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Chicago to Halifax and into PEI

CANADA | Thursday, 30 October 2008 | Views [1215] | Comments [2]

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Chicago to Halifax to Meet Up with Our Van (and Clare and Eric who’ve had it for the past five months).

          Because of Merran’s hip being so very painful, we booked a wheelchair to get her from the check-in to the plane at Heathrow. The airline also arranged for one to meet her in Chicago. But we had a MAJOR hiccough before we arrived at the terminal. Thrifty don’t have their car depot on the inner ring road of Heathrow as do the other main rental companies – theirs is well outside on the A4. After about 1¾ hours of circling the airport, I went into Avis and asked if they knew where to find the Thrifty Depot. No but the courtesy bus drivers might – and the one I asked did. We handed the car back at about the time we wanted to be at the terminal but because of the wheelchair attendant knowing exactly where to go we got through all of the formalities quickly and on time. It was as well that I was ahead of Merran because of the (oh my how illegal can you get) bottle of water in her hand luggage. Once they’d got to me (the bag they were inspecting when Merran’s was plucked from the system had full toilet gear, medicines, dumbbell weights, bungee cords and exercise elastics and it took quite a while to expose them all) all I had to do was drink the water & then they gave me back the empty bottle & told me where to refill it. At that time Merran and her push -wallah arrived via the lift (elevator) instead of the escalator which I’d used. This chap was a humourless Indian but he knew his way about the place and we were soon on board. And soon in Chicago – much to Merran’s relief … until we reached the one chap in Immigration who handles those in wheelchairs. He wanted to know why we were back in the US so soon after leaving and where had we been this time. Where was Merran’s ticket – and mine. How will we support ourselves while we’re here? What is Michael doing in DC and how was he still residing there after eleven years. How are our grandchildren in Hawaii and how can their mother be there even though her husband is an American. On top of al of this, I don’t think he’d ever heard of the word superannuation which Merran used when explaining our financial stability so I added the fact that we have a good retirement fund. I’m still not convinced that he was entirely happy that we aren’t about to become a burden on the long suffering US taxpayer. But he stamped our passports and turned us loose to find a shuttle into town.

            The “Chinatown Hotel” is in Chinatown. Surprise, surprise!! As soon as we were ensconced Merran sought refuge in sleep (and a goodly dose of painkillers) which helped for a while but we certainly couldn’t do any sightseeing that day. Hopefully the prediction by the doc she saw in England will be right and the hip will heal itself. I went for a bit of a walk in the local precinct and we dined all the way across the street (Chinese by coincidence) and we both crashed for the night. Having collected edibles from a local bakery, we dined at the hotel. The other chap in the room was using a computer and typing and muttering in an agitated manner. It transpired that he is a taxi driver who had driven all night and was now trying to “quench the demented ramblings” of a group who had just put in a claim for a 16% fare increase – the day after one of the biggest falls on Wall Street ever! He gave us excellent advice about using the elevated rail system (The El to locals) and where to catch the trolley / double-decker tours of the city. He stressed that we should do a boat tour which includes the architecture of the city. We did and thoroughly enjoyed it. Chicago is a beautiful city and it uses the shores of the Lake to show off its beauty. Because she could sit at different angles and stretch and move, Merran was not as distressed as she had been from the flight and she was (relatively) comfortable to catch the Amtrak to Washington. Wow! - don’t the autumn colours make this a pretty trip. We took Amtrak from San Fran to Portland last time we were here and had a wardrobe which they laughingly referred to as a sleeper compartment. This time we had the deluxe sleeper compartment to get to what we expected. It was fine and the food good. Being able to move around helped Merran’s comfort level, which was good. At breakfast, we were seated with a US couple and he’d worked for a railway firm all of his working life so they were well aware of just what one gets in a standard sleeper compartment so when they did a trip from Adelaide to Sydney on the Indian-Pacific train in Oz, they booked the deluxe. It was one of the bridal suites complete with bubbly and flowers etal. They now know what to book in Australia – and most other places that we’ve used sleepers on trains like Turkey to Romania, Kenya and India!

            Michael was at home when we rang the door-bell which was good as well. He was back briefly from Indonesia and Mongolia but would only be in  the US for about two weeks before heading back on “Mission” to Indonesia which has the more pressing report for the World Bank’s consideration. He is really busy. Unfortunately, Yunie his partner was in Vietnam so we only got to talk to her by phone (Skype on speaker from the computer actually). She could see us via a webcam but we weren’t able to see her. Because they’ll pass like ships in the night with her Mission in Vietnam ending and his in Indonesia starting, it’s been decided they’ll meet in Tokyo for a weekend. It’s one place Michael hasn’t been before. Our sightseeing was a trip to see Mt Vernon. No not that one – not the former home of George Washington some 14 or 15 miles downstream from Washington town but one in Maryland. While I went back into the unit for a sweater, Merran looked up the road atlas and found a Mt Vernon so off over the Bay Bridge we hied. We never did reach Mt Vernon but we had a beaut look along the Eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay and had a tour of a touristy shrimp-boat sort of town called St Michael with lots and lots of Halloween decorations. Well actually there were Halloween decorations everywhere. I’m sure Mike was convinced that we’d been abducted by aliens we were so late getting back, and he’d prepared an absolutely wonderful meal – he’s a really good cook.

            Our friend Jeanne had invited us to call on her (and family of course) in Frederick Maryland on our way North and East to meet up with Clare and Eric and our van. Wow! Liam has really grown. He’s had a really tough start to his life but he’s growing into a really tall young fellow of three who was excited to see us. Just maybe our arrival had been built up a bit by his parents. Jeanne took us for a quick tour to show us a couple of covered bridges, a wonderful display of pumpkins and other “stuff” for Halloween (and Harvest Festival for some) and the most over-the-top lot of Halloween decorations on one home. It was outstanding – in a macabre sort of way! Once we got home to her place we found out that not all of the excesses in decorations occur outside the home. Her home was like a haunted train ride at the show in Spades!!! There were witches, ghosts, spiders, dismembered arms, pumpkins candles in every size you can think of. Eye-opening!!! – but tons of FUN. We had a lovely visit and wish we could spend longer with her as she’s such good fun – and she loves her two tame “Red Rats” from down-under.

            Our route took us back through Lancaster County (Amish territory). And I didn’t buy another letter-box now I wonder how I could have been restrained. It’s one of Merran’s favourite places. That must be because of the ‘Shoo Fly Pie” or perhaps the farm made ice cream or the scenery and the horse-drawn carriages etc. Whatever. Stockbridge in Massachusetts was the home town of Norman Rockwell who found real fame as an artist doing covers for the Saturday Evening Post. He had the cartoonist’s ability to sum up a moment in time and place and his covers were truly memorable. But his home town, which appeared in a great many of his covers, is also a delight – especially when daubed with gay abandon in the golds and reds of Autumn. We adored it. Then it was off to the real colour centres of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Even in pain Merran’s camera finger didn’t falter. It may suffer from RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) from so much use but she soldiers on gamely with her 300 – 400 shots per day quota {Merran says: Ian has been known to exaggerate}. Bennington Vermont was an overnight stop and it proved to be extremely interesting. Not least because of the Battle Monument on the edge of town (the 2nd tallest in USA, after one in where else but good ole Texas) but also because of Halloween decorations (scarecrows, hay bales and corn stalks at nearly every post of whatever purpose) but also because of an exhibition of human characters throughout the town. These figures are life-sized and totally realistic. They range from a man in overalls with squeegee in hand adjacent to a window (as if he were the actual window cleaner) to another chap with crutches and a cast on a bus-stop seat or a husband pointing slightly to one side as his wife looks through binoculars. One fellow was mopping his brow and averring “Hell it’s time to go fishing” as he resting in his mowing of the lawn etc etc. We saw ten or eleven of the 16.

            The God who looks after Vacation Practitioners was back in her Heaven because our route through the Green and White Mountains took us along yet another of the Scenic Byways – the Kancamagus Highway and oh my goodness what a burst of colour even though it wasn’t always sunny. The trees are pretty and colourful in the overcast but flare and glow when the sunlight hits them. Eric opined that there really wasn’t a burning bush in the Bible – it was sunlight hitting a maple tree. One thing which struck us was the way that homes were nestled into the forest so that they were scarcely visible through the foliage. We were charmed until we thought about it. The only time that sunlight can get through to the building is in winter when it has no real heat. This may have been intended but not to our liking as we likes our sunshine we does. Fast flowing streams bedecked with leaves like the plumage of some exotic bird, white steeples mirrored in a still lake and set off by a stunning array of colours. The whole trip was a sensory overload. And it didn’t stop once we reached Canada as we thought it might. In 1999 the colour had all fallen by the time we arrived in Niagara via Montreal at about the same time of year but this time another blast – especially the reds of the maples and the wild blueberries. Stunning!!!!!!!!

            Eric and Clare met us as arranged and were effusive about their time in the van – they’d had five and a half months and in that time they’d been from Vancouver Island down to Northern California, across to the red rock National Parks of Utah and Arizona, up to Calgary for the Stampede, then South again through the badlands of the Dakotas, via our friends Pat & Charlie in Kansas City to Memphis, Nashville, Savannah, Charleston etc up to Winnipeg, Toronto, Quebec and PEI (Prince Edward Island for the non-locals) as well as New Brunswick and finally into Nova Scotia. They zigged and they zagged across about 23,400 miles and stayed in a variety of campsites from WalMart car parks to the grounds of a horse stud in Kentucky. I think that they were well and truly ready to hop into a proper bed at the timeshare resort we shared until we dropped them off at the airport for their trip back to the balmy spring weather of Newcastle (Oz). Before they left, we had a couple of days to explore the ‘Southern Shore’ of Nova Scotia. Peggy’s Cove is a must see for anyone in the area. It’s a fishing village with a most distinctive lighthouse (there are 365 lighthouses along this shore of Nova Scotia so it’s not surprising that there is a “Lighthouse Route” which meanders through picture book village after picture book town and along windy, twisting roads lined with the most beautiful autumnal colours). I’m sure that you, dear reader, can imagine the babble of voices over the dinner table as we all exchanged experiences. This is what travel and friends are about.

            Once we’d put the others onto their plane we set about finding some medical attention for Merran and some preventive medicine for the computer. But since we so close, we headed to a sign on the highway which proclaimed it to be “Halfway between the equator and the North Pole” – and Merran took a photo of it. The first available exit brought us face to face with a Mammoth – well a fibreglass representation of what the one whose bones had been found nearby would have looked like. It was at the Visitor Information Centre that we learned of the monster explosion which had flattened a very large chunk of Halifax during the First World War. Two ships collided with one carrying a vast amount of munitions. The result was “The largest explosion ever up to Hiroshima” so it’s no wonder that so much of the city was destroyed.

            On the way to find the hospital, we fell across a computer store with a service department and they agreed to treat us expeditiously because of the small amount of time we’d be in Nova Scotia. What they found was that I’d been infected by a real nasty. It’s called “Antivirus 2009” and from what they said it gets in everywhere – like sand after you’ve been dumped while surfing. Merran was quite some time at the QE2 hospital but was poked, prodded, mauled and x-rayed. The young man who reckoned he was old enough to be a doctor and that he wasn’t just a boy scout playing at doctors told her to get some physiotherapy or some sort of manipulation and if nothing was better by Saturday to come back, ask for him by name and he’d jab her with a Cortisone needle. It was well and truly dark by the time we left Halifax for the timeshare (but at least I’d retrieved the folder I’d left in the rental car when we’d handed it back. The folder is our “bible” because it has all of our e-tickets, ferry bookings, timeshare bookings, copies of our travel insurance etc etc. It would have been disastrous to have lost it).

            The computer fellows told us to come and collect it so, after Merran’s first appointment with a chiropractor in Liverpool, off we went back up to the outskirts of Halifax – but we called at various other small communities en-route trying to find replacements for some of the things which hadn’t made it back into the van at some stage. From Halifax we headed into Mahone Bay which has a classic boat festival each year as well as a scarecrow festival which was in full swing at this time (even if their visitor centre closed today instead of the advertised tomorrow). We’d seen a few of the scarecrows when we called into here on our way to the airport to fill with fuel. I had checked the gauge but Eric advised me that it’s out by about ¼ so when it shows ¼ full it’s actually empty. Oops at least we got to the bowsers and it took over 90 litres!!! Merran and I roamed the village taking in the atmosphere and lots of photos. Around the next headland is another wonderful harbour with yet another picturesque town. This time Lunenburg with its famous college building dominating the scenery as one enters the town. But it’s the old waterfront where the history is among the warehouses, pubs, shipyards and other nautical buildings. They even have a four masted schooner (the Bluenose) which takes landlubbers out of their comfort zone and allows them to pull on this and hang onto that and feel as though they’re actually sailing the thing – or helping to anyway. Unfortunately we were running out of light by now so there aren’t nearly as many photos as one might expect from such a setting. Both Lunenburg and Liverpool were ‘Privateering Ports’ during the time of the wars which the Americans fought with the British (1776, 1812 etc) and a bit of that history can be found at http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/~jacktar/privateering.html

            One of the other effects of the Americans’ wars with the British was the defection from America of people loyal to the crown of the United Kingdom. Shelburne is one of the centres of Loyalist settlement which clings to those roots. The Union flag of 1707 (which was the flag of Britain at the time and which includes only the St George and St Andrew Crosses) is flown throughout the town and along roads leading thereto. There are other centres where the loyalists settled and some sites were occupied by predominately white settlers whereas others were where the ‘Black Loyalists’ found themselves. The English / British in an attempt to have civil unrest within America, offered slaves freedom and land if they fled from their masters and joined with the British forces. Those slaves who did this and who escaped the fighting, were sent either to the West Indies or to Nova Scotia were the land was issued thus:

Officers and gentry got first (and best obviously) allocation;

Free settlers from the colonies after them;

Non-commissioned officers next allotments;

Rank and file servicemen;

Free men; and finally

Runaway slaves.

The amount of land also varied and what was allotted to the last two groups was not sufficient to sustain life so they found themselves working for others mainly as artisans particularly in the shipbuilding trades. Wooden craft were built for customers all over the world at the slipways and yards of Shelburne until the end of WW2, and the town’s architecture and museums etc all reflect this. On one corner of the town there are four wooden homes – one on each corner and each was built before 1785!!!! And still standing. What’s your 1970’s brick veneer, triple fronted, red tiled bungalows prospects for that sort of longevity he said asking.

            Religion has a great deal to answer for. The Amish and the Mennonites as well as the Quakers all fled to the New World to escape religious persecution. As did a group from France and Switzerland and they set up settlements in what they called Acadie Because of the wars between the French and the British, these poor souls were exiled from their lands by the conquerors. Our first knowledge of them was when we read of their being relocated from Nova Scotia to Louisiana (then a French colony) and we wondered if this was a part of the Canadian (more specifically Nova Scotian) history which had been forgotten and / or swept under the carpet so to speak. Not a bit of it! Nova Scotia looks like a figure seven and at the end of the log stick is the port of Yarmouth, which is where the Catamaran roll-on / roll-off vehicular ferry from Bar Harbour brings its cargo. It is also adjacent to Les Pubnicos which is a series of thriving Arcadian towns, villages and fishing ports. Our campground was at Middle West Pubnico, and the wind farm at the end of the point was at Lower West Pubnico  and on the other side of the bay all of the towns / villages were Upper, Middle or Lower East Pubnico. In our driving around, we saw a sign advertising an Arcadian Historical Village so we headed of to see what was there. Since it was now after 15 Oct the sign read Closed For The Season. We poked around the sides of the main admin building at the entrance and two ladies arrived up from the actual buildings which had been relocated to the site to represent the types of structures built by these hardy folk. They told the village was closed but there are some cancellations for the Halloween Ghost tour tonight if we’d like to do that. Of course we would so all we had to do was dress warmly and be back there by 1930 for a 1935 tour. It was a HOOT!!! There was even a story behind the whole thing …. Reuben is missing and you/we are the search party. Every year at Halloween people go missing and there seem to be more and more wolves and werewolves so stick together and we’ll search his normal haunts and talk to his usual friends and associates and maybe just maybe we’ll get some clue of where he’s gone. It was extremely well coordinated, well done and loads of fun and, when it was all over everyone got a nice bowl of hot soup and tea or coffee – all for just $10 each. They have bookings for about 380 – 400 on both the Friday and Saturday nights with all proceeds going to assist the running of the museum. There are other pockets of Arcadian population across the Province and they display their Tricolour with a Gold Star proudly and quite often ahead of the Nova Scotian flag (which is the Scottish flag in reverse – a white St Andrews Cross on a Blue Field with the Red Scottish lion on its yellow background in the centre).

            The week at the timeshare taught us the difference between Autumn and Fall. When we drove in we took photos from a bridge of the most beautifully coloured leaves alongside a small lake. One week later there were just bare trees. The little ‘Goldilocks’ cottage we had was surrounded by dense colours of gold, yellow, orange and reds and there was no way of seeing any neighbours or other details. We could have been 100 miles away from anyone else (except for the paper boy who delivered the paper each morning an the firewood man who made a delivery each morning and another each evening – complete with paper and kindling to restart the open fire if it had been allowed to go out). At the end of the week we could see the shape of the hill, the rocks strewn about and the other houses within fifty metres of where we were. It was amazing to see what a difference that week made. While in Intercourse, which is the actual name of the town which Harrison Ford visits in the movie set in Amish territory - “Witness” we bought a whirligig. Heading out after our fantastic week it was missed in the packing. It had fallen down off the spare bed in our room (this timeshare had TWO count them 2 double beds in each bedroom for whatever reason) and neither of us looked there. About half to ¾ of an hour after leaving we saw an ad for a whirligig festival and the penny dropped so back we went – just in time to catch the cleaners as they were about to leave the cottage having completed their tasks. They had found it and it was returned safely. This was the same day that we met the ladies who told us of the Haunted Village Tour so the God of Vacation Practitioners was in her Heaven (again).

            In the Science Fiction / Fantasy novel “Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy” there is a character called Slartybartfast and he claims that he is responsible for all of the wriggly bits around the coastlines. (He was particularly proud of his efforts in Norway). He had a field day around the Southern Shore in particular and the coast of Nova Scotia in general. There are inlets and coves and bays and points jutting out and islands and peninsulars galore. It is stunningly beautiful – particularly when the autumn colours are out so we were wonderfully blessed by being here when they were still good. One inlet, river estuary, whatever which leaps to mind for this is the town of Bear River. It is on the shores of the Bay of Fundy which is renowned for the amazingly high tides which happen twice per day there. The highest tide ever recorded was on the New Brunswick side of the Bay and it reached 57feet! But each and every tide is a giant in its own right. Because of this, some of the buildings in Bear River are on stilts. The shape of the Bay (like a big funnel with the big end at the sea) is what causes every tide to be big. The only tidal power generation plant is along the Northern Shore of Nova Scotia. Somewhere I read that something like 14 million tonnes of water pass the plant every six hours. There is a phenomenon called a tidal surge which is a wall of water which is caused by the amount in the wide part of the funnel being forced into the narrower part. When this wall of water meets the out-flowing waters of a river or creek, the direction of the flow of the river changes and this is called a tidal bore. The heights of both the surge and the bore depend upon the phase of the moon. The bore we saw was about 450 – 600mm high (18 inches to two feet in old speak).

            The whole of Nova Scotia seems tied to the lobster industry. There are lobster fleets all around the coast. So much so that there are even harbours built entirely of breakwalls on otherwise unprotected coastlines. The season starts on 1 Nov and so the preparations are well under way. Regardless of the winds they will go out every day from the beginning of November to Christmas because “Everyone wants their Lobsters for their Christmas parties”. The pots have undergone a change in shape. The traditional ones were semicircular prisms of wooden slats with weights to keep them on the bottom, but now they’re all rectangular prisms of plastic coated steel. Last season’s ones had green coating this season it’s yellow. The stacks along the roadsides are attractive (and photogenic). If only I had waited – I could have had a lobsterpot letterbox! What a shame we don’t need two.

            Cape Breton Island is at the point of the seven where the short stick turns sharply and heads downwards. It is home to the Cabot Trail which is colour, colour, colour at this time of the year. We’ve missed the reds but the golds and oranges are a joy. Two of the folks who feature in the history of the Island are Alexander Graham Bell and Marconi. Bell because he spent the last years of his life at the town of Baddeck  and was partly responsible for the first manned flight in Canada as well as other inventions – like the hydrofoil boat. Marconi made his first trans-Atlantic transmission from near Sydney to just near the Lizard in Cornwall later messages were sent to Ireland to a facility in the town of Letterfrack which is where the Sea Breeze B&B we stayed at is. When we went walking in Cornwall with Arnold (Annmarie’s dad) we saw the spots where Marconi had built towers and aerials while working there. It was interesting to see the other end of the message so to speak.

            The Fortress of Louisbourg is the largest historic reconstruction in North America. Up to 18 Oct they have costumed staff who re-enact life within the fort in 1744. After that date there are only some buildings open and no costumed staff. We had a cold wind-blown but fascinating visit.

            After the end of September, Canada should have a sign right across it – like nearly every attraction, museum campground and specialty store. It would read:


fortunately, they can’t close the scenery, even if they can close the facilities near it.

            Trish Bulbeck has shamed me into it so there will be some photos posted – eventually.



Howdy Ian ,Merrin,
Keep up the good work.I love reading about your travels and adventures.
Jesse of course is still in Canada--REVELSTOKE BC and will be into the foreseeable future, enjoy ,Richard.

  Richard Mason Oct 30, 2008 12:31 PM


This piece of adventure had me drooling with envy. Can't wait to do similar in 2010 (if the dollar ever improves!!!)
love to you both,
Sharon and Paul xx

  Sharon Brett Nov 16, 2008 10:14 AM

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