a peek inside the fishbowl

Earlier this summer we visited the Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto. I wrote a bit about it right here. Before our trip I did some research online about the exhibits and ticket prices. At some point – it might have been on Facebook – someone asked the same thing I was wondering: If you could only go to one aquarium – Brockville or Toronto – which would you choose? 

One person commented saying that the aquarium in Brockville is exactly the same as Toronto so it’s best to save some coin and just to go Brockville. Now that I have been to both I can honestly say, they are not the same. At all.

Last week, the four of us had tickets to visit the Kingston Penitentiary so we decided to stop in Brockville to check out the Aquatarium and grab lunch afterwards.

The Aquatarium is in a new building called Tall Ships Landing. It’s essentially a waterfront condo complex (although in their marketing they call it a resort) and the aquarium is on the bottom floors of the condo.

Parking was easy – there’s plenty of free street parking – and there was a minimal line up to get in and pay. We were given a map, some tips about an upcoming feeding of the river otters, and we went on our way into an elevator cleverly modelled to look like a bathysphere.

Here’s where I have to confess that I had pretty high expectations after having visited the aquarium in Toronto. I wasn’t sure what to expect exactly, although I knew the focus here was supposed to be a little closer to  home. (In other words, a greater emphasis on local marine life as opposed to tropical fish.)

There is certainly enough to see and do at the Brockville Aquatarium if you’re under 10. There is a large-scale ship climber with ladders and ropes, a hands-on educational display about the power of water (read: water tables for little kids who can dabble and experiment), and of course, aquariums with local marine life and a supervised touch tank with sea creatures like crabs and mussels, among a few other things.

Brockville Aquatarium

IMG_1903

Wee crab

Other parts of the building looked unfinished or temporary. A herpetology exhibit had empty tanks, a matching game, and a few items kids can touch, like turtle shells.

The part I was most looking forward to was the river otters. There are three living in a large enclosure. We camped out here until feeding time.

IMG_2131

I expected the staff to enter the enclosure to feed the otters, but they just slid their food over a glass wall. It was nearly impossible to see, so visitors were directed to watch the live cam in the theatre, which was a few steps away. I was disappointed until the crowds dispersed after feeding time. Most people left but this is when the otters really became active and got busy playing and wrestling in the water.

I gave up trying to snap a photo because it was just a mass of brown and grey and it was more fun to watch:

Roiling mess of river otters

What else? There is a ropes course and a “drop zone” that would be of interest to kids younger than ours. There is an extra charge for these.

There were some adults walking around without children. To be honest, I was wondering what they were doing there. Ripley’s in Toronto is much better geared to older age groups. That being said, if you have younger kids you’ll surely find a way to spend a couple of hours here. Teens would find it a little dull.

This map of the inside of the Aquatarium will give you an idea of what you’ll find there. It isn’t cheap (here’s the page with admission prices), so plan to stay awhile (at least for an otter feeding) to get your money’s worth.

We left the Aquatarium eager for lunch. I had done a little bit of research beforehand and we had a place in mind. We were not to be disappointed! More on that later.

The number one question we get is in regards to car camping is THE WHERE, so I wanted to address this a bit here in case someone is considering a visit to Restoule Provincial Park in the Ontario Parks network.

Restoule is one of the smaller parks, and not very busy. We were fortunate to nab a good spot in a quiet area near the biggest beach in the campground. As per many Ontario parks campgrounds, you can rent canoes and kayaks too. We didn’t do that this year because it was windy and the water was actually quite choppy. There are a few hiking trails at Restoule. The best one is Fire Tower Trail. It’s rated as being “moderately” difficult, which is an assessment I agree with. There were hilly parts with lots of rocks and exposed roots. You need a solid pair of ankles to carry you over them all.

Storybook forest, Fire Tower Trail at Restoule

Along Fire Tower Trail

The fire tower, top of Fire Tower Trail

It was a bit of a slog in parts. But the views at the end are definitely worthwhile:

We made it to the lookout!

The trail was a mixed blessing. On one hand, it was probably the hottest day of the year, which made it especially challenging, but on the flipside, it’d been dry for weeks and there was nary a mosquito in sight. This was true for the other parts of the campground. In fact, we’ve never camped with SO FEW mosquitos in our history of family camping. We were very grateful for this miracle.

We battled with some persistent deer flies along some of the trails. If you know about deer flies you know that they buzz around your head and drive you insane as you wait for the inevitable moment they land on the back of your head and take a bite out of you. I made a good discovery this year. I brought a lightweight shawl and draped it over my head, ears, and neck. It was light enough that it didn’t create too much extra heat and added a welcome layer between me and the deer flies which I could also douse liberally in bug spray if I were so inclined. (And yes, I was inclined.)

What else did we do at Restoule? When we weren’t hiking we were all relaxing with a book or magazine. We also spent some time in the water, which was lovely. Our site was close to the big beach, which is ideal for families with small children as the water is clear and shallow, right up to the ropes.

We were here during the week in August. It was never really busy.

View of the big beach at Restoule Provincial Park

The girls went fishing. We played with sparklers and glow sticks at night. We did some stargazing. We roasted marshmallows and played cards. Basically, it was my idea of a very relaxing holiday. And when you relax, you have time to absorb your surroundings and open your eyes to things you may not normally notice:

"Got any more OJ?"

BABY FROG >

Leopard frog

Hungry Blue Jay

Chipmunk bums are cute

Sparkler fun

Would I go back to Restoule? Probably not. It’s nice enough, but personally, I don’t think it’s worth driving from Ottawa when there are more striking campgrounds closer to Ottawa. Personally, I like geographical drama and stunning hiking trails! Also, last year’s trip to Achray is pretty hard to beat. I do still love camping though, especially with my family. It sounds so cheesy to say this, but it truly gives us some time to reconnect with one another. When you’re with someone 24/7, how could it not? The daily distractions like Netflix and dates with friends and soccer practice and work and chiming phones and doorbells are all replaced with something tranquil, and so so peaceful. And it’s lovely. I am secretly planning a fall camping trip. Question is, where?

A few more camping photos have been uploaded right here.

After 13 years of car camping, we’ve pretty much nailed down our daily routine. It’s almost always the same. Wake up, eat breakfast, go for a hike, eat lunch, enjoy some beach time, eat dinner, sit around the campfire, go to bed. Of course, in between those things there are camp chores that need to be done, games of UNO to be played, etc.

I like going on a hike in the morning and spending the afternoon in R&R mode because (a) then I feel like we’ve accomplished something and that (b) we truly EARNED some lazy time and (c) it breaks up the day. What also hasn’t changed in 13 years is our approach to food. It’d be fair to assume this kale and quinoa lovin’ mamma upholds the same values when it comes to planning camp meals, but nothing could be further than the truth. To summarize: we pig out on junk. It’s pretty much the only time of year I buy sugary cereals, granola bars, hot dogs, and those little packages of crackers and spreadable cheese.

Here’s a sample menu I tapped out a few years ago. Every year’s menu is essentially the same. This year I decided to make a small change, which is easier said than done. You see, I wanted to replace our traditional camp pizzas for something that didn’t need someone to light a fire or make use of the camp stove. It also had to be something that is easily prepared AND a meal that everyone likes. And so, after some reflection, I decided it this new entry into our camp menu should be a Chicken Caesar Wrap.

Depending on what kind of person you are, there are a few different ways you can prepare a wrap of this kind, However, in my option, this is one of the best things about this recipe. It can be as easy or as fancy as you want it to be.

Method A

Chill chicken breasts in a marinade before leaving home. Grill prepared meat over a smoky open fire at the campsite. As soon as they’re cooked through, dice and toss with homemade caesar dressing, top with romaine, freshly grated parmesan cheese, fried pancetta, and wrap in flour tortillas. (Bonus points if you’ve made them yourself.) By the way, here is an EXCELLENT recipe for a grilled caesar salad.

Method B

While in frantic pre-camping prep stage at home, poach a couple of chicken breasts and store them in a plastic container. Pack in cooler. Once on site, dice chicken and toss in store bought caesar salad dressing from one of those salad kits. Divide coated chicken mixture among flour tortillas. Top with the remaining parts of the salad kit (romaine, questionable parmesan cheese, croutons) and crumbled leftover bacon from breakfast. Roll and serve.

Although I admire Method A types with all of my heart, when we’re camping we are all about METHOD B, so this is how we made our wraps. And you know what? They tasted great.

August 3 #dailylunches - chicken caesar wrap with Miss Vicky's Chips

13 Aug, 2016

Weekend reading: August 13 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

I don’t think we’ve expressly stated this, but we’ve somehow made it a mission to visit a new campground at an Ontario Provincial Parks site every summer. These are the ones we’ve been to so far:

And those posts only scratch the surface. As I re-read some of them I realized I have written MANY MANY words about our camping adventures and have covered the why/what to pack/what to eat aspects extensively, but I wanted to take a moment to write a few words about Restoule Provincial Park and our recent experience there.

We booked our site many moons ago and for some reason I had it in my head that it was a six-hour drive from Ottawa. Ha. I was wrong! It was just over four. (Yay!)

Fellow car camping families may agree that one of the most stressful parts of car camping (aside from packing up the entire car and freaking out about what you possibly forgot) is driving into a totally new site for the first time. There are so many things that can be horribly wrong at this point in the game. The site is basically The Foundation of Everything. It can be too small, too close to loud neighbours, too close to toilets, too far from the comfort station, covered in tree roots, on the banks of a mosquito-invested swamp etc etc. Ontario Parks online booking maps don’t provide nearly enough information so every year we make the Best Possible Guess, cross our fingers, and hope for the best.

Every year the routine is always the same as we enter the park.

1) Mark parks the vehicle and goes into the main gatehouse to check in. Upon return, he hands me THE NEWSPAPER MAP. Every provincial park has one and I think they publish one per season. This information is gold. Misplacing it = death.
2) Clutching the park newspaper-slash-map, I attempt to navigate us to our campsite without (a) getting us lost during the last stretch or (b) giving my husband grounds for divorce.
3) While driving down the narrow dirt roads of our campground, we count the site numbers as we near our home base for the next five nights.
4) We hold our breath, crane our necks to see our site as we sloooowly approach.

Good news: Our site was ok.

Our campsite at Restoule

On the map it had looked like our site was backing on to a forest but it really was just another campground, which was not pictured. Oh well. It was right across from a water tap (YAY) and just the right distance from toilets AND the beach. As a bonus, our site had two picnic tables, which came in quite handy.

Set-up is a breeze now that the girls are older. The eldest, especially, has an excellent tent-assembly skill that totally eludes me. She’s perfectly able to Visualize and Direct. There’s a future manager in her somewhere for sure.

On the first night, we went to bed early – 10ish – happy to be snug in our sleeping bags and with our books and magazines. Little did we know what was in store. To summarize, it was probably the worst, most disruptive sleep I’ve ever had in our 13 years of family camping.

First, we awoke with a start to the clatter of a pile of plastic dishes being knocked off the picnic table. Given the location of the tent relative to the table, this was practically next to my head. Raccoons were the culprit – as to be expected – but their messy investigation of our campsite went on for ages. The raccoon family was later joined by a fox and they had a scuffle, with resulted in much yipping, growling, and shuffling. Later we heard someone sniffing the edges of our tent. SNIFFING. Somehow, we eventually fell back asleep only to be woken by a blaring car alarm. The girls slept through it. I’m not exactly sure how this was possible because it was nearby and incredibly loud in the dead silence of our campground.

Mark and I imagined someone rolling over on their key fob in the middle of the night. And here’s the other thing: it didn’t just go off once, it went off THREE TIMES. IN A ROW.

In the early pre-dawn hour I heard odd scratching noises. I was half asleep and didn’t really think much of it because it could have been one of the girls tossing around in her sleeping bag. It was Mark who finally clued in. It was a chipmunk INSIDE our tent (!) which we were able to shepherd out without much issue. And then there was a group of shrieking blue jays: a juvenile who was begging food from the rest of his family.

Juvenile jay shrieks at parent jay: "FEED ME"

What else woke me? Oh, how about a half-empty mattress and a full bladder? When the closest facility is 250 steps away, you GO the second you think you might need to.

Suffice it to say I was a walking zombie on day one.

In the morning our neighbour stopped by to chat about that car alarm. Mark and I had been shaking our heads about That Idiot Car Alarm Family but this fellow told us that campers use their car alarms to scare away curious bears. Ha. We found out later that a bear has been wandering around our campground. So, in fact, this person was doing everyone a favour by alerting us to the presence of a bear.

Live and learn I guess. Sigh.

Camping part two, is coming up.

Patronatus

Have a great summer at Saunders Farm!


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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (17) and Sarah (15). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times, and a regular contributor to MediaSmarts.ca. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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