#97 Travel Nightmares – Toronto, Part 2

From Retirement Experience #91, one month ago: “In the end, we had enough of Toronto. If we never return to the city, it would be too soon. To be continued? (7/17/18)” (If interested, see link at end of post)

Returning from our second trip to Canada this summer we were flying from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Dulles Airport in Virginia. We needed to change planes in Toronto. From there we were to change planes again in Detroit.

On August 16, 2018 we had a family emergency that caused us to change our vacation plans. While we were originally scheduled to return on August 18th, we needed to return the next day. So, on the morning of August 17th we cancelled our overnight stay planned for Halifax and drove 200 miles straight from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, to the airport in Halifax. We changed our flight plans to pick up the same flight later that day. In the meantime, Mary Ann made her plane reservations for the next evening (18th) to fly from Washington to St. Louis. We had to get the flight home on the 17th to make her follow-on flight on the 18th.

Everything looked good as we left Halifax on a clear sunny summer day. However, as we neared Toronto there we encountered weather problems. Our flight was put in a holding pattern and arrived later than scheduled. After deplaning we still had plenty of time to catch our connecting flight. We passed the hurdle of US Customs and thought we were good to go. Then there were more delays – delays departing as well as delays on incoming flights. Our plane was one of the incoming delays. Due to weather problems at the origin airport in the US, it remained grounded. Every half hour or so we would get updates that our flight was delayed another half hour. We waited and waited. The flight was delayed so long that we would never make our Detroit connection. Things were looking bad.

Then the deja vu moment. Our flight was cancelled. We needed to get our luggage from Customs and go back to the ticket counter to work out change of flights for the next day. Us and a few hundred people. Through the confusion we found where we were supposed to line up for changes at the ticket counter. While in line Mary Ann got on the phone to Air Canada to make arrangements. She had a brilliant idea that took a while to sink into my thick skull. Cancel the remaining flight plans, rent a car and drive home. My first thought was, “You got to be kidding me. Drive all the way from Toronto back home in time for you to get on the next plane? Can it be done?” Quick thinker and awesome travel planner she is, she figured we could drive all night with a short sleep and make it home by noon. I still thought it was too long of a drive. A few clicks on her phone and she informed me that it is about an 8 ½ hour drive. OK, we can make it.

We dragged our luggage over to the car rental counters (9 pm.) and requested a one way rental home. Our helpful agent did some checking. There was supposed to be a car available but it wasn’t physically showing up. While we were waiting, a worker returned a key from another customer arrival. For being very unlucky, we finally had some luck. We accepted the rental and by 9:30 we were on the road.

As we started heading out, we realized why flight were being delayed. We hit rain from Toronto well into New York. The further we drove the worse the rain. We had to travel on single lane US routes as there were no interstates going in our direction. Heavy rain and no street lights. It got so bad that we had to stop around midnight to sleep for a few hours.

After sleeping about 5 hours, we got back on the road. It was still raining and difficult to drive until daylight. Eventually it cleared up and we traveled through New York and Pennsylvania until we got to Maryland.

We had enough time to get home and Mary Ann repack for her next trip, but not enough time to pick up our car at the airport. You see, Mary Ann needed to fly out of National Airport (near Washington, DC) and our car was parked in Dulles Airport in rural Virginia. After a brief rest, I drove Mary Ann to the one airport, dropped her off, then drove to the other airport to return the rental and pick up our car.

What a day.

So “In the end, we had enough of Toronto. If we never return to the city, it would be too soon. To be continued?” It had better not be repeated!

(No photographs on this experience. I don’t want to visually remember.)

Retirement Experience 91: (https://937experiences.wordpress.com/2018/09/27/91-tour-city-by-bus-toronto/ )


#96 Bagpipe performance

While we were in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Canada, we learned that there is a significant Scottish influence. In fact, Prince Edward Island has the highest concentration of Scottish descendants of the Canadian provinces (41%). Second highest is Nova Scotia at 32% (Note: ‘Nova Scotia’ is Latin for ‘New Scotland’). The Scottish influence can be seen in their music and dance: Bagpipe and highland/Celtic dancing.

So where do you perfect your skill with bagpipes or Celtic dancing? Why of course, you attend the ‘College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada’ in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. Really. A college for piping!

While in Summerside we attended one of their performances. This one was to honor some of the great Scots, appropriately titled: “Great Scot!” This is just another case of me expanding my cultural experiences during retirement.

Purchasing tickets the day of the performance allowed us the unique opportunity to be seated in the front row. Actually the seats weren’t bad. You could hear real well. Real well! Those bagpipes and the drums were loud!

The performance involved the storytelling of some of the great individuals from Scotland throughout history, told with a Scottish accent, of course. Occasionally, the performers would break out in a song. I guess you can’t avoid that, but at least is wasn’t too often. Other times, when it seemed the performers were in the mood, they would break out in bagpipe playing (along with marching band bass drums). Oh, there was a good bit of Celtic dancing thrown in, too. So I guess you could surmise I attended another musical, not your usual musical though.

Seeing the bagpipe players up close, I noticed that it seemed to be physically hard to play the notes on the pipe while continually forcing lungfuls of air into the bag. You really need to have both a good set of lungs and the capability to blow hard into the bag.

This was an interesting retirement experience. (8/15/18)

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Yes, I wasn’t kidding.  The school is called the “College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada.  Located next door to the Ideal Auto Parts store.  HaHa.

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(If you cannot see these photographs, click on the blog link: https://937experiences.wordpress.com/ )

#95 Stay at a Motor Inn

I have not stayed in a motor inn since I was a kid. Yes, that was a long time ago, perhaps 50 years ago. Back then they were common and cheap. You know, the kind of motel where you drive your car right up to your room, walk a few feet and you are in your room.

We needed to stay in a place like this as we had a long drive starting early the next day for our whale watching tour. (Retirement Experience #92: https://937experiences.wordpress.com/2018/10/02/92-whale-watching/ ). It was the best we could do. I thought, hey, another retirement experience. This could be interesting. Well, it was interesting. Not always in the best way.

We stayed in a motor inn north of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. It was a one story building with about 5 rooms on each side of the tiny main office. There were cottages adjacent to the motel but those were reserved for the employees. The motel was very old. I got the impression the fixtures in the bathroom matched the age of similar fixtures in the house I grew up in Bethesda. So, I deduced these were from circa 1960. About the age of the motor inns I stayed in as a kid.

We arrived just before 10 pm from our long day of driving. We made it just before the owner went to bed for the night. He briefly explained everything. “Here is the key. Donuts in the front office at 8. Smoking area is in the courtyard. Leave the key in the morning. Have a good night.”

The room was ok. Being this far north and on the coast, you would expect it to be cool and breezy. Not. It was warm, humid, and there was no wind. So what’s the big deal? No air conditioning in the room. We usually assume there will be AC, but we kind of forgot the rules for a mid-century motor inn. So we had to open the front and back windows to get a very slight breeze to cool off the room. This resulted in a second problem. The smoking area was out in the courtyard – maybe 30 feet from our room. Since we are not used to being around smokers, the few smokers were very noticeable. With the windows open, not only did we have to smell their smoke we to listen to their loud talk too. Ugh. Warm room or a slightly cooler, smokier room. Decisions, decisions.

After we adjusted to the environment, we had another problem to contend with. I found a few beetles on the tile floor near the bed, about ¾ inches in size. I killed each one I found and barely mentioned it to Mary Ann. I also found one on top of the bedspread. I quietly dispositioned that one, too. All was good until the middle of the night, around 3 am. You guessed it. I had one crawling on my leg inside the covers. A quick adrenalin rush and a quick death for the beetle. That was it for me the rest of the night. No more sleep for me. I needed to make sure Mary Ann did not know about the beetle so she could sleep. I kept an eye open for more beetles. Didn’t want any crawling on her.   6:30 am was slow to arrive. We got out of the motel quickly and didn’t look back.

In defense of this motor inn, it did have a few good qualities. (1) There was a great view of the bay and the cape. However, arriving late and leaving early, we did not see them. And (2) the stay did not cost much. You guessed it, you get what you pay for. HaHa Ouch!

A retirement experience not to be repeated without due diligence. (8/13/18)

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#94 Joggins Fossil Cliffs

While in Nova Scotia we had an opportunity to visit Joggins Fossil Cliffs. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

The cliffs are the result of coastline erosion, exposing layers of rock and fossils. These fossils were formed 300 million years ago from the massive quantities of organic matter derived from swamp forests. Besides the fossils, there was plenty of coal deposits. So much so that in the past, ships would dock along the coast to pick up the coal. Before loading the coal, these ships had to be emptied of the ballast, dumping the rocks along the coastline. (Note: this ‘Coal Age’ was 100 million years before dinosaurs.)

We took a guided tour of the area where the geologic history and several different types of fossils were explained to us.

One interesting fact of Bay of Fundy and Joggins Fossil Cliffs is the range of tide changes between low and high tide. According to NOAA, the Bay of Fundy has the highest mean range of tides in the world. Joggins, on the Bay of Fundy, has the 6th highest mean range of tides. The range between high and low tide is 33.2 feet. (Compare this to Ocean City, MD or Nags Head, NC, which have tidal ranges of about 4 feet each.) Of course, this would have been an interesting retirement experience to see the full range, but of course we were limited on time. Hey, we can’t wait all day! And it would be very gradual change. We were fortunate to catch it at low tide. Good thing because if we had arrived at high tide, the park would have been closed as the shore line would be completely underwater. (8/15/18)

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#93 Nova Scotia Wineries

Wineries in Nova Scotia?

Really? Yes.

While visiting Nova Scotia we heard they had some wineries to sample. Since we like wine and we like tasting wines from all over the world, we just had to check a few out. It helped that the wineries were along our planned driving route.

As we traveled through the Annapolis Valley region, we stopped into three wineries – Blomidon Estate Winery, Planters Ridge Winery, and Bear River Vineyard. We were surprised that some of the wines tasted good. We didn’t expect that since we had never even heard of wines from Nova Scotia. We learned the main reason we hadn’t heard of them is that they generally don’t export their wines. In fact, they said they have enough trouble just shipping within Canada. The grapes they grow are similar to the common red and white grapes used for making wine, but there are a few unique grapes that we had not heard of before. The wines made from those unique grapes did not appeal to our tastes.

An interesting thing about Nova Scotian wines is that in some places, the vineyards have been planted since the early 1600’s. Also, since Nova Scotia is a small island province, there are not many wineries. There are only 18 on the island. So we visited more than 15% of their wineries!

At each of the wineries, we had a tasting of several of their wines (reds, whites, and sometimes sparkling wines). We bought a bottle from each winery to enjoy on our trip. We even found a good sparkling wine. We would have visited more wineries but they close early and we ran out of daytime. (8/14/18)

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#92 Whale Watching

In the past, we thought of taking a whale watching excursion, but were unsure about how we would handle bouncing around in rough ocean waters for hours with the risk of not even seeing anything, except maybe us losing our lunch. However, after looking into the details more, we decided to go ahead and sign up for one in Nova Scotia. The whale watching excursions off the coast of Nova Scotia were in the calmer waters of the Bay of Fundy. The boat we took was sturdy and they didn’t have to go out too far into the bay. The excursion was planned for between 2 and 4 hours.

We departed from East Ferry, which is in the west coast of Nova Scotia, and traveled out a few miles before we spotted a humpback whale. Apparently humpback whales are curious and not afraid of the boats. This whale allowed the crew to steer the boat within 15 feet or so. While the part of the whale that is above the surface of the water is not so impressive, the bulk of the whale body underwater is massive. The whale was about the length of our boat. We stayed alongside this whale for about a half hour until it finally got bored and swam away.   While the whale did not jump out of the water in a spectacular way (that would have been so cool), it just floated around and poked its head up occasionally. That was OK for me. That one sighting was enough to make the trip worthwhile.

We motored around a while longer but only found one other whale. This whale was not as interested in us and didn’t hang around long.

This tour was hampered somewhat by the rain and fog. You couldn’t see too far in the distance and as a result we probably missed other whale sightings. Our boat was well suited for rain with coverings to allow us to stay dry. Riders on competing excursion boats were not so lucky – large inflatable rafts where everyone needed raincoats to stay dry (see photographs below) – Great choice, Mary Ann!

In the end, this was a very memorable experience. (8/14/18)

This is a photograph of the humpback whale sticking its head out of the water.

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This is a photograph of the whale diving under the water. You can see the soaked tourists on the other boat.

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This is a photograph of the inlet at East Ferry after returning. The rain had stopped and the fog was rolling in.

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#91 Tour City by Bus (Toronto)

This is a lemonade experience. We never intended to visit Toronto. However, when traveling sometimes things don’t go as planned. Our return flight from Calgary had a change of planes in Toronto. The weather started getting rough… and the Toronto airport shut down before we could land. We were diverted to Montreal. In Montreal, we sat on the tarmac for about an hour before heading back to Toronto. When we arrived the weather was still not good. We had a bigger problem. We arrived so late that the US Customs was closed for the night. Even though the flight to the US was cancelled, we would not have been able to board it as we could not get through customs. We were stuck along with hundreds of others. Our only hope was to catch a flight the next day.

Mary Ann secured a flight for the same time the next day. I searched for a nearby hotel. The first two were completely booked. Duh, late at night near the airport. I hit pay dirt on the next one. They had one room remaining. A smoking room. Dang, I am too old to start smoking. We took the room and, as advertised, it did smell of smoke. We got used to the smell after a while. We did have another problem. We had very limited luggage in our carry-ons. We had to survive the next day with less than clean clothes.

So we had lemons, we needed to make lemonade. Since we had most of the day free before attempting to return home, we decided to make the best of it by touring the city. After going to the airport to check in and store our bags, we took the subway to the middle of the city. We hopped on the hop on/off sightseeing bus (double decker buses with open second floor). It was a pretty good tour with guides explaining the buildings and the history of Toronto.

We rode much of the way around town, getting off at a few of the stops. On one stop we took the complimentary boat tour around the waterfront and islands. On another stop we got off for lunch. The later stops were less than thrilling. It seemed these stops were a bit overhyped and there wasn’t much to see. As the day wound down, we did too. We had to hurry back to the subway to get to the airport for our flight. We must not miss this flight! We found that it is easy to get on the bus early in the day and not so easy to get on later in the day as the busses are filled. We hoofed the last mile and made it back in time to get to the airport for our flight.

In the end, we had enough of Toronto. If we never return to the city, it would be too soon. To be continued? (7/17/18)

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