Tourist food and ‘fine dining’

September 27th, 2014 by becky

We are up in Yosemite for our anniversary and finding ourselves wishing we had booked a condo with a kitchen rather than a hotel room. We tried twice to have a ‘nice’ anniversary meal (first at the Wawona Inn and then at the Ahwahnee Inn) – both times we were thwarted by mediocre food passed off as ‘fine dining’ (at fine dining prices) – so much so that we didn’t even consider taking a picture – although I wish we had, so you could grasp just how not elegant the food was. We are beginning to think that ‘fine dining’ just means ‘overpriced’. Perhaps, in the US there is a different term used to describe the elegantly presented fresh food that we are seeking? Perhaps I’ve watched too many reality cooking shows, that my expectations of ‘fine dining’ involve homemade bread that is still warm and vegetables that have never been frozen.

In Canada, if you go out for a nice lunch or dinner at say, a Fairmont Resort/Hotel, you get a nice fine dining experience. The food is fresh and elegantly presented. You leave the meal both satisfied but also having enjoyed the experience. It is a ‘fine dining’ experience.

This experience of overpriced mediocre food isn’t limited to Yosemite either – when my mother was visiting I had hoped to take her out to a nice fancy lunch at the Ritz Carleton in Half Moon Bay. Unfortunately, what we experienced was mediocre and way overpriced.

We have come to the conclusion that good food is not available at ‘tourist’ places. The tourist places get away with poor quality because of the volume of people that eat there only once. They have a continual stream of new tourists, they don’t need to cultivate return clientele. That or the American tourist palette sucks.

We know there is good food out there. We have discovered a couple of the ‘gem’ restaurants near where we live (none of which would classify as ‘fine dining’, but the food could easily be put on a fine dining menu). However, we didn’t look them up in a guide book. We found them through word-of-mouth.

The lesson here – ‘fine dining’ in tourist areas in the US is just overpriced mediocre food. We need to re-calibrate our expectations because Canada has spoiled us.

Not exactly how we planned it

June 20th, 2014 by becky

Last month Becky moved to California (yay), but last week everything changed. Last Thursday, Becky was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is blogging about her experience at

This is not exactly the journey we had planned, but we are grateful that we are living in the same city, and that the weather here is nice all the time. We have access to excellent medical care, and Becky is doing a lot of riding on her various bikes.

Portola Redwoods State Park – California

February 2nd, 2014 by becky

We explored a new State Park today – Portola Redwoods State Park. It is about an hour drive from our place. Unlike the trails we have hiked at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, the trail we hiked here was much less flat. There were not as many big trees. When we looked into the history of the park, we discovered that it has been logged at various times, and was a Shriners Summer Camp before the land was purchased by the State of California and was designated a State Park.

It was a beautiful day to take pictures. The first few pictures were taken from the road on the drive up. The hills are a deeper brown now, as opposed to the summer when they are light beige.

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South San Francisco Bay Rides – Coast and Hills

January 25th, 2014 by becky

When we first moved to the San Francisco Bay area, I found myself looking for nice places to ride. I’ve found a few routes that I enjoy – most of which are no more than a 90-minute drive from where we live (in Santa Clara). This morning we road what I call the Coast and Hills route.

The route begins at the parking lot at San Gregorio State beach (intersection of highways 1 and 84). Since we have a park pass, we can park at the state beach for free. There are other options along the coast for parking if you do not have a pass. The ride involves climbing up and down some hills along California’s most scenic highway – highway 1. Then turning towards Pescadero, riding through downtown Pescadero, and then along Stage Road. As the name implies, Stage Road probably used to be used by Stage Coaches, and as a result, none of the climbs are too steep. The road winds and turns along climbing two nice size hills before returning to highway 84 and highway 1.

You can start and park anywhere along the route, however, I like to start at San Gregorio because it puts us in Pescadero about mid-way through the ride. We see a lot of cyclists stop at the local store – which has a sandwich board outside announcing that they are “The butcher, the baker, and the sandwich maker”. We haven’t yet found that we needed to stop for sustenance, but it is nice to know that it is available along the route.

Here is a fun collage I put together of the route. Click to see a larger version.



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Camping in Northern California (South of San Jose) – Part 1 Pinnacles National Park

August 19th, 2013 by becky

We recently went on a short camping vacation (5 days, 4 nights). Since we didn’t make reservations in advance, and it was perhaps the busiest camping time of the year (the first week in August), our options were somewhat limited. However, this was our first experience with camping in Northern California, so it was to be a learning experience.

In the end, we camped at three places: Pinnacles National Park ($23/night plus $5/week National Park fee), Cerro Alto Campground in the Los Padres National Forest ($18/night), and Big Basin Redwoods State Park ($35/night plus $8 reservation fee). In this post, I’ll talk about our experience at Pinnacles National Park. We arrived at about 2pm on Saturday August 3rd and stayed for one night.

We ended up at Pinnacles after we realized that we had booked an invalid site at Fremont Peak State Park. For Saturday night there were three sites open at Fremont Peak State Park. I chose one that looked good and booked it. I didn’t think much about the accessible sign on the site map. In Ontario, the provincial parks will often label several sites as “accessible”, however, there is no limit on who can reserve them. So, I had not realized that in California, we would be allowed to reserve an accessible site, but upon arriving, if you don’t have a disabled permit, you are not allowed to use the site. All the available sites were accessible, so I had to look further for another place to camp. Fortunately, Pinnacles National Park had a few vacant spots.

When we decided to go to Pinnacles, one of Scott’s coworkers forwarded us a link to this great documentary on the park (Motion Episodes: Pinnacles). Prior to becoming a National Park just this year (2013), it was established in 1908 as Pinnacles National Monument. As the documentary indicates, Pinnacles has some great hiking trails. Fortunately, the documentary also highlighted that camping is located at the EAST entrance, and highway 146 which is the park access highway from both the EAST and WEST is not connected! The East and West entrances are about a 90 minute drive apart.

Pinnacles campground was nothing special, but I would still recommend it for families. The swimming pool was a huge hit for the many kids at the campground. Fortunately, our site had partial shade, as it can get rather hot (35+C, 100F) during the day at this time of year. This National Park has a lot of great and very interesting hiking trails, including some that take you through caves and along the mountain ridge lines. Apparently, it is at its best during the spring with all the wild flowers, or the fall with the changing colours of the leaves. Being from Canada (and Ottawa in particular), the fall colours in California are likely to disappoint, so we shall plan to return sometime in the spring.

Even though it gets rather hot during the day, it still gets cold at night. The hot days meant that it was too dry for camp fires, which usually would not bother us. However, the cool evening temperatures and no camp fire meant that we found ourselves bundled up in our tent by 8:30 p.m.

Some pictures:
Notice how dry the land is. The trees provide a nice contrasting green to the brown of the grasses.
Pinnacles National Park

Scott and Becky out for an evening hike, after it started to cool down a bit.
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The trail involved several switchbacks as you climbed up toward the ridge. We were struct by just how dry everything was.
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The next morning we choose a different trail – this one through a cave and up to a reservoir. The blue sky made for much better pictures.
Morning hike at Pinnacles National Park

Peeking out from inside the cave.
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The reservoir from above.
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Looking out into the valley.
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Leaving Pinnacles National Park, we drove past many brown hills dotted with green trees and the occasional cow. This type of landscape is common to the valley South and East of San Jose.
Driving south after a visit to Pinnacles National Park

Leaflets three, let them be …

August 8th, 2013 by becky

Leaflets three, let them be
Berries of white, hide from sight

I learned that little poem in Girl Guides. It didn’t really apply in Northern B.C., although I recall trying to find a plant that matched the criteria when I was young. In Ontario, we see it with Poison Ivy, which I’ve only ever seen as a small ground cover type plant. The poem is much more applicable to Poison Oak – which is rather prevalent in this area (Northern California). Poison Oak, like in the picture below, can be a rather large bush. We often saw it growing 5 or 6 feet tall.

Poison Oak

At least I believe this is Poison Oak, as we were told to be aware of it anytime we thought about going off the path. This picture was taken across the street from our campsite at Cerro Alto campground in the Los Padres National Forest. Anyone care to confirm?

Gives new meaning to ‘bent

July 28th, 2013 by becky

For the last couple of years, as I went through the drudgery that is applying for scholarships, I promised myself, if I get a SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship (the social sciences and humanities research council doctoral scholarship), that I would buy a folding bike. So, in April when I received notification of a SSHRC award, I literally danced down the street. It is a huge accomplishment, but also, it meant that I finally got to purchase a folding bike!


After much research and debate, I choose a Bike Friday. It has the benefits of a quick fold for easy transit and throwing in the trunk of your car, and a more elaborate disassembly to pack securely in a suitcase for airplane travel (something that I am doing a lot now that Scott lives in California!). But what really sold me on the bike was the promise of a folding bike that doesn’t ride like a folding bike. When I test rode the Brompton, it really felt like a bike that was a compromise. I would be compromising the comfort and feel of a bike to get the convenience of the fold. I didn’t know for certain that I had made the right decision until I got a chance to actually ride the bike.

Although we ordered the bike back in June, it arrived a few days after I returned to Ottawa. It wasn’t until yesterday that I got a chance to try out my new bike. I can confirm that I can comfortably ride at a reasonable speed. On our quick tour of the neighbourhood (Scott on his Bertrand road bike), I was easily able to ride at 25 km/hr. The only thing preventing me from riding faster was my legs!

It certainly looks funny, but it rides like a normal bike. So much so, that I forgot I wasn’t riding a regular bike, and when I stopped I went to lean the crossbar against my thigh to grab something (hands free), and dropped the bike! I need to find a new way to lean the bike against myself so that I can free my hands when I stop!


California Dreamin’

March 11th, 2013 by becky

On days like this …

I find myself California Dreamin’…

Back in early February (Feb 6-11), we spent a few days in Mountain View California and spent a day in San Francisco, exploring a little bit of what the city has to offer. We drove up into the Mountains and along the very scenic highway 1, and of course we had to rent bikes for a few hours. We did the tourist bike trek – a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. The whole area is beautiful. Here are a few picture highlights.


View of Silicon Valley from the mountains to the west.

Sea gulls flying over the waterfront in Santa Cruz.

This guy parked a little too close the ocean!


We stopped for a walk at a secluded beach. It turned out to be a “hidden gem“, Gray Whale Cove State beach.

Scott playin’ the piano at Half Moon Bay State Park. (It’s a temporary art installation, but the piano works, it’s just getting more and more out of tune)


The Golden Gate Bridge, with a rower working hard against the tide.


The view from the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge.


Take the trolley across the city at the end of the day.

After our short adventure in Mountain View and San Francisco, Scott was offered a new job (a transfer) in Mountain View, California. And with that, our new adventure begins. We will be selling our house here in Ottawa, packing up and moving to California. Scott will move sometime in early May. Becky is about to start a critical phase in her PhD, so she will remain in Ottawa for about a year, visiting Scott whenever she can, and making her big move once she has finished collecting her data for her PhD research.


It’s my life!

November 23rd, 2012 by becky

It was someone’s birthday – really that was just an excuse. It seems that this particular crew always finds an excuse for a party on Wednesday nights at sea. We were in the middle of the Atlantic, on a container ship, with not much else to do. We, as well as everyone else on board, were invited to the crew lounge for a party.

At the appointed time, Scott and I sauntered down to the lounge. Fortunately, not many of the crew on this ship smoke (mostly it is the officers that smoke), and with the crowds people, it would have been very uncomfortable if too many of them were smoking in the small room.

The cook prepared some special treats for the party – chicken wings and other finger food. Upon walking in, the crew showed their delight at our joining them by  immediately offering us drink – beer, wine, whatever we wanted. I don’t know who paid for the alcohol for the party, but we were honoured guests so it wasn’t us. In hind sight, I think it was the person having the birthday that paid – opposite to our tradition, in the Philippines, where most of the crew are from – it is an honour to buy your friends drinks.

So, with drink in hand, we joined in the festivities. This group had karaoke setup and were pretty good at it. We sang some songs we recognized as well as many that we didn’t. I had to get up and do some Brian Adams – they didn’t have Brian Adams as a karaoke CD, so you just sung along to the CD – in the crew lounge any CD could become a karaoke CD. We even tried singing some karaoke in Tagalog (the language spoken in the Philippines). Scott was OK at it; the German apprentice onboard was very good. Clearly he has been practicing!

For many of the crew, karaoke night is not just a chance to party, it is also a chance to practice English. During the party, one of the ship’s mechanics watched the karaoke with a notebook in his hand. Anytime he saw a word he didn’t understand, he would write it down so he could look it up later. I was amazed at how a particular crew member could sing along to karaoke without an accent, and yet he could barely string together a sentence in English.

By midnight the party started to get pretty roudy – with lots of loud singing and dancing. I was the only female in the room, but that didn’t stop some of the guys from table dancing – it was that wild. Of course, when the camera came out, everyone had to jump into the picture – and then see the picture in the camera window – you have to love digital cameras!

A particular vivid memory was when they put on a Bon Jovi CD. Imagine, the whole lot of us, in the middle of the Altantic Ocean, on a very dark night, screaming “It’s My Life” at the top of our lungs.

It’s my life
It’s now or never
I ain’t gonna live forever
I just want to live while I’m alive

(It’s my life)

My heart is like an open highway
Like Frankie said
I did it my way
I just wanna live while I’m alive
It’s my life

That sound will forever be imprinted in my mind, with the image of all of us dancing and screaming out the words as if we were the only people on earth (we were in the middle of the ocean after all).

That was four years ago, and every time I hear that song, and I hear it often as it is the third song on my daily exercise track,  I smile (and sometimes I even scream although I try to keep the scream inside). It’s my life!


National Writing Month

October 28th, 2012 by becky

November is national writing month. A couple of years ago, before I began my PhD, I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel within the month of November. I chose to use that time to write reflections on our Going East adventure, in hopes of actually writing a book about our journeys. Having experienced NaNoWriMo, I find myself wanting to take on new writing projects every November, but needing to adapt them to my particular needs at the time. As such, I’ve come across a couple of off-shoots of Nanowrimo, ones that caught my attention are: AcBoWriMo (Academic Book Writing Month), AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month), and this year DigiWriMo (Digital Writing Month). Most of my November writing this year will be in the form of my research thesis proposal. I am officially declaring here that I plan to complete at least the first solid draft of my proposal before the end of November. I’ll track my writing in the DigiWriMo system, which will also include any blog posts and other writing related projects that I partake in during the month of November.

In honour of NaNoWriMo, I dusted off a little snippet from my first NaNoWriMo writings to share with you. I hope you enjoy it.


Before we even left home, we had to mentally grapple with the idea of receiving hospitality. We couldn’t afford to “pay” people to stay in their homes – we could not see how we could return the favour for the generosity that people were bound to be showing us along our journey.

Scott happened upon an article about receiving hospitality that really helped. The reality in “western” culture is that people love help but generally don’t know how to. When given the opportunity, people feel better for helping. So we would be giving people the opportunity to help us, and their reward for doing such is just knowing that they helped – that sounded kind of hokey, but upon self-reflection we find it to be true.

One person told us “we were happy we could be part of your journey”. By allowing us to stay in their home, they were now part of what we were doing – so they could own part of our success and celebrate it with us. That sounds like a pretty special gift to me.

One thing that I really needed to get over was the Canadian culture of not asking for what you need. It is certainly easier to accept hospitality that is offered – it is more difficult to ask for what you need. We are taught at an early age that it is not polite to ask things of our host – but if our host doesn’t know what we need, they don’t know what to offer, so they don’t offer it. So we could sit there being uncomfortable, and not ask for anything to change that. Our Turkish friends came right out and told us “if you don’t ask for what you need, we will think you don’t like us”. Wow – that was a reality check.

We vowed to ourselves, that if someone offered us random hospitality, that we would gladly receive it – these were the opportunities we were seeking on our journey – those happen stance opportunities where complete strangers welcome you to their homes.

There are a couple of times when this happened that I regret not taking the strangers up on their offers – both times in Labrador. First was in Port Hope-Simpson, when the owner of a barge offered us passage from Port Hope-Simpson to Newfoundland. He had to make the crossing when the barge was full of logs. It could take 3-days. It would have been fascinating to live on a boat for three days – but the complete lack of control over food and environment scared me. Plus we had connected with a friend’s cousin in Goose Bay, and I wanted to see Goose Bay – so we didn’t change our plans – and tackled the most remote stretch of the Labrador Coastal Highway – it is now even more remote than it was when we took it, as now you can go all the way to Goose Bay – we only went to Cartwright, were we took a 12-hour Ferry to Goose Bay.

The second time, was in Cartwright. We arrived after the last hotel room sold out. We didn’t have a place to stay, so we hung out a bit and hoped for an invite. We did get one, but I wasn’t comfortable with it. I wasn’t sure if the guy smoked. He was an older guy – a guide – who liked to tell stories. He described where his place was and said to just go inside and make ourselves at home. But again, that too was uncomfortable. I didn’t want to accidently go into the wrong home! So instead, we hung around longer – hoping for another offer.

Eventually, we did get another offer. A place to setup our tent for the night – right on the water. They had no room for us inside. The house was a trailer-park kind of size with a small kitchen, single bathroom, small living room, and two bedrooms. But everyone was home for a two week vacation – so the place was packed. They had six-adults and a child living there – and when the first ferry came in, some cousins came over to visit – it was crazy busy. But they were so friendly, it was wonderful. We had our own space – our tent, which made us happy.

The only thing that would have made me happier was a shower – it had been three-days of sweaty bug infested cycling, so I was feeling pretty grungy. I had done a wipe down in the restaurant washroom, but that wasn’t the same as being clean. We were so looking forward to the ferry – just so we could take a shower.

We had two ferry options – they both got into Goose Bay at about the same time, but one of them skirted along the coast visiting a few small towns before going up to Goose Bay – the Ranger. We thought it would be cool to take that boat, but when it arrived, it didn’t have a loading ramp for bikes or vehicle traffic. They couldn’t tell us if we’d get a room, and most of the folks on the boat headed straight to the store in Cartwright to stock up on beer – so that didn’t seem like such a great idea. Had we had a cabin, where we could escape and safely stow our gear, we would have enjoyed the experience – but it really didn’t feel right so we opted to wait for the evening boat – the Bond – which takes vehicle traffic directly to Goose Bay.

Of course, this meant waiting until the evening and I really wanted a shower! So, I decided to be bold and ask. People didn’t offer because they didn’t know that was what I wanted. In the morning, when I walked over to the ferry terminal – before anything was open, the restaurant didn’t open until lunch – I saw a lady on her front porch having a cigarette and a coffee. We had chatted briefly the night before – she lived across the street from the restaurant – she said she would have invited us to stay but it was her sister-in-law’s house. Anyways, she was enjoying a coffee, and I really wanted one – so I ask – if I could have a cup of coffee. She was delighted to invite me in for a visit and a cup of Joe – it was there that I learned that “good coffee” in Labrador was a particular brand of instant coffee – because instant was what everyone drank.

Debbie and Mick were actually from Goose Bay – and would be on the same boat as us later in the day. Mick grew up in Cartwright – and like everyone else from the area – spent a week or two there every summer. In the fall, he would come down for hunting. He did drywall for a living, and did six-week shifts up in Iqaluit. The money was good, but it was a transient lifestyle. In some ways, it wasn’t much different than fishing – you spend much time away, but were happy for the few weeks you could spent at home with your loved ones between shifts. Over his break, he was staying with his sister doing some drywall work on her home – he built a nice archway between the living room and kitchen in their home.

Later in the day, after we decided to take a pass on the Ranger, I popped by their place again. This time I asked if I could use the shower. We were both really grungy and knew that if we could feel clean we’d feel better. Actually, it probably didn’t really matter to Scott, but it certainly mattered to me!

Debbie called her sister-in-law to check that it was OK. Happily, she said it was fine, so we enjoyed a nice hot shower and chance to put on some clean clothes while we wiled away the hours waiting for the boat.