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Now that I’ve recuperated from the whirlwind that is my sister and her two daughters, I can write a blog post about all the fun we had during their holiday visit.

They arrived on the 21st on an empty flight and landed at Billy Bishop airport. With the news showing a jam-packed Pearson airport (busiest day of the year apparently), it made sense to fly to the island airport. Traffic was actually light due to many already being off work.

We got back home and everyone settled in. We made lunch (rigatoni with cherry tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella) then had fun playing a rousing game of Christmas charades. The girls are getting old enough to play games that adult enjoy playing too. 🙂 Fun!! We then headed out to Michael’s to get some holiday craft materials that we wanted to tackle during their stay (more on these later!).

We were also cat-sitting for my sister-in-law’s cat Dusty and after a nervous first day, he adjusted quickly and joined in some of the activities. 🙂

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The following day we were planning to go to the Distillery District to see the Christmas Market. During the day, we made the first batch of treats: Smore’s Cookies. They were really yummy and my kitchen helpers were awesome!

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The girls also wrote their letters to Santa for Jingles the Elf to bring them to him. This is a kit that comes with magical paper (and a storybook explaining it all) that shrinks when you bake it (with the help of an adult) so they’re small enough for the elf to carry back to Santa. It was really neat! You can see the large letter in the first pic. Then, the shrunken versions in the 2nd and 3rd pic:

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We also played 5 Second Rule, a fun and simple game where a player has to name 3 things that fit the category in 5 seconds. This was a lot of fun!

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Next was our visit to the Christmas Market. We all hopped on the GO train, played a Christmas-themed version of the alphabet game all the way downtown and got to the market just as the sun was setting and the lights sparkled. 🙂

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On the way back to Union Station, we stopped for dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory and it was warm and cozy. Their Christmas decor was fantastic – just what we needed to warm up!

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The next day we made the next batch of cookies; these were mainly for Uncle Chris: Maple Bacon Cookies. Holy moly were they ever good!

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We made the first craft which was a 3d puzzle-like train made out of foam which was harder than it looked. On the box, they provide a suggested time to finish it (an hour I believe) and we did it in that amount of time:

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We played a bit more charades then got ready for our “Christmas by Lamplight” evening at Black Creek Village. We drove: Drove to the village and drove Uncle Chris crazy with our carol-singing in the car. 🙂 Ha! The village itself was beautifully decorated for the holidays and most of the buildings had something festive going on – see a more complete post here. In short, it was amazing. I’d go back in a heartbeat – highly recommended!!

The next day we made cinnamon-baked doughnuts. Oh my.

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Baking is hard work:

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Had Cadbury hot chocolate (best ever – all others have now been ruined):

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We had an impromptu coloring session:

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We finished up some wrapping to make sure we were all ready for the big day. We all dressed up and had a nice charcuterie, cheese, cracker and fruit dinner with cranberry orange punch (cranberry cocktail, orange juice, sparkling water, cinnamon stick and couple of cloves). I could eat it every day. 🙂  But then I’d end up looking like Santa, so, no.

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We watched a holiday movie (I lost track of which one!!) then the kids were off to bed to try to get some sleep before Santa’s arrival tomorrow morning.  We left out some cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer.

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Maddie read Twas the night Before Christmas to us. 🙂

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We managed to take a pic of the tree after Santa came 🙂

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Dec 25th – Christmas Morning!!!! Sue, Chris and I grabbed our coffees, cookies and doughnuts and the kids opened their stockings. They joined us for cookies, then tackled the gifts. 🙂  Everyone was very happy. I loved what I received from kitchen goodies from Chris (a beautiful pan, cutting boards and tools that I needed) to an awesome winter scarf and Harry Potter slippers from Sue. It was a great success!

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The girls spent most of the day playing; we took a break for lunch (leftover meats and cheeses), then we started on dinner! The adults kicked off the festivities with a bit of brandy. 🙂

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Then we watched The Sound of Music – it’s tradition! And off to bed!

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On the 26th, after having eaten a load of treats and lord knows what else, we headed out to Crawford Lake to enjoy the outdoors and hiked the boardwalk around the lake. It was a cold one but we were all bundled up and pretty much the only ones there! Even the drive up was quiet and scenic.

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We stopped for lunch at Boston Pizza on the way back home and made Christmas ornaments – we got the makings of this from Michael’s as well and these turned out great!
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We braved the cold again the following day and walked the trails near our house on our way to Starbucks to warm up. We came across a dad and his son tobogganing in the area (we heard the dad screaming from a couple of blocks away) and he asked Sienna and Maddie if they would like a ride (to spare him from having to go again teehee). The girls were super excited to have a run. 🙂

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We had fun playing follow the leader on the way back to warm up. There was hopping and jumping involved. Luckily, no video. 🙂

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And that’s it! We survived another family visit, packed as many holiday activities as we could and from what I hear, the girls are already interested in coming back to Aunt Val’s next Christmas. 🙂 A year to recover should be enough. I think.

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This morning we headed out to enjoy the fall colours and went for a hike at Rattlesnake Point. The drive there was nice and the trees were yellow, orange and red all along the way. We arrived there at 10am which was a bit later than our usual and were surprised to find a lineup of cars coming out of the park entrance. It only took a few minutes to get in.

We took the Bruce Trail path that runs alongside the yellow park trail (Buffalo Craig Trail) to avoid the crowds. It was really beautiful and it smelled like fall (as my husband romantically calls it, the smell of dead leaves…  Hmph).

It’s my favourite time of the year and love getting out and seeing all the amazing colors.

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There are a few steep climbs to have fun with…

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Cool bird – think it was a turkey vulture.

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Deeper in the park there was still a lot of green but the trail was a soft carpet of fallen leaves.

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My fave tree on the trail… 🙂

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What a beauty… 🙂

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Day 8:

We took the ferry from PEI to Caribou, NS to begin the next leg of our trip and the one I was most excited about: Cape Breton! After the ferry ride we stopped for lunch in Antigonish then continued on to Baddeck. We stayed at the Silver Dart Lodge and it was amazing, from the view to the food at the restaurant on site (McCurdy’s) – great spot to kick off our Cabot Trail adventure. We took a stroll in the town and walked along the water near the lodge prior to dinner – it’s very scenic, peaceful and relaxing.

View from our room:

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Trail near the lake:

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Reading on our deck the following morning, after breakfast and before we headed out:

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Food List Items: Seafood Fettucine (including Digby scallops, mussels, shrimp), Cape Breton desserts (apple crisp, bread pudding, oatcakes).

Day 9:

We headed onto the Cabot Trail and made several stops for photo ops at the lookouts along the way. We stopped for lunch (Main Street Restaurant & Bakery – You Gotta Eat Here), then at the visitor’s centre in Ingonish to pick up our park passes (Cape Breton Highlands National Park) and got ready for a day of hiking. The first trail was a very short (but steep!) one – the Freshwater Lake Lookout. steps almost all the way up but the view was so worth it.

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Next, we stopped at Ingonish Beach where the trailhead of the next trail was and we took pics of the beach while we were there – very pretty!

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The second trail was the Freshwater Lake trail and it was about 1.7km and flat.

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We didn’t see much wildlife here and certainly no coyotes.

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The next stop was the MIddle Head Trail. This was a trail aloong a peninsula and the views were amazing. It was about 4km all in all.

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We came across this guy – not sure what it is but it was quite large:

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Doesnt this look like a mermaid sitting down, hidden behind some leaves:

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This little guy was munching away right by the boardwalked section of the trail and wasn’t scared of us at all. Cutie:

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Another “don’t be an idiot” sign:

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We stopped for dinner then drove up to Cape North where we stayed at a B&B for the night. It was so quiet in the night up in the middle of nowhere. 🙂 It was great!

Day 10:

We had a great breakfast and met some fine folks at our B&B. We were off to an early start since our target today was the Skyline Trail, 9.2 km of trail and the chance of seeing a moose. (We didn’t see any but the trail had amazing views!). There are two options for the trail – you could take the “right” for a more rugged (and longer) trail experience, of the “left” for a gravel path (and shorter) experience to the boardwalk/steps at the end of the trail. We opted to start with the right and come back on the easy one.

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It was windy up there!! We had to remove our hats or the wind would have done it for us. 🙂 We grabbed a bench and stopped for a snack and water enjoying the view, then headed back.

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That would have been us at the top of the ridge – this is the view from below:

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Stops at Lookouts on our way to Cheticamp:

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After lunch in Cheticamp, we headed down to Inverness to stop at the Beach boardwalk which was gorgeous – on one side there was the beach and on the other, a golf course. Wow!

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Then off to Margaree Valley to the next stop at the Normaway Inn. The property is absolutely beautiful – it felt like we were at summer camp. 🙂 We had dinner reservations on site and enjoyed that and relaxed for most of the evening.

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I also loved the tech-free room – no TV, no phone, they had wi-fi and this radio (functional with a hidden cassette player in the lid).

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There was a claw foot tub in the bathroom. 🙂

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I don’t know which was funnier – knowing that the lid opened up and most “kids” wouldn’t have known that, or that we knew how to work the cassette (which most “kids” definitely wouldn’t know how to do… Hahaha 🙂

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The next morning, we took a walk around the grounds and this cat escorted us all the way and back. 🙂 Cue the animal whisperer (Chris).

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Off to Sydney for our last leg of the trip!

 

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Day 6:

We left Moncton and headed toward the Confederation bridge to make our way to PEI for the next leg of our trip. I was surprised at how long the bridge actually was! After arriving in Charlottetown, we had some lunch, then explored old town. We walked around the outside of Province House (closed for renos) then followed the path to the temporary exhibit of a reproduction at the Confederation Centre of the Arts. They also had a 20-minute movie about the Confederation which was actually quite good. After that we walked down to the waterfront and strolled along the boardwalk to shop and have some ice cream at Cows. 🙂 We checked into our Inn and had supper at another restaurant featured on the Food Network “You Gotta Eat Here” show called The Churchill Arms – they had some amazing curries! Didn’t take many pics today as it was a quiet day.

Approaching the bridge:

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Halfway there….lol

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There were lots of birds sitting on the railing and I managed to take a pic while we zoomed by – after many unsuccessful attempts. 🙂 I swear he’s mocking me (“Silly tourist…”) – you can see it in his eye!

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Day 7:

Today was one of my favourite days of the trip. We were touring the island of PEI and had several stops planned. The first was to drive up to the PEI National Park and visit the Greenwich Dunes. It was a rainy and windy day but we dressed appropriately and went for it – my research told me it would be worth it and boy, was it ever!

The trail to the dunes is varied including forest trail, a floating boardwalk (to protect the land / flora) which leads up to the best view I’ve had on a hiking trail ever – a beach! A deserted one at that. The boardwalk itself was very sturdy – at first I was nervous (I hate suspension bridges with a passion) but as soon as Chris told me it was floating on top of the water, that instantly put my mind at ease. We stopped for a bit to take pics (I literally took tons, these are the highlights) then made our way back. I was on cloud nine – how could the day get any better? It CAN – read on!!

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Forest part of the trail:

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The entry to the boardwalk part of the trail:

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Can you spot the bird in the photo below?

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Looking back once we reached the end of the boardwalk, which is at the bottom of a short hill over the dune:

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The hill to climb up is easy and very short:

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The reward is a view so stunning, pictures don’t do it justice:

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After this park, we stopped for lunch at Rick’s Fish & Chips (You Gotta Eat Here). Then we headed out for some exploring and stopped at the Great Canadian Soap Company which is a fantastic shop where they make and sell products made with goat milk. The goats are on site. It smelled heavenly as soon as you approached the door and they carried so many scents (and unscented!) – too numerous to name – soaps, lotions, bath salts, you name it. And they have an online store as well. Awesome!

We then drove around the north side of the island including Brackley Beach, North Rustico and Cavendish. We didn’t stop for any Anne of Green Gables visits (not huge fans but respect those who are). We stopped at the PEI Preserve Co and had to buy some after having a taste. Oh my.

Our final stop was for dinner at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers. We had heard good things from family members who had visited before and what is a trip to the Maritimes without a lobster supper?! I ordered the 1.5lb lobster, Chris had fish (not a shellfish person) and with all the dishes that are included with the meal (mussels, soup or chowder, bread, trio of salads (cole slaw, garden, potato) and dessert (homemade PIES!!!)), it was a dinner to remember. What a fabulous day!

Food List Items: Mussels, lobster, chowder

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Day 4:

We headed straight to the Hopewell Rocks from Halifax (too early to check into our hotel) and we scheduled our visit with the tides.

We arrived just after high tide, took some “before” pics, enjoyed the trails then returned to the “flower pot” rocks for low tide and a stroll on the ocean floor. That was really cool!!

High tide:

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Tide receding…

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Receding some more…

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Walking on the ocean floor:

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Day 5:

We had an active day planned for today which started with a hike of the Matthew’s Head trail at the Fundy National Park in the morning. It was very lush (more son than where we live near the Niagara Escarpment) and that was fun to see.  We saw grouse (type of bird) walking around the forest floor which was funny (to us) since they looked like small chickens. The views were quite nice as well.

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We stopped in town (Alma, NB) for lunch then headed to our afternoon activity – a half day kayak tour. We are beginners, have never been kayaking before. I don’t know whose great idea it was to paddle on the Bay of Fundy with the highest tides in the world (ahem…yours truly) but we had a good time and Amanda our guide was awesome! Chris and I were in a tandem kayak and never felt like we would tip over. The paddling itself is a good workout and the scenery from the perspective of the boat/water is really beautiful. We paddled through some slightly choppy water to a beach (1.5 hours) and stopped for about a half hour for some snacks and storytelling (learned about the tides, etc. – very fun and informative!) and made it back in one piece. 🙂 The trip back was much easier – we barely had to paddle. Not sure if we would do it again – perhaps on calmer waters…LOL!!

Food List Items: Lobster roll, seafood chowder

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We welcomed my sister and her two daughters for a visit this past long weekend. We had all sorts of fun activities lined up, got to catch up on their shenanigans, enjoy some summer fun and had a blast!

They arrived on Wednesday night and spent Thursday shopping in the neighborhood (I was working on Thursday). We went out for dinner at Paramount (local middle eastern food – so yummy) and watched the movie Splash. Flashbacks!!

On Friday, we had a whole day planned outside; since my husband was working, we stayed out of the house. Our first stop was a local farm we visit regularly called Andrew’s Scenic Acres to pick our own berries (we picked blueberries and raspberries), enjoy the scenery, pick up some treats at the market (can’t resist butter tarts), visit the farm animals and have some fresh berry ice cream (or frozen yogurt) – delicious! I tried the black currant this time and it was amazing.

My nieces Sienna and Maddie with their berry picking baskets:

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Maddie posing with the flowers 🙂

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Our second stop was at another local farm called Springridge Farm. We had lunch (LOVE the Ploughman’s Lunch which includes cheeses, cured meats, pickles, fruit bread with apple butter, cherry tomatoes and blueberries), then had fun in the kids’ area visiting the animals, took a wagon ride, watched the kids have a blast while we chatted. We popped into the market to shop and I ended up buying a few things (jars for the bathroom, a nice teacup, some salt water taffy and a smell-good sachet). We were not done yet! We headed over to Rattlesnake Point for a hike – we did the red trail and the yellow trail – about 4km in all. It was a gorgeous day for a hike and the girls did well on one of the more rugged trails they’ve done while visiting.

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Not quite sure where this little guy is going… 🙂 hihihi

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Pumpkin patch – will soon be teeming with pumpkins:

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On Saturday we had a group day trip planned with my sister in law and her family: We all headed up to Blue Mountain for lunch and had fun visiting the village. The kids did a scavenger hunt throughout the village and participated in a drum activity in the center square – that was fun – everyone got into it. We then headed up to the Scenic Caves (the kids were dying to go back) – it’s such a cool place. Highly recommended if you’re in the area – keep in mind a bit of agility is required to get in and out of the caves but everyone we ran into did just fine. We headed back to the village for dinner, watched the fireworks on our walk back to the car and headed home, waaay after bedtime. 🙂

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On Sunday we went to the Westfield Heritage Village in Rockton, a pioneer village with over 30 buildings and people in period dress explaining how they performed tasks in various jobs back in the day. What a great place! We took our time and visited each building, chatted with the staff who were super friendly and knowledgeable. The kids played old-fashioned games in the green space  in the centre of the village. The village was hosting their annual ice cream festival and we got to enjoy fresh pie and homemade ice cream as well. What a great day! We got back home and had a barbecue on the deck. Then we watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (as you know, the girls are huge Harry Potter fans and we hadn’t seen the last movies in the series together).

I really enjoyed learning about the different jobs and tasks around the village. My favorite parts at the village were the gardens, the cabinetmaker, the general store, the school and the outhouse. LOL

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Outhouse – the luxury of a 2-holer:

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The smokehouse:

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Since their return flight left in the afternoon on Monday (a stat holiday in Ontario), we did some shopping to pick up the new Harry Potter book at Chapters along with a few more items. We swung by Walmart as well, then back home to pick up the luggage then off to the airport!

We ate too much, walked too much, slept too little but we’ll see the gang again at Thanksgiving!

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After yesterday’s upside down weather day (a yoyo of a day with sun, rain, clouds, pouring, sun), and seeing the clear and gorgeous summer weather predicted for today, we headed over to Mount Nemo Conservation Area for a hike.

We had only gone once before and it was great, nicer than we remembered with some pretty spots to look out at the turkey vultures and the surrounding farms and landscapes. We did a bit of the yellow trail and the whole orange trail which coincides with the Bruce Trail and makes for a more challenging and interesting hike. It was relatively short – about 3km.

The terrain is varied with roots and rocks, cliffs and some steep climbs (both up and down). Lots of birds, chipmunks, a snake (Chris saw him, I was too slow and/or blind to see him), the most turkey vultures we’ve ever seen soaring along the cliffs, even a herd of cows in the distance. 🙂

Me and the view (in my Gryffindor cap):

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Chris and the view 🙂  (the sun wasn’t in a good spot..created a bit of glare/shade)

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In the faaaaar away distance, you can see a herd of cows in the field , just off to the right of the two black spots in the centre of the pic.

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With my awesome zoom, I was able to get a close up of the cows:

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Those are some huge mushrooms!

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Berries! They look so delicate…a nice pop of colour in the greenery.

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Chris ran to the top of this hill – you can see him all the way up there:

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No running for me (That’s probably why I’m still smiling):

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The beginnings of the raspberries – these were still tiny, only about a quarter inch in size:

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The chipmunk spy – I think he was more curious about us then we were of him. Cutie:

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