Canada Trip, 2016: The Ovens and Lunenberg

In the middle of our long drive from Halifax to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, we stopped at The Ovens, a beautiful coastal national park featuring a hiking trail along a series of sea caves. We then had a nice early dinner at a little German restaurant on the side of the road before heading into the cute seaside town of Lunenburg for a walk. Lunenburg is another of those towns that made me fall in love with the Canadian Maritimes and fantasize about moving there.

Fans of Locke and Key may recognize both The Ovens and Lunenberg as filming locations for the series, though our visit was long before the show aired. I seem to have a habit of visiting places before a TV show begins filming there–years ago I visited both Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia before Game of Thrones had begun filming in those cities.

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Seattle Trip, 2019: Whale Watching Cruise

These photos are from my ill-fated whale watching cruise out of Seattle. I should have known what kind of day it was going to be when my 8 a.m. seaplane flight to San Juan Island was delayed for an hour because of fog. The delay meant that I would no longer have time to eat breakfast at a nice restaurant in Friday Harbor, so I walked down the street to grab a quick egg sandwich at Starbucks. When I returned to the marina I learned that the flight would be further delayed until at least 11 a.m., meaning that I would now have no time at all to enjoy Friday Harbor before the cruise. On top of that there was a chance the flight would be canceled altogether. At this point they offered me a refund of both the airfare and cruise, and I really wish I had taken them up on it and just spent the day exploring more of Seattle.

Instead, I decided to wait it out because I did not want to regret passing on the opportunity to see killer whales in the wild (the company claimed to spot orcas on 98% of their cruises). With two more hours to kill I decided to make the long walk back to my hotel room for a while. When I returned, the weather had finally cleared and we were off. The seaplane ride itself was cool. The pilot offered to let one of us sit in the cockpit with him. I thought it would have been a neat thing to do as the only solo passenger on the flight, but one of the other men beat me to it.

So we landed in Friday Harbor and pretty much had to rush to the meeting area. The cruise started off well—we spotted a humpback right away and I had high hopes—but that single whale was about all we would see. The rest of the 3.5-hour cruise involved brief glimpses of a couple of porpoises and a seal, an extended period of time spent looking at some wildlife on islands, numerous returns to following the same humpback whale, and long stretches just riding around looking at nothing. We never came within a sniff of a killer whale, despite them being spotted off the islands on the previous day by some of my fellow passengers. So much for that 98% success rate–I guess we were the unlucky 2%.

Essentially, when factoring in the seaplane airfare, it ended up being the most expensive 3.5-hour harbor cruise ever, and you could see it on the faces of my fellow passengers. After a while most of them just stopped looking for marine life, opting instead for the warmth of the cabin, their faces painted with looks of dejection. And that was that.

I’m not writing this to find fault with the tour operators, which is why I am not using their names; I’m just recounting my experience. I understand that the seaplane company could not control the weather, and that the cruise company could not control the presence of wildlife, but that does not lessen the disappointment, and this whale watching cruise was the worst I’d ever taken in terms of sightings. It just felt like a wasted day. It was one of the only nice weather days in Seattle during my stay and I spent it in waiting rooms, planes, and freezing boats with very little to show for it. By the time I returned back to Seattle that evening, I was too tired to do much of anything else after waking up at 5 a.m. to make my pre-flight check-in.

I think this experience has turned me off of whale watching cruises for good. I’ve only been on one really good cruise and that was the first one I ever embarked on about 20 years ago in Maine. That particular trip out of Bar Harbor featured wall-to-wall whales, dolphins, and other marine wildlife, which obviously spoiled me because every cruise I’ve taken in the years since has been comparatively disappointing.

Anyway, despite the lack of sightings I ended up taking around 250 photos. Whittling them down to the few I’m sharing here was quite a chore (I’d hate to think how many photos I would have shot if there had actually been whales on this trip!). In the end, I managed to get a few nice shots of the humpback whale and some of the island wildlife.

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Seattle Trip, 2019: Bainbridge Island Ferry

When I was planning my trip to Glacier National Park, the flight home was going to require a layover in one city. I believe the options were Seattle, Denver, or Chicago. I’d always wanted to visit Seattle so I decided to make a four-day stay out of it. This is the first batch of photos from my visit to the Emerald City this past September. These were all shot while riding the ferry to and from Bainbridge Island.

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American Northwest Trip, 2017: Portland Waterfront

Photos from my walk along the Portland waterfront, as well as my ride on the Portland Aerial Tram, which carries passengers between the waterfront district and Marquam Hill. I also included a few photos of Portland viewed from high up in my apartment. It’s such a lovely city.

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Eurotrip 2014, Part 16: Long Road to Amsterdam

July 11, 2014: Today was the beginning of my ill-fated, three-day trip to Amsterdam and Bruges—to call it a disappointment would be an understatement. Before getting into it, however, I want to first state that the tour company, International Friends, was very attentive to my complaints and issued me a partial refund. It should also be noted that the three-day Scotland tour I took with the same company on the previous weekend was phenomenal, so I would feel comfortable using them again; I’ll just chalk the Amsterdam tour up to an outlier for an otherwise reliable tour company. That being said, I feel it is my responsibility to write about my experience without sugarcoating it…

As I mentioned above, I had an amazing tour of Scotland with this company the week before (it was my favorite part of the entire two-week trip). Because of that experience, I was expecting this tour to be just as wonderful. It would quickly become apparent, however, that this tour would not live up to those expectations. The biggest difference, as far as I could tell, was that the Scotland tour was professionally handled by an engaged and competent guide, while the Amsterdam tour was mismanaged by a disengaged guide and an incompetent bus driver.

We were late for everything on the entire trip, which gave us little time to actually enjoy anything on the itinerary, culminating in the disappointment of only getting two hours to spend in Bruges, which had been the biggest selling point of this tour for me, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Things got off to a bad start when the bus was 30 minutes late picking us up at our location in London. The bus driver did not seem to know where he was going for most of the trip. He repeatedly made wrong turns throughout the weekend, including pulling into the wrong ferry in the wrong town on the way back to London. According to the tour company, the bus driver was given an itinerary for the trip but did not appear to read or refer to it (the drivers for these tours are not affiliated with the tour company but are hired out from a third party, and there was an apparent personality clash between the driver and the guide).

Eventually we reached the ferry in Dover and waited to board. I was stunned at the size of the ferry—it was massive enough to hold big buses and tractor-trailers. Once on the boat I was afforded a much better look at the white cliffs than I got earlier in the week, though it was raining so the pics below are not the clearest.

The inside of the ferry was like being on a cruise ship: they had dining, shopping, gambling, etc. I started getting a bit seasick at one point. Normally I would just step outside and I would be fine since it’s only inside ships that I start feeling the motion sickness, but all of the smokers were out on the deck, so I stayed inside.

After exiting the ferry in Calais, France, we sat in a major traffic jam, which led to our extremely late arrival in Amsterdam, 12 hours after we first departed. I don’t know if the traffic jam could have been avoided by a more experienced bus driver, but it’s worth noting that one of my fellow tour members observed the bus driver making several wrong turns during this drive, which likely contributed to our hitting the freeway during rush hour.

On the way, we stopped for a 45-minute lunch break that I could have done without, but it was apparently a legal rest period that the driver had to take. I wasn’t able to eat anything at the rest stop (or even use the paid bathroom) because I did not have any euros yet and the rest stop did not have an ATM, so I waited on the bus.

Eventually we arrived in Amsterdam, but we were so late that the city walking tour was canceled (and never rescheduled), checking into our hotel was skipped, and we went directly to the boat cruise. Here are some photos from the cruise:

We were not able to check into our hotel until 9 p.m. While we were waiting to check in, we discovered that our guide had sent two girls to the wrong hotel–the two girls did not have a firm enough grasp of English to understand that they were supposed to depart the bus with the guide in the city center and walk to the hostel, so they ended up taking the long ride with those of us who chose the three-star hotel. The guide was forced to send a cab to our hotel to pick them up after we discovered this error. This problem could have been averted if she had bothered to take a simple head count, as guides usually do (later, in Bruges, instead of taking a head count she just asked if everyone was off the bus. I thought, “Take a head count, then you’ll know!”).

Anyway, the guide scheduled the optional Red Light District walking tour for 9:30. This left no time for those of us in the three-star hotel to eat dinner because the hotel was so far outside the city center (per the company’s web site, we were supposed to have a hotel in the city center, which they apologized for not being able to secure). So we had a choice: take the Red Light District walking tour or eat dinner. I chose to eat in the hotel (since I hadn’t been able to eat lunch), so I missed the tour, but I figured I could see the Red Light District on my own the following day.

After dinner I decided to call it a night. In the morning we were scheduled to visit Zaanse Schans, a touristy village featuring historic windmills and other buildings, but since I had not yet had any opportunity to actually see Amsterdam, I chose to skip this tour and instead spend my only full day in Amsterdam exploring the city, which will be covered in the next installment.

View more of my photos from Amsterdam and Bruges.

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