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Friday, July 25, 2014

Au Revoir, Quebec!

Visiting Quebec has been like a mini vacation to Europe. The Quebecois do a fantastic job of creating an entirely different culture inside their borders and we surely have enjoyed it. Today, however, will likely be our last day in the province. Our original plan was to traverse the entire Gaspe peninsula, but last night we decided we would rather move on and begin our New Brunswick adventure. It's not that Gaspesie isn't beautiful, because it definitely is, and we've been enjoying the landscape and seaside towns, but we just felt burdened by the amount of time we would have to spend getting around the peninsula and figured our time was better spent elsewhere.

From our time in Montreal, we made the short jaunt to Quebec city, where we stayed just across the river in St Nicolas at the Sous Bois campground, a cute little place with twice daily train rides for kids.

Tuesday we got an early start and headed into Quebec, where the walled city contains many of the firsts for the continent (first girls school, first seminary, first poutine, etc.). Our first stop was the Parliament building, Canada's original capital building, located just outside the wall. It was certainly impressive.



We then walked a bit of the wall to the Citadel, built in a hurry to protect the city from those jerk Americans who kept trying to invade the area, but never made an attempt once the Citadel was underway. By then it was nearing lunch so I grabbed a quick salad and then we went to Chez Ashton so Ryan could dine on poutine at the very establishment that claims to have invented it. His assessment: it's pretty OK and soon turns to drudgery, suffering from the nacho problem of sogginess at the bottom.




After lunch, we strolled around Old Town (inside the wall), visiting the Latin Quarter (the first seminary with a 400+ year old garden), the Chateau Frontenac (the most photographed hotel in the world), Place Royal, petite Champlain (North America's narrowest street), and the Governor's Garden where we rested in the shade. It was a hot, humid day and we were weary from all the walking, so we headed back to camp, but not before seeing a tree growing around a cannon ball!








Wednesday was a travel day and we headed northeast toward the Gaspe (or Gaspesie, as the Quebecois call it) peninsula. We overnighted at a Walmart in Rimouski along with a small city of RVs. We have never seen so many RVs outside of a campground or a dealership.

The drive along the St Lawrence River has been beautiful! The landscape is a mix of rolling hills, craggy outcroppings, and open fields, all dotted with seaside villages. While the St Lawrence is a river, it is widening as we drive northeast and it experiences tides because of its proximity to the Atlantic, so it really does feel more like an ocean here, with the opposite shore barely visible in the distance. We also experienced some storms during our drive on Wednesday, making it all feel like the ends of the Earth.

Yesterday was a beautiful day and we made the most of it. From Rimouski, we backtracked just a little to Bic National Park, our first Canadian national park. It was a modest park along the coast, half of which is aquatic. During low tide we walked out to Ile aux Amours, exploring the island and the beaches. From the island we saw beautiful coastal scapes. We also explored Pointe aux Epinettes with a fantastic overlook of the river and bays.






From Bic, we headed northeast to Grand Metis and the Redford Gardens (aka Jardins de Grand Metis). The property was once owned by a rich family and the matron built extensive gardens of British plants. They are incredible! We strolled all of the gardens, the museum of gardening tools, the lodge, and the International Garden Festival. I think the stream garden and the vegetable garden were my favorites. I could live in the stream garden and it flooded me with nostalgia and visions of books and dreams I had as a child.









The International Garden Festival is a mix of gardens, woods, and art. At the end you get to vote on a favorite. There were a couple we liked, but our favorite was Le Bois de Biais et sa Folie, a mix of willows and poplars with a wooden staircase and platform at the center. It was a bit Burning Man esque.





After a long day of walking yesterday, we settled on the Camping Parc Sirois la Baleine in Matane. Last night we decided we would head south to New Brunswick starting today. We have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Quebec, but it is time to move on. We don't have exact plans for the next few days, but that's OK. Au revoir!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bonjour!

We dedicated last Thursday to life maintenance (laundry, groceries, etc.), which was perfect for the drizzly day. It was at the laundromat that we first learned of the Malaysian flight being shot down and of the Israelis invading Gaza. Is the world always so violent and it's only when you step back that you notice it? Either way, it's sad news on all fronts and our thoughts are with everybody impacted by all this. 

Friday turned out to be an absolutely perfect day for another hike. We chose Ampersand Mountain because it was in a part of the park we had not yet seen and because the views were supposed to be beautiful. On our way to the trail head we stopped at a mountaineering store in Keene where Ryan was FINALLY able to get an altimeter! He was, and still is, so excited!

The first part of the hike was gentle and through a pretty wooded area. While the hike was only 1700' of elevation gain over a couple miles, it was almost entirely at the end and straight up rock staircases, rock faces, and wedging ourselves between rocks. At 3300' we had finally made it. There was a small crowd lunching at the summit, so we waited them out and hung back. Once they finally left, we had the mountain top to ourselves for quite a while. It wasn't nearly as cold and windy as the top of Cascade Mountain, so we were able to really enjoy the peace and the view comfortably. The area surrounding Ampersand Mountain has all sorts of small lakes with tiny rock islands in the middle which made for a great view. 











After descending we met a sweet couple from Quebec who were cruising around in their MG. Ryan struck up a conversation with them and it turned out they were from Longueuil, the city we planned on staying in outside of Montreal. They gave us all sorts of good tips. Our legs were wobbly and we were exhausted, so we picked up some dinner and headed back to camp.

Saturday morning we packed up the camper and headed north toward Montreal. The border crossing was a breeze this time because we anticipated most of the questions and had put together answers that would (hopefully) not rouse any suspicion. It worked and we breezed through without any secondary questioning or searching of our vehicles. 

Our home base outside of Montreal was the Marina in Longueuil, just across the river from Montreal. After a very confusing route in and taking several wrong turns, we finally made it. The campground section of the marina leaves much to be desired, but it was OK since our plan was to spend most of our time in Montreal. For the price, we really couldn't beat the location and the convenience of being a short walk to the Metro or taking the ferry from the same marina to downtown Montreal. 

We didn't realize how close Montreal was to the US border, so we were able to unhitch on Saturday and still had plenty of time to head into Montreal for some cursory exploring. We walked to the Metro and took the short trip under the river to downtown. Our first stop was Mont Royal, the huge hill near downtown Montreal and the city's namesake. We climbed to the chateau and took in the beautiful overlook of the city.



From Mont Royal, we walked to Old Montreal, the section of the city containing the historic buildings that has the feel of being in Paris. We accidentally came across the Just for Laughs festival in the Latin Quarter where we had dinner, a glass of wine, and I was the victim of a mime who pretended to steal my wine. We continued our walk around and went to the marina. We finally made our way back to the Metro which we took back to Longueuil. On our walk back from the Metro we noticed that there were several streets closed off and people everywhere. We asked a woman what it was all about and it turns out that there are fireworks every Saturday night during the summer just because it's summer and boy did people turn out for it!







Yesterday was a warm, humid day in Montreal and we spent it exploring by foot once again. We took the Metro into downtown for some lunch (bahn mi!) and then took the Metro out to Ile Sainte-Helene. There was some sort of festival for children taking place, but we braved the strollers and crossed the bridge to Ile Notre Dame where we walked nearly the entire Grand Prix circuit. When there isn't a race the road is used for parking and for bicycling and rollerblading. We also saw the Olympic Basin where they held boat races. 









After walking the circuit, we crossed back to Ile Sainte-Helene where we tried to walk through the Piknic Electronik, but they were charging for it so instead we listened while walking around it. Once again dodging the stroller army, we made our way back to the Metro and back to downtown. We strolled through some parks and back to Old Montreal where we rested our aching feet. We decided to treat ourselves to a ferry ride back to camp where we opted for a no-cook dinner of cheese, bread, olives, salads, and watermelon. It was more of a picnic inside our camper.



This morning we packed up camp and made our way to our current location at Sous-Bois du Campeur, just across the river from Quebec City. I'm a little nervous because nearly everybody in Montreal spoke French and perfect English, but the English is getting harder to come by and is definitely more piecemeal. At first I was miffed that in the rest of the country (and even in northern New York state) all road signs (and products) are, by law, in English and French, but in Quebec they are only in French. I am starting to notice that they accommodate a little by having most of the signs as pictures which has led to some pretty funny signs. Even the deer leap across the road in French here! My favorite so far is one of the emergency pictures from our ferry ride in Montreal. It was posted next to the life jacket containers an I still have no idea what it means. If you can figure it out, please let me know. To me it looks like business people with smaller business people inside of them need to run to this central location. 



Tomorrow we will head into Quebec and tour North America's only walled city north of Mexico. There is a restaurant that claims to be the birthplace of poutine which Ryan hopes to sample. From here we will head to the Gaspe peninsula and then east to New Brunswick and the rest of the maritimes. Au revoir!

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