It's the End of the World as we know it...........

Trip Start Oct 01, 2002
Trip End Aug 08, 2005

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Flag of Canada  , Quebec,
Thursday, January 27, 2005

Well we're going to be in for a big shock as we return to the U.K. after nearly two and a half years and the end our round the world trip, well this one at least! It probably wont surprise you to learn it's not quite the end though, we've got lots more planned and don't worry, we'll keep you posted.

Lots has happened since we left Calgary on the 9th of January. We had to hang around for 2 buses and a C-train in not so cosy minus 30 degree temperatures to get ourselves to the airport for our no frills flight to Chicago. Thankfully Renee, another global freeloader friend and her cool little dog Marlee, were waiting for us with a 'Kev and Sian' sign attached to her car window! We ate 'Chicago style' pizza that night which is almost like a pie made from pizza dough with tomato paste on the top with all the cheese and other stuff inside, and we chatted the night away in Renee's cool old house talking about Africa and diving.

The next day we took an icy walk to the nearby Oakdale district of town where the famous U.S architect Frank Lloyd Wright had his home and studio and created some strange early houses in the surrounding streets. Downtown Chicago was pretty cool, taking the 'El' train into the friendly heart of the city where the locals were only too eager to help a couple of lost looking tourists. We found the famed Art Institute with it's fantastic collection of European Impressionist paintings and even got ourselves a fascinating free tour of some of the more bizarre pieces of work on show. We wandered through the Milleneum Park and it's giant mirrored 'coffee bean' sculpture before hitting a typical U.S diner for food having failed to find a traditional Chicago Style hot dog to try which is apparently a must.

The next day we headed for Lincoln Park by Lake Michigan and it's fabulous free zoo. We're not big fans of zoos but this one has a very successful gorilla exhibit and it was really worth seeing especially as the temperature had strangely jumped up to +15 degrees which was an exceptionally nice treat for us because we weren't exactly relishing the temperatures. It was snowing again later on though and as we walked the 'Magnificent Mile' of fancy shops back into downtown Chicago, it was back to the minus teens, which is quite cold enough thanks!

We decided to take one final overnight bus (why we hadn't learnt our lesson from all the other terrible night journeys we've no idea) to Toronto, Canada. We were meant to stop in Detroit on the Canadian border for 20 minutes to change buses but considering our driver left 30 minutes late and didn't have a clue where she was going, really, all she had was rough directions, there was little chance of us getting there anywhere near the time needed. Not only that, but she couldn't care less and gave lots of hassle to anyone who expressed their annoyance, so we kept quiet. We eventually arrived in Detroit at 1:30 am, over an our late for our connection and nobody was too happy to find that the next bus to Toronto wasn't until 7:10am and that we had little choice but to wait in the draughty bus station where loud elevator music and the most ridiculous design of seat didn't exactly make it easy to sleep or relax.

We reached Toronto about noon and found our way to our next host's home. Barb was at work but had kindly left a key for us to let ourselves in, meet the cats and finally relax from our whole ordeal. Barb proved to be yet another fantastic host and we chatted the nights away with Africa, again being common ground. Toronto, by Lake Ontario is quite a nice city with a few interesting historic areas and the CN tower, supposedly the tallest freestanding structure in the world, but it doesn't look that tall really. We picked up our hire car the next day and headed down the road for a few hours to Niagara, famed for the falls and it's wine region. Obviously some stops were required to sample the local fare, including it's unique ice wine, where the grapes are strictly harvested at temperatures below -8 degrees (not uncommon here) by volunteers at midnight (they must be crazy?), then they're pressed so that very little water actually gets into the brewing process. It is quite strong stuff and quite sweet but all the wineries that we visited each had a different spin on their final product and we rather enjoyed sampling it too!

Now we have seen quite a few waterfalls in this trip but we must admit that Niagara really was quite impressive, especially in winter! Despite the thick ice all around from the spray, you could safely get quite close to the edge of the powerful horseshoe shaped falls but the bitter cold restricted our stay and as we headed back to Toronto it was blizzard conditions and a real struggle to drive in.

We left Toronto on the 17th and drove our Toyota (our 4th of this trip) along the historic Parkway which was the original trail used by the British travelling into this part of Canada. There were plenty of cheap motels in Kingston so we stopped for the night and treated ourselves to take out Indian food right next door to a Scottish pub! It has to be said that the early Canadians were either very homesick or just not very imaginative with their street naming as absolutely everywhere there are references to every part of the U.K. We counted at least 4 Aberdeen streets in the space of a few days. Another scenic drive the next day took us into the historic Thousand Islands area (not sure if this is where the salad dressing is from but you never know) where big characterful wooden shuttered houses have been built upon tiny islands (they need to be continually above the lake water level and have at least 2 trees on them to qualify as an island). The lake was completely frozen over so you could probably walk or skate to them but it was just too cold and we weren't going to risk finding out! During the day we made a fabulous discovery of a Canadian institution, the fast food chain Tim Horton's which put a bit of variety into our diet without completely blowing our budget.

We negotiated Montreal during rush hour, although just passing through this time, it was a bit of a trial and we decided not to travel further than Berthierville, which was interestingly (for us), the home town of the legendary Formula One racing drive Gille Villeneuve. Kev visited the museum the next day and before the end of the day we were lost on the motorways and ring roads of French speaking Quebec City. We dined on the local dish of Poutine (chips, gravy and cheese), which we had first tried in a French Canadian restaurant in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, then crashed out in preparation for a full day's sight seeing in historc Quebec old town in -20 degree temperatures. It is a very pretty city with grand old buildings and quaint cobbled streets (under the packed ice) but it was bitterly cold and we couldn't survive long outside before we had to dive into a local coffee shop to warm up.

We visited some of the nearby sights on a drive north of the city along the St. Lawrence river and on our way out of town stopped at the impressive Ice Hotel, made from over 4000 blocks of ice with walls over 4 feet thick. Apparently everything there is made of ice, even the wine glasses, but the temperature inside doesn't rise above more than -4 degrees which was still a little chilly for us. Ottawa was our next stop, the nation's capital and home of the Parliament, which we toured and found to be very similar to the U.K.'s, which we haven't toured, pretty typical really, there is so much we haven't done on our own doorstep! There was a blizzard brewing outside, which didn't stop some mad locals from skating down the city's frozen canals but it was a bit worrying for us as we were headed to meet up with Barb again in Haliburton Forest. We'd been invited to spend a few days with her again (she obviously hadn't had enough of us the first time!!) while she was on holiday and we jumped at the chance to try out some snow shoeing and cross country skiing. Barb is an extremely active, outdoors type but very kindly guided us through the forest trails and even patiently attempted to teach us (although quite unsuccessfully) the techniques of X-Country skiing, although we're all sure that it was really the equipment's fault! By far the best fun was riding dog sleighs through the forest, each powered by four hyperactive Siberian huskies, although Kev's lead dog, Diesel was just too powerful and unpredictable, making Kev randomly crash off the trail or into a tree with very little warning!! The ride calmed down when they changed Kev's dog although Sian also managed to crash into a tree and do a perfect 'face plant' into the snow, but zipping through the forest while tiny flakes of snow fell from the sky was a pretty magical experience. The tour of the kennels was fun too and the dogs have so much character that they even won Sian over, who is not usually that much of a dog person.

We had to leave Barb in Haliburton Forest shortly after our sleigh riding, as our hire car had to be returned to Montreal, some 500km's away, by 10am the next morning. This would have been fine had we not gotten a flat tyre on a deserted country road and had to swap it for one of those space saving donuts that only allows a maximum speed of 50km/h. We got a new tyre when we eventually reached the motorway but we were still about 3 hours from Montreal and our hosts there understandably couldn't wait up for us as they are very early risers. Amazingly, they offered to leave a key for us to get in when we did eventually arrive around midnight and we were warmly greeted by their very playful cat. Johanne and Nic, a French Canadian couple, are personal trainers and amazingly our paths actually crossed somewhere in Central Australia. After returning the car in the morning, getting wildly lost in the process, we crashed out in their flat until Jo came back home and then we headed out to their friend's launch of his debut album. It was a bit of a bizarre affair and although it was all in French (our French was lost somewhere in South America whilst trying to learn Spanish) it was a very friendly and entertaining night where another of their friends (whom we had just met) unbelievably invited us to a fantastic dinner in the flash restaurant next door. Overall the generosity and hospitality of all the Canadians that we have met has been absolutely unbelievable (equalled only by the Kiwis) and we have been so lucky to be on the receiving end.

We spent our chilly days (the wind factor made it feel like -45!!) exploring Old Montreal and discovering it's interesting history, then on our final day Jo and Nic kindly drove us around some of Montreal's other attractions including the Oratory, a pilgrimage site at a church where hundreds of crutches have been left behind by apparently cured patients. Then Kev was allowed to drive their car around the snowy Grand Prix circuit, although he couldn't have too much fun without his own car to play with! There were amazing ice sculptures nearby and we glimpsed the supposedly famous twisting iron staircases of Montreal (we had to admit that we'd never heard of them!) before we had to head back and pack up our stuff one last time for a rush hour lift to the airport and our flight back to the U.K.

Altogether we had a fantastic time in Eastern Canada and we can't wait to go back, hopefully during summer next time! Renee, Barb, Jo and Nic were excellent hosts and we can't wait to see them again soon, hopefully to return their excellent hospitality along with all the other people we have met and stayed with along the way. As for our trip back to the U.K., well that will have to wait until next time and perhaps our last entry.....or maybe not!

K & S
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