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- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
The alarm went off at 2:15 and by 3:15 (having hit snooze a couple of times!) we were in a taxi to the airport. Because we want to move on earlier than our original itinerary says we have had trouble getting tickets confirmed for Quito to Miami leg of our trip. Miami to Montreal is OK and confirmed. As such we have to go on standby - a new experience for us and not one that I really want to repeat.
We were advised to get to the airport as early as possible to maximise our chance of getting seats. The taxi dropped us off at 3:30, thirty minutes before the check in hall opens. Stef's German tendencies kicked in after ten minutes. Two groups of what looked like teachers (from their uniforms) arrived and took up position by the entrance to check in. He huffed and started to grumble that it meant we were not first in the queue. We joined the queue and then were told that there were two entrances. A family of four were the only people at the other entrance so we went to join them, As you would expect, the door with the short queue was not opened for about five minutes after the door with the big queue. A full five minutes of Stef huffing!! I had checked the departures board and there were four other flights scheduled to leave before the one we wanted but even knowing this did not help to keep him calm!
Once we made it into the arrivals hall we were the first in the queue for American Airlines, by a good ten minutes. It was about another fifteen minutes before their check in desk opened. Being an American airline security was tight and Stef had his bag manually searched. Then the long wait began. We were checked in on standby for the 6:59am flight (it was now about 4:20am) but with no guarantee of seats. If that flight is full then we will be bumped to standby on the 9:40am flight. If that is full it will be the same story tomorrow.
We paid our departure taxes and went through immigration then hit the cafe for breakfast. This in itself was a shock to the senses as the place was heaving with Americans going home (one of the other flights was to Houston). Even this early in the day they were loud and obnoxious! We spent a tense couple of hours waiting to see if we would get on the flight. They boarded all passengers but there were still more than ten people left in the lounge, all on standby. We were glad we had got there early especially as we were the first to be confirmed on the flight.
Our seats were at the back and we were behind each other rather than next to each other. I spent the next five hours contemplating Stef's receding hair situation in between dozing. The back of his head is quite interesting. There are a couple of little tufty bits where I am sure the hair is growing back! His skin here is like soft leather and its a very relaxing feeling to stroke his head!
At Miami there was a noticeable change in the weather. Even in the plane you could feel a massive increase in heat and humidity. The airport terminal was not much cooler. Even thought we were only passing through we still had to go through US immigration. The main hall was packed and they did not seem to have many people on duty. My relief that we were sent through to a different room for transit customers was soon squashed. Only one desk was open and the guy behind it was probably the slowest administration person I have so far come across. A second desk opened up, equally slow, then a third and fourth. People were getting very cross and anxious that they would miss their connections.
The whole process was painful. The immigration officer who "processed" us liked to make small talk and crack jokes. Not really what you want when you are hot, tired and want to get it over with. We had our fingerprints scanned which I was not happy about as it made me feel like a criminal! Our passports were checked and stamped and we had to fill in various forms. When our hand baggage was scanned we also had to remove our shoes and put them through before walking through the metal detector in our socks.
We had a sticky wait for our connection on to Montreal. Not being the slimmest of people in the world we were both taken aback at the size of some of the people in the airport. Their systems must be working so hard to keep them going. On the flight from Quito one Ecuadorian man was refusing to sit in his seat and asking to be moved because the American woman next to him was so huge he could not get into his seat. On the first flight I had been sat next to a lady from a Christian aid organisation who sponsored children in Ecuador and ran projects to help them break the cycle of poverty. One hundred and fifty of their group had been in Ecuador over the weekend - hence the reason why the flights was so full. On the flight to Montreal I sat next to a very tanned lady who lived in the Cayman Islands. She was off to Montreal to spend them week with a friend who was coming over from Paris.
Our flight out of Miami was delayed by about thirty minutes due to bad weather. A thunderstorm was within five miles of the airport and no ground staff are allowed outside in those conditions. Our flight was uneventful. Not, as we later found out, the same story for an Air France flight to Toronto - there were problems, it broke up, set alight and created airport chaos for a while. Miraculously no one died.
|Bienvenue a Canada!|
When we collected our bags a new problem awaited us. American Airlines had managed to inflict a fair amount of damage. The bottom of Stef's was badly ripped and mine had a couple of nasty nicks too. At the airline desk we encountered our first taste of France in Canada. Their staff could not give a toss that they had trashed our bags. They were not quick in coming forward with solutions to sort the problem out - they simply said our backpacks could go into big plastic bags each time we checked them in. We had to explain a couple of times that we were traveling for another ten months and that as well as flying we would be going by bus, train, car etc so the plastic bag route was not an option. The just did not understand (or did not want to) that this was a problem for us. After being referred to as "her" a few times my patience was wearing thin. They were just so rude and dismissive. Finally they gave us the details of a company we could go to to get the bags repaired, American Airlines will pick up the tab. I think it was only our persistence that got that result. At least we had our bags. A fair number of people from our flight were complaining about lost luggage. American Airlines were equally rude and dismissive of them.
Not knowing if we would get to Montreal today we had not booked a hotel. We went to tourist information at the airport who gave us a brochure with hotel listings but they were too busy to help us with bookings, presumably due to the knock on effect of flights being transferred from Toronto. By this time it was about 7:00pm local time and we were both tired and tetchy. We plumped for a safe if pricey option (Days Inn on Rene Levesque) and took a taxi downtown.
We checked in, dumped bags and headed out for food. As we were on the corner of China Town we went for a Chinese. Days Inn + Chinese was also how we spent our first night in South America. It was really tasty food - hot and spicy soup, prawns, chicken sort of deep fried in batter with a sauce that was a cross between sweet and sour and barbecue, and lots of jasmine tea. It well and truly hit the spot and helped us to nod off quickly when we got back to our room.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
|The underground city, goes on and on...|
Having yesterday had such a long day and a comparatively late night we had a slow start this morning and did not make it out of the hotel until around midday. We had switched rooms to get a cheaper rate - not a bad deal because our second room, although not as newly furnished, was actually better.
Our first task today was to take our backpacks to be fixed. The shop was outside of the centre and $15 in a cab - no hint from American Airlines that they would cover our costs and expenses as well as the repair costs! The shop do repairs for all airlines. American Airlines have a reputation for wanting repairs rather than replacement. Whilst not happy that it was needed, if replacement was required we would want like for like, tricky as Macpac do not have retail outlets in Canada. The man in the shop was quite empathetic and not particularly warm to American Airlines, or any of the others for that matter!
We then headed into the centre of Montreal and made our way to the main Tourist Information office. At the metro we bought a three day tube/bus ticket. Stef asked them man at the counter if they sold them and was told "yes". It was pretty obvious that we wanted to buy them but we had to separately ask them for the tickets!! It was incredibly hot (the hottest summer for fifty years), not as humid as when we arrived yesterday but still sticky. At tourist info we wanted to check the best options for traveling around and seeing New Brunswick and Newfoundland. Here though they only have information on Quebec. There is no central tourist office covering the whole country. They referred us to the Canadian AA who were very apologetic and a bit cross with Tourist Information as they only provide support for their own members. It seems that Tourist Information send a fair number of people in the direction of the CAA.
When we left Tourist Info we were laden down with lots of booklets for each of the different provinces within Quebec. It was definitely a case of information overload but we had not really got answers to the main questions we had. We stopped off at a cafe to cool down and refresh before heading into the world of the underground city
In practice this is not as exotic as it sounds. Winters here get pretty cold so the shopping centres, offices etc in the main downtown area are all connected by underground passages. For local Montreal people this is nothing special. For us it was quite good fun to see. We started in the Eaton Centre where a camera shop sold Stef bits to keep his lens caps attached to the lenses of his camera - not more hunting around many pockets to see which one he put the lens cap in (never the same one!!). He also bought a tripod - pretty light and versatile but its yet more stuff to cart around.
We both them went for a much needed haircut. It is a long time since we had a hair cut at the same time and place. Must be Crowns on Western Road in Brighton, just around the corner from our flat in Brunswick Place. I had an Algerian who only spoke French. Stef had a Mexican fluent in French and English as well as Spanish. I still do not understand why they did not swap so that the language barriers were eased. With a bit of gesticulating and the odd interpretation from the Mexican lady I ended up with a better cut than I get at home. I was surprised as the lad cutting my hair kept making really interesting faces as she was concentrating and seemed to keep going to back to the same bit of my head to cut more off. I had fully expected a disaster. I did miss the orgasmatron (head massager - see www.boysstuff.co.uk) that they use at Sean Hanna's in Croydon.
After the coiffure we worked our way back underground to our hotel. We had been told it would take about two hours to walk back, and after an hour we finally believed it. The underground is quite amazing. There are huge food halls with delicatessens, smart galleries with posh shops and everywhere links to get you back above ground. Its a real rabbit warren and despite having a map e still have to ask for directions.
By the time we got back to our hotel it was past 7:00pm and we were both very ot and tired. We chilled out for a while before heading to the old town for dinner. It was still really hot and sticky at 9:00pm. At night the old town is lit up and it was beautiful to see. The buildings are very European and the whole area had a relaxed air of people out enjoying themselves. All the bars and restaurants had outside terraces, there were street performers, pavement portrait artists and horse carriage rides all laid on. It was like being in a mix of London and Paris but with one main difference - no big groups of drunken people shouting and screaming everywhere.
We had a tasty meal but not cheap by the South American standards we are now used to. The hotels here are also a bit pricey and Stef has now spent the best part of twenty four hours complaining about how expensive it is. It did not stop him for ordering the most expensive meal on the menu though!
It is strange walking around the north American continent and hearing French. It is a shame that over the generations the Canadians have not managed to lose the arrogance and rudeness of their French ancestors. Pretty much everyone we have spoken to has started off with a haughty air. It takes them a long time, sometimes never, to let a friendly side show through.
There are a lot of familiar brand names here, again something we have not been used to. Most have been left in their origin al state but some, most notably Kentucky Fried Chicken, are translated into French. Poulet frit de Kentucky just does not quite sound the same.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
|I'm the daddy!|
In 1976 Montreal hosted the Olympics. The stadium is in one of the suburbs to the east of town and is now open for visits from the public. There is loads to see and do on the site. We were there for most of the day and I would still go back again given the chance.
Our first stop was the Biodome. For the Olympics this was the velodrome but it has now been turned into a mini zoo with different climates. The queues were pretty large so when we were told there was another cash desk downstairs we whizzed down to find a shorter queue. There were different tickets options so you could buy a combined ticket to see several parts of the site. It was not a difficult choice to make but a French speaking family held the queue up for about fifteen minutes while they considered options. Stef started to boil and went to ask if there was anything they could do to speed up the process or serve others while this family were still deciding. There was not. Five minutes later when the next group were being equally slow he stormed off with a "I am going to punch the guy serving if he does not speed up" comment.
I got our tickets (speaking English not French as a token gesture of irritation) and we went in. The first zone was Tropical and it was hot and humid like the coast of Ecuador. They had capybara's, animals a bit like guinea pigs but the size of a sheep. When we stayed at Yacutinga Lodge in Argentina in 2001 they were just starting to bread capybara's so this was our first sight of them fully grown. There were two little monkeys, a syrupy brown colour and comical to watch. They moved pretty quickly and we failed to get good photos. The caiman, like an alligator, was hard to spot but we made out its scaley beak and eyes sticking up out of the mud. Sauntering along the beams across the ceiling a sloth lived up to its name, they really do move pretty slowly. They also had big parrots here and a collection of tropical fish.
Leaving here and walking into the Laurentian zone the temperature and humidity dropped down to pleasant levels. There were tow otters, one hiding under a tree stump, the other flat on its back asleep in a little cubby hole where you could watch him. His fur was really sleek and shiny and even asleep he looked really graceful. A bit further on was a beaver dam, no beavers in sight and I am not sure how much of the dam was beaver made. Next up was a lynx enclosure. One was just watching the world go by. The other was continually pacing up and down. They were unusual, feline heads attached to almost canine bodies.
|Inhabitant of the Japanese Garden|
The next zone was all about the water. There was a rock pool with huge starfish, anenomes and a crab (the only one I saw). The star fish came in different types, some pink, some orange, some better camouflaged against the rocks. Some of them had their "fingers" curled around to make a swirling pattern, I have normally only seen them extended. The anenomes were also unusual. There were the usual spiky ball shaped ones but also tubular ones with frilly tops (you can tell I will never make it as a nature reporter!!). They had a small area where kids could reach in to touch them. Also in this part they had a huge tank with fish - Atlantic salmon, skate, dogfish to name a few. Birds occasionally dived in for food. It was funny seeing them flap their wings under water to help propel them along and they made a good three to four metres below the surface of the water.
The fishy theme continued through to the arctic section where they had more big fish. The main attraction here though was the penguins. They have a couple of different species, some small, others larger like the Emperor Penguins. They were really funny to watch especially when they walk. They do not have a very long stride and to go up and down the slight slopes in the enclosure it was a bit of a shuffle and hop. When they were preening they would occasionally inflate their lungs and ruffle their fur (feathers?) so they blew up like big fur balls. Ungainly on the land, they would suddenly flop into the water and with a slight flick gracefully swim away.
After the Biodome we went across to the main stadium to go up the observation tower. A little funicular takes you up to the top from where you can get great views cross the whole of Montreal. It was pretty hazy when we were up there but you could still see for miles. The St Lawrence River makes the Thames look like a little stream.
After the tower, and an argument about which was to go (the heat was getting to us by this stage) we headed to the insectarium, part of the Botanical Gardens next door, There they had the biggest collection of dead bugs I think I have ever seen. They had beetles ranging in size from a grain of rice to the size of a flattened tennis ball. Some of them were a beautiful metallic greeny blue colour and were used by the indigenous peoples to make jewellery. They had butterflies, big hairy spiders, ants nests and a beehive that was dripping with honey. Around the insectarium teenagers were giving demonstrations of the techniques used to preserve and display the exhibits.
With the rest of the botanical gardens still to explore we opted to take the little "train" around the edge of the gardens hopping off where we wanted to be. Its a big site, the second largest botanical gardens in the world (I think Kew in London is the biggest). A fair chunk of the space is planted with different tree species providing a cool and shady area to while away some time. We stopped for a while by a lake in the middle of the gardens and watched a duck struggling to eat a fish it had caught.
Footsore and tired we cherry picked the last bits we saw. The First Nations garden represented the original Indian "settlers" of Canada. It had a small trail leading through a wood full of different types of plants. The names, which I cannot remember, were pretty entertaining and I suspect were made up after a tot or two of the local moonshine.
The Japanese garden was perfectly manicured and was focused around a large pond with water tumbling down a rockery into it. The water was an unusual shade of blue and looked like it had been dyed. A couple of bridges crossed the pond and provided great spots to watch the collection of carp. There fish must have been 30cm long, some white and orange, others golden. The bridges were either humped or in a zig zag lines. Evil spirits only travel in straight lines so it prevents the crossing the water There was a small pavilion giving an explanation about saké and how it was originally just a ceremonial drink. Cold samples were available to taste and I enjoyed it more this was than warm as I have had it in London. In a courtyard at the back they also had a small bonsai collection. A few were sixty five years old, the oldest was one hundred and ten. In front of the pavilion was a Hiroshima Bell. This was donated to mark friendship between Canada and Japan and is one of fifteen around the world. They are all modelled on a bell in Hiroshima that is chimed each year on 6th August by two survivors of, or descendents of, in remembrance of the nuclear bomb dropped in World War two.
From here we went to the Chinese garden where again water is dominant. They had a pavilion with a brief explanation of the process of growing and refining rice. A lady was playing music on a traditional instrument, the size of a violin but held like a cello. It seemed to only have two strings but she reached a wide range of notes.
We did not do this garden justice because we were too knackered by this time. That also meant that we missed all of the main greenhouses and the exhibition gardens. If I get chance I would like to go back to see them.
Stef called to check that our bags had been repaired and were ready to be picked up. We hopped on the bus, packed full of commuters on their way home from work. Mine looks OK. Stef's has a new panel across the bottom covering the tears. Time will tell if they will hold out.
In the evening we headed up to Avenue Duluth to a Portuguese place for dinner. This was a new part of town for us to see and it was reminiscent of Chalk Farm and Camden Town in London. Quiet streets with three or four storey houses with steps leading up to the front doors. There was the odd corner shop and a few restaurants dotted around. Considering how close it was to the main Rue St Denis and Boulevard Saint Laurent it was surprisingly peaceful.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
If we can, we want to travel across Canada in a motor-home. It should be relatively cheap and will give us more flexibility for places to go. The only problem is that being high season, they are all fully booked and we cannot find one available to rent.
Our fall back option is to buy one in Montreal and sell it again when we get to Vancouver. We found what looks like a reputable place to go through and headed out. It is in Châteauguay, outside of Montreal. We had to the take the tube to the end of the line, Angringon, and then get a bus. We had no idea where to get off the bus and asked the driver. He did not seem to have a clue either and it was only because we spotted the dealership ourselves that we got off! The choice of twelve we had been told about on the phone was actually a choice of seven. Most of them were very old and beaten up inside. Not being motor mechanics we wanted to be sure that we got something reliable, in reasonably good nick and something that we would not lose too much money on when we come to sell it again.
|It's my birthday (in two days) and I would really, really like a little motorhome|
Having ruled out all but one of the second hand ones they showed us a nearly new. Its a 2004 model, has done less than 40,000km and is still covered by the manufacturers warranty. Its got a flushing loo, stand up shower, fridge, hob, microwave, flat screen TV and video. The only downside is that the bed will be a bit on the short side! We have been assured that getting the registration and insurance sorted will be easy so we just need to get the finances sorted. We have paid a deposit (refundable if we cannot buy) to secure it as ours and hopefully it will pick it up next week. It is an automatic so it is really easy to drive and is about the size of a Ford Transit van - a bit cosy!
We headed back into town via bus and tube, getting our second hairy female experience on the way. The first was hairy armpits of the German ladies on our boat for the whale watching in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador. Today's was courtesy of a trendy young lady in hipster jeans. They were so low cut that not only her knickers but also her pubes were on public display!!
By the time we got back to our hotel my cautious side had kicked in and I spent some time sense checking whether we were getting a good deal for our money. This did not go down well with Stef who was in "its Friday night" mode and was itching to go out and about. He had looked in the local What's On guide and the Ballet of Canada were giving a free performance in Parc La Fontaine, a little way away. We grabbed a cab and joined the queue to get in. It was a bit like queuing around the Serpentine in Kensington Gardens and the ducks on the lake kept us entertained with their quacking (through the performance too). By the time the gates opened loads more people had joined the queue so we were probably only half way along the queue.
The park has a small auditorium with a covered stage. There are metal benches to sit on. We were both glad we had bought a towel expecting to be on the floor but they served well as cushions. Luckily we spotted space in the middle towards the back and we had views straight on to the front of the stage.
The performance was electrifying. The first piece, Toot, had been choreographed especially for the company (about twenty four dancers) and was set top music by Shostakovich. The discordant and syncopated rhythms were mirrored on stage in a mix of classical ballet, acrobatics, street mime performance and modern dance. The set was very simple just using a few curved benches that the dancers moved around to create different props. It was unusual, complex, graceful, quirky, funny and totally captivating. Very different to classical ballets I have seen in the UK, I would rate this alongside Sadlers Wells and English National Ballet. The audience was engaged and involved and even late night strollers in the park joined in.
There was a short interval to change the stage and the dancers costumes. As an open auditorium we could see the set change, itself interesting to watch. The second piece was set to Stravinsky and was a very symmetrical dance. In Toot, all the dancers were in white costumes. For this one the men were in black and the ladies in white. The dance was very structured, following straight line or grid patterns.
In both dances the choreography wove clever patterns so that as your eyes followed the dancers around and off the stage more were in place to continue the rhythm and the dance. We were not allowed to take photos and my description in no way does justice to the mastery of the performance. I am sure it would not be the same on DVD but I would go back and see this again given the chance.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
Stef has had enough of Montréal so we are heading out east to see some of the surrounding countryside and lakes while we sort out the motor-home. The day did not start well though. The car Avis had available first thing had gone by the time we were ready to book so we spent a while hunting around for car rental, finally finding one at the airport. By this time Stef was well and truly in GOM (Grumpy Old Man) mode! Again!!!
We picked up the car (he grumped again because there was only one person at the office and they were serving someone else so he had to wait) and headed out onto the streets of Montreal. We headed east on Route 10, crossing the river on to the mainland (Montreal is an island). At the turning for Chambry we headed to the old fort, stopping to buy a more detailed road map. In the village we were stuck at lights while a boat went through the lock. Three chaps with artificial noses were entertaining the passers by with Dixie style jazz.
It is a really pretty picture postcard village. The first of many we saw today. Lots of people were wandering around and cycling, the first indication, although we had not realised it yet, that trouble lay ahead. The car parks were full and knowing there were more sights to see we pushed on towards Farnham, the start of the Route des Vins trail. Wine making seems to be a relatively recent thing here but it is definitely on the tourist map. The trail is well signposted and takes you through some really beautiful countryside. In the distance are the Appalachian mountains with green wooded slopes. Around us there is prime agricultural land and corn seems to be a main crop.
The farms and houses all seem to be made of wood and have a familiar feel (courtesy of Hollywood!). In their back gardens most have large round spa pools and families were enjoying the sun and soaking in the pool. I bet a fair few barbecues were lit tonight.
We followed the trail down and through stopping for a while at Bedford. At the local shops a woman at a stall outside saw Stef's camera and tripod and asked if he was a journalist. I think she was a bit disappointed when I said we were just here on holiday! Just past Pigeon Hill we stopped at a vinyard and tasted their wares. They had a couple of whites, a rose, a red and some sweet desert wines. We bought a desert wine and a red and carried on to Dunham where we hope to stay.
|Wine, this way|
This is where it all went pear shaped. Being close to Montreal and holiday season (also as we found out later industrial fortnight) this area is very popular with Montrealers. The places where we we wanted to stay were full. It was about 6:30pm so we drove on to Knowlton, a larger place with more hotels, all full. All the places we tried were full and they said everything near them was full. As time marched on we got increasingly despondent, thirsty and hungry. Expecting to get the same "we are sorry we are full" everywhere in this part of town we gave up and headed back to Montreal. Knowing the city was also very busy (and therefore very expensive) we opted to just go for a safe option and headed for one of the airport hotels. The Quality had availability so we booked. We got to the airport in less than an hour but them spent forty five minutes driving around it trying to get to the hotel. We could see it and drove past it once but you needed to be on the service road to get to it. We were not and there was no obvious was of turning back. Despite two phone calls to the hotel for instructions we still could not make it and gave up.
The Hilton at the airport was "get to-able" and that is where we headed. Ironic because that is where we had picked the car up from this morning! They had a room and we checked in. I called the Quality to cancel our booking there and had a very shirty guy on the phone, most put out that we had gone to the Hilton. I got cross when he said he would still charge the room to our card but after angrily explaining that we had had a long day and after forty five minutes around the airport still could not get to him he said he would not charge us. Time will tell but I expect we will get hit.
At the Hilton the staff were very friendly. They helped us with our bags to the room (a quarter of a mile away from Reception). We walked the quarter of a mile back and hit the bar. Amazingly after the first sip of wine (me) and beer (Stef) the frustrations of the last few hours seemed to melt away. Food multiplied the calming effect. The shock was the bill - $10 for a small glass of wine (worse because I had had two). Our waiter was very friendly (non French speaking like the few other friendly people we have met so far) and we got chatting about our trip and our plans. He has driven coast to coast and said we are set for a good trip. He was set for a busy end to his shift - a Gatwick bound flight with three hundred and ten passengers has just been cancelled!
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
|Happy Birthday to me!|
Today is my birthday - only two more years to the big 40! I remember when I was little thinking that forty was so old. It does not seem that way now. Stef had bought me a great card, very appropriate for our current nomadic state and a small teddy bear on a key ring. She has been christened Nancy (she has a big N on her tummy) and Stef assures me she is a good listener for when things between us are a bit tense. I missed calls from my family except later in the day one from my oldest sister Caroline who was staying with friends and was celebrating my birthday in style. She suffered for it the next day!
Today we headed back to the eastern townships having first made sure that we had somewhere to stay. We joined back on to the Route des Vins at Farnham but this time cut across to Brigham rather than doing the Southern loop. Again it was beautiful countryside - green rolling hills, forest and always the feeling that you are close to water. Just beyond Brigham we stopped off at another vineyard. Here was the customary shop but the owner also gave a tour. It was in French so I understood bits but not all. Stef added with bits of translation when he was listening to what was being said but I am sure I have left with not much knowledge. At this vineyard they grow three different types of grape. The soil conditions are poor and dry which is good for grape growing. In these conditions the plants go into self preservation mode and produce lots of fruit. If the soil is very fertile, the plants grow but they do not need to reproduce and do not have much fruit. The vines are planted about three metres apart and are trailed along vertical supports, a bit like rambling roses. This reduces humidity around the roots and also ensures they get maximum exposure to the sun.
It is a small vineyard only producing twenty thousand bottles a year, most of which they sell in the on site shop. At harvest time they take on six young people to help pick the grapes. The grapes are crushed on site in a wooden press and are then fermented and bottled. We both had the feeling that the people owning and running the vineyard did so as more of a hobby than their main livelihood.
The tour was on an open sided truck pulled by a tractor. The extended family of the owner were paying a visit so it was a very lively tour. After seeing the vines we then saw their other attraction - their own mini zoo. It was started in 1987, when the vineyard opened, by the owner's brother. Initially they just had wild boar (pretty ferocious looking things). Each year they added a new animal to the collection and they now have emu, yaks, pigs and different species of deer. The animals know that when the truck comes round food is on board and they run through their enclosures following the truck until it stops. From the pig pen, some of the piglets escaped (seems to be a common thing) and followed us round. As well as selling wine they also sell some meat products and we bought some wild boar pate for lunch. We tasted their wines, most were not great but we bought a bottle of the best.
After the vinyard we headed on to Knowlton on the shore of Lac Brome and checked in to our hotel, the Auberge Knowlton. We had stopped at a bakery on the way to buy some bread to go with our pate for lunch and, armed with water we headed for the lake. Most of the shore is privately owned but there is a harbour and a beach with public access. The harbour was tiny, just one of two wooden pontoons with about ten dinghies moored up. There was no beach here for us to access and the people were not at al welcoming. As such we turned around and headed for the other beach.
It was after 5:00pm when we got there so we did not have to pay! The beach was tiny, only about twenty metres wide and a few metres deep. There was a grassy area between the car park and the beach with picnic tables in the shade. At the beach an area had been marked off for people to swim and there was a lifeguard keeping watch. There was also a first aid station and changing rooms - hence the need to pay.
We set watching the world go by, munching our boar pate and marveling at the size of a guy in front of us. Our plan to go for an amble by the lake was quashed as there is no right of access. It was pretty busy with families out enjoying an afternoon by the lake, picnic hampers and cool boxes (on wheels!) and fold up chairs galore.
It was still really hot and after an hour or so we headed back to our hotel to freshen up and cool down. We had booked a table on the terrace for dinner where there was a lovely cooling breeze. Our room had had the sun on it all day and was like an oven, despite the fan. Stef went in search of water and cold beer. The shops were all shut and the hotel charged us $20, $6 of which was for a bottle of water - rip off! My birthday dinner was really tasty and I had the best goats cheese salad ever - the dressing had walnuts and maple syrup in it and was delicious. From being packed out on Saturday, by 10:00 on Sunday all was quiet and we headed to bed.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
|Colourful corridor at St. Benoit du Lac|
We went to a local bank today to check how we could best transfer the money for the mobile home. We simply need to do an electronic wire transfer. Several calls later to Barclays, each of which gave us different information, we think we can do this by phone for a fee of £30 for it to go within twenty four hours. We also phoned to check progress on getting insurance only to be told it was not looking good because we do not have a Canadian address or passport. The fact we both have an international driving licence seems to be making little difference. Needless to say it was not the best start to the day!
Eventually we hit the road heading east to Lac Memphrémagog. We stopped at Saint-Benoit-du-Lac where there is a closed order Benedictine monastery. It was founded by monks fleeing France where they were no longer welcome. Over the years it has grown in size and is now an Abbey. There were information panels explaining the daily routine of the monks, wholly dedicated to prayer, meditation and private contemplation. Men can come here on retreat but Stef was not tempted. A nearby convent provides the same respite for women.
The church itself is very simple and austere. There is no gilded decoration or painting here, nothing to cause a distraction other than patterns in the tiled walkways. The grounds though are beautiful and would provide a beneficial setting for contemplation. In the basement of the Abbey buildings was an extensive shop selling religious curios as well as produce made by the monks both here and in nearby monasteries.
Back in the car another phone conversation with Barclays revealed that we cannot do what we were told we could do. Frustration ruled and we ended up leaving it with them to come up with a solution. They called back later in the day to say that as long as we could fax an instruction to them they would do what we wanted and, because we have been given such conflicting information they would waive the normal charges.
We carried on to Magog, a town on the north of the lake. From across the water we saw small high rise hotels and apartment blocks. Not what we were expecting or what we wanted to see. A quick stop at Tourist Information got us a B&B for the night at La Maison Campbell, five minutes walk from the centre of town. Danielle and Jean, the owners, were a very friendly and slightly quirky couple. Stef went into German mode as there was another couple also just checking in. There were only two rooms left and he was getting twitchy that the other couple would get to choose. As tourist info had already confirmed our booking we had the choice - a GOM moment avoided.
Having off loaded our nags we ambled down to the lake. Its another hot day and I was in search of a shady spot to keep cool. As with Knowlton there is a small area cordoned off for swimming that is watched over by lifeguards. The sandy part of the beach here is almost so small its not worth mentioning. There is a small, I think artificial, peninsula jutting onto the lake. On it there were a whole load of exhibition stands, all empty. There had been a big swimming festival here last week. On the other side of the peninsula from the lake was a small marina, but here was money. Most of the boats were moored in effect in private "garages" underneath waterfront apartments. very swanky.
The heat induced lethargy and short tempers. In South America we were very dependent on each other because so much was different to home. While I could have got by with my Spanish, especially towards the end of out time there, it would have been difficult tot travel on my own. Here my French is currently abysmal (I am sure it is just the Québec accent but Stef does not agree), but most people also speak English (some at a push). here we do not need each other in the same way so inevitably, and as I predicted to my parents and my sister Caroline, things are a little tense from time to time.
We finished the afternoon as friends and headed back to our B&B to freshen up before heading out for dinner. Micro breweries seem pretty popular in this part of Canada and we ended up in one for dinner. The food was nothing to write home about but the sangria beer was quite refreshing, for the first glass or two. It got pretty sickly sweet by the end of the pitcher.
|Sunset in the St. Laurent|
Not yet ready for bed we went for a moonlight (and streetlight) stroll by the lake. It was a pretty clear night and we could make out the big dipper but sadly non of the other constellations - astronomy is not one of our strong points! The water was really clear and even in the moonlight we could see fish swimming in the lake. There seemed to be a lot of spiders here too, we both kept walking through their webs.
Magog has been a pleasant place to stop off for a night! The only shame is that it is just of the size where the big chains are moving in. There is a KFC and a McDonalds. Just over the road from McDonalds and facing on to the river there is a terrace bar with live music - Big Daddy entertaining the tourists with a pretty standard mix of cover versions. He lives up to his name. We stood watching him from the bridge and he is big!
Even though it is growing it is still a sleepy place. Earlier today we had tried to check emails. No connection at the B&B and the only internet cafe in town is really just a cafe which happens to have a PC stashed in the corner. It is only open until 3pm. We have got used to South America where everywhere we went there were lots of different internet cafes to choose from. We never really had a problem finding one, they just sometimes had very slow connections. In South America people probably could not afford home PCs and the phone costs, hence the plethora of internet cafe's. Here people obviously all have access at home so their need for high speed access is not so great. This may cause us big problems updating our diaries and photos on our web site but we will do our best.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
For a little B&B in a backwater Canadian town we were surprised at the quality of the breakfast, feast, served up. It reminded both of us of my brother in law John, a chef by trade, who does not serve up meals but works of art that look too good to eat. A bowl of fruit and yoghurt was followed by a warm croissant then four cheese and spinach omelette for Stef, leak and bacon quiche for me. The latter were served with decorative flowers, blueberries, icing sugar and a quartered apple cut in slices along the quarter so it tiered out on the plate. It all tasted as good as it looked.
|Brewing lavender has a funny effect ...|
We chatted for a while with Danielle and Jean, the owners, before leaving. Danielle has been to some of the places we are planning to go to in Indonesia and showed me her photos. As I expected, we will be back into hot, humid and very poor countryside. We retrieved the cheeses we had bought yesterday from their fridge and finally set off at about 11am.
The insurance was still a problem. The difficulty seems to be that the insurance broker has been told by the garage that we will be driving in the US, which we will not be. Because it is such a litigious country, Canadian insurers are wary and will not cover us. When we said we were not going to the US things got easier but not easy. We need to get a letter from our UK insurer confirming our claims history. They are shut in the UK now so that is a problem to sort out tomorrow.
Our route took us south along Lac Lovering and through Fitch Bay to Bleu Lavande, Canada's largest lavender producing farm. It was recommended to us by Jean at the hotel. With hindsight I do not know why we went there as neither of us are particularly partial to the scent of lavender, despite having some in our garden at home! As with the vineyards, here it is a relatively new set up. Apparently there are very few pure strains of lavender left in the world and there are trying to keep a pure strain here. As such all their plants are sterile (how? surely this is tampering with nature too?) so each year they totally replace their stock with new plants from Australia.
They have four different varieties (Pure English and Hidcote were two of them) planted here. We had a short talk about how they set up the operation and, because it was harvest time, we also saw the distilling process in action. A huge still crammed full of lavender twigs. The smell when the lid was taken off was very heady and overpowering. Its is strong enough that the man who runs the distilling process finds himself getting very relaxed and snoozy as the day day progresses.
We had an amble down among the plants and a quick look in the gift shop. Even the bags for people to take home their purchases are lavender in colour. Back out in the car park they had a harvesting tractor cutting the crop in a small demonstration field. Again the scent was overpowering. Back in the car, the air con went on full pelt again because it’s another very hot day. When he had parked we were next to other cars and a couple of Honda Goldwing bikes. When we got back our car was an island of one in a big pretty empty car park - we looked a but daft!
As we were close to the border with Vermont, USA, we decided to drive down to Beebe Plain, the last town on the Quebecois side. It turned out to be one of those places where one side of the main street was in Canada and the other side was in the US. The border actually cuts through one house so that the person who lives there goes from Canada to the US every time they leave their bedroom to go to the bathroom. The house used to be the Post Office and the international mail was passed through a hole in the wall.
We stopped to take photos of the US and Canadian borders and promptly got bawled out by the US side. Stef went to ask if we could get stamps in our passports -possible if we crossed the border and paid US$6 each! With much form filling, but no finger printing this time, we were allowed through. Their border checks of the locals were cursory and gruff but they still let everyone through.
I doubt that the insurance for our hire car covered us in the States but that did not deter Stef. We did a loop round and about twenty minutes later were back in Canada through a different border crossing. On our way into the States I do not think the guys at the US border control believed us when we said that in mainland Europe you just drive through the border with no checks. Perhaps they just did not care!
|Bridge of Coaticook|
We worked our way up through Ayers Cliff and Massawippi (they have great names here!) before turning back to go to Coaticook (pronounced Co-at-i-cook) another Danielle and Jean recommendation. There is a river valley here where the river has carved a deep gorge. Spanning the gorge is a Guiness World Record, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world. It is set in a small national park and a walking trail takes you winding through. It is cleverly done with little information panels through the park telling you about the history of the town as you go.
The views from the suspension bridge were great, almost as much fun as I had wobbling the bridge for Stef's benefit - his vertigo had well and truly kicked in. I know it was cruel but it was worth it so see the look on his face. For safety, I did not tell him until we were off the bridge that I agreed with him that some of the planks had seen better days - he would not have made it across!
Through the park, the path took us past some odd rock formations, vertical tunnels created by stones that had been caught up in whirlpools in the river, then up to an observation point. This was a tall (120 steps) wooden tower built in memory of a local businessman. From the top there were wide views down on to Coaticook and out across the surrounding valleys. From here I could just make out a deer in the surrounding woods reaching up to pluck leaves from the trees, the closest I have been to a deer in the wild.
The path wound down to the river, past a dam, concrete replaced the wooden one in 1921, which is still used as part of the town's hydroelectric plant. To improve the water pressure a tunnel had been carved through 180 metres of rock to divert the river. A small access tunnel is still open, with the original 1920's lighting. It is carved through flint rock and must have been tough work to build. Lights had been laid out through the woods so that the pople working on the tunnel could see their way through to work (there were no access roads so they had to walk through the forest). One still remains, now about 15 metres up, its height has increased as the tree it is tied to has grown.
In a hut further on the original turbines are still working, producing about 10% of the electricity needed by Coaticook. On the way we passed a woodpecker busily working away to get bugs from a tree. We were about two metres away and it did not move away. The speed and force of its pecking was incredible,. Back at the entrance we stopped for an ice cream. Stef asked for banana and strawberry. I did not bother ordering one. His small ice cream had six huge scoops - very big even with both of us sharing it.
Back at the car we made our plans for the nights (it was already after 6pm) and decided to head for North Hatley. We had nowhere booked to stay and tried a couple of B&Bs with no success. The hotel at the crossroads into town did have a room free so we checked in. It was a bit like Fawlty Towers. A gruff French woman was behind reception. What looked like a very hen pecked husband was hovering around and parked our car for us. We seem to have hit on a run of very hot rooms to stay in - this one was no different. We both showered to wash away the heat and stickiness. A few minutes after leaving the the luxury of air conditioning though we were back to hot, sweaty and sticky mode. We quickly checked mail and then headed on for dinner.
There seemed to be a choice of one place - or at least that was all that was instantly visible. North Hatley is at the top of Lake Massawippi and we were sat by the lake. The local duck population were happily swimming and quacking their way by. Signs asked people not to feed the ducks though to that they do not become dependent on humans for their survival!
After dinner we went for an amble out on to the lake and briefly watched the stars. It is even quieter here than Magog and there was no-one else in sight. As we walked back past the restaurant at 10pm it was just closing up.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
Today started ridiculously early. We have to get a letter from our UK motor insurers sent to Canada so that we can get our insurance for the motor-home. Until we know that that is sorted we will not release the money to buy it. If we can, we want to get it all sorted by 2:30pm UK time which is 9:30am in this part of Canada, as that will then enable us to pick up the motor-home tomorrow. We know its tight because of the time difference but we decided to give it a go anyway.
That meant an alarm call at 3.30am to get on the phone to our insurers. Bearing in mind they are a major clearing bank and their insurance is underwritten by one of the UK's main insurers the process was painful. Their staff are not allowed to make outbound calls or to send email or to send faxes to non UK numbers!! Added to that they have a multi level auto attendant and if you cannot remember which menu options you selected first time round you have no chance of getting back to the same person the next time you call.
Olly did his best and said that in three to five days he could send us a letter. I explained that we needed the letter today and that he could not send it to us as we have no address in Canada. He cannot send a fax to the broker in Canada so were were stumped until Stef remembered his efax number. All seemed OK but then he remembered that he cannot then forward his efaxes on to someone else unless they also have the software to read them. At 3:30 in the morning we were not at our sharpest thinking of other options. Thoughts went to home and solution. My sister Beccie gets to work early and works as a fund manager so an international fax should not be a problem. As expected, she saved the day but was probably a bit stunned to get a very groggy call from me that early.
The real hassle started when I tried to get back to Olly to ask him to send the fax to Beccie too. The first chap at the insurers was curt and could not put me through to customer services, could not tell me what number to call but eventually put me through. The next lady was also abrupt and could not understand my surprise that she could not find my motor policy. She finally said she was home insurance not motor. Aaarrrggghhh!!
Eventually, getting Olly, he had already done the letter for us and sending it to Beccie was no problem. This second call took sixteen minutes and, for the first time in two months, made me think about work. Having been responsible for a call centre at work I know what an impossible task they have to know the answers to all the questions people ask them. Even so I think my insurers put on a pretty poor show. I did not get back to sleep until about 5:00am.
The alarm went off again at 8:00. We want to make sure the insurance letter has come through and been accepted by the Canadian insurers in time to send the money through before the 9:30am Canadian time cut off. Our hotel has no internet access, printer or fax for us to use so at 9:00 we were waiting for the internet "cafe" to open - its is a coffee shop with a PC in the corner. Fortunately it is run by North Hatley's IT consultant and he let us use his office to print and fax our letter to the bank. The insurance has been confirmed but not in time to do the money transfer until tomorrow. It has been along and tortuous process but it looks like we will have our motor-home on Friday.
We decided to head back to Magog today and to spend the time at the lake. The town is busy but we got space at a local B&B. We have the "suite", really designed as a family room it has a double bedroom, lounge with a sofa bed and a big bathroom with a claw foot bath. The owners are from Provence and are tiny. The lady hardly speaks and the man is like a munchkin but they are friendly enough and the room is comfy and clean - and it is hot!!
Going via a depanneur (convenience store) to pick up bits for a picnic lunch, we headed round the bay to the beach at the other side. Here we spent a couple of hours just sitting and gazing out at the water. We were meant to be catching up on diaries (woefully behind again!) but both kept staring into space. Our uninterrupted lake view quickly got added colour - three local elderly ladies decided to set up camp in front of us with their very hot little terrier dog. The family to our right also encroached Stef's personal space as they moved to follow the sun.
Bob at work had bought me an inflatable beach ball globe as a leaving pressie. We blew it up and reminisced about the place we have been to. I have bought a marker pen so we can track our progress across the globe as we go and we update out trail. It started to cloud over and started to get very muggy. There were distant rumbles of thunder. We decided to head back into town and go for the boat cruise on the lake - abandoned when they wanted $57 (almost £30) for the privilege.
As we are both running short of clean clothes I persuaded Stef that as I had seen a launderette in town, perhaps we should go and do our washing rather than wasting the afternoon. We played dumb at the B&B asking if there was a launderette, hoping they would say we could use their washing machine. They did not! The launderette took us back to student days. Its amazing how complex a simple thing like washing clothes becomes when you use unfamiliar machines. I have not seen a top loading washing machine since we went to California in 2000, and stayed at beach apartments in Pajaro Dunes.
Most of our clothes are synthetic, wickables (quick drying) and we are wary about putting them in a tumble dryer. Before we had gone to the launderette I had done a quick reccie of our suite to assess whether I would be able to hang it all up to dry. We have clothes draped absolutely everywhere drying. I just hope they all dry in time for us to pack them in the morning.
We headed our for dinner about an hour or so later. As we sat on a terrace outside there were streaks of lightening off into the distance behind the clouds. The lightening got brighter and came closer and the pub moved everyone inside. For the next ten minutes we watched really heavy rain pour down outside. Lightening flashes continued for a while after the rain had stopped. The storm had not completely cleared the air. It was still muggy when we went for a post dinner stroll by the lake. Stef's testing of the water was short lived. It was nice and warm but the mossies were out in force. We ambled along the boat jetty and up a small observation tower, built in memory of the lakes equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. The lights of the town twinkled below us.
On our way back to our hotel we stopped at the pub we ate at two nights ago for a night cap. We had a friendly welcome from the waitress, unfortunately not matched by the flavour of the beer and wine. It was after midnight by the time we left.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
We left Magog later than planned and headed back to Montreal to drop off the hire car and to check into our hotel, the Roberval. It is relatively new and not yet in the guide books. We could not get into our room until later in the day but when we did it was a surprise. The "room" was like a small one bedroomed flat. It had a double bedroom, small bathroom, equipped gallery kitchen and a lounge/dining room with a TV. We had benefited from an upgrade but the standard room has all the same facilities, just studio style.
We let our bags in their luggage store and headed into the city centre. We have free high speed internet access in the room but have to buy a network cable to be able to connect! This was easily done at the Eaton centre but a tad frustrating. A quick detour to Tourist Information confirmed that there was nothing on tonight in town that we fancied seeing. Needing maps and some new novels we headed to Indigo, one of the bookstores (Chapters is the other) with English language books. It was a bit like Waterstones and had equally friendly and helpful staff.
We will be driving coast to coast through Canada and want to try and get a good road atlas. Indigo could not help but referred us to a specialist map shop (they only accept payment by card, they've been robbed too often and no longer take cash!). No joy here either so we have had to settle for a number of different maps. Not really a surprise bearing in mind how big the country is.
For most of the rest of the afternoon we followed one of the walking tours of Old Montreal. We joined the route at Square Victoria near Montreal's World Trade Centre. The square was really a rectangle and running down and through it was a fountain - nice cool water in the heat of the city centre. The route took is through part of the old business district with old Victorian houses still making a statement even today.
|Vieux (and Not-so-vieux) Montréal|
We walked down and past the old Grey Nun's Hospital, now mainly ruins, and on to the waterfront. here we stopped at the Archeology and History museum. It is in a fairly new and modern building but the site on which it stands has been key to the ongoing development of Montreal over the centuries. There was a short film outlining the changes over the years from an original settlement battling with the local Indians to the conflicts between Britain and France and up to the modern day. Combined with the tour of the museum, it also charted the development and modernisation of the city from a small town fortified with wooden defences through to buildings made of bricks and stones. I got confused with the orientation of some of the places they were talking about - there were lots of references to a river but no river visible - it is now an underground sewer.
In the basement you can still see the foundations of some of the buildings that used to stand on the current site. It was a cleverly done walk back through time and I would have liked it if they had guides on hand to answer the questions that were springing to mind. It seemed odd seeing old photos of massive blocks of ice right up to the these buildings - the harsh winters caused many problems.
Back outside we ambled along the shore of the river. Earlier, we had seen a huge container shop backing up the river, it makes the Thames in London look a bit small. We wandered past the piers and the Bonsecours market before heading back up to our hotel. Our route took us past an old train station, now home to the Cirque Eloise. Similar to Cirque du Soleil, we had seen them a few years ago in London with my Mum and Dad, Beccie and John, and hoped to catch a show. Something was going on tonight - red carpet laid out - but it is a private function. No information on future performances was forthcoming so we continued on our way.
By the time we had checked in and unpacked our stuff it was after 8pm. We both fancied going out to "do" something other than just eating and checked what was on at the local cinema. The best choice was Batman Begins. The nearest cinema was less than five minutes away and with the film starting at 9:30 we had enough time to grab something to eat beforehand. Fortunately, we went to buy tickets before eating and found out it was the French version i.e. dubbed into French. No good for me and Stef wanted to see the original version too.
On Rue St Catherine we had passed a Paramount Cinema so we hopped on to the Metro heading downtown. The original film was showing here and we bought tickets and went in to what was a very empty cinema. We were not sure if this was because the film had already been out for a while, or because it was in English not French, or because it did not start for another half and hour or so at 9:45. In the UK, I would not not think of going to see a film at this time as I would be guaranteed to fall asleep before the end!
It was an OK film. There were good links to the "sequels" that have already been made but I would not rush to see it again. Michael Caine made a good Arthur the Butler and it was splattered with big names - Liam Neeson, John Lithgow, Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer. I have no idea who was playing Batman though.
It was past midnight when we got out of the film and we had to walk around for a while to find an open tube entrance. The only time I felt slightly uneasy was when we were walking through an underground tunnel and a young guy was behind us. From the number of women I have seen walking around late at night though I do not think there is a safety problem here - not like Quito!
We had asked at reception whether there were places open late to eat and were assured that there were loads on Rue St Denis just around the corner. Most of the restaurants were shut or closing but there was still a steady trade in late night bars, most of which only just seemed to be waking up. Hungry we succumbed to McDonalds, open 24 hours and with a big discount in prices for eating at this time of night! Needless to say it was pretty dire. The service was very slow and most of the other customers were well oiled. Stef won Olympic Gold for the speed with which he devoured his burger - he clearly just wished to get away!