new france / old canada
We woke up bright and early Monday morning in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, ready for a long 9-hour drive west to Quebec City. Little did we know that this would end up being one of the best days of our road trip. After several hours of driving, western New Brunswick became more and more sparsely populated. Finally, after a long stretch of smooth road and almost no traffic (or cops), I decided to reduce the drive time. For a good 150 miles the M3 happily cruised along at autobahn speeds, whipping by the very occasional right-lane driver. I could hardly think of a better way to spend a Monday afternoon than listening to great music and watching the rolling Canadian countryside fly by. Around Edmundston, NB we noticed a thick haze in the air that looked like a dense fog despite the hot, humid weather. We later found out this was smoke blowing down from a huge forest fire in northern Quebec. It became more intense as we continued northward but also provided a beautiful setting for the forested mountains near the very northern border of Maine.
The weather and scenery were so perfect once we crossed into Quebec that we started thinking about camping instead of finishing the drive to Quebec City. While lightly discussing the idea of camping we saw a small blue sign suggesting a campground at the exit immediately to the right. I quickly pulled the car off the highway and we decided to poke around the town of Notre-Dame-du-Lac. The town is built on the shore of a long, thin lake with steep hills rising out of the water on either side. When standing at the shore the haze gave it an almost mystical quality—it was very striking. After a short drive along the lake we came upon a municipal campground. We were lucky enough to have our choice of campsites and walked up to an absolutely perfect spot right on the water. After pitching the tent I tried to ask the French-speaking man at a camper nearby where a person could buy some beer or wine. He didn’t have an answer but he did seem to think I had my priorities straight because he poured me a cup of neat brandy - “you like... bran-dee?” Carla, the man’s wife and another couple (all in their 50s) quickly joined and we did our best to communicate back and forth as we all had a glass of brandy. Thankfully their group knew enough English between them to keep me in the conversation. Empty glasses were refilled and refilled again, the sun approached the horizon and the whole world went pink and orange. The smoke had created a sunset like we had never seen. We had a great time getting to know our new friends from Gaspe, Quebec while drinking late into the night around a campfire.
We woke up at sunrise the next morning to a fresh, dewy scene almost as beautiful as the sunset the night before. I sat down and read by the lake that morning and could not help but think of how good of a decision we’d made to take this trip. After packing up, we took the scenic route along the St. Lawrence River, passing through some quaint villages on the way to Quebec City. We stayed in a residential neighborhood to the north of downtown but mainly spent our two days either walking around the old city (touristy but cool) or enjoying the sunny weather in the large park to the south of downtown. I was surprised at just how French Quebec is—aside from the language, the whole culture seems different from North America. Many people live in small apartment buildings rather than houses, even in the suburbs, and the sidewalks are full of people out for a stroll. Just about any café or bar would have seating out front to accommodate people watching. We arrived in Montreal the next day after camping in Trois-Rivieres and stopped for a quick walk around Rue St. Denis.
The next stop was Toronto. Our friend Kim was good enough to let us stay with her near downtown and we arrived on a Friday. This meant we were quickly snapped back to big city life: nice dinners (it was Kim’s birthday weekend), trendy tequila bars, and of course hangover brunch. We also got to see Carla’s old friend Mike. It was very reminiscent of New York. We had a great time.
We then drove down to Waterford, ON where Carla’s lola (grandmother) and two aunts live. It was unfortunately a sad occasion—Carla’s mother’s side of the family was gathering for her lolo’s (grandfather’s) memorial service. But it was also an opportunity for everyone to get together from around North America and we were able to spend some quality time with her family. Carla’s parents and brothers made the drive from Milwaukee and arrived just before we did. It was fun meeting some of Carla’s relatives who I hadn’t met before and hearing old family stories. Of course, given the constant oversupply of good food, I don’t think I was ever hungry for a minute during the two days I was there.
On Monday morning it was time to start the long drive back to NYC. We took the scenic route through southern Ontario and stopped to check out Niagara Falls, which I hadn’t seen before. The photos speak for themselves—it’s spectacular. That night we wearily pulled into our parking place under the BQE and stumbled up to Rachel’s apartment in Brooklyn for the second time.
// road trip to date: 18 states, 4 canadian provinces, 6,500 miles