Thursday, July 24, 2008

NB and NS

Driving from Percé to Cambellton takes a few hours as it is about 250km on what are mostly 80km roads but in a torrential downpour could be a lot longer. That's how it was for at least part of the day, but the good thing was it was not that whole time.

Crossing to New Brunswick over the bridge at Pointe-A-La-Croix to what is virtually downtown Campbellton (it ain't a big town) was quicker tham I thought actually. It also could not have been easier finding our rooms for the night.

It being in a Lighthouse helped.

Hint 1: Lighthouses are usually near water.

Hint 2: They are usually tall.

Hint 3: Hmm... they are usually painted white and/or red?

Hint 4: They have a big light at the top?

Ok, so our destination did not have the big light turned on, but since it was not dark and we could see it from a few km away as we started across the bridge from Quebec, we could not easily miss it.

We had called ahead from Percé to reserve a bed or 2 at the Hostel in Cambellton, not expecting a big place. It turned out to be no problem. The only accomodation style there was dormitory, but Linda ended up with a semi-private room and I had an 8 or 10 bed room to myself! That's right, aside from one staff person and one other woman there was nobody else staying there, and she might as well not have been there at all, as Linda barely saw her lift her head from her laptop computer using the free wifi.

The place was exceptionally clean, had a good kitchen we could use, as mentioned was super easy to find, and was just a block or 2 from the Tim Horton's equipped town center. What more could you ask for?

A nearby bar I suppose. I expect there was one, but since we had brought a bottle of wine with us from Quebec that hardly mattered either, and it went down well with our meal we prepared there.

Lighthouses are not always white and red. Sometimes some Blue is thrown in and maybe some other colours like yellow or gold. In fact further dowen the Acadian coast of NB, we found the one below:

I really like the Acadian flag, and so do les Acadiens. They fly it everywhere and when they do, they fly many of them not just one. Flag painted lawn ornaments, chairs, flag painted houses even.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Schmud and Guano

Travelling on to Percé the next day was about a 350km day, maybe more with some side excursions in and around Parc Forillon. Actualy before the park we took a side jaunt down a dirt road and found a beautiful site with lighthouse that was once a Marconi radio station for some of the first trans-Atlantic radio communication, established in 1904. Called Pointe-à-la-Renommée, it is well worth the several km detour.

The Park Forillon is on the most northeastern corner of the peninsula and has some dramatic cliffs and escarpments. We had considered camping here but had instead reserved a real bed in Perce, which probably turned out to be a good choice as we would find out he next morning.

The southern section of Forillon around Cap-Aux-Os had southerly views across Gaspe Bay. Again I saw whales here but quite distant and fleetingly. Actually I did not "see" whales, but saw some spouting. This would indicate a different species than at Ste Anne Des Monts, possibly Grey whales not Minke. We later passed through the town of Gaspe itself, stopping off for some fried chicken at lunch.

Past Gaspe and in the neighbourhood of Barachois we passed high hills and long inlets, very fjord-like topography. I expect the hiking would have been outstanding, not to mention the hang-gliding.

We eventually descended from the inland side high above into Perce. It turns out that the town is quite touristy, more so than any other place we had seen in the last few days. In fact it reminded me of many areas like Shediac and Lunenburg. Quaint but over-run by tourists and businesses catering to them.

The main attractions here are of course whale-watching, the Rocher-Percé and L'île Bonaventure. It being late afternoon when we arrived, other than wandering around town and finding our B&B and a local style meal we left these things until morning.

The morning however started out nasty with hours of heavy rain and lightning. Thankfully as alluded to above we did not have to deal with camping in this mess, and were almost to be disappointed in our tourist activities too. The skies started to brighten by about 9am though so we went to check out the tour options a few blocks from the house where we had spent the night.

This being a touristy town and obviously catering to English speakers a lot, I decided to test the fellow at the most convenient tour vendor. He explained that since the weather was improving the tours were starting to run out to the Rocher-Percé and Bonaventure (we did not want to go whale watching).

The only problem he said was that because of the "Schmud" there was only one trail open on Bonaventure.

Schmud?? At this point I switched to French to make it easier for him, and figured out that he actually meant MUD!

Tickets bought we headed out at 10am or so to on the tour boat, one that could hold about 40 people but this trip maybe had 15 on it. Despite the still misty coolish weather it was well worth the trip.

After touring around the Rocher-Percé for a bit we crossed the 2 or 3 km open water to reach Bonaventure, circumnavigated it and landed on the inland side.

One of the main attractions on this island is the huge colony of Northern Gannets, though there are many other seabirds here. The Gannet colony is estimated to be in the neighbourhood of 120,000 pairs! That's a lot of guano, as we could smell even before we landed on the island.

The cliffs were covered in the birds, and after we landed we headed up the only trail that was open due to the schmud. This lead across the island to the nesting place of the bulk of the bird colony. Schmud there was in quantity, but it was not that abnd took about 45 minutes to cross the island.

These birds are about seagull size, but a bit more attractive with very intense eyes, and some blue yellow and black colouration. They have quite a few interesting beak-stroking and head-shaking movements, and while they seem to co-exist well in the crowd it sometimes get territorial. In the fog we probably saw only small fractions of the entire crowd, but it was pretty impressive.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Gaspé Peninsula

I have lived in Quebec, specifically Montreal for a year and Val D'Or a few months, and travelled through it several times including by bike. I had not been to the Gaspé peninsula other than to cross it from New Brunswick. So, it was with some anticipation that we headed that way from Quebec city.

The most convenient route is by the south shore of the St Lawrence, though you can travel the north side, but eventually need to cross the river or Gulf if you get that far, by ferry. Time would not allow that option really though I am sure it would be highly enjoyable that way.

On the way to our day's destination we passed by Cap Chat (Cape Cat?) where there is one of tbe largest wind powered generation sites in North America, and the highest vertical axis wind turbine anywhere. Very cool, but we could not stay long enough for the complete tour.

We traveled as far as Saint Anne Des Monts (about 500km), about half way along the north side of the peninsula to a hostel right on the water, where we camped on the beach for 2 nights. This was more or less the way our trip went, a day of significant travel of 300-400 km or more follwed by 2 days in roughly the same spot.

2 days was enough for us at this Hostel. Nice spot, shame about the slackers! Not that there was anything worng really but it was very much a beach hangout pad for many folks there, and mostly oriented around the party scene. In fact the first night the music at the outside cabana style bar went pretty late, and the next night they had a band that was not all that good.

We were probably actually lucky that we did bring our tent and placed it on the beach where we did, as we were a bit away from the general noise and behind the direction the PA system was directed. High tide about 2 in the morning meant that the drunks walking on the beach did not have lots of room between the water and us in our almost camouflage-colour tent against the rocks, so we think they almost stumbled on us a few times.

It actually really was not that bad and we did mostly enjoy it there. The hostel was definitely rustic with varying accomodation options, such as a lodge, a Yurt and a Tipi, and our beach camping which was the lowest price option and likely the most private.

The setting was very nice with a 180 degree or better view of the Gulf of St lawrence, and spectacular sunsets, whales languishing by, a very laidback feel during the day. It was a few km past the town of Ste Anne des Monts but convenient to get to the Chic Chocs, the highest mountains in Southern Quebec. We managed to hit both of those on the full day we had there, for 2 neat experiences.

In the morning of our full day there we headed up the road into the Chic-Chocs in Parc de la Gaspesie for a moderate 5 km hike at Mount Ernest Laforce and side trip to a nice waterfall. Not far from us we could still see some snow in the surrounding peaks, but the weather could not have been nicer and the mountain scenery, even to a BC transplant, was pretty outstanding.

After coming back down from the hills, we headed off to get a feel for the town, which turned out to be a good choice for the apres-midi. Gravitating toward the Quay in the middle of town (just look for the biggest church, it won't be far from there in any town in Quebec), we found what was probably where half the small community spent the weekend. The popular sport there...Mackarel fishing!

People of all ages and sizes (bellies) lined the concrete dock, and just hauled them in, with perfect casting technique and coloured unbaited lures. Some of them had a strike every couple of minutes, and many of them just gave them away. A couple of guys just yelled "Madame!" every time they landed one and a "madame" appeared and grabbed the still gasping foot long fish and threw it in a bag in their car.

Quite entertaining...and Linda befriended one fellow who had retired here from Montreal (and spoke passable English, good for Linda), and was gracious enough to give 2 of his catch as they came off the hook. That was our cue to leave, as we preferred to cook our fish on the barbeque back at the hostel on the beach and not in a plastic bag in the back of the car.

The Swiss Army knife came out back at the campsite, and we soon had the fish cleaned and prepped for the barbie with some veggies and a bouteille de vin for dinner. We had enough fish to give some away to a fellow camper, but could easily have eaten it all it was so good!

A Katimavik group from Rimouski showed up at the hostel as well, and while we were cooking our dinner we ended up helping one of them to cook the meal for their entire group. Basically he had trouble boiling water...

They turned out to be quite easy to make friends with and of course I did the Katimavik project back in the 3rd year of the program (1979-80), so had some empathy for them. One of the shyest-seeming of the group asked me in broken English, if I did not mind taking them to the nearest store (never that far in Quebec, but still several km away) where they could buy some beer. Again empathy helped so of course I said yes, and was told I would make a good group leader because of it!

Our trip had to continue though and the next day we had to get on the road to the town of Percé... and a quiet B&B awaiting us there, but not before some of the spectacular scenery of Parc Forillon.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Image Mill - Robert Lepage

While in Quebec we were treated to something so impressive in the way of a multimedia presentation that I feel it deserves it's own post.

Robert Lepage, the highly renowned artist, director and visual media artist created a massive show describing the history of Quebec from before the original European settlers right up to the present day. This is showing between late June and late August, every night for free, on what becomes the world's largest screen, a 600 meter long set of grain elevators in the port of Quebec.

We tried to watch the show from the road surrounding the upper city on our first night there, but the lightning storm that night prevented this as the show had to be cancelled, I presume due to potential danger from lightning strikes. Our seats were on a cannon in a tiny park amidst a group of other tourists, where we considered sitting UNDER the cannon as it spat with rain.

We were disappointed that first evening, but our host Gilbert insisted it was well worth another attempt the next, our final night in the city. He had already seen the show 4 times and said he would take us to where he felt we would get the best combination of views and sound. This proved to be right on the shores of Bassin Louise, and again the weather threatened but the show did take place on schedule and was completely enjoyable.

As large as the show's images were, it was dark and we were far away, so my pictures may not be as sharp as I would like, but I hope you get some sort of idea of how impressive it was. (Please click on any of them to see them in a larger size.) I of course had to use a slow shutter speed and a very high ISO setting but the images were also changing frequently, often "morphing" from one to another or rapidly moving across the concrete "screens" so were difficult to capture. The image below was about 30 meters high; the below pictures of cigarettes (the tobacco industry has been a big thing in Quebec) and the piano keyboard (Jazz also important here) are at least a couple of hundred meters wide!

Everything from whales and sailing ships to the historical figures and important industrial achievements, medical advancments and cultural diversity of Quebec was featured. It reinforced and reminded me of many of the history lessons I had mostly moved to the back of my memory.

Of course it was not all pretty images. From wars to bridge collapses to revolutions, Quiet and not so quiet, it was here in the 45 minute show.

Even without words or prior knowledge anyone could have learned a good deal of the history of Quebec from this show. I thought one part seemed to be just slightly commercial, and that was a fairly significant homage to the paint company SICO (from Longueuil, south of Montreal) and..who knows?...maybe they sponsored the show? It seemed to be the only obvious commercial influence except I suppose the tobacco companies, but even then there was not an obvious name like Imperial superimposed on the images, nor did they last as long.

No worries. Someone has to pay for this, and other than taxes which I don't pay in Quebec, a bit of subtle advertising might have helped and did not hurt the show. And heck, I am more picky than some on this topic. In any case, well done and Bravo Robert!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Montreal Poutine and Quebec Tajine

Our trip went off without a hitch from Vancouver.

We began with our flight to Montreal, picking up our rental car in Dorval, and immediately into the thick of traffic on routes 20 and 15 (Decarie Blvd). Linda and I headed off to the Atwater Market for breakfast and then our acommodations, dropping our stuff at the Hostelling International location near the core of the downtown a few blocks off Ste. Catherine. This was near my old stomping grounds, and though that does go back a lot of years it was still familiar.

I love the architecture in Montreal. Surprises turn up everywhere, as can be seen in these canine gargoyles:

Our 2 day Montreal excursion included the requisite stops in Old Montreal, Dunns for Cheesecake, St Viateur for bagels and Schwartz's for smoked meat. We also managed to fit in some Poutine at La Banquise , a bit of shopping in the underground downtown core, for some culture a pipe organ concert at St James United Church on Ste. Catherine, Chinatown, some of the Juste Pour Rire (Just For Laughs) festival on St Denis... and a bunch of other stuff!

We found out the Montreal Police are using a new Segway-like-but-3-wheeled-scooter to get around some of the pedestrian friendly areas like Rue Prince Arthur. I asked the guy where he kept the shotgun but he did not have the gunrack mounted yet. We also heard a funny interchange between the cop and a woman on a bike who insisted she only rode her bike here because she could not read the French signs.

We travelled to Quebec City on Highway 40 on the north shore of the St Lawrence after picking up some fuel for our Primus stove at the MEC store in Montreal. I can see why people complain about the store location, as it is in a very un-bike-friendly area of big box stores on the wrong side of an intersection of 2 major highways. A beautifully well done store but a bit hellish to get to.

Quebec was busy with tourists, more noticeably than Montreal, as they tend to congregate in the old city and this being the 400th anniversary of Quebecitation there were many visitors. Despite the numbers it did not seem as busy as I thought it could get, and fewer of them seemed to be Anglophones than I expected. For example we dined at a Moroccan restaurant called Casablanca (what else?), that deserved to be busier than it was. It was down a narrow alley and we tend to like those "down a narrow alley" kind of places and maybe others don't. I'm kind of glad they don't as we like restaurants that are unique but not crowded and serve good food that is not of the standard burgers and fries mentality that accidental tourists seem to prefer. Why go away, if what you want is the same old same old?

The weather turned a bit while we were there and produced some of those thunderstorms I really like, and that we seldom get on the west coast. In fact as we were walking along the boardwalk between the Chateau and the Citadel the hair on my arms and head stood up a fraction of a second before the first lightning bolt we saw. It was followed very few seconds later by loud thunder and was obviously very close. The storm thankfully did not produce much rain but went on for hours! It also produced some spectacular lighting like that in the image below: