On Thursday we got the Bromptons out and cycled along the excellent, purpose-built cycle track into old Levis. We got a bit lost on the way (that makes a change, then), and a lovely couple of cyclists went out of their way to guide us to the cycle track. It was fantastic to be back in the saddle and, despite the regular showers, it was a great way to spend the afternoon.
There were some lovely views of Quebec across the river, but we decided to give the ferry a miss and go in to the city on Friday with the car, so we had somewhere to shelter, if necessary. It has been very hot and humid here (there is a heat wave on, apparently) and all I can say is that when a lady ‘gently glows’, she is not meant to have sweat running into her eyes, like I have every time we have pitched or struck the tent. The rain has been coming at us in random amounts, as if someone up there is turning it on and off and giggling a bit at our discomfort.
When we got back to the tent the rain started hammering down and I took shelter in the car, while Tim huddled under the awning. When the rain paused for a minute or so, we put the side up so we could cook a quick meal.
On the Friday we went out fairly early (OK, only one cup of tea for me at breakfast) and drove into Quebec to explore, despite the on/off showers.
The old city is delightful; there are a myriad of old buildings, aged municipal buildings in superb condition, delightful little streets full of little shops and independent artisans and, had we wanted to buy stuff, we could have spent a fortune. The streets of Quebec are littered with beautiful artefacts and someone somewhere has had a wonderfully tasteful vision for the place. We got caught out by the rain once or twice
Tim had just been a hero and run to the bank so we could have a hot chocolate in a cafe, as we had no Canadian dollars.
The horses didn’t seem to mind so much
The Quebec citadel is still there to see; there is a beautiful walkway that follows its walls, giving wonderful views over the St Lawrence river. (I hope you don’t think this sounds too cheesy – I really loved the place!)
When we got to the end of the walkway we ended up on the ‘Plains of Abraham’, which sounded either religious or meaningless.
Tim knew better; the plain was a place where some bloke called (you got it) Abraham used to graze his livestock. (That is not the interesting bit, by the way). In 1770-something, while the English were trying to kick the French out of New France (AKA north-east America AKA Canada), a bright young General (Wolfe)(age 32) cunningly brought a whole load of ships up the river (previously surveyed by a young James Cook-the one that got eaten by cannibals in Hawaii), and got his troops to climb the VERY steep cliffs and line up so that the French soldiers woke up in the morning and said ‘Oh dear, there is an English army just across the Plains of Abraham, what shall we do?’ (or something like that).
The ensuing battle took all of 25 minutes to rout the local French army, killing only 60-odd English soldiers (which sounds amazing but it also took out poor Wolfe and injured another 600 or so English soldiers and I bet an awful lot of them also died).
How do I know this? Well we went to the museum and it was surprisingly interesting. The display looked pretty small at first, but when you looked closely, it was fascinating. There was a very detailed display of English soldiers uniforms; apparently every colonel had his own uniforms with different braid and trims. They showed the different ways that French and English uniforms were made, even down to how they were sewn. Now I know what a French seam is, my mum will be so proud.
Afterwards, we looked for somewhere good for lunch; I really fancied a moose steak, as we hadn’t managed to see any live ones yet.
We settled on a really interesting looking place (which turned out to be a restaurant in one of the oldest houses in the city). We wanted to try some traditional local food and this place had it in spades. Not only that, but it provided a three course meal with a glass of wine, water and bread for about £12. Tim chose ‘Grandmas’ pea soup and Quebec (pork) pie and I went for rillettes of bison and elk followed by wild meat pie. The food was not bad and fairly tasty, despite the fact that the vegetable accompaniments were so sweet that your teeth wanted to fall out. We did, however, spend the whole afternoon belching. It seems that traditional Canadian food is pretty heavy stuff!
As we were walking back through the city we came across a very jolly street artist; he said he was a circus performer and, although very engaging, his mouth outran his talent (sorry, I have hung out at Covent garden, and that can make you a tad sniffy). Despite that, he was charming to watch and the crowd really liked him. The way he talked, I really expected him to do a double flip from his final dismount, but he just scrambled down; at least there were no injuries.
Afterwards, we decided to have a drive around the île d’Orleans, which looked interesting on the map but I had a real job staying awake all through the 60 odd miles of the round trip. Tim felt the same way and it was lucky that I was the only one that dozed off now and then. I was interested about the zinc roofs and ….not much else.
the view on the way back across the river was pretty spectacular, however
As we were knocking up a little snack in the evening, Elizabeth came over to tell us that the boat people had called her and said that their boat had engine troubles and would be out of the water for at least a month. They had decided to drive north into the wild unknown, despite not knowing if they could buy diesel on the way or even if there was anywhere to park their rig. If anyone out there thinks we are brave, nope; they are the true heroes of travel and I really hope they will be OK (and, selfishly, I hope they will let us know they are OK or I will worry!).
On saturday we headed out from Quebec, smirking to ourselves that we had managed to pack up everything before the rain came back again, again, again….. We were on the road by half past ten (sounds tardy, but we had breakfast, showers and a whole lot of sorting out to do). One bright spot was a really nice Canadian bloke returning to remind us that he would send us details of where it would be good to camp in Ottawa and how to travel safely in Mexico.
Apart from these
(It was not the fact that there is a naturist camp here that made me giggle, but the symbols for it)(you may have to expand the picture to see it)
the 150 miles on to Montreal were easy and fairly dull. The road appears to have been built along a straight line; someone seems to have got a map with Quebec and Montreal on it, drawn a line with ruler and that is where the road went. We happily bumbled our way here, fully expecting there to be myriads of campsites within walking distance of the centre. Nope! It took us a fair old bit of research to find a campsite (OK, I got Tim to stop the car and dug out the ‘Camp Quebec’ booklet we had picked up at the last campsite) and we rolled up at the Camp Amerique Montreal campground hoping for the best. There was a long and complicated discussion (OK it was in french and my French stops at ‘La plume de ma tante’) but they let us stay. It is, apparently the last weekend of the Canadian big holiday and the only place they had left is… in the garden by the petanque piste. Extremely lucky to get anywhere on a Saturday in high season! Our pitch is really nice; a cute little lawn with flower beds, bursting with flowers and our own personal loo within five metres. The air round here is nicer than further east as well- slightly cooler and not so humid.
On Sunday, we woke to brilliant blue skies and decided to head into Montreal old town. After battling our way through hoards of giggling teenage campers, we managed to shower and get into town before lunchtime.
There was no free parking, despite it being a Sunday, so we ended up having to pay $20 (not so bad at $1=50p) for the day. We wondered why every place we go to has to have a London bus
We schlepped around the old port for a bit- it’s amazing how they have revived the area, with an exploratorium (I may still be pouting because we gave that a miss, but I just know they will have exactly the same experiments as in Cardiff, San Francisco, London and Sydney. Dang, you have to grow up sometime!), a really exciting looking games area, clever little kiosks built from old containers, bars, gardens and all kinds of other nice places to hang out on a sunny day.
We had a drink in the local Brewsky bar, expensive and NO FOOD and then ate some Portuguese tapas, which were pretty good, if a little greasy. The whole of the old town was buzzing, full of happy families and the range of nationalities reminded me of London, perhaps with a higher proportion of Asians. It made the whole place seem very welcoming.
We actually went to a second museum in a week, a nice little place that told the history of how the city was founded and changed over the years and it also had a very stylish exhibition about crime and corruption in Montreal over the years. There was a warning that the exhibition would not be suitable for young children and those of a sensitive nature…..it turned out that there was a bedroom mockup with a projection of a fully clothed couple rolling backwards and forwards on it. I obviously do not have a sensitive nature, because I just smirked a bit.
On the way out we could see these nice young people building a model of the town at some stage in its history.
After a short drive around the city we drove past the 1976 Olympic Stadium
and (we think) the biodome
and, what is it with putting things on the roof around here?
we headed back to the campsite and cooked ourselves a light supper. The groundsmen were working on the Petanque pitch because there is going to be a local tournament soon. The staff here are wonderfully helpful and friendly.