Leaving Longueuil we followed a route that looked the most direct along the south shore out of Kahnawake through Lasalle, Lachine and points west. Google kept telling us to turn around!!!!! REROUTE! REROUTE! We didn’t! An hour later we were on a ferry across the Ottawa river where its confluence is the St Lawrence via Lac Des Deux Montagnes. On one side of the lake is Hudson, and the other is Oka. And guess what we found there? THE ROUTE VERTE!!! There were so many cyclists that got on this little ferry. It carried 18 cars. Truck and trailer cost us $19. It is a 10-minute crossing that has a ferry leaving both sides every 15 minutes. Cash only. Bikes were $3, motorbikes $3, cars $11, trailers depending on length $4-$16. Our Escape was $8. In the winter it is an ice road depending on the thickness of the ice. Score!! We were on a cruise to Oka.
The bonus was a local craft and farmers market was happening right where the ferry landed. We bought bacon wrapped wild boar medallions, candy cane beets, yellow zucchini, green and purple beans. Boar was frozen, so it would be dinner another day.
At the campground we were overwhelmed with the size of it. Again, BIG. The google satellite map shows a treed plot of land with some designs like what might be an Aztec ruin. But these are the massive paved loops that have unpaved loops attached with the hundreds of campsites on each unpaved loop. We had the luxury of a site with electricity, camped near the beach, near a water outlet, near the free showers and washrooms, and we were two and a half kilometers from the main gate. We set up, got our bikes out headed to find the trails and get the lay of the land.
The point of land that was our beach was the windy side and was populated with dozens of kite surfers, wind surfers, and the families thereof. The beach, “plage“, where everyone swims and picnics is about 2 or more kilometers long and had a parking lot for about 500 cars. It filled. The “plage” was a zoo!!! There were life-guard stands in and out of the water. There was a giant floating obstacle course. There were kayak, SUP, and fat bike rentals. This was where Montréalers went to the beach to swim, bbq, and tan. We got out of there fast.
Next day we ventured to the mountain bike trails at the Auberge de l’Abbaye d’Oka. It was excellent. The monastery was transformed into a quaint hotel, and the cheese factory is run by a big dairy conglomerate now. They own the land the trails run through on both side of the main road, and there is a mountain bike store across the road with lots of information, bikes, gear and repair/maintenance shop. We rode mostly green and blue difficulty trails but there were plenty of black diamond and few double black diamond trails. Diamonds are not my thing. The acceptable single-track trails through the forest were mostly up and down with many hairpin turns. It is a rocky terrain and most of the turns were flat rather than banked. Fine with me, I went pretty slow anyway. But I improved which is always the plan anyway. We rode these trails on two days for about 2-3 hours each. The craft-beer at the end of the day was earned.
The beach near our campsite was sandy and shallow so launching our kayak at our windy beach with all those kite-surfers, or at the swimming beach, with all those people, was not something we were interested in. On the east side of the park is another sleepy little town full of young families called Pointe Calumet. The bike route travels right through and when we were looking for the turn off to go to the trails by the Abbeye, we got lost right into this town. Later I remembered this detail and I looked at the satellite map to see that there was a boat ramp just alongside the border between the town and the park. So, on our third day after mountain biking, we took the kayak to Pointe Calumet and launched. Nearby there is a “Grande Baie”(large bay) that we thought would be nice to paddle into as it was on the lee side of the lake and was very calm. However, it is shallow and full of reeds, weeds and lily pads, so we paddled over to where we saw some sand and a mosh pit of boats: jet boats, pontoon boats, patio boats, speed boats and jetskis. We took our inflatable kayak, confronted the swamping action of one of the speed boats and sidled up beside them all on the beach. We had a swim in the deep water found there, drank our lovely tins of cold craft beer, said “bon journée”, and were off again.
Next day we checked out and headed for quiet Mont Tremblant “National Park”, one of the provincial parks. Most people know Mont Tremblant as the mountain in the Laurentians north of Montreal where everyone skis. This mountain and ski resort are known as “Tremblant” and it is the tallest ski hill in the Laurentians. We were not there. Tremblant is one of those towns like Whistler and Banff that are very touristy, have tons of shops and accommodations, restaurants and bars and even a few music festivals. Not “Park Mont Tremblant”.
We booked a site at Lac des Sables in the park which is about 3 hours from Montréal and 30 minutes from the closest town, Saint Donat. There are 3 sectors in the park and at least 5 routes to access these sectors. The sector we were in was Pimbina. This is mountain country and as we climbed off the Saint Lawrence plateau, we felt the temperature drop. Once we were set up in our campsite, we realized this was a campground that might fill on the weekend, but we had the place to ourselves when we arrived on the Wednesday. So rather than go all the way to the shower house we set up a private shower off the side of our trailer. After the city noise of Sogarive and the busy campground and power motors on the water at Oka, we were stunned by the silence of Park Mont Tremblant. Quiet. Calm. Relaxing. Loons calling. Quiet.
We met a “birder” who was chasing the sound of a “crossbill” and that they show up in the park every 4-5 years. We had heard the song and had our Peterson’s bird book out, but we didn’t see it. Probably because our best binoculars were Smokey the Bear BIno’s from a gift shop in Utah.
Lac des Sables has a sandy beach that is reknowned as the nicest beach of all the many lakes in the park. We swam, paddled and star watched. There are a few trails that we could bike on but not organized mountain bike park trails such as the ones at Tremblant or Oka. We rode a couple of the trails, one of which went around the lake to a cabin that in winter is frequented by skiers who overnight there. It had wood, a woodstove, bunks, mattresses and a couple of tables and chairs that would comfortably house about 15-20 people. The trails are well marked and intersect with many other trails that traverse the park, joining the viewpoints, lakes, cabins, and many destinations together off the main road.
Elly and Taylor spent two nights with us. They hadn’t ridden electric bikes before and decided they were pretty freakin’ fun! No kidding!!!
We spent our last day visiting with a childhood friend of Albert’s oldest sister and her family. They live along a river in the quaint town of Brebeuf, near the Mont Tremblant ski resort, and work at the Tremblant Fairmont. We hope to pay it forward one day when they come to visit us out west as we had a great dinner and evening. It was great catching up with them. Driving through the Laurentians is akin to driving through small villages in the Alps. The small towns have a church with a large steeple and some of the buildings are hundreds of years old, or newer and made to look old. They are full of character and huge green lawns!! Often each little town has its own small ski hill nearby. The land is riddled with snowmobile trails and many of the road signs are snowmobile crossing signs. People live for all the seasons here. In spring it is the anticipation of warmer days and the maple sap that flows. In summer, the life on the lakes and
Next stop Québec City. Rather than drive to Montréal and hang a left at the trans Canada, we chose to travel south east on a more direct route. It was probably slower because we were on secondary roads but the scenery was worth it. Once we descended to the lower plains, we were in dairy country. We never saw any cows but many farms with 2 and 3 large silos, huge barns and fields of corn for silage. Every few kilometers there was a sign saying Fromagerie ahead and we stopped in at one. We had so many cheeses from Oka that buying from all of these producers was over the top. But we had to stop. The shop we chose Domaine Feodal. The cheeses were predominantly brie-like, and had different washes on the rind to provide a different flavour and ripening. The most interesting one was a cheese that was soaked in Québec apple cider. This cheese was available in Dubai, but at a much higher price! The other notable one was soaked in a local dark beer and had characteristics of coffee and chocolate. The smoked cheese they had was not smoked in a smoker but soaked in a smokey brine. We got out of there with two cheeses and some Rillette, a pork and porkfat spread that is delicious on bread, crackers, or with a spoon!!
We arrived at the campground in Lèvis on the south shore across from Québec City in the afternoon, set up and drove to the city. We googled many different parking lots but to no avail, always lots of construction or our truck didn’t fit into the parkade. So, we drove through the streets, looked at some of the stuff we wanted to come back to see and headed back to the trailer.
Next day we biked the paths and bikeway roads for about an hour to the ferry across from Old Quêbec. Another excellent ferry ride at $3.65 per bike/traveller. Once there we rode along the waterfront, stopped for a look at the train station, then up to the center of the upper town and parked the bikes along a gate near the Chateau Frontenac where we set out on foot. For those who don’t know, Québec City is like going to Europe. The buildings date back to the 1600s, it is built as a walled city and has a fort. It is super touristy and has artists and caricature painters set up as if it was Montmartre. It is a city with a lot of Canadian history, battles and battles that didn’t happen, between the French, British and Americans. That of course is a really short history lesson on Québec City. It is the closest resemblance to being in any small hilltop city in Europe that exists in Canada. And the currency is Canadian. The first nations are not noticeably featured in these historic displays, but perhaps with reconciliation these stories will be told as well. The other difference from Europe is that every restaurant has some form of poutine.
One full day in the city meant looking for trails the next day. While in Oka we talked to a knowledgeable guy at a bike store near the Abbeye. He told us about trails north of Québec City that the government had invested millions of dollars into. These trails have created destination biking economies. So off to Saint-Raymond in the Vallée Bras du Nord; a quaint little town, with a network of mountain-biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, via ferrata, and parkland with camping, brewery, trails and more trails. Mont Saint Anne, a few valleys over from us, hosted the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) Mountain-bike World Cup the week following our trip north of QC. The trails in the Vallée Bras du Nord require a day pass and range from green to double black diamond rankings and are well marked with trail names and colours designating difficulty. The blue intermediate trails were where we headed and they were exactly my speed. We were on cross country single track flowing through a forest of maple trees with banked turns, gentle ups and downs with lots of visiblitly. My kind of trail. I felt like we were going so fast and my confidence was growing with every turn. Albert videoed me on a couple of turns. I was going so slow. But in my heart and mind I was flying. And that’s all that mattered. Through these trails were miles of clear tubing snaking above our heads. It was an obvious pipeline. We were in a food forest! The food was maple syrup. Any local would look at these pipelines and not even blink, but this was our first time seeing the infrastructure that is necessary to keep the world in maple syrup. Every now and again, when we stopped we noticed the spigots on the ends of the taps. We didn’t touch them, but we were informed that had we opened one there would be a bit of residual liquid in them from the spring harvest. Sweet!!
The rain came as we were finishing our trails so we headed for cover at the renovated Hotel Roquemont, where we bought our passes and got the information we needed, where there is a craft brewery. Beers in our bellies, we headed out back to our camp in Lèvis. Next time we are in Québec, we will pull the trailer up to one of these great biking areas and get the multi-day pass. It was the best riding we both have had this trip. There is something for everyone.
Next day we were off to our easy camp spot in Longueuil. We stayed three nights including shutting down the trailer and getting it off to storage. And then we flew to New York City.
The BIG apple! This was our first trip to NYC. In an effort to budget relatively cheap accommodation I found an apartment in the Bronx. The Bronx north of Manhattan and has a bit of a reputation of being a bit rough. But while we were there, we never felt threatened and most often saw the goodwill of people helping with strollers on the stairs, asking if we needed help with directions, and generally minding their own business. In the spring we dropped our land line and ditched our cable connection when my dad moved out so we had no wifi and our emails changed and my emails disappeared. My confirmation with reservation code for the Bronx accommodation was gone. I found the listing online, found a phone number and called it, hoping the person on the other end of the line would be able to resend to my new email address. The call was sketchy and he never did. I contacted booking.com and they said there were no complaints that it wasn’t a legit accommodation so we kept it. We arrived in at the accommodation area in NYC after two flights, 1 commuter train and 2 subway trains and had an email saying the contract couldn’t be finished until we sent him a photo of my photo ID and credit card that we booked with. So trusting the universe I sent it. Nothing. Sketchy NYC. Nothing. I called his number that I had found online. He said to go to an address nearby and someone would come to the door to help with check in. Call when we get there. We did. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Then a cleaning lady appeared. She texted him with our photo and credit card info. He sent a contract to sign. Waiting. We all waited for him to do it and she wouldn’t let us in until then. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Then approval and we were in. Well this wasn’t the Fairmont or even a travel lodge, but we have been showering in public places for the last two months so we were pretty resilient! No bedbugs and air conditioned. It was steps away from the Subway and across from a delicious family run Mexican restaurant with very few customers. Maybe a gang front. Who knows? We ate there, wandered a few blocks for groceries then back with a beer and watched Starsky and Hutch (Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson) on Netflix in the room on someone else’s account. Crazy. Mindless.
The next three days we spent no time there, only to sleep. Day one we set the fire alarm off in the room and couldn’t get it to stop so we put it in the freezer.
On our arrival in NYC, we bought two 7-day transit passes for $33 ea. We more than realized our value from it in the 4 days there.
First stop was the Metropoitain Museum. We got there when the doors opened and the line was minimal. This was holiday Monday and the lines would snake back and forth the length of the block later in the day. At the Met we knew we wouldn’t be able to see it all so we headed for the stuff we knew we wanted to see. The Rock and Roll – Play It Loud exhibit. This tribute to famous instruments as artifacts that shaped much of the music we know today was super cool. The Beatles drumset; Metalica’s drumset and guitars; Elvis’s acoustic guitar; Chuck Berry; Joan Jett; Paul McCarney; Keith Richards; Prince’s wardrobe and guitars; Stevie Ray Vaughn; Eric Clapton; Jimmy Page two handled guitar; Ravi Shankar sitar; and lots more. It was very cool and the music was excellent and the playlists were on the wall as part of the exhibits. Other jaw droppers were everywhere as with all big museums and art galleries.
Next stop was Central park, and a walk around the Jacqui O reservoir. We kept getting sidetracked by iconic buildings lining the park.
We finished our tour of East and West sides of central park with a walk through the “Strawberry Fields”, John Lennon Imagine mosaic pendant on the walkway and headed to the market at Union Square. From there we hit NBC at Rockfeller Center and found the Heartland Brewery as the cornerstone of the Empire State Building.
NO, we didn’t go up. Not to the “Top of the Rock”, not to the top of the “Empire State Building” and the next day not to the top of the “One World Trade Center”. Why not? Everything is VERY expensive. And I would probably crawl across the floor, vomiting, they are so tall. So, we looked up, rather than down!!
We headed to Curry Hill along Lexington Avenue where there are dozens of Indian restaurants between 27thand 28thstreets. We landed at Curry in a Hurry, a cafeteria style two story restaurant on the corner of Lexington and 28th. Apparently Bono has eaten there. NOT FANCY!! But delicious! Not licensed. But we had some wine for later that we could drink so they brought plastic beer glasses for us to pour into. Dinner was chicken kebab; ground, seasoned, skewered and grilled; tandoori chicken, okra, Naan, onion paratha, lamb biriyani, tamarind sauce, coriander sauce, yogurt sauce. Too much so we kept the leftovers for another time.
Next day, off to Brooklyn so we could walk back over the Brooklyn Bridge. We walked down to DUMBO, a fixed up neighbourhood that has become very trendy. This was where many of the immigrants landed during the migrations after the Irish famine and after the world wars when people wanted a fresh start in the “Land of the Free”. DUMBO is an acronym for District Under Manhatten Bridge Overpass. There is a building that was gutted and turned into a big market with outlets for some of NYC iconic restaurants. We loved the vibe here and next time would try and stay in Brooklyn if possible.
The walk over the Bridge had some great views and great people watching.
On the NYC side we headed past the City Hall and to the World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial. There are a lot of very big new glass towers there and you need to pay to play. We accidentally walked into a couple of private building lobbies and were escorted out. Friendly, but not for tourists…
It was getting late if we were going to get tickets for a broadway show and have a bit of a meal before the show. Discount tickets are often sold right before a show or at a nearby ticket discount seller called TKTS. We stopped for a quick happy hour priced beer and appy and it was half an hour to most 7pm showtimes. So we walked up the road and bought discount tickets at the Imperial Theatre to see “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations”. Musical theatre, Motown, acting, and a sing along history lesson all at once, on Broadway!! Yes!! We exited the theatre into the evening mosh pit of Times Square. One big advertising billboard after another. Buy! Buy! Buy! Pretty overwhelming. We weren’t really sure what people saw in this but we were there. We got out fast. Back to our quiet Bronx pad. No frills.
As I work on this we are waiting to board our flight to Paris… life is good. But we forgot to take the smoke detector out of the freezer….oops