The trip was awesome, but it was a whirlwind. I prefer trips where we have a specific destination where we stay for enough nights to make it worthwhile to unpack your suitcase. That was not the case this time. We were gone nine nights and slept in eight different hotels (Neve’s got proof; she collected key cards from each one). Six of the ten days were mainly spent driving.
But we knew that before we left. The timing of the trip wasn’t ideal; I was home from the lake for only three days before we left, and we didn’t want to be gone too long since Dale’s sister and her family arrived from Florida the day after we left. We discussed cancelling the trip and getting Chloe to fly home instead, but in the end we decided to go. We accepted the fact that we wouldn’t be able to do everything we wanted and decided we’d make the best of the time we had. We’re all used to road trips and think nothing of driving 12+ hours a day. Sometimes I’m jealous of other families that are so good at singing or sailing or whatever else families do together. But then I remember how awesome we are at road trips. Dale is a boss at trip planning and navigating. He can find the shortest route to anywhere and has every road and highway memorized. Even in a totally unfamiliar city or area, he can find his way around (okay, the GPS helps too). The kids are very talented at entertaining themselves with books, playing DS, listening to music, or watching movies (a total of TWO movies were watched the entire trip … looks like the built-in entertainment system was a few years too late). They never ask “Are we there yet?” And I’m pretty good at reading aloud, sleeping in the van, starting a car game, and buying junk food at gas stations. Yeah, it’s not quite the same as being a singing family but it’s something. Sort of.
|We set out Tuesday afternoon and stopped in Bemidji the first night to meet up with Dale's sister and her family, who were on their way to Winnipeg. We had a nice visit while Neve swam.|
|Little stop at Lake Superior|
Anyway, we had a great little break. The drive was beautiful. I love it all – the small towns, the cities, and the many stretches of no-man’s-land of nothing but trees and hills and lakes and valleys (and the highway). We took the US route through Michigan on the way there and the Canadian route that goes northwest of Montreal, then hooks up with the #1 east of Thunder Bay on the way back. There was no shortage of gorgeous scenery on either route.
We got to Trois-Rivieres on Thursday around 6 pm. Chloe’s pick-up time wasn’t until the next morning. Trois-Rivieres is the second oldest city in Canada (a little history lesson for you) so the old part of the city has the same character as Quebec City, just on a smaller scale. The night we arrived, we ate on a patio on a busy, vibrant street full of shops and restaurants and patios. We were tired and starving and so happy to be out of the van that it felt like a magical evening. The atmosphere was amazing and food never tasted so good.
After we picked Chloe up the next morning, she took us to her favourite ice cream shop. They had huge soft ice cream cones with different dips to choose from like chocolate hazelnut, cookies and cream, dark chocolate raspberry, etc. The chocolate was so thick and so delicious.
Then we made our way to Quebec City. We were there three years ago on the way to PEI and fell in love with it then. I worried that it wouldn’t live up to our memories, but it did. We walked around the old city, we ate a breakfast of croissants and other bakery treats on the Plains of Abraham, Neve swam in the pool, and Spencer went record shopping. We toured the Citadel which was interesting. We met the commander; Dale greeted him with a hearty “Bon-Joor!” which we are still laughing about (but not as much as we laugh about the time he said “Gracias” to a cashier).
|Our hotel. Not exactly a quaint boutique hotel, but it did the trick.|
|Breakfast on the Plains of Abraham|
|Not sure what's going on here, but I felt it warranted a photo. A photo of a photo of a photo?|
|My favourite street ever. There were a LOT of people in old Quebec. It was so crowded. Chloe bumped into three people she'd met in Trois-Rivieres.|
|The children posed for many a photo. Even Spencer smiled for this one.|
We wanted to stay in Quebec City two nights but because of our indecisiveness about going on the trip, by the time we tried to book a hotel we could only find one night available. That was too bad because it was a really nice hotel in a great location and we wanted to stay longer. With much difficulty, we eventually found a hotel in Thetford Mines, which is between Quebec City and Montreal, but a fair distance out of our way. Another history lesson: Thetford Mines is known for its asbestos mines. The mines shut down a few years ago, but there are still big piles of … something? … around the town. We tried not to inhale. We stayed at a Comfort Inn and the weird thing was that their key card system was down so they couldn’t program room keys. Every time you left and wanted to get back into your room, you had to go to the front desk and ask someone to let you into your room. And the system had been down for a week already. I’ve never heard of something like that. Blame it on the asbestos. Also, their continental breakfast was staffed by a Breakfast Nazi. She shouted at us in French, even after we said “I don’t speak French.” (My French is so poor that for all I know I may have said “I speak French.”) She could speak perfect English when she wanted to, but she didn’t want to. When Chloe arrived, she spoke to the breakfast lady in French and the lady’s face softened and she may even have smiled. That’s the only time anyone was rude to us when we spoke English. And I think she was a surly person in either French or English, so it doesn’t really count.
Montreal was our next stop and we stayed there two nights. We toured Notre-Dame Basilica, which was amazing. It felt like I was in Europe. The detail and grandeur is stunning. The kids really enjoyed it, but we left when Spencer started splashing the holy water around. We also climbed Mount Royal for a scenic view of the city. We all loved that. Spencer was waiting for a turn at the public piano, but there was a group of people who hogged it the whole time. I wanted to walk through the Mont Royal Cemetery, so we took a different path back to the hotel. However, it was getting dark and raccoons were everywhere so we walked through the cemetery quickly, with bats swooping around our heads. Then we got lost in a residential area that was completely devoid of human life. It was getting darker and darker and we didn’t have a good map. After a LONG time, we came to a more substantial street and met a guy waiting at a bus stop. It turns out he was a city bus driver waiting for his bus and he told us his route went right near our hotel. But that would have been too easy. We wanted to take the subway. So we kept walking and walking until we finally found the metro station. We were all exhausted by the time we got back to our hotel after our four hour adventure. Also in Montreal, Chloe and I shopped on St. Catherine Street, we all walked around the old part of the city and along the seaway, and we went for Montreal smoked meat sandwiches (kind of horrifying, but Spencer says it was one of his best meals ever). Two days weren’t enough to see everything, but we did our best. We just missed Mike & Darla, who arrived in Montreal the day we left. This is the year of travelling east - I know at least six other people/families that went to Quebec or further east this summer.
|The pool deck, where we could look out over the wheat and see skyscrapers being constructed|
|The outside of the Basilica|
|Dale looks the most excited about the subway|
|Vegetarians look away!|
Then we headed home. The driving was uneventful and we spent our last night in Thunder Bay. We went to a wood-fired pizza restaurant for dinner, walked around the waterfront and swam in the pool. In the morning we ate Persians (a Thunder Bay donut thing) and stopped at Kakabeka Falls.
|Too early in the morning for a decent photo|