Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


Goderich exceeds expectations

I was mainly motivated by the thought of going somewhere that I hadn’t visited recently. Jean, who’d been going semi-regularly, but only for canoeing purposes, was dubious there’d be enough non-canoeing activities on tap to avoid boredom.

But, we only had a couple days off, and were not looking to fly anywhere, so options were limited. Goderich, Ontario, a small town on Lake Huron, came up the winner as our destination.

Map of Port Albert and surrounding, including Goderich

In researching, I was pleased to discovered that a number of wineries had sprung up in the area, and that’s where we headed first, for lunch at Dark Horse Estate Winery—which is actually closer to Grand Bend than Goderich. (Grand Bend is not on the above map, but it’s located between Sarnia and Bayfield.)

We knew their patio was covered, meaning we’d be fine rain or shine (although not near-tornado, which they’d experienced the day prior), but it was at any rate a beautiful day. It was also a lovely setting.

Jean on Dark Horse Winery patio, with water and wine

Jean selected a glass of their Baco Noir, while I went with a glass of Marquette, and we were both convinced we’d made the best choice—which of course means we each did. Surprisingly for Jean and less so for me, we both ordered their wood-burning oven pizza.

Me with pizza and wine on patio
Super talented pizza chef in background

We both agreed—this was one of the best pizzas we’ve ever had. The crust… My goodness.

After paying for lunch and purchasing a couple bottles of wine, we drove further up the road to the little town of Zurich, for a stop in at Schatz Winery. There’s also an Inn and Restaurant on the site, and having arrived, Jean recalled that he’d attended a work function here years before, predating the winery’s existence.

We opted to do the tasting in the vineyard instead of indoors, and while between the two of us, we had the option of tasting almost every wine they have, Jean thought tasting 8 was a bit much, so we shared a tasting of 4. I was also intrigued by this beer / coffee blend they had on offer that day, so I got that as well.

Schatz winery with four wines and a Thanks Ale Latte
Four wines and a coffee beer

We liked all of the wines, actually (keeping in mind that we prefer food-friendly wines that don’t necessarily have the big fruit “wow” factor). But based partly on price, we purchased a bottle of 1984 Frontenac Blanc, and the Rusty Petit Pearle (a red wine).

As for the beer, it was terrific! Even Jean enjoyed his sip, and he’s really not a beer guy. It was by a local brewery, and their idea was to create a beer that was reminiscent of a latte. They came darn close! I also got a couple cans of that. Thanks Ale Latte. Heh.

We then drove on and checked into our accommodation, the Dreamz Inn, just outside Goderich. It proved a perfectly serviceable place, offering good size rooms, an adequate continental breakfast, and few nice touches like fluffy bathrobes and free bottled water and chocolates. The only issue was the last morning, when a plumbing problem meant no hot water for showering! But they did give us a $50 credit for that, without us asking.

But that afternoon, we finally headed into Goderich proper before dinner time, and did some walking around the beach and downtown area. It is a pretty little town, and nicely rebuilt from the devastating tornado in 2011.

We had dinner on the patio at Part II Bistro, the best-rated restaurant in Goderich. It was quite good. I started with the pear salad, and followed with mushroom-infused sacchiette pasta. Jean had an arancini-type appetizer (a special that day) followed by the pork and broccollini ravioli. Their wine list featured wines from local wineries (not exclusively, but mainly). I had an Alton Farms rose while Jean fell in love with the Dark Horse Sinful Red.

Pork and broccollini ravioli from Part II Bistro.

The following day was lovely weather again, and we struck out for a beach walk to start the day, after breakfast.

On boardwalk of Goderich beach.

We then ventured to walk part of the recommended Tiger Dunlop Trail, including over the Menesetung Bridge. Jean had low expectations going in, but this turned out to be a beautiful walk with great views. We weren’t able to do as much of it as we would have liked, so something for next time.

View of the Goderich salt mine
Goderich salt mine in the distance
Duck in the water
View from the Menesetung Bridge

Though we considered a few other options for lunch, they were found wanting, so we did a part two at Part II Bistro. It didn’t disappoint. I had the vegetarian risotto, and Jean went with two appetizers, the escargot and the gnudi (along with his beloved red wine).

We had been planning to visit Maelstrom Winery in the afternoon, as a few people had recommended it, but it proved farther away that we thought. (I mean, 20 minutes, but that still seemed too far at the time.) So we instead visited the nearer-by 2nd Streetlight Estate Winery, whose Sauvignon Blanc I had enjoyed at lunch.

Again we were able to do outdoor seating, and this time Jean was up for trying all eight wines (sharing, so 1 oz of each per person). This was the only place where we got the personal description of each wine as it was poured, which is always a nice touch. And maybe we were just in a good mood (quite possible), but we pretty much liked everything. We didn’t buy everything, though. We were both quite impressed with the rose, Jean quite liked the sparkling Kin, and I thought the cleverly named Good Red was, indeed, a good red.

Then we had to figure out dinner. When first researching Goderich, we considered staying at the Benmiller Inn, a historic spot with a once-great reputation. But my email inquiries to them went unanswered, and the more recent online reviews were a mixed bag, so we shied away from it. Still, their posted dinner menu looked quite good—and we didn’t really want to eat at Part II Bistro a third time!

So we gave them a call, and after some debate among the staff, they agreed they could accommodate us if we arrived for an earlier dinner, like 5:30. We were amenable to that and realized, when we got there, that it was because they were also hosting a large wedding party (rehearsal dinner, not the wedding itself).

We sat outside in their really gorgeous garden setting. And you know… The food and service was just primo. Jean had an amazing bouillabaisse to start. My yellow fin tuna entree was smoky and perfectly cooked, with great sides. Jean said his roast duck was one of the best he’d had in ages. And the chocolate mousse dessert we shared… Lovely.

Salmon cakes with salad and mustard and white wine
I started with salmon cakes, which were also very well prepared
Yellowfin tuna incrusted with sesame and nest made of carrot

The Benmiller might be having its troubles and needing to rebuild, but on this night, at least, the kitchen was firing on all cylinders.

On our last day—the no hot shower day—we started with a walk originating in Point Farms Provincial Park, mainly known for its waterfall. Jean canoes these waters in spring, when the levels are really high. He was struck by how low they were in July.

Falls in Benmiller

The rest of the walk didn’t prove as interesting, though, and with the sky threatening, we decided to turn around early. We did experience some rainfall on the walk back, but it was blunted by trees. Having emerged, we decided to head home at that point, foregoing tentative plans to have lunch at Maelstrom Winery.

So that remains on the list for a future visit, along with doing more of the Tiger Dunlop Trail and its offshoots, and potentially:

  • A brewery tour (or two)
  • Visit to the Huron Historic Gaol, which is supposed to be pretty interesting
  • Hanging out on the beach (not just walking by it), maybe even swimming!


Killarney Mountain Lodge

Originally we’d been thinking about flying to Nova Scotia in August, but then noted that there wasn’t a single car available for rent in the entire province that month. (This is due to the pandemic-caused chip shortage.) Then, we considering going there in early September, but we ran into the issue that our catsitter had a similar thought, and was flying to New Brunswick. Scary Covid projections for Fall were also starting to fly about then as well, and we got a little weirded out about being reliant on airlines to get us back home.

So switched it all up and decided to just drive to Killarney Mountain Lodge for four nights.

Killarney Mountain Lodge at night
Killarney Mountain Lodge at night
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The incredible shrinking vacation

Jean hadn’t had any time off since October, and the last week of April was appearing to be the first opportunity to take some. Clearly we weren’t going to be traveling to any distant shores, but this long enough ago that we at first thought we might be able to visit some family. When doing that started to seem unwise (even despite our vaccination status), it still looked as though we could take ourselves somewhere in Ontario.

And then, given increased restrictions amidst rising case counts, we thought maybe just staying over at a local inn (that has great food, to be served in our rooms) for 2 or 3 nights could be possible.

And then, there was the stay-at-homes order amidst still-rising cases, and the inn moved to offering takeout only, and we thought, well… Time off work would still be nice. We can do day trips to hike. We can get some interesting takeout.

And then…

But I’ll get to that.

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Southern Italy

Been quiet for me on the blogging front, as we’ve been out of country. We were on a hiking tour of the Amalfi Coast of Italy, followed by a couple days in Rome. The itinerary was as follows (each number representing a day):

  1. Fly to Naples via Rome, on Alitalia.
  2. Arrive and get shuttled to Bomerano. Meet the rest of the tour group and have dinner.
  3. Hike from Bomerano to Amalfi, that has a downhill bias, involving many steps.
  4. Ascend Monte Tre Caili, a small mountain. (On foot, of course.)
  5. Visit the lost city of Pompeii, then climb Mount Vesuvius—the cause of its demise.
  6. Walk through the gorgeous Valle delle Ferrie National Park (11k).
  7. “Free day”, in which we took in a visit to Herculeum (another city lost to the Vesuvian eruption) and the lovely Ravello.
  8. “Walk of the Gods” from Bomerano to Positano, then a boat ride back.
  9. End of tour and train ride to Rome.
  10. Visit Rome (museums on this day).
  11. Continue Rome visit.
  12. Direct flight back home.

The Amalfi Coast area is here:

Amalfi Coast map

You’ll note that the area we were staying in, Bomerano (actually part of Agerola), is not even on the map. It is up away from the sea, in the mountainous area, and not easy to get to. If not for being on a tour that brought us there, I’m sure we’d never have visited on our own.

Bomerano satellite shot

Where Bomerano is—the red A

Your transportation options are either not-terribly-frequent buses from Amalfi, spending a fortune on a taxi, or attempting to drive yourself—which would practically be a death wish on these very narrow, twisty, and busy roads. (Of course, with the tour, we either had help with the bus system or an experienced driver.)

Furthermore, there ain’t a heck of a lot to do in Bomerano. It’s quite small, not many shops, no bank, no museums (that I know of), and just a few restaurants. (Oh, and all the TV channels are in Italian.)

But as a place to collapse after a day of hiking or touring or both, it was just fine. Especially since it did have Internet, which really provided enough entertainment for the amount of time we spent there not sleeping or eating the multi-course meals. (More on that later).

The weather

The tour group the previous week had the great bad luck of experiencing a full week of cold, fog, and heavy rain. On a hiking tour.

We were in the much more fortunate position of experiencing the upswing in the weather. On the first day (of activity), the fog was heavy, so instead of climbing the mountain as would normally have been the itinerary, we did the walk down to Amalfi, eventually getting below the fog. Unfortunately, of course, we had few views on the way.

View below the fog

The view below the fog

The day of the mountain climb, though, we did have a sunny morning, and therefore nice views all the way up the mountain. However, then the fog decided to come back for our descent. And at the very bottom, we got our only rain of the trip–pretty heavy at the very end. But we all enjoyed the refuge at the Crazy Burger Cafe!

The fog rolling in

The fog rolling in at the top of the mountain

At Pompeii, the weather was fantastic. On Mount Vesuvius, the fog decided to reappear, though more in a hide and seek kind of way that did allow for some views. (A bigger issue was the strikers who prevented us from walking all the way around and partly down into the volcano, but the alternate route we did instead was a lot of fun.)

Peekaboo fog at Vesuvius

The peekaboo fog at Vesuvius

The next three days were nothing but sunny, and the final day got really warm, such that we were all discarding as many clothes as was decent, and getting a great round of sunburns.

Walk of the Gods

Perfect weather on the final hike, The Walk of the Gods

Managing the physical challenges

Though we both do some exercise, it turns out we weren’t really in shape for walking down 2700 steps one day, then climbing up a small mountain the next. By the third day, we could barely negotiate the tiny stairs in the hotel, so sore were the muscles. In my case, it was both calves (from the up) and quads (from the down).

I was actually worried about managing the rest of the trip, but by day four things were much improved, and by the end, despite continued hiking on hilly terrain, the muscles were actually pretty good.

My big toes on the other hand, got extremely whiny about the constant butting up against the end of the hiking boot, and by the end were unbelievably sensitive. That made walking in Rome the first two days something of a challenge, but that too improved in the end. Well, except that my big toe nails are now kind of black.

The group

The tour group we were with, Exodus, are British, so everyone on the tour but us were from the UK or Scotland. (We got a lot of comments about how far it was for us to come. Of course, true. They had only a 2.5 hour flight!) They ranged in age from, I’m guessing, early 30s to late 60s. And most of them in their 60s were in much better shape than us, which wasn’t embarrassing at all. 🙂

The merry band of hikers

The merry band of hikers

It was a good group. Interesting people who tended to have done a lot of traveling, and who worked in all different areas. Jean was particularly great with one of the older ladies, who had hurt her knee on the first day (!), and thereafter struggled with some of the more challenging terrain. He made sure she negotiated all the paths safely. He’s sweet, my husband.

Food and wine

We had all our breakfasts and most of dinners at Hotel Due Torri, where we staying, which is fortunately somewhat renowned for its food. It was, of course, Italian cuisine all week long, but a different menu each night, typically starting with a pasta, then following with seafood or meat, then dessert.

We also got to go into the kitchen a couple times to watch the meals being put together, which was a lot of fun. That’s a lot of olive oil in that seafood linguine! And if you have a wood-burning oven at 200 degrees, your pizza cooks in about 2 minutes.

Freshly made tiramisu

Freshly made tiramisu

The wines served were regional ones, not exported to Canada (or anywhere). They were good, quite food-friendly, but not the sort you’d make a big fuss over.

We had one night out to another Bomerano restaurant, the whole group together, and they did a fantastic job there, too. Jean and I still argue over which of us had the better meal there. And in Revello, we had a splurge lunch on a gorgeous patio. In Rome, we mostly stuck with Italian food, still. It was all good, but I think most notable was the ricotta and pear ravioli in truffle sauce. Jean liked it so much when I had it at lunch that we went back to the same place for dinner, and he ordered it.

Lunch in Revello

Lunch in Revello, “the most picturesque place on earth”, as one in our group called it


I should wind up before I’m writing all night (of course I’ll be adding more to the website, later), but not before saying something about our visit to Rome.

The first day in Rome it was 28 degrees and sunny, which you may think sounds great, but Rome is humid, I had to keep somewhat covered up due to sunburn, I had the sore feet, and so it was just uncomfortable. And then there was crowds.

We had been thinking April was still low season there, but not so much–especially late April. That first day, we walked to the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps, and the Coliseum area… And everywhere was just crawling with an unbelievable number of people.

Crowded Spanish steps

We had to share the Spanish Steps with just a few other people.

So truthfully, I wasn’t really liking Rome so much on day 1 there. (And did I mention our hotel had no air conditioning?)

Fortunately, Rome improved. It started by clouding over (but no rain) and lowering the temperature (but not getting too cold), which was much better. And, we largely avoided the big sites and saw some of the less well-known yet quite interesting areas we had missed last time:

  • National Museum of Rome, with fantastic ancient sculptures
  • Museum of Modern Art, with fantastic modern sculptures and a really neat area on optical illusion art
  • The Capuchin crypt, with its artful arrangement of 4000 monk bones (web photo below)
  • A synagogue tour, where I learned just how long Roman Jews have been persecuted
  • An interesting archeological site behind the synogague, unearthing another Colosseum
  • The lively Travestere neighborhood

Capuchin Crypt

We weren’t allowed to take photos here, so this one is a find

Archeological dig behind the synagogue

The not-so-well known colosseum behind the Rome synagogue

Roman Forum

And the more famous Forum (because this is a cool shot)

So Rome ended up fine as well. Thank goodness it was a second visit.

More Amalfi coast photos:

More Rome photos:

More details (with photos): Amalfi and Rome Trip Diary