Day tripping

Road Tripping Part 4: Some Missed Memories and Good ‘Za in North Bay, ON

I have talked about how both my husband and I were born and raised in Sudbury, Ontario on this blog. Because we are both from Sudbury, some would assume that we met there. Not to sound like When Harry Met Sally, but, “we never met…” It’s true. We actually met in North Bay, Ontario at Canadore College where we were both in the same post-diploma program in Interactive Multimedia (now a defunct program; wow, technology moves at such a rapid pace!). North Bay is a town also considered northern, and about an hour and 10 minutes east of Sudbury.  So the story goes, we became friends, and by the end of the two-semester program, we were inseparable.

North Bay holds some fond memories for me, not only because it’s where I met my husband, but because the town has a certain small-town charm not replicated anywhere else. Located off the shores of Lake Nipissing, this place has grown quite a lot from when I lived there – in population and in what is offered commercially. The hubs and I love to travel through North Bay on our way in or out of Sudbury, as there are some great shops for those seeking gaming deals, as well as some great favourite eateries that have withstood the passage of time, and are still in business today. Unfortunately, as of late, anytime we’ve been in North Bay, we have basically breezed through…not spending any longer than an hour, perhaps long enough to rush into a gaming shop or stuff our faces with a fast lunch.

Last week, while on vacation visiting our families in Sudbury, we decided to take a day and spend some time in the place where we met and fell for each other. The day happened to be my birthday, and I felt there was no other place I’d rather spend my day than in North Bay, Ontario with my beloved, shopping for games and books, and having a nice lunch at one of our favourite pizza joints.

The trip to North Bay from Sudbury is basically in a straight line through farm land on Highway 17 East. It’s a trip down memory lane, that’s for sure…the excitement of traveling to the St. Charles turn-off to go to the hub’s Nona’s cottage…my childhood memory of going to Bible Camp every summer on Dear Lake…or always joking as we pass our “Dream Home,” a boarded-up shack perched on the edge of a hill along the highway that is STILL STANDING after all these years! Those jokes never get stale, and the stories of the past never get old.

Ronnie Coffee

Having had only one cup of coffee before taking off on our jaunt, we stopped in Sturgeon Falls, a tiny blip on the map along the way, for a McDonalds McCafe coffee. Now, I have not stepped foot into a McDonalds since 2003 for any reason, but the hubs wanted to try their coffee, and I obliged since I won’t eat their food (‘fee review is forthcoming!).

Canadore campus

Our first stop in North Bay was to our old stomping ground, Canadore College. Canadore is a small, but mighty school. I met some great friends there, and was taught by one of the best profs ever, Phil Cowcill. Phil taught me all I needed to know about how a computer works, and I went in with ZERO computer knowledge (really, it was “Windows. What’s that?”). Now, as I work in computers, I attribute a lot of what I know to that guy.

At any rate, Canadore was still standing…the road to it, however, had seen better days and was under some serious reconstruction, so we didn’t spend much time on campus. Still it was nice to check the place out and see if anything had changed.

Next stop was the Hock Shop on Main St, downtown. We can often find some good stuff there. I tackled the LP selection to see if I could find any KMA Master Grail list items (it was a bust…but plenty of duplicates for the John Cougar fan…). I almost made away with CDs from the Led Zeppelin Orange boxed set (I have the cassette version), but I was missing one of the four CDs. I passed on the rest of them as they were pretty scratched up. The hubs, however, made away with a pile of some decent games!

Next, we went all the way down to the Value Village. It was a bust.

Media Madness

It was the next stop that wound up being the goldmine for a girl who likes boxed hidden object games. We came upon this place by accident. The store, called This is MEDIA MADNESS, was one of those “Stop the Car!” type of places advertising games, DVDs and toys. What? Games? Turn in here!

About two years ago, we were traveling through North Bay on our way to Deep River, Ontario and came upon a store housed in an old Blockbuster Movie store. This place advertised a media blowout with games and dvds. That place was the SHIT. A whole back wall was taken up with PC adventure games for $5 and I had to hold myself back not to buy out the store. Unfortunately, that place closed down. My source for boxed PC games was gone, and as I have expressed on here, boxed PC adventure games are getting harder and harder to find!! That said, when we came upon This is MEDIA MADNESS, I got so excited. Could this be that old Blockbuster place??

NB games

The majesty of games!

This is MEDIA MADNESS is the perfect store for anyone who likes pop culture tchotchkis and whimwhams. Need a Beavis and Butt-head lanyard? Board Games like “Simpsons Monopoly”, KISS and AC/DC merch, and some Beatles novelty drinking glasses peppered the aisles. It wasn’t until I reached the back of the store where I found the mecca of hidden object adventure PC games and for only $5! This must be the place!

My loot

My loot

It was amazing! Again, I had to pick and choose what games to buy, and tried to filter through some of what I thought might be crap games. But, surprisingly, other well-known titles were available – Torchlight, Mass Effect and Borderlands were all there, and only for a fiver! I was so happy to find this little store again.

Inside Grecos
Stoked by my latest find, I got hungry for lunch! Pizza and Caesar salad were on the menu as we hit up our old haunt, Greco’s Pizza. This place saw us as regulars when we lived in town. Not much had changed…the pizza was still delicious, with its thick crust, bubbling cheese and cornmeal base… Mmm.

Grecos Pizza

Sorry, I’m reliving that moment! The wait staff was still friendly and the decor hadn’t changed either, but all is overlooked when the food rocks!

Allison

After lunch, we took a stroll through downtown North Bay to one of the most prolific used bookstores in the north, Allison the Bookman. Back in College, I would tour its aisles for that next great read. The aisles seem to go on forever, covering books from any subject imaginable. Alas, I didn’t buy any books on this trip (maybe my commitment to the #TBR20 Challenge had something to do with it?) but it was fun to be back in one of the places I loved to spend time in.

2:30 rolled up fast, and a prior family commitment had us wrap up the trip and head back to Sudbury. Where did the time go? So it goes. Hope you enjoyed reading about our little trip. It was nice to spend some time together in North Bay again, and I look forward to our return, hopefully soon.

Road Tripping Part 3: When All Else Fails, Blame Hamilton, ON

When Hamilton, Ontario comes to mind, I often think of one of the most fun times I have ever had.

In July 1996, I took the long greyhound bus ride from my home in London, Ontario to Hamilton. I went to visit my friend from UWO, Jenn, who had left London and moved in with her boyfriend to a highrise apartment in Hamilton. Jenn and I both have birthdays in July, so the trip was to celebrate. It was during this trip we both spontaneously decided to cut off all our hair super short. Having spent years with long hair, I had just cut about six inches off into a chin-length bob two weeks prior, and I hated it. My hair is fine with a natural curl, and with London’s humid weather, it winged out into a fro. I was itching to cut it all off and start over. Jenn, forever a chameleon without fear, decided she’d buzz hers off; my sights were on a pixie cut. On top of new ‘dos, we went dancing, went shopping downtown (I bought an awesome leather jacket at a little consignment shop) and just had a great time…That was a fun trip. Great memories!

In the last couple of years though, I have gone to Hamilton only wanting to immediately leave it. When we visit the hubs’ grandmother in nearby Waterdown, Ontario, we often cut through Hamilton to take her out to eat. Every time we’ve driven through, there has been some type of serious construction or gridlock. The navigation through the town stresses me out, and I seriously feel disoriented driving there.

Hamilton is home to a gaming shop that seems to elude us – 1 Up Games. Every time we have made the attempt to drive by this store, the place is locked up tight, almost giving the impression the store is closed down. Except, I know it isn’t: 1 Up Games is often present at gaming conventions, and were even featured in one of the Game Chasers’ YouTube videos recently. What’s the deal, then? I know what it is now: Bad timing.

My husband and I had Monday, June 30 off from work. The hubs cooked a plan of taking a day trip to Hamilton with his sights on 1 Up Games. He checked the store’s website – open Mondays – why not go? I wasn’t as anxious to hop in the car and head to Hamilton…I had a nagging feeling it was going to be a wild goose chase. But, I was a little bit interested in a road adventure…so after a bit of convincing, I said okay.

A word about navigating – I blow at it. I also don’t like to drive in unfamiliar places, but it’s the lesser of two evils. The hubs is much better at figuring out a map and where to go. With that in mind, I drove, while he led us through the one-way streets of Hamilton using our TomTom GPS.

This day, we took the 401 through Toronto which can make you steely at best. Then down the 427 to the QEW. The drive is not that interesting, if a little heavy on traffic at times. Before we knew it, we reached Hamilton with little fanfare. It was when we came upon 1 Up Games that this trip started turning into a foolish game. Driving by, we noticed their storefront security bars were up.

“It looks closed down,” I said. Shit!

I offered to stop the car so we could have a closer look. We turned into a Metro parking lot and walked the short distance to the store. Sure enough, it was closed. A handwritten sign was taped to the door that said the store was closed for the Canada Day long weekend. Canada day this year fell on a Tuesday. As such, many places, including where I work decided to shut down on the Monday to make it a nice 4-day weekend. I don’t begrudge any business that wants to take time off – not at all. But would it kill these businesses to post a message on their website that they will be closed? I said to the hubs that perhaps we should have called ahead? We’ll take partial blame for driving an hour for nothing, but I can’t deny that I was irritated by this turn of events. Damn!

After that, I was itching to disappear from Hamilton; Cut and run.

The hubs said 1 Up Games has another location in Hamilton that we should check out before we leave. He suggested we do a drive-by and try to find the place. While we’re at it, let’s check to see if we can hit up a Value Village on the way. Maybe we’ll find a place to eat. He concluded with optimism, “Let’s try to turn this trip around! And if nothing works out in our favour, we’ll just blame Hamilton.”

First, we hit up a Value Village that was supposedly on the way to 1 Up Game’s other store. Value Village is situated in a strip mall that has a Harvey’s and a bookstore called the Gospel Lighthouse nearby. It was a decent-sized thrift shop, but we didn’t find anything. We continued down the road toward the other 1 Up Games, relying on the GPS – big mistake. Not only could we not find the second location, we ran out of road! The GPS kept telling us that we had reached our destination and to “turn around when possible.” We never did locate this second store, assuming it had closed down, or the GPS had brought up a phantom location as it has done in the past.

Hungry and irritated, we decided to look for a place to eat. Again, similar to our recent trip to Peterborough, our TomTom brought up every single restaurant that ever existed in Hamilton, so we figured we’d forget about using the GPS and find a spot with our own eyes instead.

I somehow drove us to a seemingly familiar location…Stoney Creek, which is a suburb of Hamilton. I was having some serious deja vu! Somehow, we found ourselves at the same location where my friend Jenn lived that summer in 1996. It was the scene of the crime – the Eastgate Square mall – where my chin-length bob got styled into a pixie. There was a huge Fortinos on the corner and apartment buildings close by – my memory snapping me back to that great event where I was brave enough to “cut it all off”.

We turned into the Square and decided to stop at the Jack Astor’s for lunch. We hadn’t eaten at Jack Astor’s in about 10 years – certainly not since leaving Barrie, Ontario – not for any reason other than our preference is more for diners and less for roadhouse-style dining which is Jack Astor’s forte. I had a chicken caesar wrap which was very tasty.

We were almost ready to hit the road home until we discovered that according to the GPS, there is another Value Village to check out! Let’s hit it up!

Following our GPS, we left Stoney Creek and headed towards this other Value Village. We drove for what seemed like forever. Then we came upon the Value Village’s side entrance. We parked the car and walked toward the store’s front entrance. Rounding the corner I felt like I had been here before – there’s a Harvey’s…the Gospel Lighthouse bookstore…Wait a second, We were just at this Value Village earlier today! I just turned around and said, “We were just here…”

Our GPS had basically led us around Hamilton in one big circle back to the same Value Village! We had come from the other direction, not knowing from the side of the building that we had been here before.

I was done at this stage.

“Can we go home now?” I asked.

Defeated, we turned the car around and headed home. Hamilton was a bust. We would later cleanse our bad luck with a trip to Peterborough, which turned out to be excellent. 1 Up Games continues to elude us. We’ll have to plan another trip to Hamilton when the planets are more in line…

 

Road Tripping Part 1: Tasty Grub and Cool Finds in Peterborough, ON

My husband and I work opposing shifts these days. We don’t see each other much during the week, so we make a point of having some fun when we do have some time together. For us this usually means taking day trips around Ontario to local gaming, hock and thrift shops to search for buried gaming treasure and other stuff.

Today’s excursion was to Peterborough, Ontario, an hour and 20 minutes northeast from our home in Stouffville, ON. We had only been to P-Dot a couple of times before, but have always had some good fortune during our past visits. Our target was a store called Chumleighs on George St in downtown Peterborough. A mainstay for the past twenty years, Chumleighs is the mecca of used games, DVDs, and CDs in the Kawarthas. (And…Added bonus is that there is a chocolatier that sells the best taffy and ice cream two doors down! Tee hee!). With our iPod full of awesome tunes and my shitty eff-up GPS in tow, we steered the car Northeast, through the hamlet of Goodwood (cue the Beavis and Butt-Head laugh), and up Highway 7A toward Peterborough.

What makes this trip a real pleasure is the scenery: open sky, rolling hills, and farmland flank either side of the two-lane roadway. Every so often, you come upon cool little hamlets with quirky stops that sell chelsea buns and runny butter tarts, Muskoka chairs or antiquities. As a seasoned Ontario car traveler, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of gas stations along the highway. If you need gas desperately on 7A, rest assured, one will be just around the bend! This is quite unlike other experiences we’ve had driving to and from our hometown of Sudbury, Ontario where Highway 69/400 literally has 4 working gas stations maximum from Sudbury to Parry Sound 2 hours away, and you DO NOT want to break down on Highway 69 (But, don’t worry: those “sweatin’ on empty” tales will be saved for another time)! We stopped at a gas station en route on the edge of Bethany, ON that also had a variety store that sold “pop, chips, lotto, and auto access.” I also noticed they sold coffee makers, while they were at it.

While my husband fueled up the car, I was charged with locating a decent joint to chow down at once we entered Peterborough as lunchtime was rolling up. This meant using our eff-up GPS, Mr. TomTom. A word about our navigation device: it’s a TomTom Via 1505 with unlimited maps, and I have hated it from DAY ONE. Although it shows you where to go decently, it has bad searching capabilities, and navigating the menus is not intuitive. The maps often hold on to outdated information even post update. In our experience, finding a restaurant using that stupid thing is a total crap shoot as it will list every restaurant that ever opened in town, and NOT according to category so you get overwhelmed with the choices and choose blindly on name alone. The search usually never ends well with TomTom, and often the GPS will direct us to an empty lot, a residential neighbourhood, an abandoned boarded up building in the ghetto, or take us around the town in a complete circle, only to end up at the SAME place, just around the back of the building (oh, yeah, I am on fire with GPS stories)!  We also don’t have a data plan with our cellphones, so more indepth study of certain places is out of the question without wifi.

Searching for restaurants in P-Town on the GPS this day was par for the course: a million choices popped up. Our first option was a restaurant called Jake’s Neighbourhood Grill in Peterborough. Sounded promising on name alone, but not sure what their deal was. We continued on our way to Peterborough with only 15 minutes to go. Our plan to go to Jake’s was shot to hell upon arrival, however, when our jerk GPS Mr. TomTom directed us to a Chapters parking lot. No Jake’s here…The closest thing to a restaurant close by was a South Asian restaurant. Jake’s is obviously CLOSED! You jerk, Mr. TomTom!!

Alright, enact plan B: We took a chance and decided to ignore the TomTom altogether and drive until we hit a damn restaurant. Thankfully, this wound up being a good thing!

Driving up and around the bend on Lansdowne St. was a big sign that said, “Mark’s Finer Diner.” A split decision was made and we turned into the restaurant that looked very much like a log cabin. A large bear carved out of wood greeted us at the entrance.

When you first step in to Mark’s, the sweet smell of lacquered wood and burgers fill your nostrils. The decor reminded me very much of a hodge podge of several restaurants, with a shabby chic cottage-type feel: Montana’s, Jack Astor’s, and Wimpy’s Diner. A lot of charming plaques filled the wall real estate, canoe paddles were used as functional bannisters and door handles – that type of decor; which made total sense considering Peterborough is the gateway to cottage country in Central Ontario.

The menu items were indeed pub-type fare – burgers, fish and chips, french onion soup and chicken pot pie. My hubs chose the Burger Royale and I went for chicken fingers and fries. Our meals were delicious! Each dish came with a side of coleslaw. My plate arrived with five decent-sized pieces of breaded chicken strips, and a nice side of fresh-cut fries. What I originally thought was a side of gravy for my fries, was actually a garlic plum sauce that was a delicious rare pairing that made me want to ask the waitress what brand they were serving. Sorry, I don’t have any food p0rn pictures of my lunch to show other than my empty plate! We left Mark’s fed and satisfied that we had found a great place to eat while in P-Town. Mark’s Finer Diner – highly recommended! Huzzah!

Chumleighs wound up being a goldmine of awesomeness. This place sells used merchandise from what I gather, and really takes the care necessary to clean and “make like new again” what they sell, at reasonable prices. I was most impressed with their table of TV DVDs! Can you believe this place had every season of ER? Impressive! The movie selection is to die for. Not to mention THE GAMES!! NES, SNES, Xbox, Xbox 360, Sega Genesis cartridges, Wii, Wii U…I could go on. The hubs is put into a trance every time we come here!

I was not seeking any gameage this day as I am up to my neck in games. So, while the hubs browsed the games, I studied Chumleighs’ wall of CDs. I don’t often buy a lot of CDs (my collection is being stored in a Rubbermaid bin at the moment) but when you come across something rare, you jump at it. This day I found one CD I had wanted from my University years, but I could never find it. That CD was the Watchmen’s first album, McLaren Furnace Room. When I read the spine I couldn’t believe my eyes, and instantly said out loud, forgetting where I was: “This CD is MINE!” Haha!

You see, I’ve been a fan of the Watchmen ever since their song Run & Hide appeared on a CD of songs packaged in my Frosh Kit, at the University of Western Ontario’s Orientation Week 1993. Oh yeah! The band toured University towns frequently, and as a result, I was able to see the Watchmen at least 4 times while in Uni. Most recently I got to catch their sold out reunion show in 2008 at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. I have recently heard they will have back-to-back shows at the Horseshoe this Sepember 18 and 19, but I can only make the Friday show which is sold out. Regardless, I was so excited to find their first album, I could barely contain my enthusiasm!

My hubs picked up several games to add to his gaming collection, and along with my find, we cashed out, happy the trip to Chumleighs was successful!

Next, we stopped at Peterborough’s version of Value Village called Talize. I never heard of such a place, but it is a thrift shop that is very similar to Value Village. We found a percolator (that when we got it home, it turned out to be broken) and I found a t-shirt. Nothing too thrilling, other than GROSS OUT WARNING GROSS OUT WARNING // when I went to pay at the cash I found a live earwig in my wallet!! I have only seen two in the house this summer season, but never in my handbag! What an odd place to find an earwig! Blech! //END OF GROSS OUT WARNING!

We headed home shortly after Talize, satisfied that today’s trip to Peterborough was enjoyable and successful, and we definitely look forward to our next road trip!