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Canada

Road trip to the Saguenay

And how to miss a whale completely

23 °C
View Saguenay on tway's travel map.

Map? Check. Suitcase? Check. Food? Check. Now, what's that nagging feeling, hmm...

Turns out it was me forgetting sunscreen and cream of any sort, but no matter. I wouldn't find that out till we were 5 hours and 500 km away, in remote l'Anse-Saint-Jean, tucked into a small chalet/condo at the end of a busy pier. Debby and I'd planned this road trip for weeks - me with my usual itching-to-go and Debby with her "do it! do it!" turned into a trip to kayak up the Saguenay fjords and catch a glimpse (or, hopefully, an eyeful) of one of the species of whales that live the length of the Saguenay river. I'd printed the itinerary, bought a Quebec road map, packed the food, double-checked directions. And still, still, we were in for surprises.

On the way to the Saguenay:
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We started out late morning of Friday, dropping Cléo the basset hound off and heading to Tim Horton's for the obligatory Road Trip Cappuccino and muffin. Debby dubbed this the 3W weekend - Wayland, Whales and Wetsuits. So after Christening her Webby we were off to Quebec City, the first leg of the trip, choosing the long way around just cause and getting lost in some boonie part of the suburbs and finally winding our way back to the riverside. It's always so beautiful, the river, where it begins to widen out. The dirty St. Lawrence around Montreal stretches into this vast, clear-blue field - cut in two by Ile d'Orléans near Quebec, then growing wider and bluer and catching your eye, always, as you round each bend. From Quebec City it was a long ride to St. Siméon, then up the remote highway into l'Anse-Saint-Jean - St. John's Harbour - where we arrived near supper time. We unloaded the car into our conpact condo, then headed out to see the boats on the pier, the mountains, the beginnings of the fjord, the water, the clear-cut land across the harbour. All of it familiar, in that rural-Quebec kind of way, yet different. The cut of the mountains, carved by glaciers, unlike any we'd ever seen. We looked, took pictures, then headed back to make supper, catch a quick swim in the heated pool, brave the what-if-they-peed-in-it jacuzzi, then off to bed.

l'Anse-Saint-Jean:
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The next morning, ever the early bird, I got up and tip-toed out to see the place in the sunshine. The water had that diamond-sparkle look, quiet and peaceful. I popped by the kayak place to see what we should wear that afternoon, then peeked out at the boats waking up, and finally headed into town on foot. There were tourists everywhere, easily spotted by their English, their Montreal French, their quiet speech. The locals, friendly and accommodating, spoke with flat, broad accents at the top of their lungs - "des bleu-ah" for "bleuets" and "saaah-lu!" for the simple "salut". It was odd, and endearing, and Debby and I spoke together in broken, horrific Italian because everyone seemed to be fluent in English, everywhere.

I headed back to find Debby ready to go, and so we headed out to a few local artisan shops, bought a few things for our homes, then crossed the river over the covered bridge to the other side of the harbour. The 30+ year old pottery shop had closed for good the day before, so we settled on a few pictures and went back to change for our kayak trip.

Crafts!
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The covered bridge:
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We'd started the planning as a 3-day trip by kayak up the fjords, but expense and inexperience got the better of us, and we opted for a three-hour beginner course around the area. Our guide Louis (dubbed Luigi in our attempts at Italian) dressed us up in neoprene pants, jacket and booties (Debby nicely matched, me looking like a fashion catastrophe) and stuck an oar in our hands, pointing down to the tandem red kayak stuck in the sand. Twenty minutes and 5 more people later, we were ready to be instructed - here are the pedals, here's how you paddle, here's how to tie and pull off the skirt, here's where to lift, carry, put the kayak down in the water, and finally, finally we were off. The wind was strog and relentless, tricky. Louis promised us a reprieve at every turn, but still the wind was there, and we fought against it, shoulders burning and stitching up until Louis told me to paddle in smaller movements. Very unDraonboat-like. Much easier.

First we crossed the harbour, then we hugged the side, and then we went out into the open water, the fjord walls rising straight and high and the waves crashing over the sides of the kayak. It was on the edge of scary, yet exhilerating. We looked for white seals, and Louis told us stories of sharks caught in ice-fishing season, glacier waters flowing hundreds of metred down, just-pregnant first colonists waiting impatiently for the priest to show up when the ice broke in spring. The couple from France who were on a tedem next to us commented on the scenery, how beautiful it was - how unlike anything they'd seen. And it was true - this extension of home, this 5-hour trek from Montreal, more beautiful and inspiring than things I'd seen far, far from home.

Wetsuits drying on the line:
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The weary paddlers return!
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The next day we were up and out early, car packed and ready to drive the hour and a bit to Baie-Sainte-Catherine to board the cruise ship to see the whales. And so down the windi groad we went to the lonely highway, and I pointed right, Est, east - the logical way, in my head, to head back down to the St. Lawrence. But a half hour in there was something wrong, nothing familiar, and a too-late check of the map told us we'd gone the wrong way. And although we tried, and hurried, and made up for lost time, it wasn't to be. We'd missed the boat by 10 minutes, despite the rare buffer we'd given ourselves.

Still, there it was. The St. Lawrence. Blue and wide and dotted wth rocks at low tide, the sun shining off the waves, the houses srtung with washing lines, running up the coast. Home, depite being hours away. All we have to do is come back.

The only whale we saw on this trip:
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Posted by tway 19:13 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Bits and pieces of Europe

An itinerary and a countdown

overcast 22 °C
View Bits of Europe on tway's travel map.

Less than 3 weeks to go and I've just remembered that I forgot to buy a new backpack. As it stands now, I have the choice between the awkward lug of a pack that already weighs too much when it's empty - or the threadbare thing my parents bought me when Leanne and I headed to Springfield, Mass back in 1995. At least I have a lovely new compact 360-degree-spin suitcase that will face the ultimate will-I-kick-you-up-and-down-the-train-aisle test. Results remain to be seen!

This will be the most adventurous trip yet - from Paris to Luxembourg, Interlaken, Zermatt, Marseille and back to Paris again in 18 days. Neal - who will meet me in Paris - insists we can fit a bit of Germany in there as well. I gave him the wait-and-see speech, but it would be nice.

It's also the first trip where we won't be scraping pennies the whole time. Neal no longer has to skim off a slim student's salary, and we've managed some good deals - a Premium-Class flight for me (same price as Economy on Air Canada - yay Zoom!), plus First-Class TGV tickets back to Paris (cheaper than Economy, however that works). Switzerland will eat into the budget, but great deals everywhere else mean we can splurge a little. All I really want is to see the Alps and eat an indecent amount of Raclette. Neal, of course, will be deliriously happy no matter what we do.

First, though, the backpack...

Posted by tway 06:24 Archived in Canada Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Rediscovering home

sunny 27 °C

A trip just isn't a trip if it doesn't start at the airport. At least that's how it usually feels to me. Unless I'm in for a long, cramped ride over lots of water, I'm not so much travelling as not going to work, or - at the very most - escaping for a weekend.

And so I forget how much there is to do here at home. Montreal is a huge, vibrant city - I've really never seen a place like it anywhere. Walk downtown and you'll hear every language, see people of every colour, admire every style of dress and haircut (with the unfortunate mullet, or "coupe Longueuil" popping up now and then). It's easy to forget what we have in the winter, when it's 30 below and the longest you want to be outside is the 5 seconds you need to sprint to a warm, waiting car.

But summer...I realized today, with Neal arriving in just a few hours, that we're in for a summer of seeing Montreal all over again. There's something about Neal's enthusiasm for the city that makes me want to show him all the little corners, off the beaten path, that I've seen maybe once or twice in my entire life. And so I rediscover my city, and the province, all over again.

So far, we've got a long weekend in Quebec City planned next week. Old Quebec is beautiful - long, cobble-stoned streets; old stone buildings; the Chateau Frontenac; the boardwalk; the St. Laurent with Ile d'Orleans in the background; a stop at Pape Georges for maple paté and a glass of wine; the sound of the caleches; the tight, touristy feel of Quartier Champlain. I've seen it dozens of times, but I love it each and every time I return.

And then the rest of the summer is left for Montreal: the Old Port with the rapids of the St. Laurent; the locks; the Cirque du Soleil tent; the incredible sangria at Jardin Nelson; the museums and street vendors and the crash of novice Rollerbladers.

And the festivals: the Jazz Fest, with hundreds-of-thousands of people lining the streets; the Just for Laughs Fest; the World Fil Fest; the Carrifesta; Shakespeare in the Park (which I've never ever gone to see); the Food Fest; and more that I can't remember for the life of me.

Then there's Little Italy, with the best coffee in the city; Ferraris parked in front of the fancy restaurants; Milano's grocery with imports that make me dream of Rome; football shirts in every window; and the best-dressed people in the city. Neal will insist on a few trips to Little India for Vindaloo at the BYOB place. There's a hike up Mount Royal and, on Sundays, the Tam-Tam jam at the foot of the hill - hundreds of bongo players and people dancing to a rhythm you can feel for a mile.

Even right here, near home, there's the Pointe-aux-Prairies park, with miles of walking paths through the last of the woods here in the east; bogs full of frogs; wild birds; and, if you're lucky, the occassional deer. It leads all the way to the old cemetery, with old war graves and a day's worth of reading tombstones. I haven't been in ages, but I'll take Neal and it'll be like new to me again.

How easy it is to forget that people come here, to the city I see every day, to visit. They actually sit down and plan a trip to Montreal - plotting the sights to see, places to stay, where to eat...I could never understand it - why people would come here for their only 2 weeks of vacation, when it's no Paris or Rome or London. But sometimes I get a glimpse of it.

If I were to live somewhere else for a long time, and if I took the plane home, I'm sure Montreal would feel like a trip for me, too.

Posted by tway 06:32 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Stop the press!

sunny 22 °C

It's 6 days and counting till we leave for Rome, and Debby has bronchitis. She's been bed-ridden all week (which explains why she hasn't been answering my e-mails) and is avoiding going the hospital route for fear of having an x-ray. Apparently, too many are bad for you, and she gets bronchitis more than the average person. Fluids and bedrest are her remedy, although I've threatened to drag her to the hospital by the hair if she's not better by Sunday.

So I've got my fingers crossed and I'm knocking on wood. And I'm busier than I've been in a year at work - the good busy, the creative kind. Isn't it always the way? Just when you're about to leave, about to clear your mind, you end up with the best projects and a lot of juggling.

So tonight I'm off for shopping and supper with Leanne - a bit of pre-birthday celebration since I'll be away in mid-May. Must pick up a book for the flight (I can't, for the life of me, sleep on a plane) and some decent sandals that don't make me feel like I'm walking on cardboard.

Six days, six days! I hope to never stop loving the giddy, nervous excitement of finally leaving, after all that planning. Sincerely, I never want to be stinking rich. Let me save and love it all and never take it for granted.

Amen.

Posted by tway 13:43 Archived in Canada Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Four more sleeps!

And a lot of packing to go.

sunny 8 °C

I think it's all done now, save for the packing. I can't help it - I'm my father's daughter, doomed to plan ahead and have more information than I know what to do with "just in case". But despite long hours finishing up at work and an inability to fall asleep till well past midnight, I'm excited and anxious and ready to go. "Four more do-dos!" as they say here in Quebec. Four more sleeps and I'll be on my way back to Ireland (and Giant's Causeway, at last!!).

The itinerary looks something (well, pretty much exactly) like this:

Oct. 25
- Debby's driving me to Ottawa (Miranda may come along with little Emilia, and althouh I love them both dearly and really want their company, Miranda is notoriously late - the 2-hour kind of late. I've warned Debby that any waiting around will cuase me to lose my lunch in her car the entire ride.)

- Flight from Ottawa to Toronto at 5

- Flight from Toronto to Belfast at 11

- Arrive Belfast at noon Wednesday

Oct. 27
- Up early to visit Giant's Causeway and some amusement park that's supposed to be cheesy and fun.

Oct. 28 - 30
- Weekend in Donegal (Donny-Gal? Don-a-gal? Dawn-uh-gal??) with Neal, his brother Philip and his girlfriend Emma

Oct. 31-Nov. 3
- Belfast - both on my own while Neal's in class, and with the Cunninghams on a trip to the Mournes. Nothing planned for the rest of the time - reseeing the stuff I liked the first time round.

Nov. 4 10 6
- Dublin! First night booked at The Marina hostel, and second night tentatively staying with Neal's friend Michael right downtown. WIll meet Phil and hopefully a few other TPers on the Saturday (day and/or night!)

Nov. 7
- Fly Belfast to Paris, take train from St. Lazarre to Caen
- Booked 5 nights (may have to cancel 1) at le St. Etienne for an unbelievable 23 Euro a night (it's a hotel! a nice one!)

Nov. 7 - 11
- Caen
- Mont St. Michel
- D-Day beaches and war cemetaries (I'm a cemetary freak)
- Rembrance Day on Juno Beach

Nov. 11
- train back to Paris, sleep in airport, maybe venture out to see Paris again (can one safely tour Paris in the middle of the night??)

Nov. 12
- fly home at 8 a.m.

Hopefully I'll be able to post now and then while I'm gone. Back to work, now, else I'll be here all night on a letter-writing marathon...

Posted by tway 06:56 Archived in Canada Tagged preparation Comments (2)

Curses!!!

rain 9 °C

I get home yesterday to find a $50 voucher for WestJet, coursesy of my close and personal friend MasterCard. But I've already booked my WestJet flight from Ottawa to Toronto - which set me back $140 #&*#*& Canadian bucks. It was better than Montreal-Toronto, however, at nearly $200. And that's for a one-way flight!

So after a long chat with an overly friendly WestJet lady (are they trained to be so happy?), turns out I booked too early to take advantage of the voucher. Everything else she would have let slip - I already booked, it was put on my friend's company card, I couldn't find my reservation number. BUT! Too early, so sorry, have a very nice day, dear.

Posted by tway 06:04 Archived in Canada Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Indian Summer

Please, please, please don't let it end...

27 °C

Today is the 6th of October and the weather man has given us a rare gift. It is 27 degrees C today. It is hot and humid and so sunny you can't spot a cloud. It's been like this since last Saturday, when we sat outside on the porch in the country, absolutley amazed at the heat of the October sun and wishing we'd thought to bring t-shirts. The trees on the mountains were changing colours in the blink of an eye, but here we were as if it were the middle of August. It's odd and a bit unsettling, this Indian Summer business, but I'm hanging on to every last bit of it.

It's all supposed to end tonight, broken apart by a weekend of rain. But I don't want to believe it. I don't. Because after the rain comes more rain, and then colder rain, until one day you look out the window and squint really hard only to realize it's not rain any more. Suddenly the cold, wet slop has given up completely and the snow is here to stay. And not just pretty Holiday snow! Six bloody long months of snow, melting snow, sideways-blowing snow, snowstorms, slush, hail, snow in your boots, snow down your neck, snow on the carpet, snow on the floor, and finally melted snow soaked up into your socks.

So tonight I'm going to take advantage of this small unexpected gift. It can rain all it wants tomorrow. It's been a long, lovely summer.

Posted by tway 13:11 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

Belfast by way of Ottawa

Taking the scenic route

semi-overcast 20 °C

So flights costing what they do here in North America, I'd originally planned to take the train to Toronto (an 8 hour ride or so) and from there catch my plane to Belfast. But - 8 hours? And then the trip's just barely begun? Well, when you put it that way...

So my good friend Debby suggested she could get me a deal through work. Air Canada was charging something outrageous for a one-way ticket (upwards of $300) and United had me bumping around all over airports along the border till I finally settled down in Toronto six hours and $600 US later. But WestJet had a space at $99 ($132 with taxes I still can't figure out) - IF I leave from Ottawa. Which is a two-hour drive away. Without traffic. And I don't have a clue where the airport could be - maybe another hour outside the city or something.

So Debby and I are planning to make a day of it - leave in the morning and find a place in the Capital to sit and veg and drink sangria till we're wobbly and then go for a walk along the canal. The plans at the beginning and the end of my trip are unravelling just a tiny bit - nothing drastic, just small changes that I have to consider and plan around. But I'm hoping they'll unravel to reveal something rare and unexpected and beautiful underneath.

Posted by tway 16:17 Archived in Canada Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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