Fall 2013 vacation: Timmins, Ottawa, Finger Lakes

This report is cobbled together from three separate blog posts…

One wedding and a funeral

“Welcome to your day of mixed emotions,” said my uncle. As happens occasionally in life, I was attending both a funeral, and a wedding, in one day.

The two events weren’t as different as one might have thought.

  • Both began with a ceremony that took place place in a Catholic church.
  • Perhaps unexpectedly, both ceremonies featured a mix of laughter, tears, solemnity, and smiles.
  • Attendees to both wore their Sunday best (though it was a Saturday).
  • A meal followed both. (Though only the wedding featured an open bar and DJ dancing.)

And both ended up being at least partly on the theme of the importance of a good marriage (pray, eat, love, I guess). My cousins gave a loving and eloquent eulogy to their father, that included these words:

“My father had a message to men that he wanted to pass along. Don’t be too proud to tell your wife how much her love and care means to you. Don’t wait to express yourself.”

And my niece, whose wedding party included two stepsisters along with her biological sister, included this tribute to her new in-laws:

“And thank you for serving as a great example of a successful marriage. Because while my parents passed along a lot of values to me, the value of marriage wasn’t one of them.”

In the famous words of Kelso, “Ooh, burn.”

Remember that great Fall weather we had?

… because a week later, it’s pretty easy to forget that, what with all the gray and cold and even snow.

Fortunately, we were on vacation the previous week. It did start in Timmins, for the previously blogged-about wedding and funeral.

Timmins had just glorious weather while we were there, with highs around 20. We went for two big walks during our visit, one on the Ski Runners property, another through the “tailings rehabilitation” area at the end of the road my parents live on. Interesting to see how far that went, in an area that was largely off-limits to me when I lived here as a kid. At one point we had “beautiful lake and fall colors” on the left, “ugly open mining pit” on the right. That’s the north for you.

On Tuesday we drove to Ottawa, our biggest day of driving for the trip, as we split up the Timmins trip by stopping in Barrie overnight on the way up. So besides driving, all we had time for of note was dinner with friends, which I’ll write about separately.

Wednesday morning, for the first time on the trip, it was a bit drizzly, so we visited the Museum of Nature. It was our first time there since the exhibits were fully open, and it was fun to see everything. They had a special exhibits on ants, and another one on frogs.

Museum of Nature dinosaur exhibit
We stepped into another world
Blue frog
With strange creatures

The rain had mostly stopped by noon, so after a sushi lunch we just did some walking around and photo taking, and visited a Bernard Callebaut chocolate store I’d spotted the night before on Dalhousie. Very good.

View of Parliament Hill in Ottawa
The nation’s capital can look grand
Memorial to fallen soldiers in Ottawa
Very grand indeed.

The next day we drove to the Finger Lakes region of New York. (Did we drive too much on this trip? Probably.) Our B&B turned out to be this huge, gorgeous old house in Montour Falls—right beside those falls, in fact, and near a church that had become a private residence. (Would love to know how they converted the interior into living space.) The B&B included a great breakfast with all kinds of fruit, baked beans, eggs, bacon, and on on, and it was interesting talking to the other guests, who were mostly Americans, but there was a young German couple staying there as well.

Large bed and breakfast in Finger Lakes
Our humble abode for the trip

We didn’t do a whole lot the first day but walk around Montour Falls itself.

But on Friday, we decided to emphasize the hiking, as the forecast threatened possible rain on Saturday. We started with Watkins Glen State Park, which had really good trails through a canyon going around and even behind waterfalls. It included a fair number of stairs but wasn’t really that arduous; nothing like our Italian walking trip! Things were wet after all that rain, so we were glad of waterproof boots and rain jackets, but the weather was nice.

Watkins Glen State Park canyon
On the stairs, in the canyon
Falls in Watkins Glen State Park
Some of the falls

Our afternoon hike was to another set of falls in a canyon, but this trail was just flat and didn’t bring you quite as close to the falls as the other had. It was pretty, though.

Nature scene in Finger Lakes
Hike to the falls
 Overland view of falls in Finger Lakes
Overland view of falls

Our dinner reservations were near this set of falls, and we ended up with some time to kill. We visited a few little towns, including one with a chocolate shop, so I stocked up on more of those. (My favorite local chocolate shops seem to keep closing on me.)

Saturday ended up being not so rainy after all. We started with a visit to a big market in Penn Yan, which was fun and provided me with a new purse. We then hit some wineries. Did you know there are about 110 (!) in this region? We got to 3.

The first was the big complex of Bully Hill. It’s very busy, but they do their wine tastings “en masse” here, with two guys providing lively banter as they pour everyone their choice of two options for a total of five tastings. It was fun, and there were two wines we would have bought if we hadn’t been concerned about wine limits when going over the border.

Bully Hill winery view
View from Bully Hill

Once we found it, our next stop was Rasta Ranch, which has a real hippie vibe to it, with tie-dyed clothes and Jim Morrison posters for sale. A long-haired dude gave us a free-flowing sample of various options that were unusual, though not necessarily fantastic. Still, Jean was taken with the name of the Ja’maca Me Blush! wine and wanted to buy that. I then noticed Bohemian Raspberry, which they let me taste. Actually pretty good–very raspberry, not too sweet. So we got a bottle of that, too.

Countryside in Finger Lakes
Driving in Finger Lakes wine country

The best winery, wine-wise, was Chateau LaFayette Renau. We would have bought a bottle of everything we tasted had we, again, not been concerned about wine limits at the border. These included a nice 2007 Pinot, a delicious 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, a semi-sweet red blend that didn’t come across as that sweet, a very pleasant semisweet Rieseling, and a dessert wine based on the Niagara grape, the same one used in Welch’s grape juice, but here turned into a surprisingly pleasant drink.

Ottawa and Finger Lakes area dining

Somewhat of a continuation of my last post, this one focusing on notable dining experiences.

The Tuesday evening we arrived in Ottawa, we met with some friends and went to a very new restaurant called Das Lokal, down on Dalhousie street, below the Market. We all commented that we didn’t think we had ever seen that part of Dalhousie before, but it had some interesting shops and such.

The place was a bit noisy and the service seemed somewhat rushed or something, like persistently asking us about drinks when we first arrived and were still perusing the wine list. And we got bread, but no bread plates. “I find that very odd,” commented one of our friends. Maybe just opening-month kinks they need to work out?

Food-wise, everyone seemed happy with their appetizers, which in Jean and my case was a shared charcuterie plate, with very nice patés and such. As mains everyone but me ordered the rabbit with spatzle; I had the Cornish hen. Jean reported that the rabbit wasn’t as flavorful as he’d hoped, but I found the hen very good. For dessert each couple shared apple crisp, which was fine but not outstanding.

Cornish hen at Dal Lokal
The Cornish hen
Rabbit with spatzle at Das Lokal
And the less-successful rabbit with spatzle

Always good catching up with friends.

Dinner was just the two of us at Whalesbone on Wednesday. We started with some raw oysters, as per usual, but I was really struck by the special appetizer of the day, which included mussels in a spicy broth, fried clams, and smoked oysters on a creamy sauce of some kind. Everything was just amazing; maybe the best food of the trip.

Seafood platter at Whalesbone, Ottawa
All these items were just fabulous

The waitress recommended a bottle of Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc, from New Zealand, to have with this. It was more than others on the menu, but still only $52. It was indeed very nice and well-suited to the food.

Nautilus wine at Whalesbone, Ottawa
Le vin

(And all their fish and seafood, by the way, is sustainably fished.)

As our main courses, I went with BC trout while Jean had Ontario walleye. These were quite fine, with good vegetables to accompany.

Our first day in the Finger Lakes area, we didn’t feel like driving more, so we had dinner at an Italian restaurant down the road from our B&B in Montour Falls, called Mura Bella’s. They were very nice there, even giving us an umbrella for the walk home, as it was quite rainy by then (after a very nice day). It was our first taste of the local wine there, which wasn’t bad, but wasn’t terribly interesting, either. The food was good, except for Jean getting frozen veggies with his main. (I mean, heated frozen veggies. They weren’t still frozen.)

Tomato and bocconcini appetizer at Mura Bella’s
Nice tomato and bocconcini appetizer at Mura Bella’s

On the Friday after our hike, we had lunch at the Wildflower Cafe in the town of Watkins Glen, which focused on the local and sustainable. It was attached to a brewery and had recommended beers for most items. I couldn’t resist, so I ordered the recommend Blonde beer, which wasn’t bad, as beers go. Jean went with a glass of local wine, which tasted rather nouveau.

I had catfish tacos that were just delicious, really, with a side salad of corn and black beans. Jean had a jambalaya that he enjoyed. He also had room for an apple crumble dessert that I just tasted.

Our dinner that night was at Suzanne’s Fine Regional Cuisine, and it was very enjoyable. They specialize in set menus of varying numbers of courses. We went for the three-course rather than five. I started with a nice salad of pear, pecan, and blue cheese, while Jean had the corn chowder with bacon and basil oil. For mains we both had the duck with potato Galette and broccoli. The local wines we had here acquitted themselves better than previous; I started with a nice blanc de blanc (Chardonnay) sparkling, while Jean had a decent Pinot. And we both enjoyed the recommended Syrah with the duck; it was quite smooth, with vanilla notes.

(Jean seems to not have selected any pictures from this meal, for some reason… I was all dressed up for it, too.)

For dessert he had a Panna cotta in Concord grape sauce, while I had very delicious profiteroles with chocolate chip ice cream and brownies. I also ordered a local Port which was, very clearly, not Portuguese. 🙂 (That is, maybe don’t try Finger Lakes port.)

Lunch on Saturday was at Bully Hill winery, where we sat on a patio with a lovely view (the drive in these parts was probably the best of the trip). The food was quite good. We shared grape-leaf wrapped meat appetizers, then I had a grilled goat cheese and portebello sandwich while Jean had chili. I drank a red blend from the winery and Jean had an off-dry red, which seems a bit weird, but is common with the wines here. We enjoyed both of those.

We also had dinner at a winery that day: Glenora. This was a disappointing meal, with service whose timing seemed a bit “off” all evening, and Jean’s main course of duck apparently suffered from having sat under heat lamp too long. Both our appetizers were good, mind you: I had fried calamari (a bit too big a serving, though), and Jean had squash soup. And my main of venison, mashed potatoes, and green beans was well-done, though would have been better if my red (a good Cabernet Franc) had arrived before I was nearly done with the food.

Venison at Glenora winery
This venison dish was good, but would have been more enjoyable with the red I’d ordered

On the drive home we had lunch in Jordan Station, Ontario, in a restaurant called Zooma Zooma cafe. That was very good; a nice capper to our trip.

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