Salut France, Hola Espagne!!

While Bordeaux left butter and Cabernet taste in our bellies, we were on our way to Spain.

Biarritz surf beach called “Plage de la Petite Chamber D’Amour”

Ahhh, BUTTER…I forgot to mention that when we were on “le Boat” we had a delicious seafood risotto dinner with the Seaweed Bordier Butter stirre, (monté) into it at the end. This touch added the necessary umami of not having a rich stock to use. The butter was sweet, salty and full of oceany meroir. I knew you were wondering, “What about the butter?”…

Lori and Mike and all our gear fit nicely in the Sporty 6 speed Ford Focus we rented and we were off to the mountains. That little car purred in 5th gear at 130kph so we hung there without feeling the need to find, and use, 6th. We started out on the toll free roads but it was going to be the same view with tons of roundabouts so we splurged and threw it in 6th gear and cruised at 140kph with every car imaginable booting past us. At one point we passed a truck carrying about 6 sports cars, then another and another. We lost count at 8 of them. Lamborghinis, McLarens, Maseratis, Porsche Carrera GTs, Ferraris, Jaguars, Bentleys, Gull Wing Mercedes. We saw about 50 cars. Albert and Mike were drooling, then the convoy turned off and were gone. Gut wrenched. Sad men in the car. We continued. Weird they weren’t in a covered truck or covered at all; millions of dollars of Super Cars off on a traveling tour called Miles of Mystery 2019 edition. Our traveling roadside attraction of the day!

Just before we got to St Jean du Luz, the Pyrenees mountains appeared. Thankfully; because one minute we were ogling cars and the next minute mountains. You have to understand that Albert and I hadn’t seen large rocky outcrop mountains since the end of July when we left Alberta. The Canadian shield has mountains but they are old and rounded. The hills in Brittany and Normandy are lovely but the Pyrenees were MouNtAiNs.


St Jean de Luz, France is very close to the border of Spain. The west side of the Pyrenees is Basque Country and the East is Catalan. They have their own languages and are neither French or Spanish. So the blend of culture with the influx of tourism was welcoming yet always reminded us that civil unrest could be a conversation away. Alberts leg was still tweaking and there was a “p’tit train” tour parked right beside us so we hopped on.

During the tour only the Basque were mentioned. Not France. Not Spain. The most famous building in town was the cathedral where Louis XIV married the Princess Maria Theresa (age 14 and related to him as his second cousin) of Spain. He, of course, went on to become famous as the Sun King (also King Louis the Great) of France and built Versailles. She went on to be famous as the Queen Consort of France, putting up with Louis’s many affairs, enduring the death of  five of six children and dying in Palace Versailles at a young age of 30 due to a festering sore on her arm. Ahhh, the aristocracy and it’s wealthy soap opera-esque chess games! It was a very cute city with a large wall that skirts the shoreline protecting the old city that was built below sea level.

Our hopeful destination was San Sebastian of the northern western Spanish coast. This destination is very popular as the rocky outcrops hang out over two sheltered sandy beaches that flank the old city. There was a film festival in town on our dates so the affordable accommodations were gone and we couldn’t stay in San Seb. We chose an Agriturismo in the hills just outside of town. The room was comfortable and the breakfast had fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh baked bread, cheese, charcuiterie and eggs from their chickens.

We stayed two nights with a full day in San Sebastian touring with Lori and Mike. In San Sebastian we walked the beach, took the funicular up to the top of the mountain overlooking the city and sipped cold beverages and ate Pintxos (Basque for Tapas) at the top. We walked back and met Luba and Bill for an early 6pm Pintxo and wine meal. Europe and particularly Spain doesn’t even think about an evening meal until at least 9 pm. Restaurants generally open at 8. Compare that in Parksville where everyone is reclined either in bed or on the couch by 8!!! After eating we toured a bit of the old town, the church, and headed out. Maybe another time we can return when there isn’t a film festival taking all the affordable accommodations and we will spend some time there!! It is worth another visit for sure.

San Sebastian was a beautiful city that lead us to following the coastline for a few hours. Every corner we turned had another spectacular vista. We were at the top of cliffs, bottom of jungle valleys, and on busy roads with Basque cyclists owning the road. West of San Sebastian is a cape that has a church built out on a big rock. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you will know this place as Dragonstone. Gaztelugatxe was dreamed up by some poor pilgrim that thought “God said put a church on it!” And so it was. This along with many of the otherworldly locations for monasteries and cathedrals was another piece of the pilgrimage puzzle. Albert’s leg wasn’t going to allow him to make the trek to the bottom, or the top on the other side (1000+ pedometer steps), so Lori, Mike and I left him for a couple of hours. We rang the bell at the top of the monastery and headed back.

Once in the car we were headed for our accommodation somewhere just outside of Bilbao. Our GPS couldn’t find it but the Google on Mike’s phone did and we arrived through a very narrow, hedged, laneway to a very modern agriturismo house/pension.

It looked like a bit of a fortress from the outside but inside was trés chic and comfortable

The owner met us and was super charming, a very proud “Basque” who designed his house to last for centuries. The nearby city of Bilbao was once a ship manufacturing centre, iron and steel fabrication was huge for the Basque people. So his house was designed and made with steel, concrete, tile, and featured an outside wall with iron sheeting giving it a rusted patina that was to express the Basque traditions and history. The house was lofty with a suite that he and his family lived in. The two story accommodations that we had, featured locking bedrooms upstairs each with a modern ensuite and a glass wall that opened on to a large balcony. I think there were about 6 bedrooms rented. The main floor featured two floor to cieling glass walls with one being an enormous sliding door opening onto a covered deck. This made the indoor room become an open airy covered outdoor room. The inner room was decorated with comfortable couches and two long dining tables and outside had pallet furniture and big pillows. A modern communal kitchen was ours to use as well.

Our farm hosts grew tomatoes and we had a tour of the facility before we left. They produced 80 tons of hydroponic greenhouse tomatoes each year on about 1/4 acre, and managed to go surfing for two months in the Canary Islands in the dead of winter. The dinner that we cooked that night featured tomatoes that they offered, and when we left they loaded us up with more. Good thing we had a car.

The next morning we picked his brain on how to do the town of Bilbao in about an hour because we were headed for Burgos that evening. He looked dismayed, being a proud Basque, and said we should skip Burgos. We didn’t and we aren’t sad about that but Bilbao blew our minds. He told us that Bilbao is undergoing a renovation. He was so proud that in 15 years the ugly part of the city had become modernized from the ruins and pollution of the factory shipbuilding era to a modern, artsy, educated and pretty city. He was proud that the city was still working with the plan, and that it was not corrupt and it had no debt. This was not the “Spanish way”. All this because a visionary mayor who conspired with the architects and planners that brought Bilbao the abstract Frank Gehry designed, landmark Guggenheim museum. As planned, it brought the tourism, which paid for the new buildings, transit, bridges, roads, green spaces, restaurants, etc etc. He said we must see the Guggenheim, but that is just one part of town. He said the subway was made of glass and very beautiful but we would have to return some time because it is a masterpiece on its own. Plus the old town is very nice with old Basque traditions and buildings. So we went and saw the Guggenheim, and were blown away by the museum, the bridges and the beautiful, well designed public spaces. And we left. We will come back to Bilbao area and spend some time there. We only had a taste, and it was good.

When we arrived in Burgos, we were too early to check into our apartment so we went to the Museum of Human Evolution. This museum is a big square box that is very modern in contrast with so much of the Burgos area that we saw that was ancient. In fact, the area is so ancient that the skull (reconstructed from bone fragments) of the “Gran Dolina” boy dating back 850,000 years, is housed in the museum. The Atapuerca dig, where these remains were found, is near Burgos but we were unable to go there. Too little time. Didn’t matter, the museum was full of great stuff. There was a replica of Darwin’s boat “The Beagle” and some readings from his book “On the Origin of Species”. And with all great museums, there were students in class being toured, schooled, immersed and probably assigned their reactions to all that was before them. We were full, we had seen alot that day with two cities in one day. We were off to find our accommodation.

One of the big reasons people travel to Burgos is because it has a huge cathedral, the Santa Maria, that is another stop along the Camino de Santiago. We saw many hikers, young ones with heavy backpacks, and old hikers who had day packs, so they probably had support along the way. We arrived at our apartment and outside the window was this same gorgeous church. We were in the centre of town, surrounded by restaurants, the cathedral, hikers, partiers, and we were about to make our own pilgrimage into the heart of the Ribera del Duero wine region.

This emerging wine region is to Spain as the Vancouver Island wine region is to BC but with alot more potential. If you google Spanish wine, you will more than likely see a Ribera Del Duero wine as one of the top 5 on the list. Spanish wines were not available or promoted for nearly 40 years when the country was run by dictator General Francisco Franco. Sanctions made it impossible to have these wines on the world stage and the knowledge to keep pace with the rapidly changing technology of wine-making was stifled by the autocratic Franco regime. When it did show up, the mainstream quality was usually over-oxidized Rioja wines most commonly from a popular producer by the name of Margues de Riscal. Their wines (and Spanish wine in general) have since benefited from embracing modern production techniques. The Ribera del Duero is quickly gaining popularity (both domestically and internationally) becoming known for its balance in fruit forwardness and dry, food friendly structure. We spent the night in our apartment, listened to the partying into the wee hours of the morning and set off the next day towards Amera del Duero. This city is in the heart of the Duero riverbank (ribero) region and houses many of the big winery’s that make the big full bodied Temperanillos of the region. We drove through the town and saw a sign for one of the vineyards, Martín Berdugo. Unannounced, we arrived and naively asked if we could taste or tour or both? They were very gracious, evidently drop in tours are not routine, but a very pleasant administrative type, took us on a tour of the facility. Harvest was starting the following week and there was a wine festival in the town on the weekend that they were preparing for, that we would sadly miss, so it was very generous of them to take the time. We took pictures, bought 5 bottles of wine between the 4 of us, and headed off.

Lori and Mike were heading back to Canada in two days so we were ultimately headed for the Mediterranean coast near Barcelona. We had a pretty relaxed two days drive so that we could experience some of central Spain’s high plateau. We booked a night at the Hotel des Vino in a small town called Cariñena about 30 minutes from the larger city of Zaragoza (pronounced Thare-a-go-tha – a real tongue twister for me at the time….) that I have since seen spelled Saragossa (English?). We plotted the route which was quite direct, but with my Micheline mapbook in hand, I saw some “scenic route” detours along the way and we hit the jackpot. Spain has its coastlines with the Pyrenees and the hills behind the Barcelona coast but we weren’t mentally prepared for the vast plateau between the west and east coast.

ruin of a castle on a hill… lots of ruins… everywhere

Having travelled in the US and Canadian deserts in Utah, California, Nevada, Alberta and BC, we felt we were repeating some of our North American travels. The white earth of the Spanish plain makes it just a bit different than North American desert. But the red earth made it like southern California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada. There were mesas pushing up and dropping down to winding creeks below. There were carved valleys with hoodoos like in the Badlands of Alberta. There were rolling hills with scrubby sage brush like in Kamloops, BC. and vast prairie like most of North America with corn, sunflowers and harvested white, red and grey dirt fields that grew onions, leeks and grains now shipped or stored elsewhere.

The hills around these flat areas were terraced with fruit orchards, grapes, olives and other vegetable and grain crops. As we got closer to some of the hills, we noticed there were dwellings built into the hillsides as well. Albert had read that with last summers 40+Celsius heat wave, cave owning people in France and Spain were renting their cool caves to families whose children or elderly were comprimised with the heat. Most of these dwellings that we saw looked pretty decrepit, and were possibly just used as storage, or not at all, we didn’t know.

We snaked along the scenic route and found ourselves on a mountain pass that went into the next wine region and our destination. The mountain pass was typically narrow, with tight corners over cliffs, where only one car might pass comfortably and we only met one or two trucks; thankfully. We kept being so incredibly overwhelmed at the vast quilted agriculture. The hills with their terraces were planted in varying ways to capture water, light and the best crops to fill those places. We had to stop. We had to take time to look. We stopped more than once. Then we said, “Enough!! or we will never get there!!”. We proceeded and rounded another bend to find we were on the top of a ridge with the same meticulous agriculture on both valleys below us. We all gasped “WOW, DID YOU SEE THAT?” at the same time. And kept going.

The village of Cariñena was a sleepy little working town that marked itself as the main destination in the Ruta del Vino del Cariñena. Reading about the region, we learned it is another Spanish up and coming region to watch on the world stage. Our hotel was a former wine production house that was more of a warehouse with a hotel now. It was surrounded with vines and harvest equipment. In town, we found a bar that had a restaurant who would feed us a meal, though the bartender looked worried when we asked. It was 8pm, they were open, and “please have a seat” was gestured without any English instruction. Then the chef arrived with a bag of groceries. Ha! The food was like a home cooked meal with local chilled red wine and pretty good. We were the only guests. The “chef”, who was originally from Morocco, came and chatted with us and tried to ply us with firewater. We obliged for one shot. The we got out of there.

We had to drop Lori and Mike at the train station in Zaragoza the next day so they could be near Barcelona in time to get their plane home. I couldn’t sleep so while looking online at accommodations I found some beachfront on the Mediterranean just south of Barcelona. Next day we changed the plan to driving Lori and Mike to Caseldellfels and another day of driving-touring to the coast. Perfect choice!!! With a stop for lunch and a look at the Roman Colosseum ruins in Tarragona, we pressed on to Casteldellfels where they were staying that night.

There was snow on the Calgary forecast for them returning to Canada so we had a lovely hot drive, walk on the sandy Mediterranean beach, beachside mojitos and left them to head to our accommodation.

Lori and Mike came home to this. White sand to white snow. YIKES!! We miss you guys!!

Stay tuned….chilling at the beach…and Barcelona…coming up next post……

To Bordeaux or Not To Bordeaux? that is the question…

NO LONGER Under construction….Albert’s mecca destination has required some very diligent reflection… and his inspired prose will follow soon…. IS HERE!!!

With our friends Lori and Mike in the car, we set out from Jarnac after soaking in the changing riverbank scenery along the Charente and looked forward to the very wine-oriented city of Bordeaux. Luba and Bill were meeting us in Bordeaux, while Jill and Cam headed north. We drove for an hour or so through incessant roundabouts and 50-60 Km/h secondary roads and, after very little discussion, decided to stop in for some “real coffee” at the next available Patisserie. We found a convenient spot in a small village along our route. A great “from scratch” bakery with delicious pastries and acceptable push button Café au lait. Cars and trucks whizzed by a meter or so from our table literally causing the related wind to blow our hair around.

We eased onto the highway and set a destination for Bordeaux using toll roads, enough of the roundabouts etc. It was a pleasant two-hour drive from Jarnac to Bordeaux with increasing evidence of vineyards related to this large grape growing region. It produces around 20% of France’s premium wine and is home to thousands of estates (each more commonly known as “Chateau”) encompassing around 300,000 acres. Annually they produce about 700 million bottles and within this production is about 12% of the world’s premium wine. Mecca if you like a wee tipple of the stuff now and again as we do. The region of Bordeaux is arguably the most successful and influential wine region in the world

Most of our accommodations had been booked only a few days in advance through online resources such as Booking and Hotwire so the element of surprise and anticipation of what we found ourselves in next added a real sense of adventure. Fortunately, we had not been disappointed (some choices were understandably better than others) and we accepted the fact that, sometimes, you may get a bit less than you paid for. This seemingly haphazard reservations technique is not for the faint of heart. If you are a person that can’t tolerate that sort uncertainty our methodology may be too adventurous. For the city of Bordeaux our party of six found 3 rooms in an economical hotel called Residhome Bordeaux and it turned out to be a great choice!

Located a 10-minute walk from the famous Cité/ Musée du Vin and situated on the banks of the Garonne with easy access to the heart of the city via metro tram, we were set up. The rooms were equipped with some cooking facilities and a marché downstairs, so we managed a couple of on-the-fly home-cooked meals during our stay. After checking in we wasted little time in setting out for La Musée.

La Cité du Vin is an impressive and intriguing architectural monument on the left bank of the Garonne River in the city of Bordeaux. At an estimated cost of $80,000,000€ (Wikipedia). The shape of the building evokes movement of liquid and was designed to symbolize the river that is situated beside it, a metaphoric grapevine and the swirl of wine in a glass. (Deb thought it looked like a boot) If you are within site and walking distance, it draws you closer to investigate how the shape and iridescent colours of the windows are accomplished. We were captivated and didn’t hesitate to pay the $20€  each to take it all in. There are three large floors to explore in the permanent exhibits. The immersive experience features content encompassing the full gamut of wine history, grape cultivation, science-based production techniques, sensory experiences, life sized 3D projections, animated diorama presentations from wine professionals, cultural milestones and commercial practices focusing your participation in an experiential learning format that is hard to resist.

After 2-3 hours in this overstimulating environment, we made our way to the Belvedere room for our complimentary tasting that was included in the price of admission. The Belvedere area is located on the upper floor and offers sweeping views of the surrounding city. Nice spot to savour a glass of wine.

Hungry and tired we stopped in at the wine store (because you know there had to be a wine store!) before leaving and made our way back to the hotel for a great potluck dinner.

Although Bordeaux is spread out over a large flood plain (part of the huge Gironde estuary of the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers), our one and only day to see it was limited to a small area known as the Left Bank. With time being of the essence and so much to see (just in the Left Bank) we plugged the coordinates for Chateau Margaux into the GPS and ventured into the cloudy, misty morning of Sept. 22nd.  We made our first stop in Cantenac, Haut Medoc. The wines here are some of the most sought after in the world and fall under the Margaux AOC. We took some pictures outside of a quaint (think turrets, sprawling stone wall enclosed lawns, garden and fountains – that kind of quaint!) little estate called Chateau Palmer, examined some of the plump and juicy Cabernet Sauvignon grape that was ready for picking and took note of the gravel rich soil that epitomizes the local terroir here. We hopped back into the car and poked along the D2 a little further (fighting the lack of intuition the GPS had for our requests) to go to the actual Chateau of Margaux. Everything in the sector is called Margaux something-or-other so the best we could do was drive around ogling the various luxurious estates that were abundant in, and around, the town of Margaux.

It being Sunday, the town was all but deserted and parking in the Tourist Info lot was a cinch but getting info was not going to happen. We strolled along the street, found a patisserie, drank a coffee and stumbled on a wine store called Cave L’ Avant Garde. Lucky for us, they had the very bottle (750ml) of vintage 2000 Chateau Margaux that we were looking for at a glaring deal of 1290€ ($1850 CAD).

No. We didn’t splurge, although we knew we were worth it. Maybe next time!!. We did find wine in our price range though. Our friends picked up a wine that was to be a treat with dinner. In addition, they found a souvenir bottle of unique locally produced (pardon the mixed product description – particularly to our Glaswegian friends) Bordeaux, Scotch style, Whisky. Who knew?!. While completing our purchase, the very knowledgeable and helpful, store clerk gave us her business card and cleverly mentioned they sell futures for the yearly vintage commodity of Bordeaux Wine -“Give us a call in April if you would like to purchase the En Primeur wines for last year” she said. Duly noted! Well how to follow that up…

We headed for the local cemetery… Ok it wasn’t really our plan to see the cemetery but from a distance the ancient church looked interesting and when we arrived their service was in session, so we strolled the cemetery. The ancient headstones and the names inscribed there of those who had likely been the founders of this unique world wine wonder was fascinating.

We finished our sightseeing in the Medoc by going to the ancient Fort Medoc. In the commune of Cussac. This was an important part of a three-part fort strategy to protect the Gironde Estuary back in the 16th century. This unscheduled detour was much like many of the unexpected gems we explored along our tour route. A road sign crops up and someone says “you wanna check this out?” and suddenly you are walking in a 16th century fort (or cathedral, or castle or whatever, the list is never-ending) that, in this case, protected troops defending the sovereignty of France in a bygone era! We walked through and marvelled at the silent history and time etched architecture before returning to Bordeaux in time for a dinner out.

Our friends, Lori and Mike, had been recommended a place that offered a “Steak Frites” (basically a 6oz. NY steak, shallot butter sauce and as much pommes frites as you can eat) for $20€. We hopped the tram outside the hotel and after a short walk arrived at L’ Entrecôte to find a line up 80 people deep. No problem, the restaurant opened and the line moved quickly, and we were in without too much pain and suffering. Dinner arrived quickly after ordering a nondescript bottle of red “L’Enrecôte” Bordeaux.

The meal started with a simple green salad dressed with a tangy white wine vinegar/walnut oil vinaigrette and dressed with fresh whole walnuts (Yum, simple and delicious). The steaks arrived promptly, on a platter, perfectly cooked and sliced, swimming in a delectably rich, cholesterol packed, melted shallot butter. The fries were served tableside and more arrived as we delved in. Stuffed! “Dessert? But of course, Monsieur! One of each!!”  Panna Cotta, Chocolate Pudding Explosion and profiteroles were soon set down.

We ambled out as our insulin fought off the impending hyperglycemic haze only 1.25 hours after sitting down. Before we hopped back on the tram, we took a quick detour to the Monument Des Girondins Fountain which is located next to the departing trams. The sculpture seemed to come alive in the low evening light, animated by shadows and cascading water. The plan for the following day was agreed on, get on the road early and get a prompt start on the next stage of our journey. Spain, we felt up to the task. 

Our next one will be about our time on the Spanish beaches and seeing Barcelona. Stay tuned!!

I have an idea…

When the idea was born to go to Europe this year, it was to meet up with friends and do a river cruise on the Charentes River from Jarnac in the Cognac region of France. The cruise would be 5 nights out of a 5 week trip. We were still two days away from our bare-boat charter reservation. En route to Jarnac we went inland to a small town called Descartes.

We stopped in Richelieu, a small, walled town, to buy supplies. Richelieu, France! This was the powerful man who pushed Louis XIII to colonize New France – Canada. He pushed the French aristocracy out, centralized French government, and before his death, paved the way for Louis XIV to be the most powerful monarch until the revolution broadsided that. Another history lesson…And we were in his walled town. By the way, it is paved in marble. The grocery store was ok and we bought fresh lamb, eggs, fruit and almost a few earthenware pate terrines that the deli discards after the terrines of duck, rabbit or pate de campagnes are sold. They were only 1-2Euros each. Don’t need them. They won’t fit in the trailer. Not packing them through France and Spain… And they would make good gifts too!! Nope.  But oh my, if our life were considered normal….

Why Descartes? Because we found a couple of rooms online, in a house that was affordable and quaint. It was definitely out of the way but as with many travels, sometimes the odd ones are the best. Descartes is the birthplace of philosopher René Descartes who revolutionized dualism as thinking and matter, paving the way to modern physics. His famous quotes such as “I think, therefore I am.” or ” It is not enough to have a good mind, the main thing is to use it well.” are solid ideas that still make it on to T-shirts and Pinterest posters! We were in this smarty-pants home town.

We arrived at the address, “Le 37” (also the name of the accommodation), and rang the ancient doorbell. Nothing. Tried again…then there was some thumping and the door six meters away opened. In we went into a century’s old “house” with 3 floors and a tower. The storefront was just a ruse. Each bedroom boasted a comfortable king sized bed, with crisp white sun dried linens and a private bathroom. There was a large spiral staircase up to our rooms and the kitchen was on the ground floor and a garden courtyard just outside the kitchen door. The “younger-than-us” owner, Pierre, spoke his beautiful English/Parisian French accented language, as he showed us our home for the next 20 hours. He had fresh tomatoes, nectarines from his garden, a loaf of bread, cheese and jams for us to help ourselves, and lovely stories of the area. He acquired the home from a family that had lived there for many generations. The 60+ year old son of the elderly couple who still lived in it had to sell it because they were 100+ years old and didn’t want the son to have it. Why not? Because he married a divorcée!!! Sacrè Blu! Fast forward to their deaths and he had to sell quickly, and Pierre was there at the right time. It was in pretty bad shape as the old parents had not renovated it at all and many generations of history were on the walls. This was actually fortunate because all the “bones” of the place were good without having to survive poor quality renovations.

He said his motivation to purchase the house was the tower, but discovered the most interesting part of the building was underground. Below the yard and the building was a well that he used to water his garden. It was surrounded by a tunnel entrance and a cellar that dated back to some original constructions from around 1200-1400 AD. They were typical to many small towns as the tunnels lead to the church of Saint Georges and most were under the roads. His wine cellar was below, and he took Albert and another guest (who, coincidentally was a real estate evaluator with civil engineering background from the UK) for a tour.

Pierre is an artist and truly a gentle soul, with a quick wit, keen eye and a highlight of our trip. We didn’t take enough pictures of his garden but there are great photos on booking dot com here

The next morning the whole town came alive for the Sunday market. We bought Paella and Tajine from a rotisserie food truck, drank a lovely café au lait, and hit the road en route to our next stay near Jarnac and the Charentes River. 

Our cruise was dreamed up by our friends Bill and Luba who we were traveling with. The boat had 4 staterooms so 2 more couples, and long-time friends, came along as well. Lori, my bestie for more than 50 years, Mike her hubby, from Calgary, and our friends from Qualicum, Jill and Cam. We had a fun meal in Paris with Lori and Mike before Albert and I headed to Normandy. They were continuing to Carcasson after Paris with Calgary friends then meeting us at Le Boat. The night before our cruise began, we all met in Jarnac for a meal. We brought our market finds and the rest of the menu was cheese and bread, of course!!

3/4 of the group, bread and cheese in Jarnac with Paella and Tajine…and sparkling happy water!!!

Albert and I were staying just outside of Jarnac and on the way in the next day we stopped in a vineyard, nibbled Bread with Bordier Butter (4% salé) and fresh preserves….

Bordier butter and Jam in a Pineau de Charentes vineyard….

The next day we provisioned the boat, parked the cars at the “Le Boat” secure parking, got on board, set off, opened our first bubbly, and headed downstream towards Cognac. Jill and Cam were meeting us there. They just finished an epic Morocco trip including sleeping in the Sahara in a tent and 4 days of travel on camel back. Le Boat had asked us to come early because the river keepers were closing the locks along our route on the river to work on a bridge.  What!!?? We had 3 locks to go through before they shut it down, so we made tracks.

We went under the aforementioned bridge…there was really only half a bridge, a crane and a bunch of trades guys. We got to the third lock and they wouldn’t let us through because the river was too low. One of the weirs was stuck open. The “Le Boat” staff had driven down river to meet us and we ended up going back to Jarnac for the night with the possibility the weir would be fixed quickly, and we would be able to get through the next day. We could have changed our plans and headed upstream but there were a lot more locks in that direction. The locks were not mechanized. We hand cranked every one of them to empty, fill, open and close. We contacted Jill and Cam, and they hopped aboard in Jarnac.

We pushed off upstream and camped for the night with the instructions that we could tie up anywhere unless there was a sign saying privé. The Charente river is a gentle flowing, tree lined, narrow reservoir that is full of life. The trails and paths along riverbanks were formerly roads used to drag the barges of merchandise for trade and security. There are swans that are a bit pushy and follow the boats looking for treats. There are many dens along the riverbank that may house Coypu (or another name is Nutria), beaver-like mammals that we never saw. There are many fishermen, campers, and even in parts, water-skiers. It is “clean” even though the “le Boat” staff said the sewage was macerated and flushed…into the river…

We had our first night in the bag and the next morning we were given the all clear to head down river. We had 4 more nights before the boat needed to be back. Our ultimate destination was Saintes and a return to Jarnac. These are not long distances and we had a slow boat. The weather was perfect, and we were able to be out on the top deck while we motored. The deck had loungers, two large tables, a small fridge and sink. The 4 stateroom-cabins each had a washroom with toilet, sink and shower. The kitchen was well appointed with a large fridge, stove oven and huge table. The interior was air conditioned so during a particularly hot night we ran the AC. Travelling on the river through the shade of the trees gave us a gentle and cooling breeze, so we were entirely comfortable the whole time. We did cool down with some Pineau de Charentes, beer, sparkling wines, G&T’s too!!!

We traveled into the town of Cognac where the massive Hennessy Cognac house is. Courvoisier is in Jarnac along with Louis Royer. This was Cognac after all!!! Mike and Bill did the Hennessy tour that lasted over an hour and a half on both sides of the river, including a cruise in the Hennessy launch traverse to the other side where their cognacs were aging. Albert gave everyone a lesson in why the buildings in the region were black. A mould that, due to the distillation and aging processes, feeds on “the angels share” and grows on the sides of the buildings in the town.

On the Hennessy tour day, Albert sustained an injury to his leg (fluky, weird, cramp in right quadricep mid air causing severe charlie-horse of insane proportions on landing) while jumping off the boat to go through one of the locks, so he missed the Hennessy tour. When we got to Saintes the next day, Lori, Mike, Albert and I did a mini train tour of the town. Saintes is a great little town with a large Roman Colosseum ruin. The train took us up and down all the hills and past all the great landmarks, churches, and historical sites for over an hour.

Another small town we stayed beside, Chaniers, had a free power and water hookup and a short walk to town. We toured around the centuries old town and stopped for crêpes near the river. The bakery had a sign on it, closed for a few weeks well-earned holiday and would open the next day. We made note of this and graced their doorstep before heading out the next day. They also had an after-hours baguette vending machine. We didn’t attempt push button baguette.

Most of the small towns in France that we visited or drove through seemed like ghost towns. Gone are the days of the neighbours sitting out on doorsteps, visiting and watching the world go by. Granted the siesta time in the afternoon is real, and people do relax inside away from the frantic pace the world runs at, but I also think watching kids in the playgrounds vs screen time may play a big part in the cultural landscape everywhere including small town France. Our boat trip was a lot of fun, very comfortable, relaxing and we all had a great trip. This was the first time we had stayed in the same bed since Paris for more than one or two nights. It was great to be able to cook and share a big meal with everyone. There was no shortage of laughs and suspense from 400+ collective years of travel stories. When we returned up the river, we were prepared to duck our heads under the demi bridge, but that half was gone too, so we understood the reason for the earlier closure just a few days before. Our cruise was complete, and we were on to the next adventures. Cruising on a riverboat was a great idea. Thanks Bill and Luba!!!

Stay tuned…Jill and Cam left us to travel north and the rest of us traveled to the city of Bordeaux.

To the sea!

We had been jumping from city to city for the last two weeks. Montréal, Quebec, New York City and then 5 nights in Paris so the transition to the French countryside was welcome. We headed out along the Paris Perimeter freeway, the Peripherique, past Versailles, heading for Honfleur and ultimately, Juno Beach.

First stop Giverney, where famed impressionist artist Claude Monet lived. This small town has one street going along it called, you guessed it, Rue Claude Monet. They have completely turned his estate and surroundings into a tourist destination. There is a museum, his home and garden, the little church with his resting place and a gift shop. Or two. That said, it was very calm, quaint, in fact the setting was gentle.

As we arrived, there were numerous arrows pointing to many parking lots but the feel of the area was not pushy. There are a few Gites and centuries old buildings that have been gently crafted from barns and forges or old farmhouses into tasteful, artful accommodations. We walked the path to the church first. It was modest. The graveyard was small. Monet’s plot was full of flowers that were overgrown. He was laid to rest with his loved ones. Pretty normal.

We walked back to his home, paid for entry and then the magic truly began. His house is a museum of his motivations. There were many prints of Japanese influence and some of the other artists of the time. The furniture was still displayed as if he lived there and the garden was fully visible from the large windows. Most of the European houses and accommodations that we have stayed in have small shuttered windows with thick walls. Monet’s house had large windows on all sides of the building allowing natural light to brighten even the darkest room. Then he layered colours and patterns throughout.

His dining room was bright yellow in contrast to the adjoining kitchen that was blue and lined with copper pots and pans. The walls in the hallway were a soft pastel green. We were in his colour palette!!

The garden has been maintained and continues to be an inspiration for many visitors. If you could sit on a bench, it was yours and there were a couple of people painting “en pleine air”. We walked through the colours, textures and themed displays. There is a tunnel that goes below the road and when we exited on the other side we were at the famous Monet pond. This pond had a lot of people taking pictures on the bridges, the trailways and the benches. Everywhere around that pond was beautiful. The reflection, the stillness and the colours made everyone speechless, and it was quiet even with the many people touring around the grounds. To have been there when it was a private garden would have been soothing and ever-changing depending on the light, the season, the weather, or the mood. Monet’s tribute was well worth the stop and could be a beautiful place to stay, en Gite, for a few days with day trips to nearby towns or hikes in the countryside.

From there we were on our way to Honfleur. This little seaside town is across a massive bridge from le Havre.

small pictures make big objects seem small….this bridge was enormous

Honfleur was a major a shipping hub until le Havre took over. It was a very quaint seaside town that had the most remarkable wooden church, St Catharine’s Catholic Church, near the boat basin. The northern coast of France saw alot of destruction during the world wars and much of it has been rebuilt. So to see this church still in tact was a surprise.

We walked the many tiny streets and found the old prison, where pirates and nasty folks spent their last days in chains with their friends the rats. Honfleur has many restaurants that line the boat basin with good drinks and mediocre food. We were directed not to eat there by the woman who checked us into our accommodation. We found the restaurant she suggested and we were not disappointed. Luba and I had the Moules et Frites and wished we’d had the platter of langoustines.

We rented an apartment that was hidden away between a bunch of buildings in what was probably a courtyard at one time. Our apartment had a small window in each bedroom and a sky light.The foot print was about 40 ft by 10 ft. It was 2 floors high and remarkably light inside with white walls. The bedrooms were on opposite ends of the top floor. The architect managed to allow light through the floors with a spiral staircase and glass floor panels between the bedrooms. Unique, but no opportunity to look out a window so a bit claustrophobic and happy we were staying just the one night. Such a contrast from Giverny and Monet.

No going commando here!! Or maybe….

The road to Juno Beach has many signs of the battles won and lost. There are mini memorials along the route and what are now large fields of corn, hay and sunflowers, was mud and destruction before our lifetimes. There were references to the allies, the resistance, the names of locals who died in the wars, and the many graveyards with the military crosses in rows. We arrived at Juno Beach on a cloudy windy day. The English Channel was grey and foreboding. It was easy to imagine the action and the museum display at the Canadian “Centre Juno Beach” was also immersive.

When we walked in, there was a woman with an Anglo-Canadian accent. We asked where she was from. She said Victoria. We said Parksville. She said she went to school in Parksville. Her mom taught there. Turns out Haley was a year older than our kids, knew them a bit and her mom was Elly’s favourite teacher. Ha! She talked about her opportunity to work there as a tour guide and staffer. The Centre is funded by a foundation but her employment and that of others is through a federal government student employment grant program. She was 6 months into a 7 month contract. The Centre was staffed with bilingual Canadian youth, who were post secondary students between levels or taking a gap year. She was over the moon and loved the work she was doing, the people she met and the paid opportunity to improve her French…IN FRANCE!!

Juno Beach is one of a number of points of land that was occupied by the Germans during WWII. The area is flat and the beach is long. 150,000 allied troops advanced on the Germans from 5 different beaches spanning about 80 kilometers. On D-Day 14,000 Canadian troops were responsible for advancing on the beach codenamed Juno. There were heavy casualties that day with over 10, 000 allies including over 1000 Canadians being hurt or killed, but the sheer number of troops overwhelmed the Germans and was the pivotal moment for the allies against the Nazi occupation. The remains of Nazi bunker and tunnels throughout the region are still evident and at the Centre there are tours through the ones near the building.

We went down to the sandy beach where the sand is a tan red colour sprinkled with many scallop shells. We dipped our toes into the English Channel, acknowledged the losses and proceeded to Brittany and Saint Malo.

Normandy is known for orchards and spirits derived from the apples. Calvados and Cider are featured in many roadside markets, farms and shops. The coastal foods of both Normandy and Brittany feature oysters, whelks, mussels, scallops, cockles, limpets, various fish and the famous Agneau pré-salé, Salt Marsh Lamb. The fish are caught, cooked and eaten, but the lamb is famous for it’s diet. Sheep that graze on the marshy lands along the sea produce a meat that locals say has a much richer flavour. Sadly, we missed tasting the lamb while we were there but we did have some lovely meals. A New York Times article that I read says that the lamb is marketed and available, though very expensive, throughout the world. It also mentioned that other seaside communities around the world are growing lamb this way, including in BC. I would love to know who. We will find it…we will!!

Do you see them? Grazing on salt marsh delicacies…

In the town of Saint Malo, we went to find the butter. A while ago on Mind of a Chef, I saw the excerpt of Bordier Butter from Saint Malo. So this was my one and only planned food pilgrimage. Google it. Watch it on Netflix. Find the show. The fine craft of handmade and shaped butter. I bought the salted butter and the seaweed butter. We waited a few days to taste it with our friends….

Saint Malo was built by opportunists (pirates) who ravaged the working seafarers that shipwrecked along the rocky coastline. The fortified wall around the town now serves as a touristy walkway above the town where at one time it housed cannons and muscle. The richest merchants (pirates) built their multi story armed homes into the walls of the city in order to watch for wayward trading ships in order to steal their loot.

The church is dedicated to the many maritimers who spent their lives on the sea. Jacques Cartier, a resident of Saint Malo, was sent to find Asia and wound up finding the Saint Lawrence. He mapped it and contributed to the forming of New France. His crypt is in the church in Saint Malo along with a story of his legacy. I am not sure if I should be happy about this, the colonization of North America and the treatment of our aboriginal people, but I love where I am from and this a part of our collective story.

One of the reasons for the stay at Saint Malo was to visit Mont Saint Michel. There is a large cathedral built on top of an island and a surrounding walled town snakes up the mountain to the cathedral. It was formerly an island at high tide but now there is a dyke road that shoots out to the bottom of the island. Surrounding the road are fields of salt marsh and SHEEP!! Many of the massive tourist centre hotels and restaurants along the road advertise the “Agneau pré salé” . Who knows if they are legitimate or just serving regular lamb? The obvious tourism this landmark has produced is overwhelming.

We were advised to arrive at the island at 5 to avoid the crowds. The massive parking lots have large shuttle busses that ferry the tourists to the gate at the base of the mountain. We walked up to the cathedral only to find that it doesn’t let people in after 5. WHAT???!!! So we poked around. There are a couple of old hotels, many tourist shops, some overpriced mediocre restaurants and lots of stairs. We left there and went back to Saint Malo. We weren’t really disappointed. It is pretty spectacular, but not seeing the cathedral was ok. We have seen alot of beautiful old churches along the way. The crowds were similar to pushing our way through Versailles the Louvre and any other major tourist attraction.

We spent two nights beside the walled city of Saint Malo in an apartment on the isthmus called La Cité. We could see the walled city from our small village across one of the bays. across the street from us was a small restaurant that had two staff. The front and the back. In the front was about 25 seats, a wood fired brazier/grill, a small bar and a window through to the kitchen. The old brick, stone and mortar walls had a blackboard with the daily offerings and another wall had green leafy branches in water in glass tubes hanging from a few sticks. It was cheap, effective and gave a feeling of a fireplace in a forest beside a stone wall. Very cosy. In fact the name of the restaurant was Cozy Braise. The man on the grill also did the bartending and service, while the apprentice in the back prepared the plates for the grilled items and the salads. It was excellent! So simple and so tasty. The menu was small with steak, lamb chops, duck breast, local sausages and scallops. I ordered the lamb, unfortunately not the marsh fed lamb, but it was excellent and cooked to perfection. Luba and Bill had a mixed grill and Albert had the duck magret. Side dishes were roast potatoes that were cooked in duck fat and a salad. We shared two skewers with scallop and prawns. So simple. The guy was a master at keeping his coals perfect, working the full room, mixing drinks, opening wine then pouring the first glass, and making sure the food was done just the way the customers asked.

The next day our destination was near Carnac on the South-West side of Brittany. En route we hugged the norther coast along the English channel and went to see an old light house at Cap Fréhel. It was fairly remote and when we got there we parked and headed down the path to the large lighthouse structure. Arriving at that lighthouse we saw the old one and headed to it. There are very few trees here and the landscape is covered in heather and prickly gorse.

There are trails that hug the coastline and we could have hiked along to the next point of land 5 k away, but we were still a long way from our final destination that day. France, and probably most of Catholic Europe, is covered in trailways that have been used for millenia. The local lore said that the trails along the coast were part of the pilgrimage trails that lead to the many monasteries, churches, cathedrals that dot every town, mountain and valley throughout Europe. The Spanish Camino de Santiago de Compostela is a Hollywood-famous (if you have seen the movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen you will understand the reference) set of trails that accommodates thousands of hikers from around the globe every year. These trails join the trailways that also lead past this gorse infested French trail and the route to the Mont Saint Michel among others. So if you want to walk and walk and walk, there are plenty of pilgrim trailways to be had.

We set off away from the Cap and headed inland to cut through to the Atlantic side of Brittany. We stayed at a Gite (France’s agritourism accommodation) in Plouhinec. We brought a dinner of charcuterie, wine, cheese and bread. The garden party was on.

Next morning we headed out in search of the Carnac stones; France’s Stonehenge. The Carnac Megalithic Alignments are part of a series of large granite stones that have been placed in long rows or as dolmens throughout the region. When we left our Gite, we saw many homes and yards with similar granite displays but we were not convinced that these were authentic. Suddenly there was a series of about 80 enormous rocks in rows beside the road. We quickly pulled over, took pictures and continued on to find the rest.

Our car GPS and our friends GPS in their car obviously had different satellites to work from because that was the last we saw of them and they missed the visitor centre, interpretive centre and the road that skirts along the 4 kilometres of the rest of the stones.

In the area were also some temples, dolmens, and other structures that we had no time to find, but if we had planned to stay longer we would definitely have tried to see all the 5 areas that had these Neolithic displays from over 6000 years ago.

Bread and Cheese

Leaving North America we were up early and off to Manhattan on the subway. We took the shuttle to JFK from Grand Central Station a bit early because whenever we add just one more activity, we end up being the last ones on with many glares. When our kids travelled with us, their reaction was embarrassment, angst and anger. Parents. One day the plane will leave without us. But not this time. Subway, shuttle, Flight JFK-CDG. Check! Bonjour Paris!!

We met our Vancouver Island friends, Luba and Bill, at Charles de Gaulle. It all was clicking in to place. After lining up to buy our train ticket to Gentilly, where our hostel was, the transit assistant at the airport advised us that the cost would be less to buy a multi-day pass for all the trains, in all 5 districts that layer out from Paris centre. So back into another line-up, our friends on their train to their accommodation, Albert and I got our tickets. BUT, the tickets require a photo, so the ticket seller directed us to a photo booth and we attempted to navigate the directions. Three tries and we had our card of photos, no scissors, and we tore the photos to fit the passes.

Not an easy endeavour with the time difference knowing we were almost there. We met up with Luba and Bill for delicious Bread and Cheese later that day.

The hostel we booked was called Jo and Joe in Gentilly, just south of the first zone and all the Paris centre arrondissements. It was just steps from the train and subway system and surrounded by pizza restaurants and small bars. Inside the hostel is a front desk, a bar, a room with heavy plywood picnic tables and benches and a few daybeds for lounging. Outside in the courtyard there was a few more comfy lounge areas, the largest patio umbrella we have ever seen, a pingpong table and fruit trees. Our private room was super modern, simple, quiet, comfortable, black walls (easy to sleep), clean bathroom with a rain shower, and the toilet had scuba graphics. The vibe was young, energetic, comfortable and we had self serve beer on tap activated by a pre-paid magnetic card reloadable at the central bar area!! Breakfast was 6 Euros with fresh bread, fruit, coffee, croissants, cereals, ham, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and excellent tunes! We would stay there again. And if you don’t need a Fairmont we highly recommend it.

This was my fourth time in Paris and Albert’s second. We had seen many of the touristy sites and frankly, crowd scenes get tiring. Therefore traveling to Europe in September was a good choice compared to June-August. Lineups also involve hot weather during those months and the temperatures in Europe are killer at those times. We decided the Louvre and Palais Versailles were going to be our big crowded sight seeing venues. We purchased tickets online for the Louvre thus skipping the ticket purchase line. And we chose a later time so the line was minimal. I was in the Louvre in the 1980s when I lived and worked in Switzerland. Tourism has increased exponentially since then. Back then taking a photo of a famous art piece was strictly forbidden. With the onset of the smart phone and free marketing people have been sharing their “been there done that” photos from all angles, selfies, floor to ceiling, timed, flash-free shots by the millions.

We got our little map and we were off to the historical portion of the castle that is “The Louvre”. Meters below the surface are the foundations of the castle’s beginning and we followed the mob. Then on to the works of art and those ceilings!! The Louvre in itself is an art masterpiece. It is organized according to numerous art forms. Egyptian, Greek, Renaissance, American, Roman, sculpture, design, paintings, etc. etc. so finding what we were interested in was easy. The museum is so big that there is no way you can take it all in in just a few hours. However, when we arrived at the room that usually houses the Mona Lisa, she had been moved and the door was staffed with someone who could redirect people. Honestly, that had to be a crappy job, repeating the same information for hours on end to people with no intention of following her advice. On her direction the masses moved to Mona’s new space. She was down two flights of stairs or escalators, across the base of the pyramid, then up another series of escalators and stairs and voila! there she is. It took about 90 minutes in line to briefly pass by her, Louvre staff yelling, “MOO-VE ALONG! ONE PHOTO OONLY, THEN MOO-VE ALONG! YOU CAN STAND CLOSER TO EACH OTHER! MOO-VE IN! MOO-VE IN!”. We were most certainly “les vaches”, cattle, being herded into a roped off pen. Phones clicking, selfies, children screaming as they were only waist high and could see none of it. The spectacle of the people upstaged the magic of the painting. So we did our been-there-done-that-we-will-never-pass-by-there-again-photo and hit the road.

When we went to the Palais Versailles, we didn’t buy tickets in advance. Luckily on the last stretch of road up to the golden gates, there was a tourism office that sells tickets. It was noon and apparently the lines (both to buy tickets and to enter the palace) were approximately 2 hours long. The knowledgable staff gave us the option to purchase garden tickets, palace tickets and Marie Antoinette Estate tickets separately or a pass for all of them that was a bit cheaper. We chose the pass, went through the gardens and the Marie Antoinette estate then hit the Palais when the lines had vanished at 4pm.

the little side garden, the orangerie

The gardens are amazing and in a word, “amazing” does not do them justice. It is absolutely impossible to capture the moment, the music, or the grandeur in a two dimensional frame. But we tried. We spent 4 hours wandering through the gardens and made our way towards Marie Antoinettes Estate but only covered about one side of the gardens, 2 of the 50 fountains and the Trianon Palace that simply leads to Marie’s estate. Behind the trees and green space we could hear stringed instruments playing. Every 10 minutes the Mirror Pool fountain (one of the three choreographed fountains playing that day) played to the music, and as we walked along, we realized the whole place was wired and kept us feeling royal.

We checked the time and realized we had to get back so that we could enter the Palais in time to be herded through. Inside we were whisked right in. We grabbed our headsets and started the self guided tour. However, the first doorway brought the bottleneck of souls that created our cattle speed plod through the palais. Historical videos first gave an overall picture of the massive undertaking that was the palais, the gardens, Marie Antoinettes English village and Trianon, the hall of mirrors, the French Revolution and Napoleon. Then we went through. It is massive. The Hall of Mirrors is spectacular but the people “looking” at it WEREN’T! I think tourism, once again, is so caught up in been-there-done-that-got-the-picture, that they didn’t look beyond their mini screens and really take it all in. The Hall of Mirrors is like a giant glitter party. Gold lines everything and crystal makes it feel like you are walking through a football field size diamond ring. We had to remember that mirrors were very rare when this room was built. The 80’s probably put this to shame with the onset of brass and glass, but truly this is one of those wonders of the world that shouldn’t be missed even with the ridiculous crowd.

I suggest a sunny day in February might be a better time. While Louis XIV built this jewel for himself and his people, the French revolution happened and it became a place of government, a museum and finally a national monument. This little shack has 2300 rooms. It is a must see so if you go, plan your day ahead of time. September was busy but it would have been less than pleasant from June to August.

Another bucket list thing to do was to cycle along the Seine. Paris “Velib”consulted Montreal with their “Bixi” bike share infrastructure and with the app on our phones and the maps downloaded, we were able to get a couple of bikes, without needing to turn on our data, and poke along the river. We logged about 30k with multiple bikes. Why multiple bikes? Flat tires, worn bearings and access to electric bikes gave us a fun, funny and enjoyable rides.

We signed up for Easy Roam on our phones meaning we were able to receive texts and calls from home for no added cost. We chose not to use our data unless in an emergency and we were able to find free wifi in many places around the city. Technology is so amazing. We were able to make audio calls on communication apps (Messenger, Facetime, WhatsApp) to our friends who were with us around town plus the odd call to our families in Canada. All our accommodations had Wifi so we were always able to be in touch and plan our days. The other option was to get a sim card but it would have cost $80 Euro for the 6 weeks away on top of our Telus plan in BC. The best and most surprising call was to Luba while standing over the Seine beside Notre Dame looking out at the tour-boats, tourists, locals and freight haulers on the river. Vive la Paris!

We did manage to see some other places that were free, beautiful, and new to us. We walked the Tuileries Gardens beside the Seine. These gardens leave the Louvre and follow parallel to the Seine, ending at the Place de la Concourse which leads to the Champs Elysées. Our last time here we were with our kids who were 9 and 10 and were not that interested in walking in gardens. We also went to the Luxembourg garden that was truly an oasis in a busy city. We had a look at the carcass that was Notre Dame de Grace. The repairs were well under way. The subways are always in some state of repair and some of the upgrades included some incredibly beautiful mosaic tile work.

Every day involved baguette, exceptional cheese, charcuterie, fruit and coffee. From there we ventured into wood oven pizza, moule et frites, more bread and cheese, anything with truffle in it, ratatouille, brochettes, more bread and cheese, wine, wine, wine. C’est tout!

On our last day in Paris, our friends Lori and Mike arrived. Lori and I have been friends since before time. We were 3 when we met ….over 50 years ago!! And we still play together!! In fact, Lori introduced me to the aforementioned Luba. They were still functioning in the Canadian Mountain time zone so we did a bunch of stuff before getting to their hotel with, you guessed it, bread and cheese!! Luba and Bill arrived, the party started, we ate, we drank and we finished early with lots of laughs, and headed back to our hostel. That night there were professional musicians backing up an open mike session in the lobby of the hostel. We loaded our room card and tasted from 4 or 5 different self serve taps and enjoyed the music. We did our best to blend discretely into the youthful atmosphere. What a great last night in Paris!! Earlier in the day we skipped up to the airport to pick up our car and arranged to meet them for dinner. Hooray, GPS came with the car!! After 5 days our time came to an end in Paris, we easily packed our stuff into the car and headed north to Normandy and Britney. And a peek at Claude Monet’s garden.

City Life and then some…

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. 

Windy side of the park

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. 

A day at the beach and Mexican Train Dominoes with Elly and Taylor

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 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!!

One World Trade Center – tallest building in North America

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

Camping in the city, beside the FAST lane


cruising below the Jacques Cartier Bridge

When we left Prince Edward County’s distinctly British rural quaintness, we knew the bustle of Montréal was before us. We were headed for a campground on the south shore called Sogarive. This space is part of a marina where there is sheltered boat moorage and a ferry that traverses the St Lawrence to Isle St Helene and the Old Montréal Port. We got an early start because the campground does not take reservations and we wanted a spot.

Here we are!!

I remember when I first arrived in Montréal in the early ‘80’s and I didn’t speak French. In fact, I failed French in grade 8 and decided I would never need it, so I dropped it through high school. Then I became a cook where most curriculum was based on the Carême and Escoffier French organization of the “modern” kitchen. Then I moved to Montréal. It was just after Bill 101, the French language law. On the airport shuttle to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel where I would be working the signs said Est and Ouest. I only knew one phrase. Ou est la toilette? Where is the toilet? When I saw the direction signs that were “est – is?” and “ou est (pronounced west) – where is?”, I didn’t know they were assigning East and West. My 21-year-old know-it-all attitude, along with the west-is-best prejudice, kicked in and I just thought French was ridiculous. That changed everything because when I learned the language, a whole world of new friends opened up to my 21-year-old me. Travel does this. We chose a route mindful of NOT wanting to travel through the detour rich road destruction and constant reconstruction, not to mention the fast resident drivers that define Montréal. Google on the other hand is not perfect because when we chose the exit to continue on the south shore there was another tributary that we missed and wound up on a toll highway towards the north shore and a BIG bridge to downtown. I should have just trusted my guts and went with the East/West Est/Ouest clues and we would have gone straight there. We managed to get out of that one with only a $6.50 toll and a 40 Km U turn. With some good old-fashioned knowledge of the area, due to retracing our route, we arrived at our destination unscathed.

Home sweet home and our Cuisine Moderne!

Sogarive was interesting because NO-WHERE was the word Sogarive. Signs identifying Port Plaisance were everywhere, but the locals knew it as Sogarive. Recognizing the location from the google satellite photo, we arrived. “Do you besoin l’electricité?” “Non merci”. “Trant dollar – tirty dolars plisse par jour, uh, day”, “Combien de temps do you stay?” “One week? Sept nuits?” “D’accord”, “Which site do we take?” “Pardon?”, “Ou est’que on va?”, “Where it is you wish.” “Merci!”, “Bon Journée”. So, we were paid up for a week and we had our pick of the campground. This is a very basic camping arrangement. Open field with level gravel parking sites. There are some electrical hookups for $42 per night and the BIG bus like rigs chose those. Our solar panel on the trailer is all we need. We went right to the end along the water’s edge, facing the city of Montréal and the Longueuil yacht club. There was one negative factor, it was noisy. We could hear the city traffic and the constant buzzing of the cicadas but here we were, and we were ready to stay put for a while.

The day we arrived in Montréal we knew we wanted to see our daughter, Elly, as soon as possible. We set up our trailer then walked 20 minutes to the nearby Metro station. Thunderstorms were threatening so we brought our rain gear. We got to the Metro at about 3 pm along with hundreds of white, privileged teens and early 20 somethings, going to a big EDM electronic pumpin’ music festival called ILE SONIC at Parc Jean Drapeau, across one body of water from our campsite. We lined up for subway tickets, realized we were in the wrong line up, got in another line up and 90 minutes later we were on the train to Elly’s place. Ugh. We only got a little lost at Elly’s stop and then we were on course again.

Elly lives very close to Jean Talon market. If you haven’t been there, it is the best and largest daily farmers market in Montréal. The other one, Atwater, is smaller and a bit quainter, though equally full of excellent quality foods.

The famous Atwater Market. We actually shopped there a lot because it was along the Lachine canal and the bikeways.

At Marché Jean Talon we bought fresh corn, baby rainbow carrots, 5 different flavours of pork, lamb, and beef sausages, salad makings and headed back to Elly’s place.

With the food shopping completed, the next stop was the nearby “Dep” (Deppaneur – corner store) for complimenting beverages. We found several great beers (as aperitifs) and a delicious Sparkling Brut (Apple) Cider.

Different from BC Cider and it’s sweet beer-like characteristics, Quebec cidre is like a dry sparkling wine. And who doesn’t enjoy a bubbly? We can hardly wait to get to Normandy in a few weeks!!

Dinner was excellent and we were off to the metro heading back to our mobile abode. Thunderstorms threatened as we approached our station. When we departed the train it was a downpour with a light show. We were soaked except for where our Helly Hanson slickers wrapped us. Didn’t matter, it was warm. We were so thankful that we were not tenting!!

Our camp, at Port Plaisance (Sogarive), is along the bike path. This bike path is one of 650 km’s of bikeways throughout the Montréal region. It is also part of Quebec’s famous Route Verte bikeways. We wish they had an app. Our goal in coming to Québec and Montréal was 1) to see our daughter Elly and 2) cycle the Route Verte. There are 5300 km of cycling routes throughout Quebec, New Brunswick, Ontario and the US that intertwine. Some of them are part of the Great Trail, formerly known as the Trans-Canada Trail system. Some are paved, some are designated car-free, and some are car-share roads that are specifically chosen for bike safety and pleasure.

Bike map – 650 k of bikeways around the city of Montréal

There are bike repair stations randomly available on the trailways and the trailways are used extensively for commuting, recreation and tourism. Many trailways have accommodations along the way from B&B to camping to hotels. One day we hope that Vancouver Island will finally take the E&N and any other old adjoining railbeds and turn them into a famous non-motorized route. What a destination that will be!!!

Top of Mount Royal

Two years ago, when we were in Montréal we didn’t have our own bikes. Montréal is home to an organized bike share system called BIXI. Paris fashioned their bike system after Montréal. We downloaded the app on to our phones, bought a multi-day pass and we could use the BIXI bikes which were parked near our Airbnb as often as we wanted. Recently, Uber has introduced their electric bikes that are randomly scattered all over the city too.  Well we barely used the metro or any other form of transportation then.

This time we had our own bikes. At the campsite where we were staying, there is a walk-on ferry, “navette”, that goes straight into the Old Port of Montréal and Old Montréal via Parc Jean Drapeau on Isle St Helene where Expo ‘67 was held.  It  holds 140 passengers and 70 bikes. Ten passes for the price of 8 and Albert and I had a cruise system that took us straight to the bikeways in Montréal. Bikes are allowed on the metro, but this was really fun and people were friendly and chatty on the boat.  We also found the trailways that took us from Montréal to Longueuil via the locks in St Lambert. Albert and I brought our electric mountain bikes that can go everywhere. Paved trails to gnarly mountain trails.

While in Montréal we retraced our steps from when we were here two years ago. Cycling the Lachine canal trail, the trails up Mount Royal and of course the best Cream Ale under the sun at the brewery along the trail in St Amboise; Griffin Cream Ale.

While biking Montréal and the south shore looking out towards Montréal We were amazed at the historical houses that have remained residences on the south shore for hundreds of years. One dated back to the 1700s. Between our camp and the city of Longueuil and many of the other small towns nearby, runs a busy highway. It has on and off ramps and no traffic lights so vehicles including semi trucks, speeding cars and “crotch-rocket (motorcycles) travel very fast. Bikes and pedestrians are not allowed on these highways and the pedestrian/cyclist path travels alongside. Traversing the highway are numerous overpasses that were built before wheelchairs and bikes mattered. But there was also one that was a piece of art itself. The access snaked up loosely on one side that was easily wide enough for two cars (not allowed) and the other side gently spiralled down. These were big swooping turns easily pedaled. Pedestrians could take the stairs if they didn’t want to walk the long windy road up or down. As we rode through the shade of the giant trees lining the streets, we felt we were in stately old neighbourhoods befitting a Gone With the Wind movie. We did see lots of film industry trailers while we were in Montreal so perhaps these were often used as locations for historical stories. The old firehall in Longueuil even had a unicorn in front, proving what we knew to be true. It was real!

We intended to return to St Lambert and take some pictures of the gorgeous homes but we never got to it.

This big church was in Longueuil along the bike route. It was rebuilt in the 1700’s. It has a museum in it that we never made it to…yet… coming back in October we may get there…So you will need to visit to see the beautiful homes.

Down the main street, there was remains of an old castle that had been renovated into apartments. Across the road, the Royal Bank (Banque Royale) had a museum in the instant-teller space. Below a large glassed in hole was the remnant of the well that serviced the castle. This was difficult to take a good picture of. But suffice to say, this was the most interesting bank machine stop I have ever experienced.

We spent 9 nights in that camp. What did we do while we were there? We rode bikes quite a lot. We rode to Boucherville, east of Longueuil, on the south shore. There is a walk on ferry to an island there that is a provincial park with camping. Let me explain provincial parks in Quebec. SEPAQ. Don’t ask me what it is an acronym for, but suffice to say, they are lovely and organized as I will explain later….That said, provincial parks are called National parks here. Parks Canada, which are national parks everywhere else are also National parks, but Quebec has its own set of rules and they call their provincial parks “National”. If you want to use their parks they sell a daily or yearly pass as well. Just like Parks Canada. Anyway, back to biking and what we did in Montréal.

We chilled. This was our first lengthy stay. While it was full of traffic noise, the site we had was ours. We had trees and water on two sides, other neighbours on the other side and the city of Longueuil on the other side. There were cicadas, mosquitos, ground squirrels, herons, geese, chipmunks, tons of songbirds and gulls, and mostly French Canadian neighbours. Towards the end of our stay a couple from BC showed up. They have been rolling around this continent for the last 7 years with their golf clubs. They were on their way back west after having spent some time in Newfoundland this year. It was their first time to the Sogarive site and they also loved the proximity to downtown Montréal via the ferry. Another family with very young children we met had European licence plates and a website graphic on their RV. Turns out they were from France. He and the RV arrived via freighter. The rest of the family flew over to meet him. They had been travelling around North America for about  three years and planned to return to France later this year, then return to Quebec to live and raise their children. They bought near Quebec City and are anticipating childrearing in Canada with all its open space and freedom. Another bus drove up with a bunch of very well-dressed Gen Xers in it. The bus reminded me of Priscilla; Queen of the Desert (fantastic 80’s Austalian cult flik). Behind this rig was a two-axle enclosed trailer that housed a brand new shiny blue convertible Mustang. While having a beer in Old Montréal at Brewsky’s, another fave, the pretty people in the blue Mustang drove by. The campground was filling up fast but it never completely filled. That night we heard the festivities and electronic music at the Montréal pride celebrations. The next day was the parade but we were leaving. Not sure if that Mustang was part of the parade but it would definitely have been perfect.

One night we went to watch a Roller derby match.

Coach is in a skirt with a beard and a braid. Go Green!!

Elly’s friends are skaters and we were part of the crowd. It was so fun. As a fundraiser to get the elite teams to their matches, there was craft beer for sale. Icy cold for us to enjoy while we cheered the skaters. They are on a small flat track that is nothing like in the movie, Whip It, with the velodrome style banked corners. It is surrounded by chairs where all the spectators can cheer, boo, yell, drink and generally have a great time watching a super-fast sport. Both teams we watched were well matched for talent and the competion was very close and tense.  The teams are female, or whatever you identify as, but predominantly female. And that is all okay. No BS Olympic rules on this one.  The crowd is mixed with lots of LGBTQ2 and families and friends. While both teams were hating each other on the track, they were hugging and sharing stories off the track. The restroom had a “ladies” sign above it, but that meant nothing. On the door to the washroom two genders were identified, both male and female images. Everyone welcome here! The world could learn from Roller derby.

Following that foodless venue, we were hungry.  So, Albert at the wheel, braved the drive across Montréal, on a busy byway, to Orange Julep. We had been avoiding driving those roads but with locals backseat driving, we made it unscathed. This was the original Orange Julius until the franchise took off and these guys kept the name Julep. The Orange is about the size of a 3-story house and it has the orange julep drink on tap through pipelines to each of the different cash stations at the take out windows.

The recipe is basically pulpy orange juice, icing sugar and egg whites. It was very similar to Orange Julius but it did not taste like super sweet powdery drink mix. Taylor, Elly’s partner, bought the 2 litre take home carton. The burgers on the other hand were full of filler and mediocre but a late-night gut bomb that was just fine for the moment. Elly and Taylor had the poutine, of course!! Late night.

One day we went to the Mohawk territory of Kahnawake. This neighbours the towns along the south shores near Montréal. One of our Indigenous students, Laurie, spent her first 18 years there, and she had been in touch with her friends, cousins and relatives to find out if there were some interesting and cultural things happening while we were there. Unfortunately, the PowWow was in July and we were well into August by now.

She said, “you have to eat the cornbread”. So we went into town, stopped at the Tourism Visitors Center and had a good chat with the young man that was staffing the site. He gave us a bag full of pamphlets and things to do, along with historical factual information. After that we headed to the big church next door and the museum that it houses. There is a bit of a love-hate relationship with this church and the story of the Mohawk virgin, Kateri Tekakwitha, who was canonized after numerous miracles attributed to her. Of course, with faith, many will believe the story, and with centuries of distrust and deceptions, many will not. The church and nearby graveyard were named in her memory.

On one side of the church is the road. Along that road are houses built of stone that date back hundreds of years. On the other side of the houses and church is a bike way and a waterway with a long breakwater across from the shoreline wide enough for one freighter. This sacred waterway, was also built along the Kahnawake reserve shoreline, close enough to let those freighters look right in to your bed room and bathroom!!!

When we went to the cultural center, there is a room that is set up as a museum. When we arrived one of the staffers put on a cd for us to listen to while we read the museum walls and displays. There is a poster stating 300 years of resilience at that site. No kidding!! First of all the deception that came with European contact. Then the numerous betrayals and more recently and famously when land was expropriated to build a golf course that created the “Oka Crisis”. The government brought in the military when the Mohawk stood in the way. For a golf course!!! The Mohawk are known for their ability to work at high altitudes without fear.  They have built many of the bridges and skyscrapers throughout the he world. Another one of my students who also came from Kahnawake told me a story of how when they were kids, they would play on the tops of the bridge spires. He said to his dad one day that his stomach would get upset when he was playing on the bridges. His dad laughed “You’re afraid of heights!!”  He got into cooking and last I heard he was still running big camp kitchens in the oil patch. In 1907 one of the bridges that they were working on collapsed and it took 33 of their young men. After that, they never sent that many to work on one project. When the twin towers came down in NYC, the ancestors of the Mohawk who built them returned to assist with the demolition and cleanup of the remaining rubble. In the museum, it was excellent hearing the language pronounced while reading the words that were interspersed into the explanations. We did not see any French language on these museum walls. The two languages that were predominant were the Mohawk language and English. I meant to ask about that. Didn’t. We did ask about cornbread and indigenous foods. It was Wednesday and the cornbread is only on Sundays. We decided to return on our way out of Montreal. The Mohawk were a farming culture. Corn, climbing beans and winter squash were the Three Sister trifecta that was their staple and became the staple of the visitors who landed. As with indigenous cultures throughout North, Central and South America, the process to make corn more digestible and protein rich, was to soak it in lime until the bran layer of the grain would dissolve and digest easily.  When we went for cornbread and steak at Dustin’s in Kahnawake, we were so excited to experience it. The cornbread is like a large patty that is made with the treated corn flour, oatmeal and black beans. The woman making the patties said she “uses masa harina because they go through so many (patties), it is too much work to do the whole process. And anyway, it is very similar. Do you want gravy?” “Sure!”  We ordered two cornbread, steak (T-bone steak!) and gravy.  $19.

The patty was like a heavy tamale. She mixes the masa flour, oatmeal and black beans into a paste, then forms the patties, then I think she steamed them. They taste a bit like a super dense tamale and we love tamales. They are a bit bland, just like all starchy foods, but they are delicious alone or with added sauces like gravy and salsas. Now I have another food from another culture that can be prepared with masa flour. Justifies buying a whole big bag…We could only eat one of the patties, so we wrapped the other one up and had it another day. While the unfair history and resilience it created are truth, we got a sense of positivity and healing in the community. We were obvious outsiders, as we are in Quebec with our BC language and culture, but we were welcomed by friendly proud people just going about their day.

Fully fed and heading out of Montréal/Longueuil, we were destined for Oka “National “ park. We booked a campsite online for 3 nights. Two years ago, when we visited, we stopped at the Abbey where the monks made the famous Oka cheese. We saw some trails beside the “Abbeye” that were for mountain biking and cross-country skiing. This was why we came back. Plus…the cheese…

À la prochaine fois…