Wednesday, July 26, 2006


We were not looking forward to driving in Quebec, since the road signs are only in French. In Ontario, they were in both French and English. While in Ottawa, we drove across the Ottawa River into Gatineau, Quebec, and had a really hard time navigating. However, our trip from Ottawa to Montreal went without a hitch. The signs had many international symbols on them, the traffic lanes inside the city were clearly marked with straight ahead, right turn only, etc. We were in a real traffic jam, caused by a construction detour, and I was navigating for John with the map in my hand and Partner in my lap. A truck driver looked down and motioned for me to open the window. When I did, he asked if we were lost. I said no. He said just go straight ahead to the tunnel in this lane, then he stopped and motioned us into his lane. A little further on, as he turned off to the right, he motioned us to stay in the lane where we were driving. Sure enough, it took us right into the tunnel under the St. Lawrence River and directly to our RV park. We saw other example of drivers yielding to trucks and large vehicles in Montreal. In Ontario, the drivers were rude. In Quebec, they are speeding just as much and tail-gating, but more polite.

We stayed in Camping Alouette near Montreal, a wonderful park with wi-fi, large sites, inexpensive washing machines and very helpful bi-lingual office staff and publications. We took the subway into town and enjoyed seeing the many old buildings still being used, with modern skyscrapers built next door. Some old buildings (from the 1700 and 1800s) are several stories high, with dressed stone on the fronts and rough stone on the side walls. Another building down the street might be an all-glass 25-story office building. Many of the streets are very narrow, with restaurants, cafes and shops lining them. Finally we came to Place Jacque Cartier, where there were many tourist oriented shops and restaurants, including an amazing number of Italian restaurants. Why here? We don’t know. We ate across the street from the Montreal Town Hall, a beautiful building with green-copper roof.

Next we were on to Quebec. What a wonderful old city! We love it. We stayed at Camping Transit south of the city in Levis. The office staff is bilingual, though the brochure is all in French. They are equally helpful and the sites are large. The park was crammed full on Saturday night. Apparently everything in town was as crowded—it is construction holiday. (During the last two weeks of July most construction workers and some of the businesses that support construction shut down for a summer holiday.) The streets in the Petit Champlain and Rue St. Jean areas of Quebec were just as packed and there wasn’t even anything special going on that weekend. We took the ferry from Levis to Quebec, a 10-15 minute ride across the St. Lawrence River. Many people spend their Saturdays bicycling here and a number took the ferry to visit the other side of the river.

We packed our own lunch and ate in a small park, which included sparrows begging for food and a children’s sand box. Quebec is the only walled city in North America north of Mexico. We walked part of the Remparts (French spelling), saw the Citadel, Cathedral of Notre Dame and many interesting shops, as well as two streets lined with artists drawing portraits or selling street scenes. The weather has finally cooled a little and it was a great day.

When we left Quebec City, we drove east along the St. Lawrence River to Rimouski, a smallish city right along the river. We can look across the street and see the St. Lawrence, looking more like the ocean. The RV park is full, mainly with people from throughout the Province of Quebec. It is definitely summer holiday time. While in Rimouski we walked about five miles on a lovely biking/walking trail along the river, then drove to Sainte Flavien, a small artist colony about 15 miles downriver, where we visited several galleries and boutiques. Next door to the tourist information office was a house with an absolutely beautiful garden. What a treat!

Some of the differences between the Province of Ontario and Quebec are amazing. Ontario is so oriented to recycling, even provincial parks have bins for metal, plastic and paper. One park even had a sign saying garbage only, no recyclables, on the dumpster. But in Quebec, we had one park with a bin to recycle paper, but no emphasis on metal or plastic, even though we pay a deposit on a 12-pak of Coke.

Carrying out everyday activities in a French-speaking province is a challenge. In Ontario we encountered a traffic sign “Advance green when flashing.” We had to ask what it meant—you can make a left turn on flashing green lights. Then we get to Quebec and the sign says “----- ------ ----- ----- vert.” From buying haricots verts (green beans) we learned what vert means. When the green traffic light flashed and the opposing traffic didn’t move, we decided the French sign meant left turn on flashing green. All pre-packaged food has labels in both French and English throughout Canada. But signs in the aisles, and on fresh fruits and vegetables and some meats are only in French. “Frommes and Legumes” means fruits and vegetables. It makes going to the grocery store exciting.

From Rimouski we are on to New Brunswick.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


The Big Chute is the only marine railway in North America. Here boats are moved from the Severn River to Gloucester Pool on the east side of Georgian Bay, part of Lake Huron. Originally built in 1917 and expanded in 1977, the chute lifts or lowers boats 58 ft. in a carriage which travels on rails, taking the place of a lock. When we were there, we were fortunate enough to see two small pleasure boats hauled up the rails into Gloucester Pool. The chute operates during the warm-weather months and, along with 20 locks, helps commercial and pleasure boats navigate the Trent-Severn Waterway from Lake Ontario to Lake Huron. Georgian Bay is frozen over several months of the winter.

In past travels we had seen Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, but this trip is our first time to spend time along Lakes Erie, Ontario and Huron. We sailed on the Island Princess Cruise out of Parry Sound on a three-hour trip to view many of the 30,000 islands in Georgian Bay. It was a beautiful and relaxing trip on a warm (not hot), partly sunny day. This is cottage country. Canadians don’t have mountain cabins, they have cottages on the lake and Ontario is filled with many more than Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. The map is dotted with lakes, small and large. Apparently, many Canadians, especially those who live in the Toronto area (the largest metropolitan area in Canada) drive to Cottage Country along Georgian Bay most weekends of the summer. Some rent cottages, some own cottages on rented land, others own islands in the Bay. These islands today sell for $1 million and more. Some cottages have electricity, many use lanterns and propane to meet their energy needs. A fascinating look at life very different from what we know in Colorado.

That is really why we travel—to see what is different. In many ways, Canada is very like the US—divided highways, same language (they spell some things differently), same modern way of life. But speed limits are in kilometers per hour, distances in kilometers, gas is sold by the liter, and some highway signs are different—and almost non-existent on country roads. What are “collector” highways vs. express highways? We don’t know and it made navigating through Toronto on Sunday morning a real challenge, but we made it. We are spending a little over $4 a gallon for gas--$1.08 per liter. When we were in Canada two years ago, the cost was 97 cents a liter, so their costs haven’t increased as much as our since then.

Sometimes your way of life depends on what “hydro” means. If to hydrate yourself is to drink water and hydro electric power is created through the power of water, we thought a “hydro campsite” meant it had water as well as electricity. However, after we had parked the trailer and set up everything in Port Burwell Provincial Park, we learned hydro in Canada (or at least in Ontario) means electricity, not water. We had an electrical connection, but no water hook-up. And we hadn’t filled the tank before parking. So we spent two days dry camping, depending on a 5-gallon water jug. A test, but not bad once we adjusted to the concept. Washrooms and showers were nearby. We also learned that the electrical hookups have been positioned between two campsites, with no consideration for the distance to where a trailer would be parked. At Six Mile Lake we borrowed a 30-ft cord to add to our 25-ft cord; at Bronte Creek we moved to another campsite so our cord would reach. If everything were just like in Colorado, we wouldn’t have a reason to travel here.

We enjoyed visiting downtown Toronto with its old buildings converted to new uses, many new skyscrapers and beautiful gardens. We rode the GO train in from our campsite—a modern railroad that carries commuters and was mostly full at 9:30 am, as well. We visited the St. Lawrence Market, an old building now housing many shops, selling mainly specialty meats, cheeses and bakery goods. We walked to the Distillery District, where old distilleries have been converted to restaurants, art studios and elite shops. Downtown Toronto has many gardens and we saw several. Canadians who have very cold winters spend as much time outdoors during summer as possible and many office workers take their lunch to one of these gardens.
The next day we also visited the Royal Botanic Gardens in Burlington, west of Toronto, where we especially enjoyed the many day lilies and the rose garden. Lakeshore Drive along the edge of Lake Ontario took us by many beautiful homes and gave us lovely glimpses of the lake. It’s a great area, and home to the Canadian headquarters of Ford Motor Company, along with many other international concerns. Toronto is Canada’s financial capital—like New York City.

Ever since Ohio, we have seen orange day lilies growing wild along the roads. As we drove north to Georgian Bay, the highway medians were full of all sorts of wildflowers. Driving east toward Ottawa, the underlying granite often shows as cliffs or rocky slopes. It is a country of lush green forests, rolling hills, vibrant small towns. Every few turns in the road gave another view of a beautiful lake or river. Town names are based on the Huron or Mohawk native inhabitants, English towns or Irish or Polish heritage. Our last stop on Ontario is Ottawa, the Canadian capital.
State Park Camping
We have spent more than two weeks recently parked in state and Corps of Engineer parks. For those who think of RV parks in terms of the KOA along the highway, our experience lately has been very different. Most state and Corps parks have large grassy sites, well laid our so our neighbor isn’t right beyond our awning or looking into our dining room as we eat.
We stayed in one park in Iowa, two in Ohio, and one in Michigan, as well as the Corps park in Illinois along the Mississippi River. In Ohio, neither park was full. In fact, outside Columbus in Delaware State Park, we had the whole area—10-12 sites down one driveway—to ourselves for two nights. Michigan was different, but we were there leading up to the 4th of July weekend. Though full of campers, the sites were still large.
It is amazing how different camping is from one part of the country to another. In Colorado, the parks are tourist destinations. People come from all over the country and the parks are full almost every day of the summer. Reservations are necessary weeks or months in advance. In many states, the parks are used mainly by locals who live nearby. We saw neighbors gathering in Ledges State Park in Iowa. Many of them came numerous weekends of the summer and enjoyed their time together. At Sterling State Park along the coast of Lake Erie in Michigan, most of the campers were from Michigan. They really take their weekend outings seriously—large RVs, screened shelters over the picnic tables, party lights hanging from the awning, extra refrigerators and freezers for the fish they catch, coolers for the beer and soda, decorations like the solar lights that line many suburban driveways and sidewalks. Many Colorado parks focus on fishing, but the boats used on Lake Erie are much larger. There is a steady stream of trucks and boats leaving by 5 am. Camp sites often include 2 or 3 trucks, an RV, a tent, a screened shelter and a boat. No wonder they are so large. We decided campers there buy up scrap lumber from the local Home Depot, based on the stacks of short boards next to the fire rings.
One of the pleasures of our travels is seeing how people do things in other places. We also experience birds and plants and animals we don’t have in Colorado and meet people from all over. In this Canadian park, we have seen Canada Day being celebrated with flags and campfires and family time together, just as we say the people in Michigan celebrating the 4th of July. And we have been surprised at how many Canadian campers display both US and Canadian flags. We haven’t found out why.