Friday, June 29, 2012

Day 81: Ottawa, Ontario; Capital o' Canada!

After our little detour into Vermont, it was time to invade Canadia again!

We crossed the border into the town of Cornwall over another neat old suspension bridge, the Seaway International Bridge,....

...and on to check out Canada's capital city, Ottawa.  On the way, we passed a lot of corn fields and the like.  Canada is heavily agricultural.

And suddenly we were in Europe again!
This is the Fairmont Chateau Laurier.  If it looks familiar, they have a similar hotel in Quebec City.

Their Parliament buildings are quite beautiful and very European looking. Ottawa became national capital of Canada in 1867. It was chosen because it was midway between Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario) and had both French and English- speaking people. Also, (maybe more importantly?), it was deemed far enough away from the pillaging scoundrels to the south, who kept trying to forcibly incorporate Canadian lands into the United States.

This big spider sculpture was being installed in front of the National Gallery of Canada.

We crossed over the Ottawa River via the Alexandria Bridge, which was originally a railway bridge and later converted for autos.

There's a park with a nice view of the Parliament buildings from across the river.

It didn't stand out to us until we saw our own embassy's security that the Canadians don't have the security worries that we do.

After a look around Ottawa, we continued west towards Toronto.  We took a back road along Lake Ontario to Sandbanks Provincial Park where we were going to camp for the night and ended up taking an unexpected ferry ride.  It wasn't even indicated on our map... the road just suddenly ended and you drove right onto the free ferry.  It was a nice break from driving!

If you can't make out the ferry's name, it's the MV Quinte Loyalist.  We noticed driving thru the area, Prince Edward County, that a lot of things had "loyalist" in the name.  We soon discovered that this is where many British loyalists fled during the American Revolution and resettled.

Sandbanks Provincial Park is a park with sandy beaches on Lake Ontario.  When the Wisconsin Glacier receded 12,500 years ago, it left the Great Lakes and a lot of sediment.  As the wind blew across Lake Ontario, the waves churned up the sediment and slowly brought it inland.  Eventually, the sand particles were freed from the waves and the wind shaped them into the dunes.  Then Europeans arrived and started messing with the vegetation that anchored the dunes and, well... you can read more about that here.

Just add palm trees and a tiki bar and you'd think you were on a Caribbean beach!

Next morning, we continued towards Toronto and passed this roadside stand.  A quick u-turn and we were buying fresh strawberries, snow peas, and new potatoes.  The seller asked where we were from and it turns out her son went to UT!  Small world, er... continent.

Hilarious name for an antique store...
Dead People's Stuff in Bloomfield

Next:  Toronto!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Day 79 - 80: Vermont Detour

Because we love driving around in circles so much, we decided to go back into the States for a couple of days before visiting Ottawa. Also, we had skipped Vermont on our way through the NE and really wanted to check it off on our map!

 We were a little worried that Customs would have a problem with us going back and forth between the two countries so often, but it turned out to be no biggie.

 Yay! We made it! Now there's not a teeny tiny Vermont shaped hole in our map.

 We camped at Grand Isle State Park on the shores of Lake Champlain.

 It's a nice park with campsites and these lean-to things!

 Lake Champlain is pretty big and even has its own lake monster, "Champ." 

 Unfortunately, we didn't see "Champ." We did, however, see this crazy tree growing out of stone!

 Kipper didn't let a lake monster keep him out of the water. The only thing he was scared of was a floating branch.

 Looking for "Champ"

 The next day, we crossed Lake Champlain via ferry which was a short cut over to Plattsburgh, New York so we could go to...

 Ah, the laundromat.  We knew we were going to be staying with friends but couldn't wait even one more day to do laundry. That's what happens when you drive around in an un-air-conditioned van in 90+ temperatures.

 We spent the night here, just across from Cornwall, Ontario, where we planned on crossing back into Canada the next morning.

 You get to the park by driving under the Eisenhower Lock, which is part of the St Lawrence Seaway, a system of locks, canals and channels between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. There's about a 600 foot difference between the Atlantic and Lake Superior, so the locks and canals make it possible for cargo ships to get from one body of water to the other.

 Another hot day. Another swim.

And another beautiful sunset. I hope I never get tired of this.

Day 78: Montreal, Quebec

Down the river from Quebec City is Montreal.

Montreal is Canada's second largest city (after Toronto), so we decided to take a little different approach and waited until dusk to explore the city rather than try to navigate it during the work day.  We found a KOA to camp at for the night, relaxed for a few hours, and drove into town after traffic had subsided.
Across the St. Lawrence again, via the Pont Champlain.

And into the old section of the city.

We managed to park for free next to a nearby construction site, confirmed with a resident out walking his dog that it was ok to park there, and brought Kipper along to look around.
This is the Place Jacques-Cartier...

...a pedestrian walkway with lots of patio cafes.

Again, another clean, well-planned city with lots of green space.

The Marche' Bonsecours, built in 1847, is still a bustling marketplace.  But it was already closed for the day when we were there.

One of the advantages of visiting late was to see the city's historic structures lit up at night.  Montreal has designed the lighting carefully for each building.
This is City Hall.

Place d'Armes features a statue of Montreal's founder, Paul de Chomeday.  The domed structure is the Bank of Montreal.

Paul de Chomeday's statue faces the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, completed in 1829.

Creepy doll-eyed mannikins...

This is Montreal on a Monday night!

And so another city goes on our "places to revisit when we have money" list. While Quebec City reminded us of a European walled city (like Toledo, Spain or Orvieto, Italy), Montreal is commonly referred to as "the Paris of North America".  It certainly lives up to the comparison!

Next: Toronto!

Day 77: Québec est magnifique et immense!

Yes, Quebec is magnificent and huge!
So far, getting around New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada has been pretty easy and driving days are short as places are pretty close.  But driving across New Brunswick and into Quebec, we discovered that things weren't going to be so condensed any longer.

Turns out that Quebec is twice the size of Texas!

We were making our way to Quebec City, which is on the St. Lawrence River, so over the Pierre Laporte Bridge...

...then under it and the neighboring Quebec Bridge, which has a very tragic history.  It took three attempts to complete it and almost 100 steel workers died in two construction accidents.
(Sorry for the bugged out windshield, Quebec has Texas-sized bugs too.)

And suddenly we were in Europe!

The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac
No, unfortunately we didn't stay here.

The explorer Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City in 1608.

Once we were parked, we found the visitor's center, got a street map, and did a little exploring of our own.

Quebec City is quite beautiful and possibly the cleanest city we've ever seen.

You could practically eat off these streets!

The city still has its original fortifications, it's the only walled city in North America outside of Mexico.

Old and new architecture blend in seamlessly with the fortress walls.

Cannons o' plenty

Lots of pedestrian walkways...

...and more beautiful buildings.

A bird's eye view down into the oldest part of the city from the fortifications.

The walls are high so there're plenty of signs warning you not to fall off, which is good, but what's that on the left side of the sign, a flying monkey?

Isaac and Louise have camped all over the area and suggested a campground near the city on Ile d'Orleans, just across another suspension bridge.

The next morning, before leaving the island, we stopped at a nearby park and climbed this tower... admire the incredible view!

Quebec City, like most of the cities we've visited, is going on our "must visit again when we have more money" list.  But, we should learn some French first. Quebec takes maintaining its french culture and language very seriously.  Unlike the other provinces we've visited where the road signs are bilingual, Quebec is French only.  We enjoyed the city and found our way around, but some basic phrases would have been helpful so that we could have interacted with the locals more.

Next: Montreal!