It’s snowing today. And it’s still only November. Sigh. Just like last year.
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
|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
|Downtown Dawson City|
|Old derelict part of Dawson city|
|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
|The “main” road to Telegraph Creek|
This tee-shirt sums it up perfectly.
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 ??
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.)
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.
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?