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CANADA / Montreal and Quebec City (eh ben!)

night falls on the old port

rainstorm at Camping AllouetteRus was having some eyestrain following a Lasik operation some months before, so we decided to have some driving glasses made in Montreal before heading for the boondocks. Landing in the only campground anywhere near the city, we hunkered down the whole next day in Turtle, weathering a ferocious rainstorm, strong winds blowing the rain inside under our slide-out and into the air conditioner vents. We had buckets and adsorbent towels draped in strategic places as we busied ourselves waterproofing boots and organizing cupboards. This storm was the northern extension of Hurricane Katrina. In Quebec it only made it impossible to drive for a day, blew branches off trees and left behind some impressive erosion. Everyone in the campground was talking about the devastation in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and the terrible hardships people were suffering. Canadians openly expressed concern for the victims and later we saw a number of fundraisers to aid them. We didn't watch TV but read the papers; the media coverage made the "wealthiest nation in the world" look like Haiti. The photo on the right shows our campground after the rain. (Oh, it's now 6 weeks later and we've had no leaking since!)

Did you know that as soon as you cross the provincial boundary into Quebec, everyone starts speaking French? It's an amazing thing. Rus speaks passable French, but it's pretty rusty and the more rural Quebeqois accent is quite different from the Parisien that he learned. Still it was fun to dust it off, chat with people and do our business. We spent a lot more time in Montreal than we'd planned, and what a gorgeous city! We've never before really considered Canada a foreign country, but Montreal changed all that. When you walk its streets you are definitely in another place. Its history dates from the 1600's, some of its buildings from the 1700's, its cultural inspiration is unmistakably French, though in every sense it's a modern cosmopolitan city. It's built on an island in the St. Lawrence River, and is a major shipping port. With the most modern, cleanest, safest and easiest to navigate metro system we've ever seen; there's just no reason to drive. Montreal also has inviting, walkable streets, lovely neighborhoods, manicured parks, bright and lively looking people, and so many good restaurants it was hard to choose. One place, Le Saint Amable, on Place Jacques Cartier, was so good Kathleen decided to look it up to see if it was mentioned in one of our guides. Turned out it was one of Montreal's foremost restaurants for continental cuisine, and we'd just stumbled onto it because there was one empty table on the street, with a good view of the crowd. The photo at Right is Kathleen's dinner at a place called Maestro SVP, delicious!

We also had fun with the buskers in Montreal. At Place Jacques Cartier, a singer named Mick recruited Kathleen as a Spanish senorita for his act, complete with a rose in her mouth, a fabrication too complex to explain but one she played to the hilt, so well that he also asked her to collect money from the crowd in his jester's cap. She was really in her element, saying "Merci!, Thank you!" (in good bilingual form) to everyone as they threw in their coins and bills. Rus was also recruited to be in the choreographed all-male chorus for a rendition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight. There was a guy next to him from New York, whose kids were convulsed on the street howling with laughter, to see their straight-laced dad bumping and grinding for the crowd. Next day in the metro, we were about to catch a train when we heard the strains of an old Everly Brothers tune in the distance, and they sounded tight. We missed our train to track down the source. It was two young guys, one on the guitar, the other on conga drum, brothers themselves. Rus knew the song, pitched in a harmony, and we had fun talking with them afterward. They knew all about Humboldt County, California, as we're finding many people do. Our home has an international reputation for marijuana cultivation, the area's #1 cash crop. Unfortunately, neither of us smokes pot; sort of like being a vegetarian in Kansas.

Ziggy and Jean, Hotel de Ville, Bonsai at the Japanese Garden
Atwater Market and Place Jaques Cartier


Hare Krishna in the garden
Hare Krishna in the gardens

Goodbye Montreal, Hello Quebec!

Our American accents and California plates have made us a curiosity as we move deeper into Quebec, and we've been enjoying an undeserved celebrity. At our campground on Ile d'Orleans, (an island of fertile land dotted with family farms and fruit-laden orchards near Quebec City), the only English we've heard came from a few sites away, where they were singing old Beatles songs around the fire. In Canada, and especially here in Quebec, this kind of camping is more a family activity than in the U.S., where private campgrounds are mostly occupied by retirees. It's more like European style camping, very civilized by our standards, everyone crowded together, lots of socializing and activity. We've been enjoying the sounds of children's laughter, family chatter, groups gathered around the fire at night. Naturally, being in French, the conversations sound more intelligent than if they had been in English! Look carefully at the picture, our camp is on the shore behind the boat, and Turtle is the third camper on the left.

I (Rus) write this on September 5, Labor Day, also observed in Canada. School starts tomorrow, work too; so everyone's packing up but us. Being Labor Day, this is an opportunity to say how grateful we are for the work everyone does that contributes to our sense of well-being on this trip. This includes so many people, from mechanics and technicians, to waiters and store owners, to the parents that raised them all to be helpful and caring people. Since we're not working ourselves right now, we have a new appreciation for how important everyone's work is; they may think they're just making a living, but they're really making the world go around. So thanks, everyone!

Our campground, packed to capacity the night before, transformed into a ghost town by mid-morning, so we moved to a prime spot right on the river, and noticed tidal changes for the first time since leaving the West Coast. We were glad to be getting closer to salt water again. Kathleen spent the entire day indoors on her computer, updating our website, while Rus made some minor repairs, cleaned house, and chatted with the neighbors. We enjoy those days spent doing what most other people do: hanging out, working on projects, doing laundry, etc. Having two years to do this journey takes away the urge to be always advancing on our itinerary.....at least, it does for Kathleen! It was here we made friends with Andreas and Andrea, camped "next door". We shared stories around the campfire with a bottle of wine and some Canadian Black Forest cake, under the star-filled night sky. Andreas and Andrea share the same profession as well as the same name; both are dentists near Frankfurt, Germany, and had rented an RV to tour the area following a conference in Montreal. Andrea started her own practice only a year ago, and following the advice of her mentor, an older physician, takes two weeks vacation every three months. Her practice is thriving already, and so is she! Andreas, too, has always taken plenty of time for himself and travels widely. This is something we seldom see in our own country, where people almost seem to take a perverse pride in how hard they work and how little time they have for themselves. Andreas gave us their hometown's website and if you're curious you can check it out at www.selingenstadt.de

Signs like this show Canada's concern about the environment

It was finally time to move on, but only a little bit, to Quebec City, which is simply called Quebec. It is the provincial capitol, and the most important center of French Culture (caps intended, nose slightly in the air) outside France. Rus was wondering if there's center of American culture outside the U.S.. Maybe EuroDisney, or the Green Zone in Baghdad?

First we visited the famous shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre, east of Quebec City. Rus would have been burned at the stake only a few short centuries ago, but Kathleen was raised a good Catholic, and gave a running interpretation of this beautiful and inspiring place of worship, and a major site for pilgrimage in Canada. The entrance we chose took us unknowingly to the lower level, into a huge vault with graceful low arches, brightly painted panels, a starry night sky on the ceiling beautifully done in mosaic tile. We entered an alcove so filled with burning candles it was like stepping into a sauna. The heat was a powerful symbol of the combined prayers and desires of many people, so we lit candles ourselves for some special people in our lives who could use a little divine grace right now. Saint Anne was (as all you good Catholics will recall) Mary's mother; and Jesus' grandmother. This shrine has been the site of many spontaneous healings, with abandoned crutches and braces covering two huge columns at the entrance to the vault.

This place moved both of us to tears, Rus by a statue of Christ on the cross, only Mary, John and Mary Magdalene standing by Him till the end, the others' faith evaporating with the risk of association. Kathleen, by a statue of Mary seeing her Son in pain but powerless to ease it. Though neither of us is a Christian, much less a Catholic, and though we're both well aware of the genocide and exploitation committed in the name of the Church, we love Catholicism's rich mysticism, unabashed sense of adoration, and its message of peace and goodwill. By contrast, where is the connection to Jesus' message in the strident tone and political posturing of the evangelical Christian movement? Life is certainly a mystery!

Finally venturing into Quebec city, we found a place to park right on the marina, the green-patinaed copper roofs and spires of Vieux Quebec in the background, walking distance to everything, a wireless internet connection from the boat basin next door, and to top it all off, we could even sleep there! This is unheard-of, especially in a busy city, and the capitol, no less. We spent the day wandering around with Ziggy and Bubbo on leash acting as chaperones, to prevent us going inside any shops or historic buildings. Spotting a huge ship's stack above the rooftops near the quai, we walked over to have a look. It was the Queen Elizabeth 2, readying to set sail for the next port, hundreds of people gathered to see her off, hundreds more gathered on the decks to watch their own departure. From a hilltop we watched as two tugs towed her out to the open channel. Finally, a ship big enough to bring the St. Lawrence into normal scale.

Vieux Quebec is the original, old section of the city, dating from the 1600's, fortified with ramparts, cannons still at ready, to keep out the British and the Americans. It seems to be working, as we didn't see any of either. There were a few people from other countries, but for the most part it was Quebeqois visiting their own capitol. If you want to go to Europe without the long flight, come to Quebec City. The beautiful old stone buildings, winding cobblestone streets, the language, smells, cuisine, and statues everywhere of famous men you've never heard of all combine to create that wonderful feeling of truly being somewhere else. After returning the dogs to the rig, we went back for an excellent dinner at a place called Poisson d'Avril, a seafood restaurant on Quai St. Andre, whose specialty is moules (mussels), prepared twelve different ways, all you can eat, served with frites (freedom fries, as you might remember). After his second, and last, bowl of mussels, Rus asked the waiter what was the most anyone had eaten. The answer was 14 bowls!

Next day dawned overcast and drizzly, so we hung out in our rig by the marina till early afternoon, then headed for a shopping district to find some computer help for Rus, who has not been able to connect to the internet for a while. Future Shop to the rescue: the very sharp and helpful guys at this Canadian electronics company reconfigured his laptop for the WAP more commonly used here, quickly and reasonably. Then we stopped at a book store to pick up a French/English dictionary for Rus, as he's been having some trouble understanding people. What should we find there but a French/Quebeqois dictionary, so apparently he's not the only one having trouble! By that time it was late afternoon, too late to continue eastward, so we beat it back to our little camp (parking lot) by the marina for the night, picked up a fantastic wild mushroom quiche at the marketplace nearby, and settled down to a cozy evening as the drizzle subsided, the moon rose over the river , and we were treated once again to the lovely view of Old Quebec lit up across the harbor. Will we ever leave Canada?

Next morning we walked over to the marketplace to buy another quiche, some local fruits and vegetables and other provisions for the road, took some pastries and coffee out to the waterfront terrace and enjoyed the morning sun before resuming our journey, reluctant to leave this stately yet welcoming city. Below are some pictures of Quebec.

Quebec from our camp at the harbor, Graffiti Quebec style, apple orchards on Ile d'Orleans


Queen Elizabeth 2 at Quebec Quai, and Rus is happy now! His computer's fixed.


Scenes from old Quebec, fly fisherman at Chute Montmorency

Tadoussac and The Belugas

Tadou whale watchers
Continuing east on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, which is called a Fleuve (river), Estuaire (estuary), Baie (bay) or Golfe (gulf) depending on where you are along it, we arrived at the little village of Tadoussac, at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and the Saguenay rivers, famous for its fjords and for for the many whales which come here to feed, especially the belugas, but also the minke, gray, and blue whales. The St. Lawrence is still called a river here, though the opposite shore is barely visible and the tidal changes are dramatic.

Walking our dogs on the beach, we stopped to visit with another couple doing the same thing, who were staying at a family vacation home owned by friends. Maggie and Greg invited us up for tea later that afternoon, which turned into a wonderful evening with dinner and music. They are educators, Maggie at a private high school, Greg at a university, both taking this year off. Maggie shares Kathleen's passion for yoga and organic foods, Greg plays banjo and guitar, and shares Rus' passion for one of his very favorite songwriters, Ian Tyson (a Canadian, by the way). It was great to share their generous hospitality, eat good food, play some music, and to speak in our own Mother Tongue for a few hours. Their house had a panoramic view of the river, where at sunset we could see beluga whales feeding in the distance.

Next morning we rose early, hiked down to some rocks to try for a closer look at the belugas, and were treated with dozens of them cavorting and feeding offshore, their white bodies stark against the blue waters of the confluence. These small whales with their baby faces and perpetual smiles have a magical appeal to many people, including Kathleen. She was enchanted by their presence as well as by the the incredible beauty of the area. For many years belugas were hunted and even bombed from planes because they threatened the cod fishery. It was later discovered that they ate smaller fish, not cod, but by that time were endangered. Canada now protects the Beluga and this critical habitat (which is a national park) with strict rules for whale watching and other human activities. The whales do much for the economy of the region, as many thousands of people come each summer to see them, mostly in paid boat excursions. Whales may actually outnumber the 1,000 human residents of Tadoussac, but the tourists far outnumber them both, and it seemed every other house had a sign saying Gite (Room For Rent). It's a very popular vacation destination among young people, who call it "Tadou". Even though it was off season, there were plenty of tourists, too many for Rus, so we continued eastward on Route 138.

Sliver moon over the "Tadou", our whale watching spot, tide's out off hwy 138

Tadoussac harbor and village, the whales come to the mouth of the Saguenay to feed in the rich waters

To the Ferry

The two lane road gets rough in spots as it travels eastward and out of populated areas, the country becomes harsher in this region of Quebec. The forests are stunted, the land alternately flat and tundra-like, then mountainous, lakes everywhere you look, rivers and streams cascading down their smooth granite beds into the St. Lawrence. Beside many of the homes we passed were rows upon rows of firewood, cut and neatly stacked. It looked as though everyone was in the firewood business here till it dawned on us no one had any for sale; it was just their own winter's supply!

Our destination was the ferry across the St Lawrence to the Gaspe Peninsula. As it was raining hard, and promising to rain harder, we stopped at the first ferry crossing to wait for the next boat, in 3 hours according to the schedule on the vacant shack serving as an office. After a walk in the rain for Rus and a nap for Kathleen, we returned to the dock only to be told our rig was too tall, and to cross at Baie Comeau, an hour's drive away. By this time it was really coming down, so we drove like mad, arriving at Baie Comeau one half hour too late. The next departure was almost 24 hours later! Discouraged and tired of the cold and the wet, we decided to stop right there. We found an ideal guerilla campsite in a boatyard parking lot, camouflaged next to a delivery truck, made our dinner, thankful to be safe, warm and dry, even if we were still on the north side of the St Lawrence. The morning woke us, clear and bright, and we headed for Godbout and the 11:00 a.m. crossing with plenty of time to kill. We think some ferries might serve more than one crossing point, which could explain the sparse schedule this far east.

Playing at Godbout




Travel Log, Past Entries: Click to read each one
Oregon, Washington June 2005
California July 2005
Southwest July/August 2005
Midwest August 2005
Northeast/August 2005
Ontario/August 2005

Montreal Quebec/September 2005

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