Wednesday, 4 December 2013

How's The Toadmobile?

We get a lot of comments from people we meet about the ability, or supposed inability, of the Toadmobile to handle the Airstream. It's unsafe, it's illegal and it's all going to end in mechanical disaster at any moment.

My previous post was a sort of "what I did on my holidays" so this one is going to "how I coped with the stress of towing with a minivan on my holidays", or more properly "How the Toadmobile did towing".

(A note inserted after I'd written the post: there is a hideous mix of metric and imperial figures quoted, for which I apologise. In an attempt to make things easier for my American and British readers I've used mainly imperial units but, as I'm officially in a metric country, most of the units are shown in metric as well; I trust it doesn't serve to confuse. Just to muddle it further, though, I have used a lot of North American terminology but with English spellings throughout. Confused? You soon will be.)

At the start of the season I did two things to tweak the ride a little. 

Firstly I upped the tyre pressures on the Airstream to within a pound or two of the recommended figure. I'd been running about ten pounds down for the previous two seasons but read some dire warnings about what happens if you run significantly lower than max pressures so thought I'd do the suggested thing. It was also a chance to use my new compressor. 

Secondly, I made a chain shortening adjustment on the spring bars on the weight distribution system. Over time, the spring bars get a little more flexible than when new and slightly alter the weight distribution characteristics. This can make the back of the car sag a little when under load so, giving the whole hitch a slight extra lift can level the car again. Andy at Can-Am RV recommended that I add a half inch bolt or two to each chain, which have the effect of shortening the chain by one third of a link for each bolt. Throughout 2012, I ran with two bolts inserted but this year I removed both bolts and hooked up the chain on the stirrups one whole link shorter. The car was certainly looking pretty darned level by the time I'd hitched up so I have to say that I was pleased with the adjustment. There are disadvantages to shortening the chain, not least when cornering, so I may well get Can Am to "re-tune" the hitch next year by adding a little to the hitch ball angle, which will hopefully allow me to lengthen out the chain again.

Another of the immediate effects of the two alterations listed was a bumpier ride for the Airstream. When travelling, the shirts jumped off the hangers in the wardrobes very easily and some of the cupboard doors came open on our longer trips. Over the season, we also lost an internal skin rivet; just the one, but it's sign of the slighter rougher ride. 

On the I90 near Rochester NY - fully loaded!

Our first couple of trips of the year were short and gave me no time to evaluate the towing performance. The Toadmobile certainly showed no signs of stress but on trips of less than an hour nothing would be likely to show up as an issue.

Our first longer run was to Point Farms Provincial Park, a little over two hours to the north of us. The trip is relatively flat and the roads quite reasonable so again, it's no major test, but at least I had the opportunity to hook her up at 80 Km/hr (50 mph) and feel the ride. The trip both ways was uneventful, with everything working as it should, although the gas mileage was a lot worse than I've experienced on that run before (21 litres per 100 Km, 11.2 miles per US gallon). The reason was the weather, of course, with a stiff northerly headwind wind on the way up and an even worse south-westerly headwind on the way home; how nice of the wind to change over the weekend! The bouncy ride was evident as the shirts were on the floor of the wardrobe both there and back.

Our next trip to Orillia was longer, some 400 kms (249 miles) and was largely on the freeway. The average speed was higher than the local trips as I try to maintain 100 Km/hr (62 mph) on these bigger roads. We must have had the wind behind us because that run, even with a stop off in Mississauga, averaged 17.2 litres per hundred Km (13.8 miles per US gallon). Again, there were no ill effects on the Toadmobile and apart from those pesky shirts on the floor, even the bounce wasn't too evident in the trailer.

Since getting the Scanguage I've been able to accurately clock the engine temperature and this trip up north was in some very warm weather and whereas we usually run at around 87C when towing, we were up around 90C for a lot of the run up there. Heading home from Peterborough, Ontario was a bit of an eye-opener, though. Again it was very hot and for this leg of the journey we chose to head across country rather than make for the highway, at least until we hit Toronto. I had no idea how hilly it is south of the Kawartha Lakes! Certainly these hills were not monsters, were at a low elevation and fairly short in duration, but the engine temperature gauge told the story of the effort expended by the Toadmobile. Heading uphill and the temperature hit the high nineties whilst the horse power calculator hit the 120 mark, but coming down the hills the engine temperature dropped right off again and in a few seconds was back to the day's normal.  Gas consumption was quite steady, too, around the 12.8 mpg (US) point, with the downhill sections making up for the uphill work. I was reminded again, though, that coming down a steep grade with a three ton trailer behind you is harder work for the driver than going uphill; getting in that lower gear and taking it easy takes a bit of discipline, sometimes.

Coming back along the 401 highway west of Toronto, the horsepower was up, the engine temperature was up and the gas mileage was down. This, though, was more to do with the now familiar headwind and the wicked outside temperature; it was up in the high thirties (Celsius), so I suppose we were going to show some increase in the figures. Curiously, the temperature gauge on the dash didn't budge; my readings came from the Scanguage.

Anyway, back at base the Toadmobile showed no sign of any stress, which was just as well because the year's big trip was just around the corner.

The Toadmobile in MIddleboro. MA.

So, for our big trip we set off fully loaded towards Niagara and a border crossing into the United States at the Queenstown/Lewiston bridge. It was an uneventful trip until we hit the back of the line about three kilometers from the actual border. For the next three hours we crawled, yes crawled, to the border. The engine was running, of course, as was the air conditioning, and I feared for both the general engine temperature and the transmission temperature as we rolled slowly forward. The trusty Scangauge, though, told it as it was and everything seemed quite normal. That we were perilously low on gas was another matter!

Once across the border and into New York we hit the I90 as soon as we could and headed east, fortunately with a now full gas tank and no ill effects from the three hour crawl. We came off the I90 at a place called Mohawk and setting our course south, we immediately hit a long, long, climb on NY28. I don't know what the grade was but the climb went on for about five or six kilometers (a little under 4 miles) but the Toadmobile didn't really complain at all; she just kept on going. Coming out of the town at 35 mph, I cranked it up to 45 mph going up the hill and, because it was late on in the evening and the air was cooling off nicely, even the engine temperature didn't rise much above 90C. I felt certain that I could have increased the speed, too, but on a country road in the dusk, I was a little concerned about deer hopping out in front of me. The remainder of our run was good, even with another short but steep climb on the way. Our only problem was arriving at the campground in the dark, which seems to be the norm when we camp in NY State. Once more the Toadmobile seemed fine and had returned nearly 14 mpg, very good for that run but aided, I think, by a strong tail wind.

The next leg of the trip took us through the rolling hills of Upstate New York towards Albany, which was a wonderful trip. The weather was a little cooler and the car took the hills beautifully, which was most pleasing. Back on the I90, we crossed the Hudson and made our way up into the Appalachians, the summit of that particular highway being 1,724 feet above sea level at a place called Becket, MA. It's a long run from the Hudson up to Becket so the car didn't really feel the climb at all and we were able to maintain 55 to 60 mph most of the time, with little impact on either the engine temperature or the gas consumption. Later in the day we rolled uneventfully into Middleboro, MA and our campsite for the next week.
On the road through Franconia Notch

When we did hitch up again, we went due north, or rather described a wide westward arc around Greater Boston to avoid the dreadful traffic there. Once into New Hampshire and on I93 we started the climb back into the Appalachians, making for Franconia Notch. Again, the hills were long (getting up to over 1,950 feet above sea level) but not steep so the car just motored along without trouble. Once through Franconia State Park, the downhill run into Vermont was interesting as I had to work a little to keep the speed down.

We arrived at our campground in Quebec City on schedule and once more, with no tow vehicle problems at all.

Back on the road a few days later and we were motoring down the Autoroute towards Montreal. It's as flat as a billiard table but the headwind was dreadful and, judging by the Scanguage readings, the car was working very hard; horsepower up around the 100 mark (normally it's around 70) and the gas mileage was below 12 mpg. That said, we maintained 100 Km/hr (62 mph) and even sailed through Montreal with only minor hold ups. The wind did abate a little as we crossed back into Ontario and we pitched up at our Gananoque campground in fine fettle.

Resting in Gananoque

The final leg of the trip, down the 401 and 407 to Chatham, was windy and very hot again so the gas mileage was only a little over the 12 mpg mark and the engine temperature remained slightly up on normal most of the way home. Again, I didn't deviate too much from the 100 Km/hr limit and we arrived home safe and sound with the Toadmobile hot, but not bothered.

Back home again we were laid up for a month or so as we first entertained some family over from the UK, then had to stay put for a while longer as I had some minor surgery. Our trips in October were, like the ones at the start of the year, strictly local and proved nothing in terms of how the Toadmobile was working. The ride on the trailer was still in slightly "bouncy" mode but as the car was still level when hitched, I thought it was a reasonable price to pay for a well adjusted hitch. As an experiment I did travel on one trip with a full fresh water tank, which certainly stopped the bouncing, but at a cost of adding 450 lbs to the overall trailer weight I don't know that it was worth it.

So, overall we had another successful season. We hit some steeper gradients than we had seen before but nothing that troubled the Toadmobile; she performed well and gave us not a hint of concern. The weight distributing hitch was a little tighter after its adjustment, but stayed tight over our travels, at least to the point of pitching the shirts from the wardrobe rail almost every trip! The season's gas mileage was down a little on previous years but that was, I think, because we seemed to be in a perpetual headwind this year. 

Over the winter I will get the car serviced and have the shop check it over for signs of abnormal wear, then report back; if there's anything to report of course.

It looks like you can tow that with that after all.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

That Was The Season That Was

Heading East - At an Upstate New York Service Area in August, on our way to Massachusetts

With Towed Haul safely in hibernation, it's time to review the season's activities; our highs and our lows, and to publish some statistics. Hooray for statistics!

This year we travelled 4,917 Kms (2,950 Miles) with our beloved Airstream in tow. 

We spent a total of 31 nights in her spread across 7 trips and visited 9 different campgrounds, some of them more than once. 

We sort of lost September from the calendar as we had visitors and I had some minor surgery, and we were a little light on trips in the early part of the season because of the renovations. Still, a month on board isn't too bad. 

I haven't kept records of how much fuel we've burned as that would be just too scary, although I can tell you, though, that we averaged 18.77 litres per 100 Kms, which is 12.62 miles to the US gallon or 15.16 miles to the Imperial gallon. That stacks up quite well when compared to other tow vehicles as 12 mpg (US) seems to be the norm regardless of what vehicle is being used to tow.

We created a couple of records this year, too, as we camped at our most easterly extreme in Middleboro, Massachusetts and our most Northerly point in Quebec City. 

I suspect that our site at Lake Glimmerglass in New York state was our highest ever, but I've not been counting that, and we drove through Franconia Notch in New Hampshire attaining an elevation of 590 metres (1,950 feet), which is probably also a record for us.

The road through Franconia Notch in New Hampshire
We visited some interesting places on the long trip in August including Cooperstown in Upstate New York (home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame), Provincetown on Cape Cod (a vibrant and very gay-friendly town), Boston (Cheers!), Salem (of Witch Trials fame), Quebec City (Ooh la la) and Ottawa (The Nation's Capital).

Cooperstown, New York

Provincetown, Cape Cod


Salem, Massachusetts

Quebec City

Ottawa (actually Gatineau, but from Ottawa)

We also managed to get some great photographs whilst on our travels, not least of the Ospreys of the Kawartha Lakes in Ontario, and the Atlantic whales off the coast of Boston.

Ospreys in Orillia

Humpback Whale off Boston

This year's campgrounds included Rondeau, Wheatley, Point Farms, Mara and Emily Provincial Parks in Ontario.

Further afield, we went to Lake Glimmerglass State Park in the US and some commercial Kampground of America (KOA) sites in Middleboro (Massachusetts), Quebec City (Quebec) and Ivy Lea (Ontario). The commercial sites had the full service set up with sewer and water connections to supplement the usual electricity, but they were considerably more expensive than the single service sites. Still, the KOAs are family friendly and there was much to occupy the tadpoles.

KOA Middleboro

KOA Ivy Lea

The weather has been quite kind to us this year and I can only recall a few rainy days; one in Middleboro, three in Quebec City and one at Rondeau (it wouldn't be Rondeau without some rain). 

A lot of running on the long trip was done with a stiff wind behind us as we were travelling west to east. However, on the run between Quebec City and Montreal we were going east to west and heading right into the wind and the gas consumption figures suffered accordingly.

We did one set up in the dark, at Lake Glimmerglass, thanks to my underestimating the THREE hour wait to cross into the US at Niagara. I'm still smarting about that, especially as the US border people weren't being particularly difficult that day. No, the long lines were caused by the hordes of Canadians heading south on that long weekend; next time I shall check the calendar!

We had a couple of 400 mile or more daily journeys, which is pushing it a bit when fully laden. We also had a couple of really nice shorter runs this year, including a lovely back roads trip between Peterborough and Toronto, which turned out to be rather hillier that I thought it would be, but really enjoyable all the same.

We met some interesting people, too, including a German family who lived in London, England and were holidaying in Plymouth, Massachusetts. There was a friendly Dutch family who hired a motorhome to travel around the US Eastern seaboard but didn't really know how to operate said motorhome, and there was Danger Man who spent quite some time pointing out the error of our ways using our Toyota to tow the Airstream. 

We also met a middle-aged English couple who were on the final leg of a coast-to-coast tour of the US and Canada on motorcycles; not rented bikes, though, they were using machines that they'd shipped from the UK to Halifax, Nova Scotia; the UK licence plates really stood out.

I think the low point of the season was driving around the Isle D'Orleans in Quebec looking for an ATM, in the mankiest weather we had all year. It's a beautiful island in the St. Lawrence River that has huge significance for the Francophone people of North America and for the History of Canada. It wasn't looking at its best, though, in low cloud and spitting rain on that dour August day. Mind you, the biting bugs of Orillia were notable for their ability to irritate, which was a low point as well.

The high point was probably whale watching off Boston; the weather was good and the whales were very generous in giving their time for us tourists, of which there many so far off the coast. The naturalist on board the boat did say that they try not to inundate the whales' feeding grounds with trip boats, and the whales seemed most obliging, so I shall work on the assumption that our tourist activities weren't doing any harm.

Towed Haul is now in hibernation, ready for the cold and snow of winter. It would be better if she was stored indoors but leaving her at the dealer's facility works for us because they put her to bed properly and get her up again when required.

As ever, we will spend the winter planning what we're going to be doing next summer. There is a possible trip to the UK on the radar for 2014, without the Airstream of course, and that will limit our travels somewhat, but we will get out to the local campgrounds if nothing else.

I will sign off, then, and head over to the AirForums discussion pages on the Internet and wind a few people up about towing.....

A quick reminder of why we store the Airstream over the winter - this is March 2013.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Season Finale - Sunday


Goodness! Another good night's sleep, despite a nocturnal tussle with the hound; these cooler nights obviously agree with me. Sunday morning was cold but bright and it was a pleasure to get out and about first thing with the mutt. She is on sensory overload when at Rondeau so is very excitable, especially today when we went over to the bay side of the peninsular and took in the howling gale blowing across the water.

Maybe it's the lateness of the season, but there didn't seem to be a rush for the gates this morning as there often is on a Sunday. Not many people were moving about and certainly no one appeared to be in any rush to pack up. Our immediate neighbour reversed his truck up to his trailer but that was a far as he ventured, so all was quiet on the campground. 

We make a point of not rushing to leave on a Sunday, especially as the official check-out time isn't until 2pm. We breakfasted (sort of) and I left Mrs T to her leisure to take the hound for another run on the beach. It was breezy there as well, but as the sun climbed higher it wasn't cold, even though the lake looked grey and grim. For the first time in ages, I actually saw some other people on the dog beach and, as they had their beast leashed, I collared up our hound, at least while they passed by. Poor old Willow doesn't get to run off-leash much so these trips down to Rondeau are precious and I unleashed her again as soon as they'd passed.

Back at base we started to pack up at about 12.30 and were mid-flow when our neighbour came over to talk. As ever, he was surprised that we used a minivan to tow and he was lamenting that he used to have a much loved Jeep Liberty but had to swap it for a truck to tow his trailer. We explained about our setup and I think he'd have appreciated the help that we'd had when we bought the Airstream. Still, even though it guzzled the gas, he did have a shiny white Dodge RAM truck to play with.

Then we were off, at least after a trip to the dump station. It was really windy on the drive home and the webbing strap on the driver's side towing mirror vibrated to the extent that it jettisoned the little foam pad I put in there to stop it vibrating! Such is life. We'd had a quiet and restful weekend, which is what it's all about really. 

So, that's it for another season. Towed Haul goes off for storage next week and I have a few days in which to clean her up and put everything away. I shall do a season concluding entry in the blog and then we're into the long, cold winter. Roll on 2014!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Season Finale - Saturday

Wonky Ridgetown

A good night's sleep, despite (or maybe because of) the cold night, had me up a little later than usual and heading out for a Provincial Park shower. I've said it many times before but the facilities are excellent here and this morning's clean stall and copious hot water was a pleasure; I have to say that I lingered a bit in there. So much did I linger, in fact, that the lights went out and I had to resort to waving my arms about wildly to get the light's motion sensor control to activate.

Back at Towed Haul the sun was shining so I deployed the awning and brought the table and chairs out of the car. I fed the hound, walked her around the campground (one old Airstream, a few tents and maybe a dozen or more travel trailers to be seen) and then settled down outside with a cup of coffee and watched the world go by. I'd not been in position for more than a couple of minutes when the tell tale pitter patter of rain started up on the awning; it had been forecast but it was still early and I hoped to have a while longer in the dry. The rain soon came down more heavily so the hound and I retired inside and Mrs T and I decided that we'd go into Ridgetown to see what Pinnel's Bakery could offer us in the way of breakfast and/or lunch.

Driving over there along the edge of the lake was an autumnal experience, to be sure. The trees are in their full fall splendour but the rain was heavy, the lake was grey and the horizon loaded with piles of heavy, brooding storm clouds. The fields that had looked so nice in Friday's setting sun now just looked bleak. That aside, of course, Pinnel's was anything but bleak and we came away with a mountain of baked goodies that served us for breakfast, lunch and quite possibly will serve for Sunday's breakfast, too.

On our return to Rondeau we settled indoors to eat, to write and to read. The hound settled down and both Mrs T and I succumbed to our drowziness and managed to get some daytime sleep in. I blame the soporific effect of the gentle sound the rain was making on Towed Haul's roof; more likely it was laziness! (On my part of course, Mrs T has had a hard week at work).

The rain kept up until five in the afternoon but as soon as it cleared, we loaded the hound in the car and made our way down the peninsular to the dog beach. Those loaded clouds were still in evidence on the lake's horizon but without the rain they looked less depressing and more intruiging. The hound went into beach frenzy mode and skittered about all over the place (two poops and two pees; not a bad visit) whilst we sauntered along the water's edge, Mrs T picking up plastic bags, deflated balloons, discarded children's toys and miles of wrapping ribbon that had been used on the aforementioned ballons. We walked maybe five hundred metres in each direction and ended up with a mountain of garbage that we disposed of in the bin. I know Mrs T put an appeal out on Facebook for people to think about the implications of releasing balloons into the air, regardless of the celebration and I'd echo that here; if you'd have seen the quantity of the stuff on the beach you'd have been appalled.

On the good side, though, there were plenty of birds to be seen, including (I think) a young Osprey circling a fish carcass on the beach. It may not have been an Osprey as it looked a little small but it could have been a juvenile.

I always enjoy the drive down to the dog beach as we pass a lot of the Park's cottages. They're privately owned, although on land leased by the Park, and many date back to the 1920s and 1930s. They're holiday places, really, but there were plenty of cars in the driveways and lights in the windows, indicating that there are still more weekends available before the winter sets in. Most of the cottages will be closed up for the winter but some won't and I reckon a few hardy souls will be cottaging at Christmas. There's a movement by Ontario Parks to get rid of the cottages and return the peninsular to a more natural state; it's a policy that seems to be prevalent in North America and there are many cases where entire settlements have been removed so that a park can become "natural" again. At Rondeau I don't know that the cottages are causing any great problems, they're just there and part of the park as far as I can see. Personally I'd leave them alone but up the lease costs so that they became a real money earner for the park, which would be a positive move rather than a negative one. I don't know who'll win this debate but I don't think I'd be looking at buying one of these cottages any time soon.

As the evening drew in I decided to bring the awning in as it was beginning to blow up a bit, and we sat down to supper (Quiche part two) then a couple of movies - Keeping Mum (we'd seen before but love the blackness of it) and Little Voice. When it came time to take the hound out before bed, we stepped out under a cloudless sky that sported the brightest full moon I think I've ever seen. It was easily light enough to read by and my flashlight remained unused for the expedition. Even though it was past midnight, there were still a few people up drinking and chattering the night away; it's quite cheery to see a group of people gathered around the camp fire at that late hour. I'm not sure that the hound was that impressed, though, as the noise was getting her agitated.

So, Saturday night is our last night in Towed Haul for 2013. It's a cold one again, but I'll report on it and on Sunday's progress, when we get home. Stay tuned, folks.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Season Finale - Friday

Well here we are at Rondeau Provincial Park again, this time for the final trip of the season. We've not been out in Towed Haul for a while what with school starting up, visitors and surgery. Still, we're here now and loving being back in our mansion on wheels.

One of the reasons we like Rondeau is that it's so close, which means that there's not too much rushing about on the Friday evening when everyone gets home from school. It was a good job that we weren't in a hurry this particular Friday night as everything went haywire at about three in the afternoon. We were due to have the railings fitted to the staircase after lunch but the guys doing the work arrived some hours later than agreed. Then the tadpoles' father arrived to take them off for the weekend, which was quickly followed by the youngest of the small fry arriving home from school and having a meltdown about not going away with her dad. The upshot of it all was that we didn't get hitched up and rolling until gone five and, with a water tank fill and waste tank dump to do on arrival at the park, we were going to be setting up in the gathering darkness, which is never a fun thing to do.

That apart, it was nice to be heading down to the lake on a fine, if rapidly cooling, Friday evening. The sun was bright and the autumn colour was vivid in the stands of trees on the otherwise quite featureless landscape. It was also nice to see the fields in a state of flux, too, with some remnants of seed corn still about, and a lot of recently ploughed acreage now that the soy crop has been gathered. It may not be a spectacular part of the country here, but it's not without its charms.

Our site for the weekend is number seventy-two; a new one for us. The photographs on the web site didn't show that the pad, the bit where you park your trailer, was on a fair slope down away from the access road. Not that this was a problem in any real sense, it's just that you have to make sure that you can get enough height on the tongue jack to actually unhitch the car, given that it's higher than the trailer on the slope. As it turned out, it was OK and even though we needed a little bit of side to side levelling, too, we were unhitched quite quickly and trying our best to get things set up as the darkness descended. I forgot to shut the rear storage compartment door and left the light on in there so, some hours later when we were wondering where all the bugs were coming from from, I realised my error. If you're wondering, the rear storage compartment opens to the outside but you can also access it from under the rear bed, which where all the greenfly were coming from.

One of the big disadvantages of not having the trailer move from your driveway for eight weeks is that the water gathered in the sewage tank from my efforts at cleaning after our last trip had had a nice long time to stand stagnant and gain an unearthly but earthy aroma. Opening the flush valve on the toilet sent up a ghastly smell that was only remedied with the application of some tank santizer and an hour with the extractor fan on. I think I have to dump even cleaning water from the tank if we're not going to use the trailer for any period; the reason it has to be drained fully before winter storage, I think.

Having recovered from our brief gassing, we feasted on Quiche, salad and boiled potatoes before setting down to watch that highbrow movie, The Inbetweeners; classic intellectual entertainment for a cold Friday evening. The temperature was in single figures outside, for the first time since the spring, so we had to resort to firing up the furnace just to get the inside temperature a tad more bearable before settling down. We had, somewhat fortunately, thought to bring the big duvet so at least once in bed we weren't going to freeze. 

Just before turning in, we did give the hound a quick spin around the campground and were surprised at the number of people not only in trailers this late in the season, but in tents, too. There were a few campfires to be seen and some people out socializing over a beer or three, despite the weather. There are three trailers gathered on one site at the moment, facing inwards like wagons heading west across the Great Plains. They did have the benefit of not one but two seven foot tall light up palm trees, something the early American settlers didn't have, but I guess that's progress, isn't it?

We have nothing much planned for Saturday, other than to get the hound running on the beach, so tomorrow's blog may be a trifle thin. "Hurrah" I hear you say. Stay tuned for 2013's penultimate camping day.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Toads Go East - Day 17

Sticky the Stick Insect comes to see us off


So, our final day of this tour and we have 500 Km to go. Check out is at 11am although I've noticed that on previous days, the KOA management haven't been overly zealous in kicking people off their sites; some have been in situ at gone 1pm. Still, we needed to get going as it was going to be around seven or eight hours on the road and we had to clear Toronto.

Breakfast was fun as we used up our supplies. For me it was carrot cake and ice cream, which is the breakfast of champions of course, and Mrs Toad had some nice pasta salad which beats bacon any day. He lied.

Nothing to report in the packing up process other than a thorough sloosh out of the poo tank as we won't be dumping again for a while (you really needed to know that, didn't you?). Just as we were hitching up, a couple came by to ask us about our tow vehicle, mainly because hubby had just bought a nice new new pick-up truck and wifey was doubting the wisdom of that decision when it came to put gas in it. Unlike our mad medic neighbour medic the other day ("you're all going to jail!"), this couple listened patiently to how we were set up, sucked their gums a bit and said "Wow! That's interesting". No censure, no unsubstantiated claims, just an acceptance that there are alternatives to using a gas-hungry pick-up to tow a trailer. Lovely.

The weather was fine as we set off, behind another Minivan, this one towing a "Lite" caravan, probably half the weight of ours. They had no weight distribution system installed, and no anti-sway measures, which is why the back of the van was low down and the front end high. They'd have had less steering, less braking force and the much greater possibility of the trailer getting into a nasty sway situation. How can people tell us that we're doing it wrong? Anyway, we breezed past them on the motorway and set course for the south west. 

It seemed to take us an age to get towards the outskirts of Toronto. I called a fuel stop at the service centre near Oshawa, which we doubled with lunch. We came across the service centre weakness again in that the traffic signs point us trailer folk to park with the big trucks in the long bays at the back (nothing wrong with that), but in so doing, you can't then double back to get into the gas station without going the wrong way up a one-way road. Yes, it's only the service centre so with care it's quite do-able, but how about a recognition that not everyone in the truck parking area uses diesel? A simple division of the rear access road to the gas station to make it two-way would do it; are you listening Ministry of Transport Ontario?

In true UK fashion, the 407 ETR Toronto toll road that allows an alternative to the urban disaster that is Highway 401 doesn't actually connect up with said highway at it's eastern end and, unless you drive someway into Toronto you have to strike north on a lesser road for a few kilometres. This we did, preferring a slower run towards the ETR than risking getting snarled up in stationary traffic on the 401 trying to get to a faster link road. It provided a break in the monotony of the highway driving and in no time at all we were adding money to the ETR's coffers but speeding along on Toronto's northern fringes. The road has four lanes and I drove in lane 2, not the extreme right hand lane, lane 1. This was to allow people joining the highway at speed to avoid us as we are considered to be moving slowly, even though I was on or slightly above the speed limit. As the locals might say, "go figure". On this toll road, though, people seemed to take great delight in ignoring the two lanes to the right of me and passing on the left, normally at great speed. It's not an issue really as I just sit there at the regulation speed, but I can't help thinking that driving at well in excess of the speed limit and overtaking on the wrong side is just tad dangerous. Still, this is Toronto.

Auspiciously, Highway 1, Yonge Street, marked our halfway mark for the day. Yonge Street is quite interesting and if you have a bit of time, have a look at this link here. 

We rejoined Highway 401 west of Toronto and, on very familiar ground now, we made our way home into the setting sun. It was showing 28 degrees Celsius on the car's thermometer, as warm as we'd seen over the previous two weeks, although the wind was still present, keeping our gas mileage at 20.5 litres per 100 Km, which was better than the run from Quebec but still not good. 

Back home we parked up and emptied Towed Haul of all the dirty laundry, of which there was plenty, and set the washing machine going. Delivered pizza was our treat for the evening and we settled in to catching up with two weeks of Coronation Street.

I asked Mrs T what she thought of this year's tour. "Not the best" she said, honestly "but still pretty good". 

I'll do a summary post later, complete with the statistics that I remembered to gather, so please, tune in for one more episode of Toads Go East....

Monday, 19 August 2013

Toads Go East - Day 16

Patriotic Gananoque


Split activities today; the girls go off on a five hour cruise of the 1000 Islands and visit Boult Castle in the USA whilst the boys sample the breakfast delights of Gananoque. Obviously I can't report on the ladies' cultural activities but I can record how the breakfast went, and other exciting events. I'll bet that you're on the edge of your seats, now!

I drove the girls into Gananoque to pick up the boat and, on the way, encountered a man of later years driving an open topped MG Roadster. It was quite an old MG but looked resplendent in the morning sunshine, as the did the man driving, at least when he'd brushed his hair. He had a sort of a Neil Diamond seventies comb-over which was, as you'd expect, blowing about a bit as he drove. We followed him up to the red stop lights and he did no more than reach down and get a hair brush, with which he re-arranged his comb-over. As soon as he started off again, said comb-over blew about again and yes, you've guessed it, at the next red light out came the hair brush and the Neil Diamond tribute was restored.  Mrs T was in fits and I was horrified that the fellow had let down his sex so badly. I saw him a little later and he'd reverted to a baseball cap to keep his "do" under control - it's either that my trendy friend or get a proper haircut!

Anyway, girls aboard the steamer, the boys made their way back to Tilly's Restaurant in town. Whereas the place had been deserted the day before, this fine Sunday morning it was packed and the harassed Tilly suggested that we might be a bit better off going elsewhere; politely of course. It was still only 10 am and the Scottish Cafe was still an hour from opening so we took a punt on the "Bravo" restaurant on the strip mall, not least because it was advertising that it offered the best breakfast in town. The Bravo was pretty full, too, but we did get seated and whilst having to wait a while for our meals, it all turned out reasonably well. The Bravo makes it's money on the drinks, as I found out when I received the bill. Ouch! 

Whilst in there, I listened in to the conversations of a French speaking family and as they were addressing their children a lot in a fairly slow and simple manner, I was pleased to be able to catch most of it, linguist that I am. Also, a group of six young people went to pay for their meals (all French speakers, but that's irrelevant to this tale) and each had a separate bill. I know that bill-splitting happens a lot here, even in the line for Tim Horton'scoffee, and it's one of the cultural differences between Canada and the UK that always stands out for me. Whenever I've dined in a group, we've all just pitched in an equal amount to settle the bill and not been too concerned about minor differences in individual bills. C'est la vie and  vive la difference I suppose (in honour of my Francophone friends).

Back at base, we boys busied ourselves with a modicum of tidying up, plenty of reading and eventually some activity when the big Tadpole mooched over to see his new friend on the site opposite. Time then passed quickly and we were soon driving back into town to pick up the ladies after their cruise. A quick note regarding fuel prices here, because I have turned into my dad, I stopped in Gananoque and paid $1.21 a litre. This compares to the $1.46 a litre I paid in Quebec a couple of days ago, which is staggering; I'm pleased that we don't live in Quebec.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent snoozing (Toads) and gallivanting (Tadpoles). We had a minor panic when we realised that it was 6 pm and we hadn't been out to get our meal for the evening. We'd promised ourselves chips from one of the Chip Trucks nearby but they all close early here, especially on a Sunday. We did find one open on the parking lot of Canadian Tire, but only just made that. Still, we did find it open and we sat in the car and eat unhealthily in the late sunshine.

In the evening we lost tadpoles again so sat down and re-watched To Sir With Love on the DVD and followed it up with Swing Kids. It was proper late by the time we finally went to bed. 

Tomorrow we're travelling on our final leg, continuing down the St Lawrence and through Toronto. I'm hoping that the weather holds as it's been pretty good since we crossed back into Ontario. Hold tight for tomorrow's extravaganza!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Toads Go East - Day 15

Gantineau, from The Hill


A trip into Ottawa, the nation's capital was on the cards today, planned for a Saturday as it'd be quieter, and so it turned out to be.

The weather was being nice and we headed north into blue skies and sunshine on a highway that was really, really quiet. Once into Ottawa's environs, things picked up a little but in no time we were off the highway and making for the World Exchange Centre, just a few hundred metres from the Parliament buildings in the downtown area. Like Boston, the financial district is deserted at the weekend and the World Exchange Centre's capacious underground parking garage is free to use so, having driven past all the parking garages further out offering parking at the bargain price of $9 for the day, we were parked in underground splendour, free and for nothing. I was beginning to like Ottawa already.

Emerging into the eerily quiet street, we made our way up to "The Hill" and the Parliament Building. The whole of downtown Ottawa was quiet, quieter than a Capital has a right to be, really, and I thought of what London can be like on a Saturday - yuk. Still, the lack of people favoured us, that's for sure. On such a nice day we decided that a tour of Parliament wasn't the right thing to do so we walked around it in the sunshine and made our way to the rear terrace that offered spectacular views of the Ottawa River, Gatineau on the north bank (actually in the Province of Quebec) and the Gatineau Hills beyond. There were more visitors about here, mostly French speaking, all of whom seemed delighted to be there. The architecture of Ottawa is very Canadian with the big buildings being done in a style that is a sort of cross between French Chateaux and American Office Blocks; large and imposing but with turrets and towers. The Government buildings were all in a state of re-modelling with many of the copper roofs being renewed. This meant that some parts of the roofs were glowing copper, others dull copper and the rest green, much to the chagrin of Mrs T who felt that she'd have liked all burnished copper glinting in the sun or all green. Anyway, it was all very grand, especially in the sunshine.

Our next stop was the Three Brewers Brewery and Bar in Sparks Street. Sparks Street is traffic-free and lined with restaurants, most open, but not all as I suppose they'd really want to cater for the weekday office crowds. The Three Brewers was open and had the final thirty minutes of the Swansea v. Man Utd game on the TVs there, so in we went. I think Ottawa is little more sophisticated than a lot of places we'd visited recently as the menu had a lot of stuff for the veggie loving Mrs T as well as the usual meaty stuff. A fine meal was enjoyed by the toads and it was with a curious reluctance that we hit the hot streets again. We went the length of Sparks Street, past the Cenotaph (oft seen on the telly in November), down to the Rideau Canal and to the long staircase of locks that takes boats to the Ottawa River below. 

The heat was beginning to tell, now, so after consulting some Parks Canada types, we made our way to Byward Market and the Beaver Tail vendors. Beaver Tails are an edible delicacy that have very little to do with actual beavers, thank goodness, but they are much loved by kids as they are sickly sweet. Read more here.  Whilst in the market, the small tadpole happened upon a street vendor called Jammy Yang who, it appeared, could write your name on a piece of rice for you for $10 and for $15 add a picture, too. Small tadpole's name is short, so that was easy and took up one side of the rice, but she asked for a Greyhound picture on the other and Jammy, bless him, had to look up what a greyhound looked like on his iPhone. He eventually found a Greyhound Bus graphic and painted that onto the back of the rice and what a corking job he did. We had a few minutes chat and it seems that he has an entry in the Guinness Book Of Records for the most detailed landscape painted onto a grain of rice and, originally from China, he has been all over the world making money as a Microcalligraphist (what a great word!). Well done, Jammy, we were mightily impressed.

Jammy at work
The finished article

We'd had enough by now and started the hot walk back to the parking garage, which took a tad longer than it did on the way out. To remain consistent for the trip, we managed to get stuck in a traffic jam three floors down in the garage when the barriers at the exits began to get a bit stroppy when people who owed money, that is those that had left their cars overnight on Friday, tried to get out of the garage without paying. We thought we might get stuck for good down there but a quick about turn and we escaped via another exit and made the street whilst there was still oxygen to breath in there. (Just kidding, it was really well vented).

Back at base and the tadpoles disappeared again (what took them so long?) and Mrs T and I settled in for a quiet evening. Our neighbour, on the hunt for an iPhone charger, then proceeded to tell me that I should never tow with the Toadmobile in the US as it was highly illegal. He didn't mention lethal injection or firing squad but I could see that he wanted to. I stood my ground and he went away disappointed that I had a different view from his. Ho hum, everyone else knows best it seems.

Tomorrow is a free day for the boys and a boat trip for the girls. Find out why with another exciting post in Toads Go East!

Toads Go East - Day 14

Snug camp site


Another cold night but the morning was at least sunny and warm, the step from inside Towed Haul to outside being a bit spooky as it was a good five degrees better in the open air. 

The day being Friday, quite a few people were packing up and heading off and the stream of trailers out of the site was constant. They would be replaced during the day, of course, with the weekenders and it was a nice feeling to think that we'd still be here until Monday when no doubt the campground would be quieter again. 

Mrs T and I needed to do some grocery shopping so we left the tadpoles in bed and made for Gananoque, the nearest town, about twenty minutes drive away. The 1000 Islands Parkway that we joined as we left the campground is one of those roads that North Americans do so well. This one follows close to the island-strewn shore of the river (it's widening out towards Lake Ontario here), has an 80 Km/h limit and is free of heavy trucks. I'd driven on the Colonial Parkway in Virginia before and that was a similar sort of truck-free road and there are plenty of others about - it's a good idea if you're not in a hurry and want to look at the scenery. Unfortunately there were a couple of the people on the Parkway this morning who were in a hurry and were doing the usual "let's see how close we can get to his bumper" trick; goodness that's annoying. Anyway, I peeled off the parkway and came to cross-roads junction leading to Gananoque, signalling left (across the traffic here, of course), looked both ways and moved ahead as it was clear. It was then that I spotted the traffic lights, on red! Oh well, no harm done as I had checked to see if the way was clear - how could I miss them, though? Doh! 

We drove down King Street into the centre of the town, found a nice free parking space and, unusually for us, dropped straight into a breakfast cafe and ordered a cooked meal. Mrs T had the veggie omelette and I had the $5 special. All very nice and enjoyed all the more (dare I say) as we didn't have the young 'uns for company. Hush my mouth.

Before hitting the grocery store, we ambled up and down the street, perusing restaurant menus, pulling faces at the prices of souvenirs and generally admiring the place when we fell upon a second-hand bookshop. The young lady behind the counter was really helpful, and that's really with a capital rerr. She offered many suggestions for books for the small tadpole and, whilst she didn't have them in stock, she offered to make up a list of recommended reading that we could collect later. I felt sure that with that level of dedication that she must own the shop, young as she was, but it turned out to be her mother's. Top, top marks to her, though, for being so knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

Groceries purchased, we went back to the campground for lunch (well, a cup of coffee and a slice of carrot cake), then threw the now washed and dressed tadpoles into the car and went straight back to Gananoque. This time we made for the little river-front area where the boats leave from so that Mrs T could enquire about a cruise for Sunday. There was some limited free parking down there, which was good, as well as a small public beach, a museum and a couple of small shops. We didn't stop long but the visit was most enjoyable in the afternoon sun. We did call back at the bookshop and, good to her word the young lady there had compiled an extensive reading list; what a star she is.

Back at the KOA, the place was filling up again, as we had anticipated. We sat and watched people arriving and setting up, which is one of the pleasures of camping. I did take the small tadpole up to the store to see if we could get a soccer ball for her to kick about but, as they had none we had a go on the swingball in the playground and then, much against my better judgement, went onto the bouncy pillow. Now this pillow is in fact a bit like a bouncy castle but without the walls. It's fixed down all around the edge and does look like half a pillow. This one was quite a bit bigger than the one in Massachusetts, though, being about 30 feet long, 10 feet wide and a good five or six feet high. It was a bugger to get up on and when there with a dozen kids bouncing up and down I immediately started to feel sick - see, I said it was against my better judgement. I think the movement spooked my feeble brain and it said "get off this contraption now", so I did. Yes, I'm a real lightweight.

Supper was cooked over the campfire, much to the interest of our neighbour who thought it a most novel idea; most campers carry a small, propane powered barbecue for these tasks. Anyway, it was real sausage, veggie sausage and our signature special, Haloomi kebabs. The kebabs also attracted the interest our neighbour, which I suppose the the price of the close together sites.

In the evening, the campground was humming with people moving around and campfires burning on nearly every site. The tadpoles had gone off and made new friends (at last!) and we sat in front of our surprisingly good campfire (the wood appeared to be rubbish but actually burned well) and watched night draw in. Some one released one of those paper lantern balloons and someone else had set up a projector thingy that made a couple of trees look like they were alive with green fireflies, which I thought was excellent. We even saw a shooting star. All in all, it was a really nice evening.

Tomorrow is our trip to Ottawa, the nation's capital. I feel a bit unsighted because I know very little about it, where to go or what to see. I guess the free-form visit format will be best, just go there and see what's what.

Tune in tomorrow to see how we managed our visit and what we did on "The Hill".

Friday, 16 August 2013

Toads Go East - Day 13

KOA Quebec City


A traveling day, with a trip of 500 Km inland along the St Lawrence River, almost to the upper end of Lake Ontario and a place called Gananoque. 

But first, a few lines about the KOA (Kampgrounds Of America) site in Quebec City. KOAs are commercial campgrounds that specialise in providing transient sites, that is not renting out a single pitch for a whole season, and offering tons of things for kids to do; usually that means a pool and play area and the like. Their individual pitches are often quite small and close together but they normally provide electricity, water and sewer connections which make staying in one place for more than a couple of days quite feasible. This KOA, in the manner of an EasyJet destination, was some way from Quebec City and curiously it was sited between a couple of industrial plots next to the Autoroute. It's closeness to the busy highway wasn't an issue as the main camping ground was down a small hill and hidden by trees. It being adjacent to industrial units made it relatively quite, too, so it wasn't actually a bad place to be especially as the management had a link up with a local bus tour company and ran daily shuttle buses into Old Quebec. The pitches were small and close to each other and when we arrived the campground was  pretty full, so the place resembled a caravan storage yard, and yet it wasn't noisy and, even with our pitch being right at the entry and exit point to the main camping area, I still felt like we were relatively private. Certainly the propensity for campers to have ratty old diesel pick-up trucks that sounded like tractors made it a little noisy when they went by, but it wasn't an issue. The facilities were excellent; clean showers, pool, kids play area with the now familiar bouncy pillow and a shop that not only rivaled a small supermarket but carried wine and beer, too. So, what on paper could have been a poor campground turned out to be really rather good. The one thing the management didn't do, though, was fix the weather. It was more like October than August and in that respect we were happy to be leaving and heading south (and west).

It was a slow process breaking camp, perhaps because it was cold and we were sluggish. When we did get out on the road, we had a reasonably straightforward run along the banks of the St Lawrence River, south to begin with and then north later in the day. Only the city of Montreal posed any worry as I knew from previous experience that the highways go right through the urban areas and are normally very busy. 

On a full tank of fuel we went south, first towards Drummondville, and immediately felt wicked headwind. It has been windy since day one of this trip but up until today, it has been at our backs mostly. Now were were going straight into it. Wind is probably the caravanner's worst enemy as the the frontal area of the trailer adds huge amounts of drag and puts a strain on the tow vehicle. With an Airstream, that frontal area isn't so big and is eased somewhat with its curved lines, which is why it's called an Airstream, but even so the Toadmobile was really feeling the added wind resistance. The automatic gearbox which would normally have us running in sixth most of the time, struggled to maintain fifth. The Scanguage was reporting 100-110 horsepower being developed when normally it'd be 60 or 70. The fuel trip meter was on 23.5 litres per 100 Km (and going up) when we have been doing between between 17 and 18 on this trip; I reckoned we'd need to stop for gas a tad earlier than usual!

The run down to Montreal was uneventful apart from the tugging on the wheel as the wind pulled us about. The big eighteen-wheelers going by always cause a bow wave of air that requires a steering correction but today it was worse than usual. Mind you, I did slipstream a truck for a few miles at 90 Km/h, ten below usual, and the gas mileage immediately showed improvement. The trouble is that it isn't really safe to slipstream like that, and the drop in speed just makes the trip longer.

Into Montreal and I wasn't surprised that the horrible highways were made even more horrible with many Traveaux and Diversions. Mostly the Circulation was Fluide but lane designations had been altered and I had to be really careful to be in the right lane at the right time or end up disappearing into the chaos of the city, something I'd rather not do with a trailer hitched to the car. I've said before that if you don't have any French then you could get yourself really stuck going through Montreal as the road work signs are resolutely in French only. The guiding lights in Quebec are rabid about retaining their language and I don't disagree that it's very important, but to completely exclude Canada's other official language is wrong; road work signs in Ontario are in French and English so why not in Quebec?

There's an aside here related to Quebec. We saw a sign to a Parc National just east of Montreal and you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a Canadian National Park, but Canadian National Parks are run by Parks (or Parcs) Canada so this one, despite being called "national" was in fact Provincial. It speaks volumes about the political landscape in Quebec that they already consider their Province is a country in its own right. Political commentary over.

So, having emerged unscathed from Montreal's highways, we made our way south west, now on the north bank of the river. The tank of gas lasted until about 20 kms east of the Ontario border so we made our last stop in Quebec to fill up. The gas was $1.45 a litre, easily 10 cents or more higher than Ontario, and it cost me $90 to fill up - that's another consequence of the political landscape in Quebec. Just saying, loike.

Back into Ontario and we ran the final 150 kms or so into the wind and raised knowing eyebrows at the resolutely bi-lingual road signs. There were yet more construction sites on the road but we weren't delayed and arrived on the 1000 Islands Parkway pretty much when we expected to and still had some gas. The trip meter was showing consumption at 22.6 l/100km; terrible, but it could have been worse.

We're on another KOA here and this one is different again, but more about that in later posts. We backed into our (very snug) site, unhitched and set up camp. The weather was certainly better than in Quebec but the wind was a tad on the nippy side so supper was taken inside Towed Haul rather than out. We had a short mooch around the campground, spoke to some Airstreamers who had a 1966 model and were towing it with a lovely old American Station Wagon, then headed back to our site for an early night. The early night, I have to say, wasn't planned but as I fell asleep on the sofa at 9.30pm I thought it better to give in and hit the sack straight away.

Tomorrow is a free day so I think sleep-ins are in order. More posts to come, Toad fans, so don't go away.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Toads Go East - Day 12

La Fleuve

Another quick blog today as tomorrow we're on the road again.

Today was an excursion into Quebec City, more specifically Old Quebec, and a treat for me as we went on the bus. We were dropped at the Place D'Armes right outside the Hotel Frontenac and the Terrace Dufferin, high above the old town and La Fleuve. We had a quick look over the terrace and went straight down to the lower town on the Funicular Railway, primarily to look for some lunch. It's been quite well preserved down there and it was a little bit like being on a film set as everything looks old, but new at the same time. We watched the ferry leave for Levis on the south bank of the river then wandered back into the maze of shops and restaurants, settling on "Spag&Tini", a sort of Quebecoise and Italian fusion restaurant. It wasn't cheap, as you might expect, and we did have the trainee waiter, but I did get to have a beer with my meal which was another non-driving luxury.

Back up on the Terrace, we ambled along the Governor's Walk, a wooden walkway nailed onto the cliff just below the Citadel's walls which gave some stunning views and offered more than a few steps to negotiate - 350 to be precise. That led us onto the Plains Of Abraham where Wolfe defeated Montcalm in 1759 and finally killed off French interests in Canada (but somehow allowed the French to keep their language and culture). 

A quick walk around the edge of the Citadel had us back into the throngs of tourists on Rue Saint Louis and then back to Place D'Armes. We were way ahead of schedule for the bus so dived into Le Chic Shack for another beer and a bowl of chips, just to use up the time, you understand. We then spent half an hour sitting in the park while the rain half-heartedly tried to come on before the bus arrived to whisk us back to the KOA. 

Highlights today included Mrs T getting a nice necklace, seeing all the olde worldy houses not covered in snow this time and spending some quality Toad time in a place we like, Lowlights were the moany tadpoles and the restaurant bills. Well, we are on holiday.  

The weather was appalling for August, very cool although it was mostly dry. Back at base we actually put the heating on in the trailer for a short while, so cold was it when we came back.

Tomorrow we head south west and back into Ontario. It's not such a long drive as Monday's but it's still in excess of 500 Km so we'd better get motoring. More tomorrow, Toad fans. 

Toads Go East - Day 11

Ile D'Orleans as it should be

We awoke to rain. Rain on rain. Measly single digit temperatures, too; we've camped in October in better weather than this. Everyone was tired from the previous day and even I was a comparative sluggardibed, using Towed Haul's facilities rather than the KOA's shower block. Today's options were a drive around the Ile D'Orleans or a day walking in Old Quebec City. I think you can work out which option we chose.

We didn't hit the road until about one in the afternoon, especially as breakfast had morphed into lunch. Not that it mattered because the grey skies were glowering and rain didn't look too far away. Why, I even stowed the awning before we left as the wind was getting decidedly blustery. August? Smaugust!

As soon as we hit the autoroute we were into a forest of orange cones, one that didn't really seem to dissipate until we left it just before we crossed onto the Island. To be fair, this part of the world has shocking winters and between December and April no outside work gets done as it's just too cold, so roads works are summer tasks and boy, were they busy! Mind you, the circulation was fluide so we made good time. We crossed the Pierre Laporte Bridge across the mighty St Lawrence River and went to the north side of the city before striking up the north bank of the river to the suspension bridge that links the island to the mainland. That bridge was alarmingly narrow for two lanes, especially with big trucks coming at you but we were soon on dry land and heading towards Sainte-Patronille on the southern tip of the island. The Ile (I don't know how to get this US English keyboard to put the circumflex, the ^ symbol, on the word Ile) is about 30 Km long by 2 Km wide and sits in the St Lawrence River. It was, I'm told, one of the first places that the great French explorer, Jacques Cartier, set up camp as he started to open up this part of North America to Europeans. Today the island is still farmed using the Seigneural System of land tenure where fields were made up in strips in each parish. Indeed, all the parishes still exist and you pass from one parish to the other as if they were small towns, Sainte-Patronille being one of them. This Seigneural System was how land was allotted in New France and in the Province of Quebec the evidence is still plain to see.

We drove around the island on the circular road that linked the parishes. The southern end, nearer Quebec City, was more monied and there was a mix of old French farmhouses and modern, expensive looking places, especially on the south-eastern side facing La Fleuve, the name the locals have for the main stream of the St Lawrence. Strawberries and raspberries seemed to be the main crop, at least in amongst the ubiquitous corn. As we made our way further north, the farms and houses became less expensive looking although each parish boasted it's own grand church and curiously it was the churches that were providing the only real places to park. 

At the northern end of the island we discovered a small rest area with a large wooden lookout tower that we were able to climb. From there were spectacular views up the St Lawrence river and especially of the mountains that flank the northern bank. The trouble was that the thick, grey cloud obscured almost all of it! we could just make out some of the ski areas on the slopes but most of what we could see was cloud. It was cold up there, too, although Mrs T is to be congratulated for climbing the many steps and the big tadpole for actually doing it at all as he's not good with heights.

Down the north west of the island we hit yet more road works but continued on to complete a circuit. We'd been looking for an ATM as we had no Canadian money at all, but apart from the one I drove past (much to Mrs T's chagrin) on the other side of the island, we hadn't found a single one. At the one set of permanent traffic lights on the island, I was waiting on red, signalling right and looking at a gas station across the road when I realised that it did have an ATM. Unfortunately, in the process of my discovery, the lights had gone green and the guy behind let out a long blast on his horn, no doubt cursing the tourists from Ontario. Stung by the sound, I shot forward, not turning right, and just across the junction turned left into the gas station, feeling ever so slightly harassed. This would be an opportune moment to mention that the drivers in both New England and Quebec display a marked lack of patience when they perceive that they are being delayed for anything more than a millisecond.  Downtown Boston was a cacophony of car horns and Quebec wasn't much better. Still, it's the duty of dawdling tourists to upset the local racing drivers.

So, armed with some Canadian dollars, Mrs T enquired of the best place to get Poutine, that local Quebec delicacy (French fries and cheese curds smothered in a thick beef gravy). The nice lady in the gas station suggested the best place was three minutes away on the other side of the island or one minute away on the approach to the bridge. She recommended the three minute trip, so off we went up the hill, on the look out for the Cafe D'Ete. I drove past it once, went a way down the road looking for somewhere safe to turn around and was further harassed by the local drivers as they attempted to drive over the top of me as I drove along looking. I did eventually turn around and drove back to the place only to find the little shop was open but not the Friterie. Double grrrr. In my now agitated state, not helped by the grumbling tummies of my traveling companions, I turned out onto the road onto the wrong side. I haven't done that in a while and no one else in the car spotted it until a big pick up truck came down the road straight at me! A quick drop into reverse and back into the cafe's car park and we were safe but goodness knows what the truck driver thought. 

Composure regained, we went back to the Friterie at the bridge approach but, as we rolled to a stop, a woman called out to us that the place was "no good". Mrs T made an executive decision to press on and we left the island in a state of confusion.

Just over the bridge were the Montmorency Falls, a big waterfall that was visible from the road but looked like it needed exploring. It was gone five by now and as we turned into the Montmorency Park were confronted with an $11 parking charge. At that time of the evening it was too rich so we, and others behind us, did a u-turn and headed out. We set course for the Provigo grocery store that was nearest to the KOA and promised ourselves a sit down meal in a local restaurant. Inevitably we hit the cones on the autoroute, and some circulation that wasn't fluide at all; well, it was rush hour, in the road works and there had been an accident. 

The Satnav dropped us off the autoroute at Saint-Foy and up the road we needed. As we turned into yet another forest of cones we realised that it was in fact a route barre and was blocked. Now I know that I'm not always that observant but I didn't see a single sign to indicate that the road was blocked, nor that there was a diversion in place. Had the locals been playing silly buggers with the signage? On turning around, we did find the diversion signs some way down the road and then made an alternative route to our intended destination.

It turned out that we were in the Laval University district and the street that the store was on had a number of reasonable restaurants. We chose one and whilst it wasn't cheap it was pleasant and the waitress spoke impeccable English for us, which certainly took the stress out of the event, and indeed out of the day. We gave her a big tip.

Shopping was achieved with minimal fuss, although for about the twentieth time that day I found myself apologising for my poor French and trying to get people to speak English. Actually, everyone bar the checkout operator in the store has had a go at speaking English, with no complaint at all; I'm hoping it's because I do at least try to speak a bit of French, even if it's to say that I don't understand! It was a pleasure to be able to buy wine and beer in the grocery store; Quebec's legislators need to be talking to their counterparts in Ontario to get them to see sense.

What with the traffic and the road works, we decided to call in at the KOA store on the way back in to book seats on the shuttle bus into town tomorrow. It'll certainly save us a lot of stress trying to park, or even to get there, so the $56 will be well spent, I think. The KOA store was actually very well stocked, with wine and beer as well as all the camping stuff; we were very impressed.

At about bedtime the rain started up again, and we settled in with the hope that our trip into town wasn't going to a wash out. Here's hoping!

More tomorrow, Toad fans.