Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Quebec - and our last days in Canada

As we entered the Province of Quebec the weather was becoming cooler with grey skies and rain showers. The odd few leaves on the deciduous trees were changing colour and some trees were almost covered in their autumn (fall) finery of red, yellow, orange, burgundy and lime green. If only we had another two weeks to experience the full onslaught – I'm sure it would be absolutely stunning.

We had several days of road travel eventually linking up again on the previously travelled Route des Navigateurs to travel westward this time along the St Lawrence River towards the Province’s capitol, Quebec. Accommodation in the old city area of Quebec was hard to find, so we found a hotel about 20 minutes away for our final few days in Canada. We decided on a small guided tour and were picked up from our hotel at 9am for a very good tour with commentary of the very beautiful old city in the morning with a tour around the picturesque area just outside the city in the afternoon. The old city centre is truly very European looking with the cobbled roads and French style of architecture. Musicians busking outside small bistros and coffee shops add to the sense of being in Europe and far away from the North American continent.

For our final day in Canada with drove to the nearby traditional Huron settlement (Onhoua Chetek8e [sic] Native). A young native woman guided around explaining her ancestors lived in the past. Being mainly settled (non migratory) in one place, they erected quite substantial communal huts and tended theland growing their food as well as hunting. The settlement welcomes visitors and has a restaurant where we had a substantial lunch of sunflower soup with Indian bread, followed with deer sconoton (for me) and bison sausages for Peter then by a dessert of maple cake. Very interesting (different!) and delicious food. There was also a herbal hot drink provided.

This was, to me, just the perfect way to end our Canadian trip – a reminder of how the first nation people lived in that part of the world and how their descendants have both integrated into white society, but also managed to keep alive their traditions. Although the Huron people don’t own their land (the Government does), they have the advantage of living  in the settlement without paying any taxes. Education is encouraged and their artisans are happy to pass on their skills to younger people. With a steady stream of interested tourists/travellers, and a settlement well run by their elders, this particular branch of the native north American people seem to have found their niche and worked hard to promote themselves and their traditional way of life in modern society.

On our departure day, we packed up, drove to the airport, surrendered our hire car, congratulated ourselves on arriving early, checked in our luggage and then had our lunch. On fronting up to security, though, I had completely forgotten the miniscule amount of liquid you are allowed in your carry-on luggage and confessed to 3 containers of maple syrup. Oh dear, we had quite a ‘Monty Pythonesque’ time re-organising. I was sent downstairs to the check-in counter to see if I could send it separately and pay the departure tax. The very helpful lady decided that would be far too expensive and suggested putting the three containers in one of our suitcases (already checked). “What is your luggage check number and I’ll go and fetch your case” said she helpfully. Umm – those luggage slips and the suitcase keys were with Peter who had already gone successfully through security.  Upstairs I went but Peter had already disappeared and the friendly staff had been replaced with a new shift of people. I was sent downstairs again to arrange a P.A. announcement, and this had to be done in both French and English. Eventually Peter heard his name and came downstairs (through Domestic Arrivals!) and we fronted up once more to our friendly check-in lady who had in the meantime, looked up our details on the computer, noted the luggage number and had retrieved my suitcase. So there we were squatting on the terminal floor opening my suitcase and packing in three plastic bottles of maple syrup – with a prayer that they wouldn’t leak. Thankfully the suitcase was still under the allowable weight, so we breathed a sigh of relief and thanked profusely the very helpful check-in lady who had thought it so lovely that we wanted to take home some genuine Quebecois maple syrup. What  a drama!

Our flights home (Quebec to Toronto, change to the ‘big’ plane, next  to Vancouver, a stop for re-fuelling and then the long flight across the Pacific to Sydney, thence to Melbourne) was quite uneventful but it was extremely lovely to be back in Australia and to be picked up by our son, Rohan, for the drive home.

Our Alaskan and Canada trip over almost three months was a great experience. We loved the amazing Rockies with their spectacular views of glaciers in BC with all the various climate zones, also  the short break in the USA when we drove to the huge Boeing factory and the lovely coastal scenery as we island-hopped our way back to Canada was an unexpected delight.  The prairie lands in the centre part of Canada  were a complete contrast with hundreds of miles of perfectly flat land and the seemingly endless crops of canola and flax. The train travel via VIArail’s The Canadian was most enjoyable but sadly, NOT the long delays at train stations. In the east the Maritime provinces were just lovely and we especially liked the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec Province with its coastal views and silver churches. Prince Edward Island was just about the most picture perfect island – beautiful scenery with hills and trees and lovely little villages – it surely must be the place where all those white snowy  scenes are photographed for  Christmas cards. Nova Scotia was also interesting to us – loved the Maritime Museum in Halifax and also its amazing Citadel and again there were great coastal roads with wonderful views and everywhere all the lighthouses throughout the Maritimes. 

Newfoundland was a place which had been a long time on the bucket list, but the long distances and the short time we had left to us meant we were rather limited in what we experience. It would have been lovely to travel way up north to Gander once the first stopping off place for flights across the Atlantic and also to L'Anse aux Meadows the Viking Settlement dating from around 1,000 AD, but we did very much enjoy our day at the Avalon Settlement archaeological dig, the Whale & Puffin boat trip, our day in the capital, St Johns, the views from Signal Point and the day trip to the small historic village of Trinity.

The distances we covered on our travels across Canada were quite vast - by car it totalled around 10,000 kilometres with train travel accounting for another 3,500.

Finally, I must say in all our travels we have never seen so many trees – the world will never be short of trees as long as there is Canada. We have so many good memories of our trip – thank you Canada and your friendly, welcoming people.  This will be a hard trip to top. Until next time ....

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Back to Nova Scotia

Again, another very smooth crossing and we drove off the ferry around 9.30am and whilst still in the North Sydney area, found two more cemeteries and photographed some missing war graves. Next we found our way to our B&B and enjoyed a very nice overnight stay, with the hostess, Cheryl, telling us next morning of an attempted murder which took place at her home two years prior. A newly married widow (in her 70s) chose the B&B to finish off her fourth husband – rather ineptly if you ask me as she had already served several years for ‘accidentally driving over her second husband TWICE!  If you’re a murder mystery fan, just google ‘Black Widow and Chambers B&B’ for the full story. Cheryl had us in fits of laughter though and made this stop one of our favourites.

Leaving Nova Scotia, we travelled by a coastal route along the southern coast eventually arriving at Dartmouth where we had accommodation for a few days. This is ‘just up the road’ from Halifax and so not far to go for the essential site-seeing of this part of Nova Scotia.
First day was a day of discovery in Halifax. We found our way to the Fairview Cemetery to view the graves of the Titanic victims – there is such a lot of them and they are all arranged on a gentle curved slope. Of course there are is a steady stream of coaches continually bringing sightseers so at times there are quite a lot of people moving amongst the memorial stones.
Next we found our way to the harbour right down the hillside and through the narrow one-way streets that are such an irritation when you’re not sure about finding your way in a strange city. The popular harbourside is along the boardwalk with the inevitable fast-food booths, and it is there that the excellent Maritime Museum is sited. It is well worth a visit, as much of the history of this region is sea based, and so very important to the lives of people who live here. A short feature film told the dreadful story of the Halifax disaster – when a French cargo ship fully loaded with wartime explosives, was involved in a collision with a Norwegian vessel in December 1917. The result was a cataclysmic explosion that devastated Halifax. Over 2,000 people died, 9,000 were injured and a tsunami created by the blast wiped out the physical community of Mi'kmaq First Nations people that had lived nearby. The museum has a separate exhibition on the ill-fated Titanic – as you would imagine. Halifax was the nearest port to the disaster and it is where the both the survivors and the recovered victims were brought.

At lunchtime we decided it was now or never to try the popular ‘poutine’. It consists of a dish of fries, topped off with cheese curds and then gravy over the lot. We not very bravely decided that we’d order a small dish of this delicacy (!) to share and with some iced tea, took our meal to the picnic tables by the waterside. Perhaps it was a good thing that we met a holidaying English couple to chat with while we ate.  Must say poutine is not really to our taste – but it certainly is to a vast majority of Canadians.

We took a day trip out of Halifax along the coast to Peggy’s Cove which is touted in the brochures as picture perfect with a wonderful lighthouse. Well, we've certainly seen our share of lighthouses on this trip – especially so in the Maritimes (those provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland) nevertheless we found Peggy’s Cove quite picturesque despite (once again) coachloads of tourists. It has a vast rocky area right by the sea with a white lighthouse beautifully positioned to warn ships. These lighthouses nowadays are not so essential given the widespread use of the GPS, but the structures remain and are very picturesque and a reminder of the days when expert navigation was a talent at which a lot of seafarers were not very proficient.

We couldn't leave Halifax without visiting the amazing Halifax Citadel (Fort George) perched solidly high up on a hilltop in the heart of the city. We arrived on the day that 75 years ago Canada entered into the fray of WW2 and many of those ‘manning’ the citadel were dressed in period wartime uniforms instead of the usual full Scottish dress of the 78th Highlanders. Peter got talking to one ‘soldier’ and found out that he was a re-enactor – and of all things, his forte was as an Australian Light horseman! He was most interested to learn that my grandfather was in the 13th Light Horse.

We also visited the Canadian Immigration Museum sited in the very building that so many immigrants passed through on their way to a new life in this country. It is Canada's version of Ellis Island, and is well worth a visit.

Leaving Halifax we drove across Nova Scotia to the north coast and checked into a B&B in Digby for two nights. During our stay here we drove along the coast to Annapolis Royal, a pretty coastal town first settled by the French in 1605 and in nearby Port Royal there is a beautiful (1939/40) reconstruction (by retired shipbuilders) of the original French fort. 

Before leaving, we visited the Moose River Rug Hooking Centre. I have been intrigued by the popularity of this unknown craft (to me) especially in the Maritimes which had originated in pioneer days when burlap (hessian) sacks were reused as the base of floor rugs and strips of old clothing or fabrics were hooked through to easily make quite beautiful - but cheap - floor coverings. The centre we visited certainly opened my eyes to this craft and it seems to be almost as popular here as quilting.

In this area there is also a tidal powered generating station taking advantage of the incredibly high tides in the Bay of Fundy. In fact you can literally see the rise of the incoming tide - it is so rapid.

This small town is from where we boarded another ferry to travel in grey, rainy weather back to New Brunswick. We drove across the province finally coming back to Quebec Province – our final  stop.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


The much delayed (6 hours!) finally left port at 11.30pm by which time all passengers seemed to be settled for the night either in private cabins or (as we were) in very comfortable recliner air seats in one of several seating areas. With plenty of leg room and in a carpeted and quiet room, it was not difficult to drift off to sleep with the hum of the engines as the ship made its way out into the Atlantic Ocean. The feared rough seas due to bad weather did not eventuate and our progress all the way to Argentia, Newfoundland was one of the smoothest sea journeys we've ever taken.

We arrived, surprisingly refreshed after our shipboard sleep, and finally drove off the Atlantic Vision at about 2pm in absolutely beautiful weather.

We had booked into Armstrong’s Suites in Witless Bay which is about an hour and a half from Argentia, and renowned for its Ecological and Marine park. Our ‘room’ turned out to be two bedrooms and a large living area with quite a good kitchen area. We were able to self-cater and so enjoyed some home cooking each evening – making quite a change from the usual range of food available from cafes and restaurants.

Unlike Nova Scotia with its strong Scottish roots, Newfoundlanders have an Irish background and their speech has a very Irish lilt to their Canadian English.

Our first Newfoundland adventure was a Whale & Puffin tour on board the ‘Molly Bawn’. The weather had turned cool and windy overnight and the sea was considerably choppy, but together with another couple, the guide and captain took us out through the waves into the harbour amongst the islands. It was the last day for these types of tours, as the puffins usually head out to sea for the winter by the first of September and the whales, too, move off to more wintry quarters. Nevertheless we spotted several Minke whales, and masses of different types of seabirds including the quite cute puffins so arrived back quite satisfied.

The next day we packed a picnic lunch and drove about an hour an a half around the coast to Ferry land where the Colony of Avalon is situated. The area had been first settled by Europeans around 1621 and after centuries of settlement lay abandoned until re-discovered in the 1930s. Small scale archaeology began but it was not until 1992 that the Avalon Foundation received sufficient funding to carry out the massive work that the site warranted. 
The original cobbled roadway uncovered.
Now at Ferryland there is a fully equipped conservation laboratory, a collection storage area, an absolutely wonderful interpretation centre with guided outside tours (we had our own personal guide on the day we visited), a reproduction of a (working) seventeenth-century kitchen and three heritage gardens. Digs continue with much, much more to uncover. It is a wonderful place set in stunning scenery especially when viewed in summer but I imagine life there would have been extremely hard in the long winter months.

Day three was spent in the Capital of Newfoundland, St Johns, and it is such a small but pretty city situated on the sloping shore of an almost landlocked harbour. It would have been (and still is, I suppose) a wonderful shelter for ships braving the North Atlantic Ocean in the days of sail. 
Stunning view of St Johns from Summit Hill.
At St Johns we once again searched for, found and photographed a War grave for the Commonwealth War Graves Photographic Project. Then, after some lunch at the very impressive “The Rooms” (the archives, museum and art gallery of Newfoundland), we visited their World War 1 exhibition, also the displays featuring early fishing life together with its icy tragedies early last century. Such a hard life for the islanders during those long ago times. 

Cape Spear Lighthouse.
Before leaving this area around St Johns, we drove to Cape Spear which really is the most easterly point of land – from here there is just the vast ocean. The old lighthouse, near to which Marconi proved that his invention of wireless communication actually worked, is a favourite spot for tourists especially on such a beautiful blue sky day being high on the Cape with spectacular views back over St Johns and also out over the vast Atlantic.

Our final day was another long three hour drive north-east to Trinity another early settlement with people mainly associated with the fishing (cod) trade from Poole in Dorset, England. This lucrative trade continued for many decades before finally going into a decline. The village still retains many of its gorgeous old buildings and some have been sensitively restored. There were Mercantile Premises, a Forge, various churches, a parish hall, a mortuary chapel, a museum (where there was an interesting demonstration of rug hooking which is quite a popular craft in the Maritimes) and Hiscock House where a widow, Emma Hiscock, became quite the entrepreneur during her lifetime. Trinity is not a museum, though, as quite a number of people live there. 
The town is a stunning place and we enjoyed visiting the various buildings where guides told the story of ‘their’ particular building. We spent some time in the Cooperage talking to a craftsman who explained the making of casks and tubs for the transportation and storage of fish in the early years.  His family of English origin had lived in the area for several generations but we were still able to pick the English West Country lilt to his speech. We really enjoyed our visit to Trinity, even though we faced another three hour drive back to our ‘home away from home’.

Finally, it was time to pack up and slowly make our way to Argentia to catch the ferry back to Nova Scotia. Along the way we stopped off at Placentia (from the French ‘Plaisance’ meaning ‘pleasant place’) to see the old Castle Hill National Historic site of the fort built by the French in the early 16th century. Next stop was the ferry for another long but smooth crossing back to Nova Scotia.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Prince Edward Island - and a little of Nova Scotia

The amazing Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick to PEI is the longest in the world (being 12.9 kilometres in length) and was opened in 1997.  Driving across it seems to take forever but eventually, of course, it ends and leads us onto the most delightful island imaginable. Prince Edward Island at various times was under the French, the Scottish and the English (the American colonial English), but the Island seems to us to have a very Scottish flavour about it although the earlier Acadian settlers (of French and native Mi'kmaq origin) also gives it a most appealing feeling.

The landscape is just so pretty – quite hilly and in between farmlands there are many forests. The nearby sea and the coastal roads nearby are just breathtaking. I can imagine it picture perfect in the snow with scenes that would go well on Christmas cards.

On our first afternoon there, our B&B hostess at New Glasgow suggested a local ceilidh was to be held that night just 10 minutes up the road in Stanley Bridge, but said that although it would start at 7.30, we should be there by 7 o’clock as it was very popular. She was right but we got good seats and then enjoyed several hours of wonderful Scottish/Irish/Acadian fiddle, guitar and keyboard  music by two sisters and their brother (the Ross family). As usual, the audience were asked where they had come from. I think we two Aussies just won the longest distance travellers award beating a couple from Finland. Half way through was an interval and we were invited down into the basement of the hall where the local Women’s Institute offered bowls of strawberries and icecream for $3. How could we refuse?

The concert was a wonderful start to our time on Prince Edward Island – and next day we decided to drive along the northern coast to the far eastern tip where there is a lighthouse and the obligatory gift shop and café where we had lunch. On the way back we stopped at a railway museum but Peter’s verdict – disappointing. We also had a day visiting the capital – pretty Charlottetown with a small but interesting city centre right by the harbour.

Of course we had to visit Green Gables. The series of books about Anne of Green Gables are loved worldwide, and the island attracts many tourists with ‘Anne’ themed attractions including TWO musicals in Charlottestown continually playing to devotees of the books AND a recreated version of the village of Avonlea. We just visited the house on which the books were based and it was actually the farmhouse of relatives of the author, LM Montgomery when she was growing up. 
Anne's Room
Her precise descriptions of the house, the immediate surroundings (the Haunted Wood and Lovers' Lane) fit perfectly, although the wider agricultural district has largely disappeared due to development. However a golf course now surrounds the few acres around the house so all seems still quite rural and exactly as the author described it in 1908 when the first book was published.

Prince Edward Island really is picture perfect and the descriptions of the countryside in the LM Montgomery books of early last century still ring true today. Just a very, very beautiful island – and we are not surprised it is much loved by its people.

We had absolutely gorgeous weather for our stay and it was only when we were leaving that the weather turned to rain and fogginess. We left via a ferry at the other end of the island and arrived an hour or so after sailing, in Nova Scotia.

This really did seem a little part of Scotland with buildings and landscape very similar to what we have seen in the lowlands of Scotland. We had several WW1 graves to photograph here (in Pictou) and although we found one reasonably easy, the other was not in St. James’ churchyard where it was listed to be. We eventually found the Pictou County Genealogy & Heritage Society in the town and had a lovely time there chatting with the volunteers who investigated and found out that there was another newer St. James’ cemetery just outside of town. Following their directions we easily found the right cemetery and soon photographed the sad but interesting headstone of AB Colin W Forward.

After an overnight stop we travelled to North Sydney to board a very large ferry for the 15 hour trip to Newfoundland. We embarked at 4.30pm for a scheduled 5.30pm departure, but due to hurricane winds in the Atlantic Ocean near Newfoundland, we didn’t leave port until 11.30pm. We had a lovely (but comfortable enough) six hour wait. 

As a result Peter has decided 'The Atlantic Vision' must be operated by ViaRail trains!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick

It was only a ten minute  ferry ride from Ontario but it seemed to us that we had arrived in faraway France. The Province of Quebec proudly maintains its French origin and whereas in the rest of Canada, signs are bi-lingual (English and French) and everyone speaks English with some French, here in this Province all signs, both road and business, are in French only and the French language is universal with only a very little English spoken. Added to that, the countryside and the houses have a decided French air about them. Very picturesque. 

We try to avoid motorways were possible, and so we began driving along the very lovely Route des Navigateurs – a country road that travels alongside the St.Lawrence River from from Baie-du-Febvre to Sainte-Luce, a distance of about 470 kilometres. Small villages line this route all with their own lovely village church – usually stone-built or sometime painted white with a silver tower and spire. I think that in the wintertime snow the silver and white churches would almost be impossible to see!

Our first night in the Province was in a country area in a very French gite (B&B). Luckily the wife could speak English but it certainly was a different experience in a very old 1770 farmhouse decorated in old French style.

After several days travelling here, I had to pinch myself to remember we really were in Canada and not in the middle of France. Our extremely basic knowledge of French is getting a work-out. “Excuse-moi, Messieurs/Madame, parle-vous Anglais?”

One excursion along the Route des Navigateurs was to St.Jean-Paul-Joli where just about all the residents seem to be wood-carvers or sculptors. A display of many of their carvings was stunning. A special exhibition featured many of the artwork of Norman Rockwell recreated in beautifully carved and painted bas-relief. 
A Rockwell painting reproduced in carved relief.

All these are hand-carved.

We had several days in pretty Montmagny right beside the St.Lawrence River. It is a lovely 350 year old town and is designated the Snow Goose Capital. The town holds a festival to celebrate these graceful birds in October.

Lighthouse at Cap Bon-Ami with the Marconi building on left.
We travelled all around the stunningly beautiful Gaspe Peninsula and one day drove right to Cap Bon-Ami and from there you can see Lands End which is the most easterly point of mainland Canada. On a warm blue sky day, no scenery could surpass it. The 1904 Marconi transmitting hut was there and as it signalled such a leap in communication at the turn of the 20 th century, we wonder what Marconi would think of the instant communication we now enjoy. What would he have thought of the internet and Skype??

On leaving the Peninsula we travelled over the bridge to New Brunswick and suddenly there were English signs and English speakers. Again this area is lovely and our friendly host at our B&B in Cocagne told us a little of the way of life for people living in New Brunswick. We have had some very interesting conversations with the various B&B hosts recently.

One of the  towns we passed through had painted all their fire hydrants as cartoon characters. We counted about two dozen and all different. Here are a few that we photographed:

Finally, just over the New Brunswick border we enter Nova Scotia and then across the very long 12.9 km Confederation bridge, we are ready to explore Prince Edward Island.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Manitoba and Ontario

Arrived at Winnipeg Union Station around 1am and after collecting our baggage, caught a taxi to a nearby downtown hotel for the remainder of the night. The hotel (the Marlborough, built 1914) didn’t get very good reviews on Trip Advisor but we have learnt that in all cases those derided places where we’ve stayed have been quite acceptable and nothing to be concerned about at all. At the Marlborough, the reception clerk took pity on our tired appearance and upgraded us to a ‘Business’ room. This turned out to be a smallish room with ensuite but most comfortable, clean and quiet. Free breakfast was included and this turned out to be a cooked breakfast and much better than the usual ‘help yourself’ buffet style. 

Later after collecting our hire car we drove out of town to Saint Francois Xavier – a small town
At the superb White Horse Escape
where we had the most delightful B&B with friendly welcoming hosts. We love B&Bs – mostly they not only offer a very nice room but also a very warm welcome, offers of a welcoming drink and friendly advice on local attractions. At the White Horse Escape B&B, when our hosts learned that we had to return our hire car to the airport and later get to the Rail Station  for our late evening train, they offered to help with driving Peter back from the airport to the B&B, serving us a light dinner and then driving us to the airport. Service above and beyond the norm.

At the Butterfly House at the Assiniboine Park Zoo
Visits in this area included Upper Fort Garry which was an early settlement of the Hudson's Bay Company. The Forks riverside area of Winnipeg which has been used as a meeting place for hundreds of years and now is quite an extensive market and entertainment area, and the beautiful little zoo - the Assiniboine Park zoo where we finally got to see polar bears.

The Dining Car
As the next leg of the trip was by train, we wondered if it would be on time, but the scheduled 8.30pm departure was once more delayed (getting used to this with Via Rail) and we finally boarded at 1.30am with the train leaving at 2.00pm. Straight to bed, then up next morning for breakfast, with the rest of the day enjoying the scenery speeding past. Lunch and dinner were on board and very nice silver service it ws too. We were seated with some very interesting passengers at each meal. One elderly American couple told us that they had lived and worked in the Assam district of India for 25 years (the husband was a surgeon) and their family thoroughly enjoyed their life there. After one more sleep we were woken to learn that the early morning arrival time had been extended to 1.00pm.

The onboard service and care we received was of top standard, however the interminably long delays waiting in uncomfortable train stations makes 'The Canadian' not something we'd recommend to travellers. Such a pity as this train that travels right across from the Pacific coast to Toronto should really be a top tourist attraction.

Arriving in the middle of the day meant the city area was extremely busy and crowded – made more difficult by extensive construction work both on the roads and buildings. We picked up our hire car and then found our TomTom satnav couldn’t find any satellites mid city. Not good when you have absolutely no idea where you are and which direction you should be travelling in. We eventually drove to the outskirts of the CBD where directions to our hotel finally appeared on the screen.

The weather in Toronto was hot and sticky – and Peter began experiencing irritation in his eyes. We continued though with our plan to use the Hop on/Hop off bus to see the Toronto sights, and Peter decided on a visit to the top of the CN Tower. Not for me, though! I was happy to walk around the base then sit and wait and people-watch. Three hours later I was still waiting! The huge queues of people meant 20 minute delays at all the various stages up and again at each stage down. I must say that he took some really good photos whilst up there. We finished our tour and his eyes had worsened so as he had had bletharitis several years ago he knew he now needed a doctor to prescribe antibiotics. Luckily there was a walk-in clinic quite close to the hotel and soon we had the medication needed.

Toronto is also the home of the Bata Shoe Museum which exhibits over a thousand shoes and related artefacts (from a collection numbering over 13,000). Sadly for me, (but happily for Peter!), we ran out of time for a visit.

Houses of Parliament, Ottawa
We were quite happy to leave this crowded but construction plagued city and began our long drive next day to a small village outside Ottawa for our next stop. The weather by now had cooled considerably and by the time we got to our Cumberland B&B, it was grey and raining. A young French-Canadian woman who was spending a few days cycling around the area was also a guest and so we three drove the 10 minutes to an Italian Restaurant for a good meal and good conversation.

Next day we dove into Ottawa – another city plagued by much road construction and traffic jams – and visited the quite beautiful Houses of Parliament.

Inside the Bunker
We were told about the Diefenbunker Cold War bunker museum and decided the three-quarter hour drive outside the city would be worthwhile. It certainly is an amazing construction. An astonishingly large underground complex over 4 levels and all secretly built at the height of the Cold War to house and protect the then Canadian Government should nuclear war eventuate.  A sobering experience to view what might have been needed.

Continued our trip eastward and a short ferry ride took us over the state border to the Province of Quebec. More on this very French region to come.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Onto the Prairies

Our  wanderings through the Rocky Mountains finally came to an end when the mountains got smaller and the roads flatter and less windy. Eventually we came to Edmonton, Alberta where we were due to board the Trans Canada train ‘The Canadian’ to travel to Saskatoon in Saskatchewan (lovely sounding names!). By this time I was desperately in need of a haircut and at Spruce Grove a little outside of Edmonton we found a nice salon whose manager agreed to fit me in on the spot. This turned out to be the highlight of the day as from that time onwards, things didn't quite go according to plan.

Being a hot day and with no other attractions to tempt us, we decided to surrender our car to the Hertz people at Edmonton airport, sit in airconditioned comfort and then have an early dinner there before catching a taxi to Edmonton Via Rail station where our train was due to leave at 11.45pm. We thought the hours waiting at the airport were long enough but when we did get to the train station, it was to find that there was quite a delay on the arrival of ‘The Canadian’. This turned out to be a very, very long wait! About 60 would-be passengers spent the night in the waiting room with updates – usually of another hour or two delays – every hour or so. We finally boarded at 5.30 am with the train leaving at 6.00 am. The reason for the delay we were told was that ‘there had been a freight train derailment and everything was a bit of a schemozzle’! We fell into our bunks for a 2 hour sleep before heading into breakfast very bleary eyed, then returning to our beds for another short sleep. Once on board the train, I must say, the service was excellent and all meals provided in the dining car were ‘white linen’ service. The train made up some time and we pulled into Saskatoon around 2 pm then collected another hire car for our few days touring in the prairie state of Saskatchewan. 

We decided to drive down to the state capitol of Regina, and tried the local Hostel International there for our stay. The advantage of staying in this basic accommodation was that we could use the kitchen and prepare our own meals. It had won 'Hostel of the Year' at one stage, but now it sadly needs a bit of work to bring it up to scratch. We had a private room though so it suited us well for a few days. 

The RCMP depot at Regina is where all the ‘Canadian Mounties’ (Police) are trained, and they have a wonderful recently built building tracing the history of the Canadian police from the very early days when it was a more military force until modern times. The use of mounted police was downsized in 1956 and police are now highly trained in modern methods as in most other countries. A contingent of mounted police in their distinctive red serge jackets are still used in ceremonial parades. A guide showed groups of people through the facility and we were there in time to see the impressive Sergeant-Major’s parade at 11.45pm.

Peter with his souvenir Corner Gas numberplate
On another day we packed a picnic lunch and drove out to a small town called Rouleau. There is not a lot to distinguish this town set in the middle of the flat prairie land of rural Saskatchewan, but we knew it was where one of our favourite sit-coms, the witty Canadian ‘Corner Gas’ series was based. A film of the series had only just been filmed a few weeks prior to our visit and we were amused to see the actual Gas Station with police car parked outside and the nearby café ‘The Ruby’.  Some local buildings were still bearing the show’s town name of ‘Dog River’ with the newspaper premises advertising the fictitious newspaper ‘The Dog River Howler’. We were able to identify the pub and the police station and a house which featured in the sit-com. All good fun and we half expected to see the characters too, but sadly no.

We later visited the wonderfully named Moose Jaw which has a fantastic museum on the history of transportation. It is a huge building with very early models of cars, trucks, snow vehicles, planes, trains and motor bikes. They even had a small steam loco operating outside for rides. We gave our spare ticket to a nearby family, then chatted to the grandmother for a while. It is so interesting to talk to the people on our travels and they always are interesting to hear a little about Australia. Moose Jaw is famous – or perhaps, infamous – with its tunnels being used  by bootleggers - including Al Capone - during prohibition in the 1920s (it is conveniently close to the American border).

Back in Regina, we walked the beautiful big Wascana Park which is nearby to the hostel. It is well laid out with walking/jogging/bicycling track around the lake which fronts the impressive capitol building. We appreciated the cool shady trees and flower beds on a hot and sticky summer day and it seems most other people did too. With such a short summer period, everyone here seems to make the most of the warm weather, however we find the high humidity a bit draining for us.

The Observation Car at the very end of the train
Driving the three hours back to Saskatoon to again catch the train, we drove through acres and acres of very flat agricultural land – the major crops being canola and flax, and the bright yellow fields contrasted with the blue/grey of the flax groups. We surrendered the hire car at Saskatoon Airport and enjoyed a lovely B&B overnight before leaving for a scheduled train departure at 8.30 am next morning. Canada’s Via Rail is improving! We only had a delay of 4 hours this time! (However, it was 5 hours late arriving in Winnipeg!). 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

When it's Summertime in the Rockies

The drive through the Rocky Mountains was just astonishing - excellent roads and around every corner there were spectacular views. There were many signposted places to stop and marvel at Mother Nature's work and we did too and took masses of photos.

Mostly we had blue skies with fluffy white cloud weather, with only one rainy day in Revelstoke which didn't bother us too much.

With the roads cutting through the wilderness areas, it was interesting to see the provision made for wildlife to safely move from one area to another and, despite the quite heavy holiday traffic (RVs, caravans, coaches, etc), there didn't seem to be any roadkill at all. Many overpasses have been built with wire fences hidden in the trees all along the roads - all very discreet and beautifully managed.

Speaking of wildlife, through the entire Rockies trip, we didn't see one bear or one caribou. A few mountain goats, a deer or two and lots of these cute little creatures.
There were quite a few of these gophers around the Pinewood Lodge Resort high up near Radium Springs. (I took advantage of the mineral springs there for a lovely soak one day).

We stopped in Banff and it is a very pretty town however very geared to tourists with many souvenir shops and eateries - and therefore many, many people. (Interesting to hear lots of different languages spoken).
We find we much prefer the smaller towns near to these famous resorts. Accommodation is easier to find away from the big name tourist spots.

Jasper was another place we decided not to linger in. So busy and a similar plethora of tourist shops from which to keep away.

We tend to travel economically and this means using mostly 2 star hotels and motels, Hostels International and B&Bs. The hotels and motels are varied - some with fridges and microwaves and all with the inevitable coffee maker. Unfortunately for moi who loves a cup of tea (English Breakfast - black tea) in the morning, very rarely do we find an electric kettle. Sometimes, we are loaned one when I look desperate and refuse to use the hotwater from the coffee-maker. It surprises me that with Canada being part of the British Commonwealth for so many years, the making of tea is not more widely known. The main variety available seems to be Orange Pekoe which I rather liken to the by-product of kittycats. Luckily I found a rare supermarket which sold a large box of English PG Tips teabags.We have also shopped and have a supply of bread, butter, cold ham, tomatoes, salad, cereal, milk, yoghurt and fruit for breakfast and lunches. We keep the dairy items in an insulated carrybag and we also have a Thermos for when we can get boiled water to make mugs of Cup-a-Soup at lunchbreaks. Speaking of Cup-a-Soup there is certainly not the range that we have in Australia. Here you get a choice of Chicken Noodle, Cream of Chicken, Chicken & Veg. and Tomato. That's it! Think the Aussie brands of Maggi & Continental would do well here.

Three of the five glaciers to be seen from this spot.
Back to the wonderful scenery that greets us at every bend of the road. The massively big rugged mountains, astonishing glacier-fed blue/green lakes, spectacular waterfalls and glaciers were really becoming quite commonplace after so many days and it is so hard to them describe it in a few paltry sentences. Here are a few photos which might give you a bit of an idea of this amazing part of the world.

Just one of the beautiful aqua glacier-fed lakes.

The Tangle Creek falls

It wasn't all driving. At Lake Louise we stopped for a walk around and at the beautiful lake fronting the Fairmont Chateau, we just had to take a turn in the canoes available for hire. It was great fun and although it is many years since each of us has been in a canoe, we bravely paddled out and over to the opposite side of the lake and back. Thoroughly enjoyed the unexpected experience.

Now that we are through the Rockies, the countryside is getting quite flat and we find that we are missing those wonderful mountains and forests. We look foward to the next stage.