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".