Days 40 – 47 (July 7th – 14th) Heading west

The poor weather continued as we set off from Cape St George towards Port aux Basque to catch the ferry to North Sydney on Nova Scotia, followed by a stop on the New Brunswick coast, an overnight train from Moncton to Quebec for some cuisine francais, another train to Toronto and finally, the overnight sleeper to Winnipeg. From dropping off the car in Moncton to arriving in Winnipeg this route crossed 3 provinces (New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario), 2 time zones and approximately 2000 miles.

But first was a brief stop in the Cordroy Valley, the only decent wetland in Newfoundland and home of one of the rarest birds in East Canada, the Piping Plover. The Cordroy Valley Wetland Interpretation Centre was closed and we made our way to the nearby Cordroy Valley Provincial Park, basically a spit across the mouth of the river, and started searching the beaches for this elusive bird in the midst of a gale. Luckily the tide was coming in, which forces shore birds onto ever-decreasing sand banks and we were able to locate a pair within 20 minutes of so. Ticked off, we continued through an incredible mountain range to the St Christopher Hotel in Port aux Basque where we stayed overnight. The following morning we took the 7 hour ferry to North Sydney in glorious sunshine and calm seas. Like most places in Newfoundland, everywhere is dominated by the landscape, even a major ferry terminal barely impacts on the view.

Our ship was a smaller version of the one we took overnight to the east side of Newfoundland yet could easily cope with the huge trucks which keep the island supplied and the intriguing but massive RVs which were found in groups at certain points across the island but never seemed to be seen individually…I’d love to see what’s inside these mobile mansions.

Finally, we set sail, leaving the coast of Newfoundland, one of the most charismatic places we’ve ever been.

In our visit of 16 days we saw much of the island but many parts remain to be explored and, most notably, we failed to get to Labrador, which is a kind of Newfoundland+ in terms of isolation and wilderness and is certainly ripe for a return visit in future. Exploring these places needs a different approach as the tourist infrastructure is only set-up for those visiting the main tourist spots. An RV might be the answer to this but not one we need to think about quite yet.

Once back in Nova Scotia we stayed overnight in Sydney, at a Travelodge overlooking another bay, adjacent to another hotel proudly advertising it’s Filipino restaurant and bar..until we asked and found out the alcohol licence had not yet been approved! Another casualty of COVID’s impact on the tourist trade.

Another free but uninspiring breakfast that is hard to enjoy as you witness the amount of single use items. Overflowing trash cans full of plastic, very little seems to be recycled so there is a hope that it is used in producing energy in massive incinerators? It certainly doesn’t end up on any of the beaches we have been to, they are pristine. The other hope is that this is another backlash of COVID and that when these big companies restock they move over to paper utensils!

Moving on the following day we had a 250 mile trip to the Little Shemogue Inn, just in New Brunswick and adjacent to the huge road bridge linking Prince Edward Island to New Brunswick. Situated on a creek, in the middle of nowhere and with it’s own restaurant this seemed a great spot to stop before dropping the car off. The Inn and the annex in which we stayed were very well appointed, with a great view and were decorated tastefully with what looked like aged wooden beams..despite having been built in 1995.

On arrival we were informed that the restaurant was closed as the cook’s husband was ill and then we were ambushed by swarms of voracious mosquitos as we unloaded the car, meaning a 30 mile round trip to the nearest restaurant and no chance of persuading Helen to walk along the seafront. So, once again it was fish and chips again…although we were compensated by the views from the beach by the restaurant and then from our room as the sun set.

The following day we dropped the car off at Moncton. We had covered a total of 3691 miles in 31 days and accumulated quite a nice layer of dead insect corpses on the front of the car. After a wait of 5 hours at the station we boarded the overnight train to Quebec City. Sleeper trains are brilliant for eating up the miles and the bonus is the restaurant car where food is part of the ticket price. Occasionally, however, the train hits a moose, which can cause some delays but, according to our waiter in the restaurant car, only if the impact damages the train in some way.

An early arrival in Quebec meant dropping bags off at the hotel, and spending the day waiting for the room to be made available. This gave us valuable sightseeing time, exploring the cellars of the fort, the cathedral, descending to the ancient port to have a quick look round the Bad Art museum and finally the Museum of Civilisation, which had exhibitions on Pompeii and Poo..

Quebec is far more attractive than Montreal and although one would expect it to be very “french” this may be more of an illusion than you’d think. One of the guides in the fort told us that most of the French stuff such as the restaurants were mainly for the tourists! The city has a lot of arty shops, art galleries, locally sourced clothes shops and interesting shops selling artisanal goods. Walking round the old part of the city doesn’t take long, thankfully, as it was very hot, crowded and expensive.

We found a suitable restaurant.

3 of my most favourite things..

Opposite the hotel was a park within which a music festivals was being held.

Early start the next day to catch the early morning train to Toronto via Montreal. Canadian stations and trains are modern and clean and the staff are unfailingly helpful and polite. We’d upgraded to business class so we enjoyed uninterrupted wifi, coffee and free food as we sped across the flat Canadian landscape. The train system still mandates mask wearing at all reasonable times.

With a short overnight stop in Toronto we stayed at the hotel nearest the station, the Fairmont Royal York, a massive structure originally built by the railway company and which fits in with the very New York-like skyline, except it is much cleaner although, walking the streets, the smell of cannabis was everywhere. Next to the hotel is the iconic CN Tower. Skylines like this always remind me of the Monty Python insurance sketch.

Boarding the train to Winnipeg we had 36 hours to fill. The train was quite possibly a relic from the wild frontier days but was very spacious, although none of the cabins could be locked. Apparently, they’ve never had a problem with theft..

Cabins aside there was a lounge and observation car so plenty of space to wander around in and look at the outside world. Our fellow travellers were a mixed bunch, many from other parts of Canada, others on organised tours from the UK and Australia and a few from Toronto who’d grabbed cheap tickets and fancied a few days off, including a manic, very gay and extremely loud flight attendant who made everyone’s life a misery if he sat anywhere near them.

The train was going through to Vancouver, a marathon 4 night journey. One young chap spent much of his time in the observation car with a radio piece in his ear and a railway map…a true train-spotter whose hobby was participating in the train equivalent of war-gaming at a club in Toronto. He was apparently on his honeymoon and from time to time a young lady did appear to sit with him for a while…

The attendant who ran the buffer car also gave talks in the observation car and organised bingo, beer-tasting and quiz sessions so the atmosphere on-board was very congenial and well-organised. However, with 36 hours to fill we needed some structure to our day apart from reading and re-arranging the armchairs in our cabin. Firstly we had to photograph the train from the panoramic car..

Then photograph the scenery which was the same until the outskirts of Winnipeg….

Make note of iconic names…

Get off for occasional “fresh air” stops….

There were many times when we simply didn’t move due to there being only one track and freight trains taking precedence.

As we approached Winnipeg the landscape changed and we entered the prairie.

And finally, we arrived in Winnipeg.

One of the purposes of our trip was to meet up with the Marsh family, cousins ranging from 95 to 2 years old. More on our wonderful relatives later except to say we were met by Louise and Gary my 2nd cousins who I last saw when I was 18 years old. Louise and I had been WhatsApping since 2018 when we first decided to go to Canada and at last I couldn’t quite believe we were here!

Louise had asked for 2 hours warning of our arrival and at that stage we were 2 hours late. Via Rail then told us we would be on roughly on time but had to wait for 1 more freight train and to refuel before being allowed off the train, so of course her 2 hour warning turned into 20 minutes and we met in the station car park with big smiles all round. We were whisked off to their house some 20 minutes away and a week’s worth of the legendary Marsh hospitality!

Louise & Gary collected us from the station