Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Last stop in North America

Downtown Kingston as seen from Fort Henry
We took a train to Kingston, Ontario, where we spent six days with Les' sister Mary. Kingston is a historic place (the first capital of the province of Canada), and had some interesting sights: Fort Henry, Royal Military College, Marine Museum of the Great Lakes, locks on the Rideau Canal that connects Lake Ontario with Ottawa, Penitentiary Museum, Queen's University, farmers market, ferry to a nearby island. One day we drove to Gananoque and Charleston Lake, stopping on the way for the Military Communications and Electronics Museum and the MacLachlan Woodworking Museum.

When we travel I always use HappyCow to find vegan/vegetarian restaurants, and it didn't fail in Kingston, where we found two nice places downtown. One of Les' favorite stops was the Kingston Olive Oil Co., with hundreds of samples of oils and vinegars. I took advantage of my last chance for cooking, which I know I'll miss over the next few months.

We had a wonderful lunch at The Sleepless Goat
Mary has a puppy named Paddington, a mixture of Bichon Frise and Shih Tzu. At first I was wary of him, as I always am with new dogs, but Paddington won me over through the course of the week.

Our days were sometimes jam-packed, with lots of city walking and sightseeing, other times very relaxing with Mary and Paddington. We next went by bus back to Toronto, to spend a couple of days with Judy B., who's been a good friend since our Cornell days 48 years ago. We went to Black Creek Pioneer Village, where we used to bring David and Julie when they were toddlers and we lived in Toronto, and we poked around the University of Toronto campus.

They were filming Anne of Green Gables at Black Creek Pioneer Village
But mostly we lazed away our last days in North America. We closed a loop by eating lunch at the restaurant that the Esperanto group ate at 11 days ago, a meal we missed due to the train accident. It was so hot that we ate on the patio—our first sidewalk dining this year. And Judy introduced us to laffa, similar to pita, and yummy with falafel, eggplant, coleslaw, and other fillings. As a bonus, Judy showed me the easy way to peel an orange; I can't believe the stupid way I've been doing it all my life.

Tonight we'll fly to Glasgow, via Reykjavik, to begin our European adventures.

Monday, May 18, 2015


We've spent the last six days in Ontario. We flew from Minneapolis to Detroit on Spirit Airlines, for which we have high praise. We took a shuttle van across the border to Windsor, where we rented a car for two days in order to get to Point Pelee. This is the most southern point of Canada, and a famous birding area.

Point Pelee, the southernmost point in Canada; Lake Erie in the background
It was spring migration season, with hordes of birders searching the treetops and beaches, carrying humongous scopes and cameras. With not even a pair of binoculars (can't spare the weight), and not much ability in identifying by sound, we didn't get to see any "new" species or anything, but enjoyed the variety of terrain on several trails, with ten or so different species chattering in the background. We drove many back roads in the area, a pretty farming region between Lake Erie and Lake St. Claire.

The Toronto skyline, as seen from Toronto Island
Our train ride to Toronto turned out to be eventful. After four hours, and with only 10 kilometers to go (in Canada now, need to use the metric system), our train hit and killed a pedestrian. I just felt some bumps, but Les sensed immediately what had happened. By law, the train had to stay put until a police investigation was complete. After two hours, several buses appeared, and the passengers were evacuated from the train to complete the journey by bus.

We were therefore late to MeKaRo, the Mez-Kanada Renkontiĝo: a 3-day Esperanto event held every year in either Ontario or Quebec.

We played a getting-acquainted game the first evening at MeKaRo
One of several walking tours with fellow Esperanto speakers
The thrust of MeKaRo is always tourism in the city where it's held. We checked into our dorm, and hurried to catch up with our group doing a walking tour of ethnic neighborhoods of Toronto. Other days we had a tour of Roundhouse Park (Toronto's rail history center, which Les of course loved), took a ferry to Toronto Island where a guide led us in an old lighthouse, and had a tour of the provincial parliament (Toronto is the capital of Ontario). MeKaRo is geared to the younger generation; the first day's events went until midnight, but we didn't last that long, and the next day we reluctantly passed up the late evening "haunted tour of Toronto" because we were just too tired from already walking about eight city miles. We ate all our meals together in various restaurants.

We had special permission to climb to the top of this lighthouse
The provincial parliament building is very impressive
Though visiting the sights was fun, the best part—as is always true at Esperanto events—was seeing old friends and meeting new people. A record sixty-one participants, from age 3 (yes, a good speaker already) to over 80, and from Ontario, Quebec, and several parts of the U.S. About a third were French speakers, but that was irrelevant as we all spoke Esperanto.

Tomorrow we'll take a train to Kingston, Ontario, and hopefully the ride will not be as memorable as the last one. :-(

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


This is our last night in Minnesota, and we've had a wonderful time here. We stayed at a nice old hotel in St. Paul for the first three nights. We got to know the light rail and bus system very well, using it to see the Minnesota History Center, the U of M campus, farmers market, Stone Arch Bridge, and other attractions in both St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Weisman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota campus
Biggest disappointment of the trip so far (for Les, anyway): finding out about Extreme Sandbox, where you can operate full-size earth-moving equipment, and then discovering that it's open Wed.-Sat., but we were only available Sun., Mon., and Tues. Bummer!

Paddling on the Mississippi River
With Les' cousin Madeleine and her husband Dave, we paddled in their kayak and canoe on the Mississippi River; I'm embarrassed to admit that we hadn't even realized beforehand that the Mississippi came this far north.

Stillwater's lift bridge across the St. Croix River
The Elephant Walk B&B is filled with art objects from Thailand
Then we rented a car and drove to Stillwater, where we're staying at the wonderful Elephant Walk B&B. Host Rita makes beautiful and delicious four-course breakfasts, so filling that lunch is not necessary. We explored a lot of the St. Croix Scenic Byway, which follows the river that forms the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Actually, Les fell in love with Osceola, a small town on the Wisconsin side with a Mayberry feel to it and a historic railroad operation. It was sometimes cold enough that I wore everything I could find from my small bag to supplement my summery clothing: long underwear, lightweight nylon rain jacket and overpants, fleece cap, and knit gloves.

Les fell in love with Osceola, a small town in Wisconsin
Dave & Madeleine's "barn" houses 24 canoes and kayaks
Dave took us to Interstate Park with its amazing glacial potholes. Also amazing is Dave's "barn" (a large, garage-like structure), filled with boats. Dave and Mad live on a lake, one of the state's 10,000; we saw only 25 or so. Dave prepared his North Canoe, which can be paddled by up to ten people, and we towed it to a boat launch on the St. Croix River. Then we had a potluck nearby with some other paddlers, a wonderful group, and after a couple of hours the consensus was that—since it was drizzly and cold—we'd all rather keep partying. We'll save the huge canoe for next time we visit the area, along with Extreme Sandbox. :-)

Trees grow out of the rocks at Interstate Park
Tomorrow we fly to Detroit, take a shuttle van south(!) to Windsor, Ontario, where we'll start the next phase of our adventure.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

We're on our way!

We closed up the Pied-a-Mer and started our big trip today. Our first destination? West Seattle! Yes, the first leg of our journey was just a ten-mile bus ride. This may be the best decision we've made so far. Our flight to Minneapolis doesn't leave until tomorrow morning, but we were anxious to get started and this made for a much more relaxed departure from the houseboat. We're spending our first night with friends in West Seattle, who treated us to a wonderful dinner, and we had a fun game of Scrabble.

All packed and ready to go

Locking up the boat

Our good friends at the dock gave us a warm send-off
Before we left, several friends had us over for a  meal, and my hiking group gave Les and me a wonderful going-away party. One of the Trekkers wrote this poem for the occasion:
Your bags are all packed.
Your belongings are stacked.
Round the world you will go
Speaking Esperanto.
Just be sure, very sure to come back.
Yesterday we took our car to a friend's place in Bellevue and left it in her garage. We disconnected the battery and put fuel stabilizer in the gas tank. When we went to lock the doors with our remote, we were surprised that it didn't work. Duh, we had disconnected the car's battery, right?

Today we prepared the Pied-a-Mer for leaving it unoccupied for the next four and a half months. We turned off the heat, disconnected the water, shut off the propane, turned off the fridge after giving away all our unused food, serviced the composting toilet, and removed batteries from the smoke alarms (so a possible low battery alarm wouldn't annoy the neighbors).

The end of our first day, as seen from our friends' house in West Seattle:
the sun setting behind the Olympics in the background, Bremerton ferry in the foreground.
We're looking forward to the days, weeks, and months to come. If you'd like to be notified of future blog articles, sign up in the sidebar to the right. This sidebar also has links to archived articles, and a link to our itinerary. Send me an email if you have trouble getting these features to work.