Quebec, Wakefield and Lac Philippe, August 16, 17 &18, 2008

1 03 2011

"There's a Little Place I Love in the Gatineau's..."

It felt weird to drive through Montreal without stopping, even though we have been there a bunch of times and had spent 3 days there the month before. We also went straight through Ottawa and Gatineau, but stopped half an hour later when we got to Wakefield.

The Legendary Black Sheep Inn

Wakefield is a wee, artsy town in Quebec that is English speaking. The town is famous for being super hippie and for the live music venue of Black Sheep Inn, who book really quality acts, which CBC radio sometimes broadcast live. The other thing Wakefield is famous for is a red covered foot bridge with a swim hole underneath it. We parked around the corner and went and saw Mike Plume at the Black Sheep Inn. He sang a song about Canada called “(8:30 Newfoundland) This is Our Home” and having recently experienced so many places in the song made me feel patriotic. He also mentioned the swim hole in the song—-”There is a little place I love in the Gatineau’s, with a covered bridge and a swimming hole” so we resolved to go there the next day. My only complaint about the Black Sheep Inn, and indeed Wakefield in general, is they serve the worst cider ever! Mystique—-the cider that tastes like lightly artificially flavoured sugar water.

Step in Downtown Wakefield

A Floor That is Also a Window

We just slept in the same lot we parked in. The next day we explored downtown Wakefield, which is only a couple blocks long so that didn’t take a lot of time. I did really enjoy the Pipolinka Bakery and bought what might be the best apple pie ever made there, which was reasonably priced, too. It almost made up for the Mystique of the place.

We had lunch at the Wakefield General Store (macaroni and cheese), in the cafe upstairs that had glass in the floor so you could see people shopping below, and I finally talked Step into washing the van. But it was SO dirty we barely got even the top layer of grime off, even though we were at the car wash for over an hour.

Refresh!

We actually had to drive to the swim hole because it’s on the other side of Gatineau River. Fortunately we met some people on the way and found out we weren’t allowed to skinny dip before we tried it. It was a hot day but for some reason only one other couple was swimming. The water was mild and there was a really strong circular current that I would let pull me out towards the rapids and then I would swim back and do it again. Some people on the bridge were yelling at me but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. After I had my fill I went and hung out on a rock with Step and we watched kids jump off the bridge. We got dressed and walked up to the foot of the bridge where a guy was tending flowers. It turned out he knew Lindsay, who we had met in St. John’s, and he told us the water was really high today. Usually, the swim hole is protected by a sort of fence of river rocks which keep people from being pulled into the rapids, but because the water was over the rock fence, no one was swimming. The people had been yelling at me to get away from the rapids. So I had been flirting with death and I hadn’t even known! Ignorance, in this case, was a lot of fun at the time, but makes for a disturbing recollection.

Deadly Rapids?

Swimming at Twilight

Liz and Ed were camping at Lac Philippe, which was nearby in Parc de la Gatineau, so we decided to spend the night there. It would be a good opportunity to visit, since we hadn’t seen much of them when we stayed with them at their straw bale house. We were lucky to get a spot as the campground was well attended that evening. It was a very clean and modern park, with the nicest laundry I had ever seen in a camp ground. We invited Liz and Ed and their kids over and we made them blow torch natchos, which Alec and Mavis really liked, except Alex said we should have had more cheese. Then we all went to the lake and went swimming again, and the kids showed off by jumping off the lifeguard’s chair.

The next morning we made another quick stop in Wakefield, for more pie, stopped in Ottawa for spicy noodles, and then headed down highway 17.

Behind the General Store





Quebec, Quebec City Again, August 15 & 16, 2008

21 02 2011

Quebec: Still Partying After 400 Years

The Stylish Cafe Cosmos Bar

When we arrived in Quebec City for the second time on our Cross Canada adventure, it was Friday night and the 400 year celebration was still going strong. Unlike our last visit, the weather was warm and dry and Grande Allee E was buzzing with partyers. Sean and Evalyne lived outside of Montreal but were on their way to camp past where we had come from on the St. Lawrence. They were running late, but that was okay because we managed to get a table on the sidewalk across from the giant disco ball, at a restaurant called Le Cosmos Cafe, and ate a nice dinner while we waited for them. I had a steak. It wasn’t great but it tasted better because the design of the restaurant was so interesting and modern. That shouldn’t make a difference, but somehow it does.

Beach Party!

We were planning on going to a free concert at the Baie de Beauport. When Sean and Evalyne arrived we walked a few blocks and caught a bus. Since we had spent a day in Beauport, we should have figured out it was quite far away, but somehow we totally zoned out on this fact. It took forever to get to the beach where the concert was being held, and even after we got off the bus we had to walk over a bridge and then around the barriers. As we approached the party we could hear Bran Van 3000 playing their hit, “Drinking in LA”, so we knew we had basically missed them and DJ Champion, who I love. All that was left was DJ Moby, who Step and I are not the hugest fans of. Also, all the canteens were completely out of beer and wine, so there were no adult refreshments available. We hung out a bit anyway, for the novelty of the large screens, video ball, light show, bonfires, and thousands of people dancing on the dark beach (did I mention Quebec took it’s 400th birthday seriously?). Also, it was nice to catch up with Sean. But it was super late and we were tired so we left after less than an hour. We had to line up for the bus home, and didn’t get back into the city until 3am. We just drove the van a couple of blocks, and found a flat, unrestricted parking space near Vieux Quebec, and stealth camped under the shade of a tree.

Stealth Camping

The next morning we went out for a great bacon and egg breakfast at a place called Cafe Moka, and I went back to the Croc store and bought the fleece lined crocs I couldn’t bear to buy the first time I was there. They only had red ones left—you snooze, you lose, or end up with red fleece lined Crocs.

We were on a serious time budget, and we wanted to spend some time in Wakefield, so we had to boot out of there. I felt uplifted yet melancholy as we left Quebec, and I played “Hey Jude” really loud as we drove down the highway, to match my bittersweet emotions.

Corn Grows in Downtown Quebec





Quebec, Highway 138, Tadoussac, and Sainte Anne-de-Beaupre, August 15, 2008

17 02 2011

Folk Art of Quebec

Cafe in Tadoussac

Under the circumstances, the highway along the north shore of the St. Lawrence river seemed very civilised to us, but in reality it is charmingly under-developed and provincial. Coming out of the gray, buggy summer of Labrador, the sun was extra soothing and the bushy tall trees were majestically luscious. Of course, we had seen the south shore when we toured the Gaspe Peninsula, and this area had much in common to that. It was more heavily populated but we still got to see interesting folk art and a refreshing lack of national chain stores.

The Boogie Bus Goes for a Ride

Tadoussac is a tidy little town famous for whale watching. It’s one of those spots where one side of the highway is linked to the other side by a ferry, so we stopped there for lunch, at a nice cafe called Le Boheme. We both had espresso—-espresso!—and tasty panini sandwiches.
The ferry ride was sunny, crowded and short. We had a date that night in Quebec City with some friends, so we didn’t dawdle along highway 138. At one point, I had to pee, and instead of stopping the van I just pulled the chemical toilet from under the bench seat and did my business. Our safety habits had really changed after living in the van for 3 months, when we would stop on the side of the road and unbelt just to get something from the back.

Shops by the Basilica

By the time we got to Beaupre we figured we were ahead of schedule, so we stopped in to see the famous shrine of Sainte Anne-de-Beaupre. I had never heard of this place (which just goes to show how generally clueless I am—it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions of Quebec), but Step had visited there on a high school field trip.

Miracles

Miracles

Sainte Anne is the patron saint of Quebec who is known for miraculous cures, and the modern day basilica that is her shrine is a destination point for pilgrims who seek to be cured of some ailment or affliction. I really enjoyed the area for it’s ’50’s modernist aesthetic, and the streets surrounding the shrine are full of shops selling religious trinkets. I found the whole place mind blowing in the same kind of gaudy, plastic style that I enjoyed in Niagara Falls. The shrine itself is more dignified. When you walk in, there are a couple of pillars in the entrance which are covered in crutches, prosthetics, and braces that the healed had been able to cast off after their personal healing miracles. We picked up a pamphlet from a selection of many entitled “Why Chose Marriage” [sic]. There were also candles you could light, or for a couple of bucks you could buy a candle in a Chinese food take out box thing on a stick. The use for this because apparent after dark, when the miracle seekers that attended the service lit them and had a little parade around the statue of Sainte Anne in front of the shrine.

Seeking Divine Intervention

Fortunately for me and the interested, I didn’t notice the sign asking you not to take pictures inside until after I had taken a bunch (I really didn’t mean any disrespect—I had been distracted by all the sights. Sorry Sainte Anne and possible God). I don’t think it was because they don’t want people to see, it was more to not distract the service attendees. Our camera is pretty good so at least it was quiet and I didn’t use the flash.

Sacred Statue of Sainte Anne

Why Chose Marriage?

I watched part of the service while Step made phone calls in the van. Some of the people were in wheelchairs and the like. As an agnostic, I wasn’t sure what to think. On one hand it seemed sort of snake oily, but on the other hand I do believe in the bodies ability to heal and if this was the conduit, who am I to judge? No one experienced any immediate miracles when I was there. I spent the second part of the service wandering around the grounds and then I got a couple pictures of the parade.

It was only 30 kilometres from there to Quebec City, and we made it with time to spare.

Religious Souvenirs, Anyone?





Quebec, Trans-Labrador Highway (Part 3), Fermont, Gagnon, and Manic Everything, August 14, 2008

16 02 2011

A Common Sight on Route 389

The last stint of the Trans Labrador Highway was about 580 kilometres and took us mostly through what we call Northern Quebec, (but if you look on a map it’s really middlin’ Quebec), and was by far the most active part of the highway in terms of traffic and things to see. We also got some of the most beautiful and amazing picture of our trip on this portion, but maybe not in a conventional sense.

The Long, Long Building of Fermont

Once we left Labrador City we only had to go about 10 minutes down the highway and we were in Quebec again. Here, the highway changes name from Route 500 to Route 389. Almost instantly we came across the mining town of Fermont. We didn’t spend a lot of time there, but we did note a few interesting features. One was an enormous truck, much bigger than a monster truck, which was on display at the entrance of the town. (We didn’t know yet, but later in our Cross Canada adventure we would encounter an even much bigger truck. At this time, we were amazed that a truck even this size could exist). The other was a residential building 4 stories high and at least a full kilometre long, that was built that way to act as a wind and snow break for the town. In the winter, the people who live in the building never have to leave it. It’s a triumph of urban planning! We drove through the town quickly, but other than those 2 things there wasn’t much to see.

Step Aside Monster Truck

Tires of Mont-Wright Mine

Right outside the town is the Mont-Wright iron ore mine, where most of the people of Fermont work. It is giant and plateaued, and much of the mountains have been eaten away. I can’t say it wasn’t beautiful in an industrial way. There was traffic and dust, and I took one of my favourite photos, this one of a train emerging from a cloud of dust. The highway got really twisty and we crossed the same rail track 17 times. There was even a stop sign! Dust. It was hot and we had to keep the windows closed. This is when the joy of celery sticks, bought in Happy Valley, trimmed, and chilled in the fridge, asserts itself. Yes, celery had never been so good.

Robin's Favourite Photo

Once we got away from the mine we were able to open our windows again, but we frequently had to re-close them because another truck came by. Some of those trucks were driven very recklessly, too, careening around unbanked, unpaved curves with full trailers of logs or whatever fishtailing behind them. Later, we found out this is one of Canada’s most dangerous roads.

The Abandoned Grate of Gagnon

After 3 hours of gravel highway, we came to the ghost town of Gagnon. Gagnon was the company mining town until everything was moved to Fermont, and not even any buildings are left, just a little stretch of pavement, a chunk of sidewalk, and a drain grate. For a ghost town in the middle of nowhere, there were sure a lot of people around. We saw about 4 parked cars and one mystery sight of one car being towed with a chain by another car. We don’t know what all those people were doing, but we just guessed they were fishing.

From here the highway has mostly hydro-electric projects, mainly the 7 Manic dams and generating stations (there are 7 but you only see 3 along the road). Some are huge but none rival Churchill Falls in scale or inaccessibility. The Manic dams are so named, I believe, for the Manicouagan river and lake. Manicouagan Lake is really a man flooded reservoir in one of the largest asteroid impact craters on Earth. If you look on a map you can see it is massive, almost perfectly round and has an almost as big round island in the middle, so it actually looks like an island with a moat around it. Astronauts in space can see it with their naked eyes and sometimes call it the “Eye of Quebec”. We were curious to go to its shore but there is no easy way to get to it so we had to content ourselves with glimpses from the van, and I’m not sure we got any of those, either.

Quebec Gives a Dam

The other thing on this part of the highway is the gas station in Relais-Gabriel. The gas station is the only thing there. You must buy gas; if you want to get anywhere else but there you have no choice. The gas, as you can imagine, is extremely expensive. There are also a little cafe and corner store, and cabins that travelers can rent. I have no idea why anyone would want to stay there, but I guess some do. I wonder often and a lot, what would it be like to be the family that runs that gas station. You would see a million strangers and have no neighbours. And probably each one of those strangers would complain about the price of your gas.

Manic 5

We saw one of the smaller dams and then we came to the Daddy Dam, Manic 5 (now known as Daniel-Johnson Dam). This is the largest multiple-arch-and-buttress dam in the world. The pictures we took can tell you more about this wonder of engineering than my words can. Here, the road became paved and we knew we were approaching civilisation again because there we all kinds of regular cars around, and in front of the dam there are motel rooms, a corner store, and a cafeteria style restaurant. Step stopped to use the pay phone to sort out some school stuff for the fall.

Camping at Manic 2

It was dark and as we got closer to the end of the highway there started to be things like campgrounds and other amenities, so we stopped in at one near Manic 2 and spent the night. The next morning I took a shower and there must have been something unfamiliar in the water because after the shower I was unbearably itchy for hours. We stopped to gander at Manic 2, which was no Manic 5 but still a wonder to behold. It turned out we had camped pretty close to the end of Route 389, and in no time we were in Baie Comeau. After so many weeks in remote towns, company towns, scrubby wilderness, really long gravel roads, and no cellphone signals, to suddenly burst out into this averagely urban town on the paved shore of the St. Lawrence felt oddly relieving, and we headed straight to the local Canadian Tire to get a new coffee pot.

The End of the Road





Quebec, Gaspe Peninsula, July 10 to 13, 2008

3 09 2008

Robin Joins the Great Gathering

The Field of Chez Jean

The Field of Chez Jean's

We made it as far as Riviere de Loup the first night, and camped at an RV Resort called Chez Jean’s. It was one of those situations where everyone there was in a semi permanent site, and then there was a large field in the back for transient campers of which we were the only ones, and that was great because we had a big field to ourselves and also were the only ones using the bathrooms reserved for that area. I wondered how people amused themselves there all summer but in the morning I saw a lot of the men enjoyed mowing their little patch of grass, and there was a lot of neighbour chatting with neighbour.

Early afternoon we made it to Rimouski where I left Step at the internet café so I could shop for some “mosquito pants”. This was a bit of a challenge for me as I relied on him as an interpreter and most people in Rimoulski have no English at all. Still, I managed to get some heavy duty yoga pants for night and later we went to Canadian Tire and there was a Zellers next door where I got some big but lightweight pajama bottoms for hot nights.

A New Friend

A New Friend

Another hour down the highway we stopped at Fromagerie des Basques where they had all kinds of Quebec cheeses, which we sampled many of and bought a few, as well as a wild game and blueberry pate. Soon we started getting into The Gaspesie, the local French name for the Peninsula. The beauty starts at Ste. Flavie, and is commemorated by a public atwork by this guy, Marcel Gagnon, which is around 100 concrete figures that span out into the sea, so at different tides different things are visible. It’s called “The Great Gathering”.

Matane is the last major centre until Gaspe, which is sort of on the tip of the penisula. We tried to get propane in Matane but the guy had gone home (I think—-the people of the Gaspesie definitely have less English. I could only say “Je voudrais le propane d’auto, SVP” and I think that’s what she answered. Anyway, we couldn’t get it). What we did buy at Poissonnerie Borealis in Matane was some fresh what they call shrimp and we would call prawns and some in-house-smoked salmon. A very large handful of prawns cost only 5 dollars! That night, it became a stand-up stirfry.

A Typical Gaspesie Roadside Scene

A Typical Gaspesie Roadside Scene

There’s only one road around the peninsula, and when you get to Cap Chat you marvel at the spectacle of a giant wind farm. Our pictures really don’t do it justice, so I won’t post one.

View from Camping Du Rivage

View from Camping Du Rivage

We hesitated to camp at Camping du Rivage in Ste Anne Des Monts, but we were really glad we did. The owners were so friendly and you can have a fire right on the beach. Norman, the husband portion of the ownership, introduced us to another couple from BC who were traveling in a PleasureWay, which is the ‘00’s answer to the Get-Away. We were curious to see the inside but they didn’t invite us.

That night we cooked outside and it was so windy by the sea the pan wouldn’t heat up, and cooking items kept blowing away. We have those roll up cutting boards and when I went to the beach with a headlamp looking for a bowl lid I recovered one I didn’t even know had blown away. That didn’t stop the fresh seafood dinner from tasting so good, though.

The next morning I woke up and the sun was shining and I don’t know why but I was SO EXCITED about the day. I knew it was going to be a great day and it was, although nothing particularly special happened, except I was on vacation in a beautiful place with a beautiful person I love a lot. Over breakfast I notice the spice box lid that had blown away the night before was in the beach peas. Beach peas look like sweet peas except they’re wild and they grow by the beach. (If you see some, I don’t think you should eat them, as some wild peas can cause paralysis).

Sound Sculpture on the Beach

Sound Sculpture on the Beach

We drove around Ste. Anne Des Monts thinking maybe we could find some propane, but all we found was a whozzy beach side sculpture with all kinds of made-up heads on it and a thing in the middle that it took us a while to notice made sounds in the wind.

Grande Vallee

Grande Vallee

We started driving along the north side of the peninsula making frequent stops for beauty, and one for a lunch of the smoked salmon with baguette and probiotic cream cheese. The road is lined with frequent small fishing towns, that the houses seem to be built in at random rather than a grid. Most of the houses are a freshly painted white with colourful roofs, and mowed yards and flower gardens, making for a very cheerful effect. We stopped for espresso and a cupcake, then at Gaspe for propane and another Poissonnerie where we bought a halibut steak, and then again at one of the many poutine stands along the road. Our goal was Perce, home of the famous rock, and we got there before twilight even! Step had it in his head that we would find a campsite overlooking the Rocher Perce (Perce Rock), and as unreasonable as that may seem with no reservation at the height of tourism season, that’s what we got at Cote du Surprise.

Rocher Perce

Rocher Perce

That night by the campfire the town of Perce twinkled on the water and the fish tasted extra barbecuey, and I told Step it had been one of the best days of my life, and it was true.

Step Rocks!

Step Rocks!

We woke the next morning to another sunny day and I laughed at the funny signs in the bathroom, such as “Please your shower curtain inside” and “Do not be washing the dishes in the lavebo”. We wandered around the town all morning, looking at the rock and taking pictures of the red dirt cliffs. Perce really has only one street of commerce, and it’s the most touristy town on the Gaspesie, but it’s not corporately developed so it still has its charms. There’s a big island across from it, Bonaventure, that is a bird sanctuary you can take a tour to, but we didn’t. After a nice saladly lunch we had “done” Perce and headed back down the road along the Baie des Chaleurs, where all the best swimming is to be had.

The Village of Perce

Roadside Art of the Gaspe Peninsula

Roadside Art of the Gaspe Peninsula

I guess because of the warm ocean this south side of the Gaspesie gets more traffic and more tourists, even though it is slightly less charming than the north side. French men stand on the side of the road with shelves of brightly sailed wooden boats they have made, waving and smiling at you, and pointing to their souvenirs. They were so nice we felt sort of guilty for not stopping and buying one, even though we have no use for a wooden boat. Sometimes we would see yards full of art more off-beat, as well. We stopped here and there for staples. At Bonaventure we stopped for smoke salmon and Step bought a kite that looked like a lobster from a lady named Solaris. He also bought one of those wooden eggs you shake and it’s a percussion instrument. We hadhad a green one on the cupholder of the Boogie Bus the whole trip, but he had accidentally left it at Pete and Mary Anne’s—which is a great place to leave a rattling egg, if you are destined to lose it.

On the Jette

On the Jette

At Carlton there is a giant jette out into the ocean and it has a campsite on it. It was really full but because the Boogie Bus is so self sufficient we don’t actually need water or electric hook-ups so we can camp in the tent areas, which usually aren’t nearly as crowded, if the campsite will let us. Carlton Campsite let us and we were able to get a spot right on the beach. A walk along the beach was the first thing we did, and soon we came across a little table set up with glasses of wine and a plate of snacks. As I photographed this picturesque scene the man responsible arrived and said he and his partner had gotten the idea in Normandy, where many people did it. Step and I haven’t done it yet, but I’m sure we will someday soon.

Romantic Seaside Snacks

Romantic Seaside Snacks

We barbecued these fresh, giant scallops we had bought at a random poissonerie, and had big vegetable and brown rice stirfry, and then sat by the fire roasting guimauves, which are a special French marshmellow that are exactly like all other marshmallows. It was an incredibly still night, and the sea was smooth as glass.

The next morning we were woken by loud thumping, which a quick look out the window allowed me to instantly ascertain our awning had been thrown clear over the roof of the Boogie Bus by the strong wind coming in from the sea. We leapt out of bed and outside. We somehow managed to pull the awning back to the right side. Some of the poles were bent, and there was a little rip in the canvas on one end. Fighting the wind, we managed to bend the poles back in shape enough to put back in the holder, and roll the canvas in. We were distraught to see the awning had come unanchored on one end and hung loose from the bus. After a dejected cup of coffee, and when the wind died down a bit, we mustered the courage to examine the situation more closely. The awning had been sort of jerry rigged onto the fiberglass raised roof, which had been put on when the van was being converted to a camper. If you are familiar with fiberglass, you know it to be a material through which a screw can find no purchase, so pieces of wood had been placed on both sides and the fiberglass had been sandwiched between. We recovered the screw which had held the end on, only to find it was completely decrepit and looked more like a fatigued piece of random metal than a screw. Still, we reassembled the whole thing as well as we could, and Step devised a complicated system of guy lines to ensure the whole thing didn’t just rip off and kill a bunch of people while we drove down the highway.

We felt pretty foolish and dejected after that. In retrospect in seemed obvious we should have rolled the awning in, or secured it to the ground. We were camping on a jette on the ocean! We noticed all the campers who had not rolled in their awnings had multiple guylines with serious spikes holding them down, and some people had them secured to their picnic tables. To compliment or grey self-flagellating mood, the sun went away and the day turned cloudy as we moved on into New Brunswick.

A Roadside Poutine Stand

A Roadside Poutine Stand





Quebec, Quebec City, July 7 to 9, 2008

1 09 2008
Robin in Vieux Quebec?

Robin in Vieux Quebec

A very scenic drive takes you a few hours to get from Montreal to Quebec City, and if you’re us and you take a wrong exit you also get to cross the Ste. Lawrence River a few times, and you can then say, “That fucker is huge!

400 Years!

400 Years!

Happy birthday, Quebec City! Who in this year of 2008 turned 400 years old. The city has gone all out and the celebration goes on night and day the whole summer. (They even had a FREE Paul McCartney concert on the Plains of Abraham, but it was after we left). This meant we had gone from Canada Day in Ottawa to Jazz Festival in Montreal to this non-stop celebration in Quebec for 9 straight days of civic festivities!

Lower Town

Lower Town

The world knows Quebec City as Quebec City, but people in Quebec just refer to it as Quebec, which can be a little confusing. It’s a rather large city and one of those that has another half of a city on the other side of the St. Lawrence river, Levis, that thinks it’s a whole ‘nother city. The area of interest is really Old Quebec, herein referred to as Vieux Quebec, which, absurdly, has an even older part in it, Old Old Quebec known as Vieux Vieux Quebec. Just kidding you—the old old part is known as Lower Town and the simply old part is known as Upper Town. Viuex Quebec is the only completely walled city in Canada (even the USA has none) with battlements and canons still all around it. Like in Montreal the attitude is you can assess your own risk of things so it’s okay if you want to walk on the top of the wall and stuff, which is cool.

The Most Photographed Hotel in the World

The Most Photographed Hotel in the World

I don’t want to get ahead in travel blog chronology, but later in Halifax we saw a comedian who said when he saw Old Quebec he exclaimed “this is the most European city in the world!” Haha—-it’s in Canada! It does have a very European feel, with winding narrow cobbled streets and ornate stone buildings, and public squares and beautiful buildings like the Chateau Frontenac, the most photographed hotel on Earth. We got to Quebec in the evening and walked down Grand Allee Est, which is the main gateway to Vieux Quebec. When those French people say they’re having a party they really mean it. There were all kinds of drinking and dancing on the street and the hugest disco ball known to man.

Giant Disco Ball by Day

Giant Disco Ball by Day

We were hungry for more crepes and night was falling. The Latin Quarter of Viuex Quebec was hyper crowded with shoppers and people watching street performers. There were pretty girls standing on street corners with menus to entice you into restaurants and I asked one where the best crepes could be found. Step was shy to ask a competitor but she was really friendly and said the locals eat crepes at Casse Crepe Breton, a mere block away, and that the prices were very reasonable, too. Like everywhere else, there was a line-up, but it wasn’t too too long before we were fed a fairly decent savoury crepe. AND there was a ‘50’s aesthetic poster in the bathroom advertising “Robin”. The concert was the next day and it had my name on it, so I took it (sorry, Robin, but your poster was such a beauty I couldn’t resist!).

Giant Disco Ball by Night

Giant Disco Ball by Night

Hanging Out on the City Wall

Hanging Out on the City Wall

We walked almost all the way around the wall. The portion facing Levis had crowds of people lined up facing the river, waiting for what we guessed were fireworks, although if any happened we never heard them. The buildings and hotels were beautifully lit and there were all sorts of battlements and canons everywhere. It really had a romantic feel. The area above the Citidel was all grassy hills with no one else on it, and from there you could hear that night’s concert, which was some band—I think their name was ‘Flower Power’— covering songs of the ‘60’s (where have all the flower people gone? They are partying in Quebec). Nearer the stage people had climbed onto what were actually not very safe portions of the wall for a free show.

It was getting late and we decided to find a campground, as they all were a bit out of town. (I haven’t mentioned yet that Quebec Tourism puts out the best campsite guide of all the Canadian provinces, detailing locations, routes, costs and services AND has maps. As a rule, we go for municipal or provincial campsites before private ones). On the way we stopped to check out the huge disco ball at night—quite an effect! I drove and got a little lost, until we found ourselves on “Louise Quatorze” Ave, which is what the Beaumont Municipal Campground was on. They were closed but we happened upon a French speaking man who let us in and led us to the one Anglaphone on staff. He said we could come in but cautioned us to be very quiet as it was after hours. All the lights had been turned off and the roads were very dark. We got to the campsite okay, but when backing in I somehow wedged the Boogie Bus across the road in between a tree root and a dirt embankment. It was a very stressful situation and in the end we just bit the bullet and dragged the bus across the root. This operation took some 20 very noisy minutes.

In the morning we saw some trim had been ripped off the driver’s side running board and one of the fog lights, which had never worked anyway, had been broken off. The Boogie Bus has a fiberglass spoiler which drops down on the front for aesthetic purposes that had annoyed us ever since the Stewart-Cassier highway, as it has very low clearance and it grinds against the pavement every time there’s a dip in the road (a noise that was incredibly worrisome until we figured out what was making it). We had kind of been hoping it would just break off eventually but the Get-Away conversion people attached it very firmly. The Beaumont back-up disaster had bent that up pretty good but it still tenaciously clung to the bus. (Later I was able to reattach the trim with some double sided tape, and maybe now we can get some fog lights that actually work, so the damage wasn’t as bad as it seemed that day).

I went over and apologized to the neighbours about waking them up. They said they had been awake, anyway, but had been amazed to wake up and see only a van, because the noise sounded like a semi-tractor truck.

People Flee the Impending Storm of Beaumont

People Flee the Impending Storm of Beaumont

When you’re traveling you’re on vacation, but there’s always the pressure of having to see the local sights while you have the opportunity, which can get somewhat exhausting as you get over stimulated and your brain gets full. The day before Step was all burned out and wasn’t in the mood to do anything, so I suggested a day off from vacationing, which he agreed was a good idea. Step spent the better part of the afternoon sleeping on the day bed and I read Pete’s book outside and ate ice cream bars. It was a beautiful day and I went for a walk and got lost in the woods, but it was okay because all paths led eventually to Beaumont. After Step woke I went and got a tandem bike for free at the gate, and we rode around the site a bit. We tried to go out on a peddle boat, but the guy at the canteen said he couldn’t let us because a storm was brewing. It was still hot so we went for a swim in the outdoor pool, and amused ourselves for quite a while with a couple foam noodles and a beachball.

At Beaumont we met a couple from Italy who had been driving across Canada, starting on the west coast, and had been in Ottawa for Canada Day, and in Montreal for the Jazz Festival, and Quebec for it’s 400th birthday. They had been partying for 10 days straight! But they were having a great time and it was kind of cool they were doing the same thing as us, only they had to fly across the Atlantic to do it. They were soon going home, and we were headed to the Eastern seaboard.

That night it did rain a lot, and Step put his straw hat outside to soak, because it had got all bent up living in Area 51, the large catch-all storage space above the front seats of the Boogie Bus.

Breakfast at Buffet de L’Antiquaire

Breakfast at Buffet de L’Antiquaire

It turned out we used up all the nice weather sleeping and reading, for the next day when we went back to Quebec it was rainy and wet, and yet still warm and muggy, which doesn’t seem fair. You should only have to deal with one or the other, in my opinion, but so far no one has put me in charge of the weather. We started our day with breakfast at Buffet de L’Antiquaire, because that is our Quebec raised friend Linda’s favourite place to eat in Quebec. She enjoys the homemade baked beans there. It was good but honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference between their beans and Heinz’s. Maybe their beans were having an off day? The diner is near the wall of Vieux Quebec so we could walk into the city from there. We spent the day mostly walking around marveling at the old-style architecture and the beautiful colours of things. I considered buying some fleece lined Crocs which I had wanted since I discovered their existence, and maybe it’s silly but I just couldn’t bring myself to buy them there—it seemed so incongruous around so much history. But people live in Vieux Quebec so they obviously must buy mundane items like fleece lined Crocs all the time. So therefore buying fleece lined Crocs must be an authentic Vieux Quebec experience. Unfortunately this line of reasoning did not occur to me at the time. Which is too bad because I would have really enjoyed those fleece lined Crocs.

Damp Quebec

Damp Quebec

Restaurant Anciens Canadiennes

Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens

Even thought there are all sorts of things you can do in Vieux Quebec like tour the Citadel mostly we just walked around and ate. We weren’t even that hungry but we really wanted to try the Table d’Hote at Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens, so we did. They serve up what is supposed to be traditional Canadian food of the 17th century, and the décor is old style, too. We both had navy bean soup and Step had a meat pie of wild game while I had a sort of salmon and shrimp in pastry with white sauce. I had maple sugar pie for dessert. I can’t remember what Step had for dessert (maybe a pear sorbet?), except that it was good, and I can’t remember what it cost, except that it was very reasonable. We wandered a bit in Lower Town, and had a pretty nice coffee at an Italian café, and took the Fenicular back up because we felt sluggish after all that food and it’s a pretty high climb up. The Fenicular is like a glass elevator that goes up on a slant instead of straight up and down, and is well worth the 1 dollar 75 cents for the lazy. Then we found a depanneur that carried a Quebec beer Step likes. They also had some posters advertising another beer I looked for, because the graphics were really groovy, but it turned out they only had the poster and not the beer.

Groovy Posters

Groovy Posters

Around evening time we felt Vieux Quebeced out, and decided to head for the Gaspe Peninsula, so off we went.

 

Later that Summer, Quebec is Sunny

Later that Summer, Quebec is Sunny

Later in the summer, we revisited Quebec city, and if you’re curious, you can read about it here.





Quebec, Montreal, July 3 to 6, 2008

12 08 2008

The Montreal Jazz Festival

The Montreal Jazz Festival

We had missed the Real Tuesday Weld but there was plenty more Montreal Jazz Festival to be had. The first thing we did was park in front of Ashley and Annabelle’s, our hosts in Montreal who live in the upscale Outrement district. They weren’t home yet but that was okay because we had to hook up with Alain. We got our bikes down from their rack and headed out to the Festival. The plan was to go out for some Chinese food with Alain’s new date and a gaggle of lesbians.
Michael and Alain

Michael and Alain

Alain is a hardcore vegetarian who often complains there’s not enough vegetarian restaurants in Montreal, although I noticed almost everywhere we ate there had vegetarian options. Step and I ordered some Schezuan fish that was weirdly fruity and sweet rather than spicy like you would expect with Schezuan, but everything else was pretty good. I was happy to meet Alain’s new but serious date, a handsome ex-Navy guy who had served for 23 years and was now retired. Before he met Alain he traveled the world for 3 years straight. Step asked him how army life had been, and Michael replied he wasn’t really “into it” but he liked the early retirement he had gotten from it. I was glad to see Alain had finally hooked a good one.

Montrealers Hang Out

Montrealers Hang Out

The Montreal Jazz festival blew my mind with its lights, musical intensity and the fact you can wander around drinking wine and beer. We saw some Boogie Woogie Bugle Girls from Company B (I don’t even know what their real name was, but you get the idea) and then some bluesy floozies. People started wandering home and we decided to go back to Ashley’s via Rue St Laurent. Even though it was Thursday there were loads of people out seeing bands and partying in all the little nightclubs on it. Montrealers are mostly thin and beautiful and dressed up and the streets are crowded, so it has a very metropolitan feel.

Step Relaxes at Alain's Crib

Step Relaxes at Alain's Crib

The next day we went over to Alain’s and he took us out on a bike ride along the river. Montreal is by far the best Canadian city for cycling. Not only is it largely flat with numerous (2 way!) bike super-highways, but people’s attitudes towards bicyclers is different than the hostility we often encounter in Vancouver, where cyclists are expected to obey the rules of the road and stay the hell out of the way of traffic. In Montreal drivers good naturedly give cyclists the right of way and bike anarchy is the name of the game. (Speaking of anarchy, the car drivers also partake somewhat. Montreal drivers go fast!) People cross the road willy-nilly and go on the sidewalk when necessary and no one seems to care. Helmets are optional so I didn’t wear mine, even though that makes Step worry. Also, most women ride bikes in skirts like I do.

We stopped by the gay ghetto of Rue St Catherine’s where there was a street festival going on all summer, so the road was closed to cars and all the businesses had built large wooden patios on the street for the duration. There were all kinds of tents with art on display but nothing of it was too exciting.

Alain and his Muse

Alain and his Muse

Like France, Montreal takes food really seriously, and our host Ashley is a major food snob. He had told us one of the 2 places in Montreal with good croissants was Olive & Gourmando in Old Montreal (herein referred to as Viuex Montreal) so we went there for lunch. It was too late for croissants but we had a very good lunch of M. Dinde sandwiches, coffee and desserts. They also have a special soap they make there that had a smell that strongly associated with my childhood, but I was unable to put my finger on how. We then went along the river to the Atwater Market building (stopping to check out the little lock and Habitat 67 across the river. Alain said a condo in Habitat is worth about 1,000,000 dollars now) where I sampled some Quebec fraises (strawberries for you Anglophones) which proved to be sweeter and more flavourful than the fraises we got in Ontario. We walked through the inside of the market which turned to be almost exclusively occupied by butchers, some with really crazy sausages, and Alain almost fainted at the sight of so much carnage.

Habitat

Habitat 67

The Butter Statue

The Butter Statue

We had to go downtown and meet my old friend Robin F. to perhaps see a movie that was part of the Fantasia festival, but when we found her and checked the guide the only two movies were in foreign languages (I think Japanese and German). They would have French subtitles so it was kind of pointless to go. Instead we walked a long walk through McGill University area, stopping to check out the infamous “Butter Statue”, all the way to Rue St. Denis to some pub I can no longer recall the name of, for natchos. It was next door to a crepe place that had a crazy wall display of a bunch of plastic crepes that I really liked.

We decided to go back to the Jazz Festival for a second round, and on the way we stopped at a gas station to pee and I was thrilled to see they had an XLerator.

The Lights Fantastic

The Lights Fantastic

At the Jazz Festival I was really into taking pictures using all the crazy lights, and Step and I made some great animated picture sequences in front of a wall of red bulbs. Oh, and there was some great music, too. On the way home we stopped at Frits Alors because if you are in Quebec you must eat poutine, so we did. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are—if you’re in Montreal you always at some point end up at Frits Alors.

Another place I like to visit again and again is the bar on Rue Rachel that has a large neon sign proclaiming “Verres Sterilises”. Sterilised Glasses! I like to ponder upon what could have happened to make them hang such a sign, or why that would be considered a selling point. I never actually go into the bar, even though I know the glasses are clean.I just admire their sign from afar.

Verres Sterilises!

Robin F has felt kind of lonely since moving to Montreal, and she has found the language issue to be something of a barrier. Almost all Montrealers can speak English but really want you to speak French. Some separatists will even make an issue of it, so Robin has had some problems getting medical coverage because her French isn’t that good yet. She said she has two tricks. One is to mumble when speaking unsure French, and the other is to say “Est-ce quec’est possible de parles Anglais?” (Is it possible for us to speak English?).

How Do I Say That in French?

How Do I Say That in French?

Personally, I have very poor French. Growing up on the West Coast learning French is taken not at all seriously, because no one uses French there, and we hardly ever had to actually speak the French we learned, so even though I have Grade 11 French I can only sort of read it and understand very basic phrases. Not only that but my accent is atrocious. This becomes even more complicated when you consider in school we’re taught France French, and in Canada people speak colloquial French. Step grew up in Ontario where you’re a lot nearer to French Canada, so he has pretty good conversational French and became my personal French Dictionary. Some Francophones will cop and attitude with you and pretend they don’t understand what you’re saying when your accent is bad like mine, and last time I was in Montreal I ordered a pain du chocolat and this happened and I felt so humiliated I stopped trying to speak it.But how are you supposed to improve if you’re embarrassed out of even trying? This time I decided just to use the French I have and to hell with it. The problem is I can speak enough to order food or ask a question, but then when someone answers in French I have no idea what they’re saying. A lot of Montrealers are nice and when they figure out you’re Anglophone switch to English, so very often there is the absurd circumstance of the Anglophone speaking French, and the Francophone speaking English, and that’s Canada for you. (Once Step and I stopped in a café for a drink and when I asked “Avez vous le jus de pamplemousse rouge?” the waitress burst out laughing at me but later comforted me and said the important thing is that I try, and it turned out French wasn’t even her first language). If I lived in Montreal I think I would make practicing French a priority. One important tip is when you don’t know the French word don’t substitute with the English one spoken in a bad French accent. I catch myself about to do that all the time.

Convention Centre

Convention Centre

Wedding Dress

Wedding Dress

The next day Ashley breakfasted us with bread made with flour from France. Ashley is a child psychiatrist and is in a transitional phase of his career. He had gone for a job placement interview the day before and was surprised (and perhaps gratified?) they had rolled out the red carpet for him. Go, Ashley! He and Step went to Vieux Montreal to meet their friend Jenny.I met up with Robin to go the Yves St. Laurent (RIP) show at the Musee de Beaux Arts (Robin has developed a keen interest in fashion history since leaving Vancouver). It was an entertaining show. The rooms were divided into concepts. Some of the outfits were amazing and elegant, like this hawk dress that was sleek and black and long with a shiny, densely layered silver feather wrap featuring big shoulders and tapering at the hips (it really was so very hawk-like, if impractical), and some of it was just stupid like the Braque inspired dresses that had these sequined cubist’s cut-outs attached to the front that you would physically have to hold up with your hand the whole time you wore it. I also found his favourite necklace disturbing, because he would give it to his pet model to wear for that years show. Kiss My Ass, anyone? (That’s the fashion world for you). All the mannequins were of course tall and skinny, AND they all had 10 inch necks. The ones showing the African inspired fashions were painted blue. I think my favourite things were the African inspired hats which were all made out of real human hair, and the wedding dress that was completely crocheted and only had one opening for the face so it was like a huge white Ukranian doll.

Montreal Chicken?

Montreal Chicken?

About a block from the Musee we were perplexed and slighty disturbed to notice some raw chicken that had been lined up and displayed on a little concrete wall in front of a church. But why?

Ever since seeing the crazy crepe display I had been craving a crepe so we went back to that place and I had a delicious ham and cheese crepe with corn and tomato in it. It turned out the guy who owned the newly opened crepe shop knew Robin F. and that was a happy thing, because she hardly knows anyone in Montreal so these kinds of community threads are extra-valuable.

I had been stricken with the notion I must have a new dress, and we shopped a bit but nothing materialized.

Ashley was having a birthday party for Annabelle (who was feeling so unwell she ended up not attending and spending the night in their room) so we went back there. Jenny, who I had met before, attended, and some other friends of Ashley’s and Annabelle’s with their new baby. Ashley made a pasta dish known as Putanesca,which literally translates as “Whore’s Pasta”, the idea being prostitutes who needed a quick and delicious meal between clients would whip this up. It has olives and anchovies and stuff. Step totally watched him make it so I expect more Putanesca in my future.

Tam Tams

Tam Tams

Vieux Montreal

Vieux Montreal

The next day was Sunday, and for many in Montreal that means Tam Tams. If you’ve never been to Montreal, it is mosty flat with one little mountain in the middle called Mont Royal, and the whole mountain is a park. Tam Tams takes place at the foot of the mountain and it’s just bunches of people getting together to drum and dance. It starts in the late morning and goes until all the drummers go home. People also lay out blankets by the sidewalk and sell Hippie goods. Step and I checked out the scene earlier in the day, then biked to Vieux Montreal for more sight seeing and picture taking. Viuex Montreal is charming for it’s Old World style, with narrow streets and tall ornate stone buildings. I tried to buy a Tin Tin shirt (Montreal is all over Tin Tin) that had a black face jigaboo featured on it, but the shop was sold out (why do they display goods they don’t have for sale? So annoying).

Refresh!

Refresh!

We biked to St Denis and did some more dress shopping for me, and found one that was 100% polyester and scrunched up into a cardpack sized ball and was therefore ideal for traveling. After dress shopping, a man needs a beer, so we went to Dieux de Ciel, which is a microbrew bar. Step sampled a bunch of beers and I had some charcuterie. Then we rode our bikes a lot, revisiting Tam Tams to see what it was like in the evening (still dancing, just more sweaty) and cruising Little Italy looking for a likely bistro for dinner. I have to say riding around on your bike in the summer nights of Montreal is a real pleasure—people like to go out and there’s something going on on every block. We came across a little street festival with Italians drinking and dancing, but we don’t know what the occasion was.

Montreal, I Lick Your Poutine

Montreal, I Lick Your Poutine

I guess it’s kind of snotty to not to try it, but we are both convinced we will never get any sushi that’s as good as Vancouver’s, unless, of course, we’re in Japan, so we don’t even bother. We saw a sushi restaurant and I noticed the plates being served on the patio had some really crazy presentation, with long pieces of lemon grass sticking out and other edible features. The rolls were so fat the pieces were as big as baseballs. The traditional way to eat sushi is to shove the whole piece in your mouth and that would be well nigh impossible with these Montreal bits. We also saw a Thai place that looked intriguing but empty (never a good sign at dinner time). Finally we settled on an Italian place, called Le Petit Italien, that was packed but ended up being disappointingly bland and unoteworthy.Yes, we had managed to find the only mediocre restaurant in Montreal. Later, I read the Lonely Planet (I am chronically guilty of consulting the guide after we visit the place, a pointless and frustrating practice) which raved about the out-of-place Thai restaurant, so that perhaps was a decent meal missed.

The Romantic Coffee of Montreal

The Romantic Coffee of Montreal

Art Window

Art Window

Later we wandered around looking in windows—check out this wild art display—and introduced Ashley to the Wii and had a relaxing game of golf.

It’s important not to leave Montreal without stopping by Fairmount bagels for some Montreal bagel goodness. Fairmount Bagels is so open 24/7 that they don’t even have a lock on the front door. We stopped by on our out of town and had one of those funny situations where we and the counterman were all trying to communicate in French, and not really doing well with it, and then we all figured out we all had English as our first language.

Ah, Montreal. A great city. If I spoke better French, I would live there.

Tantalising Crepes