Atlantic Canada: Quebec and Ottawa

Looking up at Chateau Frontenac from Lower Town

Sept 30 – Oct 6
Quebec City, Quebec and Ottawa, Ontario

The end of our trip was not technically in Atlantic Canada as we spent our last six days in Quebec City and Ottawa, Ontario, but I’m going to stick with my heading anyway. 🙂

Sept 30 – Today we drove about 2 1/2 hours to the town of Montmagny, Quebec, about an hour outside of Quebec City.  We decided it would be easier if we weren’t rushed trying to make a certain time when dropping off the rental car in a large city, and this would allow us time to reorganize, tidy up the car, and find the downtown rental office before 11am.

We left Edmunston NB around 10 am and soon crossed the border into the province of Quebec. It was cool and foggy when we left but gradually the fogged lifted and the blue sky was revealed. When we reached the St Lawrence River, near Riviere-de-Loup, we turned west and drove along quiet side roads rather than the highway, so we could enjoy the rural area along the southern shore of the St Lawrence River.  Sometimes referred to as The Navigator’s Route, this area includes some of the oldest settlements in Canada, dating back to the early 1600’s.

All along the route, there were parks, information centres and museums, pretty towns, rolling farms, and lovely views of the river estuary. We made many stops along the way, including lunch at a riverside picnic site.  There, we took pictures of the boats in the receding tide, and the flocks of sea birds.

We arrived at our hotel in Montmagny and checked out the town, and then spent a little time unloading and reorganizing all of our stuff so we would be ready for the car drop off the next day. It was our last day with our little Fiat 500 and I would miss it!

We had our rental car for 3 weeks, drove 4560km in 72.3 hours, and spent $296 on gas. That’s 560km further than I had expected but we spent $100 less on fuel than planned so I was happy. Gas is cheaper in Atlantic Canada than out west.  The cheapest was about 97 cents/litre and the most expensive was $1.10 on Cape Breton Island.

Oct 1 – Today we had a quick breakfast and then drove an hour into the heart of Quebec City, filled up gas, dropped off the car, and walked a few blocks to our hotel where we still stay the next three nights.

Quebec City is expensive so I’m glad we were able to find some less expensive places to stay on this trip to offset the cost of the city. Of course we would have loved to have stayed at the Chateau Frontenac but $800 for a double is a bit over our budget. As it was, we had to pay $160/night, tax included, for the Hotel Acadia.

Our first stop was at our quaint little boutique hotel which was well located within the walls of Old Quebec and walking distance to everything. It was too early to check in so we dropped off our bags, took a load of laundry to a laundromat down the road, and then had a leisurely lunch at a small bistro nearby.

Since we had a fridge in our room, we picked up some ham and cheese and buns at a market and made a sandwiches in our room that evening, because we didn’t feel like going out for a big meal.

Oct 2 – It was supposed to rain today but it turned out to be warm and sunny right up until dinner time. Because it was so nice out, we decided to do outdoor stuff and we had a great time visiting the Plains of Abraham park area. My 5G grandfather, Henry Goldrup, fought for the British on at the Siege of Quebec on Sept 13, 1759. It was cool to stand on the battle field and imagine what it might have been like 250 years ago.The park is very large, with beautiful grounds and trees all in a pretty show of colour.  There are a few roads that loop around so you can drive through the park if you want, but it was within easy walking distance to our hotel so we just wandered on our own.

We visited some of the major sites and monuments and just took is easy. Tomorrow we plan to go to the Plains of Abraham Museum and perhaps take a tour of the Old Quebec ramparts that surround the city.

Oct 3 – Today was a sunny but very windy day. In the morning we went to the Plains of Abraham Museum where we watched a video and looked at displays that explained the Seven Years War and the Siege of Quebec. Most of it was pretty interesting but the video could be improved and the $12 price was a bit steep for what you get. Still, I’m glad we went, since the family connection made it all seem more worthwhile.

Afterwards we went back to the hotel to regroup then we walked down a long steep staircase to the Lower Town where we looked for, and found, the site of a pub called the Sign of the Bell, which was owned by Henry Goldrup in the late 1760’s.  It was here that he lived with his French wife, Jane, and their two small children. In 1768, he sold the pub and the family got on a ship bound for PEI, where he died in the harbour as you may recall in my PEI blog post

The current building at that addresss was built in 1880, so Henry’s pub and home is long gone, but I did enjoy walking down the Rue du Petit Champlain and imagining them living there so long ago. Although the street is now packed with trendy little shops and restaurants, they’ve kept the historical feel. We stopped at Cochon Dingue (Crazy Pig) for a delicious bowl of French Onion Soup and then carried on our way.

The Queen Mary ll was in port today and what a massive ship it was. It absolutely dwarfed the other cruise ships docked nearby. We walked up and got a close look. It has 1200 crew and 3000+ passengers, most of whom were packing the streets to shop, eat, and take pictures. I KNOW I’m a tourist too but ugh – the downside of visiting Quebec City is the onslaught of cruise ship passengers. Le sigh.

We were too late and too tired to do the Fortifications Rampart Tour at 2:30, and it was chilly and windy despite the sunshine, so we headed back home around 3:30 and relaxed until dinner.  We chose to eat at Chez Murphy’s, a French-Irish pub that had live music and decent good.  We found a table close to the musicians, and chatted with a couple of fellow tourists are our table.  Lots of fun!

Oct 4 – Today we had a leisurely morning, visited the Chateau Frontenac, and then packed up and walked  15 minutes or so to the station to catch our 1pm train to Ottawa.

I’ve really enjoyed Quebec City and we didn’t have enough time to see everything we wanted to see, but it’s an expensive place (hotels, restaurants etc) and there are too many cruise ship tourists. I can’t imagine what it must be like in the summer.

We had reserved seats and checked baggage on the train so there was no stress to get on, and as usual, we gave ourselves plenty of time. The train was comfortable and so much roomier than flying and less stressful than driving. However the wifi sucked (it automatically slowed once you used 75mb which for me is nothing) and the food was awful. We were near the back of the last car of five and it took about 90 minutes for the food cart to reach us and of course by that time, there was very little left. I had an awful egg salad sandwich on dry bread (no butter or mayo) and I think was made with eggs mashed with a little water to moisten them. Seriously. It also had a piece of very limp lettuce. Luckily I had some packets of salt and pepper in my purse and so that added the only flavor. Erik had a ham sandwich on gluten free bread which he thought was ok. If I was to take the train again, I would take my own food.

We arrived in Ottawa at 7pm and took a taxi to our B&B then walked to a grocery store and got some pasta and bread for dinner.  Our room has a kitchenette with fridge and microwave and that certainly is nice once in awhile, plus it saves a lot of money.

We are supposed to be close to the Byward Market part of town – not sure exactly what that is but I guess we’ll find out tomorrow when it is light out. We did notice that every restaurant in the area is ethnic food – Ethiopian, Lebanese, Chinese, Indian and much much more.

Tomorrow we will check out the town and hopefully go to Parliament and watch Question Period at 2pm. Should be interesting!

It is supposed to be sunny and warm while we are here. 20-22C.

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Oct 5 – Today we had a bit of a slow start because I didn’t sleep well and I was tired, but once we got going, we had a great day.

We caught the city bus down to Parliament Hill and found out we were too late to get tickets for a tour – I guess you have to get there by 9am and get in the lineup. Boo hoo. Then we found out we could possibility get a seat for watch Question Period in the House of Commons. We hung out in front of the parliament building for an hour or so, just watching for politicians (we saw lots but only recognized Catherine McKenna for sure) and admiring the beautiful buildings (did you know there are two more huge buildings, one on either side of the famous parliament building we always see in the photos? I didn’t.)

Since it was noon on a Wednesday, there were several hundred people doing yoga on the lawn as well as various protesters.

The other good thing about Wednesdays is that they have caucus meetings in the morning so almost everyone actually attends Question Period. In addition, they had several important votes today as well so there was lots going on.

Question Period started at 2 and we were told to get in the line up around 1:30 but it was already getting pretty full at 1:00 so we checked our backpacks at the storage place and got into line early.

Just for fun, I got on Twitter and found our local MP, Stephen Fuhr, and asked him if he was going to be in the House of Commons today for Question Period. I thought maybe if he responded, he might be able to ensure we got into the gallery but he didn’t see my tweet in time. Luckily, we made it in around 2:20 after having my purse searched twice, going through two baggage X-ray screenings and walking through two metal detectors. And after all that, they still took everything we had and kept it while we were in the gallery. I’m glad they are so thorough to keep everyone safe.

Question Period was interesting and I could have watched them all afternoon but they only let us stay about 30 minutes and then they had to start clearing the gallery as QP ended. We were the first to be moved out and so we were able to go up to the top of the Peace Tower and the Memorial Room while nobody else was in line!

That was all we were allowed to see without having a tour ticket so we sat out on the lawn for a little while and then found a pub close by – The D’arcy McGee – and had some late lunch / early dinner. I checked my phone and saw that Stephen Fuhr had replied to my tweet saying he had been at QP and was sorry he hadn’t seen my message earlier. On a whim, I tweeted back and asked him to come over to the pub and we’d buy him a beer.

Amazingly, he came over, although he stuck with water because he only had an hour before he had to get back for the votes. We had a great time picking his brain about government and politics in general. He was a really nice guy and spent at least 45 minutes talking with us. Well done Mr Fuhr!

We caught the bus back to our B&B around 6:30 and planned to relax for the rest of the evening. We have part of the day tomorrow to see something else and then we have to be at airport by 5pm to catch our plane home. I’ve had a super time but I am REALLY looking forward to being home.

Oct 6 –  In the morning we checked out of the B&B, took the city bus back downtown, and left our suitcases at the free storage for people visiting the parliament buildings. Pro Tip: you aren’t supposed to do this unless you actually have tickets to visit parliament – which we didn’t – but we didn’t know that and the lady kindly turned a blind eye and so we got to leave our suitcases. The ticket/storage building is right across the street from the parliament buildings.

We hung out downtown for most of the day, wandered around the Byward Market area and also checked out the locks on the Rideau Canal until it was time to head to the airport.

At 3:30 we picked up our bags and caught Bus 97 to the airport (30 min). We had a very bumpy 5 1/2 hour flight to Vancouver, probably one of the scariest flights I’ve ever been on.  It was pouring rain when we arrived at YVR and there was a rain and wind warning so our 11pm flight ended up being also 2 hours late.  We were pretty tired by the time we got home.

Other than that, we had a super trip, and I absolutely loved seeing another part of my own country, as an adult.  Travelling to Europe, or to southern sunny destinations, is always exciting, but I really think that at some point, we all need to see other part so of our own countries to truly understand its history and culture. Canada is indeed a unique, diverse, and beautiful land and I am truly blessed to live here.

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Atlantic Canada: New Brunswick

Handmade Quilt depicting Grand Falls, NB

We didn’t have as much time to visit New Brunswick as I would have liked but we did manage to see quite a few of the major sights with the exception of driving along the eastern coastline which I believe is very beautiful. We visited the Hopewell Rocks, the Tidal Bore, the Reversing Falls, and the famous Magnetic Hill.  We also visited the major cities of Moncton, Saint John, and Fredericton, and drove along the Saint John River in full autumn colour.

New Brunswick – Sept 26-29

Sept 26 – Today we packed up and drove across the 13 km long  Confederation Bridge that connects PEI to New Brunswick. The sides are pretty high but you can just barely see over. It costs $46.50 to take a passenger vehicle but interestingly enough, you can pay an extra $40 to have someone drive you and your car across the bridge if you are apprehensive.  Seems pretty odd to me, but hey, I guess that some people might be nervous to drive over the ocean?

All along the highway in NB there were warning signs to watch for moose but sadly, we never saw one.  We made our way to the Hopewell Rocks on the Bay of Fundy, a long funnel-shaped inlet that boasts some of the highest tides in the world. At the park, you will pay $10 for a 24 hour ticket that allows you to come and go as many times as you like and enables to you see the rocks at both high and low tides. It’s a 10-15 minute walk through the forest down to the ocean, although for an additional fee, you can take a shuttle bus down as well. Be sure to check the tide tables on the site link above before you go, to best plan your visit, especially if you are not staying nearby overnight (high and low tides are usually about 12 hours apart).

The tide was out quite far when we arrived, so we were able to walk out amongst the rocks and take lots of photos. I look forward to looking at pictures of this area from the 1970’s when we visited as kids and see how much has eroded away in 40+ years.

For the next two nights, we are staying at another Victorian era B&B, in the community of Riverside, about 15-20 minute drive from the rocks.  I love these wonderful old homes – they are always so well maintained and decorated.  As there were no restaurants nearby, we drove a half hour or so into nearby town of Alma and found great seafood for dinner.

Sep 27 – This morning, we visited the Hopewell Rocks again, this time at high tide and it was amazing to see the difference.  We took more photos to compare to our low tide pics from yesterday.  I’ll post a few shots below.  We also spent time at the interpretive centre which was excellent.  There was a restaurant at the park and they had a 70 year old lobster than weighed 10 lbs.  The cook said that every once in awhile, the fishermen will catch a huge one and bring it in, and they will keep it in the tank for a few days to show people.  I’m not sure if they killed eat it later or put it  back in the ocean, but I’m going to go with the latter. 😉

In the late afternoon, we drove back into Moncton to see the Magnetic Hill, which is an optical illusion that makes it looks like you are rolling uphill, when you are actually rolling downhill.  It’s pretty touristy and I remembered seeing it as a kid.  It wasn’t on the top on my list of things to do, but Erik had never been here and we had time to kill so we figured why not?  We were lucky that we arrived after 5pm as it turned out that the ticket office was closed and there was nobody else around so we were able to go up and down the hill a couple of times for free. There’s also a zoo and some other attractions to spend your money on if you have kids with you.

Back in Moncton, we found a great brew house pub and had dinner, and then we had about an hour to hang out and wait for 8:20pm to watch the tidal bore come up the Petacodiac River.  Because of the way the Bay of Fundy is formed, with the bay narrowing as it gets closer to the river, the tide tends to “pile up” as it enters the bay and instead of a gradual slow rising of the tide, you can actually see it come in as a small wave. Depending on where you view it – and there are many places in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to see the tidal bore – the wave can be more or less dramatic.  I don’t find it particularly exciting, especially in the dark, but again we had nothing better to do so we waited and watched.  (You can google “tidal bore” on youtube and see videos of it.  There’s even one video someone took of people ‘surfing’ the wave.)

It was dark and cold and a little windy down by the river so we sat in our parked car until about 20 minutes to the predicted wave arrival (again, check the tide tables before you go) but luckily it came about 5-10 minutes early so we didn’t have to hang out too long. We didn’t have high expectations so we weren’t disappointed as we waited with a half dozen other foolish tourists, for the massive one foot wave to pass by in the dark. It was all over with in a couple of minutes. Still, mother earth is amazing and it is kind of interesting to see.

They say it’s been a late fall this year, but every day the leaves turn a little more. I really hope we see some brilliant colour before we go home!

Sept 28 – Today we drove a couple hours to the city of Saint John, on our way to Fredericton, to see the Reversing Rapids, another tidal phenomena of the area.  At high tide, the ocean is pushing the Saint John River way back and doesn’t allow it to flow out to sea. The water builds up as the tide rises. Then when the tide begins to recede, it takes about 20 minutes for the pressure to equalize and during that time, the flow calms and seems not to move. Then slowly, the river begins moving back towards the sea, the water level drops, and the river rapids appear. We happened to arrive very close to the change, and so we spent more than an hour watching the amazing change. I won’t post any photos because the pictures don’t really show much.  I suggest you check out the link above or look on youtube and watch videos of the falls in order to see the true effect.

After lunch, we continued our drive about an hour and arrived at another beautiful old B&B in Fredericton, the capital city of New Brunswick.  We had dinner at a nearby pub and relaxed at our B&B for the evening.

Sept 29 – Today was another traveling day. We picked up some snack food for a picnic lunch and headed to Edmunston, about 3 hour drive, with lots of stops along the way. The colours are getting brighter so we stopped quite a few times to take pictures. The drive along the St John river was really pretty. We took the scenic route 102 for quite awhile and then got onto the Transcanada Highway for the rest of the trip. There was definitely more fall colour so we really enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

We stopped in Hartland to see the world’s longest covered bridge and ate our lunch at a picnic site next to the bridge. Further down the highway, we stopped in Grand Falls and took some pics of the amazing gorge and waterfalls by the dam. They had an interesting interpretive centre as well.

We are staying at a motel tonight and picked up pizza and wine for supper. Tomorrow we head to Quebec and we have booked a hotel an hour out of the city so we can easily drop off the car the next morning. It was a beautiful day today – mostly sunny and 13-14C.

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Here’s a link to a zoomable map of drive through New Brunswick.  The blue markers show the date we stayed overnight, and the red markers show the date we visited sights.

Next up – Quebec City and Ottawa!

Atlantic Canada: PEI

14390883_10155163583314989_3462003092249729522_nPrince Edward Island may be Canada’s smallest province but it has a special place in my heart.  I love the rolling farmland, the red soil, and the beautiful beaches (they say when you are on PEI, you are never more than 25 miles from the ocean), but more than that, I feel a special closeness because my ancestors were among the first British inhabitants in the late 1750’s. I guess it’s not surprising that I was so excited to be able to visit some of the places where they had lived 250 years ago.

Like the rest of North America, PEI had been inhabited by aboriginal people for thousands of years, in this case the Mi’kmaq, before the white man came and messed up their lives. The French were the first to arrive  in the 1600’s and they named the island Île Saint-Jean. Their descendents were called Acadians and many of them were Métis (the children of French settlers and aboriginal wives).  During the Acadian expulsion (see my previous post of more information), many Acadians from other parts of the Maritimes came to PEI as refugees.  But once the British captured the island, most Acadians refused to show allegiance to Britain and were eventually exiled as well.  The British called the new colony “St John’s Island” in 1769 and then finally renamed it Prince Edward Island in 1798.

After the expulsion, the British were anxious to settle the land and so they brought in ex-British soldiers and other settlers to farm there with their families.  Two of my 5G grandparents were among the original British settlers.  Henry Goldrup, who I wrote about in my previous post about Nova Scotia, had met and married a young French Canadian woman, Jane, in Quebec City after the end of the Seven Years War in 1759.  They lived in Quebec City and had two children, John and Charlotte, until they moved to PEI in 1768.  Sadly, Henry drowned as they were unloading the ship in the Crapaud Harbour, and so his wife soon married Captain William Warren,  and they settled in Tryon, PEI.  Together they had many more children in addition to Jane’s two youngsters.

Around the same time, John and Elizabeth Lord, and their three young children – John Jr, Nancy, and Fanny – arrived from England, and settled in Tryon as well.  John Lord and Capt William Warren were two members of the first Legislative Assembly of PEI in 1773, almost 100 years before Canada became a country.  John Lord was a Justice of the Peace and William Warren was a very successful boat builder and both men played important roles in the building of early PEI.

In 1787, their children, John Lord Jr and Charlotte Goldrup, were married and they were my 4G Grandparents. Are you totally confused yet? Well that’s it for the history lesson, here’s a bit more about our actual trip. 🙂

Sept 20-25 – North Rustico, PEI

There are two ways to get to PEI by car – one is to take the Confederation Bridge and the other is to take the ferry.  We decided to arrive by ferry and leave by the bridge so we could experience both. It’s free to go to PEI but you have to pay to leave and the bridge is a little cheaper than the ferry.

Erik and I found an off-season house rental in the picturesque seaside village of North Rustico.  We chose it because of its proximity to all parts of the island. In the summer, this is a busy town, full of families renting cottages by the sea, but in fall, it is quiet and almost deserted, and the prices are much lower. We loved it and it was perfect for our needs.

Sept 20 – Today we caught the 11:30 ferry to PEI. We drove around the east coast area, stopping in Souris for lunch.  Later we stopped at the Inn at Bay Fortune and wandered around the grounds. It is an inn and restaurant owned by Chef Michael Smith of foodtv and cookbook fame and his wife, Chastity. It’s a true Farm to Table concept with 8 acres of organic gardens, a huge herb garden, and even three happy pigs. Every night they have a “feast” where they feed you a four hour multi-course meal “community style” on long tables. It’s quite expensive but supposed to be well worth it. It’s too bad we are staying too far away to be able to stay for dinner.

We continued on our way and arrived in North Rustico (which is on the east central side of the island) and found the cottage we would be staying at for the next 5 nights. It had 2 bedrooms, a full kitchen, a big yard and a nice sundeck. We picked up some groceries and wine/beer then checked out the little village, all within walking distance.

We were a little worried at first about the rental because the place was new on the market and had no reviews but it really did look nice online and the price was great ($75/night and no tax) so we decided to risk it. We also agreed to stay without booking through VRBO so it would save money on both sides. It turned it great though and the house was even better than we had imagined.

We were walking distance to the harbour, restaurants, and stores and only 1 km from the Rustico beach. Our plan was to do day trips to Charlottetown and North Island and spend some time just doing nothing for awhile.

The weather today was overcast with some showers but the air was warm (20ish) and almost humid. The sun was supposed to be out for the next two days. It was finally time to relax with a beer after a long day of driving!

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Sept 21 – Today was a pretty emotional day for me. We went to the villages of Tryon and Crapaud to visit the graves and homesites of my PEI ancestors. Neither of these tiny communities would be a destination point for the average tourist, but because I’ve been researching my family tree for 30 years, I have always wanted to come to PEI to see some of these places. So today I will bore you with info and pictures about my family. 🙂

First we drove about a half hour to visit the Tryon People’s Cemetery. We saw the original gravestone of my 4G grandparents, John Jr and Charlotte Lord. We also saw the family memorial stone in memory of John Jr’s parents (my 5G grandparents), John and Elizabeth Lord, who both died some time before 1800. If there ever was a stone, it was long gone. I helped to pay for that memorial stone back in 2003 but I’d only seen photos until now.

We wandered around the tiny community of Tryon, really only just a few far houses, but the museum was closed so we decided to return in a few days.

Next we drove 5 minutes up the road to the village of Crapaud where another of my ancestors had lived. George and Ann Nicholson arrived in Crapaud in 1817 and settled on 100 acres. They built a home on the property which was replaced with a larger home in 1886. The house is still standing today and was only sold from the Nicholson family about 5 years ago.
We knew roughly where the house was, so I went into a the general store and asked the owner if he knew of any Nicholsons. It turned out he was a descendent of my Nichsolon 4G grandparents and a distant cousin.

We chatted for awhile and then another fellow was hanging out at the store at the time, offered to show us where the old house was and he took us over to meet the last owner, who now lived across the street. The owner’s name was George as well and he was about 85-90 years old. I chatted with him for awhile and he told me what he knew about the old house as well as the rest of the property. He has the original deed to the farm which was written on a piece of leather back in 1818. I would have loved to have seen it but he didn’t offer and I didn’t want to push it.

After we left cousin George, we stopped in to see our ancestors, George and Ann Nicholson’s, gravestone. Their daughter Ann married Joseph Lord, John Lord Jr’s son. Joseph and Ann eventually moved to the London, Ontario area in the 1850’s and farmed there until they died. Their daughter was my GG Grandma, Charlotte Lord. There are so many family names are repeated over the generations that it gets quite tricky to keep track sometimes.

After visiting Crapaud, we drove to PEI’s capital city, Charottetown, and had some lunch. I really wanted to see the plaque that commemorates the 13 members of the first legislative assembly in 1773. It’s on a desk in the PEI legislative building and I’d seen photos of it. Unfortunately the Province House building is being restored and is closed for three years so I couldn’t see the desk. They had a mock up of the assembly but the desk was in storage.

Luckily, I was later able to find the plaque in town, on 73 Queen Street, that shows where the meeting for the first assembly was held at the Crossed Keys Tavern in 1773. There’s a blog post here with more information.

About one hundred years after my ancestors arrived in PEI, Charlottetown was the birthplace of Canada, in 1867.  There are a number of museums and historic sites related to the Charlottetown Conference in 1864 where delegates from four British colonies – the provinces of New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia, and Canada (now Ontario and Quebec) –  met to hash out the details of a union that would eventually become the confederation of Canada three years later. Interestingly enough, PEI itself didn’t join the confederation until 1873.

We walked down to the waterfront and found an old house that belonged to the brother of my 3G Grandfather, Joseph Lord. His name was William Warren Lord and he was a well respected and influential politician and businessman in Charlottetown in the 1800’s. He is buried in Tryon too and you can read about him on the Canada’s Who’s Who biography site.

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Sept 22 – Today was a lazy, warm, sunny day. We slept in and then hung out at home for awhile before heading to the beach to take pictures of waves and seagulls and collect shells and sea glass.

After lunch we drove about 10 minutes down the road to Cavendish where we visited the Anne of Green Gables site which was the setting for Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books.
Maud was raised by her grandparents after her mother died when she was two. Her grandfather’s cousin lived in the house down the road (following the Haunted Wood Trail) where Maud spent a lot of time playing with cousins when she was young. This house has been restored with period furniture to represent the late 1800’s when Maud was there.
We took lots of pictures and took a wander down the famed Lover’s Lane. We also watched a couple of really interesting videos about Montgomery’s life in PEI.

In the evening, we drove to New Glasgow (also 10 min away) and had a famous PEI lobster supper. It started with fresh mussels and clam chowder. Fresh rolls were on the table as well. Then we had a green salad with potato salad and cole slaw on the side. Then came split lobster with lots of melted butter. We finished with a piece of pie (cherry for Erik and lemon meringue for me). What a feast!  The 1lb lobster feast was $34.95 plus tax. It included everything I mentioned plus pop or coffee, although alcohol is extra.

We waddled back to the car and relaxed for the rest of the evening. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t need to eat again for a couple of days.

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Sept 23 – It was a heavily overcast and rainy day today so we slept in and had a late breakfast then drove to Tryon again so I could meet the man who runs the museum. We chatted for about half an hour and I took pictures of maps and stuff but unfortunately didn’t learn anything new about the family. I think I may have known more about the Lords than he did. 🙂

Then we drove to Summerside in the pouring rain where we stopped for coffee and nice bowl of soup at Samuel’s Coffee House. Afterwards, we picked up groceries and headed back home (about 90 minutes to driving in total today). I made chicken cacciatore for dinner and we watched the last two episodes of Suits which I had on my laptop. It felt kind of like we were living here. 

Sept 24 – The weather was mixed sun and cloud today and getting cooler (about 10-12C). The trees are finally starting to change colour.

Today we drove around the north west section of the island. First we stopped at West Point and saw the famous black and white lighthouse although, unfortunately, it was closed for the season (many things in PEI are closed after Labour Day).

We then drove to the far north tip of the island where the Gulf of St Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean meet. There is a rock reef that runs out from the tip and it’s the longest rock reef in North America.  There we visited the North Cape Wind Energy Institute, which is a big wind farm with an interpretive centre – it was all pretty interesting, and had beautiful ocean views and excellent beachcombing to boot.

We took our time driving back down the coastal roads that wound in and out of all the little bays and inlets, until we finally made it home around 5pm.

Along the way, I finally saw a fox on the side of the road after watching for them in the UK. He was so cute!

In the evening we went out for dinner at the Blue Mussel Cafe which was about 2k from our house. We both had excellent halibut and enjoyed chatting with the owners and their son who works the bar in PEI all summer and the heads back to an island in the Honduras where he runs a little bar in the winter.

I brought home lots of treasures from the seashore

Sept 25 – Today was a day off to relax before we hit the road and started traveling again. We have loved living in our little house for 6 days and visiting the various parts of PEI.

We went down to the marina and took some pictures while it was still partly sunny. It’s been pretty windy here all week and I think that might be a deal breaker if we ever thought about living here. Other than that, it is a beautiful, peaceful place.

We ate up our leftover food and had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for lunch, and made spaghetti for supper. We shouldn’t have much to take with us tomorrow.

There are so many more things to see and do in PEI.  Many people only stay a few days but I could easily be there for a week or more.  Here are a few more ideas.

Here is a link to a zoomable map of the places we travelled on PEI.  The blue marker shows where we stayed and the red markers show the dates of places we visited on our day trips.

Next Up – New Brunswick!

Atlantic Canada: Nova Scotia

14344290_10155130754674989_8638363538331629312_nNova Scotia is a beautiful province and you could easily spend two weeks here and not see everything, however many people do an abbreviated 3-4 day tour to see a few high points, and then move on.  If you are lucky enough to have the time, I encourage you to extend your stay. As it was, we only had 10 days to spend, so we visited three distinct areas of the province – the capital city of Halifax and surrounding sights, the Annapolis Valley with a brief day trip south down the western coast, and Cape Breton Island, which is almost another province unto itself.

Sept 8 – 11:  Halifax, Peggy’s Cove, Lunenburg

We landed in Halifax, around 6pm, after a two-city hop flight from Kelowna-Calgary-Halifax.  To our bodies, it was four hours later, so by the time we checked into our downtown hotel, we were exhausted and got to bed early. There is a seasonal (May 1-Oct 31) Airport Express shuttle bus that runs between the airport and downtown for $22 per person, but we took the MetroX 320 city bus that runs more or less the same route for $3.50 instead and it was an easy, inexpensive way to get downtown. We had no trouble taking our two suitcases on board the bus and it was only a 4-5 block walk to the Atlantica Hotel which was well located to many of the sights, and reasonably priced for a big city at just under $120 CAD a night on We grabbed a quick bite to eat at the bar in the hotel, then hit the sack.

Sept 9 – The next morning, we slept in then wandered through town, stopping to visit an ancient cemetery on our way to the famous Pier 21 Canadian Museum of Immigration where Erik and his Mom, brother, and sister first arrived in Canada in 1956. The museum was an interesting place to visit and we spent at least 3 hours inside looking at the exhibits and then we sat on the bench where Erik’s family waited to see the officials before taking the train to Edmonton to meet his Dad who had arrived months earlier. Erik was only 6 at the time and his memories are limited but it was an emotional and touching visit that we both enjoyed. Entry price is $14.50 for adults with reduction for kids and seniors.

Afterwards, we walked back along the Halifax waterfront boardwalk, stopping for a snack along the way. We saw some huge ships and there are a few museums along the way, including one about the Halifax Explosion which destroyed much of the city when two ships collided in the harbour in 1917.

There are lots of interesting places to see in Halifax, including the famous Citadel, but our time was limited and we only had time for a few sights.

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Sept 10 – Today we picked up our rental car and drove about 2 hours to Lunenburg, taking a side trip to Peggy’s Cove along the way.  It was warm and muggy with a few clouds, 20-24C – pretty nice weather for September –  and the drive was pretty. The cove itself is pretty touristy but it’s still a must-see when visiting the province. Only a 45 minute drive from Halifax, it’s an easy day trip visit if you are staying in town for a few days.

Peggy’s Cove is a small village with just a few homes, shops, and restaurants, but it has a large parking lot and small information museum which is only a short walk to the rocky outcrop with the famous lighthouse. There are plenty of signs warning people to stay away from the “brown rock” which is within striking distance of rogue waves, but  as usual, people tend to flaunt danger and a few fools were wandering out further than they should.  That being said, on the day we visited, the waters were relatively calm and the skies were sunny and warm with just a light breeze.

Of course, there were busloads of tourists who were crawling the rocks and it was sometimes difficult to get a clear photo without too many people but we stayed long enough to take some nice pictures. Nova Scotia, and the rest of the maritime provinces, are littered with less famous but equally beautiful lighthouses, all along the coast.  Here are just a few.

Back on the road a few hours later, we continued down the coastal highway another hour and arrived in the pretty little town of Lunenburg, which among other things is famous for being the home port of the Bluenose ll, a replica of the original Bluenose schooner that is depicted on the Canadian dime. The schedule for its location, which is primarily split between Lunenburg and Halifax, can be found here so be sure to check to ensure you don’t miss it.

We were lucky that the schooner had arrived in port that day and we were able to walk on the deck and admire the beautiful wood work and rigging. The best part is that it’s free to board her although for a fee, you can also go for a sail. You can even apply to work as a crew member for those so inclined.

Afterwards, we had dinner on a deck of a restaurant overlooking the harbour. We stayed in a cute little Airbnb room on the edge of town and enjoyed chatting with our hosts – a young local woman and her Aussie partner. Both have done a lot of traveling.

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Sept 11-13: Annapolis Royal, Port Anne, Digby, Mavillette

Sept 11 – Today we drove across the province to Annapolis Royal, stopping in Kejimkujik National Park for a picnic lunch along the way. There is a fee to visit National Parks in Canada but we chose to purchase a one year pass that would allow us to visit any park or historic site in the country.

Once in Annapolis Royal, we checked into our B&B, a 200+ year old home, and then went for a wander around Fort Anne, where Champlain first landed in 1608. We had a lobster roll for supper at a nice cafe, then went back to our room to relax.

Sept 12 – After a leisurely breakfast at our B&B, we drove south down the coast along the Evangeline Trail for an hour or so. We stopped in Digby and checked out the lobster boats in the harbour. The highway is named after an Acadian woman, in a poem “Evangeline”, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In the story, she is separated from her love, Gabriel, during the expulsion of the Acadians in the mid 1700’s.

We learned a lot about Acadian history on this trip and I found it really interesting.  The Acadians were the original French settlers who arrived in the early 1600’s and settled all over the Maritime region.  They built homes, improved the land by reclaiming the marshland, and intermarried with the Mi’kmaq people of the area.  Subsequently, over several generations, they began to see themselves as separate from the French, although they tended to side with the French and Mi’kmaq during any battles with the British.

When the British finally took over in 1755, they deported the Acadians to the British Colonies and France, burning their homes and destroying their farms. Some Acadians made their way as far south as  Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns. Others escaped and hid in the woods, living with the Mi’kmaq until they were able to resettle after the 7 years war in 1763.

To this day, there are Acadian settlements all over the Maritime provinces, and you will see the red, white, and blue Acadian flag with a single star as you drive through the French villages that dot the coastline.

We drove as far as Mavillette Provincial Park, where we sat on a beautiful sandy beach for awhile before we had a big bowl of seafood chowder at a seaside restaurant. Eventually we drove the hour or so back to Annapolis Royal via the highway.

In the evening, we into town at 9:30pm for the Port Anne Garrison Graveyard Tour which was absolutely fascinating. The guide, who was dressed in period costume, gave each of us a candle lantern and took us on a walk through the dark graveyard, telling us stories about the early inhabitants and history of the area. I highly recommend this tour.

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Sept 13 – Today we had a leisurely breakfast with our hosts then packed up to leave around 10:30. Before leaving town, we visited Port Royal historic site, went to the Port Anne museum and looked around the Fort a little, stopped in for a free tour of the only tidal power plant in North America, and then took the Evangeline Trail road to our next destination, Berwick, about an hour away.

We were really hungry by the time we got there so we dropped off our bags at our B&B – yet another old Victorian home (1848) – and went to Jonny’s Cookhouse in Berwick for a very late lunch / early dinner. I had the best home made bacon cheeseburger I’ve ever had. Seriously. I wish they would deliver to Kelowna…

Today I searched real estate in the Annapolis Valley and found you can buy a 2500 square foot, 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom 150 year old Victorian style home with a large heated workroom on half an acre for under $100,000. For twice that, it would be in perfect condition. Crazy.

Sept 14-19 –   Cape Breton Island – Louisbourg, Cabot Trail, Mabou, Ceilidh Trail

Sept 14 – We had a nice breakfast with our hosts and two other couples and then hit the road around 11am headed for Port Hastings, just over the Canso Causeway on Cape Breton Island.

I didn’t take many pictures but it was a nice 4 hour drive through rolling countryside and forest. We stopped for lunch and gas in New Glasgow and arrived at our B&B around 4pm. We relaxed for awhile, had dinner at a pub down the road, and got to bed early as we have a busy day planned for tomorrow. It was another mostly sunny, warm day. It’s supposed to be showery tomorrow and then sunny again.

Sept 15 – We had breakfast with another couple our age at the B&B this morning. As we talked, we soon learned that their daughter lives about 6 houses up the street from us. When they told us they live in London Ontario, we asked if they knew Chris, a lawyer we met on the Camino. It turned out they did know him and his father quite well. What a small world….

Today we drove about 2 1/2 hours along Bras D’or Lake (an inland sea) to the Fortress of Louisbourg, on the far east coast of Cape Breton Island. We parked at the lot and took a shuttle bus to the site which had been reconstructed from the original plans on the original foundations in the 1960’s as a retraining project for out-of-work fisherman. About one quarter of the site had been rebuilt and there are guides in period costumes all over the fort, telling us about life there. It was the shoulder season so not every tour was offered but we did enjoy our day nonetheless. 

The fort was built by the French in 1713 and was a thriving community based on the fishing industry for many years. Unfortunately it wasn’t well positioned and the British were able to take control in Seige of Louisbourg in 1758.

My 5G-Grandfather, Henry Goldrup, was a soldier from the 60th Royal Regiment of Foot (2nd Battalion) in General Wolfe’s (British) army. He fought with Wolfe at Louisbourg and then went on to fight in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quenec City in 1759. It was kind of neat to try to imagine what it was like for him there.

It was mixed sun and cloud, cool, and VERY windy today with gusts that almost knocked us over.

We spent about 4 hours at the Fort, then had a meal before driving an hour to our B&B in Syndey Mines. Tomorrow we start the Cabot Trail which winds its way around the coast of Cape Breton Island.

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Sept 16 – Today we drove part of the Cabot Trail starting from our B&B in Sydney Mines. We took a little ferry from Englishtown across St Ann’s Harbour then up the east coast, stopping at several lookouts and small beaches. We stopped for lunch near the north part of the Island and then drove down the west coast to the coastal town of Cheticamp where we had a nice B&B right on the water.

We did a load of laundry at the laundromat, then had dinner at a restaurant with live music. I finally had a whole lobster and it was great. It was mixed sun and cloud most of the day but reasonably warm.

Sept 17 – Today we drove about an hour to Baddeck to check out the Alexander Graham Bell museum (boy was he an interesting and very diversely talented guy – I had no idea!)

Along the way, we stopped into the tiny village of Belle Côte to visit the gas station where my family had camped when we broke a spring on our tent trailer back in 1972.

There was a young woman who was working in the gas station so I told her the story and she mentioned that the previous owner, Charlie, lived right across the street. He was working on his truck so I went over and introduced myself. He remembered our family staying there in 1972, and remembered my mom and step dad stopping in to visit about in the mid 1990’s as well. Charlie is 79 now but he looks and acts much younger. I asked him to come take a photo with me in front of the station and he obliged. So cool!

We continued our drive to Port Hood, stopping for lunch at a picnic site by a quiet lake where we ate our oat cakes, and then at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou to get info about the live music later that night.

We checked into our Port Hood B&B, a rambling 10 room house inn that’s about 110 years old. We rested for a bit then drove 10 minutes back to Mabou to snag a seat for the live music tonight – a fellow who played piano and a young woman who played fiddle.

We had some dinner and beer while they played from 7-9pm. The place is very popular because it is owned by two of the Rankin sisters who grew up in Mabou. The place was packed and we had a great time. You definitely have to get there early if you want a seat as many people were turned away.

Sept 18 – Today we slept in and then had a decent continental breakfast at our Inn. We dropped into the Mabou Sunday farmer’s market for awhile then drove around the area a bit.

We went back to the Inn for a nap then headed over to the Red Shoe Pub again for a Ceilidh (Kay-lee) from 4-7pm. It was led by a well known Cape Breton fiddler named Chrissy Crowley and an excellent pianist. She played for about an hour (amazing) and then a few people came up to join her for a song or two. First was a little boy with his ukulele. He was about 5-6 and couldn’t really play chords but he strummed along to the beat quite well. Then an old man came up and played spoons. He was great.

There were a couple more guests who played and then she got two of her friends to come up (another girl who played fiddle and a guy on guitar) and they were unbelievable! We found out later they are actually 3 members of a 5 piece Nova Scotia band called Coig who have won a number of awards.

Apparently the show tonight was one of the best they’ve had this summer so we were very lucky. I could easily spend a week here… We shared a table with a couple for Langley and had some travel talk in between songs. There are lots of people our age on the road out here. 🙂

It was a cloudy day with a few showers and is supposed to be like that again tomorrow but will hopefully turn around as we head to PEI.

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Sept 19 – Today we left Cape Breton Island and drove to Scotsburn near the ferry terminal by Pictou today. It was overcast with showers for the 2 hour drive and we made two stops along the way.

The first was to the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in the little village of Judique. The road all along the coast from Margaree to Port Hawkesbury is called the Ceilidh Trail and many famous Canadian musicians were born and raised here including the Rankin Family, Ashley McIsaac, and Natalie McMaster.

I had a blast at the interactive museum where I got to play a fiddle and take a step dance lesson. I bought a fiddle music book and think it’s time to get back to playing my violin when I get home.

Oh – I have to add “learn to quilt” to my retirement bucket list. I wanted to buy a hand made quilt but they cost $1000 (yikes!)

We also stopped for lunch and a walk in Antigonish and we had dinner at Sharon’s Place Family Restaurant which is Trip Advisor’s top rated restaurant in Pictou. Sharon was awesome and the food was simple but great.

Next up – our trip to PEI.

Click here for a link to a zoomable map of our trip.


Atlantic Canada: The Plan

For many of us, travel means visiting other countries but at some point I believe we all need to see what our own country has to offer.  We get a unique perspective on life when we meet people whose way of life is different from our own and yet we seem to assume that our fellow Canadians (or Americans…) have a similar life experience simply because we live in the same country, yet nothing could be further from the truth.

My parents believed that it was important for our family to see the rest of Canada and so not once but twice, my dad took five weeks of his vacation time in one block, pulled us four kids out of school, and drove us across Canada from Vancouver to Halifax and back. The experience was the greatest Social Studies lesson we could ever have and one that I will remember forever.

Yes, my Dad did have to change a flat along the way.

Our first trip was in 1972, when I was 12 and my siblings were 11, 9, and 8.  The four of us were packed into our black Chev (three in the back and one in front), along with my mom and dad, and our young Lab, Goldie, on the floor under my mom’s feet. We pulled a tent trailer and camped the entire way, with only a handful of stops at cheap motels when absolutely we had to. We stayed in Provincial or National Parks wherever possible and only stayed in private campgrounds when nothing else was available. We camped through the sun and rain, black flies and mosquitoes, capital cities and green forests – what an experience!

And as if that wasn’t enough, we did the same trip once again in 1975 when our ages ranged from  11 to 15.  This time we had a little more seating room in our Volkswagen van and we got to alternate seats every 100 miles so every one had a turn in the coveted front seat (thanks Mom!). On that trip, we brought two orange pup tents as well as our tent trailer, and my siblings and I each had a job to do when we arrived at the site.  We were able to have the entire site set up in 15 minutes if everyone did their job.

Dad catches a few winks after a long day’s drive

Travelling for over a month with four kids and a dog takes a special kind of crazy, and it’s hard to believe my parents made the decision to do this trip twice, but I can tell you that those two trips had a tremendous impact on all of us – not just the knowledge and experience gained from visiting nine Canadian provinces (we couldn’t make it to NFLD) and sleeping under canvas (ok nylon) in many of the most famous Canadian parks – but also in the experience gained in having only your siblings to hang out with for more than a month (and this was pre-techology). I’m not saying we always got along, but there is something special about spending so much time bonding with your family.

The 1975 trip was our last camping trip as a family, as my Dad was killed in an industrial accident at work the following December and so it was poignant to have had those memories to hang on to after he was gone.

I was never able to take my own children on a similar trip, so one of the first things I wanted to do when I retired, was to visit the Maritime Provinces in fall, when most of the tourists were gone, and the  beautiful fall colours would be at their peak.

Erik had never toured Eastern Canada, with the exception of his arrival in Halifax in 1956, when he and his family emigrated from Denmark.  Although they took a train from Halifax to Alberta, as a six year old he had little memory of the trip. So for Erik, this would be his first true visit to the Maritimes.

We talked about several different options for this trip. In my dream trip, we would drive from home in a camperized van and stay in the myriad of provincial and national parks that Canada has to offer. But alas, we have no such vehicle and once we factored rental, gas, and an extra 10 days or so that it takes to drive to Ontario and back, it just didn’t make financial sense.

We also considered flying east and then renting a camper for a month but again, the expense of rental, extra gas, and campsite costs, outweighed the costs of staying in inexpensive hotels and eating in restaurants.

Ultimately, we decided to fly to Halifax, rent a car, and drive around Nova Scotia, PEI, and New Brunwick over a three week period, dropping the car in Quebec City, and flying home from Ottawa. We had four weeks in total and would leave just after school started, travelling from September 8 – October 6.


For the purposes of this blog, I will call it our “Atlantic Canada” trip and write about each province we visited. However, I do recognize that the last two cities are actually in Quebec and Ontario, not Atlantic Canada.  🙂

Next up, Nova Scotia!

Not exactly sure where this was taken but I suspect around the Great Lakes – Mom and us four kids, 1972. I’m hidden until the hat and glasses, sitting next to my mom.

Post Camino Bits and Pieces

img_0201Here are few final thoughts about our Camino and answers to a few questions people have asked that just didn’t fit anywhere else – dealing with wet hair, what would I do differently, what did it cost, and would we do it again?

One Unexpected Problem

One unexpected problem that I had on the Camino was with drying my hair.  I know this may seem like a very unimportant problem to some people, but for me, it ended up being a pretty big deal.

When we arrived at our accommodations for the night, we were always anxious to shower and go out to eat, especially if we arrived before 3pm when the restaurant kitchens usually shut down for 3-4 hours.  Because I’d been sweaty walking all day, I really did need to change out of my dirty clothes and wash my hair. The trouble was, then I’d have to sit around for an hour or more, waiting for my hair to be dry enough to go out. In addition, I often got chilled while waiting for my hair to dry, and then it would take forever for me to warm up later.  It really did become a big problem for me. I tried wearing a hat or a scarf over my wet head but it just wasn’t enough.  On really warm sunny days, I could sit outside and let my hair dry in the sun, but it was  often too cool to do that most of the time.

So what’s the solution?  I’m really not sure. I could get my hair cut really short so it dries faster but I prefer shoulder length hair that I can put into a pony tail.  I could also look for the smallest possible blow dryer and carry it.  I have seen some weigh just under 10 oz – it might be worth it.  I rarely carry a blow dryer with me when I travel any more because most hotels have them now. However I found most of the the inexpensive accommodations we stayed in on the Camino did not have blow dryers.

What would I do differently?

Apart from the post gear list changes I’ve already written about in a previous post here, there are only a couple of things I’d do differently. One is to have more time. Forty days is not long enough to do the kind of walk we’d like to do.  It would be great to have no specific end day and then when we are not feeling well or having a bad day, we could just stay put instead of having to take a bus or a taxi in order to keep on schedule.

Also, we’d love to average about 15 km per day and never go over a 20km day. We would need to give ourselves about 55 days in order to accomplish that. With only 15k to walk each, I think we would almost always feel relaxed, be less likely to get injured, and yet still feel sufficiently challenged by the walk. We would still carry our own back packs and we’d still book accommodations ahead of time but we would stay two nights in more places and not feel rushed to get to Santiago by a specific date. To me, that would be ideal.

I think I’d do it at the same time of year again as well.  I loved the green fields and spring flowers. The weather in May was lovely.  Starting any earlier than April 25 risks not being able to do Napoleon’s Way over the Pyrenees on the first 2 days but that might be ok now since we’ve already done that.

What did it cost?

I know this is of interest to most people so I will openly share how much money we spent on our Camino.  All money will be expressed in both Euros and Canadian dollars so do the conversion for yourself if necessary.

It is very important to realize that EVERYONE WALKS THEIR OWN CAMINO.  There is no one “correct” way to walk it.  You can walk the entire thing with bare feet and nothing on your back, or you can book a tour company to carry your bags.  You can camp along the way. You can stay in albergues. You can stay in hotels.  Do what you want to do.

So – if you are wondering about costs, I can only tell you what WE spent on the kind of Camino we chose to walk.  We carried our own bags and we likely spent more on accommodations and less on food than many people.

Cost of Accommodations

Here is a list of the place we stayed and the prices we paid.   Accomodations list

The  albergues (communal hostels) are noted with the number of bunks to a room.  The rest of the places were for a private double room in private albergues or small hotels and B&Bs.

We averaged about 47 euros per night for accommodations over 38 nights. We only stayed in less expensive albergues four times and we stayed in more expensive hotels a few times which bumped up our overall average cost.  It would be fairly easy to keep under 40 euros per night for two people if you wanted to and still have a private room most of the time.

Stopping for lunch

Cost of Food on the Camino

Everyone is different but here is how we ate.

Breakfast was always coffee and usually a croissant. Sometimes it came with the accommodations, but often we bought it at a bar.  About 3 euros each.

Lunch – we rarely stopped for lunch. I tended to eat bananas and bags of peanuts along the way.  Erik often picked up snacks like a Tortilla (egg/potato pie), a bocadillo sandwich etc. Once in awhile, we stopped for a bowl of soup.  We usually spent about 5-6 euros for him, less for me. I drank Nestea (iced tea) and he drank beer. Both were about 1-2 euros each. Also, we usually each had a beer when we arrived in town.

Dinner – most often we had the pilgrim meal which was big and filling. You could get it during the day 1-3pm, or after 6-7pm in most places. It ranged from 8-12 euros, most often 10 euros each.  For that price you got a two course meal with 2-3 choices for each course, plus bread, water, wine, and dessert. I got tired of the fried meat (pork or chicken, and sometimes fish) with french fries so I often ordered two first courses (soup and salad, or salad and pasta etc).

Overall, we paid about 35-40 euros per day for food for two people and 45 euros per day for accommodations. If you stay only in albergues, you can average 20 euros per day for two people for accommodations, often less, depending on whether you stay in municipal (cheap) or private albergues.  The private hostels tend to be cleaner, less crowded, and have more amenities but there are plenty of nice municipal or church albergues along the way.

Cost of Transportation – Because we were on an extended trip, our transportation costs aren’t really relevant.  We flew to Paris and flew home from Rome.  If we were only doing the Camino, and not travelling before and after, we would likely fly to Madrid and take a train and bus to St Jean Pied de Port. Another option would be to fly to Marseille or Biarritz. I would just look for the best deal at the time. Generally, the earlier you book, the cheaper the flight.  We were able to find return flights from Kelowna to Paris and home from Rome for under $1000 each including seats, baggage, and taxes.

We took taxis a couple of times – they were about 20-30 euros per 15km trip – it really depends on where you are – often the taxi has to drive out from the city you are heading for in order to pick you up..  The two busses were much less expensive, under 5 euros per person. I can’t actually remember – might have only been 2-3 euros each.

Would We Do the Camino Again?

To be honest, when we finished the Camino we had both loved the experience, but neither of us thought we’d want to do it again.  At least not the same route.  We did think we’d want to do another long walk, but most likely a different route such as the one in Portugal, or walking from Le Puy to St Jean Pied de Port in France, parts of the Via Francigena in Italy, or one of the many trails in the UK.

But as time passes, and photos jog our memory, we both find ourselves returning to the idea of walking the Camino a second time.  Often we start a sentence with “If we did it again, we’d….”.  The very fact that we keep on talking about what we’d do differently makes me think that walking the Camino Frances a second time is not out of the realm of possibility.  Who knows?  We have many travel plans on our bucket list and no where near enough time to do them all in the next 5-10 years (retire young if you can!), but I don’t think we can discount the idea completely.

Well, I think that’s all I can think of to discuss regarding our Camino and this will likely be my final post unless I ever get around to putting together a good slideshow of our photos.

Do you have any questions?  Ask them in the comment section below and I will do my best to answer them.

Next up:  Barb and Erik spend the month of September travelling around the Atlantic Provinces of Canada.


Post Camino Reflections

2016-04-24-15-12-08Well it’s been four months since we finished our Camino, and three months since we returned back home after our post-Camino R&R visit to Orvieto, Italy.  Erik and I have had plenty to time to reflect, contemplate, and rehash our walk so I guess it’s time that I finally put some of those thoughts down on “paper”.

After you’ve walked the Camino, people often ask you if the experience has changed you.  After all, they say, how can you walk 800 km and not be a different person when it’s all over? I suppose for most people, the obvious answer would be yes, but I have to admit, “change” is not a word that I would use to describe my Camino experience – instead I think of Contemplation, Observation, Appreciation, and Affirmation.

Contemplation and Observation

Obviously you have plenty of time to contemplate life while on the Camino and even if you are walking with a partner, it’s likely you aren’t together all the time. Whether walking with Erik, or on my own 100m behind him, I was often lost in my thoughts.

I thought a lot about how reality was matching up with my expectations of the Camino. I thought about what changes I might see in myself while walking the Camino. I thought about the physical and mental challenges I was experiencing and figured out ways to work through them. I tried to be “one” with my environment and to experience living “in the moment”. (And as usual, I stressed and obsessed about crap because that is what I do best – I just tried to do less of it.)

I did find it really interesting to have so much time alone with my thoughts, and I found I enjoyed that.  I would try hard to be mindful and pay close attention to every little detail so I could truly appreciate everything around me. One day, I was walking alone and I made a point to verbally point out every single thing I noticed -from mountains, to trees, to rocks, to birds, to flowers, to bugs. I began to notice how the grass along the trail grew in little tuffs, and how the poppies were actually many different shades of red.  It was interesting to pay really close attention and observe the small things around me – things that we often miss in our hurried lives. Normally, I find it really hard to “live in the moment” so the Camino was a wonderful opportunity to put mindfulness into practice on a consistent basis for 40 days.

I began to think of the Camino as one long meditation and so when negative or irrational thoughts entered my mind, I would try to accept them and then let them go. But as I mentioned in my post about “Moments of Bliss“, I can’t say I really had a single moment where I felt an awakening or a realization of change within myself. It was a gradual process of growth and acceptance of who I am.


Last year, I wrote a post, “Slow is Good”, where I talked about the importance of slowing down and appreciating things in life, rather than taking them for granted.  As I walked, I began to think about that post and make connections to my Camino journey.

While I walked, I appreciated that I was in a position to be able to take this journey in the first place – I appreciated that I had the money, the time, and the willingness to get out there and just do it.

I also had a great appreciation for the simpleness of the Camino – the repetition of each day made life easy in many ways. No work, house, car, or family to worry about. You just get up and walk. When you’re hungry, you eat. When you’re thirsty to drink. When you’re tired, you rest.

I appreciated that my body allowed me to walk 20-30 km each day. I appreciated that my physical pains were relatively minor and short lived. I appreciated that I had a partner who was of like mind and body and that we travel so well together so that we could experience this journey together. We met a lot of people walking on their own because their spouse was uninterested or unable to walk the distance. I’m not saying that there’s not value in walking alone, but for me, it was a treat that Erik and I were able to take this journey together and continue to build our relationship.

I began to appreciate that everything I needed was on my back and that there was a certain simplicity in having only two sets of clothes and minimal material objects. In fact, upon returning home, I felt a need to purge a lot of “stuff” I had collected over the years.  I enjoyed living a simple life and that feeling continued during our month living in the small town of Orvieto, Italy.

I appreciated the beauty of Spain and of the ever-changing scenery – from isolated mountains, to busy downtown city streets; from muddy farmland tracks, to rocky trails; from noisy highways, to quiet country roads.  We walked through three distinct climate areas of Spain and every day was a new view. I  loved them all.

I appreciated (mostly) the simple food, especially a cafe con leche and croissant for breakfast, and a banana, a bag of peanuts, and a freshly squeezed orange juice from a tiny bar in the middle of nowhere for lunch, a crusty ham and cheese bocadillo or a bowl of  thick lentil soup when I was hungrier.  And a cold beer at the end of a long walk. A BIG cold beer.

I appreciated a hot shower or a hot bath more than I ever have before. I appreciated clean socks, ibuprofen, dry shoes, a good rain jacket, my blue scarf… so many little things. On the Camino, life was broken down into moments and I tried to be mindful, think about, and appreciate every one of them.


My transformation as a human being is constant. I am always learning and evolving in small ways and I hope I will continue to evolve until the day that I die. However, I think that the big inner change that many people experience when doing the Camino is something I did before I started.

While I was open to new ideas while I was walking, and fully expected to have a “wow” moment of realization, that didn’t  really happen for me.  In my post about the Cruz de Ferro, when I decided to leave my rosary at the cross instead of my stone, I wrote about my thoughts on religion and spirituality. I guess if there was one moment of clarity, it would have to be that moment, but even then, it was ultimately an affirmation of what I had believed all along, although I did find I was able to broaden my concept of “spirituality” and accept that I am a “spiritual being”, something that I had struggled with up until that moment.

While walking the Camino, I affirmed my belief that I can do anything I set my mind to. It affirmed my belief that I can always walk another step, no matter how tired or cold or wet I am. It affirmed my belief that I need to slow down my life, and my mind, and not worry about my pace – just enjoy being fit and healthy.  It affirmed the old saying that “it’s the journey, not the destination”.

Arriving in Santiago was somewhat emotional to think that we had actually made it, but really, it was the every day walking that I loved, that I contemplated, that I appreciated, and that I’ll remember the most.  I never once thought that I wouldn’t be able to finish the Camino. Not once, did I wake up and think “I don’t want to walk today”. I allowed myself to walk my own Camino and tried to make smart choices along the way (like taking a bus or taxi a couple of times when the situation dictated it).

Walking the Camino didn’t really change the way I think about life, nor the way in which I will approach my life in the future.  However, it did affirm many of the beliefs and understandings I’ve developed over the past 10 years or so, as I have attempted to slow down, savour the moment, appreciate what I have, and always try to look for the positive.

img_0626Next Up – Camino Bits and Pieces – a few final thoughts on the ins and outs of walking the Camino. If you have any questions you’d like me to respond to, now’s the time to ask in the comment section below!

Camino Packing List Follow Up

I promised to write a post about the gear I took on my Camino and let you know what I would do if I did it again, so here it is.

First of all, gear is very dependent on weather (time of year) and personal preference, so no matter how many gear lists you look at, you still need to do what works for you.

Here’s a link to my original list for a more detailed comparison.

For the most part, I was very happy with the gear I took and I would change every little. We were lucky that we only had a few days of heavy rain, and about 4 days where we had to walk in heavy mud at some point, so overall, my shoe choice worked well.

If I was going to go again, in the same month (April 24 – June 2), I would make one minor clothing change, and there are a few things I wouldn’t bother to take next time.

Some General Thoughts on My Gear 

Shoes – I had two identical pairs of Saucony Peregrine 5 trail shoes and I was very happy with this choice. They were lightweight, about 1 pound per pair, and I was glad to have the second back up pair on days when my shoes were wet or very muddy and didn’t dry overnight. Erik carried my backup pair so weight wasn’t an issue (for me ;).

In a perfect world, I would prefer to take a single pair of lightweight hikers with good tread and no mesh top (like my trail shoes) but I haven’t been able to find any that fit my feet so I had to stick with what I knew worked. Light hikers would be slightly sturdier and give a little more ankle support plus they’d be a little better in the rain and mud. In addition, I wouldn’t have to carry two pairs of shoes. However, overall, I was very happy with my shoe choice. I also took a super lightweight pair of flip flops.

Fleece and Rain Gear – I loved my Patagonia R1 Fleece and my Marmot Precip Jacket. I wore them almost every day for at least part of the day.  There were two days that I would have liked rain pants but not often enough to carry them for the rest of the trip. I’m glad I didn’t bother with a poncho – my jacket was perfect and kept me dry but comfortable, and it doubled as a jacket in the evenings, and as a wind breaker when it wasn’t raining.

Shirts – I had two tech t shirts which I alternated every day, one long sleeved merino wool shirt, and one Columbia long sleeved button down shirt.  Next time, I’d leave the button shirt and take two long sleeved Merino wool shirts instead.  The merino wool was lighter to carry and I liked wearing it a lot more than the Columbia shirt.

Pants – I LOVED my RAB Helix pants.  They repelled water and were super lightweight but warm enough. They dried relatively quickly but I was glad I had two pairs because clothes don’t always dry overnight and they were constantly getting dirty or muddy. I was usually able to wear them for several days before washing them.

The RAB pants had a built in button for rolling up to capri length – I much preferred this to the hassle and discomfort (to me) of zip off pants. (Erik loved his zip off pants). The weather was such that I really didn’t need shorts and I definitely could have managed with either my Outdoor Research Leggings or my Columbia Saturday Trail Capris.  I did wear both but I didn’t really need to. I think I’d leave the capris at home since the leggings were more comfortable to wear around in the evenings, and also to bed if it was cold.

Underwear – I had 3 pairs of very comfy Patagonia underwear that dried overnight and 3 pairs of Merino wool socks that kept getting holes in the big toe. I had to darn them constantly. Next time, I might research a higher quality sock.  I had one sports bra and one regular bra. I wore the comfy Patagonia sports bra the first day but it didn’t dry overnight so I never wore a bra the rest of the walk. 🙂 I wore my regular bra in the evenings depending on what shirt I was wearing. Next time, I would only take one regular bra. I fricking hate bras anyway.

Other gear

  • I wouldn’t bring my hydration pack again. I used it for a few days and then just bought a 500ml bottle of water and then kept refilling it when needed.  When it got grimy, I tossed it and bought a new bottle. I wouldn’t bring a water bottle – they are heavier and too hard to clean really well.  Much better to reuse a disposable bottle for a week and then throw it away. (I’m not normally a fan of bottled water but…)
  • I wouldn’t take my lightweight down vest again. It wasn’t heavy and I did wear it a couple of times, but I could easily have managed without it.
  • I would leave my swim bottoms at home. Never had a chance to use them
  • Freshette – this was very handy and not heavy to carry but I could survive without it.
  • Silk liner -I used this about 6 times I think. Lightweight and useful.
  • Lightweight pack towel – I only needed it a few times, but was glad I had it.

Stuff I couldn’t live without

  • My rayon pareo scarf from Maui – I wore this scarf everyday for multiple purposes.  I usually had it wrapped around my neck or head and I loved that I could loosen it when I got warm, as opposed to a buff.  When I wasn’t wearing it, I looped it through the belt of my backpack so it was always accessible.  It could double as a towel, a sarong, a privacy curtain, and could be used to wipe the sweat from my face. It was easy to wash and dried quickly.
  • My dollar store mittens and my $45 North Face waterproof mitt covers. Both were super lightweight and easy to carry.  I wore the mittens in the mornings quite often because I was using poles so couldn’t keep my hands in my pockets.  The waterproof mitts covered the fuzzy mitts when it rained or was very windy. I bought them as a treat with a gift card but was SO happy I had them.
  • My Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z Poles.  Super lightweight, and easy to fold up and put into backpack pocket instead of having to leave them at the Albergue door. In my opinion, poles are essential on a long hike. I used them all day, every day.  There were many times when I saved myself from a sprained ankle or a bad fall simply because I could catch my balance with my poles. They were really helpful on the hills, both up and down. I wore out the metal tips on mine but was able to buy new rubber tips at an outdoor store for 3 euros.
  • I’m glad I had a water proof pack liner as well as a pack cover.  I put the cover on whenever it threatened rain rather than wait until it was raining and the MEC pack liner kept everything super dry inside. My gear was stored in large ziplock bags inside the pack liner for easy retrieval.
  • My $8 water proof MEC phone bag was well worth it. I kept my phone and credenciel in it during the day and had it hanging from the front of my pack, clipped to my waist belt. I took photos all day so I needed something easy to access yet out of my way.
  • My super lightweight fold up shopping bag that I used as a “purse” during the evenings. It weight almost nothing, and rolled into a small bag and clipped to my backpack when I wasn’t using it.
  • My iClever EU Boostcube with two ports 2.4A, 24 W – a 2 port USB plug with builtin EU adapter.  I bought this on Amazon and I loved that I didn’t have to worry about a separate adapter for my iPhone charger. Plus we could charge both devices on the same plug. Make sure you get 2.4A because it charges faster. I also had a ministick portable backup charger that I only used once.  I wouldn’t take one again because my phone always held a charge all day, unless I had a GPS app running during the day.
  • Camino Frances – A Wise Pilgrim Guide app for my phone. This was SUPER useful for mapping and for finding accommodations or info about the trail and the towns.  Well worth the $6.99 CAD.
  • Photo of every page of the Brierely Guide, put into a photo folder on my iPhone. Very handy as I could zoom in if needed and was zero weight.
  • My iPhone 6s with 125gb of hard drive space. I bought a SIM card in Pamplona and used my phone to take 2000 high res photos, make reservations, check the guide book, find accommodations, check the map, stay in touch with my kids, and blog every night. I also had a couple of books on my Kindle App on the phone and enjoyed reading in the evenings some times.I could have managed with a 64gb hard drive.
  • I was happy with my choices of toiletries and first aid supplies. If I was going again, I’d take my own sunscreen because I ended up having a buy some and they only had giant bottles which were fairly expensive. I would have much preferred to have carried my own brand in a smaller container.  I’d take a tensor bandage if I went again. You can buy them along the way, but now I’m certain I need one so I would bring a good one right from day one.


Stuff I’d leave at home next time and save 765 grams.  Nice. 

  • Columbia Long Sleeved button shirt, bring an extra Merino Wool – save 50g
  • Hydration pack – 160g
  • Lightweight down vest – 160g
  • Swim bottoms – 75g
  • Capri pants – 205g
  • Compression Calf Sleeves – didn’t need them – 50g
  • Back up power stick – 65g

So – that’s the adapted list.  It worked for me.  If I was doing the same route, at the same time of year, and staying in the same kind of accommodation, those are the changes I’d make.

Did I forget something?  Got any questions?  Just leave a comment below, or email me at the contact link on the side!

Next up – Our Post Camino Reflections

Umbrian Winery Tour and Cooking Class

One of the highlights of our month in Orvieto was a four hour tour, cooking class, and meal at a local winery – a wonderful retirement gift from my daughters.  There are many winery tours and cooking classes available in Tuscany and Umbria, but Decugnano dei Barbi is one of the most highly rated and I cannot agree more.

It was a showery day but the views were still spectacular.

We booked our late June date (2-6pm) several months in advance, and a quick peek at the website let us know we were going to be in for a treat. The winding 30 minute drive to Decugnano dei Barbi took us into the countryside, where the winery perched about 300m (1000′) above sea level at the top of a limestone hill. From the main dining table, the town of Orvieto is perfectly framed in the arched window.

When we arrived at the gate, the owner buzzed us in, and we drove in to the first parking lot.  Anna Rita, our guide, met us at the car, and introduced herself. She spoke excellent English and was a friendly and informative guide. We had expected to be joined by a group of other people but were pleasantly surprised to find we had a private tour!

The winery has been owned by the Barbi family since the 1970’s, but wine has been produced on this vineyard for centuries.  On the site, were a number of production outbuildings, the private Barbi family home, a lovely villa available for rent, and the old chapel that has been converted into a dining room with attached kitchen for the cooking classes.

img_1546Anna first took us for a walk around the grounds and explained that the area soil is clay and the rock is sand stone, with fossils and shells left behind from the Pliocene era when central Italy was covered by a shallow sea. They believe that the unique minerals in the soil help to give their wines its flavour.

The first written proof of the vineyard was in the early 1200’s when the wine was made for the clergy of Santa Maria di Decugnano. The original chapel is now part of the winery tour. The caves date back at least 500 years, possibly longer.

In Italy, wines are named for their region, not for the specific grape used, and the DOP (Protected Designation of Origin, which includes DOC and DOCG wines) determines exactly where and how each wine must be made. Production is strictly regulated, but vintners also have the option of making any other kinds of non-DOP wine as well. Orvieto Classico is the regional white wine, but the Barbi’s grow over a dozen different grapes and produce seven different red and white wines, all without chemicals or fertilizers.

We were first shown how the grapes are pressed in a large tank which uses a balloon inside to gently squeeze out the juice without releasing too many tannins from the stems. Depending on the kind of wine, the juice sits in the tank for a few weeks or is piped into large tanks inside the storage building. We toured through these buildings and even watched the vintner get things ready to bottle some wine the next day.

IMG_1517Next, we walked through the vineyard and down a hill to the ancient limestone caves where the wine is aged in bottles or barrels. The constant temperature of 12-14 degrees celsius and the high humidity, make this a perfect place to store the wine. As we entered, we passed row upon row of bottled wine, each section a different type and/or vintage. Then we visited the room where the oak barrels are stored and next to that, the bottling area for the sparkling wine.  It was really interesting to hear how they do it.

The bottles have been stored with the neck down so that the sediment accumulates in the neck of the bottle.  Three skilled people hand cork the bottles in assembly line fashion. The first person puts the neck of the bottles into a liquid that flash freezes the top, then puts it into a little machine that shoots the cork and the frozen sediment out of the bottle. The next person in line quickly refills the bottle with enough wine and a little sugar to bring it back up the correct level, and then passes it to the last person who quickly recorks it.  It has to be done very quickly so the bottles don’t lose their fizz.

After our tour of the winery, we walked up to the old chapel to wash up and put on aprons and went into the kitchen where met Rosanna who would be teaching us how to prepare our four course meal. We used all fresh seasonal ingredients, and Anna even picked some fresh mint from the field as we walked up the path. Anna interpreted and helped as we all cooked together.

First we made pizza dough and put it aside to rise. Then we made fresh pasta dough, rolled it out as thinly as possible, gently folded it over several times, and cut it into 1 cm ribbons called tagliatelle.  Next, Erik cut up tomatoes, onions, eggplant, and zucchini for a fresh veggie pasta sauce while I mixed up a fresh sausage of ground beef and pork with herbs and spices and then rolled thinly sliced veal around the little logs of sausage and secured them with a toothpick.  Rosanna sautéed the rolls in oil and sage briefly and then added white wine to braise them slowly. The leftover sausage meat was formed into balls and cooked in the oven.

Once the meat and sauce prep was done, we made cookies with flour, sugar, olive oil, and dessert wine, and then we pressed the pizza dough into 4 rectangular plans, drizzled it with olive oil, and topped each pan with a different topping.  One was with zucchini flowers, one was thinly sliced zucchini, one was quartered cherry tomatoes and parsley, and the last was tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.

I stuffed some more zucchini flowers with a thin piece of anchovy and mozzarella cheese and then dredged them in beer batter for Rosana to fry up.  I also dipped big sage leaves in the same batter for her to fry.

By this time, all the prep was done, so we washed up and moved to the dining room while Anna and Rosana finished up the preparations and served us our meal. We started with our little pizzas for Antipasti with a glass of sparkling white wine (Brut) similar to champagne. They were all so good, I could have had my fill but we knew we had to save room for three more courses.

The Primi course was our tagliatelle with the veggie sauce and wow, was it delicious!  I could not believe the simple sauce could be so tasty.  With this course, we had a glass of Orvieto Classico, the white wine of the area. Anna offered to refill our glasses when we finished the wine before the food, and it was hard to say no, but we did have to drive back to Orvieto after so we sadly declined.

For Secondi, we had our meat rolls which had been sliced on the plate with some of the sauce over top, the fried zucchini flowers and sage leaves, some green beens and sautéed chicory.  All of it was delicious but man, I was getting full.  There was enough food to last three meals! With this course we had a glass of Decugnano’s red wine – a blend of Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Syrah. The wine was so good, I could easily have had another glass but we did end up buying two bottle to take back with us (only 13 euros each).

Dolce was our little doughnut shaped  wine cookies called Ciambelle al Vino. They were similar to biscotti, so we dipped them into our Pourriture Noble, a sweet white dessert wine for our fourth course.

By the time we were finished it was almost 6 o’clock and I was full to bursting, but oh so content. Anna and Rosana packed up all of the leftovers in 3 big containers along with two bottles of red and one of white that we had purchased, the recipes, and our aprons, and we said our thanks and goodbyes.  It was definitely a highlight of our time in Orvieto and I will remember it for years to come.

Because this day was a gift, I have no idea what it cost, and I don’t think I want to know, but you can check the Decugnano website and contact Anna Rita to get a price. Now that we are home, we owe my daughters an amazing Italian dinner as a thank you!

Click the image to get to the website.

Orvieto Underground

Arguably the most fascinating site in Orvieto is a guided tour of the extensive underground tunnels built into the Tufa rock on which the city sits. And when I say extensive, I mean extensive. To date, over 1200 caves and tunnels have been discovered underneath the city, many of which were unknown until a landslide in the 1970’s opened up one side of the cliff.  IMG_8568

Orvieto’s human history goes back at least 3000 years, and the geological history, millions of years more. Sitting in the middle of the valley, the massive rock, whose sheer cliffs reach up 100m, is topped by a medieval city of ancient buildings, towers, and churches. Looking around the rolling hills of the Umbrian countryside, you have to wonder how that rock came to be.

A map of Orvieto.  Red lines are underground tunnels.

Several million years ago, most of central Italy was covered by a shallow sea and indeed, many fossils and even complete seashells can still be found buried in the valley clay bottom and the sandstone hills nearby. About 500,000 years ago, as the sea drained, the area had many active volcanoes and it is believed that a giant volcanic plug was blasted from what is now Bolsena Lake, about 20 km southwest of the city, and landed on the clay sea bed. The rock is primarily made up of two kinds of rock – the porous brown tufa stone as well as a friable grey rock made of compressed ash called Pozzolana.

The first people to inhabit this plateau were the Etruscans as far back as the 6th century BC, whose name gave the province of Tuscany its name.  Etruria covered a large territory in Italy and due in part to its strategic location and rich valley soil, Velzna, as Orvieto was then called, was one of the most important cities of the region.

The Etruscan people had a fairly advanced civilization as is evidenced in their art, pottery, bronze work, and black earthenware called bucchero which has been excavated from the tunnels as well as the burial sites and can now be found in many museums and galleries in the area.

Because the city was built on solid rock, the only way to find water was the dig wells by hand to depths of up to 130 feet.  The inhabitants found it relatively easy to dig in the rock and they dug many caves, grottos, storage areas, and even garbage dumps below ground. When the Romans invaded in 264BC, the Etruscans were able fight them off for 2 years because of the protective underground tunnels they had built, the easy access to water, and steep, impenetrable walls of the rock. Eventually however, they lost their battle and the Romans forced them out of the city and destroyed most signs of their civilization.

After the fall of the Romans, the city passed through several hands, until around 1000AD when the first church San Giovenale was built.  Orvieto enjoyed a resurgence during the middle ages, with the population expanding to over 30,000.  The underground tunnels were revitalized and expanded and were used for the storage of food and wine because of the constant cool temperatures, as well as for housing animals. Many caves along the outer edges of the cliffs had access for pigeons and the caves are still dotted with small holes that were used as nest.  Pigeon is still a popular regional dish in Orvieto – I did not try it.  🙂

Looking up from the bottom of Pozzo di San Patrizio

In the 1200’s, the incredible Pozzo di San Patrizio (St Patrick’s Well) was built with a double-helix staircase wrapping around it.  The complex staircase allowed a pony to walk all the way down to the bottom, fill up with water, cross the bridge at the bottom, and then walk up the other stair case without meeting another coming down. For a few euros, you can walk down the staircase to the bottom of the well and it’s hard to imagine how the people could have built such an amazing structure during that time period.

Most of the tunnels were undiscovered until a massive earthquake in the 1970’s sheared off the side of a cliff near the Duomo and opened up the side of the hill.  Subsequent investigations found over a 1000 tunnels and caves throughout the entire city. They are built on three levels of the stone with staircases and tunnels connecting the levels.

Most of the tunnels are private property of the homes or stores above them but several are available for tours. One self-guided tour is owned privately, and the other is owned by the city. As part of our “Key to the City” ticket, we took the guided tour of three levels of tunnels near the main Piazza Duomo.  The tour is offered in Italian and English several times a day and you need to sign up ahead of time at an office across from the Duomo. The tour takes about 45 minutes and the guide was knowledgable and interesting. All signs of Etruscan life are gone now, but we were able to see some remnants of life in the middle ages including an ancient stone used to press olives. Several sections were steep and narrow so if you suffer from claustrophobia, you may only want to visit part of the caves.

We also paid 3 euros to walk through the tunnels and the old well of Pozzo Della Cava which contained a number of interesting artefacts and pottery reproductions. The information signs were in Italian and English (possibly more?)  and at the end of the tour, the owner pulled me into his small restaurant adjacent to the tour to show me a glass floor  view a view of the caves under one of the tables. I was confused at the time and thought he was just trying to get me to come in to buy lunch so we had a good laugh as well.

If you walk along the base of the rock, you can often see access to caves, most with locked gates, and apparently many are still used by the locals as cool storage for food and other items. In addition, some of the tunnels found a new use as bomb shelters during WWII and so they have been an important part of Orvieto’s history for three distinct time periods.

If you only have a short time in Orvieto, the underground cave tour should definitely be on your to-do list.  It is interesting for all ages and then later, you will be amazed to think about what is under your feet as you wander through the city nibbling on your gelato.

Etruscan Necropolis

If you have more time, and are interested in learning more, several of Orvieto’s museums have a wide variety of pottery and other artefacts from both the Etruscan time period as well as the middle ages.  On the north side of the city, you can also visit the Etruscan Necropolis to see where, and how, they buried their dead.

As a final note, look closely at the buildings in Orvieto. Most are built with the same porous tufa rock on which they stand.