On Monday the weather forecast said it was going to rain all day, so we decided drive north out of Montreal, towards the Lorentian hills. We didn’t quite get that far, but we ended up exploring the small town of Sainte Jerome that, at first, seemed very unpromising, despite what the rough guide said.
After strolling down the charming riverside walk (complete with lots of information about the history of the town, well I think that’s what it said, but it was all in French) and then doubling back through the town, we had to rethink, as it had some lovely buildings
and a really excellent restaurant.
The food was delicious and (thank goodness) not too sweet. Tim was a little saddened that the waitresses weren’t wearing the uniforms advertised on the windows.
We then went shopping and also spent over an hour sorting out a Canadian SIM for my iPad so we can track down campsites in the back of beyond; it’s already working a whole lot better than my american SIM in Maine; the population there is so sparse that there are no aerials.
On Tuesday, after doing exciting stuff like the washing, we went for a cycle ride around the local lanes.
It’s very pretty around here; you could almost imagine you were in rural France, but there is very little to do; there are no bars, cafes or shops. We would love to cycle into Montreal, but it’s about 20 miles away. There are no more central campgrounds for tents than this one. The good news is that Ottawa looks much better equipped on the camping front.
We had a very nice chat with this friendly Canadian, who told us all about his research into his family tree
and we were interested that he called himself English (as opposed to French) and we have also been interested to find out how many Canadians are not bilingual, as we had assumed they would be (makes us lazy Brits fell better about just knowing one language, I can tell you) (well, not US specifically as Tim has a little French and I have a little Spanish and German)(all right, I don’t think that counts as bilingual)
We bade a fond farewell to the friendly Camping Amerique site and headed off to Ottawa, not really expecting too much; we had enjoyed the last two cities very much, so what extra could the next big Canadian city give us. These poor people obviously had trouble with their huge RV
The countryside was OK, but quite similar to the route to Montreal. One thing that struck us was that there was quite a big difference in emphasis once we went over the boarder into
(province, not state!). The signage became properly bilingual, with English first, they are obviously very worried about people speeding
(I was too slow to photograph the English version), the crash barriers were definitely different
The animal warning signs made a bit more sense (as we hand’t seen any moose around during the day)
The campsite has been just perfect.
It’s the ex-municipal campsite, taken over by an organisation called Wesley Clover, but it still feels as if it is run by the Canadian Forrest/National Parks people. The pitches are large and so widely spaced that you can almost imagine you are alone in the woods. There are bear-proof bins, but they say the last bear that was spotted here was two years ago, although racoons will come and steal your food, given half a chance. Apparently, there is much more danger from the wild parsnip (a yellow relative of giant hogweed. It can cause sever burns, temporary or permanent blindness or even death. What with poison oak and ivy and their killer nettles, it’s probably best to stay away from the vegetation out here.)
The campsite is just a few hundred metres from one of the best system of cycle paths anywhere.
On Thursday we cycled right into the heart of Ottawa city, a beautiful ride of over 10 miles that took us through woods and along the banks of Ottawa River. The city have done some wonderful development along the river, with beaches and parks and free parking…..
These sculptures reminded us of Iceland, though, of course, they were surrounded by warnings not to touch because they were only balanced.
After cycling past myriads of fellow cyclists, families of in-line skaters, walkers and joggers we got as far as this flight of locks. We hung around, watching the workers working the winches to open and close the sluices and the locks.
Unlike in the UK, you are not allowed to let yourself through a lock, but it was not too expensive to go through this particular flight, only about £10 for an average sized boat. This is not the whole story, as it is the same amount for each flight and there are many more flights to get through. This nice young woman told us all about it, including the fact that the locks were meant to be built to the standard British specification, but the engineer decided to build them bigger so steam boats could go through; a huge increase in expense occurred together with a big scandal.
We arrived in the centre just in time to park the Bromptons and see the changing of the guard at the war memorial; a ceremony that they feel very strongly about, bagpipes and all.
We had a chat to one of the nice young corporals (Flynn) who were keeping us all in order and he told us that they were honouring so many more ‘wars’ than us Brits do; the Boer War through to Afghanistan. The monument was beautiful and I was moved by their sincerity.
As usual, we ended up in the pub eating some great nosh. I was intrigued (creeped out a bit?) to see the death hand of Thomas Darcy McGee, a famous local politician who was assassinated and, because he was shot in the face, they could not do a death mask
Of course, there were also some emergency hair straighteners
Just what every girl on the town needs
We decided to head back, as there was a huge headwind and over 10 miles back to the campsite (I always think that one mile on a Brompton feels like two on my other bikes). As we were retrieving the bikes we saw a fairly large mammal climb into one of the litter bins and then did not get out. I(bravely)(yeh, right!) crept up to the bin and took photos of the beast, which was munching on a banana skin. A local bloke told us it was a groundhog. Since then we have seen two of them; one bumbling around just off the cycle path and the other, sadly, as roadkill. They are really very dozy-looking, so how on earth they are meant to predict the weather?
We bought some wood on the way back into the camps (you are not allowed to bring firewood from one place to another, to stop the spread of pests) and we spent a lovely evening being gently kippered in beech smoke.
It might have kept the bugs at bay, but I have still got bitten through my clothes. (I have, at least, solved one enduring mystery of the trip so far….Why have I had so many mozzie bites on my bum. It turns out that the little so and sos are actually managing to get us through the weave of our chairs and two layers of clothing. This is now the anti mosquito regime; at about 4 or 5 o’clock(whilst still wearing shorts), I spray the total surface of my arms and legs with mega-nasty-deet-containing-American mosquito repellent, cover up with long trousers, extra long sleeved jumper, shoes and socks, spray my hair, neck and the edges of my face with same nasty spray, put blanket on the chairs and also light a citronella candle. It may be working; I only got one bite last night. I might have to start bathing in deet, although I am reliably informed that the little b*****s are starting to ignore the stuff.)
On Friday, we drove most of the way into Ottawa city and parked at a free carpark, just a couple of miles from the centre and cycled in the rest of the way. The Rough Guide had said that the Canadian Royal Mint was worth a visit, so we gave it a shot. (After a quick lunch at the Earl of Sussex pub;
the nice young waiter asked us where we were from and looked a tad non-plussed when Tim said Sussex.
We also gave Poutine a try, having wondered what all the fuss was about; it appears to be a Canadian national dish and we had considered trying it for a while; BEWARE; it is chips with cheese curds and gravy. Perfect hangover food, with a perfect fat to carb to salt ratio but if you are not hungover, it will sit on your stomach like a very grumpy toad.
We passed this sculpture, which was a bit of an old friend; I had seen it both in London and Bilbao before!
For £3 a head, the royal mint was excellent; a nice young woman showed us around, told us all about the medals, investment and commemorative coins they make (the boring, everyday coins are made in Winipeg nowadays) and we could see the machines punching out blanks in pure gold and silver and going through the many process. I even got to pick up a real gold ingot weighing 28lb and worth about £300000. They had a guard right next to it for some reason. It was fascinating and it was a real shame that we were not allowed to take photos (or bring out any free samples!)
On the way through one of the parks we saw this chap exercising
and this sculpture
which had this explanation that I particularly liked
We took a stroll up to the parliament building, which looked very similar to the palace of Westminster and the hourly chimes were very similar to Big Ben
(a bit more in tune, as their bell probably is not cracked). As we were wandering around, we got chatting to one of the older Canadian mounted Police,
who were guarding the building and he told us that all the parliament buildings were/would be undergoing restoration, a project that would take over twenty years and would cost over five billion dollars. It seems that the Canadian parliament are not squabbling quite so stupidly about moving out as the British politicians (although, the Canadians only have to move across the street). This one looked more like what I had hoped to see after watching Due South……..