Wilderness – Canada

When I say we have gone off grid and spent the last few days in the Canadian Wilderness, I really truely mean that! Without having opened our home to an exchange student, we never would have had the opportunity to see wild Canada in the way we just experienced.

Our exchange ‘daughter’s’ family has welcomed us with open arms and introduced us to the culture and beauty of the First Nation Ojibway people. They took us to their camp on Manitoulin Island (it is worth looking up the location on google maps!) for two nights of mind broadening fun. I am quite sure that at the end of this trip, if you ask my kids what they remember most, this will be high, if not top of the list.

The fun started with actually getting there…….

Thank goodness we hired a Jeep! My head was still in my hands at several spots though!!

On arrival, we were all blown away by the beauty and isolation.

What followed were two days of swimming, quad biking, rock climbing, cooking, eating and great conversation around the camp fire. We saw frogs, butterflies, fireflies, turtles, chipmunks, snakes and lots (and lots) of mosquitoes! We ate fish fresh from the lake. We met Papa, grandma, aunties and cousins, each adding their snippet of information on both our beloved exchange student as well as their way of living.

Like many native communities around the world, the Ojibway people are fighting to keep their traditions, ceremonies and language alive; To prevent it from being swallowed up by the fast paced digital life we all lead. I wish we could all appreciate the wild and the land as these people do. I feel honoured that my children have been lucky to have some exposure to this and to see……life really can be fun and fulfilling without an iPad or Xbox.

The sense of family in these communities is overwhelming. They are all so close, even though the family is 4 or 5 times the size we are used to. They band together in times of need and always know someone has their back in any situation. The stories they told, of taking in children and friends in need was truely heart warming.

I only hope my kids walk away having learnt a few lessons on human kind as I have.

As I footnote………. I was constantly expecting it……. but, no we did not see a bear!! Thank goodness.


Days 1-9: Glorious food – USA and Canada

As we go off the tourist beaten track and head into the Canadian wilderness, I wanted to reflect on the happiness of my stomach!

I had this notion that while on this trip, we would be eating burgers and chips every day. Boy was I wrong. I had completely underestimated the multi cultural background of these giant cities.

From street food (a whole different entity to that which I have encountered in other travels of Asia for example), to Restaurants of all kinds, to hotel breakfasts, to pubs, we have been utterly spoilt.

Now, unfortunately I have no photos of food (shame my sister isn’t with us, she loves to image food). But, I will have a go at describing some of my favourites.

Night 1: Times Square. Shredded Peking Duck crepes from a street vendor. Thick, succulent pieces of duck with plum sauce and fresh crunchy cucumber and spring onion. Teamed with an ice cold beer. Yum.

Day 1: Ellen’s Stardust Diner. Broadway. This place actually didn’t rate that highly for the food but as I have not previously mentioned it, here is as good a place as any. Here we had a traditional American breakfast of Eggs, Bacon and tater tots (kids super happy with that). But, the special bit was the entertainment (another moment when my son’s jaw dropped and his eyes popped out of his head) as the waiters broke into song as they served you. A special highlight was the rendition of Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ (both kids know this song from school and weirdly enough we have now heard it in several different places on this trip!).

This Diner lost 17 waiters to Broadway shows last year, so you can imagine the quality. Was so much fun!

Day 2: Fresh Strawberries from a street vendor in the middle of Manhattan. Juicy, sweet and plump. The family all agreed one of the best Strawberry experiences ever (and we eat a lot of them!).

Night 4: Sbarro. Times Square. Most amazing Italian buffet. Charged by weight this place had yummy bright fresh salads, pastas, meat (including amazing but heavy meatballs!) and pizza. With a glass of red in hand, I was in heaven.

Night 5: Family Restaurant. Niagara Falls. Baby Back ribs and Buffalo wings. My son’s introduction to baby back ribs. He was actually speechless. He mumbled something about why had we not told him about these before!! (Probably because we don’t see them too often). Also a very funny moment here worth mentioning…….. our son asking our waiter if he could please get Dad drunk so he will spend more money in the Arcade!! The waiter thought it was hilarious and did proceed to constantly offer more beer (although Dad resisted!).

Day 7: Poutine. Street vendor Toronto Waterfront. A local delicacy we had previously been told about, fresh cut chips, gravy and cheese curd. Simple but so good (probably our daughter’s favourite). Perfect while sitting on a wall watching a French speaking rock band!!

In addition to all this we have had huge buffet breakfasts (not every day!), sushi, Thai, burgers and chips (had to be done at some point!) Lebanese kebabs, salads, fruit and ice cream!

The next 10 days we actually have cooking facilities so no doubt my skills in the kitchen will not live up to the last week or so. However, the bank account will be grateful for the break!


Day 7: Real world – Toronto

Let me set the scene. We catch the train from Niagara to Toronto at 5:45pm. Very efficient and friendly service. Met some Aussies on the train who are heading to the International Rotary Conference. All is well.

We arrive in Toronto, get slightly lost looking for the hire car place. We then have a bit of difficulty getting the car because my credit card does not match the name the car is booked under??!! (my husband’s and he doesn’t have a credit card). Weird issue but still all good.

We leave the car park……… at 8pm………. raining………… driving on the right hand side of the road………. in a city we have never been………two hungry kids………dusk……….. with a sat nav that cannot get signal in amongst the skyscrapers.

Cue a stress attack……..The ‘Stressaholic’ returned in style….and I wasn’t even the driver!! I ranted and raved. I blamed my husband. I cursed myself for not at least looking at a map to have a general idea of where we were going. I told myself I was an idiot.

In the meantime, while I proceeded to freak out……. the kids fell asleep……… my husband expertly drove around the city until we got navigation signal and then we drove to the hotel.

So what purpose did my anxiety attack serve? None. Zero. Nada. Apart from raising my blood pressure and risk of heart attack!

Like the lady at the hotel said this morning. You made it here (albeit late) and you are all together. THAT IS WHAT MATTERS. So why on earth do I do that to myself? I don’t know but I still really struggle to control it. I have strategies, yet I forgot to use them….

Anyway, I shouldn’t be too hard on myself I guess and at least the Stressaholic has only appeared once so far this holiday!

Back to the present, here I am in Toronto! The majority of today has been practical things like washing and shopping but we did squeeze in a trip to see the CN tower.

We were lucky enough to sit with a local Canadian man today while eating lunch in a food hall. We talked about all sorts and he told us lots of little things we otherwise wouldn’t know. The thing that struck me was, we allowed probably a good 30 – 45 minutes to just sit and chat with him and it was so worthwhile ( for him too I am sure!). Too often we are in a rush to get where we are going and we seldom take time to talk to people. But, we miss out on so much being in a hurry.

Today reminded me the cities we are visiting are not just about the sights but about the people that inhabit them. We are all so different but in so many ways the same.


Day 5: The power of water – Niagara Falls

I have managed to find my words again today!

Arriving here in Niagara yesterday just blew my mind. Not only that…….. I had reached a point of exhaustion without noticing. My husband and I were on ‘high alert’ the whole time we were in New York. We were constantly watching the kids like a hawk, planning and negotiating. It is such an amazing city but, the pace was unlike anything I have come across (and I have done a fair amount of traveling).

I can honestly say I enjoyed every minute and really didn’t know that it was exhausting me, until we left. When we crossed the border into Canada, I realised straight away I felt more at home. The people are different and you can immediately sense the Commonwealth.

And then we saw this……

The shear enormity of the natural wonder in front of me, the last 5 days and a feeling of being more at home, lead to a crash then 10 hours sleep!!!

Today, feeling more rested, I was able to really feel the power of the water. For anyone who knows me, they know I possess a natural affinity to water. So, for me this place was always going to be emotional. One of my greatest loves, in it’s most spectacular forms.

As you come close you realise how small and insignificant we really are compared to the power of Mother Nature and my goodness is it beautiful.

Following our visit behind the falls, we announced the first surprise for the kids……….. we were to spend the afternoon in the Fallsview Waterpark!! (We have lots of little surprises along the way on this holiday). This was a little treat we planned for the kids, as we know they are not quite as appreciative as us, at traipsing around to look at tourists sites!!

Little did I realise the power of water would again be so important. Hitting the pool and some water slides was just like hitting a reset button in me. It was able to wash away the fatigue and reinstate my readiness to travel. This was also the perfect opportunity to split up into pairs and enjoy each other’s company as well as have small breaks from one another (because let’s face it, 6 days together 24/7 does take it’s toll!).

So again, thank you water…….. my friend and constant.