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.


Food!!!


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 booking.com 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...

A TALE OF MODERN BRITAIN

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.
OR
  • 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

Planning Summer 2018: New Brunswick to Nova Scotia via Prince Edward Island

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.

What we really need to do on Monday the 30th of July is drive from Moncton in New Brunswick to Nova Scotia. Originally, we were heading for Cape Breton, which is about 500 km away. In practical terms, this is a very long day's drive and I started looking for interesting places that might make it fun. To be honest, there is a lot of long, flat highway around this part of the world.

And then, something strange happened and it turned out we were going to Prince Edward Island for the day. Perhaps I should explain. The first - no, almost the only - 'interesting place' I discovered was the 12.9 km long Confederation Bridge, which I thought could be viewed quite nicely from the Cape Jourimain Nature Centre. 

From Wikipedia: Confederation Bridge from the New Brunswick side

Of course it was a little bit out of the way, and there would certainly be the temptation to drive across once we got there. And then we'd be on Prince Edward Island.

Well, no matter. We'd just have to figure out how to leave, and it turns out there is a ferry at the other end. At this point, crossing PEI to the ferry would be as good a route as any (though of course, it comes at the cost of a ferry ticket).

As I realized how different the landscapes of PEI are from those of New Brunswick, and above all, once I realized that Charlottetown would be an interesting place to visit, I became increasingly keen on this solution.

From Google Maps: the area around the Confederation Bridge shows the striking difference between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. PEI is densely farmed, but it's small field farming, not quite like in Europe, but perhaps a more similar feel. This difference runs through the whole of these two provinces.

There was just one problem: the distance wouldn't be significantly greater, but the time taken, what with the ferry and all, would be much longer. It would be a lot of fun, but I just didn't see how we would have time to do all that touring in the morning AND make Cape Breton the same evening.

Then a few nights ago, I woke up at about 3 am in possession of a brainwave. Once I accepted that we wouldn't be going all the way to Cape Breton on the 30th, I not only got a very nice day in PEI out of it, I was able to rationalize several parts of the next few days' driving and sight-seeing which had been bothering me.

Let me explain why I was bothered. This itinerary of ours is based on one offered by a tour company which we liked but found we could DIY for less than half the price. And it's only when you begin figuring out for yourself where the rubber hits the road (literally, in this case) that you realize all the things that tour operators don't quite tell you. In this case, I realized that when they said they were going to show you Nova Scotia, they meant from the window of a moving vehicle, with very little stopping time. I already added a day to this part of the trip, and now I realize that it's barely enough. But I think I've made it work.

Extra note: Prince Edward Island is where Anne of Green Gables is from. I have never read Anne of Green Gables, but of course I've heard of it. Maybe I'll watch the anime version!

The road trip segment through Prince Edward Island, with approximate times.


From Wikipedia: Wood Islands Lighthouse. Maybe we'll find out what the tiny village in the foreground is???

  • 7.00 - Our breakfast at the hotel is included, then we pack and check out.
  • 8.30 - 9.30 - Drive from the hotel to Cape Jourimain Nature Centre: allow 1 hour, 89 km 
  • 9.30 - 10.30 - Short walk and bridge viewing at Cape Jourimain Nature Centre
  • 11.00 - Cross the Confederation Bridge over to Prince Edward Island
  • 11.00 - 12.00 - Drive from Confederation Bridge to Charlotte Town: allow 1 hour, 70.1 km. There are several multi-story car parks in Charlotte Town, called parkades. Queen Parkade may suit us best.
  • 12.00 - 14.30 - Visit Charlotte Town, making sure to see Victoria Row, Confederation Landing and the harbor area. There are apparently many good seafood restaurants where we should get lunch. Oysters, lobsters, that sort of thing. Also, note that all the times so far are estimates, but we will have to leave in time to catch the ferry. If we arrive in Charlotte Town earlier than planned, so much the better. If it is raining, the Confederation Center of the Arts could be interesting.
  • 14.30 - 15.30 - Drive from Charlotte Town to Wood Islands ferry crossing: 45 minutes but allowing 1 hour for safety, 52 km. NOTE TO SELF: All the times after this are estimates, based on last year's ferry schedule. This year's is not available yet. Review this plan when the schedule becomes available and make ferry reservations.
  • 15.30 - 16.30 - We need to allow one hour waiting time for ferry, but the harbor and nearby Wood Islands Lighthouse look photogenic. It seems like a pleasant place to hang out.
  • 16.30 - 17.45 - Ferry crossing. There will no doubt be a cafe on board, and a nice view of the coasts and Pictou Island (weather permitting)
  • 17.45 - 19.15 - Drive from Caribou to Port Hawkesbury: allow one hour, 30 minutes, 137 km. At this point, we will JUST have made it to Nova Scotia! And we really do need to get at least that far. NOTE TO SELF: E-mail the hotel nearer the time and warn them that we will be checking in a little after 19.00.
  • Dinner - there are several restaurants not far from where we're staying, but I'm not sure they're anything very special. If we've had a big lunch and are tired it may be more convenient for us to self-cater. Our hotel has a kitchenette, which presumably means at least a microwave. If we plan to use it, well... there are supermarkets not too far away, but it might be nice to show up with what we need - either left-overs from lunch or something else we acquired in Charlotte Town.

TOTAL DRIVING TIME/DISTANCE: c. 4 hours 30 mins, 348 km
SIGHTSEEING TIME: 4 hours 30 mins + 1 hour, 15 mins ferry crossing

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Planning Summer 2018: Fundy 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.


Fundy National Park map, with my hiking choices picked out with mauve dots.

On Sunday 29 July, we plan to spend a full day hiking in Fundy National Park. Planning for it is really a question of picking a suitable hike. The parks in Canada and the USA don't offer many of the kind of long day hikes we're used to. They favor two other models: multi-day back-country hikes with tents and so on, or 'drive-and-stroll' day hiking. Sometimes I enjoy the 'drive-and-stroll' model, sometimes I get frustrated because it feels like 'interrupted driving'. But it is the North American Way, so... here goes. Obviously, all the times are estimates. We'll be adjusting them on the fly. Also, meal planning is in red, because you really have to think about where the next meal is coming from when you travel with Mike. Anyway, I think this will be fun.

  • 7.00 - a full breakfast is included at our hotel. It would be really good if we got in the habit of getting up at about this time and being out of our hotels by 8.30. We will need to make up our packed lunches in the morning or the night before.
  • 8.30 - 9.30 - Drive from the hotel to Fundy National Park entrance inland route: allow 1 hour, 94 km. The entrance fee is $7.80 each. Opening hours are 8.00 to 21.45. NOTE TO SELF: at some point, I need to work out whether a Canadian Parks Pass is going to be better value for us than paying individual entrance fees. At the moment, I'm doubting it.
  • 9.30 - 11.30 - Caribou Plain Trail is a short view of the forest, with either a 0.5 km boardwalk or a 2.1 km loop. The time here includes driving through Fundy, from the entrance to Matthew’s Head trail car park.
  • 11.30 - 15.30 - Matthew’s Head Trail (4.5 km) with picnic and possible extension towards Herring Cove Beach (c.3 km) along the Coastal Trail. The loop has some historical features and a section of the coastal trail walk with cliff top viewpoints. It will be high tide in the middle of the day, so we may not go all the way to the beach, saving time for the Falls and Hopewell Rocks.
  • 15.30 - 16.30 - Dickson Falls Trail: a very short loop trail (1.5 km) on our way out along the coastal road, but the falls seem likely to be worth seeing. 
  • 16.30 - 17.30 - Drive from Dickson Falls to Hopewell Rocks: allow 40 mins, 46 km.
  • 17.30 - 20.00 - Hopewell Rocks. The entrance fee is $10 each but this is a private attraction, not a National Park. Opening hours are 8.00 to 20.00. Low tide is in the evening and the beaches will be accessible from 17.05. If the weather is clear, it should also be a good time for photography. It's recommended to see the rocks at high and low tide, but that won't be an option for us. I have planned quite a long stay here, with time for strolling, photographing, and supper in the High Tide Cafe. This seems like a good plan because many restaurants in Moncton are closed on Sunday night, specifically the ones closest to our hotel. The High Tide Cafe at Hopewell Rocks has some pleasant seafoody options and good reviews, so it seems like our best bet. It also makes for a more relaxed day overall if we don't have to see everything and rush back to the hotel, planning to go out again. 
  • 20.00 - 20.40 - Drive from Hopewell Rocks to the hotel: allow 40 mins, 50 km.

TOTAL DRIVING TIME/DISTANCE: 2 hours 30 mins; c.200 km

What will we do if the weather is absolutely horrible?


The weather could be quite changeable, and the weather at the coast may not match the weather inland. We could try focusing on shorter loop walks while we hope for better things. If we spend much more time in the car, we could detour towards the Cape Enrage Lighthouse along the 915 coastal route. In extremis, we could go museum hopping in Moncton. There are several small but interesting looking museums but they all close by about 17.00.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Planning Summer 2018: Arriving in Moncton

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.


Moncton from the sky: a sea of asphalt!

This is the continuation of the planning for Saturday July 28, when we arrive in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, in the middle of the day, by train.

This got a bit fiddly. We had hoped to keep our car rental to a minimum by spending the afternoon in Moncton and picking the car up from Moncton airport as late as practical in the evening. Incidentally, the reason we need to get a car at the airport is that we want to return it in a different location and it seems only the airport rental shops will allow us to do that.

There is not much to do in Moncton. When the tidal bore comes in it is supposed to be quite impressive, but it doesn't look as though the times will work well for us. (NOTE TO SELF: check the bore tide times again later in the year, and research other potential viewpoints.)  

That doesn't matter, because we really need to spend the afternoon doing laundry and grocery shopping. (NOTE TO SELF: Eventually, make a list of meals that will be self-catered/picnics in order to plan the shopping). 

In my quaint European way, I imagined everything I needed would be within a reasonable walking distance, close to the centre of a walkable city! Then I saw Moncton from the sky. It's an ocean of car parks, with occasional buildings rising from the surface like little islands. I had heard about such things, but I have never really experienced them. I guess my USA experiences have been pretty selective. 

At any rate this is an overhead view that broadcasts to the world that pedestrianism is odd and motorised vehicules are expected. Also, the launderette and grocery stores are miles from the station and the public transport to the airport is timed to coincide with the arrival of the trains.

So here's what we're doing on Saturday afternoon:

  • 13.35 - Arrive Moncton Station on the Ocean
  • 13.55 - Take the Maritime Bus to Moncton Airport. NOTE TO SELF: Book the bus tickets
  • 14.00 - Pick up the rental car. NOTE TO SELF: Modify the rental car reservation.
  • Hit the launderette (it closes at 18.00), the grocery store (closes late) and check-in at the hotel from 15.00.
  • The hotel looks pleasant, with its own little walking trail through the woods, so make some time to relax and go for a stroll.
  • There is no restaurant at the hotel, but there are a couple of them a short drive away, or we can go into town. Restaurants mostly close by 22.00. We should probably try the recommended Bistro 33, as it is close to the hotel, and will be closed on Sunday.

NOTE TO SELF: The final thing I need to do around the car rental is verify our insurance situation and make sure to get a print out of the conditions. Apparently, in Canada, they are more likely to ask to see this. There is a question in our minds whether both of us are insured or only Mike, and that may impact the decision of whether to add me as a second driver. In the next few days, I'll be planning the road trip across eastern Canada. I'm trying to make it comfortable for a single driver, but... there are quite long distances to cover. Oh yes, and that reminds me: I also need to check the mileage on the car rental reservation. 

I haven't the time or energy to mess with car rental reservations today. In any case, I think I'll just finish planning the road trip so that I can see exactly what we need.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Planning Summer 2018: Making an Annotated Japanese Timeline

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.

This is a useful little strategy for finding your feet in a new culture: Take a standard timeline of the place's history and annotate it with stuff you already know, things that seem important to you, or places you've visited. This Japanese timeline has some movies I've seen and places I went to on my previous trips. Although it's quite long, that's just because Japan has a lot of history. What I actually know about Japan is almost nothing, but hopefully that will change. I'll be adding to the timeline as I go along.

From my last trip: about the oldest things I've seen in Japan are these 'Monkey Stones' from the Asuka period (7th to 8th C). They can be seen at the Kibihimenomiko Tomb in Asuka.

Prehistoric and Ancient Japan


  • Paleolithic and Jomon periods
  • Yayoi period
  • Kofun period (c.250-538)

Classical Japan


Asuka period (538-710


  • Buddhism introduced to Japan (552)
  • Carved stones of Asuka, such as the Tortoise Stone (7th century)

Nara period (710-794)


Heian period (794-1185) - zenith of the Fujiwara clan


  • Murasai Shikibu writes The Tales of Genji
  • Sakuteiki writes Records of Garden Making (mid to late 11th century)
  • Origin of The Tale of Princess Kaguya, although the first surviving manuscript is dated 1592. I know it from the Ghibli version (2013).
  • The Fujiwara men often kept diaries, for example Fujiwara Munetada kept a journal known as the Chuyuki between1062-1141. It seems to be untranslated but I found extracts from it along the Kumano Kodo trail
  • Hiraizumi - Takkoku no Iwaya temple: foundation (801)
  • Hiraizumi - Chuson-Ji: foundation (850), completion (1124). Motsu-ji (850-c.1125), Kanjizaio-in (c.1125)
  • Narita Temple: foundation

Medieval Japan


Kamakura period (1185-1333) - beginning of Samurai period


Muromachi or Ashikaga period (1333-1568)


  • The Sengoku Period or Age or Warring States spans the period from 1467-1603)
  • Kyoto Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavillion) - built in 1397, it was burned in 1950 and reconstructed in 1955.

Early Modern Period


Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600)


Edo or Tokugawa period, shogunate, (1600-1868)


  • Emergence of Geisha culture -> until the mid-twentieth century
  • Narita Temple: expansion and enrichment: Komyo-do (1701), Pagoda (1712), Niomon main gate (1830), Shaka-do (1856), Gaku-do (1861)
  • Kyoto Nijo Castle: construction (1603)
  • Hirosaki Castle: original construction (1603-1611) The keep was destroyed by fire in 1627 and a new one constructed in 1810.
  • Boso no Mura: outdoor museum with reproductions of Edo and Meiji buildings
  • Shank’s Mare (Tokaidochu Hizakurige), a comic travelogue by Jippensha Ikku (1802-1822)
  • Hokusai, the famous print-maker lived 1760-1849

Modern Japan



  • The Wind Rises: Ghibli’s life of Jiro Horikoshi (2013) spans most of this period

Meiji period (1868-1912)


  • Boso no Mura: outdoor museum with reproductions of Edo and Meiji Buildings

Taisho period (1912-1926)


Showa period (1926-1989)


  • Pearl Harbour: 1941
  • Grave of the Fireflies: Ghibli war film (1988) set in 1945. To be honest, I can't bear to watch it.
  • Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks: 1945
  • Narita Temple: Narita-san Park (opened 1928), Kaizan-do (1938), Great Main Hall (1968), Great Pagoda (1984)

Heisei Period (1989-present) - accession of 125th Emperor Akihito. He is 84 years old and will abdicate in April 2019.


  • Akira (1988 film) - The first anime I ever saw, in about 1990
  • Narita Temple: Hall to Prince Shotoku (1992)

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Planning Summer 2018: the finer details of Japan

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 my last trip: a small and not very typical part of the gardens in Narita Temple. Come to think of it, it strikes me that this bit of garden design is in the European style.

I was actually strict about sticking to my one hour of planning today, so this is a good indication of what really fits into hour. I wanted to sort some minor details of planning so that I wouldn't have to waste time on them when I actually get to Japan. Remember - an hour spent in advance equals at least an hour during the actual trip. I would rather spend the time looking at nice things.


  • I figured out where to go in Narita Airport to get my JR East rail pass turned on.
  • I marked the location of both the car rental places on Google Maps - I have the vouchers for the two car rentals already, but I don't expect to get the translated driving license that will allow me to use them for over a month!
  • Since we're going to be staying on the coast at Ajigasawa, I knew it would be to my advantage to find a beach in advance. I have a feeling it may be expected of me! (Antonia... beaches...). This is the advantage of research: my first instinct was that the beach a short drive out of town would be nicer, but I learned it is typically covered with trash. Ajigasawa Beach Resort, right in town, is probably better maintained, and walking distance from our hotel. 
  • For similar reasons, I checked out the availability of beaches (and boats) at Lake Towada
  • I started studying Hiraizumi, the World Heritage Site in which we'll be spending a single day. We won't have time to do everything comfortably unless we rent bikes. I daresay that's why there are multiple bike rental places near the station. We may just minimize and NOT try to do everything as this is often a better bet with Antonia anyway. Also she can sort of ride a bike, but not especially well, and we would be on roads. NOTE TO SELF: Take Antonia to the park before we go so she can relearn to ride a bike anyway!!!
  • After that, I started adding to my list of Japanese things I ought to know about. For example, Hiraizumi is noted for its Jodo Gardens, created during the Heian period as an expression of Pure Land Buddhism. Did I sound like I knew what I was talking about? Well, no...




Friday, 2 February 2018

Planning Summer 2018: Driving in Japan

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.

Renting a car in Japan should be easy, but it gets a little more complicated if you're already international (what doesn't?)


Examples of French driver's licenses that will be refused by the Japanese translators: in my imagination, my license combines the worst features of all of the above.

For most foreign visitors who want to drive in Japan, an international permit is sufficient. My problem seemed to be that I had a driver's license issued by France while I'm resident in Britain. If I owned a car here, I would have needed to swap it for a British one by now, but since we live in London and had no car, I didn't bother. 

So... can I get either the French or the British authorities to issue me an international permit? The answer is that I might be able to do either, with a bit of fiddling and judicious manipulation of addresses, but there's no need. Actually, Japan doesn't accept the international permit issued by the French authorities, because it doesn't meet some standard or other. Well done, France!

I don't know if I could use an international permit issued by the British authorities (supposing I could get one) but fortunately the Japanese, keen to rent their rental cars to any paying customers, have come up with a work-around: the Japanese Automobile Federation will produce official translations of our French licenses, for a small fee, and these are acceptable. Actually, given that it's one translation for all of France and that all the 'translators' have to do is fill in our personal details, the fee is maybe not so small, but that's how it goes (try being international, you'll see). The other little snag is that the Japanese Automobile Federation will only post translations to addresses in Japan. Alternatively, you can get your license translated on the spot, when you arrive in Japan. For some people this is probably a good, economical solution, but for me, it means blowing a full day of the trip on administration, with a teenager in tow.

Fortunately, there is another workaround. You scan your license, send it to a Franco-Japanese agency (Vivre Le Japon) and they deal with submitting it, receiving it at their offices in Japan and sending it on to you. For a small fee. They'll also handle the car rentals themselves, for a mark-up which is very reasonable (I checked), and also avoids the awkward assumption apparently made by Japanese rental car agencies that all their clients have phone numbers which work in Japan.

So now, there is only one snag left: the state of my French driver's license. I must say, what with our other countries falling over themselves to pile shame and disgrace upon our heads, it's actually nice to be able to offer a criticism of France. France! That candy-pink cardboard chose that's supposed to last us a lifetime... mais c'est n'importe quoi, ce torchon, dites donc!!! Obviously, it's falling apart, what with being 20 years old!!!

Okay, so you realised that, finally,, and you've brought out a nice, new plastic one. Very good, France, but you won't give me one, will you, because I don't live there at the moment. Sigh...

Anyway, this morning was dedicated to making the best possible scan of my slowly disintegrating French driver's license and sending it off to Vivre le Japon, along with a request for a car for four days in Aomori Prefecture and two days at Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture. I think it will work. I hope it will. 

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Planning Summer 2018: Why we're not going to Niagara Falls

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.

While I was sorting out my photos I dug up this old picture of Niagara Falls in the kind of weather you get in real life.

The only reason we're not going to Niagara Falls is simple: we've already been. Mike went decades ago, when he was still a US resident. I went in August 2015, by myself. It was sort of a mistake actually. I'd booked a flight from Iceland to Toronto, thinking I would have lots of time in Canada. I thought I might see Montreal and Quebec, then take a train to Vancouver, then somehow get from Vancouver to Idaho, where I had stuff to do. It turned out that the 'stuff' took over and the only thing I did in Canada is rent a car at Toronto airport and drive down to Niagara Falls for the day. Not really worth the hassle of dealing with two lots of North American immigration in the space of three days. 

Don't get me wrong though. I liked Niagara a lot. Not so much for the Falls themselves. They're nice enough, even on a grey, wet day, but I've seen a lot of waterfalls. Maybe I'd rate these ones a 7/10. No, what's really neat about Niagara is its status as a vintage tourist site. Its something it shares with places like the Statue of Liberty in New York and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Their status as century+-old tourist sites gives them a quality and a history all their own. I had a lot of fun walking up and down the banks around the Falls, watching the watchers, the boats, the paths, the souvenir shops, the dubious food 'offerings' and 'exciting adventures' someone thinks the punters might buy to make their Niagara Falls Experience a little more special.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Planning Summer 2018: making space for more photos

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 spent the morning yesterday (not an hour) figuring out how to transfer hundreds of photos from IPads and Androids to my laptop, so that I would have room to take more of them. I spent the afternoon sorting them into folders. Then I spent the evening trying to remember exactly where I was in Iceland when I saw this guy. I eventually managed it, as you can see from the caption, but it wasn't easy. For one thing, he doesn't appear on Google Maps.


Kleifabúi Cairn at the Kleifaheiði Pass, on the Barðastrandarvegur between Brjánslækur ferry and Patreksfjörður, West Fjords, Iceland

I wanted to make the process a bit easier for the next person, so I've submitted the location to Google. If that's accepted, I'll upload a photo and comment as well. The satellite imagery for this section of Iceland is not good. I had expected to make out the statue itself but could only see the pull-off where I parked the car to look at it. I hope I'm not more than a few meters off in my location.

The Kleifabúi cairn was built in 1947 with left-over materials by the road-workers who made the route over the Kleifaheiði Pass. It is said to resemble Hákon J. Kristófersson, a farmer and congress man from the farm Hagi. I can't help wondering why.

From many angles, it is possible to form a certain impression of this artwork, based on its fascinating profile. However, if you approach from the front, you can see that Mr Kristófersson is actually wearing quite a modest mid-thigh-length tunic. The protruding object he is clutching in his right hand is supposed to represent his sword.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Planning Summer 2018: Getting home via the Blue Lagoon, Iceland

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 took this photo at the Blue Lagoon, back in 2004. It looks really vintage now!

For some years, the least expensive way to get from the East Coast of the US to London has involved a stop-over in Iceland. If you get your flights timed right, you can use this stop-over as an excuse to go and hang out in the Blue Lagoon, the geothermal spa near Keflavik airport.

We haven't done this in the past (the photo above is from an actual trip to Iceland) but I was aware that the option was on offer from Icelandair as late as last weekend, and that it coincided with the cheapest flight available. I wanted this option! The challenge was to persuade Mike to be decisive enough to let me book a flight. He still doesn't even know what day he wants to fly out on yet, so booking him a return flight is out of the question.

Just to show what a fiddly process these things are, here's what I had to do:

  • Make sure Icelandair doesn't charge more for booking two single flights versus one return flight.
  • Complain when I discovered that the prices had gone up since the weekend.
  • Complain even more when I discovered that the long stop-over flights had vanished from Expedia for the days and departure airports we wanted.
  • Check whether the flights were cheaper and better from other potentially accessible East Coast airports on adjacent days.
  • Figure out that there was no good reason I couldn't have a long stop-over on any day I wanted.
  • Figure out how to make the Icelandair site give me a long stop-over (book a multi-stop trip at no extra cost).
  • Discover to my delight that a long stop-over with our first choice of airport and day is still pretty nearly the lowest price after all.
  • Book a single flight for three people. 
  • Cringe when I see how much a single flight for three adults costs.
  • Check the relative costs of a bus versus a rental car to the Blue Lagoon.
  • Cringe at the cost of car rental from Keflavik, compared to almost anywhere else on the planet.
  • Book a car anyway, because it's still less expensive than three return bus tickets to the Blue Lagoon, plus it will give us a little extra flexibility. 
Surprisingly enough, that didn't take much longer than an hour and it's a load off my mind. NOW THERE'S ONLY ONE THING I STILL HAVE TO DO: continually remind Mike to book his flight to the USA, until he actually does it!!! OH YEAH, AND THIS: Book Blue Lagoon tickets when they become available, probably in March.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Planning Summer 2018: Choosing a Japan Rail Pass

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: Nikko... shall I, or shan't I? Oh... I did.

For a visitor to Japan, checking the benefits of a Japan Rail Pass should be practically a reflex reaction. A 7-day or 14-day Japan Rail Pass is perfect for a typical first visit to Japan in which the visitor zooms around on Shinkansens (bullet trains) between Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Currently, those passes are priced at £184 and £293 respectively.

Even though my itinerary wasn't entirely fixed, I priced out what I did have using Hyperdia. I could already see that our train tickets would come to over £300 and I would still need to buy some extra ones, since we're staying for 17 days. It looks like the 14-day pass will just about work for us, doesn't it? Just about...

Well, it turns out there is a better option, practically tailor-made for a trip like ours. Japan Rail offers many less well-known regional passes. We'll be travelling around Tohoku prefecture with a few days at either end in Narita and Tokyo respectively. We have a few days of long-distance expensive train journeys, interspersed with days of cheap, slow local transport or car hire.

The Tohoku regional pass costs £124. It allows just five days of train travel, but very importantly, it allows you to spread them out as you like over a 14-day period. And incidentally, it includes Tokyo. It may even include a car hire discount, but I haven't looked into this much as yet. It would pay for itself on our very first 'expensive' day of travel.

For the 14-day pass to prove better value, we would need to spend an average of £20 a day on local transport. I already know that's not going to happen: so far our most expensive 'local transport' day comes in at £10. As it is, having five 'expensive' days to play with encouraged me to look at Nikko, a town of which the Japanese apparently say "Never say beautiful until you've seen Nikko". It's not technically in Tohoku, but it is on the Tohoku pass.

Somehow, Nikko really pulled my itinerary together, and by the end of the morning, I'd booked two night in a fancy ryokan in Nikko and two nights immediately before that near Sendai station (because we really want to visit Yamadera, and perhaps the coast, on opposite sides of Sendai).

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Planning Summer 2018: Quebec to Moncton on ViaRail's Ocean

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: The Ocean, in the kind of weather you really get!

Getting to the station


On Friday July 27 to Saturday July 28, we ride the Ocean overnight train from Montreal to Halifax. The train arrives at Quebec Sainte-Foy Station at 22.34 and leaves 15 minutes later. Sainte-Foy is a tiny place about 10km out of Quebec city centre. There's not much there and we'll be checking in just over an hour before departure so bring a book! We should expect to eat dinner in Quebec fairly early: a ViaRail shuttle bus departs Gare du Palais at 20.45, connecting Ocean passengers to Sainte-Foy. NOTE TO SELF: Book the shuttle tickets.

Luggage


If we leave our bags at the hotel for the day we need to allow a 10-15 minute walk to the station after picking them up. For the amount of luggage we have, we can either use the Ocean's system of checked luggage or carry everything on board. As we're likely to be in and out of our cabin, checking our luggage has advantages, but we will need to plan accordingly when we pack.

The Ocean


We have a two-person cabin with a shower, washbasin and private toilet. It sounds very comfortable, but I have heard a few warnings about the excessively cooling nature of the AC, so bring warm clothing! At some point during the morning, our couchettes will be transformed into seats. Even so, we will certainly get better views from the Lounge Car and the Observation Car.

During the night, the Ocean will hug the southern bank of the St Lawrence under a full moon as far as Mont-Joli, but despite the enticing names of the Quebecois towns, I don't expect to surface until after Matapedia, round about 6.30 am. By then, the train will have crossed the Gaspe Peninsula and started its journey along the Baie des Chaleurs. At around 9.30, it heads inland again, as far as Moncton. Prime viewing time is therefore between 7.00 and 9.30 am.

Breakfast and lunch


Two meals in the restaurant car are included in the price our our ticket. Breakfast is first-come, first-served from 6.30am. I hear it is advisable to turn up early, before some items run out. A 3-course lunch is served from 11.30, and reservations will be taken beforehand. As we leave the train at Moncton at 13.23, we will want one of the earlier seatings.