2016 Canada

CANADA….getting to Toronto 16-17th  September

You have to feel a bit sorry for the bird that flew into the plane engine at Jersey….but I would have liked to wring its bloody neck. Stupid bird caused me two very long days of travel and changed plans.   EasyJet had to bring another plane over to Jersey from England to pick everyone up, which caused a 3 hour delay…..which meant I missed my connecting flight to Toronto.  Of course there wasn’t another flight until the next morning, so I had to find a bed for the night, cancel my Toronto accommodation, and – worst of all – cancel my booked trip to Niagara Falls. To add to the chaos at London Gatwick, many other flights had been disrupted due to a baggage handlers strike in France, so the airport hotels were almost full.  I think I got the last available room at the Airport Hilton… ..a family room costing 194 British pounds…nearly $400!!!  A test for my travel insurance….. ?  Have to say it was very comfortable and I quite enjoyed the rest….but would much rather have been in Canada

The replacement flight was not direct – it took ALL day via stops in Newfoundland and  Nova Scotia!!

With hindsight, it might have been better to miss Toronto altogether and just fly straight to Ottawa, but that would also have involved changing plans with other people, so I stuck to the schedule and had just one night in Toronto.  Was a bit tricky finding how to get into the city from the airport (there were thousands of people waiting for buses and taxis) but I eventually found the shuttle train and made it into Union St, the huge central railway station.  Had to resort to a taxi to find the hostel – which turned out to be lovely.   Despite a very full day of planes, trains and automobiles, I decided to go back into the downtown area to have a quick look at Toronto after dark.   It was a beautiful evening with a big full moon, so was worth another train trip just to see all the skyscraper apartments and the CN Tower lit up and sparkling.  I walked down to the lake edge ….a massive expanse of water….then journeyed back ‘home’ by train again. Into bed by about 11pm – even later by English time which my body clock was probably still struggling with.   Anyway I had a brief taste of Toronto and decided it looks a very interesting city.

Next morning, up early for a quick walk down the street to find breakfast. Struck gold! A sweet little Parisian creperie with the most delicious crepe I’ve ever had in my life.   Better than anything I’ve had in France. The area I was in seemed to be a mix of French and English influence…and lots of students.  I even walked past the Alliance Francaise on the way back to the BnB.  Had to get back to Union Station (yet again) for the 10.45am train to Ottawa but I had the system sussed by now, so all went smoothly. But then a scheduled 4-hour train ride to Ottawa turned into 5 hours with signal problems, freight train up ahead etc.  I feel as I’m jinxing every bit of transport I get on at present!


Saturday 17th September.   

sNormand’s sister, Jacinthe

Made it!!!  And Jacinthe was there to meet me.   So nice to meet Normand’s sister at last .. have been Facebooking with her for a while, ever since she stayed a night or two at my place with Normand and Anne when they did their exchange last February.  ( I was then in Thailand, and Jacinthe was on her way to teach in an orphanage in Myanmar) From the train station we did a loop through the city area before going back to her place., where I spent my first night in Ottawa.   Jacinthe is bilingual and teaches French in an English school.  Right from the outset I could see how totally bilingual this city is .  Literally everything is in both languages. 

Ottawa from the Peace Tower

The city itself is divided between the provinces of Ontario and Quebec by the big, wide Ottawa River.  As the capital city of Canada, it’s dominated by the beautiful old Parliament buildings…the tower is an iconic city landmark.  In some ways, it’s a lot like Canberra. …lots of government buildings, national galleries and museums,  lovely parks and gardens – and also quite difficult to get one’s bearings outside the downtown area.   East? West?  I’m still not sure which is which..  I’m feeling a bit spaced out here….not quite sure which language to use, or which side of the road is which.  Strangely I feel more at home in France where the roads aren’t so wide…and you know for sure it’s French… However, it is a lovely city with lots to see when you get downtown.  My exchange home is a fair way out, and I’m not game to drive my huge 4WD truck on the busy roads, so I’m relying on the bus system – and actually feeling quite proud of myself for working it out.  Had to work out the routes, the right stops, when to change buses, how to load money onto the card, how to get it switched to the Seniors rate etc. Also discovered that Seniors travel free on Wednesdays!

Eating Beavertails

As well as being looked after by Jacinthe when I arrived , on Day 2 there was a phone call from Di’s niece,  Danielle, who lives here.  We met last week in Jersey when she was there for the deGruchy family get-together!   She came out and picked me up, along with her 3 boys – Josh, Joel and Jacob- and we all spent a great afternoon walking around the main city sights., including Byward Market (where we had a Beavertail*,  (an Ottawa speciality), then up to Parliament Hill, Rideau Canal locks, and Sparkes Street.   Finished with an early dinner back in one of the many little eateries in the market area.  Very hot day, so a cold beer and mussels went down well. And then Danielle drove me all the way home. (*Beavertails are pastry, maple syrup, sugar and cinnamon, shaped like a long oval)

The huge spider outside the Art Gallery (same as the one in Bilbao, Spain)

Other outings by myself have been to the National Gallery and the Canadian Museum of History.  Both stunning buildings which house fantastic collections and exhibits.   With enough stamina and staying power, you could spend a whole day in each.  My favourites in the art gallery were the Inuit art, plus 4 Stanley Spencers, plus the Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei’s huge tree sculpture which I saw last year in an old army bunker / turned gallery in Berlin.   The History Museum (across the river in Quebec Province) tells the stories of Canada’s First Peoples – the Inuit and many diverse Indian groups.  Now collectively called Aborigines, their history is very similar to the experience of Australia’s indigenous people….invasion by white settlers, displacement from their lands, destruction of their traditional culture, disempowerment,  removal of children etc.   Today there’s been some recognition of land rights and a renewed pride in the culture and heritage of these people, but still a long process of healing ahead. 

One of the many totem poles in the museum

The museum has enormous educational value in showing the traditional cultures…fishing, whaling, farming, rituals, handcrafts, spirituality…everything.   And there’s an amazing collection of totem poles in the main hall…massive logs, intricately carved with tribal symbols.    Also in the museum was a special exhibition on Napoleon in Paris.   I learned more about this esteemed Emporer than I’d ever known before…and I’m impressed.   I took the little water taxi across to the museum…on a beautiful sunny day, the river and landmark buildings on either side looked spectacular.   Could have walked across the bridge but it was hot…

Another outing, by a series of buses, was to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police stables. This is where the famous ‘Musical Ride ‘ Mounties and their horses live when they’re not on tour .  They were all there the day I went, but sadly not practicing or riding around.  Still, the tour of the stables and museum was interesting – and free.  I tagged along with a bus group so got all the commentary and background stories.

Tried to get onto a tour of the Parliament buildings but it seems that these tickets are gobbled up early every morning..so will have to set out at dawn one day to have any chance.  Tickets can’t be booked. It’s first come, first served.

Have to mention the squirrels before I wind this journal entry up.   These little black animals with big bushy tales are everywhere…they skip across roads, through parks and into people’s gardens.   Cute as pie!   Not popular with the locals however.

Still in Ottawa 23rd September:

Can’t believe how lucky I’ve been with the weather …sunny every day, quite hot at times …but Fall is almost here, so the evenings are getting cooler.  There’s quite an atmosphere here in Ottawa  about the coming of Fall, with the anticipation of glorious colours in the leaves, and the prospect of crisp days and nights..  And Halloween isn’t far off either.  The shops are decorated with autumn colours and pumpkins and there’s a tinge in the air for  this popular season.   But not quite for me … it looks as if the extended hot summer has confused the trees, so there are very few signs of red, orange or yellow leaves about yet.   Maybe there’ll be more in Quebec where I’m going soon.

Ottawa Parliament Building

I finally got to see inside the Parliament building yesterday.   To get tickets, it’s necessary to be there when the doors to the ticket office open at 9am.   I made it on the dot, but there was already quite a long queue snaking around the little square.  However, my turn came and I scored a ticket for the 12.20 tour.  They’re all timed, and you have to take what you’re offered….the earlier tours in English were already full.   With 3 hours to fill, I treated myself to coffee and almond croissant, then another walk around the Parliament Hill area.  

At midday, the carillon bells in the tower pealed across the lawns so it made the last bit of waiting very enjoyable.   Then came the security search before entering the building ….bags searched twice, and x-rayed, with coats, scarfs and belts off, pockets emptied etc.   It took ages, but our gaggle of approximately 30 tourists were finally given the all-clear and we proceeded through the glorious stone  halls, sculpted arches and magnificent library of the building.   It was very like an English university college…older and more stately than Parliament House in Canberra ,  but with a similar dignity and sense of tradition.   Paintings of all former PMs line the corridors, just as they do in Canberra.   The Canadian system of government is based on the Westminster system, so is very similar to ours, with separate chambers for the Senate and the House.   The lower house was actually in session at the time, so the group couldn’t go in, but interested individuals could if they wanted to go through another security screening, leave bags with security guards and tiptoe into the public gallery.  Yes…..Of course I did.  Unfortunately Canada’s spunky PM Trudeau wasn’t there at the time, but there was an extremely interesting debate going on about the benefits of increasing immigration in Canada’s eastern provinces, with a strong emphasis on the advantages of taking in more Syrian refugees.   It only our Australian MPs could have been there to hear the logic – the social and economic benefits outlined – and the sheer humanity of the various speakers.   People from both sides of the House spoke, all generally in favour.   Some spoke French, and there were small headsets attached to every seat in the gallery so you could hear the translation.   As a confessed politics junkie, I found it all quite fascinating.  

Peace Tower

After listening to democracy at work, I retraced my steps through the building to the lifts to go up to the viewing platform near the top of the tower.   The Peace Tower looks like Big Ben in London, and is over 100 meters high, so you get amazing views all over the city.   The lift up is interesting too …it’s on a slight incline, not straight up and down.  Can’t remember why.   Back on the lower level,  you can go into the beautiful little memorial chapel which honours Canadians who fought and died in all wars.  Parliament may not appeal to everyone, but I reckon it’s a ‘must’ for all visitors to Canada  (just as Parliament House in Canberra is. )

24th September:  Went for a walk in the woods near to where I’m living…. very pretty and quite popular.   One bit of woodland leads to another, then another….and that’s when I became hopelessly lost!   After an hour or so  of pleasant wandering, I did not have a clue which direction I was heading in, and the various people I asked didn’t seem to know where Orleans Boulevard was. 
I was given several different suggestions – some as I discovered later which were totally 180 degrees the wrong way.   Shades of India came back to me …it was if some answer – any answer – had to be given to keep the Memsahib happy.

Eventually out on another main road, two young women spent ages on their phones working out the best route for me to walk home….and about 3 kilometers later I arrived back at my front door.    I’ve decided I’m losing it!  

Sunday 25th:  Another on the list of things to do in Ottawa is to walk or cycle along the man-made Rideau Canal ….or skate along it in winter when it turns into the longest skating rink in the world.  The Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage site, originally built to transport troops and goods between Montreal and Kingston. It’s now  a purely recreational trail for walkers, joggers, paddlers or skaters..  I walked a couple of km today from downtown to The Glebe, an attractive, hip kind of near city residential area…buzzing with people on a sunny Sunday.   Everything looks good in the sunshine, and the old houses, coffee places, bars and market didn’t disappoint.  

Danielle had phoned during the morning so I arranged to catch the bus out to Stittsville where she lives during the afternoon.  It’s way out on the opposite side of the city, but with only one minor glitch (getting off at the wrong stop),
I found my way there eventually.  Ended up staying for dinner – and then staying the night!   They’re such a lovely family and made me extremely welcome.  As we’d planned to go to Gatineau Park the next day, it seemed crazy to go all the way back to Orleans., as any quick look at a map of Ottawa would confirm.    A toothbrush was found and the guest bed made up, and we settled down for another glass of wine…..

Monday 26th:

Got to Gatineau. .. with grateful thanks to Danielle.   Impossible without a car….  It’s not far out of Ottawa city, but no public transport.   The park is enormous, a wilderness of  magnificent forests, lakes, hiking trails and lookouts.    Fall is the crowning season here, and it should have been ablaze with color – and would have looked magnificent – but this year at the end of September it’s still mainly green with just the occasional tree valiantly showing off some brilliant red or yellow foliage.   A beautiful place, nonetheless.  We did an hour walk around Pink Lake, then drove to a lookout overlooking the whole Ottawa valley.    Along the way a raccoon ambled across the road!  He looked like a small fat wombat with a bushy, stripey tail.    I also saw a chipmunk playing in the leaves, and a beaver dam on one of the small lakes….no beavers though….they’re very elusive little critters.

So now it’s Tuesday 27th and I’m finishing this off on the train to Quebec.   I’ll be away 2 nights, before heading back to Ottawa for one final day ….and then the next part of this journey starts.  USA awaits!

QUEBEC   27-29th September

This will be short…I’m running out of steam a bit.  However the next phase of this journey is going to be full-on, so must make a few notes now about  Quebec.

Took the train on Tuesday morning, arrived at 4pm. …approx a 5 hour trip.  Trains here are very comfortable and well-equipped, some with wifi.   First thing that hit on arrival was the cold!  Much crisper than Ottawa, but I’d come prepared.  Took a taxi to my little hotel in the heart of the Old City, then set out to explore.

No doubt about it, Quebec is as awesomely pretty as everyone says, with buildings that look like story book castles, quaint old houses and shops, horses and carriages clip-clopping around, and a stunning position overlooking the mighty St Lawrence river.  It’s almost too pretty…which is why it’s such a draw card for tourists from everywhere.   The Old City was swarming with them…cameras clicking everywhere…..which kind of took some of the magic away.   I found myself getting quite grumpy with the big buses and the countless guided walking tour groups.   Some groups (nationalities to remain nameless) can’t seem to actually LOOK at anything unless it’s through the lens of a camera.   I tried hard, but have to say I’m glad I hadn’t planned to stay more than 2 nights.

Despite hills and lots of stairs, Quebec is an easy city to walk around.  Towering over everything is the magnificent Château Frontenac hotel…said to be the most photographed hotel in the world.   (Somehow I didn’t seem to take one …) With its turrets and windows and sheer height, it is quite lovely, and probably mega-luxurious inside.   It sits on Dufferin Terrace, a wide terrace overlooking the lower part of Old Quebec and the Harbour.    Cold and windy, but breathtakingly beautiful.   Quebec is built on two main levels…upper and lower towns.   There’s a funicular railway down the cliff, but it’s not too far to walk down the stairway.   The lower part is filled with very tempting shops, all beautifully decorated with flowers and window displays…but, as everywhere, just over-run with tourists.   Can’t imagine what it must be like in summer.  

My hotel was in the upper part of the old city, just along the street (and below the price-range) from Château Frontenac. Lots of attractive shops and restaurants in this part too…also the old city fortifications, walls and arches.  Apparently Quebec is the only city on the Nth American continent, apart from Mexico, to have retained its entire city walls….which is one of the reasons it has UNESCO world heritage listing.. 

Inside Parliament House, Quebec

What I really liked were the houses with their pretty doors and windows, many dating back to the earliest days of the original French colony.   Quebec has totally retained its French language and culture, even though it was taken over by the British back in the 1700s.   Its Parliament is based on the British system,  but only French is spoken in parliamentary sittings.    The strategic position of the city overlooking the mouth of the St Lawrence river resulted in many battles between the French and the English.   The Quebecois are very proud of their history, which is reflected in many of the public buildings.  I managed to do a tour of the sumptuous Parliament building, designed and decorated in the French style …like Versailles.  

There’s not much more to say about Quebec. Highly recommended if you want to take 5 million photos. 

The train trip back to Ottawa was particularly pleasant.   A lovely young (mid- 40s?  ) lawyer sat next to me  after Montreal.  We chatted for the next 2 hours.  Highly intelligent, and typical (I think) of the progressive Canadian people who are welcoming Syrian refugees into their country and their homes.  He also told me a lot about the judicial system, professional development available to judges , and the political and social issues which are current in Canada.  A keen traveler and long distance walker …we had lots to talk about!   Just another of those serendipitous meetings that happen when you travel solo, we agreed. 

30th September:

Last day in Ottawa …packing, tidying up.   Have to be at the airport by 4.30am for the flight to the US tomorrow.

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