1988 Canada Calling

Exactly one year after departing for my Indonesia adventure it was time to leave for another trip. This time I was joined by my neighbor Anna for a fantastic trip to Canada.

After a 7 1/2 hour flight in a 747 we landed in Toronto where we were picked up by John, a holiday friend of my brother Luc. First stop in Toronto was the ‘Amsterdam Pub’ where we enjoyed a freshly brew draught.  Then it was time for a short stroll through downtown Toronto. Looking up at the skyscrapers made us dazzle a bit as we were not used to buildings this high. Neither were we used to the many helicopters and the police sirens. It felt a bit like being in a movie for us. We ended off our stroll at the ‘Rotterdam Pub’ for another beer after which the long day of traveling took it’s toll. Not surprisingly we slept very well that night.

A trip to the west coast of Canada can not be complete without visiting the Niagara falls but before we went there we headed to Buffalo in the United States for some CD shopping and a traditional Buffalo Chicken Wing Lunch. I had made a promise so there was no way around ordering the suicidal version which were very spicy as expected.

And then it was time to go back to Canada for the highlight of the day; the Niagara falls. Although extremely crowded and very touristic the falls were breathtaking indeed. We went for a stroll to enjoy the views from different perspectives after which we boarded ‘the maid of the mist’ for a close up off the falls. Soon we found out that the rain coats provided were very handy although we could not be bothered getting wet as being so close to the thundering falls was truly spectacular!

Back safely on the shore we headed to see the falls from the top, and with the Skylon Tower built at a strategic place we were also able to see them from bird view perspective.

We hopped over to the States again for dinner at the Pressbox, another experience not to be missed. And then, with our stomach pleasantly filled we went back to get one last views of the falls which were now lighted up with constantly changing colors. Impressive indeed but an acquired taste, for me it was a bit tacky. 

Back at John’s place we waited until midnight so we could congratulate him on his birthday and have a little party. As it became quite late we had a sleep in the next day before we went out for breakfast at the Golden Griddle pancake house. Next we went downtown again to enjoy some more of Toronto’s skyline. John brought us to the most beautiful places. Since it was labour day a lot of people were queuing for going up to the CN Tower so we decided to postpone that for later. 

Early evening we attended a baseball game that John was participating in, had a quick drive through dinner and then went to the cinema to Dirty Harry at the Dead Pool. 

Next day John had to work so we were on our own. We headed back downtown and once there it was not difficult to find the CN tower. Once again there was a long queue waiting to get in so this time we decided to join. After waiting for an hour an elevator brought us to the observation platform at 352m high. From there I took another elevator to space-deck which was at a whopping 447m hight. Needless to say the views over Toronto were absolutely stunning.

The afternoon we spent downtown Toronto enjoying the different building styles. We found a large underground shopping center called Eaton’s and as it started to drizzle a bit we decided to stay there, shop a bit, work on our diaries and write the first postcards. In the evening we met John again at the Spaghetti Factory for dinner.

The following day we explored other parts of Toronto, including a visit to China town. We did some shopping and enjoyed the atmosphere which was so totally different from what we were used to back home. Toronto certainly made Heerlen feel like a small provincial town. In the evening we headed to John’s parents for a wonderful BBQ. By now we were already 5 days in Canada and had been enjoying every moment of it. 

Looking out of the window after we woke up next morning we saw the sun was shining, a perfect day to visit the Zoo. Contrary to what we were used to the animals were housed as much as possible in their national environment. First we did a tour in a monorail from which we got a good impression of the vastness of the zoo and already saw a couple of places we surely wanted to visit on foot. Caribous, bisons, beavers, just to mention a few and of course we could not miss the grizzly bears! There were a lot of Northern American animals to be seen but also very special was the white tiger. 

We spent almost all day at the Zoo after which we went back to John’s place for dinner. In the evening we went out to Studebakers, a rock ‘n roll discotheque which certainly was a lot of fun! A couple of times a night the waiters and waitresses performed a rock ‘n roll show but most of the evening we could be found swinging on the dance-floor ourselves. 

Although the original plan was to leave the next day John convinced us to stay a bit longer so we could go out in the evening to a very special place, so we did…

He advised us to visit the science museum so that was where we headed during the day. We soon found out there was enough to be seen and experience to easily fill a day. We started off with a wheelchair race and when we visited an exhibition about electricity Anna could not resist the experience of being charged with 500.000 volts. There was more to be explored though; environment earth, environment life, communication, transportation and the science arcade. When we left we still had not seen everything but we had to be back at John’s by 5 for a special evening out.

We started of at the Jolly Miller pub where we met some friends of John. After that we took a specially arranged bus where the party continued.  Everybody had brought drinks and the atmosphere was fantastic. After an hour or so we arrived at Lulu’s, the home of world’s longest bar… The pub itself was huge but as it was split up in several smaller area’s and dance-floors it still was cozy. Balloons everywhere, nice pub food and an enormous list of cocktails to choose from, of course we had to try the house speciality, a B-52. It had been a good idea to stay just that bit longer as we would not have liked to miss this evening out. Time flew by to quick for our liking but law is law and at 01:00 we were back in the bus heading home. 

Not surprisingly I had a bit of a hangover the next morning but a pill and hot shower did wonders. John wasn’t feeling well either and opted for a quiet day at home. Anna and myself took the bus to Wonderland, a fun fair with a large selection of roller coasters, much bigger than we knew at home. It was a true thrill-seekers day and we thoroughly enjoyed the many rides we did. Absolute highlight was definitely the Bat which had 2 loopings and a corkscrew, once the whole tour was done it was repeated backward. Sensational! Another quite scary ride was the Skyrider, although it did not look that spectacular one was not seated but standing up and this made the ride a total different experience.

Back at John’s we went out for dinner followed by a 30th Anniversary party. A week had gone by and so far we had enjoyed it thoroughly. 

The next day however it was time to say goodbye to our host John and continue our trip  further northwards. John brought us to the bus station where we said farewell and headed towards Huntsville, which took us over 4 hours. With no public transport available to the National Park we did decided to hitch hike and no longer than 15 minutes we were picked up by a friendly man in a pickup truck. 

Two rides and a 4km walk later we arrived at Tea Lake Campside only to find out that camping in Canada is slightly different than in Europe. No shop, no restaurant, even no showers, just a chemical toilet… Welcome to wild-camping Canadian style. Not even a reception, paying was done by putting the money in an envelope and depositing it in a box   after which you could select a nice spot to setup your tent, which we did. We found a nice place next to the lake and could hardly stop laughing about the situation we had got ourselves into. How naive can one be.

Our neighbors were retired Dutch emigrants who introduced themselves after they heard us talk Dutch. They laughed on our story and gave us a cooking set, some eggs, bread and coffee. At least we were set for the dinner. Whilst we were setting up our tent it turned out to be we had selected an already occupied spot (we had not noticed the sign)  but the Swiss couple did not bother sharing their spot with us, our tent was rather small after all. We spent the evening with the six of us next to a lovely fireplace and it turned out to be a lovely peaceful evening, at one point we were even accompanied by a raccoon. 

Next morning Peter and Vilma, the Swiss couple invited us for breakfast. As we could get along very well we decided to go on a canoeing trip for the day. At the portage store we bought lunch ant rented two canoes after which the fun could start. It did not go completely effortless in the beginning but after some startup problems coordinating our pedals we were canoeing like true professionals. The scenery around us was breathtaking, after we crossed the lake we got into a small creek where we felt alone in the world. The only sound to be heard was the sound of our pedals. This way we could have a good look at the wildlife and at one point we even spotted some moose. All four of us were delighted. We found a nice place for a picnic which tasted extra nice in these serene surroundings.

With all this beauty we had not realized time passed by so quickly. By now it was already 4pm, there was still a large lake to cross and to make things worse the wind had caught up. It took us an hour and a half to cross the lake and by the time we arrived at the portage store to return our canoes. We moved to another camp side which had hot showers and a shop but by the time we arrived the shop was already closed. Not a problem though as Vilma and Anna improvised on a simple but very tasty spaghetti whilst Peter and I set up the campfire. After dinner Peter picked up a bottle of kirsch out of the camper and I happened to remember I still had a bottle of Bacardi in my backpack. Camping suddenly became a lot nicer!

The following day we went to the shop and got everything we needed for a nice BBQ that evening. At least we could not be surprised by a closed shop now. After a good breakfast we went for a hike to the beaver pond. The track was well prepared and laid out. Peter continued his jolly moose imitations from yesterday evening and soon we were all jumping around like moose in the forest. Never knew hiking could be so much fun. 

At one point Peter and I decided to go for a refreshing swim, Anna and Vilma decided not to give it a go after having checked the water temperature with the top of their fingers. 

With not a lot of big wildlife being around we decided to be our own wildlife and gently hopped over the trail doing our moose imitations. It was truly hilarious.

Sunset was wonderful that evening, as was the well deserved BBQ. It was a good way to finish of our stay in Algonquin Park. Peter and Vilma decided to stay a bit longer but we had to move on. There were still so many places to explore…

After having said goodbye to Peter and Vilma we headed toward the road and raised our thumbs once again. Not much later we got a ride to Witney, just outside the park. In Witney it took us much longer to get a ride to either Barry’s Bay or Ottawa but just as we started to despair we were offered a ride by a very eccentric violin player in a car which must have been built even before Anna and I were born. It was old, it was rusty and it was dirty, but on the other hand it brought us straight to the center of Ottawa, and that was all that mattered at the moment.

We found our way to the youth hostel which was located in a former prison. Our first night in jail… After having checked in we went to the Swiss Chalet for dinner. It had been a long day but we were happy we made it to our next destination. 

Next morning we had breakfast with two Dutch girls we had met at the youth hostel. After that we strolled to the parliament buildings where we joined a guided tour. The architecture was marvelous and we even were that lucky to witness a session from the house of commence.

After the guided tour was over we found a comfortable place in the sun where we enjoyed lunch. After that Lucienne, Anna and Anja visited a modern art museum but I opted to stay outside in the sun and work on my diary.

Next morning we were offered a ride by Lucienne and Anja, who were also headed towards Montreal. How lucky we were. Instead of taking the highway we opted for the more scenic route. Scenery was breathtaking and we passed many typical farms and truck stops. 

Around midday we arrived in Montreal and checked in at the youth hostel. After that we had time to explore Montreal itself. As there were a lot of roadworks going on as well as numerous building renovations neither of us was very impressed so we spent most of the time window shopping at big shopping malls. We then headed back to the youth hostel where we mixed up with the guests from numerous nationalities. In the evening we found a nice pub for dinner and before we realized another day was gone. 

Next day was going to be one of the highlights of our trip… It started off with a lazy morning chatting with the other guests after which we went to an Italian restaurant for lunch.  After that it was time to head towards the Olympic stadium for an event I personally was looking forward tremendously!

Our trip to Canada happened to coincide with a concert of the Amnesty World Tour in Montreal. As one of my biggest idols, Peter Gabriel, was performing that night it was something which could not be missed. 

The concert started at 17:00 when all artists performed Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” together. After that it was the turn for Youssou N’dour to enchant the audience and he surely did. Next were two Canadian acts, the audience went mad but since the both of us didn’t know them we could not get that enthusiastic. That was totally different when Tracy Chapman entered the stage. Dressed completely in black, and only carrying her acoustic guitar to accompany her she blew away the audience from the very first note she sang! After the 3rd song she got a standing ovation which clearly moved her. 

And then it was time for the man himself, Peter Gabriel and his band. Needless to say I went totally out of my mind and sang along every word of the songs. It was pure magic. Still remember the introduction for the encore like yesterday…. This is a song for a man killed in jail in South Africa, this is a song for Steven Biko. Ten thousands of lighters put the venue in a majestic glow. By the time the last note filled the venue tears were rolling down my face. With Peter Gabriel’s performance being finished I was completely satisfied but there were still two big names to come on stage. 

The first one was Sting. I must admit I liked his music but never expected him to blow me away with his performance. He certainly did with a very Jazzy influenced gig. What a performer! Last to come on stage was Bruce Springsteen, he definitely was a crowd pleaser but ehh, Anna and I were less impressed. I even managed to fall asleep during the 3rd or 4th song so we decided to leave early and head back to the youth hostel. It had been a brilliant day and it’s always good to leave on a high note.

Next morning, with my heads still in the clouds, we discussed the concert with a group of people in the youth hostel during breakfast. There we met Christoph, who also attended the concert with a friend. We were heading for Quebec and as they were coming over the next day we decided to meet again and spend some time together.

We headed for the bus station to take a bus to Quebec. Although we had to wait for over an hour but I could not be worried as the local newspaper was filled with reviews of the concert the day before. It was like reliving the experience one more time.

Late afternoon we arrived in Quebec and that’s where the first problems started… Lack of French skills! We had to use hand and feet to make ourselves understandable and managed to find the youth hostel in the end. After checking in we started our first exploration of Quebec, which breathed a typical French atmosphere. Quebec of course is dominated by the beautiful Chateau Frontenac which was beautiful during daytime but looked absolutely stunning at night.

Back at the youth hostel we tried to update our diaries, something that terribly failed as soon we were engaged in vivid conversations with our fellow travelers. As many had attended yesterday’s concert there was a lot to talk about and time went by quick.

Next day was a slow day…. Laundry needed to be taken care off, as well as the diary and the last post cards. It was nice to enjoy a day of absolutely nothing during a holiday which was action packed. 

Late afternoon we met Christoph and Andreas again and later on the four of us enjoyed a large pizza at an Italian restaurant. We tried to go out that night but Quebec was not particularly known for it’s vivid nightlife… So back to the L’auberge de Jeunesse, a couple of drinks and an early night.

Once again the main ingredients for breakfast were bacon and egg but in spite of being in a total overdose of it by now we were still enjoying it. It was time to give Quebec a closer look. Of course Chateau Frontenac could not be missed, as well as the small streets surrounding it. It was absolutely beautiful.

Unfortunately it started raining so Christoph, Andreas, Anna and myself headed for a pub to have a coffee or two. Our conversations somehow became extremely personal with all kind of questions from Cristoph about the relation between Anna and myself. Why were we ‘just friends’ and not into a relationship. I knew the answer but at that time I was not ready to share them yet, that would take another twelve years before I was confident enough to come out and about…  It was an unpleasant situation for me so I headed back to the youth hostel while the three of them went out for another drink.

Next morning, in spite of the tension, we still decided to go to the Montmorency falls together. Fortunately during our trip the atmosphere got more relaxed. In spite of the Montmorency falls being 50% higher than it’s famous falls in the south it did not leave the same impression. They were beautiful indeed but I guess we had been spoiled. 

We hiked through a beautiful forest where the vivid colors of Indian summer announced it’s first appearance. Somehow we ended up at a golf club where we had a coffee and finished their complete stock of cakes before we headed back to the youth hostel.

There we met Karin, a girl from Maastricht and in the evening the five of us went to a club with a pool billiard. It was good fun, in spite of the fact neither of us could agree on who was the winner. Italian dinner, dancing at a discotheque, how much fun could one have at a single evening…

Next morning after breakfast we decided to drive with the five of us to Tadoussac, to the north of Quebec, and do some wail watching. Christoph and Andreas had bought a car, American style, so there was space enough for all five including luggage.

Indian summer was really starting and we could not get enough of the beautiful colors; Black, white, red, gold, and brown, what else could we wish for. Four hours after we left Quebec we arrived in Tadoussac. Auberge du Lac, the youth hostel was not really what we expected, the rooms were dim and the food… filled our stomachs, nothing more than that. 

After the alarm rang things did not look promising outside. A thick, grey layer of clouds covered the sky but still we opted for the harbor where we were dressed up in yellow, more or less waterproof kit.

Our boat, a RIM (Hard floor, inflatable sides) did not offer a lot of protection against the elements but the advantage was it could maneuver swiftly once a whale was spotted. After a boat ride of approx. 20 minutes we spotted the first whales. After they descended it would take 6 or 7 minutes for them to surface again and it was difficult to predict where that was. One time we were lucky when a big whale surfaced close to our boat. we were Ecstatic.

Back on shore we went to a pub to drink coffee and… a complete bottle of apricot brandy, at least that warmed us up again. By now it started raining so we praised ourselves lucky we had booked the morning tour. The rest of the afternoon we spent playing billiard in a local pub and after dinner we watched Ben Johnson win Olympic Gold on the 100 meter.

Another early rise, another day of traveling. That day we drove to St. Felicien, a small place in the middle of nowhere. And with it being in the middle of nowhere there was not really much going on. The drive to there had been spectacular but St. Felicien did not have a lot to offer. 

Next morning we drove to Val-Jalbert, a small ghost town besides a lake. I can’t remember why it was deserted but it was a weird experience to see all these empty and deserted houses. A lot of them had been restored in their former glory but there were a couple left in a diminished state. Guess that was done to keep the ‘ghost town’ atmosphere up and going.

As Christoph and myself shared the same hobby both of us went around to shoot the perfect picture. Discussions on exposure and Diaphragm were acacadabra for most of the group but Christoph and myself were having a great time.

After the Val-Jalbert visit we decided to go for a walk in the forest. Colors were really picking up by now and we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery and the short hike. 

Back in St. Felicien there was not much to do besides playing some billiard, so we did. Back at the youth hostel  we had dinner, some of us watched the olympics whilst others played rummy-cub. A nice and peaceful evening.

Next day was going to be a long trip as we had to drive around 500km through the St. Laurentide park on our way back to Quebec. The first 300km of that trip were rather depressing as the most we saw were dead trees, it was a horrible sight. At one point we saw a car of hunters with a moose-head on the trunk as a trophy, they might have found it amusing, we though it was disgusting. We had a picnic t a deserted campsite. Dead trees, empty picnic tables end further nothing around. It was really spooky! 

Fortunately the 2nd part of the trip was far more beautiful! Nature was presenting itself at it’s best and Indian summer was in full bloom. It was absolutely majestic! So many colors and shapes, this was what we had hoped for and in spite of a disappointing start of the day all five of us were pleased to witness this spectacle. 

Back in Quebec we checked in at the youth hostel and went to Chateau Frontenac. Laying at a lawn we just enjoyed the warm sun and the atmosphere. After that we played billiard in one of the pubs we remembered from our first stay in Quebec and had a lovely pasta meal at d’younville. In the evening Christoph and myself went out for some night photography. Quebec was such a photogenic place this was an opportunity not to be missed.

Next morning was the last breakfast with the five of us. It was tome to say goodbye to Christoph and Andreas as they were heading on. For us it was time to return to Montreal for the last couple of days. It was a warm goodbye and we agreed to meet back in Switserland after they returned from their world-trip. And so I did on more than one occasion. Even 25 years after we met we are still in touch and became very good friends.

The bus-ride to Montreal was uninspiring so both of us listened to some music whilst traveling to our last destination. Once checked in at the youth hostel we made a stroll over Rue St. Catherine, bought osme CD’s and decided to go to the movies, “A Fish called Wanda”. A visit that of course could not be complete without a large cup of coke and popcorn.

Next day I did not feel well, maybe a light flu… We returned to Rue St. Catherine for some more shopping and in spite of ending up with some more CD’s and Anna with some clothing I was not in the mood for an extended program. After lunch at Peels Pub we returned to the youth hostel where we relaxed for the rest of the day. Not surprisingly I went to bed very, very early.

Next morning I did not feel much better but as it was our last day, so our last chance to see something of Montreal, we took the metro back to the Olympic village. Last time we had been there we had been totally absorbed by the Amnesty concert but now it was time to see something of the stadiums and the village itself. 

To get the most of our short time we took a guided tour which turned out to have been a good choice. It started of with a slideshow of the construction of the compounds after which we went to the stadium where we attended the concert. With the stadium being empty we realized it’s sheer size and only now we could enjoy the architectural highlights. The roofs of each stadium symbolized a sport which, once told, were easily recognizable. It was a highly impressive tour which gave us a bit of insight on what’s happening behind the scenes of an Olympic event.

For our last dinner we decided to back to Peels Pub as we really liked the atmosphere over there. It did not get very late however as I still was not feeling very well.

Last morning, time to pack. We still had some time left before we had to go to the airport so we decided to visit Mont Royal, a nice part of town located around a big park. We absolutely loved it and could hardly believe this beautiful area was located on a less than 10 minute walking distance form the center of Montreal. We even had the opportunity to feed the squirrels.

And with finishing our visit to Mont Royal also it came to an end of our Canada trip. Late afternoon we headed towards the airport to check in. We were quite early but fortunately we carried our Walkmans in our hand luggage so each of us could be entertained with our own choice of music.

11PM, one hour later than scheduled we finally took of for our long flight back to Brussels. It was a long night but finally we started to descend to prepare for arrival. Welcome to Brussels…  We went through customs, picked up our luggage, and the next thing we saw were the welcoming smiles from Loek, Anna’s brother, and his wife Petra.

As it was a beautiful day we went to the market place in Brussels to tell our stories whilst enjoying a Belgium beer. And there were lots of stories to tell, Toronto, John,  Canadian style wild camping in Algonquin Park, Ottawa, the Amnesty concert, Quebec, Christoph and Andreas, Whale watching and so on, and so on. I don’t think we stopped talking that morning as there were so many stories to be told.

Canada had been calling and it certainly had been a fantastic trip. What an adventure!  It was difficult to recall all our experiences but both Anna and I agreed, the last 4 weeks had been superb!

That night I slept very well in my own bed but my dreams were about 6000 kilometers further west.

Canada was still calling…