Mama Mia deary me ze secret service are all over ze ‘Otel this morning. We get into the lift to go up and zere iz zis serious looking tall man, earpiece in ‘is ear and ze blimmin lift goes down. Ze door opens, he looks out, gets back in and we go up. Then we hear zat ze Mexican President is staying at owa ‘Otel. We go outside to get into ze coach and the Polize are here in vast numbers. Now we on our way to Ottawa and we hear zat ze Mexican President iz following uz for heavens sakes! Not only zat but he is being joined by President Trudeau and President Obama – the three Amigos will be zere wiz uz. Magnifique! But ‘ow many blimmin secret service people vill be zere as well? I vill keep you posted on zis little matter.
We drove to Ottawa via Parc Omega which is a safari park in Notre Dame de Bonsecours just north of a place called Montebello and about 85 km from Ottawa. It is home to much wildlife including red deer, moose, black beers, raccoons, elk, coyote, red fox, bison, black bears, wild boar, caribou (reindeers), Arctic wolves and Arctic fox. We had a picnic lunch and then boarded a bus with no windows. The bus also had no suspension or creature comforts of any kind at all so we bumped around the 15 km ride with a driver who was from the back of beyond. BUT it was amazing to be up so close to the animals. We were given bags of carrots to feed some of them – they wandered right on up to the bus as if they were going to a Michellin star restaurant for lunch.

We also drove through a large lumbar region and many many big trucks on the freeway loaded with timber. We also passed large subdivisions. This is curious because in the various subdivisions all the houses are exactly the same design – no difference at all. Lego houses all in a row – quite attractive but all the same. However, much much cheaper to purchase than real estate in our fair city at home.  

Now while I think of it, I want to tell you about the Immigration Policy here in Canada. They take 25,000 refugees a year here and they only accept families. This, of course, is helpful for their integration into a whole new society because children go to school, etc etc and this helps the parents to integrate into a community. But if you want to Immigrate here the Government tells you where you must live and you must stay in that city for three years. If you attempt to shift from that nominated city, it’s “Au Revoir” home you go sunshine!  

Another Government policy is interesting. For every new commercial building that is built the developers have to spend 1% of the cost of the development on artwork which may be a piece of sculpture, a monumental fountain etc etc. This has introduced some magnificent pieces of artwork all over the country and the people obviously treasure and appreciate art. Now, strictly speaking, this is a Catholic country – just like France. There are churches everywhere just like in Europe. But, people are not attending church like they used to. That beautiful Notre Dame in Montreal has only approximately 100 parishioners going regularly to Mass each Sunday. So some of the churches are being converted into centres for art and culture, theatre etc.

Now if any of you have seen in the news over the past few weeks an enormous sinkhole appeared in the street in Ottawa – HUGE. It happened at a busy time of day. A bus full of people passed by just seconds before it happened. Unfortunately for a truck driver who parked illegally, his truck ended up in the sinkhole (he won’t park beside a NP sign again will he!) Anyway, you can Google it and see – it was enormous and it is about 100 m from owa ‘Otel. Heaven forbid – it was a burst water main that caused this catastrophe and I still have to learn how to get ze Showa going tonight – it doesn’t bear thinking about does it!

Ottawa is a beautiful city with the Riedel Canal in its centre. However, the three Amigos are here – Police EVERYWHERE – road barriers EVERYWHERE – Secret Service EVERYWHERE – even on the river in boats. This morning we had to bring forward our departure to Toronto because of road closures happening etc etc. 

Now – ze bathroom! So after the flood of ze bathroom in Quebec this one is totally different (of course – zey know ze Kiwis are coming zo zey set ze challenge don’t they – I am totally convinced of zis!) Anyway, I get into the Showa and I see, to my relief there is a hand held Showa so I take it off the attachment and hold onto it and go to turn it on. Zis should be easy thinks I. But there are three levers – maybe it’s for hot, cold and warm. Turn ze first handle – nothing ‘appens. Turn ze second and voila – we have water but cold. Turn ze third – no change. Eventually we have hot water – yay!!! In I get and I am holding the hand held thingy and everything is going well until I drop ze soap and bend down to pick it up and I haven’t noticed but there is a dinner plate thingy above me with water pouring out of it too and it gets me straight in ze face. I drop ze hand held thingy and it lands upside down and now I am getting water coming up at me. Heaven forbid, it is like being in the garden and the blimmin sprinkler is on – top and bottom are now getting water from all directions and I still don’t have ze soap. You know what I am saying don’t you!!

So our last night in Ottawa is spent with Betty and Reg – lovely Canadian friends of our neighbours Anne and Michael and we met them when they stayed in Auckland. They have travelled an hour to come into town and meet us for dinner and a lovely evening we had sitting under the trees at an Italian restaurant enjoying good company. They took us to another little shack to have Beaver Tails for dessert – not what you are thinking. Beaver Tails are like long thin donuts and you can have any topping you want – we had sugar and cinnamon and delicious they were. So that lovely evening ended our visit to this really nice city. We say farewell and onto Toronto we go.

Quebec City

After a nice drive from Montreal and a stop on the way at a Sugar Shack where maple syrup is made, we arrived in Quebec and here we are comfortably ensconced in Le Chateau Frontenac at the edge of the St Lawrence River inside the wall of this beautiful city. What a magnificent place this is. It reminds me a little of Lyon and Avignon actually as I sit here looking to the window across to the other side of the river. Last evening we had walk after dinner and it was like being in the heart of France with musicians, singers, people dancing, circus performers doing their thing in the little park areas and lots of people enjoying a quiet meal at the hundreds of cafes. Magnifique!
This morning the boss and I (actually I am the tour leader but I let him demonstrate his skills today – as you say Shane, he is the apprentice!) went on a walk to get a good look at this older part of the city. We went down, down, down from Le Chateau Frontenac, which is at ze top of ze ‘ill, right to ze bottom by ze river. This was a good idea until it came to coming back up ze blimmin ‘ill and we decided to get the Funicular. This afternoon we did a gastronomic walking food tour. Now zis was interesting. We went to seven little restaurants and we had different types of wine, organic and otherwise, we had refreshing cool cider, we had the local drink of Caribou. 

Now that was an experience actually because Caribou is whiskey, port and maple syrup and yesterday we had it chilled and it was nice. Today it wasn’t chilled and it was just like ordinary port. We had a local delicacy called Poutin which is twice fried potatoes, gravy and cheese; maple syrup + maple syrup fudge + maple syrup tea; buckwheat pancakes stuffed with ham and cheese and lastly chocolat – save the best for last they say! Then we waddled back up to ze ‘Otel and went to the gorgeous bar overlooking the St Lawrence River and ze boss ‘ad a cool beer and I ‘ad a cool Pinot Grigio and very nice it was.

Now I am going to finish off by NOT commenting on ze bathroom other than to say that last night we ‘ad a flood in ze bathroom. Deary me – I turned off ze water, pulled back ze curtain and voila – blimmin water all over ze entire floor of ze bathroom. C’est la vie!

That was the gospel according to TL………..Tour Leader………aka Shannon.   Now for some observations according to the Apprentice….aka Vern.

Canadian drivers are so courteous they put Kiwi drivers to shame…….yes, that includes all of you too!!!!  Don’t jay walk here, cross the road at the intersections.  But you can step onto the road at the intersections and the drivers have already figured that you were going to cross and have stopped 50 metres before. Where you are.   In Kiwiland you would now be dead, but here, they just give you a wave!!!!   Our guides tell us that it is the same all over Canada.

Drink driving is taken very seriously here…… totally zero tolerance.  No ifs, no buts, no maybes.   Any sign of alcohol and its $3000 instant fine and 18 month loss of licence, and no option to appeal.  Road toll has dropped dramatically as a result.
Why do 998 Canadian pedestrians walk towards you on the footpath on your LHS and 2 Kiwis walk towards them on the LHS……….. Because they drive on the RHS of the road and walk on the RHS of the footpath.    It takes a bit of getting used to for a geriatric Kiwi I can tell you!!!

They are bilingual here…….French first and English second.  Interesting to watch them start speaking to you in French then realise you are not Canadian and continue in English……smart buggers these Canadians but a bit confusing for a dumb apprentice.

Have been a bit upside down since arriving and wake up not long after midnight to spend the rest of the nite looking at the ceiling in the dark and listening to all the sounds a hotel makes during the nite……….don’t laugh… would be really surprised what you can hear…………what goes on on tour stays on tour though!!!   But today I was very fortunate to wake much later at 5am.   Thanks to my brother Shane who lent me the book Wild Boy, the story of nineteen year old Brando Yellavich walking around the coastline of NZ, I decided to read this book whilst I waited for the breakfast hour to arrive.  It is a fascinating book about the life story of an ADHD child.   Couldn’t help feeling emotional about the difference of the two worlds.  Sumptuous meals versus possums, or goats, or seagulls.   Read it if you are interested in adventure and pushing limits.  Quite humbling when you are privileged like we are at present.  Thanks Bro.  Really enjoying the story.

Fascinated when we went to the bar tonight to enjoy a beer at the end of a hot day……32 degrees.   Asked for a Canadian beer, and in response asked if I would like a Stellar………..Oh that would be good….nice Canadian beer, eh!!!   Also great to see Kiwi wines in hotels here, Kim Crawford in Montreal, and others here in Quebec.

Montreal could teach us Aucklanders a lot about opening up the waterfront (riverfront in their case) to the people and move the port out of town.   Done a great job here and the riverfront is a great hive of activity.

And in case any of you think I am not  doing my training whilst I am away……..I am pleased to report that there are many many cyclists riding on the roads and cycle paths here and I watch them all the time,, so training is going well!!!

Hope all is going well for all back home.   See you some time in the spring!!!!

The Apprentice

Quebec …… Here we come!

Well the shockwaves from Brexit have reached these shores with every TV channel now abandoning the Donald and Hilary circus and focusing on the UK. The main big news channels here appear to have dedicated themselves to reporting every move and every word coming from the Donald and Hilary but today there is only one thing on the screens and it is the Brexit earthquake rocking Europe and, possibly the world.

We had a lovely tour of this interesting city on the St Lawrence River today starting with what is almost another city underground zis ‘Otel. You see winters here are harsh – temperatures can get down to minus 40 below. Now that is a tad cold you must admit and so they had the good sense, when the Metro was built in the 70’s, to create this enormous network of underground passageways which lead from the subway and convention centre right up to hotel lobbies, apartment lobbies, buildings where large companies conduct business etc etc. There is over 30km of these passageways linking the Metro with buildings. If you are very fortunate, when the snow has reached a depth which makes it impossible to open the garage door unless you also own a snowcat (the average snowfall here in winter is 300 cm), and if you live in one of these apartment buildings, you may be able to reach the subway via your local passageway, get off and arrive at your place of work via another one. The tour guide today suggested we should return in October to witness the magnificent fall colours and then again at Christmas to see the amazing Christmas tree they erect in the underground shopping centre we visited this morning! Having been in Banff many years ago at the end of December and the temperature being -29 degrees, I can tell you ve vill not be returning at that time of year!  The tour ended with a visit to the magnificent Notre Dame Basilica.

This city, along with many others in Canada is French through and through. For all intents and purposes you could be in the centre of France so I feel very at home here. However, the difference here is that it is a truly bilingual place – everyone speaks at least French and English. So zat is very helpful ven you need to order ze baguette with jambon and fromage!

Now you just will not believe this (well you might actually!) We have just had a nice dinner with the group and the Tour Guide (Shane – that isn’t me – I didn’t get the job!) gave a little talk about BATHROOMS. Can you belieeeeeve it? He even gave out notes about all sorts of things and one whole section on ze bathrooms. It says “Your biggest challenge on this holiday (besides not eating too much great food) will be to figure out how to turn on your BATHROOM taps. You may have to twist knobs, push buttons or turn dials (stomping your feet does not help!) If all else fails, just contact reception.” Then he goes on to give a talk about the fact that we are staying in ‘otels which are old Chateaus and, although beautiful, ze plumbing is not! Oh heaven forbid – how did zis ‘appen?? I will keep you posted on ze problems viz ze bathrooms. I am now regretting not sending Vern on a plumbing course at Bassett Plumbing! Tomorrow we set off for Quebec and the mysteries of ze bathroom at Le Chateau Frontenac. I will phone ahead and ask that they leave the “Bathroom for Dummies” manual on our bed.

Bonjour Montreal….

And a very early 7.15 am arrival to greet the day in a drizzly Montreal. Can you belieeeeve it? We had to go to the $1 shop and get two plastic ponchos because the raincoats were in the bag at the ‘Otel. Fortunately the rain stopped and we didn’t have to run around like two vacuum packed Kiwis! It has been a long night, day, night, day and we are a little tired.  I want to tell you something because I know you are all concerned about ze bathrooms. You see I told you that Trip Advisor had advised that it would be no problem at all and we don’t expect it will be because they are clean and relatively “normal” by Kiwi standards BUT the first set of bathrooms you come to after Immigration at LAX (where everyone who has been crammed onto an Air NZ 12 hour flight suddenly has the urge to “go”) has only THREE cubicles in the Women’s. One of these is for “Disabled” BUT the disabled cubicle is locked if you please! There are 14 of us in the queue and, I can tell you that by the time it was my turn I was almost disabled myself. Now this isn’t funny at all because it is very obvious that disabled passengers are not expected to have the need to use the bathroom on a Tuesday! Unbelieeeevable! Do you think this is one of the “Donald’s” brilliant ideas along with building the wall and shipping all the Mexicans back home? So needless to say, the one in charge of the “B’s” had a long wait for me because the Men’s bathroom on that concourse had been better planned and, clearly, no men are disabled are they?

Next stop was to go for a walk in the fresh air BUT 999 taxis are roaring around all the terminal buildings and we only wished we had thought to pack some of that canned Kiwi air that is being shipped out of our clean land because the air we were breathing sure as heck wasn’t fresh. We decided we needed a drink – not sure why because I sure as the sky is blue wasn’t going back to that bathroom with the 2 cubicles and the locked one. We found a little place and saw on the board “Smoothies – strawberry and chocolate”. The one in charge of the B’s seats himself down because it now seems that I am in charge of food and drink as well. So I go to the counter. The sweet lass says “Hi therrrrre Mam, what would you like?” I order two strawberry smoothies. “Sorry Mam, we got no binanarrrrs.” I tell her I didn’t want a binanarrrrr smoothie, I wanted STRAWBERRY (for Pete’s sake they aren’t even on offer according to the menu). “Yes Mam but we outa binanarrrrs”. It now seems certain I have “KIWI IDIOT” tattooed on my forehead because I am finding this very hard to comprehend. “If you wanna strawberry one it means it will only have strawberries in it!”  Oh heaven forbid – I wished to heck we had decided on a Sprite!

So now we are in Montreal recovering from all this stress and we have only been away from home about 36 hours. We met two women from Dunedin that will be on our tour and there was a very long limous-i-n-e waiting to bring us to the ‘Otel. All good. Tomorrow we will take it easy and stay out of trouble in readiness for the excitement to follow! Well, zat is ze plan anyway.