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The Great Canadian Bike Trek Commentary
April 17 - April 26

 

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17/4 The pounding of waves just metres away was a sensational rhythm to wake up to was, sand through absolutely everything was a little less agreeable.

It was a slow day's slog as the wind was blowing in an unfavourable direction, but there were a lot of nice old little towns to pass through which helped a lot.

The township of Wellington entertained me for lunch at the Wellington Grill. The town of 1,700 shared the same name as my beloved home-town, but other than the fact it was by the water, there were a lot of nice old wooden houses and a few businesses shared the same names, there were few other similarities.

Just like Wellington, NZ, Wellington, ON was close to a quaint town called Picton. Picton, ON is the main city in the Prince Edward County, so is the most lively, with a lot of nice old buildings converted into restaurants and craft shops to cater for the tourists.

After Picton, I rode around part of Lake on the Mountain, a lake nestled on top of a hill, apparently fascinating as there are no run-in areas.

The short ride down the hill led to me to a free 10-minute ferry ride across a choppy channel.

The lake front road wound its way around Lake Ontario taking me to Kingston, birthplace of Canadian rocker Bryan Adams and ice hockey.

Breaking the stretch of strip malls and fast food joints leading into town was a beautiful, large, limestone castle that resembled the magic kingdom at Disneyland. I genuinely thought that it was a fun park, but when I got closer and could see the tall stone walls either side of it, blanketed with barbed wire, I realised that it was one of the city's many prisons. I stayed with Marc, a ceramic artist and friend of the Chaputs of Sault Ste. Marie. Marc's house was downtown, so it was a short walk to look at his gallery and some of the spots around it including a church with gravestones dating back to the 1600's, and then we went for a bite and a beer at one of the pubs downtown.



18/4 Kingston has had an interesting history and even had a stint as the capital of Canada from 1841-1844. It is easy to see why 3 million tourists a year are attracted to the city of just over 100,000, by taking a look around at all of the handsome old limestone buildings.

I took the route that Marc had mapped out for me to leave town, weaving its way around the historic section of Kingston, starting at a couple more prisons. Although the prisons weren't as grand as the palace that I had passed yesterday, they would still leave most places' city halls for dead. If I was the victim of a dastardly crime, or the police or lawyers that put the crook away, I would be annoyed if they ended up at any of the stunning correctional facilities that I passed, they were almost an incentive to be naughty.

The road down the lake side took me past some magnificent mansions, then the reputable Queens University and through downtown, notably city hall and numerous churches, all seemingly built in the same era - long ago.

Over the causeway was the Royal Military College and a historic Fort, so there was a lot to see.

The ride north, leaving the Great Lakes, was similar to the rural setting I have ridden through in the last couple of days, with a few rocks like the ones in Northern Ontario. So with a few nice old towns chucked in, and no headwind like yesterday, it was quite a pleasant ride, topped off by a golden find of a grassy paddock surrounded by trees to camp in.


19/4 It wasn't much of a ride until I reached the outskirts of the Canada's Federal Capital, Ottawa.

The city has a reputation of being bike-friendly, which is nice to know when you're pedalling yourself. I took the well marked out bike trail along the Ottawa River, which took me over 15km into the heart of downtown Ottawa.

The Canadian Government has obviously spent a lot of money keeping the Nation's house of Government spick 'n' span, with the area around the parliament buildings being very well maintained. The area had the nicest collection of spectacular old buildings that I have seen in Canada so far.

I was staying with Michael Foucher (Foosh), in what I am guessing is the most studly apartment in Ottawa, right across the road from the National Art Gallery and the new American Embassy with its $2m steps.



20/4 My obvious start for the grand tour of Ottawa was the parliament buildings, the most predominant landmark in this city of a million, proudly perched on parliament hill overlooking the Ottawa River. The buildings were quite a sight, with the large, centre block and its tall peace tower, being the focal point of them. To the left and right of the grand building were two more buildings, almost as dignified, with towers and fine masonary work as well. The three buildings together formed a 'U' shape, with a pleasant grassy patch in the centre.

The tour took me around the important spots including the House of Commons, the Senate, the library and a few other halls. Some of the detail in the buildings walls and ceilings was superb, with stories being told in many of the carved stone. As impressive as the parliament buildings were, I didn't think they had too much on the Provincial Parliament buildings that I had seen in Regina.

After the guided visit, I sat out on the parliament steps and rested my feet for a short time and soaked up the atmosphere, enjoying the warm afternoon and the music booming to the grassy area out front, including everything from First Nations music, to French, to classical to some familiar bag-pipe tunes. I looked around town, which included a stop-off at the New Zealand High Commission, which had closed early for the easter weekend. There still was a guy working some overtime, who I had a good yarn with, before taking a quick squiz at the Dominion, the morning paper from back home.

Foosh finished work, and after a quick tour of some of the grand homes in Ottawa along the river, including the Prime Minister's residence and a few embassies, we picked up his friend Ingrid, who had just finished her last exam for the university year, and went out for a few beers in the downtown, which was alive and kicking as there was a public holiday the next day.



21/4 - 23/4 Foosh's friend Nicole had organised a weekend away with about 30 of their friends and offspring staying in two chalets in Mount Tremblant, Quebec's premier ski resort, about a two-hour drive from Ottawa. The town itself recently had a lot of money spent on it developing it and looked cool, but a little bit plasticy, very similar to Whistler, which was no surprise, as Intrawest, the company that owns Whistler, owns Mount Tremblant as well.

The chalet we stayed in was a beautiful old, gabled, timber-interiored home overlooking a lake. It seemed to be the central meeting place, and was always the hive of activity, with an abundant supply of alcohol and very well cooked food. I was in heaven as I was able to eat or drink whenever I felt like it.

The weekend was incredibly relaxing, playing with the kids, watching cheesy 80's videos, playing board games, attending a 9 year-old's birthday, and general socialising, with the most exercise in the three days being a 30-minute hike down to the river. It was such a good break, as I find even when I have stopped in a town in the past, I have been busy trying to see the sites, so this was the best rest I had had in a long time.

It was also great to be in Quebec. Ottawa is neat city as there are a lot of people speaking French as well as English, but in Quebec, everyone speaks French. Just going into a cruddy liquor store was fun as it felt like an artsy-fartsy french restaurant as the server greets you with 'Bonjour'. The drive home was one big French lesson from Foosh, where he kindly told me a lot of the basic words that it would help to know in this part of the world, and then patiently listened to me trying to pronounce the language of love with my thick kiwi accent.


24/4 As relaxing as the weekend was, we must have both still been pretty tired because we both slept in until almost midday. With half the day gone, we went for a drive in the suburbs, stopping at a nice Italian restaurant in Gleeb for brunch, and then went to the architecturely-impressive National Art Gallery of Canada.

The gallery had some incredible works from artists such as van Gough, Picasso and Monet and the uniquely Canadian Group of Seven, who painted some interesting impressions of Canada, but the highlight of gallery for me was the large collection of Inuit art - comical, yet tasteful, carvings, generally of greenstone. It almost tempted me to change my course and ride to the far North to see more of this work.

I only had 20 minutes at the war museum before close, so I had a quick look around the exhibiton on the Canadian contribution to the Boer War. Across the road was the Notre Dame cathedral, with its two silver steeples and stunning interior.


25/4 The first stop for the day was the post office, where I was happy to send a 10kg box containing my hopefully redundant snow boots and extra clothes out east, which should lighten the load a little. I rode down to the Governer General's house, which I wasn't allowed inside, but got a look from the outside, which wasn't anything too special.

The road took me over the Ottawa river to the Quebec city of Hull, home to the Canadian Museum of Civilisation. I had been told that this was a must see attraction while in Ottawa, which after looking through it, was very justified. All of the exhibits were nice, but the Canada Hall was what really rung my bells. The display, which covered a whole floor and a mezanine level, illustrated the last 1,000 years of Canadian history, with walk-through buildings symbolising the era. It would have been great to see for anybody, but it was special to me as it explained the history of a lot of the places that I had visited on my bike including the elevators of the prairies and the Canadian Pacific Railroad out to Vancouver.

During the 2km ride back to Foosh's, a spoke on my rear wheel broke. It was ironic because I had no luggage, and therefore not too much weight on the bike. So I made a quick stop at the bike shop, where they fixed it straight away and gave the chain a bit of a lube.


26/4 Leaving Ottawa was just as picturesque as arriving, down the smooth bike trails through the parklands on the banks of the Ottawa River.

Fortunately I was passed by one of Ottawa's many bicycle commuters, who I drafted, which helped trivialize the light headwind. The fellow cyclist turned out quite a friendly fellow and helpfully recommended and gave me directions to the old highway 17, a scenic route continuing along the river with next to no traffic.

Although I was still in Ontario, I was well into French territory, with a lot of the farm houses having the distinctive Quebecan cancaved roofs for the snow, and people walking along the roadside enjoying the pleasant evening were using French as their chosen form of communication.

I got good mileage out of the 10 or so French words I know when I stopped for dinner, with my pronounciation being a clear giveaway that I was a tourist so people were understanding of my lack of vocabulary.


 

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