Travelogue – Canuck Edition

My writing has taken a back seat these last couple of weeks while i spent some time gearing up and making a whirlwind round of college tours with my son. My son, just as unusual as his sisters, is intent on a school in Canada. I dealt with the travel, and he made the arrangements for the tours. (I have been surprised at how many people found that “too much” for a kid who just finished his sophomore year of high school. And how many thought it was “too early” to be touring colleges. Both things are done on purpose so that he knows full well what it takes to get what he wants, and he knows he has to make the effort to get there….)  Anyway, with a little help from my middle weedling who has become a budget trip master, and my oldest weedling who graciously took care of Siridog, we set out last weekend for the Atlantic provinces.

In spite of the fact that i have been blessed enough to have traveled a lot of the world, i had never been to our northern neighbors. My son had been to Ottawa, but not east. So we were both excited for the journey. On top of the college tours, we had a few other things we wanted to experience as well. First on the list was a good lobster roll.

We left long before the crack of dawn to get to the airport on time. And to save a good-sized wad of cash, flew into Maine and rented a car to drive the 6 hours to Moncton, New Bunswick. It all went off without a hitch til we set out of the city of Portland.

It appeared to us that Portland is the Newark of Maine.

Trying to get to the interstate, we ended up in a neighborhood where it seemed the entire residency was gathered in the street to shout insults and cusswords at each other. One woman, hair like rusty cotton candy, dirty jeans and tank, boobs at her waist and yet somehow still hanging out, was dead center of the street leading the colorful pack of profane poets. When she saw us waiting for her to move so we could pass, she flipped us the bird and spun around so fast that her boobs were still facing us when she started to walk away – Directly up the middle of the street. Ok, lady, you win. When we finally made it to the highway, we had to pry our fingers out of the grips they had in fear.

Once we were safely outside the mainstream, we googled a lobster roll and found our way to a local joint. Tho it was technically a brewery, to my delight, they also brewed their own root beer. The lobster rolls were spot on. The Maine wild blueberry desserts were outstanding. The rootbeer was perfect. We were in heaven until the bill came.

The menu had listed “Market Price” as the cost of the lobster rolls. I hadn’t thought to ask. I mean, the meal was served on paper plates so we weren’t paying for fancy, and it was important to both my son and i that we start our trip off with a bang (Thankfully, not one on that side street in Portland.) I grew up on Cape Cod, so i know that lobster isn’t cheap, but i was unprepared for the bill. 2 lobster rolls with potato chips, 2 sodas, 2 modest desserts was $74. Seventy-four freaking dollars. My son was apologetic, but i explained to him that it was my own fault for not asking. Besides, it was worth it. The food was good, and it was a yummy start to the trip.

Back on the road – the fast route, not the scenic route – and we arrived in Moncton at what we thought was 2200. We were unaware that they are an hour ahead. The daughter of the owner to our Air B&B was kind and accepted our apology for the late arrival before showing us to our suite. We hit our beds and slept like the dead.

The next morning, we set out for Fredericton after hitting Tim Horton’s. My God, what a wonderful thing to have a place that keep hot tea brewed day and night! The drive to the University of New Brunswick is a beautiful one. Lots of farmland and rural communities. And the University itself was smaller, warmer, and better equipped than we expected. The students who showed us around and the faculty advisor that explained their process to us were a delight. We left with a great impression and a good recommendation for lunch.

Can i just say that smoked fish cakes are surely the nectar of the Canadian gods?

Day 2 was Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Dalhousie University. Dal, as they call it, is an upscale school in a surprisingly city-ish city. I guess i expected more of a fishing village city, so the excess of construction, modern office buildings, and traffic took me back a bit. There were some beautiful Historic buildings nestled in between newer business quadrants, especially near campus. And the school was a Canadian version of Ivy League… Imagine a smaller, laid back Yale where everyone has a slight Celtic accent.

Fish & chips and seafood chowder on the Boardwalk were the order of the day. Then we took a different route back to base to see more of the countryside. Unafraid of getting lost, i drove us along the coastline, dipping into coves whenever the road allowed. All of it was so breathtaking that my son barely rolled his eyes when i stopped on the side of the road for the umpteenth time to snap a picture. I was even able to gather some shells for souvenirs.

Oh, and not to be forgotten, we were also, on the way back to Moncton, able to engage one of our trip traditions…. Homemade ice cream. We happened to pass a sign on the highway advertising it, so we took the opportunity and exited. True to Canadian form, the shoppe was not exactly on the exit, but approximately 5 miles down the road. But it was worth it. We find a homemade ice cream shoppe on every trip we take, and it is always worth it. Homemade ice cream is a gift no matter your destination!

Day 3 was Prince Edward Island. Everything the storybooks say about it is true. In full Spring mode, the island was greener than Ireland itself. The landscape is heavily dotted with lupine and cows. The people are friendly and relaxed. We had a bit of a  disappointment when we found that the Confederation house was closed for refurbishing – My son is a history buff and was eager to see it. But we did get to enjoy St Dunstan’s cathedral. And we had an amazing lunch.

The Chip Shack reminded me of one of the many fried clam stands of my youth, except being in PEI, it served Lobster rolls (For much less than $74) and poutine. And Lobster poutine. Seriously. Lobster flipping poutine. A glorious coronary intervention of perfectly seasoned fries, cheese curds, a gravy that the owner makes from seafood broth, and a huge scoop of lobster meat. Could you come up with a meal that screams Atlantic Canadian more?

I think not.

The food was accentuated by the owner. She was energetic and tatted, singing boisterously along with the radio, and if she is not a direct decendent of Anne Bonny, i’ll eat my hat. She is a Pirate Queen in her soul and it exudes from her like perfume. She made our day and had smiles on our faces as we made our way to the University of PEI.

Tho Charlottetown is a city, it is a much smaller one than Halifax and retains a more of that port-town feel. And it extends to the University. There was plenty of diversity at all of the Canadian schools we visited, but the most at UPEI. In true port-town fashion, nearly half the student body is foreign. In fact, the contagiously congenial man who took us on our tour was a student from the Bahamas.  He waved to everyone we came across, and each wave came with a short commentary about where they were from. Tho he admitted that most of the Canadian students were home for break, it was still evident that my son would not be the only international student by a longshot.

Again we took the long way back. I spent an inordinate amount of time pulled off on the side of the road, admiring cows grazing in a pasture at the oceanside. If i had seen it in a movie, i would have sworn it was fake, but there it was in front of me. The ocean, a few feet of sand and rocks, then a grass pasture full of beautiful cows. After a while, the cows noticed me staring and came over to the fence. Not wanting to be rude, i said hello,  fawned over their home, and asked if they minded me taking their picture. My son was not amused and laid his seat back in the car to nap.

He missed out. Those cows sat there and engaged with me as if they knew what i was saying. Or maybe they just knew that i was taking time with them and liked them. Either way, they stood by that fence and regarded me with thoughtful muzzles for nearly half an hour.

My son perked up just before we hit the bridge back (As expensive as a Maine lobster roll, but definitely impressive!), as there is a little mini village at the front sporting the flags of all the provinces. My son is an amateur vexillologist (One who studies flags… I had to look that up), so of course he knew which flag was for what province, could expound on why each flag was decorated as it was, and listed his favorites in order. His enthusiasm made me smile. Only my kid would get so exhilarated by a bunch of flags.

By now the traveling had caught up with us. And by that, i mean that the food had caught up with us. Apparently, Canadians have yet to get on the fiber train, and days of croissants, fish cakes, and poutine had me feeling like the Pikachu float at the Macy’s parade. So we made a dinner stop at a local Moncton place for salads and a hummus plate. Before eating, i said grace to myself that it would work long before i got on the plane.

Early to bed and early to rise for the trip back to Portland. Thankfully, we left in plenty of time, because my idea of taking a smaller back road wasn’t the best i’ve ever had. First off, i have become spoiled in Chattanooga. When there is massive construction, there is someone with a sign standing in the middle of the road telling you when to go. Apparently, in rural New Brunswick, they stand on someone’s lawn…. Where, of course, i never saw him. My son did, but instead of saying anything let me proceed like the Queen of Prussia. I had to pull onto the grass halfway through the cone maze because there was a semi coming in the other direction who apparently didn’t know the Queen has the right of way. Then, to add insult to injury, i realized about 5 miles after that i had gotten turned around and was headed in the wrong direction…. So i had to tuck tail and head back through the same construction zone that i had just ignored the signs for.

The extra waves of the sign by the guy still standing off in left field let me know he recognized me.

But we made it back to Portland finally, got thru the plane flight without hummus interruptus, and survived my son driving back from Atlanta in his ancient convertible, top down, and thru traffic.

I think that last was when my blood pressure caused the blood vessel in my eye to rupture.

Now that we are home and mostly recovered, i have to say that it was a good trip. My son is a good traveling companion. Tho the whole thing was a lot more driving than i would have liked, he got to see the schools he wanted, and his opinions of each changed with the experience. I am glad we did it.  And i’m glad we’re back. It may be way too hot here in the summer, and i may hate the mosquitos, but i do love the area that i now consider my home. And of course, i love my home itself. I may not have pasture, or lupine, or cows on the ocean, but i have my own bed and my favorite haunts, and my Siridog. The place may change down the road, but the feeling of home when you return… That is the perfect ending to any road trip.

 

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