April and May are wildflower time in the Monterey area. One of the things I like best about the central coast is that calla lilies grow wild, and it is possible to have these exotic flowers growing in your front yard or growing wild in empty lots.
Memorial Day weekend this year is forecast to be hot over much of the region, and combined with the end of their growing season, the flowers that have been all around us are tapering off. Once the flowers fade, they will not reappear until the end of next winter, yet other beauties will keep growing, like the many varieties of succulents.
We’ve seen the earliest thimbleberries (photo on left), and the flowers of Himalayan blackberries, so we know there will be lots of berries in another month or so. Then it will be time for more jam and berry pie. In the meantime, peaches, plums, apricots, and cherries are in season, keeping piecrusts filled very nicely.
We decided to be tourists for a few days and went up to San Francisco. We stayed at the Argonaut Hotel, across from Fisherman’s Wharf and next to Fort Mason, a large park.
Visiting San Francisco confirms that I want to wait on European travel until next year. Our hotel is right by the cable car base, but only one line is running, along the Embarcadero. The cable cars that go up and down the hills that I was looking forward to riding, are not going to start up until fall.
Chinatown, on the other hand, is going full tilt. We walked to Chinatown, stopping in the adjacent section of North Beach by City Lights Bookstore, stomping grounds of the late Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and store owner, and posing by Jack Kerouc Alley. The North End is pretty quiet before noon, so we kept walking on to Chinatown.
Overhead paper lanterns, murals, graffiti, and store windows kept us looking in all directions.
Chinatown is large and bustling. We walked along Grant St. and around the corner to Portsmouth Square, where we sat in the park, admired the Transamerica Tower, and watched a group of men playing a game of cards that we didn’t understand at all. We settled on lunch at the Hong Kong Clay Pot restaurant. Jonathan’s clay pot of quail and Chinese sausage was a winner, delicious and full of quail.
Having regained our strength over lunch, we browsed a Chinese grocery store, and continued on to the The Wok Shop, to look at the best selection of kitchen tools around. I found the small teapot I needed as a replacement, while Jonathan found a new cleaver. A couple of other items and we were on our way.
We’ve had good luck with the bus system in San Francisco. There’s an app and a search function that tells you how to get to where you’re going. We’ve taken the bus a few times and found it easy to use, with buses running every 15 minutes or so. We haven’t had a long wait, and taking the bus has been easier than getting a cab or an Uber.
On the way home, we stopped to look at a mural of Frida Kahlo, and debated whether she is wearing a mask.
We enjoyed the visit to Chinatown, even if we didn’t buy a lot of things to take home.
Another day, we visited Japantown, which is not as busy as Chinatown, but has a very pretty five story pagoda in the center of Peace Plaza. There are two large malls on either side of the plaza, and lots of stores in the adjacent neighborhood. We had lunch at Marufuku Ramen, and strolled past the unusual and dramatically-shaped Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption. We were so intrigued that we went inside to look at the stained glass.
Our final big outing was a visit to the De Young Museum, part of the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco. The dramatic building dates to 2005, and holds a wide range of materials and exhibits, often puzzling because there are areas thoroughly covered by individual or family donations that don’t fit very well with the mission of a state museum. It’s all interesting, there’s a lovely cafe and a good gift shop, and the entire complex is in Golden Gate Park, with the California Academy of Sciences, and the Botanical Garden just steps away. For those fortunate enough to live in San Francisco, the city has lovely parks. We visitors have to squeeze in time to visit them.
On the way back to the hotel, we passed children splashing in the water in front of the Maritime Museum, and long-distance swimmers pulling lightweight buoys behind them as they swam quarter-mile laps across the bay from the Pier to the beach at the foot of Hyde St. I admire their discipline.
San Francisco is a good place for architecture. In addition to the Transamerica Tower and the San Francisco version of London’s Gherkin, there are interesting Victorian townhouses that we’ve all seen in photos, and a lot of Art Deco buildings. In the evening, we rode the cable car down the Embarcadero and had dinner at Angler, a very fine seafood restaurant. Every bite was delicious.
When you combine a major city, seaside wharves, Victorian houses, hippie landmarks, and tourism, there are a lot of quirky things to see in San Francisco. Stopping along Fisherman’s Wharf, I felt I could almost capture them all in one photo: there’s a gigantic rotating neon sign of a ferryboat, wharves, dads in polo shirts, kids carrying Alcatraz souvenirs, a surprisingly large number of dogs, and various persons who are either on the phone wearing airpods, or muttering to themselves. We enjoyed all the distinctiveness of the city, the great food, and not having to use our car. It was an excellent visit.
Photos from top to bottom: steep streets, former union hall detail, Mission Street substation relief “Power” (1948) by Robert B. Howard, Sea lion on Fisherman’s Wharf, the California bear on his skateboard, a Kawaii (“cute”) figure outside a sushi restaurant, the New People building (if you go in, do you come out “new”?) and a wall mural of Monarch butterfly and California poppies.
We decided to go to San Francisco as tourists for a few days. Neither of us has been there on vacation, though we both visited more than once to attend professional meetings.
We took most of the day to drive north along Route 1 along the sea side of the peninsula that is home to San Francisco. We marveled at the forested areas, ranchland, and open space that stretches along the coast between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. The beach I picked out to visit didn’t work out and we continued north, stopping in Pacifica to stroll the beach and get lunch. Pacifica turns out to be our kind of place.
A tiny community perched on the water, visitors may be confounded by the lack of exits from the highway into the town, but with only a little “driving around the block” we managed to find our way toward the beach and parked on a side street. A narrow lane runs along the cliffs downhill to the beach access point, and provided a lovely walk at the same time. Someone has put a lot of time and effort into landscaping this little stretch that you can see in the photo at the top of this post. On the bay side of the lane, gates open on steep stairs to houses perched on the side of the hill. What fun it would be to rent one of these!
We strolled the beach, watched the surfers and swimmers (brrr), and decided this was our kind of place. We even picked up a few pieces of beach glass, and Jonathan found a small treasure, a numbered die.
I didn’t even recall that it was overcast until I looked at our photos! We had a quick lunch of Safeway sushi, and continued on to San Francisco.
[I always choose a photo the beginning of each post. If you can’t see it, let me know and I’ll repost it here at the end.]
We have been in the Monterey area just over six months, longer than we’ve lived anywhere since 2014. As the months go by, we look for new places to explore, new parks to visit, new neighborhoods to walk around. The results are always intriguing.
Hatton Canyon is a broad trail through a forested area, yet parking is in a small shopping center. Just down the path from the Barn shopping complex outside Carmel-by-the-Sea, a bike trail goes under a bridge and there’s a dirt road going off into the woods. We’ve been down this trail a couple of times recently, and there are always birds to see, and rarely any other walkers. If you’re not interested in birds, there’s not much going on, but the lack of company has been relaxing. There’s been no need to wear a mask. Though the mask situation is changing, the walk is still pleasant. We went out to Hatton Canyon to make our bird count for Global Big Day on May 8, and saw 23 species of birds. The most fun are the California quail. They graze along the edge of the trail, hiding a flock of chicks that match the color of the ground. Just when we became accustomed to quail in the road, we began seeing them in the trees, like plump, overgrown robins.
El Estero Park is another place that surprises us by how interesting each walk has been. Best known for its Dennis the Menace playground at one end, the park surrounds a U-shaped lake, remnant of a waterway that once emptied into Monterey Bay. The surroundings are urban, with housing to the east and west, and the campus of Monterey Peninsula Community College to the south. Dennis the Menace park was closed for more than a year. It recently reopened and was swarming with children when we visited this week. While the park seems hemmed in, the seashore is just to the north, and the loop of lake encloses quiet cemeteries (and a dog park). It’s a something-for-everyone location. We have had peaceful walks along the lake, and seen unusual birds (red-necked phalarope) among the families, fishermen, cyclists, runners, and baby carriages. As we strolled with our binoculars the other day, a man asked whether we were there for the baseball game. Sure enough, there’s a large baseball field tucked in yet another corner.
We’ve walked around different neighborhoods, too, getting a sense of what different areas are like. There’s a portion of Pacific Grove tucked in alongside Pebble Beach, where large houses are gradually replacing smaller ones, and landscaping is generally manicured. The historic section of Pacific Grove is full of smaller houses built between about 1880-1930. Houses that have not been fundamentally altered are eligible for a plaque that has the name of the original owner and the date it was built. Many of these are charming. There must be some good stories here, too, as many of the houses have the names of women as owners, even back as far as the 1880s. Was this an enlightened area, or was there a tax advantage to women as owners?
The neighborhood that surprised us the most was on our drive to explore Aguajito Road, an arc that cuts through the south end of Monterey. We turned off at La Mesa, a community up on a hilltop (the mesa). We quickly realized this was a complex of military housing. There were lots of American flags, and very little landscaping (the occupants don’t own their houses). What surprised us was that we saw lots of babies and young children, parents pushing strollers, supervising bicycles, scooters, skateboards, herding small children down the sidewalk while chatting with other adults. There was more family life out in the neighborhood, and more children, than we’ve seen anywhere since Peru. We aren’t sure where all these service persons are posted, but there are quite a few families in La Mesa.
As the time goes by, we keep finding new spots to visit, and we are able to give bits of advice to people we meet while taking a walk. It might be where to park, or what bird we’re looking at, and it is fun to be able to be a part of the local scenery in some way.
[The photo at the top of this post shows a Coastal Access trail. This path, virtually unmarked, runs between two private homes, and if you know it’s there you can use it to walk along a stretch of the coast and visit tiny Malpaso Creek Beach.]
For more than a year, we’ve been wondering when we could start traveling again. You may already have raised eyebrows if you follow LlywindaTravels, and have roved around the US with us month after month. During the height of the pandemic we moved from Chicago to Ohio, then across the country to Oregon and down the coast to our present home in Pacific Grove, CA. What I mean when I say “travel,” is deciding when it’s safe to return to Peru, or to return to Europe, where we abruptly cancelled our travel plans in 2020.
Peru dropped from our 2021 plans back in September, when the infection rate soared. Since then, the virus has abated somewhat, but very few people have been vaccinated as of March 2021. The death rate in April 2021 is the highest it’s been since the start of the pandemic. We check in with our neighbors via Facebook and Skype. Fortunately, the few who have gotten the virus have all recovered. We will return to Peru in the fall.
These days we wonder what will be different about travel when we can get back to it. We’ve followed the news, infection rates, and countries that allow US citizens to visit. It’s all still a guessing game.
Europe and the UK are open to US visitors. We originally planned to resume our 2020 itinerary right away, had the pandemic ended after only a few months, but you know how that went! When I looked in to what would be different about going to Europe in 2021, I didn’t much like what I saw. Even the most welcoming of countries now requires proof of vaccination and a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours prior to travel. Upon arrival, many countries have mandatory quarantine, and they really mean quarantine. Sometimes, a fee of up to $2600 per person is part of the process. This seemed like too much time in quarantine, and unnecessary expense. For us, Europe is on the shelf until 2022.
Spending some time in Maine has always been part of our plans, and this could be the year. We’re in California now, and we would have to drive across the entirely of the US to get there. Back in January, we thought that we might go east across Canada, then visiting Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Maine. a combination that would make the cross-country trek worthwhile. Now, we’re almost to May 1, and Canada still has no plans of opening to Americans. Maybe another year.
We looked at spending a month on a Caribbean island, perhaps during September. That seemed possible until we realized that late summer and early fall is the height of hurricane season. Climate change has increased the number and violence of hurricanes, making September poor timing for a visit. A few years ago, we spent a day sitting in the tiny Marsh Harbor airport in the Bahamas waiting for a break in the weather. When our flight was finally not just late, but cancelled, we scrambled to stay another night and managed to leave the next day, but I’d rather not do that again.
That leaves us with the US, home sweet home. Our move east to west was a lot of fun; full of interesting places, and reversing our path we could check out a different part of the country. Having arrived on the west coast via a northern route, we thought about going east on a southern route, perhaps visiting Big Bend National Park, the Natchez Trace, and many other places. Oops. It’s August, and approximately 90o F. and 90% humidity almost everywhere in the south, almost all the time. If you recall how little we liked the weather in Charleston, SC in August (loved the people we met, not the weather), this doesn’t seem like a good choice.
Even closer to where we are now, we thought that we’d like to spend another month in Mendocino, where we began our world travels in 2015. Times have changed indeed, and we were unable to find a house to rent in the area. After trying to find a place to rent over the course of more than two weeks, Jonathan found a very nice house, but it was not available in August. There was nothing else available that met our criteria for an Airbnb, and revisiting the app a few times over an additional week didn’t show any more properties becoming available.
Back at our starting point in Pacific Grove, we took yet another look at the west coast, and Jonathan suggested we try Bainbridge Island, across from Seattle…..if he could find a place to rent. After a couple of rounds of looking, he found a house that is great for us, and we’ve taken the plunge. We’ll be moving to Bainbridge Island, WA for the month of August. We plan to take the ferry across to Seattle and visit the Pike Place Market some time during our stay.
The New Normal?
We are delighted to have a new place on an island (!) for the month of August, yet I’m still somewhat concerned at the scarcity of rental properties. Two years ago, a month or six weeks was far enough in advance to find a month long rental property almost anywhere. Now, it’s not always that easy.
Our introduction to the new world of travel: keep a long list of alternative destinations.
Next: Don’t buy airline tickets until you have a place to stay.
And thirdly: Check on the availability and price of rental cars before you finalize your plans. Rental car companies sold off many of their vehicles during the pandemic and in some places cars are in short supply. This has pushed the price of car rentals way up in certain situations. Can you afford $4,000 for a ten-day rental?
These issues don’t occur in every locality, and I hope they don’t get in the way of any travel plans you have for the coming months. We all have to be ready for some new hurdles and expensive surprises in the travel arena. We’ve decided to stick to the US until at least October, spend the winter in Peru, and take up in 2022 the travels that we planned for 2020, starting in Greece, then on to Vienna, England, and then Croatia. Perhaps by then we’ll understand the new reality better.
PS: When I say “there are no rentals available,” I mean there are no places available that meet our very specific criteria. We want a whole house, not an apartment or condo. We like two bedrooms and one and a half baths minimum, so that we have room for guests, and space for me to spread out my beach glass jewelry materials. A decent kitchen is a must for Jonathan. After all, we eat at home more than 95% of the time. We must have a washing machine (preferably not shared), and off street parking. This may sound too picky, but remember that we are not on vacation, planning to bundle our laundry into suitcases to wash when we’re home again. We ARE home, and have to keep up with the tasks that vacationers often avoid. Again, when I say there are no rentals available, I mean there are no rentals that we would want for an extended stay.
It’s been a tough year for Big Sur. The Dolan Fire burned almost 125,000 acres of the region between August and December 2020. After that it rained, and the rainfall on fresh fire scars was feared to cause mudslides, and it did. On Thurs. Jan. 28, 2020, a debris flow crossed Highway 1 and collapsed a section of the road into the ocean. Efforts to repair the highway have been underway since February, and the road is scheduled to be back in service by the end of April. Tourists have had to avoid most of the hiking trails, and since February, it has been impossible to make the famed Highway 1 drive along the coast from Morro Bay to the Golden Gate.
With months of firefighting, precarious weather and road conditions as background, we took our time exploring this area. Initially we jumped from one place to another, looking for beaches, visiting Garrapata and Pfeiffer beaches. Pfeiffer Beach is a particularly beautiful spot. Rocks just offshore have a natural opening. The tide billows through, and at certain times, the sun sets right through this natural window. We met photographers setting up to catch views of the sunset on a calm afternoon. (The wind makes a big difference, as the second time we visited the wind was so strong we had to hide in the lee of the rocks, then leave.)
Once we realized that Big Sur is all about the views of the rocky coast, and has few beaches to walk on, we began working our way south from Carmel along Highway 1, stopping at the overlooks and taking any available walking trail along the the cliffs. Soberanes Point has a particularly nice series of trails along the rocks.
Weather and Covid have conspired to close some important stops in Big Sur. The Point Sur Lighthouse is a beautiful area, but has been closed for months. I just read that it is reopening for docent-guided tours. It sounds like there will be no wandering along the shore on one’s own.
There is a beautiful beach lying just north of the Point Sur lighthouse that I was looking forward to visiting when the grounds opened again, but I found that it is permanently closed to the public. This comes as a bit of a shock in California, where the right of pedestrians to walk on any beach up to the high tide mark is a law that has withstood years of attack by the rich (look up David Geffen and the California Coastal Commission…). About 15 miles of coastline, including this beach are fenced off and posted by the El Sur Ranch. Jonathan read up on it and the owner is seen as a great benefactor of the region, honorary member of the fire department, generous to local causes. I remain puzzled by why the ranch is allowed to keep long sections of coast land private in the face of laws to the contrary. The property goes back to a land grant in the mid-19th century, and I’m sure there are reasons, even if I don’t particularly like missing out on this stretch of the coast.
When I become discouraged that sections of the coast are not available to visit, I have to keep in mind that we have had great success in visiting most of the coast that can be reached on foot without overnight camping. One of our favorites is the Carmel River State Park, right down the road, open most of the time, a perfect place.
I poked a lot of limp sea creatures this week. It turns out that pieces of jellyfish that wash up on the shore look a lot like beach glass. Some bits of jellyfish are perfectly transparent and shimmer like crystal under the sun, while others are cloudy and frosted-looking, like nicely rounded beach glass. My efforts were rewarded, despite those icky experiences, because we found a lot of interesting glass and pottery on the beach.
The three lowest tides of the month fell on consecutive days this week, and we took advantage to collect sea glass. Arriving at Sand City beach, we found a number of serious beach glass collectors at work. Six or seven people, each wearing wet suits and boots, sometimes a parka, sometimes elbow length rubber gloves, waded in the surf. For more than an hour, maybe even two, they ranged along the shore with a long-handled tool, scraping up beach gravel and glass, rummaging through the pieces, and putting some in a shoulder bag, while wet to mid-thigh and up to the elbows. We admired their hard work, and wondered what they did with their finds.
As we walked down the beach, we stopped to watch a man collecting in the surf. He was dressed head to toe in protective gear, wet suit, boots, gloves, and hood, with his scoop and collecting bag. He noticed us and waved, then approached us, extended his scoop and showed us the glass he’d found. He then offered me the pieces. “Really?” I asked. He nodded. I thanked him and collected several very nice pieces. He turned back to the water before I had the chance to ask him what he did with his finds.
We strolled up the beach, looking for beach glass along the high tide line. There were lots of pieces to collect, and though we didn’t find any exotic colors, we didn’t have to wade in the waves to find pieces. On the way back, we stopped at our beach glass friend again, and asked what he did with his finds. He said he made things from them (hangings with driftwood, for example), and sold some. He offered me more pieces and I thanked him and asked why he was sharing with me. “Karma,” he said. “You give some away and you find some more.” We thanked him again, waved, and went our way.
On the way back, Jonathan added to my collection of beach pennies. I’m not sure what happens to pennies once they start rolling around in seawater, but the surface erodes and the copper surface peels and bubbles. I haven’t been spending much actual cash, so I still have all three. I’m not sure anyone would take them, even CoinStar.
A few hours of beach combing is hard on the knees and the back, so on the second low tide of three in a row, we made a much shorter visit to McAbee beach. We’ve visited before and noticed that there is a lot of very small beach glass in the sand. Rather than spending a lot of time stooping and peering, we took a plastic bag and collected about 2 quarts of sand from an area that seemed to have a lot of small pieces. Once we got it home, we could search the sand for tiny pieces of glass. I have been using these to make earrings filled with mini beach glass, filling little bottles and vials with colored pieces. I had been crushing glass bits to fill some extra-tiny vials, but that is both a bit of a mess and more time consuming than you’d think. My new collection of itty-bitty pebbles of beach glass will let me make as many little bottles of glass as I want. I’ll go back to making larger items after that. (Click the link in the side bar of this post to visit the Etsy site where I post the beach glass jewelry I make.)
We didn’t get through all the sand and tiny glass before it was the third and last day of low tides for at least a month. I thought I’d have a try at scooping into the water like the pros, even though I don’t have a dedicated tool. I dug out my wetsuit and water sandals, and got ready to dip in the ocean. Turns out, I’m not that good at getting wet. The day was sunny and warm, and there were women in bikinis lying on the beach in places, but I watched a woman raking in the water while a wave broke over her shoulder. I just couldn’t do it. I waded around and got wet up to my knees and elbows, and we collected some lovely beach glass. We also decided that we probably did just as well on land as getting wet. If it were 90o F. out, I might give it another try, but now I have so much glass that I don’t need to go beach combing until the next extra-low tides at the end of April. I’ll just walk on the beach and enjoy the view.
I am a big fan of islands, and looking toward Europe from Canada, I found several islands out in the Atlantic that I’d like to visit, including the Azores out in the center of the ocean, and three groups off the coast of Africa, the Republica of Cabo Verde, Madeira, and the Canary Islands. These were all identified by Europeans during the 1400s, when the explorers we learned out in grade school, including Prince Henry the Navigator, took voyages of exploration into the unknown Atlantic. Portugal dominated the seas and world exploration at that time, and today the Azores and Madeira are still overseas provinces of Portugal. The Republica de Cabo Verde was a Portuguese colony, but is now independent. The Canary Islands are a province of Spain.
What these islands have in common other than their Iberian ancestry, is delightful climate. Even the Azores, that appears to be out in the North Atlantic, has a range of mild annual temperatures that don’t fall below freezing and rarely reach 80oF. Distance is the issue for visitors to the Azores, since flights are long, though there are direct flights from Boston–Wait! We should not go there yet.
Needless to say, our beach combing would be interesting on any of these islands. Advice for people visiting the Azores is to pick one or two places to visit among the nine major islands, as transport between islands is costly. I’d like to visit one of the smaller islands by ferry, just for the experience. My choices would be shaped by which airport we landed at, as Ponta Delgada, one of the major cities, is on the eastern edge of the group, and the only island nearby is tiny Vila do Porto. There is a ferry that takes about five hours. If our plane landed on Lajes, in the central group of islands, there are nearby islands that could be visited easily by ferry. Festivals on the Azores tend to be related to religious holidays, with processions and flower bedecked displays. These largely take place between Easter and the end of August. Carnival is another event celebrated on all these islands. Folk dancing and colorful costumes are traditional, and embroidery is a widespread local craft. Visiting during Carnival, Easter, or Christmas might be more crowded, but there would be lots of good things to see.
Our next stop might be Republic of Cabo Verde, off the coast of Africa near Senegal. The best time to visit is in January and February, when the temperature mostly stays below 80oF and there is scant or no rainfall. Most of the annual rain falls during September, a month that might be better elsewhere. I first learned of Cabo Verde as a young stamp collector. Small countries used to issue beautiful commemorative stamps as a way to make money. Collectors all over the world would pay for unused individual stamps, blocks of stamps, or stamped envelopes (First day of issue covers). There are some gorgeous ones by well known artists.
Like many island groups, Cabo Verde has a number of endemic bird species (found only in this place) that would give us new challenges in our bird watching. As you can imagine, there is plenty of seafood, and even a small wine industry, which we would do our best to support. A good reason to support Cabo Verde by visiting is the fact that the country has made strides in decreasing poverty and building a strong economic foundation. About 30% of its electricity now comes from wind farms, and there is probably more to come.
Moving north, Madeira is a single large island and three much smaller islands off the coast of Morocco. There’s a choice to be made in visiting. The three warmest months are June, July, and August, when rainfall is lowest, with average high temperatures around 80oF. However, recent record high temperatures in these months reach 100oF, so you might want to accept more rainfall for a month with milder weather, perhaps during April or May when there is just over an inch of rain. The other months average three or more inches of rain, so take your umbrella.
I had no idea that Madeira was so popular with cruise ships. Madeira is the most-visited place in Portugal for cruise ships, more than Lisbon. Half a million visitors a year disembark from cruise ships. They go on walks that border an extensive series of canals, they taste Madeira wine, and eat a fusion of Portuguese and local cooking. There is even a colorful endemic bird to look for, the Madeira firecrest. I think that it must get crowded in Funchal, the main city and port, so I’d look for a rental house somewhere outside the city.
Last, but far from least, is the Spanish group of islands. The Canary Islands may be the best known of all these Atlantic destinations, as they are very close to the coast of Morocco and have been known for hundreds of years. The name for the islands comes from the Latin word “canis” for dog, as dogs were mentioned in connection by Pliny and other early writers. There is even a breed of dog from this region, the Presa Canario, a big dog formerly for fighting, not birdlike at all. Canary birds are named after the islands, not the other way around.
There are eight main islands in this group, many more smaller islands, and a number of unoccupied but mapped “rocks”. The population is over two million, mostly on two islands, Tenerife and Gran Canaria. Described as having “long, hot summers and mild winters,” there is almost no rainfall May through August. It’s no wonder that the Canary Islands are popular with European vacationers and retirees. This is another big cruise ship stop, and the cities may get crowded, but there are lots of places outside the two capital cities, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. I’m sure we could find a wonderful spot for a month.
Prince Edward Island, Canada, often called PEI, was almost our destination about a year and a half back. We ended up going to Charleston, SC instead, but I think that when Canada is available as a destination, we may give PEI a visit.
Statistically, PEI is the most densely populated Canadian province, and the smallest. Tucked between Cape Breton Island and New Brunswick, PEI is connected to Nova Scotia by a bridge, so no ferry ride is needed to get there. The island is a popular vacation spot, with agriculture and fisheries the other industries. In the summer months, farmer’s markets are likely to have veggies to go along with the fish you grill on your patio.
Beach combing is promoted as a holiday activity on PEI, one of the reasons we first looked at it as a place to visit. We’d explore the coast looking for beach glass and other finds. There are miles and miles of beaches all around the island.
We also like to visit some quirky places, and AtlasObscura.com never lets us down. PEI has a Potato Museum, a museum and Hall of Fame related to fox ranching (for fur coats?), and the smallest library in Canada. The place we’d actually visit is the Edward Arsenault Bottle Houses. Rather than waiting for bottles to become beach glass, Arsenault saved empty bottles and used them to build three different structures. It sounds like quite a hobby.
Also notable is the fact that Anne of Green Gables, a favorite novel, is set on Prince Edward Island. The town of Avonlea in the stories is modeled after Cavendish, PEI. There are a number of places that take advantage of the association, including Green Gables Heritage Place, with “the house that inspired Anne of Green Gables,” and Avonlea Village, a “tribute town”. If you read the book as a child, you might want to stop in.
While looking for information about PEI, I came across this illustration from the cover of a brochure about the island that was published in 1900, "The garden of the gulf, Prince Edward Island – and its handsome and delightful capital Charlottetown – being pictures and description of the charms of city and seashore as summer resorts“. PEI looks very inviting.
After my previous post, we would have gotten off the ferry at the north end of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. One of the first things we’d see is the “World’s Largest Fiddle” (60 ft. high), along the Sydney, NS harbor where the ferry lands. From there, if we don’t decide to stay locally, we’d make our way toward the Atlantic coast. If we make it past Isle Madame, where there is a provincial park, we’ll wend our way off Cape Breton Island and on to “mainland” Nova Scotia.
The coast is full of inlets, with only one road leading south, so we’d probably take double the travel time calculated by Google maps. We might stop to have a brief quarrel in Bickerton, then agree to spend the night in Spanish Ship Bay, just because I like the name. The next day, we’ll continue toward Halifax, perhaps renting our home for a month somewhere along the coast northeast or southwest of the city. That would give us access to anything we need in the way of services, including my monthly visit to a retina specialist, and still let us explore the Atlantic coast. Nova Scotia has been visited by Europeans since about 1597, when explorer John Cabot landed somewhere between Maine and Labrador, often thought to be Nova Scotia. This means that beach combing along the coast could yield anything from a fisherman’s boot lost in the previous month to a 16th century Venetian coin.
One of my favorite websites to check for places to visit is Atlas Obscura, where contributors report odd sights and experiences, and where I found the world’s largest fiddle. There are a number of these for Nova Scotia, including the Oak Island money pit, a spot that is said to hold a fortune in treasure for the person who can get to it. Many have tried and failed due to quicksand and other hazards, but hope springs eternal in a gambler’s heart, so people occasionally still try to figure out why no one has been able to get to the bottom of the pit. The Curse of Oak Island reality TV show claims to have found the secret of the treasure to be revealed in the final episode of their eighth season, available on Amazon Prime in 2021. I’ll have to tune in.
Nova Scotia has been occupied by native people for thousands of years. The Mikmaq are the most recent group, from late prehistory to the present. Some sites can be visited, though pre-European life was relatively simple, with survival the principal goal. The arrival of Europeans started construction of all kinds, and today
Nova Scotia is a colonial history buff’s delight, with a long record of being caught in the crosshairs of international politics. Toward the end of the 1700s, Acadian settlers were expelled for being allied with France, some of whom ended up in Louisiana as Cajuns. while British loyalists moved in from the former colonies after 1776. In the 1800s an influx of Scots escaping the Highland Clearances shifted the population toward Gaelic speakers. Every war seems to have pulled in this strategically located area. Ruined forts and fortifications intended to protect the coast can still be seen in many places.
Nova Scotia is also a great place for lighthouse aficionados. There is an excellent map that shows the 128 lighthouses and places that once had lighthouses. There are lists that tell you whether you can visit, drive by for a photo, whether the lighthouse is so remote you can’t even get a decent photo, or whether the lighthouse is no longer in existence. The map is very nice-looking as well.
Since we are nature lovers no longer capable of long wilderness hikes, and archaeology buffs but not necessary fans of old forts and other stony places, we’ll spend most of our month visiting the coast and admiring the crashing waves. We’d look for some of the birds that live in the northland (puffins!), and visit Halifax for markets and restaurants. We’d like to think that by the time we can get across the border into Canada, Nova Scotia will be ready for us.