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.

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