Niagara!

When Linda and I began planning my visit, she produced a sensible list of activities for each day I was here, culminating in the annual reunion of l’Association Drouin, this year to be held in Boucherville, a city in Quebec that is celebrating its own 350th anniversary this year. I submitted a rambling, vague, multi-page list of every museum, historic site, animal refuge in Ontario or Quebec, including anything listed in the guide book that looked even remotely interesting. Linda is heroically merging the lists.

So today’s activity is in Niagara! I had warned Linda that I have no sense of direction. She and Bruce arranged a picturesque route east to Niagara, but I fear we became quite lost several times, and I was hopeless at following the maps. So we ended up on the more direct route. But Canada is gorgeous and interesting, however one sees it. We passed many prosperous vineyards and wineries and more fields of corn than I could count. We eventually ended up in Niagara-on-the-Lake, an utterly delightful tourist town a few miles above the falls. To say it’s picturesque doesn’t even begin to catalog its appeal.

https://www.niagaraonthelake.com/

Linda had packed a lunch for us, which we enjoyed on the banks of the Niagara River.  Across the river we could see some of the historic old Fort Niagara, originally built in the 1600s as Fort Conti by the French to protect their interests in New France. It passed eventually to the English and then the Americans. We didn’t have a chance to visit it ourselves, but I bet it’d be worth your time if you could get there.  After lunch, we crossed through an old graveyard, which always provides interesting reading, and headed off to enjoy the delightful downtown.

Here’s a couple photos that show the town off. It was interesting that the tourists were from all over–we heard many languages, saw varied styles of dress and appearance. And everyone seemed to be having a fabulous time.

This plaque marked the oldest building I saw. It was beautifully preserved, and I guess the town itself is quite a bit older than St Jacobs, which we visited yesterday.

P1020540

Of course we had our obligatory ice cream. Mine was called something like Conestoga Canoe, which doesn’t describe it much but the canoes were chocolate. The other flavors were maple and caramel. yum. Linda wished she’d chosen that flavor, too.

I find I’m falling in love with Canada, just being here. The scenery, and people, the vibes are utterly appealing, and somehow, comforting. I found this t-shirt in a gift shop, and though I couldn’t justify buying yet another t-shirt, I wanted to remember its message.

P1020538

After we made another scenic trip through the graveyard, we packed up and headed off to Niagara Falls. One side of Niagara Falls in the American side, so tourists there have to climb down the hillside to watch the water falling. On the Canadian side, we watched the waters from across the gorge. These photos will help situate it all.

The large one on the left is American Falls, and the littler one to the right of it is Bridal Veil Falls. Horseshoe Falls is the Canadian one, and the largest.P1020558

You can see the concave shape, and the mists rising from the falls drift all the way across the gorge to cool off the tourists. There are boats, from both the American and Canadian sides, that take tourists, well-clad in matching raincoats and rain hats, right through the waters, and a zip line has been installed on the Canadian side. Linda would like to do that; I’ll give it a pass.

Linda told me an old legend that in ages past, the original residents, Native Americans, would sacrifice young women over the falls, and if you see a rainbow, you should make a wish for one of the river maidens to grant. A little research, and I found the Iroquois tribe did launch young women over the falls, and it was considered a great honor. The last sacrifice was in the late 17th Century. Linda is an inveterate teacher, and was delighted when she found this chart showing the depths and connections of the Great Lakes. We’ve been learning a lot about the Great Lakes recently, so this is most interesting.

Of course it’s a total tourist mecca with no possible indulgence left uncatered. Here’s a few photos of the fun, and some more of the falls. You just can’t see too much of that water.

Tired but happy, we drove home to delicious seafood lasagna. Bruce returned from pickleball, and I went to bed early after checking my email. My day was utterly complete.

Advertisements

Arriving and St. Jacobs

Good morning! This is a trip I’ve been trying to arrange for ten years. During my trip to Normandy with l’Association Drouin in 2007, I bonded with a number of distant cousins, including Linda Drouin, a retired school principal from Ontario. We found so many similarities in our lives that we decided we’d been separated at birth. We’ve been trying to get together again since then, and have finally managed it.

I took the red-eye from Eugene, slightly delayed, and after connecting in San Francisco, landed in Toronto, hardly rested and very excited. After being cleared by the border agents, I began looking for Linda, who promised to pick me up. I was wearing my rose pink “pussyhat” for her to spot. I soon found a middle-aged woman, alone, quickly checking out all the new arrivals, and contact! We had a big hug, and then began looking for her car, which was our first adventure. Linda brought me to her home in Waterloo and suggested I might need a nap. I decided instead to crash early tonight, and we set off on our day.

Our goal that day was St. Jacobs, a delightful combination of country farm town and sophisticated tourist venue.

https://stjacobs.com/

Many Mennonites had settled in the area and were operating some of the shops in the delightful downtown. I noticed quite a few shops had a sign forbidding photographs of the goods for sale. I talked to Linda about this, and she said there was concern about theft of intellectual property. Before I saw the sign, I did get this wonderful photo. It’s a broom shop, and Mennonite craftsmen make marvelous, very serious brooms using local materials. And they also make decorative brooms that Harry Potter would enjoy.P1020528This wonderful old building also caught my eye:

P1020527

We wandered in many of the shops, and managed to avoid buying anything, except for starting a delightful tradition–enjoy an ice cream cone wherever we were. There were lots of tourists about, and shops were doing a brisk business. We didn’t visit here, but I loved the sign: P1020529 My fatigue was beginning to catch up with me. Linda, a francophone, used the expression “cogner des clous”, which roughly translates to “pounding nails” because I kept nodding off. During the drive, while I was admiring the gorgeous countryside and prosperous-looking farms, Linda taught me to observe the electrical power lines, to see if they connected to the farmhouse, or just to the barn, and didn’t go near the farm at all. It was a way to determine if Old Order Mennonites lived and worked there.

We also managed a visit to an Mennonite information center, which was very interesting, and a maple syrup museum. Both welcomed photographers, but I didn’t take any. The maple syrup museum had the actual vats and barrels used in the production of the syrup. So do take photos if you’re there.

Then home to meet Bruce, Linda’s husband, and have a very nice dinner. I was sent to bed early. Bonne idee! Good night.

Glen Sutton August 11

Good morning on the last full day of our adventure. Even for such a short outing, there’s definitely a tinge of sadness that it will all be changing soon. So that explains the photo above: it’s the group gathering for the map and instructions for our last ride. One member of the group, Siobhan, had left suddenly last night because of a family emergency, and that also made our time together seem more tenuous. So I took another photo of the grounds of the Lodge:P1020266

Elaine and I had discussed the possibility of pancakes or waffles for breakfast, something that could be prepared in quantity, in advance. But when I wandered into the kitchen, lo! Deby announced that these were “egg nests”–bread, salsa, egg, and cheese, baked. They were adorable, and she explained we could each only start with one. There was some etiquette confusion if they were finger food, or eaten with a fork and knife, but they were delicious in any fashion. Well fortified, we headed out.P1020265

Because of the heat and humidity (around 90F, I’m told) the route chosen was shorter and easier than initially planned. yes! We were driven out to what’s on our map as “the summit of Route 105,” told to check our brakes, stay away from the shoulder of the road, get downhill and gather at the base of the hill. And off we went. It was glorious and gorgeous. I was about fourth in the pack. I was passed by a huge truck, also heading downhill at an impressive speed, and it was a bit of a struggle to maintain my balance in the backdraft of the truck. I continued, and saw a body crumpled by the road alongside a bike, with someone else crouched nearby. It was Jurn, injured, and Delia who stopped to assist. We decided I would continue downhill and warn Jean at the base so he could notify the others. I’m not sure what all happened, but Jurn was whisked away to receive medical attention, and we, slightly shaken, continued on our route. We all rendezvoused in Troy at the Troy General Store. There we were delighted by an incredible series of wood carvings, which we ALL photographed. Here are the ones I took:

The third photo, the carving of the little bear trying to ease down the steep slope reminded me of my cat Bubba, who often seems more ursine than feline. So we used the bathroom and headed out again. We then stopped to regroup on a quiet street and were greeted by the resident and his elderly dog. The dog was quite pleased with all the attention–it was probably the most excitement he’d had all week. The doggy seemed especially pleased when Ryan took photos of him. I found a weathered old barn to photograph:P1020274

Notice the cheerful, modern-looking weather vane, featuring a horse, on top.

We then pedaled on, and were solemnly promised that there were just three more rolling hills, some flatlands, a downhill, and we would soon be at Paddie’s Snack Bar, a very funky and fun little establishment that had an amazing selection of foods on the menu. I only had a lemonade, but Mike thought the lobster roll was outstanding, and David enjoyed his ice cream. Sorry there’s no photo. At Paddie’s we were told Jurn was still at the hospital, but would be released soon, and we could either 1.) be driven to the Louis Garneau outlet store for a little light shopping, and either a.) be driven from there to the Lodge; or b.) be driven back to Paddie’s to collect bicycles and pedal to the Lodge; or 2.) pedal home and skip the shopping. Only a few chose that option, and left with Jean.

The outlet store was very interesting, though since I don’t wear ski or bicycling gear, I only found a pair of cycling gloves for me. It was fun to look at all the offerings. While we were shopping, Joy went to the hospital and picked up Jurn, then left him at the pharmacy while she collected the shoppers, then back to the pharmacy for Jurn. Jurn’s first remark was that he regretted it wasn’t Hallowe’en, as he wouldn’t need a mask at all to be scary. It was a rather solemn trip back to the Lodge, and the border agent, after taking one look at Jurn, sent us on our way.

So now we’re back, starting to pack, thinking about dinner and the concert, and realizing what a magical week it’s been. There’s even rain predicted for tomorrow. Stay tuned. For our entertainment, here’s the last obligatory photo of cattle:P1020275

Before dinner, we gathered in the lounge for what we hoped what a new tradition. People contributed wedges of cheese they had acquired during the visit, Stephen had picked up some delicious crackers, and folks brought bottles of wine, so we had appetizers while watching the Olympics and chatting. It was a very nice start to the evening.

The last dinner was as spectacular as ever. We started with a big green salad, with all sorts of interesting bits and a very delicious dressing. We were then served big bowls of spaghetti, with a dollop of pesto. Perhaps it was the anticipation of dessert, or the fewer number of miles cycled, but it was the first time I couldn’t quite finish my dinner.

I had seen the desserts being made, and was beside myself with anticipation.  They were these little chocolate pastry pillows, and when you broke one open, molten chocolate oozed out. These little treasures were served with some more delicious thimble-berries, dusted with powdered sugar and adorned with a sprig of mint. . Here’s a photo, and here’s some of the group at the table.

After dinner, Ryan asked me if he could do a video interview with me for Road Scholar. He had interviewed several other bicyclists, and explained the interviews would be edited and put on the Road Scholar site for this ride, so possible participants could hear what folks thought of it. Of course I agreed, and Ryan and I had a chat about the trip, and Road Scholar, and what I thought of things. It was a lot of fun, and good for me to verbalize my impressions (so I could use them in the blog.)

The cheese and crackers and dinner prep made things a little late, but we headed off, on foot, for the 8:00 PM concert. Here was the first indication that this would be a magical evening:P1020280

The concert venue, just a few minutes from the Lodge, had begun life in 1877 as a church, and was a working Anglican church until 1999, when it was sold to a famous music conductor. I think he stayed part of the time in the house by the church, and put on wonderful concerts for the neighborhood. The woodwork in the little church is just exquisite, and the acoustics are perfect. It was such a wonderful space to be in.

Maude Blondin Benoit works in the Lodge kitchen–I had been admiring her apron with the hilarious drawing of cats on it, but she vanished before I could compliment her on it. She had gone to open the church for us, and was the featured performer. Maude gave us the history of the church, and told the story of how she became a musician. It was lovely, though I couldn’t wait to hear her sing. She invited the audience to join her in singing, or just hum along. I think her first selection was Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and we all joined in on the chorus. It was just enchanting, and Joy and I agreed the next morning the whole concert was “magical.” There’s no other way to describe it. Maude performed some excerpts from “The Sound of Music” which was instrumental in her decision to be a performer, some opera pieces, some popular songs. They were all delightful. I’m sorry the photo I have of her is out of focus. Maybe it’s the aura of the music swirling around her.P1020283

Our next treat was a pianist, Ginette St. Andre, whom we all knew as another cook in the kitchen at the Lodge, and I found always so sweet and helpful when I had questions. Ginette performed a couple pieces by, I think, Borodin, then some Gershwin pieces that just about brought the house down. I think if we hadn’t been so tired we would have been dancing in the aisles. P1020284

Then there was a surprise artist. Somehow the rumor got around that Ryan, in addition to his other talents, had worked as a jazz pianist, so he was persuaded to sit at the big grand piano, protesting that he wouldn’t sound as good as Ginette. But he was very, very good. I’m not a jazz fan, but what he played was so sophisticated, so perfectly arranged, so tuneful that we were all dazzled. I think standing ovations were involved.

P1020286

After he played a couple pieces, the party started to break up, and I asked if I could try the piano. Maude invited me to sit, and I played a couple of my folk tune riffs. The piano was great, though a mosquito kept trying to bite my hands during the first song. My second selection was “Greensleeves” and Maude, in a haunting soprano, vocalized the melody as I played. It was a wonderful duet. Then Maude played one more piece, and Ryan sat down and played John Lennon’s “Imagine.” He couldn’t have picked a better song to end with. The arrangement was perfect, and all of us Baby Boomers knew all the words of hope, and love, and caring. It was exactly where our hearts were. And my last photo, of Lisa and Mike, shows just that.P1020287

By Friday morning, we were packed, a few folks had departed, and there was the bittersweet feeling of a special time coming to an end. As I brought my laptop from the chalet to the porch, I could feel the first rain drops. It increased to a heavy shower, and there was a distant rumble of thunder, and the internet went out. That was a fitting end.

We had one more yummy breakfast, and as Stephen drove us to the airport on the back roads, he pointed out various sites and locations that figured in Louise Penny’s books. That provided like an excellent excuse to come back. I hope to do that. Good bye.

Glen Sutton August 10

Good morning! Lots of sunshine and, I fear, heat, predicted for the weather today. They even modified the route to something shorter and easier (I hope), and today we’re scheduled to do “Aaron’s Ride.”

The breakfast, ho-hum, was again a huge pot of fabulous gourmet oatmeal, purple with blueberries and crunchy with nuts. I took such a huge bowl of it (with but a moment’s concern about the folks behind me in line) that I didn’t have room for the other treat, a soft-boiled egg. But the tea was good, the company excellent, and we filled our water bottles and set off. I perhaps hadn’t mentioned that one of the participants, Ryan, is actually a plant by Road Scholar.  He’s a photographer and gets to ride some, but also spends time in the van tootling after us and taking photos. This has the added benefits of 1.) Knowing a spot he’s picked to photograph is way cool; 2.) I’m NOT going to walk the bike up a hill if there’s a chance he’ll immortalize it; and 3.) He’s a really nice guy, and expressed an interest in reading this blog. Hi Ryan!P1020273

So I started the ride in a spectacular fashion. I was the only one who wanted to visit an old cemetery on the hill about Freilghsberg near where we started. By the time I was done checking it out, everyone was gone, and I started out by myself in totally the wrong direction. I was cosmically lost! I checked my map (as if that ever makes any sense to me!) and figured I could take an alternate route to rejoin the group. And the scenery was lovely, and there were lots of downhills. I stopped at a little park and asked a charming young French-Canadian couple for directions, and they cheerfully provided me with detailed instructions, even mentioning that the health clinic I was to turn at was for sale. I’m not sure why their little toddler kept kicking my bike. So off I went again, made two correct turns, and was feeling good about it when lo! there’s the van, with Bob and Stephen. I was quickly escorted into the van, my bike (“Honey”) was tossed on the rack, and I was driven to join the group. We had to cross the border in Vermont, and the border guard gave Stephen quite a hard time (he thought it might be his Che Guevara t-shirt.). I even showed my revised route plan to Bob, and he had do admit it would have connected me with the group’s route, approximately two hours later. hahaha.

The group expressed something between delight and relief when we showed up. Though I’m often last, I’m usually not lost. But no one wanted my autograph. So off we went again, though I think Joy never quite let me out of her sight.

So. Except for different road signs, and a little more roadside trash, Vermont is as gorgeous as Quebec. Here are the obligatory contented cattle photos:

 

I asked Joy what the non-corn crop that I suddenly saw growing everywhere, and she said it was soybeans. She also mentioned that she want to plant lots of milkweed, which the butterflies love. That seems like an excellent idea, so I think that’s the featured photo.

Lunch, when we finally rolled in, was at a gracious winery called Domaine du Ridge. They had brought out lunch sandwiches (herbed tuna fish salad?) there in a cooler, to keep them fresh. And lunch, as always was great. Some folks purchased wine or ginger beer.  Here’s part of the group enjoying lunch:   P1020254

After lunch was the big decision, whether to hop in the van or pedal the rest of the way to (or in my case, back to) Freilghsburg. I opted for the latter, as I had already done part of the route in the van. Jean lead the route, and of course, we were delighted with more gorgeous scenery, wonderful old Victorian houses, two cute little black and yellow birds, which Joy later told me were probably finches.. We crossed back into Quebec; I was thrilled to make the crossing by bicycle. We cruised through Stanbridge East, and headed to Freilghsburg. No huge hills, thank heavens. Jean promised we wouldn’t need our granny gear front socket, and we didn’t, and I was so grateful.

In Freilghsburg, Jean asked if I had seen the “Three Pines” which I’ve been nagging everyone about. That’s the name of Louise Penny’s fictional town in her mysteries, and I was frantic to see the real trees. So he took me to them. YES! OUI! Here’s photos:

P1020258I tried to show their height in this photo, as that was part of the legend:

Freilghsburg is a lovely little town, so I took these photos, too:

I think we ended up at a restaurant there called Lyvano. More folks ordered wine, beer, anything cool and liquid. I had iced coffee, and Al didn’t find many takers for his calamari. But I’m sure it was great. Lisa started taking a photo of the group, so then Ryan took a photo, and everyone else wanted to. But me.

We spent a half-hour at Sutton on the way to the Lodge, not sure why. It might have had something to do with buying crackers for cheese. It’s pretty cute, but very touristy. I spent most of it in the parking lot talking to Jurn. Then home. I can’t remember needing a shower so badly, or enjoying one so much. And then it was time to think about dinner.

While needing some inspiration when facing a long uphill, I had asked Joy what was on the menu for dinner. “Chicken Satay.” I’m not a huge fan of Asian food, but I suspected it would be delicious when it emerged from the Lodge kitchen. And it was. We started with a creamy soup. Elaine and I couldn’t figure out the ingredients. We were told cayenne and peppers, but that didn’t help, as it was almost too spicy for me. The pita bread helped calm it down. Then the chicken arrived on a bed of fancy rice, some greens, a tomato so intriguingly altered that we had a discussion regarding its provenance, which turned out to be “plumato,” and carrots that had been through an equally intriguing process. yum. There were a lot of members of the Clean Plate Club at our table. Here are some photos:

We pondered what would be for dessert, thinking the fork across the top of the place setting was a clue. hah! It was a red herring! We were offered bowls of orange sorbet or Cherry Garcia ice cream, and of course we all took the latter. We did suggest they just give us some spoons and put the carton on the table. The ice cream arrived decorated with blueberries and tiny little blackberries that I’ve never seen before, despite all the blackberries growing in the Pacific Northwest. Joy said she calls them “thimbleberries.” And it all worked together beautifully. We were wondering if we could lick the bowls without getting caught. Here’s a photo:P1020264

How could there possibly be a better way to end an evening with friends? Notice the cider in my wine goblet. That helped, too. The speaker for the evening was a guy talking about climate change. I decided to skip it, though other group members found it informative, if a little too graph heavy. So I worked on this blog until it was time for yet another shower, and then bed. Good night.

 

Glen Sutton August 9

Good morning! Another sunny day in Glen Sutton. Might be a bit warmer than desirable for intensive biking, but it’s lovely to be out in the sunshine.

The chosen offerings for breakfast today were hard-boiled eggs, smoked salmon pieces, and some assorted muffins and croissant parts. I discovered the almond butter and wild cherry jam, and made good use of both. We grabbed our lunches, and set off on our adventure.

The first stop was Jean’s apartment so he could pick up his water bottle. And that’s where I found the featured kitty, though there was some debate if it was a large cat or a small dog. The second stop, of frabjous day, was the monastery St. Benoit-du-lac in the little town with the same name. It had been Louise Penny’s model for the monastery Saint-Gilbert-Entre-Les-Loups in her eighth book of the Inspector Gamache series, A Beautiful Mystery. This is cool almost beyond reckoning. The monks were chanting in the chapel when I arrived there, so I waited until they turned to the altar to get some photos:

Joy said the original monastery had burned down, and they replaced it with a style that looked like a modern interpretation of high Gothic. Like this:

I especially liked this photo of the steeple matched by a tall tree, though Phoebe and I were wondering why the crucifix was sideways rather than facing forward.The outline of the various planes of the roofs is just amazing.P1020240 Most of the group made their way downstairs to buy the excellent cheese, chocolates and other goodies that the monks made. I settled for a package of chocolate-covered blueberries, and chocolate-covered fruit. Joy confiscated them as soon as I made the parking lot so she could store them in the cooler. I’m trying not to think about them while I’m writing.

So then we hopped on our bikes and headed out. Some of the groups climbed back into the bus to find  a better spot for starting, i.e., closer to the lunch spot. David said later he was impressed that I managed the route wearing just sneakers, not fancy cycling shoes. I confessed to walking up a couple hills. After many hills, some of them rolling, some radical, several encounters with road crews driving trucks belching black smoke, and a quick stop at a tiny market, P1020241

we ended up in a little park in Mansonville for lunch. It had the luxury of both a library and a visitors’ center facing the square, so we had bathroom choices. I had an interesting discussion with the person in the visitors’ center regarding French/English terminology for the room I was seeking. They also had a gaily-painted piano (loved the cat) in the bandstand of the square, and I was able to bang out a few tunes. That felt so good.P1020242

There was still time for a quick jaunt to the Owl’s Bread Boulangerie down the street. Here’s the owl that welcomed us in, and though they didn’t have many goodies left, from having been ransacked by hungry cyclists, these looked very tempting: I got a little almond tart that almost made it safely back to the lodge. Elaine was feeling righteous and resisted temptation.

We received various reports regarding elevation and distance for the trip back to the Lodge. There was also the possibility of tossing our bikes on the rack and getting a ride home in the van, but we resisted that, though some, perhaps, regretted it later. Joy showed me how riding back and forth across the road while going up a steep hill makes it (slightly) easier, and it helped. And Joy also joined me to admire these gorgeous cattle: P1020245

It wasn’t that late, a little after 2:30, when I spotted the driveway to the Lodge and turned it. It’s certainly an indication of my motivation to find my own way home. I’ve peeked in the kitchen and observed beets, purple cabbage and fresh thyme on the cutting board. Oh boy. Stay tuned.

There were sightings yesterday evening of beef being prepped, but not served that day for dinner. And there had been a mention of “boeuf bourguignon” that piqued our interest on the ride. And we were right. First there was a delicious salad I didn’t get a photo of, with the afore-spotted beets, cabbage, crisp greens, some crunchy stick of meat, and a little golden flower. Most diners passed on the flower, but it was edible. Then came the boeuf–we watched the kitchen staff spoon the piles of mashed potatoes into the bowls, then the meat, then a little sour cream and a sprig of fennel. It was really, really quiet in the dining room when we started eating. Reverential. How to top an entree like that? Consider blueberry pie with a scoop of Cherry Garcia ice cream. Consider it, and drool. That’s what we did. Here’s the photos:

I had really been looking forward to hearing tonight’s lecture about the history of Quebec. The speaker was Jim Manson, who had taught at various universities in the area and been with Road Scholar for more than 20 years.  Mansonville, where we had lunch, had been named after his family. He concentrated on the more recent history of Quebec, the Quiet Revolution and the Separatist Movement. I had done some readings about that, but he brought it all aspects of the situation together very well. As an observant adult who had lived through a lot of the recent turmoil, he was also able to add a more personal prospective. His listeners were very appreciative, and gave him a big round of applause when he was done. I chatted with him a bit about it, and he was most intrigued by my grandfather’s family’s move to New England, and how quickly, in one generation, all “Quebec” characteristics of language and culture had disappeared. I guess that’s often the case.

I’ll end with my sighting of wildlife, right on the grounds of the Lodge. It’s the only wild mammal I’ve seen so far, and it was really cute. Good night.P1020246

Glen Sutton August 8

Good morning! Both Elaine and I survived the night with having another human in the same area. Her white noise machine was soothing, the temperature was perfect, and I was so exhausted from the previous almost-sleepless night that we both got plenty of sleep for today’s adventures.

Deby was in charge of breakfast, and when I wandered in searching for a cup of tea, she told me that “gourmet oatmeal” and soft-boiled eggs would be today’s specials for breakfast. Wow. And were they. The oatmeal had lots of blueberries and chopped nuts. Mixed with yogurt, it was just perfect. I haven’t had a soft-boiled egg in years, and had to inquire regarding the process. It was so good on toast I had another piece of toast with jam for dessert.

After breakfast we were fitted with bicycles and helmets, which were then loaded onto the bike trailer, making this imposing photo:P1020221

There was the van pulling the trailer, and another van, both filled with bicyclists, so Elaine and I both got to ride shotgun. First stop was the border on the way into Vermont. Joy the driver knows the whole drill, and I assisted with opening the passports. No political troublemakers on board, though we did have to remove our sunglasses, and we were let in. Had an interesting conversation with Joy, since we were both in the front, about Louise Penny, when she lived in the area, and her books. I guess she’s getting ready to move to Manhattan. Pooh on that. Joy hasn’t read all her books, but I think she’s tempted.

First stop was Jay Peak. The website says the base elevation of the peak is 1,815 feet, and the drop from the top is 2,153 feet. And they let us out at the top, with a few cautions about speed and staying in the middle of the road. And we were off! It was an amazing trip, flying down the mountain (without having labored up it first). Stephen said the fastest self-reported speed from a traveler was 48 mph. It felt like I was doing that, but I’m sure my speed was much more modest. And no, I didn’t stop for photos. But a woman working in the Lodge kitchen just told me her husband had been biking down it once and there was a mama bear with two babies crossing the road while he was there. wow!

After that death-defying exhilaration was a longer ride through the Vermont countryside, hamlet, lots of big old houses, old white churches and lush, gorgeous countryside, though Joy reported the whole area needs a lot of rain. Here’s a few shots of scenes that caught my eye: (Though I must confess occasionally a photo-op was actually a well-disguised need for a break from pedaling up a hill.)  They had handed out a map with directions at the beginning. Mine might as well have been in Swahili. I was almost irretrievably lost several times, and was saved by the appearance of the van, or another bicyclist just at the crucial moment.

We had our lunch at the little village square in Enosburg Falls. Our lunches had been prepared in the Lodge kitchen, and we grabbed them on the way out to the van. More yum. Believe me on that. Enosburg Falls had a monument to some guy who in the early 20th Century was the best baseball player ever to come out of Vermont. I also found a little cemetery to wander through–the oldest birth dates were in the 18th Century. Way cool. A couple families had many graves with occupants of the same surname. Lisa and I had to check out a cabin we saw, and, of course, get a photo.The sign on it said “Abe’s Cabin 1830” and inside I was some fancy old-fashion children’s clothing on display. No idea, but here’s the photo:P1020226

Vermont (among other states) has something called “Rails to Trails” in which railroad routes were converted to bike paths. Beyond the original route, here were two optional loops for cyclists to take to expand their vision and appetite. I took the first, which was more saturation viewing of the gorgeous countryside. Folks not opting for the loop took the Rails to Trails route to the gathering place for lunch. Folks who weren’t doing the optional second long loop after lunch rode the trail to the Abbey restaurant. Only a few hardy souls did the second loop, though Ryan reported he did it, but “in a car.” Sounds like a plan. The lovely part about the Trail path is that once Lisa got me settled on the trail, it was impossible for me to get lost. There were many cornfields, but I think the hay had all been harvested. Other wild flora offerings included chamomile, dandelions, Queen Anne’s Lace, what looked like Filbert tree starts, and other unidentified gorgeous flowering plants. There were little hopping insects, crickets or grasshoppers, and tiny butterflies/moths that led me down the path.

This route was six miles long, and we ended up at the Abbey, which I had hoped was a really old abbey, but was actually a restaurant. So I got an iced coffee and a couple photos:

And I took the opportunity to ask Phoebe if I could get a photo of her “tat”–a perfect imprint of a bicycle chain, on her leg:P1020230

And now I’m on the porch, with Phoebe and Don and Elaine, chatting and wondering about dinner. To be continued…

And on to dinner. I had spied neatly constructed casseroles in the kitchen earlier in the day, and magically, they were served as truly outstanding spinach lasagna. I’ve made enough pans of lasagna to know it’s a complex operation, and these had been made by an expert. The portions were served with fresh corn and a big, very interesting green salad. I found one of my ciders, and it was the perfect accompaniment. Dessert was something else, too. Something called, I think opera cake. It doesn’t contain flour, so you can imagine what all these delicious layers consisted of. Kind of a confectionery lasagna.

I’m wondering about the decaf I had with the cake. I should have been more tired from all the sunshine and activity than I was. So Elaine and I stayed up for a while and had a wonderful discussion about Life. That covered it all. Good night.

October 5 Bar Harbor

Good morning. This is our last morning in Canada. But I’m feeling hurried and tired and not particularly nostalgic. We were allowed some input about our breakfast, finally. Everybody ordered fresh fruit instead of hash browns. I think so many potatoes are grown around here that they always end up on the menu. But the toast and juice were great.

So we piled into the bus again, and were joined by two older guys, a tag team of history buffs named, I think, David and Patrick. One cleverly said the other always told the truth, but he didn’t, so then I was thinking I should believe both of them, or neither of them. They drove us out to the reversing falls. http://new-brunswick.net/Saint_John/reversingfalls/reversing.html

Alas, they weren’t reversing at the time, and it had gotten so foggy it was hard to see anything. There’s a whole bank of buildings hidden by the fog in this photo:  P1010983They had a wonderful story about a Native American legend regarding the reversing falls, involving their chief god and the Giant Beaver. My money would be on the beaver. But the first residents portaged their canoes by land to avoid the falls, as they didn’t think they were safe. We then cruised around St. John, and heard about the Irvings, a local family that was very, very rich. Sounds like the Kochs. And the big fire in the late 1800s, after which a lot of wooden charred ruins were replaced with brick buildings. But the majority of the houses we saw were in the same style of so many that we’ve seen on our tour. So I just enjoyed them, but didn’t take photos. David was remarking about how high taxes were, but then he admitted he’d just spend a couple nights in the emergency room suffering from four kidney stones, and it hadn’t cost him a (Canadian bluenose) dime, so there is a balance.

There were a couple cruise ships parked in the harbor (we now make plans thinking to get somewhere before the cruise ship arrives and unloads its thousands of passengers.) David remarked that he avoids the downtown area when there’s a cruise ship docked in town. He obviously seemed to wish they wouldn’t visit, but also had to consider how much money they brought into the local economy.

We ended up at a very vibrant and bustling public market which had all kinds of cool stuff. Most of us bought some dulce, the seaweed Ranger Rick told us about. I got that and a cup of tea. Some of the group were making deals to spend the last of their Canadian money, and there were many good selections to be made.Then  I went to the nearby old graveyard and looked at tombstones. The ones of children were the saddest.

Linda had distributed the customs forms for when we crossed the border, and explained that the pumpkin stand was NOT a farm, and told us NOT to use the bathroom on the bus or take photos while near the border. So by the time we got to the border, everyone, of course, was frantic to use a bathroom and wanted to see if their cell phones worked again, as they hadn’t paid extra for them to work in Canada. And they wouldn’t let us use the bathroom until they were done searching the bus, and then they told us to leave without using the bathroom (which only had one stall.) So Joe took us to a place down the road a bit, and we all ran into the bathrooms. After which, we all started complaining about how hungry we were.

Lunch, thank heavens, was next. It was at Helen’s Restaurant in Machias, Maine. No, I’d never heard of it before, either. We had a small menu to choose from. But then we got to have a piece of pie! for dessert. And it included their famous blueberry pie. We checked out the display case, and were drooling by the time we got back to our seats. Of the six people at our table, five had blueberry pie with ice cream; one had blueberry pie without ice cream. wow. I couldn’t even stop eating long enough to get a photo until I was here:P1010984 I wish I had another slice right about now.

Then we waddled back into the bus for the ride to Bar Harbor (or as the t-shirt says, “Bah Habah.”) Everybody was busy with their cell phones, but Linda played an old 80s video about catching, cooking, and extracting the meat from lobsters. I got way too squeamish and had to stop watching, while vowing I would never ever eat lobster again.

We made it to our hotel outside Bar Harbor, and were welcomed by the sign:P1010992Much hilarity ensued. I headed off to town–it was just over a mile to the post office. I really wanted some exercise and wanted to get there before the post office closed, so I couldn’t wait until the bus went in at 5 PM. I got there at 4:25 (they close at 4:30) and the clerks were patient and helpful, and one was holding the bag of outgoing mail open for my package while the truck was waiting outside, and it all worked out. whew! Thank you!

Then I wandered around Bar Harbor. It kinda reminded me of Santa Barbara–lots of little dogs, lots of tourists, a sprinkling of 1%ers. Here’s a couple photos from the harbor:P1010986 P1010985 Many of the huge mansions built by the wealthy summer residents in the late 1800s have been converted to hotels or b&b’s. There seemed to be an incredible amount of car traffic for a small town, especially since the season was slowing down. I didn’t take photos, but enjoyed the architecture, as well as how good the houses looked in their settings–it was a perfect fit. There’s something called the Abbe Museum that has many Native American artifacts. Will try for that tomorrow. Found this place, where it looks like it’d be fun to stay. I wonder if they have resident cats?P1010987 Ran into Tim and Charlotte in the grocery store, which apparently used to be a stable. And the current municipal building, across the street, used to be the high school. On the way back to the hotel, stopped to photograph what may be as close as I get to wild life: P1010988 P1010989 and a couple of sunset shots from the little wharf by the hotel: P1010993 P1010994Talked to a couple from Missouri, and took a photo of them using their camera, and told them about Road Scholars. In my room, I discovered I had a walk-in shower, not just the tub with a curtain as at all the other hotels. Had a lovely shower, several minutes longer than my usual California shower. Then it was time to write a post.

Now it’s time for bed. Good night.