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Mini-Reformation Tour, part 5

Reformation Day!

To be in Wittenberg for the celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the nailing of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses was truly a dream come true.

In order to make spend this special day to the fullest, we left our AirBnb early in the morning. An English service was being held at Schloßkirche at 8am and since Stephanie hadn’t yet seen the church, we decided to attend.

We arrived shortly after 7:30am and things were already PACKED. High security measures were being taken because of the large gathering as well as the anticipated attendance of political figures such as Chancellor Merkel for the afternoon services.

Schloßkirche seemed at capacity when we arrived, but the ushers actually led us all the way to the front to sit in the choir chairs. Actually, we got to sit in the ancient chairs of the knights and ruling lords who would attend services there. It was super cool!




Our advantageous seats allowed us to have perfect views of everything going on.


The service was very different from what I’m used to. For one, there was considerably more congregational participation. A stalwart aspect of Luther’s ideology in how worship services should be conducted, it was definitely highlighted in the program through readings, written prayers, and songs. I had never heard a chanted Psalm before, so that was pretty special.

The sermon was quite thought provoking. I’ll share my opinions about it in a future post.

To end the service, everyone joined together to sing (what else?) Ein Feste Burg. What a special moment to be singing this powerful hymn on this special day in the church that “started it all.”

Once the service had finished, we were encouraged to leave quickly in order for the staff to prepare for the 10am German-language service. This time we did get to walk through the Theses Door, which was very cool.


After leaving the church, we made our way to the other side of the village for breakfast and then to a special 360-degree panorama art installation by Yadegar Asisi. The work is enclosed in an enormous cylindrical building attached to a smaller building with an introductory exhibit that leads to the installation.


The panorama was at least two stories tall, and featured the village of Wittenberg as Luther would have known it. It looked like a combination of painting, photoshop, and some other medium I can’t quite name.

Lights and sounds were used to enhance the experience and make the viewer almost feel as if they were there in the early 1500s.

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We then returned to the Lutherhaus so Stephanie could enjoy all the wonderful artifacts and history that we saw on Sunday.

Right next door is the Melanchthonhaus, where Luther’s friend and colleague, Philipp Melanchthon used to live. This house wasn’t as crowded and seemed to have a better flow of foot traffic than Lutherhaus. The entire exhibit was more engaging, interactive, and appeared to be geared towards children.

Mommy, who had always liked to read and learn about Melanchthon, was surprised to discover that he was only 1.5 meters tall–just about her height!


Afterwards, we popped into Stadtkirche, or St. Marien’s Church. The sanctuary is enormous! Much larger than Schloßkirche, though not necessarily as detailed. This was the church that Luther worked, preached, and was married in. So much history everywhere!


There were other museums and lectures that we could have attended, but by the time we left Stadtkirche, we were all rather hungry.

We decided to dine at the Wittenberger Kartoffelhaus and enjoy as traditional of a German meal one can have being vegetarian. Fried potatoes and eggs, yes!

The rest of the evening was spent wandering around the festival. Theater performances, booths, and music were everywhere! Many people were dressed in period costumes, which made me wish I had something special to wear. Should have gone to the Maryland Renaissance Festival this year… oh well…

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Overall, the day was special, festive, and thought provoking.

I’m so glad that Mommy, Stephanie, and I were able to be in Wittenberg on this high day of celebration. I’m incredibly thankful for our AirBnb hosts that made it possible for us to visit this wonderful place and who were so kind and accommodating to us.


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our adventures and enjoy the pictures. I recorded several portions of our trip that I hope to put together in a short video. Be on the lookout for it!

Until the next adventure–Auf Wiedersehen!

–Wandering Minstrelette

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Mini-Reformation Tour, part 4

Today was a true history lesson!

Mom, Stephanie (who was finally able to join us after being stuck in Berlin from the wind storm), and I made the trip from Wittenberg to Eisenach today to go visit the famous Wartburg Castle.

What none of us realized was that Wartburg is has significance far beyond it’s association with Martin Luther. 

Getting to castle is quite the hike. It lies on a large hill on the other side of Eisenach from the Hauptbahnhof. Along the path are signs with several important events of Luther’s life leading to the foot of the hill. Once you get there, it’s another good 30 minutes of uphill treking before reaching the entrance to the castle. 


The traditional way to visit the castle was by donkey, and the donkeys were actually there! Unfortunately, it was voted against actually paying to ride them, so I had to settle for taking a picture of their cute little faces. 


The castle is quite striking as it comes into view and looms ever larger the closer you get. 


The courtyard of the castle was bustling with visitors of all ages, and had some special attractions itself. A nice touch for those like us who had hiked the whole way up. 



The best one involved steps (hooray…): the south tower gave an amazing view of Eisenach and the surrounding hill country. It was definitely worth the Euro and the adding walking.



To go inside the castle, you had to purchase a ticket. The price included entrance to some special exhibits that were curated for the Reformation festivities as well as the regular rooms of the tour. 

Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed inside the castle. But what we saw was simply amazing. 

The castle was built around the year 1200, and had become well known not long after for the Hungarian princess, Elisabeth, who married the ruler of the castle and chose to use her status for the benefit of the common people. She was canonized after her death for her short 24 years of life in service. 

The next major event at Wartburg was the reason most people were there: Martin Luther’s “kidnapping” and safekeeping after his refusal to recant at the Diet of Worms. At one point in the tour, you get to see the room where Luther worked tirelessly on a German translation of the New Testsment. 

Fun fact: several German versions of the Bible already existed before Luther’s, but most were quickly confiscated and also not of great quality. Luther’s not only had popularity and clout, but was well researched from the original manuscripts and actually informed much of the development of the modern German language. 

Wartburg Castle continued to hold significance throughout the centuries. It played a central role in the call to a united Germany after the Naploeanic Wars. It was seen as an important an valuable symbol during both World Wars. 

In short, Wartburg has become a stalwart of German history and identity. It was a blessing to come and learn not only about Luther’s time there, but all that it has meant through the history of Germany. 

We spent so much time at the castle that we didn’t get a chance to see anything else of Eisenach. But that’s ok, it just means we have to return. 🙂

Tomorrow is the big day! Look forward to some great pictures and stories! 

-Wandering Minstrelette

Mini-Reformation Tour, part 3

First, I would like to say that my mother and I are safe. The wind storms that have been blowing through Northern Europe and Berlin has announced a state of emergency. Here in Wittenberg, we had rain and strong winds, but nothing too extreme. 

Secondly, WE’RE IN WITTENBERG.

Schloßkirche, or Castle Church

I have wanted to visit this historic site for years, and the fact that I was able to come at such a high time is amazing. 

Our AirBnb hosts, Michael and Gudrun, have been wonderful to us. Not only did they pick up up last night, but Gudrun dropped us off early this morning in the middle of town to explore. 

And I’m so glad! It allowed us to visit Schloßkirche (Castle Church) before the crowds began to arrive. Let me tell you, standing before the Theses Doors, where Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on October 31, 1517, has me a little “star-struck.” 

The original doors are no longer there, unfortunately, but the new ones fully depict the Theses and caused me to pause and imagine the moment that a rebellious, truth-seeking monk acted out a thought that would change the world forever. 


There’s a lot more I could share, but I think I’ll save that for the end of the trip. 😉

After visiting the visitor’s center, we discovered that the church was holding a service, so we decided to join. The inside of Schloßkirche is very beautiful, and it seems to have had a lot of work done on it since Luther’s time. 



Both Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon are buried there, and an original printed copy of the Theses and a few other documents are on display under the magnificently carved pulpit. 

Luther’s Theses printed by Jakob Thanner in Leipzig in 1517; only 87 are on this page. I believe the others are on the reverse.

Mommy and I would have had a chance to go through the Theses Doors if we (meaning I) hadn’t spent so much time looking at things. But we ended up discovering a visitor’s center/museum attached to the church filled with amazing images and information. 

You know, as a child I never enjoyed history. Now, I can’t seem to get enough of it. Somewhere along the way, I made the connection of how the past affected my present, and it’s relevance suddenly helped me not only find it interesting but enjoyable to study. 

So going through this center was like being in a candy shop for me. Not only was there a lot of information about Luther, but other lesser known Reformers that had just as significant of a role in spreading the new found truths of Scripture to the world. Not everyone got the limelight, but that does not in any way diminish their work or accomplishments. 

Many of these, such as Jonas Justus, Johannesburg Bugenhagen, Lucas Cranach, Johannesburg von Staupitz, and others were remarkable educators, supporters, and believers of Martin Luther and the mission God had endowed him. 

It’s important to remember that the Reformation was not a one man show, but a movement that began long before Luther and is continuing long after. Being here in Wittenberg, where Luther worked and lived, has helped me understand this more than ever before. 



The afternoon was spent walking around the city, enjoying the other historic attractions and watching people prepare the medieval market place that tomorrow will be filled much celebration. I’m going on Tuesday, so no worries–there will be pictures. 





We also visited Lutherhaus, on the opposite side of Wittenberg from Schloßkirche. A museum made of and built around Luther’s home, it was filled with artifacts of his life, told his story, and shared his legacy. 

A very fancy pulpit
A copy of Luther’s German New Testament with woodcut images. This is depicting a scene from Revelation.
An original copy of Luther’s “Table Talk,” written conversations that Luther and his friends had around a table discussing theological ideas.


The remains of what used to be Luther’s study room.

When I saw one of the letters written in Luther’s own hand, I will admit I teared up. Not necessarily because the document of great historical or theological significance, but the fact that it was something Luther had touched… It made me wonder about the person he was, the thoughts he had, the emotions he felt, the trials he went through…

It was not unlike the feel I had standing before the Ishtar Gates when I was in Berlin two years ago. 

I felt I was before some sort of timecapsule, and it was incredibly humbling. 

A letter to Kaiser Karl V from Martin Luther explaining why he chose not to recant at the Diet of Worms.

Have you ever had a moment like that? 
So, we had a day full of Luther today and will likely have it so again tomorrow. 

Barring any train cancellations, we hope to be in Eisenach to gain some more insight and for some new adventures. 

Until tomorrow!

-Wandering Minstrelette 

Mini-Reformation Tour, part 2

I was blessed to attend New Life SDA Church this morning once again after two years. There were many faces I was so excited to see. I made several new acquaintances as well. 

New Life SDA welcoming visitors

I had the honoring of singing for the church service and was blessed to be used to touch the congregation.

Stephanie got the memo about the dresses… 😉
 

New friends Lynda and Ogechi

Anjie, who accompanied me during the service. It was a blessing to see her again!
From left: Claudette, Glenda, and Amy. One old and two new friends.

Helen, my sweet and wonderful host who took great care of me two years ago and welcomed my mother and I back with open arms for this short stay in Berlin.

The service and the potluck afterwards was filled with joy and fellowship. I was sorry to leave this community again so soon. 

But the adventure must continue!

Mom and I had a train to catch in the evening, but we thought we could squeeze one more sightseeing adventure before leaving Berlin. 

We tried the Pergamon Museum, the Berliner Dom…but it was not meant to be. The lines were long and the time was short. The weather wasn’t helping either (finally had a chance to use my new rain jacket from REI!), so we took a few pictures and went on to the Hauptbanhof. 

Mom and Stephanie posing in front of the Berliner Dom.


One question to those who live or have visited Germany, have you found it hard to find free water or am I just not looking in the right places? 

I haven’t found a place to fill my water bottle since the airport in Baltimore and for someone who’s gotten used to drinking at least 40oz a day… I’m a bit desperate, haha. 

It just seems silly to have buy a bottle of water to then put it in my bottle but… that might be what I have to do. If anyone has any tips or advice, let me know!

Anyways, mom and I caught a train to Wittenberg and are excited to be “officially” beginning our mini-Reformation tour tomorrow. 🙂 


I look forward to sharing our adventure with you!

-Wandering Minstrelette

You can follow me on Instagram (@wanderingminstrelette) for more photos from my travels!

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.

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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

Toronto: Day 2

One thing I always appreciated about visiting cities is the amount of walking that I get done while exploring. My mom and I walked for basically eight hours, with breaks of course. We got to see much more of Toronto and decided that we truly did enjoy being in this city.

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Another spectacular sunrise from our AirBnb.

We had already learned to navigate ourselves without a map in the general neighborhood we are located in. My mom, who’s better at locating herself in cities than I am, charged ahead as we started towards our first stop for the day.

One thing I have to say against Toronto – there’s no signage to direct tourists to main attractions. Perhaps I’m simply spoiled from living in the DC area, but I am so grateful that our AirBnb host, Gen, left us a city map with all the points of interest on it because otherwise we may not have known how to get around. Well, we’d at least have had to buy our own map.

Anyways, on our way to the St. Lawrence Market, we stopped by the Cathedral Church of St. James to see if the interior was as gorgeous as the exterior. It certainly was, and it was magnified by an organist who was rehearsing for a recital later in the day. The architecture and art were to the eyes what the music was to the ears – beautiful, ethereal, and majestic. Waiting until the organist finished a movement of the work he was rehearsing, my mom and I quietly slipped away to continue on to the Market.

My first impression when I heard about the St. Lawrence Market was that it would be similar to Boston’s Quincy Market. In fact, they do share many similarities – both contain various shops and restaurants and are locations for high foot traffic. The St. Lawrence Market, however, leans more towards a farmer’s market than anything else, although the proper farmer’s market occurs on Saturdays from 5am-5pm. On Tuesdays-Fridays, the Market is comprised of several vendors carrying all sorts of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, seafood, meats, breads, and cheeses along with the arts, crafts, and souvenir vendors. It is definitely worth a visit when you’re in town – just be sure to check their website for the days and hours the Market is open.

Next on our list to see was the Royal Ontario Museum, but along the way we ran into several note worthy sights: Osgoode Hall, home to justice office and at one point provided accommodations for lawyers and students of law, with it’s serene gardens; the University Avenue Armouries; Queen’s Park; the Ontario Parliament Building; and the University of Toronto Faculty of Music Building. None of these were things we were looking for, but were so glad we found. The music building, especially, was cool for me as a musician and someone who wants to continue to work with musicians.

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After much walking with several tangents for photographs, we finally came upon an old stone structure with the deteriorating engraved letters above the large wooden doors “The Royal Ontario Museum,” known as ROM, for short. Other engravings along either side of the doors said, “The Record of Nature Through Countless Ages,” and “The Arts of Man Through All the Years.” The whole edifice was very classic in nature; it looked like any other museum one would expect in a major city.

Then we turned the corner and BAM!

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Welcome, modern, attention grabbing, in-your-face glass points shooting out the side of the building. The closest thing I can compare it to is the ice attack of the Bewilderbeast in How to Train Your Dragon 2. Yes, yes – I am a die hard HTTYD fan.

 

The architecture was simply stunning and I had a hard time looking away. Instead of going inside the museum, I actually crossed the street to take better picture. Once satisfied that I had a decent enough shot without being able to take an aerial view, mommy and I started up the street and were suddenly distracted by a store.

This was the hidden gem of the day – Remenyi House of Music is a music store that sells and provides maintenance for musical instruments AND sells sheet music. Since we started planning our trip to Canada, I was hoping to find music store where I could search for and purchase music from Canadian composers. Whenever I travel, I like to search for vocal, flute, or chamber music from local composers because they are often difficult, if not impossible, to find outside of the country or even online. I literally felt like a kid in a candy store.

After spending over an hour thumbing through the stacks like I used to do at Dale Music in Silver Spring, MD (may it rest in peace), I departed the proud owner of an anthology of Canadian flute music, a short piece for flute and piano, and a sacred vocal solo – all by Canadian composers. Oh, and the soprano solo from the Faure Requiem – that one was too good to pass up.

Both mommy and I were getting tired at this point, but we wanted to make one more stop before returning to our accommodations. The Royal Conservatory of Music was a mere block away from the ROM and glancing at it from across the street, one would think that it was a castle instead of a conservatory. It’s a beautiful brick structure with five floors, the top three of which are filled solely with teaching studios and practice rooms.

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I actually have two friends who have attended or participated in degree programs here, so it was cool to be in the halls they used to walk. Sadly, we weren’t able to peek into any of the performance halls because of rehearsals, but the taste of one of Canada’s best music educational facilities was enough for us.

After a day full of walking and sight seeing, our feet were very sore but our hearts were happy. A perfect sunset brought an ending to another wonderful day in Toronto. I’m almost sad that we’re leaving tomorrow afternoon… But there is more to see, and Operation Ontario must go on!

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I hope you continue to join me on the journey. 🙂

-Wandering Minstrelette

 

Toronto: Day 1

Toronto is Canada’s most populous city and the fourth most populous in North America after Mexico City, New York, and Los Angeles. Having been to all of these cities, however, I must say that the general atmosphere of Toronto is completely different than the rest.

Yes, Toronto is huge with a wide berth of suburbs (some include Niagara Falls as a suburb, other don’t) and is the anchor city of what is known as the Golden Horseshoe area (where some 26% of Canada’s entire population resides), but as my mom and I walked through the streets exploring and taking in the sights we couldn’t help but notice that the city was more… peaceful, quiet, and clean than the three previously mentioned cities or many others besides.

There was an interesting amalgamation of European style with North American attitude in the people and the buildings. Almost all the names of the streets and businesses bring to mind the nation’s connection with England, especially London. Buildings from the 1800s carry an Old World feel, including the original City Hall which looks more like a cathedral than a place of business and politics. (I particularly liked the gargoyles on the clock tower, quite a nice touch.) Then the new City Hall looks completely different: sleek, modern, attractive – everything one would expect of this type of building today.

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As we passed people on the street, we noticed that especially the men were dressed in what felt like a more European fashion – skinny pants, skinny ties, interestingly attractive shoes. Of course, I realize that these trends are seen all over the world, but I did suddenly have the feeling that I was back in Berlin or London for a moment in a way that going to New York or LA never does.

Another big thing was the smoking. In Europe, it seems like everyone smokes. In the US, it seems like hardly anyone smokes and if they do, they are relegated to specific areas where the habit is allowed. Here in Toronto it seems as if they’ve landed on a midway point where not everyone smokes so much as to make you gag, but where those who need a smoke often will just step outside their office buildings and places of works for a quick puff and then head back in. As long as they don’t smoke inside, they’re good – no other location designation.

One interesting thing for me, as the recent arts management grad, is that Toronto is a major arts hub with “more than fifty ballet and dance companies, six opera companies, two symphony orchestras and a host of theatres.” There are also two major museums, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, and a host of other cultural activities in the city revolving around literature (they still have book stores!), food, tourism. Who knows… maybe I should start looking for a job here.

All these things come together to give the city it’s charm and allure. Mommy and I only got to scratch the surface of all the city has to offer, so we’re glad to have another full day and a half to explore before moving northwards.

Here are a few photos from today’s adventures. Enjoy!

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Oh, and I should mention that Mommy and I are staying at an AirBnb while here in Toronto and we are so glad to have found the host we did! Gen is an absolutely lovely person with an AMAZING space which provides phenomenal views of the city no matter what time of day.

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Due to circumstances beyond her control, she will no longer be able to host people after the month of May, so we feel especially blessed to have this opportunity to experience her warm hospitality.

If you’ve never used AirBnb before, I would encourage you to give it a try. It’s so different from staying in a hotel and will give you memories to cherish for the rest of your life.

-Wandering Minstrelette

Moment in the Mist

When Mommy and left the hotel this morning we were a bit distraught to see snow falling from the sky. Not a lot, mind you, but enough to make us both think, “We’re going to freeze today…”

Why? Because today we were taking the tour of Niagara Falls, Canada, which included our northern neighbor’s version of the Maid of the Mist called the Hornblower. When we signed up for the tour, the agent had mentioned to us that technically the Maid of the Mist was a better ride because the boats are better equipped and able to maneuver within the curve of the Horseshoe Falls but that one would only notice after having gone  many, many times. Either way, we were expecting to get really wet.

Our Gray Line tour guide for the day, Carl, picked us up right by the hotel and after gathering the other passengers from locations around Niagara, NY, took us to the border where all we were asked was, “Where do you live?” and “Are you carrying any firearms?” As both of those were easy to answer, everyone made it to the other side without any difficulty and were soon bused to the Hornblower Cruise.

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Mommy didn’t want to get wet and therefore decided to stay below, but I chose to brave the winds and mist on the upper deck. Throngs of people, cloaked by wildly flapping red ponchos, pressed at the railings in an attempt to have the best angle for a memorable shot and a decent looking selfie. Admittedly, I was thinking the same thing as I wanted to be able to share with my family, friends, and followers here, on Facebook, Instagram, Yonder, and Google+. As I couldn’t get to the railing myself, I found the shortest people I could and reached over them until I got just what I wanted.

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Then I heard a father tell one of his kids, “Don’t worry about taking the best picture – be present in the experience. It’ll make a better impression.”

I’ll be honest and say that it only had me pause for a moment, because I was playing the part of a tourist and throughout the rest of the day as we visited different locations of importance on the Canadian side of Niagara and wanted to take photos of the floral clock, the Skylon Tower, the whirlpool, etc., not just to share but really for myself. I want to have memories that are somehow saved, that won’t fade and can be recalled at a click of a button.

But… his words did make me think. How often, in this day and age is our first reaction – when we something interesting, exciting, or even scary – to document and share it? Social media has pushed this urge to new heights and it makes one wonder if we know how to wonder anymore. How to be in awe. How to just be.

One of my favorite movie scenes comes from the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, when Walter finally finds Sean O’Connell, the wildlife photographer he’s been trying to track during the entirety of the story, up in the Himalayas waiting for the perfect shot of the elusive snow leopard. Walter, trying to figure out what was on a special negative he thinks he’s lost, is trying to coax and answer from Sean when a snow leopard comes into the viewfinder.

Sean motions Walter to peer through the camera at the beautiful “ghost cat,” and then continues to sit and stare across the valley. “When are you going to take it?” asks Walter.

Sean replies, “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”

I need more of this attitude in my life. To enjoy the moment without any distractions and cherish something real, honest, and true. I’m not saying that I won’t be taking anymore pictures during my time in Canada, but this is a philosophy that I hope to make my own – perhaps you will consider it to.

That being said, today’s tour was very enjoyable, even with the random moments of precipitation. It was never too cold and the flimsy ponchos on the Hornblower actually kept us dry. Despite the gray skies, there’s no denying it – the Canadians have the better view.

We returned to our hotel in the afternoon, only to turn right back around and go through US-Canada customs a third time (this time with a little more questioning) and spend a few moments in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake before heading to Toronto, the next destination of our trip.

Mom and I are truly having a wonderful time on our trip so far. Here’s hoping that as this week continues we’ll learn what it truly means to just stay in the moment, so that it’ll be saved not only in our hard drives, but our hearts.

-Wandering Minstrelette