Tag Archives: multi-generational travel

Discovering Nova Scotia: Part 6–Meet Me at the Station

IMG_2101It felt like a scene out of a Wes Andersen movie when all of a sudden a slight man in a conductor’s uniform came zipping around the bend on an Ecoped, making a quick stop on the gravel road. In his blue uniform, matching hat, pocket watch and welcome smile he seemed too good to be true. Owner of the Train Station Inn, Jimmie LeFresne is the real deal.

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Time well spent on the tracks, LeFresne turned his boyhood dream into reality.

A childhood spent playing in this Tatamagouche railroad station, one of the oldest in Canada, LeFresne turned his passion for trains into a hospitality reality. Back then the trains moved goods and services across the country; its stockyard was filled with pigs and cows. Times changed and it fell to ruin. To prevent its demolition, in 1974 LeFresne had the foresight, at 18, to purchase the station. In 1989 he opened the Train Station Inn, creating a love letter to a bygone era.

Uniquely appointed railway cars serve as accommodations: 2 boxcars, the rest 6 cabooses. The stationmaster’s house operates as a separate suite.

It’s not every night you get to sleep in a caboose; mine was bright orange with a small wooden patio added to one end. Investigating the authenticity of the existing apparatus within the car had me feeling like a kid.

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Boxcar Jane is a sweet home away from home

Staying in boutique and luxury hotels is a treat but the Train Station Inn is an entirely different experience, more like a bucket list experience. Its uniqueness would appeal to friends looking for a special getaway, multi-generational family travelers, honeymooners, or couples in search of a memorable wedding destination.

Lunch and dinner is served in the dining car, where some of the good food you’ll eat comes right out of the Inn’s garden and from local farms and fishmongers. Ambassadors for keeping things local, they serve up organic and fair trade coffee and the next morning at the Jitney Café, a brick house that was once the men’s waiting room back in the day, a cup of it and a yummy breakfast of Orange Acadian Toast with maple syrup had my name on it.

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Whet your whistle at the town’s newly opened brewery.

Situated along the Tatamagouche River, the Inn is walking distance to this community-driven town’s attractions. Travelers visit to experience its hospitality, museums, galleries, spiritual center, and an annual event like Oktoberfest. Located about 20 minutes from town, I popped into Jost Vineyards for one more taste of their fine Tidal Bay. It’s just one of the provinces many wineries.

Later, I stopped in Pugwash where I had a date for a game of disc golf. In the nearby town of Wallace, the Chip Ship  drew me in like bait and I pulled over to sample another tasty basket of fish and chips. Afterward, I slowly made my way back towards Halifax.

 

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All aboard the Chip Ship for some good eats!

When I asked EatLikeALocal guide Monica MacNeil what the most significant thing is about Nova Scotia, she spoke for herself and on behalf of Nova Scotia’s tourism organization. “It’s the people,” she said. “It’s the history of the early Europeans and first peoples that we can trace our roots and origins through to today. That’s what continues to shape our hospitality, spirit and friendships.”

She also mentioned never being further than 40 minutes from the ocean, no matter where you are in Nova Scotia.

I do believe that has something to do with it.

For more information on planning your own Nova Scotia road trip to one of the province’s many shorelines, click here.

This six-part Nova Scotia road trip series was originally featured in Mrs Robinson.

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Discovering Nova Scotia: Part 5—Northumberland’s Beaches

IMG_2066Out of Pictou heading west on Highway 6, the last thing I expected to come across on my Nova Scotia  road trip was a lavender farm.

Open daily from June-September, Seafoam Lavender Farm is family run; its mission is to promote health and wellbeing through the cultivation of this shrub. While the long winter had delayed the season, new growth was beginning to sprout among the variety of lavender beds laid out in row upon row and owners Dave and Suzy Belt have big plans for their crop.

Lavender's bounty extends well beyond this basket.

Lavender’s bounty extends well beyond this basket.

Their onsite shop is already stocked with an assortment of bi-products from the beloved purple buds, from skincare, to food, to household products. It was pretty impressive but the winner was the vanilla ice cream sundae that Suzy brought out topped with perfectly fresh whipped cream and a generous drizzle of lavender syrup.

Traveling is often about finding a new favorite thing. The Belts get two thumbs up for all their efforts and for spoiling me with their unique and super delicious treat.

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Lavender lemonade, the perfect twist on a hot day

Throughout the drive, I’d been wondering about these so-called “warm waters” that were always in sight. I mean, I’ve been to Maine and that water never gets warm. Here I was much further north, just how welcoming would these waters be?

Recommended by the folks at Seafoam, Rushton’s Beach is the warmest salt-water beach in Nova Scotia and I caught it at low tide where a wide sandbar seemed to extend forever. There was barely another soul in sight.

Since arriving in Halifax, the clear blue skies made the sunny weather seem tailor-made. Screw the bikini back in the car, I stripped down to my undies and walked into my first summer swim and into one of heaven’s gates. If water can be gorgeous, this was it.

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Another perfect summer day at Rushton’s Beach.

On the walk back to the wooded parking lot, dogs trotted towards the beach with wide canine grins, their owners walked lazily behind them. In its mouth, a black lab held a bright orange ball as it ran along the long boardwalk leading to the sand. It was around 5PM and I looked back at this perfect hour, on a peaceful slice of local life and wished I could stay. Similar beaches dot the Northumberland coastline, each offering one of nature’s best forms of free therapy.

I didn’t think it could get any better but a stay that night at a defunct railroad station would make this trip unforgettable.

Next Stop: A trip back in time.

Discovering Nova Scotia: Part 4 –The Province’s Birthplace

photo-10Passing through the harbor town of Pictou, where the summer seasonal ferry to Prince Edward Isle operates, a newly opened food kiosk served up an excellent basket of fish and chips to my road weary travel. It was clean food, the batter light and crispy, the chips homemade. Waterfront Fries prides itself on using grandma’s recipe. It was a great find and one that would put me on a fish and chips trail.

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Things that may you go, pull over!

At the end of the day’s drive, I settled in at the Pictou Lodge Beach Resort, a comfortable hotel with an unobstructed view of the Northumberland Strait. Its budget-friendly accommodations range from standard rooms to log cabins. It’s also got Chef Thomas Carey, whose amazingly delicious seafood chowder took first place in the 2014 Taste of Nova Scotia Chowder Cook-Off. With a reliance on the sea, Nova Scotians pride themselves on the culinary traditions created from the waters that surround them. Tonight, I would learn how to eat a lobster like a local.

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One of the many activities offered at Pictou Lodge Beach Resort.

The lesson was delivered courtesy of Monica MacNeil, who writes EatLikeALocal. She was also partly responsible for my expanding waistline. MacNeil’s skills around this crustacean are impressive, even if I was a buttery mess. She knows good food and if you have any plans to visit, you may want to look her up. An ambassador for all things Nova Scotia, she’s an outstanding guide and a great teacher.

Anyone interested in learning about lobsters might find the Northumberland Fisheries Museum Lobster Hatchery a curious place, you can even adopt one.  Newborns are no bigger than ants and it takes years for them to mature to a size large enough where they can settle on the ocean floor. That’s if they don’t get eaten first. Here you’ll see lobsters of all sizes. My favorite was Blueberry, named for her genetic mutation. I was thankful my eating lesson had taken place the night before because in gazing at her beauty I could see no lobster in my future.  Fish and chips were another story.

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The only blueberry in my future is off the shrub.

A visit aboard the Hector was a reminder there’s no place like home. This replica of the ship that made Pictou the birthplace of New Scotland provides a glimpse into the arduous journey of the 189 Scottish Highlanders confined to it for more than a few weeks in 1773. Anyone with an ounce of Scottish blood may want to check it out.

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Mrs. MacGregor keeping it real.

One of the highlights of any road trip is pulling over whenever the fancy strikes. You cultivate a discerning eye and a sixth sense for what looks right. It was a pleasure to witness small-town life with mom and pop run operations, dollar stores, bars and restaurants. That is one of Nova Scotia’s draws. There are also lots of laid back cafes and a cozy one is Mrs. MacGregor’s Team Room. Known for her melt-in-your-mouth shortbread (which also make great gifts), she serves up her own recipe of fresh seafood chowder. In fact, the only thing that seemed to rival a fish and chip trail was the possibility of charting a chowder trail. Good reasons to return.

But the coastline was teasing and I wondered if I’d ever get a chance to step into its so-called “warm waters.”

Next Stop:    Who needs France when you’ve got lavender growing in your own backyard!

Discovering Nova Scotia: Part 3–No Time Like the Maritime

GabrieausThe charming town of Antigonish is a great base for day tripping to points of interests along the Northumberland Shoreline and some of Nova Scotia’s other shore areas.

Some travelers dislike staying in B&Bs, and I get it, but the Antigonish Victorian Inn might change your mind. Set amongst four acres of farmland, each room in this heritage house is well-appointed with comfy beds, curtains that keep the morning light at bay, free wi-fi and cable. Rates are wallet-friendly and the Inn has welcomed visitors from dignitaries to international travelers, so they know what they’re doing.

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A cozy welcome at Antigonish Victorian Inn.  Photo credit: Visit Antigonish

Easy to get around, Antigonish has pretty much everything you need on its main street.

A road buddy scored a tiny rose gold teacup on a chain at Aphrodite; a boutique that carries locally sourced fashion, art and jewelry. Now in its 7th year, there’s an International Film Festival held here each October. Antigonish is also known for its beloved St. Francis University, July’s highland games that celebrate Scottish sports and music, its access to outdoor activities, and…beaches. But the only dipping tonight would be at Gabrieau’s, one of the regions most coveted restaurants.

Big Island oysters, fresh and sweet, were served raw and baked. A bottle of L’Acadie, a local crisp and sparkling wine that won a top award at France’s Effervescents du Monde, provided the perfect pairing.  Cape Breton snow crab salad with local radishes was quickly inhaled. A main course of plump Maritime mussels from the Eastern Shore with pan-roasted, smoky haddock was complimented by Tidal Bay, a Nova Scotia appellation white wine. A pecan tart with buttery pastry and a slightly salty flavor provided a perfect finish.

The co-op movement began in Antigonish in 1861 and Chef Mark Gabrieau is proud to be part of its enduring legacy. He tills his own parcel of land on a co-op acreage where he grows seasonal fruits and vegetables that make their way onto his menu. A proud ambassador for Nova Scotia’s food movement, he’s won numerous awards, including the 2013 Taste of Nova Scotia Prestige Award for Restaurant of the Year.

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The province’s lighthouses have their own draw.

For anyone remotely interested in where their food comes from, Nova Scotia’s cuisine is heavily influenced by the land and sea. Whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner, a majority of the food I ate was locally sourced, meaning profits go back into the community. With tourism being such an integral part of the province’s revenue, it’s yet another good reason to return.

The next morning a stroll through the Antigonish Landing Trail, a wildlife sanctuary for birds and a local hiking and kayaking spot, was the perfect way to start the day before hitting the road.

Next Stop:  Finding my way around a lobster.

Discovering Nova Scotia—Tag Along On My Road Trip.

IMG_1800While a good problem to have, deciding on a travel destination can sometimes be tricky. As someone who’s been lucky enough to have visited many incredible places, gearing up for a trip that’ll take me to the other side of the planet often involves a lot of pre-planning, whether that involves the friends who’ll go with me or the budget needed to finance it. As a New Yorker, I often gravitate to flights headed east or south of my country’s border.

People often travel far from home to experience bucket list destinations. The further away, the more the idea of a place seems to excite them. I’m guilty of it myself, yet in doing that we might overlook some incredible opportunities within our own country or continent. A recent road trip to Nova Scotia was a surprising and refreshing reminder that amazing experiences can be had closer to home. I’ve traveled to Canada multiple times, skied Quebec’s Mont Sainte-Anne, shopped the streets of Montreal, lived in Toronto for a brief period, and marveled at Vancouver’s beauty. But after a week exploring the Nova Scotia region that offers the warmest ocean beaches in Atlantic Canada, like a fish—I’m hooked.

The road trip would take me along the Northumberland Shore, known for its natural beauty, warm waters and fresh seafood. At a cocktail reception my first night in Halifax, I feasted on lobster roll sliders and a seafood chowder made with coconut milk, lemongrass, and a hint of heat, that was so ridiculously delicious had I not been in public, I would have licked the bowl. Heaven appeared in the form of a very generous slice of blueberry pie, courtesy of Between the Bushes in the Annapolis Valley.

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Perfect pie, the only time I don’t mind being blue in the face! (Photo by author.)

Nova Scotia is known for the wild blueberries that grow in its fertile ground and it produces over forty million pounds a year. Nothing says summer like blueberry pie and after what seemed like a never-ending winter, the unmistakable and indelible flavor of that inky fruit was like a trumpet call to the taste buds.

Its health benefits are another plus. Van Dyk’s 100% Wild Blueberry Juice, would be the first Canadian item that would make its way into my luggage. When I learned about the Wild Blueberry Harvest Festival in August, my summer holiday plans began recalibrating. If you go wild for summer fruit, it’s just one of many reasons to pick this province.

Road trips and food trip are a match made in heaven. (Photo by author.)

Road trips and food trucks are a match made in heaven. (Photo by author.)

Food often plays a large part in most travel experiences. I wasn’t sure what to expect in Nova Scotia and one of the first things to impress me was the cuisine. While it’s not part of my food regime, I was surprised to find gluten-free or vegan offerings no matter where I went.  Traveling through the natural beauty of farmland and coastline, my road trip would take me through small towns. With its strong Scottish heritage, hospitality is a hallmark of Nova Scotia and from the time I arrived, it showed in every welcome I received and in every bit of food served, from food trucks to fine dining. If what I’d inhaled in Halifax was a hint of what lay in store for me, than I was heading for foodie paradise.

The flip side, thankfully, is that the province is also hailed for its access to top-notch outdoors adventure. From biking trails, kayaking, golfing, sailing, surfing, tidal bore rafting—you name it, when it comes to exercise in Nova Scotia the world is your oyster. Whether or not I made the choice to work it all off was up to me!

Join me over the next few days as I head north out of Halifax towards those warm waters…

Many Rivers To Cross With AmaWaterways.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

River cruising is becoming a preferred choice for vacations as travelers seek out new experiences. Hard to believe that the industry only emerged in 1992 after the completion of the Main-Danube Canal, making it possible for pretty much all of Europe to leverage its maritime landscape. While the Continent’s rivers had long been used for merchant trading, the completion of the Canal opened up new routes and provided the European travel industry with unique opportunities for travelers to experience this destination from an entirely different point of view.

While American travel companies didn’t jump on board until around 10 years later, they quickly witnessed the rise of river cruising once they rolled out their ships. One of the lines making a name for itself on this side of the Atlantic is AmaWaterways, which operates voyages in Europe, Russia, Asia and Africa. For anyone who’s never been on a cruise or doesn’t like the idea of being on the open ocean, river cruising offers a unique opportunity to test the waters. I had a chat with Gary Murphy, Vice President of Sales from AmaWaterways to learn more about its growing appeal.

Q: For an industry that’s fairly young, you’re doing pretty well. What’s all the fuss?
A: Over 90% of the folks who book with us are people who enjoy cruising but want a more intimate experience than on a gigantic ship. They love the feeling of going on a smaller boutique type of experience. Depending on the itinerary and ship, we max out at 162 guests. River cruising can be a very leisurely vacation or it can be extremely active. The ship is not the destination like it is on an ocean cruise.

AMAWaterways' Zambezi Queen

AMAWaterways’ Zambezi Queen

Q: What do you want people to know about this bird’s eye view?
A: When you look at river cruising, you need to look at it like a floating hotel. Many cities in Europe evolved along the banks of major rivers and a river cruise can take you right to the historic center of those cities. Often, you’re asleep when the ship is en route to the next destination. If you’re going through central Europe on a motor coach or train, you’re traveling during the day. On the ship you wake up in a new town, go out and explore it, come back to the ship for lunch, then cruise to another town. There’s always something new to see.

Q: What about those bikes on your European itineraries.
A: We once had a group of six women who planted the seed for guided bike tours. They were on a cruise in the Netherlands and didn’t take the daily sightseeing tours with us – instead, they borrowed our bikes and planned out their own routes, cycling to the next port and meeting back up with the ship. They did all the research themselves, which was a bit of work for them. So we thought, let’s do this for our guests. Now on every European itinerary (except Portugal) we’re the only river cruise line that travels with over 25 bikes stored on the ship. They’re completely complimentary and guests love being able to explore on their own or take a guided bike tour.

Q: So you’re giving it up for us gals here, right?
A: It was a great idea and we’re happy to give those women full credit! Women like to bike and they don’t want to have to carry their luggage with them or have a van follow them. Many of our ships cruise along the Rhine or Danube, both of which have paved bike paths along the riverbanks, completely separate from the roads. On certain days you can ride ahead of the ship, going through small towns along the way, and meet the ship in the next port. If the ship is in port all day, you can borrow a bike and sightsee on your own, returning to the ship later that afternoon. On our guided bike tours we have two guides, one who rides in front with the fastest rider and one who rides in back with the slowest rider. They’re there to keep an eye on everything.

Vineyards along Portugal's Douro River.

Vineyards along Portugal’s Douro River.

Q: What’s the most popular itinerary these days?
A: The most popular cruise for the company is also the most popular cruise with women, Budapest to Nuremburg on the Danube. It’s a great itinerary with Vienna, Budapest, a pre/post stay in Prague, and pretty little towns like Durnstein and Melk. Another popular one is our Paris & Normandy cruise. France is commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014, and our Paris & Normandy itinerary includes some special excursions to the D-Day beaches. And we have a Knitting Cruise that sails over New Year’s in 2014, which is already 60% sold out.

The Danube.

The Danube.

Q: I don’t knit but it might be a good excuse to learn. Who’s the inspiration behind these ideas?
A: Kristin Karst, our Executive Vice President, is very creative, very active and she loves designing eclectic itineraries. For instance, she created a Chocolate Cruise where guests visit a castle, see how chocolates are made, and learn how to pair dark chocolate with red wine. Our culinary and wine tours are really popular. In Austria, guests on our wine cruises get to do a tasting of Sekt, the Austrian version of champagne, served inside a mountain cave outside the town of Schlumberger.

Up close and personal in Normandy.

Up close and personal in Normandy.

Q: You’ve added a new destination in 2014 that’s long been closed to tourists. Tell me about Myanmar.
A: It’s a niche market. We like going into destinations that are interesting to operate in. Our president, Rudi Schreiner, is a river cruising pioneer who loves going into new areas of business and designing ships that best serve that area. Our ships in Mekong are hands down the best ships there. Rudi is designing a ship for Myanmar, a beautiful small ship with only 28 suites. It’s the perfect size to operate on the Ayeyarwady River.

Q: For all its popularity, there’s not a lot of advertising for river cruising. Why is that?
A: We advertise in conjunction with retail travel agents and all of our business comes through them. We create a lot of educational tools for travel agents because it’s very important for them to understand our product and the exceptional value we offer. A good travel agent can point out the differences and benefits between competitors and help clients determine which river cruise is the best choice for them. The best travel agents are the ones who know how to match their clients to the right product.

Q: Younger people don’t typically cruise, are you seeing any changes there?
A: We’re seeing them in multi-generational family travel because river cruising lends itself to that type of vacation experience. For instance, teenagers or active folks can bike, their parents can go on a culinary tour, the grandparents can go on a leisurely walking tour, and then you all meet back on board to share a meal and spend some time together as a family.

You know, two years ago I went surfing in Indonesia and brought my family with me. We were standing in the airport and my daughters started complaining about the long flying time. My 16-year old turned to me and said, “Dad, we should have just taken another river cruise!”

Curious if a river cruise is the way to go? Learn more at AmaWaterways or speak with a travel agent.