Best… Birthday…. Ever!!!
The 1st of September is a memorable day, not in the least because 9 years earlier Luc surprised us with his birth 3 weeks early! Today we celebrate and of course we start with dad’s famous banana pancakes. Bo has made a scavenger hunt through the RV to find the gifts and as we munch on the pancakes Luc is congratulated by many friends and family through small videos they made for him. He is really spoiled, and extremely excited about the new gifts he can now use and play with, like his own tablet/e-reader and a pocketknife! We say goodbye to our hosts and drive towards Ottawa for a day out on the town. As Ottawa has both the Rideau river and canal, we park our RV outside the city center and take our bikes for a ride along the water.
Our first destination after paddling a good half hour is the Laurier house, another former president’s residency and a house filled with secret doors and great stories told by the rangers. The boys have quite a few scavenger hunts to complete (the one for clocks proves to be really difficult!) but manage to do really well and put another tag on their chain. As we ride on, we visit the parliament and the beautiful locks alongside it, 6 in a row which are the final ones of the 49 covering the canal.
Luc had also found a farmers museum in the Lonely Planet he really wanted to visit, so we ride there along the canal. The museum is a really fun place with plenty of farm animals and exhibitions about different elements of farming like the harvesting of algae and the use of canola. We are right on time for the milking of the cows and after playing on the playground it is the perfect end of a day of Ottawa. On our way back to the RV we even get to cross a lock with our bikes, and then drive to our place for the night….
But we were not done yet! With all that traveling we listen to music continuously, and one of the favorites have become the Backstreet Boys – nothing to do with mom’s fandom of course 😉 – and coincidentally they are on their DNA world tour which happens to be in Ottawa on Luc’s birthday! Ok, there was some careful planning involved to get here on this date, but it is a massive surprise for the boys to find out we are going to go to an actual concert in a stadium!
We first fill up with burgers and fries, and then we make our way to our seats high up on the side of the stage to get ready for the show. It turns out to be an amazing 2 hour long string of songs we manage to sing along to, and the boys dance harder than anyone in the seats around us. When the show ends with our favorite song – Larger than life – we are really tired and satisfied after this incredible experience. Backstreet’s Back alright!
Canada’s waterways and fur trade
Trying to wake up after a late night, we take it slow as we roll out of the parking lot of Cabela’s and drive out of Ottawa after a quick stop at the Decathlon. Today we will make our way to Montreal, with a few stops along the way. The waterways here are filled with locks and pretty towns, we can only imagine how much fun it must be to travel here by boat. We visit a lock, to see how it works and laugh especially as we realize that the little turtles in the area use the lock too to get to the other side!
Driving further along we get to another historic site about the fur trade, which is a great addition to the forts we have visited in the West. This is where everything was shipped out to Europe and where ‘voyageurs’ were hired to row the boats up the river with all the trading goods. We even have to geocache outside to find some of the answers, and Luc gets to comb a real beaver hat! Once done, we hit Montreal rush hour traffic, something we really do not miss traveling, and thus get to our overnight spot quite late in the day. While Sven prepares dinner the rest of us head out to the nearest park for some frisbeeing before it is time to call it a day.
From cast iron to cannon balls
As we drive away from Montreal, we say goodbye to the locks and canals and move towards the tongue of water that comes straight from the Atlantic ocean. On the way we pass the town of St Maurice, where the historical site of forges for iron casting is set out. For 150 years, in an area filled with farmland there was a soot covered town of a few hundred people fully dedicated to the casting of iron. The historical site has the fully renovated ironmaster’s house with a great exhibition about the town and its people, and where the boys get to dress up as children from that era.
Then on the grounds is the old forge, where again there is a dress up, this time to work the ovens in wooden shoes, a leather apron and felt hat. There are many explanations about how to get the best iron mix, how to make iron molds and an interactive game to work the different jobs in the forge. It was clearly a tough life here, but a good life as well as long as the demand for cast iron continued. The town had managed to stay relevant by changing their products from ploughs and cannons to kitchen stoves, but in the late 1800’s the operation proved to become unprofitable and thus the forge was closed and the town abandoned.
A little under 2 hours away we get to the city of Quebec, and across the waterway we go to the Levis Forts, no1. A series of 3 forts, of which No1 is the only one that is well kept and renovated to be visited. Through the fort we learn about Quebec’s defenses against the Americans, the boys get to dress up for the 3rd time today (as British soldiers this time) and we learn to load and fire a cannon. At the end of it we play an interactive computer game to test our knowledge and manage to save the day by getting almost all questions right.
Pointe-au-Pere & the Battle of Restigouche
The road towards Nova Scotia leads us along the coastline to another very fun stop along the way; the lighthouse of Pointe-au-Pere. Not only is there a lighthouse here, but there are also 2 other museums, one about a massive passenger ship wreck, and a real submarine you can go into. We turn out to be really lucky as it is the first Sunday of the month and apparently the museums are free on this day! We first visit the shipwreck museum, which has a really funny cat guiding kids through the museum explaining what happened here, a really sad story.
After this we get to go all the way up in the lighthouse to a fantastic view along the coastline, and as the French explanation is finished and all the other guests climb down again, we get a private English explanation of the guide. Not for those afraid of heights, but the boys think washing the windows on a tiny ledge really sounds like fun! Last on the list is the huge submarine, the Onondaga, which has been moored here and turned into a museum where you learn all the different challenges of sailing a submarine. Getting to climb through the hatches and peering through the periscope is really fun, and the big missiles are truly impressive.
From here we cross through the mainland on to the edge of New Brunswick, where another big battle was fought between the French and the British; the battle of Restigouche. After some confusion about the time (across the water into New Brunswick there is 1 hour time difference which our phones already pick up) we thankfully still have plenty of time for the visitor center and add to our battle knowledge the final big water based battle the French and the British fought out, won by the British. As we cross into New Brunswick we drive on to Miramichi and the lovely Ritchie’s Warf park where we park the RV for the night and go to sleep with the one hundred ducks next to us.
Kouchibouguac National Park
Along the coast of New Brunswick we find the Kouchibouguac NP which boasts 60km of bike trails, so of course this peaked our interest! There is even a 6km one way mountain bike trail, so we off load our bikes and get going. The National Park really has it all, forest, beach, rivers and ocean, and as it is not a very large park (10 by 10 km approximately) it is perfect to spend a day and ride around all the trails and boardwalks. First we tackle the mountain bike trail, where we see some black bear poo but don’t run into a bear as we ride the single track through slightly muddy and with that mosquito rich forest.
Rolling out of the MTB trail we get to the coastline where we put our feet in the warm inner waters and wait for the little fish to take a nibble out of them. After lunch, we ride on passed a few short loops in marshes and forests and arrive at Kellys beach, a proper beach on the oceanside of the sandy banks, which you get to over a large boardwalk over the inner water which is filled with birds. Unfortunately it is quite windy, so swimming is not on the boys’ list, but nonetheless the beach is there to be played on and with the shovel we easily spend a few hours. Another big advantage here is that Kellys beach sports a hot shower! So we packed our clean undies and shower gel so we could wash off after the beach, which was a real treat.
Riding away through the other side of the park, we come by another marsh with a high lookout tower, and dodge a plethora of squirrels crossing the bike path as we roll along. We keep going, back to our RV, waiting for a moose or black bear to pop out rather than a squirrel, but they stay well hidden. From the National Park it is only one hour to our hosts for the night, where we spend a really nice and quiet night on their driveway, and even get a bunch of fresh tomatoes from the garden!
Acadian culture & deportation
Next day we first find a car wash where we can drive our RV into, as we are getting ready to put the RV up for sale and need some pictures taken. The wash is not easy, but we all pitch in and make our ‘Jerry’ look great again, ready to shine! We drive through the area to Monument Lefebvre, a museum commemorating the Acadian people and its history. After having seen the landing of the deported Acadians down south in Louisiana, it is really interesting to see the place they came from and the tragedy of their deportation unfolding. The pride of the French in this part of Canada is really prevalent, and it clearly still stings a bit how the Acadians and with that French heritage was taken apart.
Nova Scotia is the next province on our list, but first there is a stop just before its border at Fort Beausejour. Already closed for the season (the visitor center) we only visit the outdoors of the fort, while reading the panels on its history protecting the waterways from French and American aggressors. Our destination for the day is another host close to Halifax, where we learn about maple syrup (who knew it was coming from the bark of the tree!?), and even get a little jar filled with the good stuff from their own garden… yummm.
Birthday number 2
Birthday fun is not over yet, with mom turning 41 on this trip through Canada! With another pancake breakfast the day starts off very well, and with the sun shining we drive into the center of Halifax, up the hill to its citadel. The disappointment of yesterday’s fort being closed is quickly forgotten as the citadel more than makes up for it with dozens of employees dressed up and ready to explain all the elements of the citadel, plus plenty of little gangways and rooms to discover.
As we go through the place with our Explorer books in hand, we learn even more about life in a fort, from the school to guarding the gate, and of course firing a cannon! We should know the steps by now, but the real treat here is that the cannon is actually fired every single day at noon, so we can check if we really know how it works. The soldiers do all the prep, cleaning the cannon and rolling it into position, and with a 10 second warning we all close our ears for the loud bang. Not even being a 3rd of what normally would be put in as powder, the bang is loud enough for us to be quite impressed, and like everyday the people of Halifax know it is noon – thanks to the noon gun.
As we hand in the book we find out the tags for the citadel have run out, so slightly disappointed we go back to the RV where we run into an employee who promises to see if he can find any while we head into Halifax. We walk down the hill on to the waterside where we stroll along the piers with all their shops and restaurants, and a beavertail stand. One thing we have not tried yet, so we buy one as a snack and have to say it is very tasty, like a flat ‘oliebol’! The town of Halifax is really lively and of course the great weather also helps to bring everybody outside. On our way back we go through the public garden, another prime example of creating a peaceful and beautifully landscaped park in the middle of town. As we get back to the RV the boys are surprised as they find a bag full of Parks Canada goodies, not a tag, but this is SO much better!!! What a great send off by this amazing organisation!
The birthday is not over yet, as we have found an overnight stay through Harvest Hosts at a winery in the Annapolis region one hour away from Halifax. So we spend the final hours of the day on a terrace overlooking the grapevines, enjoying a delicious meal with the necessary wines, ciders and cocktails. With the guests leaving, we have the place to ourselves and enjoy the sunset while running through the fields. We of course bought an extra bottle of wine for the evening, and while we finish that and watch a movie, we can only conclude that this was another great birthday, and the last one before going home…
Next week: Back to the US