Thursday, February 4, 2016

O Canada

Instead of heading for warmer weather this winter, just David  and I took a short trip to colder weather.  A short 6 days in Eastern Canada.  I managed to find decent prices on roundtrip tickets to Montreal.  I lived a couple years as a child in Ottawa, Ontario.   When I lived there each winter was a huge winter carnival called Winterlude.  So we timed our trip during Winterlude so we could enjoy the ice sculptures and ice skating on the Rideau Canal.  This is a Unesco World Heritage site, and David was excited to skate “somewhere” not just in circles at a rink.  The frozen portion of the Canal travels over 5km throughout the city of Ottawa.  In researching the trip I also found that Quebec City also has a Winter Carnaval at the same time, so we planned to spend 3 days in each city. 

First we headed to Quebec city.  I book our accomodations at the Chateau Frontenac, and the Chateau itself is a Unesco World Heritage Site.  The Chateau sits high on a hill in the heart of the old Quebec City, also a Unesco Site.  It is a stunning colonial city.  And the Chateau is stunning.  It overlooks the river and the huge port it once was in it’s time hundreds of years ago.  The city gates and walls still surround the old city.  Even in the cold and snow, it was worth each minute we spent wandering the beautiful city streets by foot.  We bundled up to stay warm and spent hours each day and evening wandering the city.  It was like being in France, but we were still in North America.  French is the main language of course, English was not common.

 I picked an upgraded  room with a view at the Chateau.  I booked thru a hotel special that was very reasonably priced and came with breakfast each morning.  Our room was beautiful.  We were in one of the turrets with a view out the front.  We had a small sitting area with 4 tall windows.  We could sit and watch the ice float down the river, and see the pretty old city lights at night.   It was a beautiful place to warm up. 

On Friday night I had made reservations for dinner at the number 1 rated restaurant on trip advisor, seriously had over 1000 reviews.  It is located a few miles outside the old city; a very small place in an older neighborhood.  The location is extremely odd, and the building is an old Pizza joint.  It is now an amazing 9 table restaurant.  The owner and chef has amazing talent.  Since it is so small, he is right there cooking and talking with his guests for dinner that evening.  The menu is small, but sooo delicious.  Prices were quite reasonable, which was a pleasant surprise.   We were extremely tempted to go back for the next night.   

Around the city were ice sculptures, but the main Carnaval festivities were found in 2 parks. On Friday we wandered the streets and town.  We hiked up a hill and watched kids sledding with an adventurous spirit.  5 or 6 of the kids would lay down at the bottom and the sledder would jump over them on his sled.  It was so fun to watch. The ice rink in the park nearby was filled with hockey players. Getting down from the hill was quite tricky and fun.   On Saturday we wandered thru the Carnaval filled with families enjoying the winter activities. We took a horse sleigh ride through the woods passing snow shoers and cross country skiers.  We watched dog sled rides, and snow sculptures take shape. David tried Maple Taffy, a treat I remember from my childhood, cooled in the snow. It was a fun day!  We walked down to the river a few times and watched the huge ice chunks float down the river.  It’s mesmerizing and beautiful. 

Behind the Chateau is a toboggan ride, we bought a couple of tickets and hauled a sled up twice for 2 fun rides down the hill.  Also there is a funicular or tram that goes down the hill to the old town from the Chateau.  After walking thru the town below in the evening, we took the funicular back up to the Chateau; the view is beautiful on the ride up of the town below.

On Sunday we arose early for the 4 hour drive to Ottawa.  The goal was to arrive in time to attend church in the area where I lived.  An old friend was expecting us there.  Service didn’t begin until one o’clock so we had plenty of time to enjoy the drive, including a short detour to stop and see a huge ice fishing village set up each winter on the river.  Each winter when the river freezes over several different companies set up shacks to rent for the day or weekend for ice fishing.  Heated of course.  You drive your car right onto the river and park right next to your assigned shack.  They install power poles (skinny tree trunks) to run out to each shack.  Bathrooms our heated, but shared, sort of like a campground, located centrally around groups of shacks.  It was very interesting.  Literally hundreds of shacks are set up on the frozen river.  We drove around on the designated “roads” on the river to see all the areas, and of course we can now say we’ve driven on a river. 

We arrived only a couple of minutes late to church, but it sure was fun to visit with old friends between and after services.  It was crazy for me to realize it had been 30 years since I had lived there, and 20 since I had last been there to visit.  I’m getting old.  We made arrangements for dinner for both Monday and Tuesday nights.  Aren’t friends the best! 

 After church we headed to our hotel to check in.  I booked us in the Chateau Laurier in downtown Ottawa, right on the canal and across from the beautiful Parliament buildings.  And upgraded room was not available, but the standard room worked just fine, but our view was through a small window and we missed the sitting area we had in our last hotel.  We went for a short walk along and on the canal.  David was excited to be there and walking on the frozen Rideau canal, also a Unesco World Heritage Site.  Rather than rent skates tonight, we decided we would wait till Monday or Tuesday, as it may rain on Monday.  This was our mistake.  We didn’t realize at the time that they would close the canal that night due to rain and slightly warming temps.  We hoped they would re open on Tuesday as it froze Monday night, but they did not.  We had lost our one chance to ice skate the canal! Hindsight is 20/20!  They did not re open the canal for over a week (david had to check on it after we returned home!).  He was quite disappointed he did not get to skate “somewhere” for miles!  Next time!  Instead we enjoyed a tour of the peach tower and watched some of the debates in parliamentary.  They are quite vocal—they mock and laugh, or loudly cheer and clap for those they do or do not like.  It was lively!  

Sunday night after dinner, since we had decided not to ice skate that night, we walked along the canal and over to the park where the ice sculpture were.  As the were expecting a "warm" rain the next day, they were starting to cover up some of the sculptures, to protect them, but we were able to see the international competition lit up quite pretty at night.  But there were only about 12 sculptures in total.  When I was a child, I remember Winterlude carnival having dozens and dozens and dozens of snow and ice sculptures.  They would build them on a small lake off the canal and we would ice skate through them.  It was one of the things that made the carnival so great, the huge sculptures!  Now Winterlude only has about a dozen sculptures and a few activities.  It's not as all like it once was.

Monday night we had dinner with the Bleeks family, and it was an interesting drive out to their house, to see all the growth and changes in the area.  We greatly enjoyed visiting with them and catching up.  Tuesday night we had dinner with The MacConnell family, that lived just a few blocks away from where I lived.  I babysat their 4 children.  3 of the 4 were able to join us for dinner, along with their Mom, Sue.  Their spouses and young children were all there too.  It was a great visit with them all as well.  So fun to catch up with old friends. 

The next morning we headed back to Montreal.  Montreal has a large underground walkway that connects several areas in the city.  Shops and cafes line the inside of the underground walkways, so we parked the rental car, and went for a walk.  It reminded us of Paris and all the underground connecting mazes to get to train and bus stops.  We grabbed a late lunch in French café underground and then it was time to head to the airport for our afternoon flight.

After reaching our gate, we saw the flight was delayed, and then united continued to text me with more and more delays.  Finally we decided to ask as to what was occurring and would we make our connecting flight in Chicago.  At that point we were told the flight was not yet in route from NY and we would not make our connection.  With no other flights options to get to Boise for the night, our choice was to either wait for the flight and head to Chicago and get a flight from there tomorrow, but the only open option would be the late flight we were on tonight, which meant a whole day in Chicago.  Sure we’d find something to do, but couldn’t we find another option that would get us home sooner.  I think the gal at the desk must have been new.  She had to keep checking with what to do.  They didn’t even know what caused the delay and kept checking as to whether they would give us vouchers for a hotel that night.  When they finally decided they would be giving vouchers and it became known that the delayed flight would be causing several missed connections, a large line started forming.  It took the gal 45 minutes to book us on new flights and issue food and hotel vouchers for us, and we were the 2nd people in line.  I can’t imagine those at the end of the line.  I probably would have called United and rebooked over the phone had we been at the end of the line.  We did that once on another missed connection and it worked well, except vouchers you have to get from the airport personnel, you can’t handle that over the phone.  The flight they wanted to put us on left at 5am and went thru LAX with a 6 hour layover, getting in late into Boise.  Might as well have gone to Chicago and waited all day there.  Terrible choice.  So while they were checking on whether they could voucher hotel for the night, we found a better flight option on our phones, and asked them if they could make it work—It would switch us to a delta flight in the morning, thru Denver, then home by early afternoon.  Then she needed help to figure out how to switch us to Delta flight… really we’ve been switched before and it doesn’t take this long.  But she got it all figured out for us.  So with new tickets, we went over to the Delta desk and had them print us boarding passes so we’d be set to go in the morning.  Then we grabbed some dinner at an airport restaurant.  After that we called the hotel they’d given us vouchers for to find out about the shuttle, and we were told they were 100% full for the night!  Back to the United desk, where there were only a handful of people waiting.  One family we recognized from the gate area and had been in line with us earlier.  They had to wait for United to pull their checked luggage.  We’d had only carry on bags so we didn’t have to worry about that, as they had.  A couple other people informed us they were on the delayed NY flight, that had finally arrived… so they told us what happened and why the delay.  A lady on the plane had a claustrophobic attack after they pulled away from the gate.  So they had to go back to the gate.  But then her husband got extremely upset and was yelling at the flight attendants that it was all their fault for not having a bigger plane and they needed a bigger plane.  So then they had to wait for security to come and remove him and their child from the airplane.  By this time they had to wait to get a new place in the que for taxi on the runway.  A total 2 hour delay.  I can not imagine the full effect of delays on that.   So they rebooked us at a new hotel and we were off for a short night of sleep to return for a 6am flight.  The nice thing about this airport, is you pass thru US customs and border control in the Montreal Airport.  Kind of weird to be “welcomed home” while still actually in another country.   But what it means is your flight lands in a domestic terminal for your connection and makes it smoother to catch your connection without passing thru customs between flights.  

For gifts for the kids, we visited the grocery store and picked up a few Canadian candies and treats. My favorite as a kid was the MR. BIG-- still just as yummy as I remember!  The Bleeks sent flags and a Canadian pin for each of the kids too, which they loved!  

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