Tag Archives: travel

Final Adventures of Impromptu London

A bittersweet day. 

Today was my last full day in London and while I will miss this amazing city, I am looking forward to being back with my family, friends, and co-workers (yes, I do actually miss my co-workers). 

Despite wanting to catch some last minute sights before leaving tomorrow, I still had a bit of a late start to my day. But once I got going, I didn’t stop until now to write this blog. 

The Barbican Centre was established in 1982 by HM Queen Elizabeth to support and promote the arts of all mediums and also provide a space for conferences and meetings. 


The entire building feels very eclectic, from public art works in large spaces to a hidden conservatory (like a greenhouse) in the center of the complex. I spent over an hour going from floor to floor, exploring all this building had to offer. 


There were a lot of students in the cafe and lounge areas, because the Barbican works closely with (it seems) the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I didn’t get to explore the school, but it seems that this is yet another of the top performing arts schools in London. 


This city is so wonderful for the arts!

For a change of pace, I hopped onto the tube and headed to one of the most famous addresses in history–221B Baker Street. 

The Sherlock Holmes Museum is an interesting combination of fascinating and disturbing. 


Even though Holmes was never a real person, one could be made to believe that he did exist from the way this many leveled house was set up. Period appropriate decorations and doodads that were mentioned in the books of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle such as Sherlock’s violin, Watson’s writing table, and, of course, the hats. There were some people in period costume as well who helped encourage the atmosphere of the home/museum.


What made it disturbing, at least for me, were all the life-size figures of  Holmes, Watson, Moriarty, and several other characters from various books. 



I don’t like dolls, or anything that resembles humans too closely but aren’t actually alive. Something about them creeps me out, and being in a house full of them was rather challenging. However, I was able to set my “fear” aside and still enjoy being in the “very place where Sherlock Holmes lived.”

Speaking of, is anyone out there a fan of the BBC rendition with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman? I missed seeing the first episode of the fourth season on New Year’s Day, so please don’t tell me anything. I’m looking forward to seeing that soon. 

After inspecting the home of the sleuth, I hopped on the tube once again to head to the Tate Britain Museum, a museum that features British artists from across time. A new acquaitance I had made during my visit here suggested that I go to see a painting called Hope by George Frederic Watts because of how emotional and touching it was. 


It truly was an amazing painting to behold. The blindfolded figure clinging to a lyre that only has one single golden strand remaining. It is dark and sad, yet does inspire hope-there is still another chance.  Very inspirational. 


I loved it so much a bought a postcard with it. 

There were many other wonderful and famous paintings in the museum which I will show below. 


Finally, as my last wish for my stay in London, I actually treated my AirBnb host, Pandora, to dinner. 

She has been such an amazing host. Lovely, through and through. We didn’t always get a chance to talk because our schedules didn’t always match, but it was so nice to get to just sit and chat with her tonight about all sorts of things. I hope that from my time staying here, she can consider me more than just a guest, but now a new friend. 


I have made so many new friends and acquatainces during my time here in London. People met through current connections and others just via happenstance, I truly believe God was at work and will continue to work in my life. 

Coming to London had been impromptu, but it turned out to be an amazing blessing. 

Thanks, London, for being so wonderful. Here’s to the next time we shall meet. 

-Wandering Minstrelette

Golden Tours Excursion

Today I had the great privilege of participating on one of Golden Tour UK’s day trips to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath. 

It sounds like a lot, and it was, but what an enjoyable and amazing day!

I had to meet the tour bus on Buckingham Palace Road by 8:30am, meaning I had to leave my AirBnb before the sunrise to make it in time. Yes, it was early, but I finally had the chance to see my London sunrise.


There were so many people interested in this particular trip, that we were actually divided into two groups. I ended up on the bus with Alton, the bus driver, and Eddie, the guide. They both proved to be absolutely wonderful people and made our day trip everything we could have asked it to be. 

Our first stop for the day was in Windsor Castle. It wasn’t until we arrived at the foot of the castle that I remembered that I had actually been here before with the New England Youth Ensemble when I was in college. Memories flooded back, but I also had the chance to experience tons of things for the first time. 


Sadly, as was the case with the Parliament building and Westminster Abbey, pictures were not allowed to be taken in many parts of the castle. But while I cannot show them to you, what I can saw is that this one of five homes of the current queen is utterly exquisite and ornate. Nothing was left unthought of when it came to materials used and decorations displayed. 

Enormous paintings covered the ceilings of several rooms, featuring individuals who had lived in the castle among the gods. The armory was breath-taking and the hall where royal dinners are often held was quite long. Apparently they have a single table that stretches across the whole expanse!

There was a special exhibit to honor the Queen’s 90th birthday that featured her outfits from across the decades. Riding costumes to theatrical garb to estate dinner gowns. Everything was so beautiful, but one thing I noticed was the height. The Queen does not seem to be, by the looks of her clothes, very tall at all. To me, that makes her all the more charming. 

I exited the exhibit just in time to catch some of the changing of the guard ceremony. Not quite as elaborate as that at Buckingham, and certainly not as crowded, but still quite fun to watch. The musicians accompanying the ceremony were a fife and drum corp, and the fife players were struggling a bit with playing in tune. It was entertaining, but I also felt I could sympathize with them since I play piccolo and know that the cold weather makes it difficult to stay in tune. 

Let’s be honest, the piccolo is just hard to keep in tune regardless. 



Just before we had to leave, I ducked into St. George’s Chapel, one of the oldest parts of the castle. It was ornate to the highest degree and also a fully functioning church. I wonder if it is open to the public every weekend and what exactly happens when the Queen is residing there. 

Our second stop was to something that had been on my list for a long time now – Stonehenge!


These ancient rocks, despite all the archaeology and study that has been done on them, still maintain an air of mystery and wonder. 

Visitors are dropped off in the parking lots and then must go through the visitor center before taking the mini-bus up to the path that leads to the rocks. There was also an option to walk a trail to the rocks. It was only a little over a mile, and I would have done it, but the cold was just too nippy. 


The mini-bus leaves visitors just within view of the stones, but as you walk closer, you can feel the whole aura of this ancient place. 

In fact, I made myself stop for just a moment. No pictures, bracing the cold, and took in the atmosphere. Sometimes I’m too “trigger happy” with my camera and forget to be present in the moment. Let me tell you, this was a moment to be present in. 

There are varying theories as to what the stones represent and how they were brought to the Salisbury plains. What is known is that the structure could be as old 5,000 years and that on the summer and winter solsitices, the structure is perfectly aligned with the early morning sun. It is believed that the Beaker people, named for the unique type of pottery they used and the builders of Stonehenge, could also use the formation to predict eclipses. 



Around Stonehenge were various ditches and mounds. The ditches helped outline the perimeter of the ancient memorial, placed there by ancient peoples for purposes not entirely clear today. The mounds are actually burial grounds, where the wealthy and influential Beakers were buried and prepared for the after life. 

There were also lots of birds that inhabited the rocks and the plain surrounding. Jackdaws and rooks were abundant and some of the rooks even were brave enough to land on a couple of the memorial’s wardens. I tried to convince one to come sit on my hand with peanuts, with the consent of the warden, but no luck. 



Our final destination of the tour was city of Bath, once an opulent city when Britain had a powerful Roman presence that fell into disarray when the empire crumbled. However, the rediscovery of the Roman baths in the 19th century brought people back to the city. Jane Austen, British author of the late 1700s/early 1800s, mentioned Bath in a couple of her novels. Her finally novel, Persuasian, took place entirely in Bath. 

It would have been nice to see more of this ancient city, but we were there to see what had started and revived the city-the Roman Baths. 


Wandering through the museum portion of the site and then standing by the large green pool was truly a memorable experience. Once again, I felt as if I had been placed in a time capsule. To think, hundreds of years ago, this was a place where the wealthiest came to worship and relax. 




What famous people must have entered these waters? What amount of people have these walls seen? 

There were pieces of the ancient altars and parts of statues that were revered, including a bust (more just a head, really) of Minerva, the Roman god of wisdom, to whom the baths were built in honor of. (I believe her Greek counterpart was Athena.)


After a quick glance through the gift shop (there always seems to be a gift shop, huh?), we were back in the bus for a two hour ride back to central London. 

I have been on several tours, day trips and otherwise, and I can honestly say that this is one of the best I have been on. The timing of our visits and the travel in between were perfectly calculated to allow us to see all we could want, have us leave wanting more, and still never feel rushed. Eddie, our tour guide, was pleasant, funny, and approachable, making our time together enjoyable. 

If I had the time, I would book another tour that they have down to Kent and Dover, but I believe I will have to wait until I return to the British Isles for that trip. 

I highly recommend Golden Tours for your visit to London, and no, I was not asked or paid to say this. I really just liked it that much. 🙂

Hard to believe I only have two days left before I return home! I’ll be sure to press in as much as possible within the next two days–and then share all about it! Look out for my next blog post. 

-Wandering Minstrelette

 

Cramming in the Highlights

There are so many wonderful things to see in London, it’s sometimes hard to know what to do. 

So I was thankful when potential plans to go out of the city fell through, because it meant I was able to see a few more things I had on my list. 

One thing I had always wanted to see was the changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Online I had discovered that the Band of the Scots Guard was going to be participating in the ceremony today, so I knew I had to go. 

My new friend Jeniffer, whom I had met last week, joined me in the massive group of people craning to see anything of the time-seasoned tradition within and near the gated palace courtyard. 


The soldiers were wearing their winter gray coats instead of their brilliant red uniforms, but the bear hats seemed fluffier somehow from when I had come last time (which had been summer). 


There were no bagpipes in the band, as I had been hoping, but the members of the ensemble were without a doubt amazing musicians and I enjoyed everything they performed. It was kind of cute that some of the instruments, brass mostly, had little leather jackets. I’m wondering if it was to keep the instrument warm or help the player hold it while marching. Probably the latter. 

As I had mentioned before, there were tons of people present to see the ceremony meaning not everyone really had a good view. Jeniffer, myself, and some others nearby started watching everything from some other guy’s phone screen, since he was filming with a selfie stick and was able to stick it through the fence to get a better angle. 


Maybe seeing something like this on TV would have allowed us to have better views, but I actually really enjoyed the experience of being out there and feeling the atmosphere of tradition and pomp. 



Once the ceremony was over, we met another friend, Barbara, by the National Gallery and took a bus to Tower Bridge. The setting sun shone perfectly for pictures of the bridge and the nearby buildings. 




Eventually Jeniffer had to split, but Barbara and I continued our adventure by visiting the British Museum. Hopefully I will be able to go back before I leave London because in the 45 minutes we had before the closing of the museum, we saw some wonderful things and there was so much more yet to see. 





I always love seeing artifacts from ancient cultures and imagining how life must have been once upon a time. Some of the pieces were quite stunning and thought provoking, but the lion from Babylon’s gate had a special sense of nostalgia, bringing me back to my trip to when I had seen the whole Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. 


After the museum closed down, Barbara decided she was ready to head home. I, however, felt like the night was still young and pondered what to do for a while. Purchasing same night tickets for the West End was expensive, there were no movies out that I desired to see, and most everything interesting was already closed. 

Then I remembered that there was a place I wanted to visit that was certainly open – the extravagant and magnificent Harrods department store!

I had been told many stories about this place, so I had to experience it for myself. 

Gracious, it was overwhelming. 


Six floors, plus a ground and basement level, with literally anything you could ever think of. Furniture, books, technology, toys, jewelry, perfume, wine, top-of-the-line (sometimes exotic) groceries, and of course, lots and lots of clothes. 

Each area was decorated to create a certain mood that aligned with the products. I mean, highly decorated. I can’t imagine how long and how many people it must have taken to put this whole thing together. 


One special moment in the store, though, was coming across a memorial statue and fountain to Princess Diana and her lover, Dodi Al Fayed, that supports underserved children in the community that the princess was originally from. It was touching and very human. There was even a condolences book that people could sign. It’s amazing how much Princess Diana is still missed after all these years. 


Wandering through the halls on nearly every floor, I observed the types of things sold and the prices they were marked at. You did not come to Harrods to find something cheap. Even things on sale were pretty far out of my price range, including the groceries section. It truly is a place of wealth and extravagance.  

Literally, there is a restaurant dedicated to all things truffles. 

By that alone, I think you get my point. 

It was only after meandering on most of the floors, that I decided it was finally time to end my day and head home. Besides, tomorrow is going to be very exciting and I want to be well rested!

But I won’t tell you what it is, you’ll just have to stop by the blog tomorrow to find out. 

Hope everyone’s new year is off to a great start!

-Wandering Minstrelette

Bracknell

Short post today. 

London fog has finally made an appearance. It kind of set the mood for the day as soon as I walked out the door. 


Newbold College is located in Bracknell, about an hour out of London. My journey took much longer than it should have because of uncertainties and second guessing. A whole other hour was frustratingly added to my trip, meaning I wasn’t going to be able to participate in something I was hoping to do, but what matters is I made it. 

Pr. Vili, who I met last night, picked me up from the station and took me to the campus. The fog made it difficult to truly wander and take pictures, so I hung around the church while he packed up a video camera and other equipment he had been using. 





The afternoon was relaxed and honestly kind of slow. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I guess it was nice to have a change of pace. 

I was definitely given a glimpse of life in England outside the ever rushing London heartbeat. Quaint homes in small villages, big Walmart like one-stop-shops, people knowing all the other people in the stores. It was pleasant and refreshing. 

I wish they had this in the States!

The way back was probably what made my evening though. Two adorable little girls, aged 4 and 7, sat by me in the train and took a liking to me. The chatted with me, with smiling parents looking on, the entire way back to Waterloo Station. 

Earlier in the day, I was kind of feeling like today was a bit of a loss. There are so many other things I could have done. But then a phrase one of my teachers in college loved to say came to mind, “Not every measure has to be a masterpiece.”

Every moment of every day doesn’t have to be grand and amazing. It would be more tiring and less special if they were. So, I am thankful for today, and for the fact that I was able to come home early to enjoy the beginning of Sabbath and rest. 

And tomorrow is New Year’s Eve! I hope to have some good stories to share with you. 🙂

-Wandering Minstrelette

A Day for New Friends

What an interesting and exciting day!

A good friend of mine told me that a friend of his that he had met while studying abroad was going to be in London the same time as me and decided to connect us. 

Today I met Bruno, along with Barbara and Jennifer, for an amazing whirlwind of a day.We met at the National Gallery and got to know one another a bit as walked through the exhibits. 


There were fantastic paintings from well-know and not so well-known artists. Probably my favorites were Paolo Veronese’s “The Adoration of the Kings,” and Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.”



After seeing what we wanted at the Gallery, we decided to head towards the British Museum. Except… I lead us in the wrong direction, and with plans later in the day, we wouldn’t have had the time to do everything we wanted. Thankfully, we ended seeing things that some had not had a chance to see yet. 

We crossed the Waterloo Bridge and then around to the Eye, back across on the Westminster Bridge up into Leicester Square. It reminded me very much of New York City, with all the lights and enormous stores, including four stories of M&Ms! Such a ridiculous amount of chocolate. 


Our group began to dwindle a bit as we began a walking tour. Not even 10 minutes into the tour, the three of us left decided we would rather spend our time doing other things. So we headed to Piccadilly Circus. 

What a gorgeous, expensive, and very busy area of London! If I thought Leicester Square was like New York City, Piccadilly Circus was even more so. The tight, constantly shifting crowd, the bright lights (including Europe’s largest LED screen, smaller only than the one in Times Square), and the shopping were all so reminiscent of the Big Apple. 




It’s this kind of thing that I don’t mind experiencing once in a while, but also makes me never want to live in a large city. There is simply too much going on all the time, and I know I need to relax my senses once in a while. 

After helping another of our friends get home, Bruno and I were left together to meet with Pr. Vili, the director for media ministry of the Southern England Conference and a pastor at Newbold College. 


Pr. Vili absolutely spoiled us by taking us to the largest mall in Europe, a Westfield, no less, for dinner. The shopping center was stunning and the food was fantastic. After spending some time together getting to know each other, Pr. Vili left for home and Bruno and I were left to wander the halls of the mall. 

A macaw made from tiny Havaiana flip-flops!


We popped into some stores and watched people skate in the indoor ice rink, but probably the most memorable moment was at the Sky TV kiosk. They have a machine that showed some well-known characters from children’s films (all of which I know, of course) in different poses that you had to match. It was too adorable not to try, and they had pictures from Zootopia (known as Zootropolis here), so I had to do it. 

On my first round, I had 100% success at matching the poses and the salespeople running the kiosk were so impressed that they decided to buy Bruno and I tea. We were so taken aback, but completely appreciative. 

We ended up hanging out at the kiosk for several minutes just chatting and left feeling like we had made new friends. What a blessing!


Getting home late several nights in a row is starting to get to me, but I am just so thankful for all the wonderful things God has blessed me with and used me to be a blessing to others. I pray that the rest of my time here in London will continue to be the same. 

-Wandering Minstrelette

Impromptu London

For the first time in my life, I’m spending Christmas at an airport. 

Detroit Metropolitan Airport, to be exact. 


It all came about rather last minute. 
For the first time, I have a full time job that requires me to make proper vacation requests. Originally, I had wanted to travel to Eastern Europe in February, but circumstances made that very difficult, so I decided to take advantage of the two weeks of vacation for the “price” of one.

I looked into trips to South America or Asia, but not seemed to quite fit or work out. Finally, I decided to do what I should have done from the beginning–pray and ask God where I should go. 

The answer came much quicker than I expected: “London.”

I had been before, back in the summer of 2009 with the New England Youth Ensemble of Washington Adventist University. It had been a blast and I have wanted to go back, but was kind of hoping to go somewhere new. However, the answer was clear. 

Some friends and I from the 2009 NEYE tour.

Unsure of why, but completely sure this is what I needed to do, I made the necessary arrangements just before Thanksgiving. Quite tight in terms of a time frame for finding a plane ticket, accommodations, etc., but you know? Things fell right into place. 

Which brings me to today. It was a short flight from Washington DC to Detroit, with a seven hour layover before my flight to London. 

Leaving DC
Entering Detroit

I spent a lot of that time walking (I don’t think I’ve ever reached my step goal so early in the day!), observing people, and thinking about what is in store for the next two weeks.  


I have made some connections with people in London/Southern England and have some friends who happen to be in the in the city that I plan to meet up with. I did plan one official tour (can’t wait to see Stonehenge!), but otherwise my days are very free.

God is sending me here for something. Guess I’m just going to have wait and see what He has in store for me. 

Oh, and I’m completely open to suggestions of things I should see or do while in London. Please, comment with suggestions and I’ll see if I can actually see them through!

I pray that each of you are spending your Christmas (or Hanukkah) exactly where you want to be–with your loved ones, making wonderful memories to cherish for a lifetime. There is truly few blessings greater than that. 

Merry Christmas! 

-Wandering Minstrelette

Algonquin Adventure: Day 3 – Finale

Sadly, our time in Canada has drawn to a close. What a wonderful way to end it, though!

Yesterday we had discovered the Old 127 and how beautiful it was now that it was no longer a major route for heavy traffic. We woke up early to be on Old 127 by 8:15am, and honestly could have made it earlier, in order to get some good birding in. Our efforts paid off, and we saw several different species that we had not yet seen on the trip including one lifer (the first sighting of the species by an observer). We spent an entire hour and some minutes driving extremely slowly, patiently waiting for birds to appear.

We did not, however, leave the vehicle. I refused to, because the amount of mosquitoes and black flies was absolutely insane today. Even though I hadn’t mentioned them before, they had been a nuisance over the past couple of day, but today they were particularly bad and would swarm our van’s mirrors every time we stopped to look at a bird. Even later on, it seemed like no matter how much repellent you wore, they would still follow you like a little black cloud.

The heat didn’t help much either. Once completing the slow drive through Old 127, we headed straight to Lookout trail, which we had not done on either of the previous days. Blue skies meant that the sun was able to strongly shine, making the hike – already considered a difficult one – oppressive. Combine that with the insects… Not a happy picture.

My mom and I decided to opt out of hiking before even reaching the first post marker (all the trails have booklets that inform you about things surrounding the trail and each point it marked by a post), and instead go for lunch.

(You may be wondering how this is supposed to be a wonderful ending, but I promise, it gets better.)

This weekend is a long weekend in Canada, with Monday being Victoria Day, so TONS of people showed up in the park. Apparently this time last year, the Visitor Center had 3,000 people come in a single day. Talk about heavy foot traffic.

All the people made for interesting observation while eating, however, and it will always baffle me how people travel with children under 3. Kudos to them, I don’t know if I could do it.

After lunch, Mom decided she wanted to head back to the house for a nap. Not wanting to waste my last day at Algonquin inside, I dropped her off and went back out to the park myself.

I have to say, I’ve enjoyed spending this time with my mother but it was nice having a chance to be alone in the woods. Some people might find that frightening, but I find it pleasant and peaceful. I feel rather safe in the woods, actually. Often much more so that in a city.

That’s why it was funny to me when an Indian couple who had passed me while walking on the Two Rivers trail, suddenly backtracked and struck up conversation. The woman inquired whether I was out there alone and when I responded affirmatively, her eyes widened and she proclaimed me brave – she was there with her husband and was nervous to be out in the woods. Later in the conversation, she mentions how she very much wanted to see a bear. I wasn’t quite sure how the two fit together… Anyways, I was able to give some suggestions of trails that were shorter and enjoyable for them to try later on. They thanked me and we parted.

Trying to be alone on the trail when half of Ontario has come to Algonquin was rather difficult and I would often let people pass me, wondering whether that would scare off all the birds I wanted to see or not. Thankfully, I would often leave a large enough gap that I was able to see quite a few birds, as well as squirrels and chipmunks.

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I also had the distinct pleasure of scaring a particular loud and slightly annoying group of university students who were proclaiming to the world, it seemed, of how “connected” they felt to nature and responded to each other’s comments and quips with raucous laughter. (Wow, writing that makes me feel like an old woman, lol – these younguns! I’m sure my group of friends and I have been viewed the same at some point.) There was a part of the trail that overlooked a precipice, and there were several parts of the cliff available for visual enjoyment of the scenery. Bits of brush separated sections of the cliff, and I was on a section where I could hear, but not see, the university students.

Not actually intending to do anything that go on my merry way birding, I cupped my hands to let out a long, loud hawk call (surprisingly, I only saw two this whole time, one of which I couldn’t identify…). The group on the other side instantly started chattering – “What in the world was that?” “Did you hear that?” “What kind of animal do you think that was?” “Man, that sounded so close!”

They came scurrying to my section of the cliff where I contently smiled and gave them no further clue as to the origin of the sound.

The hike around Peck Lake was a little better in terms of crowds, and actually in terms of bugs as well. The terrain wasn’t too difficult, but wasn’t flat, and skirted the entirety of the placid waters of Peck Lake.

DSC06828

I didn’t see too much in the way of wildlife on this trail, but it was such a beautiful walk that I didn’t mind. Again, the peace that comes from being in the woods, smelling its scents, hearing its sounds, feeling its breeze… It truly does make you feel one with nature. When you quiet your heart and mind from the worries of the week and absorb the gifts of God’s Creation, the Book of Nature, you feel more relaxed and calm. Regularly walking in natural areas can reduce stress and make you better equipped mentally and emotionally for handling the stresses of the work week. I highly suggest trying to walk in nature at least once a week – it will do you much good.

Not wanting to have my mother worry too much, I returned to our AirBnb a little before 8pm and started preparations for tomorrow’s return trip.

Our host, Mariska, came down to chat with us for a while and it makes me wish that we had had a chance to hang out more with her and her husband Kirk. Perhaps we’ll get to know them better next time, because you can be sure that I already am making plans to come back up to visit this wonderful park.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our Operation Ontario adventures and seeing all the pictures. I promise I’ll post those Niagara photos by the end of the week – I start a new job on Monday, so I’ll be focused on that for the next few days.

One last wildlife count before we go:

(Today) 2 moose, 1 snowshoe hare, 3 red squirrels, 2 chipmunks, heard one specie of frog, and 19 species of birds.

(Total) 8 moose, 1 red fox, 1 beaver, 1 woodchuck, 9 red squirrels, 7 chipmunks, 2 snowshoe hares, 1 ribbon snake, heard three species of frog plus one tadpole, and 40 species of birds (3 of them lifers – and yes, I saw my loon).

Praise God for a wonderful trip, not just to Algonquin, but to Niagara and Toronto as well. It’s been great, Ontario. I’ll definitely come back to visit. 🙂

Happy travels!

-Wandering Minstrelette

 

Algonquin Adventure: Day 2

My mom and I woke up and left the house a little earlier than yesterday, anxious to get a head start on the day. We decided to cut straight across to the West Gate and hike trails on that end, working back towards the East Gate and “home” by the end of the day.

Well, let me tell you that choosing to do so made all the difference.

Not long after entering the park we discovered an accumulation of cars – another moose! We were excited to see one so early and it proved to be a good omen for the rest of the day.

The first trail after the West Gate is the Whiskey Rapids trail, where once upon a time loggers who were supposed to be bringing a barrel of whiskey to their camp and co-workers, decided to partake early, drank a little too much, and ended up losing the whiskey barrel in the rapids, never to be recovered. That’s what one gets, I guess, for celebrating before it’s time.

Running water accompanied us the entirety of the trail, first as a babbling brook and then as small, but vigorous rapids. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous and the sounds of birdsong filled the air. In fact, we saw four different types of warblers plus White-throated Sparrows. Doing a proper search for the birds, pshing (making a psh sound at intervals tends to attract birds and bring them up where they are more visible), and then patiently waiting for them to respond and appear caused us to take three hours on a trail that should only have taken one and a half. It was amazing, really – it didn’t feel like so much time had passed.

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Still, wanting to make sure we got as much in today as possible, we headed for the next trail called Hardwood Lookout trail. This trail features the towering presence of beech, maple, cherry, hemlock, and pine trees, all of whom had yet to produce or were just budding new leaves. Leafless branches means that the sunlight is better able to reach the forest floor, which results in the blooming of several delicate and beautiful flowers. We really came at just the right time of year to see these blooms, because most of them apparently only last for the month of May – when the frost disappears and the leaves are not yet out. In a couple more weeks, the sugar maples and beech will have leaf-filled branches and the forest floor will be covered in shade, so we are blessed to be able to have seen these precious forest ornaments.

Again taking longer than expected on this hike because of birding (we saw three species of woodpecker, more warblers, other songbirds, and a Spruce Grouse – lifer!!) and spending some time admiring the view from the cliff that marked the end of the trail, we found ourselves rather prepared to eat a late lunch.

Thankfully there was a store/gift shop not far down Highway 60 where we were able to grab lunch. The Portage Store also provided canoes for rental, either for the day or for multi-day trips. One of the owners explained to us how most beginner itineraries would look like – spend a day paddling until you reach a campsite, set up camp for the night, portage the canoe and your gear to the next body of water (usually not very far away), and keep on going. Repeat for as long as desired. It sounded so exciting to me, although my mom wasn’t too thrilled at the idea, and we wouldn’t have been able to do anything like that at this time anyways. But I already have ideas spinning in my mind of bringing a group of friends up here for a several day canoeing trip – that would be so much fun!

After entertaining ourselves by watching people attempting to get in and out of canoes for day trips and purchasing gas, we decided to run through the park to another store in search of beans for tonight’s dinner. Along the way, we saw several more moose and actually almost ran in to one that appeared rather suddenly on the road. It seemed just as startled as I was, as if it only noticed my presence at the same time I noticed his. Thankfully, nothing happened but I think both I and the moose were in a bit of shock for several moments afterwards. Gracious, that thing was big! I knew they were big, but seeing one that wasn’t knee deep in water finally gave me perspective on how massive of an animal the moose is. And that was a young bull with tiny antlers – I can’t even imagine was a fully grown, mature bull would be like!

The rest of our moose encounters were much calmer by comparison. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll see a female or a juvenile, all the ones we’ve seen so far have been young bulls.

After doing our grocery shopping, we ran the produce back to the house and decided to explore a road near the our accommodations. The road that we take to get to Algonquin is called Route 127, from which we turn left onto Highway 60 that runs through the park. Apparently there is an Old 127 that is a gravel road that is a bit of a scenic shortcut from the house to the turn onto Highway 60. It took us by a lake with houses on islands, marshland, spruce bogs, and tons of vegetation. Again, we were surprised to not see it teeming with life, but there were a few things we found along the way, like a sandpiper and a dove which I have yet to identify.

Overall, it has been such a good day with gorgeous scenery, much more wildlife, and absolutely perfect weather. I’m definitely falling in love with this park and will be visiting again and again.

Tomorrow we’ll try to catch some of the shorter trails in the middle of Highway 60 that we have yet to try and I’m hoping that we’ll see the last thing on my wishlist for the trip – a loon!

I’m hoping that the next post will tell you that I saw the loon, completing my southern Algonquin experience.

Wildlife count (today): 5 moose, 1 fox, 2 red squirrels, 3 chipmunks, heard one new specie of frog plus saw a tadpole, 20 species of birds.

(total): 6 moose, 1 red fox, 1 beaver, 1 woodchuck, 6 red squirrels, 5 chipmunks, 1 rabbit (hare?), 1 ribbon snake, heard 3 species of frog plus one tadpole, and 29 species of birds.

-Wandering Minstrelette

Algonquin Adventure: Day 1

Several months before leaving for Canada, I decided that making a stop at a major park/preserve was a must. After a little research, Algonquin Provincial Park became the easy and logical choice – and I am so glad we decided to visit.

Algonquin Provincial Park was established in 1893, making it the oldest provincial park in Canada. It is absolutely enormous at 7,653 square kilometers (2,955 sq mi), which Wikipedia claims is about a quarter of the size of Belgium. Located within a decent distance from Toronto and Ottawa, besides being considered some of the most pristine, woody wilderness in eastern Canada, has made Algonquin one of the most popular parks in Ontario and the entire nation.

There are over 2400 lakes, hundreds of kilometers of trails, and the southern, developed portion of the park is easily accessible by the Highway 60, which runs through the park. The majority of the park, however, is not developed but allowed to maintain it’s natural state and provides prime habitat for beaver, otter, red wolves, fox, black bears, trout, deer, all sorts of birds, and, of course, moose.

Mommy and I happened to have chose, by complete accident, the best time of year to see moose in the park. Apparently these sodium starved animals will come close to the roads to lick the sodium rich runoffs from salt that had been set out to melt snow and ice. Our AirBnb host, Kirk, told us that there was no way we wouldn’t see a moose while we were here.

Speaking of Kirk, his and his wife Mariska’s home is absolutely stunning. We found them through AirBnb and are staying in a basement apartment that has it’s own entrance, a full functioning kitchen, full bath, large bed, and combined dining/living space. It feels homey and rustic at the same time without being too much of either.

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They were kind enough to allow up to borrow an annual pass to the park, which will save us a lot of money as parking permits for Algonquin cost $17 per car, per day. Apparently they only started welcoming AirBnb guests this past January and have been a hit almost instantly. If you ever plan on visiting this area, I would highly suggest looking up their space.

Both Kirk and Mariska work for Algonquin, which gave us the added advantage of being able to ask them questions about the park and getting solid, educated answers. Mariska works for the Visitor Center and Kirk is actually a park ranger who has spent, as he told us, years running away from administrative positions that would require him to sit behind a desk because the favorite part of his job is being outside all the time. I totally get it – I would love a job like that, too.

So, armed with maps and guide books, we entered the developed area of the park late this morning and began our Algonquin adventure.

Highway 60, as I mentioned before, runs the length of the developed, southern portion of the park. It is 56 kilometers of gorgeous views of lakes, bogs, rivers, and forest. There are several paths coming off the highway for hiking and observing. Some of the trails take about an hour to complete and others can take six. Guess which ones we did today.

The first trail we walked was actually the Beaver Pond trail, which took us around two ponds/lakes that existed entirely because of the engineering skills of beavers. Although we did not see any actual beavers (we did see one earlier on, but not on this trail), we saw several beaver homes and one absolutely incredible dam that looked like the edge of an infinity pool. It was spectacular – rugged, strong, and perfect in its wildness.

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The second trail was called the Spruce Bog trail, which the provided guided book at the trail head called “the wettest desert.” Apparently there is tons of water, it’s just not accessible to anything except certain plants. The bog gives way to a sentinel of tall, skinny black spruce trees that provide a unique habitat for many creatures including the spruce grouse. Which we did not see. It would have been a lifer, but oh well. I did, however, have a chickadee land on a branch less than a foot from my face and a chipmunk come sniff my boots.

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I have to say that in general, I was surprised at the lack of wildlife we witnessed in the park today. With all the bodies of water, we barely saw any waterfowl and no loons. There was no sign of larger mammalian life either, and we started to become concerned that we wouldn’t get to see our moose, despite the previous assurances.

Although neither trail was overly difficult, both mommy and I were a bit worn out and decided to continue our exploring by car. Since the stretch of highway in the park wasn’t too long, I decided to drive to the other end to see if there was anything worth noting to come back for tomorrow. And I’m glad we did because at about Kilometer 35, we noticed a pod of cars stopped along the side of the road which could only have meant one thing – a moose!

Sure enough, a young bull moose was munching the grass and drinking the water by the highway, in search of the sodium he was in need of after a long winter.

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Admittedly, they are not the most beautiful animals. Even on the animal crossing signs they looked gangly and awkward next to the deer.

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To enhance the matter, moose are currently loosing their winter coats, meaning they look scruffy and scraggly. Almost everyone has told me that moose aren’t the brightest crayon in the box either (guess Brother Bear got that bit right), but somehow they are cute and majestic in their “ugliness” and awkwardness. I really like them and they are one of my mom’s favorite animals, so we were both super excited to finally see one for ourselves.

After seeing the moose we continued our journey to the West Gate of the park, turned around and returned to our comfy accommodations. Tomorrow there is so much more to see! Stay tuned. 🙂

Wildlife Count: 1 moose, 1 beaver, 1 woodchuck, 2 chipmunks, 4 red squirrels, 1 rabbit, 1 snake, heard at least 2 species of frogs, and 15 different bird species.

-Wandering Minstrelette

Rest Day

Today was spent mostly in shopping for groceries at St. Lawrence Market and then traveling to the Algonquin Provincial Park region, where our next set of adventures will take place. However, both my mother and I are exhausted from all the walking we had done the past couple of days, so we’re taking a break for the evening and will continue our exploring tomorrow (we’ve been promised that we’ll see moose – here’s hoping!).

I was hoping to perhaps share those photos I had promised from Niagara Falls, but once again I’ve run into some weak wifi. Those will probably have to be posted once I return home.

But if you haven’t had a chance to read up on our adventures so far, make sure to look back at my previous posts:

Initiate Operation Ontario

Sabbath By the Falls

Moment in the Mist

Toronto: Day 1

Toronto: Day 2

Look back tomorrow to see if we had a chance to spot a moose!

-Wandering Minstrelette