Ontario 2010 Fall Colour tour

Though we’d considered many other, more exotic locations for this particular vacation, pocketbook considerations suggested that a drive through Ontario in the Fall colour season would be the best choice. We figured out an itinerary that would have us in Timmins for Thanksgiving, then booked most accommodations and some restaurants before leaving.

Saturday, October 2: Getting away

The forecast for Tobermory was 60% rain, so we revised our original plan of leaving in the morning so we could hike there before dinner. Instead, we opted for leisurely departure. By 11:45, the prediction was for 40% rain, so that seemed a good time to depart (after a little lunch).

Nick Hornby: Juliet Naked

The drive did feature rain on and off, but also some nice displays of leaf colours along the way. Otherwise, there isn’t too much to say about it. We listened to the audiobook version of Nick Horton’s Juliet Naked along the way. This is a novel about three characters: A man obsessed with a folk singer who disappeared from public life 20 years earlier, after releasing what was widely regarded as his best album; the woman 15 years into a relationship with this man, but now questioning why; and the folk singer himself. We got only partway through on this drive, of course, but both found ourselves enjoying the book. I particularly liked the comparison of male and female music fandom.

We’d last been to Tobermory on the August long weekend. It was a lot quieter this time around. We stayed at the Princess Hotel, which is pretty much what you’d expect of a two-star hotel (such as having free but very flaky wireless). We’d decided to dine at Molinari’s this time. Last time we’d just been for coffee, but the menu had looked interesting, and we’d found the Grandview a little pricey for what it was. We were a little sad that Molinari’s wasn‘t licensed, though, as red wine goes so well with Italian food, and we were within walking of our hotel. But then when we arrived, the proprietor said that if the LCBO was still open, we could get ourselves a bottle there. In fact, he offered to drive us there, as he wanted to get there himself before it closed.

So, he had us lock up the restaurant briefly and we drove the tiny Tobermory LCBO together. When we got back, there were people sitting waiting in the restaurant! Apparently the door had been locked but not pulled shut properly. All in all, a very small-town experience.

Dinner was quite good, with everything made in-house. I had the balsamic salad to start, while Jean went with squash-apple soup. We both had the chicken cacciatore as entrees. (Jean was hoping for osso bucco, but they weren’t offering it this day.) The Barolo we’d gotten at LCBO wasn’t stellar, especially for the price, but it worked well enough with the food (and there was no corkage fee, so it still quite the deal). Desserts were creme brulee for Jean and homemade strawberry ice cream for me. Not bad at all for $73.

We then made it an early night, as the plan was to take the early ferry in the morning.

Sunday, October 3: Not bored in Manitoulin

We were up early for the ferry—a bit too early for the included continental breakfast at the Princess. But they were willing to give us cereal, toast, and coffee ahead of official opening time, which was nice.

Sarah's Key book cover

The ferry ride was uneventful, except for the coldness. Well, I was really cold. Jean was fine. And I took the opportunity to finally finish reading Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay, a novel I’d found pretty gripping throughout. The end was very touching.

The plan at Manitoulin was to check into our B&B and then have lunch at Garden’s Gate restaurant, but neither worked out. No one seemed to be in at the B&B at that point, and Garden’s Gate (once we found it), wasn’t open for lunch in October. So instead we drove toward where we were planning to hike later, figuring we’d find a restaurant along the way.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day in Manitoulin. Cool, yes, but very sunny, and the fall colours were just amazing. We hadn’t realized how colourful it got here.

Finding a lunch restaurant proved a bit challenging, but we finally did, in the “not depressing” Indian reserve town of M’Chigeeng. But we got a surprise as we entered the relatively full restaurant: The power was out. Not only here, but on the entire island. It was a scheduled outage, supposed to be back at noon, but they were a bit delayed with that. Most people there were just waiting for it to come back on.

Nevertheless, thanks to a propane skillet and some pre-boiled water, they were able to prepare us French toast, bacon, and tea. The power did come back as we were finishing it up, but that seemed a decent enough lunch anyway.

We then drove to the “Cup and Saucer” trail area. The trail was generally well-indicated, but at one point it forked without much explanation of the two options. We ended up on the more rugged one heading up to the viewpoints. So it took a little while, but was quite lovely at the top. There were two young people there working up the courage to rappel down the rock.

Top of the Cup and Saucer trail

The way back we took the main trail, and saw that you got viewpoints all along the way. I can see why this is a popular walking area.

We then decided to take Highway 6 around the east end of the island, with a plan to stop if we saw anything interesting. In the end, we just stopped for a drink (and ice cream for Jean), then accidentally drove off the island and had to turn around to come back. Anyway. The route brought us back to our B&B, where we were able to check in this time. It was a lovely room, though no TV, and a friendly but forgetful owner, who also ran a gallery.

We decided on Garden’s Gate for dinner. That did turn out to be very good, with the very friendly co-owner serving us (and a nice old cat greeting us). We shared the recommended appetizer to start, which was a pumpkin and garlic dip with homemade crackers. Then each entree came with a soup or salad. Jean had the pumpkin and apple soup; I the salad. For mains, Jean went with the lamb cooked in apricot sauce with Moroccan seasoning. I had the seasoned white fish—the seasoning being a little spicy, almost Asian. Both came with carrots, mashed potatoes (two kinds), and a squash side dish. Though pretty full, we wanted to try the dessert, so we shared the apple pie (with decaf coffee). The ¼ L of wine we each had were both good; I had an Ontario Gerwurtz-Riesling blend and Jean had Cabernet blend (Chilean/Canadian). The whole meal was about $100.

The free wireless connection at the B&B was much better than at the Princess, so being in early enough and TV-less, we discovered the joys of streaming television on the laptop. It’s not as comfortable but will do in a pinch. We watched Being Erica, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and The Daily Show.

Monday, October 4: Getting to the Sault

Breakfast at the B&B was quite good—fruit salad, toast, yogurt, cereal, boiled eggs, cheese, nuts. We talked with the other couple who were also staying there (in their case because they were unable to get on the ferry the day before), who had been on a number of canoe trips and had previously been to the Sault on this trip. And after breakfast, the B&B owner was finally able to track down a hair dryer for me. (We’d asked the day before, but she’d forgotten.)

Once packed, we took off. But I had suggested stopping in Sheguiandah to do another trail before leaving, since it was another glorious day in Manitoulin. Jean wasn’t immediately convinced, but we did end up doing that, and it was a good idea. This 2 km loop trail, called Twin Peaks, brought you to two nice view points. The colours were great, again, and Jean got some interesting shots. The sound was also interesting—so many leaves falling, it sounded like small animals skittering about. We also surprised a flock of ducks, in trees, who took off en masse.

Manitoulin Island in the fall

Then it was a lot of driving, destination Sault. We were entertained on the way by the fall colours and the continuation of Juliet, Naked.

Around Blind River seemed a reasonable time for lunch. The place we first stopped at randomly, was, remarkably, listed in Where to Eat in Canada. But someone came out and told us it had actually closed about a year before. She suggested a couple other places, and we stopped at one. Nothing stellar, for sure, but adequate spaghetti and Western sandwich.

In the Sault, we found the Travelodge without too much difficulty. It seemed fine. It was around 4:00, and still a lovely day, 16ºC, so we decided to walk along the waterfront.

Street sculptures at Sault waterfront

We then walked Queen St., the main street of downtown, which was pretty darn quiet. But I did stop at Zenone’s, where they were having a sale, and tried on a few things. I ended up buying a blazer for $20 (originally $155, apparently).

Dinner reservations were at 7:00, at Panna. That was within walking distance. It was a pretty nice room. As appetizers, Jean finally settled on the pork spring rolls, while I had the smoked salmon with beets and lettuce. Both were well done. The salmon was house-smoked, the thicker kind. I had a French Pinot Noir with that, while Jean asked to be “surprised” and got a white Cotes du Rhone.

As mains, we both had curries. I had the butter chicken and Jean had the special, a green curry of shrimp and scallop (one scallop, he pointed out). I had the house white with that, a Hungarian pinot blanc, while Jean had an Italian proseco. Despite the low scallop count of Jean’s dish, both curries were very tasty.

We were fairly full after that, but had heard about the Verona chocolate dessert, so decided to share that. It was indeed very good, as were the decaf lattes. The whole thing came to about $150, which seemed reasonable enough.

Tuesday, October 5: Mellow day in the Sault

Though we both found ourselves annoyingly awake at 6:00, we refused to actually get up then and managed to sleep in—to about 9:00! So guess we caught up.

We had breakfast at the cafe on the main floor of the Travelodge. It was fine, except for the tasteless tomatoes.

We then walked to the Bushplane Museum. Once again, it was surprisingly interesting, with anecdotes about pilots and big forest fires amidst the interactive exhibits of various bush planes and related artifacts. This included a plane used in the movie Amelia and a big fire tower. Jean entertained himself using the radio to contact me while I was up checking out the tower view. We spent about two hours there.

Artifact at Bush Plane Museum

It was sort of lunchtime-ish after that, so after walking the grounds of a historic house, we decided to go to Panna’s again.

Historic house in the Sault

We weren’t super hungry after the late breakfast, but naturally managed to eat something. I had the house salad and the gnochi in tomato-basil sauce. Really nice texture and very flavorful, fresh sauce in that. And I had it with a glass of the 2007 Stratus Wildass red. Jean had the soup special, which was a ham and pea (quite delicious), and another appetizer, the California sushi. That was fine but not outstanding. With that, he again had the Cotes du Rhone white.

Next, on Queen, we stopped in a bookstore and camera store, but found neither particularly interesting. So we went to the Sault Museum. It had various exhibits on the history of the Sault, and some with a somewhat wider focus. Not an essential visit, but some interesting bits.

It was a beautiful sunny day again (18, I think), so we walked along the waterfront again. Then we went into the mall! I picked up some moisturizer, and Jean acquired some reading material.

We then just mellowed out til supper time, which was at Thymely Manner. It had a nice, small room. For starters, Jean had the Nona soup, which is a chicken broth base with noodles and ricotta cheese. Unusual and flavorful. I had the smoked duck salad, with pear and candied pecans and raspberries. Quite good. Le tout was served (after much debate) with a Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2008.

For mains, I ordered the mushroom risotta that was also tempting Jean. He got the baked whitefish with vegatable and roasted potato. We were going to switch halfway, but on doing so, each thought our original selection was better anyway, so we just traded back again.

We were too full for dessert, so we just had tea after. On walking back to the car, we thought with some amazement that the quality of meals we’ve been having rivaled France (Languedoc, anyway). The Thyme meal was also about $150 all in.

Wednesday, October 6: Setting into Sudbury

We got up at a more reasonable hour, and went for breakfast at the same hotel cafe. This morning we encountered an order mix-up, in which our food was delivered to other people, so we then had to wait for a new batch. Oh well.

Once again, it was a beautiful sunny day, making for a nice drive to Sudbury. Still plenty of fall colours to admire on the way. We stopped in Blind River again, but this time just at Tim’s, for bagel, yogurt, and coffee. And, we managed to finish Juliet, Naked. Quite an interesting novel.

We arrived in Sudbury around 3:00, and checked into our Quality Inn. We were “upgraded” to a Queen bed room. While checking in, the attendant got a call about a friend who’d been shot during a robbery or something. Turned into quite a big news item while we were there.

Our room was fine—pretty similar to the Travelodge, really, but a little bigger, the Queen bed (instead of double), and the hotel had a pool. Internet connection seemed really flaky at first, but ultimately improved (as though it had to “warm up” first).

As it was so nice out (again!), and 18ºC, we decided to go for a walk. We had a map of trails, and one nearby one was through a park. It was really a great city walk: Lake, park, gazebos, fall colours…

Sudbury lake view

It kind of ended at Science North. We thought a little snack would be good at this point, but Science North only had a “fine dining” restaurant to offer. So we walked along Paris street, thinking that as a main street, it should have something. Only it didn’t, really—at least not in that section. So we just ate our own snacks back at the hotel.

We’d made dinner reservations at Alexandria’s, where we were meeting Jean’s sister and nephew. We had a nice meal with them. The food was good, again. I started with calamari in olive oil and fresh tomato and lemon, while Jean had escargot in riesling. To drink, we got a bottle of French Pinot Noir from the fairly unexciting wine options. As mains, I had the roast duck in pomegranate sauce with potato and veg, while Jean had curried roast lamb (medium hot). Also all good. For dessert, we shared chocolate pecan tart. This proved our most expensive meal yet—about $200.

We got some advice from the locals about bars, restaurants, and stores for our next day in Sudbury.

Thursday, October 7: Petting a porcupine in Sudbury

We again managed to get up at a reasonable time and had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. It was decent. I had fruit salad and rye toast while Jean had eggs with peameal bacon.

On another sunny day, we walked to Science North along the boardwalk through the park. Then we visited Science North. We started in the animal exhibit, which had been moved from its usual third floor home to the first. The porcupine had been removed from his cage, for cleaning or whatever, and he decided to make a run for it, which was terribly amusing. They eventually managed to keep him in one place by feeding him pellets. And he got quite friendly with the handlers. We were able to pet him. He felt somewhat like straw.

Petting a porcupine at Science North

Other animals in the exhibit included owls, various snakes, skunks, various turtles, and some fish.

The next floor contained an exhibit of various rocks and minerals, and a butterfly sanctuary. And the stairway on the way up contained the huge skeleton of a fin whale.

Fin whale skeleton at Science North

We took a pause from visiting the body exhibit on the fourth floor to head back to the first for a “4D” movie about bushplane flying. This meant your seat also moved during the 3D movie. What they didn’t say is that water spray and wind gusts would also be part of the show. And snakes on a plane! (By the way, Jean said that you don’t actually get wet while on a bushplane.)

We then returned to the fourth floor for exhibits about the human body (lying on a bed of nails, testing for colour blindness), climate change effects, and so on. But also took time to look at the view.

View of lake from Science North window

It was then lunchtime, pretty much, so we went to the place recommended to us, Curious Thyme Bistro. We each started with a soup, me pumpkin, Jean black bean and corn. Both good. Jean then had a bison burger while I had the Greek sandwich on pita, which included elk meat, ricotta cheese, spinach, and pepper. Jean had the chocolate monkey tea and I had Japanese cherry green tea.

We walked back to the Art Gallery next. It turned out a little disappointing, in that it was really small, with few exhibits. The theme was a trade between Sudbury and Brampton artists, who visited each other’s towns and made art works.

We then decided to go shopping. We needed the car for that, and were surprised at how much traffic there was on the way there. At the LCBO, we were successful in finding the 2008 Rosewood Estates Riesling we’d really liked. We bought two bottles for us and one for my parents. And Jean picked up a Chateau Pey La Tour for his Mom.

We then went the grocery store for a few items.

Back at the hotel (faster driving on the way back), we explored dinner options, and finally decided on going back to Curious Thyme. We walked again, despite Jean’s blisters. (We may have eaten well, but also didn’t lack for exercise on this trip.) This time I started with elk carpaccio and mushrooms, in a blueberry vinaigrette with greens. Very good. With that, I had a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. Jean had the day’s special, a baked brie with pita. And a Pinot Gris. It was good, though he had expected more.

As mains, I had breaded pickerel with roasted potatoes and mixed vegetables, and that same Pinot. Jean had the elk and pumpkin ravioli, in tomato sauce. They were delicious, though he found the accompanying mushrooms a little off somehow. He had a Chianti with that.

He was too full for dessert, but I tried the apple blossom and vanilla ice cream, though I couldn’t finish it all. I now had the chocolate monkey tea while Jean had ginger jasmine. And we had a pleasant walk back to the hotel.

Friday, October 8: Following in the steps of the Group of Seven

The morning brought news of who had been eliminated from So You Think You Can Dance Canada, ruining that suspense, as I hadn’t been able to catch the show. But that was OK. We ate breakfast at the hotel again, packed up, and checked out.

The GPS helped us navigate out of Sudbury. Then not far from the city limits, we stopped at the AY Jackson Lookout, so named because this location inspired some of his paintings (at least, I think that’s why). It was a beautiful day again, one of the warmest yet, so we thought another hike was in order.

The trail didn’t start out all that wonderful, as it was right beside the highway, but it quickly improved as it veered into the woods. We soon had great views of Onaping Falls, along with all the fall colours. We walked along the falls on the road side, then crossed the bridge and followed the looping trail on the other side. It wasn’t always that well indicated, but we managed (thanks to Jean, mostly) never to get too lost. And it was a really nice trail to do.

River on the AY Jackson trail
Hunger Games book cover

We then took to the road. We had decided just to eat some fruit, cheese, and trail mix instead of stopping for lunch anywhere (as options are very few on this road), and we passed the time listening to a new book, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. This is a young adult novel that is proving very popular with adults as well. It takes place in a future time, after Global Warming disasters and civil wars, when much of North America suffers from food shortages. So really cheery (not). But it definitely holds the interest.

Arriving at my parents, we got news of how my Uncle had complications after his surgery, and had to have a second surgery to deal with that. But he was now recovering (again) in hospital. But my Aunt had been to visit, and had a fainting spell while there. So she spent some time in Emergency to see what was going on. Despite numerous tests, though, they couldn’t find a cause. Amidst that excitement, Jean went off to see his Mom while I had dinner at my parent’s. I talked to my brother a bit, too, who was off to the cottage, but would be back for dinner on Sunday. So except for all the health news, it was a pretty quiet evening of reading and watching TV.

Saturday, October 9: Heading out to the big bush party after school

After breakfast, we took a walk with my parents to see the latest in the Ski Runners development. The main change are the grounds around the new chalet, which are now all landscaped and look quite nice. They’ve also put up a deck, which they were busy adjusting this day. The original seating had been too high for comfortable seating, and also blocked views of the ski trails from the chalet.

Before lunch we went to try to hunt down some reading material for Jean. We visited the used bookstore downtown, but it carried only general paperback fiction, mysteries, and true crime books, none of which are really Jean’s cup of tea. We also stopped in two convenience stores uptown, but no joy there either. Only at Shopper’s did he find a couple magazines of interest. I also got Spin magazine there, for the cover story on Arcade Fire (I wasn’t too familiar with anyone else they covered).

In the afternoon Jean visited with his family while I caught up on some web reading. He then picked me up to have dinner at his Mom’s. We had moose steaks and roast vegetables, with spice cake for dessert.

After dinner, we headed out with his Mom and two sisters to an obscure lake road where his nieces had been hearing and seeing wolves. The goal was to hear wolf howls. It was quite a drive down a bush road (actually in fairly good shape for a bush road), and the reaction of the GPS to driving on unnamed bush road was pretty funny.

We found the viewing spot thanks to balloon markers, along with a fire they had set up. Fire was good, because it was a pretty cool night. (It had been a beautiful but not overly warm day.) We joined the others already there.

We didn’t have tons of luck hearing wolves. A couple of the guys were good at inciting howls, but we heard a distance response only on their second try, and then only faintly. But it was certainly something different to do. (And there’s nothing much on TV Saturday night…).

Sunday, October 10: Giving thanks

After sleeping in for an abnormally long time, the day didn’t get that much more active: read the Globe, exercised, caught up on email. My brother and the kids came over around 4:00 after an overnighter at their cottage. Initial excitement occurred when the friendly chipmunk the two boys were feeding became a little over-enthusiastic about picking at crumbs, and bit one of them. But he didn’t stay upset too long.

Everyone enjoyed watching the little video Jean had made of the kids at Christmas.

My sister-in-law arrived a bit after the rest with a framed picture of the kids, one for me and Jean, one for Mom and Dad. They had some other recent pictures for us to look at as well.

Then we just generally caught up. Jean left around 5:45 for his family shin-dig. Our dinner was fairly traditional, with turkey, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, green beans, and stuffing. And green salad, and two kinds of pie for dessert (not homemade this year, as Mom had a crazy week preceding).

After dinner were a few dishes and a little TV. Jean arrived around 10:00, reporting that they had been only 14 this year, resulting in a lower variety of dishes on offer, though everything there was good as usual.

Monday, October 11: Driving home

We set the alarm to ensure not sleeping in so long this morning, and had a breakfast of poached eggs, back bacon, toast, and oranges. Then we packed up the car, including a coffee table for my sister that my Dad had refinished, and got on our way around 9:15, which is pretty good for us.

On the drive, which again featured some pretty nice colours, we continued listening to The Hunger Games. Frustratingly, we didn’t quite make it to the very end, so we’ll have to take a little time soon to listen to the half-hour remaining.

The drive itself went fine. We did stop for lunch in North Bay, at Boston Pizza (which was OK), then decided to stop for dinner in Singhampton, at Mylar and Loretta’s, which was very busy! We had their house specialty of roast pork with applesauce and veggies, and that was basic but good. It also included dessert, so I had the strawberry-rhubarb crumble and Jean had rice pudding. Neither of us could finish everything after just sitting in the car all day, but it was nice to have a break. (It’s almost a tradition to stop here Thanksgiving weekend.)

So with those stops, and with having to drop by Jean’s office to get his work car, we weren’t home until 8:15. I was glad I had the next day off, which Jean did not.