I got a fairly early start this morning, mostly because the sun came over the horizon and hit Merlin square in the windshield [g]. Today was an Interstate day, mostly because there’s really no alternative to I-94 in southeastern Montana without going way out of the way.
I’ve driven this stretch before, and there’s not a whole lot to say about it. I stopped for lunch in Miles City (named after one of the generals who finally caught up with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce back in 1877), and didn’t stop again until I arrived at Pompey’s Pillar. I know I’ve posted about Pompey’s Pillar here before, in 2012, which was the last time I was in this neck of the woods, but I do find it fascinating, and it was interesting to see it this time of year (the last time I was here it was June, and all the early summer flowers were in bloom). The other thing I didn’t realize from when I was here before is that modern-day travelers approach the pillar from the opposite side that Clark and company did (this was during the part where he and Lewis split up on the way back to Missouri so as to explore more territory). It hadn’t even occurred to me where the river was [wry g]. So that was interesting to me.
From there on it was just plowing on to Billings, the largest city in Montana, where I planned to get a motel room, get Merlin’s oil changed (for the third time), and go to the grocery store. Also to do laundry, but due to the fact that the motel’s laundry facilities weren’t available, that didn’t happen. I got to Billings about three in the afternoon, spent the rest of the afternoon getting stuff done, and that was my day, I’m afraid.
I did check when I went online this evening to see if the Beartooth Highway, which among other things was Charles Kuralt’s choice for the most beautiful highway in America, is still open for the season (it goes over an almost 11,000 foot pass, so it’s only open in the summer). The Montana DOT website said it is, and since I’d planned to drop down into Yellowstone for a day or two (pass that close to the park and not go? Inconceivable! [g]) and it’s actually the most direct route coming from this direction, I thought, why not? I’ve never driven it before.
I woke up to more than 100% humidity this morning. Not all that hot, maybe 80dF by afternoon, but that wasn’t the point. I know more than 100% isn’t physically possible, but trust me, I think it was more like 142%. It did rain a bit, but mostly it was just air so thick you had to drink it. I sweated far more than I did in DC, and that’s saying something, especially since sweating in weather that wet does nothing but soak your clothing and drip into your eyes, making them burn.
Dear godlings. Seriously.
I went to the parking garage to look for my umbrella (no way could I actually put my raincoat on in this – it would be like wrapping myself in saran wrap or something), but I couldn’t find it, so I put my camera in a plastic bag and resigned myself to getting soaked. But by the time I came back out of the parking garage, the rain had stopped.
I had decided that today was the day I’d go to the Citadel and the Plains of Abraham, where British General Wolfe and co. fought French General Montcalm and co. to decide the fate of North America. Well, sorta. Or part of it. Or something. Anyway, I wound up in the Battlefields Park Museum (the official name of the Plains of Abraham is Battlefields Park nowadays – back about 100 years ago they turned the whole thing into a big, gorgeous city park). The museum about the battle was very interesting, but the bus tour through the park (the rain had begun to come down again, so a dry, air-conditioned bus was just the ticket) was what was worth the price of admission.
It was driven (he called it the Devil’s Chariot) and conducted by a young man playing the part of one of Abraham Martin’s sons (Abraham Martin was a local landowner the field was named after back in the 18th century), in full costume, and, yes, he was informative and interesting to listen to, but he was also fall out of your chair hilarious. His tongue was so far over in his cheek I thought it was going to come out of his ear. I really do wish I’d asked if I could take his photo, but I didn’t. That bus tour was one of the top five best things I’ve done on this entire trip so far. Seriously. I haven’t laughed so hard and learned so much simultaneously in my life before, I don’t think. If you ever get to Quebec City, go to the Battlefields Park Museum and ride Abraham’s Bus. It was so worth it.
After I caught my breath from laughing, and the rain stopped again, I walked over to the Citadel. Apparently it’s in dire need of reconstruction work or something, though, because the labyrinth to actually get through the equipment and stuff was quite the to-do. I did finally make it to the gate, however, and took a photo of one of the guards, but then the skies opened up again, and I was already so sweaty that I looked like I’d just taken a shower fully dressed, that I decided, you know, I’d seen the one at Halifax and I needed to call it a day.
Maybe tomorrow. Or maybe not. I’ve got another museum I really want to see tomorrow.
It was only a bit over two hours’ drive from my campsite to Quebec City this morning, mostly on the autoroute (what they call freeways here). I managed to navigate my way to the old town and to the hostel without too much trouble, and was exceedingly relieved to discover that the hostel has a deal with an underground parking garage only a couple of blocks away so that I had a place to stow Merlin for the duration (I had already decided that I wanted three nights here, because there’s so much to see and do). Driving in Quebec City is interesting, in the Chinese sense, and I wanted as little to do with it as possible.
Anyway, I parked Merlin, gathered up my camera, and went exploring.
I like Quebec City. I love the narrow, winding, hilly streets (once I was on foot, anyway), and I like the shops and the scenery and even the crowds of tourists aren’t that big a deal. I mostly explored the upper part of the old town (the walled part of Quebec is divided into two sections by a huge cliff) this afternoon, just prowling around and getting oriented. Oh, and having lunch in a café called L’Omelette (no, I didn’t have an omelette, not today, at least) next to a very pleasant couple from Saskatchewan who were gave me some advice about what I should see in their province (apparently there is more to see there than endless prairies [g], just like in Kansas).
It was a nice sunny day, but rather humid, and, like I said, the streets were hilly. I paced myself accordingly, and came back fairly early to rest up for tomorrow.
I knew I wasn’t going to leave PEI until late yesterday afternoon, and I was lucky that my last day on the island was such beautiful weather – bright sunshine and low 70s, like a perfect summer day at home.
I spent my morning driving along the north coast through the rest of PEI National Park, admiring more rust-colored beaches.
I gradually made my way to Charlottetown. I’d planned on going to Province House, where representatives from Upper Canada (Ontario), Lower Canada (Quebec), Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick (but ironically enough, not PEI) got together and decided to confederate themselves into Canada, back in the 1860s. Unfortunately, though, the building was closed for conservation work, so I basically walked around town for a bit, then drove out to Victoria Park, which is on a stubby peninsula sticking out into Charlottetown Harbor.
Victoria Park sort of reminded me of a miniature Stanley Park, with a waterfront promenade and lots of flowers and trees. But considering that I haven’t seen Stanley Park since I was a kid (in spite of the fact that Vancouver is only about four hours north of Tacoma), I could be wrong [g]. Anyway, it was lovely.
And so I started wending my way back towards the Confederation Bridge, with a detour to Fort Amherst/Fort LaJoye National Historic Site, across the harbor from Charlottetown. The double name is because the French settled it first, then the Brits took it over after the Treaty of Utrecht and renamed it. This was another site where the poor Acadians got booted out.
I was admiring the view when I got to talking with an older local couple, who I got to ask about the climate. I was astonished to learn that Charlottetown Harbor freezes over almost every year, just like Lake Erie does. I’m not sure why that astonished me, except that I guess it seems too far south for salt water to freeze over. Anyway, I find it very difficult to imagine this part of the world in the wintertime for some reason.
I drove on along the south coast of PEI, past fields and ocean and views, until I reached the bridge, where I paid my $46 Canadian to cross back to New Brunswick, and then turned west, looking for a provincial park that said it had campsites. It took me a while to reach Murray Beach Provincial Park, but it was well worth it, right on the water with a nice sandy beach and an incredible view, especially at sunset.
This morning I woke up to clouds, which, since I’d figured on a driving day across New Brunswick, didn’t seem like a bad deal. It was when I stopped for lunch and groceries about noon, and came back outside to a driving rain at least as heavy as the one on Cape Breton Island the other day that I thought maybe this wasn’t so great. I did make it to Woodstock, NB, about an hour west of Fredericton, this afternoon, but there was no way I was camping in this, so I found a motel, and I am taking full advantage of Real WiFI [tm] tonight.
Tomorrow I shall cross the border into Quebec. Here’s hoping it won’t be in a downpour.
Although I do understand the climate can leave something to be desired [g].
Anyway, today I walked and museumed all day. First, I hiked up to the Citadel, an 18th century (reconstructed in the 19th) fortress in the heart of Halifax. I told you the hostel is in a great location – it was only about eight blocks, albeit most of them uphill.
The Citadel reminded me almost forcibly of Edinburgh Castle, and I don’t think it was just the bagpiper or the young men and women in uniforms including tall fuzzy things on their heads. The location, up on a hill in the heart of a bayfront city, the weather (cool and cloudy, at least in the morning), and the age of the thing (granted, not nearly as old as Edinburgh Castle, but much older than anything I’m used to at home), all made it seem similar, in a very happy-to-me way.
The museum inside was – eye-opening, yes, that’s the word. Okay, I watched Canada: A People’s History when it was on the CBC (I get the Vancouver affiliate on my cable when I’m home) a few years ago, and I knew they have a completely and utterly different perspective on the War of 1812 than we do, but it’s still odd to view exhibits talking about the U.S. invading Canada (which barely even gets mentioned south of the border, even in school). Anyway, it was fascinating. Well worth the morning I spent there.
Afterwards, on my way to the waterfront, I stopped at a little sandwich place called As You Like It for lunch, which was cute, with a mural on the wall purporting to depict a scene from the play, and tasty, with a roast beef sandwich and a brownie.
At the waterfront was the other main thing I wanted to see while I was here, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which is to Canadian maritime history what the Kansas Cosmosphere was to the space race. Which has pretty much become about the highest compliment I can give to a museum.
The exhibits were all over the place – arctic exploration, the ages of sail and steam, the Titanic (Halifax was the closest port of any size to the disaster, and they sent the ships that went to recover the bodies, or as many of them as they could), and the Halifax explosion.
What, you’ve never heard of the largest pre-atomic manmade explosion in the world? Which killed almost as many people as 9/11 did in New York, and leveled most of the north end of an entire city? The sound of which was heard hundreds of miles away? On December 7, 1917, a munitions ship loaded with thousands of pounds of explosives bound for the war in Europe accidentally collided with a Belgian relief ship, caught fire, and, well, you can imagine the rest. I’d known a little about the explosion, again thanks to the CBC and a historical movie about it a few years ago, but I don’t think the scale of it all registered until this afternoon. Apparently it did more damage than the San Francisco earthquake or the Chicago fire. Oh, and then the next day they had a blizzard. Those poor people just couldn’t catch a break.
My last stop of the day (so to speak) was at the ferry terminal, where I paid $2.50 to make a round trip across the harbor on a cute little passenger ferry, and strolled along the Dartmouth waterfront, where I had a great view of the Halifax skyline. That was fun.
By the time I hoofed it the ten blocks or so back to the hostel (stopping at a needlework shop along the way) my feet hurt, but it was a great day. I enjoyed the heck out of Halifax. It was an awful lot of fun.
Tomorrow, though, I’m headed to Cape Breton Island. I’ve been looking forward to that, too. And D-Day for my Newfoundland decision is getting awfully close here…
My Seahawks won their first pre-season game last night. 17-16, on a last-minute Hail Mary pass and a two-point conversion. I can’t believe it’s football season already, but Go, ‘Hawks! (no, I didn’t have the bandwidth at the campground to watch the game, but I did see and hear some highlights)
It was wet when I woke up this morning. Not raining hard, but the air was seriously saturated. I felt like I needed gills.
I drove north on the highway till I got to the turnoff for Peggy’s Cove. Peggy’s Cove is one of those iconic places you’ll recognize from the photos (I bet), supposedly the most-photographed lighthouse in Canada [g].
Along the road to Peggy’s Cove is a memorial to a plane crash in 1998, on a windswept bluff south of town. 229 people died in that crash, out in the Atlantic off of the coast here, and the memorial is lonesome and peaceful.
Peggy’s Cove itself is tiny, with a visitor center (complete with composting toilets) that I suspect was built in self-defense. It’s also adorable, as is the lighthouse itself. The granite shield the town and lighthouse are built on is rather amazing, too. Anyway, it was very pretty, and very damp, and I enjoyed strolling around it very much.
I stopped at a farm stand somewhere between Peggy’s Cove and Halifax, and ate fish and chips from a food truck parked nearby. I bought blueberries and a cherry bar (a bar cookie) at the farm stand to round things out. Wow, those blueberries are good (I ate about a third of them, and put the rest in my cooler).
And so on to Halifax, where I’d called last night to make a reservation at the local hostel, so that I didn’t arrive there only to discover they were full up. It’s right downtown, within walking distance of everything I want to see in Halifax, which is great. I will be staying here two nights in order to see everything I want to see here.
The first of which was the Public Gardens, which are about six blocks from the hostel. They’re supposedly the best example of Victorian show gardens in North America, and I’m willing to agree with that [g]. Lots of bright flowers in patterned plantings, a fancy gazebo where they sometimes have band concerts, several statues, and broad lawns dotted with huge trees. Fortunately, the air had quit being quite so soaking wet by the time I arrived in Halifax, so I didn’t get drowned wandering through them.
I haven’t been sleeping well for the last couple of nights, so I suspect I’ll be going to bed fairly early tonight. Wish me luck for a good night’s sleep!
Anyway. Today I drove up the Maine coast, through a lot of very northern-looking forest. Much more northern than it should have looked, given that I passed the 45th parallel today (second time on this trip), which also runs through Oregon not all that far south of Portland. I also passed through the town of Machias (pronounced MaCHIus (the ch as in church and a long I), which had the only iced tea dispenser I saw today [g].
Then I went to the easternmost point of the United States, which, logic aside, is called West Quoddy Head (East Quoddy Head is in Canada). Quoddy, I’m told, is short for Passamaquoddy, which is the name of the local Indian tribe. It has an adorable little lighthouse with an intact third order Fresnel lens. There’s also a gift shop about half a mile back down the road that claims to be the easternmost gift shop in the U.S. I bought another magnet and a little cross-stitch pattern there. They had items made from some nifty quilt fabric there, but they weren’t selling the fabric itself, alas. I’d have loved the fabric with the puffins on it.
The countryside around West Quoddy Head made me homesick, though. Except for the lack of mountains and the fact that the ocean’s in the wrong direction, it looks so much like the Olympic Peninsula (esp. around Aberdeen and Forks) that it forcibly reminded me of home. I don’t normally do homesick, but it got to me, just a little.
Then I went to Canada, at least for the afternoon. Campobello Island is sort of the Point Roberts of Maine, in that it, like Point Roberts, Washington, is only accessible by going into another country. The reason I wanted to go there was that it was where FDR’s summer home was. They have a nice museum, and the cottage (not nearly as much a misnomer as calling The Breakers a cottage was, but it was still a pretty good-sized cottage) is open for visitors. It’s a lovely place, and there were flowers planted everywhere (that seems to be a Canadian thing, to plant flowers at their historic sites and in their national parks).
I also drove out to the end of the road on Campobello because there’s a lighthouse out there, but it was high tide (Campobello’s at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy) and the lighthouse is only accessible at low tide. It was rather disconcerting to see the two metal staircases, one going down from where I was standing, and the other on the island with the lighthouse, leading down into the rushing water.
After crossing back into the U.S. I headed towards the town of Calais (no, not pronounced the French way – CAL-iss – Cal as in California — is the local pronunciation, at least as I heard it on the radio).
But on the way I saw a sign for the St. Croix Island National Historic Site. It wasn’t on my map, and it was a tiny place, just a visitor center and a three-hundred-foot trail leading down to a view of the water across to the island itself. But it commemorated a settlement that was even older than Jamestown by three years, when Samuel de Champlain and company landed on that island to create a settlement and claim the land for the king of France. As the very enthusiastic ranger lady in the visitor center said, the French part of our history tends to get ignored here in the States. The fact that the settlement only lasted one winter (a very bad choice of location, mostly) before they moved it up into what later became Canada may have had something to do with it, too. But still.
I think it was the statues along the trail that enthralled me, though. Well, that and the whole concept of forgotten history. But I was almost afraid to touch the statues, because I swear it seemed like they would come alive. Which would have been equally scary and thrilling, I think [g].
Anyway, I need to read more about this, and I got several good suggestions from the ranger, which was good.
Then I drove on to Calais, where I spent the night just across the St. John River from Canada!
This morning I got a fairly early start, and, after a quick stop at a grocery store, I headed back north along U.S. 6 (the Cape’s backbone highway). The advantage of getting up and out before eight in the morning is that the roads aren’t crowded.
My first stop was at Nauset beach and lighthouse, the parking lot of which was full by the time I got to it yesterday. The sky was gorgeous this morning, and while the lighthouse itself wasn’t open to visitors, it was still pretty, perched up on its cliff where it had been moved back not once, but twice in its 150 years of existence.
I then went for a hike at Great Island, on the bay side of the cape, which looks very different from the ocean side. The trail was about four miles long, but I don’t think I went more than a mile and a half or so one way. Part of the trail crossed a huge dune, and it’s really hard to walk on all that loose sand. On the other hand, the sand is this lovely golden color and the views were pretty amazing.
The next thing I knew I was back up in Provincetown, where I ate a picnic lunch. It started to rain just as I finished up, which was good timing, and I thought I’d like to go and see the Pilgrim monument and its associated museum. I didn’t count on everyone else thinking that would be a good idea on a rainy day, too, and it was impossible to find a parking place within a reasonable walking distance, so I had to bag that. I did manage to get a picture of the monument, which is by far the tallest thing in Provincetown. This is where the Pilgrims landed before they decided it probably wasn’t the best place to start a colony and went on to Plymouth.
Provincetown is also the gay mecca of New England, and is famous for its drag queens and nightlife and so forth. All I can really tell you about that is that there are rainbow flags everywhere there. I liked that. The Pilgrims are probably spinning in their graves ululating at high pitch, to quote Lois Bujold (she was talking about Beta Colony and John Knox, IIRC), which amuses me vastly.
My last little hike for the day was at Pilgrim Heights, a few miles south of Provincetown, which, in good national park tradition, was a nature trail with plant labels. I saw bayberries and Virginia creeper and oaks and pines – and a little red berry with no label! I’m going to have to look that one up. The berries look like currants, but the foliage looks like plums. I’m wondering if it’s beach plum, but if it is, people make jam out of it, and, wow, it would take a gazillion of those tiny things to make just one pint.
After that, I was chilled (yes! really!) and damp, so I came on back to my campsite and read for a while.
Tomorrow I will say good-bye to the Cape, after stopping in Hyannis to visit the John F. Kennedy museum, and drive up and around Boston to Lowell, Massachusetts, which has some history I want to explore, and to meet up with Ann from the Bujold list at an eggroll restaurant for dinner.