Thursday, July 23, 2015

Walking Easily Through the Canadian Maritimes

Nova Scotia

Clouds settle over Halifax harbor.
Getting there by air can be a challenge. Flying into Halifax, you probably will step down the airplane steps and onto the tarmac. With luck it will be sunny and dry but Halifax is known for its fog banks that roll in obscuring everything, delaying flights and bringing cold, damp weather.

Factor in the friendly, hospitable natives, the beautiful coast and countryside, menus rife with lobster and it is well worth the wait and extra effort.

 VIA Rail, which comes into Halifax twice a week, is an alternative. You can go from Montreal up along the Gaspe Peninsula to Truro and Halifax, a pretty spiffy itinerary.
TIP: Stay at the historic but updated Westin Nova Scotian and you are a mere hallway away from the railway station to reception. Well located to see Halifax, too.


Halifax, the capitol, is a good place to start if you arrive by air or auto. The city is hilly but walkable, especially if you aim north to south or vice versa.

Start at the harbor, or harbour in Canadian. Here's where you will find boat tours, the ferries, shops, boutiques and the starting point for the looping on-off bus tours.
Tip: I recommend the Big Pink Bus, despite having to go up a few steep steps to reach the first level of the 1960s London Royal double-decker bus. Staff is very helpful and the narration is excellent.

Don't miss the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic or the Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.
Tip: Both have elevators and/or escalators.

A good downtown lunch spot is The Stubborn Goat, an excellent gastropub with innovative, delicious dishes perfect for sharing. Try the fiddleheads.
Tip: The Goat is on the level but not its bathroom which is downstairs.

Eastern Shore 

Liscombe Lodge, a couple hours drive away from Halifax, is where to go for isolated relaxation in a beautiful setting. The indoor pool is heated, there's a marina, plenty of trails and activities and the food is excellent. En route you will encounter the colorful home of folk artist Barry Colpitts and Black Sheep Gallery where his work and that of others is exhibited. Not far is Sherbrooke Village, a recreated 19th century port village where you can try your hand at everything from blacksmithing to costuming.
Tip 1: The Lodge is on the level but the ground around it can be hilly.
Cabin 4A
Tip 2: Ask for A4, the handicap accessible chalet. It has a ramp rather than stairs up to the deck, a walk-in shower and the view is great.

Digby visitor center is painted in the style of the late beloved folk arts Maude Lewis.
Digby and the Bay of Fundy Area

Digby docks.
 Known as the scallop capital of the world, Digby is home to a fleet that fishes for lobster as well. The town is quaint, there's a fun walking tour with "Admiral Digby" and it is surrounded by a plethora of little towns, coves, bays and places to visit.

To the north, Annapolis Royal claims to be the oldest permanent European settlement in North America (1605, two years before Jamestown, VA, an oops 40 years after St. Augustine, FL). It is a charming town with a Historic Garden for strolling, excellent restaurants and a ghost tour that many enjoy. To the south, you will find the Acadian Center, Rendez-vous de la Baie, and the tallest wooden church in North America.  All are on the famous Bay of Fundy complex.

Digby Pines Resort.
Tip1: Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa, a historic haven for visitors since 1929, is an elegantly comfortable home away from home from which to explore it all. There is a striking pool and a nice spa, both down a slope from the hotel. The golf course is very hilly so get a cart. 
Tip 2: The "Stones, Steeples, Ships and Seafood" tour of Digby involves walking up a steep hill toward the end.

Tip 3: For good food in Annapolis Royal, Bistro East and Restaurant Compose (don't miss the strudel) are recommended.
Tip 4: If buying scallops to cook at home, the 10 to20 a pound size are what you want, according to native Digby resident and tour guide Greg Turner.

On the ferry to New Brunswick.
From Digby it is an easy two-hour or so ferry ride (with movie!) across the Digby Gut to St. John, New Brunswick.

New Brunswick

The Algonquin Resort.
The Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea opened in 1889 and this commanding Tudor-style hostelry added a golf course in 1894. It is an ideal spot from which to explore the wonderfully named Passamaquoddy Bay area. You could spend a day roaming beautiful and welcoming Kingsbrae Gardens, and don't miss waiting for the tide to recede for the drive to Minister's Island or sign on for a whale-watching excursion. Shoppers will love roaming the main street.
Tip 1: For great food, the sleekly sophisticated Braxton's at the Algonquin Resort and Rossmont Inn are highly recommended.
In search of whales on Passamaquoddy Bay.
Tip 2: Schedule your whale-watching excursion early; if you don't see any whales, you can do it again for free.
Tip 3: You will encounter a broad flight of steep steps at the front entrance to The Algonquin. Circle around to the side portico for an easier access.

Leia Mais…
Friday, June 5, 2015

Zion on the Level

Photo courtesy Xanterra Parks and Resorts.
Good news for Zion National Park lovers.

Zion Lodge has begun narrated tram rides through this spectacular canyon.

From April through October, only shuttle buses have been allowed on the park's roads. The only exception for visitors were lodge guests.

Until this summer. The tram departs from the lodge bus stop Mondays at 5 p.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays at 5:30 p.m. The 60- to 75-minute trip takes passengers north until the road ends at the Temple of Sinawave, stopping at the Great White Throne for a photo op.

Cost is $14 for ages 17 and up, $7 for children five to 16 years old. Reservations can be reserved or purchased on a walk-in basis at the lodge's front desk. The tram carries 48 passengers and features an ADA ramp. Blankets are provided if temperatures turn cool.

Leia Mais…
Monday, May 4, 2015

Take the slow lane through France on a hotel barge

Under bridges and through locks is a great way to see a country. Photo © by Judy Wells.
It took less than six nights to hook me on barging.
La Renaissance. Photo courtesy European Waterways.
• That I was on European Waterways' La Renaissance, one of the most spacious hotel barge in its fleet, helped.
Spring blooms were glorious. Photo© by Judy Wells.
• That spring was in full flower in France's Loire Valley was enchanting.

Hannah presents the wine. hoto© by Judy Wells.
Isabelle introduces us to a new cheese. Photo© by Judy Wells.

• That we were only four guests instead of the usual eight meant extra special service from the young, affable and competent crew.

Montargis, the Venice of France. Photo © by Judy Wells.
 • That we eased through 800 years of French history and culture, seeing a few things thoroughly was most appealing.
Rump of lamb. Photo ©by Judy Wells.
• That Chef Luke prepared inventive, delicious meals that were accompanied by excellent wines and cheese certainly fueled my enthusiasm.

Our activity, Sunning and relaxing. Photo © by Judy Wells.

That it was the perfect vacation for Levelers clinched the deal.

Tip: There are steps aboard. You will have one and occasionally a short gangplank to get on or off the barge and 13 down to cabin level. There is a low cowling to get into the fore and aft cabins and a tiny step between the lounge and foredeck areas. One cabin is wheelchair accessible on the eight-passenger La Nouvelle Etoile, which primarily plies the canals of Holland in March and May, Burgundy in June and July and Germany and Luxembourg in September and October. There's also a wheelchair lift.

Market at Briare. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The pace of life aboard is perfect for most of us Levelers. Nothing except breakfast begins before 9 a.m. If we barged from one locale to another in the morning, in the afternoon we piled in the eight-passenger Mercedes van with driver/guide/deck man/captain-in-training Arnald for an excursion to a chateau/castle, medieval village, winery or other site of interest. If the change of mooring comes in the afternoon, we toured in the morning.

How many steps?

Castles are the most challenging for us, thanks to steps, steps and more steps. On the Briare Canal cruise we visited three.

Adieux Courtyard, Fountainebleau. Photo รง by Judy Wells.
The first challenge was Fountainebleau with its 138 acres and 1,500 rooms. Fortunately, we only saw the royal apartments and the major entertaining spaces. The cobblestone Adieux Courtyard, where Napoleon I said farewell to his troops before exile, is the first hurdle, definitely difficult walking. Next were the bathrooms, downstairs, of course, 23 steps if I counted right.

From the 28 steps with three landings to the Napoleon I exhibit to the six steps up to the large apartments you will have flat surfaces to amble, stopping frequently to take in the rooms, their history and decor. Then it's 42 steps down and five steps up to Trinity chapel.

Tip: There is an elevator but in France you have to have a special card to use them in historic buildings. If you qualify for handicapped parking, bring one of the hanging tags with you and show it when you buy your ticket. Might work. 

Chateau Sully sur Loire. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The 11th century Chateau Sully-sur-Loire is considerably smaller and has a smaller cobblestone area, but is no less encumbered by stairs. Here it's 22 steps to the bathrooms and 38 steps to the first floor great hall and king's room. There are 60 steps to the top floor, but it is empty and I skipped that. Instead, took the 13 steps to the steward's office, 15 steps down to the Duchess's apartments, 10 steps up to the duke's chambers, 21 steps down  to the great room, 23 steps down to the dining room and finally, two steps to reach courtyard level.

Chaeau la Bussiere. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Our third castle, Chateau la Bussiere, fondly known as the Fisherman's Castle and owned by only two families since the 12th century and still privately owned by the De Chassevals, was our favorite. Still with the steps though: six into the chateau, 26 up to the dining and living rooms, 13 steps down to the kitchen, eight to get to the entrancd and another six to reach the 18th century aromatic, vegetable, fruit and medicinal garden, part of the designs by Le Notre, the landscaper of Versailles. If you see a slender, silver haired lady working i the garden, that's Maria de Chasseval, Duchess of Sully.
Maria de Chasseval, Duchess of Bussiere. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Tip: Our other excursions to markets, a winery and faience factory were much less strenuous. This was the first trip following a third hip surgery in October and I managed, taking advantage of chairs and ledges to sit whenever possible and taking it easy on board the barge the rest of the time. If it sounds too daunting, you can always opt to stroll about the grounds or skip the excursion altogether.There are always interesting towns and villages within a block or two of the barge.
The view from the dock at Montbouy. Photo © by Judy Wells.

 For a day-to-day account of the trip on La Renaissance, go to Aboard Renaaissance at All Things Cruise.

La Renaissance at Briare. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Personally, I'm looking forward to doing a whole survey of barges and the countrysides through which they can take me.

Leia Mais…
Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Inside Atlanta

Ready to go for the greenest motorized tour in Atlanta.
Atlanta is a fascinating city with an interesting history, but it can be hilly and is hot in summer. This can present problems for Levelers, but I've found a solution. Just remember, touring a city you think you know can be an humbling eye-opener. I've been visiting Atlanta since I was seven years old,  but on a city tour with ATL-Cruzers, I saw new sides of the city.

The relatively new company offers Segway tours but we piled into their five-passenger-plus driver/guide electric cars for a 90-minute tour of downtown, during which we saw and learned that

• Thrasher, Marthasville and Lumpkinsville were among Atlanta's several previous names.

Sweet Auburn Avenue was where the affluent African American community gathered including John Wesley Dodd, who began as a postal clerk, rose to wealth and was the late Mayor Maynard Jackson's grandfather and Martin Luther King Jr.'s mentor. Aretha Franklin debuted here the Top Hat, now known as the Royal Peacock. The Sweet Auburn Bread Company makes the best sweet potato cheesecake in town.

King Center. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Ebeneezer Baptist Church, now a museum,  and the King Center where MLK Jr. and his wife are buried are a national park. Both Martin Luther King Sr. and Jr. were originally named Michael.

The Kings lived here. Photo © by Judy Wells.
After reading about Martin Luther, King changed his and his 5-year-old son's name to Martin. The yellow and brown house is where MLK Jr. was born.  

Don't resist the Cremolattas. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Lotta Frutta is a must stop for Mexican-Ecuadorian breakfast, lunch, coffees, smoothies and their famous fresh cut fruit cups. Say hey to La Duena,  Myrna Perez Cifuentes

Now anyone can stay in Inman. Photo © by Judy Wells.
• The Inman area was the original millionaire's row. Designed to keep the ordinary citizen as well as the riffraff out, lots alone cost $3,000 in 1890! One of the original houses  Sugar Magnolia, is now a bed and breakfast.  Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler lived  here.

The last week of April, the Inman Park Festival attracts all of those ordinary people to tour a dozen or so of the houses, for a fee.

Cabbage Town and the Edgewood neighborhood are fast becoming an entertainment and foodie hot spot.

Oakland Cemetery, opened 1850, is a fascinating area to wander. Here you will find the final remains of Margaret Mitchell, Bobby Jones and Maynard Jackson. Every summer there is the Tunes from the Tombs music festival.

Bring your appetite to Municipal Market. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The Municipal Market, known to locals as the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, is a great farmers' market where you can nosh on the cuisines of 11 different countries and try a piece of that sweet potato cheesecake.  USA Today named it 16th of the world's top 20 farmers' markets.

SoNo, South of North Avenue, is where you'll find Emory University as well as Gladys Knight and Ron's Chicken and Waffles Restaurant

Margaret Mitchell lived here. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Midtown Village is where you'll find the Flying Biscuit, a 24-hour breakfast spot, the Interactive Rock and where Margaret Mitchell lived in a basement apartment she referred to as  "the dump."

Skyview Atlanta. Photo © by Judy Wells.
• Next came Georgia Tech, the Varsity, the striking new Center for Civil and Human Rights, next to World of Coca Cola, the unexpected Skyview Atlanta ferris wheel ($15 for two rotations, $30 for four rotations in the clear-bottom VIP gondola) and we were back at home base, entertained and surprisingly wiser.


Leia Mais…