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The Cabot Trail… An Amazing View!

Published August 20, 2010 - 3 Comments
[This is the final installment of the Cape Breton posts.  If you’re interested in reading any of the others, don’t forget that you can click on the “Cape Breton” tag at the bottom of this post (or in the funky little “popular tags” tool on the right hand side) and it will show you all posts that have been tagged as Cape Breton-related.]

I think that it would be impossible to visit Cape Breton without traveling the Cabot Trail… If not impossible, then certainly a mistake, especially for someone who’s never been there before.  For years I’ve heard about how nice it is there, and how I have to see it some time.  I’ve seen pictures, but they definitely do not do it any justice!

Imagine a road that winds around the island, with highlands on one side, and the ocean on the other.  There are so many places to stop and take pictures that we would still be there if we had stopped at them all. But it would have been worth it!  The scenery is just majestic (there’s a word that you don’t hear enough of, but it’s true).  There are spots where the hills just seem to go on forever.

One thing that the Cabot Trail doesn’t have a lot of is gas stations! Or restaurants.  Sure, you can pull over and enjoy a breathtaking view every couple of minutes… but good luck if your gas light comes on, or you’re in need of a bathroom.  And when you are lucky enough to stumble onto one of these rarities, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you don’t like the look of that one, and that you’ll just go to the next one.  Not gonna happen!  And forget about cell coverage.

We took our time on the Cabot Trail, deciding to break it down into two days.  It would have been possible to have just pushed through, but that really wasn’t why we were there.  So we drove for a few hours the first day, and stopped at a camp ground in Pleasant Bay for the night.

I’ve never seen a “self serve” camp ground before.  We pulled into Pleasant Bay and tried to figure out how to register and who to pay. Eventually I stumbled onto a sign that had some instructions.  Take an envelope, fill out the information, put money in the envelope, and drop into the big metal box.  Then there was a pointed reminder that it was illegal to stay at the camp ground without paying.  Umm… ok…

You can see the difference in the weather from one day to the next. The first day was beautiful.  It was sunny, and warm.  The second day was cloudy, and started to drizzle.  But hey, if you’re gonna have a day of bad weather, it might as well be your travel day!

All in all, the Cape Breton mini-vacation was a huge success.  I hope to go back sometime, but there are still many more places that I would like to see.  Last year was PEI.  This summer was Cape Breton.  I would very much like to see Niagara Falls, so maybe that will be next summer.  Then again, Newfoundland is also on the list.  British Columbia has been a dream of mine since high school.  Part of me longs to return to Kingston, a place that was almost like a second home for a few summers.  I’d love to take the kids to Ottawa. I’ve been to Saskatchewan, but it was so long ago and part of a school trip. I’d love to go out west again.  And yes, there is even a part of me that is curious about the north.  I’ve seen pictures, and it looks like it can be quite beautiful there.  People who have been there say the same thing. I know that I wouldn’t rush to put it ahead of some of my other planned trips, but I do hope to make a visit north before not too long.  Part of my Steve 2.0 plan is actually to visit each province and territory at least once.  This is a huge country, and so often people focus on getting away to the typical vacation destinations down south, when there are still so many things to see and do within our own borders.

So who knows where the next “Travel” category of blog posts will come from?

The “Simpsons” House

Published August 14, 2010 - 4 Comments

While we did not see any plaid houses on our trip, we did stumble upon a house belonging to someone who must share a love of the Simpsons.  The first time we drove by it I was too stunned to even take my camera.  It’s ok, I was told… we’d pass it again on our way home.  This time I was ready.  Oh, and we pulled over too… but I’m sure that the owners are used to that by now!

I’m considering doing a little something like this to my front lawn too!  Come to think of it… maybe I should have done it to the other house when I was still living there.  I’m pretty sure that my ex would have gone along with this, no problem!

Sailing the Bras d’Or

Published August 13, 2010 - 8 Comments

As much as I love the sight of water.. a lake.. a river.. the ocean.. whatever…  it’s purely from an emotional point of view.  I can’t swim a single stroke.  I sink like a stone, and I’m very much aware of that fact any time that I’m in a situation where I’m near water that is over my head.  Learning to swim is still on my Steve 2.0 list, but everything on that list seems to have taken a backseat to reality lately.  Still… it’s part of the plan… someday…

I was pretty sure that the “surprise” that we needed to head back to Baddeck for would involve water to some degree.  I wasn’t sure what, and I didn’t want to try to think about it too much.  I just wanted to let it happen, and enjoy it (or not) based on what it was… not what I thought it would be.

So I wasn’t overly surprised when we drove to the dock.  But I was surprised by where we went as soon as we got out of the car.  A sail boat!

As I stepped onto it and found a seat, I thought “This should be fun”.  You decide how much sarcasm should be included in that statement. This entire trip was meant to experience new things.  This would certainly be one of them!

The Captain of the Amoeba was a charismatic character.  He kept his 40 passengers entertained with stories of the area’s history, interspersed with plenty of humour.  I don’t know for sure how long we were out there, but it was easily an hour.  During that time we sailed down an area owned by Alexander Graham Bell’s family.  I was unaware that Bell had a vacation home in Baddeck, and his family still has a presence there today.  It was quite something to see his home away from home.  If this blogging thing works out, I’ll have a little shack like that… someday!

One of the most interesting aspects of the trip… the eagles.  When we first got on the sailboat, the Captain told us that we should see at least one, if not two, bald eagles along the way.  Apparently there are two pairs of eagles that he has been feeding during his tours, and these birds know the sailboat now.  One of each pair will stay with the nest, while the other will hunt for food.

I’m not sure that I would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  Twice during the trip an eagle appeared soaring high overhead.  It seemed to hang there until the Captain called it, and held out a fish.  Sure enough, the bird came down to snatch the fish after the Captain threw it into the water!  This is a picture that Karen was able to snap with her camera.

You can see from this picture, and the one of Bell’s home, that the weather that day was perfect.  It was sunny and warm.  You couldn’t have asked for any better.  I was still a little uneasy at times, but for the most part, I survived.  I sat my ass down, and didn’t move until we got back.  The only time that I got a little worried was when the sailboat turned around at the midway point.  I know that’s part of their design, but I really wasn’t happy with how far the boat tilts to one side as it makes a turn.  I was extremely thankful that I was on the side that went UP rather than the one that went DOWN.  I gripped the seat tightly and tried not to panic.  I’m not sure that I would have been so calm had I been on the opposite side, and been leaning heavily toward the water.  Luck of the draw, I guess.

It was a shame that it had to end.  Other than the turn, I had a great time!

The Surprise?

Published August 13, 2010 - 1 Comment

I’ve had a few people ask about the “surprise” that I mentioned in the last Cape Breton post.

What is it? What happened?

Well… I’ve sat down several times to write the next post. I’ve even managed to write the first paragraph. Twice! But I can’t seem to get past that initial paragraph.

But I haven’t forgotten about it. Honest!

Day Trip to Sydney, NS

Published August 7, 2010 - 7 Comments
[Sorry Mum… wrong Sydney… maybe you can be a guest blogger when you get back from Australia next year, and we can compare notes]

Part of our trip to Cape Breton was obviously going to involve going into Sydney.  There wasn’t really anything in particular that I needed to see there.  I just didn’t think that I could go all the way to Cape Breton without at least stopping by.  In my day job, I talk quite often with technicians in Sydney, and I’ve always been curious about what it looked like.  I once tried to use Google Streetview to take a look, and was completely blown away at how LARGE the buildings were… until I realized that I was looking at a street view of Sydney, Australia… not Sydney, Nova Scotia.

So we took a drive into the city and parked uptown.  It doesn’t look much different than any other maritime city that I’ve been to.  The only thing that I was really curious to see was the local office, so we went for a little stroll.  I wasn’t sure of the exact address, but I noticed a large cellphone tower on top of one of the buildings… yup, that had to be it.

But before we got there, something caught my eye… a little shop called Cape Breton Fudge Co.  Not being one to pass up the chance to sample the local delicacies, I decided that we should go take a look.  (Yes, I was The Decider!)

You can see from the picture I got from their website that it’s quite nice inside!  We walked around and looked at the different things that they sold.  I could feel my mouth watering.  (Hmm…. I think it is now too!)  You could spend a small fortune in a place like that.  All sorts of yummies to be had.  I couldn’t leave without trying something.

I know that it sounds crazy, but I love creamsicles, and when I saw that they has a creamsicle fudge, I wanted to try it.  There was another one that I wanted to try as well, but I can’t even remember which one it was anymore.  The girl behind the counter cut me off two slivers of each. Obviously the creamsicle won out.

Because it had been decided that I needed a new pair of shorts, and we had no idea where the nearest Walmart was, we asked the girl for directions.  Thinking back, it was a little comical… she had us driving all over hell’s half acre, when it really turned out that the Walmart was essentially on the same road we had parked on, just much further down.  But that’s ok… I certainly didn’t mind standing there while she tried to give us directions.  She had the cutest Cape Breton accent… We would later refer to her affectionately as either the Fudge Girl… or the Candy Whore… depending on who was speaking.   Sweet.

I learned a valuable lesson while in Sydney.  Don’t drive all over an unfamiliar city, spending at least $1 in extra gas, to save $0.80 because you want the Canadian Tire money.  It’s just not worth the aggravation!  And when someone tells you that you are supposed to be their Voice Of Reason… believe them!  It’s just that simple.  But we had a good time  🙂

I never thought that I’d see anything like a roving seafood chowder bus, but here goes…  Gio’s Seafood Chowder Bus.

Yes, there’s a sign that says “Eat In, or Take Out”… and there was actually a line of people at one point!  I don’t know where the “eating in” was taking place… I’m up for trying new things on this trip, but seafood chowder is NOT one of them.  (After I wrote that I found this review online.  Now I’m a little sad that we didn’t stop in and take a look.  I think that it would have been quite a sight in there!  And no, I guess it doesn’t rove.  Darn.)

After a trip to Walmart, where not only did I purchase a new pair of walking shorts, but two pairs of sunglasses (I’m sure that everyone I know has told me that my old pair needed to be thrown away) we went for a drive in search of a plaid house.  Personally, I don’t believe that such a thing exists, but we went in search of it anyway.  We probably would have had more luck finding Bigfoot because this supposed plaid house was nowhere to be found.  How do you hide a plaid house?  It’s a house!  And plaid!  It’s not exactly like it can get up and move.  It certainly doesn’t blend in.  We couldn’t find it, and the GPS apparently doesn’t have a setting for “plaid house, Sydney, NS”.

So we called it a day, and headed back to Baddeck.  Turns out that there was a surprise waiting for me there, and we couldn’t be late!

Expanding My Palate

Published August 3, 2010 - 6 Comments

I really only have one rule when I go away somewhere new… I do not want to eat at a place that I could eat at if I was home.  No McDonalds, no Tim Hortons, no Swiss Chalet…  nothing like that.  That’s it.  When I went to PEI last summer, we stayed clear of any of that stuff.  It was the same thing with Cape Breton last week.

I’ve never been much of a seafood guy.  I know that it’s generally good for me, and I try to add a little bit of it to my diet when I can, but it’s not nearly enough.  Halibut is pricey, and only in season for a short period of time.  I’ve grown to enjoy salmon, which I can buy year-round, but still don’t tend to eat often.  But being on Cape Breton, I figured that I owed it to myself to try some seafood.  So the first place we went to eat was a nice little spot called Bell Buoy restaurant.

I looked over the menu and decided that I wanted to try something completely different.  Pan fried haddock with garlic mashed potatoes doesn’t sound like my usual choice.  And to make it even more interesting… we’d start with an appetizer.. something completely off the wall… like.. oh.. say..  SNAILS!?  Yes, that’s right..  my first foray into the world of escargot.  Covered with garlic butter and cheese.  Who can’t resist the taste of snail?  I joke, but truth be told… I enjoyed it.  As for the haddock, I enjoyed that as well, but I think that I would have preferred salmon or halibut.  But… the haddock was enough of a success that I’ve since purchased some for my freezer when I’m looking for a change of pace.

The next night the weather was beautiful and we opted to find a patio to sit out on.  The Yellow Cello cafe was the perfect spot.  And it’s fun to say!  Yellow Cello.  Yellow Cello.  Yellow Cello.  I didn’t go quite as exotic this time, preferring something a little closer to home.  Caesar salad and a BBQ chicken pizza.   It was very good, and the atmosphere was great.  We had fun sitting out there in the evening, watching people walk by, and listening to some guy playing music inside the cafe.

One of the interesting things that we noticed on the menus in Cape Breton is that their nachos come with bacon bits!  We never did try any, but I think the next time I’m doing nachos at home, I just might throw some bacon bits on there to see what it takes like.  As we all know… everything tastes better with bacon!  And while their nachos have bacon bits on them, apparently their potato skins do not!  Go figure.  I’ve never seen potato skins like that in my life!  Rather than 3 or 4 large half-potato filled with cheese and salsa or sour cream, I was served a huge plate with small slices of potato, smothered in sour cream and cheddar cheese… it’s the kind of thing that should appeal to me, but I actually did not finish them.  It was just a little much, and I really missed having salsa.

But all in all… I very much enjoyed my meals over there.  The food was great.  The waitresses were adorable.  And the atmosphere was usually very unique.  And not once did I eat at a fast food place!

Living in the Lap of Luxury: Bras D’or Lakes Campground

Published August 2, 2010 - 4 Comments

There are certain comforts that you naturally forgo when camping.  It’s just a given.  If you’re not prepared for that, then you’re better off staying in a hotel somewhere.  I was well aware of that.  The plan was to spend the first 2 nights at the Bras D’or Lakes Campground, using it as a base camp of sorts.  We could stay there at night, then head out to discover Cape Breton during the day, and return after supper.  On the third day we would pack up and go for an extended drive, finding a campground along the way to pitch the tent.  Sounded reasonable enough to me.

Because our initial travel day was less than spectacular weather-wise, we had decided to go with one of the 3 available Basic cabins.  I had been warned that these were rather light on amenities.  That’s ok.  A cabin is a cabin.  How bad can it be?

As we registered in the office, we casually asked the question  “What comes with the basic cabin?”

The woman didn’t even hesitate…  “Nothing!”

There was no sugar-coating… no attempt to make it sound even remotely pleasant… just a very blunt “Nothing!”  She didn’t say it in a nasty way… she was just being brutally honest.  These cabins had nothing in them!  I’m sure that the look on my face betrayed what I was thinking…

“We do have 1 Luxury cabin available”, she said.

Umm… ok.. what comes with the luxury cabin?

“You get your own bathroom and shower…”

We’ll take it!

There were a few other things on the list, but like Jerry Maguire said… “You had me at ‘own bathroom’…

So we booked the Luxury cabin for 2 nights, which.. all things considered… was incredibly lucky.  There are only 6 cabins in total (3 Basic, 3 Luxury), and the weather was not great.  To be able to drive in and be able to get the last cabin without having reserved it?  Well.. that was simply a sign from above.  Who could turn a blind eye to that?  Certainly not me!  And besides, I work hard.  I think that I deserve a little luxury in my life.  

Apparently my definition of “luxury” is a wee bit different than their definition.  There was no mint on the pillow.  Hell, there was no pillow!  There was no maid.  No room service.  No large screen TV.  No small screen TV.  No honour bar.  No ice machine.  No towels.  No little soaps or shampoos to take home.  (I did take the roll of toilet paper with me!  I was bound and determined to get something from my stay in luxury!!) If this was the Luxury cabin, then what was in the Basic one?  Oh that’s right… nothing!

In fairness, we did have our own BBQ, a screened-in porch, microwave, mini-fridge, and picnic table.  We were also closer to the water than anyone else, which unfortunately meant that we were not within coverage of the free wi-fi.  I had my iPhone, so I was ok… but that’s not the point.

So the running joke for the next few days (and really, it hasn’t quite stopped being funny… even now) was about how we had stepped into the lap of luxury, how we escaped looking like common rift raft like the poor bastards in the Basic cabins, and how the woman just blurted out “Nothing!” when asked… I applaud her honesty and wish that she worked in a marketing firm somewhere.  I’d love to see some more of her work!

As a side note, I  take a little exception to their promotional material “Baddeck’s only lakefront campground!”  While technically this is true, we took a walk down to said lakefront, and well… It’s probably 20-30 feet maximum, and rock-filled.  I honestly do not think that there’s enough bare sand there for a single person to lay out.  But the view is very nice.  I’ll give them that.  I chuckled as I watched a family of 4 walk down the path toward the water, each of them holding blankets. Sure enough, in a few minutes I watched each of them return up the path. Thankfully there’s a pool onsite.

And as much as I joke about the Luxury cabin, really… for $89/night, I can’t complain.  I just find the term “luxury” to be slightly misleading when it comes to a cabin, but hey… considering that the Basic cabin has “nothing!” in it, having my own toilet to sit on probably does qualify as luxury in my books!

I’d stay there again.

Aiming for the Moon… WaS Reaches New Heights!

Published July 31, 2010 - 2 Comments

Back in June, I mentioned that the blog broke the old record for hits in a single day… 79.  I attributed it to a little post I did about a certain t-shirt, and a girl who took notice.  Amongst other things…  well yesterday smashed through that ceiling, coming in at 94 hits!  It appears that people may have been interested in reading about my trip to Cape Breton, after all.  Or maybe they were simply looking for more pictures of my handsome mug drooling on my Tweety bird pillow as I slept… Whatever the reason, I am happy to see the spike.  I recently read a term called vanity metrics, meaning things like blog hits, and how they were nearly useless in terms of tracking real value, and more for inflating a blogger’s ego.  And I agree!  But without a measurement of reader traffic, there’s really no point in measuring anything else.  No matter how valuable your message is, if no one is receiving it, it doesn’t really matter does it?

Thanks for reading!

The Plan: Driving to Cape Breton

Published July 30, 2010 - 8 Comments

The trip was planned with unusual precision.  Unusual for me, that is.  I’m kinda a fly by the seat of my pants guy when it comes to these things.  Sure, I am capable of a little planning.  But this went beyond anything that I’m used to.  My role was to sit back and stay out of the way.  Awesome!

Sleeping Beauty. Pretty, isn't it?

I finished work at 7am Thursday morning, so I wasn’t going to be much good on the drive. The idea was simple enough.  I could sleep on the way, and wake at our destination completely refreshed and ready to go.  I had my Tweety pillow, a blanket, even a sleeping mask.  It just doesn’t get any better than that.  I probably would have slept the entire drive had it not been for the rain.  At one point I woke up… the car felt like it was moving sideways, rather than going forward.  It was a rather unsettling feeling.  When I opened my eyes, all I could see was a torrential downpour, and transport trucks.  We had been driving for a little over 2 hours, and were still in New Brunswick.  I was all set to stay overnight and wait for the weather to pass… but that wasn’t part of the plan.  Onward bound!

Thankfully the rain did not continue for the entire drive, but that was it… there would be no more sleep for me.  I spent my time looking for road signs and arguing playfully about which direction “north” was. 

Thankfully the GPS is better at that kinda stuff than I am.

Mini-Vacation 2010 – Cape Breton, NS

Published July 30, 2010 - 1 Comment

Wouldn't it be fun to live in a lighthouse?

I’ve been saying for a few years that I really wanted to visit Cape Breton sometime.  Well that time was a few days ago!  I’ve been holding off on writing anything until I had all the pictures from the trip, as well as trying to overcome a little writer’s block along the way.

So what is it about Cape Breton that was holding my attention?  The obvious answer is the Cabot Trail.  I had been told that the drive is amazing, and I wanted to see for myself.  There’s also a little bit of overlap with my working life… part of my day job is dealing with technicians in Nova Scotia and PEI, and I’ve never had a real appreciation for what it means when I ask one of them to drive to a specific location.  Last summer I finally got to PEI for the first time.  This summer was Cape Breton.  So the next time I have to wake someone up in the middle of the night in Chéticamp, and ask them to drive to Inverness in a snowstorm, I’ll understand why they hang up on me!  🙂

To go through the entire trip in one blog post would not do it justice.  I think that it would be too long, lack focus, and probably lose readers’ interest.  So rather than write a huge post, I think that I’ll break it down into several mini-posts and spread them out over the next couple of days.  You can always click on the “Cape Breton” tag to get the entire list of posts, after they have been published.

Stopped to enjoy the beautiful view. So relaxing.

I will say this about the trip as a whole… I had a fantastic time!  The Cabot Trail is everything that people said it was, and more.  The weather was perfect (other than our travel days, which was just fine with me).

I would go back in a heart beat.