Sunday 1 April 2018

Planning Summer 2018: Booking ferries

In the past, we've only blogged trips on Little Rabbit's Planning. After a couple of days of migraine-inducing marathon planning for Summer 2018, I set myself a limit of 1 hour/day and decided to blog the process.

Myeah. It's time to book the ferries, or rather, it's gone time. Last I checked, a mere six weeks ago, ferry dates for Cape Breton to Newfoundland were not open. Now, all the nice fancy cabins are gone already - and we're talking August here!! Never mind, the consequence of that is that Mike and I have a four-berth cabin to ourselves. At least, I presume we have it to ourselves. It's quite expensive, but I think it's a little less than we budgeted for initially.

Also, I booked the short ferry ride between PEI and Nova Scotia. That was cheap and easy. 

Thursday 15 February 2018

Planning Summer 2018: Hiking on the Avalon Peninsula

In the past, we've only blogged trips on Little Rabbit's Planning. After a couple of days of migraine-inducing marathon planning for Summer 2018, I set myself a limit of 1 hour/day and decided to blog the process.

From Wikipedia: Cape Spear Lighthouse
Weather permitting, we'll go for some proper hiking on this day, and do as little driving as possible. The plan is to catch up with the East Coast Trail at Cape Spear Lighthouse, 22 minutes from St Johns, and hike south along it until we've had enough. We'll visit the lighthouse on our way back (opening hours 10.30 - 17.00, entrance fee $3.90 each),  

If we finish early enough, we may drive around to Signal Hill National Historic Site, or just potter around St Johns. NOTE TO SELF: The other possibility for the late afternoon is to book a photography tutorial. Look into the timing and cost.

What will we do if the weather is appalling?

In this case, we'll spend more time in the indoors part of these attractions and see one or two of St Johns museums, for instance, The Rooms, which has art and history.


An important issue which we mustn't forget about. 

  • Breakfast is included with the accommodation.
  • For lunch, we need to pick up a picnic at the supermarket on our way out of town. I've noted the location of the most convenient one on Google Maps.
  • For dinner, I feel inclined to try something a bit fancy. After all, it's nearly the end of the trip, and we'll have done a lot of picnics and basic cafe food. NOTE TO SELF: Research fancy restaurants in St Johns and consider booking in advance.

Tuesday 13 February 2018

Planning Summer 2018: Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland

In the past, we've only blogged trips on Little Rabbit's Planning. After a couple of days of migraine-inducing marathon planning for Summer 2018, I set myself a limit of 1 hour/day and decided to blog the process.

The Avalon Peninsula is that little bit of Newfoundland that projects out of its south-eastern corner, almost forming an island.  You could argue that the Avalon Peninsula itself is formed of four lobes, each of which is just about the right size to visit in a day. However, we have two and half days.

Actually, this part of the trip isn't so complicated to plan. We just have three short driving routes with a range of things we could do along them. We won't be able to do them all, but we'll pick and choose at the time, depending on the weather, which can be rather unpredictable in Newfoundland.

This loop has 4 hours of driving for 300 km of distance. Although it might not seem the most efficient way to cover the distance, that stretch of road we drive twice only takes 15 minutes. Doing things this way round allows us to be in the right place at the right time.

Arriving with the overnight ferry

The ferry arrives at Argentia at approximately 9.30, but disembarkation could take some time. I'm going to assume that we might be on the road by 10.30.

Things to do in Brigus and Cupids

It takes about 1 hour to get from Argentia to the Brigus and Cupids area

Things to do in Bay Roberts

Things to do in Harbour Grace

Things to do in Heart's Content

It takes about 1 hour to get from Brigus and Cupids to Heart's Content, not allowing for any stops. We should aim to arrive by 15.30.
  • Heart's Content Cable Station - where the first permanent telegraph cable connecting Europe and North America was hauled ashore. Open 9.30 - 17.00. Entrance fee: $6.00 each. 

St Johns

The scenic route along the coast from Heart's Content takes 1 hour and 45 minutes, which is only 15 minutes slower than the fastest route to St Johns and may allow for some photo stops. 
  • We're staying on the university campus. There should be laundry facilities, which we may be wanting to take advantage of by this point. NOTE TO SELF: email and ask if I can swap the twin room for a double room, since didn't offer this option.
  • For dinner, there is a pub on campus if we're very tired, or we can drive 10 minutes to the town center, where there are many restaurants and pubs, ranging from really fancy to pizza. In which case, here is a helpful guide to downtown parking.
  • St Johns Haunted Hikes offers an evening tour of St Johns (Thursday only, as far as we're concerned), complete with ghost stories of course, beginning at 21.30 at the Cathedral for $10 each. The walk lasts about 1 hour 15 mins.

Monday 12 February 2018

Heathrow Terminal 5: in which I say nice things about an airport!!!

This isn't about travel planning at all, it's about my little trip to Heathrow Terminal 5 yesterday. I really went to have brunch with Mike as he was passing through on his way between Texas and France, but while I was there I did some photo-sketching experiments with my iPad.

These Heathrow Acrobats are a work in progress - if you look hard, you might find where I'm still messing about with the brightness of some sections

Terminal 5 is architecturally stunning, at least on the inside. Also, a beautiful poem by Caleb Femi is playing on all the billboards there. In truth, I'm having a hard time believing in this poem right now, and an even harder time thinking of Britain as home, but it's still a beautiful poem. Maybe 'Modern Britain' will win out in the end...


You arrive at the end of the horizon
standing at the tarmac mouth of home
lighter if you left it all behind -heavier if you brought all with you.
Come, before you step out into the open air
sit down here, in-between the brief pause
of children’s laughter and a tannoy announcement.
In the small kingdom of faces -some moving with
the grace of falling snow
others like laser beams bouncing off a disco ball.

 Not too long ago you were at departures
when leaving was a sweet song bitter in the throat to sing.
Do you remember the faces who were leaving for work,
or for the spring holidays,
to say goodbye at a family funeral
or for the laughter of a hen do?
Those who were answering the call to adventure
with an open ticket in hand and in the other a phone
full of friends who will follow them each step of the way.

 Now you’ve arrived at the other side of that adventure
in the warmness of home
shed the hue of ‘tourist’
you’re back in your endz now
one of the locals
you know the right trains to catch
know the best breakfast spot.

 This country is not a place of good weather but of good people.
What do you want to know about the country? You might learn it here
in this marketplace of modern British culture.
Take a crash course in the local lingo
teach your ears the different accents
we don’t all sound like Downton Abbey
not all Northerns sound like Wayne Rooney
some of us man do get hot
we’re not all about tea and crumpets - well some of us are.

Imagine a terminal as a portal to a new version of yourself
a new light pouring over a new sunrise
remember that as you
depart at the start of the horizon
standing at the tarmac mouth of the world.

Saturday 10 February 2018

Planning Summer 2018: About Trains

In the past, we've only blogged trips on Little Rabbit's Planning. After a couple of days of migraine-inducing marathon planning for Summer 2018, I set myself a limit of 1 hour/day and decided to blog the process.

I'm taking a break from planning for a couple of days, but I did make these interesting charts comparing the train rides we'll be taking with some familiar standards.

This chart shows train journeys in ascending order of length (blue bar). The yellow bar, which represents journey time, shows that there isn't much relationship between distance and the time it takes a train to cover it. The difference has more to do with a culture's decisions about how to invest in train transport.

We can see that the long distance North American trains are notoriously slow, so slow, in fact, that they can only real function as tourist train, but the trains connecting the major cities of the east work more like trains in Europe. We can see the symptom of the UK's lagging behind in building high-speed connections between its major cities in the relatively slow, London-Edinburgh connection. Japan has the edge over Europe in high-speed connections but only just.

But time/distance isn't everything. What about price?

All prices have been converted to US dollars. The price for the overnight Canadian train is for travel only, excluding sleeping accommodation.
The light red bar shows train prices in ascending order of cost per kilometer, BUT, and it's a big 'but', these prices are the cheapest you can possibly get. In Europe, you have to book weeks or possibly months in advance to stand a chance of getting the lowest rate. The dark red bar shows what you would pay if you tried to take a train in the middle of the day this coming Monday, booking only two days early.

Prices in Europe regularly double or quadruple if you try to travel on a last minute whim. The cost of traveling from Paris to London on the Eurostar (in just three hours, admittedly) leaps  to such astronomical heights that it distorts the whole chart. It's no wonder Eurostar's recent ad campaign vaunts the delights of spontaneity. Look what they expect to charge for it!!!

Meanwhile, Japan charges a single flat fee for its train journeys, no matter when you book, and the long North American train prices hardly shift, with the cost of Montreal-Quebec actually going down. In fact, I think this may have something to do with it being winter out there - not a good time for journeys that mostly appeal to tourists and holiday makers. Note that the Washington DC to New York price doubles for a late booking, but that's still better than the increases you get in Europe.

Friday 9 February 2018

Planning Summer 2018: Cape Breton National Park

In the past, we've only blogged trips on Little Rabbit's Planning. After a couple of days of migraine-inducing marathon planning for Summer 2018, I set myself a limit of 1 hour/day and decided to blog the process.

From Wikipedia: Ingonish Beach. BTW, the author of this photo, Tango7174, has contributed many professional quality photographs to Wikipedia. Thanks, Tango.  

Sometimes, it's the days that allow no room for maneuver that are the hardest to plan. Wednesday 1 August has to be planned backwards from the time when we need to check in for the overnight ferry at North Sydney. I always find that sort of thing a bit stressful: what if there's an unexpected traffic jam? 

The other difficulty is to decide what to do with half a day in an area that contains Cape Breton National Park and the Cabot Trail. There's easily enough to do here for two weeks. Fortunately, we are staying just on the other side of Cape Smokey from Ingonish, so we get to see what I suspect are two of the prettiest sights of the area. Briefly.

  • 7.00 - 8.00 - Breakfast at the Dancing Moose Cafe. It's not included, but they specialize in dutch pancakes, both sweet and savory. That's obviously unmissable. 
  • 8.00 - 8.30 - Drive from accommodation to Ingonish Visitor Centre: allow 30 mins, 27 km, over one of the more spectacular points of the Cabot Trail.
  • 8.30 - we need to pick up a day pass for Cape Breton National Park at the Visitor Centre. The entrance fee is $7.80, opening hours are 8.30 - 19.00

The choice of hikes

Both these hikes look nice, and I suspect that in practice the choice will be made for us, based on our efficiency in getting out in the morning.
  • 8.45 - 11.45 - Franey Trail is a 7.4 km loop hike, climbing up away from the coast to offer views panoramic views back down from the top. It is supposed to take 2 - 3 hours, and would only be possible if we got a really early start. The trail head for Franey is only 10 minutes from the visitor center, but does involve driving for 1 km down a dirt road.
  • 9.45 - 11.45 - Middle Head Trail is a very nice looking 4.8 km loop with extension along a promontory between two bays. It is supposed to take 1.5 to 2 hours.
  • 12.00 - 13.10 - picnic between Freshwater Lake and Ingonish Beach. The trails themselves could take as much as 1 hour to walk, but if we park in the Ingonish Beach day use parking lot, we can have a quick look at both environments. NOTE TO SELF: The picnic lunch will have been bought the day before, but it doesn't need to be too 'prepared'. We can put something together out of the cooler bag on the fly.

What will we do if the weather is absolutely terrible?

Probably just drive the Cabot Trail north as far as we feel safe in doing with our schedule, taking short stops from time to time and making sure to be back at Ingonish by 13.00.

Getting to the ferry

  • 13.10 - 15.00 - Drive from Ingonish to North Sydney Ferry Terminal, where it's ESSENTIAL to be checked in more than two hours before the ferry's departure: allow 1 hour 40 mins drive, 115 km. I've allowed a very small amount of extra time to pick up our bags from the accommodation if necessary. NOTE TO SELF: Double check these driving times when we do this route the day before, and try to find out about traffic/potential holdups at different times of day.
  • 15.30 - 16.00 - Boarding of the overnight ferry will begin. Our luggage needs to be packed such that we can easily take everything we need for the crossing, as passengers are not allowed to return to the car decks during a sailing.
  • 17.30 - The ferry sails. NOTE TO SELF: I still need to reserve the overnight ferries when booking opens for these dates. Note that although they ask for the license plate of the vehicle when they book, drivers of rental cars are only required to provide the license plate number on check in.

Dinner on the ferry

Opinions vary on the ferry's food offerings, but I'm quite prepared to believe that it will be on the overpriced and average side. I still don't see a reasonable option other than buying some kind of hot meal from them for dinner - especially as by this time, we'll have been picnicing a lot. NOTE TO SELF: What we could do is take some snacks and drinks on board, so that we can arrange our own aperitif, dessert and possibly breakfast - at least the food part of it. It is said the coffee is terrible, but there is not much to be done about it, unless, by chance, the tea is any better.

Thursday 8 February 2018

Planning Summer 2018: Louisbourg, Nova Scotia

In the past, we've only blogged trips on Little Rabbit's Planning. After a couple of days of migraine-inducing marathon planning for Summer 2018, I set myself a limit of 1 hour/day and decided to blog the process.

From Wikipeda: Main Street from the reconstructed part of Louisbourg Fortress.

Louisbourg Fortress looks to be Nova Scotia's prime attraction: the recommendation is to allow between 4 hours and several days to experience it. It is the site of an 18th-century French fortified town and commercial port, one quarter of which has been reconstructed. Also around Louisbourg is a particularly pretty lighthouse on some nice coastline. We're just going to get there as soon as we can, and leave around closing time, which is at 17.00. 

I don't have to do too much planning for this, as the site itself provides you with everything you need. We will probably take a guided tour (hopefully in French), look around a bit on our own, then start on the local walking trails. We will get lunch on the site, but I'm leaving it open whether we go for the amusing, but possibly gimmicky 18th-century tavern option, or the more modern sandwich shop. I do think the tavern's pain perdu could be worth a try.

  • 7.00 - Breakfast is included at our hotel
  • 8.30 - 10.45 - Drive from the hotel to the Fortress of Louisbourg: allow 2 hours 15 minutes, 170 km. I think our best move is to get this over with as quickly as possible, but if we leave early enough, we can make a short stop at St Peter's Canal National Historic Site which is free, and opens at 8.00.
  • 10.45 - Arrive at Louisbourg Fortress National Historic Site. The entrance fee is $17.60 each, opening hours are 9.30 to 17.00. After that, we see everything at the fortress, have lunch, take some local walks, and generally take full advantage of the place. Some of the trails, such as the Ruins Walk, are inside the park, but others, such as the Lighthouse Trail are across the harbor. Depending on time/weather we might do this before or after the fortress, BUT note that there is a 20 minute drive between them.
  • 17.00 - 17.50 - Drive to the supermarkets outside North Sydney, as we need to stock up on some food: allow 50 mins, 61 km.
  • 17.50 - 18.50 - Allow one hour for shopping. You never know, it might take that long!!
  • 18.50 - 20.00 - Drive from the supermarkets to the accommodation: allow 1 hour, 10 mins, 87 km. We might detour via the Englishtown Ferry, but this doesn't make a whole lot of difference to the time, though it knocks 20 km off the drive.
  • 20.00 - Arrive at the 'tents'. I was drawn to these because I somehow imagine that the night will be crystal clear, and that I'll get in some star-gazing (before the moon comes up 22.47) while enjoying a romantic picnic supper on the beach. We'll see what the weather has to say about that plan. There do not appear to be any cooking facilities at this place, which is a tiny downside, and means that the picnic supper will have to be cold. At any rate, these wooden 'tents' are very inexpensive, if rather basic. NOTE TO SELF: I still have to do some fiddling with this reservation. I need to cancel one day, which is a shame, and I need to ask them to give us a bed linen package, since this is not their standard option.

Obviously, this is another very long day. If it turns out that we leave Louisbourg a little earlier, and don't spend too long in the supermarkets, so much the better. 

TOTAL DRIVING TIME/DISTANCE: 4 hours 15 mins, 318 km
SIGHTSEEING TIME: about 5 hours