September 1, 2009 – Quebec City QC
Our early morning visits to the restroom revealed beer and wine bottles lined up around the garbage cans which were overflowing and various pieces of clothing inside and outside the restrooms, it must have been quite a party!
The shuttle again drops us in town and we decide to explore the beautiful park and neighborhood that we had seen on our way into town. On our way we pass the Parliament Buildings and Tourny Fountain before entering Jardin Jeanne D’Arc. A pleasant stroll through the perennial garden leads us to the Martello Tower, one of 16 towers built by the British and valued for their ability to withstand naval artillery fire.
Battlefields Park commemorates the major battles that took place here on the Plains of Abraham between British and French forces in the 1700’s. The Plains of Abraham are recognized as one of the largest urban parks in the world and a wonderful place for a stroll, bike ride or cross country ski in the winter.
As we neared lunchtime we changed course and walked down to the river where we had spotted what we thought was a farmer’s market. Indeed, a farmer’s market we found with fresh, fresh, fresh, strawberries, corn, eggplant, tomatoes, apples, bread, a feast of freshness. We picked up a ready-made wrap and went out on the deck by the river to enjoy the sun and a bite to eat. A pathway running in front of the market is part of a bike trail system that runs all along the river. We plan to bike a portion on the other side of the river tomorrow before leaving the area.
Well provisioned we made our way back up the hill to search for a birthday card for one of the grandsons. George asked in a number of shops and received blank looks as though they had never heard of birthday cards, very strange reactions. We found nothing but post cards.
On our return to camp the shuttle driver was quite chatty as we were the only riders and he was sharing stories of his customers, the oddest request he had was from a fellow who took a City Tour and kept insisting he wanted to see beers; or at least that is what the shuttle driver thought he was saying and explained this was not a pub tour but a city tour. The gentleman had a very heavy accent and persisted in his request to see beers. Finally he made the driver understand that what he wanted to see were bears; he had heard Quebec was full of bears and I guess thought they might be included in the city tour. That was a first for our driver.
August 31, 2009 – Quebec City QC
As promised the shuttle picks us up in camp at 9:15 a.m. and drops us inside the walls of Quebec’s historic center. Our route into town takes us through a neighborhood of stately old homes with beautiful gardens set on large tracts of land. We also pass by an enormous park not far from the town center.
Today we concentrate our walking tour within the walls, beginning along an expansive promenade that runs in front of the stately Chateau Frontenac paralleling the St Lawrence River, on our left, and the old defensive wall of Quebec on the right. We climb the 365 stairs of the Promenade des Gouverneurs to reach the star-shaped Citadelle, a.k.a. the Gibraltar of America sitting on a hill above the St. Lawrence River. This is the eastern flank of Quebec’s fortifications, standing guard over the city since the mid 1800’s and still housing a military regiment headquarters.
Along the promenade we see groups of kids that look to be high school or college age dressed in what I can best describe as modified teletubbie costumes, each group of 10 or 12 appear in a different color costume. We later find these are college freshman enduring their period of humiliation or initiation as the college year begins tomorrow. We see or hear them all over town.
We wander the narrow streets of Old Quebec admiring the architecture, churches and buildings dating back to the 1700’s. The streets are lined with small outdoor cafes, stone buildings are adorned with colorful flower boxes and hanging baskets. The historic center feels very much like a small European village. Our shuttle driver explained that they have very strict historic preservation laws governing the old buildings and thus have done a beautiful job maintaining the original appearance of exteriors.
After a day of wandering we return to the promenade looking over the St Lawrence Seaway to little villages across the river and below the stonewall that encompasses the old town. I find the rooftops and chimney pots quite delightful.
Exhausted after walking all day we arrive back in camp to loud music, cheers and what at first sounds like perhaps a concert or soccer game, something that involves hoards of people. This continues on into early evening and we begin to see young people wandering into the campground to the nearby restrooms and then hear loud cheers coming from the restrooms. Curious and a little concerned about what the night holds in store I phone the office to see if they can enlighten us as to what kind of event it might be and how late it might last. We discover that it is a group of university kids celebrating the beginning of the school year, a traditional celebration. We are informed that there really isn’t anything they can do so we wait to see how late it continues, expecting the noise to go all night long. To our delight it quiets down completely by around 10 p.m. and we get a good night’s sleep.
August 30, 2009
We will leave Ontario today and enter Quebec – I forgot my French dictionary should be interesting, oui?
Refreshed after our night of indulgence and a fabulous breakfast, we are ready to face the big cities, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec. Ottawa seems to be a large but fairly compact city as TransCanada 417 leads us from city center right back out into farmland rather than making us endure miles and miles of urban sprawl. The terrain is once again flat with vast cornfields to the east of the city, mixed with tree-lined corridors and wetlands as we near the Quebec border. Large farm complexes are set far back from the highway as we are channeled through a sea of green trees and bucolic farmland; a very pleasant roadway indeed.
We brace ourselves as we near the dreaded Montreal, which has a reputation for impatient and aggressive drivers. It requires all of our attention but we manage to pass through the city in one piece; it was a stroke of luck that we arrived on a Sunday afternoon. It was not a stress-free passage but it was easier than we had anticipated. The drivers seem to follow the European style of driving, DO NOT dare to enter the far left lane unless you intend to go VERY, VERY fast, pass and then move back to the right after you have passed. They seem to be very orderly drivers, competent driving at high speeds, weaving in and out of lanes with precision. We do not fall into that category of driver and have found our comfort zone in the second lane from the left as the locals speed by us
As our destination for the next couple of days nears we admit to being a little intimidated to travel in Quebec. We heard tales of horrid drivers, unfriendly and even rude citizens who refused to speak English. Our thoughts are that it IS a French-speaking province and we should honor that choice by learning a little French, at least the pleasantries and we did. Americans can be arrogant in their attitudes and we try not to fall into that category. We are fortunate to find helpful folks whether French or English speaking. In French, a few words, a little charades and a smile was all it took. We find that courtesies are always appreciated and pay dividends.
“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson –
At the tourist office we were told of a campground about 1/2 hour out of Quebec that provides shuttle service into Quebec City and that appeals to us. We find the campground, settle in for the evening and prepare for a day in the historic old town Quebec.
August 29, 2009 – Ottawa, ON
We awake to a hard rain but get moving early and after a quick stop at the Tire Store in town we find that our new tires were not properly installed, explaining why they have losing air. This is quickly remedied and we are on our way.
The day continues to be very wet and to make it worse we hit some of the worst roads to date but perservere and make it to Ottawa for the night and treat ourselves to a night in a hotel and dinner out, what a delight, showers you don’t have to plug with quarters, unlimited hot water, a real couch and comfy chair, wifi, did I mention the shower? The mattress was divine. Nancy was actually considering seeing if we could work here for a few days just for room and board.
August 28, 2009 – Sturgeon Falls, ON
Drive, drive, drive, rain, rain, rain, gusting wind, we have spent six nights on Lake Superior and are happy to finally see another Lake . . . Lake Huron. The terrain flattens out east of Sault Ste. Marie, more farms and our first horse and buggy road sign. We have entered Amish country.
The most exciting things today were the foods we purchased, a generous quart of wild blueberries from a roadside stand and in the small town of Massey ON we stop at a farmer’s market, seduced by the table of baked goods presented by an Amish couple. Space always an issue in the van we limit ourselves to a tray of cookies and loaf of multi-grain bread yummmm!
The rain stops by early afternoon but it remains overcast. We make it to Sturgeon Falls by evening and camp along the shores of Lake Nipissing.
August 27, 2009
Drive, drive, drive, rain, rain, rain, only rest stops today.
August 26, 2009 – Pukaskwa National Park – Heron Bay ON
A bright sunny morning and a walk along the sandy beach of Prisoner’s Cove in Neys Park and are again awed by the enormity of Lake Superior and all of its scenic beauty.
We spend most of the day in the town of Marathon having all four tires replaced after a close inspection revealed they were probably not up to the long distance travel in our future; this added measure of security for the miles ahead seemed appropriate.
The Pukaskwa National Park was only a few miles out of town so we decided to camp there for the night and enjoy a late afternoon hike and a little down time. It was a good decision, the park is beautiful and hugs a rocky shore, and we camped between two coves and choose to hike the South Headland Trail from Horseshoe Bay to Hattie Cove. The trail runs along a short stretch of sandy beach before climbing the headland through forest bringing us out to a rocky outcrop. Many photo ops along the rocky headland and then we begin our descent to Hattie Cove but not before Nancy yells SNAKE as she disturbs a large brown snake sunning himself on the rocks. She stayed much closer to George on the return to camp. We are sorry not to have a few days to explore this area; it is gorgeous.
August 25, 2009 – News Provincial Park, ON
Entering Thunder Bay Lake Superior comes into view along with what we found to be a gorgeous stretch of highway, all the way south to Sault Ste. Marie.
Not far out of Thunder Bay we stopped at an overlook for our first full view of Lake Superior, it is enormous! This overlook park is a beautifully crafted and maintained memorial for Terry Fox, a young man from British Columbia who took it upon himself to raise money for cancer research after losing his right leg to cancer. What is remarkable is that he chose to do this by running across Canada with one artificial leg. He began his journey in St. Johns Newfoundland. After dipping his foot in the Atlantic Ocean he began his westward run planning to end in British Columbia, at the Pacific Ocean. He made it as far as this point in Ontario before his cancer returned and ended his short life. He touched many hearts and in the process raised 24 million dollars for cancer research. This is a touching memorial to the courage of this young man.
Leaving the Thunder Bay area we took a short detour to Ouimet Canyon, well worth the 30 km round trip. The canyon, formed about a billion years ago is 600 feet deep. The overlooks are built right on the edge permitting views down into the dramatic canyon, quite a nice spot to walk.
Back on the road we begin to see the islands that protect the North Shore of Lake Superior with its beautiful rocky shoreline interspersed with crescent sandy beaches all of it heavily treed. Beautiful views of bays and islands along the way with granite rock outcrops keep our heads swinging from right to left as we pass sweet little lakes and streams or beautiful scenic glimpses of the lake. I would add this drive to a your “must see” list. There is not a lot of development outside of Thunder Bay, but drop-dead gorgeous scenery. I can just imagine the explosion of color coming when the leaves begin to turn; regrettably we are about 3 weeks early.
It is late afternoon by now and we are ravenous so we drop off the highway in hopes of finding a quick bite in the village of Rossport. What we find is a quaint little village on the lake, a nice diversion but no lunch, just food for the soul.
Rainbow Falls Provincial Park was another worthy diversion offering a lakefront picnic area and water cascading from the lake down a rock canyon accessible by trail.
Our progress came to an abrupt halt a few miles outside the town of Terrace Bay as our rear tire deflated creating a horrid noise. FLAT TIRE.
George pulled off the highway trying to clear a curve in the road but with barely enough shoulder to get off the road let alone change the tire. Luckily we had purchased a roadside assistance plan before leaving home and after 3 attempts we finally got enough of a signal to get a call through. To maintain the signal, Nancy had to stand in one spot without turning, bending or breathing too heavily and then, to add a little drama to the situation, the cell battery was dying. The customer service rep was very understanding and rather than have me hold while she tried to find us help she said would call me back when she reached their Canadian counterpart. Within about 30 minutes help arrived and the young man had us on our way in short order.
A little rattled by our experience and road weary we steer a course for Neys Provincial Park for a little relaxation and a good night sleep.
August 24, 2009 – Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, ON
Our morning drive revealed a black bear cub wandering along the roadside, very cute, however, a few hundred yards down the road we saw mamma apparently hit by a large truck, a heartbreaking sight. In the next town as George was about to execute an illegal traffic maneuver we realized we were in the parking lot of the police station with an officer standing by his car watching us. George quickly made a course correction and we decided to stop and report the bear cub and mother in hopes that there might be a rescue center in the area. In talking to the officer I learned he shares my birthday and that while growing up he lived in Papua New Guinea where September 16 is Independence Day so there was always a grand celebration on his birthday. I thought it odd that he asked my birthdate rather than where I was from but hey, we now we can share a day of celebration. He was quite friendly and I felt much better having reported the cub and only hope that he might see another year.
The rest of the day was uneventful, more lakes and forests, a really lovely drive. We stopped for the night at Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park just outside Thunder Bay Ontario. The falls are easily accessible and quite beautiful. They are billed at “Niagara of the North”, I don’t think I would go that far but they are quite lovely.
August 23, 2009 – Hadashville, MB
After breakfast and coffee, we thought a bicycle ride might be nice. A short drive down the road led us to the Sandiland Forest Discovery Center, a nature reserve. A volunteer at the Reserve greeted George to explain the activities in the Reserve and suggested the Pine Ridge Trail as a good bike ride. Off we went turning left at the first fork in the trail following a narrow road track up and down through the trees. The first trail marker of the loop trail indicated that we were riding in the wrong direction. No problem, there is nobody around so we continued on. The ride was a bit bumpy, but we soon arrived at an overlook of the river that ran behind our campground last evening. A nice photo op. The trail became quite sandy and we walked our bikes until we found firm ground. We soon came to an open meadow and followed a narrow path through the tall grass. Down hill we entered a wetland area and slogged across a stream not once but twice, frogs scurrying out of our way. Next, with thoroughly wet feet, we followed the grass trail until we came to a clearing and found a marker pointing in the direction of our travel. Continuing on to an intersection we chose a well-worn path that led to an area with cross-country ski trail markers. Hmmm, I think we are lost. Hot and sweaty, low on water we decide to reverse our course, backtracking, another slog through the stream – sorry frogs – across the meadow until Nancy noted a turn we had missed earlier and we soon found ourselves back on the right track to the van. Dang, I had visions of being lost in the wilderness of Manitoba, awaiting rescue. We started the day with a good deal more, albeit much needed, exercise than we originally intended.
“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Back on the road, the landscape changed remarkably as we crossed into Ontario with the appearance of lakes, LOTS of lakes, moose advisories, and more mixed forests (birch, aspen, firs and spruce), we have really missed seeing trees so this was a welcome addition. Trees in this area show a stunted growth pattern suggesting a very thin soil layer, granite slabs edge the highway.
Did you know that LARGE VEHICLES TAKE MORE SPACE? We have been seeing road signs to remind us of this fact in case of momentary lapses while driving this two-lane highway.
For most of the day we are not out of sight of a lake, marsh or stream for more than a few minutes and with all of the wetlands come the bugs.
Evening finds us at batting practice, gnats, mosquitoes and flies oh my. In camp we spoke with a pleasant couple from Nova Scotia traveling back home following a visit to Vancouver B.C. They spent a good amount of time with us, answering our questions and sharing their favorites places and favorite seafood eateries in both Nova Scotia and PEI as well as some routing advice. Watch out for the traffic and drivers in Montreal they warned, suggesting 3:00 a.m. was a good time to go through the city.
August 22, 2009 – Hadashville, MB
This is our first morning of overcast skies and rain. Winds buffeted the van most of the morning with the rain stopping as we entered Manitoba. More flat lands but halfway across the province we began to see rolling hills, trees and eventually mixed forests upon entering a large forest preserve in the southeastern part of the province.
On the western side of Winnepeg and to the south we saw huge fields of sunflowers, their heads dancing in the wind.
We ended our driving day in a campground near the Ontario border, on the shore of the Whitemouth River. Lots of bugs but a quiet peaceful retreat run by a friendly couple. As George registered us Nancy spoke with the husband and learned his wife was from the Comox Valley of Vancouver Island. He was raised in Manitoba and had run guided polar bear trips out of Churchill for many years prior to moving west where he met his current wife. He hated Vancouver Island, which is hard to imagine, but for him there were just too many people and he longed to come back to Manitoba. They did move back and purchased the lovely river front property where we will relax for the evening.
Noting our bikes a fellow camper came over and told us about a local bike trail, known by locals, just a mile up the road from our campsite. He assured us we would enjoy it, time permitting.