Monday, September 6, 2021

#MicroblogMondays: Daytripping... in the age of COVID

BIL asked dh on Friday if we'd like to go on a day trip this weekend with him & SIL to Elora, a picturesque small town known for its scenic river gorge, quarry and old limestone buildings, about an hour & a half away. We really haven't been ANYWHERE since the pandemic began, outside of the community where we live now, our old community (for medical hair appointments and cemetery visits) and to visit Older Nephew and family in their new home in a town about an hour north of us. So we said yes. 

I'd heard of Elora -- one of my friends (my college roomie) had been to stay at the Elora Mill and recommended it for a weekend getaway -- but I'd never been there, and neither had dh. SIL had been there once before a few years ago to see the gorge with her brother and his girlfriend.     

And so we headed out together late Saturday morning, with BIL driving. To get there, though, we had to battle our way through horrendous traffic on the 401 (the main highway running through southern Ontario). Now, traffic is generally always horrendous on the 401 all through the Greater Toronto Area, but other complicating factors this particular day included:  

  • (1) roadwork 
  • (2) it was a long weekend and 
  • (3) it was the Saturday of the September Labour Day long weekend -- i.e., school starts on Tuesday.  Last chance before then to cram in all the things you talked about doing with the kids all summer long...! And many of the cars we passed had boxes and luggage stacked in the back seats  -- obviously parents taking their kids to campus at one of the several universities and colleges in cities along (or at some point off) the 401 southwest of Toronto, including Hamilton, St. Catharines, Guelph, Waterloo, Kitchener, London and Windsor.  Not something that dh & I (non-parents) or BIL & SIL (grown kids -- only one of whom went to university, and that was locally) had thought about!
After (finally) turning off the 401 and heading north, we got a little lost on the country roads along the way (and on the way home again!), but we were in no real hurry and enjoyed the scenery along the way.  I knew there would likely be other daytrippers in Elora that day (as I said, Saturday, long weekend, ) -- but none of us was prepared for what awaited us...!  

First, we tried to go to the conservation area outside of town -- but the lineup of cars just waiting to turn in to the park made us decide we'd head straight into town instead. 

The closer we got to the old downtown area, though, the more people (and dogs!) and cars we encountered. Making matters worse (in some ways, anyway), the core downtown area is closed to car traffic on weekends during the summer & early fall months, from mid-June through Oct. 31. This was great from a pedestrian perspective -- especially during a pandemic (and I'm not sure whether they did this pre-COVID?) -- because it relieved sidewalk congestion and allowed for much greater social distancing. We could walk down the middle of the street and (mostly) avoid getting too close to the other tourists (only about 1/3 of whom were wearing masks)(we WERE outside -- but there WERE a lot of people...!).  

However, closing so many streets also limited the availability of already-limited parking spots, in a town built before the era of modern cars (and modern tourism). Every public parking lot we drove past was packed (none of them very big to begin with...), with other cars circling around like hungry sharks. Cars were parked on the streets for blocks and blocks and blocks around, invading residential areas (which I'm sure thrills the homeowners...!). We finally lucked into a spot in small private lot behind a privately owned building, on the fringes of the downtown area, with a young woman sitting at a picnic table by the driveway besides a sign listing prices. $10 for 2 hours. We took it. 

Elora is a very charming little town, full of quaint shops and charming cafes and restaurants (many with patios), and a scenic hiking path along the river (wear good shoes!). In some ways (certainly in terms of the crowds of tourists!), it reminded me of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a few hours to the south. We even got to peek in at a wedding party, getting their photos taken behind the gates at the mill (what a great place for a wedding!  It's changed ownership and been extensively renovated since my roommate was last there -- VERY expensive!).

I enjoyed it -- but I would have had a much better time and made much more of our visit if it wasn't for... well, you know... (COVID, the eternal spoilsport  :p). We did stop for ice cream cones at a place that had an order window facing out onto the sidewalk, but that was about it. We didn't go into any of the stores (and SIL & I usually love to browse). We did bring masks (and wear them, when we were too close to other people, even outside), but it all just seemed a little too people-y for my comfort.  

I think SIL would have liked to dine on one of the patios -- and in a more normal time, I would have been first in line with her (and there were lineups everywhere), but she didn't really press the point. If she had, I would have probably agreed to a patio, with some trepidation, but I know dh would not have been comfortable doing that. We wound up grabbing fast-food hamburgers and french fries at a drive-through on the way back home (which I know BIL prefers anyway...!) and ate them in the car in the parking lot. Not at all fancy, but we were hungry, and it was food!    

I guess we will just have to go back another time, when we are DONE with COVID...! (Preferably on a weekday! lol -- which we can do, being both childless and retired!)  
    A few photos: 

    View of the Elora Mill & Grand River from a downtown bridge.
    The property across the river is being developed by the mill's owners, 
    to include another hotel, restaurants, a public riverwalk and (of course!) condos. 
    A new bridge is also planned to connect the two properties. 

    A tourist-filled street lined with picturesque limestone buildings.
    The mill is at the end of the street on the left.
    We had ice cream from a shop in the dark building on the left.  

    The lovely old buildings were enhanced by the beautiful hanging baskets of flowers. 

    You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.


    1. Elora is absolutely beautiful! Have you been to Stratford ? StMarys? Ontario is FULL of wonderful little communities to day trip to 😊

      1. Stratford, yes, several times! St. Mary's no (not yet? lol). I agree! :)

      2. An old post about Stratford:

    2. It looks lovely. But I had to laugh - when we don't have kids (or they are grown), we sometimes forget which weekends are going to be really busy, don't we? And of course, the COVID issue. I hope you get to go back to enjoy it in a more leisurely (and safe) fashion.