Taking the slow road back home

We’ve been on the road for over 100 days and 21,000 kms, and now…it is coming to an end. What an amazing trip it has been – sketchy motels, rained-out campgrounds, run-over skunks, less-than-healthy road food and all. Every single day has been an adventure and travelling through Canada has often felt like being in a foreign country. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.

Our first stop heading west from Quebec City was Ottawa – to visit our friends Jon and Linda. We met them years ago on Gabriola – at Linda’s summer home. They split their time between homes on Gabriola, Ottawa and Jon’s cottage in the Gatineau Hills. We have now visited them in all three places. It was a gorgeous drive out to the Gatineaus from Ottawa – another area of Quebec we want to return to.

Jon’s newly-acquired raft – exciting playtoy for the grandkids and Stephen. It didn’t stay this calm for long.  In true terrorize-the-kids fashion, Stephen swam up behind the raft to grab little toes – lots of screaming and shrieking ensued.

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Cottage memories in the making.

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Back in Ottawa, we did the obligatory pose beside the poker-faced guards. I asked one of the RCMP officers about the guards – they change every hour ( challenging to stand for longer than that in those hot, heavy uniforms), and no, I would not be able to make them laugh unless I was a family member – their training runs pretty deep.

Below: Stephen, Jon, Linda and me.

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We were only in Ottawa for a day, and like so many other places, we will have to return for a longer period of time and really explore the sights, especially their fantastic museums.

Jon and Linda took us to see the MosaïCanada 150/Gatineau 2017, presented by Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montreal, and built in a park in Gatineau in honour of Canada 150. At first, I was lukewarm about the idea (“some structures made out of flowers and plants”), but this exhibition blew us away. We walked through an old train station (made of plants) to see this:

Canada’s first CPR locomotive to bring travellers right across Canada, #374.

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This exhibition was constructed in Parc Jacques Cartier in Gatineau, and is open until October 15 – entirely free! There are 33 works of art, covering the 10 provinces and three territories, as well as some memorable Canadian moments, like the big goal in 1972.

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Before the exhibition, Parc Jacques-Cartier was simply the usual city park – grass, trees, shrubs and pathways. It is so completely transformed that it’s hard to imagine it hasn’t always looked like this. The work of over 100 horticulturists, including some from Beijing and Shanghai, used 3 million plants (80 different varieties of hardy, seasonally-changing flowers) for their creations.

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The plants were effectively used to create not only the figures, but landscape and sea.

This may be familiar to many Canadians – the sculpture of a killer whale done by Bill Reid in front of the Vancouver Aquarium, called Chief of the Undersea World. Not a bad replica.

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Or this – the image by artist Nathalie Bertin, used on The Royal Canadian Mint’s $10 silver coin. A lone wolf howls against a backdrop of northern lights.

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The puffins, cute as ever, with a mouthful of capelin.

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I loved the effect achieved  on the muskoxen, how the shaggy grasses match their real-life shaggy coats.

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And these extraordinary sculptures, by well-known U.K. artist Heather Jansch are known as “ecological art” – made of driftwood. Jansch carefully selects branches that do not require cutting or altering to fashion her creations – many of them take over 6 months of finish.
The mare Odyssey and her colt Hope.

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Our trip west from Ottawa involved two more visits with friends. We spent a couple of days again with Kris and Gord at their cottage at Farren Lake and this time the weather cooperated. We had beautiful swims, long walks and a trip to nearby Westport, one of the scenic small towns on the Rideau Canal system.

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Our final night on the road was spent in Toronto with Lorne and Anne – a relaxing dinner and gab and possibly a bit too much wine.

Now we’re in Fergus, staying with my parents for a few days until Stephen leaves for a quick overnight in London with his dad and family and then his westward trip begins. He’s driving through the U.S. – the land of cheap gas, well-designed highway rest stops and a whole different landscape to enjoy.

It will be another adventure to look forward to – solo driver, no  ongoing commentary and editorializing to keep him company, and an iPad full of tunes and audio-books.

I’ll be with my folks until September 12th and then fly back to Nanaimo, where we’ll be based until the new year. We’re looking forward to a couple of housesits to get our feet back on the ground and our animal fixes in, and are grateful to be in our old stomping grounds to re-connect with our friends there.

Our plans are to travel through India and Sri Lanka for a few months, beginning in January and we will resume our blog postings then.

Our heartfelt thanks for following along and helping to keep us connected to you all. It has made all the difference to know you’re there.

We may post occasionally before January, as we gather our thoughts about what it means to have no home and how we plan to go forward over the next few years. We’ll share our decision-making strategies, our (rough) financial plan on how we’ve made it all work and lessons from the road.

A final iconic image from our Canada 150 trip.

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Quebec City: étonnez-moi

Philippe Halsman used that phrase “astonish me!” to challenge his collaborators to greater things. The photographer of over 101 LIFE covers, among many other things, was one of the main exhibits at Musee des Beaux-Artes in Quebec City.  He was a master at unmasking celebrities and capturing their essence. This is one of Marilyn.

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And Alfred Hitchcock.

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Halsman worked on many projects with Salvador Dali, including this famous photo.
Explanation of how this photo was accomplished below:

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This fabulous museum is a must-see, if you have more than a couple of days in Quebec City. It is spread out over four buildings, and requires more than one visit to do it justice.

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The museum focuses on notable Quebec artists, including Jean-Paul Riopelle, Fernand Leduc, Alfred Pellan and Jean Paul Lemieux. This is one of the latter’s moody paintings.

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We’ve all seen contemporary art that makes us shake our heads and wonder, “Why is a marine blue canvas hanging in a national museum? ” I asked the same question of this one below, knowing with certainty that with masking tape and a few tins of paint (only in far better colours), I too could be an artist of note.

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The explanation of this painting may help clear up the confusion.

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The grounds outside the museum include sculptures and imaginative landscaping, including this “framed painting”. An interesting project to remember for when we once again have a home: plant a shallow box, throw on a frame and prop it on an easel.

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I have so much to show you that I can’t possibly go into all the historical details of Quebec City. We were just there for two and a half days, so we concentrated on just being in the streets and enjoying the show.

A young circus couple busking in one of the squares.

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One of the many caleches riding through the streets of Old Quebec.

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The parts of Quebec City you are likely to visit will be Quartier Petit-Champlain ( the lower part of the city by the St. Lawrence River), Vieux Quebec ( the walled area of the city that includes the Citadel, the plains of Abraham and the Chateau Frontenac), and perhaps the area just outside the walls – Grand-Allee/Avenue Cartier.

A quick story: We had booked a room in Vieux Quebec – just $120 a night (should have been our first clue), with $14 a night parking (standard for Quebec). When we arrived, we were dismayed to find a hotel with dismal lobby, peeling paint, smelly carpets and a room that faced a fire escape and air conditioning that didn’t work. We were offered another room, which was worse.  The hotel owner essentially told us to leave when we complained (which we were happy to do), except that now we were in Quebec City at 4:00 pm with nowhere to go. After a few disheartening stops at other modest hotels, (all full at $250 and $300 night), we located a hotel across the harbour at Levis and were happy to find a spacious, clean, quiet room that gave us an excuse to take the ferry across. This was our view from the ferry:

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The ferry crosses over in 12 minutes and drops you in lower Quebec, which is like landing in Europe, complete with (for us) foreign language.

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Stone buildings and overflowing flower baskets are pretty much a theme here.
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Quebec City is noted for its fabulous restaurants – Lapin Saute is one of them. It wasn’t outrageous in price – a nice lunch would have been about $60 for two.

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Right beside this restaurant was a sweet little park, complete with chairs and shade.

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When we were in Southeast Asia, we were quite amused at how choreographed the tourist photography was – coquettish poses, jumping in the air, etc. This Asian woman was fascinated with the wall mural, and executed a number of poses to mimic each scene. Stephen snapped this photo just before she leaned down to fake a slap shot.

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There are two ways to get to Vieux Quebec (upper) from Petit-Champlain (lower). You can walk up many, many stairs or you can take the funicular. We walked.

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The view from the top, looking down over the harbour and Lower Town.

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At the top, the mighty Chateau Frontenac – the showpiece of the Quebec City skyline.

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The area around the Chateau is buzzing with activity. We listened to music, sat and people-watched and marvelled at a Dali sculpture – such an incongruous sight in front of  this stately grand dame.

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Naturally, we went inside. With room rates running $400-$600, we were surprised that the lobby was not more luxurious. The chairs were a bit worn and the valet was a bit cranky. I guess the gawking hordes of non-guests becomes terribly tiresome – our baby strollers and fanny packs and plastic water bottles don’t set the right tone. Still, the Fairmont Chateaux are Canada’s pride and we all feel entitled to them.

Vieux Quebec is contained within thick, high stone walls. The Citadel and Plains of Abraham are to the left of the Chateau Frontenac – we wandered the grounds but did not take a tour – we had done that on a previous visit. We probably walked every street inside the walls, or at least it felt like it. Be prepared with good walking shoes and be ready to climb very steep hills. The rewards are worth it.

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IMG_0188Red roofs, tin roofs, tiny dormers, paned windows, thick wooden doors – the same and yet all so different. Every corner brings another delightful view.

Outside the walls and down Grand Allee is an area well worth visiting. It is still very much “old Quebec”, but is a little more of a neighbourhood.

Who wouldn’t want to live in one of these charming flats? These trademark iron staircases can be found all over the province – hell on moving day, but a space-saver with buildings that come right onto the sidewalk.

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A typical corner store, (or depanneur), selling the essentials – Pepsi, beer and wine.

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Another typical sight – outdoor dining – flower-filled patios tucked in every nook and cranny in Quebec.

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A number of shops were dedicated to furs. With a history of hunting and trapping and long, cold winters, fur coats appear to have made a respectable comeback in Quebec.

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As dedicated as they are to preserving and honouring their past, Quebecers are very much in the present.

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A final photo from Lower St. Lawrence, taken on our drive from Gaspe towards Quebec City. The landscape got softer, the mountains disappeared, and the north shore of Quebec came into focus. It set the tone for arriving in a city that is like no other and a province that is indeed “a distinct society.”

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We have barely scratched the surface in Quebec – a la prochaine.

On to Ottawa to see friends; slowly we are making our way back home.