Halifax – Nova Scotia…..I love this place
Day 1….The city of Halifax, in my humble opinion, is one of the best visits for those cruising the east coast of Canada and the USA . There is a fantastic boardwalk with great views across the harbour towards Dartmouth and the island of St George looking toward the mouth of the estuary. Unlike most places the cruise terminal (?) doesn’t share space with the container port, so everything appears bright and clean and exceptionally well looked after.
There are plenty of interesting sculptures along this easy route which takes you past some of the most desirable places to eat, without the need for walking up into the city, where of course there are also numerous places serving excellent local food (and drink)
The town itself a very interesting mix of old and new, the highlight of course being the citadel at the top of the hill. But don’t ignore the mass of wonderful parks which are crammed with beautiful flower displays and no vagrants can be sleeping rough on the benches (none that we noticed anyway) to spoil the atmosphere (literally)
We walk up the steep hill to the entrance of the fort and arrive just minutes before midday and the firing of the signal gun. Because we’re right under the wall from where the cannon is fired, we’re asked to step to one side (for health and safety reasons of course) and given a countdown with clear instructions to cover our ears. As usual there are a group of belligerents, either claiming they were in the military for years so are used to such loud reports or those just refusing to take advice. Many are clutching their tablets with both hands, arms fully extended and ready to capture the moment as a few million pixels, never again to be viewed!!
Now I like my hearing, I find it’s quite important for the continued enjoyment of my life, so I take the proffered advice. But I’m not watching the firing of the gun, that’s going to just be a big puff of smoke, preferring instead to watch the individuals who don’t realise exactly what is about to happen.
Ten seconds, nine, eight, seven….the gathered are smiling and happy…..four, three……they tense with fingers poised to take this most memorable of photos……….one………BANG!!!!
One of the ex-navy guys swears so loudly I can hear him even though my ears are still covered and he’s twenty yards away. Most of the people in my field of vision act on their natural instinct and duck, hands instantly flying to cover their assaulted ears but it’s far too late. Tablets and photographs are momentarily forgotten and in some cases they’re almost thrown to the ground in violent retribution as if they had somehow committed the user to the task and were now solely responsible for the outcome.
I didn’t actually see anyone collapse with blood oozing from their ears but some of the once belligerent bystanders were definitely having second thoughts about their own stubbornness. One lady announced (well rather shouted as she couldn’t actually hear anything) “I hope that was worth it.” She busily slapped herself on the side of the head……………as if that was going to help or make the slightest difference.
Anyway…….we moved on, not into the citadel this time, but around the outside and down the hill toward the far side of the city. We had it in mind to head for the Titanic cemetery, but having stopped and quizzed a local we realised it was a bit too far to walk (something else to organise for next time)
We spent the rest of the morning wandering around a couple of interesting (not Titanic) graveyards and several parks, then finally the time arrived to head back to the port area for lunch. I’ll say no more than it was very nice (I think) and very boozy (I think) and we ate and drank far too much (that I know for definite)
More wandering around in the afternoon (more like staggering to be honest) and despite being completely stuffed to bursting I just had to have an ice-cream from the infamous ‘Cows Dairy’ very yummy.
As we have an overnight stop here we had our evening meal sat out on the boardwalk at one of the many restaurants, The Bicycle Thief, which was very busy but the food was really good (if a little on the expensive side)
(to be continued)
13th September 2014
Saguenay – Quebec….small town with a big heart
Saguenay is at the top of a high sided fjord off the St Lawrence river. It’s made up of three towns linked together and we’re berthed in La Baie which appears to be the one in the middle (I think)
Now you immediately get the impression that this town has attitude, and it hits you the moment you leave the ship. There is a lot of activity waiting to greet us with fire-breathing, dancing and singing, displays of local crafts, historical cars and a tepee resplendent with two occupants dressed to impress as Native Americans (which of course they are!!)
The dancers are part of the ‘Fabuleuse Cultural Show’ that is put on for the tourist which is filled with horses and magnificent costumes. It depicts the history of Saguenay and demonstrates the growth of their unique culture.
And all this is free!! No requests for tips or demands for some kind of offering from the assembled that are enjoying the entertainment, or for taking photographs. For me this is the definition of good community spirit, the people of the town all working toward one single goal, keeping the tourist smiling and making them feel good about the day ahead. That in turn promotes the town and its traders and I’m sure as a result more money was spent in the shops and market stalls by the happy cruisers (well most of them were happy, some wouldn’t crack a grin on laughing gas!!!!)
We indulged in our usual activity of walking all around the top of the fjord which was very pleasant as once again the weather gods were smiling on us. The church was very reminiscent of a theatre with its huge stage and bright white and blue painted walls. It was a very relaxing and peaceful place to be (even better was it was free to enter) and we were made to feel very welcome by the warden.
In the square outside the church was a craft market and for those members of our family who are reading this you’ll be pleased to know you have at least one Christmas present all the way from Canada.
A late lunch and beer (always following our dreams) was taken in a large bar on the quay side and it was very nice (again)
So Saguenay has made an impression on us, and a very good one at that. Once again we didn’t venture too far out of the town itself, but there is plenty to do in and around (and on) the fjord. Our only real disappointment was that it was dark both when we entered and departed the entrance to the fjord, which is reputed to be one of the very best places to see whales………oh well, maybe next time.
Quebec – Quebec (so good they named it twice)
Well the good fortune has finally run out and taken the good weather with it, and this morning there is quite a persistent downpour of the cold wet stuff. As there’s so much to do and see in this wonderful city there is a growing sense of disappointment, however……are we going to let that spoil our day?
Answers on a postcard please…….
We set off anyway, waterproofs and shorts being the dress code of the day. Within minutes we’re soaked right through, but in true ‘We’re British’ fashion we keep going, on up the steep hill to the Chateau Frontenac and a wander around the citadel walls and into the arboretum. It was an enjoyable walk but as we’re so wet we didn’t feel it was very fair on the local traders to wander in and out of their shops and galleries, as we would normally do, dripping all over their priceless wares, not a very good idea really. So on we trudge, well squelch really as by now even our waterproof shoes aren’t waterproof anymore. Finally we reach a point where we can no longer ignore the growing numbness in our frozen limbs and reluctantly we head back to the ship demonstrating the gated walk we normally display after several hours of horse riding.
After an hour or so of drinking coffee and doing the English thing by talking about the weather, the skies clear and the sun almost comes out. Now resplendent in our fresh and dry change of clothes we head back into the city and this time we troll in and out of everywhere looking at all the soggy stuff on display (obviously our fellow cruisers didn’t feel the same as ourselves about dripping around the shops) what great fun. With the threat of more rain we decided to change our plans to stay in the city to eat and headed back to the ship once more as the evening approached.
The second day dawned bright and cheerful and today there’s a cycle race in the city, the ‘Grand Prix of Quebec’ is an 11 lap race around an 18 kilometre course and will dominate the activities all around the city today.
Now we’ve never really been ones to attend live sporting events (unless you include the countless duties at the football and cricket for St John Ambulance) but I have to say we really enjoyed the atmosphere and the excitement this race generated among the spectators. I personally was amazed at just how quickly these guys race and as they passed by us each time they were followed by an entourage of vehicles laden with spare bikes, wheels etc. But following right at the back were three large ambulances ready to pick up the pieces if anything untoward happened, trouble was they struggled to keep pace and at each corner the squeal from the tyres was deafening. At one point we were sure one of them was about to leave the course in a very dramatic fashion, and we could clearly see the terror in the face of the paramedic sitting in the passenger seat. He looked quite pale and maybe needed to go suck on the oxygen for a while to recover, that’s if was able to prise his fingers from their death defying grip on the dashboard.
Anyway, after a hard few hours of walking around the walls and watching the race from the high vantage points we made our way back onto the main street and enjoyed a very nice boozy lunch at a place called ‘Bello’ a very stylish Bistro/wine bar that served really tasty pizza and risotto.
Then a quick hunt around the souvenir shops for some pen’s for our friend Polly and back to the ship for a lively sail away party on deck.
Quebec is definitely one of our favourites, a truly cosmopolitan city with many interesting things to see and do. A little disappointed that we were here earlier than last time and all the Halloween festivities and displays hadn’t really begun yet, but hey ho there’s always be a next time……..hopefully.
Thanks Quebec, great visit, great city 🙂
10th September 2014
Baie-Comeau – Quebec
Once again it’s a beautiful day (aren’t we doing well?) and the first thing we notice as we step ashore is the most amazing smell of wood. The air is thickly filled with this rich and pleasant aroma which oozes from the vicinity of the paper mill, the main source of income for the town. It instantly feels like we’re walking through a pine forest on a sunny day, except of course the dockside is concrete and we’re surrounded by containers.
There are shuttle buses laid on to ferry the masses into town, about two kilometres away, but as it’s such a lovely day we decide to walk. Leaving the port area the path around the estuary is flat and very easy, and eventually it opens up into a huge expanse of parkland. The map which was handed out at the port leads us through the park, past a very pretty turreted ‘Manoir’, down through a small housing estate and onto the town beach. Now unfortunately the tide is out and the lovely smell of wood has somewhat been replaced by something a little more ‘fishy’. There are mounds of empty mussels shells, dare I say millions of them, all forming great swathes of bluey black patterns across the sand. Surely this is a visual testament to the fresh, clean, nutritious waters of the St Lawrence Seaway.
We enjoyed a long walk on this almost deserted beach, flanked on the land side by huge multi-coloured slabs of rock, topped by unbroken lines of trees full of crows, rooks and other birds busily feasting on the remains of the mussels.
Time to get back to the town and explore the local area a bit more, so we continue to follow the trail map and find ourselves at the main church. After visiting a grotto dedicated to Mary at the top of the hill, we walked up the steps into the main building. Hmmm my pet hate……they’re charging us $5 each to enter a church!! Ok I accept it costs money to keep these places in a good state of repair etc, and I will always put a donation in the box after a visit, but it annoys me that the money is demanded from me rather than allowing me to give voluntarily. It rankles me I admit, but hey ho that’s just my opinion, moan over.
Anyway it’s an interesting place, very brightly decorated with murals and fabrics, lots of gold and marble etc. But to be honest there wasn’t much of an atmosphere and it all felt a little contrived and sterile for a place of worship (no I’m not just saying that because I was hassled for money at the entrance) Then we overhear one of the guides telling a visitor that it’s no longer used as a regular place of worship. They only hold one service a year in order to keep it as a sanctified building, but the rest of the time it’s a museum and the locals worship in another church just around the corner……ok!
Enough of all this nonsense, time to find a drink and discover the true heart of the community. This time it takes the form of a couple of pints in an almost deserted town centre, probably the smallest and shortest ‘high street’ we’ve ever encountered, but the beer is good, very good in fact and it’s a shame that more of our fellow cruisers hadn’t discovered the delights of sitting outside with an ice cold local bevy. Their loss…….
Anyway, Baie-Comeau in summary. Once again the people are friendly and welcoming, the area is very pretty and it was worth the visit just for the glorious smell of wood. Apparently there is more to do further afield beyond the town which is good, and although first impressions are that this is a very sleepy place there is plenty to do and see.
Back on the ship there is many a moan about the lack of anything interesting to do here, but unless there are naked bears and dancing women (or is it the other way round?) some folk will never be happy. This type of place is unlikely to ever be glitzy or glamorous, there’s no zip-lining through the trees or barrel riding over a waterfall, not even a catamaran trip with snorkelling and endless rum punch. But then if everywhere was the same there wouldn’t be any point in going anywhere different…………would there?
9th September 2014
Gaspe – Quebec
Once landed we walked across the bridge and helped by a fair number of men in hard hats waving flags to stop oncoming traffic we meander down onto the boardwalk which led us up to the Gaspesienne Museum. This holds the history of the development of the region where some interesting standing stones depicting the attitude of the settlers toward the indigenous people (or visa versa) and some nice gardens with statues. The nearby Forillon park wasn’t quite nearby enough to walk to but apart from the town the entire area was covered with greenery and very pretty.
Back into the town and a visit to a modern church with some unusual architecture and colourful modern stained glass windows. Then a walk to the far side of town bought us to a more tradition church building clad all in white overlapped boards, and the time had come to indulge in our habitual investigation of the local fare. Several beers later we headed back on board the ship wondering how we’d had such a hot and sunny day this far north at this time of year, not what we’d expected but obviously very welcome.
As for Gaspe, well it was certainly a very nice place to visit, friendly and welcoming, excellent food and local beer…….but maybe next time we’d need to book a trip into the national park or take the train to Perse for something else to do. We were told the views from the train were magnificent, but it appears the train only runs on certain days and then mainly for the benefit of cruise ship tours. We were very lucky with the weather but if it had rained there was little here to keep you occupied for a whole day, unless like us you’re content to sit watching the world go by with a beer in hand.