Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Ottawa 2019

Actual border between Canada and the US
!000 Islands view
As I mentioned in my last post, we drove from Syracuse to Ottawa on Friday. It was pretty uneventful, but it was a little nerve-wracking for me to drive while going through the border, as I always feel that border guards are scarier than the ones in the airports for some reason, and also because we ended up having to go over this really high-arched bridge as we drove through the 1000 islands region. I have a fear of heights, and it is coupled with the fear of being on a bridge when it collapses, so it was not fun to drive that part. However, it is also good to conquer your fears or to at least keep on going in spite of them, and that is what I did. The scenery is beautiful in that region, though, and while I was too scared to look out on that bridge, I had a chance to snap a couple of photos once my husband took over driving on the Canada side, not only to give me a break from driving but also because he is more familiar with Ottawa than I am.

Our primary focus since arrival has been to set up my husband's place where he will stay for the year, but we wanted to do some sightseeing together as well. We went to the War Museum yesterday, which I enjoyed, but I did not take any photos there because it isn't really a place where you can take a lot of photos since the lighting is poor, and much of it is just artifacts of war and military stuff. The only photo I did take was of the game True Dough Mania, which I proudly own. It's a hilarious game made by some serious non-Trudeau supporters. I was too young to have an opinion about the senior Trudeau, so I really don't have an opinion about him, but I like the game because it's just comical. In any case, I wish we had a museum like that at home as it would be a great resource for social studies being able to take students there in a more interactive way to learn about the world wars and Canada's military.

On Saturday, we went to Parliament Hill, stopping at the War Memorial along the way. We happened to arrive shortly before the changing of the guard, so it was neat to be there for that ceremony. It isn't as extensive as the changing of the guard along the India-Pakistan border nor at Buckingham Palace in London--neither of which I've seen but have heard about from others, but it is still interesting to see. There are also only 2 guards as compared to all the other guards at these other locations, so it only makes sense that the ceremony would not be as extensive. We continued on to Parliament Hill, which I was very excited about, because I wanted to get some really good close-up shots of the details and gargoyles on the building now that I have a camera with a much better zoom lens. The Parliament buildings are really beautiful, and most people would focus on the entire thing, but I like seeing details that most other people can't see or would notice. I discovered, for example, that there are beavers carved all over the the place. It almost became a game for me to see how many beavers I could find. I also took a photo of the scenery from the main entrance of the building. It's one of the things I like to do when I travel is to see what everyone is missing when they're focusing on the big thing in front of them. Sometimes you can end up missing something beautiful in its own right. Since I took enough photos, I ended up putting them in an album.

These are my travels! I don't know when I will make my next post, as it will depend on when I travel again, but I hope you've enjoyed my little journey. I may make one about our little trip to Gatineau park today if we return tomorrow for me to go on my birding tour. We got rained out today, so doing the walk was unfeasible. 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Through the Midwest to the East

As much as we enjoyed Chicago, we were just as happy to leave the congestion of downtown for the open road again. This time we were headed to my brother's to visit for just one night. It wasn't exactly on the way, but the detour created only a difference of about 2 hours in our our last couple of segments to Ottawa anyway, so I wanted to go just to see my mom before she heads back to her home in South Asia and just to get an extra chance to see my brother and his family, including my super cute nephews.

The drive there meant driving through Indiana and Ohio. Indiana welcomes you with industries everywhere. They look pretty unattractive--industrial revolution-like conditions, almost. The places look dark and dingy. Thankfully, that gives way to fields of corn and other agricultural products as well as marshes and lakes as you keep driving.

Once we were in Ohio, the main challenge there was toll roads. They are so expesinve--almost USD20 to drive through the state. But you get what you pay for. The roads were well-maintained with excellent rest stops that had tourist info, gas station, a few fast food restaurants, and obviously washrooms. It was nice to stop there for meals and bathroom breaks. We also learned a valuable tip for Canadians driving in the US who need to put their zip codes at the gas pumps when trying to pay at the pump: use the numerical digits from your postal code and add two zeros at the end to create a 5 digit zip code. So if your postal code was R5F 3E3, your "zip" code would be 53300. It worked like a charm. One of the gas stations had actually unlocked the pump so we could use it without needing to pre-pay, just trusting us to pay inside, but you don't always get that. It would have been helpful to know that 10 years ago when I was driving all over the US for work!
Bridge on the I-79 in Pennsylvania
Anyway, reaching my brother's place, my nephew came running down the front steps to see us, big smile on his face and hands held in the air to give us a great big hug. He is so sweet and affectionate. It just brings tears to my eyes. It was wonderful to be somewhere that we could relax a bit, have some downtime--even with 2 kids under 5--and enjoy some home-cooked food. One the road, you have fast food because there isn't much else unless you have the time to drive to a city for a proper meal, and usually when you have this much driving, you're just trying to save time. I sure wish we could have stayed more than a night, but I was grateful for the time we had nonetheless.
Red tailed hawk

Cedar waxwing
From there, we spent the night in Syracuse so that we could enjoy a relatively short drive to Ottawa on Friday, our final leg of the  journey. Syracuse seems filled with churches for some reason and looked beautiful in many parts. We wished we had time to explore the city more, but we were just as happy to reach Ottawa today and finally rest for a few days to set my husband up here before I fly home in a few days. We faced a fairly strong storm while heading to Ottawa, but then we were treated to a beautiful rainbow along the way to Syracuse, and I also got a couple of bird photos outside the hotel. I have seen these birds in Edmonton before, but I never pass up the chance to get a good photo of a bird. 


Thursday, August 8, 2019

Chicago, Day 2

Today was a little more low-key in the sense that we didn't do as much as we did yesterday. We walked the Magnificent Mile just to see it, and sure enough, we saw many of the designer and brand name stores that make up that street as well as walked back to the area where The Bean is as well as the Art Institute of Chicago. Pictured here is the Burberry Store, which looked different in the morning light than in the afternoon light when we returned to the hotel, and the store was completely black. The morning light gives it the warm, caramel appearance the patterns of their purses and scarves remind me of. I thought that was interesting. Our purpose for walking back up to the Art Institute was to visit it today. Chicago had never really interested me before, so any visit here was just a bonus to my life, but once I found out that there were van Gogh paintings at the Institute, I needed to go! We found out when we got in that there was a Manet exhibit as well, so we paid the extra fee to see that since it was a special exhibit. For those of you that have followed my blog since the beginning (in 2006!), you might remember that I love Impressionism in general, but my favourite artist is Vincent van Gogh. There was a whole impressionist section of the museum, and my heart swelled just being there. I have to admit that I even got teary at times, especially when seeing the van Goghs in person. There were actually quite a number of them, too.

We also saw some more modern art, as in, post-Impressionism, a small Islamic art exhibit, and a contemporary art section that included Andy Warhol. There was also a beautiful set of Marc Chagall windows that I loved. I am mostly not into modern art, but I do love Chagall's stuff.
Part of the reason that this was all we did today is that it takes one that long just to see it. We still didn't see all of the museum. You would have to have a lot of stamina to see the whole thing in one day, but I don't know if these places are meant for one to see the entire thing. You usually focus on what you want to see. At least that has been my strategy in other large museums. We ate lunch at the museum so that we could see the remainder of the exhibits that we wanted to see and then finished up there around 2:30 or so.

The quote carved into this building is from the poem
"A Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Art is long and time is fleeting
We only saw a tiny fraction of all there is to see and do here, but we did at least get to enjoy the things we most wanted to see and do, so that was important. Maybe once day we will return--but we will likely travel by plane than by road. My general impression of Chicago is that people seem to be really friendly, and the city is really clean. They seem to even wash the streets at night, at least in the downtown area. We had sat outside to have our coffee on our second day here, and the sidewalks were wet despite not having rained. It was really surprising. One thing I will be happy to leave is all the cigarette smoke. I don't know if it's because it's just more crowded here or if that more people smoke, but it seems to be everywhere, and I hate breathing it in and smelling it. Tomorrow, we are back on the road. For now, my Chicago album and Art Institute of Chicago album are below.

Downtown Chicago in general: https://photos.app.goo.gl/rB15qF6W4m8dmZhU6

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Chicago, Day 1

And a full day it was. We are only spending two days here, so we are trying to balance seeing and doing as much as possible without tiring ourselves out too much. It is easier said than done when we are on foot, walking around everywhere in the heat (31C) and humidity at 51%. But I think we did well today.

Our first stop was the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower). Apparently, Sears Roebuck and Company only used the building for the first 18 years after it was built, starting in 1973, but the company that bought it, Willis Group Holdings, didn't rename it until 2009. Perhaps they thought its iconic association with Chicago shouldn't be messed with at one point, I'm not sure. Anyway, we went up to the 103rd floor to see the view, which was pretty incredible, and I have some great photos that I will share in an album as well as the one you see here. The elevator is quite speedy, too. I think it was only a 2 or 3 minute trip to get up. I'd hate to be at the top if a fire broke out, though! The only thing we didn't do was the ledge, the glass-bottomed part where you can look down. I was going to wait for my husband to do it himself, due to my fear of heights, but the wait was anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour and didn't seem worth the wait, especially when you want to maximise your time in a city. One thing that surprised me was seeing all the spiders, specifically orb-weavers, outside the top floor. They have webs all over the place! And I wonder how long it takes them to walk up the building.

After we finished at the tower, we left to go find lunch and decided to try a Chicago style hot dog from a food truck we had seen on our walk to the Willis Tower. They were really tasty, made with sweet relish, hot pickled peppers, mustard, a dill pickle, and celery salt. The wiener itself is an all-beef one, which made me happy since pork products tend not to agree with my stomach. The bun must also be a poppy seed bun.

Once we had eaten lunch and stopped for a coffee, we headed over to see The Bean. It's a huge bean-shaped mirror-type structure--a sculpture, that is. From there, it was time to go back to the hotel to recuperate. We are lucky to be staying at a hotel downtown, which makes all of these places very close to walk to.

City skyline at sunset
In the evening, we decided to do an architecture river tour, which takes you down the 3 branches of the Chicago River and tells you about some of the history of the city and its archicture. For someone like me, who doesn't really understand or appreciate a lot about most architecture, it was interesting and enlightening in a way that leaves me with information that I will probably use to see other buildings I come across in a new light. It is something I can do with art, having taken some art history, but I have never learned about architecture or what it all means, why buildings are designed as they are. I have an appreciation for something I didn't have before, and that's part of the joy of travelling, is when you can take away new information that makes you know more about the world and appreciate it more.  One thing I forgot to ask the tour guide was about bird deaths with all these glass-sided buildings. Toronto has actually changed its building codes for skyrises where companies actually have to design buildings to prevent bird deaths. So I just looked up this information, and according to this article in the Chcago Tribune, Chicago has one of the most dangerous skylines in the US when it comes to bird deaths. As a birder, that makes me a little sad. It sounds like there are at least some bird conservation groups that are trying to do something about it. Here is a link to the river tour album (the rest of Chicago, I will post later in another album): https://photos.app.goo.gl/2eeN3yqGokuuqCWu8 

Monday, August 5, 2019

A Long Drive to Chicago

We left Fargo early this morning to drive to Chicago. This was our longest driving day of our entire road trip. While it was a long day, it was intersting to make such a trip. We ate breafast in Fargo, stopped for coffee in Minnesota, ate lunch in Wisconsin, and had dinner in Chicago. It's insane to think that we have been in 4 states today, and not like when you're in Washington, DC where you can be in Maryland and Virginia and other border states, for example, but driving through fairly large states. We went from flat prairie land like home to many more lakes in Minnesota with also a number of pro-life billboards to lush, rolling and high, rocky hills in Wisconsin. What also distinguishes Wisconsin is all the signs for different cheese related things, cheese farms and stores and restaurants. It is the dairy province after all.

In terms of flora and fauna, I continued to see red-winged blackbirds and hawks as well as Brewers blackbirds. I also saw some kind of white herons, both in flight and in the water, and a type of brown bird that looks similar to sandpipers or plovers but hung out on the side of the highway, so I don't know what they were as they certainly weren't hanging out near any shores. Many parts of the highways in Wisconsin are also lined with what appear to be orange daylilies, blue flax, and Queen Anne's lace. It was hard to get photos of those as we were whizzing by at 70 mph (110 km/h) on the interstate,  but I have captured some of the flowers and rocks to give you an idea. I would recommend clicking on the photo so you can see the larger version of it to be able to make out some of the flowers. Unfortunately, due to the angle of the sun, the photo is a bit underexposed, and there isn't much you can do to fix that. 

What made the drive longer was all the road construction we encountered and congestion from right before hitting Madison, It really slowed things down, and of course stuff like that will always happen on the day when it`s your longest commute, right? Must be Murphy's law.

Chicago deep-dish pizza
We were pretty tired when we got here, but we we went out and tried some deep dish pizza at a place close to our hotel. It was pretty tasty. Now I want to try the restaurant at home and see if they actually make a decent Chicago deep-dish pizza, as the restaurant is called.

One thing I forgot to mention in my previous post was the number of Luthern churches in the area. I like observing these kinds of entities while travelling because it gives you an idea of the history of the region and who settled there. There German names on businesses and a Scandinavian heritage centre that we passed, all indicators that my assessment of the German (and as it turns out, Scandinavian) settlement here was correct, based on the existence of these churches. We actually also passed by a billboard advertising lefse, which is a Norwegian flatbread, for those of you that might not be familiar with it. There was just that one region around Rugby where there were English settlers, but a large portin of North Dakota and Minnesota appear to have mainly Germanic origins.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

North Dakota

Arcola Court House, photo courtesy of my husband
We drove a long way today, made about 30-60 minutes longer by our GPS deciding not to take us on the fastest route when we stopped at this town in Saskatchewan for a bathroom break. We were not amused, but we made it, and the border crossing was easy as well. Our detour caused us to see a really interesting place in Saskatchewan called Arcola, which was once a booming town shortly after becoming a province, and there was a beautiful old court house still standing that was completed in 1909.  Arcola never grew to become the city that the province believed it would, and the old court house has been used by businesses and continues to stand as a landmark in the town, if nothing else. But it's something we would not have seen if we had gone the way we originally thought, through Estevan.

The other thing that Iearned was how many oil wells are in southern Saskatchewan. I didn't realise that there was so much oil there. We saw well after well, lines of wells, all active!
Anyway, I can't actually say a lot about Fargo, where we are staying for the night, since it's really just a stopover for the night, but we did see a couple of interesting things. We drove through Rugby, which purports to have the site of the geographical centre of North America. When we stopped for gas near it, I looked up the background of this site, and the actual location based on other cartographic interpretation has the centre about 145 miles away from Rugby, but this site exists nonethless.
Rugby, ND, with the claim to the geographical centre of N. America

North Dakota looks pretty much the same as any prairie at home, but it seems to be dotted with more fireworks stores and pro-life billboards. We passed by a huge lake called Devils Lake, which looked like a great place for all kinds of recreational activities, including birding, which would be super fun for me. We also passed by this large processing plant called Crystal Sugar that I suspected made beet sugar, based on some of the crops that we had passed, and when I had a chance to look it up, I was right! I had thought they were potato plants at first, but given the size of that factory, I thought perhaps I was mistaking them for beets. I don't know why I find that interesting, but perhaps it's because I remember learning about sugar beet production in southern Alberta for Rogers when I was in elementary school, but I had never really seen anything related to that industry before now.
Anyway, we arrived in Fargo for the night, and we were pretty tired. We grabbed a bite to eat at the nearby Burger King as it was about 8:45 pm local time by the time we checked into our hotel and what not, and we walked back to the hotel to a beautiful evening sky with a crescent moon and cooler air than the 30C we had been driving in all day. Tomorrow is another long day of about 10 hours of driving, not including stoppage time. Surprisingly I am not as tired or stiff or cramped as I imagined Imight be. I'm no spring chicken these days, but the roads are so open, and much of the highway was divided, so it made for a beautiful drive--and having cruise control here is the key. There is no way this would be as fun if we had to press the gas pedal for these long driving days.
Hopefully this link will go live since the one I added yesterday did not. Otherwise just copy and paste into your browser until I can hyperlink them using a regular computer. https://photos.app.goo.gl/6dqLRrwQkuACJY8r6

Friday, August 2, 2019

On the Road Again

I don"t get to travel too often at the moment, so my travel blog seems like an archive. However, I still have plans to travel more in the future but get to go on a road trip this summer. This morning, my husband and I started out from home and made it to Regina, and we're headed to Ottawa, where he is working for a short stint. We decided we would drive there rather than fly and take our road trip through a few places in the US. I have done a trip like this before on a Greyhound bus, one summer when I was going into Grade 5, I think it was, and we could afford to fly, so my mom and brother and I went to visit my uncle in New York City. I have historically been a sturdy traveller, not prone to jet lag or motion sickness, but that time, I did get nauseated quite often because we were moving so much. It was a 3-day trip during which we only stopped to eat meals or switch buses and drivers. It was a beautiful way to see the country as we traversed the Trans-Canada highway from Regina to what I assume was Niagaray Falls since we crossed into Buffalo, NY, but it was hard to be moving so much in such a short space of time. I have often thought it would be neat to do a trip like that again but with my own vehicle when I have time to spare because then you can stop when and where you want.

This morning we left for Regina. I haven't been to Regina very likely since that trip to New York, so I didn't know that the trip was less flat and boring than I thought it would be. We had a lot of cloud cover and fog, but it made it feel like England from home until we reached the Battlefords, lots of moist air and lush landscapes, and then the sky cleared with hot sun for the rest of the day. We had a very relaxing drive, though it was a relatively long day.

After eating dinner at a decent but not too exciting Indo-Pakistani restaurant, we went for a walk. We are staying downtown and happened upon the federal buildings and a park around a large cenotaph in the middle. The buildings are beautiful, and it looks like Regina has done a better job of keeping alive its historical buildings than many other prairie cities I have seen. There are many buildings with traditional masonry carvings and giant Greco-Roman style pillars. It gives downtown a grandeur that I did not expect. Not sure if I will come back to visit Regina again just as a tourist, but I'm glad I got a chance to return here and see how lovely it is.

I have probably mentioned before that since Google no longer supports Picasa, I can no longer post albums in thumbnail form, so the link to my small photo album from this city will have to suffice.