Monday, December 8, 2008
A Magical Celebration.
This past weekend, Rick and I were treated to a weekend in Niagara on the Lake. It was a gift from my company to celebrate my 10th anniversary here. Everything was planned from the B&B we stayed in to Tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel, and lots in between.
Getting there was the hardest part of the weekend, slogging through Friday afternoon traffic. It’s incredible to do a quick calculation in your head of the number of cars around you. Four lanes, the 68 kilometer trek, and solid cars the whole way. In fact, from Oakville to Burlington, we never went faster than 20 kph. So, we were very happy to exit the highway and make our way through Virgil and into NOTL.
Our B&B was a Georgian style home and we had the deluxe accommodation. The host and hostess, a Scottish couple named Kate and Bobby, made us feel welcome immediately and fed us the two most sumptuous breakfasts I have ever eaten. They are lifelong B&B owners and their expertise showed in their home and their hospitality. Our suite was appointed to a "t", with the perfect mix of seasonal and historic touches - plus all the modern conveniences. The house was conveniently located a block from the main street, so it was easy to come back for a rest between outings.
Friday night there was a Candlelit Stroll scheduled for 6:00. In fact, things didn’t really happen till almost 7, so those of us who are extremely punctual had very cold toes and fingers by the time things were ready to roll. However, watching the crowd and drinking in the twinkling town was a delightful way to pass the time. Eventually the MC for the evening introduced the Minister of Justice, the Lord Mayor and several other dignitaries and the lighting of the candles began.
Starting at the front of the gathering, each person turned to the person behind them and lit their candle while wishing them a Merry Christmas. Eventually, nearly 1,000 candles were lit and people began singing their way down the main street, entertained by a local choir and drum core band in full uniform.
Proceeds from the candle sales are used to support a local teen who is challenged with health issues. This year the funds were going to help retrain the companion dog of a teenager named Beth who has very special needs due to a disease whose name I can't recall and wouldn't be able to spell even if I could.
Those in attendance came from all over - the US side of the river, locals, folks from Burlington, Hamilton, Toronto, and much further afield. There were kids in sleds, lots of dogs in cozy sweaters and people bundled against the cold. We were told that this was about 3x the usual turnout, since previous years have had rain, dangerously high winds and other feats of Mother Nature that really put a damper on attendance. We were happy to be part of this larger throng.
Shops were open for the evening, allowing strollers to warm up. Every store, as every other building in town, was resplendent in Christmas finery and I certainly found myself catching the spirit. It was easy to pick up a few little gifts here and there. Some were things I’m sure I could find at home, but many were unique to the town.
Saturday, we had tickets for the Seasonal House Tour. Several historical houses were open to the public and each one had been decorated for the season by one of the businesses in town. We got to see inside some of the cottages and other historical buildings from the early 1800's. The turnout was incredible and there were line ups at nearly every place on the tour. As we walked along the residential streets, a few blocks from the main street, we realized that without the tour beckoning us, we would never have discovered all the quaint houses that fill the town. So many of them were B&Bs, nearly every one had a plaque with a name and date. And each and every house was decorated for the season.
Inside the houses, I found many delightful floral arrangements and tried to make mental notes of the clever way things were put together, since taking pictures is not permitted. Suffice to say that clove oranges and other fruit featured in many arrangements, as they would have in days of yore. One house even had pineapples (cut vertically with half on each side of the garden gate) on their garlands. I hope I can recreate some of these in years to come.
Lots of walking, shopping and gawking filled the day until it was time for high tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel. What a sumptuous affair. China and silver, crisp linen napkins. Everything that constitutes high tea, including a 3-tier server with sandwiches, scones and sweets. We somehow managed to devour them all. Between the giant breakfasts at the B&B and the tea, traditional meal time was out the window on this weekend. And I was very happy for all the walking.
No visit to NOTL would be complete without a pint at the Angel pub, so after more walking and shopping, we stopped in on our way back to our room. The Angel has long been a favourite, since it is family friendly and we took the kids there when they were much smaller. Low ceilings, friendly staff and Stella on tap made our brief stay very pleasant.
Once back in our room (called the Ernest Hemingway suite), we lit a fire and watched a charming Scottish film before tucking in to our King size 4-poster. And what a sleep after all that walking, shopping and eating. One more big breakfast on Sunday and we headed back to our real lives, inspired to put up our tree and adorn the house for the season.
I loved every minute of the weekend. I think the last time I had such a special time was in Charleston many years ago. It’s wonderful to move out of your normal rhythm and experience something new. When someone organizes a special weekend, you get to do things you might not otherwise choose. And in this instance, it was indeed a magical time.
Thanks Mike and Cyndy for a great celebration.