Saturday, October 2, 2010

Road-trip holiday with Gaby's mum from Toronto to Tadoussac and back...

A few weeks ago Gaby's mum Margot joined us for another 3 week O/S jaunt, which was lovely.  Our last holiday together was Beijing last Nov, and we last saw her in Germany before leaving for Mexico.

There she is - in the stripy top in the middle background.

A few days after picking her up at the Airport we went went (back) to Niagara Falls. Besides checking out the falls we watched the IMAX film, had another all-you-can-eat mega-meal buffet at the Casino.

According to Mr Google et al, the Niagara Falls were formed when glaciers receded at the end of the last ice age, and water from the newly formed Great Lakes carved a path through the Niagara Escarpment en route to the Atlantic Ocean. Straddling the Ontario / New York border, the falls attract some 12 Million gawkers annually, and although only medium'ly tall, they're rather broad, and apparently flow at a rate of more than 168,000 m³ per minute of water during high flow, and are a valuable source of hydroelectric power. To keep the tourist cash-cow going,however,the falls are diverted less during the day and more at night, and were it not for that diversion the falls would be eroding even faster - up from 1 foot per year to 5-7 feet.

Me taking a photo of Margot taking a photo of Gaby, taking a photo of me...

In Montreal we visited the Museum of Art - great art, in a funky NeoClassical / Post Modern set of buildings. We got there a bit late and had to rush, which was a pity, but what a gallery !

Beside the Montreal Museum of Art - Kinda Jeffrey Smart, eh ?

Quebec is such an arty city - I love it - that there is civic art everywhere. And not just "proper" art, but grass-roots stuff too. The horse below is laser-cut mild steel - kinda lazy photocopy-art, but art nevertheless I guess. 

A telegraph pole in Quebec City, outside a local gallery

Funky bronze in the port of Old Quebec

We've just told Margot she's going to see Cirque du Soleil
in Amsterdam for her birthday. And that we're meeting her there !

 Something that's really satisfied recently was a bout of retail therapy in Burlington, Montreal & Quebec. Outdoor stores here are truly wonderful ! What with the weather changing somewhat from what we've mostly been experiencing (usually 25-49 deg C) to a bit chillier for the ride to Halifax, we've geared up for the cold. So Gaby and I each have a new goretex-type jacket, winter riding gloves, warm long tights, and waterproof pants.

On the way north from Quebec, we stopped off at the Basilica of St Anne de Beaupre, which we'd almost missed. Anyway, it was very much worth turning round for. The carved granite building is all vaulted ceilings and at least as big as a footy field, and covered throughout in painstakingly detailed mosaics.

The village of Tadoussac, which is at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence and Saguenay rivers is quite the tourist destination, mostly because of its facilities for whale watching and the rugged beauty of the Saguenay fjord. The cold, fresh water from the Saguenay and the warmer, salty water of the St. Lawrence, support an abundance of krill, making the area very attractive to the cash-cow migratory whales. Most just pop by each year to feed though some - belugas - live there year round.

The weather was sufficiently shitty that on the day we went out on a Whale Cruise that we didn't see much to talk of - but the bloke at the hotel who sold us the tickets (and owns the cruise line it turned out too ) was decent enough to send us out for free the next day. If you really squint, you can just make out that the tiny white blob in the middle of the pic below is a beluga whale about 200 metres from the boat.

While there we visited the Centre d'Interprétation des Mammifères Marins (CIMM) which was surprisingly informative, with heaps of displays, skeletons, videos and stuff.

Back in Toronto we went up the CN Tower. They claim it's the tallest one around, and it may well be, but the facilities are a bit sub-par; the windows are rather small, and the much-touted "glass floor" was a bit disappointing...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Thoughts on Canada so far - the ride from Buffalo, NY to Toronto - via Niagara Falls.

So, we crossed into Canada some weeks ago from Buffalo, NY and the immediate difference was remarkable.

Getting out of the US was merely a matter of rolling through a gate on the US side and riding over the bridge over the river. I didn't expect entry to Canada to prove problematic, but I we were more than a bit anxious about the process of exiting the US. I even wore undies even, just in case. But again I was underwhelmed by the routine. Were it not for our oversized bikes that wouldn't fit through the prison-style turnstile, we wouldn't have even needed to interact with any of the devil's agents at all on that side of the river. So we just passed through a gate and rode over the bridge and had a pleasant time with the polite Canadian universal-soldieresque border beaurocrats. Had we not been interested in going through Canadian Immigration etc, there was nothing on their side of the bridge top prevent you from just cruising on out across the riverside park to freedom rather than almost voluntarily submitting to processing. The Canadian Border officials were friendly enough - though when I remarked that I'd never seen border bureaucrat in bullet-proof vests before - he just looked at me kinda curiously. And then asked if we were carrying any handguns in our panniers. Again another underwhelmingly easy post 9/11situation. Thanks Obama for thinning out the paranoia of the previous regime.

Something surprisingly surprising was that Canada is waaaay more expensive than the US (which was already budget-blowingly more so than Mexico) Whereas we we occasionally obliged to pay almost ninety dollars, inc tax, for a room (Key West at $88, San Fran at $77inc and a whopping -though discounted- $117inc for Washington DC) even average rooms here go for over $100, PLUS TAX... And while Canadians on the whole are wonderfully friendly, a couple of times now we've been blatently informed that the tip hasn't been added to the bill – so get with it and drop at least another 15% - on top of the already high taxes. 

From the boarded-up low-rent mostly-black slums between the Buffalo Airport and the Peace Bridge over the river, we passed into a lovely, polite and manicured river-front community, all the way up to Niagara falls 30-odd K north.

Here's what the bikes looked like when we arrived in Niagara Falls, 35km into the Canadian leg of the trip. The stainless bottles are still in Atlanta awaiting new lids - so we have plastic bottles, the new seats aren't on yet, and I have a small pack-towel hanging on my bars that I'd found on the Allegheny Passage. 

David's bike.

Gaby's bike - fully equipped with folded cardboard box and GAP bag of bubble-wrap...
A little further down the road however I had a stupid-attack - foolishly pumping up the tyres from a truck-stop compressor (a first in 7000km but) and soon after my front tyre blew out, along with the inner tube. oops. As Gaby said - at least that justified carrying the spare tyre and tubes all that way from home...

My old Selle Italia seat too wasn't feeling all that great, after maybe 9000km of use, so soon after we crossed the border I got around to installing a seat that had arrrived a few days previously. As you can see here, the rubber top had come adrift from the plastic base, at the back - though the front was only still hanging on for the grace of a liberally applied dose of silicon applied back in ?Cambodia? We've now got Terry Liberator Gel jobbies - purchases online form GottaRideBikes [not a particularly reliable retailer in hindsight]

Something I'm particularly fond of, eqpt-wise is the funky new [drum-roll please] cup holder, which  I purchased from a trailside bike shop back on the Allegheny Passage somewhere East of Pittsburgh. It's just soooo coool ! 

After a few days relaxing in Niagara Falls, getting fat at the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Niagara Falls, we spent a further few days in a pleasant campsite while waiting for Gaby's mum to arrive in Toronto for a three-week road-trip...

In Jordan ON, just uphill from the campsite, we stopped to chat with some lovely folk out enjoying their front yard

Not everything here in Canada is a sweetness, love, sunlight and daffodils, however... Here is a wind-swept monstrous blight we encountered on the lake somewhere near Burlington, ON