[livejournal.com profile] soul_diaspora already posted about our vacation, but I haven't really said much... a short (oops!) post seems in order.

I too have a DSLR camera now... there are pictures. I've only done post-processing on a couple so far, but there will be more in future posts! Thumbnails in the post link to much bigger versions, and are often details from the larger images. Where wallpaper-sized (1680x1050) images work, I've linked to those, but if you want an even higher-res image, I can likely oblige you.

We drove down to Richmond VA over two days, taking a long first day to get to Front Royal VA, then making the second day a pleasant and leisurely drive along Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We left ourselves time for a nice lunch up at the Skyland Resort, and a hike down to Dark Hollow Falls. The Skyline Drive has innumerable scenic outlooks, and is very popular with the motorbike crowd; it's a pleasant road if you have time to savor it, but not the place to be if you're in a hurry. Eating at the Skyland's restaurant feels like having lunch on a screened-in porch, looking out over the valleys and further mountains... it's just a BIG porch. The food is also quite good Southern cookin'. The trail down to Dark Hollow Falls is short, but rather unrelentingly steep; in the heat, it was a substantial effort. We saw a good deal of wildlife (no bears though), and I have some pictures which may find their way onto here sometime.

Once we got to [livejournal.com profile] soul_diaspora's parents' place, we stayed there for a week, doing relatively little. We had considered some day trips, but the heat and UV were sufficient to discourage us from staying out for more than an hour or two at a time. We contented ourselves with general short walks, good food, and lolling about. I find a bit of this helps me get out of the working mindset, so the time was not lost!

After that, we went down to Rodanthe NC, on Hatteras Island, where [livejournal.com profile] soul_diaspora's mom rented a very fine cottage for a week. The location, view, decor, and comfort were excellent; having tried several cottages on the Outer Banks, this was certainly my favorite. Its only drawback was that being at Rodanthe, it was a fairly long ways from many of the places we wanted to go, so there was a lot of driving; bad us for taking advantage of cheap American gas!

There is lots to do down there, and I have pictures from at least some of it. Just about every day, we spent at least a little while boogieboarding; naturally, neither of us are experts at doing tricks and the waves aren't anything like Hawaii's, but it's fun. Thanks to the vagaries of winds and currents, the water temperature varied inversely with the air's, so it was refreshing all week. Even relatively small surf (waves were running at most about 4 feet in open water) is powerful enough to pound one pretty well on a miss; we've seen bigger surf there, but we're just as happy with the more moderate waves. As it was, I was getting sand out of my ears for about five days after we got back.

We also visited Pea Island Wildlife Sanctuary a few times, [livejournal.com profile] soul_diaspora more often than me. I didn't see the red wolf I spotted last time I was there, but I was the first to spot the locally famous partial albino red-winged blackbird; [livejournal.com profile] soul_diaspora pretty much refused to leave until she caught a picture! She has posted, of course, many other pictures captured there!

We visited the nearby North Carolina aquarium in Manteo, where we saw some interesting fish (including sharks), reptiles, and this charming fellow and a few friends.


We also took a hike along a stretch of the Alligator River; lots of dragonflies, no alligators. Still, we did see several of the quite pretty Prothonotary Warblers which are known for breeding in the area.

I got up bright dark and early one morning to catch some pictures of sunrise over the Atlantic. I have lots to work with, but here's a first sample; it was taken a little while before the sun actually made it over the horizon.


The food really deserves its own post; besides, this is approaching "TL:DR". For now, it's enough to say: Mexican, steakhouse, seafood... yum.

The trip back was swift and uneventful. We had considered moseying around the Thousand Islands a bit on the second, shorter, day of driving, but by then, we ended up being keener on getting back to home sweet home, and all our friends!

There... an actual post, with "me" content!
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ironphoenix: (tunez)
( Aug. 6th, 2009 09:38 pm)
I'm considering a trip to Montreal: Armin van Buuren is playing at Sensation on 5-6 September.

Anyone else interested?
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ironphoenix: (getting up now)
( Jul. 6th, 2009 11:32 am)
[livejournal.com profile] soul_diaspora and I just got back yesterday from an extended weekend at a good friend's cottage (I went up on Wednesday, she on Friday). The lake it's on is a beautiful one: deep and healthy, without an excess of algae or scum, as evidenced by the fact that loons and mergansers (and no other ducks) favor it. (Look for pictures on [livejournal.com profile] soul_diaspora's blog soon!)

Even though the weather was less-than-stellar (or solar) for the first few days, we managed to have a good deal of fun, including gaming; yesterday's sun was a very welcome change, and we got some good hiking and swimming in.

I didn't go all the way to the top of the mountain we hiked up, because I'm still getting used to having actual hiking shoes, and so underestimated the ease with which I'd be able to descend again. Even in very steep, damp terrain with no trail, they give enough grip that I could trust my footing much more than I'm used to.

The company was excellent too; y'all know who you are!

My growing infatuation with chocolate and cheese is not going unnoticed: we broke out a block of Agropur's 5-Year Old Canadian Reserve Cheddar, intending to sample it; we didn't stop "sampling" until it was gone. Le Baluchon also went over very well; sadly, L'Empereur was less well-loved, the rind having a "grittier" texture than most folks liked with such a soft cheese, even though I'm fond of it myself. Another review of Empereur can be found here .On the chocolate front, I brought a frighteningly large selection. The surprise find of the weekend was that the 100% cacao from Stubbe was found to pair beautifully with the cheddar. Amedi's chocolates were perhaps the biggest disappointment: they were good, but not worth the price, costing about twice as much as comparable chocolates from other sources. Dolfin's Hot Masala chocolate continues to be a crowd-pleaser, although I think I would have to find another to top my own list. Baratti e Milano have two solid successes, the Gianduja making a particularly fine "dessert" (think of the platonic ideal on which Nutella is based), and the Di Rosa was the most surprising thing I've tasted in a while, so I'll be looking for more of their stuff. (Also, if I'm ever in Italy, I'd love to stop by the café!)

Full chocolate list for the curious or those seeking reminders... )

All in all, a very fine weekend, even though we found it necessary to remind each other at every occasion--indeed, every opportunity--that it was not that kind of party!
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ironphoenix: Raven flying (Default)
( Jun. 30th, 2009 08:33 am)
I've only read the past couple of days of posts, so if I've missed something important, please comment or e-mail!

The vacation was very pleasant, and relaxing. B&B's are a very nice way to travel, and aren't generally insanely expensive; three out of the four we stayed at were excellent, and the fourth was simply undistinguished, not terrible. We can particularly recommend Le Metayer in L'Isle Verte (near Rivière-du-Loup), Le Presbytèere in Percé, and Gîte Auger in Quebec City. The first is warm and homey; the third is quite bohemian; the second is hard to describe succinctly. It is definitely very comfortable and luxurious, but in a somewhat old-fashioned way. The building is, as its name suggests, a converted presbytery built over a hundred years ago, and reminds me in many ways of my great-aunts' former home in Amherst, Nova Scotia, so it evokes a lot of odd associations, both personal and religious. At all three, breakfasts were excellent, and generally, lunch was light or unnecessary afterwards.

So what did we do? Lots of hiking and bird- and animal-watching, and a good deal of reading, and quite a lot of driving. Also, pigging out. And finally, some shopping and a trip to the Biodome in Montreal.

The new car is still made of happy; mountain roads, dirt roads, heavy rain... lots of exciting stuff to drive in, and [livejournal.com profile] soul_diaspora got lots of practice with interesting driving conditions too. After the upcoming cottage weekend, I'm gonna spring for a thorough in- and outside wash.

Gaspésie is indeed beautiful. There's a distinct sense of being at the edge of the world there, with villages hugging the coast and cliffs dropping into an often-misty sea. As regards the cliffs, climbing would be pretty risky, because the rock is in many places a sedimentary agglomerate which is quite prone to significant rockfall. We didn't exactly linger over the drives to get there and back, but there were many breathtaking vistas along the way. We went around pretty much the whole peninsula, driving across through the Matapédia valley to the Baie des Chaleurs and up the coast on the way there, then returning along the South Shore of the Saint Lawrence.

Hiking involved interesting mixes of flat and hilly, open and wooded areas. We saw quite a variety of birds, although not everything made itself visible: boreal forests are dense with spruce, and many small birds hide quite effectively in there. [livejournal.com profile] soul_diaspora will likely post a species list at some point. The seabirds were particularly noteworthy. Black-legged kittiwakes aren't all that spectacular, looking like Just Another Damn Seagull, but the same can't be said of the gannets, guillemots and murres. Guillemots and murres are mediocre flyers and poor walkers, but very good swimmers; we saw them on and over the water along most of the shore, and nesting on the cliffs of Bonaventure Island and Forillon. The gannets were even more impressive; they're relatives of the well-known blue-footed boobies, and have many cute mannerisms; look forward to lots of pictures from [livejournal.com profile] soul_diaspora over the next little while! They nest on Bonaventure Island in vast numbers, and range far afield in search of food and nesting material, diving into the water and truly impressive speeds to catch fish from below (i.e. on their way back up). Ravens were much more common there than they are here, which pleased me greatly. We also saw a few interesting animals, including porcupines and a black bear, prompting us not to dally on that part of the trail.

I'm trying to learn to recognize the signs left by various animals, and finding it quite difficult without an experienced mentor. Lacking that, the only way to be sure that one's right is, in many cases, to see the animal leave the trace, and while bears doubtless shit in the woods, one isn't usually around to take notes firsthand!

Finally, a couple of restaurants deserve mention: La Maison du Pêcheur in Percé is excellent; not cheap, but very good food and service, with a great view of Bonaventure Island and the Rocher Percé, gannets diving for their (only slightly fresher) seafood in the foreground. La Brise-Bise in Gaspé is a very nice pub with friendly service, good food, and a cozy, cheerful, homey feel.

All in all, a very good trip, although the credit card took a bit of a beating on it; we'll likely be eating out a little less over the next little while!
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