Sunday, August 25, 2019

Our First Canadian Rockies Hike

With the weather and everyone's health in line, we rushed out the door last weekend to check out a reportedly easy hike a bit over an hour away.

Our kids have seen far too many amazing things in their short lives and are subsequently painfully jaded. For Alex I could blame it on tween-ness but Zoltan has no excuse. They did not care about the spectacular mountains. Or beautiful view. Or the waterfall. Or the fresh, crisp air. Speaking of which, it is August and it took nearly half the hike for me to shed my jacket and my long sleeved T-shirt. Needless to say Terry is in absolute hog heaven.

In all fairness, they did did eventually stop whining about wanting to go home.

The guide book calls Canmore "Alberta's Aspen" but about a million times smaller.We headed into town after the hike to grab lunch and to wander around. The kids did an amazing job not whining in the candy store, and were happy to use their allowance to get some treats to snack on during the ride home.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Bullet train sushi

Not too far from our apartment is a Japanese restaurant that delivers the dishes via bullet train, in a very modified version of conveyor-belt sushi places in Japan. Point Sushi also has a number of cooked dishes to ensure the kids ate something too.

The way it works: Each table has a tablet with the menu for ordering. Order in groups of four - the trains have spots for four dishes - but order as much as you like. When the order is ready, a little "bullet train" (looks more like a lengthy car) zips down the runway along the booths and stops at your table. Remove the dishes and the car zips back to the kitchen.

It's tapas-like, with very small plates. We ate about 16-20 dishes for everyone to have enough food. To be completely honest, the cooked food was quite a bit better than the sushi. And the novelty ... we'll try to get back once more while we're still within walking distance.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Days of Yore

We really do spend most of our time at work (Terry) or looking for housing (Lynne) but sometimes there's nothing scheduled and it's the weekend so we have been trying to get out and experience Calgary. Or stuff near Calgary. About an hour away is an annual event called the Days of Yore. Basically, there are different groups of historical reenactors - Vikings, Medieval, WWI, WWII and such, and they gather together for a full day of displays, mock warfare, and of course tents of things to buy.

Alex was particularly interested in the older stuff - people using swords rather than guns. The re-enactors were pretty serious and skilled, we had the chance to feel the armor and weaponry before the event and it was all pretty genuine. There was a bit of comic relief when a Medieval knight decided to join in with the Viking duels. Zoltan was thrilled by the military tactics, vehicles and of course guns. But there were other things as well.

One tent held a series of pelts, all the kids of animals found in the Canadian wilderness and the kinds of things the old trappers would sell. Foxes are a lot longer than they seem when they don't have any bones or guts. One particularly interesting exhibit was an amazingly well preserved top hat in its original case, from probably 100 or more years ago. Apparently the wealthiest men in London prized beaver pelts for these hats because they were warm and very waterproof. The hat he showed us was beautiful.

We also tried the very "traditional" taco-in-a-bag for the first time. Is this a common thing in the world and we have been overly sheltered?

After a few hours in the blazing sun we were absolutely beat and decided to curtail the planned second stop (more on that when we do finally get there). One thing we have had a hard time really digesting is that the temperature always feels 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it really is. Too many 60-something days I have made the kids put on pants rather than shorts and later apologized. I have heard a similar phenomenon occurs in the winter, where -20 might feel more like -10. I'm ready for that!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Taste of Calgary

We haven't ever attended a Taste of ... event, although many cities we have lived in or passed through held them. Calgary just happened to hold the annual event at a location about 5 minutes from our temporary housing, so it was a no brainer dinner plan. Even the rain didn't damped our spirits, or that of the crowds of people also enjoying the event.

The highlight is of course that we could try dishes from so many Calgary restaurants - we figured it would be a great way to rule in or out places without having to have whole dinners at each place. When I went through the program back at home I surprised myself with how many dishes I checked off from so many different vendors. The other surprise was how tasty everything was. We've eaten out a bit and not every meal has been delicious, but we ended up ruling "in" every place we tried. One place we did not try: the Wafflepops food truck, because the line went down the entire street.

We started at Pure Modern Asian, where I got "fire chicken" in a seasame seed donut. I don't even like the taste of Sriracha and I adored this meal. Terry brought the kids to Holysmoke BBQ where they delighted in their pulled pork on a cornbread bun. Terry was excited to see perogies at Heritage Bakery and Deli, and got the combo with the cabbage roll and sausage. Alex's beef stick from Viet 2 Go was so good, I think she somehow didn't notice that it has spices and seasonings on it (she's usually a plain meat, maybe salt and pepper girl). We tried Bannock for the first time, getting one cheese and one mixed berry at Kokom's Bannock Kitchen. Good Fillin' Empanada was right next door and I had been hankering for one so I got the chicken ... should have gotten more. Even the kids liked it, although not the little drizzle of sauce on it (see plain eating preferences, above) Zoltan whined for the Wickens Burger from Burger 320, both because it took us so long to circle back for it and because it was so popular we had to wait a long time for it. Terry and I doubt its claim as the best burger in Canada but Zoltan was sold.

The tiny apple tarts at Pie Stories were good enough to go back for, although I think my crust is better. The Saskatoon Thumbprint cookie from Yakima Social Kitchen + Bar was OK, but those who prefer fruity desserts were more impressed that I was so I still call it a winner. We were disappointed that the maple donuts were sold out at Fantasy Donuts & Pretzels but we consoled ourselves with the cinnamon sugar.

The kicker is that so many of the stands we didn't visit looked so good, we could easily construct an entirely new list of foods tasted. If the weather gets better this weekend, we may go back for more.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Day We Pretended to be Mounties

August 5 is Alberta's Heritage Day, where the locals celebrate their province's heritage. Fort Calgary is a major part of that heritage and they just happened to be hosting a day of events. We met up with another Consulate family and headed over there.

A number of Canadian forts were apparently constructed to crack down on illegal whisky trade (which apparently was caused by those neighbors to the south). I hadn't realized that was even a thing the British government cared about. Learn something new every day. There were RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) uniforms to try on, including several different styles of hats, and try them ALL on we did. There was also a horse statue we were not allowed to climb on but could pose near.

In the craft display the kids had the opportunity to learn finger knitting and make bookmarks. There was a series of "old town" type displays, with a replica main street and the kinds of establishments that may have existed along them a hundred plus years ago.

Wanting to spend some of the beautiful day outside, we headed to the giant checkers board where the kids played while parents chatted. Bored with checkers, the kids eventually borrowed some of the corn hole beanbags, made up their own way of tracking which piece was which, and played chess.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Some of our early adventures

Our fabulous sponsors invited us to accompany them to Shakespeare on the Bow, which is Calgary's version of Shakespeare in the Park. The performers do one play each year, and this year was Midsummer Night's Dream, which is a perfect pick for us because Alex's class did some Shakespeare a couple of years ago and this was one of the plays. It was a beautiful evening, we were congratulating ourselves on throwing the picnic blanket in the car for our road trip so we had it to use, and the performance was amazingly good - especially for being free/donation requested. We are so excited for next year's season!

The only downside came when Zoltan, playing with the other kids after the performance, fell off the stage and injured his foot. He said he couldn't walk on it so I piggybacked him home - thankfully the performance was only a couple of blocks from our temporary housing. We stayed home the next day and on the day after that, when he still refused to put any weight on his foot, we went to the emergency room.

So far I have exactly one complaint about Canada. Who the heck makes emergency room parking paid?? And you have to pay in advance, so you have to guess how long you'll be there. The nice triage nurse guessed we'd only be there an hour and I should not have trusted that, given that I went back twice to add additional hours to the meter. Otherwise, the whole process went very smoothly, x-rays were taken and reviewed, no breaks were confirmed, and crutches were provided when he still refused to put weight on his foot.

Another Calgary delight our fabulous sponsors let us know about is the Southland Leisure Centre, which (most relevantly) has water slides and a wave pool, as well as ice skating, a gym, and other resources we didn't check out because we were there for the pool.

A final adventure of our first two weeks is the spectacular Calgary Public Library. We got our library cards last week, the kids signed up for the reading challenge, then decided it was their job to finish it with all due haste. I told them if they came back one week later with 40 hours of book reading accomplished the library might not believe them.  The library has a whole indoor play space for the really little kids, a giant chess set, it's huge, roomy, airy, with super available, helpful and friendly librarians. The book checkout stations are throughout the library, not only in one corner at the entrance. There's a cafe inside and a huge variety of seating for reading your finds, from cushions on the floor to a standard reading room with long tables and signs to remember to be quiet.

Between Zoltan's "still injured" foot and house hunting and the weather we still haven't made it to the mountains for hiking. I'm hopeful we get there before too long.

This week will be the last one before the kids start camp and I go to work. Most of our time has been spent either trekking from house to house in hopes of finding our home, or kids reading/playing games while I scour the rental web sites for new houses to see, or going to the grocery store because when you are starting from scratch there are a million things you need to buy.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

We went to the State Fair ...

We were definitely surprised when the most expensive hotel room of our road trip was Great Falls, Montana. Until we discovered that the Montana State Fair opened the day before we got to town. And was located 0.2 miles from the hotel.

Terry had mentioned earlier in the day that while we were in Montana we should definitely eat some steaks. We managed to accomplish it on a smaller scale at lunchtime but had planned a steak dinner. Instead, we ended up with fair food. Cheese curds for dinner? Heck, yeah!

The kids were a little whiny as we went from the goats to the bunnies and pigeons and chickens and mules and alpaca. The 4-H club woodworking displays (chairs, benches, etc) were pretty cool. Then we let them loose at the carnival part, where good parents (us) stood in long lines until our feet hurt.

After the carnival came the meal. Cheese curds for the adults, fast food for the kids, funnel cake and fried dough (called elephant ears in Montana) for dessert. Then the hypnotist, then the art exhibit. Then some overtired tantrums and finally bed.

The next day it was up and out the door for the very last stage in this trip - the Crossover Into Canada!!

We got to the border just before noon and decided to get to the other side before stopping for lunch. Major Fail. We spent three hours being processed at the border, something we hope never to repeat as we should have our diplomatic IDs with us for any future border crossings. I was happy for the snacks I always have in my bag, and there was a water fountain by the bathrooms, and the kids had brought their books inside with them, so the whole thing could have been a million times worse. It was, however, seriously uncomfortable. I even eventually went out to the car for more snacks but there is truly nothing like a meal in the middle of the day. And, tip for anyone who might find themselves near the Montana-Alberta main crossing - on the U.S. side there is a little town right along the border. Seriously, we gassed up one last time about 5 minutes from the checkpoint. On the Canada side - nothing for an hour.

The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful. Our fabulous sponsors met us at the apartment and helped us haul in all the luggage. They also left a pile of games for us to play (they seem to be at least as into board games as we are), which has been an enormous help in our downtimes.

The apartment is fine (I keep telling myself). The bedrooms have enough room for the beds and side tables and nothing else. The kids share a room. There is much squabbling from being too close for too long with little else to distract them (how much worse it would have been without the games!)

Friday, August 9, 2019

The best rest stop accidental tourism ever

We had a somewhat longer driving day to get to the North Dakota hotel we had chosen along the route ... chosen because of the water slides in the hotel pool. They did not disappoint. We chose fast food for dinner because of it being, well, fast, and the kids got an hour to play before bed. The next day they dutifully chowed through their breakfast in order to get into the pool for a short while again in the morning before checkout.

Jamestown is a big buffalo place, meaning it is home of the world's largest buffalo!  It's set just on the far end of the Frontier Village, which is a fun depiction of a main street back in frontier days. The kids enjoyed hanging out in the jail and seeing what the post office used to look like.

So far as we knew, there were no tourist sights, things to see, reasons to stop along the road to the next hotel. We drive for a few hours. Then, we see signs for Theodore Roosevelt National Park in two miles. What?? Right then, Terry says he needs to stop and stretch his legs.

We pull off into the Painted Canyon Visitor's Center.  Oh. My. Goodness. The vastness, rugged terrain, and difficulty of adequately capturing it on film reminded me of the Grand Canyon. We decide to take the (described as) half hour hike into the canyon. The kids whine they are hot and tired. Then they see a couple that had passed us on the trail not ten minutes before were near the top of one of the peaks in the canyon and they are energized. It was a fun hike up, much more challenging getting down the thing because some of the soil was a bit pebbly so we weren't as sure of our footing. Heading back out of the canyon was a bit more challenging than what we are used to, because we are all in horrible shape and moving probably faster than we really needed to.

We've all heard of Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier. How had we never heard of TR National Park? He is practically the reason we have any national parks at all!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Vikings and Paririe Chickens

We drove through Minnesota and ended up in North Dakota.  We had planned a few more "World's Largest" stops along the road but the first time we actually stopped was the World's Largest Booming Prairie Chicken. Apparently, during mating season the males fluff out a bunch of feathers and also puff out these sacs under their necks that are bright orange. Here's a sample video, because it is too awesome not to spread the word about this phenomenon.

We looked into somewhere to eat nearby and 0.3 miles down the road was a barbecue place that only opened a few months ago. The smoked meats were absolutely delicious, the barbecue sauces didn't have as much heat as we would have preferred, although the kids were thrilled with the honey-sweetened option.

Back on the road to just-before Fargo. We planned to stop at the Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center from the moment Atlas Obscura let us know of the replica Viking ship located there that actually sailed from the USA to Norway back in the 1980s. The story of the man who built this ship practically in his shed and the crew that sailed it from Duluth through the lakes and rivers of the USA til it reached New York and ocean is pretty spectacular.

We didn't think we cared until we got to the Center, but there is also a replica of a Norwegian stave church on the grounds. It was built by a local scientist who was also a woodcarver, apparently as a project to keep him busy in retirement. Apparently the Scandanavians were not so quick to adopt Christianity and some elements of the indigenous culture were incorporated into the designs of, for example, churches. The dragon heads that adorn the corners are a first clue. Our tour guide explained that even the pattern of the shingles on the roof was meant to evoke dragon scales.

The kids were thoroughly unimpressed with the church. This was partly because they were aching to get back to the main part of the Center, where a table held all kinds of Viking armament and armor with a strict sign not to actually hit people with it. They mostly complied.

Then we drove three minutes across a bridge and were in North Dakota!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Wizards and a boardwalk

From Illinois we drove forever through Wisconsin - it took most of the day. States are really starting to get bigger. The highlight of the day was our stop in the Wisconsin Dells, where we went on a Wizard Quest. Alex had been moaning and complaining before we went in - she wanted to do her own quest alone. We said no, we will stay together as a family. She sulked. Until we got the Kindle with our quest and started moving. There were slides, tunnels, secret doors, stairs to climb and run down, and a ball maze the kids got to dive down into twice (there is a secret tunnel at the bottom of the thing, so they really disappear).

We didn't quite finish within the hour that would have gotten us a big prize, but we had a ton of fun and have some wonderful working-together time. The Dells is like a boardwalk, with lots of tchotchkes, fried food, fudge and such. We asked the employees at Wizard Quest what they recommended for lunch and they mentioned a few places. In the end we got ourselves a true Midwestern tater-tot casserole and were perfectly delighted!

One more border crossing before bed, and we were in Minnesota.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Ohio to Illinois

In the morning we indulged the kids - and ourselves - and took half an hour on the beach along Lake Erie before hitting the road. Zoltan got his sneakers soaked so he got to ride barefoot.

From Ohio we went through Indiana where we stopped in Elkhart for the day's activity: RV/MH Museum and Hall of Fame. Yep, we toured a whole bunch of recreational vehicles and checked out a manufactured home (lots of folks do, as we initially did, get the MH wrong). There was one donated by a Scranton family who had been using it through the generations over 40 years. There were several from the earliest days, hitched up to Model T Fords. Alex has gotten it into her head to design a 12 foot trailer for a family of 5 that has to include both kitchen and bathroom, so she got lots of good ideas and a sense of how much space things actually take. The family highlight: the Eagles mobile. I'm pretty sure this is the exact vehicle referenced in a recent podcast we listened to... In fact I think Terry heard it only the day before.

We ended the day in Schaumburg (outside Chicago). There, Terry proved what an amazing father he is by acquiescing to Chicago deep dish pizza for dinner (kids and I had the pizza, he got a pasta dish. He can agree to the restaurant but he certainly won't stray from New York thin crust except under duress).

Monday, August 5, 2019

Epic cross-most-of-the-country road trip

We have one last epic road trip in us for this year. When we move to Calgary, we have to drive our car. We're also required to travel an average of 360 miles per day, which adds up to 7 days from Rockville to Calgary.

Our first day on the road took us into Ohio. On the way we stopped at Penn's Cave in PA for a boat tour through the cave, where the guide pointed out the fascinating and beautiful stalactite and stalagmite structures. We also managed to catch sight of a beaver who had come in for a brief visit.

We also took a bit of a detour to visit Terry's Alma mater, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. I'd never made the trek, much less the kids. Terry just kept saying "that wasn't here when I was in school" as though he wasn't nearly 20 years out!

We got our first looks of Lake Erie heading into Ohio, where we crashed after a long, long day in the car.