28 August 2012

New-found-land of wonder

our first long distance vacation that was just for us, no visiting friends/family. havent done that in...forever.

we chose st johns newfoundland. thats st johns (with an "s"), not st john (which is in new brunswick)...seriously, its a common correction made of non-local atlantic canadians (i cant see why there would be such confusion...). st johns, the oldest city in north america, is the capital of the sparsely populated island (and its neighboring territory, labrador) and is just ahead of halifax for yucky yearly weather conditions. "of major canadian cities, st johns is the foggiest, snowiest, wettest, windiest, and most cloudy." makes you wanna book your flight right now eh? well, go in the summer, give yourself at least a few days so that you can encounter the sun and you will not be sorry, i promise. the people are nice as heck too. st johns is lovely (even gourmet magazine has shined a spotlight on it) and is actually like a mini san fransisco with its steep hills lined with angled, picturesque housing. and the rest of the island is ruggedly breathtaking (seriously, national geographic even took notice). its also so remote that until 1960 no one had discovered the site of an ancient viking village (the only evidence of viking settlement in north america) at the northernmost tip. clearly, the place is rich in history of which i am not really versed to explain, but it is fascinating.

(on sunday we did point B [petty harbour] and point C [cape spear]; on monday we did point E [torbay] and point F [portugal cove])

-note to self: saturday morning flights do not appear to be popular. the nearly empty airport was a breeze. at the airport and on the plane, anyone overhearing us woulda thought it was our first ever flight. i was excited (so much so that i couldnt sleep the night before) and curious and hopeful. we had mostly clear skies as we flew over eastern nova scotia, which confirmed to me that cape breton really does look like a beautiful place (but thats for another time).

as for porter airline (our first time using that carrier), the service was awesome. it got me thinking about airlines as a metaphor. on porter there is no first class seating (aka everyone is equal). everyone has leg room, a variety of free healthy snacks are offered, and we are served beverages in real glass cups! on the north american mega-conglomerate airlines, they clamber to wipe the asses of first class passengers...they get special lounges, priorities, services, food, seats, etc. and all those in economy getis  very low quality service. this huge disparity is still going on during a time when airline staff are being overworked and underpaid and the airlines are struggling to stay afloat. hmmm, how very interesting...

anyway, our first sights of southern newfoundland were of a nearly barren expanse. as we flew north to st johns it became more wooded and houses appeared. as we made the big turn toward land, we flew over beautiful clear blue/green water and plunging cliffs carpeted in rainbow vegetation (reds/purples/yellow/greens) from the top down to the water. and the buildings of st johns burst out from a blanket of green forest.

-once landed, we got our rental car and drove (sans highway) straight in to downtown for lunch. i dont think ive ever been able to land in a state/provinces major airport and drive only regular surface roads into its downtown. its that small. but oh so cute. the houses lining the residential streets are so cheerful and well-cared for and st johns major streets that are parallel to the water (harbour dr, water street, duckworth st, george st) are adorable and have much character. i suppose it benefits from being, all at once, in one spot, the social, business, tourist, and shopping centre of the town, and basically the whole regional area. in this way it actually felt like it had much more to offer in beauty and uniqueness as compared to halifax. halifax is just big enough to often feel like its spread too thin. the tourist, business, social, and shopping centres are all just far enough apart from each other to make things feel very fragmented and ugly at times.

-in downtown, we chose the bustling cafe/bakery on water street called "rocket". now why cant halifax have one of these places? such a cool atmosphere, and good menu. we got sandwiches and soup. 

-then we drove to our b&b. clinging to the cliff at the mouth of st johns harbour, the place was quite unique and a great scenic location. we were instantly and heartily greeted by all (this proved to be a bit overwhelming for X, and me frankly) and were invited to a short irish step dancing demo from a staff member. X thought it was too loud and needed to move further away, but once in a comfortable location, she loved it. she even befriended the woman. too cute.

(deck of our b&b)

-did a hike from our b&b around and up signal hill. such amazing views and weather. the cliffs at the mouth of the harbour are so rugged and beautiful. X actually hiked much of the trail (calling herself "fritz the sure-footed pony") and then we took a break for a snack. when we started ascending again, she napped in the carrier, conveniently skipping the brutal set of nine million stairs. at the top we woke her up to explore and we meandered down from cabot tower back to the b&b. we were tired!

(signal hill hike)

-went out for dinner at a place called "sprouts". such good, cheap vegetarian. there was a bit of a wait, but it was really great food. X recognized that some of our b&b people were dining there as well. dave was also able to try the local quidi vidi beer.

-back at the b&b...we were pooped! in our room, throughout the night we heard the music wafting across the water from george st (the party scene/pub street).

-did breakfast with the interesting b&b characters.

-drove from st johns to petty harbour (a cute coastal harbour village), and then we drove out to explore cape spear. this is the eastern-most point of canada (and north america for that matter). the location features a lighthouse, military battery, and (off-shore) its a popular whale feeding ground (we didnt see any though. boo). it was a nice day but the area was pretty barren so i wasnt as impressed as i had been with the beautiful st johns we had left that morning. also i was pretty exhausted due to the previous days hike.

-drove back through st johns and grabbed rocket for lunch again. back at the b&b it took forever to convince X to take the nap she so desperately needed (to bed an hour late the night before and up an hour early). after the nap, we finally ate our lunch takeout.

-explored the nearby quaint quidi vidi fishing village. the views at the mouth of their little harbour were great, some of the village buildings were cute and certainly their surrounding cliffs and scenery were awesome, and just over their hill was cabot tower (on top of signal hill) and the town of st johns. we actually could have hiked here from our trail the pervious day...if we'd had more energy.

(the mouth of quidi vidi harbour; throwing rocks)

-drove to the ings family house. dave had worked with steve and we met his wife suzanne and son wesley for the first time. a very nice and welcoming family, they had an impromptu dinner put together for us. X and wesley are both curious, reserved kids but they got along very well. it was interesting to see how go-with-the-flow wesley was. definitely no X! we had local sea trout for dinner. yum.

-breakfast and goodbyes at the b&b. they were a very welcoming, eclectic group.

-did the marine drive (north of st johns): torbay had lovely views from its beach. just past the road to bauline we stopped at duck pond to stretch our legs for a bit. and after seeing very few people for the whole of the morning, we stopped in portugal cove for lunch at beachy cove cafe which had spectacular views of the villages ferry (20 minute ride) to the impressive bell island (sheer cliffs rising out of the water!). we contemplated going, but the timing wouldnt have worked out well. for lunch we tried cod tongue scrunchions (salted pork cubes) as an appetizer. theyre interesting and mild, but i wouldnt get them again. the rest of our food was just "meh" (newfie food is notoriously heavy/fried and lacking in color) but the service was nice.

(fried cod tongue with scrunchions)

-X finally napped on the car ride back ("wake me up when we get to the park" zonk!) to the st johns area. we drove in to pippy park and did the fluvarium. the fluvarium offers an eye level/aquarium-style view of a real riverbed. while it was neat to see under a functioning river, X wasnt engaged for very long. so we played at the playground nearby and then wondered what to do with the rest of our time (about 2 hours).

-ended up having a shitty time on duckworth street. we parked and tried a handful of places on the block, looking for a cold drink, a treat, and shops to browse, but we failed in all respects. we came away with nothing but X diarrhea and a parking ticket. :(

-went to sobeys grocery store to get something for our dinner (which was going to be during our flight). at least we succeeded there.

-back to the airport a bit early (we were that bored and out of things to do)...but our flight was delayed. we played on the airport pirate ship and contented ourselves quite well. X wimpered a bit on the flight home because she was so tired, but the kid can fight sleep like a heavyweight champ. she finally relented to her enemy on the car ride home. she didnt even wake up when i lifted her from the car seat and deposited her in her bed. a first.

*we think future travels will be best served by renting a furnished apartment with kitchenette. its the best way to avoid the hotel feel and get a little uniqueness on vacation. b&bs can be great and unique and provide breakfast, but we still cant take charge of the rest of our meals. also, i cant stand leaving the vacation spot so late in the day (we left st johns at about 7p). its a good idea on paper but we always end up with the last few hours going...ummm, i dont know, what should we do, we dont have that much time left...ack. i think we can leave mid-afternoon (aka check out time plus the travel time to the airport) and still be quite happy.

**all three of us got a stomach bug to take home with us. :( nothing major, just a lingering mild stomach issue.

***link to the full album of our newfoundland trip.

20 August 2012

Goodbye parties for other job travellers

today we actually attended two goodbye parties for 4 people. the exodus has begun.

-party #1: A garden party at daves boss' place for goodbyes to carl (he took a faculty job at u of waterloo in ontario) and pauline (going back to france to start a phd at u de strasbourg). the party started at 2p and apparently went until 10:30p (we left at 6p)! damn, we cant be doing that when we host parties for daves future lab members in finland. anyway, it was supposed to be light snacks and wine in their backyard but they kept bringing out food and more food. X was initially hard to sell on the party idea, but once she got settled and chatty with people she really enjoyed herself. mid-party we took a break to change a diaper and to play with her toys in silence at home (across the street from the party), this turned out to be a great idea, and then we went back into the fray.

-party #2: we had enough time to regroup from party #1 at home before we launched over to a frisbee friends house for a goodbye party for a fellow ultimate player. he (donovan) is actually a scientist too, and just finished his phd and will be going to brisbane, australia (u of queensland) soon with his partner gwen. X was supposed to have other kids to play with at the party, but they were all exhausted and had to go to bed early, so she got to play by herself. it was nice to be at this party and see them off because id become acquainted with gwen over the last couple years when she would come to frisbee games and chat. they are a very nice couple. i cant believe how many different people we know who will be dispersed around the world. pretty neat.

19 August 2012

Five stars for camping fun

had our first solo camping trip this weekend. a gorgeous and fun little excursion!

since we had so much fun running in the mud flats at chris and beckys cottage weeks ago, dave had looked around for other areas of nova scotia with mud flats. what he found was a hearty recommendation for the five islands provincial park. this is on the bay of fundy so the mud flats are long and expansive at low tide. from the pictures on the website i wasnt quite sure what all the fuss was about, but i was fine with getting out to see a new area. the predicted weather was iffy (rain/storms possible) but we decided to take the chance since weve had so much crummy weather lately, maybe it would avoid us this weekend...and for the most part, it did. we had a great time!

(driving route: A is halifax, B is economy, C is parrsboro, D is five islands park)

-had breakfast in the car

-stopped at that dutchmans farm in ecomony. what an unexpected little find (the b&b lady from our PEI/joggins trip told us about the place). their cheese shop was okay, but they also had an animal park/nature trail area, so we did that. it was beautiful and lush and the animals were friendly and had comfortable looking habitats. the pigs were a highlight, and X liked the attention the turkeys gave to her with their loud gobbles. dave got some special attention from a goat and his tongue. and the emus creeped us out with their throaty drum noise. never heard that in my life.

-next we needed lunch. we tried to eat at mos in five islands...but it was closing. so we drove on to parrsboro and chose bare bones bistro for lunch. they had a great location (overlooking the towns inlet), friendly/helpful service, and great food for a good price. yum. dave had the fish n chips and i had a chicken wrap with a tasty lime/ginger sauce.

-we couldnt neglect the nearby fundy geological museum. it was very kid-friendly for how small it was. their big focus was on paleontology so it wasnt really a dave haven, but it was a worthwhile activity.

-headed to the five island park and our campsite. as we set up the tent, we heard thunder. hmmm. after the tent was up, we still couldnt determine whether the storm was going to get us, so we went down to the mud beach (it was 2 hours before low tide time [8p]). we had a great time, though its hard to capture in pictures. the mud flats were vast and impressive and we made it all the way down to the water and then hurried back to camp because of the ominous thunder. however, the rain/storm never arrived so that was good.


-made a fire to cook our dinner of hot dogs and marshmallows. the whole idea of hanging out at the campsite seemed to make X bored and antsy. either our inactivity or the newness of the experience seemed to make her frenzied so that she couldnt make up her mind what she wanted to do. i assume things will get easier for her as we do this more, and i do hope to do it more. one thing i hate right now though, is not having near enough of the right equipment or organization...though we cant acheive that in halifax, we should be able to in finland, so that will be where we perfect the camping packing. until then, we make do.

-woke up to the sound of bees buzzing (humming is more precise) overhead and a squirrel bitching at them.

-ate oatmeal at our campsite and then it started to sprinkle. we packed up the tent and went to the main bathrooms to clean up a bit before leaving.

-back to mud beach because it was just barely past low tide. we had even lower water levels on the beach this time. it was quite lucky our trip happened to afford good low tide times so that we could muck around twice on such a short trip. this time, we made it all the way down to a shallow rivulet of a channel and waded in with some crabs the size of Xs hand. when we saw the water was starting to slow and maybe change direction (what a weird thing to actually be able to see) we mudded back to shore and indeed saw the water levels rising from a distance, not that we were in danger. we also saw people clam digging.

that mud was such a glorious living expanse. in one slopping mud walk you could reunite with feelings of being a child again. when you left the parking lot and climbed down the little hill to the beach area you had to traverse many rocks (this hurt if you were barefoot!). then you arrived on sandy mud, which slowly gave way to being actual firm mud. a layer of slick slime started to coat the mud and make steps very treacherous (we saw several people skating as the most efficient means of motion in this section), and then you were in the ankle deep stuff. ribbons of mud would curl up through your toes. it was lovely. and the closer you got to the faraway water channels, the deeper you would sink into the mud (up to about mid-calf on occasion). the channels the tides had dug were fascinating to stand in at low tide. such a cool place in the world. and the scenery around the mud flats wasnt bad either: red cliffs, coastal forests, and five islands of various sizes off in the distance. the pictures didnt do it justice.

-once rinsed off, we drove toward home and stopped at the masstown market thinking it was a farmers market, but it was just a fancy grocery store. :( bummer to end the weekend on a lame note, but it happens sometimes.

*the blueberry festival was going on in the region too, but there didnt seem to be tons of visibility so it was hard to know what was going on where/when. we missed any of the real activities.

**im really loving nova scotia. of course this would happen now that we are leaving soon. im still not in love with halifax, but i do see that when the regional parks open in the late spring and the rural communities come to life, the people really do milk every nice day of their summer/fall. there is so much local beauty for them to choose from i guess they get the maximum dosage of their surrounding nature when they can and then hibernate all winter (or take advantage of the cheap caribbean packages offered when the winter is depressing them too much). i cant blame them. im just now getting their damn rhythm though. the good news is that i think finland works in much the same way, so we will just have to go with the flow there as well.

***picasa link to full weekend trip album

17 August 2012

Best birthday

had a wonderful birthday, maybe the best.

started the day with X singing the birthday song to me in bed. she then brought a birthday card in to me and a gift card for some spa time. shortly thereafter dave directed me to the fridge and allowed me to lift the foil on two unknown objects. they were pies! my favorite, key lime (our local grocery store randomly, actually, had some of those tiny limes!) and a gourmet looking blueberry pie that was X-friendly. dave had gone to the grocery store after X went to sleep and acquired ingredients for mysterious things, i knew this much. he had a "secret" bag that i was not to unpack and that he said he would dive in to once i went to bed. he ended up staying up until 3:30a (things took way longer than expected) to create these perfect pies. and i will say it was quite exotic to have groggy whiffs of what i thought were lemon crepes coming into the bedroom. and to top off the cooking bonanza, dave also made maple-glazed salmon with a vegetable risotto for dinner. nom nom.

(licking her plate after her first piece of blueberry pie)

above and beyond this, i feel like the loveliest gift was that of daves time. he worked from home today and stopped working early to grocery shop (we went with him) and make dinner. the gift of his time is the most precious gift i ever get from him. i feel more and more that way about gifts in general. often my time (in-person, or even on the phone) is the best gift i can offer someone else too, which makes me sound lame, i realize. but i hate shopping, guessing, spending, worrying, being hopeful and then wrapping too much up into that "getting a reaction" part of opening the gift. i care about you, i want to spend time with you, i make the time (if i possibly can). im not saying others need to view this as the best gift in the world...to be condescended upon by yours truly, her highness of awesomeness. no. its more like, i try my hardest to make it to important events, i try to carve out weekday or weekend nights for chats from all those who request, i try to make special time for people when we are in town, i try, and i still fail. but when i succeed, i hope that the person knows that even though i didnt bring a trinket or a bauble for them, that i care for them very much and i am giving as much as i can. and it goes both ways. time is always the gift i want (well food goes a long way too). i have more memories around these two simple (and sometimes not so simple) things, than of any sparkly thing or monetary gesture. however, im not ungrateful for anything ive gotten, nor do i turn my nose up at those who do not share my gift receiving/giving view, this is just what im finding makes me both most comfortable and excited in the gift-giving realm. so, thank you again to dave for all your efforts, and for your time. i can never get enough.

07 August 2012

Finland/moving updates

a few more pieces of the moving puzzle have come our way lately...

now that many people at the university of helsinki are back from their month-long summer vacation, dave was able to ask a few lingering questions weve had. new answers from the finland folk:
-they confirmed dave is not obligated to teach until the fall of 2013
-we get an ample sum of money to provide for our moving costs (shipping our things and the flight there)
-we will have a furnished apartment near campus for 2 months when we arrive (called töölö towers)
-we are planning to arrive in helsinki sometime around january 2

and, based on a meeting with daves halifax boss, chris, we also gained this information:
-dave wont go to AGU this year so that he can finish up the "science" for his second post-doc paper and be able to submit something for the EGU meeting (european geosciences union) in the spring in vienna, austria
-thus, we have to rethink when and how we get to michigan in early december. dave will now be with us the whole time we are there, which is a relief, but also requires a different plan
-we are still thinking that we will go from michigan to new york around christmas and leave from NYC to helsinki (because they have more flight options)

06 August 2012

Natal day weekend

it was a long holiday weekend, and while we didnt go anywhere, we made sure to get out and do a few fun things.

the holiday was natal day. i think only our county got the "holiday" off to celebrate halifax/dartmouth being founded or whatever. everyone treats it like a freebie summer holiday long weekend and boozes and bbqs it up without the usual obligations to travel far and wide for family or formal parties. people were buzzing about what they were going to do with their time off. we felt like we needed to get out and have a little fun ourselves.

saturday (8/4):
-dave and X took the ferry to dartmouth (i drove over the bridge)
-we attempted the mother goose festival, but the blaring sun, heat, and mega crowds soon got to us all. we retreated into the nearby dartmouth farmers market for some german, mexican and pakistani snacks.
-next stop: rainbow haven beach (we had been there before, one chilly march day). it was sunny and hot but the breeze and off-shore fog allowed me to stay comfortable. otherwise, it was crowded and the water wasnt very warm (in my and Xs opinion). X ran around in the spray and found a huge hole that some older boys were digging. they let us play in it for quite a while, and then we headed home. as we left we saw they were closing the gates to the beach because there were no more parking spots.


-we had a holiday weekend dinner of hot dogs, corn, and blueberry shortcakes. and topped the night off with fireworks on the waterfront. these were definitely the best weve seen since moving here (certainly better than the first natal day fireworks we saw). X certainly enjoyed them.

sunday (8/5):
-our adventure of the day was to attend an outdoor play. it worked really well. point pleasant park has a summer theatre company called "shakespeare by the sea", and their childrens theater offering this year was "alice in wonderland". the production takes place at a hilly old military fortifications spot toward the back of the park. so perfect. the audience size was just right and we timed it perfectly. we sat right down one row back from the front on the grass and they started immediately. much of the dialogue went over Xs head of course, but the silly antics, songs, funny characters, and general mood was intoxicating. i havent laughed that much in a while. X was a little irritated...told me to stop it a few times (i now understand how annoying that must have been when i said that to you as a kid mom). we only did Act I, but i think X got the idea of all the fun to be had, and future theatre adventures shall occur in the years to come.

monday (8/6):
-i got a holiday break, and dave and X went out to walk the macdonald bridge. closed to cars for the day, the bridge is 1.3 km and they had music acts stationed at the midway and end points. i hear they had a good time.