Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | June 26, 2019

Retreating to Recharge #4

Trees.

Cathedral Grove on a beautiful day.

I’ve been meaning to wrap up my trip blog for a few days, but my vacation-doing got a bit in the way of the vacation-writing part. Since my last entry, I made my way back to Comox from Ucluelet, stopping to go through the Cathedral Grove once again. Then it was off to visit my relatives in Comox.

We didn’t just do family things, though of course there was that. I also visited a couple of wineries (40 Knots and Coastal Black) for delicious tastings. I did some shopping in Courtenay, including for chocolates at Hot Chocolates that I forgot at my aunt’s and will now be mailed to me (oops!) I swam in the ocean (though only very briefly, as it was a much colder day! I had dinner with a friend at Fluid, a restaurant that serves what is quite possibly the best baked brie I have ever tasted.

A small child looks at a vineyard

Vineyard

Too soon, it was time to go home again. And since fate makes jokers of us all, I didn’t actually manage to get home the day I’d planned. Due to a brake issue, my flight from Vancouver was cancelled. Air Canada booked me in a very nice hotel, the Pacific Gateway, fortunately.  Then the next day I flew to Edmonton, where my flight there ALSO was delayed, as a medical emergency had used up our plane’s oxygen and they had to wait for new bubbles to come from Calgary, and then when we did finally board some 3 hours late, we ended up sitting on the tarmac for another hour, waiting on paperwork to clear.

I was very tired but relieved to be home by the end of my journey! And now I’ll just have to start thinking of the next one.

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Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | June 21, 2019

Retreating to Recharge #3

There’s been so much sunshine these last few days, it’s been wonderful, even if my nose is slightly red. There’s only so much sunscreen can do, even the 50 SPF kind. I’ve done a pretty good job of not just holing up in my cabin as a result, though I will admit I didn’t get as much (creative-type) writing done as I’d thought I might on this trip. Still, I’ve been keeping up with getting a little exercise and taking time to myself, and that’s good, too.

This shows light streaming through tall rainforest trees.

“This forest is old… very old.” I can’t get Legolas’ voice out of my head here.

I cleared out of my cabin before nine yesterday, heading to the Blue Room for breakfast. I had the Surfside, which was two pancakes, eggs, and bacon. The pancakes were HUGE. I thought they’d be just little ones, but no, they were gorgeous fluffy ones. As a result, I couldn’t even finish – I was stuffed and still left behind half a pancake and half my scrambled eggs, and they were delicious so it was sad. Thank goodness I didn’t decide to add a side of hashbrowns to the order – I’d have wasted so much food.

I drove toward Tofino next, stopping at the Rainforest walk because I’d run into some other tourists on the Lighthouse Loop the day before, and they’d recommended it. I’m very glad I stopped! It’s in the Pacific Rim National Park, so you pay to park, but my $7.80 pass was valid until four today. There’s two different loops on either side of the highway, both about 1 km each, and it made for two lovely walks on the nice boardwalk, though there are lots of stairs, so if accessibility is an issue for you, you’ll unfortunately have to skip this particular tourist spot. I’d also never heard trees creak in the wind quite like that; it would make an excellent sound addition to a creepy, scary movie scene for sure.

This picture shows bread crusted sushi rolls topped with strawberry, mango, and roe.

This Buddha Roll was not only a thing of beauty, but delicious too.

After that, I made my way to the chocolate shop for gelato in the sun and some reading time, before heading into Tofino. I drifted in and out of a few shops before making my way for an early dinner at Tough City Sushi. The place is quaint, with a nice view of the water, and the food is very good, especially the Buddha Roll, which I ordered at the recommendation of the customer service rep in a shop in Ucluelet, who said it might seem weird because there is strawberries on it, but to give it a whirl. An excellent recommendation for sure!

This image shows a man

A surfer rides the waves on long beach.

After dinner, I headed back to Ucluelet for the night.  Today, I had coffee and breakfast (okay, a croissant) in, before heading out toward Tofino again. Since my Park pass was valid until four, I figured I should take advantage and stop at Long Beach. I’m so glad I did! I thought it was okay when I visited it back with my BFF about six years ago in November, but in June it is just stunning. I walked and waded and waded some more, and I only wish there were lockers so I could have a safe place to put my car key so I could have gone swimming. It’s the problem with traveling solo; it’s hard to find a place to leave your stuff.

Ocean waves rolling in.

I took so many photos of waves, I can’t even tell you.

I had made a dinner reservation for 5:30 but had some time to burn, so I next made my way to the Wickanninnish because I knew they had a cafe open. I had a latte and a sandwich because I realized my croissant wasn’t going to tide me over until dinner. The latte was good, but my tuna sandwich was not doing it for me today. There was nothing wrong with it, per se, it just didn’t hit the spot. Possibly because I wanted the scones and cream I’d seen on the menu, but they were out.

I did a little drifting in and out of stores before making my way to my dinner reservation at Wolf in the Fog, because it had an amazing name. They have a great selection of cocktails, and the food is very good. My potato crusted oyster was a thing of beauty to behold, and the day’s pasta was all cheesy goodness. I also got some good reading time in.

After that it was back to Ucluelet. I have one more sleep here, and tomorrow I head to stay with my auntie in the Courtney/Comox area. I still have a little time with the ocean, and I’m very glad for that.

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | June 19, 2019

Retreating to Recharge #2

A black slug on a rocky ground, next to a stick.

It turns out this was not a burnt stick on the path, but a slug!

It’s been a beautiful day here in Ucluelet, full of sunshine and sea breeze. Yesterday was nice too, though short on the sun and heavy on the breeze.  I spent the day mostly relaxing, taking my walk along the lighthouse loop again, working to remind my body that it was strong and can be strong once more. Then I made my way to Tofino, to hand out at Chesterman Beach, but not before grabbing delicious fish tacos and truffle fries at Shelter Restaurant because I was very hungry.

A person carrying a surfboard wades into the waves.

It was a windy day, so perfect for surfers despite the low visibility.

One at Chesterman Beach, I still have a bit of a dilemma. The thing with traveling alone is that there’s no one with whom to leave your things. I could lock some of them in my car – my wallet, my spare clothes – but  the car key has to come with me. I tucked the car key away in my bag and waded down the misty beach with it, daring to tuck it in a semi-hidey-hole for a bit while I venture out to my knees in the waves. Between the cold, stormy water  and my worry about leaving my car key unattended, I wasn’t able to swim, but I did have some fun splashing about.

It was cold enough that I didn’t stay too long, but instead headed back to my cabin in the late afternoon, where I puttered about listening to music and doing a little writing, before heading to bed early.

Five people are seen from behind, wearing matching red storm suits, looking over water.

Bundled up in storm suits for the zodiac ride!

Today, I woke up in a sunbeam, and it has stayed sunny and light. After my morning coffee, I went for a loop around again, as I’m trying to keep up a bit of an exercise regime and start good habits (even if my calves are tight and maybe screaming a little at me). My afternoon was spend on the ocean, as I’d booked a whale watching tour with Jamie’s Whaling Station and Adventure tours. I decided to take a zodiac tour for the first time, instead of a covered boat, and I’m very glad I did.

Even if the boat was a bit bouncy on the rougher parts (and by a bit, I mean a lot), and even though I got salt spray in the face a few times, it was much more fun to be right on the water. We saw not one but two humpback whales, and it was so much fun to watch them. I am so glad I booked a tour today, and that the weather did a surprise 180 turn from yesterday!

The fluke, or tail, of a humpback is just visible in the water in this photo.

This shot is almost a fluke.

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | June 17, 2019

Retreating to Recharge #1

I’ve been finding myself feeling a little burnt out, lately.  Nothing serious, just a few issues compounding and making me feel more drained as a result: last year’s lack of summer made it hard to get through the dark of winter, and the return of kidney stones hasn’t helped matters. Work hasn’t been stressful, per se, but  it has been busy, and it became clear I needed to push pause. And the best place for me to do that is on Vancouver Island, to revisit spots that hold my heart.

If you’ve read through some of this blog, you probably have noticed Tofino and Ucluelet have be a frequent repeat in my travels, because I truly love it here, like a part of my heart is at home here.  Of course, I am going to add a few new adventures to old standards, because it is good to discover new things.

This picture shows a small blue car parked by a tree.

The adorable little hybrid they gave me at Budget!

Take yesterday, when I flew out on Air Canada at an ungodly hour of the morning. Since I booked on points and was still recovering from my body deciding to make its own stupid rocks inside me, I upgraded to business class to Vancouver before hopping on my flight to Comox. Very comfortable, plus I was able to nap since I’d had to get up at 4 a.m to be at the airport around 4:30 a.m.  I rented my car in Comox, too, but it’s something new. They gave me a hybrid! It’s a little slow on the steep hills, but the Toyota Prius is adorable with its teeny teal body, and it is very, very good on gas.

This picture shows a blue butterfly, the Blue Morpho, landed on a sign that says Blue Morpho.

I was beginning to think I wouldn’t get a shot of one of these beauties with wings unfurled, but then this gorgeous Blue Morpho landed right on the sign for its species. Amazing!

I went to the Old Country Market (a.k.a. Goats on the Roof) again, but also stopped at Butterfly World for the first time ever on my way out of Coombs. It was a small garden space, but well worth the admission, and not just because they also have orchids and tortoises and tarantulas (which are caged and I didn’t look at them because they are scary).  The greenhouse was full of colourful butterflies and I spent so much time chasing them and photographing them.  It was wonderful, and I spent about an hour and a half there even though I’m not quite used to the heat and the humidity they have to keep for the butterflies to thrive in!

After that, it was back in my car for the drive to Ucluelet, where I’m staying in my favourite spot, the Terrace Beach Resort. I’m not in a unit with a hot tub this time (I booked too late) but I still love my little cabin. It’s called the orca, and has a little living room/kitchenette that is separate from the comfy bedroom, and a barbecue on the deck so I can cook for myself.

I went to bed relatively early last night, because of getting up for the plane, and had a lovely and comfortable sleep. The air smells like the ocean here, and I love it. I mostly puttered for the morning, but did go out and walk the lighthouse route that I love. I’ve been mostly sedentary of late, and it felt nice to be a little active.

This pictures shows a scenic view of the ocean through greenery.

A hint of blue sky on the coastal walk on the Wild Pacific Trail.

 

This picture shows an octopus in an aquarium tank.

This gorgeous cephalopod made me so happy today.

After my walk, which included some time picking over the rocks on the coast and taking at least one new trail detour (a little bog walk that seemed newly-marked even if it isn’t a new spot), I came back and had a snack, then went to the Ucluelet Aquarium, another old favourite. I got some new there, too; this year, they have swimming scallops, which look like mini clams but they literally swim. Also? The octopus came out (I’ve only ever seen them crammed in corners) and it was awesome.

After that, it was back to my little cabin to make myself some dinner. I cooked up a delicious meal on the barbecue – apricot chicken and baby potatoes roasted in a bit of oil with onions, feta, and spices – plus a little salad on the side. It was really good. I’ll probably have dinner out tomorrow, but I have enough to make another of this meal another day, and it was so good I’m already looking forward to it!

But for now, my belly and my heart are both full, and I am very, very happy to be here.

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | January 5, 2019

Sunshine and Wine, Two-Zero-One-Nine: Entry #4

So, after the last entry, it may have seemed like my last day in Napa Valley was going to be spent at my hotel. Instead, after a long sleep (eleven hours!), I decided to stop being a whiny baby and to Uber into Yountville after all. I’m incredibly glad I did!

Chocolates

Beautiful gem-like chocolates at Dollar Chocolates.

Yountville had the exact kind of charm I needed for the day, the small town with cute bistros and fun stores that I didn’t really find in Napa.  Of course, this may be in part because I started at the V Marketplace, and they have a little chocolatier. I browsed the art galleries then followed my nose – and my heart – to Kollar Chocolate, where they started by handing me a sample, so bonus points to them. The chocolates are beautiful, too; they look like little jewels, almost too good to eat. Of course, I absolutely will be eating the ones I took home with me.

Bistro

One of the cute little places on Washington.

Yountville’s information webpage says it is the kind of town you need to stroll through, so that is exactly what I did, and it was a lovely way to check out the main street (Washington Street) while getting some sun. There are lots of little wine tasting rooms and stores and coffee shops, and everything was really quite beautiful. There’s also a great deal of public art installations, which I loved seeing, because I think art is important and it also made the stroll more fun. I walked up to the end of the street at a leisurely pace, then back toward the market so I could have lunch at Bottega, which my friend had recommended.

Dinner

Yum!

Bottega is not cheap, but definitely worth the price.  I was not super hungry because I’d had a late breakfast, which my wallet thanked me for but was too bad because there was so much food I’d have liked to try, including the grilled octopus that the table next to me had dropped off, though after I’d already ordered so too late to tempt me in that direction. Instead, I had a spaghetti squash started dish, then followed with Tagliata, di Manzo, a which was a balsamic marinated skirt steak with rosemary scented potatoes and a lovely salad. It was marvellous.

I next made my way to the Hope and Grace wine tasting room, because they had a $20 tasting and I thought that might be a nice way to spend some time. It certainly was, and the sommelier was very nice, though I think I liked the wines at my other tastings a little better. Still good, though! I finished the day by picking up some dessert for later at Bouchon Bakery, a few macarons and a chocolate eclair.  Then I Ubered back to my hotel for one last soak in the hot tub and then a quiet dinner in my room where I packed my back.

Cask

Another pretty little spot on my Yountville stroll.

Yesterday was an Uber back to Sacramento, which was a lovely drive, since it was not dark and in the middle of the night like the way to American Canyon. With my bag checked, I went through security and ate in the Iron Horse Tavern, which was the only sit down restaurant in the terminal I was in that I saw. I had a Luau Chicken Salad, and it was good, but the prices were pretty expensive for what you get in terms of food and drink. Then it was a short flight to LAX, where I made my gate in plenty of time since I thankfully landed in the terminal my next leg was leaving from. I’d upgraded myself to a West Jet Premium Seat for the three hour flight to Calgary, and I’m glad I did. It was nice to have a little extra space for the longer leg, plus I got a dinner and a drink.  And now I’m back in the Ramada hotel at the Calgary airport, with my flights home to Yellowknife this evening. I’m glad to be back in Canada, where my dollar is worth a dollar, and soon to be in my own bed. It was lovely break, however, and I know it will help get me through the rest of the long, cold winter.

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | January 3, 2019

Sunshine and Wine, Two-Zero-One-Nine: Entry #3

Guys, maybe it’s the cold I’ve picked up, maybe it’s just too much busyness over the Christmas holidays and beyond, but I have a bit of a confession to make: I’m not entirely feeling Napa Valley. Don’t get me wrong – it’s perfectly lovely and charming, it just isn’t quite jiving. Without a car, everything is so spread out, and not everything is open over the holidays.  I also feel a bit obliged to DO THINGS because of the blog, when I really kind of just want to sleep in and then read in the sun or my hotel room.  I might just do that tomorrow, if I don’t feel like catching an Uber to explore up the valley.

Napa

Napa, California.

I did, however, make a point of exploring a little yesterday. I was going to take an Uber and have breakfast in Napa, but my App was showing no drivers. It wasn’t until I was already at the hotel restaurant for breakfast that I realized it was because I needed to log into the hotel wifi again. Whoops!  Oh well, it was a nice breakfast, and then I headed to Napa. I got an Uber to the Oxbow Public Market, which was kind of neat, with different stores from a book and paper store to an olive oil store where you can taste test.  I was full from breakfast, so I just poked about the market, then made my way up into the downtown area.

Ducks

Two ducks on the river I found while taking a stroll in the sun.

I wandered up and down the streets a bit, though much was closed for New Year’s Day, restaurants included.  After a while I found a Mexican place called Don Perrico where I stopped for a light lunch of a delicious salad in a taco bowl. Also margaritas, because to be honest I wanted to change things up after all the wine the day before.  I got to eat outside, which was my favourite part. I had been cold earlier, having changed out of a dress into pants and a sweater before leaving my hotel, but it was warm enough that I needed to take it off when walking about. After that, it was an Uber back to the hotel, because I wasn’t going to eat just to kill time.

 

Building

I thought this stone building looked interesting in the sunlights.

I thought about taking a swim in the pool at the hotel if it was warm enough, and lamented to my Uber driver that I wished the hotel had a hot tub. Well, lo and behold, it actually does, tucked away so I didn’t see it until I was through the fence area. And a good thing too, because the pool water was absolutely frigid, even for this Canadian!

I had dinner at the hotel too, truffle fries then scallop sliders which I didn’t realize came with fried breaded onions, or I’d have skipped the appetizer. It was good, but not as good as the first day’s dish. Then it was back to my room for the night.

White flower

A flower, because I don’t have any pictures from my spa day!

As for today, I barely left my room, but for good reason. When I couldn’t see any available appointments at the hotel spa on their app, I’d done a little research and found a mobile spa that comes to your rental. It’s called Mais Oui, and it is aptly named, because if you asked me if I would use it again, I would say “Mais oui!” – that is, yes, yes, yes. I spent 2.5 hours being pampered in the comfort of my room, with the Spa Pure Gold Gift Package I found on special. It included a gold face mask facial, full body polish, a honey foot wrap, a hot oil scalp treatment, a full body massage, and then a soak in hot mineral water with cherry mocktails and chocolates as my massage therapist Michelle cleaned up and headed out.  I might just be eating those chocolates right now.

I finished the night by finding somewhere different to eat. I walked to a Hawaiian barbecue place, but it turned out to be more like a fast food chain than sit down restaurant and I wasn’t feeling it, so I made my way down to the Junction Brewery. It’s a cozy little bar and restaurant, and I enjoyed my house salad followed by a pork belly and bacon sandwich with arugula and balsamic drizzle with fries. Then it was an Uber back to my hotel because it was too cold to walk and another dip in the hot tub because why not?  I’m on vacation.  Which is what I’ll be reminding myself tomorrow: I can do whatever I want, even if that means staying in my hotel and doing nothing at all.

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | January 1, 2019

Sunshine and Wine, Two-Zero-One-Nine: Entry #2

Happy New Year, readers! I hope you ended the year as well as I did, and that this coming year brings you much joy. I’d originally planned to post last night, but after a day of wineries (and wine at each!) and with a full belly, I was more than ready to crawl into bed by nine o’clock. So that’s what I did!

I’d booked myself with Dynamic Wine Tours by Beau, and my pickup time was close to 9:30, so I tried to get up early enough to be ready for breakfast at the hotel before heading out. I usually am not ready to eat for nearly two hours after I wake up, and I was pushing it, but I didn’t want to start wine tasting on an empty stomach. I ate at Table 29 again and chose their Healthy Breakfast, a bran muffin, yogurt and homemade granola with a banana. I also had several cups of coffee. It’s lovely when they leave you the thermos pot at your table, and I took advantage!

Vines

The beautiful view of the vines.

Once I was done breakfast, the chauffeur/tour guide, Jay, was already there to pick me up, so I got to climb into the back of the limo and ride solo for the twenty minutes to Napa, where the other people taking the tour were all staying. I felt very fancy! Once in Napa, we picked up Angela and Dre, then Kevin and Lisa, the two couples booked on the same tour, and Jay poured us our starter drink, a lovely champagne. As a group, we all clicked instantly, and I just feel so lucky to have been with people who were interesting and nice and fun. There was so much laughter and good conversation throughout the day, it would have been amazing even if the wine had all been terrible. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. Not even close.

Wine pouring

The table was ready for us at Judd’s Hill! The wine in the back are different “personal” bottles, labeled with fun names like “No Idea” and “Foreplay” (a kiss on a golf ball for the image!).

The first stop on the trip was at a smaller family winery, Judd’s Hill Wine.  They don’t produce widely, preferring to keep to an intimate size of 3000 cases a year, and they do this neat thing where you can come bottle your own and do your own fun labels. This was by far winery with the most attentive and educational pourer, a woman named CJ who’d been in the business for 19 years and with Judd’s Hill for eight of those. It was a great way to start the tasting because I learned more about how to taste and what to do change the taste of the wine, such as ways to reduce the tannins such as using food flavoured with salt. CJ even poured us each a little salt so we could experiment and taste the difference.  She also does a food pairing and tasting course, which I think would be amazing to take. CJ was a riot, too, and the group had a lot of fun.  Angela and Dre ended up purchasing a membership to their wine club, which meant that our group’s tasting was free (they waive the $35US for members and up to five guests), which was pretty awesome. I might even have joined myself, but they don’t ship to Canada so it wasn’t an option.

Next, it was onto the Rutherford estate, where the wine was good, but after CJ’s attention, the new pourer was, to put it mildly, a bit disappointing. There was a wine and cheese option, which Angela, Dre, Kevin, and I chose, while Lisa did a wine and chocolate pairing. The platter of cheeses, nuts, chocolate and dried fruit was delivered to us, but it didn’t come with an explanation of which cheese was which, why certain things might pair, or any details whatsoever. We got a little detail about each wine before the pourer disappeared, and they were good wines, but no better than any other.  For $50US, I felt there should have been more effort made, and after how amazing CJ was, the level of service was strikingly different. They did let us eat our picnic lunch inside, since it was windy enough we would have blown away, so that was nice. Jay served us delicious potato salad, orzo salad, and sandwiches, and I had an amazing portobello mushroom one with goat’s cheese and roasted veggies. There was also yummy dessert!

Our next stop was Ballentine, where we had another $35US tasting, but this time with a much more present pourer, though CJ still sparkled as the star pourer of the day. The wines were really good, and I bought a bottle of white, since I enjoyed it and have been feeling more into whites lately – which is a bit funny, because Napa Valley is more of a red grape growing place, so I had a day of mostly reds! I like those two, so it was all good.

Inglenook

The manor house where the Inglenook Estate does their tastings.

We had a little extra time in our day, so Jay took us to an extra stop, the Inglenook estate. We were not there for a tasting, as you have to book well in advance, but you can wander the beautiful manor home that reminded me of my year in Edinburgh. It’s owned by Francis Ford Coppola, and you can even see an old fashioned car that featured in one of his movies! I think it was called Tempest. Jay told us, but after three wineries, all I can really remember is the movie started with a “T”! Dre bought Angela and I lattes at the coffee shop (seriously, everyone on my tour was so lovely, we’re already Facebook friends), which warmed us up nicely and got us ready for our final stop of the day.

Dre and Angela

The lovely – and photogenic! – Dre and Angela at Inglenook estate. I was very excite that there were lemons and oranges growing in the little group of trees!

The last winery was called Black Stallion, and it was buzzing with busyness.  The pourers were less attentive as a result, but you could at least see they were trying. I was delighted to find they had a white tasting for $20US, and I ended up liking the white blend so much, I bought three bottles ($22US each) because it meant my fee was waived. I’m going to have to drink two of the bottles before I go home, though, so I don’t have to pay to import a third! I have a few days left so I think I can manage. Lisa had a fancy red tasting, and let us all try, and the Transcendent bottle was AMAZING. Of course, at $150US, I wasn’t bringing one home! There was a glass of wine and cheese plate option, but they apparently only do that on the weekend, which was too bad. Instead, we got little crackers that were slightly sweet but mostly tasteless, and yet I couldn’t stop eating them! Our tasting done, it was time to go back to the limo and let Jay take us home, our purchases in hand. Kevin also apparently has Jedi powers, because he managed to sweet talk our pourer into letting him buy a bottle of member’s only wine without buying a membership. It is apparently his superpower, and we were all very impressed.

Limo

I could get used to the limo life!

After dropping off Lisa and Kevin to get ready for their New Year’s Eve wine train dinner and Angela and Dre for their Rutherford Grill dinner (unrelated to the winery, as far as we could tell), I once again had the limo to myself for the drive back where my own plans were waiting – a nice, hot bath then dinner alone in my room in my pyjamas, with a glass of the wine I brought back!

I had no desire to venture out in the hubbub, and my burger was delicious and it was nice to just kick back. I thought I’d stay up until midnight, and start the new year writing or dancing, but instead I decided I was going to start the day with a good rest.

I regret nothing.

 

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | December 31, 2018

Sunshine and Wine, Two-Zero-One-Nine: Entry #1

Wedding Table

Family weddings are fun – at least in my family, because my family is a blast!

It just so happens that I’m on an adventure again, this time extending a family event trip to get a little time to relax in warmer climes. My trip started with a jaunt to a family wedding – my lovely cousin got married, so I flew to Calgary, picked up a rental car, and drove to Canmore. I stayed in a condo unit with my parents, a cozy little place with a loft bedroom for me and the master for them, and our own bathrooms for each of us. The wedding was beautiful and it was good to visit with the family that could go, and to dance even though I didn’t even come close to lasting to midnight.

The day after the wedding, I made my way to Banff to have lunch there with the family that came to the wedding. I didn’t realize one had to pay to get into the area just to have lunch, which can be a hassle, though it was only $10 and I managed to skip the line a little by realizing it after I drove through, calling my cousins to confirm I should have paid and then driving back to the kiosk to walk and get my ticket. I felt like a jerk skipping the line, but it was an honest mistake. Finding parking was a nightmare, but the food at the Maple Grill, where I met my aunts/cousins/partners was awesome and it was a nice quiet space to visit. The mountains in the area were beautiful too!

Banff Mountain Range

The light wasn’t great, but the Rocky Mountains certainly are lovely!

After that it was back to Calgary for an overnight near the airport, at the Ramada. The internet was slow because of some changes going on including upgrades to the elevators that left only one to my floor, but it was very inexpensive and slow internet isn’t a reason I’d cancel!  The food was mediocre, though; nothing particularly wrong just nothing to write home about either.

Yesterday was pretty much airport all day, on my way to Napa Valley for the sunshine and wine part of my break (not that there wasn’t wine on the first part!).  My first plane was delayed and I was already early at the airport, so I finally took advantage of the priority pass I got with my Mastercard and enjoyed the lounge, where it was comfortable and quiet, and there was free food and wine. My first leg was to Salt Lake City, Utah, and since the plane coming from there was delayed, I missed my original connection. Delta rebooked for a later flight automatically and was very helpful overall with boarding passes and questions, and the only thing that was difficult was that it meant a long day and a late night, because my plane didn’t leave for Sacramento until 10:25.

Hotel

My hotel, the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel and Spa Napa Valley

I took an Uber from the airport to Napa Valley, and I have to say I’m loving it as an option. It was easy to find the designated pickup spot, it was cheaper than a cab, and I knew exactly when the pickup was happening. Renting a car would have not only been expensive from Sacramento, it would have meant trying to navigate myself and then also parking it anyway because I’m in Napa Valley, and there will be wine drinking, and wine drinking means no driving!

It was one in the morning by the time I reached the Doubletree Hotel, where I was greeted with warm cookies (which I saved because late at night) and a bed that feels like a cloud.

Bird

A little bird I ‘met’ on my walk today.

I’ve puttered about most of the day, taking a walk in the sun to the Wetlands Edge Road (I’m in a town called American Canyon) and eating at the hotel restaurant, Table 29, when I was done getting my steps in.  The food was very, very good – it’s tempting to just eat here forever. I went in with a headache and it was gone when I left, partly because I think I’d gone too long without eating. I had an olive and cheese plate starter, and that helped, and the Prosecco didn’t hurt either. Then it was a Capellini (angel hair pasta) with vegetable rags, with the perfect amount of oil and garlic. I followed this with creme brûlée and port, and now feel relaxed and glowy. And now I’m ready to head to bed shortly, because I’ve booked a wine tour and tasting for tomorrow. I’m excited to try the wine and take pictures and get some more sun, because we didn’t get much of a summer at home this year (nothing but cloudy days when it wasn’t raining for the most part), and this is going to get me through the long, dark winter.

So off to my cloud of a bed – seriously, well done, Doubletree – until tomorrow’s entry!

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 21, 2018

Peruving Myself A Traveler Again: Entry #7

Well, I’m back at home sweet home, which feels especially sweeter because it took three long days of airports and airplanes to get here. Northern Canada and South America are very far away from another!

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The charming little courtyard at the Esplendor Hotel.

My last full day in Cusco was lovely, and I achieved all three goals – I found chocolate, got an Inca massage at the Kantu Massage place I’d checked out, and I ate at Pucharas.  The last one was just a salad because the menu was less inspiring than I’d hoped- it was perfectly fine, just not as interesting as, say, Incanto, my favourite of all the eateries I visited. I purchased chocolate at Choco Museo, at the recommendation of a family friend who’d recently visited (and also had me bring her some back. She trained as a chocolatier, so she knows chocolate, and Peru apparently has some of the best because they use different cocoa beans. She wrote about it here better than I could explain: feel free to check it out!

I made my way back to my hotel, wishing I could take advantage of the hot tub again but knowing I didn’t want to pack a wet swim suit. Instead, I got my things in order, then made my way to Organika, a recommendation of another visitor at the hotel, for dinner. They grow their produce in the Sacred Valley and use fresh and organic ingredients, and it was delicious! They make their own pasta, so I had the sweet potato-stuffed ravioli with tomato sauce and one last Pisco Sour. It was great!  Then it was back to my hotel through the Plaza Des Armas. Some sort of parade was going one, but it was late and dark and crowded, three things that I’m not great with on my own, so I watched a little then went back to my hotel.

The next three days were a whirl of airports and airplanes, as previously mentioned. My stress and anxiety was high preparing for it, but I managed to calm myself enough to sleep. I was a little worried I wouldn’t get out of Cusco – it began to rain cats and dogs and there was thunder – but Latam Airline was good to go, so with my bag checked to Cancun, I got all the way to Lima, where I stayed at the Costa Del Sol again. It’s a nice hotel, if expensive, but you pay for the convenience.  I got a good six and a half hours of sleep this time – not bad for me on a travel day! – and I’d requested a quiet room and was definitely rewarded, as the constant horns of the airport were less heard on the fifth floor.

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I will miss these magnificent creatures.

Lima to Cancun also went fairly smoothly, though I was nervous my bag wouldn’t make it after all. It was borrowing trouble, as it came through just fine. In fact, I was much more prepared for the airport this time. I “noped” several pushy taxi drivers (and got confirmation that I was definitely had on the airport taxi before), confidently making my way onto the shuttle. I checked into my airline and found a place to eat a light, late lunch while waiting on my plane. The leg to Calgary wasn’t too bad either, for all that I wasn’t able to get an upgrade seat. I sometimes find Air Canada seats a bit more crowded than other airlines, but this plane seemed as fine as any other, perhaps because I sprang for extra legroom so the seat in front wasn’t so in my face.

In Calgary, I made my way through customs and then found my way to my hotel, the Applause by Clique Hotel. It was actually pretty fantastic. It was the best of all the hotel beds I slept in for comfort, and not just because it had some fancy LED light underneath than fortunately can be turned off to sleep. The room was big and well-decorated, and the shower was one with several different kind of sprays. I will definitely look to stay there again. It also came with complimentary breakfast and a complimentary drink at the bar, though it was too early for me to indulge in the latter since a mimosa didn’t count for the coupon and I wasn’t going to have a highball at 11 a.m., holiday or no.

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A happy Starfish in her own bed. ❤

The last leg to Calgary also went smoothly, though I went to the airport early for lack of anything better to do, and found there wasn’t much to do in the Calgary Airport domestic terminal either. I had hoped for more stores to poke about in or one of those Express Spa places, but it is mostly just Hudson News type places. Still, I managed to entertain myself until my plane to Edmonton, then onward to Yellowknife, where I got to crawl into the most comfortable bed of all: my own. I’ve had a great adventure but am certainly glad to be back in my own space, with all my clothes and books and near my people. Peru was wonderful – I definitely recommend going at least once in your life – but after all, there’s no place like home!

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 16, 2018

Peru-ving Myself A Traveler Again: Entry #6

It’s been two days since I wrote because, as previously mentioned, I spent nearly a full day on the bus on the way back to Cusco, and then yesterday I basically needed some decompressing time so didn’t venture very far. The bus ride wasn’t bad – it was a double decker bus and for the first time ever, I was on the top floor. The seats were big and comfy, too, so I basically dozed the entire way back. Considering my cold, more sleep is probably not a bad thing at all.

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I got to eat a lovely Peruvian meal in the centre of that balcony!

I was picked up at the bus station and, thanks to the excellent service of Machu Picchu Latin America tours, was able to fetch my stored bag at the Midori and move to my new hotel, Esplendor. Midori is lovely and I would have stayed longer, but it was booked by the tour company so I had no idea where to stay and used Booking.com to find Esplendor. It’s a lovely hotel, a little bit further from the central area than the Midori but still well within walking distance. I have a lovely king bed and the room is fairly spacious and the courtyard has a fountain. It is also quiet, which I like.  After getting my stuff put away, I asked the nice staff member at the desk for a restaurant recommendation, and she directed me to La Feria, where I had excellent Peruvian food. I was brought a complimentary broth for a starter, then my main course was chicken skewers with potato and salad. All very delicious. I had a beer with dinner, seated in the balcony overlooking the Plaza Des L’Armas, and it was lovely, but the lemonades my neighbours were drinking also looked super tempting.

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A lovely Plaza with a lovely fountain I wanted to dance in.

 

After that it was back to the hotel to crash.  I got up in time to catch the free breakfast, and it was very good, with lots of things to choose from. Then I went back to the room to chill for a bit, before heading out to the square to wander for a few hours.  I had hoped to just find a quiet bench to read and nearly did, but everyone is in business in Cusco, and people keep approaching to show their art or jewelry or weaving. I’m not rude about declining, but it gets exhausting.

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My beautifully-plated bruschetta, which was even more delicious than it looks!

Instead, I found my way to Uchu, a Peruvian steakhouse some of the members of the group I was in for Machu Picchu mentioned. They weren’t open yet, so I got to sit and read in their courtyard before ordering a delicious and beautifully presented lunch. I started with a bruschetta made with mango and peppers and cream cheese and deliciousness. Then I had the alpaca steak with salad and crispy potatoes (you can choose from the kind of meat as well as a few sides). The dish comes on a hot volcanic rock at medium rare, so you can cook your steak to your liking on it. While I normally like medium rare, I found alpaca tastes better closer to well done. And dipped in the excellent sauces that come with it – a garlic one, and two levels of spicy that I could both eat! I definitely enjoyed my meal.

After that, I had to go to the bathroom and didn’t feel like finding the public washrooms, so I walked back to the hotel. I chilled some more in my room before taking advantage of the hot tub in the Esplendor courtyard. Not all the jets work but it still was lovely.

I was supposed to have a Shaman come to give a blessing as part of my tour the next day, but unfortunately he was delayed with other group members. The tour group, Travel and Health, got a hold of me a little late, but they did kindly reschedule though after my trip today.  They also confirmed my ungodly hour pickup (3:50 a.m.) so I called room service, at dinner, and went to bed to try to get as much sleep as possible. The room is comfortable and the king bed is cozy, so that helped.

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Believe it or not, this Canadian had to take off her jacket AND sweater even faced with this climate!

At the scheduled hour, my little tour bus arrived and I bundled myself into all my sweaters and napped, since we had to drive nearly three hours to our breakfast location. Funnily enough, that was about the only time I needed my warm clothes – even in the mountains, since the sun was warm, I actually found it hot.  Breakfast was nice, some fruit and yogurt and a hot soup, plus bread and jam. And coca tea, of course! Then we made our way another hour up to the starting point for going to the Rainbow Mountain.

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My horseman, Sirilo, and my horse Negro. Not pictured: my sore legs!

Now I am fat and no longer in good shape, so I chose to take a horse there and back.  There was no way I could walk several kilometres at 5000 and upward metres. I’d paid in advance, but there was some confusion I think and I had to pay the horseman at the top, but the guide reimbursed me at the end, so it all worked out. I would definitely recommend taking cash just in case – with so many people with different plans, and a horseman in a rush to get more customers, you can’t always guarantee that your guide will be with you when the time comes to pay.

They can’t take you all the way up to the Rainbow Mountain, so I did have some high altitude walking to do. I took it very slowly (and my guides checked in on me a lot and loaned me a walking stick, I think because my cold meant I was raspy and panting and making things sound worse than they actually were). I did have a few moments of dizziness, but I just stopped and took in air and carried on, slowly.

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Rainbow Mountain, in all it’s colourful glory.

The view was totally, totally worth it. Breathtaking in a whole other way. And I even climbed a little higher up the mountain peak opposite (halfway, not to the top, because I know my limits) to get a good photo. It’s spectacular.  Truly amazing.

After that, there was a bit of a walk down then a horse ride back to the point where the tour bus was. I have to admit, I was scared of falling off a lot on the way down, as my legs were already tired from gripping the horse on the way up, and there’s definitely a feeling of less control. But I didn’t fall off the horse (though I did come close once but managed to catch myself until the horseman could steady me) or the mountain, so wins all around.

We had some time at the starting point where I used the bathroom (or the squat toilets, not a huge fan) then picked up the half of the group who went the long way back as part of their package through the red valley (I didn’t know about it, so I can’t tell you anything about it), though it wasn’t too long. We had lunch at the same restaurant as before, a lovely buffet. Then it was another few hours in a warm bus (the A/C was on but not particularly effective) before getting dropped off at the Plaza Des L’Armas to walk back to the hotel because traffic was too crazy to get us to our hotels directly.  I was going to go in the hot tub again, but was too tired! Instead, I chilled until the Quescan Shaman arrived.

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Bonus Rainbow Mountain photo because it is just so gorgeous.

It was a lovely little blessing ceremony, just in the hotel lobby. I was given some fragrant water to run on my hands, then pat on my face and body. Then I was given some coca leaves to press to my heart.  The shaman then said some blessings using a pillow with sacred flowers and other items related to the land inside. It was very lovely, and I am glad I participated. Bringing this Andean blessing ceremony is also good for the community the Shaman (his name was Raoul) comes from, as a way of contributing to their economy. The tour group Travel and Healing that I booked with does this deliberately, as one of their ways to give back.

By the time the blessing was done, it was nearly 8 p.m. I decided on another room service night, since it is inexpensive and also I’m not sure my legs would be willing to carry me as far as a restaurant, let alone back. Tomorrow I’ll venture out a little bit with a couple of goals in mind. One, get one of the inexpensive massages that is on offer (I’ve already checked out the place and it is clean and the massage therapist has a certificate on her wall so not totally sketchy). Two, find another restaurant that was recommended. And three, chocolate. Delicious Peruvian chocolate.

 

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