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Lake Champlain

Back in the US, hanging out on Lake Champlain. It’s great to cruise with mountains as a backdrop. The last time, I did that was off Viet Nam courtesy the US Navy. Now that was a long time ago and a world away in more ways than one.

Lake Champlain is perhaps as lovely a Canadian Lake as we have seen. Canadian? Really? Yep, just look around. Almost all the boats out are Canadian and there are a scazillion of them. All radio traffic is French. We were warned that, because the northern end of the lake is about an hour’s driving time from Montréal, the lake would appear Canadian. It does indeed. We just didn’t expect them all to land in our lap. Therein lies the story of our first night on the lake.

It all began with a marine forecast that indicated strong winds overnight on the water when towns were supposed to have no wind. OK, we’ll go into a small protected cove. Of course other boats would join us and along about 5 pm we were quite happy because the cove had pretty much filled with boats that spaced themselves apart quite carefully. But they kept coming and coming until well after dark. (Those who know Hadley Harbor, think inner harbor at Hadley on Friday evening.) Those who are visual thinkers imagine an equal lateral triangle about 350 to 400 yards on the side and then stuff 40 boats inside that triangle.

The wind was from the north when we anchored. Was from the west when most boats came in. Went slack overnight. So much for the forecast and was beginning to build from the south in the morning. Some boats were within one boat length of each other with 2 almost that close to us. No place for us. Time to get out of Dodge like now but getting out appeared to present its own risks. I half way expected that our anchor chain would be crossed up with that of one of our neighbors.

We got out before sunrise, before really bad things started to happen as the wind (not in the forecast for the day) continued to build. That’s how we were out where we could get a moody sunrise shot of the lake clouds and mountains. Sure wasn’t our intent.

And the forecast? It’s posted 4 times a day and has not been right once since we arrived until right now. The last posting basically said what we have is what to expect for the rest of the day. Maybe that’s the way to go. What you see is what you got.

The time is 3:30 Sunday afternoon. Boats are beginning to stream back to the jumbo marina just north of us. We are going back to that nice little cove, Spoon Bay, first thing tomorrow morning. We will own it. It’s great to be retired. That said, we don’t know where will hide Labor Day weekend. My perception is that marinas around have more boats than the lake’s anchorages can handle. So how many will charge out?

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Leaving Canada

Random Notes on Canada mostly from Québec:

If Ontario is the land of eh!?. Québec is the land of perfection. So much seems to be perfect. “You would like to be in the lock first thing in the morning? Perfect.” “I would like café ole with brunch.” “Perfect.” Maybe I should have tested this somewhat universal sense of perfection. “I would like chocolate caramel sauce on my foie gras.”

On the subject of café ole, Canadians (and maybe others) serve it in a bowl. That is a new one for us. Maybe we just haven’t been out often enough.

Canada seems, to us at least, comfortably bilingual. If there is a measure any potential cultural defensiveness by the French speaking minority maybe it’s the stop signs. In France, the stop signs say STOP – a bit surprising but OK. In Ottawa, they are bilingual, STOP and Arrét. In Québec, the signs are mostly bilingual but in some places and in the towns near the New York border, they say only Arrét. English speakers are also less prevalent near the border. Hmm.

We are reminded of the wonderful products that are associated with the term artisanal. So many restaurants and markets sell excellent food products grown by and made by small craft shops. Makes going to open air markets an adventure. Also guarantees that each shopping experience will be unique so fond memories become more important.

We developed a great appreciation for the challenges early explorers faced in working up stream anywhere. The trip back up river from Québec was a real grind. We came back up when the tidal part of the St. Lawrence had an incoming tide. That meant that the current running against us was only two knots.

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A Tale of Three Cities

Ottawa – Montréal – Québec: With absolutely no apologies to Mr. Dickens – it was the best of times, it wasn’t a time. Dee started it all by asking a couple in the ByWard market area of Ottawa where to get good ice cream. She then asked them for restaurant recommendations which led us to a superb place where her informants had just finished dinner. In turn, the waitress at our Ottawa restaurant knows Montréal and gave us a list of possibilities there. And we were off and running. We have maintained the chain of referrals through to Québec.

Perhaps our favorite meal out is brunch. It’s such a marvelously luxurious waste of time. In Ottawa, we found our own brunch hangout, Benny’s Bistro. Benny’s? Not what one would expect in the space behind what was reported to us to be the best boulangerie in Ottawa. Whatever. Benny’s is clearly the Sunday morning meet and greet hangout for locals. With good reason.  Just think French toast with Brie and fruit. Now fast forward to last Sunday our first day in Québec. Let’s go to the brunch spot recommended by our Montréal waiter.  It’s more than a bit intimidating to walk into a restaurant early in brunch hours, see plenty of empty tables all neatly adorned with “Réservé” signs. Clearly a favorite with locals, that is, those with reservations. We did manage to get seated for super brunch number two. And the third brunch – the one in Montréal? It wasn’t. The recommended restaurant was closed for vacation. Could have been three lovely weekends in three lovely cities as defined by brunch.

For the purists in the crowd – those that argue Dickens did two cities so that’s all I can do, I give you two cities: Ottawa & Québec — two changing of the guard ceremonies — and one goat. Enter the royal goat, Baptiste X. The regiment here is a royal regiment which means that years ago Queen Victoria gave it one of her Kashmir goats. Being a royal of sorts, Baptiste’s role in life is to produce a male heir and to show up at ceremonial functions. Perhaps more like American politicians, Baptiste poses with tourists after the main ceremony. Pretty much everybody knows that I am no fan of stiffly posing for an I-was-wherever shot in front of some alleged landmark. Maybe I should broken faith and posed with Baptiste. Maybe then Dee could have a shot of me standing in line with the kiddies waiting to get my picture taken with the royal goat.

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Could Be Us

Québec tourists: Out bright and early. Brochure and map in hand. Agenda for the day set. By mid-day these streets will be jammed with tourists wandering semi-aimlessly. After all these streets are really no different from those of any other tourist town – lined with restaurants, galleries (high & low), souvenir shops (Dee has a T-shirt each from our major cities) and, of course, ice cream shops.

Québec as Montréal and Ottawa did previously offers us plenty to see and do. The historic nature of this city gives it distinct charm. Nineteenth century European architecture has its appeal within Québec’s walled city. The sights and sounds of horse drawn carriages add to the appeal. The same cannot be said for the added aromas. Note these streets are washed down – a necessary daily chore on the carriage routes. One can begin to image what cities smelled like on warm days back when carriages were everything. Today the distance out from the center of Québec’s old section is measured by the intensity of horse smells.

So what does one do? Wander the streets semi-aimlessly. Look for recommendations for restaurants and particularly microbreweries outside tourist central. Go to the changing of the guard. Their soldiers have a goat mascot descended from Queen Victoria’s goat. See a Cirque du Soleil light show. Rent a car and tour the country side – well worth the time & effort. What doesn’t one do? Get photographically inspired. As always, it’s not about what’s there but what one sees. For whatever reason, both of us haven’t been seeing either in Montréal or here. Hence an absence of Postcards.

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Changing of the Guard

All dressed up and now ready to go. The officer on the left proceeds to the center of Parliament Hill’s parade ground to assume guard duty. He and his escort have spent some time in a studied, choreographed sideline stroll on the grounds while others inspect his troops. He will now receive a big gold key to the guard room, tuck it in his sword belt, draw his sword and his troops will go on duty for twenty four hours. Then they will come back out onto the parade grounds in full dress to get relieved. Every day at ten guard units march along city streets escorted by band and pipes to Parliament Hill for a changing of the guard ceremony. While the on duty unit provides ceremonial sentries throughout the area, I am convinced they spend most of their time with this ceremony. By the time they get bussed into the staging area, form up march up the parade ground (about 30 minutes), have the relief ceremony and march back, it has to be a half day exercise. Ah, but it’s a show for the folks and a fine one at that.

The units form up across the canal from us so we have seen parts or all of the ceremony every day. Dee has tired a bit of the bag pipes. They do not carry well when their sound bounces buildings. Just when she started to comment (mind you comment, not complain), the band and pipes did a rousing movie western theme music number. As impressive as it is to hear good pipes for the first time in a long time, it’s quite the big deal to hear them do big country movie music.

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Oh, Canada

Ah, Ottawa. A local who stopped by the boat to say hello wanted to impress on us the significance of coming right into the heart of Canada by boat. OK, fine. I was as much impressed by his Canadian fervor because it turned out he is or was German. I suppose he is right as we can tie as long as we want dead downtown as in almost literally in the shadow of the Canadian parliament. A short walk gets us most everywhere as Ottawa is a small city. It’s difficult to get used to the scale of government when one has lived in Washington, DC.  Ottawa is small and probably quite livable if one likes cold and winters that have to last forever. Otherwise, we are quite struck by how bi-lingual this city is. Of course, everything official is bi-lingual. Beyond that there is a substantial French speaking population and thus presence in Ottawa.

And Ottawa is a big time tourist town that has long since learned to make the most of the opportunities and challenges presented by everybody who comes here. Tourist information support staff is great. Case in point: Canada’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is in the center of town.  Parks Canada, the Capital Commission and the Canadian military all have guides stationed there all day just to be helpful. The military folks will help tourists pose with the ceremonial sentries. I would have thought that crowding up and around a sentry would be disrespectful but, no, the military will pose you, take your picture and, upon occasion, pose with you. Maybe it’s an extension of the pose-in-front-everything mood that pervades this city. People here will pose for cameras in front of anything – I kid you not, including a concrete street flower pot and a concrete bridge support.

Mosaika (whatever that means) is a nightly narrated light show/movie about how Canada came to be what it is and what it might mean to be Canadian. The screen is the main building of the parliament. People sit in bleachers or anywhere on a massive parade ground and watch a combo light show and movie. Quite the show.

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