Living a Sustainable Life in Nova Scotia

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word sustainable as –  a state of holding up, maintaining, enduring, or suffering a defeat or injury.

Thanks to the effects we are experiencing from our changing climate these days, the subject of how we can become more sustainable is taking over our conversations and news headlines…especially here in Nova Scotia. Just what does living a sustainable life mean to most people who are stretched to the limit with the demands of our modern-day society? Most of us have been taught by parents, teachers and society in general to follow the customs handed down to us by the generations before us. We were put here on this earth to get a good education… if we were lucky enough… find a good job, marry, have children, go to church, and be kind to our neighbours. If the word, sustainable ever entered our minds or our vocabularies, it was probably used to explain how to keep things steady like holding on to a job to pay off the mortgage or have a bigger car. It might also have meant meeting an endurance test where we faced the reality of keeping a job which we hated, to maintain all the things we thought we needed.

Today the word sustainability or to be sustainable is used more and more. Using the word in a broader sense has given it a whole new meaning for us. Now we are being asked to look at how being sustainable is an action that needs to encompass our whole way of living. It means we must learn and understand how the choices we make can be carried out with consideration on how they will affect the world we live in.

For example, a recent article in our daily newspaper commented on Ways to improve Canada’s sustainable fisheries. This headline actually helped cheer me up because it went on to say that Canada is one of the world’s leaders in keeping our fish stocks at an acceptable level as compared to many other countries especially those in Asia, where we must note, there is a much larger population to feed. Their record for sustainable fishing is abysmally low at something like 14% while ours is rating an A at around 80%. Keeping all countries at an acceptable level of sustainability is a necessity if we are to meet the demands for fish in today’s world and for the future.

Reading on, I found a second article in the same edition on how fund managers should be practising sustainable finance by shifting their portfolios to those companies dealing with solar and wind power. This is a fantastic idea especially for those of us who want our hard-earned money to be doing good for our planet rather than harm. Michael Sabia, CEO for Caisse de Depot et Placements, one of Canada’s largest pension fund companies, is on the band wagon to get government and other large corporations to start investing in companies who are leading the way in developing the need for alternative energy resources. He is saying that our leaders need to see climate change as an opportunity rather than a risk. For years many other great minds have been saying the same thing but to little avail. Perhaps now ‘the powers that be’ will wake up when more of us with money to invest want to see their profits coming from these new resources.

Even if we have no money to invest or aren’t involved in any larger body toting how to be more sustainable, we can do what a man in Halifax has been doing this summer….growing his own vegetables on a small bit of land at the back of his apartment building which was going to waste as a garbage dump. With a ton of hard work and initiative, he has succeeded in making a garden of varied vegetables which he has been able to eat all summer long. His yield has been so abundant that he has been able to share his fresh veggies with his neighbours. This guy’s creativity doesn’t stop at growing his own food. He also collects the trash left on the curb sides in his neighbourhood, such as old furniture and anything else he feels he can restore. From other people’s ‘throw a ways’ he has been creating newly restored items which he sells at his own local yard sale. Not only has created a small business for himself with great satisfaction in doing it, he has also been able to extend his efforts into the community. He shares his product which in turn has spurred others to reciprocate with help in financing the manure and topsoil he needed to improve his soil. He is delighted with their enthusiastic response and interest in creating a  community garden.

The list for similar sustainable projects grows longer as more people are slowly realising they need to make choices that are beneficial rather than harmful to Mother Earth.

Down our way in Annapolis County where I live, sustainable farming is beginning to take hold in various ways. This movement is being spear-headed by an influx of newcomers to our area. They may be young couples wanting a life style away from the stress of big city living, parents who want to rear their children in a healthy environment, or those who have taken an early retirement to carry out their life long dream. Many of them are realising that sustainable farming is the way to go.

Medea and Allan Holtz, a middle-aged couple who took an early retirement from living in Florida, chose Port Royal as a place where they could create a life style that would allow them to be more “self-sufficient.”

After looking all over Nova Scotia, they found the perfect place close to The Habitation in Port Royal. When Samuel de Champlain first sighted this peaceful area in 1604, he was so impressed with it that the following year he returned with a group of men who would become the first settlers from France, thus, creating Canada’s first European settlement. He soon discovered that the original inhabitants, the Mi’Mkaw, rather than to be feared would soon become his friends. Like Champlain, the Holtz’s soon discovered the same thing:

“Here we found a community where the people are kind-hearted, where there is a peaceful atmosphere, a vibrant history, a view to die for, and a pretty decent climate for growing things.”

They remind me of how their dream to be self-sufficient in the foods that they can grow is similar to what the first settlers and succeeding generations have been practising here in this area ever since.  So what is it that makes sustainable farming different from the farming practices we have been using for the past 100 years? In my continuing conversations with Medea, I learned something about permaculture. This concept addresses the need to use every inch of your land for growing whatever kinds of plants or trees the climate in your area will support. This includes those farmers who raise animals as well. If you have both plants and animals all the better because this type of farming forms a closed- loop system which emphasises using the one to help out the other.  Nothing gets wasted. With a copious amount of work and knowledge, the objective is to grow whatever your soil will bear, as well as what your climate will allow. It is surprising what this couple are growing: Jerusalem artichokes, ever-growing strawberries…. still available as I write this… are just a couple of plants I never would have thought could be grown here. Any produce left over after freezing, canning, and processing can be fed to the animals or be shared with neighbours. They then point out that the loop can be completed using any animal waste or plant compost to replenish their soil. No chemical fertilisers will ever be used. Everything in their gardens and their chicken coops gets used in some fashion. Like the chap in Halifax they are learning how to recycle other odds and sods that could easily end up in the garbage. For example, old tires, bits of lumber from old sheds, old scrap metal or anything else they can get their hands can be used to enhance their gardens.

While carrying out the work required to grow most of their own food, they are also working hard to establish a meeting place at a nearby community hall where all farmers, newcomers and older local farmers alike, can come together to share their methods and ideas. Medea is very happy with the response they have had so far. As she says,  “We’ve all heard the saying ‘Knowledge is power’. Yes, knowledge is power, but shared knowledge – that’s community.”

The list could keep growing for how we can become more sustainable in our every day living. We have much to learn about what and how we as individuals and communities can do to become more sustainable. I truly sense a growing trend here in Nova Scotia. In a province steeped in history, with a small population, and abundant resources, our eyes are gradually being opened to how we seriously need to start preserving what we have left.  We know that opening up our hearts and minds to making choices which will benefit our province rather than harm it, and to come together to share and understand how to do this is the way we will successfully fit into our new emerging world. After writing on this topic, the thought has occurred to me that perhaps we can in some way thank our changing climate as the catalyst for this change of attitude.

Summer of 2018 – Heat Wave in Victoria Beach

Summer of 2018 – Heat Wave in Victoria Beach

As I sit here at my computer in this summer of 2018, I am filled with gratitude for living in the beautiful province of Nova Scotia in the small village of Victoria Beach. VB overlooks the Digby Gut, and in case you don’t know, the Digby Gut is a narrow passage of water separating the mainland of NS from an isthmus which juts out into the Bay of Fundy, which in turn leads to the Atlantic Ocean.

Looking over to Digby on the mainland across the Gut from Victoria Beach.

Like many people today, I try to be grateful for little things in my life. Today I am grateful for having chosen to live in Victoria Beach over ten years ago. After more than seventy years of living, I have discovered that practising the art of being grateful has huge benefits: for example, it keeps me focused on the positives rather than the negatives in my life. Goodness knows we all need to do this these days when we hear what is going on in our world. Practising gratefulness isn’t a waste of our time considering how it is human nature to want to complain. This is especially true of many Nova Scotians who do it more out of habit than actually feeling ungrateful. Complaining is a bit like talking about the weather around here. It is often used as an opener for making conversation which is an attempt to be friendly. However, could we not lessen our complaining by being more grateful for the things we have rather than for what we lack?

Unfortunately, this summer’s weather is giving people much to complain about since we are now entering our fourth week of record-breaking high temperatures and humidity indexes. High 20’s and low 30’s are simply not the norm for Nova Scotians! In the past, we were lucky to get even a few days of above 30 degree weather. This province has never experienced anything like the heat wave we are now in the midst of and forecast to last until the end of August. Like the rest of Canada, we are breaking all known records.

Air conditioners in Nova Scotia have always been few and far between except for Halifax where they can be found in public buildings and some homes. Now everyone is talking about getting a heat pump or some kind of A/C. However, even though the heat is very much on our minds with bodies bravely attempting to adjust to it, many of us are striving not to complain….too much! How can we when we hear that in some parts of the world people are actually dying from the heat or losing their homes and forests to the wildfires that abound out in the western part of our continent?

Every summer, we who live here in VB, have been blessed with the cooling breezes off the Bay of Fundy which gives the locals bragging rights for having the Bay at our doorstep to provide free air conditioning. This year is different. Now there is talk that just maybe we need to purchase a heat pump. Personally I have not found this weather too hard to handle probably because my yearly forays to Thailand have acclimatised me. Yes, it’s been getting unbearably hot at times during our heat wave, but just when I’m starting to drip, a welcomed breeze will appear for some relief. The nights are still quite cool at about 18 degrees so a good night’s sleep is definitely possible when I keep our windows open. Doing this ensures our mornings begin with a comfortable house. Early morning fog which collects in the Gut has also helped to keep our temperature under control until the sun appears. However, it’s not so much the temperatures, but  the high humidity which is our greatest challenge as it truly saps our strength.

Cindy Day, our resident meteorologist, explains this spate of prolonged heat and humidity on what is called a Bermuda High where hot, humid air moves to the north from a high pressure system over Bermuda. Another meteorologist likens this effect to how a heat pump works, pumping the American air northward where it gets trapped above us. As these winds move forward, they pick up moisture which in turn lessens the oxygen available. Apparently this is causing the fatigue and headaches which many of us are experiencing. It’s also driving hoards of us to Nova Scotia’s beaches.

Nova Scotia’s beaches are definitely another one of our blessings during this heat wave. Our province is surrounded by the ocean providing white sand beaches along the Atlantic coast where the average water temperatures are 65 degrees. More sheltered beaches can be found along the Bay of Fundy and the Northumberland Strait.

Beach at Lockeport,NS on the Atlantic coast.

Mavillette Beach on the Bay of Fundy.

We also have access to over 3,000 freshwater lakes and hundreds of small streams and rivers. Water is never more than an hour or so drive for most Nova Scotians.

One of many lakes near Annapolis Royal at Mickey Hill.

Another at Raven Haven administered by Annapolis Co. which draws many families.

And yet another at Milford House in Maitland Bridge near Annapolis Royal.

For those of us living in Victoria Beach, we actually can lay claim to a beach of our own. It may be cold and rocky, but it does provide us with invigorating waters should we want to venture into them.

Here is our beach which is actually called Indian Beach by the locals.

Lovely view of our beach overlooking the Gut.

We can crow about how lucky we are right now in Victoria Beach, but we have no right to be complacent. Scientists are predicting that higher summer time temperatures will become the norm, and that we need to prepare for this. Where do we begin? Well, we can install a heat pump for air conditioning for starters. The government is now offering help to home owners in the way of rebates for those who wish to purchase one. If that’s not feasible, we can buy a few fans which I am told are being improved all the time for noise and efficiency. When we leave home, we can carry a water bottle with us at all times to keep hydrated or take along a sun hat for protection. Or, we can take borrow the Eastern custom of using an umbrella to shield ourselves from the sun’s intense rays. We can also schedule our heavy work both inside and outside for the early and later part of our day. Furthermore, we could even do what Europeans have done for centuries…take time off at the hottest time of the day for a rest or siesta. What a great way to reduce any stress in our lives or just catch up on some much needed sleep if we have trouble sleeping through the night.

So, rather than complaining about how hot it is, let’s enjoy our prolonged heat wave for the remainder of our summer and consider what we can do in the future to deal with our changing climate which is without a doubt at our doorstep. This will be our challenge.

Halifax – A City on the Rise

Halifax – A City on the Rise

Recently I found a message from Trip Advisor in my mail box alerting travellers to their choice for the top ten “cities on the rise” in the world which we should consider putting on our ‘bucket lists’. My curiosity tweaked, I took the time to check this out and to my surprise and delight Halifax, Nova Scotia placed fourth on their list! What on earth does my city of birth offer that would put them in the world’s lime light, I wondered? According to Trip Advisor (TA) this honour is based on the following three things:

  1. Military history
  2. Culinary delights
  3. Entertainment

Ironically, before my daughter embarked on her short visit to Halifax last week, she wondered what sights and activities I would recommend for the two days that she, my son-in-law and grandson were going to be there. Not having much time to come up with some place she had never seen, I sent her TA’s recommendations along with the above article. When I met up with them, she asked me if I knew where York Redoubt was located. I was temporarily stymied! I had heard of it but knew little about it or just where it was located. However, thanks to Google Maps and the GPS, we found this National Historic Park site in Purcell’s Cove about 14 miles outside of Halifax.

A short history of York Redoubt.

What we found there was another eye-opener, especially for me. How could I have not seen this place when I spent the better part of ten years living in Halifax as a child and teenager? Not only does this military site have one fantastic view of Halifax’s outer harbour, but it also has an easy to understand description of the role this  place has played over the three centuries it has protected the city, beginning with the wars between Britain and France in 1793 when the fort was begun, up to 1956 when it was closed and designated as a historic site. Its hey day culminated in its success at guarding the harbour and the city from German U-boats during World War II.

Looking over the outer harbour towards Halifax.

The boys…my grandson and his dad…enjoyed scouting out the premises. There were the cannons of all sizes with some large enough to shoot balls weighing up to 24 pounds to ogle over. Moreover, there were 27 buildings to explore, including a Martello Tower*, numerous magazines for storage of ammunition…many below ground, supplies rooms, and even a cookhouse. The park is definitely large with trails providing peaceful walks through the forest which are never far from a spectacular view of the harbour with McNab’s Island* in the distance. Another plus to our visit was, save for a few other folks, we had this beautiful spot almost to ourselves.

Hey, Daddy, look at this!

Mummy giving a short history of the site.

What is left of the Martello Tower.

A cannon resting on its mount.

Overlooking McNab’s Island

Our second stop was to Hydrostone Market in the north end of Halifax. This area suffered huge loses on December 6, 1917 when the Norwegian ship SS Imo collided with the Mont Blanc, a French cargo ship laden with high explosives, setting off an explosion that devastated the entire north end of the city, causing thousands of deaths and injuries. With the help from other communities across  Canada and our neighbours to the south from Boston, the area was rebuilt with houses made of hydrostone, a compressed cement which would withstand any further fires or calamities. Today these houses make up the Hydrostone Market, an upscale and trendy place with homes, shops and restaurants neatly laid out along boulevards shaded by stately trees and community gardens.

At this point the boys, preferring to head back to their hotel for a swim in the pool, decided to leave us girls to explore this place on our own…a good idea. Right there and then, we headed to Julien’s Pattisserie, Bakery and Cafe, the cutest little Parisian cafe outside of Paris. We were in seventh heaven as we sat outside on the ivied covered patio sipping our cappuccino and savouring our yummy desserts.

So good…

Following this indulgence, we couldn’t resist popping into some of the quaint shops lining the boulevard where, of course, we found lots of unusual art and crafts….many locally made… to drool over. I found some all natural face cream to help keep my ever encroaching wrinkles at bay, while my daughter just had to have a lovely amethyst necklace.

Later that night for dinner, with no specific place in mind, we set out to peruse some of Halifax’s culinary delights. Since my son-in-law does not eat fish, any restaurants specialising in that were quickly eliminated. That wasn’t a problem since it did help to narrow down the many choices we faced. With a nine year old to consider, we agreed to look for an Italian offering where we could find pizza. After a short search, we found just what we were looking for at Bishop’s Landing on the harbour front at Ristorante a Mano. We were truly impressed with this place which offered great Italian food, good service, and reasonable prices. The four of us, which included craft beer for the adults, ate there for about $100.00.

Eating out allows grandson to us his mom’s smart phone while waiting for our food.

The entertainment scene was TA’s third category included in their survey of ‘cities on the rise’. We didn’t have time to take in any of the many opportunities that no doubt were available even on a Tuesday night because we were all tired from our long drives and sight-seeing. Nevertheless, Halifax has gained a reputation for drawing talent from all over Canada and the world for all music genres… from rap to opera and jazz…to name a few. Every night you can catch local Maritime music at many of the pubs and restaurants in the downtown core.

After dinner stroll along the walkway skirting the harbour.

For me this time in my home city was very special as it gave me and my little family some quality time together in a place which is seemingly gaining much attention from other parts of Canada and the world. Who would have thought that the city which I could hardly wait to escape from, back in the ’60’s when I was a young girl anxious to see the rest of the world, has now become one of the world’s most interesting cities to visit! Wonders never cease!

*Martello Tower – constructed in 1793 and one of five Martello Towers built to protect Halifax over the past three centuries. Round in structure with thick walls, they were built to mount the cannons and to house their large heavy balls.

*McNab’s Island – The largest island at the entrance to Halifax Harbour is now part of the National Parks system hosting picnics and historical tours in the summer months.

 

 

Reflecting on Anthony Bourdain’s Death

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks you: it breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you.” Anthony Bourdain.

When I heard that Anthony Bourdain had taken his life, for one brief moment my heart stopped. Envied by both travellers and would be travellers alike, he had an amazing ability to gain an understanding of the many countries he visited. His love of all kinds of food and his talent for cooking it in five-star restaurants before he gained his fame as a ‘tell it as it is’ travel reporter led to an impressive lifestyle envied by those who wanted the kind of freedom that such a profession can give. The intensity of my shock at the news of his suicide took me by surprise. How could he of all people commit such a sad and selfish act when at the top of a flourishing career?

Although I envied his job and the finesse with which he handled it, I was never one of his avid fans. There was no question that he was a powerful interviewer and showed an honesty and humbleness which is rare in celebrities and that impressed me.  However, call me judgemental or plain old-fashioned, but his many tattoos bothered me. What was he trying to say I wondered? I wonder this about all the young travellers I see with bodies covered in them? I know that tattoos are meant to portray something personal about those wearing them, such as a love affair gone sour, a particular beef against the world, or to draw attention to a personal philosophy or cause, but aren’t they also an indication or sign that the person sporting them doesn’t really respect or like his body or what’s inside it? To me it speaks of some kind of self mutilation.Was this his way of unknowingly portraying an inner disconnect of something vital missing in his seemingly exciting life of freedom?

I also admired Bourdain’s wonderful way with words, hence, the above quotation which appeared in our Chronicle Herald the day after his death. It so vividly sums up the good and bad aspects of travelling alone. The amount of travel I have done is a drop in the bucket compared to what he put in. Nevertheless, I totally agree with what it can be and apparently was for him. It can be a blessing as well as a curse. The freedom which it allows has to be the top draw for any traveller who endeavours to do it, but there is invariably a price tag attached to such freedom.

Bourdain had an eleven year daughter and a wife… for awhile…apparently they had separated. He was totally responsible for pulling together his team of writers, photographers, and all the other bodies needed to carry out his travels to exotic places around the world. This effort was from all reports on a modest budget. It’s not surprising that this would eventually take a toll on his family. Those closest to him noticed that although he appeared to be happy right up until a few days before his death, he did look very tired. At the age of 61 perhaps he saw what was ahead and decided to end it before it got the best of him. We will never know, but the one thing I do know is that if you have a family or a spouse, travelling on your own doesn’t provide a firm foundation for a close relationship…..unless you can take the family with you. This is happening in some rare cases with young, mostly European couples. I think we will see more of this in the future as our world becomes more dependent on technology and young people are forced to find more rewarding work in a foreign country, or to escape from the rat race in their own countries. They could also be forced to move because of climate change and the cost of living in their native countries. There are a myriad of reasons and the opportunities for doing this are certainly there. The nomadic lifestyle is appealing to a growing group of those who want that kind of freedom.

I totally agree that the best education you could ever get is to travel by yourself. There is no doubt in my mind about that. As Bourdain said: “The journey changes you.” That is certainly true for me. Let me name the ways:

  1. It has increased my self-confidence.
  2. It has helped me to find the value in reaching out to others.
  3. It has helped me to be more resilient.
  4. It has helped me understand the world through the culture and the customs of the countries I have visited.
  5. It has helped me open my eyes and heart to see that although we may be different on the outside, we are not so on the inside. We are all very much connected.

Anthony Bourdain found his passion in the work he was doing which garnered him fame and recognition and all the other benefits that came with that. The missing link was his inability to overcome his demons and realise that the only way he could have conquered them would have been to face them. He needed to slow up and take time to do that. Unfortunately, he did not, resulting in leaving behind a young daughter who will have to deal with his decision. He will definitely be missed by all those who knew him, but we all  know who will miss him the most… and this is the greatest tragedy of all.

If you would like to find out more about my thoughts on travelling on my own as a senior woman you can take a look at the following posts:

Overcoming the Fear of Travelling Solo as a Senior

How Our Changing World Is Affecting Our Travel

Travelling Solo or Not?

My tribute to Anthony Bourdain’s perpective on travel with food as the key for unlocking his road to fame, is the gallery of pictures I have taken over the years in my travels to Viet Nam (his favourite country), Thailand, Cambodia, and Myranmar (Burma), Morocco and Italy. Click on the picture for the caption.

 

 

Celebrating Tea and Queen Victoria

Only in Canada do we look forward to that third weekend in May when we are gifted with a long weekend. Why is that, you might wonder? Is it because after a harsh Canadian winter, we can look forward to summer which is just around the corner, knowing we can finally get outside to clean up winter’s aftermath making room for our transplants, or to open up the cottage? This might be true for most of us these days, but for some it’s an opportunity to celebrate the birth of Queen Victoria who had the distinction of being Britain’s longest reigning monarch… a title she can no longer proclaim since Elizabeth 11 took it over in 2015.

When Victoria died in 1901, our then government decided to make the third Monday in May a statutory holiday to commemorate her birth on May 24, 1819, causing many a raised eyebrow in Britain as well as our neighbour to the south that we should be setting aside this day to celebrate a Queen who was to all extent and purposes a temperamental and dour, old woman who always wore black. However, as we have found out, appearances can be deceiving.

Thanks to her talent and love for writing, we have discovered that Victoria was the exact opposite of that stern image implanted in our brains by our history books and our great grandparents. Present day historians claim that her daily dairies were enough to fill over 700 books beginning with her childhood until her death in 1901. Through them, we have learned that she was a passionate and strong woman who refused to bow to the strict social norms of her time. She not only had a firm grip on who she was as a person, but also on the country she ruled as well as the country she most loved…Germany.

After all, her beloved husband, Albert, was a German and strong personality in his own right who came into her life at the tender age of 19 when she was about to take over the daunting task of Queen. He fulfilled not only the role of her lover, but also provided a strong father figure for her. He was the pillar of strength she needed as she gave birth to their nine children while struggling to keep control of the world’s largest Empire.

Our interest in Victoria has increased over recent years as her descendants have gradually released some of what she wrote. We are learning that this woman had another side which went totally against the acceptable customs of her day especially when it came to her subsequent relationships with men after Albert’s early death. Yes, she suffered from depression which explained her long period of mourning. She never discarded the black dresses, but she refused to stop having fun and being herself when she met a man who understood her, such as her servant John Brown, a rough and ready  Scot who adored her. The same was true for Disraeli one of her Prime Ministers.

Even in her final years after receiving the title of Empress of India, she refused to travel there insisting that India come to her. As a result, a young servant with a wife and mother-in-law arrived to carry out the task of teaching Victoria every thing there was to know about his country Thus, began another close relationship for this woman with an old body at 84 who still had a young heart.

Victoria’s personal life was certainly not a boring one. However, it was a source of concern for her family and many of those who worked with and under here as she fought to lead her Empire through the vagaries of the world at that time. As a head of state and ruler of the vast British Empire, we know she survived numerous attempts to assassinate her. We also know that she really came into her own after Albert’s death becoming extremely popular with her public towards the end of her reign. During her 63 years on the throne, Britain experienced tremendous growth in technology, industry and communication. Underground rail systems, bridges, and roads were built everywhere in attempts to unite the country. Judging by the crowds who came out to see her in her later years, it appears she had indeed matured and finally won her battle to take control without Albert’s influence.

Learning about Victoria as a person has made Victoria Day for me just a little more interesting. What started as a day to have a parade and some fireworks, morphing into a time to clean up the yard and plant some flowers to welcome summer has now  brought us time to reflect on the personal journey of a woman with two very distinct sides to her personality during a time of change in matters of morality and economic growth throughout her vast Empire.

For my Victoria Day Weekend this year, I had the opportunity to do something different: I was asked to be a greeter for the guests who attended a Victorian Tea and Talk at the Lower Granville Hall. Under the capable leadership of Medea and Alan Holtz, new comers to the community of Port Royal, and some hard-working ladies with much experience in holding dinners and teas to raise funds for their hall, this successful tea did a great job of commemorating the Queen’s birthday. What better way to raise some much-needed money for our hall and the Annapolis Heritage Society who will be using our donation to help fix and paint the exteriors of two light houses: the one in Port Royal and the other in Victoria Beach.

Medea and Alan Holtz

Every effort was made to treat all those who attended this fundraiser an authentic Victorian Tea. Not only did the servers don Victorian dresses, headgear, and gloves, but had to walk carefully to avoid tripping on their long skirts. These little touches along with soft parlour music lent an atmosphere of calm and gentility much appreciated by the guests causing some to linger longer than planned.

Susan MacGregor

Me, the Greeter

The beautiful table settings, the tea served in silver pots, and the dainty sandwiches and sweets were the main attraction. However, the star of the show had to be the peaches! Why peaches? Well apparently Victoria, when introduced to them on a visit to Italy, fell madly in love with them and every year after that insisted that some be shipped to her in England. Unfortunately, peaches aren’t in season on Victoria Day in Nova Scotia. Instead of serving imports the gals made their own life-like peaches from a secret recipe using ordinary cookie dough.

To keep our guests amused a trivia quiz about Victoria’s life as well as the Royals today…especially since this was the day of Harry and Megan’s wedding…was on each table to provide fun and learning for all. What a great way to pull people together.

Our special guest speaker, Barry Moody, a noted local historian, gave an insightful talk on how tea became the favourite drink of the British, and the influence that had on the country’s social norms and economy. Did you know that the first tea was offered in 1658 at a London coffee-house? From there it became the beverage of choice at the Royal Court. It then quickly became an important social occasion giving birth to our famous ‘afternoon teas’. You may have heard of the term ‘high tea’ which was customarily tea served with a meal. With the advent of such social customs came opportunities for the East India Company to import more tea from China. It also provided opportunities for business minded entrepreneurs to start manufacturing such tea essentials as porcelain tea cups and saucers, teapots and even mustache mugs. Barry went on to say that artifacts related to tea drinking have shown up at Melanson’s Settlement, a Historical Site in Granville Beach. He admitted not much else is known about how the ritual of drinking tea influenced the Port Royal area, but noted that it was the French who have given us proof that it existed here in some form. I suspect it was also a popular past time with the Scottish and English Loyalists who settled here. In my own experience, my maternal grandmother was a big fan of ‘afternoon teas’. After my grandfather died, she moved from Halifax to a small farm in Seabright, where she hosted teas every Sunday afternoon for all her friends. Petit fours, shortbreads, Scottish scones made on a griddle, oatcakes with homemade jam were the lure making “Georgie’s” teas very popular.

Like most things today, our rituals and customs are being challenged by the changes occurring in our lifestyles. Tea drinking is losing some of its allure to the rise in our coffee culture. There are still those who prefer their tea because it has less caffeine or none at all if you consider sipping herbal teas possibly for medicinal purposes. Or, it might just be a matter of personal taste. Whatever the reason, our guests and those who organized this event were left with an experience that left us satisfied and wiser about the influence of tea on the British Empire and the Queen who reigned. I am happy to have been involved in this ‘tea’ event which was a hit with all those who attended. Without a doubt, this will become a yearly event on Victoria Day. The Port Royal gals are already looking ahead to next year and planning for it to be held on Monday instead of Saturday.

Kamille and Jeff Langstroff

 

Heading North to Cairns

Heading North to Cairns

Why do you suppose that Cairns, pronounced Caans by the Aussies , attracts more tourists than ever before? With a population today of about 160,000 she has grown from a sleepy, laid back town to a city of night markets, a modern mall, souvenir shops, restaurants, and an active bar scene in just a few decades. Without question she has become Australia’s major resort town. In fact, she is often likened to Florida! Located in the far North of Queensland, she has two great assets: a tropical climate and home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world… the Great Barrier Reef. With 3,000 reefs and 900 islands stretching for 2,600 kilometers along the northern coast, this coral reef was designated as a World Heritage site in 1981. Ever since, Cairns has been experiencing phenomenal growth.

The promenade along the harbour in Cairns.

The harbour.

Northern Queensland is the only part of Australia that is green all year long. It’s tropical climate gives it two seasons: wet and dry. The wet season is anywhere from December to May when the area will most likely experience torrential downpours, cyclones, and high humidity. The dry season will last anywhere from June to November where there will still be some rain with more sun and less humidity.

When you fly to Cairns from Alice Springs as I did, you can’t help but marvel at the green carpet of forest and the blue water which suddenly replaces the barren expanse of Central Australia. Cairns sits in the midst of a tropical rain forest, and if you haven’t guessed by now she is the main jumping off place for those who want to visit the Great Barrier Reef.

One of many ships heading for the Great Barrier Reef.

The weather and the time of year precipitated a dramatic change of plan for my visit to Cairns. My lack of research beforehand and poor timing which was out of my control were the reasons. Torrential rains and cyclones are the main items on the weather menu for April in Cairns and the north. My first night there it poured rain for over twelve hours causing the wash out of some significant bridges and roads. I  heard before I ever got there that the area had been suffering from more than the usual amount of flooding while the rest of the country seemed to be in a severe drought, especially in the south. However, since Aussies take weather in their stride, unlike us Canadians where it’s often the main topic of conversation, they all assured me that it was not a problem. Nope the Aussies aren’t going to let bad weather interfere with their plans especially cruises and day trips to the Reef. This really isn’t so surprising since this is the main focus and livelihood for many people in Cairns  and the season for cyclones is a long one from December to May.

For two days after my arrival while waiting for the weather to clear, I had an ongoing debate with myself on whether I should even attempt to sign up for a trip to see this world’s wonder. Hadn’t I experienced the same predicament in Ecuador three years ago when I ran into bad weather in March forcing me to abandon the idea of even visiting what is known as the poor man’s Galapagos let alone the Galapagos itself. But I digress. By the second day, although it did start to clear,  the forecast kept changing depending on whom I talked to. I had only five days to play around with. My budget was taking a beating from the high cost of everything, especially tours to World Heritage sites. The last thing I wanted to do was waste my money.  On the one hand, I knew this would be my one and only opportunity to see the Outer Reef, but….and here lay my dilemma. First, there was the risk of even seeing anything since the waters were all churned up from the heavy rains. Second, there was the strong possibility of seasickness… my sea legs are wobbly at best. In fact, all testimonials indicated that before the tours even got underway, seasick pills were handed out for free to keep the tourists from messing up their vessels. Third, I have never been a raving success at snorkelling. Just getting dressed in the necessary gear is a challenge for me. Once I get it all on and plunge into the water, my mask insists on filling up with water causing panic because surely I am going to drown. Thus, the joy of seeing what lives beneath the sea is soon forgotten as I do battle with my snorkel. In the end, these three things, along with the cost, could not convince me that I should sign up for one of those expensive trips.

I had hoped I could master any previous problems I had with snorkelling so I put Cairns on my travel itinerary. After all, how could I go all the way to Australia and not go out to see the Great Barrier Reef? Well as I quickly found out there were other alternatives for me to consider which would be less expensive and not so intimidating. So instead, I opted to take a tour to Fitzroy Island situated  on the fringe of the Outer Reef meaning it was a shorter boat ride and less chance of getting seasick. Great. Moreover, once there I was free to roam around and choose to do whatever I wanted to do. I could even snorkel if I wanted to. There were trails leading to a secret garden in the rain forest and birds to see. There were at least two beaches. I could sign up to see the coral, sea turtles, and tropical fish on the glass bottomed boat, and to top it all off, I would get a delicious picnic lunch. To make this day complete the weather turned out to be almost perfect and the sea was calm. Although fleeting, the thought did occur that perhaps I should have taken the Outer Reef tour after all.

Fitzroy Island

Cathedral tree in the Secret Garden.

Nudy Beach.

Where is the sand? This is all coral.

Somewhere down there is a sea turtle.

Ran into this white cockatoo on one of the trails.

The unsettled weather prevented me from taking in another popular tourist attraction not far from Cairns which I had hoped to do: a trip to the village of Kuranda up a steep ascent into the rain forest on the historic Kuranda Railway. However, part of the rail line had been washed out by the rains. I considered taking  a bus up there, but with the Easter weekend also posing problems with bus schedules that was impossible. No, it simply wasn’t meant to be. Therefore, I missed taking the scenic train ride as well as the option to also take the Cable Car on the way back or to, depending on your first choice. A friend told me how she had saved herself some money by doing the trip on her own by taking either the train or cable car going up and the bus coming down. We agreed that where possible it’s often best to forget the tour which not only costs so much more, but also crams in too much to see in too little time.  Kuranda also offers parks, such as the Tjapukai Aboriginal Park where you can learn about the Djabugay people with dance performances, didgeridoo lessons, talks on natural medicines, and art demonstrations. Then there is a zoo, the Koala Gardens, where only Australian animals are featured, and Birdland Park where the almost extinct cassowary can be found. With so many possibilities for sites to visit and things to do, I would have needed more than a day to do it justice.

The didgeradoo.

Depending how you look at it, this trip could be considered a lost cause because I wasn’t able to see the two most important sites that Cairns is noted for. However, the way I look at it all is that at least I got to see and experience some of it which is always better than none. I also gained some valuable knowledge, not just about Northern Australia, but myself. Southern Aussies will tell you that they sure are different up there in the north. To quote a friend of the hilarious Bill Bryson* who has written two insightful books on Australia:

“They are crazy up there. Madder than cut snakes. You’ll like it up there.”

And, I did like it up there in spite of my setbacks. I don’t have any regrets for going and what I missed. The people were friendly and I didn’t meet any snakes. But as I said, I learned something about myself, too… I should forget the idea of becoming a snorkeler…time to accept my limits. I love being near the ocean but don’t put me in it. I’ll stay on the land and look at the sea from afar.

*Travel writer, Bill Bryson, says Australia is his favourite country. He has written two books on it and the people who live there: In a Sunburned Country and Down Under. I love his sense of humour and recommend these and any others he has written.

A traditional Queensland style home.

Stately building in downtown Cairns.

 

Final Stop – Sydney, Australia

Final Stop – Sydney, Australia

By the time I arrived in Sydney, I had covered half the continent by air in two weeks…not much time to see all I had hoped but probably enough to learn something about its people and how this strange land, its history, and its location have helped shape people into what they are today. This is especially true for their cities considering that about 80% of the Australian population live in them with most located along the coast.

Before I landed in Sydney, I got the impression from various people I know who have been there as well as Aussies, themselves, that there was no reason to stay for long as it was just another big city. I would be wasting my valuable time there when there are so many other gorgeous places to visit. True enough but I was finding it tiring and expensive moving around this vast country so was happy to stay ‘put’ there for the week.

My first view of Sydney.

Getting closer.

And yes, Sydney is a huge city of over five million people when you consider the entire area composed of the centre or CBD and all its precincts….but then so is Melbourne. Yet, I never once heard any disparaging remarks about that city. On the contrary,  the reaction of most who had visited Melbourne was that it was their favourite city. Perhaps this is an example of the rivalry that has and still does exist between these two dynamic cities.

A look at the city from the ferry.

My other reason for choosing to stay longer than most was because not only was it my place of departure, but also because I had friends I wanted to visit near Bathurst, a town about 200 km southwest by train. I would have time to actually see and get to know Sydney as well as have a quick visit to the Blue Mountains which were on my list of ‘must sees’.

Fortunately, my Sydney arrival was a breeze compared to the experience I had in Melbourne. To learn more about this you can go to my recent post First Stop – Melbourne, Australia. The Airbnb place where I had booked a room was located in the precinct of Leichhardt, Sidney’s “Little Italy” which was about a half hour from the CBD (Central Business District) by bus and train. The check- in procedure was similar to what I had with Little St. Kilda in Melbourne. However, this time I had clear and copious instructions from the owner on how to get there and most importantly how to get in and find my room. The whole thing went without a hitch, and the next day the owner came to introduce himself and answer any questions I had. This made my stay so much more enjoyable knowing I had an actual person I could call upon if need be.

With this hassle free arrival, I was ready to tackle Sydney and its sights the next day. After perusing all the brochures I had picked up at the Information Centre in Central Station the previous day and taking the time to read up on the expert advice of my Fodor’s guide-book, I decided the best place to start would be at the Circular Quay train stop which serves as a link for ferries, trams, and buses. Faced with a multitude of kiosks selling sight-seeing tours, I decided to not waste any time looking around but just go ahead and book the Zoo and Eco tour with Manly Fast Ferries. This family owned company offered me the two things I wanted to do: a trip to the Taronga Zoo which requires a ferry ride to reach and a two-hour tour of Sidney Harbour with commentary which would give me a birds’ eye view of the whole harbour area. Since the tour was good for 24 hours, I was able to do the zoo on the first day and leave the harbour tour for the following day.

The iconic Opera House from the ferry on my way to the Taronga Zoo.

The other Sydney icon-the Harbour Bridge.

This turned out beautifully because the cruise stopped at several places with the option to disembark at whichever one you wanted and stay for as long as the last ferry of the day departed. I am usually against taking a tour but in this case with the amount of flexibility and freedom to set my own pace, it fit my needs at the affordable price of  $59.

The Taronga Zoo covers a huge unspoiled piece of land built on the side of a mountain overlooking Sydney Harbour with an impressive view of the Opera House and Harbour bridge. All the animals are housed in a large space providing the kind of habitat they need to be happy. I could have taken a cable car up to the top (included in the price) but because of the long line-up….it was Easter Monday so many families with children were there… I opted to walk which allowed me to go at my own pace, stopping along the way to view the animals of Australia, such as the kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, the platypus, echinadas, and emus. I saw them all including the shy koalas, or at least one of them, who deigned to wake up long enough for me to capture him on camera. Now I could have had my picture taken with a koala  who has the special task of staying awake to have his picture taken by those who like to fork over $25 for such a privilege, but I was not that desperate to cuddle such a cute animal for that price.

You all know this guy.

Not another ‘roo but a wallaby – smaller with a pointed face.

What else is there for a koala to do in the day time?

That dark spot is a nearly extinct platypus.

The following morning I was up early for my two-hour cruise at 9:30. I say early because I had to have breakfast as well as leave at least a half hour to get there from my place which entailed a bus ride to Central Station and then the train from there to Circular Quay. I have to say that Sydney’s transit system was much easier to navigate than Melbourne’s. I bought an Opal card which worked the same way as the Miki but in general their whole system was better laid out and organized with people who knew how to help. In retrospect, I think Melbourne’s is in a bit of a mess because it’s been experiencing monumental growth of late. One Aussie told me that they have over 1500 people a week now coming to live there, a fact which was later backed up by some research I did.

Sydney’s Central Station-the hub to everywhere.

After an hour of cruising, I decided to spend the rest of my day in Manly and even though it was overcast and threatening rain, I still wanted to see why Manly Beach was considered by many as one of the best beaches around. Who knew that Sydney and its environs has over 100 beaches from small, maybe just a few feet, to very large up to more than several kilometres long? Fodor’s claims they have over 30. Whoever is correct, there is no denying that Sydney has its pick of fine beaches.

One of many stately homes on the harbour.

I loved Manly, a separate village and perfect seaside resort with gorgeous beaches.  It’s considered as the birthplace of surfing in Australia. Manly Beach is just minutes from the centre, linked by the Corso, a wide boulevard lined with numerous cafes, restaurants, and shops, leading to the beach promenade flanked by lovely homes and stately Norfolk pine trees. The promenade eventually hooks onto some excellent trails to the north where there is a National Park and views to die for. To me Manly looked like the perfect place for the well-heeled and those looking for a slower more laid back style of living.

Manly Beach before the sun appeared.

After the sun appeared.

My one regret…. not bringing my bathing suit! When I left so early in the morning, it was cool and looked like rain. Moreover, I wasn’t too clear on how the cruise worked or where it was taking me. It was a last-minute decision to get off at Manly. Less than an hour later, the sun came out as I was walking the Cabbage Tree Bay trail a short hike along the coast. Later, over a big all-day breakfast special of egg and bacon on a black bun with a rocket salad, I had regained my energy so decided to go for the longer trail that would take me to North Head at the northernmost part of the peninsula where Manly is located offering some more of Sidney Harbour’s gorgeous views. In my eagerness, I really overdid it because it took longer than I thought leaving me to have to rush back to the wharf to catch one of the last ferries going back to Circular Quay…my only way back unless I had a car. There was no bus service as far as I could fathom from those I asked. Despite this one blip in my lovely day, I was totally satisfied with the tour and the choices I had made.

Views from the look off on the North Head Trail.

The Harbour Bridge at sunset.

The next day I decided to make an easier one with little walking so didn’t go back to the CBD or anywhere near a train or bus. I stayed right where I was in “Little Italy” drinking cappuccinos, people watching, and reading in a nearby park in preparation for the next day when I would be travelling by train to the town of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. I am saving my report on this trip for my next post.

After returning from the Blue Mountains, I spent my remaining day and a half in the CBD exploring the downtown putting me in the midst of the business and high-end shopping area. I wanted to see this part of Sydney where some of its most beautiful old buildings are located, namely the Queen Victoria Building built in 1898. It’s noted for its architectural beauty which sports a huge clock tower in the centre. Today it’s a classy shopping arcade with a host of high-end shops and cafes. Someone recommended I take in a High Tea while there but after seeing the price, I declined and settled for the Aussie version of an iced coffee made with milk, coffee, of course, ice cream all topped with a good dollop of whipped cream. Yummy!

Sydney’s business and shopping area with stately buildings.

Since Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden wasn’t too far away, I took my remaining time to walk around taking in The Calyx, a world- class exhibition featuring a colourful display of how pollination and colour play such an important role in the world of plants. I could have spent all day there because there was so much to see as there seems to be in all the botanic gardens in the places I visited in Australia. It really is a country of varied flora which they showcase so well. Finally, the fact that from the gardens you can get another fantastic view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge is another reason to visit.

So colourful.

Interesting. Did you know?

My last day in Sydney presented me with a difficult choice. There was so much I hadn’t seen. In the end, I chose to make my way out to Bondi Beach, which is the one that everyone goes to. You simply don’t go to Sydney and not go to Bondi even though there are more than a hundred to choose from. Why Bondi? Well for starters, it’s probably one of the largest and has everything that beach goers want in the way of sand, surf, lots of places to eat, close enough to the city and easily accessible by bus, and of course, the people who flock there in droves giving it a carnival type of atmosphere. People draw people, and especially in Australia where biggest and best seem to be king. I would loved to have had the time to walk along the coast to Bronte Beach which sounded so much nicer but… At least I was able to put on my bathing suit and get half way into the water. It was very rough and unless you are a surfer or strong swimmer, you had to be careful not to get swamped. Even though it was a Tuesday when you would think that everyone would be at work or in school, such wasn’t the case. The part at the other end of the beach (it’s about 7 kms. long) had the flags up telling bathers there was less current, but it was so crowded I didn’t want to go near it. There were no lifeguards on duty since it was off-season.

I left Sydney with a good feeling and was glad I spent as much time as I did there. It really does have so much to boast about, and I can understand why Melbourne is striving to match it. They could very well do that too except they are missing one important component which they will never have….the most beautiful harbour in the world. Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet to arrive in Sydney in 1788 said it best: “Here lies the finest harbour in the world.”