That time someone built a fully functioning sauna on the beach….

There has been a bit of hype around The Beaches lately as locals prepare for the Winter Stations.  These are a series of art installations built around the life guard stations on the beach.  I have been down a few times to investigate these strange structures.  There is a square shape with ropes hanging down, inside you can climb to the top of the life guard station and look at the same view you can see from the beach two metres below.  There is large wooden object that is supposed to be half a canoe.  Lots of what looks like jacks made from wood.  Some wood with sheets stapled to it.  Most of them, I just kind of looked at and said “oh”.  It has reinforced my lack of appreciation for art as I have no idea what some of this was all about – even when I read the signs!   

 The ones that did interest me… there was a big black ball that is to represent the belly of a bear.  You can climb up inside it and it is lined with fur.  The inside was a nice shelter from the cold, a chance to chat to random fellow beachers and seemed like rather a nice spot for a bit of a shin dig. 

 
The sauna is the one that I enjoyed most.  It is a fully functioning sauna!  Fully functioning!  On the beach!  Amazing!  There is a little log burner inside with rocks on the top.  The walls are made from some sort of insulated plastic meaning that I still had to wear sunglasses inside as the sun was brightly shining in.  After discovering it the first time, I went back with a flask of tea, a book and some crisps to have a little sit down in the warm.  As it warmed up, the layers came off and I was quite cosy in there chatting to others as they came and went.  When someone turned up with logs and filled the water bucket, things got a little crazy and it filled with steam.  It was fantastic.  I left to meet a friend for a warm beverage and then we headed back down so she could see what was what.  By this time, there was a man in there in just shorts drinking a bottle of wine and smoking (in a sauna? who smokes in a sauna?).  Things became a little weird at this point and we decided to go against his advice of taking our clothes off and retreated rapidly.  For some reason, I didn’t believe his assurances of of “I won’t look”.   I look forward to returning for another nice little sit down as it is there for a few more weeks, hopefully next time avoiding any uncomfortable boundary pushing strangers!

 

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These are a few of my favourite views

Will I ever tire of these fantastic views?  I hope not.  I continue to be in awe of the same sights on different days, in different weathers and at different times.  

I finally got the opportunity to see Glen Manor Ravine covered in snow during daylight hours…. It was everything that I hoped it would be.  A winter wonderland right on my door step.

  The park beyond the Ravine (Glen Manor Park) looked moody and winters with the cloudy grey sky and the snow on the trees and covering the grass, and what was an ice rink a few weeks ago.  Kew Gardens offered a snow covered pavilion. 
 Some of my favourite beach views with the moody sky.  My home won’t just be a shrine to Canada with pictures on the walls one day, I think I have enough amazing photos to make a wallpaper collage.

  

The sky hasn’t always been moody lately and I was lucky enough  to see the gorgeous sights of my favourite hidden beach covered in snow with bright blue skies.  The water with the sun bouncing off it looked good enough to jump in.  The snow and the mini icebergs were enough to stop this urge before anything got out of control.  It was crazy how the tunnel that we explored in the summer had ice covering the entrance where the water had run down and made a curtain of icicles.   

   

Eldred King Woodlands, Nr. Newmarket

Monday was a Family Day Bank Holiday, so it was a nice long weekend.  As if I hadn’t already done enough fun stuff, one of the Brits hired a car to head slightly north for a bit of a hike in the snow.  We went to Eldred King Woodlands, near Newmarket.  Toronto itself didn’t have much snow at the weekend, but the woods out of the city didn’t disappoint and we encountered lots of deep snow, a frozen pond and frozen streams to exclaim over.  We hiked from 11.15 until getting in the car at 4pm.  It was great fun and lots of giggles were had by all.  In particular at/ with Matts friend who wore boots with a smooth flat sole.  The poor girl had to climb the hills on her hands and knees.  We met lots of dogs (wearing an array of boots and jackets), lay in the snow, threw the snow, took a picnic and, of course, took hundreds of photos.  We passed a few horses which made me miss being around them, I am keen to have a go at riding with a Western Saddle at some point.  The smell of a  dung heap we walked past reminded me of home.  Only those who have grown up on farms or around horses will understand how comforting and homely the smell of animals and their dung can be!  

 

Scarborough Bluffs

Sunday of this weekend brought yet another unexpected outstanding view.  In the summer, me and some of the Brits went to the zoo and then headed to Scarborough Bluffs.  It was raining heavily and we were all tired, soggy and cold and we couldnt find the beach.  We drove in circles and ended up grumpily aborting the mission.  Me and one of the original Brits decided to give it another go yesterday.  Turns out we were only metres from where we needed to be last time in the rain!  


 The actual Bluffs are just cliffs.  They are not particularly exciting.  The surprise was seeing how bits of the lake were frozen.  The edge of the water was covered in ice, there were floating chunks of ice and glittering crystals in the sun.  In the distance, the steam seemed to be coming off the water as with the lakes on Saturday.  Looking out over the water, it was like something from a film. 

   There was really light snow falling around us catching the sun so it looked like tiny flecks of glitter.

As we continued walking around the edge of the water, we found rocks covered in icicles.  It was so pretty, we thought nothing of lying on the rocks to get a better view of the lower ones underneath. 

 Further around again and found swans, ducks and other birds.  Some swimming in bits of unfrozen lake and others sitting happily in the sunshine on ice.  There was a bush without leaves coated in ice like a beautiful glass ornament placed at the waters edge.  With the swans in the background, it was such an unexpected surprise.  

 This was another sight that pictures cannot do justice.  The views were spectacular.  I think we just happened to catch an ordinary beach with ordinary cliffs on an extraordinary day.  

Bruce Peninsula

After a great nights sleep at the motel, day 2 of the roadtrip north of Toronto involved a drive to the top of the Bruce Peninsula.  I wanted to see the Grotto (caves) frozen as I seemed to have developed an obsession with icicles.  We drove straight past the turning for the Grotto and found ourselves in Tobermory.  I knew most things in Tobermory would be closed, but there was just a general store/ book shop, a food shop and a petrol station open.  Tobermory was brutally cold.  So, so, so cold.  I took my hands out of my gloves for seconds to take photos with my phone and thought my fingers would fall off – they were tingling and swollen and then I couldn’t feel them.  The town was just desolate and bare.  I still enjoyed a short stroll along above the water, but it was a brief visit.  I spat on my glove and it froze in under 15 seconds.  My hair was frozen and my friend had frozen eye brows.  Apparently with wind chills approachin -40c, human flesh can freeze in 20 minutes if exposed – the weather forecast gave -36 wind chills while we were there.  Despite this, I had enough layers on that my body and legs were not at all cold.  I look forward to returning in the summer to see the other side of this waterside town. 

 We began heading back south down the Peninsula and into the Bruce Peninsula National Park in search of the Grotto.  Unfortunately, we were told that the route wasn’t fully ploughed and we would have to hike around 2hrs to get to the caves.  We didn’t go equipped for this and realised we would not be able to make it.  We decided to go for a walk towards the Lake whilst we were there.  We encountered some people setting up tents to camp for the nights.  Utter madness.  The walk continued until we saw a path to cut down to Cyprus Lake.  As we stepped out to where the trees cleared, the view of the lake was just spectacular.  There was just a huge white expanse of frozen lake and snow, deadly still and silent.  My friend was convinced that the lake was frozen and stepped out on to it.  His foot went through the ice up to his knee.  Within a couple of minutes, his trouser leg was frozen solid.  We headed quickly back to the car to warm up and headed south again. After an aborted mission to locate Greigs Caves (we couldn’t find them), we realised that a pit stop for fuel and food was called for.  We started to make our way to a little town called Wiarton.   

   
On the way to Wiarton, we stopped to say hello to some horses out in a field of snow.  They were living on a lovely farm… The farmhouse had a wraparound porch with lots of big country barns and the horses alongside.  It was just a lovely set up. We continued on our way with the next stop being to take some photos at Colpoy’s Bay.  We were driving along the road and both exclaimed over the view at the same time.  There was steam coming off the lake.  The pictures just don’t do the view justice.  The sun was shining, with the bright blue sky and fantastic snowy views.  The houses on the right hand side of the road had these views to look out at everyday.  One house had canoes in the garage, another had a big patch of unspoiled snow by the lake shore with two wooden chairs facing out over the water.  The life style that goes with living in this place is just a whole other world.  It was somewhere I would like to grow old.   

  

 We make it, with grumbling stomachs into the little town of Wiarton.  A lovely little town with its own character.  We were immediately drawn to a brightly painted establishment called Northern Confections. We intended to pop in before finding a pub for lunch. It turned out that it was a sweet shop/ cafe, so we stayed for lunch.  I had a very tasty toasted peameal bacon and cheese sandwich and bought lots of sweets and fudge.  The place was run by a really friendly husband and wife team.  They told us that it was so cold the night before that the steam rising off their hot tub turned into snow just above their heads and fell back down again.  Incredible. 

 Fed and watered, our travels continued with the next stop being a little place called Kemble, home to the oldest active Women’s Institute in the world – running since 1897.  We just happened to stop at the Women’s Institute Lookout due to the views out over, well more snow and water.  This was another “I think my hands and fingers are actually freezing and could possibly fall off moment”.  There was some actual panic where I thought my little finger wasn’t going to regain feeling.  

 The next stop on our agenda was the Creemore Brewery in Creemore.  It closed at 6pm.  Unfortunately, due to more snow conditions, getting stuck behind a snow plough and ending up in a pile of snow waiting until someone helped us push the car back not to the road, we were not able to get to the brewery before closing.  We had some food at the pub next to the brewery.  Creemore is a cute little area that is really lit up even when it is dark, kind of like a fake village on a film set!  The snow falling around the lights was picturesque.  The pub had my favourite food on the menu – breaded mushrooms.  I had two portions for my dinner. 

 Creemore was our last stop and we headed back to Toronto.  There were a few more hairy moments with more snow squalls and slippery conditions.  As we got closer to home, the snow was depleting, the air was clearing and things were beginning to look less like a postcard.  I was happy to be home and looking forward to a walk on the beach, however, instantly missed the snow.  It was great to get out and just drive around the countryside, stopping whenever we felt like it or the views demanded it.  We really saw that some of the best sights are not planned and we just happened upon them by chance.  

The cold has not put me off Canada.  It only made me love the country even more.  This is what I signed up for, and I love it just as much as the summer on the beach, if not more.  I have realised that as long as I wrap up warm and prepare for it, it is manageable.  I have also learned that I should definitely not take my gloves off when the temperature exceeds -20.  The snow, the cold, the ice, the countryside, the trees and the lakes…. I spent the day living in a post card.

Blue Mountain – skiing and snow squalls

I have always wanted to give skiing a go, but if I am honest, never really expected to love it.  When a friend suggested a roadtrip to Blue Mountain (about 2 hrs north of Toronto), I saw it as a chance to give it a go and cross something off my list.  My old room mate lent me her ski gear so I was kitted out in thermals and ski trousers with goggles and gloves.  We did a beginners ski day for $90 (£45) which gave us lessons, helmets, skis and boots and access to 5 beginner level areas. 

 When I got my boots and skis on, I felt immediately uncomfortable and sure that this was not going to be for me.  My skis were crossing at the front, the boots were heavy and I just felt like a sit down and cup of tea after how much hard work it was getting into the boots and skis.  The first thing was a lesson on getting in and out of the skis and a baby slope with practice stopping.  This was tedious, tiring and I just wanted to go fast.  Once we were okay here, we were allowed to move to stage 3… This involved going up an elevator and being taught how to turn.  I did this maybe two or three times and was whisked off to the fourth section.  There was no instructor there, so one of the 3s took me and I pretty much had one on one support which was great.  He taught me what to do with the poles and other ways to stop.  After a few goes, he whooshed off past the 4s escalator heading for the 5s.  This was exciting!  This is where there were real ski lifts!  I always thought the ski lifts were like rollercoasters and you would get strapped in.  Nope.  You fall into it as it comes up behind you and then just hope you dont fall out until the other end when you just have to stand up and not fall and die or get tangled in the skis.  The ski lift was terrifying!  Now, the 5s slope was significantly bigger than the 4s.  Great views.  A longer steeper slope.  It was still just me and the instructor.  He said to follow him.  He had faith in me doing this and I wanted so much to prove myself and show what I had learned.  It was fast, I couldn’t stop as easily, there were people whizzing around.  I made it down the slope alive.  I had a few rolls in the snow on the way down!  Luckily, it didnt hurt and I actually enjoyed lieing in the snow giggling!  Back to the 4s it was!

We skiied for about 3 hours before stopping for pizza and heading back out for another few hours.  I did tackle the 5s again and made it down without falling and ended it with a completely out of control high speed throughly enjoyable kamikaze ski.  I cant wait to go back and practice cracking this slope!  The instructors from the morning said that not many people that havent skiied before make it to the 5s on their first day, they also suggested I think about working a ski season somewhere.  I hadn’t gone with this in mind, but it was great feedback to get and I really love the idea of doing it!  It is definitely a curve ball to give some genuine consideration to.  With aching wrists, and legs sore from the boots, we called it a day and headed for the irish bar in the Blue Mountain village.  I am happy that I left confident on the fourth slope, able to turn and whoosh down in control or knowing if I do lose it, I can get it back.  What a sense of joy, pride and a real feeling of achievement.   

 After the skiing we had a drink – hot chocolate for me of course, and prepared to drive about 45 mins west to our motel in Owen Sound.  By this point, there were weather warnings in place and people were skeptical about us making the journey.  We decided that if we didnt go, we would have to sleep in the car in the car park, so we might as well try and if we couldnt make it, we would pull over and sleep in the car.  Being an ex Girl Guide, I had copious supplies of food and drink, and my old room mate had suggested I take blankets, so we were prepared.  We rang the motel to say we were attempting to make it  and the chap said he would make sure the heating was on and the room cosy for our arrival! How nice is that! The journey took about 1hr30 with ice and snow squalls.  

“Snow Squall – a sudden moderately heavy snow fall with blowing snow and strong gusty winds.  It is often referred to as a whiteout and is similar to a blizzard” 

 The snow squalls were horrendous to drive in.  We had a small rental car with no snow tires or four wheel drive and no knowledge of the area.  We crawled at 10km p/h for some time.  I was terrified that there was water off the side of the road and that we would go plunging into a lake.  The road was slippy and there were times we couldnt see the side of the road, where the road actually was or where to drive.  It was pitch black and it was really really scary at times.  Luckily we made it to our motel, the Knights Inn and checked in. The motel was warm and clean, and the beds were so comfy I had the best nights sleep I have had in months. 

 

Beep beep

Yesterday I picked up a rental car to bring home ready for a road trip.  I have been stressing somewhat over this during the week as I knew I would have to bring it home alone.  It is one thing driving on a country road with your Dad supervising and quite another driving a car home alone on street car tracks, at rush hour, in the dark, with cars coming out of nowhere from all directions.  Anyway, after a small whoopsie, I abandoned the car in the car park of the local supermarket, looked at it angrily and went to the pub to find someone to park it up properly on a side street for me.

After a malibu and diet coke and a cup of tea and a natter at the pub, and some errands at home, I was ready to face the car again. This time I pottered off to the gym for a sunbed and then to the supermarket.  Having a car for a short time meant I could purchase copious amounts of Diet Coke without having to carry it.  It was so exciting to be able to just nip down the road and do these things.  This was one of those moments where if I had been offered a plane home there and then I would have gone.  The ease of being able to just nip out instead of having to get endless buses and streetcars, and standing around waiting in between is incredible.  I knew I missed driving, but emotion just hit me like a sledgehammer.  I suddenly wanted to be in my Kia crusing around the moors, the village and anywhere green.

Off to the doctor

This weeks new experience saw me heading off to the Doctor.  Now, in Canada they seem to have a physical every year.  It involves an overall check up of ears, throat, sight etc etc.  I dont think we have this at home? We just go when we are ill.  Anyway, in I pottered, fairly open to seeing what was what but not as open as I was when I went to the Dentist.  I flashed my shiny new OHIP card to reception and waited for my turn.  The nurse appeared and weighed me, measured me, checked my eyes and asked lots of questions.  Then she asked me to put on a backless gown.  I asked why and explained I didnt know what it entailed and wanted to know what else was being checked.  She seemed confused at my curiosity, most people must just put the gown on.  Anyway, she said my reflexes and chest were to be checked?! I dont think either of these things require a backless gown, so I respectfully declined.  The doctor appeared and said nothing about my gownless state.  He checked my breathing, ears, in my mouth, prodded my abdomen and asked me to push against his hands with mine to check strength.  I took this very seriously and nearly pushed the poor man in to the opposite wall.  The weights are paying off!  Anyway after this, I, again, asked what the purpose of the gown was as nothing seemed to require it…. He said, some people feel more comfortable in a gown.  Who?! Who feels more comfortable in a gown, a backless gown, an uncomfortable looking paper gown that shows their bottom for no good reason than in leggings and a strappy top?!  I am still genuinely baffled by this. Anyway, they did not tell me anything was wrong, so I assume I am a healthy little cherub.  I can say little now as I lost four pounds this week.   Slowly, but surely, the quest to fit into anything other than my “just in case I gain weight in Canada skirt” is progressing.

Aside from the general check up, I asked for a prescription for some massages.  My non optional benefits plan through work covers massage with a prescription, happy days.

Sweet Jesus, Boots and Bourbon and a Mechanical Bull

I always expected Canada to have this amazing selection of hot chocolates and thought I would be able to get huge hot chocolates topped with cream and sprinkles of chocolate on every street corner.  I read a blog a couple of weeks ago that showed me exactely where I could find this specialty.  Sweet Jesus was the place for me.  I contacted some Brits and down we went.  The hot chocolate was everything I hoped for from pictures.  It was amazing.  The selection of ice creams, desserts and drinks was mouthwatering and making a decision was a drama.  I went with a classic hot chocolate and can’t wait for next time. 

 One thing that I have missed since being in Canada is a good night club.  I didn’t used to go out often at home, but did enjoy my occasional nights out at Union Rooms and Two Trees!  I went out with a couple of buddies from the bar to a bar down the road I keep meaning to go to…. Boots and Bourbon.  They have a mechanical bull that stays up until around 10pm when they take it down so there is space for a dance floor.  We all had a go on the bull.  I am ashamed to say that, despite years of horse riding, I didn’t last more than about 3 seconds at the most!  And that is probably exaggerating how long I lasted.  There was a family band playing called The Reklaws.  I had a fantastic night dancing.  This is by far the funniest bar I have been to here so far and the first one that has made me want to get properly dressed up and dance.  I loved it and can’t wait to go again!  They do line dancing on a Thursday night, I also intend to do this at some point.

In addition to the above adventures, I took my usual stroll around the neighbourhood to check out the changes given the warmth this weekend.  The squirrels were running around full of energy, the sun was shining and the air felt fresh as if Spring is around the corner.  This was two days ago and as I sit here writing this, there is some sort of windy snow situation blowing around outside again.  I walked through the park where the random ice rink was a couple of weeks ago and it is now just some sad looking frozen water, the rocks are clear again and shiny appearance is matt once more, with no signs of the pretty icicles that I photographed before.   

 

Turning 90

As I missed the birthday party being in a Canada, this is a special post for someone that I know is one of my most loyal readers…. My Great Aunt turns 90 today! 

Happy Birthday Auntie Ruth! 

For someone who is 90, she is still more active and social than people 10 years younger than her, she uses computers and stopped writing letters and emailing long before I turned to technology, still has her car, she bakes amazing cakes, always has Werthers Originals in a bowl and a plate of biscuits waiting when we visit, and has travelled to lots of fun places with stories to tell.  You still dont even need to adopt that loud and clear tone that we need for so many people of a certain age.  What a legend.