day 4 – terrace bay, on – grand rapids, mn

departure: 08.08, temp: 11c

oddly, it warmed up over night.  we were on the road just after 8, continuing west towards thunder bay.  there was construction on most of the bridges across that stretch of highway, so a few delays waiting at lights.  for the first time in a very long time of visits to the lakehead, i did not get my breakfast at the hoito – closed for thanksgiving.  so pitstop at timmies, and back on the highway.

at this point, we felt like we were finally properly starting this road trip, as we were finally getting into new territory.  highway 61 starts in thunder bay, and roughly follows the mississippi all the way down to new orleans.  the great river road is a route made up of various highways and backroads, including large stretches of the 61, that more closely traces the river.  our destination today was grand rapids, mn, which marks the location where the mississippi becomes navigable.  to get there, we first followed 61 south.  the road passes through rolling farmland bordered by ancient granite cliffs striped with stands of birch and poplar trees, and crosses the border at pigeon river.  we were through customs by noon, and then immediately gained an hour as we moved into the central time zone.  from that point the road runs literally on the edge of lake superior to its westernmost point in duluth.  the sky was clear blue, and little whitecaps danced out on the water.


we stopped at beaver bay for our first gas since white river, and had a picnic lunch at a harbour a little south of there.  duluth is a prettier town than i expected, and the downtown core is seeing signs of revitalization.  from there, we changed to highway 2 west, on a straight line out to grand falls.  not much on the way there (passed through floodwood: the catfish capital!); the landscape is weirdly reminiscent of the trans canada between thunder bay and dryden – long straight stretches parallel to the railroad tracks, nothing but scrawny trees and marsh.

grand rapids itself is pleasant enough (motto: it’s in minnesota’s nature!).  the main drag of highway 2 is right along the river through town, though you’d never know it as the local pulp mill is also there in the middle of town, blocking the view.  we booked into the forest view motel for the night.  the room is clean but could use some decor updating.  bathroom fixtures are powder blue and the tub has those non-slip floral decals that everyone had in the 70s.  but we overlook one of the town’s 4 lakes, and we’re next door to the forest lake restaurant/steakhouse/lounge where we had fresh walleye (pickerel to us northerners), and a decent lager from grain belt brewers in mn.


had an early night as we expect a long day of driving tomorrow.

arrived: 16.30, high temp: 24c, traveled: 696km


day 3 – terrace bay

up at: 07.00, temp: -1c

i was awake early, and finally got out of bed around 7 to watch the sun rise over lake superior.  it was a beautiful sky, inky clouds glazed with orange-pink.  bloody cold though!  everything had a crust of morning frost.


had a lazy morning, then headed out for a quick tour of town to see what had changed (not much).  the day was bright, but cold and windy, so we only had a short walk on the beach.


spent the rest of the day visiting with family and friends (including my grandma, who will be 90 next month), and preparing for thanksgiving dinner.  we were 11 at the table; started with the smoked lake trout, then turkey and all the trimmings, and finished with apple crisp and ice cream.  met up with more friends after dinner – including someone i haven’t seen in nearly 25 years.  called it a night as it would be an early start the next morning.

high temp: 8c, traveled 30km

day 2: skead, on – terrace bay, on

departure: 08.50, temp: 8c

after breakfast with leslie and tom, we were back on the road.  it was a cool but sunny start to the day.  we stopped for gas and timmies at espanola (wink to victoria), and rolled on towards sault ste marie (aka “the soo”), enjoying the riot of fall colours along the way.  as it was saturday, there were farmers markets open through mennonite country.  the best of the autumn leaves were just west of the soo, with blazing reds, fiery oranges, and glittering golds.  we stopped at the shops at pancake bay to pick up smoked lake trout and wild rice.  just west of there, we were treated to awesome views of lake superior putting on a show of spectacular force and colour.  the bay is fairly shallow: whitecaps were whipping out to the horizon, and waves were crashing against the rocks.  the sky was littered with white and grey clouds, and the sun forced its way through to light up patchworks on the water.


i have traveled to many places, and there is nowhere more beautiful than the north shore of lake superior on a bright autumn day.  we continued westward, into lake superior provincial park, for more photo ops.  we pulled into the parking area at sand river, expecting to have a short walk to see the waterfall, but instead we were treated to our first proper wildlife sighting of the trip (wink to rebecca: how lucky was this!; wink to tobias: you missed out!).

the family was in the car!  so, no walk to the falls then…  we had a few more opportunities for photos at katherine’s cove and old woman’s bay.  the highway cuts inland at wawa (wink to val) and we pushed through the final three hours of the day’s drive.  the stretch from marathon to terrace bay is a great twisting hilly road, made more adventurous by the fact that we were driving directly into the setting sun in prime hours for moose sightings.  so we were both on full alert – but no moose on the road this time.  there was, however, moose on the table when we got to my parents’ house, in the form of moose stew for dinner – yummy!  had a visit with extended family (mum & dad, aunt cher & uncle dave, uncle david, sister shan), and friends tamara & terry dropped in too.  after a long day, i was too knackered to figure out how to upload video to make this post, so it had to wait until morning.

arrival: 19.00, high temp: 11c, traveled: 836km

day 1: ottawa, on – skead, on

departure: 12.52, temp: 22c
it was a beautiful day for a drive up the ottawa valley. the leaves are just starting to turn, and the colours were burning bright in the sun. we crossed the “other” mississippi river on our way out highway 17 west.  apart from a minor detour at arnprior, we cruised without incident all afternoon, listening to fleetwood mac (particularly their live at the BBC album).  we arrived at our destination in skead, in greater/grand sudbury, just before 18.30, and had a wonderful evening with friends tom and leslie (wink: big thanks to you both!). good food, lots of wine, and hours of conversation later, we called it a night. i didn’t get on their wifi, hence the delay in this post.
arrival: 18.20, high temp: 28c, traveled: 494km


epic road trip 2016: the blues and booze tour

it’s time for another adventure.

so, irene and i are embarking on another epic road trip in the US. over the course of the next 16 days, we’ll head to northwestern ontario, then cross into minnesota to follow the mighty mississippi river from headwaters to delta.  we then plan to follow the natchez trace parkway, and find some distillers in tennessee and kentucky before heading home.

those of you who followed my trip to the pacific coast a couple of years ago will be familiar with the format of my posts.  but as with last year’s cape town adventure, i will be posting to my website:  you can either check in to the site daily, or figure out how to use the RSS feed.

the first entry will come tomorrow evening.  i do intend to post daily, wifi permitting.  comments on the posts are welcome.

let the adventure begin!

homeward bound

24 august:  time to bid farewell to cape town, to my comfortable hotel/apartment at the harbour bridge hotel, to mountain views and ocean views and penguins…

having been up dead early every morning for the past ten days, i allowed myself the luxury of a lay-in and a leisurely coffee and breakfast before catching the MyCiTi bus out to the airport.  i had time for a glass of castle beer before catching the short(ish) flight to johannesburg.  a brief lay-over and a night time take off to frankfurt.  i binge-watched the remaining episodes of season six of the good wife (gripping to the end!), and still had time to catch a few episodes of ashes to ashes, a seriously entertaining south african telenovela series set in a family-owned funeral home.  hope it comes to canadian netflix.

after the overnight flight with virtually no sleep, i landed in FRA with four hours to kill before the final leg of the journey.  my regular FRA routine (yes, i’ve been through there enough times to have a regular routine) is a paulaner hefe-weissbier and kartoffelsalat at the goethe bar.  but there is construction in that area of the b-gates, and the goethe bar was boarded up.  thankfully, the new deli bros cafe was open at 6:30 am.  i sank onto a comfy leather bench, which conveniently had built-in electrical outlets, plugged in my devices, and ordered a cup of coffee.  i managed to dash off a couple of blog posts (you may recall), and catch up on some ifla work by email with mlas chair barbara while we were briefly in the same country.  and i was able to fulfill the most important elements of my routine by ordering a hefe-weissen und kartoffelsalat (and no, i was not the only person there drinking beer at 8am).

the flight to montreal was uneventful.  with nothing left to watch on my ipad, i scrolled through the various air canada on-board entertainment offerings, surfing through some comedy series episodes (modern family, big bang theory), and trying to ignore the whining children around me and the knee in my kidney of the person in the seat behind me.  arrival at YUL: it was a treat to be greeted at the terminal by teresa, who was there to chauffeur me back to ottawa.  i showered, texted the neighbour to let her know i was back, and slept for the next 14 hours.

penguin sunday

so, 23 august, my last full day in cape town.  the sky was overcast and it was a bit foggy as i grabbed my backpack in pursuit of one more adventure.  i had a discussion with the receptionists in the hotel lobby about the best way to get to simon’s town.  i had hoped to take the train down, as i’d heard it is a lovely route along the coast with great ocean views.  but i was warned off for safety reasons (trains are quiet on a sunday, i’m travelling alone) and, slightly apprehensive given my experience the previous day, i opted for caution and called a taxi.

my friendly taxi driver, philip, took me on the mountain route: around table mountain, then climbing through a mist-shrouded twisting winding mountain pass, finally descending the mountainside down towards false bay and simon’s town.  there i met up with guides from kayak cape town for a morning paddle down to boulders beach to get acquainted with the local african penguin colony.  it was a larger group today, nine of us accompanied by three guides.  as the odd one out, i got to paddle tandem with one of the guides, sandy.

the sky began to clear as we headed out past the simon’s town naval base, the largest base of the south african navy.  we passed the break wall and rode the gentle swell.  the bay was full of large stalks of kelp and hundreds of funky pink jellyfish. we paddled at a leisurely pace , and eventually rounded a small outcrop of rocks into the bay of boulders beach.  and there they were: dozens, if not a hundred, of the squat tuxedoed sea birds. most of the penguins were just hanging around on the beach and surrounding rocks; an intrepid group made multiple attempts to sneak under water past our flotilla of kayaks, but kept ending up back in the shallows of the bay, with a wary eye on our actions.  we watched their antics for a while before setting back out to the open water.

the waves had picked up a bit, and we all had a blast trying to surf our kayaks on the swell. we were using sit-on-top boats, and the choppy surface ensured that we got reasonably wet. but the sun was out now, and we were working our way across to a large boulder where we’d spotted some seals catching the rays.  by the time we got there, though, they had slipped into the water and were happily rolling in the waves that were breaking against the rock, unperturbed by our presence. the substantial boulder was a popular resting place for sea birds, and our guides led us around to a crevice in the side so we could get the full experience of the resulting guano stench.  not pleasant.  we returned past the massive grey naval vessels, stopping to check a decommissioned submarine, before heading back onto the harbour. it had been another fantastic morning on the water, providing a very different experience of the region than can be had from land.  thanks to the guides for a great trip!

my taxi driver had taken himself to breakfast, and was waiting to escort me back to cape town. we traveled a coastal road for the return, partly following the rail line i would have taken if i’d been on the train. there are some spectacular beaches along the way.  we stopped at a lookout to enjoy the views, and chat with a woman who was standing in a small hut on the side of the road. turns out she’s employed as a shark scout: she watches the area out past the crowded beach for signs of approaching sharks, and sounds the alarm if there were impending danger. on the day, thankfully, all was quiet.

back at the hotel, i made a quick change, then walked down to the v&a waterfront for a bit of last minute shopping and a few photos of the views of table mountain from the harbour.  the newly opened watershed market is a converted warehouse, now home to more than 150 boutique stalls selling all manner of local goods, from artwork and jewelry to clothing and leather goods.  i had interesting chats with some of the vendors, picked up a few lovely little things, then went out to wander the harbour in the late afternoon sunlight.  i found nobel square, home to statues of the four south african nobel peace prize laureates: albert luthuli (1960), archbishop desmond tutu (1984), fw de klerk and nelson mandela (co-recipients in 1993).

my last dinner was at the same restaurant as my first: back to den anker for crispy fish & chips and a couple of “den anker” beers (brewed in belgium specifically for this restaurant), and views of the dusk settling in on the harbour.  finally, back to the hotel to pack for the long journey home.

sea to sky saturday

the alarm went off very early.  good thing i’d loaded my backpack the night before.  i taxied to three anchor bay in sea point and tracked down the small storefront for kaskazi kayaks, where i was gearing up for my first ocean kayaking experience.  i arrived a bit early, so wandered along the promenade, watching the breakers crash along the shore walls, feeling slightly nervous and wondering what i was getting myself into. as it turned out, i was in for an amazing morning on the water.  there were three of us booked for the trip: two local guys went out in one boat, and i paddled with our guide, dirk.  we launched from a small shell beach, paddled hard to get up and over the crest of the first swell, and headed for the horizon… well, not quite, but far enough out to avoid the worst of the breaking waves.  dictated by the winds, we kayaked in the direction of cape point, down past clifton beach and on towards camps bay.  trusting the adage that where there are birds there will be fish, we followed flocks of sea birds – cormorants and gulls and countless others – in the hope of catching site of dolphins, or even whales, but no such luck.  we did have the company of a group of african penguins swimming alongside the boat for a stretch, which was fun.  the views of the hills of table mountain national park were spectacular in the early morning sunshine, and the “winter” light just gave everything a slightly ethereal glow.  we rode swells and tried to kayak-surf a bit.  kayaks are amazingly stable, even when you’re being tossed around by swells, and ocean paddling is certainly a bigger rush than my usual flatwater excursions on the lakes and rivers of eastern ontario.  on the way back, we could see paragliders drifting from the top of signal hill, circling in the air currents down to sea point.  it was a fantastic morning!

i wandered along the sea point promenade for a few minutes before heading back to the hotel to shower off the salt water and change for my afternoon adventure.  i planned to spend a bit of time exploring the city centre before boarding the cable car to the top of table mountain.  on my way into town, i stopped at an atm to get some cash – which is where i got swindled out of my bank card.  it was rather stupid of me, and i should have realized earlier what was happening, but the short of it is that some bloke (or more likely a pair of them) got my card.  i’m fairly certain the security guard watched it all happen and did nothing, but he did approach me afterwards and encouraged me call my bank to cancel my card, which i did.  i then spent the next three hours at the local police precinct to make a statement; i was in a queue behind at least five others who were making the exact same statement, so this is obviously a popular scam.  at least no one was hurt, but lesson learned, and we all moved on. i had a second bank card and a credit card, so i was able to carry on the holiday without further inconvenience.

i had to take advantage of the fact that the sky was still clear and blue, and get to the top of table mountain.  it had been shrouded by cloud most of the week (the locals refer to this as the table cloth), so i didn’t want to miss the opportunity.  i rode the revolving cable car to the top, and set off along the network of walking paths at the summit.  it truly is very flat up there – the table designation is accurate.  the rock is well beaten by millenia of wind and rain, and some of the plant life (“fynbos”) is not dissimilar to some of the arctic vegetation that clings to the rocky north shore of lake superior.  the panoramic vistas were incredible.  there were clear views town to the city bowl and robben island, out to the stellenbosch mountains, and along the mountaintops south to cape point.  i could see the shoreline where i’d paddled that morning, breakers still crashing on to the beaches below.  as it was a perfect weather day, and a saturday, there were a lot of people traipsing around, but i managed to find a quiet spot to sit and stare out along the coast past cape point and contemplate the vast nothingness that lies between there and antarctica.  mind. blown.

i rode back down the mountain, taxied to a hotel to pick up a couple of bottles of wine (an absolutely stunning 2008 marianne cabernet sauvignon from the simonsburg-paarl region, and a 2012 neethlingshof estate cab sauv that i managed to wedge in my suitcase and will save for an occasion) that had been left for me by jane and donna (as thanks for videoing donna’s speech on thurs) and went back to my hotel to meet janice and loren.  we had drinks and snacks in my little apartment, then headed out for dinner at fork on long street, a great tapas place where we sampled a variety of dishes.  janice and loren were heading off for a safari adventure, and i had one more full day at the tip of africa.

friday wine tour

and now the real fun begins!  i had booked an adventure tour with bikes ‘n wines, a local tour company.  i wandered in the early morning up to their office, met my guide for the day, and we got a lift for the 40 minutes drive out to the village of vlottenburg, near stellenbosch, where we met the rest of the group (two couples: one dutch, one american; plus our guide and a guide in training, and me) and picked up our bikes.  we immediately started with the toughest climb of the day, up a dirt track through vineyards.

our first stop was thandi wines, the first black-owned winery in south africa, and the first winery in the world to receive fairtrade accreditation.  i’d seen this winery featured in a documentary, and was keen to learn more about it.  unfortunately, the tasting room manager was taken ill just before we arrived, so we were not able to sample the wines or tour the winery.  i guess i’ll have to come back and do it another time.

we carried on up the slope to our first tasting at skilpadvlei (skilpad is africaans for turtle).  on a shaded patio, we tried 5 wines:  an chenin blanc (unoaked, very crisp, and my favourite at this stop), a sauvignon blanc, a rosé (bit too sweet), a cabernet/shiraz (50/50 blend), and their signature ML Joubert blend (lots of licorice, wood and leather).

we continued our cycle tour across the hilly vineyards, stopping to take photos of the stunning views of the mountains surrounding stellenbosch, and the distant back side of table mountain – sharply visible on this clear day – then coasted downhill to the next stop, lovane, a boutique wine estate and guest house.  i would happily stay here on a future trip.  it is one of the smallest estates in the stellenbosch region (only 2.5 hectares, with 90% cabernet sauvingnon, and the remainder equally divided between cabernet franc and petit verdot), and only sells bottles on site.  we were allowed to wander into their cellar – 10,000 bottles: their entire production since they opened in 2006.  so, all reds for the tasting.  first up, the unfiltered blanc de noir, a rosé from cab sauv grapes.  next, the berries only 2009, where grapes are de-stalked but not crushed; the yeast is added to the whole grapes to break down – fruit-forward but quite dry.  on to the isikhati 2009, a bordeaux blend (49% cab sauv, 32% petit verdot, 19% cab franc). then my favourite, the 2010 cabernet sauvignon – very smooth, all red berries and plums, yum!  i had to buy a bottle to bring home.  finally the cape vintage dessert wine, a port style with a distinct honeycomb taste and a hint of raisins.  for our group, most of the shopping was done here.

we carried on pedaling through the vineyards to the vredenheim estate.  another five wines were sampled here:  starting with the pink bubbles of the sauvignon blanc/cabernet vredenvonkel vin sec, followed by m’lord chardonnay (barrel fermented for 10 months, light buttery taste with just a hint of smoke), the merlot (new french oak barrels – way too much wood in the wine for my palate!), the cabernet sauvignon (plummy, with a hint of pepper on the finish), and ending with the flagship gracious lady (80% cabernet sauvignon, 15% shiraz, 5% merlot), my favourite of this stop.  we sat out on a lovely patio for lunch.

a little less than steady now on the bikes, we made our way over to our final tasting of the day: brandy at van ryn distillery.  the tasting room was like the interior of a medieval european manor house.  the 10 year old was not to everyone’s liking, and was soon forgotton with the sample of the superior 12 year old pot still.  i can see why it wins international awards.

back to the meeting point to drop off the bikes and bid farewell to the group.  with my guide and guide in training, i caught the local train back into cape town.  had a quick shower, and went to meet ingrid for dinner.  she’d been on another stellenbosch wine tour (not on a bike), so we compared notes of what we’d tasted over excellent burgers and beer and more wine at the very loud tiger’s milk restaurant and bar.

i’m exhausted just recalling the day…


congress final thursday

how is it that the first weekend of the congress seems to go on forever, and all of a sudden it’s the last day.  happens every year; you’d think i’d be used to it after all these years.  i spent the early part of the morning catching up on some notes, chatted with a few people, and headed into the MLAS SC II – my first meeting as secretary.  barbara was an excellent chair – as i knew she would be! – and got us through a very full agenda on time.  i dashed across the street to meet ingrid for lunch (as a past president, she now actually has time for lunch), spent a few minutes out in the sunshine, then met up with janice to pass some time before the closing session.

the closing was full of fun things to celebrate:  ingrid was awarded an honorary fellowship in ifla; victoria was introduced as a newly-elected member of the governing board; wroc?aw, poland was announced as the host city for the 2017 congress and the very entertaining mayor bid us a warm welcome; the co-hosts of next year’s congress in columbus encouraged us to discover OH – IO!; and our new ifla president donna scheeder gave an excellent inaugural address (which jane somehow convinced me to record on her phone – really hard on the arms!).  we also bid adieu to jennefer nicholson, ifla secretary general (and another former MLAS member); this was her final conference as SG, as she will retire next spring.

met up with my ala mates keith and michael, and taxied down to the the port where they’d had a tip on a good seafood restaurant.  in amongst all the towering container ships and cranes was a low-level building with blue awnings: panama jack’s.  we sat at the bar for a couple of beers (jack black) while we waited for george, another ala colleague and the one who had suggested this restaurant.  the meal was phenomenal!  we started with abalone (a first for me), which we went over and selected from the tank ourselves.  it was grilled up and quite exquisite.  next were the oysters – just a hit of lemon, heavenly.  then we shared two massive seafood platters:  scallops, langoustines, lobster, mussels, kingklip, and on and on, all right fresh out of the ocean.  a great evening of food and friends, and a fitting wind-up of the congress week.