Sunday, November 16, 2014

Our Top 5 Tiny, Quirky Travel Destinations ... So Far

It's snowing today. And it's only November. Sigh. Just like last year. 

In 2013, we were away in Costa Rica from mid-November until early December... and we returned to snow on the ground that never left. Polar vortex was not a popular phrase around here. So this morning... as snow wafts down past the window of my den, Hubby is out chopping wood for the fireplace, and I'm sipping tea and leafing through our photo albums. And dreaming of some of the quirky places we've visited over the years. 

When we travel, like everyone else, we visit the big cities and the popular attractions that you absolutely "must see" ... but what we love best are the smaller places, sometimes the really small, quirky and unusual places. 

So I decided to share with you our top 5 quirky travel destinations. They're all small. Some are very, very small. These are the places that we've remembered, and talked about, and chuckled over for years afterward. 

#5. Bantry, County Kerry, Ireland      population 3,000

We stayed in Bantry for a week in 2011, in a tiny, stone cottage with a coal fireplace, and a bedroom loft that one reached by a miniscule iron circular staircase. The owners really should have had a "maximum width warning" on their website; anyone larger than Hubby and I would have had to sleep on the settee downstairs. 




The cottage even had a resident cat...who appeared each evening on the doorstep, wandered in, took a nap in front of the fire, then stretched and wandered out again. We called him Buddy.



While we were in Bantry, we explored the surrounding countryside. This friendly collie accompanied us on a two hour hike one day. He bounded up to us when we climbed the stile to the path, galloped alongside as we walked along the cliffs and then ran off when we climbed back over the stile. Even the animals in Ireland were friendly.



I had researched my Irish heritage before we left home, finding out that my great-great-great-grandfather emigrated from Tralee in County Kerry to Canada in 1819. To my great delight, my Sullivan "cousins" were all over the place. More of them than you could "shake a stick at" as my grandmother would have said.




#4. Coober Pedy, South Australia, Australia     population 3,500

We stayed in Coober Pedy for a brief time, in 2003, but it left a lasting impression on us. We might never have stopped there if it hadn't been for the cryptic recommendation of our friends who had visited there a few years before and just said..."You have to see it to believe it." So we turned in our rental car in Adelaide and hopped on an overnight bus that dropped us off just before dawn in Coober Pedy. And picked us up on its way to Alice Springs at the same time the next day. 

On outskirts of Coober Pedy
Coober Pedy is opal mining country. The name means "white man's burrow" in the local Aboriginal dialect. Opal mining is done with drills or "noodling" machines which create tiny open pits that are mined out and then abandoned. There are over a million and a half of these open pits in the countryside around the town. Visitors are warned not to take long walks after dark. 

Inside an opal mine
It's so hot here that most of the residents who are not aboriginal live underground. In houses like this, bored into the side of a hill. You can see the air shafts poking up through the hillside.


This house belonged to the friend of our guide. You can see that the drill is also a decorating tool... boring out shelves and even creating the colour scheme. Local legend has it that one woman had workers bore an extension for a laundry room in her home and discovered a new vein of opal. Well, that was her home paid for, and then some.



While in Coober Pedy we stayed in an underground hotel. Turning out the lights, even in the daytime, created a darkness we had never experienced before. At first we had to leave the bathroom light on because the dark was so impenetrable we felt like the walls were closing in on us. Quirky...yep. Worth the detour...definitely!

#3. Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada       population 1300

We traveled to Dawson City in 2006 in our own version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. We took the sleeper train from Toronto to Edmonton, then rented a car and traveled north to the Yukon, up the Alaska Highway to Dawson City, down into British Columbia, and thence to Calgary, Alberta, where we hopped a plane for home. 

Dawson City is one of those places that, when you see it, you can't believe it still exists, but you are so glad that it does. Dirt streets, wooden sidewalks, and remnants of its gold rush history are everywhere.

Downtown Dawson City
The original wooden houses built during the gold rush did not have basements and many tumbled down due to frost heave. But some have been reinforced to both tell the tale of their dereliction, as well as to prevent their total demise.

Old derelict part of Dawson city
This is me on the porch of  the cabin that belonged to Robert Service, the famous Scottish/Yukon poet of "The Cremation of Sam McGee" fame.

Robert Service's cabin
Not to be outdone we stayed in our own log cabin, heated with wood and lighted with coal-oil lanterns. I was heartily disappointed that it was too warm for the stove to be lit, and it never did get dark enough for the lantern. It was still light when we drifted off to sleep at  midnight. Guess I shouldn't have been surprised... this IS the land of the midnight sun. 

Our cabin on site at a working gold claim on Bonanza Creek
While we were in Dawson City we drove up the Dempster Highway for a day trip. We fished in one of the streams... me... all the while... chatting loudly... in case nearby bears didn't know we were there. Cooked a picnic lunch over our trusty camp stove.  Snapped a few pics of the amazing countryside. Then headed back to our little log home away from home.



Flowers and mountains on the Dempster Highway

#2. Telegraph Creek, British Columbia, Canada     population 250 

On the same trip in 2006 that took us to Dawson City, we made a 120 km. detour off the main highway through Northern British Columbia, to Telegraph Creek. 

This is the road. Narrow, gravel, with extreme switchbacks down 20% grades and no guard rails. We drove in dire fear of encountering the gas tanker truck that we knew made deliveries to Telegraph Creek. 

The "main" road to Telegraph Creek
This tee-shirt sums it up perfectly. 
    
      

But we really wanted to see Telegraph Creek before it was too late. Much of the town, which is built on the banks of the mighty Stikine River, is a ghost town now. The only accommodation available, Riversong Lodge, was up for sale and might close. Interestingly, the buildings of Riversong Lodge were part of the original Hudson's Bay store dating back to the 1860's. 




We stayed two nights. Taking a hair-raising two hour jet boat ride through the Stikine Gorge on the second day. And then tackling the equally nerve-racking drive out on the day after that. But... it was worth all the trouble and the white knuckles.


#1. Rievaulx, North Yorkshire, UK      population ??

In 2005 we travelled to Yorkshire England. This was the first leg of a trip that took us to most of Scotland and included several amazing days on the Orkney Islands. But Yorkshire was my favourite part. Yorkshire is the home of the Bronte sisters, and the setting for many of my favourite mystery novels including those written by Reginald Hill and Peter Robinson. Everywhere we looked were tiny villages and fields with stone walls. And the moors. Sigh. Perfect.

We stayed in the village of Boltby (pop 149.) Our hosts Diana and Simon lived in the old gamekeeper's cottage. They welcomed us warmly, recommended places we might like to see, even lending us ordinance maps because our own Michelin road map was not up to the task of deciphering the twisting network of Yorkshire roads. And they served us Marmite with our breakfast (definitely an experience not to be missed... nor to be repeated.)


Boltby
I was charmed by everything. By Simon's "jolly good" every time he spoke to us. By the taciturn lady at the amusement arcade in Whitby. By Diana's tales of her yearly visit to the "Fur and Feather" market in Thirsk. Even by the Marmite.

But my perfect day, that makes this my #1 tiny travel destination, was the day we visited Rievaulx Abbey. It had been highly recommended by Simon as much more charming and much less crowded than the better known Bolton Abbey.

We arrived too early for admittance. So we strolled down the single street of Rievaulx. The rain that had begun when we arrived in Manchester had finally stopped. The sun shone. All my romantic dreams of the English countryside seemed to be coming true.We strolled to a tiny church that had been the Gate Chapel for the abbey for centuries and still held services every other week. 


Gate Chapel at Rievaulx Abbey
Then down a hill past these two cottages. I'd never seen a thatched cottage before, in real life, I mean. A man holding a coffee cup stepped out of his back door, waved, and called a cheery good morning.


Then as we passed along a stone fence this little guy trotted over for me to pat him. "Oh my..." I gasped to Hubby..."I think I might cry." It was all that perfect.


Oh...we even visited the abbey when it opened. It was as charming and beautiful and uncrowded as Simon said it would be.


Riveaulx Abbey 
Later that day we toured Howard Castle. Beautiful, stunning, opulent... but big. And you know... we much prefer small. 

It seems to be in the small places that we have time to stroll, and to chat with the locals like Diana and Simon. Or some of my Sullivan "cousins" that we met in the pub in Bantry. Or the guy in Diamond Tooth Gerties in Dawson City who, during the show, chatted at the bar and then, at intermission, interrupted his conversation to head to the piano and play... for tips. And he was amazingly good. Sometimes we meet other visitors, like the woman from Poland we shared tea and dessert with in Telegraph Creek; she was sleeping in a tent on the river bank and had traveled there because of a documentary she had seen on Polish television. 

So that's my top 5 tiny, quirky destinations. For now, anyway. It was really hard to choose; I had to leave several places in New Zealand and Australia off the list. Like Mount Morgan in Queensland, Australia where we rented a room in the best motel ever... The Miner's Rest, or Raglan Beach in New Zealand where we stayed with two aging hippies, where the beaches were made of black sand, and we cooked local, green mussels with garlic and lemon on the barbeque.  
And...and ...and ...

Okay... enough already. The snow has stopped and I've been dreaming and writing all  morning. And most of the afternoon. It's time to go for my walk or else my plan to deal with slippage will be for naught. 




Have you traveled to any tiny, quirky places .... that you loved... and that you want to share with us?




10 comments:

  1. Great post! I love how you guys travel. Finding the little, off the beaten path places are often the best for memories. This reminded me of our car journey through the highlands of Scotland. We decided to visit Skye and just find a place to stay overnight while we were there. We ended up in Uig, population 200 and stayed in, of all places, The Uig Hotel. It was the best time...so unexpected. Our host checked us in and served us breakfast the next morning. And the scenery was amazing! Thank you for sharing your surprise journeys!

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    1. We were in Uig when we were in Scotland as well. Isn't Skye wonderful? But then I loved all of Yorkshire and Scotland. Thanks for reading.

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  2. This is how I always traveled when young. I wonder if I could get back to it now. Thank you for sharing, if I don't travel like this perhaps I will just follow along with you;).

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    1. Looking forward to your following along.

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  3. Your post and photos made my morning - thank you!

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  4. Great post, just not time to comment properly. Husband's made that trip to Telegraph Creek a few times. Glad I didn't know that's what the road looked like!

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    1. Thanks. Not sure we would want to drive that road again!

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    2. I was sure he'd been there, but no, I'm wrong. He traveled extensively throughout northern BC in his work with DFO, and I just assumed (always a mistake, right?). I suspect that when I was at home with the four kids and he was off on some boat or floating some stream or flying over some river or other, I was just "Yeah, yeah, wherever" . . . . whoops!

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  5. Leslie in OregonJuly 3, 2016 at 7:11 PM

    You and your husband sound like perfect fellow travelers for me and my husband. We enjoy the same things (with the possible exception of swimming holes, which we seek wherever we go).

    We love to explore the Wallowa Mountains of northeast Oregon, and the Wallowa Valley that stretches along their northern edge. This is an area of small towns and glorious alpine mountains and lakes that have been protected by their remoteness. (Awhile back, a developer tried to build chalet Macmansions along Wallowa Lake for rich Californians who would fly in and out, but fortunately that didn't work...there was not enough (or any) of the high life in town. Now the small town of Joseph is a haven for artists and artisans, who have revived the community after the collapse of the lumber industry. We spend a week in a wonderful old fishing "resort" along Wallowa Lake each summer and hike in (or backpack into) the Wallowa Mountains whenever we can.

    The other place I particularly enjoyed exploring (at least in retrospect) was Denmark, in 1972. Since I was flying for Pan Am, I took my parents on a 3-week drive around the Danish peninsula. My father, of Danish vintage and from a tiny town east of Edmonton, loved talking about their lives with the farmers, fishermen or other locals he found in small towns. We meandered in the countryside, staying away from large towns and cities and were entirely alone when my father let out a Viking yell on the sands of the northernmost point of Denmark. I wish I could do this quiet exploration with my parents now, when I would appreciate it so much more.

    I enjoyed this post so much. Please write about your fifth-through-tenth top tiny, quirky destinations.

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All comments, ideas, commiserations, questions, complaints... are most welcome.