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by Knowles Parker
Another day, another 10-K hike. Twelve AVA-sanctioned hikes over a thirteen-day span in the maritime provinces of Canada. And every one of these walks was well-chosen, although we had to criss-cross the map to reach all these places. If a hiker liked rivers and trees, there were hikes in the wilds of Parks – Canada. If her preference was colonial history, she could read the wall plaques on the buildings of Quebec City, Charlottetown, and St. John’s. And for a really exceptional experience, some volkssport stalwarts went to just about the highest elevation on the island of St. Pierre to look down over the picturesque harbor town in the late-afternoon sun.
A lot of locals thought we were a hockey team. We rode around in a big red bus with the image of a player and his team name, Titans, emblazoned on the side. That’s because our driver, Alcide Noël, takes the young Titans on all their road trips. Now, we were a formidable group of 23 walkers, but we didn’t fool any hockey fan when we disembarked. You see, the Titans of Acadie-Bathurst are a major junior team, and we looked too mature to be this season’s edition, although in other respects we appeared ready for the game. I think if we all had sticks we would have been even more convincing.
Come to think about it, our daily routine was similar to that of a sports team on the road. The day’s hike, which of course was our raison d’etre, could be morning, afternoon, or evening, in places at considerable distances apart, so Aquila Tours and Matt Pernick, Chief Bad Penny, had to get us transported to these destinations. Of course, our care and feeding along the way was carefully planned. Regrettably, one hour allowed for sandwiches at the ubiquitous Tim Horton’s wasn’t further subdivided into time for food consumption and time for 18 women to wait in line to use the toilette (the Acadians call it what it is). Tim Horton was a notable NHL player in the 1950’s, and he founded this chain that bears his name. It seems fitting that Al steered his red bus into their parking lots.
The hikes, in all their variety, met all my expectations. 122,000 meters on foot in five provinces provided a wonderful perspective on the land, the ecology, and the culture.
Everywhere there were flowers, growing wild in the country and beautifully planted throughout the cities. The temperature and humidity would be considered heaven-sent by any Virginian coping with sweltering August heat. We were enjoying some of the best summer weather their Atlantic coast has known recently. On Cape Breton we had to complete our only walk in a thoroughly drenching rain. Since most of us had brought along some kind of rain gear, this just gave us a chance to be thankful that we packed it.
At Busch Gardens you can buy a t-shirt that proclaims, "I came for the beer," but I don’t believe any of us would have been content with only a souvenir tee that boasted, "I came for the hikes." (I think the record high for t-shirts bought on this trip is seven, but I’m not divulging who holds it.) Yes, the hikes were great, but Steve at Aquila Tours and Matt of the Bad Pennies included a number of interesting side trips. We walked over what is reputably the world’s longest covered bridge (1282 meters).
The relatively new bridge we drove over to reach Prince Edward Island could have been a 10-k walk itself, since the span exceeded that distance. On PEI we visited the storybook home of Ann of Green Gables. In Halifax we had a chance to take a guided tour of Pier 21, Canada’s equivalent to Ellis Island in New York. We had supper in one of the original buildings in Fort Louisbourg, where the French failed to defend the coast against British invasion. In an even older coastal settlement, Avalon, dating back to the 1600s, we observed where archeologists had uncovered the foundations of probably the first European houses in Canada. Maybe our best evening was at Hotel Robert in St. Pierre, where generous wine-pouring, a keyboard player, and a convivial couple of hostesses got many of us out on the dance floor.
Finally, for a group of earthbound hikers, we spent a lot of time on the water, cruising aboard four ferries and a puffin-watching catamaran. (Whale-watching was expected, but no fins broke the surface, one minor disappointment on this trip). If anyone reading this ever finds herself waiting, hour after hour, for the Northumberland ferry, be sure to go into the Sidney terminal. You know there will be a cafeteria there, but what you wouldn’t expect is a ceilidh, which is a gathering of fiddlers and dancers who put on a performance of Scottish folk music. That is a fine way to pass the time while waiting to crash in your paid-for cabin aboard a nocturnal ferry which is long overdue.
This was the first time that Phyllis and I went on AVA-sponsored motor trip. We have 119 great photos and many happy memories of the good people who accompanied us. We appreciate all those who made it possible.
Thursday July 29
Left home at 5:30 am on way to airport and Canadian Adventure. Found Trygstads in Security line and they were on the way to a similar trip to Eastern Canada with Walking Adventures. Left PDX at 8:05 am to Dulles airport in Washington DC and connection with United Express to Montreal. Good flights, all on time and not crowded. Arrived at Dorval Airport in 30 minutes and took airport shuttle to wrong Hilton, but they called and had me shuttled to Garden Hilton, 15 minutes away. As usual Hilton Hotels are nice but pricey i.e. Chicken Caesar salad cost $20.
Friday July 30
Hilton provided a free shuttle to the Metro Station. Unfortunately the Metro Station was at the end of the green line and the Olympic Stadium and Botanical Gardens at the far end of the orange line, about an hour away. It was a beautiful day and the gardens were beautiful. I was especially impressed with the water lily ponds on the way to the Japanese Gardens. These were beautiful, and well worth the trip. In the main exhibit hall they had a cut-away view of a Japanese Tea House and good explanations. Also had exhibit of Japanese pottery, and indoor viewing area of the Zen Garden as well another exhibits. Outside was a Bonsai viewing area with over 50 specimens. The Strolling Pond garden was more like a lake with an island and a large low waterfall. Lots of Koi and water plants. On to the Insectarium, supposedly the worlds largest insect museum. Lots of mounted insects, butterflies and beetles but also live insects stressing camouflage, the walking sticks are amazing all of a sudden what looked like a tree limb world move away. Also the large rhinoceros and longhorn beetles were interesting. From here I went on to the Chinese Gardens with more bonsai and then onto the forestry museum with even more bonsai. After a ride on the free shuttle I ended at the Greenhouses with a cactus exhibit and once again more bonsai. After my walk back to the Metro I found an outstanding Sushi restaurant—my day for the oriental influence.
Saturday July 31
Woke up to heavy rain- Decided it wasn’t worth going out in and went back to bed. Al and our big red bus came by the hotel at noon to pick me up and our tour is officially under way. Met the other early tour arrivals on the bus and we sat in the parking lot for over 45 minutes in really heavy downpour waiting for Matt to call. Finally Al decided to drive around the circle and there was Matt and others peering out at the street, trying to figure out what had happened to us. Our first communications glitch. Our drive to Quebec was broken by a rest Stop at Notre Dame Du Cap a huge Catholic Cathedral. The Basilica had beautiful stained glass windows and the massive pipe organ filled the room with beautiful music. I could become addicted visiting mighty pipe organs. Just after dark we arrived at the Delta Hotel Quebec. Very elegant and perched on the top of the hill. My room-mate, Ed Markley, and the Parkers, finally arrived at 1 am after Delta Airlines had cancelled their flight for no apparent reason and provided them with no assistance (to the point of rudeness) in getting to Montreal. Luckily they recognized they were on the same tour and rented a car for the drive from Montreal to Quebec. Ed said it had been a 20 hour day and that he would never book Delta again.
Sunday August 1
Up at 7 for our first buffet breakfast and on to meet our hosts for a guided walk of Quebec. Since we had a leader the pace was slow and the City was having a re-enactment of the French/British/US wars. About 4,000 participants were in full war regalia including guns and families were practicing close order drill in a large Provincial Park on the "Plains of Abraham" From the park we walked down 310 steps to the waterfront. Walked through the old town and back up to our hotel. Ed and I decided to walk back to town and have lunch and view the street performers, mimes, jugglers and dancers. That night after dinner we went out for a special treat, an International fireworks competition featuring Spain’s entry WOW!!! It was spectacular, imagine the most impressive grand finale you have seen at a fireworks show, at least double it, make it last for over 30 minutes, and add stirring classical music and you can get some idea of what is was like. Another plus was the huge waterfalls in the background. We stood and shivered for about 2 hours but it was well worth the $22 admission fee. If I am ever near another competition I would definitely go out of my way to do it again.
Monday August 2
Breakfast at 6:30 and we loaded the bus at 7:30 for long bus ride from Quebec City to Hartland for a walk over the worlds longest, 1282 feet, covered bridge. Covered bridges used to be called "kissing bridges" and local boys used to train their horses to stop in the darkest center for sparking with their dates. Weather was hot and it was sort of a double out and back walk with a bridge crossing at the end. Not especially inspiring and I learned why my roommate was called "fast Eddy" I kept up with him for the first half but then decided it wasn’t worth the effort. After a dinner at a local hotel, we drove on to Fredericton, arriving there at 9:30—I’m glad we all have 2 seats per person.
Tuesday August 3
After breakfast we were met by "Tinsel" the clown, our local Volksport guide, who led us along and across the river on three bridges. Saw the changing of the guard. Nice walk but nothing special. After the walk we drove on to Charlottetown with a lunch stop at Magnetic Hill near Moncton. There was an optical illusion of the bus rolling uphill with the engine off. This was a teen water park and there were huge lines for the waterslides and water tubing trips. On to Prince Edward Island. We crossed the worlds longest , 11.8 miles, over water bridge. Bus fare was $330. Went to Anne of Green Gables house. It looked just like it should. Public TV either did a good job of re-creation or they filmed it on location. Had our lobster dinner at the "Fish Barn" a large touristy restraint. It was OK but a huge selection of all you could eat deserts—umm good! My temporary filling fell out but I still managed to try more than my share. We stamped our books on the way to the Hotel at Charlottetown.
Wednesday August 4
Started the walk in Charlottetown the "birthplace of the Confederation" I didn’t see much since I broke off at about 1K to find a dentist, and get my temporary glued back in. Dentist did a good job and used permanent cement, which was hated by my local dentist.. After ferry ride off PEI we drove on to Halifax and the Lord Nelson Hotel. We were met by our local guides and after stamping our books we went for a walk past lovely old homes to a large waterfront park. Hurricane Juan in 2003 really blew down a lot of trees. Now the ecologists are deciding how to make the park more "user friendly" rather than just big, very dense woods, with roads. After the walk 6 of us went to dinner at Duffy’s Tavern. The cold brown ale really hit the spot.
Thursday August 5
Wow! No wake up call this morning and we slept in till at least 7 am. After breakfast we got on the bus and rode to Mahone Bay. This was truly a picturesque village with 4 churches, 3 with steeples and one with a crenellated tower . I can see why this is probably the most photographed place in Nova Scotia, complete with towers and seascapes , islands and anchored fishing boats. A real Kodak opportunity. On to Lunenburg, with its walk along the waterfront and a view of the Bluenose statue, the fastest fishing boat afloat in the 1930’s. It was so impressive that it now is memorialized on the Canadian dime. The walk went up the hill to the old fortification guarding the City. We saw a tall ship leaving the port, and got to watch a sailor climb up into the rigging. After a shopping lunch break, went on to Peggy’s Cove, Lighthouse and huge rock slabs complete with lobster boats and their associated lobster pots, made this a wonderful photo opportunity. Probably the 33K drive along the ocean with its bays and coves was the most scenic drive I have ever seen.
Friday August 6
We left Halifax and drove to New Glasgow where we walked along the river on the Samson-Albion trail past old coal mining sites. We were given a real Scottish Welcome with a Scottish Bagpipe player, in yellow and black tartan kilts, using the shuttle pipes These are softer than a bagpipe and only have one chanter, but still sound basically the same. Our walk was along the river and was quite picturesque. After some confusion we had lunch at a local restaurant and then drove on to Pictou, where the first Scottish settlers landed in Canada via the ship Hector, and we saw a re-creation of the original vessel. From here we drove on to Baddeck overlooking the large salt water lake Bras d’Or (golden arms) and the summer home of Alexander Graham Bell. Dinner was at a hotel with a beautiful view and the best hotel food so far, a buffet with great service. This was the place for me to learn how to do my own laundry, boy have I led sheltered life!
Saturday August 7
Woke up to a cloudy view of the lake. Eddy said his vision was real blurry, and when I tried on my glasses, mine was too. It was then I realized that he was wearing my glasses. After the switch , all was normal again. I decided it looked like it was going to clear up, so I didn’t take a raincoat—WRONG! It started about 2K into the walk and rained continuously till the end of the walk. Since this was at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, I decided I had to see it. Luckily, the men’s restroom had one of those air blowing hand dryers, and after about twenty rotations, I wasn’t so cold. Bell not only invented the telephone (it took him over 15 years of litigation to prove his claim), but he was a pioneer in speech therapy, with Helen Keller as his prime patient, he also invented the hydrofoil, a submarine, hydrofoil, and the first air flight in Canada. After lunch and dry clothes from the bus we drove on to Louisburg, a re-creation of a 1750 French fishing village. The village was manned by costumed actors. It was quite well done, but the meal we were served, either wasn’t very good or I am glad I didn’t have to survive on that. We hurried up to get to the ferry, where we sat and waited for nearly 4 hours for our final departure. Finally got to our cabin about 1:30 am and a short night’s sleep. We finally got into port at North Sydney at 7:30, about 2 1/2 hours late and had breakfast near the Ferry Terminal.
Sunday August 8
After a late start we drove to Deer Lake and met our guide for the day. He didn’t have a spare stamp pad so we stamped our books for the rest of the trip. After a short ride we went to Gros Morne National Park. We had an orientation in the visitor’s center complete with hands on tide pool exhibits. Gros Morne is an arctic park with stunted trees and tundra bogs. Timber types were larch, alpine fir, and black spruce over the boggy pathways. This was a level walk, on gravel pathways with wooden bridges over the marshy tundra. We walked to the head of a huge fiord, but didn’t have time to take the boat ride. We walked back the long way and were rewarded with a view of a grazing moose. This was probably our most interesting walk so far, I wish we would have had more time. Turkey dinner at our hotel in Deer Lake.
Monday August 9
After a long bus ride, we arrived at Clarenville via an interesting walk at Terra Nova Park. This was another sub arctic woods walk complete with lots of hills. These were made somewhat more palatable with lots of wooden stairs, both up and down to our destination at Buckley Cove. The trail had many exposed roots and Gary Traub fell down and skinned himself up pretty good. Dinner at the Grand Falls Hotel, beautifully presented but fairly tasteless. After dinner we were escorted in for a "Neufie Screech In". Screech is Newfoundland rum that was originally produced from the remnants of alcohol left from bringing salt cod. Fast Eddy was selected to be our main honoree and the rest of us had to be touching someone who was touching him, The jokes and songs were OK but the hard-tack was blah, I’m glad it isn’t required on my regular diet.
Tuesday August 10
After a 3 hour drive over heavily glaciated, rocky and practically treeless roads, we arrived at Fortune, our Ferry terminal to France. It was a beautiful calm day and our boat ride couldn’t have been smoother. We arrived at St. Pierre, France about 2:30. This is a small island town that has not joined Canada, probably because of potential offshore oil drilling rights that France doesn’t want to relinquish. A very disappointing looking hotel, but this was more than made up for by the people! We started with a lunch featuring pate, cheese and French bread and soup. My favorite lunch. After a one hour bus tour (almost a total waste of time, bus was hot and driver hard to understand) of the island we went on our walk along nearly the same route. Once again communications fell apart, and our route was unsure, other than up the hill. But this led to a statue of Christ and a magnificent panorama of the town, with its pastel painted houses and the harbor. Upon returning to the hotel we were served a grand and glorious meal, replete with unlimited wine and a sing-along keyboard player. Music and dancing lasted for about 3 hours and our 3 waitresses added to the spirit of the evening. Not only did we enjoy it , but we were told that we were one of the best groups they had had. Their gift shop did a land office business the next morning. All in all this was our most enjoyable evening!
Wednesday August 11
Another smooth boat trip back to our bus after a hurry-up-and-wait departure. A long bus ride to St. Johns. As usual our hotel was located at the top of a steep hill and our walk started at the bottom. The city walk was interesting and we saw lots of Irish influence (flags and churches) along the way even if we did walk through some undesirable looking neighborhoods. Eddy and I stopped for dinner at a nice looking restaraunt . I had some really great bouillabaisse with home made bread and garlic butter. Eddy wasn’t that impressed as this wasn’t his typical meat and potatoes diet. Unfortunately we still had to go back up the hill to our hotel. But as a last walk, we had become pretty well conditioned for it.
Thursday August 12
Our final day, and no scheduled walks. We started at Lord Baltimore’s colony of Avalon, an active archaeological dig. The town, which was an active fishing colony in the early 1600s is a window of the past and is now about 15% uncovered. We were told that there is about a foot of sediment per 100 years, so everything was buried by at least 4 feet. Every pail of dirt has been dug by hand and then screened through a fine sieve. Pottery and relics were painstakingly refitted together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. I know I wouldn’t have the patience for that sort of work. The privy was built so that the ocean tide acted as flushing mechanism, either the first flush toilets or the first example of ocean pollution. We went from here to lunch and a boat trip to a puffin colony. Nice ride but we didn’t see any whales. I’m glad the weather was nice, but I would rather walk than go for a boat ride. Back at the hotel our farewell dinner was uneventful. Knowles was the MC and he did a good job. Mary Ann was picked to take home the extra bag of candy. Sometimes you can’t win for losing.
Friday August 13
Up at 3:30 am (11:00 pm my time) to get taxi to airport. The hotel sent me in the wrong cab and I had to used my last $15 to pay for the fare. We got to the airport about 2 hours before flight time, 19 of us going on CanJet to Montreal. Had about a 4 hour layover in Montreal before my flight home. Dawn and Jasmine were nice enough to stay and have breakfast with me, but it was still a long wait. After the usual connection delays in Washington and wait for the limo in Portland, I finally got home about 12:30 am or about 25 hours travel time. But it was a GREAT TRIP!! I am ready to go again.