Posted in Freedom Friday, Photo Opportunities

Vacation Planning

I have yet to remember a winter as brutal as the one we had. It’s still holding on with its last dying breath. The east coast has had it rough, too. Many experienced leaky roofs, flooded basements and broken eaves troughs. I know our roof had a one-foot ice accumulation that took forever to melt. Thankfully, from now on, any storms coming our way will have the sun to deal with, which is a perfect introduction to my Freedom Friday post—summer vacation planning.

Ottawa
Ottawa

Last year, my family and I took to the highway to visit our country’s capital, Ottawa. I must say, we had a great time. We stayed at a well-known hotel, took in the museums, the restaurants, planned activities for the kids, and made it a point to have some much-needed downtime, something my wife and I always appreciate during a vacation.

This year, we’re not sure where we want to go. We talked about hopping in the car to head north where the resort communities lie. However, we haven’t made definite arrangements. Most of our travel plans involve extensive packing and unpacking. My natural inclination is to stay home, but where would the fun be in that? Although years ago, we did set up a gazebo in our backyard, plenty of deck chairs and enjoyed our virtual paradise all summer with BBQs and pool activities. Boy, we had fun.

Nova Scotia has been kind to us in past years, too. We traveled there in 2011 and in 2012. I wrote about the 2012 trip in my Nova Scotia post a year ago. We went twice because in 2011 the whole vacation was a washout. Rained the whole time we were there. I figured, the same thing couldn’t happen again the following year, so we took a chance and tried a second time. Sure enough, the sun apologized for the previous year’s misstep and obliged us with gorgeous sunny days.

Vacation Planning
Peggy’s Cove

I think what we’ll do this year is take a few weekend jaunts throughout the summer to various destinations throughout our province. We haven’t been to Algonquin Park, and I know many of my friends have raved about it from past conversations with them. Maybe we’ll take it as it comes and travel by the seat of our pants. After all, that’s how I write on occasion, so why not travel the same way?

All of a sudden, I remember about Jack Dawson, the character from James Cameron’s movie Titanic. He said, “I love waking up in the morning not knowing what’s gonna happen or who I’m gonna meet, where I’m gonna wind up.”

Perhaps it’s time to toss our planning and go with the wind to see where it carries us. I know we’ve done it before. Who’s to say we can’t do it again? The most fun we had has always involved no GPS, plenty of time on our hands and an open itinerary.

Sounds to me it’s time once again to seize the day!

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

Have you decided where to go for your vacation this summer? If so, what made you decide on going there?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Photo Opportunities

Ottawa

Last week, my family and I took a much-needed vacation to Ottawa, Canada, the nation’s capital. This should not come as a surprise to my regular readers given how I’ve posted of our many adventures enjoying our love for travel. If you want to read some of those posts I’d written for my Freedom Friday series, you’ll get a taste of Nova Scotia, Niagara Falls, and our recent weekend getaway.

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada
Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

From our town, an hour north of Toronto, to Ottawa, it took four-and-a-half hours driving without stopping. Once we arrived, we checked out our very cool suite. I’m not sure if all hotels are as fancy as the one we chose in the downtown core, but our suite looked incredible. The elegance thrilled us with the handcrafted beds and embroidered blankets, marbled bathroom, and the useful kitchenette. We’d gone for a package deal, having added a set of tours to boot of the nation’s historical museums. We certainly didn’t have to wait to see the benefits of that decision.

Salmon sushi dinner in Ottawa
Salmon sushi dinner in Ottawa

First off, let’s get one thing out of the way. It’s about the restaurants. Since food is a big part of our travel experience, we try to eat as much variety as we can. Apart from our kid’s ingesting their staple chicken fingers and French fries, my wife and I will dive into sushi, Greek food, and salads. There’s nothing quite like the taste of maki or souvlaki on a hot day in July. What I noticed about Ottawa’s restaurants however, is how upscale they are in elegance and design. I’m sure it has something to do with the affluence of a high percentage of the region’s population. Well, most are lawyers, senators and politicians. So yeah, the restaurants ought to service those folks in those professions. And the eateries’ decor will reflect that clientele. Nonetheless, no matter what the bistros and cafés look like, the food is delicious.

Ottawa’s also a culturally rich area filled with museums centered on Canada’s history. We took advantage of that history by hitting Parliament Hill as our first stop. Since our hotel was ten minutes away, we walked all the way. The heat was intense but the journey worth it. Seeing the hill for the first time was somewhat overwhelming. Its Gothic Revival architecture reflects an era when style and grace had epitomized the people’s preference for sophistication. The Peace Tower itself looks no different from Big Ben in London, England. It even plays chimes throughout the morning. I caught Somewhere Over the Rainbow in the midst of it all.

Centre Block, Parliament Hill
Centre Block, Parliament Hill
Peace Tower, Ottawa, Canada
Peace Tower, Ottawa, Canada
Centre Block Archway
Centre Block Archway

Our tour consisted of the House of Commons, the Senate, the Library of Parliament, and the Peace Tower, which are all part of the Centre Block. The most fascinating story is that of the great fire of 1916 that had devoured most of the Centre Block except for the Library of Parliament. A quick-thinking library clerk by the name of Michael MacCormac had shut the library’s iron doors preventing the spread of the fire, which would have consumed priceless books and paintings accumulated over a period of five decades. This small action taken by the clerk impressed me to remember his name and will possibly remain in my memory for a long time. I won’t forget his diligence as it has inspired me to keep pressing forward without relent in all my industry.

Besides enjoying sleeping in (lots of sleeping in), we took a trip to Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Seriously, Ottawa’s the center of museum country. To my family and I, who are avid museum aficionados, this was our territory. The museum houses a collection of some of the most impressive aircrafts that’d flown in the world. This says a lot given I’ve also been to the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Rather than tell you more of what we did during the week, I figure I’d let the photos tell the story instead. Therefore, below are highlights of our Canada Aviation and Space Museum trip.

Hangar
Hangar
RCN 387 - Helicopter
RCN 387 – Helicopter
Fighter Jet
Fighter Jet
CAF Rocket
CAF Rocket

One more museum trip I thought you’d like to have a gander at is that of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec. We crossed province lines to the most visited museum in Canada to see what the big deal was. Wow! Big deal is right. The place is massive. It surpassed all my expectations. Not wanting to spoil it by my overdone descriptions, the highlight was our tour of an area in the museum featuring our country’s history. In the following photos, you’ll notice the twilight/sunset feel created by the exhibit’s indoor lighting.

Museum Totem Poles
Museum Totem Poles
Glass Shop
Glass Shop
Indoor Display
Indoor Display
Furniture Shop
Furniture Shop
Indoor Set
Indoor Set
Aiding a Man's Last Moments (dummys)
Aiding a Man’s Last Moments (dummys)
Winter Window
Winter Window
The View of Parliament Hill in Ottawa from Gatineau, Quebec
The View of Parliament Hill in Ottawa from Gatineau, Quebec

I had written a complete elaborate ending to this post, but decided to scrap it. You didn’t want to hear about the dark, foreboding storm we drove through on our way home. Of how it was two-thirty in the afternoon and the black clouds made it seem like ten at night. Of how I had my windshield wipers on max and I was screaming, “Bring it on” while my wife prayed for protection as buckets and buckets of water dumped on the road, stopping traffic to the side. You didn’t want to hear about that, did you?

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale October 22.

Have you gone on vacation yet? Where did you go? What did you do? What do you like most about your vacation?

Posted in Freedom Friday

Vacation Destinations

Living near the Canadian/U.S. border affords my family the perfect strategic point of departure for our vacations. Two hours away is the U.S. A couple of days’ journey we’re on the East Coast. Freedom Friday provides me the opportunity to share some of the vacation destinations we’re thinking about traveling to this summer.

Old Montreal / Place Jacques-Cartier - Vieux-Montréal
Old Montreal / Place Jacques-Cartier – Vieux-Montréal

In the past few years, our vacations consisted of visiting my wife’s family in Nova Scotia. If you’ve never been there, I suggest you hightail it over and enjoy some East Coast hospitality. When I went there for the first time to meet my future in-laws, I barely had enough time to see the splendor that Dartmouth and Halifax had to offer. It wasn’t until later years that I’d fallen to appreciate Citadel Hill, Peggy’s Cove, and the incredible view of the Atlantic Ocean.

We wanted to try something different this year, something closer to home, in fact. We didn’t want to take away from our weekend getaway destinations (Barrie, Ontario in the spring and Niagara Falls in the autumn), but we didn’t want to trek far either. Ah, the joys of travel, eh?

Rideau Canal overlooking the Ottawa River
Rideau Canal overlooking the Ottawa River

Two locations came to mind: Montreal, Quebec and Ottawa, Ontario. From our numerous journeys passing through these cities on our way to the East Coast, the idea grabbed hold of wanting to visit there one day.

Montreal is an amazing city I would recommend to anyone who is looking to enhance their cultural experience. The majority of its residence speaks French. I can get by ordering dinner, taking care of our accommodations, and asking for directions. It’s with the complicated matters I slip back into English, hoping the person I’m talking to will feel that I tried my best communicating with them in their own language. I’ve never had a problem. They’re great and a very warm people.

The hospitality in Montreal is equally amazing. One year, staying overnight, the hotel we’d chosen was reminiscent of an old-style ship. The hallways had portholes painted on the walls, railings affixed underneath. I felt as if I was on the Titanic, which incidentally was the top grossing movie of all time the year before. Coincidence? I think not. Nonetheless, the rooms had plush pillows, a spacious bathroom, generous closet space, and all the frills anyone could ask of a room. The hotel staff was superb with all our requests.

Which leaves Ottawa, our nation’s capital. We’ve never been. Not even overnight as we’ve done with Montreal. So, this may actually be where we’ll end up this summer. Having a peek at the vacation packages available online, I see a few attractions we may benefit from such as Rideau Canal, Parliament Hill, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa River Parkway, Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Notre Dame Basilica, National Gallery of Canada, National War Memorial, Peace Tower, Changing of the Guard, Laurier House, Rideau Hall, National Arts Centre, etc.

I’m excited already! This trip is a homeschooler’s delight, and I can’t wait!

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale October 22.

Have you ever been to Ottawa? Do you have any recommendations of attractions to visit?