites, and takes questions from adults and children alike.

 

And, as if dinosaurs, hoodoos, and canyons aren’t enough, it is Canada day, so we see the whole town take part in a drive through parade (more people take part than watch!). The highlight of this is the Heartwood Inn offer: a small white convertible driven by a blonde groom and his brunette bride. It was only the handwritten sign on the car that helped us to recognise them – it was our very own Wills and Kate!

 

As we leave Drumheller, after only 48 hours, it is hard to shake the feeling of other worldly-ness. In fact I write this now, looking at photos of deserted mines and empty car ferries, of breakfast with dinosaurs, of ghost towns and bullet holes, and I feel compelled to tell everyone about this remarkable little place… just so someone else can tell me it wasn’t all a dream

 

Esther Amis-Hughes (aka Travel Bug) loves to travel and write. She and her companion (The Photographer) have traveled (and been ill) on all five continents. Check out  Travel Sic for more adventures and tips.

Quebec City Revisited – Musee de Civilization

Quebec

Most of my day was spent in the beautiful Musee de Civilzation. A natural place for an anthropologist to end up I think. They had several interesting exhibits, one on Egyptology, another on the long lasting effects in North America of the 7 years war which it turns out led to the French Expulsion from Nova Scotia, the war of Independence in the states, and most likely to the horrid treatment of indigenous peoples in Canada by the English after the much more enlightened treatment of the indigenous by the French. Full citizenship to genocide including the use of disease ridden blankets by the English. My favorite was a look at creatures from outer space in fact and fiction.

How Not To Enjoy World Travel – Part 2

world travel tipsThis is the second part in an ongoing series about how to have the worst time possible during your world travels. Here is the link to part 1.

http://www.vagobond.com/how-not-to-enjoy-world-travel-part-1/

4. Don’t Read
To me, reading is an essential part of travel. As far as I’m concerned, if you are one of those people who ‘doesn’t like to read’ than you are one of those people who should stay home and not travel.

Don’t read anything about the country of place you are going to. That way you won’t understand the culture, the traditions, the history, the climate, or anything else. You will be able to have a completely one dimensional experience. If you should read, for example, about how it is rude to point the bottoms of your feet at someone in Thailand, then you’ll miss out on the ass kicking that results when the kick-boxer tells you to stop pointing your feet at him and you continue to do it. You wouldn’t want to miss that.

Or if you read, you might feel compelled to go fifteen kilometers out of your way on the way between Seattle, Washingon and Vancouver, British Columbia and visit the remote and gorgeous Scenic Hot Springs. Wouldn’t that suck?

Don’t read on your trip. Don’t discover that Mark Twain stayed in the same hotel you are visiting in Honolulu (The Moana Surfrider) or that the lovely looking picnic spot in Cebu, Philippines is where Lapu Lapu ate a famous explorer. Who needs to know details like that?

Don’t read when you are stuck at the airport. It’s much better to just sit and get angry at the workers or eat overpriced food. Don’t read at the beach because it’s much better to sit there wondering what to do now that you are done swimming.

Yes, if you don’t want to enjoy world travel, it is essential that you not read.

world travel tips5) Don’t talk to anyone unless you have to

If you want to have horrible and meaningless travels, don’t talk to anyone unless you have to. Don’t talk to the man next to you on the airplane or bus, he might be a Chinese businessman who would invite you to visit his home and stay with his family.

Don’t talk to the guy who works at the hotel unless you need towels or directions. If he thinks “Hey, this is a nice person” he might actually tell you someplace that he doesn’t recommend to every other rude tourist. You might end up going to a tiny temple in Penang, Malaysia instead of going to the big one that has eighteen tourist buses outside it.

Don’t talk to people in the street. They might try to sell you something. They might want to practice English with you. They might want to share a bit of their culture or learn something about yours. Wow, wouldn’t it be a bummer if that Indonesian guy learned that the USA is not just like Bay Watch and Jerry Springer? Don’t talk to him.

If you want to NOT enjoy your travels, do not talk unless you need something.

world travel tips6) Don’t learn any of the local language

Finally, if you want to be absolutely certain that you don’t enjoy your world travel, pretend your a British Colonist and refuse to speak the local language.

Don’t say Tarima Kasih in Indonesia, don’t ask where to get the gonggongcheecha in China, don’t say Yvet in Turkey, don’t show the grocer in Barcelona you can understand the uno, dos, tres, don’t speak French in Paris (I found Parisians to be very gracious about my bad French), don’t say shukran in Morocco, kapcun kap in Thailand, daijobu in Japan, bollacks in England, dude in California, wienerschnitzel in Germany, or Mahalo in Hawaii.

Speaking the language encourages people to learn about you, to teach about their culture, to make friends, to have relationships, to even fall in love. There is nothing miserable about any of that. So if you want to Not enjoy the world of travel…don’t speak the local language.
Got more tips about how to NOT enjoy world travel, why not leave a comment below or send your tips to me using the contact form.

World Travel for Almost Nothing #4 – Couchsurfing Friends

If you missed the story of how I met my wife, let me remind you. I was couchsurfing at her family’s house in Morocco.

Couchsurfing likes to remind people that it’s not a dating site, but in fact, it is a place where I’ve met many of my closest friends and the woman I married.

Couchsurfing Morocco

One of the keys to mastering the art of world travel on almost nothing is learning to trust strangers and let them become friends.

World Travel on Almost Nothing Tip #4:  Make strangers into friends.

One of the things that I love about Couchsurfing.com is that it relies on opening your heart and mind to the hospitality of strangers. Contrary to popular belief, most people on the planet are good and want to help you in this life. If you doubt that, look inside yourself and I’m sure you will see it is true.

Couchsurfing in Belgium

I wrote a thesis about fans of the TV show LOST. One of the amazing things I found was that when fans traveled to Hawaii they often found places to stay, free guided tours, and new friends waiting for them. In that case, what brought these people together was a love of a TV show. For the world traveler, you are more likely to come together because of a love of travel.

I’ve made friends just about everywhere I’ve been and in the process I’ve managed to avoid paying for hotels, meals, and sometimes even transportation. I’m not saying you should be mercenary about seeking out and using people, I’m saying that when you open your arms to the world, you often get a hug in return.

While I’ve never been a WWOOFer or used HospitalityClub.com, I certainly have known plenty of people who have. These sorts of communities thrive on the fact that people are in general kind and good natured. If you don’t believe that, then you better keep paying for hotel rooms and guided city tours.

Making Money While Traveling – A Few Ideas

I wrote this back in October of 2010 – but it’s still true today. In fact, in 2019 – it’s even easier. They call us digital nomads now! Funny how the world changes – when I started this blog – there was no such thing and few of us doing it – today – the world is crowded with digital nomadism. To update this a little – I hit a really good stretch with Vagobond for a while – selling links – then Google changed the pagerank algo and it dropped to nearly nothing. Same goes for adwords – it was good and then it became not so good. 

 

Earning money while you are traveling the world isn’t as hard as you might think it is. Of course, making a lot of money…that’s quite a bit harder! I can’t say that I’ve mastered the art of making a lot of money whether I am on the road or stationary, but I have learned that no matter how bad the economy is, no matter how depressed a place I might live in, no matter where I am- I can find a way to make a few bucks. Definitely enough to get to somewhere else, take care of my wife and me, and hopefully to have some fun along the way.

Lots of travelers today are having good luck with affiliate marketing and blogging. I’ve been pretty successful at blogging in terms of people liking my writing and coming again and again to my blog, but I can’t say I’ve really had much luck with making money at it (but thanks for the anonymous donations Mom!). Same goes for affiliate marketing. As you might guess, this post has some affiliate links in it (not any more). It won’t cost you anything to use them if the programs look interesting to you, and it will throw a little extra my way if you sign up for them. There it is – full disclosure! (Of course if I were sneaky, I would probably be rich but honesty is a profit killer.)

Of, course, one way that I make money is by teaching language. As a Native English speaker, the world is clamoring at my door to offer me money for teaching others to speak English. I happen to be a very good teacher, so that helps. To get my teaching credential, I went through an online TEFL course. That and being a native gets you through the door and into most countries.

You might want to get more than just the certificate though and start learning how to teach too!
The sad part is how many teachers I meet who don’t know how to teach at all or who are just plain terrible teachers. It just goes to show, that even if you aren’t a good teacher, you can make money in foreign countries as a teacher. You just need to get your TEFL certificate.

Of course, I think the best way to make money while I am on the road is by writing. It’s amazing how many people don’t think they can write, but in fact, if you can talk, you can write! It’s as easy as that (presuming you know things like letters and spelling). You don’t have to have a dictionary vocabulary. You just need to be able to say things in a conversational tone. That’s the tone that works the best on the internet.

There are millions of outlets for writers if you take the time to look.It might be exactly what you are looking for to make some money while you are on the road.

What do you do to make money while you are traveling?

Traveling Across Canada by Foot and Thumb – Arcadia, Quebec, the Great Lakes, the Prarie, the Canadian Rockies, and British Columbia

My trip across Canada caused me to fall in love with the country and her people. Both of my grandmothers had roots in Canada. On my mother’s side – her grandmother was from Moncton, New Brunswick and on my father’s side – his mother was from Victoria, British Columbia. If you look at genetic nationality, I guess that makes me 3/8ths Canadian – so it’s not a big surprise that I would love the place. The other 5/8ths were old American families rooted in California and Washington by way of Texas and Michigan – but none of that really matters. What matters is that Canada blew my mind. Yes, there were some hardships – in particular, one night in Ontario when the weather dropped below freezing – also, the black flies and the Mounties in Ontario were pretty rough on me as I tried to find rides – but mostly – Canada was beautiful, welcoming, and warm. The Canadian people reminded me of how truly good humans can be. Thank you Canada.

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Hitching Across Canada – Black Flies, Freezing Weather, and Near Death Experience

Across Canada

In early spring of 2009, I was in an existential crisis. I’d fallen for a girl in Morocco and far too quickly, we’d decided to get married. I felt trapped but at the same time I was in love and wanted to marry her – something inside me or inside her wouldn’t let me escape. I had varying degrees of panic, emotion, and fear along with a sense of things already being written and no chance of changing what the future would be. I had one chance to get away…away from rings and engagement parties and expectation – bureaucracy combined with poverty could save me. She knew I didn’t have any money and also, when I set out travelling, I hadn’t brought things like my birth certificate or other paperwork I would need for marriage with me.

Across Canada

A friend had offered me a kayaking guide job in Alaska and I proposed to her that I leave, work for the summer – gather my paperwork, and then come back and have a wedding. My thought process was that if we allowed ourselves five or six months apart – our emotions would cool and we’d probably both decide it was better not to get married. I didn’t have enough money to fly direct to Alaska from Morocco – so I had to be creative with what I had. I booked a flight from Morocco to Madrid, a flight from Madrid to Germany, Germany to Ireland and then a round trip flight from Dublin to New Jersey. I figured I would take the ferry from Maine to Canada and then hitchhike to Alaska. It might sound crazy but that was the cheapest way to do it and this was in the days that I was still paying cash for everything – I didn’t have a credit card only a bank account and a debit card. The European flights cost me a combined total of about $150 USD using Ryan Air. The trans-Atlantic round trip cost about $600. That left me about $300 to get across Canada and I figured when the work in Alaska was done, I would be able to pay for a flight back to New Jersey if I wanted to actually go through with the wedding at that point.

Across CanadaThere was only one problem –  my bank saw all this European activity and the ferry ticket to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and they shut down my debit card and cut me off from all the money I had. By the time I was boarding the ferry in Portland, Maine where I’d couchsurfed with two awesome waitresses,  I didn’t know it but all I had was enough money in my pocket to get $4 Canadian…and that’s all I would get for my trip across Canada. Also, one other hitch – when I’d landed in the USA, I found an email from my friend in Alaska – they’d already given the job to someone else – there was no job waiting for me. I couldn’t write about this at the time – maybe I shouldn’t be writing about this at all – since I ended up eventually going back and marrying the girl in Morocco – but there I was. Trying to figure out what the best course for my life was – trying to take control of my destiny – but my destiny was already laid out. I had thought there might be escaping it, but I’ve come to believe in powers greater than ourselves guiding our every decision. I believe that free wil is an illusion…an important one, but still an illusion.

Across CanadaWith no plan, I decided to proceed across Canada by thumb and by foot.

Canadian Customs can be tricky. They sometimes are angry that American customs treat them badly. The same happens on the other side – unfortunately  for me, I was targeted by an angry middle-aged Canadian customs agent. I’m convinced I reminded her of some guy who had done her wrong in the past, because she was relentless tearing through my bags…asking me suspicious questions in a machine gun patter….and ultimately, because she was convinced there must be something – she used drug wipe cloths inside a used book I’d bought in Portland, Maine and told me that it had tested positive for heroin. She read my journal angrily and when I protested she said “Why? Is there something in here you don’t want me to read?” “It’s my diary,” was all I was able to say. After several hours of interrogation and being locked in a small room – eventually a supervisor came and apologized to me –  he said that someone had used duct tape to tape thedust jacket on the book and duct tape often came up as a false positive with that particular test. I didn’t see the agent who had ‘apprehended’ me again. I was led outside and released into a beautiful spring day in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

Across CanadaI spent a few days with a lovely couchsurfing host named Carla. She was the chief Across Canadareporter for the newspaper in her area and she led me to pickled aliens, student pinwheels, and I got to go to the Mayor of Yarmouth’s birthday party and eat some delicious mayor cake. Nova Scotia was amazing. I loved it. Acadian culture is a mixture of the French, English, and Native American people who lived in Eastern Canada over the past several hundred years. I said goodbye to Carla and stuck out my thumb.

Next came the hitch hiking. Hitchhiking is always a little bit risky. Hitching in Canada is safe but you run the risk of being left out in the prairie for a cold cold night. I traveled 2922.1 Miles by thumb and foot in 11 days. You don’t want to be in any country with only $4 Canadian…but if you have to pick one, it should be Canada.

Across CanadaHalifax is where the maiden voyage of Titanic really ended, with the most lasting legacy from the sinking located here. The world was stunned in 1912 by the loss of the liner Titanic on her maiden voyage. Halifax, Nova Scotia, located on the eastern coast of Canada, has one of the most moving and intimate connections with the Titanic disaster, playing a key role during the tragedy’s aftermath and becoming the final resting place of many of her unclaimed victims.

Three Halifax ships were involved in the grim task of recovering victims – many of whom were laid to rest in three of the city’s cemeteries. Rows of black granite headstones, each inscribed with the same date, April 15, 1912, are a stark reminder of the disaster.

In Halifax, I stayed with an amazingly funny girl named Anna – again through Couchsurfing. We hit thrift shops and out of the way and off the beaten path tourist locations. We had a blast. I almost didn’t want to leave. Actually, I didn’t want to leave – but I felt like I had to. I moved onward to Quebec City.

Quebec City is gorgeous. While the cities of Europe are very nice, they always felt like something was not quite right about  them. I think it’s because I’m a North American and we North American’s have a different sense of space, nature, and certainly history. Quebec City (like Victoria in British Columbia) has the charm of old Europe, the flavor of nobility, and the essence North America.

QuebecMost of my first day was spent in the beautiful Musee de Civilzation. A natural place for an anthropologist to end up I think. They had several interesting exhibits, one on Egyptology, another on the long lasting effects in North America of the 7 years war which it turns out led to the French Expulsion from Nova Scotia, the war of Independence in the states, and most likely to the horrid treatment of indigenous peoples in Canada by the English after the much more enlightened treatment of the indigenous by the French. Full citizenship to genocide including the use of disease ridden blankets by the English. My favorite was a look at creatures from outer space in fact and fiction.

I met up with my absolutely awesome couch surfing host, Kelie.  Over the next few days – she showed me as much of Quebec City as she could and frankly, each moment I was there made it harder for me to leave. She was one of the coolest people I met in my travels. And yet, I was to keep meeting cool people on this trip across Canada. I’d lived so close to Canada in Bellingham, Washington during the 1990s…I should have spent more time in Canada.

Across CanadaI left Quebec with that same feeling of being driven by something larger than me. That largers something drove me into the large province of Ontario. Ontario is huge and to drive along Lake Superior is more like driving along the ocean than anything else. I caught unmemorable rides all the way to Thunder Bay when i got picked up by Dawn and Leah. They liked my hat and they took me home to Sudbury where we spent the next few days recycling cans, drinking, having parties, going to parties, and absolutely loving life.

Sudbury is an interesting place. 1.8 billion years ago a huge meteorite smashed into this area. It was composed of mostly nickel. Then about 150 years ago the Canadians started mining here because of the nickel. The nickel mining process is incredibly environmentally destructive and until about five years ago Sudbury apparently looked like the surface of the moon because of the huge slag piles from the mines.
This is a railroad town and sits on the trans Canadian highway, so it has a familiar feel to it. Feels a lot like Bellingham, Washington to me. The people are an interesting mix of weeded out bums, artists, musicians, and environmental activists.

Across CanadaThomas Edison visited the Sudbury area as a prospector in 1901, and is credited with the original discovery of the ore body at Falconbridge.
During the Apollo manned lunar exploration program, NASA astronauts trained in Sudbury to become familiar with shatter cones: a rare rock formation connected with meteorite impacts. However, the popular misconception that they were visiting Sudbury because it purportedly resembled the lifeless surface of the moon dogged the city for years.

Dawn had just bought a car and hadn’t yet learned how to drive. She offered to take me to Winnipeg,  Manitoba where she wanted to visit a friend – if I were willing to teach her how to drive. Dawn is a midwife and again – one of my favorite people ever. Off we went! We picked up another hitch hiker along the way and finally, she dropped us both off in Winnipeg at a truck stop. The other hitchhiker wandered off but Dawn and I were all torn up at having to part company. It was hard to say goodbye! I forgot my travelling hat and about a month later, the lovely girl mailed it to me.
From Winnipeg I hitched to Calgary where I finally managed to get Paypal to let me access some of my funds through my debit card. I got a cheap hotel room before heading off into the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I got a ride to the rockies early but after that – no one was stopping. Late in the day, I noticed that I was being followed by three bears – a mother and two large cubs who were hungry after their long winter nap. A chain link fence stood between me and them as they walked on the railroad tracks and I walked on the road. As the road and the tracks got closer, I began to worry that the fence might end because the three bears were watching me intently.

Thankfully, a retired park ranger was driving by and stopped. He invited me to stay at his house and the next day drove me through the Rockies taking me to Banff, Lake Louise, the Three Sisters, and many beautiful spots. He dropped me at the base of the mountains on the British Columbia side and paid for a hotel room for me. All the way across Canada, I had people offering me shelter, buying me meals, taking me to their homes or getting me hotel rooms. I was awed by the sense of human deceny I found in Canada.

Across CanadaThe next morning I caught a ride early from a guy who looked like he was coming off a serious bender. Turned out he was. He told me horror stories about his wife and best friend who had gone into the porn business together and then abandoned him to make their own movies. He offered to give me his and her wedding rings and the Rolex watch she had given him – I was broke and probably should have accepted but didn’t want the karmic weight he had attached to them in his tales. I politely said no but accepted when he offered to buy me breakfast at a Denny’s in Vancouver.

After breakfast I walked from Vancouver down to the Peace Arch border crossing in Blaine, Washington. When the border guards asked where I was coming from, I lied and told them I had taken a day trip from Bellingham – which is what most people crossing the border were doing. I walked across the border and called my friend Dave in Bellingham, he drove up and picked me up.

That’s how I went across Canada by thumb and foot. It was awesome. I love Canada.

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