Toronto, Quebec City, Montreal and the 5 day train journey across Canada back to Vancouver. Oh and Matthew's 40th Birthday! Seriously?
13.03.2012 - 03.04.2012
For only a few bucks extra, we found out that the return flight we took to South America, did not have to return to the same place, namely Vancouver which you have read about at the start of our adventure. And so our flight north from Lima in Peru, arrived into the city of Toronto, in the east of Canada.
Starting our day's travel from Bogota in Colombia, made for a tiring day, but an ice cream stop in Lima airport put a smile on our face, our last taste of the delightful South American ice cream that has refreshed our palate on many a hot day!
Also a breath taking view of the New York city sky line, a first for me, as we stopped briefly at Newark Airport, Debs being the first to spot the Statue of Liberty! It was here Debs almost 'lost' me at passport control. What is it with Americans? Dare I say it as my visits have only been at airports, but they have been so stereotypical. Back in October I was stunned to see teenagers so large that they had to be driven to the departure gates! And this time, an American who simply could not understand why I was moving to New Zealand! The passport control conversation went a little like this:
'Good morning, where is your destination after Canada?'
'Good morning, New Zealand'.
'Why are you going there?'
'Because my girlfriend is a Kiwi'.
'What is a Kiwi?'
'Well, someone who comes from New Zealand'.
'And when are you going home?'
'I am not, I will live in New Zealand'.
'Well because me girlfriend is a Kiwi, I mean comes from New Zealand'.
'But after that, when will you go home?'
'No New Zealand will be my new home'.
And so it went on, I simply answered his questions straight, but he was just not getting the answers he either wanted or understood. It was so hard not to start becoming sarcastic and rude. He was so ignorant to the possibility of moving country. And he worked in passport control! Unreal. Debs was very quick to calm me down telling me, correctly, never to upset an American passport control person, they have a surprising amount of power to just turn you around if they do not like you!!
Anyway, safely arriving in Toronto, we were greeted at the airport by Lia. Lia and Mike and their gorgeous energetic daughter Anna, were to kindly put us up while we stayed in Toronto. And much to our delight, the cold spell of -20C had recently passed, and an unseasonably warm +15C was hanging around. That afternoon we were in our running shorts and jogging along the river!! So much for needing to buy a down jacket the moment we arrived!
Before leaving Bogota, we bought a cuddly fluffy stuffed horse we named Carlos in anticipation of sweetening Anna to our stay with her. (And luckily for us when we bought it, we found out it was 2 for 1 day at the kids shop, so we got Carlos's twin and gave him to our host there Elena, as we knew she had a 4 year old neice. Apparently there is no chance of the neice ever receiving it, Elena fell in love with him at once and wanted to keep him as a reminder of our stay!) Anna also fell in love with Carlos, and many a happy hour was spent playing with both of them in the lounge to squeals of delight from Anna!
Toronto does not have a huge amount to offer the casual tourist, but getting to know Lia, Mike and Anna was a joy. Lia's cooking kept us very well fed, and the highlight of our brief stay was a trip to Niagara Falls, just an hour away. Impressive, very impressive, and my first proper glimpse of America at ground level. We got thoroughly soaked in the spray from the falls, but enjoyed it none the less.
Moving on from Toronto fairly quickly, we headed further east to Quebec City via train, and so the start of my mammoth, in every sense of the word, birthday celebrations. 40? Seriously? Every who knows me, knows how immature I can be, and I want to stay a teenager in my mind as long as I can! Debs started as she meant to go on with much generosity and surprised me with first class train travel! Amazing what telling people it is your birthday can do; I got a free bottle of wine, and a complete kids play pack! Told you I was immature! 40? Seriously?
We arrived in Quebec city in the dark of the eve of my birthday, St Patrick's Day. Unbeknownst to us was 2 things, firstly that the Red Bull Crashed Ice was taking place that night, (try You Tubing that one, crazy wipeouts as skaters race each othere down the frozen steep streets!) and secondly that Quebec City has a lot of Irish influence. And so after dropping our bags, in the most delightful guest house of our entire trip (more generosity from Debs!) we headed into the old part of Quebec City to have a look around. There were huge dumps of snow by the side of the roads, and the gloves were definately needed, but everyone was in good spirit, and we finished the night with a couple of beers, and flaming sambuca shots in the appropriately named St Matthew's Bar!
The morning of my birthday was one to remember. (Other than being 40 of course! Seriously?) I managed a SKYPE phone call to my family over breakfast which in itself was a feast, the breakfast that is! And Debs had kindly got some anecdotes from family and friends from over the years to make me laugh and smile as they could not be with me on this day. Later, a lazy day of exploring the beautiful town along the banks of the St Lawrence river, and a cheeky birthday beer, all followed by a yummy meal at Le Lapin Saute restaurant. Rabbit is actually quite tasty!
Monday morning we awoke to the pitter patter sound of not rain, but melting snow, the warm weather continuing. And so arriving at the Ice Hotel at 5.15pm, very excited about staying the night, we were disappointed, but I suppose not entirely surprised to see a notice saying that from 5pm that day, the hotel has had to close early for the season due to melting starting. Gutted! Thankfully they were expecting us as our UK mobile had not been turned on for a while, and their sympathy meant we at least got shown around for starters. The structure is incredible. Each year they try to better the one before, and it was stunning to walk around even if we were getting dripped on! There is a church there that sees many weddings over the winter, complete with ice altar and pews, and a bar with its own ice slide! The rooms were equally impressive, with raised beds, yes, still ice, but with plenty of blankets.
While this is something I particularly wanted to experience, I sensed Debs was quite glad when they said we were to be put up in a 5 star hotel nearby as compensation (as well a full refund, how kind!) And so after our initial disappointment, we made sure we enjoyed the evening and my birthday in style, warm style! A swim, a sauna, a paid for 3 course meal, and a bedroom suite so large, we got to choose which bed to sleep in! We went for the one in the loft!
Next day we headed out into the country and stopped to try our hands, I mean feet, at snowshoeing. Lots of fun, and again so warm that we finished in only t-shirts! We soon got the hang of it, and thoroughly enjoyed the tranquility around the frozen lake (when we weren't snowbombing each other or being pushed into the deep, un-compacted snow).
That night we stayed in a quaint small town called Baie St Paul. We awoke to blocks of ice slowly flowing down the river and could not resist going for a run, cold though it was.
Taking the train back to Montreal, we looked up a good friend we met on our travels in Bolivia. Marie kindly put us up and we had lots of fun, along with her housemate Anya, exploring the city.
Montreal has a good vibe, a fun atmosphere and we would have liked to stay longer. Again the warm temperature stayed, and after finding somewhere that sold South American empanadas once again for old time's sake, we enjoyed the first BBQ of the season with Marie and friends, as well as playing frisbee and trying Marie's hula hoop in the park!
Back briefly to check that Anna had been looking after Carlos in Toronto, and to say goodbye to Lia and Mike's warm hospitality, we start, what was for me (and for Debs too, although she might not like to admit it) the highlight of Canada this time around: a 5 day train journey across the length of Canada. A birthday present of huge proportions, and one to savour and remember for years to come.
Although a bit last minute, taking this train is something I had dreamed of to get across Canada. In my mind the best way to see the country - so much better than flying. This legendary 5 day epic 4,466km journey actually travals across 3 time zones!
We had a cozy little room with a bunk bed, and our own toilet and sink. Very private, and only a couple of carriages away from the last one which was a high glass domed carriage giving unrestricted panoramic views. Being able to see forward above the train, was new to me, and I loved sitting upstairs taking in the changing countryside.
As with all long journeys with the same people for the whole way, you get to chat lots and get to know them pretty well which made the trip all the more enjoyable. There were many different people from different countries, but it was great to see so many Canadians enjoying their country too. And then the food. They managed 3 sittings per meal from a tiny kitchen, and we were immensely impressed both with the quality and the selection. Eating so well whilst travelling through the countryside was a real highlight.
We passed through 3 main landscapes. Initially upon leaving Toronto, the train heads north and into the cold, before turning west through a landscape full of frozen lakes, in the Ontario province. This frozen landscape also continued through the next province of Manitoba where a long stop in Winnipeg gave us time to go for a morning run, much to surprise of our fellow passengers! Next was the vast open prairies of the province of Saskatchewan with little to see other than the odd beaver building its dam, but still very beautiful by their flat emptiness. And finally we awoke in the dark early hours to a blizzard in Edmonton as we progressed through Alberta and into British Colombia for the highlight, the Rockies mountain range. The blizzard had passed by mid morning, and soon the blue sky could be seen for a stunning day of viewing the snow covered mountains. Strange to imagine that this mountain range passes down the length of northern America, and then down the spine of South America as well, where not long ago, we were enjoying the views in Patagonia!
Before we knew it, we were back in Vancouver and this time staying with a Couchsurfing host, Dean. Always a bit of a gamble saying yes to an area or part of a city you do not know. But we struck gold here, Dean's appartment was right in the centre, on the 8th floor, and spotless. We had a corner room with 2 walls being floor to ceiling windows! Dean was incredibly generous, and we loved chatting to him and learning the rules of curling, his winter pastime, and softball, his summer pastime!
Our last day included another walk around Stanley Park...
...before heading to the airport for the long flight down across the Pacific, to Deborah's homeland, New Zealand. Our incredible, amazing and completely awesome adventures complete....