Wednesday 29 April 2015

Prince Edward Island

Oh how do I love thee Prince Edward Island! I have dreamed of your gilded shores since first reading Anne of Green Gables as a girl and despite your potential busloads of Anne-obsessed tourists I have longed to see you. Turns out, winter keeps the busloads away but does not diminish the joys of Prince Edward Island at all. Green Gables itself is closed, but you can go in guerrilla style (if the PEI Tourist Board calls, it wasn't me...) Unfortunately, the storm to end all storms was descending on Prince Edward Island when we were supposed to be there. After some anxious discussion about whether to cancel and go to Nova Scotia earlier, we decided instead to cut PEI short (so sad) so we had one night, then one day to cram every single PEI thing into before we fled the island in the afternoon. Good thing we did too, they were apparently digging themselves out for a week and we would have been completely stuck. Okay, so maybe that wouldn't have been such a bad thing except we had a schedule to stick to!

Sunday 26 April 2015

Quebec City

After the terrors of a very cold and snowy Montreal, we came up with a cunning plan. The only plan that tourists in a cold city can come up with. When walking around town, one must stop constantly for food. It's expensive, and hard on the waistline, but it's pretty much the only way you can linger indoors in warm places (art galleries and museums excepted - though they're not always warm). So I came up with a walking tour of Quebec City which included multiple coffee/ hot chocolate/ snack stops. Luckily, though it was still cold as a frozen-over version of hell, it was sunny in Quebec City when we were there too. I always think everything is easier to cope with when the sun is out, even the cold. Another advantage Quebec City has over Montreal is that Quebec Old Town is quite compact and easy to walk around, and most of what we wanted to see was in Quebec Old Town. Easy.

Thursday 23 April 2015

Photo Tips: Yosemite National Park

I'm by no means an expert on Yosemite, we spent a grand total of two days in Yosemite Valley but here are a few tips I can offer you.  If you want to read about what we actually did when we were there you can check out the blog here with lots more photos.

Early mornings and late evenings

Plan to get there (your photo location) at least 30 min before sunrise and to leave at least 30 min after as the light begins long before sunrise and finishes long after sunset.  It is also the time when the contrast between the sky and the land is lower so it fits within the cameras dynamic range better and when you get the best light on the clouds.  It is also worth noting that the gate western entrance gate is a long way from the Yosemite Valley and the road is quite slow and windy which adds to your drive time (probably in the dark).

El Capitan and Half Dome from Tunnel View Lookout well after the sun had set

Off to the East Coast: Kingston and Montreal

And so, since there was no way to top Disneyland, we got on a plane and left the West Coast behind, headed for the second leg of the trip - the East Coast.

Removing a whole lot of powder from the car in Montreal
Stay tuned for - cold weather in Montreal and Quebec City, wintery chaos on Prince Edward Island and in Halifax, snow banks as tall as me in Boston and slush in New York. Yes, all the snow that they didn't have in California, they were apparently storing for us out East. When we picked up our rental car at Toronto Airport, there was a snow scraper included. We soon appreciated that little piece of thoughtfulness!

Thursday 16 April 2015


I love Disneyland. Seriously. Huge, heart palpitating, pupils dilating love (no, I'm not on any illegal drugs, why do you ask?). Just for the record, this does not mean that I forgive Disney for their gender politics or their physical representations of women. But Disneyland!

Will was not by any means convinced that Disneyland was a good idea. However, it was close enough to my birthday to make going my gift from him so away we went. As it was winter, there was a lot of maintenance going on, so a number of the big name rides were closed - no It's a Small World, no Splash Mountain, no Matterhorn Bobsleds. Other rides were out of the question because I get ridiculously motion sick (which would make you question my desire to go to amusement parks...) so no Mad Hatter's Tea Party (I can't even watch that one) though I unwisely went on the Star Wars Tour and Space Mountain and needed a good, long, quiet sit down after each of those.

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Death Valley

So death valley wasn't really on our radar until I got talking to a guy while stuck in traffic in an Arizona snow storm.  He said it was the highlight of his trip so we did a google image search and it quickly made our list.

Aside from the dramatic scenery Death Valley is known for being a hot (like very hot), dry, stark place that people seem to like going running in.  By the time we were there in late Jan or early Feb it was not too hot, not too dry and in places there was even snow on the mountain peaks (even although we weren't far from the uncommonly snow free Yosemite).  The valleys and mountains that make up the area are spectacular, particularly in when the weather is doing cool things like busting out some rainbows.


Monday 13 April 2015

Big Sur

A real live otter in the wild!
Like 99.95% of the world's population, I think otters are awesome (the other 0.05% have problems bigger than I can help them with). So one of my big aims when we drove the Big Sur was to see real, live, wild otters.

In service of this aim, we started our Big Sur trip with a drive to a small marine reserve called Point Lobos. It, like the rest of the Big Sur, is gorgeous. Dramatic cliffs and rocks rising out of an azure sea and all that. You will be able to see that in the photos. What you can't see in the photos is that Point Lobos smelled freaking amazing. I have no idea what it was. I tried to make my fervent sniffing as subtle as possible. A lovely place to linger. There were lots of sea birds including some truly ugly brown pelicans (Will objects to my calling them ugly. They look much prettier in his photos) and egrets that stood on the top of the kelp out at sea, so they looked like they were walking on water. As we were watching the sky turn all sorts of spectacular colours, we saw an otter! He was just chilling in the ocean, fluffing his fur, twisting and turning in the ocean, generally looking like he was having a good time.

Friday 10 April 2015

San Francisco in a Day

We had a flying visit to San Fran as we realised that we had way too much to pack into our last week out west. A visit to Death Valley (post to arrive soon) came highly recommended so we decided to make time.

San Francisco is a nice city of steep hills with cool houses and the need for mad parking skills but we didn't really know what to do with our one day as tourists. A bit of research showed up Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf, Lombard St and the Golden Gate, so we formulated a plan.

Alcatraz was actually pretty cool. I was a little skeptical but the stories were interesting and I think I got some cool industrial detail photos that I wouldn't normally go looking for. Jackie obviously loves the whole morbid history of the place.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Yosemite National Park

View of El Capitan as you enter the Yosemite Valley
I think when we were planning this trip, I had Yosemite and Yellowstone kind of confused in my head (they both start with Y, okay?) so I didn't really know what to expect from them. Turns out they're different places!

We were rather hoping for snow, since seeing the national parks in winter was kind of the point, but California was having a warm spell, so no snow for us. There was a plus side to this, since there were extremely confusing and ambiguous online rules about having snow chains on your tyres to enter the park - and you can't put snow chains on a hire car. On the down side however, given we were there on a weekend, that everyone in San Fransisco had decamped for Yosemite. We saw some interesting tourist behaviour, like a guy who, having had a friend take about 300 photos of him in front of the same bit of rock, took his shirt off to get a further 300 photos in front of the same rock, only this time with no shirt on, and a mother who pushed her perhaps 8-year-old daughter ever closer to a clearly nervous fully grown male deer, stacked to the rafters with antlers, so she could get a good photo. Hmmm. It's moments like that you really wish you weren't a 'tourist' because it's a word that puts you into a group with some serious idiots.