A Travellerspoint blog

Quebec City

Day 24

overcast -2 °C
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Sunday 1 Jan 2012

No sleep in for us this morning. For one thing our room is right beneath the dining/lounge area of the hotel and we can hear footsteps and furniture movement very clearly (and very early), and for another, someone who shall remain nameless had booked us on a bus tour of the city with a 9.30am pick-up. Robyn was not impressed.

So we were just leaving the room when the phone rang and sure enough it was the call letting us know the bus was waiting. It was actually a coach bus, and the driver did an excellent job of manoeuvring it along the icy narrow streets of the old city. We received a wealth of information – the whole of the walled part of Quebec City is heritage listed and full of important historical buildings and monuments. We went out through Kent Gate, saw the battlefield where the French and English had one of their many encounters (it’s now a large park) and came in through Port St Louis (there are 2 English gates and 2 French gates – very fair), wound around some more before going to the lower part of the city and getting a view looking back towards the old part on the hill. Our final stop was at an old part of the lower town – it is joined to the upper by stairs, or if you are less energetic, a cable car called The Funiculaire. The bus let us off near a bakery (le Petit Cochon Dingue – the little crazy pig) where we bought some luncheon provisions to take back to the hotel.

We spent the afternoon catching up on emails, blog, family contacts and photos before making our way to ‘The most trusted address in old Quebec City’ – la Crémaillére – for dinner. It was a silver service, four course dinner, French style food and décor. I felt very upper class for a couple of hours before returning to my normal persona trudging up the hill afterwards in my less than elegant Ariat boots.

Posted by jrp_pedal 08:19 Archived in Canada Tagged quebec_city Comments (1)

Quebec City

Day 23 New Year's Eve

overcast -5 °C
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Saturday 31 Dec 2011

The snow was falling thickly this morning, and became even thicker with huge snowflakes while we were eating breakfast at the hotel. It had been a while since we had any pancakes, and it seemed just the morning for it. Robyn pointed out that by exiting from the café’s external door we had only to cross the street to reach the bus stop for the bus to the train station for our departure from Ottawa. So after checkout we hauled our luggage downstairs and across the street. Thankfully, by then it had stopped snowing, and we did not have to wait long for a bus.

It was a two train trip to Quebec City – train 632 to Montreal and then train 22 to Quebec – through a snow-covered landscape. It seems magical to us how the snow falls and lies, and melts and freezes leaving roofs draped in icicles. The snow looks pure white in the countryside but in the towns much of it is brown and slushy from traffic and from being sprayed with salt and sand.

It was snowing again when we arrived in Quebec City so we decided maybe a taxi was a better alternative than public transport this time. Good decision – the taxi delivered us right to the door whereas the bus would have delivered us to a stop some 370m away. The hotel, Chateau Bellevue, is in the ‘old city’ within the walls. It’s old-fashioned and cosy (read small rooms) but has a very well-appointed bathroom. The shower has a regular shower head but also two sets of jets for a water massage. The receptionist showed us on a map where the New Year’s Eve festivities would be happening and early in the evening we made our way along the slushy pavement, extra care being needed on the slopes – the old city is definitely not flat.

Just outside the wall we found Rue Grande Allée Est blocked off to traffic and barriers around Place George V – there was a ferris wheel with its own light show and what looked like the set up for fireworks in one corner of the Place. Two blocks of Rue Grande Allée Est had been closed to allow pedestrians only, and it was a big street party sponsored by Coors Light beer. Various venues had bars made of sculpted ice dispensing Coors – no need of refrigeration. In the middle of the street a platform had been erected to support different coloured lights and to become a stage for live performances. We weren’t sure of our chances in finding a restaurant open and with vacancies but Asian Restaurant, serving Thai and Vietnamese food, had a table for two. However, the speed with which we were served seemed to indicate that they had reservations for later.

Back outside we found the crowd increasing and the volume of the music going up some decibels to match. Some people had plastic trumpets, others had rattles; there were decorative hats, flashing plastic spectacle frames and gloves with flashing fingertips. We saw some young women, dressed in summer clothing and fancy shoes, who must have been making their way from one warm eatery or drinkery to another. Most people were very well rugged up in gloves, beanies, scarves, and thick jackets with hoods. Children in all their layers look like the Michelin man

The live entertainment was a vocal duo whose energetic songs had a Celtic flavour and encouraged foot stomping and clapping. Later a bare-torsoed young man supported himself on one hand on an ice sculpture while playing a guitar with his other hand. Incroyable! Later still, a lively quartet of three fiddles and a guitar had the crowd dancing to more folksy Irish-sounding tunes. Meanwhile the spotlights coloured the sky, showers of little bits of white paper were periodically discharged above the crowd and the ferris wheel turned and flashed. Finally we reached the countdown, the crowd roared ‘bonne année’ and the fireworks lit up the sky with a thousand multi-coloured stars.

It was a slow trudge back to the hotel, jostling with the crowd to make our way, and then heading mostly uphill on very slippery surfaces. A hot drink in front of the fire in the hotel lounge warmed us up and calmed us down ready for bed – our first sleep in 2012.

Happy New Year to all. May 2012 bring you peace and prosperity.

Posted by jrp_pedal 12:17 Archived in Canada Tagged quebec_city_new_year's_eve Comments (0)

Ottawa

Day 22

snow -8 °C
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Friday 30 Dec 2011

It was snowing when we woke up and continued to snow on and off all day. It took us a while to get going after our late evening. Setting out in the late morning we tried to make sense of the Ottawa public transport system to go to Byward Market for brunch. We traversed an entire block looking for something similar to Granville Market at Vancouver; kept seeing signs that said Byward Market but saw no actual market.
Being quite hungry by this time, we headed for what looked a likely place for food – a building that contained three different seafood restaurants. However, when we tried the casual dining place we found it didn’t open until 2pm. So as an alternative we went into the nearest bakery – Le Moulin de Provence. Excellent choice. We had very economically priced soup and quiche and treated ourselves to one of their amazing pastries afterwards.

Thus fortified, we found that Byward Market is an area rather than a specific building, and had a happy time looking into some of the little shops, including the Rocky Mountains Chocolate Shop (had something similar to the ‘bear claws’ but with the nuts inside and no ‘claws’). One of the artisan shops had beautiful hand dyed and decorated silk scarves at half price – bargain, so I bought two.
From there we slushed through the snow to the National Art Gallery. That place is huge, and the architecture amazing. A enormous sculpture of a spider sits in the courtyard near the entrance. Robyn was dwarfed by it. We started off on the first level, looking at the works of Canadian artists, including some contemporary works that were rather amazing. One installation looked like a refrigerated trailer from a road transport, however we found it was made of plywood and had been produced by an artist who makes items for movie sets. We looked under it and of course it was hollow – it looked so real from the outside.

On the second level we found the French impressionists and Italian masters. Robyn was delighted to find some old ‘friends’ from her art study days.

Battling the public transport again (it’s confusing because the routes don’t seem to be exactly the same in the reverse direction due to a number of one way streets downtown) we made our way back to the hotel to get ready to go to a hockey game, a real live ice hockey game – a home game between the Ottawa 67s and the Peterborough Petes. It was juniors – we couldn’t afford seniors (The Ottawa Senators) – but we figured the atmosphere would be much the same. We arrived in plenty of time, by bus again, and again some confusion as to which stop to get off at because the electronic readout seemed to be unsynchronised with where the bus was actually stopping. We had fat hot dogs for dinner (and ice cream rolled in chocolate sauce and crushed nuts for dessert) but heroically bypassed the fairy floss, the donuts and the ‘beaver tails’. It was fun to see the game and hear the hiss of their skates and the crash when the players slam against the perspex surrounding the arena.

The game has three sessions and in the intervals some of the tiniest players you could imagine come out and demonstrated their burgeoning skills. When they finished, two zamboni machines come out and do their precision driving to resmooth the surface of the ice. The first two sessions were nil-all though our valiant 67s had twice as many shots on goal as the Petes. Finally, in the third session we had a breakthrough – a beautiful goal. With about 4 minutes to go the Petes tried to increase their chances of equalising the score by taking off their goalie and adding another attacking player, however the 67s took advantage of the open goal and the final score was 67s 2 to Petes 0.

Another uniquely Canadian experience.

Posted by jrp_pedal 14:15 Archived in Canada Tagged otttawa_hockey_67s Comments (1)

Toronto to Ottawa

Day 21

sunny -17 °C
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Thursday 29 Dec 2011

What a shock to the system to be waking at 4am! We had to be out of the house and on the road by 5am in order to make it to the train that Robyn and I were booked on to Ottawa. We had an emotional farewell with Colleen and Zoli at Union Station in Toronto – it’s been a wonderful week with them in the countryside in their lovely home enjoying their company and their hospitality.

The timing was perfect at the station – the train to Ottawa was about to board. We took our allotted seats and settled down to use the VIA Rail free wi-fi. Other passengers seemed to think they could sit anywhere regardless of what was on their ticket – activity that caused inconvenience, confusion and disruption further down the line when other passengers boarded. Perhaps this is uniquely Canadian train behaviour.

The train was about half an hour late into the main Ottawa station and there was an uncomfortable crush as people with baggage, like us, tried to retrieve it from under other bags and cases that had been put on top of it. There was a bit of pushing and shoving that seemed uncharacteristic of the Canada we had encountered so far.

Things went a little downhill for a while after that. Robyn discovered that the code she needed to top up her mobile phone would have been on the grocery store docket from where she bought the top up card – a fact that had not been made clear to her at the time of purchase – and since she had not kept the docket she was unable to put more credit on her phone.

The lift down to the bus stop wasn’t working so we had to lug our baggage down some stairs. Two number 95 buses stopped only briefly with insufficient time for us to realise that was the route we wanted and to get ourselves and luggage out of the bus shelter and onto the pavement. However, third time lucky, and the bus stop downtown was just opposite our hotel, plus other passengers were most helpful in pointing out where we needed to go and assisting us off the bus.

The Capital Hill hotel is well-located but we had a few requests to make – there was no jug or kettle for boiling water for tea (you can get hot water out of the coffee-maker however it is heavily coffee flavoured), and only one packet of ‘creamer’ to whiten the tea. And later when we ordered in some takeaway Indian food it came without cutlery, so we had to ask reception for some. The receptionist’s answer was the same each time – ‘we’ll send one/some up’. By the time the cutlery came the food had cooled, and since it was not the most flavoursome Indian food, dinner was not the best we’d had (maybe we’d become too used to all the tasty home cooked meals at Colleen’s). However, we were hungry, having subsisted on muesli bars and leftover pecan pie (Colleen put some in a tin for us) since breakfast, and the salad at least was good.

Anyway, we persisted in trying to get some enjoyment out of the day, and booked a couple of tickets to a comedy show nearby at a place called Yuk Yuks, which bills itself at Canada’s original and best stand-up comedy venue. We arrived early, courtesy of another bus and some more helpful directions from a fellow-passenger, and picked ourselves a good spot not too close to the microphone but with a good view. Yuk Yuks was much like a similar venue I had attended in St Kilda in Melbourne, and like places Robyn had been to in Brisbane – a bar with dark décor and patrons partaking liberally of alcohol. There were 4 performers, the MC (quite funny), a young man who looked like Beavis (mildly amusing but still definitely an amateur), a young woman with an unpronounceable and unspellable surname, and the main show, a young man named John Hastings. Unfortunately, all seemed to prefer ‘toilet/penis/vagina’ humour rather than the clever humour that can be just as funny. I guess we got what we paid for, and we did laugh a lot.

We wanted to take a bus home however it would have meant waiting for about 20 minutes so we decided to walk home – oh my, was it cold at -18 °C. However, we were back before a bus going our way even came along. We revived ourselves with hot tea before crawling into what turned out to be very comfortable beds.

Posted by jrp_pedal 07:02 Archived in Canada Comments (2)

Orangeville

Day 20

sunny -10 °C
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Wednesday 28 Dec 2011

Had a lovely lazy morning with birthday messages coming in on my mobile phone and also on Skype adn Facebook. The snow had stopped falling, the sky was blue, the temperature was low and the wind was icy. We rugged up well (thermals; gloves inside gloves; head, ears and nose covered) and took a walk with Colleen and her beautiful dog through the snowy landscape. It’s amazing how little colour there is in the landscape when it is covered in snow, and also how quiet it is.

My birthday treat was to go tobogganing in nearby Orangeville. Colleen had checked out a likely spot with some people who were in the know, and we loaded the toboggan in the car and set off along the icy road. Some parts of the road had been cleared by the snow plough and the bitumen road had been salted, however there were still treacherous patches here and there.

We found the slope Colleen had been told about, and there was about a dozen or so families already taking advantage of it. The toboggan was a simple slide of ribbed metal (like a bit of colourbond roofing) about 40cm wide and a metre and a half long with a curved front and a bit of rope to hang onto – no steering, though. Colleen showed Robyn and I how to sit – I took the front seat the first time – then shoved us off, after making sure our prospective path was clear. We had a clear run down but were heading directly for a child at the place we were likely to pull up – fortunately he scrambled out of the way just in time. It’s a great buzz coming down, added to by the uncontrollable nature of the craft and the inevitability of being tipped into the snow on landing when acceleration runs out. Then there’s the hard part – righting oneself and the toboggan and trudging back up the hill. It’s a great way to increase the heart rate when the temperature is -10 °C.
When we’d had our fun, we had a bit of shopping to do before heading back to warmth indoors.

I had a wonderful birthday dinner. Pre-dinner drinks and nibblies (including some luscious cherry tarts Colleen had made in the morning followed by barbecued salmon that had been marinated with maple syrup and lemon pepper – a delicious combination – and some king prawns. Steamed broccoli with hollandaise sauce, boiled baby potatoes and garlic bread completed the first course, and a beautiful pecan tart (bearing one candle) with whipped cream formed the dessert.

Altogether a very enjoyable and memorable birthday, and I say a huge thank you for the generosity of my friends.

Posted by jrp_pedal 04:17 Archived in Canada Comments (2)

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