Yes, we’ve been sleeping around again. In 2011 we ventured into unexpected extremes: from the -3 temps of the Ice Hotel in Quebec City to the +300 clime of the Siwa Oasis in Egypt. We slept on a bed of ice, in a 13th century Shali fortress and in the sand dunes of Lake Erie. This year seat sales took us to the cerulean waters of Belize, the moody grey wool skies of Prince Edward Island, rum-submerged Cuba and the gentle giant, Edmonton. Come October, after narrowing our list to St. Lucia, Newfoundland or Turks & Caicos, we ended up packing our bags and belt buckles for Texas.
These were our favourites of 2012:
1. The Belize Zoo, Belize
When my sister suggested we detour from Caye Caulker and book a night at the zoo, I was worried that it might be too schmaltzy. The website promised a riveting night in a jungle hut situated on a croc-filled pond. Would it be too Disney? I envisioned a mash-up of the Rainforest Cafe, zoo employees in faux-fur mascot outfits and neon jungle juice for breakfast. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Belize Zoo appears to have more animals living outside its cages than in. We awoke to a total riot of bird sound: hyped-up green parrots, trogans and horny chachalacas getting it on before sun up. Indeed, there were crocs (not mechanical) that ominously slid about the pond, slipping beneath the boardwalk we precariously used to reach our cabin.
The cabin was just rustic enough—but with the pleasures of a beer fridge, toilet (with seat) and shower with surprisingly hot water. Our screened-in porch offered a spoiled view of the pond sans mosquitoes. Howler monkeys carried on in the canopies nearby—making for a truly authentic jungle stay. Best yet? At 7pm we met with a zookeeper who led us around the zoo on a private, up close and personal “safari” of the zoo’s nightlife. Enticing the animals and birds of prey with raw chicken, we had the child-like thrill of close encounters with jaguars, tapirs, owls and the wild peccary. Note: Skip the peccaries. They are wild pigs that look like they are wearing high heels—spindly legs carrying typical pig bodies. But, the stench! My grandfather was a pig farmer, so I’m not averse to pig shit. The wild peccaries emit a ghastly odour as a protective mechanism that just about threatens to collapse your lungs.
2. Carless and Careless Caye Caulker, Belize
We combed “cheap beach huts in Belize” for so many nights in a row to no avail. February was booked solid, everywhere—and we were starting to question the good fortune of finding return fares for $425. Great, cheap ticket, but, we have no accommodations. On the cusp of our departure, we fielded a response from a Canadian expat who was able to offer our last choice. Near to the beach, but not on the beach proper, behind another beach hut, with an obscured ocean view (which could be gained by bending in half and angling your head just so…). It turned out to be a gem. To boot, it came with free PeeWee Herman-esque bikes. The expat’s husband (never seen in shoes, or flip flops, ever) warned us about the screaming lizards (true story: come 3am they shrill, squeak and peep like New Year’s Eve horns from the dollar store) and asked if we’d like him to deliver some beer to us. Yes, beer fairies live in Belize. He delivered a case of Belikin the next morning, on his bike.
The beach hut was a great crash pad after our gin-tastic Panty Ripper-laced afternoons at the Lazy Lizard. Post sunset-viewing (the only beacon in our day), we’d retire to our hut for catnaps. We were minutes (on foot) from the best fried chicken, fire-breathing shrimp curries and Cheez Whiz waffles. Situated off the main strip of vibrating bars and tipsy patrons, our Crazy Canuck hut offered the solitude of a private beach and dock access where we shared space with only long-legged egrets and kingfishers.
3. Queen’s Landing, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Sometimes you just have to do it grand, without waiting for an occasion or anniversary. Kim had always wanted to stay at Queen’s Landing, and rightly so. The vintage hotel is opulent, indulgent and offers a 400-thread-count sheet-sleep.
It was April, a miserable Monday of pelting rain. The normally charming town was void of pedestrians. We abandoned thoughts of popping in and out of the galleries and boutique shops to take full advantage of our posh room. That is, after we opted instead to take a free shuttle to the nearest winery, Peller Estates. Happy for visitors, the staff swarmed us and poured for us. We found a bottle to drink that night (baco noir) and a cab merlot for home. We had a soft mango-ginger cheese and a gouda to fill the gap between dusk and dinner at the haunted Angel’s Inn Pub. While we waited for our shuttle to return, a version of my mother (all genuine smiles and generosity) poured us full glasses of a cuvee to enjoy while we sat by the fire. Top marks to Peller!
Back at the hotel, we laughed at the enormity of our bed. We could sleep in any direction. We had upgraded to the honeymoon suite because, hey, why not do it right? The jet tub was like sitting inside a convertible—massive and so over-the-top.
If you want to feel a big dose of excessive and appreciated elegance, reserve a night here for red carpet treatment, robes more plush than polar bears and, by god, a turn-down service with a single rose.
4. The Norfolk Guest House, Guelph, Ontario
When Kim and I were narrowing our house search to Guelph, we wanted to get a full snapshot of the downtown core and what living there might be like. We stopped in at the Wellington Brewery (an effective way to assess the city) to buy a 6-pack of bitters, found a place serving up killer peameal bacon sandwiches and house-made kettle chips(delivered in a cast iron frypan) and later, went with our agent to check out a house on Powell that we were completely smitten with online.
The bed and breakfast was smack dab in the neighbourhood we wanted to live in. We chose the Turkish Suite in the 1867 mansion. The website promised it was “fit for a sultan.” It had a double hydro massage whirpool tub, sexy glass multi-jetted shower, heated tile floors, and again, a bed that was of fairy tale proportions.
Breakfast the following day was obscenely good with all the homey fry-up fixings and relaxed conversation over the morning paper and punchy hot coffee. Janet was the perfect Guelph ambassador and convinced us that Guelph, indeed, had to be our new hometown. (Editor’s note: our new hometown will be West Galt, near to Guelph, allowing us the pleasure to stay at the Norfolk Guest House again).
5. Captain’s Quarters, Kemah, Texas
Insert sigh and inject ultimate relaxation and pampering here. After a week in Surfside Beach in Galveston, Kim and I were reluctant to pack up for the weekend. We’d had the lazy luxury of a three bedroom house on the ocean for five days. “Our” house was reserved for the weekend, so, we were forced to move on. Thunderstorms were projected for the next few days, the aftermath of hurricane activity in the Gulf. We hoped we could beat the storm front by staying ahead of it and moving north along the coast to Kemah.
We’d never heard of Kemah before, but we had two nights before our flight out of Houston and were game for more sun and beach. Our initial poking around Kemah revealed that every B&B was sold out or, asking for $300 a night.
The Captain’s Quarters B&B close to the boardwalk was hardly a last resort. It was more along the lines of—should we? There were cheaper places. We could push on to Houston. We asked for keys to check the place out before we committed. The 5th floor widow’s walk sucked us in. The gulf side balcony with rockers pulled us in even further. A basket of fresh pastries would be delivered to our room in the morning. What did we think?
We were minutes away from the famed boardwalk which painted the night sky in a colourful eruption of lights. The amusement rides zoomed and whirled in the soundless distance. All we could hear was the breeze whipping off the bay. Hello romance!
I was all over the fresh pastries. I was already seated upstairs in the widow’s walk with Kim, a bottle of blackberry-heavy Tempranillo from Haak Winery and our nearly-finished beach books. I was even drinking coffee the next day in one of the rockers, scanning for dolphins.
It was the perfect compromise for uprooting from our private house on Surfside Beach.
And now, 2013…where will we sleep next?
St. Lucia? Iceland? The Phillipines? That cool treehouse orb in Qualicum Beach in BC? Memphis?
Stay tuned. And, in the meantime, check out the best places we slept in 2011.