Tuesday, July 6, 2010

arriving at the end of the road...for now

I've started developing this strange love for roadside motels and greasy spoon diners that play bad francophone country music. which is pretty good if you're on a road trip, because you'll probably see a lot of it. it's a whole culture of its own, and is pretty universal across North America, wherever you go. the only thing that changes is the accent of the waitress that serves you, and the brands of beer that they've got on tap.

totally awesome quebecois diner food: poutine and smoked meat sandwiches.

i grew up in a household where we ate Korean food every meal, so diner food is actually pretty exotic to me. and there's something comforting about its consistency across the country. No matter what province or state you're in, if you're craving homemade spaghetti, chances are you'll find it on the menu at the diner. And without pretentious prices of a downtown King Street restaurant in Toronto.

it's the same thing with roadside motels. sometimes you're just tired from driving all day and you just want to find a place where you can curl up in a warm bed and watch a hell of a lot of TV. roadside motels provide that comfort. located in the middle of nowhere, there's no pressure to make the most of your visit and go outside and productively sightsee. you can go ahead and drink a beer in bed and watch medical dramas and have a wonderful sleep that will leave you looking forward to the next ten hours of driving tomorrow morning.

last night, we pulled into Kamouraska, which we had heard was a lovely place. it's been named one of the top 20 most beautiful villages in Quebec. i know there are more than 20 villages in Quebec, so I guess it's saying something. certainly other folks seemed to think so, because every quaint motel and inn along the St Lawrence River was completely full, leaving us to feel a bit like Mary and Joseph (minus the immaculate pregnancy part). so we kept on driving down the highway till we came across our next roadside motel attached to a greasy spoon diner. On this side of Quebec City, nobody speaks English. luckily, rob and i speak just enough French to conduct our business (rent rooms, order dinner), and not enough French for the locals to want to carry on a long conversation with us, so we were allowed to eat our diner food in peace and without saying anything. which was just what we were looking for, after a long day of driving.

it had been a challenging day. New Brunswick seems to get bigger every time I cross it, and it just seems to take forever to get through it. we had a scary moment when we almost ran out of gas - we were stuck driving with the gas light on, for what seemed like forever, during what seemed to be the longest stretch of highway without any rest stops. when that happens (and that has happened to me before), all these thoughts start popping up in my head: i have no cell phone reception here. has my CAA expired? i wonder how far i can run in this heat. are people here going to be friendly because they're rural, or unfriendly, because we're from the city? where are we exactly? maybe i should call my parents. are my parents going to think i'm a total idiot for having this happen again? i wonder where i can get some free wifi, because i haven't checked facebook in like two hours.

but we made it to a gas station, where a man asked us in a slow drawl where we were from. Ontario, we said. Ah, the man replied, he'd lived in Toronto for forty years, but was awful glad to eventually move back out here in Perth-Andover, because "ain't nobody trying to shoot at me here." I'd say it was the gospel truth.

and then once you leave New Brunswick, you've got Quebec, which actually is the largest Canadian province. miles and miles of farmland and purple loosestrife, seeming to extend way past the horizon. the occasional gigantic church in a tiny town. All these road signs posted in French, a weird French, because we've all learned French in public school, and yet these signs don't make clear sense, because instead of saying something simple like, "Maximum speed limit: 100 km/hr", they say something more complex and poetic like "You should consider how there are limits to your hurry; The roads are not a race track. 100 km/hr." Or instead of saying "Right turns on right lights are now permitted", they say "I think about pedestrians" with a picture of a red light. Oh well, it's all part of the adventures of French Canada.

today we took the rest of the trek home, and have finally arrived safely back in Ottawa. i'm a little sad about my road trip ending...but then again, i leave for Toronto in a few days, so i'll have plenty of chances to get tired of being on the road, if that could ever happen.

good-bye to the East Coast, the land where McDonald's serves McLobster burgers.

Monday, July 5, 2010

off on the road again

yesterday was a hot and sunny day, so we headed off for Prince Edward Island National Park to soak up some sun at the beautiful Brackley Beach. at least I did, anyway. my poor boyfriend with scandinavian genes spent his time hiding from the sun trying not to get burned.

it was a beautiful beach, very different from the west coast ones that i have grown used to. it was a white sands beach, instead of the usual red dirt, but there where these magnificent grassy dunes everywhere, and boardwalks set up to lead you through them. it reminded me a bit of Zandvoort on the North Sea in Holland, but this time the beach wasn't empty, but instead full of families and teens and children. and jellyfish, unfortunately, lots of jellyfish. the water was so full of them, i couldn't swim very long. the only people staying in the water were children who made a game of trying to poke the jellyfish with a stick while avoiding getting stung. they were much braver than i.

we drove through the rest of the national park which is full of shoreline beaches and quiet lakes, but not a lot of trees, in contrast to Ontario parks. for lunch, rob and i stopped off at the Dunes Gallery, which featured arts and crafts from various PEI artists as well as exotic stuff from all over the world, especially Buddhas. someday, someone can explain to me why non-Buddhists have such a fascination with keeping statues of Buddhas in their house. i mean, i rarely see atheists carrying around crosses or prayer beads. anyway, it was full of neat and interesting stuff, and it made me want to own a house so i could fill it with this stuff.

they also had a cafe in the gallery with an awesome menu of locally-grown meat, gigantic servings of salad, edible flowers, fruity cocktails, and sinful dessert. it was obviously really popular with women. i have this thing against eating flowers, but i really enjoyed my meal anyway, which consisted of PEI turkey burgers and half of Rob's steak and cheese sandwich.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

date night in Charlottetown

although we spent most of the day shooting the newest Scary Bear film on the beach, in the evening rob and i decided to have a romantic night in Charlottetown, doing our favourite activity, dinner and a show. we had dinner at Sims Corner Steakhouse and Oysterbar, where rob and i managed to drop almost the same amount of money as we did in Quebec City. the place was expensive but delicious. Rob likes to play food critic when we travel. he was pretty impressed with what we were served, although my chicken cordon bleu was technically not a chicken cordon bleu, since they replaced my ham with bacon....but who complains about accidental bacon?

i ordered ONE oyster, just to have a taste. i don't normally eat oysters, but this one was doused in cream and bacon, so how could i say no to that?

that's a lot of meat. rob ordered the steak, which was beef raised locally on the Island.

afterwards we went to Baba's Lounge to see a couple of bands playing, including Toronto's Andy Swan, and local bands Racoon Bandit and the Drea McDonald Band. It was a cute venue, a small attic nestled on top of a restaurant right on University. i enjoyed the music, although i wish everything started up a bit earlier - the music didn't begin until 11PM and the main act didn't come on until after midnight. but it was a Friday night - maybe Islanders party later. it's not like i don't get ten hours of sleep a night plus a daily siesta.

the dead seal is still lying on the beach...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Canada Day 2010

yesterday we spent Canada Day in the birthplace of Confederation (as folks round here call it).

Charlottetown's Province House, location of one of the first Conferences for the founding of our country.

John A. was totally up for celebrating with me.

During the day, Rob and I wandered in and out of several Charlottetown bars, watching the entire population of the Island slowly make their way into town. we passed the time drinking local beers, counting visible minorities, and eating overwhelming portions of PEI specialty foods.

Seafood chowder! Potato skins!

I like Charlottetown. The downtown core is really small, and you can easily cover it on foot in a short period of time, but there still were a lot of interesting unique shops (like the vintage & vinyl store - what a genius idea), and the harbour is as pretty as, well, a picture.

the whole area just has this cosy and friendly feel to it. i sneezed, and a man standing a block away from me said "bless you". i wondered out loud about how to pay for parking, and a woman who happened to hear us told us we didn't have to. the local newspaper sends off their local indie bands leaving to go on tour with the same well wishes that a mother would give her kids. that's just nice.

the support for the small but surpisingly talented music scene was especially evident when we saw Paper Lions performing as part of Summerfest in Confederation Landing Park near the wharf. I've heard Paper Lions a few times on CBC Radio 3 before, but as a PEI band, there was something particularly special about seeing a band play in its hometown with the support of their friends and families, on a gigantic stage during a primetime spot that no Toronto band of equal fame would be given in its hometown.

I was impressed by their performance overall. they definitely knew how to put on a show. they had an extended drum solo featuring the drummer playing with his bare hands then slowly adding drumsticks until he was playing with four sticks. he later on played a conga solo that almost, almost rivaled my own percussionist Brian's performance during our Mock Trial show. in the middle of their song Sheriff, they broke into an impressive four-part rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, which is not an easy song to cover.

then they announced that Anne of Green Gables would sing the national anthem. i thought they were joking.

they were not.

it was a surreal but moving moment. a fat guy with very hairy arms wrapped his arms around me, singing "don't be a stranger in my place" (he was still singing a Paper Lions song), the Japanese tourists apparently knew all the words to our anthem, and folks switched to the French version at the appropriate moment with no hesitation. but most importantly, freakin' Anne Shirley was singing the national anthem.

fireworks followed, synched up with music, all of which were, for some reason, songs by British bands. we didn't have the best view for the fireworks, since trees partly blocked our sight (this wouldn't have been a problem in Toronto, since they cut down the trees downtown in security preparation for the G20). Even so, it was still impressive - supposedly the second biggest fireworks display in Canada (you can guess where Number 1 was).

afterwards, there was the biggest crowd that i'm sure Charlottetown ever sees, all year round.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

gloria of green gables

some men from the government came about the dead seal yesterday. they pulled up in a car full of stuffed owls and bald eagles and blue jays and ducks, props they had been using for a talk they had just given at a summer camp. they came and looked at the dead bloated body on the beach and realized that the 300-pound thing was not going to fit into their little car full of endangered species, even if the seal was headless and tail-less.

yesterday rob and i went for a long drive around the island, taking what our map labeled as the Blue Heron Coastal Trail. this route took us all around the central part of the island, through Brackley, Rustico, Cavendish, Malpeque, Kensington, Summerside, Cape Traverse, and back to Cumberland again.

Port-La-Joye/Fort Amherst, where you can learn about all the things that aren't there anymore, namely Mikmac Aboriginals, Acadians, and the fort.

Lobster boats.


obviously along our route, we had to stop at Green Gables. because, as my friends from other parts of the east coast point out, what else is there to do in Prince Edward Island?

Personally, i've never really understood the point of visiting Green Gables, despite everyone's enthusiasm for it (including my grandfather's). First of all, Anne of Green Gables is a fictional character, so it's not like you can say "This is the spot where she used to sit and dream about what it would be like not to be red-headed." Second of all, Avonlea is a fictional town, so it's not like you can go to the spot and say "This is where Anne would have dreamed about puffy sleeves, if she really existed." Third of all, while Green Gables did really exist, L.M. Montgomery has herself said that when writing about it in her books, she did not stick to facts at all. So. my educational background in cultural studies questions the authenticity in paying eight dollars to visit Green Gables. However. Anne of Green Gables is one of the biggest hits to happen to PEI, so who am i to deny them their tourism?

For example, this would have been Anne's room, if she existed, if Avonlea existed, and if Green Gables was like this.

sometimes i wonder if the tour guides here wonder the same questions as me.

It was still pretty cool to visualize how the setting would have looked like in the book, and the whole area was a lovely place. i was a little disappointed that there weren't any hordes of Japanese tourists that usually hang around Green Gables. Green Gables seemed incomplete

later on, Rob and i stopped at a Cavendish boardwalk and had fish & chips with clam chowder for lunch. seeing how PEI is an ocean island whose main export is potatoes, the fish and chips seemed like the way to go.

by evening time, i could no longer resist my craving for ice cream, so we stopped at Cows Creamery, native to PEI (although my first Cows experience was actually in Nova Scotia). There was a lot of giggling at the t-shirts. rob and i realized that we had forgotten our six year anniversary last week, so we congratulated each other with celebratory ice cream cones.