Monday, 27 August 2012

Off the Beaten Path to Grand Manan Island

We took the back roads from Woodstock to Black's Harbour, thence to Grand Manan Island on the "big" ferry. This is the picture from last year.
This year we were walk-on passengers. Walking on board involved navigating a rather slippery gangplank without much the way of barricades and then getting off ahead of the huge transport trucks and hoping the drivers knew you were there. 
This post is mostly pictures - worth a thousand words:


This well camouflaged cat was asleep in the old dinghy outside the museum. Here is a link with a picture of the museum itself:  Apparently the cat visits here and at several stores along the road and can have a snack on the porch or enjoy cosier shelter as needed:

As for us, when hunger panged, we went back down Highway 776 to the Back Porch Cafe where we had the best chowder on our trip, likely because the fish was just fresh off the dock. It was neither creamy nor made with tomato base, just a plain broth with potatoes and onions.
Lots of fishing boats are in the harbour and drydocks, where I think we were trespassing. There was no one there and a gap in the fence:

I enjoyed reading the names:

And the local union:

I am not sure what these are:

Then there were  doorways, front yards and miscellaneous stuff:

A little bit of everything in this yard:  

Things derelict in the grass: 



We stayed at Ingalls Head Cottages run by our friends Ron and Wendy Plyley. Great accommodation, by the way, a stone's throw from the Bay of Fundy.
 This is the bay beside the cottages:
Ron and Wendy toured us around the Island; actually "around" is not literally true, as the road goes from the lighthouse at the north end to the lighthouse at the south end and stops at the cliffs.
We went from sea level to vertiginous in about 20 minutes. Incidentally, the museum does a great job explaining the geological structures comprising the island.
There were about 30 people there when we visited - most were there to see the sun set. A few sat on the very edge  - not something I would recommend as you never know what the under-cliff may be like! Notice there are no fences in these pictures; the one rusty chain link fence which was there gave only an illusion of safety. The Maritimes provides not a lot in the way of protective this's and that's, I noticed; people are expected to look after their own safety. Sometimes that works; other times it doesn't.
No one has fallen over the edge here in recent memory, although a shipwrecked soul a hundred years ago crawled up these cliffs and then to a farm house where he was succoured and revived.

The sun began to set, and we returned to Ingalls Head with one stop for really delicious ice cream cones - at a mini-putt golf course, which combined daring inclines and curves with lovely old-fashioned perennials. Alas, it was too dark to take a photo by that time.
This was our second year on tiny Grand Manan and we still have more things to see and do! Looking forward to next year ... 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Not the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – but close

Sometimes it pays to go off-highway and not stay at the Best Western/ Travelodge/ Holiday Inn/ Day’s Inn hotel. Other times, I’m not so sure. As one of my Sunday school teachers once said, travelling by Holiday Inns is the best way because it is reassuringly predictable. Those weren’t her exact words, but that was her meaning.  
At the time I thought it was sage, if unadventuresome, advice and rather uncharacteristic of someone who, to my mind, was the epitome of glamour and hence, I then thought, more apt to relish the unexpected. But I suppose glamour requires at the very least good lighting and a hair dryer. I am not sure what any of this had to do with religious training except tangentially: the  Christmas story comes to mind, for she and her husband, the Sunday School superintendent, travelled to Florida each winter. I expect there was always room in their inns.
Anyhow, to get back to our recent travels, we left our dessert crumbs behind at the previously mentioned Irving gas station and continued on our way, hoping to make Woodstock, New Brunswick for the night. A sign on the highway near there advertised the Stiles Motel where rooms were on offer from $69.99. Intrigued by the possibility of a bargain hostelry, we turned off the Trans-Canada and followed the local road to downtown Woodstock, a pretty little town spread along the St. John River. At Main Street, only right turns were allowed so we had to drive south. This turned out to be the wrong direction.  We turned around and went north and were about to give up when behind an overhanging tree branch, I spied the sign for the motel.
It must have been in its heyday in the mid-50’s – certainly before the new highway left it in the dust, as it were.  An aerial photograph behind a ficus plant in the office showed brightly coloured cars with fins and clever landscaping consisting of arrow-shaped beds pointing to the hotel. But now, the Mugo pines had grown so tall they obscured the sign advertising the restaurant, road widening had destroyed the arrow gardens, and the "No" of the Vacancy sign was actually unplugged and cob-webbed.
Sadly our room was like we were: tired. The walls were done in swirly stucco painted a glossy white, like a wedding cake gone awry. Outside, the window had strips of brown paint on either side intended to look like shutters from a distance.
I was puzzled by the initials in the iron work: no S for Styles. Who had been the original owners?  My next thought was oh dear.
The current proprietors are from Ontario: an East Indian couple who seemed rather overwhelmed.  Apparently, it is their first foray into the hospitality business.
However, we chatted a bit while Greg signed the register. I asked if they by chance served dinner – the pale blue and dusty pink restaurant was both retro and enormous  – and would they have Indian cuisine. Yes to both questions!  Things were taking a turn for the better. We walked around the neighbourhood for a while and returned for our evening meal, along with a family from Qu├ębec and several motorcycle aficionados.
We were seated in the glassed-in porch where, unfortunately, none of the windows opened. It was an unusually warm evening with only floor fans to move the air. One had to be coaxed into operation by our host’s flicking the vanes.  With persistence, it finally began to swirl. No Kingfisher beer, alas, but we were served what turned out to be a really good “Indian platter”: dal, lentil soup, basmati rice and a curry – a welcome change from the usual highway fast-food.  Who knew!
I hope they make a go of it. One is always tempted to give unwanted advice, so I didn’t, but if I had, I would have encouraged them to capitalize on their strengths: a very friendly welcome and great Indian cuisine.  Add to that menu. Renovate a couple of rooms at a time; set aside a couple of rooms for people with pets. Paint the wooden chairs. Clip the bushes, and let the glass brick show forth in all its mid-century modern splendour. 
Old motels like these deserve a new lease on life.
Oh yes, Greg left his bathrobe behind the bathroom door and ten days later, when we were making our return trip, we stopped in and they still had it.


Sunday, 12 August 2012

On the way to the Woodleigh Replicas

We will eventually arrive at the Replicas, so do not despair if you are reading for this reason alone. These posts are like the cliff-hanger at the end of the segments of a serialized novel: a tease to keep the reader going.  To get there faster, I will omit some details, including visits with relatives in Toronto and a very enjoyable lunch in Kingston with John Geddes, who amongst other things heads up CanAssist Africa, about which we had a lively conversation.

In any event, on our annual trips to the East Coast, it is always after Quebec City, along the lovely stretch of highway by the St. Lawrence that I feel truly on vacation no more big cities and traffic jams but soothing pastoral views.
However, a quieter highway brings challenges of its own.
We rounded the corner at Riviere-de-Loup just after noon and headed south towards New Brunswick.  Lots of road construction meant that we eschewed a meal at Tim Horton’s just then, as we couldn’t see how to rejoin the highway were we to leave it.  This was a big mistake, as there are no restaurants on the subsequent stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway.  And while the rolling hills making up the last sputter of the Appalachians provide excellent views, they destroy radio reception and with not much to distract us, we got hungrier and hungrier.
Mind you, we were kept alert not only by looking out for a place to eat, but also for moose. The powers-that-be in Quebec have not seen fit to build moose fences along the highway, and apparently a moose called Prudence is very common there. Her name and picture are on a lot of signs although the moose on the signs has antlers, so I feel Prudence is a bit of a misnomer. We did not see any sign of her, thank goodness, and finally just before we got to New Brunswick, we spied an Irving gas station and restaurant and turned off the highway to eat.
Greg sensibly ordered the fish and chips; I was captivated by a salmon pie with egg sauce. It sounded tasty; I had visions of flakey pastry, a light sauce and delicately flavoured local salmon.  I was so hungry that it was not until about halfway through the meal I realized how wrong that was. Where was the dill, the crunchy onion and celery bits, and the delicious pastried salmon? What were hard-cooked egg slices doing in a pale sea of sauce. Why did the salmon seem tinned?  Silly me (although at the restaurant beside the gas station in Fortune, PEI, you do get an excellent meal — but more on that later).
What redeemed the meal unexpectedly was dessert. Amongst the apple crisp, brownies, and death-by-chocolate chocolate cake listed on the menu, there was, unaccountably, a “gateau Reine Elizabeth de luxe.” (What made it de luxe, apparently, was a layer of mousseline.) I have never before seen a Queen Elizabeth cake on a restaurant menu, and Quebec was the last place I would have expected it.

Not only that, but this spring for the first time in decades, I have twice made a Queen Elizabeth cake.  The reason?  To celebrate Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee, first at the Anglican Ladies' Guild and later at  the Horticultural Society's pot luck dinner for weeders and waterers. So my gustatory antennae were up. Although it was against our better judgement calorifically speaking, what else could we do but order a slice and two forks. The cake came with the mandatory coconut-brown sugar icing. What a treat. Only a quick turn under the broiler to brown the coconut would have been needed to boost an 8.5 to a 9.   The sloppy salmon pie and enervated green beans and carrots medley faded from my memory, as we resumed our journey towards Woodstock and a place to sleep overnight.

 To be continued …