Maple Leafs, Ticks and Poutine!
After a short stay in Buddhi’s hometown, we repacked the SUV to see how far east we could get before the snow started to fly. We didn’t pack our tent this time as most campgrounds close after Thanksgiving weekend and we had some kind friends along the way who offered a bed for a night or two. Our first stop was Echo Lake. If you are Canadian, you might be singing Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins in your head, but this was Echo Lake. Apparently Echo Beach doesn’t actually exist but it is a great eighties new wave song, look it up!
Friends we taught together with when we lived in Singapore now live in Echo Lake, neither named Martha. They would always come back to school after summer holidays completely exhausted. We couldn’t quite figure out why they were so tired after a vacation until we arrived at their beautiful lakeside home to finally realize they built it themselves by hand. They would work all day on construction and then cook a gourmet dinner for all the helpers when the sun went down. Those are some long days! We were lucky enough to arrive after a new addition was completed and were the first official guests to reside in this peaceful space. Our timing had us arriving for Canadian Thanksgiving dinner and what a feast it was.
We did however have our first encounter with ticks, as a dinner table centrepiece accoutrement housed a couple of unwanted guests. There were dogs and long-haired guests that had a bit of a panic as a couple more ticks were discovered after some vigorous hair shaking. After a bit of delousing and minor cavity search, we enjoyed a lovely evening, tick-free, or so we thought.
We woke the next morning to the smell of coffee and breakfast on the stove. As we lazily entered the kitchen our host handed us a cup of fresh brew. While sipping on our coffee and asking how everyone slept, we learnt that a rogue tick had been discovered in our host, which was a little too late in the game as it had already started to burrow. A quick four-hour trip in the middle of the night to the nearest emergency room was necessary. Unbelievably he still made it back in time to cook up a gourmet breakfast. Needless to say, we felt guilty but the food was so delicious and the company so delightful, what was supposed to be a two-day visit turned into an extended stay. At this rate, we weren’t going to make it very far east.
By the way, if you ever find a tick on your body, you are supposed to twist it around a few times which makes it a bit queasy and then is easily removed. But I’m not a doctor so take that advice with a grain of salt.
The fall colours at this time of year in this part of the country are spectacular. We knew these autumn days would lead to many inspirations for painting, so after a couple more days of feasting, hiking and avoiding ticks we decided to push on towards Ottawa. Our cousin was stationed in the nation’s capital, so we had another place to stay. Just across the bridge from Ottawa lies the National Conservation Park of Gatineau. This time of year in the Park is known as The Rhapsody of Colours. It is a very popular place to hike as the leaves explode into a vibrant array of orange, pink, red and gold. One must make an early start, otherwise, the area gets so busy that the Park has to close parking lots as trails fill beyond capacity!
Keeping all this in mind we decided to make an early start the next morning to head to Gatineau. Our destination was by Meech Lake to hike the popular Wolf Trail, a trail with some moderate elevation that passes by a couple of lookouts. It was a perfect fall day, the sun shone brightly, the colours from the fallen leaves lit up the footpath below. The lookouts provided some breathtaking vistas and a great cell phone reception spot to video chat with family in Denmark so they could enjoy the views as well.
We spent a couple more days with family enjoying bike rides and strolls along the canal where the colours continued to inspire with the brightest reds and yellows. It was time to continue east and explore a little bit of Quebec. Our French isn’t fantastic so we were a bit nervous knowing we would need to do a little brushing up on our basic language skills.
We met a dear friend from Jakarta in Montreal who drove up all the way from Massachusetts. Montreal is the spot where Bhuddi’s family landed via The Empress of Canada after emigrating from England about fifty years ago. We had our bikes and set out on two wheels to explore the city. The bike lanes go on forever. We wanted to head to the port area and had a general idea of which direction to go, at least that is what we thought. We took a bit of a detour and ended up getting way off track. The beautiful thing about getting lost sometimes is you end up discovering some interesting things. This however was not one of those times. We only discovered miles and miles of industrial-type buildings and never-ending train tracks. Eventually, we turned it around and made it to Old Montreal but we did need to take the subway back to our apartment because we were too tired to bike all the way back and didn’t really know how to get back anyway.
We were lucky enough to have a spontaneous visit with other friends from Singapore when we learnt they were also in Montreal visiting family. We met at a park by a famous bagel shop called St. Viateur. This spot was chosen on purpose as this is an iconic eatery to visit. We aren’t foodies but we do love good genuine wholesome food and the bagels did not disappoint. Of course, it was nice to see our friends too!
After experiencing Montreals multicultural cosmopolitan feel and reuniting with friends we made our way to Quebec City where we would stay with friends originally from the West. The weather was definitely turning, and being in close proximity to the water caused chills that went right to our bones. However, we were determined to ride our bikes since the snow had not arrived yet. Word was that the first snowstorm was coming so we had a short window to ride before the snow began to fall. We decided to ride our bikes past Old Quebec City and head to the Chutes Montmorency.
Interesting Fact: The waterfalls are 83 meters tall, a full 30 meters higher than Niagara Falls and there are no casinos, wax museums, or giant hotels overlooking them.
Another interesting point is when a major snowstorm is predicted the temperatures begin to drop. This was definitely the case on this particular day and by the time we rode all the way to the falls we were slightly frozen and tired enough to consider locking up the bikes and taking an Uber back. But after a long rest and quick look around we got back on those bikes and headed the 30 km back to the Old City.
The next day was Kupu’s big day so we celebrated in style. We explored Old Quebec City on foot. The first stop was for fudge from La Fudgerie, where else would you buy Erable de Maple Fudge?! Then headed to Cote du Palais for some Chez Ashton poutine. This is another iconic delicacy of Quebec. If you have never had poutine, you must try it here! Even though the restaurant name exudes upscale dining, the dish consists of french fries piled high and smothered in gravy and melted cheese curds served in an aluminum pie plate. The key ingredient to this dish is squeaky cheese curds. To know for sure that you are eating authentic poutine you must hear a squeak when you bite into the curd.
We were feeling a bit sleepy after devouring the entire dish so we decided to continue our tour of the Old City, the cold crisp air helped us keep awake, but a giant cappuccino fixed this!
The last stop on Kupu’s birthday adventure was to enjoy a sunset drink at the historic Chateau Frontenac the next day. The hotel overlooks the St. Lawrence River. It was one of the first completed grand railway hotels in Canada. The ambience inside the hotel transports one back to days of travel by train and upscale old-world luxury. We settled into some very comfortable chairs beside the fire in the hotel lounge, which did little to keep us awake. Unfortunately, I forgot my wallet and only realized that after the bill had come. Luckily our gracious host drove over, paid the bill for us and even gave us a ride home too!
The storm was coming and we wanted to keep ahead of it. So it was time to leave Quebec and head to the Maritimes!
Stay tuned for the next installment of our Journey Across Some of Canada.