After a day of wandering aimlessly through the streets of Old Quebec, we decided that the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour of the city would be an easier way to see the highlights and identify places to return to for longer visits. The commentary was canned and did not do a great job of identifying the main sights, but it was still a great way to get a look around the city.
The trip begins on the Terrasse Dufferin, as we load into a double decker bus equipped with multi-lingual headphones. Somehow the driver eases the huge bus through the narrow streets and aggressive traffic. We pass by old cobblestoned town squares in the Old City. The road winds and turns, then passes between ancient buildings to head down to the road that runs alongside the river. After the touristy cluster of shops and restaurants, there are a string of very old, quaint homes. A little further along the river, there is construction going on to replace industrial with scenic. Quebec is investing a lot in restoration these days.
The bus circles back along the river, headed for the more modern parts of the city. One of the first stops looks very promising so we hop off. This is the Marche du Vieux. In other words, a farmers market. The market is loaded with fresh vegetables, fish, cheeses, fruits, ice cream, and pastries, all fresh and locally produced.
The new city is a mix of modern skyscrapers and classic old, stolid offices with gleaming metal mansard roofs. One of our stops is at the tallest building in town. The top floor has a 360 degree view of the city, as well as displays detailing Quebec’s history. From here, we can see the old and the new, the river and the city, the walls and fort.
Back on the bus for more of the new city. There are neighborhoods close in to the city that are lined with stately old apartments made of stone. At street level there are restaurants of many styles and ethnics, and, this being summer, the sidewalks are lined with tables and chairs for dining al fresco.
We admire the many parks and open green spaces we pass through. There is not enough time to inspect everything so there are a few spots we check off for later visits; the Musees de la Civilisation, the Citadelle, the Plains of Abraham, the Parliament Building.
Too soon, we are back on the Terrasse. Back down the hillside via winding streets and old, worn stairs. Onto the ferry and across the river. Back down the boardwalk to our rental. There is too much to do and see in Quebec to take it all in in a few days. Maybe some day we will pass this way again.
Quebec City, Quebec, Canada: Population = 540,994 (metro area = 806,400), elevation = 322 feet, average January low temp = 9, Average July high temp = 77, average sunny days = 159, annual snowfall = 124.4”, annual rainfall = 35.39”
Crossing over into Canada, we are not sure what to expect. On the way to Niagara Falls, we passed through a small section of Canada, but that was English-speaking and not a big deal. Now we are crossing into French-speaking Canada so we are concerned about road signs, speaking to people, and GPS. Forget asking Siri where someplace is when the name is six words long with dashes and abbreviations and odd diacritical markings in the spelling. But that is in theory anyway, since we are in airplane mode to avoid the charges Verizon Mall Guy said we don’t have and Verizon Inc. says we do.
Gypsy’s GPS works fine and we find our place in Levis. Levis is, I guess, a suburb of Quebec City. It is directly across the St. Lawrence River from the Old City part of Quebec. Right outside our door is a boardwalk that is very popular with the walkers, bicyclists, and rollerbladers. About a quarter mile downriver, along the boardwalk, is the ferry across the river. And a brewpub. On our first night there, we are treated to a fireworks show, part of a month-long competition.
Quebec City is very old for an American city. It was established in 1608 by the French explorer, Samuel Champlain and is the only walled city North of Mexico. To us, it looks like a European city with the cobblestones, the steep, narrow streets, the massive ornate cathedrals. We have a list of “must see” places and a map.
This is a river city, so it is not an easy hike to explore it. The ferry drops us at the edge of a nice little ledge of flat land along the river, populated with quaint shops and restaurants. A short uphill hike takes us to the funicular for a ride up the cliff to the Terrasse Dufferin, a wide boardwalk speckled with souvenir stands, eats, and drinks. Great ice cream too. Again, this looks very much like a European city, with strolling locals and tourists aiming cameras at everything and one another.
Towering over the Terrasse, is the iconic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. This massive hotel first opened in 1893 and was later expanded and the central tower added. It now has over 600 rooms on 18 floors.
From the Terrasse, we start our hike into the Old City. It is hilly, the streets are narrow, and the street signs seem to hide from the bewildered tourists. We are cathedral fans so we seek out the tall spires. Here is the Cathedral-Basilica Notre-Dame De Quebec. The cathedral was first located here in 1647, was destroyed by a siege in 1759, and then burnt down and restored twice. We got lucky in our timing in that their Holy Door, which they claim is the only one in the Americas, was open to celebrate the Jubilee of Mercy.
Our hike continues through the hilly, winding streets. Here is a nice little sidewalk cafe were we can rest up and enjoy a beer. Here is a grand old building, stately in carved stone. Here is an extravagant fountain, gurgling streams over whimsical figures.
Again, we find we are lucky with our timing. This weekend is a Beer Festival. Down by the river there are two huge tents set up, full of brewers and food vendors. Between the tents are more vendors, a band, and a big lawn with lots of seating. We sample way too many beers, ending with what was probably our favorite meal while in Quebec: Unibroue beers and roast pork poutine.
But enough of that day. More Quebec coming up next.
Lyons Falls, New York: Population = 546, elevation = 800 feet, average January low temp = 8.3, Average July high temp = 76, average sunny days = 161, annual snowfall = 107.7”, annual rainfall = 43.8”, air quality index = 96.4, water quality index = 70, comfort index = 56
Our next stop is in North River. This is too small a town to be listed in the website I go to for stats, so I picked nearby Lyons Falls instead. We did stop in Lyons Falls for the night and it was a small city without much to draw a tourist except a hotel and restaurant. We did explore a bit and found the falls. Right below the falls is a canoe launching site that looked like the start of a scenic day of paddling.
North River is a few miles away and uphill. Along the way, the road runs alongside the Hudson River. Hard to believe that pretty little stream is going to pass through New York City. We leave the highway at a sketchy looking road that soon turns into gravel washboard and we are chugging through deep woods. Ramshackle shacks and tidy cabins slip by as we rumble along. Finally we get to the gate, next to the cemetery, of the hobby farm where our cabin is. The cabin looks like Granny lived there for a long time. It is odd and archaic, but not uncomfortable. Even quaint in some ways. A big dog, a little horse, and lots of fluffy chickens and geese patrol the grounds.
The weather turns very hot and humid for our stay here and the cabin is not air-conditioned. We drive around in our nice cool car, just to escape the heat. Ice cream here, a beer there, sight-seeing all around. On our second day, we rent an inflatable kayak for two and go out paddling on Thirteenth Lake. The wind is cool and brisk, the water is wonderfully chilly and refreshing. Afterwards, we drive up to the top of the mountain to the Garnet Hill Lodge. At the cabin there is not a puff of wind. Up here, there is a cool breeze through the pines and it is very comfortable out on the deck, sipping giant Long Island ice teas, enjoying the view.
South Hero, Vermont: Population = 1917, elevation = 110 feet, average January low temp = 9.9, Average July high temp = 81, average sunny days = 159, annual snowfall = 51.6”, annual rainfall = 32.4”, air quality index = 92.8, water quality index = 70, comfort index = 56
Our next cabin is on an island in Lake Champlain. This is not one of the Great Lakes, but, at 124 miles long, it is still pretty great. The weather is still steamy but there is a fresh breeze off the lake and a dock I can and do jump off.
TripAdvisors has a very short list of Things To Do in South Hero, so we set off to check them out. The Snow Farm Winery offer tastings and, occasionally concerts. No concert today, but lots of wines. Sorry, I am a beer drinker and, to me, a taste is about 2 ounces. This guy gives us about enough wine to float a gnat and talks about berries and cherries and nose.
At least we got good directions to the beach from Wine Guy. TripAdvisor was miles off. The beach is a nice mix of sandy and rocky, sunny and shady. For some reason, one of the locals has tacked colorful birdhouses to all of the nearby trees. And there is a dinosaur in the forest.
The next day we are off to see Michelle and Chris, marylu’s niece and her husband. They live nearby in Winooski, a suburb of Burlington. The company is fine and the dinner is excellent and, for a special treat for the out-of-staters, we go out for creemees. For the uninitiated, this is an ice milk soft serve, like Dairy Queen, but flavored with real Vermont maple syrup. Delicious. After our cones, we are just in time to go catch sunset at the very popular lookout at Battery Park.
We have more family to see while we are here. Joey and Andy live in Montpelier, the smallest population of the capitol cities in the USA, with only 7,855. During our travels, we enjoy touring state capitols, so we spot the dome and head for it. It is oddly deserted and nobody answers our knock on the door. Turns out August 16th is Bennington Battle Day in Vermont, a legal holiday celebrating a battle in 1777.
The weather has turned to a steady light rain, but we are meeting in a nature park with a shelter so our picnic is fine and it is great fun catching up. The rain comes and goes throughout but lets off just before we leave. On the way home, the floodgates open and the rain pounds down in sheets and buckets. It is a long slow slosh back to our island. Vermont is the seventh highest state as far as taxes, but I am not seeing much of that on the Interstate. The lines are old and faded and there are no lights. It is a white knuckle drive that seems to take forever.
A day or two in the mountains without air conditioning or cell phone service is probably enough to last me a long time. On the beach in Vermont is a much more comfortable place. A little isolated, but it was only a 20 minute drive to Burlington and all the Vermonter goodies there. Nice place to visit, but too far North and too much winter to suit my clothes.
Chaumont, New York: Population = 624, elevation = 352 feet, average January low temp = 9.3, Average July high temp = 79, average sunny days = 159, annual snowfall = 82.8”, annual rainfall = 31.6”, air quality index = 38.5, water quality index = 63, comfort index = 57
Chaumont lies near a bay in the Northeast corner of Lake Ontario. It is a small community of full time residents that provide goods and services for the seasonal people who inhabit the cabins all along the shoreline. In the summer, fishing and watersports are prevalent, while in the winter the emphasis is on snowmobiling. Due to the muddled French history of the area, the town is known as either “sha mo” (French) or “Chow Mount” (wise ass). It is mostly a modest town, but there are a few beautiful old “painted lady” Victorian houses and a handful of the solid, stolid old stonework Georgians.
Our cabin is on the South shore of a long peninsula, Point Salubrious. The peninsula is fringed with cabins of all shapes and sizes, many sporting docks with aquatic toys lashed to them. The weekend starts with the far, plaintive note of the early fisherman’s small boat, putting over to that secret spot that might work again this time. Shortly afterwards, the mighty roar of the speedboats echo across the bay as water skiers and tubers attempt to bridge the gap between air and water. About noonish, the jet skis come out to grind up the lake.
We do not have any water toys to play with, so we set out to explore the area. To the South we find Sackets Harbor. This was once a major shipyard, producing warships to defend the Great Lakes. During the War of 1812, the American ships and shore batteries repulsed the British fleet here. The British attacked by land again in 1813 and were again driven off. Today there are monuments to the war and a large marina hosting some beautiful yachts. And a brewery.
Heading North, we come to the St. Lawrence River. At the mouth of the river the Tibbets Point Lighthouse still stands proudly lighting the way into the channel and keeping an eye on those Canadians over on Wolfe Island.
Moving downriver, the first town is Cape Vincent. There are a few shops and bars and restaurants, but the most picturesque thing appears to be the marinas. There are some beautiful old classic boats and yachts tied up here.
Further up the river, the next stop is Clayton. Clayton is a little bigger and more scenic than Cape Vincent. It also has a brewery. The Wood Boat Brewery serves up a good variety of housemade beers, and is attached to a nice restaurant. A little further down the road we find another new favorite, the Clayton Distillery. They make several types of liquor, straight up and flavored. First three tastes are free!
Our last stop was Alexandria Bay. We reserved the day before so we would be assured of passage on one of the many Uncle Sam tour boats that ply the waters of Alexandria Bay. These magical vessels will transport us to castles, actual USA castles. In 1905 Frederick Bourne, the fifth president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company started construction of his American castle. He told his wife it was going to be a hunting lodge. Once the wife saw it, she started remodeling. The result is a very impressive structure with four floors of grand rooms, lovingly decorated with wood and marble. There are even secret passages throughout. Flip the little switch next to the fireplace and a door opens, revealing a spiral staircase and little viewing peekholes. The servants used these to run things around the house without being seen by the guests, so they were not really a big secret.
The cruise back to Alexandria Bay chugs slowly past the huge playhouses of the very wealthy and the little getaways of the less wealthy. There is another castle. George Boldt, the general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel had a castle built for his wife Louise, the love of his life. He built it on Heart Island, which he even had excavated so it would be shaped like a heart. The castle is six floors, has 120 rooms, a drawbridge, and a dove cote. Unfortunately, Louise died before the castle was completed so George ordered a stop to all construction and never lived in it. It sat vacant for 73 years until the Thousand Island Bridge Authority acquired it with the condition that all proceeds go toward restoration. And nobody ever lives there. We are sorry we didn’t actually have time to do the tour, but it looks amazing from the water.
We are back on the road again, heading East into the sunrise, toward the New England states. We already know the Midwest, so we are not going to spend a lot of time exploring it. Most of the week we plan on just popping into motels for a night and then moving on the next day.
Our first day is a short drive into Wisconsin, as far as Chippewa Falls. This is nice little river town filled with modest old houses and a historic looking downtown. It is also home to two breweries and a distillery. We are here to tour the big one: Leinenkugels. This is a very big deal for Chippewa Falls. The Leinie Lodge is a separate building that has gifts, beer, and souvenirs. The tours cost $5 and include 5 four ounce samples of the beers and a souvenir glass. Tours depart every 10 minutes and take about 15 people each. The Lodge is packed with beer drinkers and tour takers. No photos allowed inside, but the brew house is an impressive collection of huge stainless steel tanks and plumbing and doodads that result in massive quantities of beer flowing into bottles and cans.
Our next stop is in Marinette, WI. This is another little river town, located on the Menominee River, just before the river flows into the Green Bay portion of Lake Michigan. Again, we find breweries for the tasting. Forgotten Fire is both a winery and a brewery. They are just starting up the beer brewing and only have three beers so far. The two we tasted were very nice and we both wish them every success. The next brewery was The Rail House, an older, established brewery with a long list of beers and a crazy extensive menu of food. We didn’t think we had room for the gigantic daily special fried chicken dinner, so we ordered nachos and still got a boatload.
Everyone says you have to stop and see Mackinac Island. Next to Mackinaw City. Both pronounced “Mackinaw”, due to the strange French language of the settlers. Myself, I would say not to bother. The City is mostly a long boulevard of shops hawking fudge, candy, ice cream, T-shirts and pasties, larded with bars and restaurants set up to snare tourists and squeeze the cash out of them. So is the Island, but you can rent a bike there and pedal around the shoreline too. On the island, the big famous deal is that there are no cars. Horses do the hauling, delivery, and taxi service. Sounds quaint, but that just means that the streets stink of horse shit and flies are everywhere. But if you do go there, stop by the Mustang Lounge for a reuben sandwich.
From Mackinaw, there are two likely routes to get to New York. From all accounts we were able to gather, the route going through Sault St. Marie and across Canada is long stretches of pine forest and, after a little while, boring. There was plenty of that in Northern Michigan. We elected the Southern route, taking Interstate 75 as far as (“Don’t Drink The Water”) Flint, Michigan, then turning East. We spent the night in Imlay City, a completely forgettable little city, except for Lucky’s Steakhouse and their baby back ribs.
The next day we crossed into Canada at Sarnia. The last time I went to Canada, the Border Crossing guy was friendly and welcoming. The guy was kind of a jerk. Maybe he was just tired of people using this part of his country as a shortcut to Niagara Falls. He grumbled and passed us through. Other than the signs in metric units, this part of Canada looks just like anyplace in the States with lots of industrial businesses along the freeway. When we got to the USA crossing, I was expecting the rude bullies I met coming back from Canada last time. This guy glanced at our IDs and wished us a nice day. Surprising.
Niagara Falls is what I would consider an urban park. It is surrounded by a city determined to milk every dollar it can out of this scenic wonder. From parking to attractions to food, everything is costly and crowded. Zigzagging crowd herding fences are everywhere. But once you get past all that and down to the river, there are awesome waterfalls.
Eden Prairie, Minnesota: Population = 62,344 (part of the Twin Cities Metro area with about 3,500,000), elevation = 723 feet, average January low temp = 2.5, Average July high temp = 85, average sunny days = 192, annual snowfall = 41.8”, annual rainfall = 29”, air quality index = 85.1, water quality index = 27, comfort index = 48
Eden Prairie is located just Southwest of Minneapolis. It is an affluent middle class city with a plethora of great amenities. It has been named one of the “Best Places To Live” by Money magazine since 2006, earning Number One in 2010. Why? A lot of that has to do with the big office parks where corporations have their headquarters and thousands of jobs.
Then there is the natural beauty. Eden Prairie has lakes, ponds, and rivers scattered throughout its parks system, with about 170 miles of trails for biking and hiking. The Southern edge of the city occupies a steep bluff overlooking the Minnesota River. There are large tracts of open land with natural prairie and forest.
I understand it is a good city to grow up in. The school system has 6 neighborhood elementary schools, a middle school, a high school, and two technical colleges. The high school is enormous, engulfing about 3,300 students. With so many kids competing for a spot on the sports and academic teams, those teams are always contenders at the state level.
Right next to the High School, you will find the Community Center. To me, it is very interesting how the school did not have the budget for a competition swimming pool or hockey arena, but the Community Center next door had enough for both. I guess the city budget has more than one pocket. And it is a great Community Center. There are multiple pools, classrooms, a workout equipment room, free weights, and many classes.
For the more chronologically enhanced, there is a very nice Senior Center with a woodworking shop, Tai Chi, Zoomba, cribbage, bridge, quilting, field trips, coffee klatches and dinners. It is easy and cheap to participate, well-loved by its many members, and briskly staffed by friendly people.
Trip Advisor has a lot of recommendations as to what to do and where to eat. There is a big enclosed mall and several strip malls, so shopping opportunities abound. In the summer, the amphitheater at Staring Lake Park hosts concerts and theatrical productions. Round Lake has a fun little waterpark for kids of all ages. There are most kinds of restaurants, from glitzy to dive, serving most any ethnic you could want. No breweries, but there are a few nearby.
Eden Prairie was a good city to live in. We miss our dear friends and neighbors. We miss our home and garden. We miss working out at the Community Center and doing Tai Chi at the Senior Center. So why would we leave? Because we can. We are healthy and able enough to live a life on the road for a while. We want to someday settle in one comfortable place, not running back and forth like snowbirds. First we have to find that place. Why not Eden Prairie? Well, there is this one thing…