Friday, June 24, 2016

Ile d'Orleans

Saturday was the end of our stay in La Malbaie. We left about 10:00am to drive the 2.5 hours back to Quebec city, with stops along the way. We gave Isle aux coudres a miss. It was another short ferry ride and I had already had three ferry rides on this trip.

Ste Anne de Beaupre was a disappointment. The grandness of the shrine was lost in the mile or two of tawdry motels, fast food stops and tourist outlets which flanked the basilica on either side. I realize that visitors need a place to stay, but it looked more like a theme park than a place of worship. Whatever happened to hushed silence and awe!!

We turned off the road to visit Montmorency Falls, which might have been spectacular, but we really couldn't work out the venue. The parking lot looked more like an industrial after thought and had the nerve to charge $12.00 to park in a muddy rut. From here, you saw the lower end of the falls and could climb to the upper levels, which, I understand, are even more spectacular. Somehow, I thought that this entrance should have had a little more ceremony about it. It needed more of a presence, if the  falls were, indeed, as grand as the travel books said they were.

 I couldn't blame jet lag for my ennui, but I could blame the weather. It wasn't actually raining, but it was still very cold, windy and alas, threatening rain. We finally decided to visit Ile d'Orleans. It's a rural oasis on an island just a stone's throw from the centre of Quebec city. With it's winding roads, whimsical farms, flowering orchards, quaint villages, and period houses, it really could be a Disney theme park, but it isn't. It's real and they were selling local strawberries at roadside stalls.

We were thinking of the island as a possible biking trail, but cyclists were given a tiny strip of the road, not a dedicated bike path and the roads were narrow, hilly, at times, and fairly busy. Many brave souls, though, were biking away, in spite of these conditions. It must be something in the French constitution, after all the biggest bike race in the world is in France!!

Fortunately, the evening was warmer. We were able to sit out at our favourite restaurant, Le Lapin Sauté, for - you guessed it - rabbit in some of its many forms. The air was festive, the weather dry, the wine, good and our hotel close by.

Home tomorrow - have a great day!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Whale of a Time....

Finally, Friday started out warm and sunny. I rushed onto the balcony at 7:00am just to savour the sun, the heat and that wonderful sense of a warm summer's day. I wasn't sure how long it would last and I needed to enjoy every blessed minute of it!! Ahh!!

Today was a day to go whale watching. We headed East again to Baie Sainte Catherine for a 10:30 departure on a whale watching ferry, which, for a king's ransom, took us out to the middle of the St. Lawrence, to spend a few hours looking for an elusive black fin or two and a few geysers of blow-hole spray.

Once you got used to where to look, the sights were quite amazing. Not as amazing as watching dolphins, though, who seem to be more interested in you, than you, with them. No whales avoid you - Ahab, I feel your pain - they stay well away from the boat and never surface in the same place twice. Still we had our cameras ready to snap anything that popped up, if and when it did.

About noon, the weather began to change. The wind came up and the rain started. I knew summer couldn't last. We finished the whale tour "below decks" which actually had plate glass windows and a great view of the surface of the water. In fact, I saw more whales down there than in the cold upstairs.

After the tour, we ate the sandwiches I had made for lunch, at a lookout spot along the highway. Pretty, but still inside the car, sheltered from the wind, the rain and the cold! Fortunately it wasn't a steady rain. The sun came out occasionally and once back at our apartment, we got on our bikes and rode over to Manoir Richelieu just to say we had been there. It was impressive, with lovely gardens, a stunning view of the river and lots of people "taking the air," now, that it was a little dryer.

There were, however, too many cars coming and going, which always makes me anxious, especially on a bike. Time to go "home," anyway, and have a nice dinner with some pasta, the cheeses, we had bought, and a slice or two of a gateau, I couldn't refuse from the bakery where we buy our baguettes. The weather might have been "crummy," but the food was always very good. Maybe a poor climate forces you to look at other ways of enjoying yourself. Not sure, I've never thought of Greenland as a gourmand's paradise. Maybe they have ways of enjoying themselves other than eating. Then again some people really enjoy being miserable.

Have an enjoyable day!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Thursday was to be a whale watching day, but it decided to rain the entire day :( We headed East, this time, from La Malbaie and with the help of a ferry, crossed the Saguenay fjord at Tadoussac. This, was not a pleasure boat, however, it was an essential link on the only highway connecting the towns along the North side of the St. Lawrence. Apparently, it would cost a billion dollars to build a bridge and obviously, no one has been able to make that happen, as yet. Hence, the traffic just backs up and waits for a ferry or two, or three, as the case maybe.

The line-ups, especially in high season, must be considerable, because there were a few official signs requesting people not to pee in the area. Yes, that's right, bladder build-up happens and what are you supposed to do? We are now faced with the question, if you are not going to build a bridge, will you at least build a toilet or two :)

I must apologize for the poor quality of the picture, but it was raining and I really didn't feel like making a scene by rushing out to take a picture. The image is a person, read man, standing sideways with a spout of dots coming from somewhere in his middle, no doubt, a piddle - sorry I couldn't resist the rhyme :)

For those of you who collect unusual road signs, this is a classic. Anyway, someone should have held the sign up to the sky to tell it to stop piddling on us.

Since the back up of vehicles on the other side of the river was even worse, we decided to return to La Malbaie via a bridge at the top of the fjord in Chicoutimi, albeit a two hour drive away. We were rewarded, though, with an awesome trip along the East shore of the Saguenay - again winding country roads, sometimes with a small river on either side, lots of trees, old mountains, gorgeous scenery and....wait for it....rain. We knew there were hikes along the fjord, but decided not to venture out of the car. Did I mention that the rain also came with a icy wind?

The shock of finding a bustling city, Chicoutimi, at the end of all this wilderness was a nasty surprise. Many apologies to all who live there. I just wasn't expecting strip malls, traffic lights, hustle and bustle after such an idyllic ride. Still, we managed to find our way out of the sprawl and onto another pleasant road back to La Malbaie. In fact, when we finally arrived "home," we had been driving for nine hours and it was still raining!!

Never mind, we were having dinner, that night, in the lovely restaurant attached to the resort. It was a treat and much deserved after a very soggy, grey day.

Have a sunny day!

Monday, June 20, 2016

I Fall for Falls....

Fishing around for something to do in the rain - all puns intended, we decided to drive up to a provincial park just north of La Malbaie. Well, maybe, "just" isn't the operative word. One doesn't "just" drive up winding roads laced with rivers, spectacular water falls, "in your face" rock faces and casually say "just"!!

This was heaven on earth and apart from a grey sky and some drizzly rain, we were in awe. The trees, the mountains, the rivers, the vastness and the "fall on your knees" magnificence of it all came close to a religious experience!!

Unfortunately, it was quite late in the day, when we arrived at the information centre in the park. We had time, though, to take a quick drive to a massive waterfalls and maybe do a short hike, but what looked like an easy loop had a sign at the start, which read "registration mandatory for this trail."

Today was not the day to get lost in the wilderness. Why? because we had just bought a nice lasagna for dinner and I was getting hungry. Alas, somehow my stomach always manages to rule my feet?

The drive back was easier, because the sun had peaked out for an hour or two. Sunshine is amazing!! So is lasagna after a long day. Pasta and sunshine, my two favourite anti-depressants!!

Have an awesome day!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Loop du Loup...

On Tuesday we left Notre Dame du Portage to take the ferry from Riviere du Loup to St. Simeon on the north shore of the St. Lawrence. The fancy ferry brochure said that you could often see whales while crossing the river. I kept my eyes glued to the grey horizon for the hour crossing, hoping to see a small black fin or a fine grey geyser - no, nothing but rain, rain and more rain, sigh.

Things did brighten a little on the north shore, however, as we travelled west from St. Simeon through some lovely villages to our destination, La Malbaie. It was once called Murray Bay, but with the Frenchification of Quebec a while ago, few towns were able to keep their English names. Mercifully most people spoke English and we were able to negotiate the necessities, as needed.

We were staying at an apartment in a small resort not far from Manoir Richelieu, the last, I believe, of the famous railway hotels which were built to resemble French chateaux. Our unit had a gorgeous view of the St. Lawrence, the mountains, the sky, the clouds, and wait...where's the rain? Actually the sun was shining for a few hours at the end of the day and apart from a brief shower that left us with a rainbow, we had a gorgeous evening.

We bought some prepared food from Metro, the supermarket in town and ate tortiere with salsa and a salad of cherry tomatoes, dressed with - I hate to say it, Kraft oil and vinegar dressing - it does come in handy, though, when you're travelling. In fact, for the four nights that we were staying at Auberge des Falaises, we ate in three of them, with prepared foods we had bought in Baie St Paul, St. Fidele, St Ireneé and a few other holy spots around the Charlevoix area. After all, Charlevoix is all about food and light - not to be confused with light food, which it wasn't.

The weather - you had to ask, didn't you. Well, the next day, the rain had turned to fog, which cancelled the view from our unit. Why we pay a premium for a spectacular view, when nature, at a whim, can wipe it out with a mist so thick we didn't think we could drive, let alone bike. We were, however, able to creep along the coast to Baie St Paul for a coffee in a pretty cafe, while the fog cleared and the rain started again :)

Have a great day!!

Deus ex nebula....

Moving right along, or maybe that's biking right along, we tried another trail out of Riviere du Loup. Cycling around Notre Dame du Portage in the morning was lovely, but we were trying to find a few other bike-able paths in the area. In the afternoon, we set out for a linear park, created from an old railroad line, running south from the centre of the town.

The beginning of the trail, however, headed right up the side of a small mountain - this was not bike-able for us. We decided to travel a bit further along the highway and join the trail at a point where the elevation map said it levelled out. They lied. It was still up hill, in the rain and infested with mosquitoes - sigh! We gave up after a few kilometres and biked back to the car.

What to do now. We knew there was a very nice restaurant in town, near the river. We could always mask our disappointment with FOOD! This is how I never seem to lose weight, even though I exercise a lot from time to time :) Lunch was lovely - more of a dinner than a light meal, and of course there were still another 4 or 5 courses waiting for us back at the auberge that evening, for a real dinner, alas!!

Finally, about 4:00pm, the sun peaked out, which gave us some time to sit for awhile on our balcony. This is when I became fascinated with the clouds. Billowing overhead, they reminded me of the skies in renaissance paintings. You know, a painting, where the sky has more layers on, than the people in it. The dejection (or is that ejection?) of Adam and Eve comes to mind. I'm not sure exactly what sin I was being punished for on this trip, but it must have been a good one, because no sooner had the sun come out, when it disappeared again and the rain started. I think I won't skip dessert tonight!

Have a sunny day.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Clouds, clouds and more clouds.....

This short vacation trip - one week - along the St Lawrence river, may turn out to be a study in "clouds." Yes, it was warm and sunny, when we left Toronto and nine hours later, it was still warm and sunny in Quebec city. It was great to sit outside for dinner in a wonderful French restaurant in the classic "old town." The next day, however, the wind changed. A cold front decided to blow in some icy rain on one of our "biking days."

What to do? Well, we had decided that this was to be an exploratory trip to find a few biking trails that we had seen from the highway on our trips through Quebec to the east coast. Once out of the urban sprawl of Quebec city, we got off Highway 20 and onto the scenic route. I have to believe that Quebecers are given a tax break to keep their homes and villages not just tidy, but beautiful. St Villiers was exquisite, as was Berthier Sur Mer and a few other places along the way, all show casing pristine homes both big and small with classic gables, porches, white railings and masses of flowers everywhere. We located the bike path, we had seen from the highway and decided, we would come back another time, when it was warmer, with less wind and more blue sky :)

Wind surfing in the rain!

Keeping to the scenic route and battling the wind and rain, we passed through several other pretty enclaves, all looking out to the mighty St. Lawrence, which brooded miserably on our left. At one point, after pushing our way through a curtain of fog, we arrive at St. Andre´ and found another bike trail on a tiny strip of dune edging the river. This, no doubt, would be a heathy ride for another day. Fitness is to preserve life, not to end it, in an icy gale, if you know what I mean!!

Finally, we reached our destination for the day - Notre Dame du Portage - a very small village with a 7.5km road that was off the main road and probably one of the most beautiful places on earth!! We were staying at the Auberge du Notre Dame du Portage for two nights and could bike a circular route through the town, which gave us 15kms of the best of Better Homes and Gardens only in French. What's not to love, especially now that the sun was shining!!

More next post!!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Serendipitous Seville

My type "B" personality has always enjoyed the phrase, "Indeed the world is unfolding as it should" - The Desiderata. On holidays, for example, I like the slow pace of discovering little gems here and there, rather than making a list of all the "things" that must been seen or done and then heading out to do them!! Why not let them come to you, or why not just head out and see what happens!! Here is what happened to us!

1. Since we went to the market every other day in Seville, we walked over the Guadalquivir river every other day. There was always activity on the river - impromptu kayak racing, sculling, big tour boats, smaller fishing boats - wonderful serendipitous finds!!

2. There were also the street entertainers. Although they were everywhere and never really seemed to change their music, or their activity, they could be "caught off guard" once in a while. Somehow, I never imagined, "Jesus" taking a smoke break during his trials.

3. Beyond the flimsy flamenco dresses of the tourists shops, there were the couturiers. Shops here and there that offered the most amazing gowns with the traditional flourish of frills and flounces. If I were a foot taller, I would have bought one.

4. We also made several emergency runs to the two international book stores, we found in Seville. On the evenings we stayed in, we read. Yes, we did have a TV, but opening a book, looked a lot easier than trying to figure out the controls on the television, which offered mainly Spanish programs, anyway. Even, though I had brought three books with me, I ran out of reading material half way through the holiday. Somehow, I had never thought of reading "The Dubliners" in Spain. Then again I remembered reading "How Green Was My Valley" in Greece!!

5. Finally, there was The Cask of Amontillado. We went regularly to a stall in the market that had the most amazing olives, Spanish olives, of course, in so many different brines and marinades, with so many different combinations of artichokes, anchovies, tomatoes, pimentos etc., that I could have spent a whole day there, just deciding what to buy.

In fact, I spent so much time looking down at the olive display, that I almost missed the casks of Sherry on the wall at the back of the stall. There had to have been seven or eight barrels, each with a different type of "Sherry from the wood." I decided to try an Amontillado, because one of my favourite short stories is "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allen Poe and we had made a point of going to Jerez, the sherry capital of the world, the week before - an amazing distillation of literature, locale and libation. I'll leave you to read the story!!

Have a serendipitous day!!