J’aime Quebec

Do all visitors to Quebec (city) fall in love and begin to imagine living here? Or just me? I am smitten. No, more than that – captivated. Crazy about this incroyable city. See, I’m already practicing my French…

Location, location, location. That applies as much (or more) to camping life than our other life. A great, or lousy, campsite can make or break a week. We are here at Motel Etchemin, in Levis, Quebec – directly across the St. Lawrence from Quebec. There’s a small campground alongside the motel. Sure, the bathroom is a bit primitive (not heated, co-located with the washer and dryer)…BUT, we’re about a kilometer from a fabulous bike/walking path alongside the River. One lane for walkers and runners + a divided highway for bicycles.

And just 4K from the ferry, which drops us right into historic Quebec. So, a quick bike ride in the morning, a $5 ferry ticket, and we’re good for the day. Ditto on the return. Ferries run every half hour (at least), so there’s no waiting, no crowding.

The City itself is sparkling clean. Like someone has licked the streets of any tiny bit of litter or dirt. No cigarette butts. Perhaps the modern section isn’t quite as tidy, but the historic section is impressively tidy.

Every tiny space has an odd-shaped home or garden. From the River, the city extends up and up, with layers of retail, homes/hotels, restaurants, and churches. Impressively thick masonry walls – 200 years old – surround much of the area.

At the highest point is La Citadelle, the old fort, established in the 1600s, and continually improved for 200 years after that.

Of course, in the background is always the Le Chateau Frontenac, which dominates the skyline. (View from the ferry, as we slid into the harbor).

We walked for miles, ducking in for a peek at every old building with an unlocked door.

Holy Trinity Church (Anglican)

Notre Dame Cathedral was impressive. The Catholic Church spared no expense in creating a magnificent structure. Sorry about the huge photo, but I had to try a panorama from the altar up to the ceiling.

There’s even a public library that was made from a church built in 1870. I doubt very much that they need librarians shushing patrons here!

Here are a few more of my favorite sights from the last few days….

Love the wave house, but it’s really close to the bike path.

Even the sewage treatment plant is artfully done.

Two magnificent murals decorate historic buildings. The first one covers four seasons, and 400 years of history, from Champlain to hockey-playing kids. (Ok, check out this link for the first one. I destroyed my photo. Grrrr….) The second one explores early times. The artistry in these two murals is amazing.

More city sights…

I’m unsure of the significance of the umbrella hung over this section of a narrow street, but they are a colorful addition.

A few more photos, and I’ll quit.

Many older buildings were have been refurbished with new metal roofs and flashing, as shown in the first photo. In the second photo, we think this showed that recovering procedure in process.

So much to see, so many poorly-executed photos. Sigh…..

But Quebec has captured my imagination. I can (almost) picture myself living here.

a bientot

Stateside Again

After just a week of foreign (Canadian) travel, we ducked back across the Border into New York for a brief romp through the Adirondacks and Vermont. I was a bit cheesed off to have two lemons and two of the best-selling tomatoes I’ve had all summer (purchased from an Amish roadside stand near Montreal) confiscated at the Border. I was really tempted to just eat those two tomatoes on the spot – it really broke my heart to lose them. The funny thing was that the Border guard was from Grand Rapids – attended the high school just a few miles from our house. By the time we were finally released to cross into New York (after a brief search of the Campsh@ck), we were punch, and ready for something good to happen.

So, rolling into Durant Lake State Park in New York was just what we needed to lift our spirits. What a gem! We had a giant site, well-separated from our neighbors.

The big letdown? It rained every day. We had a hard time finding a break to go for a hike (but we managed). Nearby Blue Mountain Lake offered a great trail to Castle Rock, which offered a great view of the surrounding area. For us, it’s always more fun to hike with some ups and downs in elevation. There’s something wonderful about reaching a point where there’s a break in the scenery, and a whole world opens up in front of you. It’s addictive, and it keeps up coming back for more hikes.

We had the same experience at our next stop at Moreau Lake State Park, a short hop down the road. Again, we had a gigantic campsite in a quiet campground. New York State Parks rock! Even those with aging facilities still provide a great camping experience, primarily due to the layout of the campground itself.

Our hike at Moreau Lake took us to a high spot above a dam on the Hudson River.

What we thought would be a six mile jaunt became a ten mile grind, featuring a face-plant by me in the middle of the trail. Luckily, nobody was around to witness my downfall (literally)! Ten days later, the scabs and bruises have nearly disappeared.

We were lucky enough to be camped at Lake Moreau during the weekend of their annual Nature Festival. Every environmentally-related organization has a booth or demo. Both kids and adults had some hands-on learning about groundwater, recycling, raptor rehabilitation, and more. For a small community, it was an impressive display.

One disappointment we experienced was the surprising lack of fall color. It must be too early, but we were foolish enough to hope for a splashy show of red and yellow. Nope – wherever we looked, it was just green….

Our next stop was a quick two-night hop to Winhall Brook Campground, around the end of Lake Champlain in Vermont. What a spectacular drive this is – a tidy two-lane rolling road past some extraordinarily beautiful rustic farmland. This would be a drive worthy of a day trip in any season. Sprawling farms, roadside stands, and farmer’s markets all provide plenty of fodder for speculation about packing up and moving to a new state.

Again at Winhall, we dealt with rain as well as the possibility of some severe weather. During our previous week at Moreau Lake and Durand Lake were in rustic campgrounds. Cloudy conditions, rain, and heavily wooded campsites meant that we had no opportunity to use our solar panels to recharge the batteries in the Campsh@ck, so, we were nearly depleted after six days. So, for the first night at Winhall, we elected to have an electric site, to give us a much-needed power boost. But, the site we were assigned was VERY low, and already mushy from recent rains. The forecast was for heavy rain during our second night, so we packed up and moved to a quiet site on much higher ground. Good choice. We were pounded by a big storm, and would have been submerged at our original site. In the 20 days or so that we had been on the road, we had significant rain for at least 13 or 14 days. Everything we owned was damp, or just outright wet. Enough!

Originally, we planned to spend a few nights with our old T@DA pals Cathie and Jay at their home in St. Albans, VT. Would it be possible to arrive a few days early? We honestly couldn’t face breaking camp with a bunch of sodden gear, and setting up again in the rain. Whew! They took us in. Happy times commence.

Cathie is a volunteer at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, so that was our destination for our first day of exploration.

We looked and looked, but in six miles of hiking, we saw nary a bird, fish, or turtle. There was one comatose bee on a stalk of goldenrod, but that was about it. Dreary skies made for few decent photo opportunities, so I don’t have much to show for this day. But, this would be a great place to explore at a busier time of year. There is one area here with lots of sugar maples, and we got to see how maple syrup is harvested in these days. Think it’s individual taps pounded into a tree, dripping into a bucket? No, it’s actually yards and yards (probably miles) of blue vinyl tubing wound through a groove a trees. Taps are connected to various parts of the system into the trees. When the sap begins to run, a portable pump is rolled onsite, and it pulls the sap from the trees. Who knew?

Here’s a real conversation starter….when was the last wolf in Franklin County, VT killed? Why, I’ve got the answer right here…it’s possible that trusty Vermonters have documented every facet of early life in the 14th State.

John and I have tried to visit as many State Capitals as we can. So, after the rain finally cleared on our third day, we headed off to explore the State House in Montpelier. Here are two fun facts. Montpelier is the only State Capital in the US that doesn’t have a McDonalds. It’s also the smallest city to be a Capital, with a population of only 8000 (give or take a few). The State House itself is stunning, with its gold-plated done.

The best tidbit I picked up during our tour? The Governor’s chair is crafted from wood from the USS Constitution. No one but the Gov him/herself is allowed to sit in the chair, and it was impossible to get a photo of it, no matter how I tried. But, it was impressive. We had a great tour of this gorgeous building. Although we were unable to view the rotunda, photos inside the State House show the elaborate wooden framework that supports the heavy done, plated in actual gold. The current State House was constructed in the 1850s. Probably few modern buildings feature gold domes these days – it’s amazing how many State capitol buildings actually do.

Oh, how I would love a peek at this. As you can see from the exterior photo above, renovation is in process, to be completed next month. A brand new 14-foot statue of Ceres will Grace the top. The former statue, crafted in pine had nearly rotted away – the new version is mahogany.

Our last full day in Vermont was spent chasing the elusive, migrating broad-winged hawk, which passes through Mount Philo State Park every year. Often, thousands of hawks are seen on a single day in this area, but we were shut out. Zero sightings. The buzz among the birders was that most of the hawks were already gone. In exchange, we had a beautiful, sunny, cool day with spectacular views. I did see one red-tailed hawk though. (I know, I know…big deal)

In the distance is Lake Champlain, which separates one corner of New York and Vermont. Unlike the Great Lakes which surround Michigan, this lake is chock full of islands and shallow reefs. It must be a kayaker’s heaven. These islands are dotted with small towns, full of fall activities – cider mills, pumpkin patches, and the like. It’s an idyllic setting, although one best absorbed in small doses. Norman Rockwell-ish, but beautiful.

Tomorrow, we head back into Canada – Quebec City, the Bay of Fundy, and the Maritime Provinces. Loonies and Toonies. Bonjour and merci beaucoup. Away from a comfy bed, great friends, and dry towels. Back to iffy showers and damp campgrounds…

Man, we had fun.

Note: if you are reading this soon after its posting, you won’t see any links to locations or reference tags. I’ll get back and add these when I can.

Campshaws Internationale

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? The summer has passed, with little camping for the Campshaws. But, it’s September, one of our favorite times of the year to head out. So, you’re going to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly in Campshaws Internationale. Yep, the Campsh@ck is in Canada – home of fabulous Provincial Parks, poutine, a beautiful capital city, and lots of other treats

To get to Canada, we started our journey in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, specifically Brimley State Park. Although it stormed, or threatened to every day, we still managed to do some typical UP stuff – eat smoked fish, watch a freighter pass through the Soo Locks, and quaff a beer or two. There’s lots of good cycling here, and many great views.

That’s in spite of being cheek to jowl with hundreds of other campers. I’m sorry to say that the more I camp in Michigan, the more I dislike our State Parks. The goal here seems to be maximim density, minimum genuine camping experience. It just isn’t good.

But the best, most interesting thing about being at Brimley at that time happened late at night on our second night in camp. John had gone in for the night, and I was feeding the campfire while trying to finish a book. It was overcast, and very dark in the campground as my fire faded away to embers near midnight. I looked up into the trees behind our site, and it was as if someone has strung hundreds of fuzzy, hazy green lights in the trees. Randomly. As far as I could tell, it was only the trees behind our campsite. I woke John, and made him come out to see this. When we shined a flashlight into the trees, the green lights vanished. Know what this is? Foxfire! It was amazing. I don’t have the ability on my camera to take a time exposure, so this is the best I could capture. There were three exceptionally bright spots low to the ground. I realize its not too impressive, but I wish that you all could actually have been there to see this. Makes me smile to think about it more than a week later. It looked like fairies had strung Christmas lights. It was such a disappointment not to be able to get a representative photo.

Of course, the next night I was all geared up to explore this further. I decided to find a few spots which were readily accessible, and put a twist tie around that branch, so that I could examine it in the daylight. Oh yeah, I had my Junior Scientist cap on! Sadly, we didn’t see them again, despite my staying up into the wee hours of the morning, waiting for it to happen. But, being able to experience it one time was thrilling.

If you never have the chance to travel Queen’s Highway 17 from Ste Sainte Marie to Ottawa, just do it. What a fantastically beautiful roadway. Rolling hills, waterways, wildflowers, AMD mosses/lichens of every color (green) imaginable pass by at speeds of 40-60mph. John drove, while I was on High Alert for moose along the roadside. It’s the kind of scenery where one would actually expect to see a few casual moose lolling about in the ponds. Roadside picnic areas are everywhere.

For the three days it took us to wander toward Ottawa, we loved every mile.

Our first night was spent at Chutes Provincial Park. Since our travel time was relatively short, we had time to enjoy a five mile hike along the old logging river. It was named Chutes, because the loggers actually had to build wooden chutes to get the logs down the twisting river – the twists and turns were too sharp to force the logs through the bends. This was the perfect way to begin our Canadian adventure.

Day 2 took us to Samuel Champlain Provincial Park. Have I mentioned that it has barely stopped raining since we left home at week ago? We arrived in a deluge, and stayed inside, and out of the muck as much as we could. This may be a lovely Park, but that determination will have to be made on a future visit. It was miserable.

On to Ottawa! If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that we are fans of visiting US state capitals, and exploring the amazing government buildings and public areas . Ottawa would be our first foreign Capitol, and it did not disappoint. Cantley Camping was our home for a couple of nights, and it was a good choice, despite being a few miles out of from town. We had an easy commute to the local bus station, and a great experience with public transportation into town. We got dropped off at Parliament Hill, the government hub. Wow!

Many of the buildings were undergoing exterior cleaning, but the disruption was minimal. We toured the Parliament, which was reconstructed after a fire destroyed everything but the library 100 years ago. Most of the areas were difficult to photograph with my phone camera, so I didn’t even try. But, the library, (not touched by the fire because iron doors separated it from the rest of Parliament), was jaw-dropping.

My apologies to Queen Victoria for cutting off her head. Queen Victoria was the Monarch who selected Ottawa to be the capital of Canada. Her official portrait displayed in Parliament is one that she disliked, because she felt that it made her left arm appear deformed. But, since she never actually visited Canada, it had hung with all the other Kings/Queen’s portraits there.

An amazing feature in Ottawa was the Rideau Waterway. A series of huge locks in Ottawa make the passage from Kingston to Ottawa possible. It’s over 125 miles long, constructed in 1832.

Ottawa is beautiful city, which we surely didn’t explore in just two days. I’ve already got places to visit mapped out for our next trip.

Getting to Montreal was a challenge. Endless road construction and detours, combined with our lack of ability to speak French made it a tense trip to Camping Amerique. Don’t be fooled by the greenery in the photos – these are seasonal camping sites. We were assigned a few square feet in a gravel parking lot, vitually on top of our neighbors. It was bad.

One of the main reasons we went to Montreal at this time was to see the Grand Prix (pro cycling race). Held on a hilly 7k circuit in the central city, it was exciting to watch. We had front row seats from every vantage point. These are Tier 2 pro cyclists – some will probably make it to the top tier of Tour de France racing. But these are top pro teams, and we had a blast watching them.

Our hearts were with the Cannondale team, which didn’t place well, but it was a blast, anyway. This is a whole level of cycling we hadn’t experienced. These are amazing athletes.

I had watched a video of two guys slurping noodles in Montreal Chinatown, and marked two restaurants I’d like to visit, so we found ourselves at Maxim. John is an excellent slurper, I’m less so. This simple, inexpensive food was probably the best we’ve had in a long time.

Omg, that was tasty! We each had a noodle bowl, and shared a scallion pancake. I want to make noodles like this guy!

We spent time just wandering around, enjoying the sights of a big city. Once again (and we knew in advance), we didn’t budget enough time to really explore. The Basilica Notre Dame was awe-inspiring. We were a bit chagrined to realize (upon exiting), that we had entered unofficially from a side street, and had not paid the admittance fee. Oops.

(I apologize for the unedited photos). We have had little or no internet since we left home, and I’ve often uploaded photos when we found a bit of WiFi). Using the WordPress app instead of my laptop is cumbersome for me, so things might look a bit haphazard.

We’re back in the States now for two weeks, then heading to Quebec City, and on to the Bay of Fundy. Not sure if we’re going to go to PEI and Nova Scotia, or leave that for another trip. Perhaps part of that decision will be weather-driven. We are soggy and a bit mildewed around the edges after endless day nof rain. We get a snippet of sunshine, followed by a deluge.

Camping is more fun in good weather than bad. That’s Rule #1.

More to follow…