Friday, September 28, 2007

Destination – Quebec City: Hurray for pictures on signs

Thank goodness for pictures on highway signs! I am loathed to admit that most of the French I learned in high school is lost – and that my French is about as good as their English. Having said that – Quebec is one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited.

As we travel the secondary roads, the countryside resembles a classic picture of the narrow farms that run back along both sides of the road. Clusters of houses, outbuildings and towering silos line up one after another between lush fields of ripe corn. The towns and villages reflect the extensive and unique histories of the area.

We managed to stay away from most cities but Quebec City is one we chose to explore. We stayed at an RV park across the river at Levis, QC. That way we could leave the car in Levis and take the ferry across directly into the ‘old city’.

And what a great view of the harbour and the old city, itself! Those are containers on the freighter and the cruise ship must be 10 stories high. Netting encloses the Hotel Frontenac as they spruce up for the 400 year celebration next year.

Because of its distinctive character and location on the St. Lawrence River, Quebec City has become a popular stop for cruise ships. There were two huge ships in while we were there and the town was teaming with people.

My memories of Quebec City are dominated by narrow winding streets and working artists. Even though the city is far more sophisticated and there seem to be less working artists, there is an abundance of art work on display and the narrow winding streets have retained their charm and attraction.

Added to that are some incredible wall murals I had never seen before.

We hung around Quebec City for a few more days before we headed off towards New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Touring Upper Michigan with Friends

We certainly enjoyed seeing Jan and Fred again and our time touring around Upper Michigan with them. Jan is an avid ‘fisher’ and Upper Michigan is a solid rural area where she can satisfy her passion.

The first place we visited was a State Heritage Site where they are restoring an old steel mill town including the coke oven.

Next we went off to one of Jan’s favourite places an incredibly clear spring Kitch-iti-kipi (the big spring) in the Indian Lake. Water is trapped in bedrock caverns below Indian Lake and spurts up through the sand in the pond. The spring is in 45 feet of unbelievably clear water. A glass bottom boat on a cable is there so you can sit out in the middle of the pond and watch the fish mull around the spring.

Being with Jan and Fred reminded us of one of the great things about travelling in the RV – meeting and reconnecting with folks all around the country.

Rain and heavy traffic! Back into Canada at Sault Ste Marie. Did you know that the area around Sudbury was used as the training site for the Moon flight in the 60’s? We heard that they had ‘beautified’ the area. It still feels like the armpit of the world!! Yes, there is now vegetation growing on the moon-simulated landscape but it retains remnants of vast nothingness. Of course it was raining, grey and miserable to boot – that didn’t help any. It was good to get to Gail and Ken’s in Killaloe, Ontario.

We always think of Gail as the reason we went out to Cape Breton in the first place. Way back in the 60’s she told us how great it was – the rest is history – and a good part of the reason we are on this journey now! The area, like so many rural regions, has lost whatever industry brought the people there in the first place (like the Railway in Barry’s Bay) and has turned to tourism. Even in the 60’s this part of Ontario attracted ‘alternate-type’ so there is an abundance of local crafters and artists can keep the shops supplied with very unique products. I was able to sell ‘Jacob’s Tails” to a couple of places and Ken tells me I could probably have sold more if we had stayed around a bit longer.

We were hoping to get over to Luskville, QC (north of Hull) to visit Elspeth and James (a fellow I worked with at the Childrens Aid in Toronto) unfortunately we never made it. We did spend a couple of days around Perth, ON with Bruce and Ruth – also friends from Toronto days – who actually helped us build the dome in Cape Breton.

Perth offers a look at the kind of Canadian history that is just not there in the West. As we explored the countryside; the lanes, old homes and fences reinforced the uniqueness and history and of the area.

Smith Falls presents a look at the unique transportation system of the locks and brides along the Rideau Canal.

Onto Quebec City for the next leg of our journey!!

Monday, September 17, 2007

A New Direction

I don’t remember a time when I was so looking forward to starting a new adventure. I couldn’t think of why until I realized we really had not been on a major trip for almost two years (last winter on Vancouver Island couldn’t count as an adventure – it was an escape). We were ready to leave Monday night but we managed to stall until dawn Tuesday morning.
The First Leg
We have often travelled the road to
Shelby (Montana) but this time we turned left and headed off in a new direction. Highway 2 through eastern Montana is mile after mile of flat straight road where a curve or a hill becomes a major event. With no trees or buildings to break the wind, every gust slams against the Motorhome and it’s often tough to keep the rig on the right side of the narrow, shoulderless road. Small white crosses along the side of the road mark every highway death and train tracks shadow both sides of the road. There seems to be more trains on the tracks than vehicles on the road.

Occasionally a tree, house or outbuildings pop up off the edge of a stubble field. Mostly the buildings are abandoned and desolate with the sense that of whoever lived there didn’t care, moved away and left the buildings as monuments to better days gone by.

Towns and grain elevators erupt on the horizon. It seems like hours before you get to where you think they should be and they can still be miles away. For the most part, it takes less than a couple of minute to get from one end of a town to the other but each town has a ‘Bar an Grill’ – some operating and others boarded up. Churches like so many of the buildings around them are unkempt but still had a cross sitting above the big welcoming doorways but there is no one to welcome.
It surprised me how isolated and desolate this part of the State feels. I wonder what happened to all the people who considered those run down deserted houses their ‘cherished homes’. There must be hundreds of stories about how they got there, what they did there and why they left.
e didn’t get to North Dakota until our second day out and what a difference. The flat plains gradually changed to more rolling hills and there was a well maintained – four-lane divided highway except for a few miles just west of Minot, ND. The fields were lush with sunflowers and corn waiting to be harvested. The yards and houses showed signs of life, pride and caring.
Small towns doted the landscape and every town has something they are famous for. We passed one place that claimed it was th
e ‘Cattle Capital of North Dakota’ and then there was the sign about 5 miles outside of Rugby, ND that said we were at the geographical centre of North America. The most unexpected was the billboard sign for a Winery. I just never imagined a winery in North Dakota – who’d thunk it?! The rain had just started when we landed in Minot, so we settled in there for the night.
Next day destination?!
Bemidji, Minnesota. If nothing else, I was totally fascinated by the name and wanted to find out more. As we travelled into Minnesota, we moved into ‘cottage country’ – the area that caters to cottagers and tourists – “land of a thousand lakes,” thick growth of trees, cottages, resorts, and the like – but we are outside the major tourist time and if places are not already closed down, they are getting ready. We spent the night in a park just north of the town and with considerable effort, I managed to persuade Fred to visit town the next morning.
first OOPS! Damn, we missed the road into town – no place to turn around. To my chagrin and Fred’s usual ‘good nature and blue-air words’ we had to disconnect the car to get turned around. Being able to back up is a definite advantage of the fifth wheel over the Motorhome and car.

Depending upon who you talk to, Bemidji means either
the rivers converge’ or it was named after the first friendly Native chief that the white man encountered.
Bemidji bears claim to Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox (like so many other places) but it does have some interesting sculptures throughout the town
We spent so little time in Wisconsin I almost forgot we stopped there – but we did and managed to find an informative, well designed little historic and wildlife Interpretation Center just before we left the State.
The first leg culminated at Jan and Fred’s in
Rapid River (Upper Michigan) – a couple we met in Las Cruses, New Mexico and traveled to Mexico with in 2002-3 I managed to get a great picture of the Two Freds very similar to the one we took 5 years ago – neat, eh?!

We spent a few days touring around with them. More to Come!!
Need to get this posted!!