In the fall of 2012, Catharine and I decided to throw caution in the wind and plan a new adventure… to embark on a 17,000 km road-trip in our van with our three young children while living in hotels, cabins and rental homes. We coined it our “No-Fixed-Address Canadian Tour” and it would begin in June 2013. Over a 9-week period (63 days), we would travel from Calgary to the northern tip of
(Aug 2013 – The Palmer kids and Catharine in the “Maggies” – Magdalene Islands, Quebec)
Newfoundland and back again – enjoying Canada and it’s diverse scenery, landmarks and cultures. Why? Why not! Sometimes you just have to throw the daily routines, schedules and common sense out the window and enjoy the exhileration, the education, the ups and downs and the spontaneity of new experiences in new places.
We began our odyssey on June 23rd…
Trip’s Photo Album (pics last updated on Aug 27, 2013 – after trip ended)
2. McCartney puts on one hell of a concert
4. I’d never survive a trip to Mars in a cramped capsule
5. I never want to drive on the TransCanada Highway again (I should get over this in a few months, tho)
6. Canada is unbelievably beautiful in so many places
7. Americans are cool… Nfld’ers are very cool
8. Never use up all the hotel towels b/4 your wife has had a shower
9. I’ve learned how to drive, referee our kids and fiddle with a GPS system simultaneously (multi-tasking) while driving in the pouring rain in a Chicago rush-hour
10. A long get-away adventure is so great for family-bonding… we need to have more of these
11. Appreciating a slower pace… life is too short to rush all the time
12. The Magdalene Islands are a hidden gem! We’ll be going back there in the future for sure… highly recommended
13. I should have taken up the bagpipes and studied more in french classes when I was a younginAnd now I must blog-off until the next big adventure (in 2014, hopefully)…!
Day 61 to 62 Chicago – Minneapolis – Weyburn, Sask
7 hours… 7 ‘til we reach our house today in Calgary. Not to be overly dramatic but the kms, now, grate along my body like sandpaper.
After waking up outside the Windy City on Day 61, we jumped onto the interstate as Tommy guided us through Chicago. We were smack dab in the middle of the “rough” part of the city when the GPS conked out. Then J started getting antsy and began crying b/c she had to use the washroom – which got the boys antsy and wired up too. And it was raining cats and dogs – and Catharine was suffering from sleep deprivation and was starting to lose
it… then I began losing it. The perfect storm! Ol’ Brutus shoulda had padded interior walls.
We quickly whipped into a nearby greasy joint beneath a bunch of overpasses to get the kids into the washroom. A rough lookin’ woman was in the phone booth next to our van dialing up a drug deal (from what I could surmise) and some other shady characters were floating about. In a few minutes we all piled back in the van as I banged away desperately on Tommy a few times – then, bingo… the GPS came back to life – back in business! We got the hell out of there and back on the correct route out of the city. Kudos to Catharine who got everyone back into a normal mental state.
We changed our route and headed north instead of west and arrived in St. Paul / Minneapolis (Minnesota) that evening after a 732 km day. What beautiful cities (twin cities, they call them)! And Minnesota is a beautiful, lush state (10,000 lakes).
After a long day of driving, I headed to the Jacuzzi for my evening salvation but it was totally cold. That was brutal – but the pool was great…!
X-Canada Travelling Tip #12: If you’re in your forties and not particularly bendy, don’t try to impress your kids with a fancy
cannonball splash in the pool. Snap, crackle, pop… my back was a bit worse for wear afterward.
Yesterday morning we left the twin cities and embarked upon our biggest one-day drive to-date – we logged 1,115.6 kms and made it all the way
to Weyburn, Sask (I was all bug-eyed after that marathon). Calgary is firmly implanted on the brain as this last phase of our trip becomes more like a test of our endurance than pleasure – we just want to get home quickly.
X-Canada Travelling Observation: Americans love their fast food. In North Dakota, we drove by a huge billboard indicating a KFC all-you-can-eat buffet. Now, when I was a young lad, I used to love the Bucket of Cluck just as much as the next person. But I can only imagine how much cholesterol and other crap that gets pumped into the body after stuffing yourself full of cluck (they’d probably need a defibrillator on-hand…?). On a different note – most Americans we saw rarely wore helmets while riding their motorcycles (no state laws I guess).
One last note – Fargo was an interesting spot. I kept an eye out for the fence (re: the movie Fargo) but a Fargonian at a gas station told me the scene was actually filmed in Minnesota… lol (not enough snow in Fargo to make the scene work)
(Aug 2013 – here we are just before driving over the Confederation Bridge, PEI)
Day 59 and 60 Cobourg – Waterloo – Chicago
The glow on Catharine’s face from our wedding day showed itself again yesterday – as we pulled into the factory outlet village outside Chicago. Then I put 2 and 2 together… we weren’t travelling back home through the States simply to take in new sightseeing experiences – we were going through the States to partake in a shopping bender…!! And before long, I found myself caught in the whirlwind as we emptied our wallets.
Before all this – we had chewed up many kms over the past 2 days: 228.7 kms from Cobourg to Waterloo, ON on day 59 and then 736.1 kms yesterday from Waterloo to Chicago. And we hit another milestone – Day 60. Such wonderful experiences and fun living like nomads but my mental and physical capabilities are reaching the end… my house, need my house. Need my couch, my bed…
We enjoyed a nice bbq/evening on Tues in Waterloo with the inlaws before entering the States yesterday… and it only took 13 minutes to cross the border at Sarnia (an interesting note – there is actually a Wally World (re: Chevy Chase, Vacation) in London, ON that we drove by… lol).
The Americans are an interesting bunch – lots of embellished customer service greetings when we enter stores/gas stations… and at a Subway, we actually saw employees high-five each other each time an employee came out of a back room. That was actually a bit nauseating but entertaining to watch, nonetheless.
And then there was the mattress incident… somewhere around Kalamazoo (Michigan), we were in a group of cars on the I94 when a mattress flew off the back of a truck and bounced right into all of us. I can’t believe there wasn’t a pileup as we all skidded and swerved without a scratch. Another bullet dodged.
Aside from that – I found a good station and got the Led out on the U.S. interstate yesterday with some Zepplin (not to mention, Dire Straits, The Doors, The Guess Who, etc.). Sure, the kids constantly natter behind us with noises of every description as they ask for something every 2 minutes or play/fight together (when we started our journey, we were quick to install “quiet times”)… but zoning out at times and letting the music reverberate through the body brings peace to the soul.
Tomorrow we cut a path through Iowa, enroute to Omaha, Nebraska.
(July 2013 – our son, Andrew, driving the zodiac in the Strait of Belle Isle (north of Newfoundland) with Catharine and the marine biologist looking on)
Day 58 Montreal to Cobourg, ON
5am wakeup yesterday for the boys (yikes)…! I took them for a walk (so that the girls could sleep in a little) through parts of downtown Montreal – was a bit surreal… the sun was coming up and it was quiet b/c the rush-hour hadn’t started yet. We found a breakfast joint (Eggs-pectation) and happened upon some friendly Montrealers. One of them had the smallestdog I had ever seen – basically a gerbil that barked.
By 8:30am we had Brutus packed and then Tommy-boy (GPS) guided us through the spaghetti junction and out of the city. We had an extra passenger on board – a beautifully large butterfly. Unfortunately it’s body had been splattered on the windshield, but it’s wings had survived and were stuck on one of the wipers – they flapped gracefully in the wind as if alive. The kids called him Donnie – he stuck it out with us for a few hours.
One interesting note – we passed a place east of Ottawa called Mallorytown. I used to love watching Family Ties!
X-Canada Travelling Observation: The price of gas drops .18 cents after crossing the Quebec/Ontario border (from $1.43 to $1.25 / litre).
If you can believe it, we did not hit any fast-food joints or buy any pop so far on our trip… we tried hard to fend off the crappy foods – although there were some indulgences from time to time – desserts – at Grandma and Grandpa’s beachhouse (and other homes) which were delicious. Catharine had brought along a ton of organic food which we munched on for our breakfasts / lunches and then we either cooked on our own or ate at restaurants for dinner (about 50/50).
There were times when I needed a chocolate fix while driving… of course, I didn’t want to give any to the kids b/c they’d be bouncing off the van walls after such a sugar injection. And I know Catharine was wanting to drop a few lbs (I took the bullet for ya hon) so here’s a strategy I employed after many trial runs (it’s akin to tiptoeing amongst sleeping hyenas – any minute sound of ruffling candy wrappers perks the ears… and then everyone pounces and it’s a feeding frenzy):
I’d turn the radio up a little… then ask Catharine to jot down some notes concerning my blog… then I’d ask A to rummage through the luggage behind him for my hoodie… all this would be timed for when J and R would be focused on the iPad or reading books. With everyone preoccupied, I swiftly reached down with my left hand and snatched the bar out of the driver-side door compartment and quickly stick it under my right leg on the seat (the wrapper would need to have been preemptively ripped off to reduce sounds – I usually did this at a gas station in the washroom). Important note: You must have a bag of food sitting on your lap that you are also eating (ie – trail mix, baby carrots, etc.). You can now safely enjoy your chocolates without prying eyes. And if someone questions what you’re eating (R does!), just point to the food in your lap. Sure, it’s sneaky and it’s not father-of-the-year material… but ya gotta do what ya gotta do when you suffer from a chocolate addiction.
It was a short drive yesterday – 448.5 kms (we’ll get into the big ones when we plough through the U.S.) and we had a great stay at the Stokes homestead… it’s like a playland there – pool, zipline, playhouses, corn fields, etc. Today we’re off to Waterloo to visit the inlaws!
Day 57 Edmundston to Montreal
One of the funnier names we encountered during this segment was a place called “Saint Louis du Ha! Ha!”. Who thinks these up… lol
We travelled 560 kms yesterday (we didn’t land in any sinkholes or get hit by falling debris from bridges) before settling into a hotel in downtown Montreal.
X-Canada Travelling Observation: The drivers are crazy in Montreal – it took awhile to get my nails out of the steering wheel after some close calls (… not to metion, some guy freaked out on a motorcycle and was weaving in and out of traffic all around us for awhile on St. Catherine’s Street).
We took a nice walk around the downtown core and at McGill University (Catharine’s Alma Mater). Beautiful campus and it brought back lots of fun memories for her.
The kids were exceptionally energetic – especially J. After watching Megamind in the van, she had a mega-meltdown which lasted a mega-looooong time so it was a “hit-the-wall” kinda day – we all couldn’t wait to crash into our beds.
Today we make a run for Cobourg, ON where we’ll crash the Stoke’s house!
Day 54 to 56 PEI to Edmundston, NB
The long road home begins. Yup, we’ve definitely gone over-budget on our trip ($$). One of us needs to become a senator if we want to come in under-budget in future trips.
Had a nice time at my aunt Jean/Uncle Bill’s 60th wedding anniversary two nights ago. 20 would be a great milestone nowadays – 20 is the new 60…?!?
Lots of “last ofs” during our final two days in PEI – last beach day, last supper with the family, last pics, last swim in the ocean, etc. We’ll miss the “Island” life for another year as we always do. I noticed the kids really bonded to PEI this year – no shortage of kindred spirits for them to enjoy.
It was a 6-hr drive yesterday from PEI to Edmundston, NB… the littles and Catharine are asleep in our hotel room as I bang away on the keyboard, nursing an affliction… a carpal tunnel-type version on my muscle/tendons from my ankle upward past the back of my right knee. Maybe a result of the strain of my right foot on the gas peddle over many weeks of driving?? (you know you’re getting old when…) It feels alot better today than yesterday.
X-Canada Travelling Tip #11: When you’ve got 1/4 tank left of gas, and you’re wife suggests you should hit the nearest gas station, don’t say, “… We’re fine for awhile yet hon. Relax…” Heed the warning.
We were somewhere in the hinterland between Fredericton and Edmundston and I had totally forgotten about the gas warning (men have delicate brains and are prone to distractions quite easily. This was the second “gas” incident – the first one happened outside Swift Current, Sask on Day 1 of our trip). The warning light came one – we had 20 kms left as I frantically scoured the road ahead. Nothing.
Nightmares entered the brain… then an Irving sign came into view noting a station 16 kms down a secondary road through forests and hills in a place called Riceville. I veered off, hoping I wouldn’t be spending an evening on the run, literally. After chewing my nails off, the station finally came into view – ol’ Brutus smiled and began frothing at the grill (which begs the question: why do I refer to our van as a person… the long and winding road plays many tricks on the mind). We arrived on gas fumes, I swear. Another crisis averted.
On a different note – outside of Moncton, I heard, “Jenna ripped my ear off!”. A minor brouhaha erupted behind us in the van but it wasn’t serious. Maybe a few drops of blood. Ears were intact. Before long, the 3 of them were chattering and playing together again like long lost friends. Aside from the stuffed animal decapitations, the ripped ears, the store tantrums, the sporadic squabbles, etc. – if there was one benefit from this trip, it would be family time. We all bonded in so many ways by hanging out together on a crazy adventure.
Mind you, Catharine still continues to laugh every time I sing to an Elton John song on the radio. She says she’s laughing with me… that line is getting old Catharine.
Today we hit Montreal to visit Catharine’s old haunts (she graduated from McGill U. way back when)
Day 47 to 52 PEI to Bay of Fundy, NB
We’ve travelled 11,097 kms with 8,000 kms to go… which begs the question: Should we drive ol’ Brutus onto the beach and light him on fire (sanity and sanitary reasons) and just fly home? Despite the beautiful scenery and fun experiences during our trip, the thought of spending a week driving home sends my brain into painful spasms.
We passed another milestone a few days ago – 50 days (12 days left). August is ticking away quickly and I find myself thinking about our transition from free-ridin’ nomads to normalcy, routines and busy schedules. I try to axe off such thoughts quickly… another nomadic trip is the only cure – we’ve got one in the works.
So we brought 2 cameras (Canons) on our trip – one was damaged in the Magdalenes and we’ve since lost the other one.
X-Canada Travelling Tip #10: Bring 3 cameras.
Three days ago (Sunday) Ryan and I were driving up the Lakeside Beach Road in PEI and out of the blue, a hawk flew out of the woods, at car-level, and almost nailed our front passenger side window (spooked us both out…!)..! I’ve never seen anything like it – it’s large wings were right in front of the windshield. I’m at a loss why Brutus and I have had so many encounters with birds on this trip.
My mom celebrated her 80th birthday last Sunday and it was a good party in Morell…! Lots of relatives and good friends in attendance – no shortage of entertainment, drinks and food. I’m amazed at my mom’s energy level – she went to bed at 1am that night… she hasn’t slowed down much on the social front over the years.
Aside from more socializing, bonfires, kite-flying, star-gazing and seafood-eating, we spent an afternoon at Basin Head (PEI) on Monday with some MacAdam cousins and their families – beautiful spot. I always love going there – so much fun (jumping off bridges into the ocean, floating down the “run” current, beach volleyball, enjoying the MacAdam homestead overlooking the ocean).
Yesterday (Tues) we drove to New Brunswick and spent an afternoon at Magic Mountain water park – lots of sun and many waterslides. My butt is all bruised from the vertical Kamikaze slide – they gotta fix those rivets, but loads of fun with the family! I even bumped into an old bone (Chris MacGillvray).
Afterward, we drove down the Bay of Fundy (on the New Brunswick side) and settled into a cabin on a ranch – it overlooks the Fundy coast and is beautiful…! We’ll be headin’ down to Hopewell Rocks later on today to enjoy the tides – highest ones in the world (50 feet between high and low tides)…
Day 46 Magdalene Islands to PEI
So I was in the bar drinking with my kids… here’s how that came about.
It was an early-morning travel day (up at 6am to catch the ferry) as we island-hopped from the Maggies back to PEI – our 7th ferry ride on our travels and this one did not disappoint.
I was on the boat trying to find a little peace & quiet, rest – why not the bar room (which opened at 9am)..? I mean, who would be in a bar this early in the morning?
I found a nice comfy corner and fell into some shut-eye… before long, the music kicked up – a one-man show who belted out Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell songs (ie – Rhinestone Cowboy, Galveston) in French. I’ve always had a penchant for Johnny Cash and this guy’s singing and guitar-playing was spot-on (aside from the language).
So I ordered up a Keith’s beer and enjoyed the show… which gained momentum when the French began rolling in and packed the place. Before long, they were all singing in unison and drinking up a storm – and I’m not talkin’ youngins – most were in their 50s and 60s+ (one old-timer had on a muscle-shirt and fedora… hilarious). At one point the singer, who looked to be in his early 60s, belted out Cadillac Ranch and a bunch of 50 yrs+ women started line-dancing. Over time it moved into patriotic French songs where all voices sang in unison.
I felt one with the French… Vive le Francais! (but the Montreal Habs are still my achilles)
Footnote: kids were actually allowed in the bar – families were floating about and my kids eventually found me. So I continued enjoying my beer with my kids in the bar (I know I’ll never be able to say that line again) before we ventured off into the cafeteria.
X-Canada travelling observation: The most expensive gas we’ve come across, so far, was in the Magdalene Islands ($1.49 / litre). On the flipside, the cheapest was a station just east of Ottawa ($1.16 / litre).
We’re back in PEI for a few days for more fun in the sun – then we’re off to the high tides in the Bay of Fundy (New Brunswick)
Day 34 to 43 PEI Stayover, Magdalene Islands
Vomit everywhere. You haven’t lived until your child has had their insides splashed all over the interior of a vehicle (yes, my blog can be disturbing at times – I strive to provide only the raw, uncensored truth).
After leaving Nfld 10 days ago, we hunkered down in a Sydney hotel for the night b/4 headin’ back to PEI. Then came the ominous words 10 kms outside of Sydney: “I think I’m gonna get sick.” Normally when J gets sick, there’s a few minutes’ grace period before the vomiting. So I “thought” I had some time b/4 pulling over to the side of the road. Within seconds I was proven wrong and it was the only morning we had forgotten to buy water at the hotel for the ensuing day’s ride. We had to drive another 20 kms to the nearest Tim Horton’s for a cleanup.
(Footnote: J got sick 3 more times in the van before we landed at our cabin in PEI)
X-Canada Travelling Observation: the drive-thru vehicle line-up for the mecca that is the Tim Horton’s outside of Sydney actually spills out onto the highway, stopping traffic. I don’t make this stuff up.
The last 9 days were spent in PEI – our mid-odyssey interlude where we refrained from driving the van anywhere (despite the great travelling experiences, we needed a break from the road, big-time). We were only interested in our inner sloth during this segment – enjoying card games, the beach/ocean, family get-togethers, biking, bbqs, kayaking, and the cleaning of vomit (the rest of our kids were sick during the week too. They recovered quickly, tho).
A few days ago after plucking the latest road-kill off our grill (… I must admit, my mouth had watered a bit with this latest victim – the meat looked strangely unspoiled and edible), I decided to name our van Brutus the 2nd after my brother-in-law’s brother’s (big Brad’s brother Bruce Barrie… try saying that 10 times) old clunker of a truck he had named Brutus. It was a dependable tank, a steel-wheeled freakshow that could get you from A-to-B, no matter what – until it met its demise after the steering wheel snapped off… RIP B.
On a different note, we (I?? per Catharine) blew the power out of the van again…! I found the source – a power bar that keeps on blowing the fuses. Despite this latest setback (we’ll get the fuses replaced again soon), our van continues to carry us and our supplies forward like a relentless sherpa… I bow to the power of Brutus the 2nd.
Today we summoned the energy to venture back into the van where our bodies found the familiar and comfortable molds. We left PEI and took a 5-hr ferry ride to the Magdalene Islands, Quebec. I’ve always wanted to go there but never did until now. It’s known for many things – beautiful beaches and scenery, kayaking, scuba-diving, kite-surfing, wakeboarding (… among many other water sports), French bakeries, caves and the seal habitats.
We’ve now settled into our cabin overlooking the ocean (we had witnessed a rugged and stunning lightning show over the ocean last night) – it’s a beautiful, mystical place here. Hard to describe – part Nfld, part PEI; tidy, manicured but rugged in areas. Colorful homes (moreso than Nfld, it seems) and very hilly with lots of beautiful beaches and cliffs. It’s much more than I had anticipated.
X-Canada Travelling Tip #8: When a child says they are going to get sick, pull over like mad… immediately.
Day 32 and 33 Nfld
Nfld’ers love their Pizza Delights – seems like there’s one in every cove and fishing village. They love their beer too – even the smallest stores in the most isolated areas sell beer. If you need a beer fix at any time, Nfld is the place to be.
We’ve reached the “half-way” mark of our journey! Seems like months since we left Cowtown – and it’s feeling like an Ironman lately with the travels. Every night after the kids hit the sack, we collapse into bed too, exhausted, trying to recharge for the next day. Maybe we crammed too much into the Nfld portion of the trip, but we’ll be retreating back to base camp in PEI for some R&R before the next excursion (Quebec’s beautiful Magdalene Islands).
Our final moose count in Nfld was 5 sightings. Lots of wildlife here… speaking of which, more fur gathers on the front and underbelly of our kill machine (aka van). I can’t count how many rodents and birds I’ve hit (I’ll need tweezers to get the last poor fella out of the grill).
On day 32 we enjoyed the red Tableland mountainscape (looked like the surface of Mars… it’s the only place on the planet where the earth’s magma layer has been pushed up to the surface) and other Gros Morne scenery (Norris Point, Woody Point, etc.). Also chatted with a marine biologist who operates travel excursions into the northern reaches of Labrador. He says the topography there is on a much larger scale than Nfld. That might be our next trip (although the Northwest Passage is on my to-do list too)…
We stayed in Deer Lake two night’s ago – nice to relax in a hot Jacuzzi again after the chilly waters of the Strait of Belle Isle up north.
I awoke yesterday morning, groggy-eyed, dehydrated, and looking a bit worse for wear. Nothing but fog, rain (in sheets) and wind outside – a wonderfully rugged scene to end our trip to the Rock. I hadn’t shaved in days and I wasn’t even sure what clothes were clean or dirty anymore, adding to the general disarray. After packing up again, we rushed to catch the ferry and enjoyed a nice ride before docking into Cape Breton late in the afternoon.
X-Canada Travelling Tip #7: When you are rushing to catch a ferry with zero time to spare, and you stop into a store and mention to your kids you are buying only “one” DVD movie for them to watch on the ferry, DO NOT bring the kids into the store.
We arrived at the Wal Mart in Corner Brook during the ferry rush yesterday morning. We stressed one DVD to them but it was sensory overload and they were grabbing DVDs left, right and centre. We reiterated one DVD and before long, they were howling like wolves. We held our ground and didn’t retreat an inch (parenthood is war sometimes).
We finally broke off negotiations and axed their DVD opportunity, asking them to leave the store in an orderly fashion. Jenna was soon sprawled out on the floor, bawling, and Ryan was clinging to Catharine, frustrated and vocal, while Andrew tested our sanity with a thousand questions. As we hoisted our kids up and took them outside to the van, a whole bunch of customers (along with the cashiers) watched in horror, thinking we were the worst parents in the world. Catharine and I had been branded with scarlet letters and for a few moments I wondered if I should blare Guns N’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle out our windows (… the howling from the van intensified) in a symbolic gesture during our exit, while smiling peacefully and wearing sunglasses in the rain to further compliment the increasingly awkward and strange scene with the onlookers… but I didn’t.
We’ll be in PEI for a week now, becoming beach bums to nurse our tired bones. I’ll take a break from the blogging for the week (unless some interesting drama unfolds).
Day 18 Quebec City to Edmundston, NB
We had spent another good portion of the day in Quebec City taking in the sites in a carriage/horse ride (with “Chuck” the horse), enjoying some bakeries along the cobblestone streets, watching the guard-changing at the Citadel then it was off to Edmundston, NB.
Based on the last few days, I was nervous we’d make it to Antigonish with only a steering wheel in-hand (re: power blowout, roof-rack crash, etc.) – but no accidents or mechanical issues today. It was a low-drama day too. Not much to comment on.
18 days and 5,660 kms later, our sanity is still intact. It has been a great trip so far – Canada is so diverse and beautiful and I’d recommend this type of adventure to anyone…! (I just read in the Globe & Mail yesterday about a family who is traversing the width of Canada in a canoe. Amazing! But you’ll never see us go that far… lol) But constant check-ins and packing-ups in the hotels et al certainly take a toll on the brain and the back. And, at times, we’ve had some spillage in the van – a can of coconut oil once, water in the cooler a few times (drainage cap keeps popping off), etc.
Looking forward to another break in our next stayover in Antigonish (and then PEI)…!
Day 17 Ottawa to “Old” Quebec City
We notched another province behind us after entering Quebec and within 10 mins, I had my first speeding ticket. They don’t mess around here. We stopped in Montreal for a lunch break but my french is horrible so Catharine did all the talking (early childhood trauma involving the Montreal Habs stunted my french-speaking skills. Speaking of which – I had brought a wooden stake and holy water to exorcise and christen the Bell Centre but we didn’t have time).
We arrived in “Old” Quebec City in the early afternoon and unloaded our luggage and vegged for awhile in the Hotel Manoir Victoria in the heart of the old city b/4 venturing out for a walk. Lots of people! There is a music festival going on here so we enjoyed the sights and sounds of the festival too.
Of all the driving I had to do so far across Canada, maneuvering our van with the extended rear bike racks and roof rack around old Quebec city was crazy. The roads here are a non-conformist’s haven – the narrow roads criss-crossing and winding around every which way, people walking across the roads everywhere… the parking was full in our hotel so I had to find parking elsewhere.
X-Canada Travelling Tip #4: Check height of parkade b/4 entering. I was in a parkade a block away and managed to damage our roof rack when I ran into a low-hanging pipe, much to the amusement of a family walking nearby (you’re welcome). I couldn’t put the van in reverse so I had to press forward, hearing the pipe crack along the whole length of our rack.
Finally found parking 15 mins from the hotel and then the stress went away as we strolled around the old city and took in the sights and the festival. Beauuuuutiful city (except for the pipes) and the people are so nice.
On a different note: not much drama on the child-front except for an incident in the morning when we had to park the van for 20 mins along the side of the highway and wait out the negotiating involving an armrest – Andrew wanted it down, Jenna wanted it up. A few screams, a few cries, but after some bribing, it got solved. Bribing, sometimes, is a necessary building block toward the love and harmony of a family.
Day 16 Ottawa
A low-drama day… we packed up our van for the umpteenth time and headed down to the downtown core to tour Parliament Hill including the Peace Tower (incidently, I had lived on Elgin Street for a summer back in university so it brought back lots of memories as we toured around the area). Then it was off to one of Catharine’s close friends’ house (Lara and Jarrod + daughters) for a yum dinner and night-time stay.
I did manage to lose 2 pairs of sunglasses over the past 2 days… how does that happen. And we’ve been struggling on the electronics front – over the past 2 weeks, our 3G connection to the internet crapped out on us (defective plugin… had to get a new one), our GPS keeps on powering off and is virtually ineffective (Tom Tom model), my Blackberry was out of juice and I had lost the plugin cord for a few days (found it yesterday!), a different plugin I had bought before our trip that was to allow us to play music from Catharine’s iphone via the van stereo ended up being incompatible (need to hit a Canadian Tire today for that)… and last but not least, I somehow blew out the power to all our van cigeratte-lighter sockets so we can’t plus any electronics into them now. Canadian Tire again! (buy Canadian Tire stock! It’s been on an upwards trend since we started our trip)
Having said all that – Ottawa was a beautiful city to enjoy and we enjoyed our time here immensely! Today we leave Ontario and enter Quebec as we continue to plow our way toward the east.
Another logistical tidbit: It took about 7-8 hours to travel across Sask, about 5 hrs for Manitoba – about 30-35 hours for Ontario! A looong province.
Day 15 Ottawa
We were awash in a sea of tantrums yesterday morning (myself included) when we woke up – mouths were hungry, some of us wanted to go to the pool, some bickerings over toys and the like…
However, if there ever was a day that required restraint and discipline then this was NOT it – McCartney was in Ottawa and there was no holding back. I’ve been a Beatles fan since I was in Grade 9 and this would be my 2nd time seeing him in concert (first time was in Halifax in 2010). The concert was delayed by 1 hr but he did not disappoint!
Aside from McCartney, the day was filled with more pool time as it was raining hard in the Nation’s Capitol… although we did visit Katie’s (Maxwell cousin) farm – lots of lambs but no silence or cannibalism (they were a loud, funny bunch with one lamb sounding like he was belching every time he baaa’d).
I now debate whether I should grow an unwieldy beard for the remainder of the trip.
X-Canada Trip Tip #3: Always test your inflattable bed (we have a single for one of the kids) b/4 embarking on a trip. This actually happened on Day 1 in Swift Current but I had forgotten about it. I awoke at 4 am in the hotel and noticed Jenna at a 45-degree angle with half the bed deflated (leak). Despite the difficult yoga position she was in, she was sleeping soundly so I didn’t wake her to adjust (new bed at next pitstop).
Day 14 Ottawa
Spent some time with some old friends and their families (Bino Cesario and Derek McElheran) – lots of reminiscing about the fun and crazy university years. That time of my life just seems like yesterday. On other days, it’s a world away, fading further into the past. Hoping to see a few other university buds in the next few days.
Otherwise, had a nice visit with some cousins (Charlie MacAdam et al) and my publisher this morning discussing some book ideas and enjoyed some time at the Nepean sailing club before we ventured off to the Maxwell family reunion in Kanata for the day. Great time (scrumptious meals, pony rides, beer, farm time at one of the uncle’s homes)! Quality people through and through. But freakin’ hot here! We clawed our way back to the hotel through the heat and cooled off in the pool b/4 hitting the sack.
Day 8 to 13 Stayover in Waterloo / Toronto
Lots of excitement over the past week – a Blue Jays game at the Skydome, a CN Tower tour, a construction site tour of a condo high-rise (we’re partners in a company that builds high and low-rise condos in Waterloo – click here for company link), lots of inlaw reunion get-togethers… and then there was some downtime playing badminton and enjoying the water parks. But the clock ticks and it’s time to move on. So Rob Ford Land grew distant in the rear-view mirror… and now we’re in the nation’s capital, home to Mike Duffy (… or not his home? I’m losing track of his official place of residence) and his political cohorts. No big geese, nickels or moose seen along the 401 during the drive… just lots and lots of cars.
A little logistical tidbit – I had mentioned below in Day 1 that I had planned our 64-day trip with 5-6 hour driving days. That equates to about 500-600 kms per day (averaging anywhere between 100 and 120 kms / hr).
Day 7 Sudbury to Waterloo
I’ve been hearing Abba songs for 3 days now as the kids are going through an Abba phase. I want to “accidently” drop the Abba cds out the window… we visited the Sudbury nickel… took a bushplane ride (Georgian Bay Airways) over the Georgian Bay 30,000 islands – unbelievable scenery and cottages on those islands (pics to come!)… visited the Bobby Orr museum in Parry Sound… X-Canada Travel Tip #2: check all doors (our back hatch-door was open for 5 hrs on the road… luckily nothing fell out). We made it to Waterloo! The first phase of our adventure is over – a stayover in Waterloo / Toronto for a week. So, I’ll take a break from the updates ’til Saturday
Day 6 Wawa to Sudbury
Paid homage to the Wawa goose today (… the monument symbolizes the completion of the TransCanada Highway). As we’ve done in some recent days, the day began with a yummy homemade fruit/kale smoothie – then we travelled onward and spent a few hours in Sault St. Marie. We landed in Sudbury for the night. X-Canada Travelling Tip #1: Never say, 5+ times, “Look! Moose! <pause> Sign!” Especially if your wife is a physiotherapist b/c she’ll know the pressure points on your arm for max. pain when she throws the punch
Day 5 Thunder Bay to Wawa
We’ve been hacking our way through fog, rain, forests, lakes since early morning in T’under Bay… we’re now hunkered down in a cozy cabin in the sprawling metropolis of Wawa (pop: 3,200). But beautiful country up here, I must admit! A X-Canada hinterland observation: I didn’t see any marked police cars between Calgary and the Ontario border (I did see one unmarked outside of Swift Current)…. In Ontario so far, I’ve seen at least a dozen marked OPP’s (no speeding tickets yet!). I now know I’d never make it alive in an enclosed capsule to Mars. Catharine has lost all trust in my navigation skills (she spends more time with Tommy <GPS> than me now). Had an inspiring visit to the Terry Fox monument where he stopped his run. Very inspiring man
Day 4 Kenora to Thunder Bay
The mind grew fragile as we drove thru the motherlode of forests today – I’ve heard a few hundred “Are we there yet”s while driving today (the jacuzzi and some quiet time saved me tonight). And it wouldn’t be a quality drive through the Shield without a close call with a moose (mom and baby were only a few feet from us along the side of the road – rather skittish fellows). We’ve seen 4 in total today. Also – we were in an Otter bushplane which was cool too…! On our way to Wawa tomorrow
Day 3 Brandon to Kenora
The royal mint tour in the Peg was excellent… we almost left a gas station without realizing one of our kids was still in the washroom (mandatory “head count” now initiated). Relaxed at Falcon Lake for a few hours – now we’re enjoying Kenora in the northern wilds of Ontario. This spot is a hidden gem! Reminds me of Halifax with all the beautiful lakes. She’s a scorcher today up here, tho!
Day 2 Swift Current to Brandon
Kicking around Brandon – nice town. Kids were pooped after a busy day and are now sleeping… Catharine doing some yoga – and I’m recalibrating my brain cells after many hours of driving. Tomorrow we hit Winnipeg and a Royal Cdn Mint Tour. Then off to Kenora. Since leaving Calgary there has been nothing but big prarie skies, endless fields, cows, trains and transport trucks. It really is true what they say – that if your dog ran away from your house in these parts, you could see him running for hours on end… lol
Day 1 Calgary to Swift Current