Australia III

Australia III

Well our third house sit of this trip is in Fig Tree which is a part of Wollongong about an hour south of Sydney. It’s nestled beneath the Illawarra Escarpment which includes Mt. Keira and Mt. Kembla. Again like most of the Australian homes we’ve been to, everyday is a decision whether to up to the mountains or down to the beaches.

Two great ocean view walks were found in Wollongong and Kiama. We did a 5 kilometre walk in Wollongong almost five times a week, usually early enough to avoid the heat. We really enjoyed the views which included two lighthouses, vast beaches, rock pools, cafés and restaurants, and an active marina. A lot of people take in these views walking and taking photos along the way. It must be good for surfing as well because the waters were always busy with surfers. Another typical Australian bonus is the availability of toilets, water fountains and showers, benches, tables, and BBQ’s for anyone to use. It would be nice if the rest of the world would start doing this, especially the public toilets.

 

The Kiama walk was good too although when we did it it was too warm out. This area is home to two natural ocean blow holes that can be easily viewed along a marked trail. Like the Wollongong walks, the trails, stairs or sidewalks change elevations as they follow the ocean so it’s a pretty good workout too. The town of Kiama is smaller than Wollongong but it has a great little main street with shops, cafés and restaurants as well. We’d definitely recommend either of these two areas for sightseeing.

 

The days we chose to go up to the mountains were more than worth it. Together we took a scenic, scary winding road one hour drive to Fitzroy Falls. The hills were really steep and most curves were those tricky hairpins, thankfully everyone drives with caution so we made it both ways without incident. The Falls area has many trails to choose from, some harder than the others. The actual Falls were better than expected, I assumed we’d be underwhelmed but we weren’t. From various lookouts you can see the Falls from different angles and you can really get an idea how far a drop 81 metres is. There’s also another Falls, a little less volume but it too can be seen from the trail. The area is like a forested canyon so the vistas are great so bring your camera. The park has a visitor centre and there’s displays of the animals and plants that can be found.

 

On my own I drove to the top of Mt. Kiera to get a view of the whole Wollongong / Illawarra area. This drive was only about 30 minutes and the road wasn’t as steep or curvy. From the lookout you get a clear 180⁰ view of the coastal area below. Australia has unbelievable scenery and this area is second to none, again don’t forget your camera.

 

Our Australian trip is nearing it’s end, one more house sit in Canberra before we say goodbye to this beautiful country once again.

Happy Trails… Mark and Linda

Australia II

Australia II

Wherever you live or wherever you go there’s always a little town that has that special appeal. Where we are now in the Sunshine Coast region the town of Montville, population under a 1000, fits that description. It’s about a 40 minute drive, up and down some pretty steep hills, just west from our place in Maroochydore. On the drive there’s many identified scenic pullover spots to enjoy. They say it’s about 400 meters above sea level so views are fabulous as you look down across farmlands to the Pacific. Once you arrive to the town most of the attractions are all located on the main street so it’s hard to miss. The street is on a bit of a gradual slope so it can be a trek but there’s plenty of benches to relax on. Popular attractions include galleries, restaurants, and craft and clothing shops. Also nearby are wineries and cheese factories but we didn’t stop at any of those.

We spent the late morning, early afternoon checking out most of the shops and were very pleased with the quality. They have many interesting galleries that offer artists work in all genres; landscape, street and beach scenes, aboriginal, etc. Our lunch was at the Poets Café which is situated so you have a great view of those earlier mentioned vistas. Both of our meals were very good and the staff were also very attentive. Another restaurant called The Edge has similar views and we’ve heard the food experience is great there too.

The town is very popular in this area and was reasonably crowded for a Friday, I’m sure weekends would be much busier. Once again we found free parking and we definitely recommend stopping if you are ever in the area as we don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Happy Trails… Mark and Linda

Australia I

Australia I

We have now been to Australia seven times and we tend to stay close to the Sydney area. We usually stay with our daughter and family for a bit and our stays have been for a few weeks at a time. In 2015 when we retired we did take some small trips up to the Central and Gold Coast areas; either staying Airbnb or hotels. This year we decided we were coming for 6 months with the intent on seeing more and do it mostly by house sitting. Linda was able to secure four assignments, Beecroft (Sydney), Maroochydore, Wollongong, and Canberra. We also have booked a few days in Port Douglas which is near the Great Barrier Reef, I’ll blog on that another time. We were hoping to go west and visit Adelaide or south to the island of Tasmania but we couldn’t get a good schedule mix with friends we’ve met from those areas on last years cruise.

The Beecroft housesit was nice because we had a pool and we were very close to Sydney. We made a few day trips to Whale Beach and to the Hawkesbury River, both have plenty of shops and restaurants to enjoy besides the great views. We also got a chance to reconnect with two great friends from our cruise last year. They treated us to a wonderful BBQ at their home where we also met more of their family and friends. We also went with them for picnic within the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park area near Palm Beach that can only be accessed by ferry.

1whale_beach-1

Whale Beach

images-2

Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury River

 

 

Maroochydore is about a two and a half hour flight north of Sydney, about an hour and a half drive from Brisbane. It has its own airport, the Sunshine Coast airport which is said to be one of the fastest growing destinations in Australia. Our house is located a block away from the Paynter River which flows into the Pacific which is only about a kilometer away. The people of the area use this river immensely for all types of pleasure activities; boating, sailing, paddle boarding, and fishing can be seen every day. Another great thing is there are tables and BBQ’s that can be used as well restrooms and easy free parking. It’s a great spot to go for walks too along a sidewalk that is part of the trail system here.

Alexandra beach is on the Pacific and is monitored like most Australian beaches by professional rescuers. The beach is huge by most standards were used to and even when busy isn’t crowded at all. We saw surfing and kite surfing as well as just plain old wading, the water right now is really warm but still refreshing. The various surf clubs that monitor the beaches also have restaurants or walk up cafés where food is available.

dscn4674

Linda watching me kite surf….NOT!

 

dscn4671

Feet firmly on the beach

 

About 30 minutes inland is the Eumundi market. This is open Wednesday and Saturday and is a very popular destination. You’ll find original artworks, sculptures, furniture, handmade toys, homewares, as well as fashion and jewellery by local designers. Mostly real good stuff that’s not found at a typical junk market. It’s in a tree filled area in the town of Eumundi and most of the area is covered by the tents or awnings. Read more about it at http://www.eumundimarkets.com.au/

dscn4680

Browsing at the Eumundi Market

 

If you like trail hiking the Buderim Forest has a great trail that takes you to a small waterfall and pool. Again like most of Australia it’s all free including the parking. The hike is a combination of groomed trails, boardwalks and bridges, and some tough to navigate rocks. Overall I’d say it would be rated easy to moderate. The forest itself has many scenic spots to observe the rainforest and various trees and streams that flow through it.

dscn4690

Marg, Linda, and Karen on the boardwalk of Bunderim Forest

 

dscn4701

Cooling down under the falls

 

The great thing about most of Australia is that within an hour you can be swimming in the ocean or hiking through a forest! There’s even RV camping at many beach spots, likely a little better weather than we had last year in BC. We’re still here for a few weeks and I’ll be blogging about our other stops next.

dscn4688

Maroochydore Beach Holiday Park

 

Happy trails… Mark and Linda

Our 2016 At A Glance

Hi to Everyone around the world!  It’s Linda here writing an actual blog post this time…usually it is my sweet better half that does this, but I feel inspired to write today and to give you our yearly reflection of where our Vagabond Retiree adventures have taken us!

Before I summarize though, I’d like to mention that 2017 holds a lot of excitement for us!  We plan to write a book about being Vagabond Retirees – but we don’t really want it to be about US!  We’d like it to be about YOU, our readers.  So we are reaching out to you to please give us some feedback either here in the comments or on our Facebook page as to what you’d truly like to see in a book.  I guess what we’re trying to say is this:  we’d like to see everyone be able to live this truly amazing lifestyle (and believe me, we do not have an unlimited budget, and it is very doable for most), so ask, comment, suggest, and we are open!

So, here’s our 2016 Year At A Glance:

January – early February 2016 – Boulder Creek, California – House Sitting

February – early March 2016 – Sonoma California – House Sitting

March 2016 – 2 weeks in Apache Junction, Arizona  with the motorhome visiting friends

March 2016 (late) – motorhome back to Fort Langley, BC

April 2016 – Fort Langley, BC camping with the motorhome for 1st 2 weeks then made our way back to Ontario with the beast during the last 2 weeks

May 2016 – Camping in the motorhome in Belle River, Ontario

June 2016 – Ditto

July until early August, 2016 – London, Ontario – House Sitting

Remainder of August, 2016 – Back to Belle River, Ontario with the motorhome

September 2016 – Hilton Head Island, SC – House Sitting

September/October 2016 – Lake Norman, NC – House Sitting

October 2016 – Arlington, Virginia to visit our daughter and future son-in-law

October 2016 – Cape Cod, Massachusetts to visit friends and house sit

October 2016 – early November 2016 – Montreal, QC – house sitting

November 9-16 – Shanghai, China – visiting friends

November 17 – December 13 –  Sydney, Australia visiting our daughter & family

December 13 – December 31 – Northern Sydney suburbs house sitting.

There you have it – a jam packed year of excitement and adventures.  We’ll try to put together a collage before the true end of the year (3 days to go!) on our Facebook page.  New Years’ Eve brings with it my 2 year anniversary of retiring.  Although I often miss my friends and family, I have to say (and I’m pretty sure I can speak for Mark) that we wouldn’t trade this life for anything.  It has by far exceeded our expectations, and it has been a joyous time for us.  So, on that note, HAPPY NEW YEAR, cheers to a fantastic 2017, and give us some feedback on those book topics…we’d love for you to come along and create your own adventures!

Thanks for stopping by, and Happy Trails,

Linda & Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shanghai Surprise

Shanghai Surprise

As I mentioned in a previous post we were offered a chance to visit friends who have relocated to Shanghai for a three year work assignment. We had already planned on visiting our daughter, son in law and grandkids as well as do housesitting in Australia so we figured why not make a side trip. Normally we fly Toronto to LA to Sydney which is about 5 and 15 hours of fly time plus usually more for the layover which basically makes it a 24 hour trip. Shanghai is 16 hours direct from Toronto and to Sydney another 11 hours but spread out over a week vacation in between made it sound too good to pass up. Plus we were getting to stay in Shanghai with friends, at their house, who would know where to go, when to go, and just as importantly where not to go. Plus, plus China now has a special free visa for travellers to Shanghai who are staying in the area for no more than 144 hours, you must register in advance and be traveling on to another country. Usually a visa can cost around $300 so it was a nice bonus to take advantage of. So adding up all these pluses made our decision pretty easy.

Shanghai is China’s largest city with close to 24 million people (Canada has about 36 million). It’s been described as easily China’s richest city and the leading trendsetter in fashion, design and the arts, Shanghai is the best city in the country for dining and shopping. It’s a modern metropolis, legions of futuristic skyscrapers, glitzy restaurants, bars, hotels, competing with rival Asia cities such as Hong Kong, and Singapore.

We arrived at Pudong International Airport and it took a little extra to clear customs because our visa required us to go to a separate line. We were first, the agent gathered our paperwork and told us to wait while she went away. Then other travellers came, some really not sure if they should be in this line and another agent grabbed their paperwork or told them to go to the main customs line. We waited and waited for about an hour before they came back and started to process people. Well I guess ours was on the bottom because it sure looked like everyone after us was going through ahead of us but we eventually got through after about two hours…welcome to China. Our friends Doug and Shelline were waiting (and waiting) at the walkway after we claimed our bags, she had made a sign like you see drivers holding so we easily found them. Once outside they called our driver, ya I forgot to mention their house comes with a driver, who drove us back to their place. It’s a gated community with other expats who work in the Shanghai area living there. It has a huge fitness facility that includes tennis courts, soccer fields for the kids, a swimming pool, café and restaurant. Their home is beautiful; two storey, 4 bedrooms, living room, dining room, etc., everything you’d expect not in China…we were very surprised. After a lot of socializing and Linda and Shellie catching up it was time for bed after a long trip.

With so much to see in less than a week we had to plan our attractions. Being both a modern and an older city we had lots to choose from and the weather was supposed to be clear for the entire time so we could do anything. We decided on The Bund, Yuyuan Garden, the Pearl Tower, Zhouzhuang Water Town, and one of the fake knock off markets. Some of the attractions are in the same areas so it wasn’t going to be too hard.

The Bund is an area along the Huangpu River which divides the city into east and west parts, but also assembles the splendid attractions of the city. Situated on the west bank of the river, the Bund is the symbol and highlight of Shanghai. New finance and commercial houses as well as grand buildings built in 1930s in the European architectural styles cluster along the Bund. At night bright lights add to the happy atmosphere as people stroll along the wide riverside promenade. You can walk forever along the river looking at buildings built by the British or French on one side and seeing the modern Chinese buildings on the other. Ships and boats can be seen going up and down the river all day and night too.

On the same side as The Bund located a short walk away from the water is the Yuyuan Garden. In existence for 400 years it occupies an area of 20,000 square meters. The pavilions, halls, rockeries, ponds and cloisters all have unique characteristics and be strolled through easily. Jade rock, spring bamboo, and koi in the ponds are some of the natural scenery inside the garden. There’s an admission fee of about $10 Cdn.

We also spent time on the east side of the river and went to the Oriental Pearl Tower. This 468 meters high tower is the world’s sixth and China’s second tallest TV and radio tower. Its unique architectural design makes it one of the most attractive places anywhere, it’s especially beautiful seen lit up from The Bund side at night. We took the elevator to one the middle spheres where there’s an indoor observation deck and one level down is a glass bottomed deck for more daring/foolish in the group. The tower tour cost about $40 Cdn but is well worth it considering the view from up there. Here’s where you really see just how populated Shanghai is, apartment building after apartment building in all directions. One thing to keep in mind is the air pollution in Shanghai is horrible, levels in the 100’s are normal. Sometimes the views from the towers or on the ground are minimal because of it. Many people wear various masks to protect themselves but most don’t.

The Zhouzhuang Water Town is one of many canal type towns near Shanghai. Small shops and restaurants line the rivers as gondola type boats guide tourists along. Bridges here are distinctive and old, built during Ming and Qing Dynasties. The old town is thoroughly connected by 36 delicate spans in different shapes and styles, from wooden to stone to marble. The restaurants are traditional Chinese, not North American Chinese. Here you’ll find fully skinned chickens, duck, pork, organs from all types of animals on display. The smell of cooking oils is pretty strong too and it takes a bit to get used to. The trip was about an hour and half Shanghai so we also got to see more Shanghai life.

Our last trip was to fake market. Here you can buy almost anything in some knock off form or another. Shoes, purses, watches, even golf clubs and much more can be found and bought once you haggle a price. We’re not really shoppers so we got off easy but it was fun to chat up the local sales persons. There’s many of these markets around and some get shut down by the government periodically just to show they’re trying to control counterfeiting.

We did eat local sometimes but it was hard to not crave the more traditional back home food most times. The four of us did go for a nice dinner one night on The Bund. The rooftop restaurant, M on the Bund had an awesome view of that lit up skyline which is a must to see if going to Shanghai.

I titled this blog Shanghai Surprise because we were surprised. We were expecting overcrowded walkways, pushing and shoving at the shops, every Chinese cultural stereotype imaginable but it wasn’t that way at all. Oh the roads were an incredible synchronicity of chaos, cars and scooters all making up their own rules and constantly honking at each other but all moving along…sort of. The people were very polite and the service was excellent. Being a big city the prices are higher than what you may expect but similar to any world class city, we’d definitely recommend Shanghai to any global travellers.

Lastly we want to again thank Doug, Shelline, Hannah, Abby, and Nate for letting us stay in their home, take advantage of their tour guide knowledge and making us feel so welcome. Also to our driver Jackie for getting us everywhere in one piece.

Happy trails… Mark and Linda

p.s. sorry about the lack of pictures, this website wouldn’t let me upload some??

Ottawa

Ottawa

I finally made it to our nation’s capital. Linda had been here before but for all our travelsI’ve never made it to Ottawa. Over the years I always heard good things about the many attractions it has to offer so when our final house sitting was going to be Montréal and with a few days off beforehand we made a side trip. Instead of going to a hotel or motel we found an Airbnb listing with a great view of the river on the top floor of an apartment a short ride from the main sites. We checked with Trip Advisor and narrowed down our list to the Parliament buildings area and the Canadian War Museum.

On Sunday we found free parking a few blocks from the Peace Tower and arranged a group guided tour. It was pretty cold for us (getting soft I know) as the wind was blowing but we walked the grounds first as we waited for our designated group time. I have to admit it was pretty impressive seeing these buildings you’ve seen on TV, magazines or newspapers in person. There’s many statues on the property of our founding fathers, the first women rights suffragettes, the monarchy, war heroes and peace keepers. Due to construction, I think they’re getting everything spruced up for next year’s 150 year celebration, areas behind the buildings were not accessible. Once inside we were led through the Senate Chamber, House of Commons, and the Parliament Library by a very knowledgeable tour guide. Being Sunday there was no house business going on but it was still impressive to see.

dscn4425

Senate Chamber

 

dscn4421

Library of Parliament

On our own we went up the Peace Tower which offers a great view of the surrounding area. Also up there they have a small room of remembrance acknowledging all who have lost their lives serving our country.

dscn4410

Peace Tower

 

dscn4431

a view from inside the Peace Tower

 

We left the building, crossed the grounds again and visited the National War Memorial and Tomb of The Unknown Soldier. It was also fenced off for repairs but we did get to pay our respects.

images

Lastly we walked a few blocks to the ByWard Market area. Restaurants, cafés, bakeries, and outdoor stalls offer something for everyone and since we were hungry we had a nice light lunch.

dscn4442

Monday took us to the Canadian War Museum, again a short drive from our apartment. Unlike Sunday, today we had to pay to park under the museum. We were prepared to spend time here because we heard there’s lots to see and there is. We walked through four linked galleries that exhibits our history as a nation from a war perspective. From our first nation beginnings, conflicts with France and America, two World Wars, Korea, the Gulf war’s there’s tons to experience.

Another special exhibit was on the beginnings of Air Warfare, very interactive and informative.

dscn4460

Off to the wild blue yonder

 

dscn4467

Flight School

 

The Royal Canadian Legion has an exhibit honouring our dead as well as a model of the War Memorial. This was a great experience and I know it’s about war and maybe we shouldn’t glorify it but it’s reality and it’s sad so many either risked or gave their life for all of us.

dscn4439

This museum is very educational and it’s tailored to all ages but I’m not sure an adult could spend enough time to absorb it all if they brought their younger children.

Overall we’re glad we experienced these attractions and Ottawa has a lot more to offer if we had more time. Earlier in the month on our US east coast road trip we spent a day in Washington D.C., it too is a great city to visit. That’s two great capitals in one month and sure we’ll be back to see more of both.

Happy Trails… Mark and Linda

Cape Cawd

Cape Cawd

Our eastern road trip is almost complete in the US and we’ll be making our way back to Canada soon. It’s been about two weeks now on the cape visiting and housesitting and I think we’re practically Chowda Heads. Talk about accent shock, between the y’alls of the southern Carolinians last month and these east coast Cape Cahders we’ve fahgotten what we thought english is supposed to sound like the last fahr weeks.

Seriously though the Cape has been a wonderful experience again. Counting our delayed honeymoon many, many years ago we’ve been here now four times and it’s always been great. There’s much to see and do, something for all no matter what the season. This time of year the leaves on the trees here are about half way to turning, hopefully this weekend as we drive through Vermont it’ll be in technicolour. The water in the Atlantic is too cold to swim but we managed to dip our feet, to prove our tough Canadian roots. We visited a lot of towns but two of our favourite were Woods Hole and Provincetown. Both were easy to get to now that it’s out of season but traffic can be crazy in the summer months. On the drive you get to see a lot of New England life and their culture.

img_20161017_141043

Cranberry harvest season

 

dscn4392

Look all the way to my ankles…trying to be a tough Canadian

 

Woods Hole is home to the Oceanographic Institution (http://www.whoi.edu/) where much of the world’s ocean research is based out of. There’s a small aquarium that houses aquatic life of the northeast coast; lobsters, crabs, seals, and historical info on whaling, lobster trapping, and other fishing methods. The entrance is free and donations are welcomed. The Oceanographic centre has a museum that is also free and is very informative. They house a Titanic exhibit that has great details on how it was discovered. Also there is much info on our oceans and the various threats they all face; global warming, over fishing, shore erosion just to mention a few.  The town itself has many shops, restaurants and cafés, all identifying with the New England theme.

th-2

The Woods Hole inner harbor

 

armstrongmain_424553

WHOI newest research vessel the R/V Neil Armstrong

 

Provincetown or P’Town as the locals call it is located at the very tip of the cape. It is a bigger town than Woods Hole and is definitely more touristy. There you can find many restaurants to eat, most catering to the seafood delights found in the area. Clam chowder soup is always a good choice, so are the lobster rolls (very similar to the New Orleans Po’boys). The shops have the typical beach front teasers; shirts, towels, toys but there’s many quality clothing and gift stores too. The housing there is typical of most coastal towns; multi-level with cedar shake roofs and siding. Some have nautical details that make them so unique and fun to check out.

We also got some hiking in at two locations; Mashpee River Woodlands and Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge. Both have great marked trails that aren’t too difficult to walk. They’re mostly tree covered and follow a river system so they’re easy to navigate. When we were on them it wasn’t busy at all, again likely due to being off season or midweek.

dscn4379

A well earned rest

 

dscn4381

Not another toll?

 

dscn4386

Great scenery on our hike

 

If you get a chance we’d definitely recommend the Cape. If you have enough time both Nantucket and Martha Vineyard can be reached by ferry from Woods Hole or Hyannis. We were very fortunate stay with fabulous friends in the town of Mashpee who’ve retired (sort of) there from Michigan and having the inside track on where and when to go made this a great experience, thanks Roland and Elaine.

Happy Trails… Mark and Linda