The Gateway to the North

Travel through time when you visit the gateway to the north; the beautiful community of Sault Ste Marie.

Bridge to the StatesSitting near the mouth of the St. Mary’s River, Sault Ste. Marie is a community with a rich local history steeped in the steel and shipping industries.  Opened in 1962, the three-arch Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge spans the St. Mary’s River, connecting the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

The reason why my friend and I were here: to cross one of those adventures we’d wanted to do for years off our bucket list – The Agawa Canyon Tour Train is one of the great train trips in North America.

And what is not to like about trains, the look, the feel, the smells and sounds come together in a symphony of delight.  Our anticipation was soon to be sated.  We had arrived in the Soo (as affectionately known) on Tuesday evening after a 6 hour drive through some spectacular scenery of its own from Orillia.  We had allowed a day for rest and relaxation before heading out again only this time with an engineer driving.

Algoma Canyon Park

This one-day wilderness train tour takes you 183 km north of Sault Ste. Marie, over towering trestles and along pristine northern lakes and rivers, to the Agawa Canyon created more than 1.2 billion years ago.

 

Since we did not know the Soo that well, we decided to go into town the day before the trip to suss out where the train station was in order to arrive on time (we tend to get lost a lot, I don’t know why).  After two failed attempts (one at the hands of a tourism info guide), we found the station and confirmed we were indeed booked for the next day, would we like to have our tickets so that we could avoid the line-up the next morning and just wait on the platform.  Would we?? Yes! She also told us where to park the next morning as our compartment number boarded to the right of the station.  Fantastic!  See, sometimes it pays to scout ahead.

The next morning we were up before the sun to be at the station for an 8 o’clock departure.  It was a cloudy day but we were hoping the sun would burn off the clouds once we reached the Canyon floor.  Unfortunately, the train’s departure was delayed by an hour due to an electrical problem but this did not dampen our enthusiasm and when it appeared blowing it’s whistle, the crowd cheered and we were off.

We appreciated that everyone was given a guide so we knew where we were. Also, there was an audio guide that played intermittently throughout the train, giving useful information about the sights and some history of the Soo.  A few of the highlights included spectacular vistas of Lake Superior and a thrilling ride across a train trestle bridge.

CautionSoon enough, we were at the Agawa Canyon Park. We had an hour and a half to explore. We chose to do the Lookout stairs which is somewhat not for amateurs but we did it anyways.  High-fives all around.  The view was well worth it.  As we had some time left we decided to walk to the Black Beaver Falls.  We didn’t have enough time left to go to the Bridal Falls which we passed by on the way in. We spent the rest of our time slowly making our way back to the train and taking a few photos and taking in the scenery.  And yes, the sun did come out a bit to make our day.

We heard the woot of the train whistle and knew it was time to board again. The next few hours were spent with enjoyable conversation with our fellow travellers. We met a lovely couple from Wisconsin who were retired and had been married over 50 years, no small feat I assure you. We pulled into the station tired but content from our day’s journey and having crossed off another must do off the bucket list.

As a side note:  Group of Seven Painters came to the Algoma area from 1918–1923, including Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Franz Johnston, J.E.H. MacDonald and Arthur Lismer. They rented a boxcar and outfitted it like a cabin which was shunted to sidings near choice painting locations. From there they would go along the track on foot and by canoe throughout the wilderness. Their paintings became famous, as did the area they painted.

Festivals in 2019 every month – for when you win the lottery.

  1.   Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, Dec 24, 2018 – Feb 28, 2019

    From December 24, 2018 to February 28, 2019, come experience the world’s largest ice festival in beautiful Harbin city, China


  2. On January 29th in Lerwick, the capital of Scotland’s Shetland Islands, a fire festival named Up Helly Aa will be held to mark the end of the yule season. Up Helly Aa! – that’s Scandinavian imagery, myths, sagas and a huge bonfire which takes place on the last Thursday of January every year to celebrate their Viking heritage. ‘Up’ refers to end of an event; ‘Helly’ is linked to holiday; while ‘Aa’ covers all.
    up helly aa


  3. Mardi Gras in New Orleans – Mardi Gras 2019 is on Tuesday, March 05, 2019.
    New Orleans
    Mardi Gras always lands on the Tuesday that is 47 days before Easter. It is always the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent. Carnival season refers to the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, and officially begins on January 6 every year. Although Carnival season lasts more than a month, the parties, parades and fun kick into high gear on the Thursday before Mardi Gras.


    4.  Carnival in Rio De Janeiro – March 1st – 9th, 2019
    rio
    The actual annual dates of Carnival differ and depend on the date Easter falls in that particular year, as Carnival will be 40 days before Easter. Easter is celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon in Spring.

    5.  The date of Holi is different every year in India!
    Related image
    In most of India, Holi is celebrated at the end of winter, on the day after the full moon in March each year. On the eve of Holi, large bonfires are lit to mark occasion and to burn evil spirits. This is known as Holika Dahan. In 2019, Holi is on March 20 and ends March 21st.  Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors, celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It’s fun, safe, and free. Just remember to BYOD (bring your own dye).


    6.  Coachella, California | 12th – 21st April 2019 
    Image result for coachella california 2016The first major music event in the annual festival calendar, Coachella – California’s glossy, glam, palm-tree-peppered answer to Glastonbury – returns. Expect clear skies, designer-hippie ensembles and not a squelch of mud under foot.  If you can’t get tickets for this perhaps the next one might interest you.


    7.  Songkran Water Festival – Chiang Mai, Thailand – April 13-15th, 2019
    songkran-in-bangkok2
    Stay indoors on the 13th of April – if you happen to be in Thailand. Or step out if you love water… and getting wet! For it’s a given that you won’t escape the water pistols, the water balloons and buckets of water as the Thais celebrate Songkran, the Thai New Year.


    8.  The Ottawa Tulip Festival in Ottawa, Canada is the largest tulip festival in the world and it is held every year in May.  It will be held on May 10th-20th, 2019
    Tulips
    This festival is a celebration founded on international friendship with the 1945 presentation of 100,000 tulip bulbs from Princess Juliana of the Netherlands to Ottawa, Canada’s capital, given in appreciation of the safe haven that members of Holland’s exiled royal family received during World War II in Ottawa and in recognition of the role which Canadian troops played in the liberation of the Netherlands.

    The Canadian Tulip Festival is also a celebration of the return of spring, with over a million tulips in 50 varieties blooming in public spaces across the National Capital Region. The highest concentration of tulips can be viewed in the flower beds of Commissioners Park, on the banks of Dow’s Lake, where 300,000 flowers bloom.


    9.  Glastonbury 2019, England – Worthy Farm – 26th -30th June – 2019

    Glastonbury. This five-day bonanza offers dozens of live stages, attracting almost 200,000 people every year. The event hosts the absolute best of the musical world – names like Radiohead, The Smiths, Kanye West and Beyoncé have previously played here. The event also supports upcoming acts and promotes dance, comedy, theatre, cabaret and arts.


    10.  Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, Manchester, Tennessee  June 13-16th, 2019
    Related imageThe name of the four-day music and arts festival is one of the most recognizable in the world. Founded in 2002 on a sprawling farm an hour south of Nashville, Bonnaroo has since become synonymous with positive vibes, eclectic music, 24-hour programming, camping and high fives.  Artist line-up revealed in January.


    11. Running of the Bulls, Pamplona, Spain
    pamplona
    The  Running of the Bulls is a part of the San Fermin Festival, which runs in Pamplona from July 6 to July 14 in 2019 and every year.


    12.   Edinburgh International Festival , Scotland – 2 August 2019 to 26 August 2019

    Image result for edinburgh festival 2016 imagesEvery August, the Edinburgh International Festival transforms one of the world’s most beautiful cities, presenting three exhilarating weeks of the finest creators and performers from the worlds of the arts.

    Edinburgh’s six major theatres and concert halls, a few smaller venues and often some unconventional ones too, come alive with the best music, theatre, opera and dance from around the globe.  The Royal Edinbugh Military Tattoo takes place at the same time.


    13.  La Tomatina in Spain 2019 – Wednesday, August 28th, 2019
    Image result for La Tomatina in SpainLa Tomatina is the most popular tomatoes throwing festival in the world. It is being observed in the town of Bunol, Valencia, Spain each year on the last Wednesday of August. It is a festival held purely for fun. The festival attracts a large number of tourists in the town of Bunol during the celebration.


    14.  Burning Man in Black Rock City, Nevada
    burningman

    Burning Man 2019 taking place August 25th– September 2nd, 2019 in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.  Their mission:  The Burning Man organization will bring experiences to people in grand, awe-inspiring and joyful ways that lift the human spirit, address social problems and inspire a sense of culture, community and personal engagement.  This is by no means your average festival!


    15.  Oktoberfest –  Munich, Germany
    Image result for oktoberfest 2016On Saturday, September 21st, 2019 the Schottenhamel tent is the place to be, if you want to catch the official opening ceremonies. At noon, the Mayor of Munich will have the honor of tapping the first keg of Oktoberfest beer. Runs until October 6th.


    16.  International Balloon FestivalAlbuquerque, NM -Saturday, October 5th – 13th, 2019Image result for balloon festival albuquerque new mexicoThe Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is an annual October festival that takes place in New Mexico. It was first launched in 1972 with just 13 participants. Today, more than 500 balloons take to the skies over Albuquerque each year, making the Balloon Fiesta the largest event of its kind worldwide.


    17.  Day of the Dead, Mexico is celebrated from October 31 till November 02, 2019.
    Image result for day of the dead images
    Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico, where it is a national holiday, and all banks are closed.


    18.  Christmas Markets Dates – all over Germany
     25th November to 23rd December, 2019

    Image result for christmas markets in berlin 2016 imagesThere is an air of  festivity that fills the air the end of November and continues till Christmas. Heralding the approach of the festive season, the streets are brightly lit, Christmas trees adorned with tinsel and little red bells and stars line the streets and people are out late doing their Christmas shopping. Concerts are staged, both outdoors and indoors, classical and modern. Street plays performed, musicians show off their talent and generally there is very festive and happy air around. This is when Germany is at its colourful best – white snows, green Christmas trees, red tinkling bells and families out on the streets. Come, join in the festivities!


 

Jump, go ahead and jump!

With no disrespect to Van Halen, I will recount for you my version of events oh so many years ago when I did go ahead and jump – out of an airplane extremely high above the ground.  To this day I am not sure what tempted me to proceed in this adventure where in all probability I could have been killed but let’s just say I was young and foolish and leave it at that.  The photo above was borrowed from the internet as they didn’t have cameras in my day.  Just kidding but we didn’t take shots (other than vodka) back then.

My co-conspirator in crime was my boss at the time and he was the one who suggested we go parachuting and I of course readily agreed.  The week-end came and we drove to the small airfield where like-minded individuals met us. The course began with a 3 to 5 hour training program completed in classroom.  Here, you learn everything you need to know to successfully complete a skydive, including parachute equipment, exit procedures, freefall body position (arch), canopy control and emergency protocol to jump from the plane and descend safely.

arch for jumpingThere is a little bit of listening and then some practicing where you hurl yourself spread-eagled off this tower-like structure and into a big bag of air (no, not your local politician) and then scramble up again and do it all over until we have the idea down pat.  One small problem with this being you are not falling from thousands of feet and there is no air bag upon landing, just good, old hard ground if you are lucky.

At an altitude of 4,000 feet, guided by the instructor, you exit the airplane with the static line automatically deploying your main parachute during a free fall of up to 5 seconds. You then steer your gliding canopy down into the landing field with the assistance of a ground radio instructor who transmits instructions to the radio attached to front of the harness.

Now, that particular week-end it was too windy for beginners to go up but more experienced jumpers went and we decided to stick around and watch them drifting peacefully down.  Unfortunately, this was not the case because of said wind and some of these experienced people ended up hanging from trees and being slammed into the cars in the parking lot by buffeting chutes.  Any sane individual would say okay not coming  back next week but no, we did go back.

I loved being up in a small plane watching the dwindling landscape out the open door waiting for my turn to throw myself out and the next thing I knew I was out and according to those watching kicking and scrambling to get back to the plane, not that wonderful arms and legs flung out style – more like riding an imaginary bike with legs flailing.  Once the chute opened by static line (you have to be prepared to pull the cord yourself if it doesn’t open within a certain time frame), it was spectacular, so peaceful.  As the ground approached however, I began to wonder why they weren’t contacting me by radio to assist with which line to pull left or right so I could land close to the big target on the airfield because I seemed to be drifting further afield.

I really had a sense of panic though when it looked like I was headed straight into power lines and then smack dab in the middle of the road and all of a sudden the ditch was there and it flashed through my mind I could actually die.  This happens in a matter of seconds, one thought forming in your mind being replaced before being finished by a much more pressing one and all of a sudden you hit the ground and roll like they taught you and you realize you are still in one piece except for the cut on your chin from the helmet strap when you left the plane and the sore knee from landing improperly before executing the ninja roll.  They sent out a truck to gather up the strays and discovered my radio wasn’t working so I couldn’t hear them trying to steer me in the right direction.  Then, they asked me if I wanted to go again.  Hell no!  Just get me to the nearest bar, thanks!  Not something I would do again but I am glad I did do it!  There certainly was an adrenaline rush involved, that’s for sure!  I can strike that off the bucket list!