Holifax? Halidays? I can’t choose.

Well now. That was a fairly relaxing vacation. Not quite as relaxing as I’d intended, but not bad overall. I’ve been in Nova Scotia for a little over a week, and barely looked at work email at all. I flew here with Lindsay (my girlfriend, whose family is also from here), had lunch at a pub near her mom’s house, and dropped her off before getting on the road.

I then spent five days at my family’s farm, and it was just as uneventful as I’d hoped: nothing but family time, eating, crib games, eating, sleeping, eating, playing with dogs, eating, eating, then eating, and also some eating.

After the annual family reunion in Truro, a quick gathering in St. Margaret’s Bay, a speed run back to Truro to pick up the luggage I’d forgotten on the farm (which brother #2 very graciously brought half-way), and a hot turkey sandwich (turns out I like these, after years of thinking I didn’t) I was back in Halifax, enjoying some city downtime. Some highlights:

Tuesday

 

 

 

 

Wednesday

  • Cappuccino with brother #1 at Julien’s in the Hydrostone
  • Brunch, also with brother #1, at Black Sheep. He had breakfast poutine; I had the fried chicken sandwich and a very spicy Caesar made with pork jerky and steak spice.
  • A look-around inside the new Port (up-scale version of the NSLC) which netted a rare find, at least for an Ontarian: Kavalan Taiwanese whisky.
  • A look around brother #1’s beautiful new home.
  • Rogue One
  • Coffee and some exceptional macarons from Le French Fix
  • Pre-dinner drinks (Oban, gin + tonics) with Lindsay at my hotel bar
  • Dinner with brother #1 at Primal Kitchen, a newish carnivore-friendly spot just off Spring Garden. The tuna was very nice, the charcuterie was excellent, and my short rib was delicious. Would definitely go back.

 

 

 

Thursday

 

 

 

 

 

I had a lot more planned for the weekend, but Friday and half of Saturday turned into something else entirely, for which I cut my Halifax visit short. I did manage to get back into the city just in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve with Lindsay, though, at a Codapop house party.

Happy 2017 everybody!

 

Cover photo by James Marvin Phelps, used under Creative Commons license

Where it lands…

Right now I am packing for a trip. I do not know where I am going. Nellie has long been planning something for my birthday, and has managed not to accidentally tell me where we’re going or what we’re doing. I’ve just been told what I need to bring, half of which may be misdirection.

So, this time tomorrow I’ll be…somewhere. Doing…something.

See you Monday?

.:.

Cover photo by James Marvin Phelps, used under Creative Commons license

Relaxcation

A few weeks ago I realized I hadn’t taken a single vacation day yet this year. Sure, we’ve had quick weekend getaways, and I’ve travelled for work, but no days off. I’ve not been particularly burned out at work, but still – I knew I needed an escape from Toronto. Luckily, we had a trip to Nova Scotia planned to coincide with my brother’s visit.

SUNDAY

We had an eventful lead-up to the trip – a visit to Eigensinn Farm, a day out and dinner with our friends Matt & Kaylea and several of their friends, and especially Sonny’s death – so we were running around a bit in the days before. But we got away on the Sunday as planned, caffeinated ourselves at the Porter lounge, and soon found ourselves in Halifax. One incredibly efficient rental car pick-up later and we were on our way to the family farm, a beautiful day unfurling on the road ahead of us. We didn’t bother stopping for food; I’d already received a text from my brother telling us that our other brother was smoking a pork loin. Two, in fact. We arrived at the farm in no time at all, and the whole family – parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, nephew, nieces, and dogs – were there to greet us. Now we were home. Now we were on vacation.

The rest of the evening was mostly just a collection of eating and catching up, immediately launching into an onslaught of cribbage, and helping the brother gas a hornet’s nest. It wasn’t long before Nellie and I were asleep in the quiet and pitch black of the farm.

MONDAY

We had no agenda for this portion of the trip – for the whole trip, really – so we went along with the family’s plans. On this particular day the only concrete agenda item was lunch at Wild Caraway, a restaurant about an hour away in the little town of Advocate which has been garnering quite a reputation. We heaved ourselves into a few vehicles and made the twisty drive downshore, taking care to signal at every turn since no one else in Nova Scotia seems to.

Our lunch was very, very good…much better than I expected to find in Advocate, frankly. I had a pulled beef sandwich and a homemade ginger beer. Nellie had lobster bisque, a Caesar salad with scallops, and elderflower lemonade. Others at the table had crispy chicken sandwiches and pan-friend flounder, which was probably caught within sight of the restaurant. Some of us had chocolate cheesecake for dessert, others sticky toffee pudding. We ate well, is what I’m saying. Highly recommended if you find yourself anywhere near Advocate for lord-knows-what-reason.

We did a little more touring that day, stopping in Parrsboro on the drive home, visiting some blueberry fields and the West Brook, and driving up to the old barn on Thunder Hill. But it got pretty stinking hot outside, so I eventually retreated to the brother’s house (where they have air conditioning, mercifully) to rumpus with the dogs therein and play Call of Duty with my nephew. Not much else happened that day, as I recall: just the ferocious consumption of leftovers.

TUESDAY

Tuesday was my birthday, actually. I celebrated by going to my brother’s house and availing myself of some of the Fahrenheit coffee I’d brought him. Then began the preparations for the birthday feast: we drove to Amherst, bought heroic portions of meat (and meat accompaniments), ate lunch at a tragically mood-lit pub called Duncan’s, and drove home ahead of a rainstorm. Someone had arranged for some family photos to be taken, and things seemed to be heading in the direction of a very complicated shoot involving multiple locations, but the rainstorm hit just as the photographer drove into the yard and ended the minute she left. So it was kept to just a few pictures over a few minutes and I prefer to think that the rain was the universe giving me a birthday present.

Once the rain subsided the grilling began. Nellie and my brothers prepared for us a mighty feast: grilled steaks, grilled sausages, grilled chicken breasts, salads, potatoes, homemade bread, even that freaky neon green coleslaw that only seems to exist in the Maritimes. By the time I was finished all I wanted was to lie on the couch and finish watching The Hunt For Red October while my stomach made room for the Pierre Marcolini-chocolate-infused mega-cake my mother had baked. Alas, the nephew and nieces were not interested in my digestive timetable and we had to cut into it right away. It was damn fine cake, but I never did have more than that single piece, and under duress at that.

That night the sky cleared enough that we could see the stars, planes, and even the Milky Way whilst fighting off mosquitoes. So we called that a win, and I called it a pretty good birthday.

WEDNESDAY

I spent my final few hours on the farm driving around various back roads and blueberry fields with my dad and brother, and raiding the last of the maple inventory. Nellie spent hers sleeping in and going for a swim with the nieces.

We said our goodbyes and made our way to Truro (where Nellie’s mom had just moved herself), stopping in Five Islands for some fried clams (which helped us make friends with a hungry local kitty) and tiger ice cream, and stopping again in Economy for some of the That Dutchman’s excellent cheese.

We found the mother-in-law’s new place, picked up some steaks and tasty beers – the local NSLC had Erdinger, Garrison “Nit-Wit” wheat, and the excellent Picaroons Best Bitter – and then along with Nellie’s aunt and uncle baptised her new back yard with a barbecue.

THURSDAY

Luckily Nellie’s mother lives very close to Murphy’s, a Truro institution renowned for their fish and chips. We joined another aunt there, and sucked back some lightly battered seafood. I’m not much of a fish fan, but this was pretty good.

There was some hunting about town for a mythical man who sells fresh seafood out of the back of his pickup truck (seriously), but to no avail; we ended up buying dinner at Sobeys and a Superstore instead. We also made a quick trip to a nearby Future Shop where we picked up some  new toys for me to play with. I spent the afternoon setting those up while Nellie and her mom prepared a seafood banquet: lobsters, scallops, and four shrimp the size of boomerangs. These we ate with a few bottles of wine, including a very tasty Benjamin Bridge Tidal Bay white.

Frankly there wasn’t much else to do that evening except process the food. Recurring theme, that.

FRIDAY

Just before we left Truro we heeded a suggestion from the brother: Jimolly’s Café, also luckily just a few minutes from the mother-in-law’s new home. It seemed to be the epicentre of cool/hipster life in Truro. They did a decent, gigantic cappuccino and a gluten-free “gooey square” which fuelled the rest of my day. We filed the location away for an upcoming visit when we’re in need of caffeine and pastries.

We then drove to the Halifax airport, dropped our rental car, and caught a cab into the city. A word here on Halifax cabs: we stepped up to the first cab in the queue, but the driver was nowhere to be seen. We proceeded to the next cab in line, where the driver explained to us that the first cab’s owner was simply making use of the facilities. He got out of his own cab, walked up to the first cab, popped the trunk, and loaded our luggage into the dude’s cab while we tried to figure out what was happening. The owner of the first cab came running out, yelled “Thanks Lemuel!” to the second cabbie, and away we went. These two drivers did not work for the same company. They’re just good people. Halifax!

Anyway, in no time at all we were downtown, checked into our hotel, and on the prowl for some lunch. We found it at Hart & Thistle, a brewpub on the waterfront we’d visited once before. Unfortunately, as with the first time, we found the food to be a little lacking…by which I mean the chicken breast on my jerk sandwich was the size of a business card, and Nellie’s lobster poutine was like unto soup. But we were there for the beer, which was…also not great, unfortunately. Nellie’s white IPA was fine, I guess, but my Old 87 IPA was just a hop-bomb. 50 IBUs, if I remember right. I got through it, but it tasted like a test, not a beer.

Happily, our beer fortunes would soon turn. After our friend Amanda got off work she took us to Garrison, my favourite local craft brewery, to try some samples and meet the brewmaster Daniel. We drank some nut brown (my favourite), followed by some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (nut brown mixed with raspberry wheat). Then we met Daniel, who poured us a few more interesting samples: the 3 Fields Harvest Ale, the Kellye’s Wild Rye’d-PA, the Black IPA, the Spruce Beer (which tasted like Christmas), and the Ol’ Fogburner barley wine, aged in whisky barrels from Glenora distillery in Cape Breton. I don’t remember much of what we drank next, but by then the short Halifax rain had broken and we retired to the sunny patio. Hunger soon overtook us, and we walked up the hill to the Loose Cannon, a rather rubbish pub where our server dumped a full pint of Garrison on Nellie’s lap and I continued to swap beer stories with Daniel. I might have developed a brewmaster-crush that day. Anyway, both Murphy girls joined us for one more drink down the hill at the Old Triangle before Nellie and I crashed.

SATURDAY

I’d been told Two If By Sea café was a must-hit in Halifax if you care about coffee, which I kind of do now, so I let Nellie sleep in and walked back down to the waterfront. There I purchased a very tasty cappuccino and two croissants the size of footballs. The capp barely survived the long slog back up the famous Halifax incline to the hotel; I needed the energy burst to climb past Argyle.

Once Nellie was up and full of half-a-croissant we got on the go, stumbling down the hill to the waterfront, along which we walked through hordes of buskers and tourists alike to the Seaport farmer’s market. It was jammed, not unlike St. Lawrence Market on a Saturday. Our attempts to procure a dessert for the following day were thwarted, so we went to plan B: back up the hill!

First, though: some lunch. Since we were headed in the direction of Spring Garden and South Park, we stopped in at Rockbottom, a new brewpub. We were barely into our first beer when the brother and two friends – also in Halifax for the weekend – walked in. I guess it was only a matter of time before that happened. We had lunch and beers (none of which impressed me at all) there and did a little shopping, most notably at Susie’s Shortbreads. We also stopped in at Premier Wine & Spirits to pick up a six-pack, and found that the store had maybe the greatest beer selection I’ve ever seen in such a small space. Along with the six-pack we bought bottles of Trou de Diable Shawinigan Handshake, Rogue Farms Good Chit Pilsner, and Brooklyn Sorachi Ace. I grabbed a shot of espresso from Steve-O-Reno’s, and then drank the Sorachi Ace back in the room. It were glorious.

The Murphy girls joined us for dinner at Bistro Le Coq, a new place we’d been hoping to try. Sitting in the dining room was like being back in Paris, and the food was excellent. I had the duck prosciutto and the poulet roti. Nellie had the escargot bourguignon and the scallops. The Murphy girls both had the steak frites with the duck fat fries. There was lots of excellent wine to go with all that, obviously. Two of the ladies had the fantastic crème brûlée, and one had a floating island a la neige – caramelized french meringue with a ribbon of lemon curd and crème anglaise. I revisited our France trip and had Sauternes followed by a coffee.

Phase two of the evening took us to Obladee wine bar, where we tried just about every white by the glass in the joint and some chocolate fudge. Phase 3 had us at Pizza Corner, scarfing down a slide of Sicilian pepperoni. It, too, were glorious. Except for the heartburn later.

SUNDAY

Our hotel – the Prince George – obviously has an English sensibility, but given the name of the new royal baby they’ve amped things up a bit. We wanted a place to meet the brother and his friends for lunch, so we picked Gio, the hotel’s restaurant. We had no idea just how English things would get. To wit: we were greeted by a beefeater. They were giving out hats and fascinators. A queen impersonator walked around greeting the more enthusiastic participants. Some people actually came in their own garish country-club attire. So that part was weird, but the food was pretty spot-on: fried bread with baked beans, lamb korma, smoked salmon, tiny fish & chips wrapped in newspaper, ploughman’s lunch, eggs benny, bacon, blood sausage, even Jaffa cakes. Not worth what we paid, but it was certainly memorable.

We hitched a ride back to the market with the brother, picked up a few treats and a cappuccino for me, and walked back to the hotel through the throngs of tourists. We hopped the ferry over to Dartmouth where a Murphy girl met us and took us to an old friend’s new back yard. We drank beer and played washers (for the first time) and met a baby and played with Venus the cat and ate sausages the size of billy clubs and played hot tub movie star trivia. Eventually we jumped the ferry back to Halifax, admiring the night skyline even as we buttressed our ears against the world’s loudest drunks. Visit #2 to Pizza Corner followed, but this time I learned from my betters and chased the slice with some chocolate milk. Bingo: zero heartburn.

MONDAY

On our last day in Halifax we managed to squeeze in one last visit with our old friend Stanzi and her husband over breakfast at Cora’s before walking back to the hotel, packing, and heading to the airport with the lone remaining member of my brother’s merry posse. Everything was going fine – we grabbed one last beer and even had a random visit with my aunt who happened to get diverted to Halifax on her way to PEI – until a storm delayed our plane’s arrival. Then another storm delayed our departure. Then the flight became excruciating when the world’s worst parents made themselves known and tortured us all the way to Toronto. But the hell with them – not even they could ruin a great vacation. There was too much family and rest and sun and food and drink and fun for that.

Until next time, Nova Scotia.

Day 16 & 17: …le déluge

Rainy. Windy. Grey. Nothing doing this day except to relax.

We considered a swim in the sea, but it was a little too rough. Pretty, but rough. We settled for wading along the edge of the surf.

We even went for a dip in the pool; everyone thought we were nuts, but wet is wet, and we might as well get a swim in. Apart from that all we did was drink wine on our deck, read, nap, write and hang out in the bar. It’s too bad we didn’t have nice weather, but it was probably good to have some forced relaxation. We needed it.

The following day was even greyer, rainier and windier…too wet to even sit on our deck. So: shuttle back to Cairns, beer at Blue Sky Brewery in Cairns airport, flight back to Sydney, et voila: home (kinda) again.

Day 15: Après moi…

Slept in. Awoke to warm breezes and strange bird sounds. Ate breakfast here. No big deal.

Went for a bit of a hike down to the second beach, much rockier and wilder than the other. We climbed around the rocks, and saw tidal pools with crabs and cuttlefish scurrying about. We’d hoped to kayak around a bit that morning but the wind was too high.

Windy or not, we were still getting pretty damned warm and sweaty. By the time we walked back up the hill to the main lodge we knew we needed a dip to cool off, so into the ocean we went.

After a bit of relaxation back at the room, we thought…what the heck, another swim? Why not, right? This time we went to the pool just up the hill, sprawled out and read for a bit, and then had a swim. Not a bad venue either.

After drying off from that excursion we had a leisurely lunch of meats, fruits and cheeses on the front deck of our cabin. The weather was perfect…sunny and warm, but with shade and a cool breeze to keep things bearable.

Still, it did get quite warm by the afternoon so we turned to the water once more, this time opting for a smaller, shadier pool near the beach. It was deserted, and incredibly refreshing.

The rest of our afternoon was spent sitting on our balcony, cleaning sand from our feet, drinking wine, enjoying the views, getting ready for dinner and listening to bush turkeys scratch around in the scrub below. That evening the plan was to take the shuttle into Port Douglas for dinner.

We walked around the town, which took about…oh, ten minutes. Not an enormous place, Port Douglas. We sat at Iron Bar and had a few schooners, listening to a great chattering flock of birds shriek from the trees at the oncoming night. We walked down Wharf Street and chose a spot on an empty patio. Just one glass of wine later the restaurant we were in, and practically the entire row of restaurants on the street, was overflowing.

For our part, we had dinner at Harrison’s, one of the nicer places on the strip. Our server (who was from Montreal!) was a little slow off the mark — we guessed that she was new — but the meal was wonderful. It accelerated a little toward the end as we had to dash to catch our shuttle back to Thala, though.

By this time the wind was really starting to pick up — it had blown several coconuts off the trees and on to the roof over us during dinner — and spoiled our plans for one last swim when we got back to the lodge. Whatever, though…there was no way around the fact that we’d just had a vacation day for the ages.

Day 13: What's that glowing yellow thing in the sky?

Finally, a warm sunny day in Sydney! Unbeknownst to us we were at the tail end of what would later be named the coldest first half of October in Sydney in 45 years. But on this day it was sunny, and we decided to bask.

We drove over to Mosman with the top down, in search of some breakfast. It took us a few tries to find a place still serving breakfast at noon, but we did, and it was excellent, and right on the beach. We went for a stroll down said beach afterwards, where Nellie once again got soaked by a wave. This was becoming a pattern.

We drove back home — still avec open-top — and chilled, just watching the new Blu-Ray Star Wars. Side note: George Lucas needs to stop fucking with his best shit. Han shot…simultaneously?

We had plans to meet up with some friends of the brother for dinner. We took the train down to King’s Cross to scoff at the ridiculousness, then hit the Old Fitzroy for pre-dinner drinks. Their music selection led me to opine as to the best American (classic) rock band ever. I put forward CCR; others disagreed. Much debate ensued. Good beer + music geekery? It was uncertain I’d ever leave.

But leave we did, for dinner at Cafe DOV. We met up with the brother’s friends, discovered the secret path to the washroom, and nearly broke a camera. My dinner was good; everyone else’s was — reportedly — fantastic. Dessert was superb, though I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. Note to self: write these things down. Another of the brother’s friends joined us late, and came with us when we returned to the Old Fitzroy rather than be guestlisted into what seemed an extraordinarily douchey club. Even the pub had gotten quite out of hand by this point — Aussies like to dress up for parties apparently, even if they’re offensive…we saw a Hitler and an Arab suicide bomber — so we had just the one and buggered off home to pack for the next morning’s flight.

Day 12: Tea party & pork

I really thought my calves would be better the next today. Man, was I wrong. I think they got worse. I was stepping rather gingerly.

My brother had arranged for a harbour cruise thingy, so we went back to Circular Quay and met our ride. The water was pretty choppy and we weren’t sure how well we’d fare, but everything turned out fine. In any case we were only headed to Goat Island, right there in the harbour, for a bit of history. It was fairly interesting, but the poor tour company employee’s routine was marred by the unexpected appearance of the Kids Crazy Island Tea Party. Seriously. It was hilarious and awful at the same time. Here he was trying to recount the interesting and oft-bloody history of 19-century Sydney while standing in front of the Lindt Teddy Bear’s Picnic. He did his best but you could tell he was getting pissed off.

After leaving the island the boat went on a longer ride around the harbour. The rest of the group sat inside and listened to trivia; Nellie and I walked out to the front of the ship, stood on the bow and enjoyed the sights. It was grey and a little cool outside, but we loved it. It felt like we were in Halifax for a minute. Except for a few key landmarks.

We went back home, got changed, then jumped back on the train downtown to stake out a spot at Porteno. It’s a very popular spot in Surry Hills. How popular? Well, we got there ten minutes before it opened and we were about twentieth in line to get in. Because our entire party wasn’t there we waited upstairs in the bar. Nellie had single malt; I had a pork slider and some kind of delicious bourbon, vermouth and smoked maple syrup concoction. The rest of the party showed up and downstairs we went. We didn’t bother with anything fancy: just two giant plates of slow-roasted meat and some wine to go with it. Us: pork. Them: lamb. It was SOOOOOOO GOOOOOOOOOOOOD. The place was very cool too…very Spanish/South American vibe.

We left, stopped at a drive-through beer store (seriously!) and somehow, once home, drank another four bottles of wine between us. What a day.

Status report: kickass

This vacation is progressing exactly as I had hoped: quietly, and with a minimum of excitement. I am well-fed and well-rested. I have neither slept in an airport nor fended off surging coastal waves, so I count myself lucky. I’ve already gotten some cool presents. And I have lots more — family reunions, more presents, world junior hockey, our anniversary — to look forward to yet. Holidays FTW.

Au revoir, France

Home again. Tired, off-kilter and not looking forward to all the stuff I need to do, but man…what a great trip.

We’ll sort through all the pictures and everything soon. For now I’m just trying to stay awake long enough to watch the hockey game.