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Tag Archives: family

Hop On The Bus, Gus

ImageAwesome spur-of-the-moment jaunt to one of our area’s newest eateries last night. Yesterday was Food Day Canada, see, and starting tomorrow it’s Eat Your City week in these parts; I felt it was only right to mark the day by experiencing something new and local.

Birdie’s Perch, or as I continue to call it, the Bus-taurant, is located on the road to Point Pelee National Park, right near the turnoff to Sturgeon Woods Campground. It’s situated in a 1960s-era red, double-decker bus; you can either eat upstairs in the bus or at one of the umbrella-ed tables on the sizeable patio area.

It’s got a limited, but oddly diverse menu – yellow perch, angus burgers, back bacon on a bun and something called a Greek Goddess wrap, along with poutine and ice cream. It also offers a daily non-menu special – yesterday was a tahini wrap, or chili cheese fries. What’s nice is that all the ingredients are local or as local as possible.

We went with the angus burgers, along with an order of poutine and one of chili cheese fries; the portions were sizeable, and most of the chili cheese fries came home with us. There was certainly no room for ice cream, at least for me. A cold, canned pop rounded things out; the drinks are charmingly located in ice buckets to one side of the serving window. I found a Coke right away, and gave hubby the choice of orange or cream soda – I didn’t want to fish any further in the icy water!

We sat on the patio; the upper deck of the bus looked like it would be quite stuffy on such a humid evening. Besides, we had the dog with us – and we hadn’t been there long before one of the owners came out and offered a Snausage, because “he’s one of the family too!” After that Frankie was content to sit under the table and wait patiently for the fries and bits of burger we pretended to drop. The food was delicious, and was served fresh quite quickly.

ImageWe rounded out the evening with a trip over to Seacliff Park in Leamington, which I hadn’t seen since the big tornado a couple of years ago. The refurbishment has been well done; I can’t believe it’s the same park! Clean, well-kept, and full of people. A walk on the beach was pleasant too, and there were at least two dozen other people enjoying the waves and sand on this muggy Saturday evening.

Check out the bus-taurant and the park if you’re in the area – a nice treat on a summer’s day!

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“Q” is for Questions

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Yep, still working on A to Z. Do you know how hard it is to think of something for “Q”?

I firmly believe that the key to a good travel experience is questions. If you’re a traveller, you want to find out some things about your destination before you go – or perhaps, before you even choose your destination. If you’re selling or advising on travel, you want to ask your client questions before, and while, you put their trip together.

The best tack is to ask specific questions that aren’t open to ambiguous replies. Instead of asking, “Is there anything fun to do in Tennesee?” try asking, “What kinds of outdoor recreation can I find in the Nashville area?” On the other side of the desk, instead of asking “What do you like to do?” try asking “Would you rather go white water rafting, or do you prefer hiking?”

Getting good travel deals is often about asking questions too. When booking a room for instance, instead of asking, “What’s the price on a double for two?” you could ask, “Are there any current discounts on rooms at this location?”

Ask questions of friends and relatives, but again, try to be specific. Instead of “Did you like Rome?” try “What was the best thing about Rome? What was the biggest surprise? What did you wish you’d known beforehand?”

But try to remember that friends, relatives, colleagues and even the Internet don’t always have accurate information. Check with your travel professional. For example, as a traveller, I could tell you, “Oh, you can get reservations at Cinderella’s Royal Table less than a week out.” And I did. But the reality is, “Cinderella’s Royal Table is a very hard reservation to get – they reserve a year out, so call as soon as possible and have a backup plan.”

If you’re embarking on the type of trip you’ve never taken before, don’t hesitate to ask your travel agent questions, even if you think they’re silly. “Does this package include a lot of walking? Will we be able to leave our belongings on the coach while we tour?”

The most important thing about questions is to ask what you really want to know. There’s a standing joke among Disney-philes that the most common question asked of on-the-ground Cast by visitors is “What time is the 3 o’clock parade?”

Think about it for a minute.

What the questioner really wants to know is, “what time should I choose my spot on the sidewalk?” Or, “If the parade starts at 3, what time will it pass this spot right here?” But that wasn’t the question, was it?

My daughter worked one summer as a custodian at Disney Studios. She shared a story with us of a guest who asked, one morning, “Where’s a good spot to view the High School Musical show?” My daughter replied, “Right here is an ideal spot.” The woman nodded, and sat down, in the spot – for the next several hours until the show began, because she hadn’t asked any advice about when to claim the spot, what time the show started, etc.

The questions you ask can make a big difference.

 

“M” is for Maps

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Moving right along…I may not finish the A to Z Challenge today, but I will finish!

I love maps, particularly road maps. I love unfolding them on the living room floor, or the hood of the car, or a picnic table at a rest stop, and discovering not only how to get from Point A to Point B, but also what else I might see along the way.

I credit my mother for my love of maps. During a family trip when I was about 10, I was given the task of navigating from the passenger seat. I had to figure out how to get that little Chevette from Windsor,Ontario to Emo, Ontario. Was it quicker to go through Michigan to the Soo, or cut across the UP and come back into Ontario north of Duluth. How many days would it take? Where were the rest stops and interesting little towns located?

Putting me in charge of the map sure cut down on the “When are we gonna get there?” All I had to do was look at the map!

No one uses maps anymore. Most people plug an address into a GPS, and follow the computerized directions. Or they “Google map” something, and only ever see that tiny little portion of the terrain that immediately surrounds them. And yet, when I think about the things that can be discovered using a map! Some of the most interesting side trips might only be 40 miles out of your way, but you’ll never know it because the GPS just gets you where you’re going. I worry about an entire generation growing up with very little concept of where they are in relation to anything else, like, say, Lake Huron.

We’ve never had GPS, so that’s one of the reasons we still use a map. And a Google map you printed at home won’t do you much good if you need to take a sudden detour, or missed your turn and want to get back on track without backtracking. So we always make sure we’ve got a good map along with us. And I’ve tried to make sure the kids grow up knowing how to use a map too!

I also like things like attractions maps, etc. You can’t always rely on staff to give you accurate directions (though you mostly can!) I remember one time at DisneyWorld, a fellow traveller regaling us with the story of a Cast Member giving him directions to the Pirates of the Carribean attraction. The CM had a map laid out before her – she gave verbal directions, and placed her finger on the map to show the visitor where he should go. The visitor gently pointed out that that was Space Mountain. (WDW lovers will know that Space Mountain is on the opposite side of the Magic Kingdom from Pirates) Good thing one of them could read the map!

Do you still use paper maps, or do you rely on GPS?

“H” is for Hats

I’m blogging A to Z in April! Check back often while I’m catching up!

What is it about hats? I’m of the impression that they’ve long fallen out of fashion for both men and women (feel free to correct me). Every once in a while, there’ll be a resurgence in the popularity of hats as fashion accessory, but for the most part, people don’t generally wear hats, unless there’s a special occasion.

In our family, not a one of us wears hats, usually. That changes when we go on vacation. Seriously, you should see our pictures – we’re all wearing hats.

It started when the children were very small – no trip to the beach, theme park, campground or zoo could take place without a hat to protect the darlings from harmful UV rays. And, consumed by the desire to lead by example, it usually meant we’d don some headwear as well. This has left us with a collection of hats that sits idle in the closet until it’s time to pack our bags. The collection includes, of course, those hats purchased WHILE on vacation, because we’d forgotten one at home. The compulsion to wear a hat while sightseeing has really become ingrained in my consciousness, to the point where, when I saw the picture of my daughter with a monkey on Gibraltar, my first thought was, “where’s her hat?”

I have my theme park DisneyWorld touring hat – it’s a light blue Tinkerbell baseball cap. The children don’t find it half as disturbing as their dad’s orange tye-dyed bucket hat that he wears while cruising DisneyWorld. When the girls were little, they often wore adorable matching bucket hats in various patterns and colours. I remember one particular trip to Niagara Falls; my daughter wore a denim hat with a large flower on the front. At Marineland, she was attacked by a deer twice her size who was determined to taste that flower! And oddly enough, I don’t feel it necessary to wear my Tinkerbell hat anywhere other DisneyWorld – for zoo trips, or beach ventures, I have other hats.

Now that they’re older, the girls typically stick with baseball-style caps or visors that do absolutely nothing to keep the sun off their heads. They’ll often get adventurous with hats, sporty jaunty little fashion numbers that make them look very cosmopolitan. On last year’s trip to the cottage, they bought me a cute floppy hat with a wide brim to wear while I relaxed in the great outdoors.

Do you wear hats? Do you have specific hats for specific travel adventures? Do tell!

“D” is for digital cameras

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I’m blogging A to Z! Check back every day in April (except Sundays) for a new post!

When I was a kid, making sure the Instamatic had a full roll of film and fresh batteries for the flash were a part of every vacation. (or flashbulbs- remember the flipflash?) With only 12 or 24 exposures available, I had to choose carefully which of those travelling moments I was going to record for posterity. And I remember one time, showing off my Florida pictures to a relative, he complained, “there’s no people in your pictures. There should be people.” My view was that the people I was traveling with were typically people I saw all the time; far better to expend my film on once-in-a-lifetime views.

Digital photography changed all that. With a digital camera in my bag, I could record people, places and scenery with abandon – and if the shot didn’t come out right, well, it could be deleted with the touch of a button. There’s no question that digital photography has changed everyone’s travel experience -you only need to look at the hundreds, or thousands of pictures downloaded after every trip.

But digital cameras have brought their own nuisance factor to travelling. First of all, almost everyone along for the trip usually has a camera, and they’re not afraid to use it.  So now you end up with 100s of photos times four or five – everyone wants their own shot of that monument or museum display. Waiting for everyone to take their picture of that fabulous statue before we can move on just about wears out my patience. Not to mention the room that multiple cameras, battery packs, chargers and cords takes up in the carry-on luggage.

And then there’s the photos themselves. Yes, it’s nice to be able to show off pictures on Facebook and email vacation adventures to faraway friends, but all the viewing requires a computer or digital frame. One of the things I remember as a child is repeatedly sitting down with the family albums in a quiet spot and looking over this pictorial record with my mom or my brother. That hardly ever happens now. Sure, you can print the photos – or some of them (seriously, how many of those hundreds end up being worth printing?) But mostly, people don’t. And  sitting side-by-side in front of a screen just isn’t the same as cuddling up on the couch and turning the pages.

And what happens to those photos eventually? Well, I try, every now and then, to burn a few CDs or DVDs, but then the CD just gets filed away and rarely looked at anymore.

I suspect this is why, even though it’s easier than ever to take your own pictures, souvenir photos have skyrocketed in popularity. Your family enters a venue or restaurant and someone else takes your picture. An hour later, you have a nice hard copy that you’ll take home and frame. You might have three versions of the same shot on your memory card, but you buy the photo anyway, because you kow in your heart of hearts it’s likely to end up as the only printed record of the moment.

Do you print your digital photos?

“C” is for Camping. And Cottaging.

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I’m blogging every day in April (except Sundays) from A to Z! Be sure to check back daily for a new post.

Today’s topics are inextricably linked in our family. We’ve camped since the children were little; it’s an economical way to see a lot of different places, and most children far prefer having room to run as opposed to being cooped up in a hotel room. More recently, we’ve joined some family members at a cottage in Northern Ontario two years in a row. The cottage is so small and so rustic, it’s a lot like camping – in fact, we even sleep in the tent!

This little tent has seen a lot of places. When my husband first bought it, I wondered at the extravagance; the box said “sleeps 6” and there were only four of us then. It seemd huge! In fact, it’s officially a 2-room tent, with a removable “wall” in the middle. I think the wall’s been up once, and I don’t know what it sleeps 6 of, but it can’t be normal-sized people.  For the first few years, we’d set out four sleeping bags nice and neat, and wake up in the morning like a litter of puppies, all piled on top of one another. Later, the “big girls” got their own tent, and our tent was for the two of us and “the baby.” For the last two summers, the tent has housed the two of us and the dog – and it’s still crowded!

I also require a few comforts when I camp, such as an electrical hook-up, a Mr. Coffee, and a nice reading lamp inside the tent. Other than that, I’m pretty easy to please, I think.

The cottage, as I say, is rustic. Electricity, but no running water. The setting is beautiful though, right on the water near North Bay, nice and secluded. Our days are spent swimming, reading, paddling, reading, fishing. The best part is being surrounded by extended family, and gathering around the fire at night to talk and laugh.  At night, we crawl into our tent and fall asleep to the sounds of the night – no car horns, no sirens, and best of all no phones. It’s a welcome time-out from everyday life. 

One of the things I like best about camping and cottaging is that my husband’s so darn good at it. He knows exactly where to put the tent, exactly when and how to cook our meals, exactly how to start and keep the fire going.  All of these are things I could manage myself, I’m sure, but it’s much easier to sit back while he takes charge. I’m a bit of a control freak, and letting go at home doesn’t come half as easily – but when we’re away, I just don’t feel the same compulsion.

That little tent has lasted about 17 years now – turned out to be a good investment. Yet another example of the husband knowing exactly what he was doing.

 

“A” is for Airports

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It’s rare to find anyone who has anything very positive to say about airports. While much is printed, blogged and tweeted about the hassle involved in traversing this no-man’s-land between here and there (wherever “here” and “there” happen to be), I can’t recall reading or hearing about anyone who’s been particularly happy about spending time in an airport.

Until now. I love airports.

I’m not what you’d call a frequent flyer – I’ve flown perhaps two dozen times in my life. And none of that internationally. And I can’t say that I’ve a specific airport that stands out as a favourite. But I haven’t yet met an airport I didn’t like either.

From Denver (the largest airport I’ve ever been in) to Elliot Lake, Ontario (I recall it was about the size of my living room), there’s something about the coming and going that I find at once soothing and exhilarating. Leaving home, stepping into the airport is the point at which I begin to truly feel “away.” Coming back from a trip, it’s once again the arrival at the airport that turns my attention away from the vacation just passed and toward home. For me, the stress of traveling- going or coming- stops when I get to the airport, not the other way around.

The airport is the world in miniature; I’ve never understood those who glue themselves to a movie or book for two solid hours before their flight leaves. Oh sure, I read; I also people watch, shop, eat, wander, eat some more. I particularly like browsing the news-stands; were it not for the aforementioned Denver airport, I likely never would have discovered Mental Floss magazine, for instance. My gut reaction to the plot of The Terminal was “how cool would it be to live in an airport?” It’s right up there with the concept of living in a shopping mall (thank you Richard Peck)

I’m sure part of it derives from when I was little; my grandpa would often take me out to the local airport to watch the planes take off and land. This was back in the day when anyone could get through the gate and go right up to the window. We’d watch a few planes, then adjourn to a nearby truck stop for  a snack. I even loved watching the baggage pickup – staring at that hole in the wall, trying to guess when it would spit out the first suitcase, and who it would belong to.

I’m the first to volunteer when anyone I know needs a ride to the airport. And I’ll even pay for parking and go in to wait when I’m picking someone up. It’s not as much fun anymore, with all the good stuff on the other side of security, but I’ll take what I can get.

What’s your favourite airport experience?