Category Archives: Canada

A collection of travelogues from my trip to Canada, peppered with reviews and recommendations of accommodation, walking tours, restaurants and pubs.

Travelogue Canada 4: Wales


30 October 2009

Arriving in London from my jaunt in Niagara Falls,  I got through the Heathrow experience and to Kings Cross without incident. I was met at Burger King (Rodeo King deal – cheese and bacon burger with onion rings) by RoRo. SO much better a brekkie than the banana muffin that Air Canada thought would suffice!

Then it was off to Barry’s office to dump (ever-increasingly heavy) luggage. Newly liberated, me and RoRo headed to find Faye HQ – Guardian London. Conveniently close + bud with useful gameplan = Camden!

Was heaving! And had changed so much since I was there last (worked out it was 1992 – believe it. Or not) but all for the good – lots of atmosphere and oozing with the under-promise of over-delivering good times! ;o)

First pint in days…

…and then second…

…and then faye arrived.

*giggles, chatter, hysteria, nostalia, giggles, snickersnort, wittybanterwittybanter, giggle, PHOTO!*

Off to next pub. Barry got off work early, but had the dreaded lurgy so it was a tea for him 🙁

We needed to head back towards the office to outrun London peak traffic to collect (dreadedstartingtohatethecommitment) luggage. Traversed the city effortlessly to deposit selves at Ruby’s. So very the first people there. Was a bit ‘eurotrip’ as the next 2 hours disappeared on fast forward and people filled every conceivable space around us.

Then it was off to Kings Cross and Paddington to get on the train to Wales (picking up BK en route, Bacon Caesar Angus burgers of cheese, bacon, onion straws and Caesar sauce + spicy jalapenos and chewy cheese encased in a crunchy batter).

The train was heaving. We got really lucky finding a table for 2 in First Class (and no conductor so not having to pay upgrade!) seeing as there were people IN FIRST CLASS who stood 2/3 of the 3 hours journey! Passed the time with ‘Spite and Malice’ (our favourite card game). Was 5-1 down at one point, but we ‘agreed’ to call it quits when clambered back to 5-5 position.

Quick power-snooze… and we were there. Swansea.

Interesting locals. Very slapperish uberhighheelpelmetskirts types. Waited for John (Moir) and headed for ‘home’. Couldn’t see much seeing as it was about midnight, but happy to get to <the unpronounceable=”” town=””> and the lovely warm home where we could start our Wicked Weekend in Wales adventure :o)

Did the usual slumber-party, catch-up stuff and then had the greatest night’s sleep in as long as I can remember (YAY). To wake up on Halloween…


The day started as every day should – was woken with a “don’t ask questions, just follow me” (Barry)… and was led to the kitchen where a full fry-up was waiting! Even though it was a heart-stoppingly early 09h30 (which is super-early considering sleep depro the night before and that night’s extended slumber party antics with me and JM giggling like schoolgirls til 3 in the morning) was still an XL YAY! :o)

All fuelled and ready for action, we headed off to town to do the last minute shopping for Halloween, namely costume accessories, pumpkins and a few odds and sods for our dinner feast. Mission accomplished, we retired to McD’s for a hearty lunch of a Big Tasty With Bacon (100% Beef patty, streaky bacon, a slice of cheese made from Emmental, onion, juicy tomato, crisp lettuce and Big Tasty sauce – which is sort of like a smoked version of the sauce on the Big Mac – in a sesame seed bun) with POTATO WEDGES with sour cream and chive dip! Total awesomeness! McFlurry’s for pudding – with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Caramels oooo!

Spent the afternoon around the kitchen table, laughing, giggling, catching up, dying hair, making jack-o-lanterns, decorating the house (with orange spray paint and stencils, plastic bats, fake cobwebs and plastic tombstones) and generally having a grand old time.

Was the usual rush to get ready, even though we’d had the whole afternoon to do it. It was all a hubbub of getting costumes on (me Morticia, Emm Vampira, Barry a Vampire, John the Templar Knight), applying facepaint for each other, smearing eyeshadow all over the show and (the other 3) putting in wicked costume contact lenses. We were supposed to be out at 5, we eventually left about 5.40. Oops.

So, we get to the party the better part of an hour late. And we’re the only grown-ups in costume!! The guy Emm works with that had invited us to the party had told Emm everyone dresses up, omitting that he meant all the CHILDREN dress up! We felt a bit arse… but was all part of the fun in the end (and the party came to a rather abrupt end about 20 minutes later when, after a short fire-dancing and fireworks display, everyone just packed up and left). The never-say-die people we are, we just adjourned to the pub (The Greyhound, B&E’s local).

2 pints and 2 tequilas down – having been treated to a class joke (John was in a Knight’s Templar outfit, so one of the locals saw the Maltese Cross insignia emblazoned on the cape and said “how do you make a maltese cross? poke him”. It was funnier when john caught it about 10 minutes later than it was when the local told it though! teehee), watched the kids breakdance, done a modelling shoot in the bathroom using the hand-drier for effect – we headed for home to get us fed and Griff to bed.

Sumptuous dinner of steak tartare and raw salmon (let me hear you say ‘es ki mo’ – see previous travelogue), nachos and sour cream – all washed down with delightful red and to the dulcet beat Shnee Wurt Schnit Shnee Wizey Wize (yes THE SWSSWW that B had been looking for for over half a lifetime!! … which Emm also loved in the day… and which I never would have guessed was the song it turned out to be, which I recognise but would never have fitted Barry’s fantasy lyrics to!) – and it was bedtime for B&E and back to the pub for J and me.

By the time we got back (about 10 maybe), the pub was more festive and there were at least a few more people in costume. One such being an ‘attractive blonde girl’ that John spotted across the bar and thought had potential, what with her lithe frame and shortshort hotpants… until we got closer and saw the Adam’s apple and hairy legs through ‘her’ stockings. We’re still not convinced it was a Halloween costume. There were also a fair number of slapper type chicks that I could have sworn were fancy-dressed as pumpkins, but I’m told the tanning salon craze has hit here in a big way. It’s crazy, they’re all orange. Orangeorange. Like nowhere near natural tan colour. And not – soso very not – attractive.

We made quite an impression on the barman seeing as we ordered tequilas with every round, which is a rarity in these parts apparently. He started pouring us half tots since their standard tot glasses are doubles, until John goaded him into giving us full tot glasses (still at singles prices). Eventually the poor man was just pouring for us freehand into halfpint glasses… and having one himself! Funfunfun.

We calculated 8 pints (and who knows how much tequila seeing as there was no standard measure), which would explain why the details of the walk home (yes, I said WALK home) are a little blurry. We must, however, have decided quite spur of the moment to leave for home seeing as we both brought our glasses home and there was still a considerable amount in them in the morning. Hmmm…


In the morning B&E had to mission in to town as there had been a little mishap with Griff spilling water on the TV, killing it dead. while they went to get a new one, me and John walked (yes, there’s that word again) to the corner store (called the Red Shop by Emm, have yet to ask why) where I found some of life’s simple pleasures and some great mysteries:
– Pringles cheese and onion
– Aero instant hot chocolate sachets
– thick slice bread
– mince with onions and gravy in a can
– All Day Breakfast in a can: sausage, bacon, egg nuggets (intriguing), beans in tomato sauce, cereal (WTF?!) and chopped pork (if it’s not sausage or bacon then what is it?!)

Humour restored, I dutifully watched John make omelettes (well sort of, was tres busy with uploading pics from the previous night) with cheese, ham, onion and bacon. genius, pure genius!

Spent the rest of the day much like the day before, just enjoying the pleasure of each others’ company. We had some really classic moments too. Like when John was making comment about my growing mound of clothing starting to impede access to our room and said that we could never live together, expressing very matter-of-factly, with much gusto that he ‘really likes an anal cleaner’. Of course, I had no choice but to reply with ‘why? does your anus get THAT dirty?’ … the whole episode cuing all sorts of offers from Barry for his plunger to sort out Emma’s plumbing in the tradesman’s entrance etc etc etc. Hearty guffaws all round and we’ve replayed the joke every which way all day and it’s still as funny as the first time. We’ve had a very non-PC day, but sososo much fun!

Tried to get some salt marsh Lamb on the way to drop John off at the station, but alas we were too late and the shop had shut. Sad to see John off, but not too terrible as he was due home for a visit in a few weeks so it was a literal ‘bye for now’.

Back to the kitchen table, Hobgoblins for me, a bottle of red for Emm, superlative company for Barry, a wheel of Camembert with water biscuits (which are completely tasteless but I’m told take more calories to chew than the calories you take in by eating them), ham sarmies (with real butter and mayo) and more chatchatchatlaughlaughlaugh (and some teeter-tottering around in Emm’s oh-so-beautiful-but-the-most-ridiculously-uncomfortable-shoes-EVER-made super-too-high-and-then-some emerald green sequined heels).

Am loving these peeps and every minute here!! :o)


I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the bustling metropolis of Llanrhidian. B&E (and mom and Griffin) were in a house literally right next door to the school, so it was super-convenient and meant the mornings were quite a relaxed affair seeing as school only starts at 09h00 and it’s a 25 second walk.

We went past their new house as well. It’s in a (yes, hard to believe) SMALLER village than this one, called Landimore. There are no road names (not a biggie since there are essentially only 2 roads) so the houses don’t have numbers they have names. B&E’s new house is called The Cottage. If you ever want to rediscover the lost art of letter-writing then you can reach them on:
The Cottage

Easypeasy just like that. :o)

We’d set off on a mission to go and secure some salt marsh lamb for SCM and to take to the Londoners, but the people at Weobly Castle felt it wasn’t a work day so there was nobody there, nor answering to the numbers posted on the door. Never fear though, this is sheep territory so we just got details for a butcher in the neighbouring town and set out on a mission to find said demigod. We bought the most spankable 2kg rolled SML londres, cubes for the lamb stew for SCM and some delightful sirloin as a bonus round.

Then we decided to drive into the country (about 7.5 minutes in any direction) for lunch at The King Arthur, so named because it’s right by Arthur’s Stone, which legend says started off as a pebble in King Arthur’s boot that was irritating him and as he was such a great man, he pulled off his boot while riding to shake loose the stone. The stone rolled down the hill and became a massive boulder. Which is now perched all alone atop a little hill (he was THAT great that the stone rolled uphill, nogal) and makes a good landmark on the horizon, if not a very ‘I have a vivid imagination I’m not afraid to use’ story. (And a great place to get engaged – this was the spot that B&E did ring swap and the official official thing).

The pub is a super-traditional one that must have been operating forever and a day, with all the usual pub fare you’d expect (like steak and mushroom pies with mega puff pastry caps) and some unusuals (for me). We shared the chicken wrapped in bacon with cheese and leek sauce and mash and a wild boar steak with cider and apple sauce and homebrew chips. YUM. All washed down with usual pint of Carling. I cpuld see why this was often said to be one of the Top 10 pubs in Britain.

All fed, cooking done and housework down (am definitely bringing Martha next time) we set about to practice our sloth. Had to rest up for the Wig Party! Emm had bought us wigs for our Halloween costumes, but typically, they arrived 2 days too late…. so we used them for a global Outies SCM theme dinner instead. Was very weird having a Skype webcam conv with the 3 of us here and the usual suspects at my house over there. It also seemed a trifle unsettling for Mick and Mal who didn’t seem to understand where my voice was coming from. Was marvy to catchup with everyone again tho. Methinks this might have to be a regular calendar event! The lamb stew was great tho, served with garlic bruscetta with melted feta.

Emm’s mom also got back from Costa Rica the day before so there was much joviality (not at all because of the champagne, red wine, beers and jagermeister) and some exotic dancing in the kitchen. We were clearly not as merry as the other night tho seeing as we weren’t even tempted to try walking in Emm’s ohsoprettybutnevergonnawearthem green sequined heels. We did find other uses for them tho – you know hat, earrings, guns, the usual…


We were off to catch the train to london – for a (bound to be) merry reunion with Faye, Lix and RoRoRo (I gave him my middle name so he gets a bonus ‘Ro’. I’m not taking ‘Birkmyre’ tho!)

Travelogue Canada 3: Niagara Falls


28 – 29 October 2009

So you’d think I have nothing to say seeing as I spent the whole day in transit, right? wrong!

These amazing things happened before we left Churchill at 09h15:

  • (no surprises) I woke up before the alarm (set for 07h00) at 06h15. was showered, dressed, packed and ready ridiculously early.
  • Ate almost my body weight in bacon with breakfast. Sacrificed the French toast to make space seeing as Doug had gone out of his way to get 20 lbs (whatever that is in real weight) for this morning as he’d noticed liked it so much (oh yes, and I complained repeatedly because there was none yesterday). Have also taken to drowning breakfast in syrup (like in the proportions I have gravy with a roast dinner!), which is a habit I might have to try and leave in Canada.
  • We got a photo of Doug next to one of the (many) yellow school busses so you can see what a Small Town Super Hero looks like
  • We intended to get more sunrise photos (sunrise is at a very civilised 08h20 or so), but it was too misty 🙁
  • I took a trot to the Eskimo museum (which we still muse over why it’s not called the Inuit Museum – see previous travelogue) to purchase a mini polar bear plush. Made sense seeing as I have so many that I actually have one from the home of the PB. Of course, keeping to convention of naming them after where I get them, have named him Churchill.

Nothing remarkable about Churchill Airport.

Great snack box on the plane though. Croissant with hickory type ham with lettuce (which is rare for these parts – considering the weather, it’s considered an exotic and goes for in the region of $9.50 a head!!). There was a marble Cheddar cheese stick in the box which I broke up and stuck on the croissant. GENIUS! There was also a bag of small orange deathsticks (baby carrots, which I refuse to eat since the attempted murder incident of circa 1981 where I almost choked to death on one. Granted, I used to swallow them whole because my Gran insisted I eat them and I couldn’t bear the taste. But still).

Calm Air (the airline that did our Winnipeg – Churchill return flights) managed to break my suitcase. The zip that works the expander section, so went to report that. Expected resistance seeing as the damage isn’t critical to the function of the suitcase, but they called the area supervisor who said that I can get it fixed at home and send her the bill and she’ll reimburse. Very civilised. So i complimented her on their sandwiches and said I’ll be in touch! :o)

Winnipeg airport turned out to offer me the most amazing experience – HARVEY’S!! the best burger I think I’ve ever had! The bacon cheddar 3 ringer burger (the 3 rings are battered deep fried onion rings). Awesome burger, similar to Velskoen style patty with lettuce, onion, tomato, ketchup, mayo and mustard. 6 stars!!

Uneventful flight (buy-your-own catering. Bummer)

And then was back in Toronto. Managed to find the hostel no probs (back in room #32, the ‘Wayne Gretsky’). Worked the public transport like an old pro :o)

It would be off to Niagara then next day, and then to London and Wales!!


Niagara was cool. I had arranged a ticket for an organised coach tour, so there was not much to do except show up and get on the bus. Which I did.

I was pleasantly surprised at how pretty the town of Niagara is. The bus stopped so we could have a wander up and down the streets, get snacks, have a bio break and take some snaps. It was quite lonely doing it on my own; I am not a very good solo traveller.

The Niagara Falls experience was less of a tour and more of an ‘self-guide with a raincoat’ vibe. You can approach the viewing decks within your own limits, on the understanding that the closer you get, the better the view, but the more you are going to be ‘one with the water’.

Glad I did it, seeing as it’s a big ‘natural wonder’ deal ‘n all. Lots of falling water but not enamoured by the drenching of close-up shots… especially seeing as it was a foggy day so there was limited WOW photo potential.

Did manage to achieve one of my personal Canadian Bucket List goals by finally finding an actualfactual Wendy’s!! had the Baconator. 3 words: in. cred. ible. sort of like a double McD’s 1/4 pounder, with double cheese and a packet of bacon. No regrets, was TOTALLY worth the wait. (And took pics, so don’t rely on imagination because it’ll so understate!)

Got to the airport well in time.

Got stuck next to a seat-leech on the plane, which made for a world of pain. She not only took over the armrest (we were ‘sposed to be sharing) but also had impossibly accurate elbows, that have seek-and-destroy function for my (poor unsuspecting) ribs. Ended up leaning almost entirely in the aisle, meaning that every moving body in the aisle bumped my foot/knee/elbow/head as they passed and I dozed in 5-7.5 min spells over the (already challenging) 3.5 hours set aside for sleepy time.

Not even the chicken breast with creamy sweet mustard sauce and frilly noodles could lift spirits. Although the fact that my neighbour is a vegetarian and had forgotten to order special meal so was reduced to a dinner of bread rolls alone did marginally *evil laugh*

Nevermind, just needed to get some shut eye and I’d be waking up in London… on my way to Wales!

Travelogue Canada 2: Winnipeg & Churchill


23 – 27 October 2009

All fed and ready to go, headed to airport to meet (almost literally) Phillipa to go to Winnipeg & Churchill together to see the polar bears. Did a catch-up at the Toronto Airport (including me giving her a guided tour of Canadian sandwiches – they are EVERYWHERE here) and then hopped on plane, managing to swap seats to be next to each other.

Chatted and giggled like old friends and an indeterminate (thanks to changing time zones and the added complication of daylight savings) few short hours later we were in the booming metropolis of Winnipeg.

We caught a taxi to the Fort Gary Hotel and found that we were indeed the dowdiest people here. Tres chic digs indeed. Fortunately the Clan Cameron reunion – complete with freezing Canadians in kilts and acoustically-bold foyer and incessant bagpipe combo – meant we slipped through relatively unnoticed.

After our long planestrainsandautomobiles journey, the big poofy cloud-like beds almost caught us, but we resisted just long enough to get off to Pizza Hut to eat way too much. We didn’t last long on return though and again I wondered, post 23h00 to 07h45 sleep, if my bio-rhythms aren’t trying to tell me something…


Our lovely hotel delighted us with a big brekkie in the morning – Denver omelette with cheese, ham, spring onion and mushrooms + back bacon + some other pea-something bacon that’s crumbed and sort of like gammon. Running out of space to try everything I was forced to pocket all sort of little nibbly-bit cheesey things for the flight.

With Free Time to kill, we did a quick whip around Winnnipeg. There was not a whole lot going on and not much to report. We realised we wouldn’t need the extra day on the return journey so put in motion plans to get back to Toronto to try squeeze in a Niagara Falls tour instead.

And then it was time to get to the main event. Off to Churchill!

Shame man, Churchill Airport was so cute with the little almost conveyor belt they have. It doesn’t even loop or anything, just sort of crescenty grey smile-in-motion sort of thing. Anyway, did the trick, so I shouldn’t be condescending.

We checked into the Churchill Motel, Room #17. The motel was in the middle of the main <read: “only”> road in town and was lovely and clean and spartan and adequate. Not even a distant relative of the Fort Garry Hotel plushness of the night before! … but (again) did the trick, so I shouldn’t be condescending.

We ambled over the road to our welcome dinner at the Trader’s Table. The best restaurant in town, so we were told. We had tomato soup starter (was either that or something called ‘salad’, so opted for the safer, more familiar option), Filet Mignon wrapped in bacon with roast baby potatoes for main and something unfamiliar and (compulsory) unrecognisable for pudding, which was something fruity with something baked, so dabbled with the ice-cream and left the rest largely untouched. Phillipa had the salmon for main (served with a honey and soy sauce glazing) which was heavenly. I have never ordered salmon before, but should have adventured it this time seeing as my steak was overdone (well, ‘done’ seeing as I had ordered it rare and it was cooked).

We were home and in bed by 21h30! A new record! AND up (before alarm!) at 06h30! what is becoming of me?!


Fabulous ‘pancakes’ (flapjacks) and French (Canadian) toast with bacon and syrup for brekkers and then (uncharacteristically) on-time for 07h45 departure for polar bear expedition.

It was literally freezing cold.. but nothing a pair of tights, fleece trackie pants, socks, ski socks, thermal vest, jersey, ski suit, ski boots, scarf and gloves couldn’t solve!

We boarded the tundra buggy trading a seat in the middle, close to the actual fireplace in the vehicle (!!)  for the front seat for best vantage point.

We spent the day happily ogling polar bears, arctic hares and arctic foxes in the tundra, padding across frozen bodies of water, snoozing in the kelpy stuff by the water’s edge and just generally chilling and arbing about the place… and right up close to the buggies! Total Awesomeness!

We had a laugh early on in the morning when the tour guide was going on about how we should keep an eye out for Artesian Whales along the way. Of course he was pointing at a trickling streamlet no deeper than 10 or so cms at the time, so we were marvelling at what these could possibly be, considering the possiblities of miniature this and that, the sea creatures on the back of comic books etc etc… until we realised it’s a dialect thing and he was talking about Artesian WELLS! duh! *giggle* It became a running joke all day and never ceased to amuse :o)

The same guide redeemed himself with a useful factoid though: Eskimo is a derogatory term to the people we’ve always called Eskimo. They are actually the Innuit (which means ‘The People’) and got the name from the Cree Indians who called them that based on the words in their language ‘e ski mo’ which means “eats raw meat”. Tres interessant.

On the food front: delighted by another soup and sarmie combo for lunch. This time chicken noodle + turkey on Portuguese roll. Had to say it for these folk; they do understand the bread:filling ratios. Very nice.

Seeing the polar bears up close was incredible. They were so big and beautiful – and I STILL don’t think they’re as vicious as they’re accused of being, having seen them padding around and stretching curiously up against the buggy.

It was such a literally awesome day that we couldn’t wait to get back out there. But we would have town tour and dog sledding the next day before getting back into the tundra on Tuesday). Phillipa’s took a ton of really good pics with her new camera, so will bore whoever I can corner when I get the disk(s) from her.

On return to the motel, I made headway with Plan Niagara by befriending Doug, the dude at the front desk and (so we learned) owner of this place. And all the town’s school busses. And I say ‘all the town’s schoolbusses’ because all the tour busses are the traditional yellow schoolbusses – as well as the one which obviously transports the kids to school (189 kids in Churchill from nursery school to matric – Doug’s a veritable RainMan when it comes to this town).

So, Doug lent us his phone, his laptop, his internet, his best advice… and made Travelogue-ing and Plan Niagara a reality before dinner at Gypsy’s. Another surprisingly quality meal in this tiny town; a tastytasty chicken cordon bleu burger and poutine (chips with melted cheese and gravy on top) and a couple of beers (Lebatts Blue)


We pulled a (now) usual and got up before the alarm went off at a usually-alarming 06h30. Fortunately with the time difference with Toronto and the 24-hour Air Canada call centre, I was able to get started on Plan Niagara.

The results were a mixture of good and bad news. I could change my flights to skip the day in (dreadfully dull) Winnipeg in favour of a day in Toronto for a day trip to Niagara, but Phillipa couldn’t. Reason being that I had stop-overs on my journey already (whoop-whoop for Wales extension tour!) so my ticket was broken down into legs, but P’s ticket was essentially one ticket from Jhb-Winnipeg. Upgrading hers would be hundreds of $$$ so not economically viable, which is sad for both of us as we have turned out to be enormously compatible travel-buddies.I was brave and bold and soldiered forth with the excursion. A big step for me (and big thanks to Marian and the girls for accompanying me and taking some of the scary out of so much alone time).

Anyway, back to the Churchill experience…

We took a ‘city tour’ of the booming metropolis of Churchill, which somehow they managed to turn into a 2-and-a-half-hour affair despite the fact that it’s a 1.5 road town, with 700 odd (in both senses of the word) inhabitants and no roads in or out of the town (only access via train or plane!). They do have an ice-rink and curling rink (indoors because it’s TOO COLD outside), movies, bowling lanes, Eskimo museum (surprisingly not called ‘Inuit’ museum – see above), post office (which stamps your passport with a polar bear stamp – YAY) and some wheat silo thing which got waaaay too much time with talk of bushels and other (more)agri(than)cultural bollocks.

The highlight of the tour was the polar bear jail. They have to incarcerate bears that wander through town and do all sorts of menacing and scrimmaging things. They get locked up and given water – “no food, it’s not a hotel after all” – and tranquilised and airlifted to the great blue yonder. There were 15 bears in jail when we were there, but they wouldn’t let us see them. It’s not like we were going to give them cakes with keys in them or anything… 🙁

We went on a dogsled adventure in the afternoon. Those animals are really (p)awesome! The dude (Dave Daily) that hosted is some champion with accolades in all sorts of races I’ve neverever heard of. He had maybe 35-40 dogs and they were all well-groomed and well-adjusted despite the fact that they live outside all year round, chained to their individual kennel with a 2 or so metre chain. It sounds restrictive, but they are close enough to interact with their neighbours, and are clearly well taken care of and well-exercised – and it was heart-melting to see the way they interacted with their Alpha Male (Dave) who lavished them with affection while he took us on a tour of the set-up.

He hooked up 12 of them to a cart (there wasn’t enough snow to warrant a sled) and took us on rides in groups of 6 at a time. Crazycool that the dogs (all mixed breeds, but most with Husky influence) are so strong – and they seem to really get off on pulling the cart! It wasn’t as adrenalised as anticipated, nor as I would expect the sled would have been, but was still a good way to spend an afternoon.

We did dinner at Northern Nights on the last night; sharing a table with the tour guide and naturist, so on best behaviour. We gorged as usual with beef and rice soup starter (seems soup/salad option is included as standard), then shared (with Phillipa) a shrimp (big prawns, shelled but still with tails) fettucini and chicken parmesan with baked potato infused with garlic butter.

All the adventuring (and early mornings) had taken their toll and we we reached a new bedtime low, falling asleep watching TV sometime between 20h30 and 21h00. Eish.


We had an early start for another tundra day. It was worth it because we saw INCREDIBLE stuff. Sightings started with a mother and 2 babies – quite old cubs, estimated to be 18 – 20 months or so. Apparently this multi-cub thing is quite unique to Churchill; most polar bears only have 1 cub elsewhere, but here it’s quite common to have 2 or even 3 cubs! Also, the animals’ curiousity seems to outweigh their skittishness and they are relatively brave with coming to check out the weird 2-legged and 8-wheeled non-bear stuff.

We got some AMAZING photos of the bears right next to the buggy. Even with my camera, they were THAT CLOSE! We saw so many bears over the course of the day that we got to the point where we didn’t even get up for Binocular Bears (so far that only really worth checking out with binoculars) or the Boring Bears (the ones sleeping in the kelp), only making effort for the Bonus Bears (ones that did cool stuff worth photographing) and Baby Bears.

We kept ourselves entertained in between with people watching (and lunch of course – chicken noodle soup again and a brilliant sweet ham with smokey rind and strong yellow cheese white roll). We’ve been with these people (most of whom are around about mine and Phillipa’s combined age) for how many days now and only know one name. A yugoslavian old lady called Audrey (who has lived in Toronto for 40 years but still speaks like Borat), whose name actually isn’t Audrey, but it’s the easier English version of an otherwise unpronounceable name.

Highlights of the rest of the group were:

– Red Jacket Lady: a Canadian from Ottawa, a schoolteacher and a right eager-beaver. Eager to the point of selfish and rude though. Always at the front of everything, muscling her way to the photo vantage points, making space for the naturist to sit by her so she can ask lots of questions and giggle coyly at his anecdotes.
– Loud American and friends: started off as one American lady who stood out, but slowly her troupe have gotten to us too. Over time have figured out that it’s her and husband and her brother and his wife. There was a lengthy and heated debate today over ages when her and what turned out to be her brother were arguing over whether or not she is 68 and he 72. Argument was settled when calculating back from birthdays (Nov ’42 and Mar ’38 respectively). Interestingly, she is also a schoolteacher.
– Old Man and Young Boy: boy must be mid-teens, travelling with what we suspect to be his grandfather. Yet to hear boy speak – he sits in hoodie, head down and either snoozes or watches stuff on his iPod. Old Man made conversation with us several times today (in between avidly reading his copy of The Economist cover-to-cover).
– Mr and Mrs Painful: she’s built like Jabba and walks with a cane. He doesn’t get to speak for himself (right down to Mrs P asking if the people in the queue for the loo needed it badly because Mr P ‘needs to go’. Have you ever?!). Coup de gras tonight when we got stuck at dinner with them and he couldn’t have the potato and bacon chowder starter because he “can’t” eat potatoes. S8uhe sent her steak back twice, proudly exclaiming that it’s not unusual for her to send something back 3 or 4 times, but then ended up getting a take-away chicken strips instead… and couldn’t have the chocolate torte pudding because she’s lactose intolerant and couldn’t have the suggested peaches substitute because it ‘pains her gall stones’, so she ended up with apple pie and we ended up leaving early.
– Singapore couple: can’t work out what their story is. They seem to be playing married, we’re not so sure. Oh, and they seem to share and alternate a pair of disturbingly tight ski pants.
– The Walkers: a painful couple who are just too over-achieverish with this X-treme adventure thing. When we were just languishing in the being on land thing, they had already walked to the airport and back twice. They didn’t do the city tour on the bus, they walked from point to point. You know the type.
– German trio: Mr (male nurse) and Mrs (social worker) + her mentally disabled brother. They’re not too bad.
– Irish Chick: Typical middle aged woman. Trying desperately to be friends with Audrey, but Audrey keeps shaking her and trying to be friends with us
– Aging Hippy Chick: convinced she’s the only American on the trip. keeps exclaiming it loudly and with disbelief. That, and the oddest fitting pair of jeans of ever (sort of like denim Hammer pants, with unreasonably OTT ode to the elasticated waist).
– David, our tour-guide, ornithologist and naturist: he has long, delicate slender fingers with manicured enviably long nails, a bouffant silver grey hairdo, a whistling speech style with over-enunciated verbiage and jeans that always sit askew, with the Greenwich mean of the back-seam slicing his right butt cheek diagonally in half. That said, he really does seem to savour every sight and sound the tour has to offer… even getting excited – after a long day of awesome polar bear spotting – about the ‘lesser spotted Rock Ptarmigan and not the Willow Ptarmigan’ or of course yet another Artesian Whale (see above)
– Doug: not on the tour, owner of the Churchill Motel, driver of the school bus and who knows what else. He’s been our shining light. Lent us a laptop, sorted us out with what we needed for Plan Niagara, given us collectors’ 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics quarters, ordered 20 pounds of bacon in time for our farewell breakfast in the morning etc etc etc.

Anyway, as soon as we had ‘gotten to know’ these folk, we’re about to be parted. Had our farewell dinner (potato and bacon chowder, Arctic char and chips, chocolate torte) and had packed bags and ready to leave the next day. It would be more planes and trains with Churchill flight back to Winnipeg, booking luggage into storage then bus and train into town to the old faithful, The Canadiana Hostel.

The Polar Bear Tour was truly epic because I had seen and done everything (and more than) that was on the agenda. But it all went by so fast…

Travelogue Canada 1: Toronto


21-23 October 2009

Almost didn’t get out of the airport, thanks to Virgin and changing the boarding gate at the last minute without warning. Still, managed to get on (3rd last passenger) and score the emergency exit seats.

Flight was without incident – bar the battle of wits it took to convince the steward that chicken OR beef could actually be chicken AND beef. Am pleased to report that the chicken casserole and roast beef and mash were equally yummy and worth the effort.

The Heathrow Airport 5-hour stop-over went by faster than anticipated thanks to:
1) HMV sale: narrowed it down to about 176 items (totalling the GDP of a small African country, say The Gambia) which I will obsess over until my return to Heathrow next next Sunday
2) a take-away called EAT, which does an awesome toasted Swiss cheese and hickory ham croissant
3) Marion Keyes, officially my new favourite travel partner.

Made friends with the old duck next to me on the Air Canada flight. She was from Winnipeg – where I was headed – and had been on the polar bear tour before. She said it was AMAZING, which was good to hear bearing in mind the effort and expense I was going to for this same adventure.

Enlisted the help of the Travel Aid desk (an Australian; they really are everywhere) to sort out my stay in Toronto. Had arrived with no plans and an open mind and we sussed the best plan to be the Canadiana hostel and public transport. The polar bear people had recommended a hotel @ $138 for the night and coach @ $28; we managed a hostel @ $30 (+$5 deposit for towel and $5 deposit for linen) and $2.25 for the transport, which was a bus and 2 undergrounds depositing me 2 blocks from the hostel. Score!

Found it easy enough. And luckily the evening’s planned activity was free pool at the pub, so showered and headed out to The Charlotte Room with a motley bunch of people from all over. Played shocking pool, but blame the table as is half-size versus thirds we have at home. Not enamoured with $6.25 a pint either!

Headed out from there for a flit through Chinatown and Little Italy, stopping to Fast Food Meze along the way with a KFC snacker (difficult choice as there’s SO much we don’t have at home. was conflicted about starch choice as didn’t want a whole chips and mash & gravy so couldn’t justify the $8 and don’t like the whole sloppy poutine experience they have with chips drizzled in mash and gravy), Taco Bell double cheese tortilla and a McD’s cheese and bacon burger (SO the future – we NEED them at home!!)

Then ambled through Toronto’s main bar streets – Queen St and King St West – and headed for home, which is bunking (literally) in a Quad room I’m sharing with an Indian girl and a French girl. They’re both ‘living’ here at the hostel so it feel more like a slumber party.

Was asleep by 23h30 and woke naturally at 06h45 which leads me to believe that my bio-rhythms think they’re home!


I was a long wait for my free pancake breakfast  at 09h00 (these people are so civilised, breakfast from 9-10 AND they have free wireless even in a hostel. EVERYONE wanders around with their laptops – as you can imagine I feel very left out!)

The morning was dedicated to a city tour – and the hope of finding a Wendy’s, BK and Popeye along the way for snacks and nibbly bits.

The Toronto City Tour was the world’s greatest, with a brilliant guide with a good combo of history and trivia and (seeing as I was the only one on the bus most of the way he shared) some of the left-of-centre factoids that I’m guessing he doesn’t tell just everyone. ;o)

Toronto is a very interesting city. I loved the fact that they have an entire mall/city under the city itself. What’s not to love about 17 square kilometres of shopping under the hustle-bustle of the poor bastards that have to work for a living?!

I was pleased to discover that fast food underground was just as satisfying as overground (although I guess I could have just checked that with The Wombles). I was persuaded through some not-so-subtle indoctrination by the tour guide to sample Tim Hortons – the biggest fast food chain in Canada started by some famous sports guy. The chain controversially bought out Subway and is now based in America – oooo). They’re famous for their soup & sandwich combos… and you know how I feel about sandwiches. I had a (magnificent) french onion soup and chicken / BLT / honey mustard club on sourdough. Woah, awesome!

Blitz tour of Toronto done, it was time to get to the airport to meet Philippa and be off to Winnipeg.