We arrived, almost two weeks later, back to the uninspiring town of North Sydney via the overnight car ferry from Argentina (pronounced Are-Hen-Chia). It was about $500 for two adults, a kid, and a car. A very small cabin with a bathroom, two almost touching bunk beds, and a television would have added another $200. We, along with dozens of other people, chose to sleep elsewhere on the ship and found the movie room (which played back to back movies until eleven) a perfect place to lay out our sleeping gear. Besides back to back movies until eleven there was also a lively bar with two talented singer-songwriters doing their thing, a couple of dining options, and a few other cruise ship like amenities. The boat, however, rocked so much that one of the performers went to bed early. Eventually the sea did settle down and all three of us had a relatively good night sleep.
On the shorter ferry that brought us to Newfoundland
Leaving the ship, however, we still felt exhausted and a little sea sick. It was worse when we left the car and into the next day we felt the land rocking just a little bit whenever we stood still. Despite this lingering sea sickness we still managed to drag ourselves to the reconstructed Fortress of Louisbourg and were glad we did so.
At one time Fortress of Louisbourg was an essential cog in France’s North America Empire. Like Quebec City it was walled and supported thousands of residents. It was built to defend the sea and its’ formidable cannons would have destroyed any hostile ships approaching the narrow harbor. So the British instead lay siege to the town and twice forced their surrender (1745 and 1758). The second time around the British systematically destroyed the fortress. Two centuries later it was restored as a living museum by Canada Parks.
In many ways the place reminded us of Colonial Williamsburg. Historical Re-enactors milled all over the place with many of them selling period piece inspired knickknacks. Others tended fires and grumbled loudly about the coming war with the British. Still other Re-enactors paraded in military uniform before shooting off cannons (which killed dozens of unsuspecting tourists- joke). A lot of it was in French which added to the authenticity. There was even a French led church service in the ornate cathedral. All of this drove home the point that North America has always been shaped in part by French influences. One only has to look at Quebec, twice the size of France and Canada’s second most populated province, to get a sense of what those early fur traders, farmers, merchants, soldiers, and fishermen left behind. It is always worth rediscovering.
After seven plus weeks, over seven thousand miles driven, forty-one nights camping, and too many ferry rides to mention we are home. From icebergs to fishing villages to tidal pools to puffins and whales and piping plovers to back country cabins, French speaking hamlets, and Viking settlements, it has been one hell of a ride. Although not always easy, it was almost always fun. To paraphrase Glinda and Elphaba, who can say if we have changed for the better, but because we traveled, we have changed for good.
On probably our last full day on vacation we visited Toronto. Often compared to Chicago we felt like it was more NYC. Downtown even had a mini Times Square like area that pulsed with giant screens. Most of our trip has been devoid of franchises and traffic and, for that matter, people. So it was a bit of a shock the very slow driving crawl through a seemingly never-ending downtown with its’ relentless pattern of Starbucks, Tim Hortons, Subway, repeat. There are a few older buildings to gawk at (like the former City Hall) but most of the architecture is fresh steel with cranes everywhere building more. Canada’s premier art museum, the AGO, is a must see and is at least the equal of the Art Institute. We especially enjoyed an exhibit that presented art by topic (such as humor or money) instead of by time period. Not surprisingly the AGO has a Canadian focus and for us was a great introduction to the Group of Seven. Then we crawled out of the city and slowed even more on the highway leading to the U.S. We hoped to spend our last night in Michigan but instead camped once more in Canada. And today we drive home.
It’s the last night on the trip and it’s always bitter-sweet. We have had a great adventure but the call of home is ringing in our ears.
So even though we are so excited to see all our friends and family again we will miss the open road. So…..
“Take off your thirsty boots and stay for a while. Your feet are hot and weary from a dusty mile”.
Driving from east to west in Quebec the country gradually moves from mono to bilingual with citizens east of Quebec City mostly not knowing any English. So in Riviere du Loup we had to pantomime our breakfast order but not before reading the English menu filled with odd phrases such as “eggs have been found useful with potatoes.” The people were nice (especially when greeted first in French) but it was hard not being able to converse. In Quebec City people spoke English but not fluently. In Montreal you are just as likely to hear English (or Arabic) as you are French. And everyone knows English. The streets are equally diverse with saris, turbans, stylish hats, and hajibs all bobbing together in search of something. And then you drive just a bit further west and you are in Ontario with everyone speaking English. It feels comforting but also a bit boring. You find yourself missing the exotic.
We love Montreal for its’ bilingual soul, beautiful buildings, and our gracious and cool cousins who opened their home to us.
In which Henna tries to scale the walled city in Quebec.
In which Henna realizes there is a cool door to enter.
Kouchibouguac is almost directly across the sea from Cedar Dunes but to get there we had to first drive about seventy miles south to the Confederation Bridge, another eight miles across the Northumberland Strait, and then about eighty miles north on the New Brunswick side. If PEI resembles Iowa, then New Brunswick is Louisiana back when they spoke Creole. In fact the Acadian flag is flown high and proud and here with French spoken first, English reluctantly. The area has a lot of charm, but sometimes you have to dig a little to reach it. Last night our efforts paid off at an excellent pizza restaurant in St-Louis de Kent which specializes in seafood pizza (fresh lobster, scallops, and shrimp baked into a thin crust pizza- cash only). The park consists of a lot of bike trails, a salt water lagoon, a sandy beach, and a very cold life guarded ocean to swim in. You can also rent kayaks which we used to explore the ocean fed river. Mostly though we joined Henna in dropping hermit crabs into sand aquariums with channels linking them back to the lagoon. Corey and Henna tried their hand at making sand race tracks, but the crabs were not so interested. I took to birding and wished that I knew more about birds (Tom Lally where are you when we need you!). Right now the coffee is done percolating and maybe, just maybe, the my two partners will be waking up soon and we will begin our drive home in earnest. Not in the mood though to hurry them along. Noel