Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bonjour!



Somehow visitors have a way of taking me into depths unknown at times, willing to venture off to show them the sights and sounds of our local area. With our older daughter visiting the past while, within a short amount of time everything changed for this particular visit to the east for her.

Yes, we've been away. Again.

Admittedly I was not on some far off adventure still in search of a new home to purchase for the near future, though we are still walking that same (overwhelming and emotional) great journey forward together as a family.

For many, many years I wanted so badly to venture off to a fabulous land within this beautiful country of ours, a Canadian destination where history abounds and evokes incredible excitement within me, a place where the language of French Canadian dialect makes one feel as though they are completely adrift bound for some European destination beyond the Atlantic Ocean.


Wanderlust has become a strange emotion for me, someone who admittedly spent years completely content, happily being a homebody - a mommy-body, wife to a traveling working businessman. As often as I dearly desired to accompany my man, I remained steadfast and became the heart of the home, the one who remained behind continually trying to create something of normalcy in the midst of our crazy life. As I've aged, wanderlust seems to keep revisiting me over and over again, especially during the past few years. Now, I find myself frothing at the bit, wanting to see, feel and experience my country, almost salivating at times to get on the road (again) when the opportunity bites me.


I've been bitten alright. I've just returned from the Province of Quebec, spending time celebrating its 400th anniversary inside the fortress walls of Old Quebec itself. New discoveries awaited us in an almost surreal way, and I loved lapping up every moment there, reminding myself over and over again how great it is to be a descendant of a French Canadian heritage. My grandmother was from Quebec and I have many relatives living there.

Je me souviens
(I remember)



Originally my husband was expecting to travel to this same area on business. With fall on the horizon, there is no better place to enjoy autumn colors exploding everywhere, or at least beginning to offer a fall palette pleasing to any eye. I planned to accompany him there for this trip, seeking out a historical experience with the children along, but then my husband's trip was expedited and rearranged. Sensing I was feeling a wee bit ripped off, my husband announced he preferred I travel there just the same, and offered a suggestion to make it happen without him.

Since my hubby had offered for us to explore the old fortress of Samuel de Champlain initially, he announced he preferred I still travel there just the same without him, offering to hold down the fort at home with the rest of the brood, opting for some vacation time himself. I would now travel with our visiting daughter and her sister, alone together the three of us.

Roads were difficult to get around on,

comfortable walking shoes were a must!

After several of his own previous business trips to the area, my hubby also knew Old Quebec was far too tough for him to partake in an actual vacation exploration on foot as we would do. To him; the idea of having to dart between many tourists in crowded narrow roadways, huff it up and down stairwells throughout the oldest and most historic parts of the city, or forge a path over steep rocky or brick roadway inclines, would be excessively difficulty.

While our journey was in progress this past week, how I missed him traveling with me! We will return just him and me someday though. We will.

Everything was settled then.

Decidedly the girls and I would have a mother/daughter chick-fest all by ourselves for a few days, diving into our country's rich French Canadian culture. We would become spellbound by using our listening skills, making attempts at speaking the mother tongue of the area, and exploring anything local to our hotel surroundings with giddy pleasure.

The trip began at 6:00am this day

First up - train travel!

It would be; Train, Plane, and Taxi this trip

I have to preface this with a giggle, spilling the beans with the fact that one daughter was one hundred percent eagerly on board. The other daughter thought it was a horrible thing to "have to" travel some more in her youthful days. Why did she have to come anyway she thought. If this was the only way to spend time with her older sister, she was in though, but not happily.

Uh boy! How our children at home have no clue on the utter privilege they have had to travel and see the world with their folks, something their older siblings never did. Heck, something I never did!

However, some day as they mature, I hope they will all come to appreciate the travel they have actually been exposed to over the last few years since our move eastward.

When it comes to anything Quebec, as with my own siblings before me, I remember well July of 1973 when my parents sent me across Canada to stay with my father’s aunt, uncle and cousins in Montreal for a month-long deep immersion into French Canadian culture. When my uncle was summoned away for a few weeks as Captain on large ship along the St. Lawrence Seaway, my aunt orchestrated a long road trip to Maine together so we could pick up Michelle, a cousin the same age as I. She would remain bunking up in my room with me for the duration of my visit. She was great company too.

The trip to and from Maine would take us through Quebec city and along the St. Anne de Beaupre coastal region during the busiest time of year there were the Feast of St. Anne’s novena feast days were in progress.

(I forced the girls to try the "Sugar Pie" (Maple syrup) I remembered from my Summer 73 trip, the pie my aunt used to make often for my cousin and I.)

French Canadian pea soup was on my own menu for a lunch stop.

When in Rome - Eat like the Romans.

When in Quebec - Eat like the French!

Even crepes were on our menu, at least the girls! Yum!


During my return visit to Quebec this past week, I was able to reconnect many of those same sights seen in my youth, memories of those youthful days began washing over me. I realized an even greater appreciation for all my Aunt did for me, for all the places she road-tripped me to (and her sons for taking me everywhere! I even water-skied for the first time with them, something I was thrilled to do!), and of course I am even more thankful to my parents for sending their own long faced daughter (runs in the family maybe huh?) there in the first place for that entire month.

Quebec's 400th Anniversary


One of several buildings with intricate
paintings for all to enjoy
.

Denise,
this pic above and more to come are for you!

Since two particular children at home express their sense of a terrible burden to travel - yet again, sometimes the moaning and bitter complaining in advance provides an early backdrop for dreaded regrets before departing. This is one particular emotion often providing a dark black raincloud overhead, that is - until the travel is done and the photos are uploaded for all to see. The building of incessant noisy chatter begins, warm memories do eventually prevail and original long faces begin to beam brightly, that is though - ONLY sometimes after the fact. What is with young people of today? :-)

I on the other hand was delightfully pumped and ready to go, even wtih long faces alongside of me for the journey or not. This little getaway, aka; Canadian historical travel, was in fact going to happen. The girls would eventually come to acknowledge the experience as something magical in the end. One hopes to brush up her French language skills after realizing how important a second language is for practical application value.

If any of my readers has plans to attend the 400th anniversary year celebrations in Old Quebec, I have a word of warning to you. BOOK NOW!

Of all the things - I had tremendous difficulties booking a hotel room for the three of us unless I had a budget to include the expense of something around 900.00 per night! I ended up finding the most endearing European like hotel after a two day search online through www.expedia.ca right in the heart of Old Quebec, situated on Rue Sainte Anne. Yes, this was the road for us.

Rue Sainte-Anne where our hotel was located

And then as if it wasn't difficult enough to book a hotel room for the duration of our stay, traveling to the area wasn't working in our favor either. I spent another two days working out the best possible way to get there. Thoughts of driving were immediately reflected, so I tended to focus on flying until that was a stumbling block for me. With frustration beginning to mount, even if I had to hitchhike I was going! laugh.

  • I eventually found a flight there, but not a return flight back home again.
  • I found a train to another distance airport for a possible flight from there, but not a return flight home.
  • I found a train to a catch a flight and then discovered a separate one way flight on a competing air carrier but no train co-ordinated with them to get home.
  • Finally I found a train, a flight with one carrier, another flight with a different carrier involving a connection in Montreal to come home, and finally a train ride to complete the journey. With all three web pages up and tabbed just until the booking area, I checked and rechecked all my information and just hit the buttons to get everything all booked at the same time. Travel points were punched in, and do they ever come in handy at the best of times, especially when forced to make crazy excursions like these to work in our favor. With print outs in hand, the trip was firmed up and we were actually going to Quebec city to celebrate its 400th anniversary together!


The only thing uncertain along the way was how to get from train to airport, airport to hotel, and reverse it all. Knowing parking would be an issue and knowing this would be a city where walking shoes were required for a great sightseeing option, a simple taxi ride proved to be the most flexible option to get around from our points A to B.

First though, I was having a tough time remembering everything I booked for the trip, having to reread actual flight times, train times, organize wake up calls when required and remain calm. Who cared if our trip involved adventurous travel? It was time to go...

THIS was sure to be an adventure like no other! And until the first day of travel, the girls had no idea of the REAL life adventure awaiting ahead of them. To them their mother is nuts at the best of times, so I wasn't entirely expecting a strange reaction once they were privy to the announcements on the wild bookings I was able to conjure up online. Other than the initial train ride, everything unfolded as time pressed forward. So, with a big smile I tucked away all my paperwork and figured if they thought I was nuts anyway, why worry now. hee hee

In our fancy taxi, a Lincoln Limo from train to airport

I think the worst part of traveling is waiting for the body's adrenalin to kick in. Usually for me this happens when I really desire a good night's sleep the night before leaving. As per my usual, my eyes wouldn't close and I was still staring at the ceiling at 3:00am knowing full well the alarm on the clock would sound at 4:30am. I almost threw in the towel from the mounting frustration of not being able to turn off. Jeepers! Thankfully even with little sleep I was still able to proceed pleasantly through the long day ahead. After all, I was on a vacation here, right?

As if we were polar opposites, both girls were able to doze off for much longer than I, though both would beg for mercy, claiming the need for "fatigue breaks" throughout our trip. Sleeping became a sport for both of them, mimicking an afternoon siesta with train riding snoozes once the overall relaxation began to kick in. In contrast my own adrenalin kept building so sadly (laugh) even if I tried, I could not partake of their sport with them.

The sport of Siesta moments wasn't for me

I was going to be in the city for only a short time. I wanted to boogie - to walk and move around, take photos, and fully immerse myself in this wonderful city situated high above the St. Lawrence Seaway. I had a few solitary times wondering about when my travel buddies were too pooped to party, content with my own company strolling in the sunshine when necessary.

Ever want to be my travel buddy in the future? Word of warning, catch the wave of enthusiasm I am accused of being guilty of and just attempt pace with me during my quest to see it all. LOL

The view from our room.

(Silver topped roof is the Ursuline Nun's Convent,

with the Chateau Frontenac in the background.)

Our hotel was not a flashy or even a fancy place at all, just quaint and modest containing exactly what we required; a bed to rest our heads on at night, a full buffet breakfast each morning, special personnel behind the hotel counter to book a tour for us, and free espresso or latte coffees round the clock. How good was this?

Our hotel room, this was my bed

It was not a very extravagant hotel at all; in fact our taxi cab driver even missed it the first time he drove down the one way street to drop us off.

All of the local hotels were booked solid with patrons spilling out all over the city. I found the secret to avoiding crowds was an early walk out the door while doors of establishments were just beginning to open. Small cafes were preparing their outdoor seating for morning coffee takers, porches of business doorways were being swept, and tours were underway in the many small buses surrounding the main plaza near the Chateau.

Many tours gathered, and we

dared to slip in to listen when able

"Les Miserables" is currently playing here

Most of the special celebration showcase entertainment was complete with the exception of the current live play of "Les Miserables", still in progress two blocks away from our hotel. The highlight of the summer months was a free concert by Celine Dion at the end of August which was (of course) sold out. Nevertheless there was still plenty of entertainment around town.

Many inviting cafes were sprinkled along boardwalks

Outdoor entertainment was present on almost every corner, and talented musicians played their tunes for all to enjoy, some located around Parisian type cafes sprinkled throughout the city. Almost all of the musicians were listened to had their very own music CDs for sale nearby. We really enjoyed the feel of the area with the variation of music genres playing their tunes.

Map orientation

Local artists convened in a central artist alley location area, most standing by their displays while selling original works of art, or many offered to sketch a portrait for a fee. We watched several folks having their portrait done and even observed a Johnny Depp lookalike from the film "Pirates of the Caribbean". The girls thought he was a remarkable look-alike, stopping to take a photo while waltzing down the alley way.

Johnny Depp look-alike

Everything about this trip fascinated me. I love discovering significant historical details when I travel, and this place reminded me of Boston very much. Around every corner was something to explore, perhaps a plaque to read, something carved in a building, or a tale to listen to. With deep curiosity I listened and all I learned in my history reading came to life before my very eyes. I was smitten, sunk, and deep in wondrous waters. No one could ever save me from this adventure ahead.

Cobblestone roads were a main focus for shoppers


Sitting in the front seat of our taxi while traveling from the airport, our driver spoke broken English but welcomed us into the journey ahead. The architecture of the buildings stole my attention, and old cobblestone roads soon bounced us around in our seats as we neared our hotel ahead.

Churches permeated the city, the water’s edges along the way and church bells beckoned either folks to check their watches for the time of day or calling parishioners to daily mass. In fact, we were told there were 97 French Catholic church parishes in Quebec City alone, and the population remains at 98% Catholic.

Our Lady of Victory

(site of the first mass when Samuel de Champlain landed here)

No wonder church bells sounded for the townsfolk and no wonder we fell asleep listening to them during the night. As in Europe, those church bells serve communities in ways long forgotten in newer areas of the country, something I would only hope could someday make a comeback in our own culture today. It was endearing to count the number of times the bells rang as day turned into night, and early morning greetings awaited us anew. One church in our hotel area offered many bells playing hymns in unison, allowing for the townsfolk to sing along when appropriate to the Angelus times of 9am, noon, 3pm and 9pm.

This place is so rich in cultural heritage for many Canadians. Anniversary or not, people continue to flock to the area to help celebrate the incredible history no one wishes to forget. In 1883, the motto “Je me souviens” was carved in stone below the coat of arms of Quebec which appear which appear above Quebec’s Parliament buildings main entrance doors.


  • Three simple words “Je me souviens” are now made famous and described by Thomas Chapais;

We remember the past and its lessons,

the past and its misfortunes, the past and its glories

We saw this slogan mounted and visible everywhere in the city, on every license plate, noted on souvenirs, everywhere. It is not only the entire slogan for the Province of Quebec, it’s also been adopted by the 22nd regiment because in its entirety.

Here it is;

  • Je me souviens/Que né sous le lys/Je croîs sous la rose.
(I remember/That born under the lily/I grow under the rose.)


Chateau Frontenac

The lily and the rose were the floral emblems referred to kingdoms of France and England.

  • For Quebec’s 300th anniversary, the slogan changed a wee bit to this;

"Née sous les lis, Dieu aidant, l’œuvre de

Champlain a grandi sous les roses"

("Born under the lilies, God helping,

Champlain's work has grown under the roses")


After pondering our quick trip in and out, I know I will always remember. Indeed; “Je me souviens!”

Of course these were just a very few minute details of our time spent there, many more blessings were waiting along the way. Obviously I have much more to share, so that now makes me behind even more here. I promise I will catch up this week. (smile)


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Time to visit

Visiting daughter from the West!

Three sisters in a row, tic-tac-toe

One of our daughters from the westcoast has come for a short visit, arriving recently and is currently getting used to the time change.

Playing games

Of all things, she brought her dirty laundry to wash, remarking on how much she loves my clotheslines. She declared she never remembered seeing them last time she visited, but then that was in the month of November when the icy ground was sprinkled heavily with Jack frost visiting during our evenings.

She brought her dirty laundry of all things

Just so you all know, I'm still going to try to catch up in a big way, but first I'll be taking a few days off to visit, hug, love and capture moments on my camera together...you know, making memories like these;

Heading off beachside for a dip in the water

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wasaga Beach and other explorations

Wasaga Beach
and other areas of exploration


Rolling along on our roadtrip still....

Road trip memories continue with our family's exploration of other local areas outside of the Greater Toronto Regions. The summer heat finally became a deciding factor to head north to check out several vacation spots, one being the world famous, longest North American fresh water beach called “Wasaga Beach” resting on the shores of Georgian Bay. We heard very good things about this famous beach. Many local folks bragged continuously over the natural white sand, the deep sand dunes, and the overall summery feel to the area, so heading there this day while we were altogether seemed like a grand idea. We knew though we would be browsing the countryside and testing the air during our outing, as per the real reason for this trip in the first place.

As we meandered through the maze of several quaint and friendly towns along the way, the town of Wasaga came into full view on the horizon ahead. Once we drove towards the public beach areas, we couldn’t help but wonder where in the world all those people lounging on the hot sand, or shopping in the many beachside venues came from!

This Wasaga area is comprised of five provincial park beaches located on its shores, and everything became very unappealing to us not long after arriving. At first we thought it would be fun to perhaps stay and linger awhile for a few minutes to dip our feet in the Bay of one of the Great Lakes, Huron Lake to be exact.

Decidedly though the roads were ridiculously busy, just like the sidewalks and beach sands, traffic was bumper to bumper and crawling at a slow pace, so we skipped the idea entirely to stop somewhere and moved on. We had already seen enough.

Locals laugh when we complained afterwards about the crowds there; telling us they rarely get to this beach in peak seasons themselves. They know of other beaches to head to, where there are no crowds, no parking issues and no traffic.

As we drove back the way we came, everyone noticed a different sort of tourist trap and appealed to us to stop there instead. Squeals of delight reigned high as my hubby pulled into the parking lot, excitement galore took over.

Go Karts! Who wouldn’t be happy to drive one of these, all five miles of the course! Yes sir, all FIVE miles!

Helmets were located, and tried on for size. Catchy snaps on the helmets were a hindrance to secure until my hubby came to the rescue of the children, ensuring safety first before allowing any of the them into their assigned karts. Two teamed up together in one vehicle while the other two were assigned their very own. All were eager to crank up the speed and whiz out of there, sitting ready for the signal to zoom ahead.

Even without driver's licenses, and just like the

golf cart fun, they could all share in this fun activity together.

What fun they had! Smiles magnated on their beaming faces every time they neared as they rounded another bend and returned to the rest of the course.

Cameras snapped, pictures were taken, memories made.