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- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
We tried a different place for breakfast this morning. I had picked one off the sheet of recommended places to go to that the hotel left in each room but despite walking along the street I could not see it. Stef was getting humpy because he was hungry and I was fed up with him getting humpy because he had no more idea than I did of where this place was! It turned out well in the end through because we went to a nice cafe Du Buade and had a very tasty breakfast which set us up well for the day.
Unlike yesterday it was not raining so we decided to walk along the boardwalk through the old part of town and into the Plains of Abraham. This is the site of a decisive battle where the British took a whole twenty two minutes to defeat the French and take control of Quebec. The walkway, known as the Terrasse Dufferin, which becomes the Promenade des Gouverneurs, provides great views down into the valley and of the old quarter. There is a ferry that runs from here across to Levis on the other side of the St Lawrence. It was having a bit of a tough time because wind had replaced rain and it was battling slightly with the tides.
The walkway takes you close to the Citadel. In town the roads gently wind uphill but not so on the boardwalk. As you reach the end a sign warns you that there are 310 steps to climb up to get to the top. Predictably we counted as we went and neither of us made it 310 so we were slightly intrigued to know what has happened to the missing steps. Stef stopped for a coffee at the top and we then carried on walking through Battlefields Park towards the art gallery.
The park was superb. It was a real oasis of calm so close to the city. We pondered over which other cities we have been to that have so much green space right in the centre. London is an obvious one and is renowned for its parks, there is the Tuileries in Paris, the Vondelpark in Amsterdam but apart from that we could only think of small parks or cities where the parks are well and truly outside the centre. Each province has its own tree which is its provincial tree, many of which were different varieties of fir tree. Each tree was twinned with a tree from another country. This collection of trees was the start of a small nature trail that led you through the park.
Our route to us to the Muséee National des beaux-arts de Québec. This is housed partly in an old building which has now been connected up to the building next door, the former jail house of Quebec. There is a guided audio tour that you can follow through the gallery. It started with permanent exhibitions about Quebecois art dating back through the French period (1608 - 1763), the British holding (1763 - 1867), the the early years of Confederation (1867 - 1900) right through to more modern art up to the middle of the 1900's.
For me one of the most interesting pieces was in a temporary exhibit called "Tell Me" but annoyingly, I cannot remember the artist. It was a large room with seven large screens lined up next to each other each showing a different, but connected film. It was a real case of sensory overload, both visual and audio, and I would be intrigued to watch it more times to fill in the blanks. It starts on the middle screen with a car driving through a tunnel. They must have had cameras down the outside of the car as on the screens either side of the centre you then got the peripheral vision you would normally see if you were actually driving through a tunnel yourself.
Each screen then split off to follow its own story line. One was a woman repairing stone aquefers in a field and making patterns with the stones that were then covered by water, another followed a man walking along a road smoking a cigarette. Another screen showed a young woman playing an unusual musical instrument, yet another had a young man intoning to himself while almost dancing around a building, then a field, lit up with a myriad of candles. The other screens were mainly just aerial views across the hills and valley.
The information panel at the start of the exhibit almost spoiled the show as it said that the films on each screen converge at the end. Part way through you could see that the aerial shots were over the valley where the young an was dancing and that the woman playing the instrument was not far way from him. But that was not how they converged. The films each gradually moved round to give you a different perspective of a lorry coming round a bend in the road, crashing and sliding on its side towards a camper van. Petrol leaked out from the van and then there was an explosion inside the camper van. Each screen gave a different perspective on these events before diverting off again into their own space which then brought the whole show to an end.
Not only was there all this visual information to take in but there was a soundtrack for each film too. The central track was in English and I had initially expected some sort of running commentary but within seconds a French track started and then more were layered on top. Normally I am pretty good at "tuning in" and being able to follow one sound track amongst many but with the visual overload taking its toll too I could not distinguish any of the individual sound tracks.
I have never seen a work of art like this before but it intrigued and fascinated me. I am writing this diary a few days down the line and I think my mind is still mulling it over subconsciously and trying to fit the pieces together. If you ever get the chance to go and see it, add it onto your "must do" list. It was twenty minutes long but I have spent much longer than that thinking about it and trying ti relieve and piece together all the constituent parts. Stunning!
Leaving that display I said to Stef that my brain was all full up and could not cope with any more art for the time being. We stopped for lunch at the gallery before heading back into town. They were preparing for what looked like a big function, setting up tables with glasses and getting tables for people to sit and eat set up in the main entrance lobby. A stage was all set up with the band's bits and pieces ready to go. We asked what was happening and they confirmed they had a wedding reception there that night. Its a great setting as the building is light and airy and the terrace looks out over the park.
|Jeanne d'Arc's sword seems to flash lightning - it's just the weak autumn sun|
We ambled back towards town going a different route through the parks. This one took us through a small, formal garden called the Joan of Arc garden. Back in the 1930's a couple donated a commemorative statue of Joan of Arc to Quebec and the city built the gardens around it. Their initial grand plans were shelved due to WWII but the resulting gardens look like they will be stunning when full of summer blooms.
Around the garden were information panels talking about some of the seedier background of Quebec. Lost galleons and missing treasure, murders, the deaths and graves of important people long gone by, ghosts and ghouls. The whole garden had also been decorated with lots of pumpkins. It is one of the stops on the "Ghosts and Ghouls" walking tour of the city and we think that these were special decorations in the run up to Halloween rather than permanent exhibits throughout the year. It was cleverly done and even on a dark, cloudy, off season afternoon there were quite a few people walking around and having a look.
Running along this side of the park was what looked like one of the affluent areas of the city. There were large houses with great views of the park. They did not look as if they had been sub-divided down into flats but no doubt they have been. Back in the old quarter we headed for another old house in town, the Fairmont Hotel Frontenac, another of the railway hotels they have built across Canada. Allegedly this is one of the most photographed hotels in the world. It looks as if it has come straight out of a Cinderella style fairy tale.
We booked in for the guided tour of the hotel and went for a drink in the bar while we waited along the way passing a bride and groom having their photos taken, one of two weddings they had in the hotel today. The bar was a relaxing old place with a covered terrace with views looking out across the St Lawrence. I could picture well to do family's here at the start of the century with the men discussing "important" matters while smoking their finest cigars.
The tour was not quite what we had hoped for. The guide was, as ever, dressed in costume from the late 1800's but due to the weddings we could not get to see the main ballroom and other big function rooms. She told us about the history of the hotel which has been built in seven stages with the most recent part being completed in I think the 1990's. Not surprisingly, the hotel has had its share of major fires, most likely due to the being wood fires which used to be in each of the guest rooms. This is no more and the chimneys have now been opened up and have windows in them.
The roof of some of the function rooms has been turned decoratively into a garden but not one just for the sake of it. It is the hotel's herb garden and in summer this provides them with all the herbs they need for the hotel's kitchens. We went to see one of the bedrooms but the guide could not find the room. She took us down to one of the function rooms for a few minutes while she went to find out where the bedroom was. On the way we got good views of the different turrets and rooftops of the hotel and it made me think of Hogwarts School from Harry Potter. I was waiting for the staircases and corridors to start moving around!
We waited in a round room which again had good views of the St Lawrence. It was here that heads of state from the UK, USA, Canada and other allies met in WWII to draw up the plans for the D Day landing. Apparently, as they all left they also left the plans behind them, but fortunately a waiter found them and handed them over to someone from the FBI. When we did get into a room we were both a bit surprised at how anonymous it was. During the tour the guide had said a couple of times that all six hundred and eighty rooms in the hotel were different in terms of their size, layout and decor. The result that we saw was just the same as a room in any standard sort of business hotel, only here it would have cost a lot more.
As we went back down in the lift the guide pointed out their mail system. Next to the lifts is a glass chute that the residents can use to post their mail. In most cases, their letters drop down to the bottom into a main post box and are collected and taken away. They do have cases where sometimes the letters get stuck and recently one written thirty years ago finally made it down to the bottom.
After the hotel we went to a pub in town for a quick drink. It claims to be an English pub but is unlike any English pub I've been to in a long time. It is really more of a restaurant because most people come here mainly to eat with drinking being a secondary activity. It was already packed so we took a couple of stools at the bar and chatted off and on with the bar man. He and Stef got on well as Stef could not resist the temptation to try a few different beers and they chatted over various different options. We decided in the end to eat here rather than looking for someone else and ended up back in our hotel quite early.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
We went back to the same place as yesterday for breakfast and were met with a friendly smile from the same waitress. Our plan for today is to go back to the Musée de la Civilisation before heading on down through Montréal and hopefully making it as far as Québec. The distances are reasonably big but something in a car you would not think twice about. Driving in Morty though we are a bit slower than back home and also the speed limits are lower. They have signs posted along the motorways telling you how much you will be fined if you exceed the speed limit by different amounts.
Down at the river the water was being whipped up with a vengeance. Yesterday there were a few white crests on the river, today there were sizeable waves. It made me ponder what it must be like out on the wider gulf and on the open sea as Québec is a fair way inland. I am just glad that today is not a day where I need to get a ferry. We dumped our stuff in Morty and then headed over the road back to the museum.
Both of us wanted to see the rest of the Russian exhibition we had first come to on Friday so this was our first port of call. I went back to listen to the story I was part way through on Friday when we got turfed out. It was about a girl whose mother died when she was young. Before she died she gave the girl a small doll and told her that if ever she needed help or advice she should feed the doll, talk to her and the doll would help. Her father remarried and the new stepmother and her two not very attractive daughters gave the little girl a very tough time. The girl talked to her doll every day and the doll helped her achieve all the chores she was set to do. It was a Cinderella like story and in the end the girl married the Tsar and she and her father lived happily ever after.
The rest of the exhibition charted the early seeds of discontent that resulted in the Russian revolutions. The pre-revolution average man on the street certainly did seem to have a tough time of it with various different taxes to pay that meant they really had little to survive on. The revolution itself came in stages with the Tsar firstly conceding some powers before finally abdicating in favour of his brother who declined to take up the position. The post revolution era sounds as if it was equally tough but in different ways. The art works they had on display also reflected the change in the culture of the country. The ceramics and textiles of the day were decorated with industrial themed prints and styles.
The next exhibit we went to was about the First Nations. In the Québec province there are eleven distinct tribes most of which are small with just a few hundred or a few thousand people. The largest tribe only numbers about twenty five thousand. Most were originally fishers and hunter gatherers but as the Europeans extended across their traditional lands they have had to adapt their way of life. Many are now involved in logging and some are making the most of the tourist trade. There was a tepee on display. It was reasonably roomy inside but would still have been a snug fit for a family.
Stef was captivated by this exhibit and was avidly reading every panel. It did not really do much for me and I had gone through it more quickly. The part I found most interesting was the short video of a couple of people building an igloo. They made it look very easy but I bet it is not in practice. The igloo was built from the inside, and it seemed as if the ice blocks they used were cut from the inside so that the floor level of the inside of the igloo would be below the outside floor level. They simply trim the ice slabs to fit next to the surrounding pieces and gradually incline them to create a domed roof. Fitting the final few slabs in the roof also looked tricky. Next a hole was cut in the side so that the Indians could get in and out. They patched up any gaps between the slabs with loose snow to stop draughts blowing through and then made a door out of a final ice block. The video only lasted a few minutes and there was no soundtrack to tell you how long it actually takes to build one from scratch.
To me the most interesting exhibit was called "Autopsy of a Murder" and it was really good fun. It was designed to tell you all about the tools and techniques used for solving crimes. Rather than just setting out information panels, they had simulated a murder and you had to go round the exhibit getting clues and working out the end result. We matched fingerprints, DNA samples, ballistics traces of guns, voice patterns, fibre samples analysis as well as getting clues and information from our police helper along the way. It was very cleverly done and was a great way of setting out the exhibit. We spent twice as much time there than we had expected to.
We had brief look at another exhibit called "26 objects in Search of Authors". For each letter of the alphabet they chose an exhibit from the museum's collection and than asked a a Québec author whose name also started with that letter and asked them to bring the object to life. It lost its impact slightly in the translation from French to English but I though that the concept was an interesting one. Unfortunately, the young boys who decided to stand in front of me and move the information panels while I tried to read them made me give up and just have a whistle stop tour of the exhibit.
|Chateau Frontenac looming over Vieux Québec|
Finally thought it became time to say goodbye to Québec city. I had not expected to like it here because the French speaking people we have met have generally not been very warm and friendly. That was not our experience of the old part of Québec but I do not know what it would have been like if we had stayed in a less touristic part. Stef steered us artfully out of the city and back onto the route 138 down towards Montréal. We had decided to just go along the motorway as we have maxed out of pretty scenic stuff. As such it was a fairly uneventful drive.
Just to the north of Montréal we stopped for a break and I took over the driving. As luck would have it this also signaled a change in weather. It became misty and wet and the wind picked up again. I cannot say I was looking forward to the drive through Montréal but I was glad it was Sunday so there would be no rush hour traffic. It was funny being back in the place we had first arrived in Canada in over two months ago. Our expected stop at Roulottes Gilbert, from whom we had bought Morty, was abandoned as they will be shut. As we were bombing through we also did not stop off to see the Denis's, the couple who had taken pity on us all those weeks ago in Gaspé when it rained and fed us and plied us with very large glasses of rum and coke.
The road really skirted around the outside of Montréal rather than through the city centre. It is a bit of a maze if you are not familiar with it but Stef's expert navigation skills meant we only had to do an about turn once, not bad I thought. Out the other end the road was much quieter on the way to Ottawa. By this time it was pitch black so you could not really see the countryside we were driving through but I sensed that it was just flat fields as far as you could see.
Earlier I had looked through our books to find a campsite and plumped for one that seemed to be on the outskirts of Ottawa and not too far from the centre. It was in a place called Greely which is much further out than I had thought with not a lot around it. By the time we checked in it was late and we had no food but fortunately the local Chinese was open for take out. It did the trick and before long we were tucked up in bed for the night.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
I woke up this morning feeling pretty lousy and full of cold. Stef left me in bed while he got up and sorted out breakfast and went for a shower. He came back saying that the shower was pretty foul and that the water smelled of rotten eggs. We abandoned our plans to stay here for another day and moved on down into Ottawa.
Driving through the outer suburbs it created an impression that this was not an affluent place. It was not an area of leafy lanes, instead it was run down buildings, large apartment blocks and thrift stores. Being a city, and a capital at that, it also had a very multi-cultural feel. For the first time in a long while we saw a mix of people from different ethnic backgrounds and a large mosque just outside of the city centre.
The city was very quiet. Today is Thanksgiving and its a public holiday so most of the businesses are closed, it was like driving around the financial city in London on a Sunday afternoon. We found Tourist Information and then drove around for a while looking for somewhere to park Morty. As its a holiday there is free parking on the street and even though all the parking meters were not working due to building work we could still park with no problem. Ironically, we were outside Ottawa's office for Deloitte (Stef's old company) which was next door to Ernst & Young (my brother's company).
We ambled back around to Tourist Information and were surprised at how unhelpful they were. If you asked a direct question you got a direct answer but no peripheral information. Rather than selling their city and the benefits of coming here to visit it felt like we were trying to get blood out of a stone. We went away armed with different brochures and confirmation that the nearest campsites were a good half hour away from the centre. We mulled it all over over a spot of lunch when Stef could concentrate. Our waiters was a pretty blond girl with a very short tartan skirt. We both decided she did not really have very good legs though! We decided to stay in a hotel in town and wanting somewhere that we new we would have a comfy room and internet access we went and found the local Day's Inn.
This one was really a motel rather than a hotel. It had lots of parking space although we had to take Morty round the back as he was too tall for the main entrance. There were signs on the wall giving it excellence ratings so we knew we would have a comfy stay. The rest of the afternoon we just chilled out and caught up on internet type things. I was still feeling pretty lousy and was not really up to walking out and about. I made it out to the local Indian for dinner and we had a really good meal. I hoped that some nice hot and spicy food would do the trick for me and that I would wake up tomorrow feeling hale and hearty.
The hotel is probably a fifteen minute walk to the main parliament buildings but even here there is a definite run down feeling. We are not far from the local liquor store and there were some of its customers out and about looking the worse for wear. We are also close to the University and there is a definite grungy studenty feel as well. For the first time in days we were both very alert and conscious of the people walking around us.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
We went down the street where our hotel is and along Rideau to Cora's for breakfast. It is billed as one of the best places in town to go to. As we reached it I was a bit dubious as it is part of a chain we have seen in other places. We decided to give it a go and I was pleasantly surprised. The menu was a minefield, especially when your brain is not fully in gear like mine was today as I am still full of cold. There was a lot to choose from ranging from healthy options with fruit and yoghurt, through pancakes, waffles, eggs benedict, omelettes through to the traditional fry up. It was a good breakfast and good value for money too.
Over breakfast we pondered the options again for something to go and do tonight. The what's on guide really just had a choice of three options - a country music extravaganza, a play based in Newfoundland or a concert by Ravi Shankar. As Ravi is only playing tonight we thought we would see if we could get tickets. We went down to the Arts Centre and surprisingly got good seats. Weare not sure if this means there will hardly be anyone there or whether we have just been lucky.
Outside the theatre they have all the flags lined up from the ten provinces and three territories (big in land mass but not people hence the reason why they are not provinces). Statues in the gardens sitting on a lock gate made us amble down and along the canal and we found a little treat in Ottawa's Locks (not mentioned at all by the people at Tourist Information). The canal links rivers and lakes across Ontario from Ottawa to Kingston, a distance of two hundred and twenty kilometres. It is now maintained as a historic site by Parks Canada.
The idea for the canal came about in 1812 to provide a supply route through to Kingston other than the St Lawrence river. The latter forms the border with the US and was vulnerable to attacks. Building did not start until 1826 when Lieutenant Colonel John By of the British Royal Engineers was sent to supervise the work. It took just six years to complete the canal, providing work for many Irish, French Canadian and Scottish people. The canal itself was one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century. Once the threat of war passed, the canal became a major commercial thoroughfare until steam and the railway arrived. Now it is mainly used for pleasure boats.
It was not an easy canal to build as it passes through marshland, wetlands as well as granite cliffs. At Ottawa it provided a vital way of by passing the waterfalls of the Rideau River. Here, a series of eight locks takes traffic up or down the eighty metre height difference to the Ottawa River. The locks are pretty big and can accommodate boats almost thirty metres long and eight metres wide. It takes about an hour and a half to two hours to complete the full set of eight locks. Unlike locks in the UK which you have to operate yourself, staff from Parks Canada do the honours here. As it is out of season there were no boats waiting to go through and all the locks were empty.
Next to the canal is a small modern photography museum. Out attempt to visit was thwarted by off season hours which means it is not open until tomorrow. We ambled back into the centre in search of an Air Canada office, partly to book our flights to Florida and partly to check about onward connections from Vancouver to Hong Kong. Amazingly for a capital city, there are no airline offices downtown and we would have to go to the airport. We tried a travel agency who were very friendly but could not help us as we had not initially bought our tickets through them!
Even though it was early afternoon we were both at a bit of a loss for what to do. I was feeling pretty lousy still and was not really up to much sight seeing. Stef went for a haircut while we pondered options for the rest of the day. I did not want to get to tired this afternoon as I wanted to be able to enjoy the Ravi Shankar concert tonight. We decided to leave the Parliament Buildings until tomorrow and go for a quick look round the main art gallery.
As we walked back past the locks they were now full of water. Quite a few people had stopped to watch and to see the boats coming through. Unfortunately there were no boats. Parks Canada have to ensure that the water levels in the canals are maintained at the correct height so they had probably filled them partly for this and partly just to ensure they do not seize up. Watching the water pouring through gave a real sense of power. A duck had decided to watch the proceedings too from inside one of the locks. It was quite happily bobbing around on the water and watching the world go by.
From the locks we walked through Major's Hill Park and through to the art gallery, which is also closed until tomorrow! The park was small but very pretty and gave views of the locks, the Ottawa River and across to Hull and Gatineau on the other side. From here we wiggled our way back to our hotel through the Byward market. Byward is the original European name for Ottawa, named after the chap who oversaw the construction of the canal. The market building now seems to have been taken over mainly with eateries but the few stalls around it had colourful displays of pumpkins and corn. With Halloween on the way pumpkins of all shapes and sizes are very much in evidence everywhere we go.
Back at the hotel we relaxed for a while and booked our flights to Florida. This is a little side trip to meet up with my sister Caroline and her family who are going there on holiday. The hot, high twenties temperatures will be a welcome change to the cooler days and nights we are now getting in Canada.
Around seven we left to go to the Ravi Shankar concert. The theatre building reminded us of the South Bank in London. It is a similar concrete style building with any warmth and charm being over ridden by functional form and clean, straight lines. I think we had both decided during the day that it would be a low audience concert so we were surprised to see the lobby buzzing with people. It was a great people watching experience too. There was a full mix of age groups but what I had not expected was to see so many (Asian) Indian ladies dressed up in colourful sari's. It was a sight I have not seen since we were in India a couple of years ago.
The theatre itself was pretty impressive. Boxes ranged along either side (I still cannot understand why people go for them because you do not get a full view of the stage) and there were a couple of tiers of seats. We were four rows from the front and had great views of the stage. The stage was simply set with a raised platform with a few microphones on it. As the cast came in they all gave a traditionally Indian greeting before sitting on the floor of the raised platform.
It was a concert where I wished I had a translator. The leaflet we had been given listed the players but unfortunately did not include their pictures. While some, like the chap from Newcastle, were easy to spot not being familiar with the names of all of the instruments they played I do not know with certainty who was who. The instruments in themselves were fasinating. The sitar is like an oversized guitar but with more strings and knobs to turn. There were two different types of hand drums, wooden flutes and a chap playing a violin held and played with the neck resting on his ankle. At the back of the platform Newcastle man and another were playing other string instruments. You could not see what they were or how they were playing them. They seemed to be slowly moving their fingers over something to create some form of sound but I could not distinguish what.
The first half of the concert was led by Anoushka Shankar, Ravi's daughter. She is an accomplished sitar player in her own right but has obviously had a very good legacy. She has very long slender arms that meld into long wrists and then long thin fingers that fly up and down the sitar at a pace of knots. In one of the pieces in the second half her fingers were moving so fast that they were blurred and I could not distinguish each finger separately.
She, and the other performers looked like they were enjoying playing as much as we enjoyed listening. The rhythms are complex and intricate but they made it look so easy. Although Anoushka was leading the musicians and in effect conducting it was hard to make out what instructions she gave. Her foot tapped out the rhythm and, when she was not playing she was also beating time with her hand. She seemed to keep control as much with smiles and raisings of her eyebrows as with anything else. Everyone knew what they were doing and they were all set to have a good time doing it. There also seemed to be a shared awe and respect for each others musical talents.
For the second half, Ravi Shankar led a much smaller group of musicians. For eighty five he is looking pretty good. He drew a laugh from the audience by opening with an apology that for tonight he would only be speaking in English. He introduced each piece they played explaining the musical forms and themes but not being familiar with the terminology it was lost on both of us. Although he is clearly a master of his art, we both felt that his daughter (who is only twenty four) has now outpaced her father and mentor and is probably a better player.
The concert was superb. I was not sure what to expect and am not even going to attempt to describe the music as I will not be able to do it justice but we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Ravi received a standing ovation before he had even played a note or spoken a word. He got another ovation at the end of the concert. They were selling CDs out in the foyer after the concert so we picked some up to listen to in Morty. We decided not to wait for Anoushka's autograph. The fact that she was signing CD's and not her father, and that the latter only played in he second half, left us both thinking that perhaps this is Anoushka's tour and that Ravi has come along so that his name draws in the crowds. Perhaps we are right or perhaps we are just getting too cynical in our older age.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
|Canadian Parliament in session (cheated a little bit!)|
|Ceiling of the grand hall at the museum|
|Christopher Pratt exhibition|
|Ness can't resist chatting up a fireman!|
For me today was a bit of a wipe out. I woke feeling worse than yesterday and that my internal central heating had definitely gone wonky. We went for breakfast over the road to Nate's deli which is again apparently a good place to go. We had read somewhere that it was a Jewish deli but the waitress did not understand why we were questioning that there was bacon and pork sausages on the menu. Stef had been looking forward to his since we read about Nate's yesterday but I think he was a bit disappointed. I thought it was odd that he had pastrami, sauerkraut and pickled gherkins on rye bread for breakfast!!
After breakfast I admitted defeat and headed back to our room leaving Stef to go and do the sights of Ottawa on his own. I was sorry to miss it, especially as Stef seems to have seen some pretty cool stuff but there was no way I was up to sightseeing. Instead I camped out with the paper and the TV and spent the day feeling yuk. The cleaner arrived at some time and I had the inevitable football discussion. He seems to be a fan of English football and reeled off a fair number of team names including The Lads (as Crystal Palace is known in our house). He is a fan of Manchester United and has been back to the days of George Best (who he thinks was a better player than Pele). He is tickled pink because his son has just be made captain of his local football club.
Stef came back from his travels late in the afternoon foot sore and weary after a long day's trudging around. I did not feel well enough to go out for dinner so we ordered a take out pizza. About five minutes after putting the phone down the fire alarms went off and we had to evacuate the hotel. Just after we got outside three fire engines came screaming round the corner and parked up outside. I was surprised at how slowly people reacted to the alarm. As the firemen started to walk along the motel style (their doors faced out onto the car park) rooms on the ground floor quite a few people were still in their rooms with the doors locked.
The hotel reception has a panel showing where the alarm was triggered and it was in one of these rooms. A couple had lit candles in their room and they set off the alarm. When the firemen knocked on their door they were still in the shower, unbelievable because the alarm was really loud. A woman finally stuck her head round and you could hear the firemen say to her that all of the people outside were there because of her. She really did not seem to care less.
Outside the front of the hotel there was what seemed to be a fire liaison officer. He was not rigged up in all the fire proof gear and it was he who told us that it was OK to go back to our room. They get called out here quite often because the alarms are very sensitive. Usually it is someone smoking (it is officially a no smoking hotel) that sets them off. Fortunately the whole affair only took about fifteen minutes and we were back in our room well before our very tasty pizza arrived.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
I was still not feeling great today but was a lot better and we decided to head on down past Toronto and on to Niagara, another long drive. We opted again for an easy drive along the motorway. Our route took us through Kingston and past Brighton before we reached the outer suburbs of Toronto. Here we encountered Whitby, Pickering and Scarborough before reaching the main down town area. This we took not just as a sign that this area was settled by English people but that they were from Yorkshire.
Stef has been after a different lens for his camera which is why we headed into the centre of Toronto rather than staying on the main motorway bypass. We found the place, Henry's, he had called before who had put various lenses aside for him. I think that Jessops in the UK is pretty good but they are not a patch on this place. I have never been into a shop so big that it only focused on photography. They have everything from the equipment and films through to what you need to see the end result. They are just about to widen their stock range to also include plasma screens as with more and more people using digital cameras this is becoming the playback method of choice.
Whilst the stop kept Stef happy because he finally has the lens he has been after for a while, the downside was that we hit rush hour traffic on the way out of town. After we had been in a solid crawl for about an hour, we pulled off for a bit of a break and a coffee. The stretch of motorway around here is horrid. There is a main motorway but then along side this there is another part just as wide and then more beyond it. In each direction there were about eight lanes of traffic. Pretty hairy stuff, especially as it had become dark again by this time.
We have decided not to stay in Toronto yet but to first head down to Niagara Falls. We followed the road down to Hamilton and through Grimsby and St Catherines before finally reaching Niagara. At Niagara we took a bit of a wrong turn and headed into town rather than out of town to the campsites. It was worth it though for a taste of what is to come. We have never been to Las Vegas but I imagine this is a small version of Vegas. Everywhere you look there are neon lights and it has a bit of a sleazy feel. In the main down town there are now lots of high rise hotels. Heading out of town it is low rise motels, inns and massage parlours!
We had expected that there would be no one at the campsite to check us in but they all have a fixed routine for this. At our first choice campground, Campark Resorts, there was the usual set of instructions but no "sorry we've missed you" or "please" or "thank you". To me they created an unfriendly welcome and as there were other options we moved on and tried the Koa campground. Koa are a chain (American I think) but we have not so far stayed at one of their sites. Again here the office was closed but there were friendly instructions and a warm feeling was created so we opted to go here for the night.
Having stayed at hotels for the last few days we were again out of food and headed into town to get something to eat. Not knowing where the centre really was, being tired and also knowing that it can be tricky parking if there are no open air car parks we played safeish and stopped at the Falls Inn Motel. A big sign outside was advertising their Hungarian Sausage Steak so we thought we would give it a try. It came piled with fried peppers, mushrooms and cheese but was really just a burger. Nothing special but it did the trick and was a cheap meal into the bargain.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
I went to check us in at the campsite office and also to get information about the best options for heading into town. There is normally a shuttle bus running every thirty minutes all day from 9:30. As it’s off season the service only runs on Fridays and Saturdays and it does not start until 2:30 this afternoon. It was not quite what we had hoped for but it meant that we could use the morning to catch up on some other bits and pieces.
We mainly focused on Morty, filling up with petrol and propane and then taking him to a car wash. Although we have had a lot of rain off and on we have still not washed Morty since getting off the ferry to Havre St Pierre. We found another one of the DIY high powered jet washes and gave him a good wash, rinse and wax and even went so far as vacuuming the inside. The jet washes are pretty hard work, especially to reach up to the roof. It was very tempting to "accidentally" soak Stef but I resisted knowing that he would get his revenge bigger and better at some future date.
When we got back to the campsite a car was parked in our space. It belonged to the daughter and son-in-law of the couple next door to us. Their granddaughter is getting married tomorrow in St Catherines and is having her reception in Niagara Falls so they have come here for a few extra days for a bit of a break. They seem to live out of their motor-home and until recently also had one in Florida. The daughter, having grown up with campsite based holidays, is trying to convince her husband that they ought to get a pop up trailer (one that all folds down into a big box) but he is so far not keen. Stef chatted to the men as I chatted to the ladies. After Stef gave the chaps a "tour" of Morty the son-in-law seemed to be starting to shift his views.
A bit after two we left Morty behind and headed into town. The bus is a shuttle that runs through to the early hours, good for us as we planned to spend the night out in downtown Niagara Falls. It only took a few minutes to get into the centre but it then seemed to go a very long winded way around town before reaching the river. I think its route must take it around many of the hotels. The big chains all have their own shuttle buses to take their guests around town. It is not really that big a place and you can easily walk around the centre but there are a lot of Americans here and from what we have seen of them so far they do not like walking.
The bus dropped us at the bottom of Clifton Hill and we walked down to the river for our first glimpse of the falls. There are two waterfalls. The horseshoe shaped one that most people picture when you talk about Niagara is on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. There is another straight edged falls that is over the border in the US (or the "evil empire" as Stef has taken to calling it). Having been to Iguazú falls on the Argentinian/Brasilian border our first reaction to Niagara Falls was that they were not very awe inspiring. They are certainly a lot smaller and I do not think that the water drops as far. That said, our initial views started to change as we readjusted to the scale of the falls.
|Aerial view of the Horseshoe falls|
It was a pretty cloudy day but the sun was trying to break through as we bought our tickets for tourist attraction number one, the Maid of the Mist boat trip to the falls. You go through a concrete switch back of corridors down to some lifts that take you to the river. As it is off season there were no big queues but you could tell from the way the area was laid out that the queues would be very long in the summer. At the bottom we were given our souvenir blue recyclable ponchos to wear on the boat and joined the queue to board. They leave every fifteen minutes so it was not long before we were under way.
At first, I thought they were a bit overly cautious giving us the ponchos but I soon became glad that they had. We initially went past the American falls. In, I think, the 1950's they had a big rock slide at the edge of the falls so the height of the drop of the water is now only about twenty five metres compared to the previous sixty metres. They have built a viewing platform that enables people on the US side to look across at their fall. It reminded me of a big diving platform and I wondered if anyone had tried to pretend they were in Acapulco and had gone off the edge.
As the Maid carried on past the US falls I started to be very glad of my poncho and also that I have a waterproof case for my camera. As the gusts of wind blew by they caught the edge of the falls bringing curtains of water across and onto the boat. The power of the water from the falls stirred up the river into a mass of white water. Although you could not feel it on board, watching other boats you could see how they struggled to maintain their position at the foot of the falls. We were there for quite a while, long enough for everyone to get photos if they wanted to and certainly long enough to get very wet as well.
With the sun breaking through the clouds we were treated to many rainbows sparkling through the mist. The mist created by the falls rises up in a column, as if the water was on fire, and away up into the air. As it was quite a windy day, the mist from the falls and the clouds seemed to merge into one. From the front of the Maid we were simply looking at a vast white wall.
In terms of its size, the water on the Canadian side falls about eighty metres. In a single second, enough water goes over the top to fill one million bathtubs. The power of the water is enough to crush an entire city within minutes. It is certainly not something to be messed with and we both thought that the people who have got their kicks by going over the top were a bit nuts.
Once off the Maid we walked along the top of the valley and around to where the water crashes down. The water runs at about forty miles an hour and it looks fierce, swirling around with strong currents and eddies. You can walk to the point where you can see the water go over the edge. A dark blue seething mass turns into an opaque greeny blue colour with white crests of foam on the outside. It is beautiful to see and almost hypnotic.
From here we went to the Skylon tower which gives you 360 degree views across Niagara. The views were pretty good as you could see up the river and follow the water down to the falls. The falls are eroding the rock and geologists estimate that they used to be seven kilometres further downstream. Looking back over Niagara itself, it is now just a mass of hotels and parking lots and has little character in its own right apart from the stretch just along side the river.
Our next stop was the Imax cinema which runs a forty five minute film about the falls and those who have gone over them. Originally a site populated by Indian Tribes, Niagara is an Indian word meaning "thundering water". Local Indian legend tells the story of a young girl who was extremely beautiful. As she was so beautiful, the Chief of her village said she was to be married to the oldest man in the village, an honour and a privilege. Not surprisingly she did not want to marry this old man and ran away during the ceremony. To ensure that the Chief and her family did not lose face within the village she had no option but to leave it and go it alone.
She walked down to the river and jumped into her canoe and started paddling away. The currents caught her and ended up taking her over the falls where she perished. The legend says that she was whisked away by the gods. It is thought to be her spirit that sometimes, not always, looks after others who end up going over the falls.
As European settlers headed this way Niagara became busier. In the winter, blocks of ice coming down from Lake Eerie gather at the bottom of the falls, eventually piling up into an ice bridge across the river. People used to freely walk across this and vendors even set up stalls on the ice bridge. Unfortunately, in 1912 it melted quickly carrying three people to their deaths so people are no longer allowed access to the ice bridge if one forms. On two occasions, ice further up stream has stopped water coming down so that the falls ran dry. In the 1950's the American Army purposely stemmed the water on their side so that they could survey the river bed by the falls.
Perhaps it best claim to fame though are the people who have gone over the edge. Sadly, some of these cases were specifically planned as suicides but others have been daredevils, or mad people, doing it to make a name for themselves. The first was a sixty five year old school teacher, Annie Taylor, who hoped that the associated fame would generate enough money for a comfortable retirement. She, and her kitten, were wedged into a barrel that was padded with a mattress and a pillow and they were set adrift in the river. They survived the ordeal but Annie's hoped for fame and fortune did not materialise.
The Imax cinema has a display of some of the crafts used for attempts over the falls. They are all variations on the theme of a barrel and are mostly very basic. Many successful attempts have been made but equally several people have lost their lives trying. The attempts on a jet ski and a kayak were perhaps not surprisingly unsuccessful. Some people who survived the fall subsequently died because their "craft" had become stuck either under the curtain of water at the falls or in the whirlpool further down river. For these people, lack of oxygen led them to suffocate. The most amazing survival story was that of a small boy, John Woodward, who was out on the river with his parents. The engine on their small boat cut out and they got dragged towards the falls. The mother was pulled to safety before she went over the falls. John did go over the falls but survived with no broken bones. The father did not make it.
The other people who are famously linked to the falls are those who have walked across it on a tight rope. Blondini was the first and the only one I had heard about before coming here but many others have also gone across. I was left with the feeling that a bit of an unofficial competition has been created by these people in terms of who can do it fastest or in the most unusual way. One chap walked across sixteen times in one summer. I personally think they are all barking mad adrenalin junkies.
|Ness breaks the bank - well, almost!!|
With evening approaching we headed for our last stop of the day, the casino. We went to the new one in town slap bang in the middle of where all the big hotel chains are based. There was a full set of Marriott, Hilton, Sheraton, Radisson and a few others too. One of the sad things about Niagara Falls is that they have allowed these chains to build big high rise hotels. The Imax film was made in the 1970's and at that time the only tall building was the Skylon Tower and the old casino.
The new casino was very glitzy and full of light. It again made me wonder what Las Vegas must be like. We set ourselves a limit of what we were prepared to lose and walked in to the maze of slot machines, noise and lights. It was probably about 7:00pm when we got there and it was already quite busy. A band was playing in a bar at the end of the casino and it felt like they had been there for hours. With no natural daylight anywhere in sight people must lose themselves in here for hours. We had thought the casino at Malbaie was large but compared to this it was tiny.
We walked around for a few minutes until we found some tables where they were mainly playing cards. There was the usual mix including black jack, poker, roulette and craps. A separate area had been ring fenced for serious poker players where all players played each other as well as the bank. Stef went to have a look with me hanging back with a "don't you dare" look on my face. He would have been eaten alive in there as he is not good enough at concealing his thoughts on his hand.
Not sure what we wanted to play we tried to follow the game of craps. You roll two dice. If you roll seven or eleven you win. If you roll two, three or twelve you lose. Anything else, you have to roll that number again before rolling a seven for you to win. Sounds easy enough until you start to factor in the gambling. We picked up a leaflet with the rules but it still does not make sense to me. It is one of those games you need to play to learn but a casino is definitely not the place to learn in!!
We decided to have a go at roulette. Stef opted for the black or red strategy he had taken in Charlevoix but this time it did not pay off. I went for individual numbers and came up a winner on the second go on number 24, my sister Caroline's birthday. We played for about half an hour. My winnings cancelled out Stef's losses and also covered the cost of the drinks we had along the way so we walked out of the casino with the same amount of money we had when we walked in. I had hoped that would be the case before we walked in and have taken a little bit of pleasure in teasing Stef that I won and he did not!!
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
The forecast for today was meant to be for good sunny weather but we woke to the sound of rain and then to thunder. I thought of the people next to us whose grand-daughter is getting married today. I bet she was not a happy person when she woke up. Within an hour or so though the sun had broken through and the day was mainly sunny and bright. Having had a rain shower in the morning everything had a "just washed" look to it.
I have still not managed to shake off my cold and was not feeling great this morning. We seemed to while away the time not really doing much but being busy all the time. As it is a nice campsite we decided to stay for another night and go and have a look at Niagara on the Lake. This took us back along the road we have driven down in the dark to get here two days ago so it gave us our first chance to see what the surrounding countryside was like. It is flat, farming land and one of the main crops here is grapes. In the Niagara region there are over sixty vinyards and our route to Niagara on the Lake took us past many. One of these was Jackson Triggs, whose wines we have been enjoying since we arrived in Canada. We booked onto their tour later in the afternoon and carried on to the lake.
While Niagara Falls is all tower blocks and glitzy glamour Niagara on the Lake is the opposite extreme. It is a picturesque small village, the kind you would see in episodes of Murder She Wrote, an American Miss Marple, and it reminded me of Mahone Bay in Nova Scotia. The only downside of this quaintness is that it is as full of tourists as Niagara Falls, simply of a different type.
|Toronto appears as a Floating City|
The shops are all nick nacky boutiques with just the right little something to finish off a room. There are cafe's (Shaw's cafe was very nice but the service was abysmal and the coffee was dire), art shops and hotels but all very discreet compared to the Falls. As we walked up to one hotel a rather large lady in a crushed crimson dress and holding a bunch of flowers came out onto the pavement. Then came eight more bridesmaids of different shapes and sizes, followed by the bride and bridegroom. You could see which of the bridesmaids were related to the bride as they all shared the same rather generous figure. They had come to have their photo taken in one of the carriages that is pulled by horse around the town. As their photographer got himself ready, so did a line of Japanese tourists. Stef completed the set taking a picture of the tourists taking a picture of the photographer taking a picture of the bride and groom.
We headed down towards the lake and found yet another wedding, this time a Japanese looking couple who had no entourage other than the photographer and his assistant. They had beautiful shots set against Lake Ontario with the skyline of Toronto just visible in the distance. The lake is huge, bigger than the English channel, and the water almost seemed to be rising up and over a hill before it dipped down again to Toronto. On the near shore on the other side of the lake was an impressive looking building. Or at least we thought so until Stef pointed out that it would be in the "Evil Empire" of the USA!
Niagara on the Lake, without the tourists and closer in to Toronto is the type of place I could see myself living in. It was an extremely beautiful village, full of leafy lanes and handsome houses. The setting is stunning and I could picture myself strolling along the lake with my big dog (or two) enjoying the fresh air before heading out to a little bistro for dinner and fine wines. The tourists however snapped me out of my reverie and I think it must be hell for the locals. It was packed today so I dread to think what it must be like in the height of the summer season.
One of the interesting shops is the Niagara Apothecary. It opened its doors in the late 1860's and ran for one hundred years. The shop has been restored with its original interior fixtures and fittings. Some of the containers date back to the 1830's.
Back at Jackson Triggs we started our tour with our guide Jon and about twenty other people. He seems knowledgeable about the trade and we have been trying to come up with adjectives to describe him. To me he came across as someone who is a wine buff, enjoys his wines but wishes he had more money to enjoy the really good ones. He had a very pleasant way of answering stupid questions, putting people (i.e. me!) down without being rude about it.
|Can we try them all jusht one more time?!|
Jackson Triggs are classed as a wine Estate rather than a Vinyard because they meet the criteria for having more than seven hectares of land on which they grow their own grapes. They mix these with grapes from other local farmers. The mix ratio of their own grapes is high enough for them to be classified under the VQA scheme. This is similar to the Appelation Controlle that applies to French wines. The VQA enforces standards for the quality of the grapes and their sugar content and it also ensures consistency in the end product.
The estate is relatively new having been founded in the early 1990's. Jackson and Triggs, two rather portly chaps based on their pictures on their website, decided to start dabbling in wine. One of them (I cannot remember which) previously was something to do with sailboats on one of the great lakes. They decided to buy the Labatt's bottling plant and that is how they first started on their wine route. No doubt they were not short of a bob or two at that stage let alone now.
The company has an estate here in Ontario and one in British Columbia. They produce similar wines where they can. Part of the company culture seems to be supporting the local community and economy so where they could all of the materials for the wine production building and equipment were sourced from local suppliers. Any waste products from the wines and the wine barrels are also fed back into the local economy either as fertilisers, fodder for animals or attractive garden features.
In Niagara, their building met resistance from the local people. Although it has been built along typical barn lines and with only natural materials, it is a very modern looking building and is out of character with nearby Niagara on the Lake. The lure of the money it would bring to the local economy countered the resistance and it is now just one of several modern estate buildings in the area. Design elements of the building, such as the ramp leading up the back of the building and into the production area, mirror the local landscape. The ramp is supposedly following the slight trough based contours of the land. I think the builders just sampled the local vino too much when they were on the job!
The grapes that come in from the local farmers are checked for quality before being weighed. Minimum prices are set by grape variety by the VQA. The grapes are poured into a big hopper and a machine then shakes them off their stems. The waste goes back out to the farms and the grapes go into the crusher. In this modern day and age the grapes are crushed by a big inflatable balloon in the crushing device. For red wines, the grape juice (which is a pale colour) is then left to sit on the red grape skins which gives the juice its red colour. The longer the juice sits on the skins the darker the wine will be and the more tannins it will have.
Here they also make ice wine. Grapes are left on the vines until winter and are only picked when the temperature has been at a sub zero benchmark for three days in a row. They are picked and crushed in the middle of the night so that they do not start to thaw. The juice yield is low as a proportion of the water in the grapes has been sucked back down into the plant, which in turn is why the grapes shrivel up. It is a high risk process because there is no certainty that the weather conditions will be right and there is also the risk that the grapes will not be of a good enough quality. The result is a syrupy wine that is served cold. As it is very sweet it is really a kind of desert wine usually served with good strong cheese.
We were toured through the basement where the wine is stored in barrels until it is ready. Each barrel is labeled so that they can track back through the production process if they need to. It also ensures that as they top up the barrels to counter evaporation, they top up with exactly the same wine.
Our final stop on the tour was the most important stop, the tasting room. We were given a lesson in how to taste wines and to tell if they are off. The glass should only be held by the stem or the base to prevent fingerprints dirtying the glass and your hands heating the wine. First you pour a small quantity of wine into a glass and look at it in the light. It should be clear and crisp, if not it is probably off. Next, swirl the wine in the glass to release the odours and have a good smell of the wine. If it smells vinegary or of rotting or mouldy stuff then it is off.
Next you taste the wine. The first sip should be used to acclimatise your palette and should be swirled and swished around your mouth. The guide spat his out, the rest of us would not waste such good vino and swallowed it! Only with the second sip do you really get to taste the wine. A good red should leave a furry feeling around your mouth. We tasted three whites (two not great but one was good) and a very drinkable red. Inevitably the tour ended in the shop and of course we felt obliged to buy. We will save the wines until I am less bunged up and can really enjoy them.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
We had decided to see a little more of Niagara before moving on. We had some chores to do before we left and spent some time just generally catching up with ourselves before heading into town. Our experience of a Koa campsite has been a good one. The people who had been in the site next to us only stay on Koa sites and I can see why. They were clean, with good facilities and good site sizes.
In Niagara a crap bit of map reading by me meant that we drove further out of town than we had intended to and beyond where we wanted to go. It turned out to be to our advantage though as we had good views down along the river towards the falls. It helps to create a sense of perspective of how fast and powerful the water becomes before it crashes down over the edge.
|Going on the Journey Behind the Falls|
We parked on the river front where there were well kept gardens and lawns. The immediate strip along the river edge is the only park of Niagara Falls that has not succumbed to high rise, neon tackiness. We went close to where the power plant is where you can see the water crashing over the edge of a man made flat strip of land. It was so fast it did not look like water. It was almost as if someone was pouring a thick sauce over the edge and that if you touched it you would end up with gooey hands. It was like a river of hair gel!
Before leaving Morty in the car park we had made a picnic lunch and sat on the river bank outside one of the fast food joints eating our sandwiches. There was something satisfying about doing that. In front of us the local bird population revealed their meal of choice – French fries. It made us wonder whether they generally have a high fat diet and obesity problem.
One of the “tours” you can do here is a walk behind the falls. We had not initially planned to do it but it came highly recommended (by my sister) so we thought we would give it a go after all. A short tunnel system has been blasted through the rock behind the falls. There are two observation tunnels which enable you to get about three metres away from the water as it comes crashing over. Every time I thought that we could have got closer, the wind turned direction and blew a wave of water into the tunnel, reinforcing why you could not go closer. As the falls keep eroding over time these observation tunnels also need to move. The ones we were in were the second set. The first ones, blasted in the 1920’s were uncovered by the water some time in the 1950’s.
It was pretty impressive standing at the end of these tunnels and watching a white wall of water crashing down in front of you. For me though, what was even better was the observation deck. This has been built just on the left hand side of the falls and it gives you fantastic views of the horseshoe and of the water crashing down. From here you can see that the waterfall itself is about two or three metres away from the vertical wall of the rock face. The wave of water is about another metre thick – glacial green turning to icing sugar white as the water sprays up into the air.
It was a mesmerising place to stand. From here there were also great views of the Maid of the Mist boats. They really battle against the currents to hold their place. One we watched looked as if it was having difficulty turning around but it soon swung round and headed down stream. Headed… I should have said whooshed. The force of the water sent it rocketing back towards the deck further downstream. It is certainly not somewhere you would want an unplanned and unprepared for dip into the water.
Having had our fill of water, we headed back onto the Queen Elizabeth Way for our journey back up to Toronto. The road took us back past the local vineyards which lined the route both sides. The vines are so close to the road it made me wonder whether they get affected by pollution from the traffic rushing by. Perhaps it simply adds a certain something to Canadian wines.
As there are no campsites central to Toronto itself we decided to stay outside the centre at the Koa campsite in Campbellville. Their advert claims that the campsite is only twenty eight minutes from metro Toronto so we thought it was possibly close enough to easily get into and out of town so that we could stay here rather than in a hotel. When we got there we both realised it was quite a way out of town. Stef started to try and change the game plan but I resisted. We will be in hotels for close to a week so need to stay out of town for tonight at least.
We checked in to the site, a very slow process as the lady at the desk liked to talk, and then hooked up for the night. The campsite was on the side of the main route 401 highway and you could hear the traffic passing by outside. There were a few other people there but it was not fully booked by a long way.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
Stef woke this morning with signs that he had picked up my cold. We had a bit of a catch up morning and a late breakfast while deciding what we wanted to do with the day. When we booked into the site last night, the lady at reception had asked Stef if we had gone to the plant. We were not sure which plant she meant but it turns out that Home and Park, the company that made Mortimer, have their plant in Kitchener about forty kilometres away. Unlike most RV makers, they offer tours around the plant to the public.
Stef phoned to check what time the tours were running and we had to hot foot it to get there in time…or so we thought. Having rushed around to leave the site to be there in time for a one o’clock tour we were told that the guide would not be there until one thirty. A bit frustrating but we filled the time while we waited watching their company video for sales people in RV dealerships.
The video/training was presented by the current chairman who is the son of the Dutchman who originally founded the company. The father wanted a mobile home that was manageable and easy to drive. He bought a Chevrolet van and took it to Home and Park who made the modifications he wanted. He was so impressed with what they had done that he bought the company and they went into general production.
|At the Mortimer factory|
Their Roadtrek is the best selling class B motor home in Canada and the US. Knowing this we had expected high production volumes but they only turn out about thirty five a week, under two thousand a year. It takes about one hundred and forty hours to complete each van. They start with a basic van from GM (and now also from Dodge). They are delivered with two seats in the front and nothing else. Home and Park take out the seats so they do not get damaged along the way and replace the fuel with one big enough to get the van round the plant. They then set to work.
For most models, they cut holes in the side panels for the windows and take off the roof, replacing it with a glass fibre higher roof. For their 210 model, most of the body is replaced with a glass fibre body which is wider. To check for leaks the vans are left under high pressure hoses for a couple of hours before any of the internal fittings are added. Next step is to put in the framework for the plumbing and electrical systems. All of the appliances are pre-fitted into their housings and are ready to be easily hooked up to the framework.
In the factory they make all of the cupboards, storage space and furniture. They upholster everything themselves at this site. They buy in component parts for the galley, washroom and entertainment systems and simply hook them up. To ensure a tight fit, the cupboards are lifted in and secured into place before the roof goes back on. They have two main versions of their vans, a popular and versatile model (the latter having a more flexible use of interior space) but also do special orders for people if required.
The company itself seems like a good place to work and they have low staff turn over. The work environment on the factory floor is very clean and safe and they are proud to have hit another milestone of over three years with no workplace based accidents. The showroom models they keep in the factory are available to staff to use for holidays during the summer if they want to. They are also active supporters of local community projects. The tour guide we had today seems to be representative of all of the guides. He is well past retirement and shares the tours with three others on a rota basis. He had to be called out of his wood working hobby classes to come and show us around.
While we were there we took the opportunity to ask about a couple of bits and pieces on the van we were not sure of. They confirmed that the person who had had it before us had made changes to the sewer outlets and that the reason it was so difficult to empty the tanks was because they had not lined them up properly. They told us what we needed to do to fix it, a relatively quick job if you have the right tools and are good at DIY. For us it’s a “no” on both counts so they recommended another company just up the road who could do the work for us this afternoon.
There we were met by an expat Brit. He came out to Canada, via Australia, over thirty years ago. Originally from Hampshire we brought him up to date on some of the recent changes that have been made to his old neck of the woods such as the M25 and the Queen Elizabeth Bridge at Dartford. He seemed to enjoy the reminiscing but has definitely adjusted to the Canadian way of life and I doubt he will ever move back to the UK.
- Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
Having stayed again last night at the Koa campground we were both keen to get into central Toronto. We were ready to go at about 10:00 but knowing how bad the traffic is downtown we decided to check hotel availability rather than just turning up. I do not know what made us do this, as we would normally just turn up, but it was just as well that we did. The central hotels that we would have stayed in were all fully booked as there seem to be lot of conferences in town. Undeterred, we phoned one of the Bed and Breakfast agencies. They have referred us to a place just on the edge of town, a couple of stops on the subway from the main downtown area.
We set off, back along the manic 401 motorway into Toronto. Even though Stef was not feeling great he had opted to drive. I was quietly glad as the traffic is a bit manic. As the Koa campground advert had said we did reach metro Toronto in about half an hour. What the advert does not tell you though is that it then takes you at least another thirty minutes to get to the main downtown area. The traffic got gradually busier as we got closer to Toronto and before long we were off the motorway and onto the normal roads.
This was when we first started to get a feel for how large this city is and the impact of it being water locked on one side. In terms of population it is probably about the same size as Birmingham. As it is bordered by the lake though, the city can only expand in a semicircle out from Lake Toronto. This makes for a long drive through to the downtown area. We went through the usual collection of neighbourhoods, some affluent, others not so, yet more with a studenty look and feel to them. There were some belts of green land but central Toronto itself has little open spaces for people to walk around in.
We had general directions to the B&B but knew that once we hit Danforth Street we would have to call for directions. Stef pulled in by a Second Cup coffee shop and I hopped out to use the phone. Our host, Joanne, was not home but on the way back to Stef and Morty our directional problems sorted themselves out. We were parked at the end of the street we were looking for, a tree had obscured our view of the road sign so we had not seen it when we parked! We left a note for Joanne on the door and then went to camp out in Second Cup to wait for her to come back.
Here we signed up for another day’s worth of internet connection so we could check emails and our site only to find out that the forum section of our site had been hacked again. This time help was at hand in the form of Indie from indiedesigns.net. He is one of the moderators of the free software that Stef uses on our site and was able to help us sort out the problems. The hacker is well known to him. Apparently it is a thirteen year old boy who spends his time looking for people using old versions of software and then hacks their sites. I think he is a sad little chap who should find more interesting things to do with his time.
While Stef was sorting out the website I went to book us into the B&B and to meet Joanne. She has a lovely house and two cute little white dogs, Harry and Pippy. She was a bit surprised at how big Morty was but must have sensed that if it was a problem we would have gone somewhere else as we had checked with the agency that parking was available. She showed me our room, which comes with a little lounge and an outside patio, and left me with a set of keys before I went back to check progress on the hacker.
We ended up spending most of the afternoon and early evening trying to sort out the mess he had caused. I do not think he has any idea how much hassle he creates when he does what he does. If only I could get my hands on him …… We stayed in the local area for dinner, heading to Allens along Danforth Street. It was a cosy bar, allegedly with an Irish theme, which has a good reputation for food, one that we reinforce having had a very tasty lamb shank dinner.