It’s a great big place with no internet connections… [archive 17/06/2007]

Well we rolled out of Hamilton last week, managed to hit Montreal for the race and spent a couple of days in Quebec City . We’re now in sunny (for sunny read foggy) Nova Scotia camping out on the beach where the Marie Celeste was built 146 years ago and watching the worlds biggest tidal bore come in. It rises 34’ and hits 50km/h, turning our beach into a peninsular and providing jolly japes for canoeists and white water rafters up and down the bay of fundy. I was all up for hiring a kayak and having a go until dipping my toes in the water reminded me that it is the atlantic and it is at it’s coldest at the moment.

We struck east a week ago and timed Toronto to perfection- just as the Friday afternoon rush hour started on the hottest day of the year so far (30 plus humidity) and as good things go in threes we were hit by the weirdest storm as we went past Missassauga- the sky literally blackened to the north while the sun still cast an orange glow on the CN Tower. Without a sound lightning started striking all around us, one fork hitting the overpass 50’ in front of us. A hot wind then picked up the dust, debris and as we heard on the radio, trees too. Visibility was down to one or two cars as we crept along at tickover and wondered at our sanity as people started parking up under the overpasses and anything solid enough to stop the wicked witches house falling on them. All this and not a drop of rain, but when it did come it was big, haphazard and horizontal! Still at least the panicky Ontarioans had cleared a path for us to boot it and get the hell out of there!

We outran the storm in our 28 year old camper and by no canny coincidence found ourselves in the town of Brighton at dusk, where we parked up at the Presqu’ile provincial park, jutting out into Lake Ontario and were instantly mugged by the biggest mosquitos yet, who seemed to bring their own welding gear to cut through the screens and jeans and get to our sweet, succulent British blood. We nearly ran out of fuel in the park (it was big one alright?) so enlisted the help of two ex-britriates and their Labradors to escort us to a petrol station.

From Brighton we headed straight to Montreal and got in late Saturday night to the news that Lewis Hamilton had pipped Alonso to pole by nearly half a second! After a quick chat to the officials though, we heard that the race was sold out. Montreal has a great underground system, with the track on an island one stop from where we were parked. By fate and fortune while Laura was engaged with one of her quarter-hourly wee-stops I wandered out the other side of the metro and bumped into two touts who kindly offered to sell me two tickets for $500 each, while they were negotiating with two New Brunswickians to buy theirs for $250 the pair!! Obviously no deal was done by either party but I managed to find the couple with the tickets and nabbed them for $100 off the face price. The icing on the cake was the sight of the touts being manhandled into a police car by some burly gendarmie sporting tight trousers, aviator sunnies and big guns… never a good combination.

We turned up at the track just as the Formula BMW race ended so missed seeing my uncles team compete, which is a shame as I haven’t seen Team Jensen race in twenty-odd years and have to wait a bit longer to catch them now L Still the F1 race was eventful with Alonso losing it continually at the turn one in front of us. I guess Jarno was a bit shaken up by his involvement with the Kubica smash as he managed to drop it coming out of the pits under safety car conditions and ended up in the wall stage left too. We did the pitch invasion thing at the end and saw Lewis come out of his garage to thank the crowd that had gathered before he finally got to go and see his dad… quite an emotional time and a good day out. The track, set in a park on an island and only used for racing once or twice a year, was definitely one of the best I’ve been to in regards to facilities and things to do before and after the race. I’ll be going again next year and recommend anyone who wants to join me to book their tickets early…

From Montreal we took the advice of Phil, a wind turbine engineer we met on our final day in Hamilton , and headed to Quebec City , which we loved as soon as we got there. It had a relaxed colonial feel to it, without the touristy tripe that you’d expect from one of the oldest settlements in Canada . Sure, there were some twee shops and if you went down to the much lauded Place de Royal you’d probably vomit, but stick to the Rue Saint Jean area and you’ve got all the boutiques, bars, coffee shops and record shops you could want, fringed with interesting little museums and encased in the old city walls, only breached three times by the English.

Also interesting was their attitude to colonial France… a lot of the plaques and museums refer to how the native Indians (the First Nation people) had their land taken from them. As one museum put it ‘as the tricolor was grounded a vast tract of North America from Spanish Florida to the polar ice caps, and the entire east coast up to the plains of what is now Saskatchewan was claimed as New France . The people of the first nations could not have realised that this momentous act would cost them everything.’ It then details how through various wars and treaties New France was chipped away and then finally abandoned by the French, who decided that the West Indies with their supply of coffee and sugar was more valuable than anything that this troublesome colony could provide… whereas I agree that a sweet cup of coffee is good I can also see why the Quebecois felt so aggrieved that they’d happily accept a nominal British rule for their own Quebec government.

Then came the US war of independence where many loyalists from the US moved north to Canada, and a further war in 1809 between Britain and the US where it was said that taking Canada would ‘simply be a matter of marching north’. Our friends south of the border lost Maine , had New England rebel and Washington razed to the ground before the peace treaty was signed. It was also the last time the US was attacked directly before Pearl Harbour and it is said to have united Canada as a nation, in particular Quebec who sided with the English despite the Napoleanic war being in full swing…

Anyhoo, history lesson over it was interesting driving round seeing all these battlegrounds and historically heralded places of a country that was largely untouched by us for the majority of our history. We wanted to shoot through New Brunswick as soon as possible, as Nova Scotia was now tantalisingly close and we had a yearning to get off the highway and onto some roads with moose and not just moose signs. We stayed for one night at Grand Falls (coming from Niagara the term ‘grand’ didn’t really apply) and got to NS at sunset the next day. We stepped out of the camper and were set upon by a gang of hairy, tattooed, Mohican-sporting, special brew swilling mozzies who bit us, punched us about a bit, wrote profane graffiti across our backs then gave us another good kicking for tasting so foreign. Seriously, I look like John Merrick did when he fell down the stairs to the changing room after his little published bout with Mohammed Ali… And before you say it these mosquitos just laugh at bug spray- I caught a load of them round the back of the pharmacy snorting the butane out of the cans of Raid, which is the agent orange of mosquito repellent. During our time here we’ve spent a long time trying to figure out why mosquitos are on this earth (in a yin yang everything is zen kind of way) and our best theory was so frogs can have a varied diet. Well thanks a lot Kermit, you little green shi…!

So Nova Scotia , promised land. We’ve had two people say ‘why the heck are you going there’. One of them was the be-rubber gloved customs official who I think was trying to catch us out by saying ‘there’s no work out there’, as he narrowed his eyes, one hand ready on the mace, the other on the ‘cuffs. The other ones to scoff and look bewildered were the New Brunswickians who sold us the F1 tickets. The reason they were selling the tickets was because it was too long a walk from the metro to the stands at turn one and, as we had been into Montreal, they asked us where the nearest starbucks was, so I kind of discounted everything they said and made the executive decision to stop as little as possible in their province, just in case we bumped into them again…

We popped into Amherst yesterday morning and I won a handsome little bet with Laura who reckoned I wouldn’t get my Social Insurance number sorted out then and there (took 15 minutes), then we struck south along the Bay of Fundy Scenic trail. We lasted until late afternoon before the roads disabled our horn, indicators and shook our fillings out, so we decided to stop at Spencers Island campsite which is run by a chap from upper new york state called Bob, who filled us in on the folklore surrounding the Marie-Celeste and the rest of the ship building history in these parts. He also introduced us to the Australian chef in the restaurant next door where we had the freshest, tastiest Atlantic Char, Haddock, a Lobster Bisque each, some home made fishcakes, a couple of beers and an OJ, all for just £22. And apparently that’s expensive for NS!

Actually I’m amazed at this place. They built about 30 tall ships on this beach over the years, and the Marie Celeste, originally christened the Amazon, was the first of them. Every little kid the world over has heard the fable of the Marie Celeste and you’d think a place without much industry that gets swamped with tourists from July to September every year would have a bit more than a plaque on a cairn and a charity funded lighthouse to draw your attention to it. I know in Ontario they’d at least have a stripmall with a commemorative smoothie and the states would have a faux-pirate infested theme park but here they just have a chap called Bob who opens the lighthouse when he gets up in the morning and closes it before he goes to bed, happily telling tales of the ships and the theories of the locals on what happened to their most famous one.

This lighthouse has an interesting something too. It’s just a little 3 storey wooden thing with steep steps inside and lots of things to bang your head on, but the met department (or whoever, Bob just called them ‘they’) have put a little transmitter at the top, that works in conjunction with another transmitter on the other side of the bay and together they monitor the size of the tide, which has dropped by a foot since the Tsunami in 2004… twelve inches of water doesn’t sound like much but when you apply that to the whole ocean it’s a helluvalot of water to just disappear. Laura reckons maybe it’s a change in the current or the salinity… I think it could be the melting polar ice caps and the water displacement of ice being more than what it’s melting into. Come on Al, do a reply to all and put us out of our misery!

And sticking with the nature angle (slender I know but I needed an in-point for this) we’ve seen our fair share of Canadian wildlife so far… most of it flat on the road with it’s insides out, but our first day in NS I slammed on the anchors as there was a big fat deer chewing on the greenery at the side of the road- our first big game in Canada (and I missed it by inches!). Further down the coastal road we stopped at a fossil beach that had some major important thing about it that, not being geologists we couldn’t quite see. I myself found a huge trawl of dinosaur eggs but Laura kept pointing out that they were just ordinary pebbles so I carefully put them back where I found them for some other scientist to discover them and experience the fleeting glory that fame provides. It’s just occurred to me that if I had a pith helmet she would probably have believed me…

The plan today was to head down to Parrsboro to collect some semi precious stones for our wedding rings- apparently they’re just lying around on the beach eldorado-style like those dinosaur eggs we found yesterday. The roads however that have taken us barely three counties into Nova Scotia have taken their toll on the vehicle that brought us half way across Canada, hence we’ve struck out for Halifax instead and the dubious pleasure of dishing out wads of dollar bills to some grinning grease monkey…

Take care one and all and I’ll upload a snazzy little video as soon as we get a reliable interweb connection.

J, L & B

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